Conditions Allow - Amber Gristle O'Maul in Commander

Ben Doolittle • July 19, 2022

(Amber Gristle O'Maul | Art by Dareck Zabrocki)

How To Maul Your Opponents

Hello, and welcome back to Conditions Allow, where I take legendary creatures with a downside and build a commander deck to turn it into a strength. An alarming trend that I've noticed as I've written more and more of these articles is the tendency of legendary creatures to impose a restriction but also solve it. Taigam, Sidisi's Hand is a perfect example. He makes you skip your draw step, but draws a card during your upkeep anyway. So I was pleased to see that so many of the new commanders from Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate ask you do to a little work. Today's subject is no exception: Amber Gristle O'Maul needs some support to show off her true potential.

Amber Gristle O'Maul seems very underwhelming compared to mono-red powerhouses like Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion. Not only are you forced to discard your whole hand, you only get to draw as many cards as opponents you are attacking. On her own, Amber requires you to have two other creatures that can safely attack in order to draw a maximum of three new cards. She won't refill your hand entirely, but if you can empty your hand every turn, she is a steady source of card advantage, as long as you can attack each of your opponents every turn.

To assist in that, we have a few choices of Backgrounds for Amber. Based on EDHREC, Criminal Past doesn't put extra creatures into play, but does make Amber herself much more dangerous. It supports a reanimator-style deck, cheating Archon of Cruelty and Inferno Titan into play with Reanimate and Necromancy. Agent of the Shadow Thieves is also a tempting choice. Giving your commander indestructible and deathtouch makes it unlikely she'll be blocked and is nearly guaranteed to survive combat.

Another solid option for making sure Amber survives combat is Raised by Giants. A 10/10 hasty creature for four mana is nothing to sneeze at, especially when it's also drawing cards. Green and red creatures are also likely to outsize or fly over opposing defenses, so it won't be difficult to empty your hand and be attacking all three of your opponents. Going all-in on such a specific strategy, however, makes you easier to disrupt. Rebuilding from just three cards will usually take too long to really get you back in the game.

I want to make it as easy and consistent to draw three cards as possible, so I'm going with the Veteran Soldier Background. As long as Amber Gristle O'Maul is attacking the opponent with the most life, you'll get to make three 1/1 tokens attacking your opponents, ensuring you draw three fresh cards when Amber's ability resolves. This lets you get full value from your commander with just the two cards in your command zone, ensuring you can always draw three cards when you attack.

Mini Wheels

Drawing three cards won't do you much good if Amber is blocked and killed, however. Re-casting her once or twice during the course of a game isn't backbreaking. She has haste, so you won't "waste" turns, but any more than that and you won't be able to actually execute your main gameplan.

Luckily, we've got a few tricks up our sleeve. The best of these is probably Commander's Plate, which not only makes Amber much harder to block but also protects her from most targeted removal. Fanatical Devotion can do something similar, assuming any of your 1/1 Soldier tokens survive through combat. Even if they don't, you can let Amber's ability resolve and then sacrifice one of them to regenerate your commander, ensuring she survives. Or, you can activate Reconnaissance before the damage step to whisk her out of combat and back to safety.

If you'd rather not worry about combat damage at all, then Dolmen Gate will prevent it entirely. Or you can toss an extra land to Key to the City so Amber can safely attack and refill your hand. I've also been impressive with Cliffhaven Kitesail every time I've cast it. Equipping for free is a huge benefit, and there will almost always be one opponent who can't block a flying creature. Lastly, Access Tunnel and Rogue's Passage are great mana sinks in the late game.

In order to take as much advantage of the cards Amber Gristle O'Maul provides, we need to accomplish two things: start combat with as few cards in hand as possible, and be able to leverage the cards we do have to discard from the graveyard. To me, this screams Dragon's Approach.

Burning Through Cards

In sixty-card formats, burn decks typically end up with an empty hand very fast. Each game is a race from twenty to zero, and if you stumble, you lose. That strategy hasn't translated as well to Commander because it turns out that spells balanced for one opponent at twenty life don't perform well against three players with forty life. Dragon's Approach solves this problem in two ways. First, it deals damage to each opponent with a relatively cheap spell. Second, because you can include as many copies as you'd like in your deck, you can play a high enough density of burn spells to continuously deal damage to your opponents. Every time you draw three cards with Amber Gristle O'Maul, you should draw at least one copy of Dragon's Approach.

Ideally, though, you'll draw two. Six damage a turn to each opponent isn't a fast clock, but it should be enough to give you a reasonable chance at keeping up with other decks. To do that, it will be vital for this deck to hit six mana as fast as possible, and in order to do that, I'm relying on three-mana rocks so that on turn four you can cast a two-mana rock and Amber Gristle O'Maul. From then on you'll be able to cast two Dragon's Approachs without any other ramp.

Which isn't to say that I'm not playing any other ramp. Cost-reducers are staples of any deck that wants to cast many spells a turn. Ruby Medallion is a classic, but Semblance Anvil immediately gets our signature spell down to a single red mana. This is also one of the few places that Locket of Yesterdays does anything in Commander. At a single colorless mana, it's also the most powerful source of ramp the deck has access to.

Alternatively, you can "reduce" the cost of your spells by increasing their impact. Dragon's Approach is one of the few ways to abuse Pyromancer Ascension in EDH, while Spellweaver Helix is another cheap way to copy Dragon's Approach every time you cast it. Additionally, Spellweaver Helix can exile Wheel of Misfortune to attach a free wheel to every Approach. Or, if you exile two copies of Dragon's Approach, it will copy every one you cast.

Finally, the Dragons. I'm including only one in this deck, Velomachus Lorehold. Dragon's Approach is itself the win condition of this deck rather than a method to put Dragons into play, but having an option that you can search for is useful if Amber Gristle O'Maul is removed one too many times, or you're otherwise disrupted. Plus, Velomachus Lorehold will cast a Dragon's Approach every time he attacks, ensuring the damage keeps flowing.

On Interaction

Most Commander decks run at least a few ways to survive against three other players. Wrath of God, Blasphemous Act, and Boros Charm are all staple effects for stopping your opponents from easily wiping you out of the game. This deck, however, doesn't have the space. I started with a few Disenchants, Swords to Plowshares, and even Pyroblast. Goldfishing the deck, however, I realized I wanted to draw Dragon's Approach instead to keep up pressure on life totals.

There are plenty of permanents that could convince me to add those removal spells back in though. Feeding Smothering Tithe is never a good plan. You may need to add a few pieces of spot removal to match your meta, but this is the final list I settled on.

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What do you think of Amber Gristle O'Maul as a Veteran Soldier? I also considered building it as a Boros reanimator deck, combining Dragon's Approach with Breath of Life to continually put big threats into play, but you could also drop the Approaches altogether. Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and Avacyn, Angel of Hope are excellent reanimation targets, after all.

Ben was introduced to Magic during Seventh Edition and has played on and off ever since. A Simic mage at heart, he loves being given a problem to solve. When not shuffling cards, Ben can be found lost in a book or skiing in the mountains of Vermont.