Come down to the late-night Dina and get yourself some Dina! Only one of those puns is going to make sense, and your mileage will vary based on how you pronounce Dina. But let’s leave orthoepy to the side for the moment, because Dina is just as awesome regardless of whether you think her name rhymes with “diner” or “dinner.”
Like so many of the Legendary creatures in Strixhaven, Dina is a fresh new take on pairing Green and Black in Commander, a reimagining of what the-guild-formerly-known-as-Golgari is capable of. It’s not that sac outlets are new to Black or that lifegain synergies are new to Green, it’s that we’ve never seen them stapled together and glued to a 2-mana Legendary creature before.
As we talked about in Top 10 Commanders from Strixhaven, any Commander with consistent abilities and a low mana value is the sort of Legend that is just begging to be built around. Consistency is crucial in Magic, and despite the sometimes chaotic nature of the format, Commander is no different. When we have guaranteed access to a powerful effect every single game on turn two, we’re afforded the opportunity to build, even warp our entire deck around it.
So what does Dina bring to the table? Firstly, every time you gain life for any reason, Dina will drain your opponents for one. This means we want to maximise as many different sources of lifegain as we can, not as much life as we can. Lifegain is only a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. This is a clear case of quantity vastly outweighing quality. We would much rather gain 1 life five times than gain 5 life one time.
Moreover, Dina allows us to sacrifice any creatures under our control, pumping her power in proportion to the poor, piddling permanent that perishes. This opens up a beatdown plan in which Dina can feasibly swing for ten or even twenty damage at once, but such a strategy requires nerves of steel as it forces us to put all our eggs in one basket, or rather, all our souls in one steeper. What we really care about is being able to sacrifice whatever we want, whenever we want.
Our goal with Dina is not to assemble an insurmountable board presence that can run ramshod over the entire table – quite the opposite. Dina gets her wins by creating a situation in which no matter what our opponents do, no matter how long the game goes, we will be slowly plinking away, draining a little life with every action. Someone plays a creature? They’ll pay life for it. Someone removes one of your creatures? They’ll pay life for it. Even actions as simple as playing a land will create a cascading lifeloss effect that many players will find hard to come back from.
First up for the deck are the nuts and bolts, the little pieces that bring everything together and ensure our mana and our access to creatures is as robust and redundant as possible: mana dorks. Shorthand for mana producing creatures, dorks are very often Elves with the occasional exception (a certain avian with 0 power comes to mind).
I’ll be the first to admit that these aren’t the flashiest cards to ever grace a table. Nobody will put their hands to their head and lament the rising power level of Commander when you resolve an Elvish Mystic. But when you use the critical mass of mana producing creatures to rush out a Beledros Witherbloom or a Tendershoot Dryad a few turns early? They very well might. And while other decks struggle to find a use for their dorks once they’ve reached the midgame, Dina is jammed full of ways to turn these creatures into lifegain, card advantage, and surprise threats.
To do so, we need cards like the brand new Plumb the Forbidden as well as classic Aristocrat staples like Blood Artist, and Zulaport Cutthroat that accelerate our clock or refill our hand as reward for our sacrifice. ‘Go wide’ strategies in Commander are always vulnerable to boardwipes and other mass removal effects, and while this can still cause trouble for Dina, cards like Bastion of Remembrance ensure any opponent with the nerve to interact with us will pay dearly. Remember, a Wrath of God might destroy every last creature, but because it happens simultaneously, all triggers will still be placed on the stack and resolve as you’d hope them to.
If you lose a board with five creatures and a Zulaport Cutthroat, you’ll be gaining six life and draining each opponent for six, no questions asked. If Dina is one of those creatures — and she certainly should be — that drain is doubled. All of a sudden you’re sapping a respectable twelve life from every opponent.
So instead of preventing our opponents from removing everything in one fell swoop, we try to create a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario where a boardwipe may not even be in the best interests of the rest of the table to resolve.
Now to the lifegain effects: the cards that would be mediocre at best in other decks but absolute powerhouses in Dina. Essence Warden is a colour-shifted Soul Warden that gives a single point of life whenever a creature enters the battlefield on any side of the board. Pair it with Dina, and you’ll be draining all opponents for one just about every turn, oftentimes more than once. This is a simple two card synergy that amps up the pressure, taking additional advantage of anyone focusing on a go wide strategy similar to your own. Woe betide the poor fool who brings a token deck to bear against your Soul Steeper. They’ll not only drain themselves rapidly, they’ll drain everyone if they want to develop at all.
Likewise, Lifegift gives us one life for every land that enters the battlefield. Paired with Dina, we can assume that every turn cycle we will gain four life, and every opponent will lose four life, presuming nobody misses a land drop. But this is Commander, where ramp cards are par for the course, and that’s to say nothing of lands that sacrifice themselves. Even the humble Terramorphic Expanse is now a liability!
Lifegift and Essence Warden are the best of these lifegain effects but we’re packing redundancy in the form Tablet of the Guilds, Sun Droplet, Diamond Mare, and the almighty Scavenging Ooze. It’s actually quite a challenge to not gain life in this deck, there are just that many permanents that can do it for us.
Two of the scariest lifegain creatures we have access to in Dina are Witherbloom Apprentice and Sedgemoor Witch, and before you ask, I’ve elected to exclude Chain of Smog from the list for the moment. There’s no denying how powerful this combo is — a two card infinite win — but courtesy of its extreme power and the severe availability issues for Chain of Smog right now, it didn’t seem right to encourage it. Having said that, if you happen to own a copy, feel free to include it as long as your playgroup is comfortable with the power level.
In the absence of Chain of Smog, we have something a lot more fun and a little more fair in the form of Weather the Storm. The synergy with Witherbloom Apprentice works as you’d think it does, each copy providing an additional trigger and draining each opponent for one, make that two if Dina is in play. Weather also plays nicely with Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose, creating a draining storm that can potentially one-shot a player depending on the size of the stack. Try Weather the Storm with Aetherflux Reservoir, and snipe whoever you like for 50 damage at a time.
And what are we to do if we face a White deck with a heavy lifegain theme? Heaven forbid we’re staring down a deck with an infinite life combo! Our solution is the exquisite elephant in the room, the card that sprung to everyone’s mind when they first saw Dina. Our Witherbloom gal is not the first card to go infinite with Exquisite Blood, but it’s by far the strongest. It was only a year ago that we were graced with Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose and for all his vampiric virtues, he simply can’t hold a candle to Dina. Simply put, two colours are better than one, and two mana is better than three. On top of that, Green’s access to mana ramp means that Exquisite Blood is easier to run out ahead of schedule than it is in a mono-black deck.
I don’t think I need to tell you how powerful a combo that requires only your Commander and a single card from the deck is. One of the most enticing reasons to run Dina in a high powered environment is this exact interaction, and it’s always a thrill to win so efficiently and ruthlessly. But please, make sure your playgroup is okay with it before you jam it. Rule Zero exists for a reason!
Dina is always hungry for more souls, so we need as many ways as we can find to produce fodder. Staples like Avenger of Zendikar are an auto-include, but Witherbloom recently received a huge boon in the form of its namesake; Beledros Witherbloom. While other decks can only use his activated ability sparingly, we’re likely to have plenty enough life to untap all of our lands every turn. But much more exciting is his pest production, which triggers on each upkeep, not just our own. This leads to a tremendous amount of value in the form of tokens that we can sacrifice to feed Dina, all the while gaining and draining.
The same is true for Wolverine Riders, which not only gives us tokens on each upkeep, but gains us life with every elf entering the battlefield, the best of both worlds and a surefire path to victory for Dina. Even the humble Tendershoot Dryad will quickly swamp a board with enough saprolings to make Slimefoot blush! One of my favourites is Tivash, Gloom Summoner, which can turn all of our lifegain into Demons. On big turns, we can pump out gigantic Demons that will be threats by themselves, but even just an Essence Warden in play will give us a fresh token almost every turn.
Finally, we have some simple card draw spells to round out the list and guarantee we never run out of gas. We’ve been over how useful even a 1/1 pest can be, and one of the best ways to take advantage of tiny tokens is feeding them to Skullclamp for two fresh cards. Failing that, Moldervine Reclamation ensures that when our sacrificial fodder dies, we’re rewarded with new cards and even more life.
New things are often the most fun to play, and Dina is a wonderful change of pace for fans of the Aristocrat archetype. I’m going out on a limb here, but after playing this deck I’ve come to believe that Witherbloom is actually superior to Orzhov when it comes to leveraging lifegain and tokens into a winning strategy. Almost all of the cards in this deck layer nicely with each other, and any given boardstate can potentially threaten a kill while simultaneously keeping us safe.
While we bloom, our opponents wither.
Dina, Soul Steeper
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.