Hidden Strings - Swans of Bryn Argoll

Luca Appi • May 31, 2023

(Swans of Bryn Argoll | Art by Eric Fortune)

The Nameless Ones

Hello everyone, and welcome to another installment of Hidden Strings, the article series where we build decks whose commanders can be your favorite Joe Schmoe and plain Jane.

Last time, I shared with you my attempt at a mono-white deck that could rival Simic's ramp and draw power. That build relied heavily on the much powerful and very fun (such wow) Coveted Jewel, which was mainly used as a juicy blink/flicker target. While my specific list might have accomplished the main goal, one of the readers rightly identified how it did not maximize the more collectively enjoyable way to play with the Jewel, i.e. just letting it fly around the table.

Today, then, we'll embrace a riskier but more engaging approach, and we'll do that by building around what in my humble opinion is one of the most "should be legendary" creatures ever printed:

The Deck

Regardless of the secret commander we choose, the task of picking a face leader for the deck often comes with the temptation to go all-in on adding multiple colors. After all, red and green seem to be the perfect match for the damage-based ability of our flying Azorius creature.

However, in what you might start to recognize as a recurring theme of my deckbuilding philosophy, taking the easy road is often the prelude to spoiling our own fun, so I actually prefer to stick to the lowest number of colors required for the deck to work.

Inscrutable Plans

As luck would have it, Azorius is home to the perfect leader for this build, one that can easily grab the Swans from our library and even provide additional support down the line:

This, then, also makes for a wonderful opportunity to come up with a sweet build for a barely played commander, and that's already a win in my book!


Of course, the first thing we'll need to do in order to enact our gameplan is to profitably resolve our commander's trigger.

This can be achieved in a number of ways, the most obvious of which is straight up looking at one of our opponents' hand. Git Probe and its predecessors represent our bread and butter here, followed by Vendilion Clique and The Raven's Warning, which trade mana efficiency for some level of interaction and card advantage. Bounce spells also come to mind as a convenient way to kill two birds with one stone get a nice two-for-one, since knowing a single card held by one of our opponents is enough for Isperia's ability to successfully resolve. Lastly, giving our commander double strike is another cheeky way to accomplish our goal, as it allows us to take a sneak peek of a player's hand before the regular damage step.

Duck Hunt

Once our honorary commander is sitting flying on the battlefield, hunting season officially begins: the red mages at our pod will start firing shots left and right, while everyone else at the table will be tempted to attack us with big creatures, hoping they can make us put our Swans in harm's way.

Of course, we could (and should) try to thwart some of these attempts, as we certainly don't want anybody at the table to draw 13 cards for a single red mana. However, that's only half of the story here: after all, we're not playing a Swans deck only to prevent their ability from ever triggering. Rather, we should lean into the new mini-game that will ensue and just focus on ensuring that we can come out ahead of everybody else on it. This involves  a couple of steps.

Fire and Reload

Like the saying goes, the best defense is often a good attack: if we're the ones setting up the duck hunt, then we should definitely be ready with the right tools for the job and try to press the advantage before the other players have a chance to join in on the fun.

While Azorius is not exactly famous for its burn spells, white mages do actually like to throw damage around when combat is happening: cards like Iron Verdict and You Hear Something on Watch become incredible draw spells when paired with the Swans, while Guilty Conscience, Farrel's Mantle, and Niko Aris stick around to become insane advantage engines.

Protected Species

Now that we have a full grip, we should start looking for measures to prevent getting hoisted by our own petard. As most group hug strategies teach us, a few cards flowing around the table can be okay, especially if they're offered as a political tool to help someone else get back into the game or deal with opposing threats. However, we surely don't want our opponents to outdraw us in the long run, so our deck should include a few cheap ways to foil the most blatant attempts at exploiting the magical feathers of our Swans.

Phasing is our best bet here, with protection coming in as a close second, given its ability to still fend off mass damage spells. Granting indestructible will be less useful in this regard, but the deck needed a dog. We also shouldn't forget about Isperia's ability to get fliers out of our deck, which means we'll always have the option to search for safeguards in the form of cards like Drogskol Captain and Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate.

Ugly Ducklings

A few cards remain that don't fall under any specific category but that still provide desirable effects for our deck.

Whether directly or through a couple of steps, Karmic Guide and Mistveil Plains synergize with our commander to bring back the Swans from our graveyard; Drift of Phantasms is a conditional tutor that can be fetched by Isperia's trigger and later Transmuted into card draw; Crashing Drawbridge and Brainstorm play particularly well with commanders that have combat and search triggers, respectively.

Bounty of the Hunt

Many of our wins with this deck will come off of generic beatdown and smart piloting more than anything else. Keeping the Swans in play for as long as possible usually ends up warping the game in a dangerous yet interesting way. Letting our opponents take advantage of the card drawing requires us to tread carefully and subtly manipulate them against one another, while our fliers get in for some chi(r)p damage to ensure that life totals keep going down.

Taking a look at more explicit win conditions, Body of Knowledge is a backup Swans that also acts as a giant threat in the late game; and should the beatdown plan not be enough, Triskaidekaphile and Approach of the Second Sun are efficient (if unexciting) emergency buttons that might get us out of troubles when our opponents least expect it.

(Snow-)Covering the Basics

And, once again, it's that time of the deckbuilding process.

Pentad Prism allows Isperia to come down on turn three, while niche cost-reducers, like Stormscape Familiar and Watcher of the Spheres, are good fits to complement some of the cheaper ramp staples available in our colors. Fixing-wise, our mana base could definitely use some help, but in two-color decks I like to prioritize lands that enter the battlefield untapped. Additionally, having a good amount of basics lets us play with snow lands, which means we can also run Mouth of Ronom as a form of interaction that doubles as card draw with Swans in play.

Our interaction package also relies heavily on our main themes:

Remorseful Cleric, Wispmare, and Skydiver can all be tutored up by our commander, while Consuming Tide, Tragic Arrogance, and Slaughter the Strong can wipe the board without hitting our Swans. Baral's Expertise closes this section as an all-around strong spell that lets us cast Swans as a reward for having bounced three of our opponents' threats. Neat!

Commander (1)
Lands (33)
Artifacts (5)
Creatures (28)
Instants (19)
Sorceries (8)
Enchantments (5)
Planeswalkers (1)

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Potential Upgrades

At the time of writing, low prices for this list put it a tad above the $40 mark (excluding basic lands). As usual, let's now see what higher budgets have to offer to the deck.


In this first price range we find a lot of small efficiency upgrades, but also a few interesting effects:

Phyrexian Vindicator sits at the top of this list as a powerful creature that can be fetched by our commander and has an absurd synergy with the Swans (note that the Vindicator becomes the source of the damage when it gets redirected). Lightmine Field works for both defense and offense, since we are more than fine with our two main fliers taking a couple of damage per attack. Lastly, Psychic Possession can make an ally out of one of our opponents, as we can keep the Swans on blocking duty for mutual benefit.

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Aside form the obvious flavor win of Swan Song, listing 10 random Azorius staples would probably do the trick here, but we can definitely try something more compelling by choosing, among the usual suspects, those that naturally synergize with the two linchpins of our deck.

Invasion of Gobakhan is the perfect card for this build: it can tax one of our opponents' pieces of interaction, it gives us useful information for resolving our commander's trigger, it's easily flipped thanks to our fliers, and then acts as solid protection for the Swans. Alandra is another relatively new card that fits right into our strategy, giving us yet another way to try and close out the game in a more decisive fashion. Finally, Wave of Reckoning is worth mentioning due to its favorable interaction with both Isperia and the Swans.

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Final Parting

And there you have it! A unique (and very fun) Azorius burn deck led by Isperia Swans of Bryn Argoll.

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.