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Playing in Exile with Bell Borca

Commander Legends is living up to its name with the sheer depth and breadth of fun new cards it’s injecting into the format. Among those is a card that’s finally an interesting take on Boros that isn’t all about combat: Bell Borca!

This truly Boros (he’s a deep cut reference to the original Ravnica novels) Commander instead is all about exiling cards, something that red and white lean into heavily in their own way. I’m not the only one excited about this card, either. Eric Levine talked about him in his latest newsletter, and you can even see his thoughts here alongside his thoughts on the whole set. Back over here, though, I’ve got a spicy list for you helmed by the ghostly legionnaire.

The Sergeant

Bell Borca, Spectral Sergeant

While not being built around combat, this new boy on the beat can still rumble. Simply having that Outpost Siege effect stapled to your Commander is a strong start, offering easy access to the card advantage that Boros decks are desperate for. On top of that, he has a solid five toughness on a four drop and while his power is variable, it can easily be manipulated. The big key to note with Bell is that you note the converted mana cost of each card as it’s exiled. You don’t directly check on cards still in exile. This, as well as him triggering off a card exiling from anywhere, opens up a huge amount of versatility in how much you can set his power.

The Squad

Commander: Bell Borca by Lee Livingston

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The list itself leans very heavily into the exile theme of Sergeant Borca to the point that every creature but one exiles something in one way or another. It plays out as a somewhat aggressive midrange deck, more interested in grinding out advantage with Bell and other similar effects while tactically flickering, blinking or outright removing both your own and your opponents permanents.

The Supplies:

Talisman of ConvictionHedron ArchiveBoros Signet

Fueling the deck is a suite of artifact mana, starting out with the little ring everyone loves to hate, Sol Ring. Arcane Signet, Boros Signet, Talisman of Conviction and Mind Stone all help curve into an early commander or Hedron Archive, and then further fuel casting some of the deck’s big spells. To help Bell hit as hard as possible, the deck has some pretty hefty top end mana costs, and being able to cast those cards during the windows when they’re available is paramount to actually capitalizing on your advantage. It’s worth noting too that while there are only a couple cards that utilize specifically colorless mana, they’re both very powerful effects so having a healthy access to the right sources is a little higher on this deck’s priority list than usual.

Expensive Real Estate

Emeria's Call // Emeria, Shattered SkyclaveMakindi Stampede // Makindi MesasKazuul's Fury // Kazuul's Cliffs

Since the boss’s power is contingent on the largest converted mana cost you’ve exiled each turn, we stuffed plenty of hefty top end cards in the deck. However, a deck like this can’t hold onto all of its expensive spells for later and needs to find ways to cheat the restriction as much as it can. To that end, there are three main tricks employed in the deck.

The first is a hefty usage of the new modal double faced cards from Zendikar Rising, a full 10 of them in fact. Only two of the red ones were left out and I’m still even considering dropping them over a couple lands. Emeria’s Call is a prime example as a hefty spell that jumps Bell right up to seven power, but if it’s your fourth or fifth turn and you don’t have the mana to cast it right then, you can get the full cost benefit while just using it as your land for turn. Even the cheaper ones can confer a modest power boost or fill in as a land that occasionally has other uses. In fact, when building the mana base, I treated a full seven of the 10 as lands first, and realistically all of them are, with their spell sides being an added bonus.

Split Decisions

Boom // BustInsult // InjuryIntegrity // Intervention

The second trick is to take advantage of the way split cards converted mana costs are calculated anywhere but the stack, which is to say they are combined and counted as a total. That doesn’t stop you from casting either half off of Bell or similar effects, sometimes to devastating results. Yes, Boom // Bust is in this list but I’m trusting you all to Armageddon responsibly. That said, doing so with Bell and a few other engines in play should easily have you set to pull far ahead of your opponents. Other split card options range from the pump/burn spell combo of Integrity // Intervention, the chain of damage boosting and straight damage that is Insult // Injury and the modal semi-sweeper Rough // Tumble.

Quick Positional Readjustments

EphemerateRestoration AngelEldrazi Displacer

The third trick is that Bell doesn’t care where cards are exiled from or for how long. For that reason, flicker effects work fantastically as a way to more directly control how hard the Sarge hits, especially on other players’ turns if he’s been on defense. Ephemerate is a good, cheap hit for two uses on your own creatures to protect them and pick up an extra use of an enter the battlefield effect. Restoration Angel fills a similar role higher on the curve along with Felidar Guardian, with both also warranting the inclusion of Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker in case a game just needs to be over. Charming Prince and Flickerwisp offer slower versions as well, but one of the big houses in the deck is Eldrazi Displacer. The power of the repeatable blink is high enough that consideration in both the ramp and the mana base was made to be able to support using the colorless activation cost consistently.

Tactical Retreats

Legion's InitiativeEerie InterludeSynod Sanctum

Sometimes you just want to protect the whole team  or a few select creatures. Legion’s Initiative sits in play, buffing your team while it does, though mostly it just works defensively in this list. Then, when necessary, you can pop the Initiative to make your team disappear just long enough to get ready to rumble, then to come back at the next combat with haste as well. It can even be done in response to your own board wipe to set up a lethal alpha strike. Eerie Interlude doesn’t grant haste but can be more flexible, only exiling some of your creatures if need be. Synod Sanctum and new partner Livio, Oathsworn Sentinel both can stash creatures away for later, though Livio isn’t the best way to dodge a board wipe in that regard.

Lockdown

Skyclave ApparitionPalace JailerFiend Hunter

With your creatures dipping in and out of exile, packing the deck with some effects that shoo away your opponents seems like a solid choice. Fiend Hunter is an old standby, especially in this deck where his trigger can be responded to frequently and easily to more permanently deal with opposing creatures. Palace Jailer keeps creatures locked down pretty handily, while adding another potential source of card advantage, plus I’m always an advocate for bringing the monarchy to any Commander game. Skyclave Apparition deals with any nontoken and nonland permanents that cost four or less, with the tokens that are left behind being fairly easy to handle.

Permanent Banishment

Swords to PlowsharesThought-Knot SeerLuminate Primordial

Permanently handling problems isn’t just under the purview of Skyclave Apparition or Fiend Hunter timing tricks. Old standbys Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile pick up extra utility here in addition to their simple spot-removal goodness. Luminate Primordial lets Swords a creature per opponent while being an expensive card for Bell and a blinkable body for all your flicker effects. Thought-Knot Seer is the other Eldrazi that warps the mana base a bit but the ability to mess with opponents’ hands is a big game. Karn Liberated can do the same or knock out permanents and is yet another expensive card to hit off Bell.

Requisitions

Stolen StrategyChaos WandWildfire Devils

Flickering permanents and ripping cards off the top of your own library is just scratching the surface for Bell Borca. Stolen Strategy is bonkers, offering card advantage and injecting a little chaos into the mix turn after turn. Etali, Primal Storm has the same effect as far as ripping cards from the top of your opponents’ libraries while discounting them down to the low, low price of free. If you want to be a little more specific in hunting for spells though, pointing the Chaos Wand at the deck most likely to have removal or that spellslinger build could yield some wild results. Even better, it exiles cards until it hits an Instant or Sorcery, so you could blaze past some hefty creatures on your way through their library that Bell still sees. Wildfire Devils plays nice on a few axes, chaotically nabbing more Instants and Sorceries for you to cast while loving being blinked to reuse the enter the battlefield trigger. It can even end up being a bit political depending on who gets hit with the wheel when its effect triggers. Make some deals and you can get a free copy of a powerful spell from an opponent’s graveyard.

Punching Through

Sword of VengeanceTemur Battle RageKazuul's Fury // Kazuul's Cliffs

All of this fiddling with Bell’s power doesn’t do too much though if he can’t connect with opposing faces. By and large, the deck relies on removal to clear the way but there are still a few tricks up its sleeve. Sword of Vengeance is the cleanest, adding a few more points of power alongside first strike, trample, vigilance and haste too, although the haste is less relevant to Bell. Personally, I always think this one is one of the more underrated equipment, although without offering protection, I can see why it isn’t as popular.

Temur Battle Rage is more for hitting in with that final swing, knocking someone out that wasn’t expecting it. You need to have chipped in a few times with Bell to take someone down with this and Commander damage but it’s more likely to just finish off the game by letting any big hitter through. Kazuul’s Fury, while mainly serving as a land, can show up now and then as a way to get those last points of damage through a stalled board by throwing a big Bell right at someone’s face. He might be a ghost, but Kazuul’s got enough of an arm that it’ll still hurt on impact.

I’m excited to try something new out in Boros and I expect I’ll be brewing up various versions of this deck over the coming while, finding the right balance of exile effects to other spells. If you’re as excited as I am about Bell, or any other cards from Commander Legends, you can pick them up now on ChannelFireball, and with You Box, We Buy, it’s easier than ever to turn your old cards into new ones and with a hefty store credit bonus to boot. If you want to put cracking packs to good use, you can even join the Commander Boxing League that will be starting up on December 8. I’ve already got a box of Commander Legends on the way myself to see just how spicy I can get. I hope to see plenty of you around the tables (online, but close enough) soon!

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