Reaper King | Illustration by Jim Murray
Back during the Lorwyn and Shadowmoor mini-blocks, Wizards attempted to create two sets that were exact opposites of one another. Lorwyn had a +1/+1 counter sub-theme, so Shadowmoor had a -1/-1 counter one. Ironically, while Lorwyn was the mini-block that introduced tribal mechanics, Shadowmoor gave us one of the most interesting tribal commanders: Reaper King.
The Reaper King is a unique commander in a few ways. It’s your only choice if you want a scarecrow commander, while most other tribes have at least a few legendary creatures to choose from. Even squirrels!
Another interesting aspect is that, although this is a 5-color commander, you can easily get away with building this deck with only a few colors, even none if you want. You don’t need to have all the colors to cast it thanks to its hybrid cost, though it’s more expensive the more colors you decide to cut.
I’ll go through how this deck works and talk about a few other options that you could use to switch up how this deck can be built and played. Let’s get to it!
Panharmonicon | Illustration by Volkan Baga
Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines
Padeem, Consul of Innovation
Yarok, the Desecrated
One with the Machine
Reflections of Littjara
Coat of Arms
Path of Ancestry
The World Tree
There are two main ways to build a Reaper King deck. One is the obvious scarecrow tribal, and the other is shapeshifter tribal with changeling. While shapeshifters have a bit more tribal support thanks to Lorwyn, I prefer to lean more towards the scarecrow side of things. From a gameplay standpoint this makes many of your casting costs less restrictive because most scarecrows are colorless artifacts. The other reason I prefer this is for theming purposes and visual cohesion.
You’ll notice that there are still a few shapeshifters in this deck. Unfortunately the available scarecrow creatures at the moment make it difficult to build a deck around them entirely, and I wanted to make sure that most of the creatures you’re playing also trigger Reaper King’s ability.
Apart from scarecrows, I also included other cards that synergize well with your commander. Flicker cards like Eerie Interlude can be a powerful way to cash in on your ETB triggers again, and Panharmonicon effects can also improve your game a lot.
The unfortunate truth about this and most Reaper King decks is that they suffer pretty badly when the commander isn’t on the field. This is why I’ve included cards like Lightning Greaves to protect it and Spark Double to make extras. Your flicker spells can also serve to protect your commander from targeted removal.
Reaper King[card] is worth its expensive casting cost thanks to the immense value it adds to your creatures. While scarecrows themselves may be largely underwhelming, the ability to blow up any permanent when they enter the battlefield makes them much more intimidating. While [card]Reaper King’s anthem ability is definitely the less important of its two effects, it’s still a nice boost to most of your creatures and can help you in dealing damage once you clear your opponents’ boards.
While Reaper King is a personal favorite, I’ll admit it comes with a pretty big downside. Your opponents won’t be happy about you destroying their permanents each turn, so they’ll likely gun for Reaper King or you before it even hits the battlefield. You may want to try ingratiating yourself to the table by offering to remove troublesome cards that players hate even more, especially any stax pieces.
Scarecrows and Shapeshifters
When looking at the creatures in this deck, it’s important to consider them with Reaper King’s ability in mind.
There are usually better one mana options than Universal Automaton, but it gets a lot better when it becomes a one mana kill spell. There are creatures like One-Eyed Scarecrow included in this deck simply because they’re scarecrows.
Some of the better scarecrows in this deck are the Skulkin cycle. This includes cards like Jawbone Skulkin and Hoof Skulkin. Each of these have abilities you can target Reaper King with since it’s all five colors. I especially like Antler Skulkin since persist can be a good way to stop you from having to recast your commander.
Wild-Field Scarecrow can help you with mana fixing and won’t be a wasted draw later in the game because it can still help you remove a permanent.
Perhaps the best scarecrow in this deck that isn’t your commander is Scarecrone. Being able to sacrifice one of your creatures to draw a card is a nice way to respond at instant speed to a targeted removal spell. Thanks to its second ability, it can also get most of your creatures back from the graveyard for you. If you don’t have lots of resources in your hand, you can also sacrifice a scarecrow specifically to draw a card, then use Scarecrone’s activated ability to bring it right back. This is an especially good move is you also have Reaper King out.
I also included some creatures that have changeling to help fill out the ranks. Irregular Cohort is an especially good choice for this deck because it triggers Reaper King twice when it enters the battlefield.
Changeling Outcast acts as a very cheap form of removal in this deck, and it’s nice to have an unblockable creature for dealing with problematic planeswalkers.
Unsettled Mariner makes it slightly more difficult for your opponents to remove your permanents, which is always helpful when your commander is a lightning rod.
Mana Ramp and Fixing
While having access to all five colors isn’t necessary in this deck, it makes it easier to cast Reaper King. That’s why I’ve included mana fixing and ramp spells like Rampant Growth and Cultivate which helps you quickly establish a 5-color land base.
Between Nature's Lore and Farseek, you can get almost any land in this deck to the battlefield, making them very helpful when fixing your mana. Collective Voyage is another good way to find multiple colors of mana that you might need.
Mana rocks like Chromatic Lantern and Chromatic Orrery also help you to get access to every color of mana. Chromatic Orrery is also great because it can be tapped to cast Reaper King if there isn’t any commander tax yet. Timeless Lotus can also be tapped to cast your commander, making it another great option for this deck.
Smothering Tithe is another great way to generate some extra mana, especially in Commander. Your opponents often won’t pay for this, but if they do they’re forced to stay behind the curve on their turns. That makes this card effective even when it isn’t generating treasure tokens.
Extra ETB Effects
Reaper King’s triggered ability is a big part of your strategy for this deck, so doubling it up can be a great way to improve your game.
Panharmonicon and Yarok, the Desecrated both give you an extra removal trigger on each of your scarecrows.
Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines won’t just double up your ETB triggers, it also shuts down your opponents’ ETB triggers. This is a nice bit of control in a deck that can play a little slowly sometimes.
While it doesn’t technically double up your ETB triggers, Reflections of Littjara can copy any of your scarecrows. This results in you getting two triggers off Reaper King as well as two creatures.
Because most of your creatures are scarecrows or have changeling, you can get lots of use out of tribal support cards in this deck.
Kindred Discovery is a personal favorite of mine when it comes to card draw for a tribal deck, and it pairs especially well with Reflections of Littjara.
Coat of Arms can give your scarecrows the buff you need to help take out your opponents. Just be careful when playing this card against other tribal decks or token decks. If a certain creature type outnumbers your scarecrows, this card does you more harm than good.
Realmwalker allows you to cast scarecrows from the top of your deck, decreasing the chances that you’ll have nothing to play on a given turn. It also counts as a scarecrow itself thanks to changeling which is a nice bonus.
Flicker effects serve a double purpose in this deck. They can help keep Reaper King safe from removal or they can target a scarecrow to give you another ETB trigger from your commander.
Cards like Eerie Interlude and Lae'zel's Acrobatics also allow you to target all your scarecrows, which will give you a lot of chances to remove permanents.
Semester's End is an especially powerful flicker card in this deck because it gives you lots of triggers from Reaper King and also buffs all your creatures.
Thassa, Deep-Dwelling won’t help protect any of your creatures like your instants will, but it allows you to flicker a scarecrow for free each turn. This is a good consistent form of removal if you have Reaper King as well.
The Mana Base
When you create a 5-color deck, you’ll usually look for a few things in your mana base. First are dual and tri lands with basic land types like Godless Shrine or Spara's Headquarters. These are extra helpful because they can be found with cards like Farseek or fetch lands like Flooded Strand.
Another important part of a 5-color mana base is lands that allow you to tap for any color. Command Tower and Mana Confluence are especially good because they come in untapped. Exotic Orchard is another good choice because it can also be used right away, and later in the game it’s likely able to tap for a lot of different colors. While it’s a bit slower, Path of Ancestry is a great choice for any tribal deck, thanks to its scry ability.
Cascading Cataracts might not produce colored mana on its own, but it allows you to filter your mana for or any combination of five mana.
The World Tree is a personal favorite of mine because once it’s online you’re a lot less restricted in what you can cast.
The one utility land I included for this deck is Academy Ruins. It’s very helpful in any artifact heavy deck and can ensure your important cards like Panharmonicon can keep coming back. If you have open mana, you can also allow Reaper King to go to your graveyard and then use this land to put it back into your library for next turn.
In addition to your lands, I’ve also included a few mana rocks that can help with mana fixing. Arcane Signet is always a good early play especially in multicolor decks. Chromatic Lantern and Chromatic Orrery make it much easier to cast Reaper King, as will Timeless Lotus. Sol Ring is always a good option, but in this deck it has the bonus of technically being able to tap for one mana of any color when it comes to casting your commander. It can also help with generating extra mana once commander tax begins stacking up.
When it comes to mana dorks, the only one in this deck is Scuttlemutt. That said, you also have Cryptolith Rite which can turn any of your creatures into mana dorks. You also have cost-reduction cards that can act similarly to mana dorks in a deck with so many colorless cards.
It’s very important for this deck’s strategy that you have Reaper King in play as often as you can. This means early ramp spells are great opening hand keeps, as are mana rocks like Sol Ring or Chromatic Lantern. You may also want to keep Reaper King in the command zone an extra turn or two if you’re holding onto a spell like Heroic Intervention that can help keep it alive.
When it comes to playing this deck, I find I have the most success when I play more diplomatically than aggressively. It’s helpful that this deck is a bit slower out of the gate because you can then discuss with the table what would be good cards for you to remove once you get your commander out. This saves you the headache of having to come up with a ton of extra mana to cast Reaper King again if you become the table’s archenemy.
Once you’re further into the game, you can start being more aggressive with your removal and opening up your opponents’ boards to allow you to attack them. This is easier once you have something like Panharmonicon, Yarok, the Desecrated, or just clones of Reaper King from Helm of the Host that allows you to remove multiple permanents with each scarecrow you play. You can also use mass flicker abilities like Eerie Interlude or Semester's End on all your scarecrows so they re-enter and help you clear a good amount of the board. Shadowspear’s activated ability and Arcane Lighthouse can help you remove permanents you might not otherwise be able to.
Typically, winning with this deck means taking out opponents one at a time. This is why it helps to play more diplomatically. Your remaining opponents will celebrate with you each time you help take out the player who is perceived as the most dangerous at the table. Once it’s down to a one-on-one, you have an easier time removing your single opponent’s threats.
Combos and Interactions
There are no infinite combos in this deck, though there’s one you can easily include if you’re so inclined. Painter's Servant is a scarecrow I intentionally cut from this deck due to price, but if you include it and a Grindstone, they can be used to instantly mill out any of your opponents.
As for powerful interactions that are in this deck, you have a few. First, don’t be afraid to sacrifice your persist creatures to effects like Scarecrone or just use them as blockers. If Reaper King is out, it’s essentially a free removal spell when they re-enter the battlefield.
When it comes to looking for creatures to flicker each turn with Thassa, Deep-Dwelling, Irregular Cohort is often your best option because it creates a token with changeling, giving you two Reaper King activations.
One quick way to make this deck more affordable is by reconfiguring the mana base. Cutting out fetch lands can drop the price significantly, and since they’re gone you can also cut back on searchable lands like shock lands and triomes. Good budget replacements are bond lands like Luxury Suite that usually enter untapped in Commander. Another fun option can be the slow lands like Deserted Beach or Overgrown Farmland. If you buy the printings from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, the art also includes scarecrows which can help with theming.
If you like the mana base how it is, other options for lowering this decks price can be big ticket cards like Cyclonic Rift and Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines.
You already have a few effects like Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines’s in this deck, so you can replace this pricey card with an inexpensive tutor to help find one of the others. Fabricate is relatively cheap and lets you find Panharmonicon, making it a decent replacement for a fraction of the price.
As for replacing Cyclonic Rift, you can go with Organic Extinction which will similarly clear the field of creatures. It won’t hit other permanents or ones with indestructible like Cyclonic Rift does, it’s a lot more budget friendly.
Another popular Reaper King build is to include more shapeshifters than scarecrows. There are lots of shapeshifters with powerful abilities like Shapesharer or Chameleon Colossus. You’ll be a little more reliant on colored mana than you are in this current build, but you’ll also be getting better creatures as opposed to some that are basically just here because they’re scarecrows. You’ll also want to include Morophon, the Boundless, which will be very helpful when casting Reaper King.
Another popular option is to build a scarecrow or shapeshifter tribal deck with Jegantha, the Wellspring as a companion. This gives you a reliable way to cast Reaper King, though you’ll have to restructure your deck to meet its companion requirements. This means losing some good cards like Irregular Cohort.
Wild-Field Scarecrow | Illustration by Jakub Kasper
I really enjoy Reaper King, so building decks around it is a labor of love. If you don’t have that same affinity for this commander or the theming around this deck, I admit that you may not enjoy it all that much. This deck isn’t super competitive, and I’d say is better in a more casual setting. If you’re looking for a great thematic deck, especially around autumn, this can be a fun one to try and make work.
How would you build a Reaper King deck? What kinds of scarecrows would you like to see if we return to Lorwyn at some point? Let me know in the comments below, or over on Draftsim’s Twitter.
Thanks for reading, and I look forward to seeing you in the next one!
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