Ezuri, Stalker of Spheres | Illustration by Fariba Khamseh
One benefit we get from Magic returning to the same plane several times in different sets is the ability to see characters grow. Each trip to Innistrad had the same delights of gothic horror and the world built around those tropes, but we also get to see characters like Geralf and Gisa over and over.
The return to New Phyrexia in All Will Be One connected us with new heroes, but also old friends thought lost like Koth. Not every reappearance is so cheerful, however. Ezuri is a character from Scars of Mirrodin who resisted the Phyrexian scourge, but, as we first saw in Commander 2015, he succumbed to their influence.
ONE gave us the newest iteration of our favorite Phyrexian Elf, so let’s build him!
Command Tower | Illustration by Julian Kok Joon Wen
Birds of Paradise
Sage of Hours
Arwen, Weaver of Hope
Champion of Lambholt
Kami of Whispered Hopes
Park Heights Maverick
Pir, Imaginative Rascal
Rishkar, Peema Renegade
Ezuri, Claw of Progress
Herald of Secret Streams
Renata, Called to the Hunt
Tekuthal, Inquiry Dominus
Toothy, Imaginary Friend
Defiler of Vigor
Boseiju, Who Endures
Otawara, Soaring City
Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth
I’m keeping this deck simple and mostly casual. Since Ezuri cares about proliferation, I’m focusing on a counters theme. It’s a Simic () deck and +1/+1 counters and their synergies are abundant, so I’m leaning on those to give this deck counters worth proliferating.
This also gives the deck a bit of identity. You’re looking to stomp face once your creatures get buffed over and over with all those counters; it takes very little for this deck to turn a 1/1 or 2/2 into a beefy threat that’s hard to handle.
There’s one other subtheme that’s a bit taboo in some circles: a handful of infect cards. It’s definitely a subtheme. This deck doesn’t focus super hard on poison wins, but a couple of toxic creatures printed in ONE supported Ezuri well and one thing led to another. Poison is more of an alternate win condition than a primary. It’s also pretty on theme for a Phyrexian to seek to compleat the table.
I’m a sucker for commanders that generate either a mana or card advantage at 4 or less mana. Ezuri, Stalker of Spheres does the latter while providing a bit of board presence later in the game. Unlike some +1/+1 counter commanders, Ezuri doesn’t spread the counters itself, so you need to add those effects.
Drawing each time you proliferate is a fantastic boon in a deck like this. The last thing an aggressive deck wants to do is stall out in the middle of the game with a few cards or be empty-handed when a board wipe strikes. Ezuri keeps your hand full, so you don’t need to worry about either circumstance too much. It’s a strong draw engine, especially with all the consistent ways you can proliferate each turn.
It’s also got a bit of flexibility. Ezuri’s a perfectly fine play with 4 mana, assuming you have a way to get the proliferation train rolling. But you can hold it quite easily. Waiting until you have 7 mana isn’t insane, especially if it’s going to take you a bit of time to set the board up. A commander that’s got “kicker” and is still good on turn 4 is an excellent start to a powerful deck.
Since Ezuri doesn’t put counters on your permanents itself, you need a few ways to spread them on your creatures to maximize the impact of each proliferation.
Ezuri, Claw of Progress was one of the first commanders to utilize experience counters as a mechanic, and it works well with this newest iteration. All you need is one trigger to get the first experience counter, then your proliferation does the rest.
Renata, Called to the Hunt is a sizable threat itself, and a great way to spread counters around your team without investing additional mana.
Jugan Defends the Temple is a fantastic role-player in the deck. Both sides distribute counters, but it also ramps you and grows into a terrifying threat that’s particularly good at taking out planeswalkers.
Agatha's Soul Cauldron has made quite the impact on Modern and Standard, but it’s got a role in Commander as well. Getting a free counter and some incidental graveyard hate is nice, but you haven’t lived until you’ve given the activated abilities of Walking Ballista to your team covered with +1/+1 counters.
Elusive Otter is another that comes to us from the WOE printers. Its adventure, Grove’s Bounty, is what we’re primarily interested in to distribute counters, but the Otter itself holds counters quite well.
Court of Garenbrig does a ton of work here. It at minimum distributes counters, but it also draws you cards and potentially doubles the power of your team. It’s easy to defend the monarch in this deck; your creatures are plentiful and large.
Your deck is primarily green, so Defiler of Vigor is incredibly effective as both a ramp piece and counter distributor. It’s easy to squeeze an extra spell or two out of your mana with this, and giving all your creatures counters is something you’re more than happy with.
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar is a fine way to distribute counters cheaply, but its +1 ability is also invaluable if you get one of your passive counters distributers like Renata or Arwen online before you play the planeswalker.
While you’ve got a nice, sleek proliferate package, you’ve also got a few other cards that reward you for slinging counters around the table.
Gyre Sage and Incubation Druid both give you a ton of mana for your troubles. With the Druid, it’s often worth it to get a counter on it ASAP, even if it means giving up your ability to adapt later in the game.
Kami of Whispered Hopes, Hardened Scales, and Ozolith, the Shattered Spire all increase the value of your counter distributers. Pir, Imaginative Rascal does this the best and draws you Toothy, Imaginary Friend.
Sage of Hours can be a very cheap finisher, especially if your counters start stacking with the above effects. Taking an extra turn without investing much, if any, mana into that turn is fantastic, especially for aggressive decks that only need one more combat to pull out a win.
Herald of Secret Streams is another card that acts as a finisher. Making your creatures unblockable is good, especially when the point of the deck is making them 10/10s.
These are the cards with proliferate that make the deck tick, getting you cards, power, and some extra poison counters. There’s an emphasis on consistent sources of proliferation that trigger each turn instead of one-off effects, though there’s a few of those to tie everything together.
Glistening Sphere is one of your primary poison payoffs, but it’s also just a mana accelerant that proliferates. I wouldn’t play this if it didn’t have the potential to tap for 3 mana, but it fits into this deck well enough.
Pollenbright Druid gives you a cheap proliferate effect in the late game or an early counter. It’s best to hold this one until either mode is relevant; playing a Grizzly Bears, even one that grows with time, isn’t something you’re interested in. Merfolk Skydiver provides a similar effect, but you’re happy to play this one early because you can repeatedly use its ability.
Flux Channeler and Evolution Sage are two of your most important proliferators. These provide a steady stream of proliferate triggers, so every spell or land drop grows your board and draws cards with Ezuri. Inexorable Tide is similarly important.
Bloated Contaminator and Contaminant Grafter are among your most important proliferators. The former just carries counters amazingly well, while the latter offers unmatched value compared to the rest of your deck. They’re also important methods to start spreading poison counters for your corrupted cards. Thrummingbird is another aggressive source of proliferation that carries counters well itself.
Experimental Augury, Unnatural Restoration, and Contentious Plan are cheap proliferate cards that replace themselves and draw an extra card with Ezuri. Augury is especially potent as a combat trick. Smell Fear is a great removal spell that draws a card.
See all that value? Tekuthal, Inquiry Dominus doubles it. That’s all, and that’s plenty.
Your interaction is composed of cheap counters and a few fight effects. As a proactive deck, you’re relatively light on removal.
The Mana Base
In addition to the cards that produce mana in coordination with your counter synergies, there’s a handful of other ramp sources.
Everflowing Chalice works fantastically with your proliferate gameplan once it has one counter. Birds of Paradise and Delighted Halfling accelerate you early and grow into threats thanks to your counters later.
Bushwhack and Thirsting Roots are cheap spells I consider tap lands early but impact the game later. Bushwhack is a removal spell, and Thirsting Roots cantrips and often adds 3 or 4 power to the board later.
You also have a couple modal double-faced lands from Zendikar Rising. Turntimber Symbiosis and Sea Gate Restoration are impactful spells later in the game, while Tangled Florahedron just does a lot to smooth out your opening hands.
Karn's Bastion lets your lands get in on proliferating while Drannith Ruins adds counters to most of your creatures with spare mana. Inkmoth Nexus just holds counters really well as an evasive infect creature. Finally, Blast Zone can blow up a few annoying permanents with some planning.
You’re a stompy counters deck. You want to grow your creatures with counters, then swing with them. It’s a simple, yet effective plan that mostly relies on combat damage to win the game, with some poison elements.
First and foremost, the infect gameplan is rarely the priority. It’s more of an incidental subtheme; Bloated Contaminator and Contaminant Grafter were excellent additions, and a few choice cards like Blighted Agent rounded the theme out. It’s a great way to quickly knock a player out of the game, but it’s not necessarily the most reliable gameplan for the entire table.
This deck really wants to get a few key value pieces in play, namely something that proliferates steadily and something that adds counters steadily. Hands that can play cards like Tribute to the World Tree, Flux Channeler, Arwen, Weaver of Hope, or Inexorable Tide are easy keeps.
After establishing one of these value pieces, you want to start being proactive. You win through combat damage, so you need to push pressure as soon as your creatures have good attacks. Don’t worry about being attacked back; your creatures grow so quickly that you can win a lot of races.
Since you’re so proactive, you’re rather light on interaction. The countermagic should be reserved to protect your individual game pieces or to stop board wipes from ruining your day. You draw plenty of cards to find your answers and keep your hand stocked. Since you have access to so much card draw, try to sandbag a few threats if you’re concerned about an incoming wrath. The creature interaction should be reserved for creatures with threatening effects, like Devoted Druid or Drannith Magistrate, more than large creatures; you’ll outclass those in time.
Combos and Interactions
There’s one infinite combo, but there are also a few cards that merit talking about and a key interaction to understand.
For this combo, you need both pieces in play and at least 5 experience counters.
At the beginning of combat, use Ezuri’s triggered ability to put five or more counters on Sage of Hours, then remove those counters to take an extra turn. On the next turn, you’ll get five more counters, and so on for infinite turns.
This is an easy win if you draw both creatures. You don’t have tutors, so you likely won’t assemble this every game, but it’s a fine finisher. It’s also worth noting you don’t always need five experience counters; if you have four and a Hardened Scales effect, that’s enough counters. You don’t need this interaction too often though; getting to five counters is easy with the proliferate effects.
The first card to look at in more detail is Triumph of the Hordes. It’s obviously a strong finisher, with trample and infect taking players out of the game easily. You don’t need to wait until it’s lethal, however; if you can just get five or six counters on your opponents, you can often proliferate your way to a quick victory, even if you become archenemy for a turn. It can also serve as player removal better than other Overrun effects; it doesn’t take more than two or three creatures to deal lethal poison to a single player if they can’t block and pose a threat.
Another card I want to highlight is Berserk. This has quickly become one of my favorite combat tricks because it’s incredibly versatile. It’s a great way to get those extra points of damage, especially in an aggressive deck. This can easily add 5 or 6 or more power to one of your attacking creatures for , which is a great rate. This combined with Blighted Agent almost always removes a single player from the game.
It can also be used as another, highly effective removal spell. Casting this on an opponent’s creature attacking somebody else might be its strongest mode. You effectively burn the defending player for a bunch of damage and remove a relevant threat from the board. It’s a detrimental exchange for two of your opponents, which is fantastic value for .
I also want to mention stacking replacement effects. You have a lot of replacement effects: Kami of Whispered Hopes, Ozolith, the Shattered Spire, Hardened Scales, and Pir, Imaginative Rascal are all replacement effects that affect the number of counters you place on your creatures.
When multiple replacement effects are applied to a player or permanent, the affected player or owner of the affected permanent decides in what order those replacement effects are applied. So, if you have Kami and Ozolith in play and you put one +1/+1 counter on a creature you control, you decide if it gets an extra counter from the Kami or the Ozolith first, then the second extra counter is added.
The order doesn't matter with most of these effects, since they're all plus one to your counters. However, if you were to add a doubling effect like Doubling Season to the deck, you would need to voice which order you're applying your replacement effects in. As a rule of thumb, you want to add counters before doubling, not the other way around.
Rule 0 Violations Check
This deck has two elements that not every table enjoys: the infinite combo, and the infect cards. Since both combo cards function as independent pieces of the deck, you can just not play them as a combo, or you could remove Sage of Hours for another counter payoff.
Similarly, the infect cards can be replaced with value cards. Cards like Edric, Spymaster of Trest and Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider can add a lot of power to the deck instead of the infect pieces. Losing the two cards that proliferate when you deal combat damage is a bit sad, but a fine sacrifice to keep the table happy.
Agatha's Soul Cauldron costs a pretty penny thanks to the waves it’s making in competitive formats, so you could easily cut it for something like Fight Rigging that distributes counters for a much lower price.
You can make a few cuts to the mana base; it’s mostly basics, but the fetch and shock land could become gates or other taplands. Sea Gate Restoration is basically an expensive Island, so you can play the basic as an alternative.
This deck has a single infinite combo, but you could lean much harder into a combo shell if you wanted. Cards like Simic Ascendancy and Darksteel Reactor can capitalize on proliferation to trigger powerful alternate win conditions.
Ezuri, Stalker of Spheres could also lead a pretty good superfriends list, filled with Simic’s best planeswalkers. Cards like Nissa, Who Shakes the World and Oko, Thief of Crowns are fantastic and benefit from proliferation just as much as creatures with +1/+1 counters.
Sage of Hours | Illustration by Matt Stewart
Ezuri, Stalker of Spheres is likely the final iteration of this character we’ll see, at least in the main canon. We could always see a reference in a supplementary set that explores his deeds post-compleation, but this might be it.
Ezuri is a fine commander to play with +1/+1 counter synergies, utilizing proliferation a little different than others. Because it draws cards instead of just spreading counters, it gives this deck a potent source of card advantage to go with its aggressive beats.
Who’s your favorite character we’ve seen recently? Do you have a counters-themed deck? Let me know in the comments or on the Draftsim Discord!
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