I’m going to give you all a peek behind the curtain. When I wake up in the morning and go to work, I end up on a college campus. I work in Student Affairs running a student union (known in other parts of the world as a student center or campus center). In the United States, I’m in a field known as Student Affairs and if you’re attending college in the States, there’s a good chance you’ve interacted with someone like me. A lot of what we do is provide support for students in a way that can support their academic success. In my role, I help supervise student staff in the student center, teaching them skills that hopefully will be useful once they graduate and move out into the world.
And so when Mavinda, Students’ Advocate was revealed, I saw something I never thought I would see in a game about dragons and zombies and massive spellcasting battles: I saw my job. In a time when I had been questioning whether or not my career path was still the right one for me, it was a nice reminder of why I do what I do.
Of course, my brain then went on to think about her in the context of Commander.
Mavinda fits into the camp of spellslinger generals that tend to focus on cheap instants. Commanders like Feather, the Redeemed or Zada, Hedron Grinder are similar except both are better at generating a ton of value. As long as Feather is on the table, the spell cast will be returned to your hand at the end of your turn. Zada makes a copy for each creature on your side of the board the spell could target. Both of these abilities are hugely swingy and can lead to the kind of big turns that many think about when they imagine Commander endgames.
Mavinda isn’t as good in this regard. Her ability is limited to one use per turn and the spell already has to be in the graveyard. On top of that, if the spell doesn’t target one of your creatures it costs eight more generic mana to cast. This is a great bit of flavor as it’s good professional practice to help students help themselves rather than do the work for them.
So what does this mean for Mavinda as a card? Ideally you want to use cheap instants and sorceries that can enhance your creatures. White has plenty of these in protection effects such as Shelter or Gods Willing, but they tend to be defensive in nature and are not as great and winning games.
When I first saw Mavinda, I imagined she would pair nicely with green and different fight spells. Mavinda doesn’t need you to target her but rather any creature you control. Cards like Prey Upon and Titanic Brawl are cheap enough that you can double up on them in a given turn with Mavinda out. In these situations you need to have large enough creatures but also a desire to win fights. If I were going to build a Selesnya Mavinda deck, I would focus on partnering Akroma, Vision of Ixidor with Halana, Kessig Ranger. While not perfect for slinging tons of spells, these two work nicely to help Mavinda teach her students how to fight.
Of course, you don’t have to be limited to cheap spells if you’re willing to spend the mana. Mavinda can help you rebuy other instants and sorceries, provided you do the work and have eight spare mana laying about. This is Commander after all, and such occurrences are known to happen from time to time. That means that in the latter stages of a game, Mavinda can rebuy removal spells in a pinch. My mind returned to a copy of Toshiro Umezawa I had in my collection and I had an idea.
I resolved to try and build a spell-based deck that leveraged these two legends. Given my track record, I figured this would be a good deck construction challenge as I tend to focus on permanents. After looking at what I had on hand, I pulled out plenty of cards that fit my bill. Here, I would have to think about how to get both of my sub-commanders online and what the rest of the deck would look like.
I knew that I wanted to run some sweet old cards that worked well with Toshiro in Slaughter and Withering Boon. I also knew that I wanted to find ways to protect my investments with the aforementioned Gods Willing but also Cloudshift and Emerge Unscathed. Additionally, I looked for spells that could target both my creatures and those of my opponent and was happy to find Profane Command. I also was happy to find room for an extra “land” in Malakir Rebirth. Oblation could also be used either offensively or to save one of my cards.
The deck was loaded with removal and that meant I was leaning towards being a board control deck. Adding cards like Fracture and Closing Statement meant that during games I would likely be involved in dealmaking to keep the table under control. Ending the game may be a struggle so I included Runechanter’s Pike and Scroll of the Masters, as well as a trio of game-ending cards in Debt to the Deathless, Exsanguinate and Torment of Hailfire.
Seeing as how this deck is black and wants access to gobs of mana, it includes the overused combination of Cabal Coffers and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. Those two cards can help power out huge turns with Toshiro or give Mavinda the energy she needs to accomplish her other duties as assigned.
Toshiro also gives me an excuse to run some of my favorite black card draw spells in Skeletal Scrying and Necrologia. These two cards always put in work and casting them multiple times in a game can be backbreaking. If anything, these two mean I might need more life gain in the long run.
This is my first draft of my Mavinda and Toshiro deck. I’m looking forward to adding Ephemerate and Sedgemoor Witch to the deck, while also considering Grave Betrayal. The deck already has a little bit of a “stop hitting yourself” theme with Athreos, Shroud-Veiled and Profane Procession. Grave Betrayal and Debtors’ Knell, while expensive, do fit that mold nicely while also screaming in a certain tone of Commander.
Toshiro/Mavinda Killian by Alex Ullman