Commander Legends is filled to the brim with interesting and powerful cards, many of them jumping out right from the start as being powerful or even just interesting. Sometimes first impressions of a commander leave something to be desired and it isn’t until you have a chance to play with the card that you start to understand just what kind of potential it has. When I first saw Colfenor, the Last Yew, I saw a big toughness Treefolk that cared about other toughness and lumped him off with the likes of Doran, the Siege Tower. Then I picked one up in a Commander Legends draft on Magic Online, thinking it would be nice to splash white in the green-black deck I had started crafting and get some longevity out of the deal. The work he put in all three games quickly won me over, and had me excited to get brewing with the big tree to really let him shine.
Definitely Not Scrap Trawler
At first blush, Colfenor seems templated pretty similarly to cards we’ve already seen, particularly Scrap Trawler and Orah, Skyclave Hierophant, settling into a middle ground where he doesn’t reanimate in the way that Orah does but is more flexible, though not so flexible as Scrap Trawler. At least, not at first look, but keying off of the dying creature’s toughness changes up the formula in a few wild ways. The most important is that the creature’s toughness is checked when it dies, so any modifications made to it are taken into account. Ostensibly it’s the same as the others, where you make a steady progression down, accruing value along the way, but that difference is huge. It only takes a little bit of trickery to allow two creatures to continually pull the other back out of the graveyard, setting up easy loops.
Commander Colfenor, the Last Yew by Lee Livingston
Abzan has a plethora of options for buffing creatures in play, but +1/+1 counter strategies are both resilient and flexible while also featuring creatures that naturally have zero toughness printed on them. This makes having bigger creatures in play to get them back extremely easy. The deck leverages the ability to create loops as a way to go over the top and prevent stalemates, but houses it in a solid midrange shell that can attack from a few angles. The numerous ways to stack extra +1/+1 counters on your team creates a steadily growing board state to bash in early and often. Colfenor isn’t just a combo piece either, though having him be a primary part of your engine and in your command zone is a huge plus. Even just allowing him to sit in play with your team creates rough situations for other players where attacking, blocking or even wrathing the board results in you gaining more advantage.
The first step to having a good loop is having ways to break down your creatures into something else, something more. The usual culprits are the first stop, with the full trifecta of sacrificial altars: Ashnod’s Altar, Phyrexian Altar and Altar of Dementia. The first two are key to a few of the loops by helping you generate enough mana to break even net positive gains as you chain with each cycle. Altar of Dementia functions as it so often does as both a draw engine and a win condition. Point it at yourself to flip more cards in the bin and find better options to loop until you can make an endless one and mill out your foes. Fanatical Devotion is a neat card that serves as both a sacrifice outlet and a way to protect key cards until you’re ready to combo off, or even to just make combat a headache. Blasting Station makes a showing as well, offering up removal of creatures and opponents all at once.
Once you find your mulching device of choice, making sure it has the right fuel is just as important. The three best are easily Hangarback Walker, Servant of the Scale and Arcbound Worker. Hangarback Walker is head-and-shoulders above the other two, offering a flexibly costed body that’s base 0/0 while leaving behind at least one token that’s big enough to put the walker back in your hand when it dies. Arcbound Worker and Servant of the Scale are similar, though without the innate ability to bring themselves back. Still, there are plenty of creatures that Arcbound Worker can give a boost to while Servant of the Scale can boost anything and their cheap cost make it easy to find loops that are net positive in mana once you get going.
Once you have the engine going, using it to power your path to victory is as simple as slapping on one of the handy attachments that dig you through your deck (skip this step if you started with an Altar of Dementia, it’s flexible like that). Elvish Visionary makes the cut here over more typical options like Wall of Blossoms specifically for its cheap cost and low toughness, enabling easier recursion. Mindless Automaton isn’t as cheap but it’s full colorless cost helps it work with Ashnod’s Altar more easily and being another 0/0 is also a point in its favor. Loops with it can be tricky though because to draw, it often becomes a 0/0 in play, so it can’t bring anything back itself without a little help. Path of Discovery can be that help and is also an insanely flexible piece of card advantage in this deck. Clearing the top of lands with each creature is just gas and flipping the top into the graveyard isn’t even a downside in this deck. The option to leave a nonland on top and just use it as an anthem for each creature is just icing on the cake.
Pumping the Team
Renata, Called to the Hunt pulls an impression of the occasional +1/+1 buff of Path of Discovery at all times, a trick that can make loops with Hangarback Walker or even Walking Ballista insanely easy to pull off. Felidar Retreat can’t make those tricks happen but it offers steady value throughout the game, either pumping the team or making more bodies to defend yourself or cash in. Rishkar, Peema Renegade is one of a suite of creatures that throws a few counters around when entering the battlefield and in particular can add a hefty infusion of green mana to your pool. Jiang Yanggu has a similar effect although a bit slower but turns your field into Birds of Paradise instead of Llanowar Elves.
With counters coming, added and moved between creatures, a few slots to add extra at each step are more than worth it. Hardened Scales is a personal favorite card of mine and both Winding Constrictor and the Conclave Mentor pull off similar effects while offering bodies to hold counters if necessary. Notably, while bigger effects like Corpsejack Menace and Doubling Season are an option, counters are most often placed one at a time in this list. The additional counter is functionally the same and comes on significantly cheaper permanents so you can easily have them in place before the counters start flying without disrupting your development.
Colfenor’s wording disallows creatures from targeting themselves with his ability when they die so any loops need another creature to get them going. One way to circumvent this is by making sure any time one of your creatures die, they leave behind a body to conveniently help them back. Alharu, Solemn Ritualist and Basri’s Lieutenant are a bit specific but with so many of your creatures having counters, it shouldn’t be an issue and the counters they bring themselves are always welcome. Abzan Ascendancy casts the net even wider, bringing a teamwide buff and a Spirit to follow every death. The spirits may need a little help, but they still bring back plenty of creatures without it. That’s not to say every creature needs help leaving buddies behind. On top of Walking Ballista, Grakmaw, Skyclave Ravager and Elenda, the Dusk Rose both grow with seeing creatures die and leave behind either one big token or a full army of lifelinkers.
Making other creatures isn’t the only outcome of repeated creature mulching though. Slurrk, All-Ingesting adds extra counters to everyone that already has one each time a buffed-up body hits the bin. Reyhan, last of the Abzan takes the counters of fallen comrades and tosses them onto someone else, making the entire team do their best modular impression. Meanwhile, Pitiless Plunderer doesn’t interact with counters, but the Treasures that accrue with him on the board are a great way to supplement the mana the altars can make, notably able to make colored mana, and being on a body helps make sure he can be picked up out of the graveyard.
Covering the Team
Once your opponents start to catch on to just how powerful the engine you’ve assembled truly is, they’re going to start aiming a good bit of hate in your direction and rightly so. While Colfenor is actually solid wrath protection on his own, frequently allowing you to aim the triggers from every death in such a way that your creatures are only “bounced” rather than wrathed, that doesn’t mean you want to replay everything to rebuild. Inspiring Call is a great tool to prevent that and can draw a pile of cards as well, while Heroic Intervention and Golgari Charm are a bit cheaper and easier to hold up. Shalai, Voice of Plenty offers the whole team and yourself hexproof at all times, rather than just at once, and is also a nice mana sink. Sejiri Shelter and Malakir Rebirth round out the protection suite and are lands as well if their narrow effects aren’t needed.
The Final Touches
Rounding out the rest of the deck are all the trappings of a solid midrange deck. You have a flexible little package of removal, featuring single-target all-star Mythos of Nethroi and the versatile Abzan Charm. Duneblast hangs out with Fumigate and Cleansing Nova to add a little variety to your own sweepers. Your mana ramp is split across a few cheap dorks, low-cost spells, including a much-needed reprint of Three Visits, and artifacts, making sure you can curve into your powerful turns easily. Hagra Constrictor and Abzan Falconer ensure that your hefty creatures can get through to opposing faces, either to apply pressure and force an opening for a combo or as a backup plan when the combo kills aren’t an option.
Taken all together, this Colfenor list is a synergistic engine of multiple interchangeable parts that can attack from multiple axes. Hefty creatures, solid interaction and multiple avenues to create game-ending loops of value give you an out in almost any situation. While it’s not at the tier of a cEDH deck by any means, this is the type of deck I would pull out if I was sitting down with a more competitive group of casual players. There’s plenty of room to streamline it as well, if focusing on one route is your style. If you want to give the Treefolk a whirl, you can pick up everything you need at ChannelFireball now! You can even turn some old cards into cash or credit to pick it up, and it’s simple with You Box, We Buy. I’ll see you next time with a fun little holiday-themed deck, where you can put all your opponent’s on the naughty list and leave them a lovely piece of coal or two in their stockings. Until then, I’m @TheLeoRiser on Twitter, where you can let me know what you think of the list, or what you’d change.