Conditions Allow - Kosei, Penitent Warlord EDH

Ben Doolittle • March 15, 2022

(Kosei, Penitent Warlord | Art by Matt Stewart)

O, Penitent One

Hello, and welcome back to Conditions Allow, the series where we take a legendary creature with drawbacks and turn them into strengths. This week I'm continuing with another legend from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty: Kosei, Penitent Warlord.

Kosei, Penitent Warlord is a powerful option for mono-green Voltron decks. If you can fully suit him up, Kosei will not only draw cards equal to the damage he deals, he'll also deal that damage to each other opponent. If you've played with, or against, Kediss, Emberclaw Familiar, you'll immediately recognize just how powerful that is.

In order to unlock that power, you’ll need to do a little work. Kosei, Penitent Warlord starts with zero power, and he only gains his effect if he is enchanted, Equipped, and has a counter on him. You can build whole decks around Auras, Equipment, and counters. Combining all three is more complicated than it may seem.

As an example, Kosei’s EDHREC page includes Setessan Champion, Eidolon of Blossoms, and Sanctum Weaver, each in around twenty percent of decks. While powerful, these cards only synergize with a third of what Kosei, Penitent Warlord wants to do. Similarly, you're most likely to draw The Ozolith without being able to make +1/+1 counters. Even worse, none of those cards fulfill any of the requirements for Kosei, meaning you could be stuck with the wrong halves of three different themes. As much as possible, we need our cards to overlap between Aura, Equipment, and counter support. Unfortunately, there aren’t any Auras that're also Equipment, but there are plenty of Auras and Equipment that put +1/+1 counters on Kosei, Penitent Warlord.

Counting Up

The simplest of these cards are Forced Adaptation and Ring of Kalonia. At the beginning of your upkeep, put a +1/+1 counter on Kosei. Ordeal of Nylea and Armory of Iroas add the counter when you attack, which is still early enough to give Kosei his combat damage trigger. Compared to some other cards in this deck, adding just one counter a turn may seem painfully slow, but that damage will add up. Even better, there's an advantage to dealing small amounts of damage early on. Normally, a Voltron deck only has to worry about retaliation from one opponent. Because Kosei spreads damage around, however, each of your opponents will be acutely aware of how much of a threat you are. Letting them think they can wait a turn or two to try and stop you will give you the opening you need to win.

And a turn or two is all it takes for you to get entirely out of hand, thanks to Hydra’s Growth, Fractal Harness, and Sword of Hours. Hydra's Growth and Fractal Harness are guaranteed to double the number of +1/+1 counters on your commander every turn. While Hydra's Growth is slower, needing to wait until your next upkeep to double, Fractal Harness doesn't give Kosei the initial counter. Meanwhile, Sword of Hours gives you a +1/+1 counter every turn, but won't always double your counters. It also doubles them after combat damage, so you won't get to take your opponents by surprise.

Sometimes, though, you just need a big power boost. The final two cards will both threaten to make Kosei, Penitent Warlord a huge threat very quickly. Predatory Hunger punishes your opponents for casting creatures, functioning similarly to Forgotten Ancient. To catch creature decks on both ends, I'm also including Blade of the Bloodchief. Creatures die almost more often than they are cast in games of Commander, and Blade of the Bloodchief gives your commander more power every time they do.

Further Modifications

To make the best use of that power, most of the rest of the Auras and Equipment in the deck make Kosei, Penitent Warlord hard to block. Trailblazer’s Boots will always let you attack at least one player, and Cliffhaven Kitesail Equips for free when you cast it. Commander’s Plate comes with a significant power boost, but giving your commander protection from four colors not only makes him hard to block, but hard to remove as well.

For the Auras, Dryad’s Favor is worth including even if Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth wasn’t a card. Treetop Bracers effectively gives Kosei flying, while Indomitable Might lets you ignore blocking creatures entirely. Thanks to Kosei’s hefty toughness, he’ll usually survive being blocked, and you’d usually rather deal combat damage to a player than a creature anyway. Rune of Might grants trample, while cycling Titanoth Rex gives your commander trample and a counter.

Importantly, all of these cards are cheap, both to cast and Equip. My goal when selecting cards was to have Kosei Equipped and enchanted, with a counter on him, as early and consistently as possible. That way he can start attacking on turn four. Even if he’s only dealing one or two damage at first, that’s still lowering life totals and drawing you cards. Then, cards like Treefolk Umbra and Invigorating Surge can double or triple your damage output seemingly from nowhere to quickly end the game.

Staying Alive

You still, however, need to ensure you live long enough to put all those pieces together. I still want to include some more counter cards, so there isn’t a ton of space for other creatures. This leaves you vulnerable to counterattack, especially once your playgroup becomes familiar with how much damage this deck can put out.

So, while cards like Vastwood Fortification, which takes up a land slot, and actual lands like Oran-Rief the Vastwood and Tyrite Sanctum, are in the deck, I want the counters cards to help us stay alive. Sudden Spinnerets and Burst of Strength both put a counter on your commander and effectively give him vigilance. Having the ability to give a creature reach is also really important in a green deck, which otherwise struggles to deal with flying creatures. Slippery Bogbonder is another surprise blocker that lets you dodge removal spells.

Bow of Nylea is a more aggressive card, but it ensures that Kosei kills any creature with Ancient Animus and Ram Through. Fight spells can also be a defensive tool, since Kosei, Penitent Warlord can still fight creatures while he's tapped.

To deal with wide boards, I'm including six Fog effects. Haze of Pollen and Lull can both be cycled, while Obscuring Haze is free as long as your commander is in play. You could choose to swap Fog and Blessed Respite for more fight spells, but in my meta the damage prevention is more useful.

Tying It All Together

No matter how carefully you balance the ratio of Auras to Equipment to counter cards, you will draw awkward hands with any Kosei, Penitent Warlord deck. Card draw is the key to working around them. As I said at the top of this article, though, I don't want to rely on Enchantress's Presence to see more cards. Instead, I'm relying on Return of the Wildspeaker and other cards that draw based on my creatures' power. Whether I draw Aura, Equipment, or counter support, Kosei's power will go up, so these spells will always draw cards. Harmonize is a solid draw spell, along with Momentous Fall as a response to removal.

With a little removal of our own, here's the full decklist.

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Kosei, Penitent Warlord attracted a lot of attention during spoiler season, and he lives up to the hype. The deckbuilding restrictions he imposes force you to be creative in your card selection. There are a ton of ways to approach this deck, and when it all comes together it is satisfying and powerful.

How would you build around Kosei? Are there any cards I left out? Let me know, and thanks for reading!

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.