PokeDecks: Grolnok, the Politoed
Grolnok, the Omnivore by Simon Dominic
A Politoed Party!
Magic is a game. Games are sources of joy. It may seem obvious, but there's a certain detachment that comes with viewing decks as thought experiments, games as sources of competition where there are optimal play patterns and lines, and cards as game pieces used to find the most efficient and effective way to accomplish a goal. Those are also elements of the game, but there's a lot to be said for being able to find joy in winning, in losing, and even in just looking at your cards. While Grolnok has gone in and out of my active rotation, his PokeAlter never ceases to make me smile.
What is a PokeDeck? A PokeDeck is a collaboration between brewer and alterist that results in a uniquely-flavored Commander deck. The commander of the deck is altered with the visage of a Pokemon, and the deck, in turn, represents the moves of that Pokemon. The fusion of these elements takes commanders in distinctly new directions and creates a cohesive experience that both brewer and alterist can be proud of every time the commander hits the table.
When Grolnok was revealed, I knew a PokeDeck was coming. There had been legendary Frogs before, but this was the first in Simic colors, which are among my favorites, and Grolnok functions on an interesting axis for Simic decks. Most Simic or Quandrix decks play extra lands, draw a lot of cards, or otherwise drop large creatures. One of the things that makes Grolnok special is that not only is he a Frog, he is the froggiest Frog; he specifically wants you to play extra Frogs, so the alter needed to paint the commander as particularly friendly.
Grolnok the Politoed sports an infectious smile, a bright pastel color palette, and a clapping, celebratory position. The pressure was on to build a deck that could make me and the rest of the pod smile, support an inviting and playful color scheme, and create exciting moments for players and onlookers alike.
The first challenge was to figure out what Grolnok brings to the table. Despite being a commander centered around a creature type, Grolnok is a deceptively tough commander to build. For starters, Frogs have very little synergy, having only sporadic members printed across a range of sets. There are certainly some strong members, but there's little to no consistency between their abilities or cross-referencing the creature type. One of the few cards that does reference the type is Grolnok itself, who gives all Frogs the ability (and the imperative) to mill three cards whenever they attack. These cards aren't just binned, however: permanents get exiled with croak counters and are playable from exile. As a result, the deck wants to do its jobs with permanents, and anything that isn't a permanent needs to be usable from the graveyard or salvageable.
With a deck like this, cards are going to be going into the graveyard at a startlingly fast rate. Each Frog, including the commander, is milling three cards per attack, which really stacks up. As a result, we need to be using this to our advantage as much as possible. Yes, the deck is going to have a lot of permanents, but not everything can or should be permanents. Quiet Speculation is an oldie but a goldie that tutors up cards with Flashback and puts them into our grave, like a blue Buried Alive. But what are we searching out? How about a Croaking Counterpart, which clones a creature and makes it a Frog? Oh, and once we've made something a Frog, we can get it back with Runic Repetition! Gotta love a cute little combo like that! But...what are we copying that isn't a Frog?
The next challenge is to figure out how to cross the IP from Pokemon to Magic. Politoed is an awesome support Pokemon, usually used to set up Rain Dance, but it also just looks friendly, and the art by Foxnoctom certainly supports this. As a result, I wanted to play into the happiness and silliness of the art more than the specific moves Politoed uses. In terms of aesthetics, Encore is a Pokemon move that makes a Pokemon do what it did before by giving it applause, and I do hope this deck does the thing it was meant to do and then gets enough applause to justify doing it again and again. How do we do this in Magic? We use a little-used alternate win condition!
Biovisionary is an awesome win condition, as it requires multiple copies of itself to be out, which is ordinarily impossible in a singleton format. With cloning effects, like Croaking Counterpart, however, this becomes entirely doable! We can use Polymorphous Rush to turn our entire field into cheerleaders for Politoed, or even use Cytoshape to turn Politoed itself into a Biovisionary!
The Perfect Fusion
Grolnok's mill and Politoed's Biovisionary plan work together beautifully, but relying on getting and sticking a Biovisionary is a dubious prospect in a 100-card format. Thankfully, the milling helps to dig for the win con, and the creature is exiled into a safe space to cast. But how do we make sure we see it?
Oath of Druids is a classic way to make sure we see the creature we want. It's almost always true that someone has more creatures on a given turn, especially since we don't make that many (at least, at first). Oath even mills until it hits a creature, which works well with the Flashback plan. What it doesn't do well, however, is find a specific creature, unless we accept another tough build condition: if we want to be sure to hit Biovisionary every time, we can't play other creatures. Factoring in the need for nonpermanent spells to be castable from the grave, this limitation is a bit beyond what's comfortable, so we'll settle for it possibly hitting a Frog, which would then mill further by attacking.
Primal Command is a highly useful Swiss Army Knife card, which also allows a graveyard shuffle if we lose our key card or are at risk of milling out. The search happens after, as abilities resolve from the top down, so we can shuffle our grave and then search out a creature that was shuffled back and put it in our hands. Why is it in a good place in our hand? It can be Imprinted!
Imprinting Biovisionary on Soul Foundry is a nasty little trick that not only enables instant-speed Biovisionaries, but also allows us to keep our key guy in a safe spot, free from countermagic or removal, setting up the clones, which don't care if they copy a token or the original, and don't have the temporal stipulation!
Politoed, Use Encore!
Here's the most recent iteration of the deck, although it has recently been retired. The core of it is still intact, however, so a revival is possible!
Grolnok, the PolitoedView on Archidekt
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View this decklist on Archidekt