Last updated on May 23, 2023
Gishath, Sun's Avatar | Illustration by Zack Stella
I still remember getting incredibly excited when hearing for the first time that Ixalan would be a set that focused on dinosaurs. Let’s face it: dinosaurs are cool. Loads of kids are fascinated with dinosaurs when they’re young, and Jurassic Park is one of the most iconic movies of all time.
Sadly, Ixalan was a bit of a flop for me, being a miss for both Standard and Draft. For Commander, though, Gishath, Sun's Avatar was a huge stand-out from the very start as a really sweet commander for whatever dinosaur deck we might be able to create.
We’ve had quite a few dinosaurs since then, a new legendary dinosaur coming in the next set, and we’ll be returning to Ixalan in the fall. So, where do dinosaurs stand in Commander? Gishath, Sun's Avatar is here to show us just that!
Kinjalli's Caller | Illustration by Sara Winters
Domri, Anarch of Bolas
Vivien, Monsters' Advocate
Gwenna, Eyes of Gaea
Runadi, Behemoth Caller
Forerunner of the Empire
Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma
Knight of the Stampede
Etali, Primal Storm
Ghalta and Mavren
Wakening Sun's Avatar
Zacama, Primal Calamity
Ghalta, Primal Hunger
Thrasta, Tempest's Roar
Star of Extinction
Growing Rites of Itlimoc
Rite of Passage
The Great Henge
Path of Ancestry
Cavern of Souls
Kessig Wolf Run
Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion
Temple of the False God
Quick note: I’ve included the upcoming card from March of the Machine, Ghalta and Mavren. While it’s not out just yet, the card is too good to not include.
Dinosaurs are massive creatures. There are dozens of awesome dinosaurs that cost anywhere between 6 and 12 mana apiece. Gishath, Sun's Avatar is very good at cheating these creatures out, which makes it the perfect commander to lead a dinosaur deck.
Dinosaurs also received their very own mechanic in Ixalan: enrage. Enrage abilities trigger when the dinosaur is dealt damage. This makes effects that deal just a single point of damage very useful. This mechanic is the focus of this deck.
Gishath, Sun's Avatar is very straightforward. You’re going to cast it, attack, and hopefully get some immediate value.
But this deck isn’t built around Gishath in particular. Instead it’s just a cool dinosaur tribal deck that’s built around enrage triggers. Out of all of the potential dinosaur commanders, Gishath is way out in front of the others, allowing you to cheat others into play with ease and also hit really hard just by itself.
Let’s start looking at what might be the most important aspect of a deck like this: the mana acceleration. You’ll be casting a variety of creatures costing upwards of six mana. 14 of this deck’s creatures cost six or more, so this is key to look at.
What you have here is a few cheap mana accelerators that you see in most green decks, like Three Visits and Nature's Lore, with a focus on cards that make your dinosaurs cost less.
Starting out cheap at Kinjalli's Caller and Otepec Huntmaster, then you can move up towards standouts like Knight of the Stampede and Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma. And of course there’s the Commander staples Herald's Horn and Urza's Incubator. All of a sudden your 6-drops might cost just two or three mana apiece if you can combine any of these cards together, and then you’re really getting paid off.
You have a couple very powerful mana dorks, particularly Gwenna, Eyes of Gaea and Runadi, Behemoth Caller. Keep in mind that these need to have more than one toughness to survive your enrage enablers. This rules out most conventional dorks.
Sol Ring is acceptable given how accessible it is, but I purposefully don’t put fast mana rocks like Mana Crypt or Mana Vault in any of my decks. If you don’t mind them, by all means, use them; they’re just not included here because it’s not the way I personally enjoy Commander.
Enrage abilities trigger when the creature is dealt damage. The natural progression there is that you want cards that deal damage to your own creatures and, better yet, you only want to deal one damage at a time.
The best card in the deck to accomplish this is likely Forerunner of the Empire. Not only does it search up a good enrage payoff, it then turns every dinosaur you play into an enrage enabler. It also goes infinite with Polyraptor, which is always nice to have.
Pyrohemia, the red Pestilence, is an exceptional way to enable these cards. One mana to hit everything is a great rate, and it scales up very well too.
Legacy all-star Fiery Confluence is also extremely powerful. Not only can youuse it to attack important artifacts that you need to get off the board, you’ll also get multiple enrage triggers if you so choose. And yes, if you choose that mode three times it triggers enrage three times, even from just being one spell.
Next you have an incredible old card that very few will remember exists: Lightmine Field. This card should probably see more Commander play in my opinion. It completely hoses token decks and stops them attacking at all. Better yet, it allows you to trigger your enrage cards just by attacking with them.
You’ll notice a lot of sweet fight spells like Brash Taunter, Barroom Brawl, and Boxing Ring, which all act as removal while also triggering enrage.
The final part of this section covers a small handful of cards that make all your creatures indestructible. This lets you trigger enrage multiple times in the same turn and lets your creatures survive your bigger damage dealers like Blasphemous Act and Star of Extinction. These cards are Boros Charm and the Commander all-star of Heroic Intervention.
Also snuck into this category is a card that dominated Standard back in the day, Archangel Avacyn. Not only does Avacyn protect your creatures and enable these effects, but it’s also an enrage enabler if it transforms, which is just awesome to have on one card.
We’ve talked about how you’re going to be damaging your creatures, but why do you even want to do that in the first place? I already mentioned Polyraptor as a card that goes infinite pretty easily, and it’s probably the most powerful enrage trigger in the deck, so what else can you do?
Well, the other huge payoff you have is a classic “bulk rare that can be good in Commander,” and that’s Silverclad Ferocidons. This wasn’t even remotely playable in Limited and I had literally never seen it in play until this deck. But it’s just disgusting in Commander. Wording is everything, and it says that each player sacrifices a permanent.
You’ll kill off three permanents in your average 4-player game for every time you damage the Ferocidons, which gets out of hand very quickly once you throw in something that damages it several times, like Pyrohemia or Walking Ballista.
Beyond those two big threats you have a lot of the classic cards that anyone who played Ixalan Limited or Standard will likely be familiar with. Ranging Raptors accelerates you and is the main reason you still have six basic lands here.
Ripjaw Raptor is the big “draw a card” payoff that archetypes like this typically need.
Needletooth Raptor and Trapjaw Tyrant offer you good removal options too.
Apex Altisaur is a huge payoff that synergizes especially well with the indestructible tricks, which should essentially Plague Wind the board when used together.
There are only 19 enrage triggers in the game and a lot of them frankly suck, so you have to get a little bit creative. Bellowing Aegisaur is a sweet card that also goes infinite with Walking Ballista, as well as generally helping your team survive your damage effects. But of course you don’t necessarily need a card to have an enrage trigger to work here.
I found a cool old card that works well in the deck, and that’s Rite of Passage. This card basically combos with any of your repeated damage dealers to let your creatures grow at the same rate that they get dealt damage, which can very quickly get out of hand.
Above all else, the purpose of this deck is to have fun. Like I said a lot at the start, dinosaurs are cool. So naturally there are a lot of cards that are just fun while also being synergistic with the deck.
Guild Feud is a prime example, a card that keeps triggering every turn, giving everyone free creatures. Assuming of course they can win against yours in a fight, which isn’t very likely given your deck is full of dinosaurs.
Vivien, Monsters' Advocate’s -2 ability lets you get two big dinos out for the price of one, which is exactly the kind of ability you want on your planeswalkers.
Two very powerful cards for the deck are Turntimber Symbiosis and Shatterskull Smashing. Both of these have abilities that you really want in your deck and yet are also lands at the same time. That flexibility is incredible to see and lets you pack more good spells into the deck without cutting lands to do it.
I already mentioned it, but Barroom Brawl is a really sweet spell to see. You want fight spells, but most of them are fairly weak. This is a fight spell that also creates a fun multiplayer situation as every player decides to copy it or not. You could even get another go of it if it comes back around to you.
The Mana Base
The land base in this deck is pretty simple. It’s three colors, so generally speaking I tried to throw in as many of the best cycles of dual lands as possible, and each time you get three of them. I was able to go for the original duals since this deck had a high budget: Plateau, Savannah, and Taiga.
There’s also the fetch lands: Arid Mesa, Windswept Heath, and Wooded Foothills. Of course, this isn’t even remotely necessary for this deck to work. What lands are important?
You have two tri-lands in Jungle Shrine and Jetmir's Garden, which are pretty huge to help your fixing. Garden in particular is the most important land perhaps in the entire deck, because it can be fetched by Three Visits and Nature's Lore. If you invest in just one land for this deck, it should absolutely be this one.
Command Tower is a given, as is Path of Ancestry thanks to the tribal synergies.
Speaking of tribal, you can run Cavern of Souls, Unclaimed Territory, and Secluded Courtyard.
The Commander duals of Bountiful Promenade, Spire Garden, and Spectator Seating are fairly inexpensive and also very good for this. Beyond these, whichever dual lands you have access to will be absolutely fine for this, whether you have revised duals and shock lands or just common duals.
The strategy here is as simple as it comes: you want to overwhelm opponents and be aggressive with your huge dinos. You need to prioritize casting anything that makes them cheaper, because you won’t last long enough to get the beatdown going if you’re stuck casting everything for full price.
If you have an opportunity to cast Gishath and get a clean hit in, you should probably go for it. Otherwise you’re trying to extend your board and will likely get blown out by every board wipe imaginable. But that’s to be expected, I think.
Combos and Interactions
I already talked in detail about the enrage theme, and it doesn’t go much deeper than that.
Rule 0 Violations Check
I’d reiterate that this deck houses two infinite combos that I touched on already: Bellowing Aegisaur plus Walking Ballista and Polyraptor plus Forerunner of the Empire. You’ll likely want to mention these if you have Rule 0 discussions before your games.
Generally speaking, this deck is pretty cheap to build. Yes, my exact build is quite expensive, but the expensive cards are by no means essential to the deck’s general theme. You can easily compromise on the land base and still have a great time with the rest of the deck as-is.
I think there’s theoretically a build of this where you don’t even try to cast your dinosaurs and instead cheat them all into play. There are a lot of cool, bigger dinosaurs like Verdant Sun's Avatar and Zetalpa, Primal Dawn that aren’t in this build because I had to trim expensive cards to make room for the cheaper ones. You instead cut out all of the cheaper dinosaurs and focus on ramping into Gishath and big monsters.
This build would start at Gishath. Ramp spells let you hit Gishath as early as possible, so you pack in cards that help Gishath deal more damage by buffing its power, giving it double strike, or both. Each hit lets you cheat huge dinosaurs into play for free. After that you likely don’t want to be casting your other dinosaurs, looking for other methods instead.
Start with the trifecta of Quicksilver Amulet, Belbe's Portal, and Monster Manual, which all let you cheat any big dino into play. This enables the build to play literally all the biggest dinosaurs without worrying. You could even go with Elvish Piper and Howlpack Piper to get even more cheats down. Sneak Attack could also be a reasonable inclusion.
Where this build really pops is Lurking Predators. Along with Guild Feud and Herald's Horn, which are already in the enrage deck above, you have a couple big incentives to introduce some topdeck manipulation. Scroll Rack and Sensei's Divining Top really help this, along with Worldly Tutor and Congregation at Dawn to tutor up specific targets at will.
All-in-all, this deck sounds very fun to play too. I think it’s probably a better way to build it if you want to focus on Gishath as opposed to just dinosaur tribal.
Bellowing Aegisaur | Illustration by Craig J Spearing
I hope you enjoyed this look into dinosaur tribal and Gishath in particular. I can’t wait to revisit this again in six months when we have another Ixalan set to hopefully give us some more big hits.
What do you think of this build, or the big dinos alternative? Any tweaks you’d make if you try it out for yourself? Let me know in the comments below or join the discussion in the Draftsim Discord.
Until next time, take care of yourselves!
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