Commander Inspiration: Hitting Hard on a Budget - Evra, Halcyon Witness
“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection--thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.
I felt with all the nostalgia about Magic's bygone days that we could celebrate with a card from the Dominaria set. Evra's flavor text even delves into how those glory days of the Thran came to an end. The nostalgia runs deep with this card, but perhaps isn't as powerful as Evra's attacking potential. Evra, Halcyon Witness can easily be considered the heaviest hitting option for your next budget Commander build. I'm here to point you in the direction of making a very interesting Voltron style build from a very powerful and sneaky Commander. Evra, Halcyon Witness allows you to build a deck that is Commander centric, but doesn't rely on equipping tons of swords and other equipment to power through a massively unfair win. Rather, Evra's ability naturally makes her a one-shot Commander that just needs a little evasion and protection. We even get to take advantage of some interesting rules concepts to leverage lifegain and lifeloss in ways our opponents might feel are unfair. However, I assure you, the rulings are quite legal and more than fair for us to take full advantage! Let's get into this exciting and heavy hitting build that leans into the oft maligned mechanic of life gain.
Flying Under the Radar
Let's talk about the overall budget. We want to build a deck that is decently strong, but asks us to use incredibly cheap cards. You're not going to be crushing cEDH games with this build, but you may find yourself becoming the archenemy after a few games. Thankfully, you should get more than a few games won with this deck, as you're playing mono-white, and people often look at those decks as being incredibly weak. Similarly, you may be a little slower as your Commander is a whopping six mana, and does not have haste. This makes people a little less afraid of you, and that's great news. You will be playing life gain, and so you will be able to survive into the mid and late-game moments where your deck will surely shine. All of these factors lineup to put you in a position to attack with Evra, and as long as you're dealing damage to something, you will be incredibly well positioned to survive long enough to connect just once and kill off opponents one by one.
Nobly Gaining More Life than Necessary
Noble Purpose lets you double up on lifelink in combat. This allows each creature, and most importantly Evra, Halcyon Witness, to get double the life gained. When you pull this off with Evra, then you get to swap Evra's power with your life total again, which will allow you to gain life and still leave Evra with a giant power. It is pretty wild to go from 4 life to 80 life to 40 life and then have a 4/4 that becomes a 40/4 and ends the turn as an 80/4. That sort of turn requires eight mana to pull off, but that's not particularly difficult to do in a deck that is designed to stall with life-gain tools for as long as possible. Additionally, we will be playing as much cheap ramp as possible, and that means mana rocks that help us keep pace with everyone else's ridiculous ramp packages. Similar to Noble Purpose is Nykthos Paragon. Paragon allows us to hit with Evra, and then double Evra's stats with the +1/+1 counters ability. Then, we can start swapping our life total with Evra's power and gain as much life as we have mana to radically abuse those +1/+1 counters. If you activate Evra with your life at 40, then you will end up with Evra being an 80/4 at end of turn. Then, you can swap Evra's life total again, give yourself 80 life, and Evra still has all those +1/+1 counters. So, you can rapidly make both Evra and your life total grossly large. Likewise, Cradle of Vitality is an affordable enchantment that allows you to make Evra gigantic in no time.
In a similar vein, Paladin of Prahv won't be great once it is cast, but using that forecast ability is sweet. Utilizing forecast does a similar thing as Noble Purpose, but when both are in play you can even double up on that Noble Purpose. So, you get to gain triple the life off Ezra's damage dealing. Likewise, Spirit Loop is another way to double up on our life gain, and it happens to just keep looping itself, even when we lose the creature it was on. It's similar to the old school life gaining standby Spirit Link, but its ability to return is absolutely worth the extra mana–especially in the slower format that is Commander. Meanwhile, Sunbond is four whole mana, but it does enable shenanigans similar to what Nykthos Paragon allows–so worth it. A couple of simpler approaches to this include using Duelist's Heritage or the pricier True Conviction or Soul's Grace. Meanwhile, Dazzling Reflection is a very flexible card in that it can be used defensively against an opponent's creature, or you can use it prior to your turn while targeting Evra to double your life total before you decide to swing in for massive damage. Likewise, we can delve a bit into the budget arena once more with the aura Light of Promise, and make it so that when we swap out life totals we just pile on the counters, and thus make Evra a monstrous life gain engine. Sure, you could use Boon Reflection, but that's more expensive than most of the cards in the deck! Of course if you are willing to splurge a bit I wouldn't blame you.
Keys to Connecting with Evra
Ways to hit with Evra, Halcyon Witness include Whispersilk Cloak and quite a few other classic infiltration mechanisms. These are essential ways to close out the game. Glaring Spotlight is an interesting multi-function tool that has some upside, but is really ideal for that big hit you need to power through the defense. Key to the City and Manifold Key are both excellent ways for us to finish other players off with the paltry 21 Commander damage that Evra will easily accomplish. Prowler's Helm and Rogue's Passage likewise enable the game winning beat down. These are no-brainer inclusions. Suspicious Bookcase is another fun tool and slots in nicely with our stalling strategy that utilizes creatures that are unthreatening–we'll have a few walls in the deck as well. Wedding invitation is another cheap cantrip that also allows us to pop it and kill an opponent of our choice. The last little equipment that acts like an unblockable piece is Vorrac Battlehorns. Vorrac Battlehorns does not make Evra unblockable, but it effectively does. By only allowing a single creature the ability to block Evra, while also granting trample, we can virtually guarantee that when Evra connects it will be with plenty of trample damage to enable an easy kill. This really only gets sad if your opponent blocks with a deathtouching creature. However, it is probably worth losing Evra and replaying in order to eliminate a player. Of course, if we're talking about sacrificing for the final kill, then you may want to consider utilizing Wings of Hubris as well, because if you're that darn good, then what could possibly go wrong? If you're considering single use effects then you may want to run a copy of Bond of Discipline as well, as it really helps you move all those pesky blockers out of the way.
Other Creatures Worth Using
Loxodon Lifechanter is a fantastic budget addition to this deck. It's a nice alternative beat down in case Evra gets put out to pasture one too many times and you're just sitting there with tons of life. Likewise, Soul of Eternity is another super fun way to take advantage of your arbitrarily large life totals. There are other creatures worth considering, but I'll be discussing them a bit more in other sections. They'll be in the deck to take advantage of alternative win conditions and to make sure we're being optimal with all of Magic's technical rulings.
Controlling the World
Divine Reckoning, Single Combat, Slash the Ranks and Tragic Arrogance are all excellent ways to help make sure that your Evra, Halcyon Witness is the biggest and baddest threat left on the board. It also helps you open up pathways to victory and extra life that might not be available if people are getting out of control with tokens and go wide strategies. One of these can easily bring you back into the fray, or perhaps steal the win from someone else with ease. These spells are often far better than complete board wipes, as you really don't want to have to recast your Commander in a deck like this.
Reaping the Rewards of the Rules
When life totals get swapped or changed the rules state that the affected players' life totals are adjusted with life gain or life loss accordingly. This means that when you swap your life total with Evra, Halcyon Witness' power you are either gaining or losing life. This is why you want to run cards that double up your life gain, like the aforementioned Boon Reflection or even Rhox Faithmender. This is also why you want to run Children of Korlis. You can use children to take all that life back from your switch and leave you with a 40/4 Evra and a fat 44 life total. Enduring Angel is another card that can be used to help you deal with having a suddenly low life total after you activate Evra for the first time. Having a life total of 4 is awful, but if you can leverage this into suddenly having 0 life, get yourself to transform it, get to three life, and then swap totals with Evra again…well, now you're sitting pretty. You'll have a giant flying threat, and then you can attack with it, double your life total, then swap once or even twice and just break the game wide open! That's some serious fun, and it is all strictly legal. Brightmare is a neat little cheap uncommon that can really help you snag back all the life you swapped. It can target an already tapped Evra that happens to have swung in already. This means you can easily beef up that life total.
Alternative Win Conditions
Now, I'm not a huge fan of just tossing in Approach of the Second Sun in any old white deck. I actually hate having to win a game like that, but I recognize that a win is a win. So, perhaps beating face with Evra isn't always possible. So, we may need to toss in a few alternative win conditions. My favorites for this deck, as they are in keeping with the life gaining theme include Felidar Sovereign, Test of Endurance, The Book of Exalted Deeds, and Cloudsteel Kirin. Now, I know that Cloudsteel Kirin and The Book of Exalted Deeds are not win conditions, but they are anti-losing conditions. It can be said that if you're not trying to actively win the game, then you are actually losing. That's the line of thought that has led people to malign life gain decks for years. I contend that if you can manage to not lose long enough, then you are bound to find a way to win. Also, these not losing cards make it so when someone else tries to resolve an alternate win condition they fail to do so. It's pretty cool to make someone else's Approach of the Second Sun worthless.
The core of the deck should use the cards I've mentioned throughout the article. From there you can flush it out with the cheapest mana rock ramp package you can manage. Additionally, you can opt to include either a few pieces of targeted removal or perhaps a few cards that grant protection from creatures, so you can sneak Evra, Halcyon Witness through yet another way. Additionally, using cards like Cho-Manno's Blessing can help you dodge other people's targeted removal and still push through a game ending attack. I hope that you can enjoy gaining life, and that the life swaps and the cards are ever in your favor!