Hidden Strings - Treasure Hunt

Luca Appi • November 30, 2023

(Treasure Hunt | Art by Daren Bader)

Companion Who

Hello everyone, and welcome to another installment of Hidden Strings, the article series where we can add a Grim Tutor to the couple of Prismatic Pipers sitting in our command zone.

If you're new to this column, the above sentence probably makes no sense to you, but I promise it'll all be clear in just a few moments. In fact, even familiar readers might be a little confused this time around, as normally I'd use the opening of my article to leave behind a small clue of what's about to come. Today, however, we're going to mess around with a freshly released card, so I figured that a closer and more explicit look at it would be advisable:

As someone who hasn't been following the TV series, I can only rate the new Doctor Who cards based on their role as game pieces, and in this regard Ryan Sinclair got my gears turning faster than any of the Doctors could.

When you look at cards from the perspective of secret commanders, legendary creatures whose abilities contain the phrasing "exile cards from the top of your library until X happens, then do Y" tend to have great potential. Indeed, depending on the nature of X and Y, such abilities may very well become ways to find specific pieces in our deck. Of course, this won't always be easy, but "easy" is not what we're striving for here, so let's unpack this new commander and see how best we can (ab)use it for our secret deeds!

Thrill of the Hunt

On the surface, Ryan's ability is worded in a clever way that poses subtle but hard restrictions. Despite being similar to cascade, it's not as easily exploitable: engineering our deck around specific mana values (or around changing Ryan's power) can raise our chance of hitting, but it won't help us find a specific card in our deck. Given that the ability stops exiling cards as soon as the first nonland is revealed, there seem to be no levers to pull in order to manipulate the outcome: to find a specific card with Ryan's ability, such a card would have to be the only nonland in our entire deck, and that seems quite a tough sell.

Somewhat poetically, though, this is a case where the problem actually hints to its own solution. Indeed, a card exists that not only can be worth running as the only nonland in our deck, but actually benefits from us having nothing else but a big pile of lands:

What Memes Are Made Of

Alright, let me be clear: I'm certainly not the first to come up with the idea of a ninety-something-lands deck built around Treasure Hunt; actually, I'd say the strategy is a relatively popular "mad lad" meme that a lot of Johnnies and Jennies have probably tried to pull off before. However, I do think that we might have reached the point where this is not just a meme goldfish deck anymore, but an actual build that can hold its own and maybe even be a legitimate threat in some pods.

I'd say the best way to proceed with a deck like this is to start from the most basic and streamlined list possible, and then work our way up by adding whatever we deem necessary to improve its speed and/or resiliency.

The first point of order is to ensure that Treasure Hunt is a legal card to include in our deck. This means picking a blue Doctor as our second commander, but it's probably wise to defer the specific choice to a later time, when we'll have a better idea of what kind of effects might benefit our deck.

Filling out the remaining 97 slots with Mountains gives us the following play pattern:

  1. Make our first three land drops.
  2. Cast Ryan Sinclair.
  3. Attack on our fourth turn.
  4. Cast Treasure Hunt through Ryan's trigger.
  5. Put our whole library into our hand.

Evidently, this shows that we need both a way to win the game on a following turn and a way to avoid losing on the very next turn due to drawing from an empty library.

A Meme Within a Meme

At first glance, resorting to a nonland win condition might seem like an efficient way to solve both issues simultaneously. Traditional finishers, like Zombie Infestation and Conflagrate, would both kill our opponents and act as stop signs for Treasure Hunt, preventing us from getting decked.

Of course, adding a nonland card to the equation means that Ryan's trigger won't be deterministic anymore, but this is the part that has an easy fix: given that the trigger doesn't force us to cast the spell we reveal (and it recycles the exiled cards on the bottom of our library), we can always choose to fold on a "failed" attempt and spin the wheel again on the following turn, after effectively stacking the only two possible hits in our deck.

The true issue with cards like these is that, what they offer in explosiveness, they lack in resiliency. Having to dump our hand in an attempt to win the game means that having our plans thwarted will set us back to square one and most likely cost us the game. Not to mention that there'd be cases in which the specific order of the cards in our deck would make our plan fizzle due to revealing too few lands before hitting the finisher, leaving us with very little to do and almost no hope to bounce back.

Upon further inspection, it actually looks like any nonland win condition would put us through the same risks: between the face-up nature of our gameplan and the fact that we can't afford to run redundancy, relying on easily disruptable game-enders feels like a recipe for disaster. We might then be better off fully embracing the deck's gimmick and relying on just our lands even to go for a win.

Dark Depths plus Thespian's Stage, Field of the Dead, and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle are probably the most renowned options in this regard, and thus the first ones to come to mind. However, the former two still place our fate in the hands of creatures, which are relatively easy to answer, while the latter requires running a lot of Mountains in the deck, which would greatly reduce the deck's variety, resiliency, and replayability. One card remains, then, that can deliver a clean win with just a few other specific lands in play:

Yeah, that's right, today we're going all-in on the meme! And now that we have a clear objective, let's see how we can pull it off.

The Name Is Bond; Manabond

An example of a quick fix to the issue of the empty library could be to loop Treasure Vault on top of our deck thanks to Academy Ruins. Unfortunately, this would require:

  1. Discarding to hand size after firing off Treasure Hunt (so that we can both play the Ruins and place the Vault in our graveyard in the same turn);
  2. On each of the following turns we use our land drop just to stay alive, thus becoming unable to even deploy our remaining Gates.

Luckily for us, both of these problems have the same solution, and that is dropping a bunch of lands onto the battlefield in one fell swoop. To my knowledge, no land has been printed that has such an ability, so this is where having a second nonland card in the deck actually comes in handy. The following three are the best options I could think of.

Summer Bloom is definitely the fairest card, which makes it the weakest but also the most skill-intensive option, as well as the one that probably requires the most optimal build with all the fancy and expensive lands. It can be cast by Ryan and, depending on its relative position with respect to Treasure Hunt, it may lead to easier or more difficult games to navigate. Once we have our whole deck in our hand, the basic plan becomes to drop Reliquary Tower and then loop Summer Bloom with Mystic Sanctuary and the various Karoos. But there's a catch: it's not an infinite loop, so we'll need to jump through some hoops to build up our Gates barricade while also managing the board, all before running out of bounce lands. It can be done, but it might get tricky.

Journey to the Oracle is the middle option and the most versatile. It's explosive while still allowing to completely control the flow of the lands, which is a great feature, because some utility lands only provide value when they're in our hand. The gripe I have with this card is the fact that our commander can't cast it, meaning that in 50% of our games we're gonna get Time Walk'd on turn four after revealing a fair chunk of our deck and plan; this may even result in our opponent starting to interact with Ryan, which would set us back even further. I just don't love that the card doesn't synergize well with our commander, but it's a powerful option for sure.

Manabond is definitely the most broken of the bunch, but in a way that to me is guaranteed to earn a good chuckle rather than a dirty look. It's also a perfect fit for our commander, and with a good number of utility lands it'll feel great even when it's flipped before the Hunt. Add in the showmanship factor of sometimes having it in your opening hand and dropping eight lands on turn one, and I can't see how one could go with a different option, at least for a starting point.

Whatever the choice, dipping our toes into green means that our Doctor needs to be in Simic colors. Given that some of the scenarios we are going to face might involve topdeck manipulation, I feel like The Third Doctor is probably the incarnation with the highest potential to be sometimes relevant to our gameplan. This also results in being able to run up to 12 Gates (thanks Commander Legends 2!), which I recommend to include in full.

Building the Manabase

The skeleton of our build is now looking something like this:

This is a good starting point that should cover the fundamental bases. I would also be hard-pressed not to include the following:

Kessig Wolf Run looks to me like an hilarious backup plan for a deck that can basically recast its commander a million times. The other two (together with Bad River) are budget ways to search up our Mystic Sanctuary, which will be especially needed in the instances where Treasure Hunt gets flipped first and immediately hits an early Manabond, leaving a lot of lands in our deck.

As for the remaining 70-ish slots, I'd say to just go ham with your favorite lands! You could even use the traditional deckbuilding template as a guide: there's ramp, there's card draw, there's interaction, there's recursion... we're only really lacking board wipes, so we'll have to settle for protection.

Lastly, in my list I also decided to run one last nonland card in Gamble. As a universal tutor for one mana, it not only acts as a split copy of Treasure Hunt and Manabond, but also makes it so that Ryan's trigger can factually hit a specific land. Of course, there's an element of risk that comes with casting the card, but the percentages are usually pretty good for us and, at any rate, a bit of chaos is something I'm absolutely fine with.

Final Parting

And there you have it! A challenging but fun 95-lands build that, depending on its actual configuration, can take the shape of either a glass-cannon-y meme deck or a solid and inexorable killing machine.

Do you love it? Do you hate it? Are there any particular cards or interactions that I missed? Let me know in the comments.

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.