Last updated on August 16, 2023
Volo, Guide to Monsters | Illustration by Zoltan Boros
As someone who plays D&D, I’m always excited to see Magic’s take on famous characters from the game. While I’m still waiting for Strahd Von Zarovich to make his big debut I’ve been pretty happy with a lot of the choices Wizards has made when it comes to which characters they choose. I think one of the best characters they’ve done is their two versions of Volo: Volo, Guide to Monsters and Volo, Itinerant Scholar.
Volo is kind of a no-brainer for a Magic adaptation. As the fictional writer of the sourcebook Volo’s Guide to Monsters, he’s meant to be an expert on monsters, something Magic has plenty of. While Volo’s credibility may be questioned in the Forgotten Realms, there’s no question that Volo, Guide to Monsters knows a thing or two about powerful creatures.
Another thing that drew me to make a Volo, Guide to Monsters deck is its unique ability. You often see commanders that support a specific type of creature, but Volo is the opposite. It essentially encourages players to create a deck with as many different creature types as possible, which is a fun change of pace.
Let's get into it!
Breeding Pool | Illustration by Mike Bierek
Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle
Sakashima of a Thousand Faces
Yisan, the Wanderer Bard
Ornithopter of Paradise
Birds of Paradise
Avenger of Zendikar
Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath
Vizier of the Menagerie
Keiga, the Tide Star
Dryad of the Ilysian Grove
Errant, Street Artist
Volo, Itinerant Scholar
Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth
I tried not to repeat any creature types to really make the best out of Volo, Guide to Monsters’s ability. While there are one or two duplicates, the more powerful creatures are all unique ensuring that Volo can copy it when you drop a big threat on the board.
This was a lot of fun to build because I basically just thought of some of my favorite big creatures to play from any of the decks I’ve built and threw them in here. I also avoided using too many legendary creatures since Volo’s ability doesn’t exclude the copies from the legendary rule. Any legends in here are either good enough to just want one, or have a good effect when they enter the battlefield.
You can also expect to get off to a bit of a quicker start than your opponents by copying mana dorks or Dryad of the Ilysian Grove with Volo, Guide to Monsters as your commander. This helps you get enough mana quickly to start dropping your big threats and hopefully multiple copies of them.
Volo, Guide to Monsters is not only a powerful commander, it's one that really captures what makes Commander such a fun format. I originally got into Commander because I just had a big collection of planeswalkers that I really wanted to play in the same deck, but they weren’t Standard-legal and the deck wouldn’t be competitive enough for Modern.
Commander is a place for you to build decks around cards you want to play regardless of how good they may or may not be. So while this Volo deck is a bit more competitive, Volo, Guide to Monsters is a great commander if you just have a bunch of blue, green, and artifact creatures you want to play in a deck.
Of course, if you prefer to make decks that aim to win the game instead of ones that just let you play your favorite cards, Volo, Guide to Monsters works well for that too. The most important thing to remember if you want to optimize your Volo deck is the graveyard stipulation in its ability.
You might lose out on Volo triggers to things like discard or mill if you’re running several powerful creatures of the same type in your deck. It isn’t as big of a deal for smaller creatures, but I'd recommend differentiating your finishers as best you can since there are plenty of powerful Simic () creatures of different types.
You want to look for creatures with good ETB effects when choosing creatures for your deck. Don't forget that you get these effects twice if you have Volo on the field. Cards like Topiary Stomper and Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath are good examples because their ETB effects help you ramp early, and thin out your deck.
Ice-Fang Coatl and Mulldrifter are good ways to draw some extra cards. You can basically draw four cards for three mana as long as Volo, Guide to Monsters is on the battlefield thanks to Mulldrifter’s evoke ability.
Both Acidic Slime and Amphin Mutineer are good forms of removal in this deck, especially if you’re able to double up their triggers. They're both helpful after they enter too since the Slime’s deathtouch can help you remove creatures and the Mutineer’s encore ability allows you to exile three more creatures when activated.
Avenger of Zendikar’s ETB effect being doubled by Volo, Guide to Monsters is especially powerful, making you a ton of Plant tokens. You’ll also be making your tokens a pretty big threat if you manage to keep both copies on the board long enough to play some lands.
Creatures with triggered abilities are also very helpful if you can get copies of them. Beast Whisperer is a great card draw engine in decks that run a lot of creatures, and having two out makes it even better.
Scute Swarm is another creature with a great triggered ability, and playing two at once gives you a head start on its exponential growth.
One of my favorite triggered abilities in this deck is Keiga, the Tide Star’s death trigger. It’s hard to beat having a 5/5 flying dragon that your opponents are afraid to remove, so having two of them makes you a pretty big threat on the board.
There are some pretty expensive creatures in this deck, so making sure you have enough lands is important. Rampant Growth, Kodama's Reach, and Cultivate are all good ways to make sure you’re staying on or ahead of the mana curve.
Volo, Guide to Monsters also makes especially good use of mana dorks since it can copy them. This makes creatures like Maraleaf Pixie and Llanowar Elves twice as effective. While Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle can’t be copied because of the legendary rule, it’s still a good mana dork and a powerful creature once all the slumber counters are removed from it.
One way to make Volo, Guide to Monsters more powerful is by making more copies of it. Sakashima of a Thousand Faces and Spark Double can both copy Volo without worrying about the legend rule. Once you have multiple Volo’s you’ll be making even more copies of your other creatures. Double Major also allows you to copy any creature you play while it’s on the stack, even if it’s a legend.
Another way to make more copies of creatures is by doubling up Volo, Guide to Monsters’s triggered ability. Twinning Staff does it for free and also lets you copy instants or sorceries for a price. Strionic Resonator allows you to copy any triggered abilities you control for only two mana. Errant, Street Artist can also copy creature spells that have already been copied by Volo and are on the stack.
Equipping a creature with Helm of the Host will allow you to continuously make more copies of it. Since each copy isn’t legendary, you’re free to target Volo, Guide to Monsters with this, which in turn would allow you to make more copies of each subsequent creature you cast since you have more copies of Volos.
Cards like Beast Whisperer and The Great Henge should be able to draw you a decent number of cards over the course of the game since you’re running a lot of creatures in this deck. Garruk's Uprising not only draws you cards off your more powerful creatures, it can also help you win by giving all of your creatures trample.
Sylvan Library is one of the more powerful draw engines available to decks that run green. Getting to the cards you need quicker is often worth paying life for, but you’ll still have an idea of what’s coming in your next few turns even if you don’t pay to keep the extra cards.
Consecrated Sphinx is one of the best ways to draw a lot of cards in Commander since it draws you a minimum of six cards on a trip around the table. Add to that any extra cards your opponents draw and you’re likely to get a lot of good cards to choose from, even if it dies relatively quickly. You’re going to be swimming in cards by your next turn if you’re able to copy it a few times. Just make sure you have a plan to win so you don’t mill yourself out.
There isn’t one Volo in this deck, but two. Volo, Itinerant Scholar creates a token of Volo's Journal. Since most of the creatures in this deck are different types, you’ll be able to note the type pretty much every time you cast a creature. This can make Volo, Itinerant Scholar’s activated ability a very good way to draw cards after a few turns.
Chances are your opponents will be gunning for Volo when they see it on the board. Keeping it safe with equipment like Commander's Plate, Lightning Greaves, or Swiftfoot Boots is a good way to keep it around. The Greaves is especially helpful thanks to its equip cost, meaning you can easily switch it onto a powerful creature you cast to give it haste.
Heroic Intervention is a card you probably want to include in any green deck, but it’s especially good for decks that want to create a lot of creatures. Having this allows you to rest easy knowing you can keep yourself safe from board wipes.
Any deck needs a plan to deal with threats on the other side of the board. Pongify and Rapid Hybridization are cheap ways to get rid of some pesky creatures. While your opponents will still be left with a creature, it’ll likely be less of a threat than it was before.
Force of Vigor is nice because you can play it for no mana, meaning you can hit permanents your opponents played thinking they were safe from responses since you’re tapped out. These cards are even more effective against decks that run a lot of artifact creatures.
While Simic is lacking in the traditional “destroy all creatures” type of board wipes, you do have a few good options to work with. Ezuri's Predation serves as a board wipe for any of your opponents’ creatures under 4 toughness and has the added benefit of possibly leaving you with some creature tokens.
Cyclonic Rift is helpful not only because it’s one-sided, but also because it can slow down opponents who’ve built up a big board. There’s no guarantee they’ll be able to cast it all back next turn even if they have everything in their hand.
Once you’ve got enough mana and one or more copies of Volo, Guide to Monsters out on the field, you’ll be looking to drop some big creatures that can help you close out the game.
Craterhoof Behemoth is a classic for a reason; it can easily close out a game if you have enough creatures on the board. End-Raze Forerunners and God-Eternal Rhonas have similar effects. While the buff can’t get as big you’ll be able to double them up if you’re able to copy one of these creatures.
Anyone that thinks Nicol Bolas is Magic’s greatest villain never sat across the table from Blightsteel Colossus. This card is hard to kill and can one-shot players even in Commander. A couple of these on your side of the field can definitely help you secure a win.
While not necessarily a finisher in its own right, Apex Devastator can get you all you need to win. Note that Volo, Guide to Monsters won’t copy the cascade triggers, but casting four spells for free should be enough to win the game in its own right.
Apart from basic Islands and Forests you also want to run some Simic dual lands. Barkchannel Pathway and Dreamroot Cascade are a couple of great budget options. So is Command Tower, which acts like a true dual land in this deck.
If you need a bit of mana fixing, you have Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth. It allows you to tap any land for green mana on top of its other abilities.
Castle Garenbrig allows you an extra 1-mana boost with its ability when trying to cast a creature. While this might not seem like a lot, it can mean a whole turn’s difference between casting a Craterhoof Behemoth or not.
This deck can get out of hand when it comes to drawing cards if you have multiple copies of Consecrated Sphinx or Volo's Journal with a lot of types noted on it. Reliquary Tower makes sure you won’t have to discard any of your good cards.
You also have mana rocks. Arcane Signet is good for mana fixing, and Sol Ring can get you ahead on mana quickly. Jeweled Lotus can be helpful getting Volo, Guide to Monsters out early or paying for its increased mana cost after being removed. The Great Henge is another good mana rock that also serves as lifegain and card draw.
You also have mana dorks like Maraleaf Pixie and Birds of Paradise. While most of these can be copied with Volo for an extra boost, keep in mind that Dryad Arbor can’t because it isn’t considered a spell.
Your main goal with this deck is to get as many copies of your best creatures onto the field as possible. Having Volo, Guide to Monsters on the battlefield is essential for your strategy. I'd suggest trying to cast it quickly and prioritize keeping hands with something like Lightning Greaves if possible. You’ll get the instant benefit of getting two creatures for the price of one once Volo is on the battlefield which can help you get a little ahead, or at least build up a bit of a barrier between you and your opponents.
While I personally prefer to save my clone spells for Volo, Guide to Monsters, they can also come in handy if you’re unable to keep your commander on the board and need a little extra boost. Using Spark Double on your Consecrated Sphinx is a great way to start drawing more cards and finding answers to potential threats.
You want to wait until you have a decent board state going for finishers like Craterhoof Behemoth or End-Raze Forerunners to be effective, or at least a few Volos so you can make a few big creatures. Building up a big board state is a great way to get an opponent to cast a board wipe.
Blightsteel Colossus is a good plan B if your creatures get cleared out since you can drop it onto a mostly empty field. Of course, making several copies of Colossus can also be a good way to go since it might be hard for opponents to exile all of them in time.
This deck doesn’t run a whole lot of removal, so make sure you hold onto it for something you don’t think you can deal with through other means. Yours might be a little more disposable than your opponents since you can make more copies of creatures. Consider killing creatures with blocks and saving your removal for the big stuff.
One of the best interactions in this deck is between Twinning Staff and any of your effects that copy other cards. For example, if you copy Volo, Guide to Monsters’ effect with Strionic Resonator you create two extra copies of that monster thanks to Twinning Staff. Likewise, if you use Errant, Street Artist to copy a creature spell that was copied by Volo, Guide to Monsters, Twinning Staff gives you an extra creature. These interactions serve to make Twinning Staff one of the most powerful cards in your deck.
Sakashima of a Thousand Faces makes it so that the legendary rule no longer applies to creatures you control. Having Sakashima out then allows Volo, Guide to Monsters to make copies of your legends without having to sacrifice them. While this deck doesn’t run a ton of legends, having an additional copy of Errant, Street Artist or Keiga, the Tide Star is nothing to sneeze at.
Cutting costs on this deck can be relatively easy. As is usually the first step when trying to cut down on cost, let’s look at what we can cut from the land base.
The easiest cuts are Gaea's Cradle and Tropical Island. You could probably make several more decks for the cost of these cards alone. And while fetch lands aren’t as expensive as they used to be, cutting Misty Rainforest saves you some money as well and it can easily be replaced by Fabled Passage.
Jeweled Lotus is another card you can cut to save a lot of money. It isn’t impossible to get Volo out quickly without this card since your commander has a relatively low mana cost compared to some others. Replacing the Lotus with some ramp like Gilded Lotus can be a good alternative.
As I mentioned above, Blightsteel Colossus can be a good plan B if you’re struggling to maintain a wide enough board to take out your opponents. But it’s a pretty expensive card, so I’d recommend Triumph of the Hordes if you’d still like an infect option at a much lower price.
One of the more popular ways to take this deck is the Pod route. Named for Birthing Pod, the strategy of these decks is to sacrifice smaller creatures for big ones. Vivien on the Hunt has a +2 loyalty ability that allows you to search for stronger creatures, Neoform is a one-time version of this ability, and In Search of Greatness allows you to do it with creatures in your hand only but without having to sacrifice anything.
Since Pod effects give you a little more control over which creatures you’re playing, you can make sure to select ones of a type you haven’t played yet. You want to make sure you’re including a good number of creatures one mana apart from each other to make sure your Pod effects don’t hit a dead end.
Volo, Guide to Monsters is such a popular Pod commander because of its cloning effect. You usually make a decision to trade one creature for another when using a Pod effect.
You can always ditch the clone and keep the original when you want to pod again if each creature has the chance to enter with a clone of itself. This means you don’t just get the big creature at the end of the chain, but each one along the way as well. I'd definitely suggest taking the build in the Pod direction if you're looking to make a more competitive Volo, Guide to Monsters deck.
If you, like me, want to build Volo so you can just throw all your favorite Simic creatures into a deck, then you can build a deck similar to the way I have with just a few changes. Go ahead and swap in whatever creatures you happen to enjoy more than the ones I’ve chosen, or ones that you have access to.
Tropical Island | Illustration by Franz Vohwinkel
I hope I was able to effectively act as your own personal Volo as I guided you through this deck tech. Like the man himself, take what I say with a grain of salt. Just because I chose to build the deck this way doesn’t mean you have to follow it to the letter. I’d be interested to see what types of changes you might make to it!
Did I leave out any of your favorite Simic creatures for this deck? Does the Pod strategy sound more interesting to you? What other D&D characters would you like to build decks for? Let me know in the comments below or over on the Draftsim Twitter.
I hope you enjoy the deck, and I look forward to seeing you next time!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: