Uncommanders - Political Puppetry

Lazav, Familiar Stranger by Tyler Jacobson

A Stranger in the Saloon

You walk into a saloon, packed to the brim with the denizens of Thunder Junction. It's getting late at night, and naturally the crowd is getting rowdy. The piano is getting its keys tickled by a skilled viashino, and the dancing boots on the creaky wooden floor are making a ruckus. For the most part the saloon is jovial, the center filled with raucous partiers. But in every corner, characters from across the Multiverse regard each other with distrust, grouping together in tense gangs. One in particular catches your eye. He wears a dark hat and a thick coat. You can see an old face, barely exposed to the light. He seems so familiar, yet you could swear you've never seen him. Who is this man?

Outlaws of Thunder Junction is packed to the brim with unique wild-west-themed characters, with a ton of unique abilities and mechanics. There's massive demons, tiny skeletons, and everyone's favorite fairy with a six pack. My favorite pauper-legal one has to be Lazav, Familiar Stranger, though. In exchange for committing a crime, he grows bigger and then copies a creature in the graveyard. Let's see what we can do with him!

I Don't Know Him, and I Don't Know How to Build His Deck

Lazav, Familiar Stranger really wants us to fill up someone's graveyard with mill, then copy those creatures and beat down with him as a bit of a Voltron commander. We need to mill a little bit at first, and find the player running the biggest, beefiest creatures for Lazav to copy. From then on, they're our mill target. Our eventual hope is to kill them by milling them out, and in the meantime use their graveyard to turn Lazav into a massive, face-beating monster, who takes out our other opponents. 

Let's start with milling. My first idea was just a bunch of targeted mill spells, stuff like Compelling Argument, Dreadwaters, and Dream Twist. These cards mill a lot, and provide a ton of fodder for Lazav to pick from, which is critical, because he consumes creatures extremely quickly. Keep in mind, he can only copy a creature once, and after that, he needs to find other things in the graveyard. The problem of course, is that he needs something to trigger him, and Tome Scour is a one-time-use card. It's extremely difficult to pack the deck full of enough cards that we can get what we need for Lazav every turn, especially since the options for good mill spells severely fall off after the first ten or so. We'd have to play stuff like Returned Centaur, for heaven's sake!

In order to fix this problem, we could supplement the deck with some cards like Cathartic Adept. They can be activated every single turn, giving Lazav the opportunity to don a new face at any time. The downside? These creatures barely mill at all. If Screeching Sliver is all we've got, and it mills a land, we've got nothing to do. 

By mashing these strategies together and adding in removal, we do get a decent deck that kinda manages to hold itself together. We can mill a decent bit, trigger Lazav frequently, and swing in for a bit. But it doesn't feel very good. There's cards in here like Thassa's Bounty, for pete's sake. Does pauper just not have enough support for the mill strategy? The deck is weak to say the least. 

A Familiar Face

Luckily, just one card can save us. Persistent Petitioners is Pauper-legal, and it's known for being at the head of the best EDH mill deck. Usually, it's paired with Bruvac the Grandiloquent, who doubles its ability mill to 24, and serves as an Advisor who can tap for their ability. Honestly, I see that deck so much that I forgot the Petitioners only mill 12 on their own. Here, though, we're not even trying to mill people out. All that we need is a million copies of a creature that can fill a graveyard effectively, and commit a crime. 

Tricks of the Trade

Don't worry, though; even though Persistent Petitioners make up the bulk of the deck, there's still some interesting cards that fill the rest. The main tech I'm taking advantage of is cards that put themselves into the graveyard, mainly cyclers. These are our backup cards, for the instances where our opponents have no real meat in their graveyard, or our mill plan just isn't getting there. Marauding Brinefang and Troll of Khazad-dûm are massive beaters that Lazav can copy as early as turn four that let us swing in for loads of damage. Windcaller Aven is a bit less beefy, but has the massive upside of giving Lazav evasion for a turn. 

Speaking of evasion, how are we getting Lazav through? Cards like Aqueous Form, Security Bypass, and Cloak of Mists give him complete freedom, but even Arcane Flight just giving flying is usually good enough. For the most part, our gameplan is to be attacking with Lazav, so it's extremely important to get through unhindered. 

The last part of the deck is of course staples. Luckily, all of our removal and counterspells double as ways to commit crimes. Counterspells a little less, as we have to play them in response, on our opponents' turns, but there may still be value to copying certain creatures at those times. Removal, however, allows us to put creatures we want to copy into graveyards. Go for the Throat is a Pauper all star, along with Feed the Swarm, Murder, and Victim of Night. Nothing spectacular, but they get the job done. Another favorite sector of mine is the bounce spells Vapor Snag and Unsummon. In key spots, they're the perfect answer, and when used right, can easily win you the game. 

Desert Treasure

Lastly, there's a few cards that don't fit into any categories. Desert is a free addition to the deck that can put a +1/+1 counter on Lazav at the end of combat. He could copy something, but at that point, it wouldn't be that much use. Wight of Precinct Six is a card that can get huge out of nowhere, especially if we activate the Persistent Petitioners on a creature dense deck a few times. And Jace's Erasure guarantees that Lazav is triggered every single draw step.

That's pretty much what the deck does, and it works pretty effectively. As long as we can find a deck with decent targets, it's extremely easy to keep Lazav growing, and keep attacking with him. The longer the game lasts, and the more graveyards get filled, the stronger we get. 

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This Stranger's on Your Side!

Suddenly, the stranger beckons to you. Come closer, his finger says. Reluctantly, you do. Is this man to be trusted? As you near, you attempt to identify him, but his form remains shadowed and impossible to recognize. Suddenly, you see he is not on his own. Four characters in ornate blue robes flank him, and these you do recognize. Ravnican politicians? From the Azorius guild? What's going on here?

I don't really know where I'm going with this fan fiction. But I do know that the deck performs pretty well, and has the potential to be one of my best pauper decks. Do you think that the Persistent Petitioners are better than just classic mill spells, or are they only good with Bruvac?

Alejandro Fuentes's a nerd from Austin Texas who likes building the most unreasonable decks possible, then optimizing them till they're actually good. In his free time, he's either trying to fit complex time signatures into death metal epics, or writing fantasy novels.