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Kess, Dissident Mage

Highlights

Never broken, never thrash, Kess is one of those commanders that does not see sufficient play but has always been there no matter how the format has evolved. With a good training, it is possible to make decent results in tournaments.

Control deck are more expensive at first sight but each card can be easily played in other decks. Indeed, almost each card is playable outside this deck.

It's important to be confident with this kind of gameplay to handle the pressure when the game seems to be lost. The grixis colors grants access to really powerful spells that will be played twice once Kess hits the board and if she survives. To perform well, the deck needs to keep Kess, Dissident Mage on the board for as long as possible.

Building decks

Like any other control deck, it is necessary to be able to play cards without being mana-screwed. It is then important to be sure to play a land each turn in early game with the objective of having four lands on turn four. It is also important that each card played had a really decent impact on the game.

The deck needs 38 to 42 lands to be consistent on the four land on turn four criterion. Outside of these boundaries, there is a high risk oof having too many lands in early games or too little lands to play Kess consistently.

Regarding creatures, they must help the game plan whilst interacting with the opponent. Playing creatures is a good move tempo wise as it can generate Card Advantage, block the opponent's creatures and start to grind the opponent's life points before Kess, Dissident Mage finishes the job.

At any rate, creatures aren't the core of the deck and playing more than height or nine of them will impact the number of instant and sorceries that might be more efficient thanks to their replayability with Kess, Dissident Mage. For this exact same reason, the number of planeswalkers must stay really low.

Second, there are many planeswalkers that offer a victory condition in Magic, but few are relevant. One must then ask oneself what is their added value because the places in the deck are expensive. The arguments against planeswalkers are the same as for creatures: they are rituals that require a certain amount of mana, which leaves more possibility for the opponent on the turn they are played.

Lastly, to maximize the deck's power and to use Kess, Dissident Mage to its fullest, instants and sorceries are the keystone of the deck, what Grixis has the most. There is then a need to find an equilibrium between counterspells, removals, cantrips and blasts.s

Having one or two combos in a deck can be reassuring to deal with some dire situations. Even though they are scarce and not represented, here are two that can be viable:

â–  Jace, Wielder of Mysteries + Tainted Pact
Tainted Pact is played in most version of Kess, Dissident Mage but Jace, Wielder of Mysteries is way less played. Oftenly played off-curve and needing three blue manas, he is heavily taxing on the deck.

â–  Ral, Storm Conduit + Chain of Smog
The individual impact of both cards is really low and even if Chain of Smog can deal two for one, Ral, Storm Conduit has a prohibitive mana cost and a mediocre +1 loyalty ability.

Playing with the deck

There is no such thing as a known outcome, one has to fight to win, which is what makes the deck interesting to play. More than the individual impact of the cards or the commander, what matters most are the way of approaching the game, the response to threats proposed by the opponent and the decisions made throughout the game.

Since this is a Control deck, it is played reactively. The ability to respond to any eventuality in the early turns depends on the active cards, their quantity and quality.

You should not keep too much or too little land in your starting hand as this affects the quantity and quality of the spells that can be cast. However, the active object is to have four lands on the battlefield on turn four, so starting hands with three or four lands are ideal. Only cantrips like Preordain and Serum Visions can bend this rule.

Aggro
Lightning Bolt, Fatal Push, and a wrath like Toxic Deluge sculpt the best hands. It is important not to hesitate to deal with each creature of the opponent to make them lose the maximum pressure on the battlefield. It is mandatory to maintain a sufficiently high level of life points before the arrival of Kess, Dissident Mage to have sufficient leeway to get the best out of Kess.

Control
Cantrips (Ponder and others), counters (Counterspell and the like) and discard (Thoughtseize and others) are the preferred weapons. A hand almost completely filled with blue cards against Control is not a problem, on the contrary. Cantrips played by the opponent are no threat, planeswalkers and tutors are. The removals are to be recycled on Collective Brutality for example. Blasts can be useful against planeswalkers or to chew away at an opponent's health and force them to take a more defensive position, which will put them in difficulty.

Combo
Discard, removals and counters are just as important. You have to be able to respond at any time to the start of a combo, which is why cards giving information about the opposing hand are very important. It is always complex to play against this type of deck and it will surely be necessary to let resolve a few cards that have a decent impact on the game (sometimes creatures, sometimes tutors, sometimes elements of the combo) in order not to be exhausted. at the fateful moment.

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