Vial Smasher, the Fierce is one of my favorite partner Commanders. Her ability allows us to impact the game without singling out one opponent; we can simply say “I didn’t tell her to throw vials at you!” Searching for the perfect partner for her is always a fun experiment, and while Thrasios holds a warm place in my heart, this time I want to talk about how well Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist pairs with her.
Here’s a decklist, for those interested. Also, Scryfall named the deck “Poutine Waffle Brew” and now I want to eat Poutine Waffles and I am NOT changing that name.
There is one place that these partners directly overlap: Ludevic wants “anyone but us” to lose life, and Vial Smasher deals damage to “someone who isn’t us” each turn that we cast a spell. Unfortunately Ludevic doesn’t let us draw a card every turn, but feeding extra cards to our opponents means they are much more likely to hurt “someone who isn’t us” instead of us. We could lean on that aspect and play Propaganda-like effects to watch our opponents slowly wither away, but there are much more interesting things we can accomplish. First, let’s go over our mana plan. We’re not playing green, so what can we do to make a bunch of mana?
Rocks… Rocks Everywhere
Any Commander player knows that when ramping without green, there is only one good option: just run mana rocks like Izzet Signet and Sol Ring. It’s not as consistent as green’s plan, due to the fact that land-ramp adds choices and removes lands from the deck, but it’s all we can do in these colors. This deck makes a fair amount of colorless mana with Hedron Archive, Worn Powerstone, and Dreamstone Hedron, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We’ll want colorless mana for our fourteen different X-cost spells!
X Gon’ Give it To Ya
X-cost spells are the way this deck wants to secure wins. The wonderful thing about X-cost cards is that their converted mana cost can be whatever we want, specifically when on the stack. This matters to us because Vial Smasher checks the mana cost of a spell while it’s on the stack. This means if we cast Walking Ballista with X equal to ten, we’re going to be slinging twenty damage at a random opponent! With Vial Smasher, X-cost spells go from “ways to spend mana” to “potentially lethal damage.”
Astral Cornucopia, Entrancing Melody, Hangarback Walker, Banefire, Killing Glare, Mindswip, and the others in our deck have big impact on their own. Vial Smasher adds even more value to these cards by dealing massive damage, often knocking someone out of the game in a single blow. Thanks to the random selection, we can skirt some of the blame for the damage. There are a wide variety of X-cost spells, so if one tickles your fancy more than the ones in the list, feel free to mention it in the comments and run it in place of the ones selected.
No Commander deck is complete without card draw. Blue and black are the best colors for drawing cards, so we have plenty of options. So many options, in fact, that we can turn card draw effects into our deck’s secondary theme.
Nekusar is one of the most popular Grixis Commanders, and that’s for a good reason: everyone in Commander draws extra cards, and he punishes everyone but you for doing so. Pairing Nekusar with Wheel of Fortune and similar effects (which are abundant in his colors) makes quick work of most opponents. Furthermore, there are plenty of other cards in his colors that punish opponents for drawing cards, so it’s easy to theme an entire deck that way.
Ludevic‘s ability lets our opponents draw cards. Normally this is not ideal, as every card an opponent draws could be the card that wins them the game. While we are playing a suite of counterspells, we shouldn’t rely on just that to counteract our opponents’ extra cards. This is why we’re going to steal the ideas in a Nekusar deck and put them into ours.
Cards like Fate Unraveler, Fevered Visions, Spiteful Visions, and Phyrexian Tyranny force our opponents to pay a price for the cards they’ve drawn from Ludevic. To amp up this card draw punishment, Nekusar, Howling Mine, Dictate of Kruphix, and Kami of the Crescent Moon are included as well. They feed into the card drawing for all players, and our cards force those players to pay the price. Worst-case scenario, if we’re in a situation where we can’t find the punishing pieces, the game should end soon enough since we’re forcing players to draw a bunch of cards and thus allowing them to dig to what they need. If we’re not winning the game, we get to move on to another game of Magic faster than normal.
The Other Stuff
Typically in our Mind over Commander articles we brush past the mana base and control pieces of a deck. This is due to how many different spells and lands there are which accomplish mostly the same thing. It would get very tiring to state “Swords to Plowshares is an absolute include” in every article. That being said, there are a few spells in the utility area I want to briefly mention so you know why they are there. There are no lands selected for this deck specifically that need mentioned, so the mana base is entirely up to you as a deck builder; I’ve just selected some of my personal favorite lands for a Grixis build.
Neheb, the Eternal is a great ramp card for our deck as it gives us plenty of mana to play with in the second main phase. It can be a little awkward if we’re wanting that mana to pump into a spell for Vial Smasher to start slinging damage, but in the situations where Vial Smasher has already domed someone for ten points of damage, that’s ten free mana for us to spend on whatever we please!
Mindswipe is not an amazing card in most decks, but it’s very strong in the situations that we’re creating with this deck. For X and a blue and a red, we can literally end someone. Pumping mana into this spell alone could damage someone to the point of no return, and even kill them in some situations. When we consider the added benefit of Vial Smasher, this “fun edge case” becomes a serious threat. First, Mindswipe deals damage even if they’ve paid X for their spell. Unless Mindswipe gets countered, the spell’s controller is getting damaged. Second, Vial Smasher will then throw X (plus two) damage at a random opponent. If we play Mindswipe at the right time, we could get a double kill!
Killing Wave is always rude, but it’s even more rude in this deck since we’re not playing a creature-heavy strategy. Our goal is to slap down Vial Smasher and have her throw her barrage of explosive Christmas presents at everyone. Ludevic helps, but isn’t required. As a board wipe this card does allow opponents an “out,” and it isn’t always going to have guaranteed results like Damnation, but pumping enough mana into this spell will force our opponents to make difficult decisions and allow us to save our own creatures. If our Vial Smasher is enchanted with Vampiric Link, then we can essentially keep her free of charge. In fact, her trigger will gain us one extra life!
This deck is a two-in-one build; depending on what we draw, it can be a bear hug deck (Ludevic and Nekusar‘s “card draw and subsequent punishment” strategy) or a focused “big mana and Vial Smasher” strategy. If you think it would be better to simply pilot a Nekusar deck, that’s what you should do. However, the versatility of this build makes games play out differently every time, which I think is more fun. Slinging random damage with Vial Smasher is one of my favorite pastimes. Add on “Party draw” (the best part of Magic!) and I think you’ll have a fun time whether or not you win. Join me next time when I play Rafiq, of the Many and Assault Suit, but add in Ensnaring Bridge so I can stall the game long enough to finish all the Magic books I need to read for Lore Seeker.