I’m back with another lesson in building to a theme, and this time we’re dedicating a whole article to the build process for a single deck rather than talking more theoretically. But what deck? Well, the people have spoken on Twitter, (a few people, anyway) and they’ve asked me to build a Dune Commander deck!
I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising, given the recent release of the Denis Villeneuve film. I watched it at home – I’m not ready for the movie theater quite yet – and while I enjoyed it quite a lot, I don’t intend to theme this article around that. I’ll be sticking instead to the source material – the original Dune, the book, from 1965.
Yes, I know that because of my love of Twin Peaks, you were all hoping to see me talk about David Lynch’s interpretation of Dune, but sadly, Kyle MacLachlan will not be our Kwisatz Haderach today. Instead, it’ll just be me and my understanding of Frank Herbert’s classic novel. This is going to be a little bit more stream-of-consciousness than my usual articles – as I think of cards to add to this deck, you’re going to hear about them.
I should note that, if you’ve only seen the most recent movie, or if you have some other reason for wanting to avoid plot details, that this article will contain spoilers for Dune, including things that didn’t happen in the 2021 film, as well as spoilers for things that happen in the other Dune books I read when I was young. I think I fell off partway through God-Emperor of Dune, because even as a young person I had some sense of pacing in novels and felt the story of Leto II and his weird transformation into a sandworm hybrid to be a little bit lacking. Ooh, see, there’s a spoiler already! Told you.
So let’s see if we can figure out a starting point for this deck. The character who will play our commander is pretty much locked in. Dune is about Paul Atreides, also known as Usul, or Muad’Dib. Oh, hey, Muad’Dib – that’s the name for the kangaroo mouse on Arrakis, and I think it would be great to get one of those in there. Luckily, Magic has the perfect card:
Okay. We’re one for 99 in the maindeck and also one on the “getting sidetracked” count. Back to Paul Atreides. Paul is, of course, the Kwisatz Haderach, the result of a long-term Bene Gesserit “breeding program” designed to produce a male heir to the throne with the power to see the future and access the genetic memory reserves of the Reverend Mothers, though the Bene Gesserit planned to have the Kwisatz Haderach born a generation later. Okay, okay, we’re getting into the weeds. Paul is a skilled fighter, a user of the Voice, a rider of sandworms… oh, hey, sandworms!
Okay, so it’s not perfect, because the sandworms of Arrakis don’t rule the skies, but how can we pass it up? Anyways, back to Paul. We already know we’ll need green and white, and Paul is going to be leading an army of Fremen – the native people of Arrakis – at some point in the story, and I think I’ve got exactly the card to represent Paul, at least in that capacity, so here’s our commander:
It takes a little while for Paul to earn the trust of the Fremen, so it makes sense that it would take some time for their forces to rally behind him in battle. Waiting an upkeep for those Sand Warriors makes sense, as does the idea that controlling more territory – more sietches full of Fremen – might bring more forces to bear. It’s a shame that tanks my idea of Lady Jessica being played by Merieke Ri Berit, but so it goes. A quick search of the interwebs shows me that other people have thought of Hazezon as Paul before, so I hope I’m not retreading too much old ground – I’m avoiding reading anyone else’s work on the subject here.
Since we’re talking about deserts, let’s get some into the list.
Obviously the generic Desert gets the nod. Given that’s largely the landscape of Arrakis, we’ll be including quite a few. I like that the terrain helps repel invaders – it’s thematically sound.
The Fremen are well-versed in guerrilla warfare, ambushing the Harkonnen forces time and time again. Mechanically, this card allows us to store up some of our creatures and then unleash them when the time is right, though if our sietch is destroyed, it’s all obviously for naught.
Again, we see the deserts of Arrakis portrayed as a danger to those who would dare to cross them without the proper knowledge or equipment.
Flavor-wise, basically another generic Desert.
This reminds me of the natural Shield Wall by the plains of Arrakeen, at least from how it’s described.
The big heads on these kind of remind me of the weird stone head that was on the cover of my copy of Dune: Messiah as a kid. A little research got me some info from the Dune Encyclopedia, which is based on Frank Herbert’s notes but also possibly contradicted by info in Chapterhouse Dune and non-canon. Anyway, the stone head was the “Eyes of Muad’Dib”, a big stone head monument to Paul that was commissioned by his sister Alia. Was this all done to backwards-justify a piece of cover art? Maybe, but I’ll take what I can get here.
I’m not sure Ramunap Ruins really fits the bill, and Hashep Oasis definitely doesn’t, but a desert that supports our creatures seems right on for the Fremen forces. In it goes.
With what looks like a dead sandworm in the art, this at least fits the visual characteristics we need and perhaps portends the death of the sandworms in the future after the terraforming of Arrakis.
With Deserts pretty much covered for now, let’s move on to identifying some key characters.
Lady Jessica, played by Saryth, the Viper’s Fang
Instructed to bear only daughters, Lady Jessica decides to have a son instead (because apparently that’s a thing the Bene Gesserit can just decide to do) because of her love for Leto and his desire to have a male heir (she was supposed to have a daughter, who would marry a Harkonnen and then bear the Kwisatz Haderach. With the combined lineage of two of the noble houses, the Bene Gesserit could install them on the throne and better control politics. It’s a whole thing). She herself is the daughter of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. She’s part of the Bene Gesserit, and eventually she undergoes the Spice Agony process to become a full Reverend Mother and get access to Other Memory. She has the supernatural powers of the Bene Gesserit – “the Voice”, which she can use to control others, a physical form of self-control called prana-bindu, and more. This “weirding woman” with strange abilities is hard to pin down, and I’m not totally satisfied by my selection of Saryth thematically, but it’s okay for now. Maybe I’ll change my mind later.
Alia Atreides, played by Jeska, Warrior Adept
Alia is Paul’s younger sister, born to Jessica after the death of her father. Because her mother underwent the spice agony while she was in the womb, she’s born with Bene Gesserit abilities, which sounds great but is actually bad. Why? Well, one of those powers is Other Memory, which is basically an ancestral genetic memory, and without a fully formed personality of your own, it’s possible to basically be possessed by an ancestor, which is kind of a bad time. She also ends up in charge of a unit of warriors during the Arrakis revolt, so it’s safe to say she has martial prowess. Beyond that, I also had to look for someone with magical abilities and some vague hint of corruption, and I found Jeska to be a decent analogue here.
Alia uses a gom jabbar, a poison needle used for assassination by the noble houses, to kill Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. Though that situation gets a little weirder later (Vladimir is her grandfather and thus ends up possessing Alia via Other Memory), I think getting a gom jabbar into the deck is sweet. Therefore, we’re adding this:
Now, back to some more characters.
Gurney Halleck, played by Yisan, the Wanderer Bard
Gurney is the Atreides weapons master and a warrior-poet (no dinosaurs involved, though, sorry Huatli) – in fact, he plays the baliset, a nine-stringed instrument in the zither family. While Yisan leans more toward the music than the warrior stuff, I feel like this is as good as we’re going to get.
Duncan Idaho, played by Haktos the Unscarred
Okay, hear me out on this one. House Atreides was based on the ancient Greek House Atreus – yes, with Agamemnon – and later in the series, it becomes clear that this link is not just thematic, but familial in the Dune canon. Achilles was Greece’s finest warrior and was said in the Iliad to be super handsome as well. It’s not hard to map that description onto Duncan Idaho, though his cause of death is pretty different. The whole getting resurrected as a ghola a thousand or more times thing later on by Leto II and then the Bene Gesserit doesn’t really fit with Achilles either, but that’s fine.
Liet Kynes, played by Maja, Bretagard Protector
Liet-Kynes is the Imperial Planetologist for Arrakis, known as “Dr. Kynes” to Leto and the empire. However, he is known as “Liet” to the Fremen, who have great respect for him, and eventually it is revealed that Liet and Kynes are one and the same. Between the reverence of all Fremen for Liet-Kynes and his affinity for the land of Arrakis itself, it seems only fitting to use a lord with a landfall ability here.
Stilgar Ben Fifrawi, played by Cho-Manno, Revolutionary
Stilgar is the leader of Sietch Tabr, a major Fremen community. Duncan Idaho thought very highly of Stilgar and ended up quite loyal to him, and Paul worked with Stilgar for a long time as well. Stilgar is a survivor first and foremost, and with that as a primary characteristic, the mechanics of Cho-Manno make plenty of sense. Plus, the Cho-Arrim are Rebels with a capital R, which fits pretty well with the Fremen.
Chani, played by Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero
Chani basically mentors Paul and brings him into the fold of the Fremen, and while she does not end up marrying Paul – he marries Irulan instead for political reasons, but Chani is Paul’s romantic partner and the mother of his children. She’s a well-trained warrior and gets even more fearsome when trained in the “weirding way” – that’s what the Fremen call the Bene Gesserit martial art. Given her combat abilities and the fact that we’ve kind of involved Rebels in the whole Fremen thing, I think Lin Sivvi has just arrived.
We have a ready-made creature base of Rebels to add to the deck – let’s find some that feel appropriate. I’ll be sticking with Humans type-wise.
Skipping the Sky Marshal, the classic Rebel searchers seem like a natural fit.
Old and young, fit and frail, the Fremen take part in battle and do it well.
Paul knows a holy war is coming, and the Fremen are deeply religious, so this adds up.
Let’s see if we can get some more creatures into this deck, specifically Humans.
Some of the Fremen warriors (the Feydakin) are trained in the “weirding way” by Paul, and I think this lines up with Magic’s concept of the “Monk” creature type as sort of a martial artist.
I’ll use this to represent whoever’s in charge of the Feydakin.
Since the Fremen revere and also ride sandworms, let’s get some more of them into this deck!
It’s a sandworm. What more can you ask for?
I think this card captures some of the flavor of riding a sandworm into battle – the cascade lets it come with a friend, and you can see that it’s not necessarily a willing participant.
With many of the actual creatures with the Wurm type a little too specific for my taste, I’ve turned to token generator instead. Wurmcalling may be representative of someone using a thumper to lure a wurm, while the others are just natural occurrences.
Now we’re getting more into miscellany, so let’s just embrace that. Here come a bunch of cards!
Paul foresees a holy war in the future and wants to do his best to avoid it while also trying to fulfill his destiny in a positive way. He tries to follow a peaceful path, and he does his best to mitigate casualties where possible.
Leto’s ducal ring, passed to Paul by the traitorous Wellington Yueh, served both as a reminder of Paul’s father and a powerful symbol for the Fremen. Thune, as depicted in the art here, kind of looks like how I might imagine Caladan, so I think it’s a solid pick.
More sand-themed cards to represent the deserts of Arrakis. I like Brave the Sands a lot as it represents the resilience of the Fremen.
So a lot of lands aren’t going to be quite so perfect in terms of flavor – not a lot of “sands” outside the desert, so this is an easy inclusion.
This has to be melange, right? Blinkmoth serum, as described in lore, is basically a carbon copy of spice. There’s not a ton of serum-related cards, and Serum Tank probably won’t do much for us, so I’ll stop here.
The world of Arrakis is exploited for spice. The Fremen actually wanted to terraform it into a paradise, but when the galactic economy relies on spice, you can’t really do that, now can you?
Except, of course, that the Fremen have, slowly but surely, been trying to change the face of Arrakis the whole time. Stilgar tells Jessica about this at one point (along with the fact that he bribes the Spacers to look the other way).
I like this a lot, conceptually, representing the Fremen ambushing the Harkonnen and Sardaukar forces on Arrakis – they show up ready for battle, and they just get right in there, more powerful with the element of surprise.
Paul has the ability to see into the future, and what he sees he often doesn’t like. He sees the holy war impending and his rise to the emperor’s seat by violence. With Hazezon/Paul costing a full seven mana, these cards look a lot better on the flashback than they do in many decks, costing just 1CC.
With the Fremen’s devotion to Paul increasing as it becomes clear he is, in fact, the “Voice from the Outer World” messianic figure they’ve been waiting for (thanks to the Bene Gesserit’s meddling) ther devotion to him literally increases. Pretty simple!
More of the same with Increasing Devotion, with a little extra prophetic flavor.
Since we’re using Humans largely to represent the Fremen people, this will have to be our crysknife. Sure, it doesn’t disintegrate when its wielder dies, but that’s okay.
I like this as a representation of the Bene Gesserit teachings and the “Weirding Way” – it provides not only martial prowess in the stat boost but also supernatural power with the ping. What a huge flavor win!
I like these two as a representation of Other Memory, the Bene Gesserit ability to access the minds of their ancestors.
According to the Orange Catholic Bible, “Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind.” Any “thinking machines” like computers, calculators and so on were destroyed in the Butlerian Jihad, which is why we have Mentats – humans trained (and using lots of drugs) to perform calculations instead of computers. A little representation of that gives us access to some solid artifact/enchantment removal!
For creature removal, I’m choosing to show the Fremen working together to take on the Harkonnen forces and the Sardaukar.
A little bit of protection for our creatures and ourself, again focused on the Bene Gesserit teachings of self-control, martial arts and so on.
The personal shields worn by many of the offworlders need some kind of representation, even though the Fremen don’t use them.
The ultimate moment of Paul’s victory on Arrakis, when the Fremen have fully turned the tables on the Harkonnen. Paul destroys the shield wall, Alia kills Vladimir Harkonnen, and the Harkonnen fleet is grounded by Fremen attacks (and Paul’s ultimatum to the Spacers.
Let’s fill out the mana base a little more. I’m going to do my best to find lands that evoke what I think have the look of Arrakis, so here goes.
These all have the look of Arrakis to me, at least to some degree.
It doesn’t have the look we want, but the concept is right for the Fremen, so it sticks.
At this point, I think it’s probably right to stick to basic lands, but that doesn’t mean I’m willing to abandon my aesthetic desires. I do think that mana bases are the place where theme decks should have the most wiggle room, so you could totally just throw in some Ravnica duals and other fixers, but I’m going as thematic as possible, so I’ll stick with the basics. Here are the arts we’re using:
Hey, a desert with a city in the distance! Easy call.
Looks like perhaps the palace gardens or something. I’ll take what I can get.
Look at this beautiful John Avon landscape! You can imagine this as dunes a little bit, and I’m into it.
Okay! After quite a lot of flipping through my copy of Dune, internet research, and thought, we’ve built a Dune-themed deck. Don’t worry, Final Fantasy fans, we’ll be back with an FF6 deck sometime in the near future, but for now, this is our first deep dive into thematic building. Let me know on Twitter (@RagingLevine) how you liked this, what you would include in your own Dune deck, and what other themes you’d be interested in seeing in the future! Here’s the final deck list for your enjoyment. Remember to cultivate lots of Desert Power!
Desert Power Dune by Eric Levine
2 thoughts on “Cultivating Desert Power with a Dune Commander Deck”
This is incredible. Thanks so much, Eric. I’m two thirds finished reading the book, and have seen the movie twice. I’ll have to revisit this post after I’m finished reading the book because I had to dodge some SPOILERS. Consider warnings next time. This deck is awesome. Great job, Eric.
oopsie. You did in fact have a spoiler warning at the beginning of your post.
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