PokeDecks: Sygg, the Relicanth

Unsummoned Skull • June 2, 2023

Sygg, River Cutthroat by Jeremy Enicio

Getting Syggy with it!

Like Rosheen Meanderer before it, Sygg, River Cutthroat is a Shadowmoor commander that I have loved for a long time. Shadowmoor was the set I got into competitive Magic, with my first Pro Tour Qualifiers, regular Friday Night Magics at my college Local Game Store, and my first fat packs and boxes. Like Rosheen, when Worldwake forced me out of competitive Magic and into Elder Dragon Highlander, I wanted to build Sygg, but didn't have enough unique cards for a two-color 100-card highlander deck. Time has changed that, however, and Sygg has joined Rosheen in my PokeDeck pantheon!

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.

Sygg, River Cutthroat!

In Commander, I love burn decks, especially ones that take it into unusual colors. I also look to functional reprints when new sets come out, as those help to invigorate or reinvigorate strategies. In this case, the key piece to the deck was the printing of Blood Pact, which meant that there was a critical mass of black card draw that targets opponents and draws cards while costing life. This meant that it was possible to make a deck with incidental burn that can also serve political purposes, all while drawing cards with Sygg!

But what Pokemon matches Sygg's vibe? With Sygg being a Merfolk, it kind of had to be a fish. But Sygg is more of a river fish, especially given the name, so it needed to be a fish one would find in muddy waters. Since the commander has seemingly been around forever, always seeming to have a niche but never earning the popularity it deserved, it seemed fitting to pair it with a Pokemon that has been around for a while and represents an old-world fish: Relicanth.

Sygg's Abilities

The first challenge was to figure out what Sygg brings to the table. Like Kalain, the first commander I wrote about for this series, Sygg is a two-drop role-playing creature with defensive stats who does a very important job. Kalain made a Treasure on entering the battlefield and buffed creatures made off of Treasures, while Sygg draws cards at the end of each turn if an opponent lost three or more life. Sygg is an incredibly fun political card, as it can draw cards passively just for existing and having opponents hit each other. It can draw as many as four cards per turn cycle, which is incredible value for two mana. That's the best-case scenario, though, so how do we make sure this happens?

Blood Pact is the card that brought the deck together, forming the critical mass of Sign in Blood functional reprints. Why Sign in Bloods? Because they can be used as card draw for me, but they also enable political plays, such as targeting a player who needs the draw in exchange for them allowing one damage (say, from a Sygg attack?) so I draw, too!

Damnable Pact is a Fireball in disguise. It looks like a Sign in Blood, but it's also a mana sink and a ton of damage, and it cantrips off of Sygg. Because it scales in value, there's always something it can do, and it can go from role-player to game-ender in a hurry.

Urza's Guilt is a big bang swing, damaging everyone and drawing everyone cards. We do get a slight advantage on it, as at least one player will have taken three or more damage, but it's not the big advantage it would seem to be, as Sygg only draws one card per turn, no matter how many players lost three or more life. If we work hard, though, we can turn that passive damage into a REAL smackdown!

Relicanth's Moves

The next challenge is to figure out how to cross the IP from Pokemon to Magic. Originally, I wanted to show the incidental life loss through the Rough Skin ability that Pokemon like Sharpedo have, but Fox had recently done a Sharpedo alter, the incidental damage is more controlled than retributive, and Relicanth seemed like a better fit, but didn't get the ability. Most of Relicanth's moves are directly damaging, but it does get Stealth Rock, which seems like a neat allusion to the secretive nature of the deck as a covert burn list. So, what does the move do, and how does this translate into Magic?

Stealth Rock leaves rocks floating around the opponent's side of the battlefield. Whenever a Pokemon is switched in, it takes damage. This sort of incidental damage adds up, especially when the card draw is also burn. Ankh of Mishra damages players when lands are played (not when they enter the battlefield, so Rampant Growth effects are safe).

Faerie Tauntings is a card I'd been looking to use since my first prerelease in Lorwyn. It damages opponents whenever I cast a spell at instant speed, and there are quite a few.

Duskmantle Seer is a HOUSE; it's a decently sized beater and a source of repeated incidental damage, as well as being a political card and truly unique design. All of these sources of incidental damage help to lower life totals, but Relicanth is more of a proactive Pokemon, and the deck needs a more proactive plan.

The Perfect Fusion

Both Relicanth and Sygg need the power to back up the incidental damage they do. For Relicanth, it often leans into its ability, Rock Head, which prevents recoil damage. This ability allows it to use high-power moves without taking the associated recoil damage. Quite a lot of the deck has the flexibility to become burn spells, but at the risk of giving the opponents an advantage, so how can we imitate Rock Head and turn the incidental damage into game-enders, mitigating the downside?

The answer is to amplify the damage! Underworld Dreams and related effects magnify the life loss from Sign in Blood effects and turn the Fireball effect of Damnable Pact into a HUGE burn! But that's not the only high-impact spell we can pack.

Skull Storm is a big bang shot that gets better and better the more our commander has been cast from the command zone. Since Sygg is relatively cheap, it's easy to cast it over and over again. The effect is always good, so it's never a problem to sink mana into it. The advantage it provides is palpable enough that it's a removal target, as well as commonly swept up with Wrath effects, so Skull Storm can get quite a lot of copies!

Peer into the Abyss is another big sorcery, although with a significantly different use from how it is applied in cEDH. Here, Peer isn't used on ourselves, but it's used to lower life totals and to trigger Underworld Dreams for massive damage. The synergy in the deck turns Sygg and Relicanth from role-players into world-beaters in a hurry.

Relicanth, Use Stealth Rock!

The pieces of this list work together to tenderize opponents before dealing bigger and bigger chunks. There's a reason this armored fish has survived so long, and it's by being equal parts savvy and merciless. The same spells that serve political purposes early in the game transform into chunk damage and make it so that, with the proper setup, every top deck becomes live.

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Teacher, judge, DM, & Twitch Affiliate. Lover of all things Unsummon. Streams EDH, Oathbreaker, D & D, & Pokemon. Even made it to a Pro Tour!