Good news, Commander players! Zendikar Rising is coming with two more Commander decks for us to brew around. In this article I am going to do just that. This is a brainstorm for five unique ways on how to upgrade your Sneak Attack Commander deck.
Before We Start
First, I want to make a quick note about the following upgrade recommendations. The lists that I am going to make, while not exhaustive, will provide you with way more options than any one deck can handle.
Also, I am not taking into account any kind of budget. My intention with this article is to brainstorm as many fun ideas as I can about this deck, and unfortunately some of the cards might be too expensive for some players to include. I will do my best to recommend ideas for you to find budget alternatives when necessary.
No matter what your budget or play-style, this article will suggest some interesting cards for you to use to power up your Sneak Attack Commander deck.
Even if you’re just browsing to decide which deck from Zendikar Rising you want, this article can help you see how this deck can evolve with some upgrades. If you want one, you can order Sneak Attack on Amazon.
Sneak Attack Decklist
First things first, here’s the original decklist for the Sneak Attack Commander deck.
Sneak Attack Upgrade – All Versions
The commander for this deck is Anowon, the Ruin Thief. Anowon is a commander that cares a lot about Rogues. Not only does he make all of your other rogues a little bit stronger, but he also makes your opponents mill cards from their library whenever a Rogue can connect with them.
So in any version of the deck that you ultimately build there are probably going to be a few cards that are always the same. This first part of the article will talk about some of those.
The Mana Base
The mana base that comes in the preconstructed version of this deck is quite a bit better than the one that comes in the Land’s Wrath deck. In fairness, this deck is only two colors and does not need as much color fixing. That being said, there are still several things you can do at any budget level to improve this deck’s mana.
Obviously, the following lands are all valuable additions, if you own them:
- Underground Sea
- Watery Grave
- Polluted Delta or other fetches
- Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
- Cabal Coffers
- Morphic Pool
- Cavern of Souls
They would be especially good replacements for the many tapped lands that come in the precon.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more budget friendly Sneak Attack Upgrade, you can use dual lands like:
- Drowned Catacomb
- Unclaimed Territory
- Sunken Ruins
- River of Tears
- Underground River
- Choked Estuary
- Sunken Hollow
- Fetid Pools
- Temple of Deceit
- Darkwater Catacombs
are also great dual lands that are not quite as expensive. Also, new from Zendikar Rising, Clearwater Pathway could be a great tool to get the mana you need right away.
Since you don’t have to worry too much about mana fixing, there is a lot of room in this deck for utility lands. Beyond Rogue’s Passage, which comes in the Sneak Attack precon, other great options include:
- Shizo, Death’s Storehouse
- Castle Vantress and Castle Locthwain
- Reliquary Tower
- Cycling lands like Barren Moor, Lonely Sandbar, or Ash Barrens
- Halimar Depths
Other than this, the mana that comes in the precon is very acceptable. Make sure to carefully consider your deck’s strategy when constructing your mana base, since the usefulness of each of these lands will depend on which version of the deck you build.
One of the most important parts of this deck is having your ramp on turns one and two. You will want to be able to play your commander and other creatures earlier than your opponents play their creatures, so 3+ mana ramp spells are just too slow. Replace Commander’s Sphere, Dimir Keyrune, and Dimir Locket with cheaper options like:
Frogtosser Banneret makes each Rogue you cast cost one less. Though technically not ramp, it will help you do more on each of your turns.
Small Evasive Rogues
The next thing that every Sneak Attack deck will need more of is Rogues. Out of the box, there are 18 Rogues (including Anowon) as well as one or two ways to make Rogue tokens.
This is not enough. If you want to be doing damage with your Rogues every turn to take advantage of Anowon’s abilities, you need at least 25 of them, if not 30.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of Rogues that you could include that have low converted mana cost and are hard to block:
- Bitterblossom (not technically a Rogue, but makes them every turn).
- Nightshade Stinger
- Nightveil Sprite
- Oona’s Blackguard
- Prickly Boggart
- True-Name Nemesis
This list contains Rogues with converted mana cost 1-3 and some sort of evasion. Throughout the rest of the article, I recommend lots of other Rogues with added utility. The strategy of your deck will determine which Rogues you could include in addition to these.
Note that I don’t think that Tetsuko Umezawa is a good inclusion for any Rogue deck that Anowon is the commander for, since his pump ability will ensure that you never have a Rogue that has power or toughness of 1.
General Anowon Synergy
The last thing I want to talk about before breaking down the 5 unique strategies, is cards that work generally well with Anowon.
Next are cards that make your Rogues bigger. The more power they have, the more cards your opponents will mill from Anowon’s ability. Some of the best versions of this effect are:
I don’t think that equipment strategies are generally good for Rogue decks, but Cloak and Dagger is too good to not include in any Anowon deck. It grants equipped creature a significant pump, plus shroud, and equips to a Rogue on ETB.
Not all cards with Prowl are worth running just because you’re playing a Rogue deck. However, Thieves’ Fortune can be one of the most efficient card draw spells in the game for this deck. Speaking of card draw, Kindred Discovery will net you nearly as many cards as Rhystic Study or Mystic Remora.
Although this deck wants to stay low to the ground, there are a few reasons to run high costed spells. One-sided board wipes are one of those reasons. You shouldn’t run all of them, but Kindred Dominance, Plague Wind, and In Garruk’s Wake are ones to consider.
Lastly, Scheming Symmetry is a clever card to play in any Anowon deck. Usually you don’t want to cast a spell that allows your opponent to tutor. In this deck, Anowon’s ability to mill cards from the top of your opponent’s library entirely negates scheming Scheming Symmetry‘s downside.
The 5 Ways to Upgrade Sneak Attack Deck
Now that I’ve listed some cards to improve the overall power of the deck, let’s talk about specific strategies. I came up with five mechanically unique ways to build around Anowon, the Ruin Thief. Each one revolves around Rogue creatures, but utilizes their abilities in its own way. They are:
- Tempo Rogues
- Mill Rogues
- Reanimator Rogues
- Mind Control Rogues
- Vampire Rogues
At the beginning of each section I included a range of numbers. That range is what I expect this deck to be able to perform at on a 1-10 power scale (Based on the power scale established by the Command Zone Podcast). For more information on the Commander power scale, you can take a look at the table below.
|1-2||Jank||Very little synergy among cards. No Commander staples. Under powered on purpose.|
|3-4||Casual||Some synergies, but lacking the strong ones. The deck still lacks focus. Mana curves mostly neglected. A deck that a new player would build.|
|4-6||Focused||Synergy exists, the deck has a focused gameplan, although it doesn't always win in the exact same way, usually after turn 13. Includes staples and a small amount of tutors. On the same power level as most Commander precons.|
|7-8||Optimized||Powerful and varied synergies between the cards. A decent number of good tutors. Good mana curve. Has an efficient and consistent way to win on turns 10-12 (level 7) or 7-9 (level 8). Some social rules — like no mass land destruction, no consistent combo wins — still exist.|
|9-10||Competitive||The most powerful decks, on competitive EDH level. Quick and explosive, can win on turns 4-6 (level 9) or 1-3 (level 10). No social rules, no jank cards. Only the most powerful commanders and strategies can reach this level.|
Actual power levels may vary, but let those numbers be a guide when considering upgrading this deck in those ways.
1) Tempo Rogues
Power Level: 7-8
The first strategy I thought of was Tempo. Tempo decks look to slow down their opponents and stay one step ahead the whole game. Often times they try to stick an early threat and protect it with counterspells and removal.
In Commander, traditional Tempo decks are much harder to pull off, since three other players are drawing cards, casting spells, and removing your threats.
I think that Anowon, the Ruin Thief could be the commander to do it since he has the potential to draw so many cards. Let’s look at what would be good inclusions in the deck:
- Rhystic Study and Mystic Remora will be important cards in games that they can come down early in. Having those extra cards could mean the difference between winning and losing with this strategy.
- Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is a great card because it is a Rogue that will help you stay half of a step ahead by drawing you a card every other turn. Similarly, Ghostly Pilferer will draw whenever a card is cast from somewhere other than an opponent’s hand (like the Command zone, for example).
- Audacious Thief, Neurok Commando, Scroll Thief, Stealer of Secrets, and Marchesa’s Infiltrator are a little expensive at 3 mana, but can hopefully draw you enough cards to make it worth it.
Knowing What Threats to Deal With
One of the arts of piloting a Tempo deck well is knowing that cards to counter/threats to remove and which ones to leave alone. This can be difficult in a game with one opponent, but in Commander it is 3 times as difficult.
Prioritize board wipes, creatures that will be difficult to deal with, combo pieces/cards that will win the game, and situationally dangerous cards. In order to maximize your chances of knowing what is what, use these cards:
The more information you have about what your opponents’ threats are before they play them, the easier it will be to decide if you should counter their spell or not.
Dealing With Those Threats
The more efficient your answers are, the better. Counterspells that are cheap and/or can be cast for free are ideal:
- Mana Drain
- Drown in the Loch
- Force of Will
- Force of Negation
- Fierce Guardianship
- Pact of Negation
- Swan Song
Similarly, your removal spells should be as cheap as possible:
- Tragic Slip
- Pongify and Rapid Hybridization (these cards might be bad if you can’t get around the blockers, though)
- Fatal Push
- Go For The Throat or Doom Blade
- Deadly Rollick
Making these answers cheap is important for making sure you can get through a full rotation of the table without your opponents dealing with your threats. It would probably be good to run as many as 15-20 spells like this.
Other Assorted Tempo Cards
The following are just generically good cards that you could play in this deck. Consider including them if you have the space in your deck:
- Brazen Borrower
- Rankle, Master of Pranks both protects your threats and is himself a threat.
- Tinybones, Trinket Thief and maybe some discard Rogues like Riptide Pilferer
- Being able to play at instant speed is so important for a tempo deck. For that reason, running Leyline of Anticipation would be a good idea. Remember that Cunning Nightbonder won’t actually reduce the cost of your spells if you do have Leyline out.
- Canal Courier and Keeper of Keys are expensive, but if you can hold up interaction after you cast them, being the monarch in this deck is very strong.
- And last but not least, Cyclonic Rift. This card needs no introduction. It is the best tempo card in the game right now, so you should definitely run it.
New Cards from Zendikar Rising
You definitely want to run Confounding Conundrum from the new set. Being able to slow down your opponents’ ramp is one of the strongest things you can do in a tempo deck. It makes sure you can stay ahead of them for just a little bit longer.
New creatures from Zendikar Rising, that I would consider are:
- Glasspool Mimic
- Nighthawk Scavenger
- Merfolk Windrobber
- Zareth San, the Trickster
- Acquisitions Expert
- Soaring Thought Thief
What to Take Out
This version of the deck needs to be more streamlined than the precon. Anything that is not a Rogue should be cut, and anything that costs more than 3 mana (with the exception of Notion Thief) should be given careful consideration if it is going to stay in the deck. Also, take out all of the equipment.
2) Mill Rogues
Power Level: 6-7
Next up, we look at focusing the deck around milling. If you want the primary win condition for this deck to be milling, there are a few sacrifices you have to make.
First, not all of the cards will be Rogues. Bruvac the Grandiloquent is one of the best cards for mill strategies, but is an Advisor, not a Rogue. Similarly, Dreamborn Muse is a Spirit, but could mill a lot of cards over the course of the game. Duskmantle Guildmage is a Wizard, but it is also a combo piece, and should probably be included in the mill version of this deck.
Thieves’ Guild Enforcer is probably the best Rogue for this deck. It makes all of your Rogues mill on ETB, gets bigger and scarier when you mill a lot, costs only 1 mana, and has flash. 5 stars for this card.
Other generally good mill cards are:
- Archive Trap
- Altar of Dementia (you don’t want to use this card too much, but it can help if your creatures are being removed anyway)
- Altar of the Brood
- Bond of Insight
- Chill of Foreboding
- Keening Stone
- Memory Erosion
- Mesmeric Orb
- Mind Grind
- Psychic Corrosion
- Sword of Body and Mind (I know I said I don’t like equipment in this deck, but look at this sword. Its too good to leave out of a mill deck)
- Startled Awake
Lastly for this section, if you are going to fill up your opponents’ graveyards, you should definitely run graveyard hate. Be sure not to use effects that turn off Anowon, like Leyline of the Void, but cards like:
- Relic of Progenitus
- Tormod’s Crypt
- Ashiok, Dream Render
- Crook of Condemnation
- Nihil Spellbomb
- Sentinel Totem
- Silent Gravestone
- Soul-Guide Lantern
These cards should protect you from your opponents’ graveyard recursion.
New Cards from Zendikar Rising
Some pretty good cards from Zendikar Rising to include in the Sneak Attack upgrade are:
What to Take Out
Again, if the cards in the precon don’t synergize with mill, they should probably get cut. The mill version of this deck is hungry for spots in the deck, so anything you can take out to make room for extra milling is going to make the deck better.
I would even take out the cards that reanimate creatures from the graveyard. If that is what you want to do with the deck, see the next section, because it is all about reanimating things.
3) Reanimator Rogues
Power Level: 6-8
Both this section and the next one are going to discuss strategies that get stronger when your opponents’ decks are stronger. The reason for that, is because you are trying to steal their threats out of the graveyard and use them against their owners.
Use your Rogues and Anowon’s ability to mill some scary things into your opponents’ graveyards, then pull them out to serve you. The deck already has a lot of cards that do this kind of thing, but lets add a few more:
- The best card to pull creatures out of someone’s graveyard is Reanimate, followed closely by Animate Dead, Dance of the Dead, and Necromancy. Less efficient versions of this ability are Rise from the Grave, Necromantic Summons, Beacon of Unrest, and Endless Obedience.
- Do you want to just reanimate everything at the same time? Rise of the Dark Realms, Command the Dreadhorde, Grimoire of the Dead, or a well timed Thrilling Encore can help you with that.
- The next best thing to stealing something out of your opponents’ graveyard is to copy that thing with Body Double.
- Gyruda, Doom of Depths is a great card for both milling and reanimating. Galaxy brain play is to try to build the deck with Gyruda as your companion.
- Diluvian Primordial and Wrexial, the Risen Deep can help you cast strong spells that your opponents mill away.
New Cards from Zendikar Rising
The new spell land Agadeem’s Awakening is probably the best card from Zendikar Rising for this deck. Unfortunately, it only gets your own creatures, but that can help you get back some important Rogues to mill away more things that you can reanimate later.
Inscription of Ruin could also come in handy in a similar capacity.
What to Take Out
This is probably the version of the deck that lets you take the least amount of cards out of the precon. Remove:
- anything that steals other things from your opponent
- Syr Konrad, the Grim
- Zulaport Cutthroat
- Stolen Identity
- Oona, Queen of the Fae
- Ogre Slumlord
This way, you’ll probably have enough room for the extra reanimation cards you need in this deck.
4) Mind Control Rogues
Power Level: 6-8
This deck is similar to the reanimation version, but it looks to steal things from your opponents’ battlefields and libraries rather than their graveyards.
Throughout Magic, this is one thing that many Rogues have been able to do. Some notable ones are:
You can fill out the rest of your deck with cards like:
- Blatant Thievery
- Control Magic
- Corrupted Conscience
- Mass Manipulation
- Entrancing Melody
- Praetor’s Grasp
If you want to run only Rogues, there are plenty of non-creatures with this effect. However, if you want to run a bunch of non-Rogues, like Beguiler of Wills you might want cards like Arcane Adaptation and Conspiracy to keep the synergy with Anowon. In fact, those cards might be good to run anyway, since this deck will probably steal a lot of non-Rogue creatures.
Lastly, a lot of Rogues that steal things have enter the battlefield effects. Running cards like Thassa, Deep-Dwelling, Conjurer’s Closet, Nephalia Smuggler, and Panharmonicon will help you take the most advantage of that.
New Cards from Zendikar Rising
What to Take Out
The Sneak Attack precon has a fair spread of cards that steal your opponents cards as well. I would recommend taking out most of the graveyard interaction, and the equipment to make room for your mind control effects.
5) Vampire Rogues
Power Level: 4-5
This version of the deck is honestly a stretch. Magic has a small handful of Vampire Rogues, but not many. One of the best reasons to build this deck might be because you have a couple of blue Vampires that you have been needing to find a home for.
Fortunately, most of those Vampires also mill cards, so this deck might have more cohesion than it appears to at first glance. Lets look at some possible cards:
- Balustrade Spy (also mills cards)
- Blood Burglar
- Bloodborn Scoundrels
- Bloodthirsty Aerialist
- Duskmantle Prowler
- Guul Draz Vampire
- Nocturnal Feeder
- Pulse Tracker
- Quag Vampires
- Shadow Alley Denizen
- Vampire Aristocrat
- Vampire Cutthroat
- Whispering Snitch
- Duskmantle Seer
- Elusive Tormentor
- Etrata, the Silencer
- Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker
- Nightveil Predator
- Szadek, Lord of Secrets
- Vampire Charmseeker
If you want to try to build Dimir Vampires, maybe this deck is not as bad as I first thought. You could probably include several of the cards from previously discussed sections as well to round everything out. If you do try to build this version of the deck, please let me know how it turns out!
New Cards from Zendikar Rising
Nighthawk Scavenger, Drana’s Silencer, Expedition Skulker, and Shadow Stinger are the only Vampire Rogues in the set (which is actually a fairly large number compared to how many exist in total outside of this set). I probably would not run Drana’s Silencer, though, unless you included more party members in the deck.
What to Take Out
You could almost take out every card in the deck that is not ramp, removal, or card draw, as none of them will synergize very well with Vampires.
Sneak Attack Upgrade – Conclusion
You made it to the end! I hope that at least one of these ideas has inspired you to want to build around Anowon, the Ruin Sage and the Sneak Attack Commander deck. If you need to get one, you can buy it on Amazon.
Want to check the other Commander deck from Zendikar Rising? If that case, you find Land’s Wrath Upgrade Guide here.
In addition here are more articles, that might interest you:
- Is White Really That Bad in Commander?
- Best Deck Boxes for Commander
- Commander Legends – Commander meets Draft
Have fun with your new Commander deck!