Lately, Wizards has been doing a great job with pre-constructed Commander decks. Sure, they are no stranger to controversy. Sometimes the deck building is a bit off, or it’s not a very good value proposition. When it comes down to it, though, you want a deck that plays well, does its thing, and is differentiated from other decks. Wilds of Eldraine gives us two new decks, and the green-white deck Virtue and Valor is all about Auras, specifically the new Role Auras from the set. Does this deck show off this new card type, provide value to you, the consumer, and, ultimately, does it deliver a fun play experience?
Which Commander to use?
While you certainly can use the alternative commander Gylwain, Casting Director, who is quite good in the deck for only three mana, Ellivere is the correct choice for two big reasons. Number one, it always helps you draw cards, which is fairly lacking in the deck itself. Number two, the Virtuous Role that it generates is how you quickly kill other players. That means that this card is both your win-con and your card draw, and Gylwain just does not do enough as a replacement. In many other pre-cons, there is a good reason to at least consider your other options but, this time, you must use Ellivere.
A Completely Avoidable Mistake
There’s another somewhat embarrassing reason not to use Gylwain. You see, Wizards seems to have forgotten to give you all the Roles on your tokens for this deck. Yes, they do not provide you a Sorcerer Role token.
Thanks to a production error, some of the tokens in the Virtue and Valor precon are intended for the other Wilds of Eldraine precon deck. Whether it’s crediting the wrong artist on a card, including 2x Mossfire Valley in the Upgrades Unleashed pre-con, or not giving you 25% of a card, something like this seems to happen every set, and its not a great look for Wizards of the Coast. Continuously rushing out too much product every month and making mistake after mistake sounds like a bad strategy to me, but if consumers buy, they will continue to do it. This mistake irks me a lot, so I’d like to drill down into this to show just how little effort it would have taken to fix this.
Here are some of the normal tokens you can get from Wilds of Eldraine packs. Between Ellivere and Gylwain, you can get the following four roles: Virtuous, Royal, Sorcerer, Monster. So, it would make sense to have two cards with those four roles. Furthermore, since the tokens in the Commander deck are double-sided, you could technically make just one card, front and back, have all four Roles on it.
Now, here’s where we get detailed. Because the deck is practically always generating at least one Role or more per turn, having everything on a single card, front and back, would be awful for gameplay. Especially if you were a completely new player. The thing is, we are all new players to Wilds of Eldraine because it’s a new set! So, Wizards did not do that. No, they put a Copy token on the back of each of these Role cards in the deck. They knew that this deck was going to generate a lot of Roles but still only gave you two total Role tokens, and those tokens don’t even have the rules for all the different Roles you can make.
That said, they were sure to gives you 4x Saproling and Faerie tokens! Yes, there are two cards that make Saprolings in the deck, but none that makes Faeries, and they aren’t your commander, a card you will see every single game.
Wizards, of course, let us know this is a production error, but I am not sure which is worse. The fact that they did not even give you the rules on a token for one of the commanders in the deck or the fact that in a deck which can easily have a Role on every single creature the deck makes, they only give you two Role tokens total. Whatever the reason, it’s a not a good look when Wizards continue to increase product prices and can’t get simple things right. Surely, the great gameplay will save Valor and Virtue, though, right? Not exactly.
When Redundancy Goes Wrong
Here is Ethereal Armor, an Aura all-star. You would definitely expect to see this card in any deck that featured heavy usage of Auras to buff your creatures, it only makes sense. So, how many copies are you running? Well, in Commander that’s, of course, just one. The idea would be that running more would be pretty nice! Well, this deck, effectively, runs five. On top of that, it has some really cool recursion cards, so you can pretty easily get one of those five copies back, too. This all sounds good until you think about a few different things. How many protection cards or interactive effects does this deck run? One four-mana creature for protection, another three-mana creature as well, maybe two cards that would be widely considered as interaction. That’s “two” and “two” for those keeping score at home.
How about something to give our commander Haste like Swiftfoot Boots which also protects them? No, not found here. What about card draw that isn’t your commander? About three cards do this well. Just because a card has the word “draw” on it does not mean it’s effective, though, and the other card draw effects are somewhat lacking. Ramp? Five cards and then some soft ramp cards that reduce Aura cost only. You can get Auras for free from either commander…you don’t cast them. This makes both Enchantress’s Presence and Danitha Capashen, Paragon really sub-optimal cards. Speaking of what you get from your commander…
Yes, if you use Ellivere, you spit pseudo Ethereal Armor both on ETB and on attack. In terms of pure value, this is pretty excellent. That said, there is a limit to how much doing the exact same thing can help a deck. Certainly when that redundancy is at the expense of interaction, it can result in some difficult games. The deck needs some interaction and protection so you don’t lose your commander on the spot, and it basically has none. If you don’t draw the exact right mix of lands, auras and creatures, the deck is way, way behind. On top of that, if your commander gets removed on the spot, you are, again, way behind.
What about removal? The deck does not have much, and you would expect more Enchantment/Aura based removal to be included. What you are left with is a deck that takes many turns to wind up a game ending punch. If you’re completely left alone, you can deliver that knock out punch pretty reliably. The problem is you are telegraphing your incredibly slow wind up over multiple turns and the rest of the table will notice one or more of your creatures becoming massive. When they do try to stop you, there’s not much you can do about it besides start the slow wind up process over. This leads to the gameplay being pretty boring. More details on that below!
Sleep Inducing, Explosive Gameplay
After playing the deck many times over the course of the weekend with extremely limited success, I pivoted my strategy to one of complete inactivity. No more building a huge attacker. I deliberately kept my creatures small and used the limited card draw, mulligans, and scry effects to look for either Mantle of the Ancients or Unfinished Business. With either of those cards ready, I waited until a blue player or someone who likely had removal was tapped out. Then I played one of these huge recursive cards to generate a one shot capable creature. If it wasn’t removed instantly, I killed whichever player I thought might be able to remove it soonest. Rinse, repeat.
It’s fairly easy to make one creature absurdly large when you’re getting +5/+5 for each Aura while bringing back four or five Auras at once. Either a Monster Role for trample or an Indomitable Might means blockers are irrelevant, and you do have a fair amount of Flying. A Hall of Heliod’s Generosity lets you keep using the Mantle if they do kill your one super threat, so you can grind out games sometimes.
There’s also Winds of Rath which is certainly a one-sided board wipe for the deck. If you are lucky enough to draw Umbra Mystic you have a very fair chance of making your entire board safe with Roles providing Totem Armor. Again, the deck does have some cool combos and powerful ones too. The problem is there’s no consistency to it at all.
Improving Virtue and Valor
It would be a little cliched of me to say my one recommendation for improving Virtue and Valor is don’t. There are far better Aura synergy commanders like Sythis, Harvest’s Hand and Galea, Kindler of Hope. Consider many of the best Auras on EDHRec, and it’s clear that the Virtue and Valor designers did. For virtually every Aura “slot,” it feels like they flipped a coin, and half made it in, half didn’t. It’s not uncommon for Enchantment and Aura decks, even competitive ones, to not include Sol Ring or Arcane Signet, but they are not going to miss Wild Growth. There are structural deck issues here that can’t be resolved with just a few select choices. To make this deck better, you have to gut a lot of the cards in it or introduce themes that substantially change the identity of what it originally was. In these cases, it usually makes more sense to build a different deck.
But if you really like Ellivere, at least give them some protection effects with Flawless Maneuver at the top of the heap. The deck won’t hate having Heroic Intervention and other green protection spells with synergistic side effects like Silkguard.
There are plenty of far better creatures like Kodama of the West Tree that help the deck in several ways. The Bestow creatures in the deck are good and adding more is not a bad idea, as would be adding in Katilda, Dawnhart Martyr. You could also consider the old creatures that can’t die to damage if they are Enchanted, for example, Phantom Nomad, Phantom Natuko and Phantom Nishoba. Since two of them have Trample, it’s a pretty interesting consideration.
Any number of tutors helps if your table is alright with them. Obviously Enlightented Tutor is a massive improvement, as is Sterling Grove.
The deck already runs a lot of recursion effects alongside Retether. You could make this deck a graveyard recursion based combo deck and add in a ton of self mill cards like Mulch and Kruphix’s Insight then mass recur a stack of Auras on one super creature. This solves the lack of Haste in the deck, which is problematic. One particular game involved another player having Concordant Crossroads in play and it helped my deck far more than theirs, so it has potential here.
Virtue and Valor is a low-floor pre-con, but the trend had been that the newer decks were a level up from here. While the deck can get one super-stacked attacker that decimates an entire table every once in a while, that won’t happen often.
The deck has plenty of powerful cards that, in combination, can win games, but every deck is like that now. With limited ramp, card draw, and no tutor effects, seeing these cards and being able to play them together is uncommon. On top of that, because the deck itself has limited interaction, you cannot stop another player from doing their thing, which may simply be more powerful or faster. Finally, you have almost nothing to protect yourself from the rest of the table.
Gameplay wise, sitting back and doing nothing while waiting to finally draw a combo to kill a player is your best bet to win. That is pretty boring gameplay. There have been very few pre-cons where my recommendation was “Don’t get this” but Virtue and Valor is definitely not worth $50. At a much lower price point, though, why not? Certainly Ellivere and Gylwain are cool cards among others and you could always open up a very valuable card inside the collector packs. Problematically, that may create a price floor for even the most average performing of new pre-cons.
As one of the few people to be relatively happy with most of the Commander Master’s decks, I feel vindicated. Sure, they were quite a bit more money, but they are far better decks than Virtue and Valor on almost every level.