Mathas, the Perfect Politics Deck
Hey y'all, David here with my first article on one of my all time favorite decks. Back in 2017 when the tribal commander preconstructed decks were being spoiled, none of them really caught my fancy. Except this one card hiding away inside one of the best precons decks that year. That card is Mathas, Fiend Seeker. He’s a vampire but he doesn’t really do anything vampires like to do so he was always one of the first cards to go from the Edgar Markov deck. I love to play the politics side of commander games, making deals, threatening powerful plays, and keeping myself alive until the last minute to swing myself into first place. And Mathas does all of this incredibly well. Let’s break down the card.
Mathas, FIend Seeker is a 3/3 for RWB that has Menace and at the end of each of your turns you place a bounty counter on a creature an opponent controls. Whenever that creature dies, everyone who didn’t control the creature draws a card and gains 2 life. The life gain is largely negligible, but can come up as we’ll see later. What everyone really wants is that card draw. You put a bounty counter on an opponent’s threat and the other players will see “when this dies, draw a card” and give them that much more incentive to hit that creature instead of your creatures. This combined with a suite of removal spells of our own allows us to run our opponents out of creatures and removal spells while staying high on life and cards until we make a break for the win. Knowing when to make that push is key to actually winning with this deck since we aren’t playing many high power cards on our own. The win condition of this deck is to play politics with the table. If you aren’t making deals, you will lose.
The absolute all stars of any Mathas deck are Bounty Hunter, Hunter of Eyeblights, and Kulrath Knight. Bounty Hunter has an interesting interaction to keep in mind with Mathas. The bounty counters that Bounty Hunter places won’t gain us life and a card, but he can still kill creatures that Mathas has placed a counter on. Hunter of Eyeblights is similar, being able to tap to kill anything with a bounty counter on it, with the upside of making a small deal with another opponent with the +1/+1 counter. Kulrath Knight doesn’t kill anything but it is one of the ways to slowly remove threats from the board, protecting us from damage and allowing us to push through for a final swing since it prevents attacking and blocking as long as a bounty counter is on a creature.
When I first saw Mathas I envisioned him leading an army of assassins at the behest of a king’s court. I don’t know why this image was implanted on my brain but here we are. Because of this, my Mathas build has aspects of a human tribal deck. Almost all of our repeatable removal spells are humans or synergize with humans but this doesn’t need to be the case for your deck. As long as you have ways to kill multiple creatures with things that stick around, you’ll be doing fine. Mine just happen to be humans. Anyway, onto the cards. Gallows at Willow Hill, Intrepid Hero, Royal Assassin, and the best removal spell in the deck, Sunforger are my top picks for this category. Gallows is an exceptionally funny thematic removal spell that can kill almost anything as long as we have some spare humans. Intrepid Hero can kill most commanders and definitely any single threat that’s about to kill you. Royal Assassin punishes people that want to attack you and can still catch creatures that are attacking other players. And then we get to Sunforger. Sunforger is an expensive way to tutor up 90% of your kill spells but the flexibility is absolutely worth it. We aren’t running different variations of Murder here, we are running a toolbox of kill spells allowing us to answer literally anything as long as we have the right card. Sunforger is always the right card. One important thing to keep in mind is that most repeatable kill spells will have a tap ability. Always use these as you are about to untap unless you are forced to use it sooner. And don’t be afraid to use these options to save other players if you don’t think you can take down the lead player by yourself. Buy favors, conspire with players to take down large threats, and sneak your way to the top.
This is a politics deck so we want most of our cards to help ourselves but to have the flexibility to help other players if we can afford it. Almost all of our kill spells are targeting spells which allow us to save other players and help make allies but there are other cards we can use for this roll that stick around. Hanweir Battlements, and Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion are lands that can help one player quickle push a lot of damage into another player. Stormfist Crusader lets us keep our toolbox of kill spells high while pinging our opponents and making them want to keep us around. Magister of Worth is a nice board wipe that has the option of bringing back all of our humans from the grave if we can convince enough people to let us. We do have some one sided board wipes in the deck so we can clean up all that our opponents brought back while keeping our own forces intact.
Finally, we need to actually win the game. Luckily for us, there are a plethora of ways to turn killing creatures into damage to players. The most obvious option is to play some aristocrat pieces to ping our opponents everytime something dies. I’ve tried this and it doesn’t end up working out as well as I’d like it to. The healing that Mathas gives often counteracts the small amounts of damage that cards like Blood Artist do and we don’t kill that many creatures a turn so it doesn’t end up accomplishing much. We want big damage or the ability to out grind any deck on the board. Elenda, Dusk Rose, Yahenni, Undying Partisan, Athreos, Shroud-Veiled, Angel of Glory’s Rise, and Odric, Master Tactician are the cards I’ve found that serve this purpose exceptionally well. Firstly, cards like Elenda and Yahenni will get big as we kill our opponent’s creature and they kill each other's creatures with ways to stick around, with Yahenni’s indestructibility, or swarm the board after death, with Elenda’s vampire tokens. Athreos and Angel of Glory’s Rise represent insane grind potential each from different sides of the game. Athreos wants to be played early and protected at all costs, often this means killing your own creatures to make him just an enchantment and dodge removal. Athreos’ ability to steal anything on the board as well as protect your own pieces is unmatched and adds another layer of hesitancy to our opponents when they think about playing their own win conditions. Angel of Glory’s Rise wants to be played as late as possible so as to reanimate as many toolbox pieces from our graveyard as possible. Then using the multiple ways to kill creatures on our humans, we can functionally board wipe our opponents while still drawing cards from bounty counters and swing in for game. Odric is our last hail mary card. We are still a human deck and have the ability to make many tokens that are often used as chump blockers to stay alive, but with Odric we can use these tokens to allow us to dictate how our opponent blocks; which includes not blocking at all.
Below is my current Mathas deck list updated with a few Strixhaven cards that fit what I was looking for in the deck. The great thing about this deck is there is no set list of cards you must run. I’ve only mentioned a handful of cards today and none of them were the bread and butter of this deck, the actual kill spells. The kill spells are all interchangeable but I like to have at least 20 ways to kill creatures throughout the whole deck. Make sure to include ways to draw lots of cards, often this will lean into the black side of our color spread turning in the life gain from the bounty counters into even more cards. Mathas is in colors that don’t really like to ramp so use artifacts to our advantage with signets and other mana rocks to allow us to stay ahead. Leaving mana up for interaction is key to staying alive and winning the game but you also need to be able to play cards on your turn. When looking for kill spells, instants take a massive priority over sorceries, partially because you can respond to opponents with instants but mainly because of Sunforger. Make sure that most if not all of your kills spells can be searched with Sunforger. And since most of our deck is targeted removal, tokens give us a really hard time so 4-6 board wipes are important to get you out of sticky situations. Let me know in the comments any cards you'd include in your version of the deck. All in all, Mathas is an incredibly fun casual politics deck that doesn’t break the bank and playing it always puts a smile on my face.