(Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign | Art by Chris Rahn)
Riddle Me This
This week, we’re looking at a legend from Commander 2018: Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign. Yennet is reminicent of commanders like Narset, Enlightened Master and Jeleva, Nephalia’s Scourge, each of which can be incredibly strong depending on the way you build them thanks to their ability to cheat mana costs and cast spells for free. That being said, this build today is not about maximizing Yennet’s potential to cast things for free. Today, we’re taking a special interest in her type line, specifically, and taking a peek at a Sphinx Tribal deck!
Average Yennett Sphinxes
This deck eschews Yennett’s natural power of casting spells for no mana to instead reign in her power level and focus on her type line and the synergies that can come with it.
Sphinxes are the Dragons of blue, and, as such, there is quite a bit of strength packed into each card. Most of them are solidly costed evasive threats that can provide some sort of card advantage, making the deck dangerous and resilient. On top of all this, we also have access to some of the best tempo colors available in white, blue, and black, giving us ample ways to interact with our opponents and further our gameplan of beating down with a fleet of sizeable fliers.
What Can’t Talk, But Will Reply When Spoken To?
For today’s article, we have two distinct categories: Sphinxes themselves, and cards that have synergies with them. It is important to remember that we are not prioritizing Yennett’s ability to cast things for free. We will be pleased should we happen to rip an odd CMC off of the top, but we’ll also be happy if she simply draws us a card whenever she attacks. Yennett is all about providing her colors, card advantage, and an evasive threat in our deck, all of which she pulls off handily.
One of the issues with “big” tribes like Sphinxes or Dragons is that, on average, their mana costs are quite high. Because of this, finding creatures of that type to slot into the lower end of the deck’s curve can often be difficult. As such, when you find cards at lower CMCs, it’s imperative to utilize them, which is where Sphinx of New Prahv and Warrant//Warden come in.
Sphinx of New Prahv occupied the important four-mana slot, giving the deck a creature that can be used to pressure opponents and block. It even comes with its own form of disruption, making it harder to remove with targeted spells. Warrant//Warden is a great split card that can either be removal or another flying body. Split cards are loved for their versatility, and this one is no exception. Ruining your opponent’s next draw or giving us a Serra Sphinx are both things I am interested in on a single card, and both are great for our deck.
Sphinx of Lost Truths is a nice middle ground on the spectrum of Sphinx CMCs. At five mana, this Sphinx allows us to loot three cards, which is incredibly solid and something I would be happy with even if it only did that. But, if we have an extra two mana to spare, we can pay a total of seven to simply draw three cards instead! While this Sphinx is not the biggest by any means, it gives us a lot of flexibility to pivot between the early and the late game.
While we do want to keep our mana curve in mind, it’s important that we don’t forgo our strengths, either. If we have access to big, beefy fliers, we need to make sure to use them! If we’re looking to play expensive creatures, we need to make sure we get value from them immediately; that way we don’t lose too much tempo should they get removed immediately. This is why my two picks were Sphinx of Enlightenment and Inspired Sphinx. Both of these creatures are 5/5s, which is a nice size for their costs, and each will draw us a nice number of cards when they enter the battlefield. We aren’t looking to be cheap or flexible here; we want muscle, and we want value. I’ll gladly pay six and seven mana to insulate me from getting blown out by a removal spell or board wipe. The investment is well worth the cost.
While these are all of the Sphinxes I added, if you decide you want to play up Yennett’s ability to cast odd spells for free, there are plenty of furry, feathery flying friends at five and seven mana slots to add as well! Master of Predicaments, Sphinx of Uthuun, Sphinx Mindbreaker, Guardian of Tazeem, Alhammarret, High Arbiter, Sphinx Summoner…. There are tons of Sphinxes that can be swapped out and added in in order to maximize Yennett’s potential, though that is, of course, up to your personal preference.
What Can You Break, Even if You Never Touch it?
Next we have cards that synergize with our Sphinxes. All of these except for one are enchantments that work incredibly well with our deck and really puts our legion of flying friends over the top!
The first three cards are all fantastic enchantments that I’ve used in my own flying decks before, and they really add some power to any list that can utilize them properly.
Bident of Thassa performs two functions in our deck. Because every creature in our deck flies, we are nearly guaranteed to draw a fistful of cards whenever we swing. Second, its other ability can force opponents to attack when they least expect it, which can force their frail utility creatures like Oracle of Mul Daya or Seedborn Muse into combat. Thanks to our creatures’ high power-to-toughness ratio across the board, we will most often eat, or trade with, things that come at us, if any creatures come at us. Coastal Piracy and Reconnaissance Mission are also potential inclusions if you want to draw more cards by hitting people.
Both True Conviction and Gravitational Shift provide with ways to win the game. Both are anthems in their own right, either doubling our creatures’ power or giving them a power boost, respectively. True Conviction allows us to win any race, letting us out damage opponents while also gaining incredible amounts of life in the process. Gravitational Shift, on the other hand, hampers any ground-based strategy while pumping our own creatures by a hefty amount, making our sizable creatures hit even harder! Any strategy with big or flying creatures could benefit from using both of these, and I am happy to include them in this list.
The last two cards from this section are both from Commander 2017 and part of the Kindred cycle. All of the Kindred cards care about creatures of the type you choose and gives you rewards for those creatures. In the case of Kindred Discovery, you get to draw a card whenever a creature of the chosen type enters the battlefield or attacks, which, as we discussed with Bident of Thassa, is definitely something we are interested in. Kindred Dominance, on the other hand rewards us by… not killing our board..? While that is not necessarily a “reward”, it is a devastating blow to our opponents! Kindred Dominance does a fantastic impression of In Garruk’s Wake (which is also in the deck), and both can be cast off of Yennett for free to boot! Feel free to add in Plague Wind, too, if you want a third effect like this, as well!
What is at the End of Everything?
There is a bit of interaction that I fiddled around with as well, though it was a bit light since the original list had a substantial amount, and thus I had to add very little.
All of the added cards are mainstays for Esper lists. Vindicate can hit any permanent and can be cast off of Yennett. Dovin’s Veto and Negate are great catchalls against noncreature spells, which we will always be worried about. Nothing here is spicy or clever, but they don’t have to be, we just need them to do their job.
I think there is a conversation to be had on whether or not Sphinx tribal benefited or hindered by adding black. On one hand, the deck gets access to great cards like Magister Sphinx, Kindred Dominance, and Haunted Crossroads… but the list is about 10% black at most. Isperia, the Inscrutable, Isperia, Supreme Judge, or Azor, the Lawbringer could probably champion a Sphinx tribal deck while also providing card advantage, much like Yennett does. I do think adding black has its merit, but for such a light splash, some players may find that stretching into a third color may not be worth it, and that’s something to keep in mind.
I’m a sucker for Bident of Thassa effects, evasive threats, and a clear gameplan, so this list was a pleasure to put together. Yennett is not your “traditional” tribal commander, like Gisa and Geralf or The Ur-Dragon, since she doesn’t directly benefit her tribe, but she can definitely facilitate a Sphinx tribal strategy in Esper much better than the only other option previously, Sharuum, the Hegemon. Of that, I’m quite appreciative.
If you’d like to reach me I’m active on Twitter (@thejesguy), where you can always hit me up for Magic- or Jeskai-related shenanigans 24/7. Do you have any comments, questions, or concerns? Please don’t hesitate to leave them below or get in touch! Stay safe, and keep fighting the good fight. I support you. No justice, no peace.
Riddle Me This