One of the first decks I ever built was Doran, the Siege Tower. Toughness matters and life gain were ingrained into its strategy and it was a blast to play. When four-color Commanders were dropped on us back in 2016, Doran had an identity crisis. Why stick to Abzan when you could introduce red? Thus, “Bruse and Ikra‘s Tough Love Shack” was born.
Bruse and Ikra are pretty simple to build around. Ikra wants your creatures to have a sizable toughness, and Bruse gives out a big combat buff. Together they heavily encourage attacking with your creatures, preferably hefty boys, but if all else fails you can simply pair the two together for a sizable chunk of life.
You want to play Ikra first, followed by Bruse the next turn, giving her double strike and lifelink. When you attack an opponent with Ikra and connect, you’ll gain twenty life minimum. Ikra’s ability triggers when a creature deals combat damage, including herself. You would gain seven life if she connected with an opponent by herself. Since we give her double strike thanks to good ol’ Bruse, that means you gain seven life two times. Since she has lifelink as well, you also gain three life each time she deals normal combat damage. You’ll only deal six damage to the opponent you hit, so that can be a nice political conversation: “don’t worry, you only lose six, it’s not that bad.”
The “Tough Love Shack” gets its name from a few different places. Let’s start with the obvious: tough. As previously mentioned, Doran, the Siege Tower was this deck’s previous commander, so the deck was constructed around the idea that toughness matters. Cards like Assault Formation and Belligerent Brontodon give us additional ways of having creatures deal combat damage with their toughness, plus Time of Need, Treefolk Harbinger, and Summoner’s Pact can find Doran for us. Time of Need is especially useful in this deck in general as we have a solid number of legendary creatures, including Saskia the Unyielding as a potential alternate commander.
If you control Doran or a similar effect in addition to Ikra and Bruse, the attack with Ikra turns into twenty-eight life gain for you and a fourteen points of damage to the defending opponent. It would be hard to convince opponents “it’s not that bad” after an attack like that, but gaining twenty-eight life from one creature is probably worth it.
Share the Love
Since we’re going to be gaining a solid amount of life through Ikra or one of our other creatures attacking after Bruse has granted them lifelink, we’ll need some payoffs. Felidar Sovereign is a great card in commander, and is especially awesome in our deck since we will be spending most of our time well above forty life. Ageless Entity is a scary threat that grows based on how much life we’re gaining. Imagine giving it double strike and lifelink from Bruse! Pair it with Rogue’s Passage or Suspicious Bookcase for a quick kill “out of nowhere”. Cradle of Vitality turns any creature into Ageless Entity for the price of one generic and one white. And whenever you’re gaining life as a primary strategy while having access to black, don’t you ever forget Sanguine Bond.
Armadillo Cloak doesn’t give lifelink to the creature it enchants, it’s actually a triggered ability of the enchantment. That means putting it on a lifelink creature basically gives it double lifelink! Indomitable Ancients is a classic card to pair with Doran and it becomes especially ridiculous with Bruse and Ikra in the mix. Silklash Spider is a walking Hurricane with a sizable toughness and it pairs similarly well with Doran and our Commanders. Since we are going to end up with a fair amount of life to spare, Arguel’s Blood Fast helps us dig through our deck. I’ve never gotten it to flip, but if we did flip it we’d be able to sacrifice our Very Tough Boys™ for some life in a pinch.
Time for Tough Love
This deck truly shines in combat. The obvious synergy Bruse and Ikra have together lends itself to attacking aggresively, and allowing our creatures to deal damage with toughness instead is only made better when given lifelink. The only thing left to do is to make our tough creatures, well, even tougher. Iroas, God of Victory, Archetype of Aggression, and Loyal Unicorn are prime examples of how our side of the field is going to be dangerous in combat. The previously mentioned Saskia the Unyielding makes our creatures deal damage to two people at once (ideally an opponent who is good at protecting themselves) and something like Brave the Sands protects us on the crack-back.
In addition to making our creatures formidable in combat, we also have Fervor, Samut, Tyrant Smasher, and Samut, Voice of Dissent in order to give our creatures haste. Samut, the Tested completes the Samut tribal we seem to have going on, as this version of her can give a creature double strike. If you can keep her long enough to use her ultimate, you could tutor out two more creatures and/or planeswalkers to hopefully assemble a combination of creatures that will close the game out in a hurry.
Throw Those Haymakers
What I haven’t discussed in this article is your typical removal and board wipe packages, which every commander deck needs a little of. This deck is heavy on the offense, so I only run two board wipes for creatures and Bane of Progress for enchantments and artifacts. There is plenty of targeted removal as well, but instead of listing it all out I’ll let you take a peek. I always encourage readers to build their own removal suite since there are so many different removal spells out there and just telling you to run Swords to Plowshares feels pointless.
Bruse and Ikra‘s Tough Love Shack is one of my favorite decks to pilot during our game nights. Life gain, toughness matters, and big swings each turn are bound to occur, and if those things sound like fun to you then this odd partner pairing is one you should absolutely give some consideration. Join us next time on Mind over Commander when we figure out a competitive build for Gwendlyn Di Corci!