Happy St. Patrick’s Day. As one of a small group of ChannelFireball staff in Ireland, I thought it would be nice to build some Commander decks around a few different Irish themes for, as we say here; ‘the day that’s in it’.
I tried to get the decks to reflect different aspects of Ireland, first folklore, then literature and finally contemporary Ireland. We’ll start with folklore.
Cú Chulainn's Tales Commander - James Keating
Let me preface this deck by saying this is the least competitive of the three. It’s a casual creature deck looking to win with Primal Surge.
Chulane, Teller of Tales is the commander, because I like to imagine Magic’s version of the legendary hero Cú Chulainn weaving a story about our other best known hero of myth, Fionn Mac Cumhail.
These two characters are central to many tales from Ireland’s past, and Fionn’s story fits the Primal Surge theme, if you’re willing to be creative about it. The tales say he is not dead but waiting to be called back from his slumber to defend Ireland. This deck aims to do just that, and since Fionn was a hunter and warrior, I think Fynn, the Fangbearer is as close a representation as I could find.
The Faerie Folk
The creatures of Irish folk tales are usually tricksters and monsters. We have a lot of horror-leaning stories of banshees and headless horsemen, which don’t quite work in Bant. What does work is focusing on the faerie folk that were more likely to steal your dinner than your baby (I am sad to have to leave out Crib Swap, it’s perfect flavor-wise).
There’s a heavy Faerie subtheme at play here, with cards like Cloud of Faeries, Vendilion Clique, Tome Raider, Faerie Seer, Faerie Miscreant and Sower of Temptation representing the prankster fae of Irish myth.
Selkies and merrows, since we’re an island nation, feature heavily, so we get some card draw with Cold-Eyed Selkie and Wistful Selkie, as well as a combo finish in technically-counts-as-a-merrow Thassa’s Oracle, which is a guaranteed win from Primal Surge. Tatyova also makes the cut, as one of the best Merfolk in the game.
Clone and Clever Impersonator, as well as a lot of changelings like Mirror Entity, Avian Changeling and Changeling Sentinel help to round out the clever, sometimes spiteful, sometimes mischievous faerie folk of Irish myth.
I’ve tried to represent several of the better known Irish legends here too. The Children of Lir are captured in Swans of Bryn Argoll. The Werewolves of Ossory in Werewolf Pack Leader and Sage of Ancient Lore and Kenrith’s Transformation references Fionn Mac Cumahill’s son Oisín being turned into a deer.
Druids are a big part of pre-Christian Ireland, so it felt fitting to use them for ramp, and Affa Guard Hound and Gate Hound are a reminder of Setanta, the boy who became Cú Chulainn, walloping a ball into the mouth of a dog to kill it. Irish stories are often extremely violent, as you’ll see in the deck after this one.
The artifacts that aren’t there for ramp are also references to stories. Entrancing Lyre is the magic Harp of the Dagda, which could make the listener weep or laugh at will.
Loreseeker’s Stone, Sword of Kaldra, Shadowspear and Cauldron of Souls represent the four treasures of Tuatha De Danann, the ancient deities of Ireland, who arrived in the country with the Lia Fáil, Sword of Light, Spear of Lugh and Dagda’s Cauldron, magical items of great power.
Winning the Game
The goal of the deck is to ramp into Primal Surge, fulfilling the legend by bringing back Fionn Mac Cumhaill (Fynn, the Fangbearer). With him come the monsters and magic of folklore, because of course Chulane, Teller of Tales, would spin quite a yarn about the whole thing.
To make sure that actually wins the game, Thassa’s Oracle easily ends it, and if you drew that already, Concordant Crossroads lets you swing for hopefully lethal. You could sneak in a Craterhoof Behemoth to be sure, but I put Aisling Leprechaun in that spot, because there’s no giant mountain-sized beast in the legends!
Our next deck turns from folklore to one of the great works of Irish literature. I couldn’t make a deck from Ulysses because it’s total nonsense, but The Táin fit perfectly.
The Tain Commander Deck - James Keating
Táin Bó Cúailnge, or The Cattle Raid of Cooley, is Ireland’s equivalent to The Iliad. It’s a story of greed, jealousy, betrayal, war and death that has been told in many forms. My personal favorite is Celtic Warrior, by Irish Marvel artist Will Sliney. If you’re interested in a fun retelling of the tale in comic book form, it’s genuinely fantastic and Will is a brilliant artist.
The story centers on Queen Medb of Connaught, who married a man with a better bull than her, and she took that personally. To redress the balance, she tried to borrow a bull from the province of Ulster, but the messenger she sent got drunk and managed to start a war.
For me, Medb is the character I think should helm the deck. Cú Chulainn is the hero of the story, but Medb is the catalyst for everything. To match her ambition, pride and power, Queen Marchesa felt like the perfect corollary in Magic. Kambal, Consul of Allocation plays her husband, Ailill.
Let’s fill out the rest of the cast and make our way through the story via cards. We’re going for a war theme, with tokens as a heavy focus to capture that.
A Load of Bull
Of course we need Bartered Cow, Bull Cerodon and Raging Bull to capture the importance of livestock to the tale. Medb’s desire for the best bull is what starts the war in the first place and the bulls featured in the story are particularly special.
Before Ulster can muster an army to battle Medb’s, the men of Ulster are cursed by the Goddess Macha to feel her labor pains for five days. That’s because she was forced to run a race by her husband, against a chariot, while nine months pregnant… so NTA. Plaguecrafter and Toxic Deluge have to do here, I don’t think there’s a card that truly captures this moment of the story.
Medb’s troops are assembled, so we build the army with Captain of the Watch, General’s Enforcer, Knights of the Black Rose, Weaponcraft Enthusiast, Hanweir Garrison, Throne Warden, Protector of the Crown, Bitterblossom, Assemble the Legion, Combat Celebrant and Legion Warboss. Ruinous Ultimatum, Raise the Alarm, Take Up Arms and Tragic Arrogance also showcase the path to war here.
A Hero Emerges
With no soldiers to defend Ulster, the job falls on one man, Cú Chulainn. He’s a demigod, which helps, and his strategy is to Fight to the Death in Single Combat against Medb’s army. Using Master Warcraft and showing No Mercy, he manages to hold his own against the Connaught army. Haktos the Unscarred is our Cú Chulainn. He’s similar to Achilles in many ways, so is a good fit.
Medb decides to send Cú Chulainn’s foster brother, Ferdia, against him. Ferdia doesn’t want to fight, but (common theme emerging) gets drunk and falls for Medb’s daughter. Arni Brokenbrow was the best I could do here, and while not perfect, Ferdia fights to win the right to marry Medb’s daughter and a mono-red creature is ideal to show the passion driving that choice.
Cú Chulainn manages to beat Ferdia with the legendary weapon Gae Bolg, which we have Shadowspear standing in for. It is the only thing that can pierce Ferdia’s magical armor, which is represented by Darksteel Plate.
The battle between the two took five days, and left Cú Chulainn wounded and forced to retreat. Medb had also stolen the bull during the battle, but the men of Ulster got over their labor pains and joined the fight.
War Never Changes
A bloody battle ensues that takes many lives. Martial Coup, War’s Toll, Wear // Tear, Terminate, Utter End and Settle the Wreckage are there to drive home that war theme. It’s a brutal story, despite the strange aspects, the actual fighting is serious business.
With the aid of his father, the god Lugh (Iroas, God of Victory) and the shapeshifter The Morrigan (Liliana, Heretical Healer) Cú Chulainn is healed. When he returns to battle, he enters a rage (Temur Battle Rage) and undergoes a Grisly Transformation, killing many Connaught men with Unquenchable Fury.
The story then sees Cú Chulainn remind his foster father Fergus (Tajic, Blade of the Legion) that Fergus agreed to yield to Cú Chulainn in their next battle. Fergus leaves with his men and the tide begins to turn.
Cú Chulainn finds Medb urinating and agrees to let her go. Seriously. Some versions of the story have him dying while bound to a standing stone to keep himself upright, the enemy soldiers only daring to approach when The Morrigan, in the guise of a raven, perches on his corpse. The Hero’s Downfall.
Meanwhile, Medb takes her bull home where it kills her husband’s bull, then wanders around Ireland before dying at home in Ulster.
It’s an epic story in which Cú Chulainn goes from a headstrong boy to a battle-hardened man, and allegiances switch through the text. It’s a dark tale of war and violence, and a surprisingly fun token deck!
The final deck takes on a more contemporary aspect of Irish culture, the Celtic Tiger.
The Celtic Tiger Commander - James Keating
Politics, In My Card Game?
For the uninitiated, Ireland experienced a time of massive economic growth and prosperity between 1993 and 2008, turning the nation into one of the wealthiest in Europe. This phenomenon was dubbed “The Celtic Tiger.”
It was a time of celebration and champagne for many. Behind the scenes though, it was a house of cards awaiting collapse. Boom inevitably turned to bust (a card I sadly had to leave out)
But you’re not here for an economics lesson, you’re here to play some Commander!
Let’s start with our general, Tasigur, the Golden Fang. He’s part of a group hug subtheme we’ll explore later, and in the perfect colors for this deck, Sultai.
The deck operates in phases, much like the Celtic Tiger phenomenon itself, and the first is growth. Wild Growth. That’s one of many ramp cards designed to make as much mana available as early as possible.
A goal here is to get the table involved in the early phases of the game plan. This is sort of a group hug deck, which should explain why part of the ramp package includes Burgeoning, Tempt with Discovery, Heartbeat of Spring and Rootweaver Druid.
There are some Elves just to smooth things along, but our only mana rock is Gilded Lotus because the rest just aren’t really on theme. Mostly there are Rampant Growth effects to capture that feeling of rapid development. It’s the Magic equivalent of seeing multiple cranes in the sky above Dublin.
The deck needs to represent not only the growth of the time, but how that growth was achieved. The rest of the ramp is achieved with snakes.
We All Partied
After the Celtic Tiger turned on the magicians who conjured it, one of the politicians who was in the ruling party at the time uttered the infamous line, “we all partied,” during a TV interview.
That’s why this deck has a lot of group hug elements, so we can all party!
Tasigur gives opponents a chance to decide how we’ll get ahead with his ability. Giving them the illusion of choice is important, it lets them buy into the plan. Fact or Fiction has a similar effect, much like the ramp cards that benefit the table.
We have a lot of cards that give mana and resources to the table too. Kami of the Crescent Moon, Temple Bell, Prosperity, Windfall, Howling Mine, Dictate of Kruphix, Rites of Flourishing and Horn of Greed ensure everyone has an abundance of riches.
We’re all going to have a great time. For a while, at least.
Speculate to Accumulate
Of course, some of us benefit from growth more than others, and the next phase of the deck aims to out-grow our opponents and use their resources to further our own Increasing Ambition.
Hoard Robber, Crafty Cutpurse, Gonti, Lord of Luxury and Gilded Drake look to fill our proverbial coffers, with Jin-Gitaxias, Progress Tyrant doubling some of our more impressive late-game spells. All of this with the aim of making sure we’re becoming the only beneficiary of all that mana and card advantage.
At this phase of the game, we want to Acquire as much as we can, through Bribery, Conjured Currency, Theft of Dreams, Expropriate and even Borrowing 100,000 Arrows. Borrowing was a major theme of the Celtic Tiger, particularly toward the end, so it feels like a perfect fit.
For you, the party is still going, but the Tendrils of Corruption are starting to appear. This is the endgame. You’ll be setting up for victory soon, but first you need to be sure you’re really ahead of the game.
Treasure Trove and Greed keep you up on cards now you have excess mana. Black Market and Morbid Opportunist make sure you benefit as your opponents fight each other, instead of you, the provider of their riches.
If someone does target you, Gild and Reality Shift are targeted removal, and Illusionist’s Gambit saves you from a huge swing and might just make your opponents take each other out. When you see the rest of the table growing too much, you can use Pernicious Deed to rein that in.
It’s all about controlling the table while you continue to consolidate your resources through whatever means necessary.
In 2008, I walked out of college ready for work. Within two months, 15 years of economic prosperity had vanished. I missed the party.
Not this time.
This time around, we’re going to benefit from all that growth and development. If that means our opponents must suffer in the process, well, so be it. We all partied, right?
Taking advantage of our opponents having such a great time drawing cards is the key here. We’ve all got so many resources, but our reserves are depleted. There’s no backup plan. There was no preparation in case things fell apart. That’s okay – Laboratory Maniac is going to bail us out.
Lab Man is an easy win. You’ll draw him eventually and just need to get him on the board and draw cards until nothing is left. It shouldn’t take long. Somehow, despite using up everything you have, you still win.
Blue Sun’s Zenith is one way to draw a ton of cards, but Finale of Revelation really represents the moment in time better. One minute everyone is rich and successful, then it all comes crashing down. Maybe your opponents should have questioned all that growth, but they were too busy enjoying it to regulate anything you did.
Our other win conditions are less about what we have than what our opponents have. Mass Manipulation uses all the mana we’ve developed to simply take what everyone else has and leave them with nothing. Villainous Wealth reaches into whatever reserves they have left and takes it all. With Jin-Gitaxias out. it’s even better.
The final win conditions simply require us to enjoy the spoils of what we have achieved, with no regard for the fallout. Revel in Riches and Helix Pinnacle simply ask us to hoard wealth to secure victory.
I guess you could call this a greed-themed deck, if you wanted to separate it from the Irish part. It’s quite fun to amass mana and cards and then steal your opponent’s things, but you definitely become the bad guy at the table by the end of the game.
Whether that bothers you or not is up to you.
So there you go, three decks that hopefully capture some elements of Irish culture, from the ancient world of folklore right up to the events that define Ireland in the 21st century.