Conditions Allow - Torsten Founder of Benalia EDH

Ben Doolittle • December 27, 2022

(Torsten, Founder of Benalia | Art by Volkan Baǵa)

Finding A Strong Foundation

Hello, and welcome back for another Conditions Allow. In this series I take a legendary creature with a drawback and build a deck to turn it into a strength. This week we're traveling into the past and checking out Wizards' second attempt at Torsten Von Ursus, Torsten, Founder of Benalia.

Torsten, Founder of Benalia is a powerful card advantage engine in the command zone. With enough creatures, you can regularly "draw" at least two cards every time he enters the battlefield. It also isn't difficult to build a deck of almost all creatures, ensuring you'll draw seven cards when Torsten hits play. This will hinder your ability to interact with your opponents slightly, but creatures like Skyclave Apparition, Knight of Autumn, and Apex Altisaur ensure you can still remove key permanents, and even wipe the board, without relying on more traditional instants and sorceries.

What I think makes Torsten, Founder of Benalia eligible for this series is his second ability. Taking a seven-mana commander and trying to sacrifice it two or three times isn't a big ask, even in Selesnya. Miraculous Recovery lets you work around commander tax... except it's an instant, so Torsten can't help you draw it. The best sacrifice outlets are also not creatures. While including Greater Good and Ashnod's Altar wouldn't stop you from getting a ton of value from Torsten, Founder of Benalia, this series is all about working within constraints, so let's see how far we can get with just creatures and lands first.

Counting to Seven

Before we can get to sacrificing Torsten, or bringing him back, we have to cast him the first time. Seven mana is a lot, even for slower-paced games, and this deck wants to cast its commander quickly. To do so, I want to curve one-mana ramp into three-mana ramp as often as possible. Every single Llanowar Elves variant is here, plus a few more unusual picks. Rather than turning to Wild Growth, however, I'm adding Krosan Wayfarer, Skyshroud Ranger, and Sakura-Tribe Scout. These all set you up to cast one of the various Wood Elves variants that've been printed, along with Faeburrow Elder and Somberwald Sage. From there, you just need one more ramp spell to cast your commander and start pulling ahead.

It's at this final step, however, that I have to include a few noncreature spells. Titania's Command and Hour of Promise both fetch two lands into play, setting up High Market or just fixing your mana. I'm also intrigued by Wild Endeavor. Grabbing at least one land while creating a few tokens is exactly where this deck wants to be, and I'm excited to try it out. Combined with a full 41 lands, this hefty ramp package will make sure you cast your commander on turn four as consistently as possible.

Draw Seven? In Selesnya?

Once we do cast Torsten, Founder of Benalia, we want to find a way to sacrifice him and start generating an army of tokens. In keeping with our theme, however, they all have to be creatures or lands, and somewhat surprisingly, we actually have a fair number of those.

While we don't have any free sacrifice outlets, we do have a few with more utility than just scrying or gaining +1/+1 counters. The best here is Elvish Skysweeper, to help fend off any aerial assaults. It is an expensive effect though. Martyred Rusalka is easier to use, and can similarly prevent creatures from attacking you. Caregiver and Starved Rusalka seem much less useful, but incidental lifegain can be surprisingly powerful in close games. Having just one or two life that you wouldn't otherwise can be the difference between victory and defeat.

Torsten, Founder of Benalia also helps dig for lands, so we'll include High Market as another sacrifice outlet. Miren, the Moaning Well is much more expensive, but I'll include it here to give us the best possible chance at finding at least one of these effects. As a final backup plan, I'll also include Restoration Angel and Temur Sabertooth, and, of course, this deck ramps pretty hard. Having to recast Torsten once or twice from the command zone shouldn't be too difficult.

Deep Foundations

Once we kill Torsten, Founder of Benalia we'll need a way to bring him back. There are several well-known options, starting with Karmic Guide and Saffi Eriksdotter. Reya Dawnbringer is less common, but this deck is already built to hit seven or eight mana quickly, and repeatable reanimation is never a bad thing. Much, much less common than even Reya, I'm also including Pulsemage Advocate. The advocate is somewhat reliant on your opponents, but giving someone three lands in return for drawing seven cards with your commander seems like a fair deal to me. In a pinch, Pulsemage Advocate even counts as graveyard hate.

Which brings us to the last two nonland, noncreature cards in the deck. Nim Deathmantle is famous for its combo potential and could combo with Torsten and Ashnod's Altar. Resurrection Orb is a fixed version of the Deathmantle which doesn't auto-equip itself when the creature comes back. Luckily, just bringing back Torsten a second time means you're drawing fourteen cards.

Hoofing It

Fourteen is a lot of cards, but what exactly are we planning to do with them? Since Torsten, Founder of Benalia also leaves behind fourteen 1/1 Soldier tokens, it only makes sense to dig for something like Craterhoof Behemoth or its smaller cousin End-Raze Forerunners.

These heavy hitters aren't our only options, however. I'm including plenty of smaller anthems as well, from Celestial Crusader to King Darien XLVIII. In addition to the tokens created by Torsten, you'll end up with a bunch of mana dorks in play that aren't very useful late in the game. Until, of course, they become 4/4s or 5/5s and start crashing in for damage. In addition, I'm including Shalai, Voice of Plenty as a mana sink, and Saryth, the Viper's Fang for a little evasion. She works incredibly well with Elvish Mystics, since they can block and then tap themselves before damage is dealt to gain deathtouch.

In addition to mana dorks, most of our interactive creatures aren't very large either. Being able to buff them up and attack is a big part of how this deck plans on winning. Which is, admittedly, a very straightforward game plan, but Magic doesn't always have to be complicated. Sometimes it can be as simple as making creatures big and turning them sideways.

Torsten, Founder of Benalia is a card I initially overlooked. Having built around him, though, he's really cool. Simple and straightforward commanders can often lead to more creative possibilities during play, revealing surprising synergies that you didn't plan for, and with more and more interesting creatures being printed, this deck is highly customizable and has lots of room to grow with each game you play.

How have you tackled Torsten? Are there any standout cards I've overlooked? Let me know in the comments, 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.