I’m going to do something a bit different this week. Rather than editing a deck that one of you sent in, I’ll be talking about a new deck in my playgroup. I recently helped my brother build an Iroas, God of Victory deck. While it’s still in a very rough form—this is only the second draft it’s been through)—I think it’s worth showcasing.

Commander: Iroas, God of Victory

54 Creatures: Accorder Paladin, Akroan Hoplite, Anafenza, Kin-tree Spirit, Angel of Jubilation, Archangel of Tithes, Aurelia, the Warleader, Azorious Justicar, Banisher Priest, Bloodlust Initiate, Boros Elite, Brimaz, King of Oreskos, Bygone Bishop, Combat Celebrant, Consul’s LieutenantCyclops GladiatorDarien, King of KjeldorDragonmaster OutcastDragonscale GeneralElesh Norn, Grand CenobiteFairgrounds WardenFiend HunterGeist-Honored MonkGisela, Blade of GoldnightGoblin WardriverGrand AbolisherGrenzo, Havoc RaiserHanweir GarrisonHarsh Mentor, HellriderHero of Bladehold, Honored Crop-CaptainIntrepid HeroJazal GoldmaneKrenko, Mob BossKytheon, Hero of AkrosLegion LoyalistMalignusMentor of the MeekOdric, Lunarch MarshalOdric, Master Tactician, Ogre BattledriverOketra the TruePrecinct CaptainPurphorous, God of the ForgeRanger of EosRecruiter of the GuardReveillarkScab-Clan BerserkerScourge of the ThroneSerra AscendantSignal PestStingscourgerStonybrook SchoolmasterTwilight DroverUrabrask the HiddenWindborn Muse

8 Spells: Aether VialCaptain’s ClawsElspeth, Sun’s ChampionInquisitor’s FlailKonda’s BannerOketra’s MonumentSol RingThrone of the God-Pharoh

35 Lands: 10 Plains, 7 Mountain, Ancient ZigguratBattlefield ForgeBoros GarrisonClifftop RetreatCommand TowerFlagstones of TrokairHanweir BattlementsInspiring VantageMystifying MazeReflecting PoolRugged PrairieSacred FoundryShinka, the Bloodsoaked KeepSlayers’ StrongholdSpinerock KnollSunhome, Fortress of the LegionTemple of TriumphWindbrisk Heights

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. There’s a lot of what most people would call draft fodder in this deck, alongside traditionally powerful commander cards like Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and contructed powerhouses like Brimaz, King of Oreskos. It houses a starggering 56 creatures to only eight noncreatures, Sol Ring is the only piece of ramp in the entire deck, and the duo of Mentor of the Meek and Bygone Bishop are the only way to draw cards. You’re horrendously weak to Wraths or any kind of prison effect, have zero instant speed tricks and your interaction is mostly limited to tempo plays rather than permanent solutions. Even a simple Fog is a huge problem for anyone playing this deck. On paper it looks like every mistake rookie commander players make mashed together. This deck is everything people like me are supposed to warn you about. So the deck sucks, right?

Wrong.

In fact I think this might be the greatest force for good my playgroup has seen for a long time. My brother and I are still fine-tuning the list so I’m not going to go through and talk about every card because I know there are some pretty big changes that need to be made. Instead I want to talk about the deck as a whole and the unique exercise we had making it.

Conventional wisdom holds that aggro is bad in Commander. (The reasons why are numerous and have been covered by almost every commander writer at some point, so I won’t get into it.) The vast majority of decks need ramp and card draw to keep up with the huge life totals and massive creatures that make up the format, which skews even the fastest creature decks towards the tempo or midrange end of the spectrum.

This deck is as aggro as they come, and after testing against it all week I can say I’d forgotten how terrifying sitting across the table from something like this is. While most decks are ramping and otherwise setting up Iroas is already attacking, often into boards that lack any defense. And that damage adds up fast.

What separates this list from most failed aggressive lists is the commander. Iroas’s effect is incredibly potent. Menace lets you force damage through almost any set of defenses you want to, and forces even players with massive armies to turtle up if they want to keep you at bay. But the real prize is Iroas’s prevent all damage to attacking creatures clause. This transforms combat math in a way that no other commander can really match. To put it simply, you never lose combat. Attacking a few 3/1s into a board of 5/5s? No problem. You lose nothing and likely still get a few points of damage through. This means your two and three drops stay relevant well past the point where they should be outclassed and means this deck can unabashedly play the likes of Boros Elite and Akroan Hoplite.

That leads me to what made this deck a success. I mentioned earlier that this is the second draft of the deck. The first was a much slower midrange deck stuffed to the gills with cards that were objectively powerful but also much more expensive. That version of the deck was objectively terrible, so much so that we abandoned the second game it was played in halfway through to make changes. When asked to help edit it, I gave my brother a challenge: cut down the list until you have no more than eight cards in the whole deck with converted mana cost of five or more.

He later upped that number to ten, but the exercise forced us to really evaluate just how good the traditional “auto-include” cards were. Is Malignus actually better than Avacyn, Angel of Hope? Should Gisela be cut for Noblis of War? I happen to think the answer to the second question is yes, which is mind-boggling considering that Gisela is one of the most powerful red/white cards ever printed. Two mana really does make that much of a difference here.

I don’t want to gloss over the issues this deck has. It’s easily shut down by the right hate cards and it struggles more and more the more players are in a game. What it does do, and the reason I’m so glad to have this in our playgroup is speed things up. Before this things had mostly fallen into a pattern of decks designed to do their own thing and go over the top of eachother, which led to most of them eschewing answers in favor of just going bigger themselves. Every game was an arms race to have an unbeatable haymaker, and even wraths had fallen by the wayside to some extent because no one wanted to hurt their own progress.

Iroas is most definitely a predator to that metagame and will probably lose some of its power once people are forced to adapt. But having a consistently aggressive deck in the mix has made games much more enjoyable, and I say that as the person who’s been on the receiving end of most of these beatdowns. Every move matters now, because Iroas doesn’t give people the luxury of taking turns off. But more importantly, being gunned for by this deck forces you to adapt, make plays that would be otherwise unthinkable just to survive. It’s been a breath of fresh air, and one that’s forced our games to become more interactive. I can’t speak for the rest of the group, but I’m having a blast.

If you want your deck to be featured in a future Dear Azami, send the decklist to Dearazami@gmail.com, along with a brief description of what issues the deck is having and what budget you want me to work with.

Levi Byrne has been with the game since Worldwake and has a rabid love for fantasy writing that goes back decades. Despite some forays into Legacy he plays Commander almost exclusively, and has a love for the crazy plays and huge games that make Magic what it is. He was been the go-to advisor of his playgroup on deck construction for more than more than five years before joining Dear Azami. 

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