Hidden Strings - Spellweaver Helix

Luca Appi • May 3, 2023

(Dragon's Approach | Art by Andrew Mar)

Deck Doctors Hate Him!

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the second installment of Hidden Strings, the series where we build decks whose real commanders are the friends we made along the way start the game in the 99.

Last time, I showed you how to turn your creatures into magnets using ONE SIMPLE TRICK.

In today's article, learn how to cast any sorcery for just three mana with this other WEIRD TRICK!

This week's secret commander is a big favorite of mine. I started playing Magic in 2003, so Spellweaver Helix is a card that I used to see a lot while sifting through other people's binders. As a new player, the whole idea of cheating mana costs and morphing a small cantrip or burn spell into a huge, game-breaking sorcery sounded novel and thrilling to me. Unfortunately, such a combo soon revealed its utter fragility in the context of the Legacy environment that I was cutting my teeth in. Even stumbling upon EDH just a few years later didn't help in any way, since the singleton nature of the format prevented the Helix from working altogether. The situation went on unaltered for the longest of times until, suddenly, everything changed in 2021: Strixhaven hit the shelves in April, and later that year the Rules Committee set the world on fire with this announcement.

The Deck

Yeah, yeah, I know. No one really cared about that part of the announcement. Honestly, though, forget Golos:

Isn't this the cleanest victory you've ever seen?

The Vital Few

Usually, this is the point where I start considering which commander would work best as the frontman for our deck idea. Today, however, we find ourselves in the unusual position of knowing the exact composition of a good chunk of our list before even having had a chance to start that conversation. You could say it's almost as if we picked two secret commanders... or, rather, more like 20 of them.

Still, this should not divert our focus: after all, we are not building a Dragon's Approach deck; to us, the sorcery is merely a means to an end, a necessary evil, if you will. This is not to say that we're never going to "do the thing", of course; it just means that the critical mass of Approach required to enact our gameplan will be much lower than that needed to maximize the probability of hitting five copies of the card within the first few turns of the game.

To put this into numbers, I think we can take a cue from my man Vilfredo Pareto and run 20 copies of the card in order to win 80% of our games.

Yes, I'm pretty sure that's how the principle works.

Red Herring

Now that the paperwork is done, it's time we pick a legendary creature to put at the helm. As usual, we'll want a commander that, in most circumstances, can grant us reliable and reasonably easy access to the linchpin of our strategy.

Of course, a deck like this can come in a wide variety of shapes and colors, depending on the kind of spells that one hopes to Imprint on the Helix. Indeed, benefiting off of casting giant and powerful sorceries for just three mana is not exactly a color-defining feature. Granted, some nine-mana spells are stronger than others, but, aside from that, we have no real mechanical limitations here.

The temptation might then be to jam the best sorceries from all five colors into a single deck, and call it a day.

This, however, is very likely a trap. A deck involving Dragon's Approach already comes with its own set of drawbacks: for one thing, having 20 copies of a single card means that the remaining slots are even more precious than usual (20% more precious, one could say), and devoting any of them to fancy whims like color-fixing would greatly hurt the consistency of what is ultimately a very all-in strategy.

It might then be wiser to go the other way around:

Considering how incidental Treasure production is probably the easiest avenue to chain together multiple Approach in a single turn, finding out that the only mono-red commander that can easily tutor for artifacts also cares about Dragons and Treasure feels like the most perfect of happy coincidences. Effortlessly blending Draghi, Nani, and Avventi, Magda surely makes for the best Helix commander.

Magda's DNA Helix

Every Magda deck consists of three parts, or acts.

The first part is called "The Pledge". The Magda player shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object; perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, untapped, normal ramp. But, of course, it probably isn't.

The second act is called "The Turn". The Magda player takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now, he's looking for a Dragon; but he won't find it. Because, of course, he's not really looking for it. He doesn't really want to win. He wants to be cool.

But you wouldn't clap yet. Because exiling something isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why our Magda deck has a third act, the hardest part: the part we call...

The Prestige

As we all know, winning a game of Magic is often tied to having access to the most mana or the most cards; preferably both. The payoff for slinging one Approach after the other will then be comprised of sorceries that provide one or both of these resources, hoping that chaining together a bunch of spells in a single big turn will either win us the game on the spot or otherwise propel us in a dominant position on which to capitalize in later turn.

Path of the Pyromancer is probably the best of this bunch, being able to offer both a decent amount of mana and a lot of card selection. Creative Technique and Hazoret's Undying Fury are functionally similar, allowing us to directly cast some new cards bypassing the need for mana altogether. Change of Fortune and Past in Flames require a little more setup, but have the potential to be absolutely disgusting in the right scenarios.

Looting for Trouble

Realizing how our strategy is essentially that of a sorcery-based Reanimator deck, we'll definitely want ways to quickly fill up our graveyard. Luckily, red is famous for its looting, rummaging, and overall chaotic discard spells.

Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion is by far the best card of the section, followed by Fervent Mastery, which we'll be happy to either cast for four mana or Imprint on the Helix in a pinch. Going the mill route ain't pretty in a mono-red deck, but it can get the job done.

Here Be Dragons

As mentioned above, this deck should probably consider Dragon's Approach as more of a Sizzle than a Dragonstorm. Nevertheless, there will be times where a high number of copies of the card show up in the early game, and it would be silly of us to leave on the table the possibility of cheating a big scary Dragon into play. Of course, this doesn't mean we should go overboard on giant, flying, fiery lizards; a few select ones will do just the trick.

In a deck that incidentally aims to cast multiple Dragon's Approach in a single turn, Knollspine Dragon is a pretty obvious inclusion, so let's talk about the other ones. Capricious Hellraiser will sometimes help reignite a dying flame during a combo turn; some other times, it will fail spectacularly. I'd say it embraces perfectly the spirit of a deck that's eager to cast a Goblin Lore. Backdraft Hellkite, on the other hand, acts as a safety valve to search up after our first attempt has already fizzled. Finally, we have my proudest idea for the deck: Worldgorger Dragon. This fella is as red a Teferi's Protection as they come: pull it out of your library in response to a boardwipe and watch your permanents be the only ones remaining on the battlefield at the end of the exchange. Of course, we'll eventually end up losing to a Swords to Plowshares sitting on top of the stack, but that's the world we've chosen to live in.


Before moving on to the final, less exciting part of the list, let's not forget to spotlight a tiny yet crucial section of the deck.

Xorn and Runaway Steam-Kin are absolute heavy hitters in a deck like this, and the whiff rate gets substantially lower if you manage to start your Helix lines with either of those creatures in play. Dragon's Rage Channeler and Containment Construct might look a little lackluster in comparison, but with all the spellcasting and discarding involved in a combo turn, even minor forms of incremental advantage can definitely be make-or-break. Lastly, Sculpting Steel is clunkier and more situational, but things get out of hand real fast if you ever manage to find an opening for copying the Helix.

Covering the (Non)Basics

As an incurable "eat your veggies" kinda guy, I couldn't not include a couple catch-all answers in Wild Magic Surge and Chaos Warp. That being said, we should also be aware that our goal with this deck is to be very proactive, so interaction spells should probably be not only sparse, but also synergistic in nature rather than broad in scope.

As for the mana department, 27 trusty Mountains frame the short list of utility lands that can reclaim a spot in an otherwise streamlined mana base. Dwarves have no time for messing around!

Geier Reach Sanitarium can occasionally help with the looting plan, while Spinerock Knoll activation condition turns out to be unsurprisingly easy to meet when your opponents are getting constantly bolted. Holdout Settlement and Survivors' Encampment go from draft chaff to staples in Magda builds, since you can use them to give pseudo-haste to your Dwarves and keep generating Treasure even in situations where you'd otherwise be forced to chump-attack. Lastly, in a deck that loves throwing chunks of cards into the graveyard, Barbarian Ring can act as emergency removal against pesky opposing creatures that might prevent us from going off.

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Potential Upgrades

At the time of writing, low prices for this list put it just below the $70 mark, with the 20 Dragon's Approach taking up roughly the 65% of that budget.

While this is probably not the place for me to start a conversation about proxies, I'll still mention that I would have no issues with anyone purchasing a single copy of Dragon's Approach (to keep behind their commander) and replacing the 20 copies in the deck with the much cheaper Sizzle. Just throwing this out there.

And with that, let's now discuss some potential upgrades for the deck, shall we?


As already noted, this list being effectively an 80-card build means that every single slot is precious. This can make the upgrading process feel a little daunting, as there are basically no free cuts to be made. Still, I can see many of the following cards doing wonders for the deck's consistency, so I'd strongly advise coming up with some replacement that work for you.

Dwarven Armorer is the perfect Dwarf: he costs one mana, has a tap ability that lets him circumvent the red zone, and he acts as a discard outlet to boot. Wheel of Misfortune lets us draw a fresh grip with the upside of also giving a headache to the opponents who still haven't figured out how the card works. Skullclamp has to be timed judiciously, but can still function as an amazing draw spell once we have gathered enough Treasure to start going off. Finally, while you shouldn't expect Thrumming Stone to be the game-winning play it can be in some of those 35%-40% lists, the card can still act as a pseudo-doubler for Helix triggers.

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As is to be expected, the higher the price range, the lower the value of the information I'm giving out with these upgrades. Expensive and powerful cards are always the talk of the town, so I won't pretend like I'm going to blow off anyone's socks here.

Dockside Extortionist and Jeska's Will are good Magic cards, you heard it here first. Goblin Engineer is a solid backup option if the Helix gets destroyed, but mainly acts as a secondary way to tutor for it if Magda's ability somehow becomes inaccessible. Worldfire getting unbanned was the reason why I started thinking about the deck in the first place, so if you're okay with two-card combos, you have one right there. Lastly, I'll point out that while the front face is the main reason to include Birgi in the list, Harnfel can still be a serviceable artifact that synergizes well with all of the deck's themes.

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Final Parting

And there you have it! An explosive (and very hipster) Magda build that revolves around chaining big sorceries rather than cheating scary Dragons and huge artifacts into play!

Do you love it? Do you hate it? Let me know in the comments! And while you're at it, feel free to leave a suggestion for a card you'd want to see as a hidden commander: I'm always up for a deckbuilding challenge.

Until next time!

Luca picked up a random Scourge pack in a game store at age 9, and hasn't looked back since. An inventive deckbuilder trapped inside the skin of a competitive player, he resorts to Commander whenever he needs to scratch his creative itch—which is pretty often. When he is not brewing decks in his head, he can be found shoving inefficiently cute synergies into his draft pile and enjoying the satisfying snapping sound of card flicking. Yes, he is a monster.