In an ever-evolving format like Commander, it can be easy to lose sight of what originally brought an individual player to the table. For me, finding commanders which really spoke to me, ones I could create my own unique expression with, have always been a strong driving force. This individuality often feels like it has fallen by the wayside, even for myself. But today, lets take a look at a deck I had originally earmarked as a deck which was all theme and little substance. I soon found a very different thematic core below the surface.

When Dominaria United Commander was announced, I was extremely excited to see that 2022 was going to give me at least one more legendary samurai to build around. I really liked how Tetsuo, Imperial Champion was built differently than the samurai of Kamigawa. As a descendant of Toshiro Umezawa, there is still a tie to the plane. But, deeper story elements of Tetsuo have far more to do with the rise and fall of Nicol Bolas than anything that happened during the Kami War. But this little flavor nugget would distract me far longer than I care to admit. I delayed the writing of this article for nearly 6 months, simply because I was too stubborn to let go of the themes that I wanted to originally portray. Let’s get into it.

Nicol Bolas and Tetsuo Umezawa, from the set Legends, the original appearance of the two characters that inspired today’s deck.

Swords and Sorcery

To match the flavor of Tetsuo, the original objective for this commander was as a Nicol Bolas slaying deck. In the ideal state, Tetsuo, Imperial Champion’s trigger would either be able to deal seven or more damage, or cast an instant or sorcery – such as Hero’s Downfall" data-card-name="Hero’s Downfall">Hero’s Downfall or Searing Flesh" data-card-name="Searing Flesh">Searing Flesh. It was to ultimately hunt down any dragon tyrants HobbesQ might have in play. In the end, this theme was actually pretty hard to make into a fully realized strategy. 

This idea of an equipment-based spell caster deck really stuck with me. I sought to find the right way to take this emblematic character and turn him into something both flavorful and fun. Then a moment of inspiration hit. I was scrolling through Scryfall one morning, during my daily Enchant Worldle, and I took a long look at Crux of Fate. I thought, “that reminds me of Aku, from Samurai Jack.” And suddenly it all clicked into place. From there, my mind was ablaze with flavor overlap between these were mere mortals working to overthrow god-like rulers. Weeks later, I am ready to bring to you the deck built to capture that flavor of Samurai Jack using flavor across the multiverse of Magic.

Tetsuo, Imperial Champion, the commander of today’s deck.

Creatures: Akki Battle Squad, Death-Greeter’s Champion, Elite Headhunter, Ember-Eye Wolf, Evil Twin, Firebrand Archer, Heiko Yamazaki, the General, Jeskai Windscout, Lord of the Pit, Mardu Heart-Piercer, Ninja of the New Moon, Ruthless Sniper, Sage-Eye Avengers, Torrent Sculptor

Artifacts: Blackblade Reforged, Blazing Sunsteel, Darksteel Plate, Embercleave, Erratic Portal, Mask of Griselbrand, Oathkeeper, Takeno’s Daisho, Ramosian Greatsword, Talisman of Creativity, Talisman of Dominance, Talisman of Indulgence, Tatsumasa, the Dragon’s Fang, Wayfarer’s Bauble

Enchantments: Anthem of Rakdos, Awesome Presence, Eternal Warrior, Hissing Miasma, Tempered in Solitude, The Long Reach of Night, Witness Protection

Instants: Capsize, Commando Raid, Commune with Lava, Defy Gravity, Fiery Fall, Into the Story, Learn from the Past, Lethal Exploit, Return to Action, Tale’s End, Think Twice, You Are Already Dead

Sorceries: Aether Gale, Beacon of Tomorrows, Crux of Fate, Glimpse the Future, Ignite the Future, Modify Memory, Mystic Speculation, Relentless Assault, Role Reversal, Savor the Moment, Shifting Loyalties, Stitch in Time, Time Warp, Warrior’s Oath, Witness the Future

Lands: 8 Island, 6 Mountain, 3 Swamp, Academy Ruins, Blood Crypt, Bloodfell Caves, Contaminated Aquifer, Dismal Backwater, Dragonskull Summit, Drowned Catacomb, Exotic Orchard, Geothermal Bog, Labyrinth of Skophos, Molten Tributary, Shizo, Death’s Storehouse, Steam Vents, Sulfur Falls, Swiftwater Cliffs, Temple of Deceit, Temple of Epiphany, Temple of Malice, Watery Grave, Witch’s Clinic, Xander’s Lounge

Firebrand Archer, Mardu Heart-Piercer, and Ruthless Sniper, cast behind the Three Blind Archers from Samurai Jack.

Man Vs. [Super] Nature

Samurai Jack was an American animated television series that originally aired on Cartoon Network between August 2001 and September 2004. The series follows a Japanese prince turned samurai warrior, who is teleported into the distant future, as he works to defeat the demon, Aku. Due to the nature of television at that time and having siblings, who also got to decide what we watched on a daily basis, I don’t know that I ever saw the entirety of the series. But even a passing knowledge of third-quarters of the series and at least one video by Super Eyepatch Wolf that I’ve probably watched a dozen times, was enough to find thematic tie-ins for the deck.

A lot of the explicit references are seen in the creatures; for example, Firebrand Archer, Mardu Heart-Piercer, and Ruthless Sniper were meant to represent the Three Blind Archers first seen in season one. Just like Evil Twin should be a more obvious reference to Jack’s own evil twin. Jeskai Windscout nods to the time Jack got turned into a bird. And Lord of the Pit looks a lot like Aku himself in its Iconic Masters art.

There are, of course, any number of more ambiguous nods to aspects of the show. The appearance of Awesome Presence and Eternal Warrior are stylistic nods to the character of Jack. Role Reversal and Shifting Loyalties were meant to capture the character arcs of enemy-turned-friends and betrayals seen throughout the show. And there are a whole host of spells that reference the future. These do the dual purpose of both playing into the journey of our protagonist too, and acting as spells that our commander will be able to cast during combat. These propel us through the course of the game.

Time Warp and Tatsumasa, the Dragon's Fang, a fun combo you might pull off.

Trip to the Armory

The biggest departure in terms of theme was undoubtedly the excessive amount of equipment that fill this deck list. To the best of my knowledge Jack only ever has one sword, which I’m willing to recognize as either Blackblade Reforged or Tatsumasa, the Dragon’s Fang. But in the spirit of having a functioning deck built around the theming of equipment, there was going to be a need for similar sword shaped items. As is probably obvious, I also wanted to include higher mana value equipment, both as a form of consistent damage output and to fully realize my dreams of casting Time Warp at a moment’s notice. Luckily, these higher costs can sometimes be mitigated, like Embercleave reducing its mana cost and Ramosian Greatsword having convoke.

Lastly, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty was a godsend for this deck, allowing me to focus on modified creatures with Akki Battle Squad and Lethal Exploit. This is also taking advantage of the tonal shift of Magic over the last twenty years, allowing a card like You Are Already Dead to even exist. But it was also nice to have Heiko Yamazaki, the General for some form of artifact recursion, especially because our chief attacker is a samurai. 

The idea of individuality in Commander has been on my mind over the course of writing this piece. It’s an aspect of the format easily be taken for granted by Commander players. Sometimes it feels like it’s fallen by the wayside completely.

Building a deck around Samurai Jack brightened my day several times in the last few weeks. And while I have not yet committed this deck to paper, I do look forward to the day when I can premiere this in-person and take the table through the journey of synthesizing Samurai Jack into a Commander deck.

The entire concert of a deck like this is so open to interpretation. So I have to ask, what cards did I overlook? Please hit me up on Twitter, let’s have a discussion. Thanks for reading.

Ryan Sainio (he/him) is a Graphic Designer exploring the Commander format and Magic history on a regular basis. Notable decks that value flavorful and fun gameplay over competitively optimized decks include Shattergang Eldrazi, Doran Soul Sisters, and Chatterfang ProsBloom.

MTG Content Creator Awards 2022 nominee: Format Specialty Writing & Excellence in Writing Overall

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