If there’s one thing I can tell you as a lover of combat, it’s that Commander has changed a lot for “fair” aggro decks. We can all agree that outside of your regular playgroup (and perhaps even within it) games have gotten a little quicker, and decks tend to be “online” sooner than they used to.
I’d go as far as to say that playing six and seven mana-plus creatures outside of Green or dedicated Reanimator/Ritual style builds has become prohibitive unless you’re lucky enough to have cards like , , and in your deck, and even then, you’re often still a little late to the party without hitting multiple of these parity-breaking cards in sequence.
Today I’d like to look at one of my decks and how it’s evolved to deal with a changing format.
Sylvia Brightspear & Khorvath Brightflame
When Sylvia & Khorvath were revealed in Battlebond, I knew I had to get my hands onto them. Boros partners that cared about two super flavorful tribes? I couldn’t say no. My original build of the deck concentrated equally on the better Knights and Dragons available, with a decent amount of ramp to get them into play, some great finishers like , and a cheeky to really add some spice. Despite being a creature tribal deck, I managed to get in some value cards like and some of the better equipment. All in all, it looked like the average Boros deck of 2018-2019; midrange value with as much card advantage as possible, with the leaks patched by decent equipment.
Sylvia and Khorvath were pretty popular partners back in 2018, and by 2019, I wasn’t the only one to have built them. The Legendary Creature podcast did a fun episode on Boros wherein they took a listener’s S&K deck and spiced it up with a package. The deck became more about using as the secret Commander, and using the keywords on Sylvia and Khorvath to elevate a smorgasbord of different value low drops, from Goblins to Humans. It was a sweet build, and one that begun to identify the problems and the benefits of running these Boros partners.
The problem with Sylvia and Khorvath as Commanders is that they only have keywords. Yes, they can grant them to the rest of your team, but in modern Commander, that’s about the least impressive thing you can have in the zone, especially when Boros is perpetually behind the latest Simic nonsense. Despite strong additions to the deck like , the Cavaliers from M20, and , there was something lacklustre about the deck as time went on.
During 2020 I ended up dismantling my build. Aside from sourcing components for other brews, the reason I ended up dismantling the deck is because limiting myself to only Knights and Dragons didn’t afford me the better Boros creatures and spells, and ramping out into Dragons was proving to not really be worth it. Having Commanders without a combo or value – be that mana advantage or draw, or even extra combats – in the zone is a hard sell these days.
Adventures with Forgotten Decks
So, what drew me back in? Well, it was actually Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, interestingly enough. A set that I wasn’t particularly invested in as someone with only a passing interest in D&D, I was left to evaluate the cards as they were previewed to see if there was anything I was interested in. If you read my Set Review for White over at EDHREC, you’ll know I did enjoy the set. The card that reignited Sylvia and Khorvath for me was .
It’s always telling about what you’ve previously played with when you identify a card that excites you, and in Nadaar’s case, there was a lot to love. First up, he was both Dragon and Knight, which immediately piqued my interest. Next up, he was low on the curve, and offered card advantage with the Dungeon mechanic. And to round things off, the +1/+1 buff to the team was exactly the reason I loved running in my original build; the +1 power to Sylvia was always relevant, and got better with double strike.
Sylvia & Khorvath 2: DragonSword
Every deck should have a great name, and so, as the year drew to a close, DragonSword was born. Before you ask, I’m not running . You think I have nine mana to spare if I’m not winning the game? Would that I could.
So, DragonSword. What’s the message?
Well, having upgraded with the cards from Commander Legends and Kaldheim, I was feeling pretty hot on equipment decks again. All of the cost reduction and buffs to equipped creatures did a lot to make the deck playable again, and there was a lot of tech there waiting to be used elsewhere.
The other great thing about equipment is that it allows you to lower your curve; you’re essentially building-your-own seven-drop, piecemeal, and you (in theory) get to keep some of it when it leaves play. The challenge comes in balancing utility and keywords; the best keywords in an equipment deck are Flying, Trample, Haste, and Doublestrike. You need at least one of the evasive abilities to get through, and you need Haste and/or Doublestrike to close out a game without having your board constantly removed leaving you unable to finish a game.
Thanks to the newer dragons printed this past year, I was able to flip the script. Dragons were now the bottom end of the deck, not the top end. They mostly cost me between three and five mana, and they mostly came with the exact keywords I’d want in an equipment deck: Flying and Haste.
Taking a page from the keyword soup decks – both / and the Mirror Entity S&K build – I pivoted to using Sylvia as an anthem, and the deck kinda built itself. Khorvath ended up offering us red mana and an occasional late game creature or anthem for our changelings. The deck was now entirely about Sylvia.
What Makes It Tick?
Now that I’d pivoted away from Knights, and focused on Dragons (and doublestrike) instead, there was now some space left in the deck left by absence of the Knights and “goodstuff” Boros cards.
The deck now has a new secret Commander: . Magda does everything the deck wants to do; she ramps us, rewards us for attacking, buffs our changelings, and helps us tutor dragons or equipment into play. Alongside her, we have for doublestrike redundancy, and , for cheap equips and doublestrike payoff. It’s weird, but there’s almost a Dwarves & Dragons deck here.
Of course, cheap equips and big buffs are the name of the game here. ’s stats for the equip cost are right where we want to be, and if we get a equipped to each of our creatures, that’s a lot of damage. You can’t ignore how good Sylvia is at wearing equipment either: is a no-brainer.
Sylvia is such a good creature that some games it’s possible to start – or finish – with a Voltron approach. A 2/2 body isn’t the best, though, so getting a little bonus power is often enough to unlock attacks for her. Enter and . The Aura is great for us; a three power Sylvia that can attack or block early game is fantastic, and she always ends up dying. Putting the curse on an opponent that has flying blockers helps us in the mid-late game.
Lightning Spear, on the other hand, gives us trample for a cheap cost. This is crucial, as when we hit, we’re hitting hard. The opportunity to fire it off as removal is also pretty sweet, especially as it can make blocking really awkward for our opponents. We can always grab it back with recursion later.
Trample is pretty key, so aside from the , I’m also trying out , a card I’m pretty hyped about. In this deck, we’re likely to get to double-dip with doublestrike, giving us more chances at casting bonus spells.
Now, given we’re already trying to do some tribal based stuff, we can’t go full-ham on equipment. Which is really no matter, as our dragons hit pretty hard with doublestrike on their own. Still, there’s redundancy in the deck. Reyav aside, we pack Halvar and True Conviction at our top end. Halvar is also sweet as he’s a rather good equipment on the other side, much like , which ups our as-fan, and offers another great keyword for to share with the team.
The price of aside, I actually think we’re happier with and in this deck, as they both actually help us win the game too. It’s the reason I went for over : flickering or up to twice is way better than drawing a card a lot of the time.
Speaking of flicker, we’re running . Protection from Green and White is the best protection this deck could hope for, as most often our board will be between one and three creatures wide, and will be surgically removed via cards like rather than wiped. The ramp and flicker are gravy, and help us get a lot of value.
Rem is a meta call for sure, and one that could easily be replaced with another good equipment focused creature like . The reason I went for Rem is because he has those lovely keywords Flying and Haste, and because he protects our board from , a spell I see 1.5 times a game and a spell I’m quite bored of at this point.
Speaking of boring, if you’re finding UGx value decks are able to race ahead too far, then is definitely a good call for a deck that cares about doublestrike. I keep it in the deckbox or mulligan it away against slower tables, but don’t be afraid to punish the ramp deck. This checks the boxes of land destruction in that it doesn’t punish the other players at the table, and helps you close games by getting rid of problem lands – or mana for interaction
Sylvia & Khorvath 2: DragonSword is a deck I’m having a lot of fun with. Indeed, it’s gotten me excited about playing Boros aggro again, which is a big relief. The format has changed a lot recently, and, rather than constantly upgrading a deck, switching gears for a rebuild is often the better answer. When most of your dragons can be hitting for anywhere from 12 to 20 damage per combat step, life totals drop quickly, leaving a very viable aggro deck for casual tables. Now, if they could just print some more three-mana Dragons…