MTG: Halena — They’re Lesbians

Hey, I wanna make a commander deck around something Pride themed, and since there’s really no good option for a Saheeli-Huatli deck at the moment unless Kykar, I dunno, watches, or something? Instead I decided to look at a couple that I was thrilled to see get cards, then get another card, Halana and Alena, Partners.

The Game Plan

My first impression looking at the card was that it reminded me of Fires of Yavimaya, a deck that was just out of Standard when I started playing the game, and which tantalised me from off over in Extended. Sure, I had to put up with Goblins and Astral Slide, but just one year earlier, apparently people were kicking each other in the face with hasty Kavu Titans. That sounded cool to me.

The plan of Fires was pretty straightforward; it played out cheap support, then used that support to drop some very big, scary threat. Typically, it wouldn’t just keep overloading the board; it wasn’t a deck about going wide as much as it was a deck about overwhelming your opponent with threats too big for them to handle. It was a lot like Jund decks, where you weren’t exactly throwing creatures into removal and wraths as much as each individual creature was worthy of a wrath.

With that focus, I decided to try and build a Halana and Alena deck that felt to me like Fires. I wanted to play my commander, ideally on turn three, and then either benefit from it immediately by using its trigger on a creature I already had on the battlefield, or by untapping and dropping some truly ferocious creature that would do something dumb with its inflated power and haste. Two creatures on the board back-to-back would be a bad thing, because only one of them could benefit from the support. Blocking? Well, that’s someone else’s problem since I’d be providing the hasty, large threats.

I also wanted to make sure I was extremely creature dense, so I made sure to fill out every category with just creatures, until I finally ran out of things. My gameplan relies on making mid-size threats and beating people in the face with it, with a subtheme of +1/+1 counters and caring about your power. This build I played with is biased towards creatures in the 4-5 mana range, as well as cheap creatures that have some scaling up effect.

I’m going to break this one up into sections. The 8×8 structure I used to use is fine for when your deck is trying to assemble a certain number of redundant effects, but this time it’s a bit more generalised. I mean, the Fires deck would have loved to have a deck that was just Fires, Bird, Land, Blastoderm and Saproling Burst, because it was relying on presenting problems to your opponent, and that, that’s something I like.

I’m also rusty about the actual play experience, so I’m not sure just how likely some effects are to be essential. After all, you may be in an environment where commanders – even 2/3s – don’t live to see the untap step. Plus, I play on MTGO instead of, you know, printing full-deck proxies, which would be extremely cool and sexy to do and you shouldn’t ever do it, of course, but that means that there are some cards that I think would work great in this deck that aren’t available, like Akki Battle Squad, or are extremely expensive, like Anje's Ravager (80 cents in paper, 26 dollars on MTGO).

Hence breaking it up into types of cards — I built for the needs I have, and you could, hypothetically, replace it with a card that suits your needs better. In this case, I have the deck broken up in to Card Draw, Mana Development, Threats, Threat Support, Sweepers, and Spot Removal. This is going to present the list that I got for my first version of the deck, which I will then revise as I go.

Oh and then there’s lands, which get a footnote.

Card Draw

Some of these want to play into our existing themes; like I could see Inspiring Call replacing Armorcraft Judge, for example, and having things that jump into the bin makes Eternal Witness better. On the other hand, Prophetic Flamespeaker, Tectonic Giant, and Nylea Keen-eyed do other things as well, and benefit from being able to attack things.

On playtest, I’m not that wild about the Judge or Eternal Witness in this deck. The Judge may draw one or two cards, but it’s not a great topdeck on its own. By comparison, Nylea, the Augur of Autumn and Tectonic Giant are all good on their own and great with Halena and Alana.

Mana Development

I prioritised creatures here and initially tried to ensure I was jumping from 2 mana to 4, rather than 1 to 3.

My favourite mana dorks in this deck are the Familiars, Anarchomancer and Incubation druid, because they let me jump from 2 to 4, and then Halena and Alana can immediately put +1/+1 counters on the familiar and send them in. Domri is in the deck because he’s a fight card and he buffs Halena and Alana. It’d be great if he was two mana and, you know, not Domir, but this is how it be.

The Kessig Naturalist is kinda neat because it’s a 2 mana dork that lets you cast Halena and Alana on turn 3 and attacks freely afterwards, but it doesn’t let you use them the turn they drop, which is a bit of a bummer.

There are a lot of 1-2 mana permanent mana dorks who could be put here that then serve as ‘good enough’ bodies afterwards. The classic one-drop selection are an option, Bloom Tender could be fine, Devoted Druid can be used to boost you two mana at a time with Halana and Alena, Drover of the Mighty might play into a theme if you build in more dinosaurs, and Lotus Cobra could be amazing in the same way the Familiars are.

Another option is to lean on the heavy mana base and use cards like Budoka Gardener, Llanowar Scout, Sakura-Tribe Scout, Scaled Herbalist, Skyshroud Ranger and Walking Atlas. These cards would let you take (usually) a single step up the mana curve and afterwards can attack and block.

Threats

The aim here is creatures in the 4-5 mana range that can attack or block meaningfully on their own, that can sit back and build up a force on their own, or that benefit from an increase in power. There are also some cards here that I just put here because I’m curious about playing with them.

The all-star in this space is Mowu, who can come down the turn after Halena and Alana and attack for six vigilance. Krenko is also absolutely busting with the buff, since his first attack is for four, not two, and that gives you a lot to defend with on the backswing. This list also wants doublestrikers, and Iridiscent Hornbeetle is more of a defensive card than I think I want on review.

Lizard Blades is great, though, since it makes any of your other threats scarier while still being a perfectly good one on its own. A 3/3 double striker attacking on turn 4 is decent.

Threat Support

I think looking at this in the light of day, I got a little too cute. Forgotten Ancient is great, and Scrounging Bandar can do a budget version of it by trading counters back and forth with the Commander. They make it a 4/4, then next turn it makes them a 5/6, then they make it a 6/6. That’s pretty cute. The Wild Beastmaster is also really good if it comes down the turn before the commander, where she attacks for 3 and makes them a 5/6, making them safer to get involved. Creeperhulk also can do something similar, making the commander a 5/5, then getting to be a 10/10.

Timing is important though. Some cards are slow because they care about things on your upkeep, while Halena and Alena care about the beginning of combat. What’s more, some of those cards that care about attacking are already too late to enhance your commander, who can then in turn enhance them.

Sweepers

It’s red/green, there aren’t that many board sweepers that do what I want.

Spot Removal

The attempt to focus on creatures that can attack or block is why I got this setup. VIvien is also a card draw option, since she can get cards out of the top of your deck. She’s a really good general utility planeswalker, which I’m okay with having in the deck.

ManabAse

There are some cards in the mana base that deserve special mention – Khalni Ambush and Bala Ged Recovery. These are both perfectly good effects that I think I want to play as lands most of the time. Their presence in the deck was part of why I liked Mina and Denn in the deck, because they could let you pick up one of those cards in a pinch, and so would Gruul Turf. The reliance on lands that can enter tapped and just having a lot of lands is part of how this deck wants to work — it doesn’t mind expensive cards or cards that scale up with mana, so it’s okay to just put in something like 38 to 40 lands and rely on X-spells or kickers to use that potential flood.

Final Revision (for Now)

I went back through and revised from that first draft, and here are some notable changes:

  • Targ Nar, Demon-Fang Gnoll — with just Targ and Hal and Alena, you trigger pack tactics. Big sizeable threat that can make combat really scary with threat of activation.
  • Polukranos, World Eater — know what’s a great deal when you want a big dumb threat? A 5/5 for 4!
  • Gruul Spellbreaker — Know what’s a BETTER deal? A 4/4 for 3!
  • Oakhame Adversary — a 2/3 for 2 isn’t as good, but it’s pretty spicy when it’s a 4/5 for 1.

I opted for the critters that tap for lands, and you know, Budoka Gardener is probably the best of them? That’s kinda wild, I would have imagined it was a space we’d have expanded on more. Or even just getting a 2/1 for 2 that did it as an ETB. Weird.


Halena, The Lesbians
Lands
1 Skarrg, the Rage Pits
1 Stomping Ground
1 Cinder Glade
1 Raging Ravine
1 Command Tower
1 Temple of Abandon
1 Mountain Valley
1 Sheltered Thicket
1 Karn's Bastion
1 Rootbound Crag
1 Karplusan Forest
1 Gruul Turf
1 Kessig Wolf Run
1 Taiga
1 Bala Ged Recovery
1 Khalni Ambush
7 Mountain
15 Forest





Mana Development
1 Goblin Anarchomancer
1 Sol Ring
1 Nylea, Keen-Eyed
1 Sakura-Tribe Scout
1 Budoka Gardener
1 Llanowar Scout
1 Scaled Herbalist
1 Thornscape Familiar
1 Thunderscape Familiar
1 Topiary Stomper
1 Beanstalk Giant
1 Radha, Heir to Keld





Threats
1 Lizard Blades
1 Markov Blademaster
1 Mowu, Loyal Companion
1 Herd Baloth
1 Kalonian Hydra
1 Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin
1 Pathbreaker Ibex
1 Syr Faren, the Hengehammer
1 Child of the Pack
1 Workshop Warchief
1 Polukranos, World Eater
1 Hooded Hydra
1 Primordial Hydra
1 Hungering Hydra
1 Savageborn Hydra
1 Gruul Spellbreaker
1 Targ Nar, Demon-Fang Gnoll





Threat Support
1 Bramblewood Paragon
1 Champion of Lambholt
1 Forgotten Ancient
1 Scrounging Bandar
1 Creeperhulk
1 Cultivator of Blades
1 Xenagos, God of Revels
1 Xenagos, the Reveler
1 Arlinn Kord



Sweepers
1 Caldera Hellion
1 Starstorm
1 Blasphemous Act
1 Savage Twister
1 Fast/Furious
1 Subterranean Tremors





Card Draw
1 Augur of Autumn
1 Shamanic Revelation
1 Return of the Wildspeaker
1 Prophetic Flamespeaker
1 Tectonic Giant
1 Oakhame Adversary
1 Guardian Project
1 Rishkar's Expertise
1 Hystrodon
1 Toski, Bearer of Secrets





Spot Removal
1 Domri, Anarch of Bolas
1 Reclamation Sage
1 Flametongue Yearling
1 Foundation Breaker
1 Vivien Reid
1 Spitebellows
1 Flametongue Kavu

Sideboard
1 Halana and Alena, Partners





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