Hey, remember those first pre-constructed Commander decks Wizards printed in 2005? No.... probably not because they didn't exist - but I like to believe that if they did they would look something like this deck. Why do I think this is what an EDH pre-con would look like in 2005? Because if Wizards had sold one, it would be ringed in the glorious white border.
My journey to build this deck was a long one.
I read an old post on the MTGS EDH forum about the feasibility of white border Commander decks last Summer, and the idea has been stuck in my little grey cells ever since. By stalking eBay and some trips to the local quarter bin, I've been slowly buying up singles and putting them in a box. They weren't expensive, but they were pretty scarce. I suspect a lot of white border product has been thrown away over the years. By December, persistence had paid off and I had what I needed, so over the holidays I sat down to make it a reality. It was an exercise in deck crafting from a limited card pool, finding substitute cards to make things work and keep it playable in a multiplayer setting. If you are a fan of off-the-wall deck designs, this one is for you.... Let's take a look!
Borders of white.
One of the oddest design choices in the history of the game, the white border was meant to designate that a card was a reprint. It was probably seen by the early Wizards team as a way to make the game more "collectible", but from a pure aesthetics perspective it was one of the company's earliest "bad decisions".
It was also confusing. The border policy stipulated no card could be printed in white border without a prior black border printing - and they enforced this policy by language. So, if a card had never been printed in black border in say Russian, then that set would be printed in black border regardless of its English printing. This is why Ninth Edition was black bordered for French and Russian printings, with the rest of us getting it in white borders. Unless you scored a foil, which (of course?) were always in black.
So with Magic's reach becoming world wide, what was printed in each border color was almost impossible to keep up with. In addition, the art just looked better with a black background so players really disliked the "reprints". This policy actually backfired on wizards - players and collectors ended up undervaluing the later printings so much that sell through of core product was much slower. Even players who just focused on gameplay wouldn't play a deck long term without it "being in black border".
As if this story couldn't get any weirder, Wizards actually announced the Tenth Edition of Magic by proclaiming the white border would be discontinued. It was an odd end for an odd printing choice.
Funny thing though, for a lot of us casuals, white borders were at the heart of our earliest Magic experiences. Sure, I was lucky and scored two boosters and a starter of Beta, but the majority of my early days was centered around Unlimited and Revised. So building a white border Commander deck was nostalgic and comfortable and the very antithesis of "pimp". Mechanically it was an exercise in crafting from a limited card pool, so it seemed the perfect intersection of the things I love about the game. This is why I so badly wanted to make this concept work. For months I soldiered on, despite the folks on MTGS claiming it was probably impossible. Probably.
The three pillars of a great commander deck are card draw, ramp and a solid mana base. I mean, the mechanics of the creatures and spells and how they synergize with the commander are also important, but like a table, when you kick out the third leg the entire thing will crash down. This was a really hard concept to solidify in white border, because so many of the formats staples were never printed in white. To be honest, the solution isn't as elegant nor as bomb proof as most of my builds. It will probably take a lucky draw or two to stay in the game, but it just looks too wonderfully fun on the table to take it apart.
For card draw, I went with Coastal Piracy, Concentrate, Greed, Treasure Trove and Phyrexian Arena. This is way less than I normally would include in a. EDH build, but they are the best of limited options in the colors we are running, so it is probable that we may need to rely on the two tutors in the deck to get one of these into play. Three of the options are "recurring" draw, so getting any one of those on the board should suffice.
Ramp is slim as well, with the usual Sol Ring, Fellwar Stone and Basalt Monolith in the list to help get out the big cards quicker. The lack of green is a killer for ramp in white border, so I compensated by selecting cards that didn't need a lot to cast, with the exception of the late game bombs.
Mana is the most solid of the three. Grixis is "blessed" with seven dual lands (and I'm blessed with being a long time player with revised duals in her binder). I added in a Star Compass to help with the smoothing, and we are off to the races.
The good news out of all this is we have a lot of slots available to make Sol'Kanar, the Swamp King shine. About half those slots I filled with control elements like burn and counter spells to keep us in the game. If we are going to be slow, we need to slow the opponents down too. Counterspell, Rewind, Defense Grid, Boomerang, Hammer of Bogardan and Temporal Adept become the foundation of the package with some targeted destruction like Dark Banishing added to the mix. It's probably the strongest part of the build.
With the remaining slots I focused on Swampwalk. Sol'kanar is a legit threat at 5/5 so if we can guarantee that he's unblockable, he becomes a thing. Throw in some voltron-y cards (like the only two white border pieces of equipment) and he will quickly get the attention from your opponents at the table. The big thing here is to get a Swamp in your opponents control. Cyclopean Tomb is the star here, but since you only need them to control one, Phantasmal Terrain, Evil Presence, Mystic Compass, Mind Bend and Magical Hack - yes... Magical Hack do the job as well. Of course if everyone at the table is also playing black, these cards become somewhat dead, until you start changing all their best lands to basics. It's almost as good as mass land destruction.
For creatures, the Swamp King brings along an army of Swampy denizens, with Plague Beetle, Lost Soul, Bog Raiders and Bog Wraith all becoming unblockable in combat. These guys serve as backup if Sol'Kanar is "dethroned" and double as an unstoppable army when he is in play. The rest of the creature selection is just there to be blockers and gum up the battlefield. Our path to victory lies with the swampwalkers, so things like Wall of Stone, Uncle Istvan (see below!) and Wall of Air are viable includes.
So that's my very gimped - but very cool - Sol'Kanar deck. It's not a killer, but it will make the people at your table smile. For me, that's what Commander is all about. Finding a goofy theme and going the distance with it. Sometimes it's not about the win, it is about the journey to get there. As always, my entire list is available on TappedOut - give it a look!
Until next time, surprise your opponents by throwing them into the swamp!
Bonus fun - Funny thing about this deck. Being a child of the 70's in the Deep South - Everytime I touch this deck I can't get this song out of my head so I named the deck after it. I even included Uncle Istvan in the deck, because I am pretty sure he is a reincarnated version of Lucius Clay.