Buffing your Commander Deck - Anowon, the Ruin Thief

How to improve the pre-constructed Sneak Attack Commander deck with Anowon, the Ruin Thief, in order to make it even more fun and powerful without breaking your bank account!

By Matheus "Bill", 11/16/20

Hey everyone, how are you? This is Bill, MTG content creator and, from now on, a columnist for Cards Realm. I have recently realized how much our beloved multiplayer format has grabbed the attention of Wizards and of our hearts, and consequently, how much the secondary market has also adapted to this world and how card prices are increasing in Commander. A great example of this is the

Wayfarer's Bauble

card, which went from a budget option of a few cents to a card of respectable value. For this reason the decks are not as accessible as before, especially for beginners in the format. Fortunately, with the arrival of Zendikar Rising, Wizards of the Coast launched a new product, Commander's Set Decks, the pre-cons with Anowon and Obuun!


These decks have two main differences from their predecessors, the first being that the price of the sealed product has become much more affordable without a huge difference in the value of the cards if considered separately. Second, we realized that the decks' game strategy is much more focused and synergistic, making them great options for players interested in opening the product, joining with friends (hopefully through a webcam during this pandemic period) and play at the most varied tables of different power levels without too many problems to adapt to their goal. However, if you are like me and are never satisfied with a deck, you must be asking yourself

"how to improve this pre-built deck so that it becomes even more fun and powerful without breaking my bank account?"

. Well I am here to answer that question! And today we’re going to start with the most popular of the two decks, Sneak Attack, the Rogue tribal that will yet steal your heart!
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Sneak Attack has proven itself to be the favorite of the ZNR Set Decks. The deck's tribal theme (focused on a tribe that historically had not received much attention from Wizards), fast-paced playstyle and classic color combination caught the commander players' attention and elevated this simple pre-con to the most built commander in the last week (edhrec data on 11/10/2020). I have to admit that I faced one of these beauties a few days ago during my live stream and I had a hard time trying to defeat a board state completely dominated by evasive and dangerous rogues, especially when I saw my opponent cast

Notorious Throng

, which is simply the strongest card I have ever seen included in a pre-con.
But you didn't come here to hear my commander stories, you came to learn how to improve this deck, and more importantly, how to do it in a responsible way, without creating a hole in our wallets? The first step when changing a deck is to always set our goals, which in other formats may seem strange, but which in commander is important. I believe that for this Upgrade we will take into account some things: 1) A maximum budget of 10 dollars. That is certainly not insignificant, but compared to the average price of a commander deck, it is still in the cheap range. 2) We will not change the theme of the deck. It is a rogues tribal deck, it will take advantage of mill effects and it will draw cards. That's what Commander does and that's what we're going to focus on. 3) We need to make the deck more consistent. We cannot simply insert more powerful cards without worrying about how we are going to cast them and whether we are going to survive long enough to be able to do that. This is also essential when building a deck. So let's worry about lands, card draw, mana curve and mana ramp effects. With those details out of the way, let's move on.
Part 1: Ramp
A very interesting principle for optimizing commander decks is to focus on mana rocks that add at least half of what they cost to play. For example

Mind Stone

costs 2 and adds 1, so it obeys this principle, but

Dimir Cluestone

, which costs 3 and adds 1, does not obey this principle. Even though we know that this deck has a low mana curve, we will often have enough cards in hand to play more than one spell per turn, so a minimum number of 10 ramp cards should be enough. Taking this into account:

Comes in:


Wayfarer’s Bauble

has already been mentioned in this article because it is no longer a really cheap card, however it manages to do what we want very well at a reasonable price. Even if it costs 3 mana in total, the possibility of dividing this cost during two turns, shuffling the deck and even ramping up a piece of land make this card a MUST HAVE in updating our

Anowon, the Ruin Thief


Hedron archive

respects our rules, is super budget and still has the positive potential of being able to be exchanged for cards if we are in a tight spot. This big brother of

Mind’s Stone

is one of the best 4-mana rocks, and will help us on those turns when we need more gas.

Everflowing Chalice

is a versatile option that always offers the minimum amount of mana to be efficient. Whether paying 2 to generate 1, 4 to generate 2, or more, the Chalice can be an important instrument for us to play the spells that will allow us to win the game. Already a cousin of Signet Dimir,

Talisman of Dominance

has seen more and more play since commander players around the world realized the need for cheaper ramp cards. Its price is quite salty, but its low mana cost and the possibility of adding the mana we need makes it an essential piece for our deck.

Goes out:

As mentioned, 3 ramp cards that add only one mana will not be enough for our rogue strategy.

Blackblade Reforged

is a very interesting card and we certainly cannot say that it is not powerful. Unfortunately, as our deck does not put a lot of lands into play, and due to its very high equip cost, it is not the best card for our 99 limit. Since we’re cutting out inefficient artifacts, it’s time for


... It seems that the deck designers are excited about the possibility of equipping powerful artifacts on evasive creatures. Too bad this ends up leaving the deck very inconsistent, 5 mana to play it and 3 more to equip the scythe is very expensive when you are trying to control the game, play creatures and use the opponents' graveyard. Who knows if this maybe can be a good combination with an effect that would allow us to kill an opponent on the spot, but on this deck this is not possible.
Part 2: Rogues
Sneak Attack certainly offers a great combination of Rogues and effects that benefit us by using Rogues. Even so, some cards were left out, and this is an opportunity to correct that!

Comes in:

Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive

is a bomb in our deck, we just have to be careful that it doesn't explode in our face! Tetsuko makes all of our creatures with 1 power or 1 toughness unblockable, which ends up benefiting many of our creatures. Unfortunately, while our commander or another global Rogue buff effect is on the table, our creatures will not respect this criterion and will lose the effect of Tetsuko. Even so, because it is a Rogue and has such a powerful effect, it is worth using her, especially for her very low price (both in mana and in dollars). It is just a matter of being aware of this interaction with our commander and thinking twice before deciding whether the buff or the unblockable is better.

Looter il-Kor

is practically unblockable and still allows us to filter out the useless cards from our hand. All this at a super affordable cost. Don't say more, just come in!


It may not seem like it, but I've seen

Shadow Stinger

shining a lot in some games. Our deck is so focused on Rogues that it will be difficult to have a turn when we will not have an unused Rogue to tap and activate its killing touch, both in defense and in attack. The fact that it has 4 toughness helps a lot in keeping it alive, and the ability to mill is the icing on the cake. Too bad it wasn't inserted directly into the pre-con, since it was an unusual card from the collection itself.

Glint-Sleeve Siphoner

is rogue, check. Evasive, check. Low mana cost, check. Draw cards, check. Cheap, check.

Blighted Agent

has two interesting effects. The first is that, if we can really buff it significantly, in 2 or 3 attacks we can remove an opponent from the game. Cool, but nothing too impressive. The second effect is that opponents will be desperate when they see it, focusing their removals on this small 2-mana creature, thus making room for our most significant threats.

Ghostly Pilferer

is quickly becoming one of my favorite M21 cards. Its first ability basically draws you a card every time a commander is cast, plus it is a Rogue with other relevant skills. A perfect match for our deck.

Earwig Squad

is fun! You, like me, must have a friend who plays with that boring and dangerous deck that depends on a very specific combination of cards to win. With Earwig Squad, just pay your prowl cost to be able to take these cards off your friend's deck and watch them sucking their finger for the rest of the game. Oh, and if you don’t have an opponent like that in your pod, no problem! Just target who you think is most likely to stop your plan and remove the cards that do this from their deck. The little robot

Adaptive Automaton

is the most metallic rogue on this deck! And it is still a lord, pumping all of our Rogues. Appearances are deceiving, so don't be fooled by Adaptive Automaton. The hefty price of

Icon of Ancestry

is well worth it! In addition to a buff for all Rogues, we can use the remaining mana to look for more Rogue cards on the top of our deck. A perfect synergy sandwich with card draw!

Cloak and Dagger

are a Rogue's weapons! You may equip it for free and it also gives Shroud to your creature, and that makes this card the equipment we will most want to see on our deck. Oh, and did you realize that it counts as a Rogue? Cards that seek a Rogue from the deck, reduce their cost, or trigger when a Rogue enters the battlefield will work with this.

Goes out:

As interesting as the effect of the

Stolen Identity

card is, and even considering we are well prepared to be able to activate its Cypher, its mana cost and the fact that we don't have many creatures powerful enough to copy end up leaving it somewhat how lost in our 99 cards. Wizards' effort to make all the cards somehow work in synergy with the deck's theme is visible, and


is no exception. What is also not an exception is that


is difficult to make it work and it is also slow, which we don't want for our deck. Our deck is too focused on creatures to want an effect similar to

Necromantic Selection

, and the high mana cost also doesn't help the cause of this card. Next! The effect of the Kraken

Scourge of Fleets

is super cool and I can imagine it being super useful on a mono blue deck. In our case, it costs much more than what we want to pay, and since we don't only use islands as our basic lands, it probably won't be much effective.



may seem impressive, but in reality it is unlikely to be a significant card in most matches. The combination of high mana cost and few relevant skills ended up leaving

Latchkey Faerie

off our list. Maybe next time, key faerie? Resuscitating a creature with

Endless Obedience

as a spell and still paying that amount of mana (even if it can be reduced by tapping our creatures) is not exactly what we want to do.

Rise from the Grave

must be one of the least powerful cards in the deck, but it sure was fun in the M21 draft.

Extract from Darkness

is another 5 mana resuscitation effect. No, today we will not pay 5 for that.

Open into Wonder

is another card that isn't really my type. Most of our creatures already have evasion and we have several other more interesting ways to draw cards.
Part 3 Cemetery
It is no wonder that Anowon, the Ruin Thief and his friends are milling their opponents' cards. There are several ways to take advantage of this. The Pre-con takes this idea very seriously, even a little too much I would say. In this section we will discuss exactly that, the best ways to exploit this strength of our deck and use the cards of our opponents against them.

Comes in:

Command the Dreadhorde

YES IT IS THE REANIMATING EFFECT WE WANT TO SEE! Taking advantage of all the cards we milled and handpicking the most interesting cards to enter the battlefield under our control makes this card one of the most powerful in our deck. The prohibitive cost of

Memory Plunder

does not affect us as much because it is a deck of only two colors. Besides, it is an elegant and powerful card. For those moments when we are unable to use a Command the Dreadhorde,

Mnemonic Betrayal

should work pretty well. Ah, just remember that it doesn't only cast creatures, we can play all kinds of cards with it!

Ashiok, Dream Render

can hinder our opponents' tutors and furthermore serve as a way to clean up the graveyards we are filling in case something there might be useful for an opponent. Do not go out activating this card as soon as you play it. Think well if it is no longer worth for you to have the opponents' graveyards available for our mischievous plans and "rogueries".

Goes out:

An effect that revives multiple creatures for 6 comes in,

Fated Return

that revives a creature for 7 goes out. This is work well done.

Heirloom Blade

is another piece of equipment with an interesting effect but with a mana cost that doesn't help us. Bye sword! Dear Zully, the

Zulaport Cutthroat

, is a favorite of many decks, but in ours it is a little out of place and ends up not helping us much in our victory plan. It's hard to say this, but goodbye, old friend!

Spinal Embrace

brings a complicated and specific effect with a high and prohibitive mana cost. Nope.
Part 4 Control

Comes in:


is one of the best counterspells in Commander. Much of the cards that can win the game for our opponents or destroy our victory plans are non-creatures. For me it is an obvious inclusion that will help the Sneak Attack plan a lot.

Walk the Plank

costs less mana than


. It is a little slower but it can affect almost all of the same targets. The mana cost is important to us, and I believe this is the right choice.


Feed the Swarm

is a black enchantment removal that can also remove a creature. I love this card! The


of all counters, the entity at the top of the blue magician's sacred pantheon. Of course we managed to get a little space on the deck and in our budget for this beauty.

Goes out:

Versatility comes at a cost and in the case of

Silumgar's Command

this turned out to be a little too high. Actually,


is 3 mana to remove a creature which is a little too much in Commander, where there are board wipes with this cost. The positive part of the cost reduction of our deck is that we managed to remove some lands and make it lighter! 36 should now be enough for our game plan.
Final remarks
So that's it folks, we managed to make all the changes without breaking the budget of 10 dollars! I truly believe that these upgrades will make a significant difference when playing with the deck. The curve reduction was real and will allow the deck to be played more consistently. We have also added some powerful cards like

Command the Dreadhorde


Ancestrality Icon

. Regarding other possible inclusions for the deck, I believe that a tutor on a deck like this would be a nice fit, as well as all Rogues that we were unable to add due to our budget. Oh, and of course, improving the mana base will also help you to make the deck much more consistent as well, something that unfortunately we didn't get to do this time.
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If you liked it and want to see more Buffing your Commander Deck leave a comment! Oh, and if you enjoy watching Commander gameplay, check out my channel, there are streams every weekend. A big hug and until next time!



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