This week, Kristen takes a look at the hottest new Boros Commander from Ikoria: Winota, Joiner of Forces. Let’s dig into some spicy interactions. 

Ikora: Lair of Behemoths released last week on MTGO and Arena. With the Commander 2020 cards delayed on MTGO until May, the focus of many brewers has been on the cards in the Ikoria main set. Of course for many of us, availability of cards is dictated by paper anyway; whether a set is online or not, chances are we’re already theorizing and crafting away.

I could easily write this week about the impact of Ikoria—from Companion cards on all formats, to the power creep in EDH—but instead I’d like to go back to my roots and share my brewing process for Winota, Joiner of Forces. It’s been a while since we’ve sat and dug into some new cards, so let’s get stuck in.

State of Boros: 2020

Going into the new year, Boros was in a pretty good place, in my opinion. For those tired of a combat focus, 2019 brought us new Commanders in Gerrard, Weatherlight Hero and Feather, the Redeemed—and for ramp we got the ever-present Smothering Tithe. The addition of Underworld Breach and Heliod’s Intervention this year breathed new life into many strategies, and having access to another infinite combo in Heliod, Sun-Crowned and Walking Ballista was always going to be good.

Underworld Breach deserves every shred of praise and more. Beyond enabling combos with Dockside Extortionist or Lion’s Eye Diamond and Wheel of Fortune, it can offer some generic value to Boros builds. The floor of being able to cast another Path to Exile for three mana and three cards is respectable, but the opportunities presented by this card are innumerable. Giving decks like Angel Reanimator a new tool for recursion that can be recurred itself with Sun Titan and Sevinne’s Reclamation is huge, and that’s before you even consider being able to cast Mana Geyser from the graveyard.

The biggest challenge to Boros is still the power creep in other colors. Yes, we’re slowly getting new Red and White cards that are more playable; but when you see set-after-set printings of Oko, Thief of Crowns, Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, and then Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy? It feels like adding insult to injury. It might be some time before we see the card advantage Boros deserves in EDH, but honestly? I think the past twelve months have given us a bunch of new tools. I’m hopeful they are the small stones that start an avalanche.

Winota, Joiner of Forces

Winota, I believe, continues that process, and I’m excited to see such a cool new Boros Commander.

Before we look at what makes her tick, I’d like to get one thing out of the way: I find it kinda amusing to see so many people complain that they want to do something “new” in Boros and not just be rewarded for attacking. I’m the opposite—whilst I appreciate and endorse other ways to play, I overwhelmingly want to be given more reasons to want to be attacking. Give me that sweet, sweet card advantage for doing so!

One of my favorite cards from the last few years is Etali, Primal Storm, and I’ll run it as often as I can. It can be ludicrously powerful, and being able to untap with it can often mean you’re primed to snowball to victory. I think Winota is strong enough to join the “kill it on sight” club of four-mana-or-less Commanders that we’ve begun to expect in EDH over the last year, and here’s why:

The specific wording in Winota’s ability is what makes it so good. A couple years ago, I’d never have expected the creature that was put into play would gain Indestructible until end of turn. I’d also have never expected to see the ability trigger for each non-Human declared as an attacker. If Winota said “whenever one or more,” I think it’d be consigned pretty quickly to the bulk bin. But triggering for each can lead to some really huge tempo swings.

We want to go wide with non-Human creatures, and be rewarded by pulling out Humans from the deck. This means some creative deckbuilding, which honestly is what I love most about EDH. If this were a Simic card, it wouldn’t have the creature type restrictions, and we’d be playing pure “good stuff.” It isn’t, though, and that means zoning in on a good balance is important. For me, that balance looks something like:

  • Non-humans low on the curve that either provide set-up value or multiple bodies
  • More expensive Humans that we’d be happy to cheat into play
  • Humans that produce non-Human tokens
  • Enters-the-Battlefield value on our creatures
  • Ways to take extra combats and to grant Haste in the late game

Winota’s Rider

So, we’ve got the key building blocks for the deck. Let’s look a little closer. There’s one other key facet of Winota that warrants mentioning at this stage. She doesn’t have to be attacking herself to start the snowball of value. This means we ideally want to curve into her with a full board, especially given we can safely hold her back if we need to, ensuring that she isn’t blocked and killed too soon.

Early game, we want to be going as wide as possible. Think Legion’s Landing, Hordeling Outburst, Secure the Wastes, Loyal Apprentice, Oketra’s Monument, and Sram’s Expertise. Chandra, Acolyte of Flame is really cool here, as she can let us re-cast token spells from the bin, as well as providing non-Humans with haste to attack with.

I also like Force of Rage here. Although you won’t often want to cast it for free in an opponent’s turn, being able to drop two instant-speed attackers with Winota in play sounds good to me. Hate Mirage is also pretty good for us: copying a Solemn Simulacrum and another value non-Human gives us EtB triggers, attack triggers, and potentially death triggers too, all for four mana. Tempt with Vengeance will likely show our whole library, so grab that for sure.

As far as what we’re hoping to hit from Winota, it’s basically anything big that gives value; think Odric, Master Tactician, Darien, King of Kjeldor, or Tajic, Blade of the Legion. Other great cards to include to hit from Winota are Angrath’s Marauders, Captain of the Watch, Knight-Captain of Eos, and Geist-Honored Monk. Anything that brings tokens with it is great, especially if we have Mentor of the Meek. There aren’t many humans I’d run low on the curve, but one that deserves a mention is Tilonalli’s Summoner. Even though the tokens it creates won’t trigger Winota that turn, it’s a great way to rebuild after a board wipe or set up to capitalize on Winota later on.

To facilitate extra combats, and therefore extra triggers, Aurelia, the Warleader is an obvious include at the top of our curve. The spiciest way to go again, though, is hitting Auratouched Mage from a Winota trigger. When it comes into play, we can grab Breath of Fury and, provided the Mage gets through, untap for another combat. I don’t see any reason we can’t end games this way as we’re quite happy to burn through tokens or even creatures in the name of enabling the avalanche. There are ways to make it harder to block, like Manifold Key. Fury of the Horde is another good call here, as it’s likely we’ll end up with cards stuck in our hand if we go off quick enough, and having a free extra combat is exactly what we need.

The secret Commander of the deck has to be Goldnight Commander, though. Provided your deck is stacked with enough bodies that bring tokens with them, this can turn big turns into absolute bloodbaths. It’s the card you’ll always want to hit; and if you hit it early enough, you might not need those extra combats. Yes, I’m assuming we can get some extra combats. There’s every chance our opponents see the potential of our build and make life difficult, but let’s leave behind that old Boros pessimism and embrace the gifts we’ve been given.

Speaking of embracing gifts we’ve been given, there’s one card I’m stoked to run in this deck. Given Winota doesn’t require us to have extra mana to keep the value train going, we can run Keldon Firebombers and really extend our lead. While a full Armageddon might be considered crass, we’re not resetting the board entirely—and I honestly feel like Firebombers is a pretty reasonable card for this deck. It stops the inevitable Cyclonic Rift follow up that decimates our tokens while still giving our opponents some outs.

Reform the Lines

It’s interesting that I’m a little less all-in on ramp in a deck like this. While cards like Sol Ring are always good (and Mana Crypt if you have it), the fact you don’t need much mana to get going with Winota means it’s less of a focus than usual. You’ll want ways to go wide early, and ways to preserve your board instead. Holding up a free-cast Flawless Maneuver or Selfless Spirit leaves us in a pretty good place.

Gerrard, Weatherlight Hero is great boardwipe protection, and I think this deck is finally a home for Cliffside Rescuer. Usually I’d prefer Mother of Runes or Giver of Runes in this role, but being a vigilant attacker that can both trigger and protect Winota after declaring attacks makes this a lot more playable. For a deeper cut, Fight to the Death can potentially be a one-sided wrath, particularly if the creatures dragged in by Winota can help us enable a second combat, or if we have Selfless Spirit or Boros Charm available to save the rest of our board.

If our board is removed, we have some great options for recursion. Sun Titan is non-Human, and so is Angel of Glory’s Rise. These are big value plays, but a cheaper option to restock is Elixir of Immortality—putting all of the Humans back into the deck lets us re-roll next time around. Scroll Rack can be great at stacking the top of our deck with Humans stranded in our hand, so if you can stretch to it, I’d definitely do so.

As far as board wipes we’d be running ourselves, taking those that produce tokens might be best—think Elspeth, Sun’s Champion or Martial Coup. In addition, overloading Mizzium Mortars or Winds of Abandon are very reasonable ways to clear the way given we don’t need mana to keep going with Winota.

Hammer of Purphoros is great for when we want to re-populate after a board wipe. It grants our creatures haste, and gives us a way to get a token into play should we need one. Anointed Procession is obviously a great include too, and you’ll definitely appreciate how powerful it can be in a deck like this. Heroic Reinforcements might look underrated, but it can do a lot of work. Even with no other creatures to play it can begin the snowball, and that’s sometimes all we need.

Flicker of Fate

A supplementary suite of Flicker spells could be pretty good here. We have a lot of strong EtB effects, so something like Ephemerate can be a great way to get extra value and protect Winota in a pinch. Legion’s Initiative is an onboard trick “prepared earlier” that can save us from a board wipe, and Eerie Interlude can also work wonders. Heck, I might finally have a deck for my gorgeous foil Magali Villenueve Urbis Protector; with flicker and cheating it into play, it becomes vaguely playable, even if Master Splicer and Blade Splicer are technically higher in the pick order. Zealous Conscripts is also a great human to hit, given it can remove a blocker at the very least.

Speaking of cute: Murder Investigation could also be fun, particularly if we have a sacrifice outlet, or something like Impact Tremors or Purphoros, God of the Forge. I’ve always been a big fan of Altar of Dementia; if we are looking to set up big turns with Faith’s Reward or Angel of Glory’s Rise, it’s not a bad shout to include as it also helps dodge exile-based removal. Not to mention, it can also be a great way to win a game—with Goldnight Commander or Cathars’ Crusade, we might have enough power in play to mill someone we can’t freely attack. Spore Frog is a card, after all. If we’re running Angel of Glory’s Rise and Altar of Dementia, it’s only natural to ensure we also have Fiend Hunter so we can combo off if we need to.

If in doubt, just cast Mob Rule.

A Note on Zirda, the Dawnwaker

Originally, this article was meant to be a dive into both of the new Commanders. It turns out that Winota really got the juices flowing. Though Zirda, the Dawnwaker is an exciting card—particularly given how good Grim Monolith and Basalt Monolith are with it—I can’t possibly fit this little fox in today too. Suffice to say, it’s an equally cool card, and one that I’m even just happy to jam into existing equipment decks; Akiri x Bruse will love it, I’m sure. In short: I think it’s a sweet card, but as a Companion, better suited to decks like Kenrith, the Returned than anything strictly Boros.

I’d also like to touch quickly on the other new “Boros” cards we got in C20. Cartographer’s Hawk is pretty cool and interesting, and a card I can see doing a lot of work in builds of God-Eternal Oketra, but ultimately a card I think is a bit of a “nonbo” with what Boros wants to do ramp wise. Early game, you want to be putting Sword of the Animist on an evasive body, and using Burnished Hart. I still think those are better and more consistent options than the bird, and ultimately negate the ability for the Hawk to even trigger if you’re playing them right.

Verge Rangers, on the other hand, is sweet. Having first strike in addition to being able to look at and play the top card of your library if it’s a land provides great value in these colors. Even beyond just playing lands—which Elsha of the Infinite is overjoyed to see—being able to see what’s coming next gives us more information about how much of our hand to play out. One of the biggest reasons Boros struggles in EDH is balancing playing out our hand and then being unable to rebuild. If we see some recursion coming up, or protection, we can sometimes afford to be a little more risky. It’s a great card and one I can see myself playing a lot.

In Closing

Whew! Winota is a seriously fun and powerful Commander. I’m really excited to build it in paper, and I think it’s entirely possible to build this for less than $100 and still be competitive—Commander Replay has done just that. If you’re on a budget, go check out his early testing.

I’ve tried to cover a lot of ground with this article today, but I’ve undoubtedly missed something. If you’re hype to build this Boros powerhouse, or just want to let me know what absurd card I missed, find me on Twitter to continue the discussion.

Based in the UK, Kristen is a lover of both Limited and Commander, and can most often be found championing the Boros Legion when called upon to sit down and shuffle up.

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