Hylda's Crown of Winter - Illustration by Volkan Baga

Hylda's Crown of Winter | Illustration by Volkan Baga

Tapping down” opponents’ creatures has always been in blue and white’s wheelhouse, but its usefulness is debatable. It’s often eschewed for more permanent forms of removal; why would you cast Encrust or Claustrophobia when Oblivion Ring is right there?

Tapping down opponents’ creatures can still be an effective strategy to control the board, especially with the release of Hylda of the Icy Crown. Hylda’s synergies with tap down effects make it a unique commander for some great cards that rarely see play in EDH.

Let’s look at what makes Hylda of the Icy Crown so special!

The Deck

Frost Titan - Illustration by Mike Bierek

Frost Titan | Illustration by Mike Bierek

This Hylda of the Icy Crown Commander deck looks to maximize the number of chances you have to tap an opponent’s creature. It focuses on cheap or free ways to tap creatures, freeing up mana to pay for Hylda’s triggers as many times as possible. You’ll use Hylda to dig through your library for more mana and more tappers, then switch up your game to create an army of 4/4 Elemental tokens with a ton of +1/+1 counters.

The Commander

Hylda of the Icy Crown

Hylda of the Icy Crown directly interacts with the tapping of your opponents’ creatures. This opens your deck up to a variety of cards that have fallen out of favor with Commander players over the years. Removing creatures entirely has always been the preferred way for Azorius () decks to control the board, but Hylda offers a new strategy in some under-utilized design space.

Free Tappers

Hylda’s triggered ability is good, but it’s not free. A measly may not seem like much, but when you’re looking to use that ability multiple times per turn, paying for additional tap effects can add up. That’s where your free tappers come in.

Tamiyo, the Moon Sage

Your best tapper for value is easily Tamiyo, the Moon Sage. A 4-loyalty, 5-mana ‘walker might not be hot by today’s standards, but built-in free tap and innate Borrowing 100,000 Arrows pays for itself in time. Best of all, players tend to underestimate exactly how much value you’ll be able to extract from the Tamiyo and Hylda working in tandem. They might even ignore your planeswalker long enough to activate that final ability!

Sunstrike Legionnaire and Court Street Denizen both come with a free and easily abusable tap effect. The elementals entering the battlefield as part of Hylda’s ability either untap the Legionnaire or trigger the Denizen’s ability, allowing you to tap down another creature and start the cycle all over again for another .

Timin, Youthful Geist and Dreamshackle Geist along with the Dragons mode on Citadel Siege each provide you with a free tap during various combats. This light disruption is a great way to neutralize threatening indestructible creatures and guarantees you can churn through your deck quickly with Hylda’s first mode.

Gustcloak Cavalier, Icefall Regent, and Frost Titan are your top-end tappers. While Gustcloak can safely attack, tap, and remove itself from combat each turn, Icefall Regent and Frost Titan are more permanent forms of control. These two are your main response to any of your opponents’ creatures you just can’t seem to keep tapped down.

There are just a few more tappers I want to draw specific attention to. Hands of Binding is a cipher card from Gatecrash that I’ve always loved but struggled to find a home for. Now, this repeatable tap-down effect has a home with lots of juicy targets to encode it onto. Chances are you’ll always have a path to direct combat damage when your opponents’ creatures find themselves with cold feet. The same is true for Debtor's Pulpit, another forgotten Gatecrash uncommon with narrow use for its expensive cost. Here in Hylda, it’s found a home.

The other odd-card-out in this deck is the Legends card Arena of the Ancients. At the very least, this turns off those powerful commander damage based decks, but at the very best, you’re wrecking legendary creatures decks like Dihada, Binder of Wills and Jodah, the Unifier. The Chronicles printing of this card averages less than a quarter, so give this old weirdo a try!

It’s not like I really have to say this, but Retreat to Coralhelm goes off in this deck. What’s usually deployed as a repeatable untap effect in crazy Yarok, the Desecrated combo decks is suddenly a free Hylda trigger each turn that gets started early.

Cheap Tappers

There are only so many free tap effects that come built-in to permanents, and Kenrith knows that won’t be enough. This deck has three extra tap-down spells that you can roll out whenever you need to ice-over that one last creature. Feeling of Dread, Freeze in Place, and the adventure mode on Queen of Ice are all a little expensive at 2 mana (plus 1 more for Hylda’s ability), but they’ll get the job done in a pinch.

In lieu of any traditional board wipes, I’ve opted for more tap effects so you have the most opportunities to activate Hylda. Icy Blast, Blustersquall, Turnabout, and Thoughtweft Gambit can each tap down an entire board if you’ve played your cards right. Bond of Discipline and Sleep are best used once you’ve assembled a board full of 4/4s.

I should point out that the only reason Icy Manipulator is here is that there aren’t quite enough snow cards to justify purchasing an entirely snow mana base just to run the not-strictly-better-but-still-sorta-better Icebind Pillar.

Hylda’s Court

Hylda of the Icy Crown

Now that you’ve got easy access to tap effects, you want to double-down on those triggers you’ll get off of Hylda of the Icy Crown. Hylda has three modes to choose from for each trigger, and for budget reasons this deck focuses on the third mode: Scry 2, then draw a card. Filtering through the top of your deck is an easy replacement for a lack of tutors and can return much the same results in most drawn-out, casual EDH games.

Chasm Skulker and Elvish Mariner are choice early plays since they’ll start benefiting from Hylda’s extra card draw immediately, and the Mariner keeps generating two more tap effects each time you scry.

Ominous Seas, Icewrought Sentry, Nadir Kraken, and Tolarian Kraken become your late-game threats once they’ve swollen their power and toughness well past the lethal range.

With all those tapped down creatures, you’d be foolish not to run Borrowing 100,000 Arrows. In fact, that effect goes so well with Hylda, this deck runs it thrice with Theft of Dreams and Tamiyo, the Moon Sage.

Palliation Accord

I also want to call out Palliation Accord, one of my favorite errata’d cards. Palliation Accord originally made shield counters, but they’ve since been changed to “palliation counters” to avoid confusion with the Streets of New Capenna mechanic. However, there’s been no physical reprint of the card since the ruling. I’m not suggesting you lie to your opponent about the effect of Palliation Accord. I just think it’s neat.

Being Disruptive at Court

No one tells Mrs. Freeze herself what to do or when she’s allowed to tap down creatures, and you’re making sure of that by running a fairly standard suite of interaction. Typical of blue Commander decks, you’re running Counterspell and Arcane Denial plus Swords to Plowshares and Farewell as is the fashion of the time.

Specifically, You See a Guard Approach and Cryptic Command work well as alternatives to a Cancel or Dissipate since they give you access to additional tap effects if you need them in the moment.

Occasionally, some cowardly spell-slinging commander won’t have nearly enough creatures for you to capitalize on Hylda’s abilities. To combat this, you’re running Generous Gift and a pair of hunted creatures from Ravnica: City of Guilds: Hunted Phantasm and Hunted Lammasu. Each of these gets you a threatening creature (that you can pump with Hylda’s +1/+1 counters) and some targets for your tap-down effects.

Azorius Guildmage

I’ve gotta say something about Azorius Guildmage. This Dissension 2-drop has two activated abilities. Its tap effect is a little costly for our purposes, but the option to counter any activated ability for 3 mana is undeniably useful in a format that’s so dependent on other commanders’ effects.

The Mana Base

Forbidden Orchard

Blue and white aren’t known for their easy access to ramp, and you can’t afford to miss any land drops in this deck, so there’s a staggering 36 lands and five mana rocks. Notably, I’ve included Forbidden Orchard as a quick mana-fixer. Simple 1/1 walking Spirit tokens won’t be a problem for you to deal with, and it might even prove beneficial if you can tap them down later.

Kefnet's Monument

I’m including Kefnet's Monument in the count for mana rocks since it gives a free tap down and saves you that 1 extra mana for a Hylda trigger.

The Strategy

Hylda of the Icy Crown is a control commander with lots of options over the course of the game. Depending on how the field looks at any given time, you’ll squad up with a batch of 4/4 Elementals, dig for answers to threats and protection for Hylda, or start churning out +1/+1 counters in an anthem of destruction.

Choosing to mulligan with Hylda can be tricky, but there are a couple things to keep in mind. First, you’re not running green, so you won’t be ramping your mana at the drop of a hat. Try to keep a hand where you’re guaranteed 4 mana by turn 4 to cast your commander. Additionally, it helps to have some cheap ways to trigger Hylda that same turn, so maybe keep Blustersquall around if you’ll have the mana to spare.

Early game for Hylda really depends on what your opponents are doing. Once it’s on the field, take stock of what you’ll need at that moment. If you’re missing your Swiftfoot Boots, you’ll want to use Hylda’s triggers to dig for Counterspells or more enticing threats for your opponents’ removal.

Once you feel you’re relatively safe, switch up your triggers to focus on creating Elementals. A 4/4 for 1 additional mana after a tap-down is great value, and you’ll want to generate that every chance you get.

Hylda’s late game is really determined by how well you know your opponents’ decks. You have more than enough tap-down effects to neutralize any creature-based threats, but you’ll need to save your actual, honest removal like Generous Gift for those combo pieces and static-effect creatures. Tapping down that Blood Artist won’t stop the aristocrats deck from going off, but Swords to Plowshares will.

Hylda’s +1/+1 counter anthem works just like a Cathars' Crusade, and we all know how quickly that card can get out of hand. This effect gets better for every 4/4 Elemental you’ve already created, so try to hold off on switching to it until you’ve got four or more creatures to buff.

End the game with one or two big haymakers following up a Sleep or Bond of Discipline. If you can even squeeze one or two more triggers out of Hylda after casting one of these, you can push 15-20 damage around the board easily. Keep everyone locked out of blocking by following up with a Turnabout and there’s no way they’ll recover.

Combos and Interactions

I’ve yet to find an infinite combo hidden away in this specific Hylda of the Icy Crown decklist, but there are some brutal ways to repeatedly tap down an entire board for cheap.

The first is Sunstrike Legionnaire. So long as you have enough mana available to create a 4/4 Elemental, you can tap and untap the Sunstrike Legionnaire until every 3-or-less mana value creature is tapped down. Court Street Denizen works the same way, if not a little better since it doesn’t have the mana value restriction. Elvish Mariner pushes this concept even farther, turning each single tap-down into two more after you activate Hylda to scry 2 and draw a card.

Rule 0

I don’t think this deck has very high sodium levels. I wouldn’t even be comfortable calling it a “7” on the power scale like everyone else you meet at your LGS’s Commander night. At its current power level, this deck is great for a casual environment for folks interested in some of Magic’s less popular mechanics.

Budget Options

Purchasing singles for this deck runs you about $60 for the cheapest printings of each, and that’s an absolute steal for any functioning Commander deck. If you’re truly interested in saving even more, you can shave $15 off this deck easy by replacing Farewell and Cryptic Command with any two cheaper interaction spells; I suggest the humble Negate and Austere Command.

However, there are a few amazing purchases that can really power this deck up. You’re creating lots of creature tokens, so Anointed Procession and Mondrak, Glory Dominus are both excellent choices. Also consider Mind Over Matter instead of Opposition. It’s similarly a free tap effect, but the option to untap a creature gives you the versatility you need in some instances.

Other Builds

I’ve already hinted at all the fun you can have with a Hylda of the Icy Crown snow-themed deck. There are only a handful of tap-down snow spells (first and foremost Icebreaker Kraken), but you can open this deck up into a more generic battlecruiser style.

This Hylda of the Icy Crown focuses on its scrying and drawing ability, but you might want to focus on proliferating stun counters on creatures in addition to those +1/+1s it makes. Or maybe you’ll go with an enchantress build that uses the tap-down auras like Encrust over the temporary tap effects.

Commanding Conclusion

Icewrought Sentry | Illustration by Brian Valeza

Icewrought Sentry | Illustration by Brian Valeza

One of my favorite things in Magic is finding some under-utilized design space and wrapping my head around how to make it playable. Hylda of the Icy Crown is the missing link that brings all the tap-down effects in Azorius together. While its specific style of control isn’t the most powerful, it’ll lock down creature-based decks no problem. Hylda harkens back to a time when tapping a creature over and over was as good as any Murder. Back when we didn’t know any better.

What’re your thoughts on Hylda? How does this card compare to the other mythic legends from Wilds of Eldraine? Will this commander spawn a new age of Azorius control decks, or is it all hype? Let me know in the comments, or over on Draftsim’s Twitter!

Thanks for reading, and stay cool!

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