Voltron looks simple enough – you load up a bunch of permanents onto one creature and attack! But the archetype actually has a lot of subtle choices (ones that take place in either deckbuilding or in gameplay) that you can work to master. Let’s take a look.
The Problems Voltron Faces
- You set yourself for 2-for-1, 3-for-1, X-for-1 scenarios when you load up you voltron threat with a bunch of enchantments (this is slightly mitigated when you are making a equipment voltron deck).
- Often Voltron decks are geared to be good at attacking but not great at interacting with opponent’s board states or cards in hand. Including mainboard hatecards or bringing in sideboard cards can complicate your damage output each turn.
- When you lose your voltron threat it can be difficult to impossible to rebuild your boardstate. With enchantment based voltron decks you need raw cards to reapply to your creatures and with equipment decks you need a ton of mana or Puresteel Paladin to re-equip a creature. Because most voltron decks are built to deal damage they are not prepared to draw lots of cards or generate a lot of mana.
- When you can’t attack – thanks to effects such as Moat or Ensnaring Bridge, ect it becomes near impossible for voltron decks to close the game out.
The Benefits of Voltron
- Your opponents oftentimes have to run very specific types of removal or answers in order to stop your voltron threat. Normal kill spells such as Terminate don’t usually work because of effects like Hexproof or protection from various colors.
- You rule the attack step – it is your domain. Because of enchantments like Rancor, Spirit Mantle, Daybreak Coronet, various equipments, and many other enchantments in other colors it is possible to make any blockers your opponents have negligible to your attacks via first strike, trample, protection from colors, protection from creatures, ect. Lifelink provides you sustain versus other super aggressive decks. There are enchantments that also provide your creatures hexproof if they didn’t already have hexproof.
- Instant speed Pump/Buff effects that might be included in a infect deck (such as Berserk, Invigorate, Might of Old Krosa, Become Immense ) are fair game for including in a Voltron deck. Cards like Hatred, Tainted Strike are classic for black voltron decks in Commander – in red there are tons of pump spells such as Temur Battle Rage, Blazing Shoal, Reckless Charge, Fatal Frenzy and Rush of Blood. Lands such as Kessig Wolf Run, Shizo, Death’s Storehouse exist as well.
- It is possible to further diversify your pump effects and include planeswalkers – Ajani, Caller of the Pride and Elspeth, Knight-Errant can pump and jump your creature to victory.
Types of Removal you are vulnerable to
In the same way that you have a ton of enchantments, equipments and planeswalkers to build up your voltron creature your opponents have a plethora of options to get around hexproof and protection – the downside they face is that when they differentiate their removal suite to be better against your threats they expose themselves to the rest of the field. In modern the best example of a card that doesn’t cost much deckbuilding opportunity cost for a Jund style decks is Liliana of the Veil. Its able to interact with multiple archetypes and can still blow you out of the game with its -2 sac effect.
The most effective spells against voltron decks are usually sacrifice effects. This is usually because sacrifice isn’t a targeted ability and it gets around hexproof. These can be sorcery speed like Pox, Cruel Edict, Chainer’s Edict or Innocent Blood (similar effects stapled onto the bodies of Fleshbag Marauder and Merciless Executioner ). At instant speed you have options like Diabolic Edict, Blessed Alliance, and Celestial Flare. Fog, Constant Mists, Cryptic command naming tap all creatures can temporarily stem off a voltron threat but they are often times not long term solutions.
Moat effects can be annoying. Peacekeeper brings the same type of effect. These moat effects are aggravating because unlike kill spells they present a permanent solution to your voltron threat as opposed to a one time effect.
Wrath of god effects can be effective, but aura decks can run Spider Umbra (or any number of enchantments with the Totem Armor mechanic) to protect against mass destruction effects. People don’t normally run Earthquake style effects because you need a very high value for X in order to kill the voltron creature. Mass exile spells can be much more effective than a Wrath (Final Judgement).
Cards such as Cyclonic Rift deserve a category to their own; its near impossible to play around this style of effect. You can run cards such as Dragonlord Dromoka, Grand Abolisher, or Conqueror’s Flail but they only protect you from mass bounce spells during your turn; if you are playing in a multiplayer format there is nothing stopping the blue deck from casting the mass bounce spell during another player’s turn and blowing you out as well.
This is an example of a Modern Boggles deck (see article here).
Modern Versus Commander Voltron
The Modern Boggles decklist is tight because Modern is generally considered a turn 3/turn 4 kill format. There isn’t much wiggle room in designing your deck (although it is debated what is the correct number of Kor Spiritdancer to run, ect). These Boggles are here to deal the business of damage. Another example primer on Boggles can be found here.
In Modern Boggles is trying to get to the win as fast as possible game 1, then in game two has access to tricks such as fetching Dryad Arbor with a green fetchland. This trick is useful because you can fetch the Arbor in response to a sac effect so that the Arbor dies instead of your voltron creature.
These types of tricks can be visually effective and gratifying but they can dilute your overall strategy. Because cards such as Dryad Arbor and other cards that might stop sacrifice effects such as Tajuru Preserver (or whatever hate effect you are working to counteract) are not working actively towards closing the game out VIA enchantments you are on average giving your opponents more time to play the game. Anyone who has played boggles will tell you that a lot of decks want to stall you as long as possible so that they can stabilize the game and regain control of the game.
In Commander it is much more complicated. The CMC of your commander and the small creatures you wish to enchant will dramatically effect the average amount of damage you are able to generate in the first few turns. Your deckbuilding choices will also impact how well (whether you are scaling in value – cards drawn/mana generated – or damage output) your deck can scale. Because decks can only have 1 of each card, it can be difficult to draw all of the hyper efficient damage enchantments consistently.
Don’t forget that Commander is usually a multiplayer format and that you have to kill multiple players.
Count Your Damage
Before you over commit enchantments to creatures be sure that the enchantments you are casting actually improve your clock (how fast you are killing them). Let’s look at an example:
You have a Slippery Bogle that has a Rancor on it and a Daybreak Coronet attached to it. That’s 1+2+3 for a total of 6 damage a turn before calculating for blockers. If your opponent has no blockers and has 15 life that is a 3 turn clock (not accounting for other cards you might have in your hand that can add damage in future turns). If you commit another Daybreak Coronet to your Bogle that’s a total of 9 damage – which would improve your clock to a two turn clock. You don’t want to cast enchantments that don’t improve your clock because that would be openly exposing card advantage if you were to be blown out by a sac effect.
Also know that revealing what your damage output is can be information for your opponent as well – they will plan their turns trying to map out how long they have to live the same way you are trying to map out how long it will take to kill them.
Commander Enchantment Voltron Cards
Tutors: Three Dreams, Plea for Guidance, Idyllic Tutor, Heliod’s Pilgrim, Sterling Grove, Open the Armory, Academy Rector, Boonweaver Giant, Totem-Guide Hartebeest, Auratouched Mage, Enlightened Tutor.
Card Advantage: Sram, Senior Edificer, Three Dreams, Plea for Guidance, Mesa Enchantress, Argothian Enchantress, Enchantress’s Presence, Femeref Enchantress, Verduran Enchantress, Sage’s Reverie, Kor Spiritdancer ,Eidolon of Blossoms, Righteous Authority, Keen Sense. Flickering Ward and Crown of Flames can be included to return to hand and recast to cantrip off of draw on cast effects (or ETB effects).
Damage Efficiency: The most damage efficient enchantment cards for your mana: Ethereal Armor, Rancor (more because of its trample), Daybreak Coronet, Sage’s Reverie, Battle Mastery, Madcap Skills, Runes of the Deus, Ancestral Mask, Helm of the Gods, Empyrial Armor, Auramancer’s Guise.
Damage/Mana Efficient Creatures For Voltron: A cross between being mana efficient but still providing you a strong body to attack with. Yavimaya Enchantress, Herald of the Pantheon, Graceblade Artisan, Blessing of the Nephilim (especially good in Uril), Eidolon of Countless Battles, Hero of Iroas, Aura Gnarlid, Gatherer of Graces, Boon Satyr, Boonweaver Giant, Sovereigns of Lost Alara (these two are not mana efficient but are great late game finishers because of their ability to cheat enchantments into play). Hydra Omnivore and Grenzo’s Ruffians can be damage efficient creatures because of their ability to spread damage to other players when they successfully hit one player.
Utility/Evasion: Angelic Destiny, Steel of the Godhead, Holy Mantle, Asha’s Favor, Serra’s Embrace, Vow of Flight, Xenagos, God of Revels, Shield of the Oversoul, Favor of the Overbeing, Spirit Mantle, Bear Umbra, Aqueous Form, Copy Enchantment, Protective Bubble, Unquestioned Authority, Flickerform, Gryff’s Boon, Spectra Ward, Asceticism, Alpha Authority, Alexi’s Cloak.
Life Sustain Enchantments: These provide efficient lifegain so that you can out sustain other decks – Scourge of the Nobilis, Armadillo Cloak, Unflinching Courage, Spirit Loop, Felidar Umbra, Celestial Mantle, Hopeful Eidolon.
Creature Durability Support: Any of the Umbra mechanic spells (Spider Umbra, Boar Umbra, Bear Umbra, Eel Umbra, Eland Umbra, Felidar Umbra, Hyena Umbra, Indrik Umbra, Mammoth Umbra, Snake Umbra – or Umbra Mystic to give all your auras Totem Armor. If you want your creature to come back from the dead you can include Angelic Renewal, Fool’s Demise, False Demise, or Gift of Immortality. Squee’s Embrace brings your creature back to your hand.
Other: Sigarda’s Aid (fantastic because it lets us play at flash speed and play around countermagic, removal, etc), Eldrazi Conscription (great to cheat into play via Sovereigns of Lost Alara ), Finest Hour, Dueling Grounds, Diplomatic Immunity, Academy Researchers. Winds of Rath.
Commander Equipment Cards
While all colors have access to the powerful colorless “Sword of X/Y” effects, the vast majority of the powerful Equipment cards in Commander revolve around Red and White. More equipment than these exist but please consider these first.
Sword of X/Y: Sword of Feast and Famine, Sword of Fire and Ice, Sword of War and Peace, Sword of Light and Shadow, Sword of Body and Mind is also playable but is by far the least powerful – even though it does provide us a wolf to equip stuff to in the future. These cards are powerful because they provide more than protection for our voltron threat. They provide +2/+2 buffs and a useful trigger when they deal damage.
Utility: Umezawa’s Jitte, Sunforger, Sword of the Animist, Worldslayer (combos with a creature equipped with Darksteel Plate), Argentum Armor, Masterwork of Ingenuity, Conqueror’s Flail, Copy Artifact, Sculpting Steel, Phyrexian Metamorph.
Commander Voltron Land Effects
I personally think that you should try to make your manabase as simple as possible in a Commander voltron deck but in Commander its easy to throw in a few powerful land effects that can push your deck over the edge in tight spots.
Tower of the Magistrate: Great land if you are in a mono colored deck – it can blow out other voltron decks by giving their creatures protection from artifacts thus unequipping any equipment on that creature.
Kessig Wolf Run: Giving +x/+0 is powerful but the trample can be ultra clutch too.
Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion: Double Strike on demand – give it to any creature (not just your own).
If you are deep in white enchantments Serra’s Sanctum is a staple and can provide game-winning amounts of mana.
Typical Voltron Commanders
While you can build a lot of different varieties of voltron decks with any color (because of the abundance of powerful colorless equipment) typically most Voltron decks will be at least green or white because those offer the most damage efficient enchantment auras.
Uril, The Miststalker : Classic Red/Green/White voltron commander that becomes very large very quickly (great for commander damage kills). He might be the best at scaling damage in the game when you are considering Auras. JT wrote a Uril decktech up here.
Zur the Enchanter is usually associated with Combo decks (for good reason) but he can also go aggro – his search effect is great for sustaining damage over time or interacting with opponents through hate enchantments.
Bruna, Light of Alabaster can be built to be midrangy but it also has a combo angle – some people try to cast mass mill effects such as Traumatize on themselves then resolve a Bruna trigger. This usually results in instantly killing a player.
Zurgo Helmsmasher can be built well for either equipment or enchantment voltron purposes because of his Red and White support. He’s a decent 7/2 body that is indestructible during your turn – great for when you are trying to suite up a threat.
Rafiq of the Many is one of my favorite voltron Commanders – he applies his exalted and double strike to any lone attacker, not just himself. This lets you build up another voltron dude and pump that threat up without investing heavily into Rafiq himself. Its also hard to pass up access to cards like Finest Hour.
Shu Yun, the Silent Temptest is a Jeskai commander that can push damage through his double strike triggered ability. His real secret is his prowess – you can get a big helping of burst damage in one turn if you are able to cast several spells in succession then apply double strike to him.
Kalemne, Disciple of Iroas: Her trigger is hard to build around, but she’s a reliable 3/3 double strike body with vigilance – a great baseline for building a powerful voltron threat.
Sram, Senior Edificer is a mono-white voltron option that lets you cantrip and reload your hand as you invest into your voltron threat. We wrote an article on him. Kytheon, Hero of Akros is a good option too (article here) and Isamaru, Hound of Konda is also viable. Part of the benefit of having a low cost commander in voltron is your ability to recast it when your original voltron creature dies.
Godo, Bandit Warlord lets you tutor into play (!!) powerful equipment AND he gives you a extra attack step. He costs a lot for a mono red commander but his effect is awe inspiring.
Sygg, River Guide is a very innocent looking creature but its ability to protect fellow Merfolk can prove to be very clutch when suiting up a voltron threat. His protection also makes it so that your voltron threat can’t be blocked by the named color. His islandwalk makes him a viable commander damage threat in a blue based metagame. Dragonlord Ojutai is another decent voltron commander, albeit he can be built to possibly be more controlling.
Jenara, Asura of War has the power that Green/White enchantress decks bring to the table. She’s a flier, and her +1/+1 counter ability can make her feel very inevitable. I’ve seen a decent amount of control decks that use her as a finisher.
Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed can be an interesting mono-black commander. He’s essentially unblockable because of horsemanship and his activated ability is a decent option when you are desperate. Ob Nixilis, the Fallen can be a surprisingly powerful voltron slugger as well – he grows fast with fetchlands.
Thraximundar might cost a lot, but he has a huge body and can grow rather quickly. He might be the best counter-pick voltron deck to other voltron decks because he causes them to sac their big creature when he swings (if they only have one – which is common in voltron). His haste makes him a three turn clock alone if you can get a +1/+1 counter on him.
Sigarda, Host of Herons is a good commander for voltron if you are concerned about your voltron creature getting sniped before you can enchant/equip it. The flying is very subtly powerful as it lets you focus more on damage output as opposed to evasion. It’s also great tech in general versus sac effects (it prevents you from sacing anything, not just creatures).
Gaddock Teeg can be an exceptional voltron commander – most of the damage efficient pump effects cost less than 4 so you can cast them while Gaddock is on board. Green and white enchantments have a ton of hate effects that can bring synergy to effects like Ancestral Mask or Ethereal Armor. The swords like Sword of Fire and Ice can also protect Gaddock from removal spells.
Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon is one of the primary infect commanders. He can gain haste and has built in regeneration when you need it. His best ability is probably flying – it makes it super easy to score the final points of infect on a player.
Omnath, Locus of Mana is a voltron commander that can explode. Green is a great color for mana generation, so its not hard to see how quickly (with all-stars such as Seedborn Muse) he can grow. Surestrike Trident can easily be lethal with a big Omnath – it feels like you can add any type of mana sink to a Omnath deck and it would work decently. Flashing in Yeva, Nature’s Herald can help you perserve your Omnath mana if he is removed.
Varolz, the Scar-Striped can have a +1/+1 theme applied to his deckbuilding but you can also throw in voltron elements as well. Cool tricks with Varolz include being able to tutor huge (but cheap) creatures like Phyrexian Dreadnought to your graveyard and scavenge many counters onto Varolz for massive damage!
The Partner Commanders
The partner commanders had a big impact on commander when they were released with the Commander 2016 product run. Voltron got new options – mix and match for fun!:
I’m a huge fan of Akiri, Line-Slinger because Akiri scales well into the late game if you are playing a artifact/equipment based deck – Akiri’s vigilance/first strike combo lets it be good on attack as well as defense. Being a Kor, Soldier, and a Ally Akiri has cool tribal support with cards such as Stoneforge Acolyte.
Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder is also Boros colored but he can buff other creatures with double strike and lifelink – absurd for closing out games or sustaining your life total.
Just like Taurean Mauler on a commander! Ishai can grow very fast and threaten lethal commander damage when given doublestrike. Remember that in partner commander decks each commander has its own cumulative commander damage threshold.
Kraum, Ludevic’s Opus is a commander who is deceptively fast – a 4/4 with haste in the air is not a joke, and sometimes you get card advantage. Paired with color options that give you double strike or buffs Kraum can achieve commander kills quickly in the air.
Reyhan, Last of the Abzan : She can be similar to Varolz, the Scar-Sriped but her ability can act like a Arcbound Ravager – if you have instant speed sac creatures or effects like Carrion Feeder you can manipulate counters around your boardstate at will. If you attack with multiple creatures and your opponent blocks all but one you can transition the counters onto the unblocked creature to push in damage!
Whew! What cards do you like to include in your voltron decks? What commanders do you run?