Commander: Baral, Chief of Compliance

I love countering spells, and I always have. One of my favorite casual decks from back in the day (which, from a technical standpoint, was about 14 years ago) was my Iridescent Drake/False Demise/Altar of Dementia combo deck, and that deck was composed of about 24 Islands, 12 combo cards, and 24 counterspells. A Savannah Lions or two could probably have killed me but luckily, we were all trying to do cool things back in high school, so this worked out just fine for me. And who knows—I might have drawn my single copy of Force of Will!

These days, I still play a lot of blue in Constructed formats, even though cards like Counterspell have fallen by the wayside in Standard. The type of deck I’m describing isn’t much fun in a multiplayer Commander game, so I’ve shied away from it for most of my builds. But Aether Revolt has given me a Commander that provides even more value when I counter spells:

Baral can be responsible for some fairly unfun decks when his first ability is the primary focus, but what I want to look at harder is the second ability (while still, of course, making use of the first ability—after all, cost reduction is great!). Looting is a wonderful thing, and there are plenty of ways to maximize its effects. Plus, since this is Commander and people aren’t curving out on you, you can focus on countering important spells with cards that generate additional value when you do so.

I’ll note that there’s definitely a Wizard angle you can take with this deck—I’m not going too far in that direction this time around, but cards like Patron Wizard and Azami, Lady of Scrolls can enable that. Our Wizard theme is much more incidental.

Let’s start by talking about some counterspells. You have over 20 ways to counter a spell of your choice in this deck, and a few more that have the potential to incidentally counter a thing or two. Keep in mind that your goal isn’t to counter every spell like it would have been back in the days of Rainbow Efreet. Rather, you’re looking to counter some important spells and get value while doing so.

Mine! These are some of the more satisfying counterspells around. You do have one other morph creature kicking around in the deck, so Kheru Spellsnatcher won’t be immediately identifiable as such, though the other one is Voidmage Prodigy. Regardless, blue is all about knowledge, and these counterspells prove that. After all, you know how to cast your opponents’ spells much better than they do, don’t you?

“Counter target spell. Draw three cards.” Confirm Suspicions doesn’t say that outright, but in the late game, it might as well. On top of that, if Baral is in play, this only costs 2UU and you get to loot. As someone who is a great appreciator of value, this card speaks to me on basically every level.

This card does everything! It is actually at its most boring when simply countering a spell. Baral definitely gives you an incentive to use it for that purpose, but I think you’ll find yourself redirecting or copying spells more often than not.

The big brain is winning again! I haven’t cast this one in a while, probably because it’s a 6-mana spell that only counters creature spells and is often responsible for massive overdrawing, but in a deck where I can play Reliquary Tower and Thought Vessel while also benefiting from cards that drag things back out of my graveyard, I’m not too worried about having to discard to hand size once my turn actually comes around.

You’ve got plenty of instants in this deck—19, to be precise—but what about creatures? How are you actually going to win games while countering spells in style?

If you don’t play this card in your blue deck with counterspells, you’re missing out on two great things: First, the ability to cast your opponents’ spells for free when you counter them, and second, the moment when you slam this on the table and play Guile’s theme on your phone, which you obviously queued up in advance. (The SNES version, of course.) It’s worth noting that this Guile, while it isn’t quite as good at crushing cars in bonus stages as Street Fighter’s American hero, holds its own in combat well enough with its “mega-menace” ability.

This is part of your very small Wizard theme—and I mean small. You’re not flooding the board with other Wizards that will get +2/+1 and flying from Final Iteration, so you’ll have to be satisfied with your small army of (eventually creepy and flying) Wizard tokens generated by the Docent itself. This has a fairly obvious target on its head, but if it gets a couple of turns to do its thing, you might be able to bait out some Wraths. Let’s just hope that none of them are Supreme Verdict.

Counterspell Snail is an obvious choice—for 6 mana, it does everything a blue deck wants. Of course, you’ll want to counter something big like an Insurrection in order to maximize its size, but sometimes it just has to feed on lesser magics.

This deck plays 27 Islands, which should be plenty for Scourge of Fleets. It’s important to note that Scourge of Fleets, unlike Engulf the Shore, which is also in this list, only bounces your opponents’ creatures. Scourge of Fleets is therefore a much better “I win” button, whereas Engulf the Shore tends to play more of a “don’t kill me!” role.

This card has been on my mind as a sideboard card for U/R Control decks in Standard thanks to a tip from a local player, and it made its way into this list as well. Sometimes your opponents will play huge creatures that just need to stay in an icy prison, and given the number of ways you have to trigger the Niblis, you should be able to keep 1 or 2 creatures locked down for a good while.

Of course, you have some other cards that will generate lots of additional value for you, and that’s really what this deck is all about. Let’s take a look at some of those spicy selections.

This card is one of my FNM nemeses, as I have trouble out-valuing it with Dynavolt Tower if one resolves, but in Commander I’m quite happy to play it myself. Your counterspells cost enough mana that you’ll be getting some fairly large battle bots out of this one, and the second ability is theoretically relevant in some circumstances.

You’ll have to take a turn off countering spells sometimes to cast this, but if it sticks, it’s worth it, as I estimate you’ll need about 2.5 triggers to get full value for your card and 7 mana. We’ve already talked about how we know how to cast our opponents’ spells better than they do, so why not double down on that on about 60% of these triggers? It’s even more hilarious if you manage to hit one of your opponents’ counterspells in response to something that would kill Mind’s Dilation, which happens once in a great while.

I’m pretty sure Alhammarret was the villain in that Encyclopedia Brown story about words like “bookkeeper” with doubled letters in them. You won’t be using the life gain ability on here (unless you steal a relevant spell from an opponent) but the draw ability is hugely relevant, as it turns Baral’s looting effect into a free Catalog.

I drafted around this at least 10 times in Rise of the Eldrazi Draft, so I’m excited to put it to use in Commander. If left unchecked, Sphinx-Bone Wand can go from a nuisance to a nasty death machine in a hurry. The early triggers usually pick off utility creatures, but once you hit 5 or more counters, it’s time to fire off Avada Kedavras at your opponents.

This card gave me so many great memories of Brain in a Jar decks that I went back to the list and found room for the Brain as well. Rise from the Tides is a discount Army of the Damned—and it’s blue. If you’re looking for something to do with that FNM promo Rise from the Tides you earned late last year, look no further than a mono-blue Commander deck. (Izzet or Grixis would be fine too!)

That’s enough out of me on specific card choices. Let’s take a look at the list! If you weren’t here last time, you’ll want to know what that section at the end called “The Bench” is. Well, 99 is a large number of cards, and if you want to build your own version of this list, you might not have some of those cards, or you might dislike some of my choices. The Bench is a list of 10 cards that didn’t make the cut in my deck list. You can use that list as a series of replacements, or you can simply think of it as another 10 cards to draw inspiration or themes from for your own deck list.

Commander: Baral, Chief of Compliance


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