Last week on Jake’s Takes we tipped Killian as the most interesting and exciting Commander from Strixhaven, and this week we’re going to take a deep dive on how to build him and how to play him.
It might not look it, but this is one of the strongest Voltron Commanders ever printed, and it’s capable of much more than just a Menacing combat step.
Killian’s goal is as straightforward as they come: kill everyone with Commander damage. And while we’re beating their faces in with a 15/15 Demon Eldrazi Killian, our opponents’ Commanders and creatures will either be phased out, goaded, pacified, or hampered to the point of uselessness.
Given the unusual pool of cards that Killian draws from, this deck can be built on a budget. So many of the best cards in this deck are close to unplayable with other Commanders, making Killian’s 99 especially unique and better yet, affordable. But even with every budget concession made, Killian is likely to establish himself as the archenemy against most pods.
So, what does Killian lend himself to? The flashiest part of the card is the (2) discount on any spell targeting a creature. This encompasses Auras, Instants, and Sorceries, taking powerful cards and increasing their mana efficiency a substantial amount. Any 3 mana card with only a single coloured pip is suddenly a 1 mana card, cheapening the cost by a massive two thirds. This principle of taking 3 mana spells and discounting them to only 1 is the crux of this deck, and the lens through which we’ll look at every card we want to include.
And while the discount would be enough on its own, Killian also brings two crucial keywords to the table. Menace and Lifelink are perhaps the strongest keywords we could ask for in a Voltron deck, simultaneously giving evasion and cushioning against anything our opponents can throw back at us. Not only that, we can use our life as a resource to fuel Phyrexian mana spells and one-shot kills. But more on that later.
The most obvious synergy with Killian and the easiest to accommodate is the synergy he provides with Auras. Take a card like Timely Ward from Commander Legends: Spending 3 mana at Instant speed to save a creature from certain death is already a powerful combat trick and a card many Commander-centric White decks would be interested in. But apply Killian’s effect and it’s suddenly only 1 mana, which is a criminal rate for a permanent Indestructible effect.
The same is true of cards like Pentarch Ward and Unquestioned Authority, efficient sources of protection at a bargain price. And these cards bring us to our next point; cantrips. Cards that draw a new card upon resolution are powerful because while they cost mana, they don’t reduce the amount of resources you have in hand. Look at cards like Angelic Gift, Rune of Mortality, and the unassuming Hobble for more of the same.
As far as card draw goes, Killian leverages the huge amount of Enchantments in the deck into powerful engines with cards like Mesa Enchantress, Kor Spiritdancer, and Sram, Senior Edificer. There’s little nuance to these creatures, simply run them out, cast the Auras we already wanted to cast, and watch the cards roll in. If we’re lucky enough to draw into Sage’s Reverie, there’s no telling how many cards we can draw at once!
So that’s defense taken care of, what about offense?
Well dear reader, the vast majority of Auras in this deck are obnoxiously offensive, capable of turning a middling 2/2 into a monster the size of Emrakul. We discussed last week how Battle Mastery is the creme de la creme of these effects, as Double Strike makes for safer combat steps and ensures that every keyword and stat buff we put on Killian is squeezed for double the value. But Killian doesn’t stop there. Voltron enchantress staples like Ethereal Armor, All That Glitters, and Helm of The Gods will compound Killian’s power and toughness with each successive Aura, quickly making him the biggest creature on the battlefield.
But the real damage, the real way to break Killian in half and have our opponents beg for mercy comes in the form of Sunbond, and Light of Promise, two near identical cards that allow for exponential growth. Given that Killian already has Lifelink, every successful point of damage he dishes out will give him a corresponding amount of +1/+1 counters. Basically, Killian is going to double in size after every single combat step. And if we’re able to give him Double Strike, he’ll get the first dump of counters on the first hit before getting another on the second.
Presuming we cast him on our second turn, our third turn can feasibly place a Light of Promise, a Battle Mastery, and an Edge of Divinity on Killian. If the stars align, this means we swing on the first hit for five damage, gaining five life and placing five counters. Our second hit of the same combat step will then do a whopping ten damage, gaining us ten life and placing another ten counters on Killian. Congratulations, you just did 15 Commander damage on your third turn and you have a 20/20 Commander to show for it. If you hit that player (or any other player) again, you’ve got lethal.
The crazy thing is that that isn’t even the craziest part! Killian is fantastic on a budget, but if you want to shell out for some big cards, look no further than Hatred. Any opening hand with at least three lands and Hatred will guarantee you a turn 3 OTK on the player of your choice. Simply cast Hatred after you swing, sink 19 life into it so Killian has 21 power, and all of a sudden somebody is stone cold dead. We even get back however much life we paid because Killian has lifelink!
Best of all and a personal favourite of mine is Eldrazi Conscription. Annihilator is perhaps the most terrifying keyword of all time, to say nothing of the +10/+10 static effect. And while a 2 mana discount only brings it down to 6 mana, it is still enough of a discount to make Conscription an obvious inclusion. If you’ve ever had enough mana for a Sun Titan, you have enough mana for Eldrazi Conscription!
Killian’s capabilities as a Voltron Commander speak for themselves, and you’re free to switch up any of the Auras or combat tricks I’ve included with your own favourites. But you’re unlikely to be the only player at the table looking to build a huge creature and go to town with it, so Killian needs answers.
While many decks will look to cards like Go For The Throat or Swords to Plowshares as their stock standard removal pieces, Killian is able to run a smattering of some of the strangest kill spells to ever grace an EDH table. Usually cards like Eyeblight’s Ending and Crib Swap would be too inefficient to run when cheaper options are available, but Killian solves that. He even makes already powerful removal spells stronger, like Price of Fame and Dismember. In most decks Price of Fame will be a 2 mana kill on any Legendary and a 4 mana kill on anything else, but in this deck it’s going to cost 2 mana maximum, and only 1 when we target an opposing Commander. Meanwhile, Dismember is now a free spell…
Going even further, Killian turns Curtain’s Call into an Instant speed double removal spell that costs just a single Black mana. If you can find a better rate elsewhere in Commander, I’d love to hear about it, because this is the best I’ve ever seen. By the same token, Hex is now four mana to kill six different creatures, which makes it a selective boardwipe. Just make sure there are at least six opposing creatures on the board, otherwise you’ll have to kill one of your own!
However, Killian can’t have an answer for everything. Sometimes huge creatures are going to land and you’re not going to have the right removal for the job. For times like those, we need an effect that won’t necessarily answer the threat, just make it someone else’s problem. This is where the Vow and Impetus cycle come into play.
The only thing better than killing our opponents is having them kill each other while we do our own thing. These cards buy us precious time as we layer buff after buff on Killian, ensuring our opponents creatures are swinging anywhere else but toward us. Some players may even thank us for the additional stats and keywords, but don’t count on it, they should be able to figure out what we’re up to. The best of them are Martial Impetus and Parasitic Impetus, both of which Goad their targets, forcing the enchanted creatures to swing every turn. A Blightsteel Colossus is a terrifying sight, but a little less so when we know it can’t attack us.
Lastly, to round out our deck we have a couple of simple staples and synergy pieces that will smooth everything out. We are low on artifact ramp because we don’t really need it, Killian’s discount is already enough. We’re low on creatures because we want to focus on making Killian massive rather than going wide. We don’t even need powerhouses like Smothering Tithe, because our deck never wants for mana in the first place.
Ultimately, Killian is an absolute demon of a Commander—no really, try casting Demonic Embrace—who will take names and win games without fail. He’s fun, he’s fast, he’s resilient, and he has a lot of tricks hidden up those Silverquill sleeves.
Jake FitzSimons is a certified Magic tragic. He keeps one land hands, forgets at least half of his Rhystic Study triggers, and names “Pot of Greed” with Demonic Consultation. He is at his happiest flipping for lethal with Yuriko. You can follow him @Jake_FitzSimons.