Uncommanders: Tentacles, Teeth, and Pincers

The Queen of Winter vs. A Sewer Terror

With Wilds of Eldraine having just been released, one of the hottest (or should I say coldest) new commanders is Hylda of the Icy Crown. On top of being very powerful, she's also cheap and easy to build. There're so many random bulk cards that tap down creatures, and while underwhelming on their own, Hylda of the Icy Crown adds an extremely strong payoff. Several payoffs, in fact. The combination of go-wide army-building plus the main goal of constantly removing blockers is going to make this deck very hard to deal with, and really annoying to play against, if you're a fan of Voltron. While Hylda of the Icy Crown's deck is going to embody the bulk commons spirit of Pauper, she's unfortunately been printed with a shiny orange set symbol, making her illegal as a pEDH commander. I guess we'll just have to look elsewhere to find our tap down commander. 

Sharktocrab was one of the first cards I pulled from a Magic: The Gathering booster, and I had a good laugh about it with my friends. It was a ridiculous card to see, even before I understood what it did. A Shark Octopus Crab? Goofy as hell, but also totally awesome. It's too bad it never found a home in one of my decks. Until now... 

While both Hylda of the Icy Crown and Sharktocrab are going to focus on tapping down creatures, the way they're gonna do it is quite different. Hylda asks you to fill your deck with tappers while providing the payoff. Sharktocrab asks you to play the payoff, and it'll turn that into the tap-down. With the Simic Mutant, we want to cram the deck with as many ways to put a +1/+1 counter on it as we can, because every time we do, we give our opponent one less blocker, and when they have no blockers left, we swing in with a massive Sharktocrab.

Pieces of the Puzzle

Obviously, the most important thing here is putting counters on our commander. I'd say that we want to get two or three triggers every turn cycle in order to keep down the biggest threats. Pieces that stick around and continue to buff him are ideal. Thrummingbird, Forced Adaptation, Predatory Hunger, and Armory of Iroas are the best cards in the deck. Primal Cocoon is decent, but preventing our commander from attacking or blocking is a huge ask. Still, if it gets a few counters on in the early game, it's worth it for one mana. Cards that give our commander a counter and some benefits, like Duskshell Crawler or Stealth Mission, are also highly valued, and while paying one mana for one counter with Burst of Strength seems bad at first, it becomes very useful when you play it at instant speed, tapping down a creature before it can attack. Along with these cards, there's plenty of other utility in this deck that just happens to add a counter, like Experimental Augury

You'll notice that we're making a Voltron deck, a strategy that's infamously fragile. One Doom Blade, and five turns of work can be erased. It's a hundred times worse with counters, too. Unlike the Equipment of most Voltron decks, these just disappear as soon as our commander's gone, along with any Auras attached to it. Knowing this, we're gonna have to keep our commander safe. Gaea's Gift adds a counter, so that's an easy inclusion. Still, one-mana protection spells are important enough that we'll include them regardless of whether they can trigger the monster, so Tamiyo's Safekeeping and Ranger's Guile are in. If we can keep Sharktocrab in play, the deck will function. 

Now we need our staples. We're playing blue and green, the value colors, so ramp and card draw are simple. Half the time, they're on the same card. The tricky part is removal, which is somewhat less plentiful. In Pauper, these colors don't really say, "destroy," so we'll have to find another way to take them down. One of the best ways here is going to be fight/damage spells, especially because these often come with counters. Smell Fear is fantastic, tapping down a creature, which is a form of removal in itself, and then having Sharktocrab, which will be huge, fight any target. Very little is going to be out of bounds for this, except... if our commander gets removed. For the instances when we can't just put a creature into the arena with our giant Shark Octopus Crab, we have bounce spells. Yes, these are usually a second choice to any other removal, but hear me out: they're better than they seem. They're all really cheap, almost always costing one mana. That's not a lot of mana to leave up, and if you're leaving that up, it signals a Counterspell, which is always in your favor. In our deck, we don't spend that much mana after playing Sharktocrab anyways, so leaving one up is pretty easy. Now, the obvious downside to bounce spells is that the creature can just be played again. The thing is, bounce spells are all about timing. Does a creature want to attack? Wait until it's tapped, then bounce it before damage. The turn is wasted, and next turn, it'll be afflicted with summoning sickness. Does a creature trigger when cards are drawn? Bounce it right before the Windfall, practically countering the wheel and nullifying an entire turn. Yeah, it's temporary removal, but a creature being off the board for a turn can have game-winning consequences. 

Some Hidden Gems

Did you know there's a card called Borrowing 100,000 Arrows? It's a weird name, and kinda sounds out of place, probably because of the number. Doing some research, it's from Portal Three Kingdoms, where the cards were based on the three kingdoms period of Chinese history. The card's about when Zhuge Ling filled a boat with dummies, tricking the enemy into firing and donating their arrows. Damn, that's really sick. It's like Universes Beyond from 1999. I wonder if Wizards is planning on doing anything like this again? Regardless, I think this card is pretty good. Even without tap synergies, I think you're almost guaranteed to draw three cards from at any point in the late game. That's on-par with Painful Truths, and it has the potential to go much bigger. 

Betrayal is another interesting card, mostly for its early game synergies. Llanowar Elves, the most popular mana dork, is in 10% of all decks recorded on EDHREC. Almost every game, you'll see one mana dork. Cast Betrayal with a turn-one Island, and that's a lot of draws. I'll have to do some testing, but I'm telling ya', this card will replace itself a few times over. 

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So who do you think would win in a fight? Sharktocrab, or Hylda of the Icy Crown? Okay, okay, I know. Hylda could tap down our Voltron commander every time. But who's the better tap commander? Still Hylda? Ugh, fine. At least my deck gets to play a massive Shark Octopus Crab. Either way, I don't look forward to playing against either. What do you think of the strategy?

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.