Sometime in mid 2013 I was scrolling through lists of legendary creatures, as any good Commander obsessed deck builder will do, and I came across this curious looking moustached fellow by the name of Torsten. I was immediately enchanted by his flavour text, which led me to the idea of a Selesnya punisher style deck. I wanted to shut down my opponents and claim it was all for the greater good.
What started out as somewhat of a joke has now become one of my favourite decks. I enjoy the confused looks when I reveal my general and the discussion around why I don't play another. For me, Torsten represents the power of an idea and the fusion between flavour and function.
This is a guide to playing a mean Selesnya deck. It relies on creatures and enchantments (it is Selesnya after all) to cripple your opponents' by taking away their mana bases (while maintaining your own). As a sub-theme it utilises recursion to bring back threats again and again with which to beat your opponents' to death.
Why would you play Torsten when you could play a legendary creature that does something? That glorious flavour text. Go on, read it again, I'll wait.
"How can you accuse me of evil? Though these deeds be unsavory, no one will argue: good shall follow from them."
Soak up that confidence. Embrace the self-righteousness. Everything you do with this deck is for the greater good. Anyone that argues is a nobody to be crushed under foot. No other commander truly captures the essence of Torsten.
"Determined to change Benfosa [newly renamed Benalia] into his vision of a proper nation, Torsten let nothing stand in his way ... proclaiming its intent to rule the world. Using sometimes-brutal tactics he brought an entire nation into being using nothing than the force of his will and the brutal charisma of the natural leader."
This is the guy you want in your command zone, because he's a nation builder, he's a hardened soldier, and a man that is willing to learn philosophy from Minotaurs.
Torsten Von Ursus: Pros and Cons, Strengths and Weaknesses
He's an obscure vanilla legend: Don't underestimate the power of presenting an unknown general as the face of your deck. In a game where you always have one card available to you and that card is revealed to your opponents, why make yourself a target? Let your opponents underestimate you or even better fear whatever it is they imagine you're planning on doing. Fly under the radar. Hide the true purpose of the deck.
Good stuff: Because Torsten doesn't add anything to the deck in a mechanical sense, you're not relying on him as part of your game plan. You can throw him onto the battlefield as an extra body, but if he's removed it's usually not an issue. And sometimes you may still win with Commander damage.
Selesnya colour identity: Green is undoubtedly one of the more powerful colours in commander, primarily due to it's ability to ramp you into the late game before opponents have the resources to prevent your threats, but also because it has powerful creatures and decent card advantage engines. White is a powerful support colour with amazing removal, solid reanimation effects and good creatures of its own. Selesnya, green and white in combination, is typically associated with life gain and token generation, but you don't have to adhere to those themes.
You will like to play Torsten Von Ursus if:
You want to play an obscure vanilla legend.
You want to confuse your opponents and obscure your game plan.
You want to play for the Selesnya Conclave.
Furthermore, you will enjoy this deck if:
You enjoy ramping and then ramping some more.
You enjoy playing big creatures.
You want to attack with your lands.
You want to crush your enemies. See them driven before you. Hear the lamentations of their women.
He's an obscure vanilla legend: The emphasis on vanilla. A six mana 5/5 is pretty quickly outclassed on the battlefield in this format and usually can't even block the most scary things. The one card you always have access to will usually not be the one card you need.
Good stuff: $$$ Expensive cards! Since you can't rely on your general to provide any mechanical guidance, you need to shell out a bit more on the rest of them to make the deck work.
Selesnya colour identity: Torsten forces you to play green and white. If you choose him for his flavour text, be prepared never to cast black, red or blue spells in this deck.
You won't like Torsten Von Ursus if:
You want to build around your Commander's abilities rather than his awesome flavour text.
You don't want to be accused of playing "good stuff".
You want to play black, red and/or blue stuff.
You will not enjoy this deck if:
You don't like mass land destruction (not your lands though, they're safe).
You want to play with artifacts or tokens.
You are on tight budget (there are some pretty pricey card choices that really don't have any good cheap equivalents).
You don't like shuffling your library (much ramp = much shuffling).
Also most of the available Selesnya commanders that even have flavour text are saying lame stuff.
If you don't care for flavour text (shame on you) and would prefer to have a commander that does something to support the deck more directly, there are plenty of good choices (and several of them are already in the deck). I won't list them all, but here are some:
Asmira, Holy Avenger: An obscure legend that can synergise with the recursion themes in the deck to become a decent attacker, but do you want a Commander that is picking fruit looking for omens, or one that brought an entire nation into being?
Captain Sisay: If she survives a couple of turns she can tutor up win conditions all on her own and many other powerful legendary cards in the deck. Of course as soon as you sit down with Sisay that's what everyone expects and they will act accordingly. Sadly no one cares about how good the Weatherlight crew was when Sisay is calling up Phyrexian Praetors.
Dragonlord Dromoka: If you are be-plagued by counterspells, she is a good choice and a flying, life gaining beatstick to boot. A bit too "we're one big happy family" to be taken seriously.
Karametra, God of Harvests: She is difficult to remove and ramps like crazy once she gets onto the battlefield. theme, but we don't get to know anything about her! Speak Karametra! Why won't you speak to me!
Saffi Eriksdotter: Not a bad little recursion effect in the command zone and she doesn't give too much away, but do you want a commander that is scared of the Lhurgoyf, or one that studied philosophy with Hurloon Minatours?
Selvala, Explorer Returned: Selvala acts as a decent defensive body, draws cards, gains life and ramps which makes her a decent choice. She also plays a little bit 'group huggy' to attempt to fly under the radar while you set up. No one cares about your class based politics Selvala! If you wanted that damn throne you should have taken it when you had the chance!
Sigarda, Host of Herons: Protects you from edicts, annihilator and Grave Pact, all while being a difficult to remove flying beater. She even has a cheaper mana cost than Torsten... yeah, if Torsten didn't have such awesome flavour text I'd probably be running Sigarda. I follow her flavour text by devoting myself to Torsten.
What's that? You want to play a weird obscure and possibly useless general, but just don't like Torsten? Well you sir and/or madam will be on the wrong side of history! But here are some other options:
Kei Takahashi: So much room for flavour text and all he got was the ability to prevent damage to a creature? Read up on his wiki entry, it seems he led quite an interesting life.
Lady Caleria: According to oracle text she is a human archer, but if she's human why does she have those massive pointed elf ears? Her ability to lightning bolt attackers and blockers would make her an interesting political choice, but where is the awesome flavour text? Who is this pointy eared human woman??!?!
Ok, we're getting pretty far from Torsten's amazing flavour text now... but alright. If you want commanders that have 'land matters' or recursion sub-themes, I can give some options, but I'm leaving GW in there because that's what this deck is all about!
Karador, Ghost Chieftain: Karador improves the recursion theme and adding black gives you access to better tutors to make your meanest synergies more reliable. You also get Massacre Wurm.
Marath, Will of the Wild: Marath cares about lands because she benefits from increasing commander tax, so it often makes good sense to keep ramping her hard. Adding red gives you access to a lot more punishment effects and land destruction.
Deck building choices
During the development of this deck, I decided to avoid playing artifacts with activated abilities because I was initially running both Null Rod and Stony Silence, I even cut Sol Ring in favour of non-artifact ramp. Null Rod was eventually cut when I decided I didn't require the redundant effect and by that stage I enjoyed the concept of a deck without artifacts (a theme also explored in my Edric deck) although I still made use of the Medallions as artifact ramp. At the present time there is only one artifact remaining in the deck, Solemn Simulacrum, and although I've considered replacing him with Ondu Giant, ultimately the ability to colour fix and the extra card draw have kept him in the deck.
In a similar way I have avoided token creatures and their generators to differentiate from another common Selesnya strategy employed by Rhys the Redeemed and Trostani, Selesnya's Voice. There are two token creature producing cards in the deck (Terastodon and Beast Within) and I have considered replacing them (with Woodfall Primus and Song of the Dryads respectively) but for now the deck functions well and I'm not so committed to the limitations, especially since a recent addition to the deck.
Tireless Tracker, in it's own way, voids both the anti-token and anti-artifact sentiments on the deck. I was lucky to have one in my pool during the Shadows over Innistrad pre-release and added it to the deck because it plays so well with the ramp theme. Clues don't play well with Stony Silence, but the rest of the time having the option to draw extra cards for every land that enters the battlefield is most welcome.
This is a good stuff deck with a recursion sub-theme. It aims to ramp up to play big splashy effects and then shut down opponent's mana bases using:
Summoner's Pact couldn't find my white creatures and I still feel I have adequate tutors. Also I only need either Null Rod or Stony Silence out, and I have two tutors that can find Stony Silence, so I think I should be fine with one rather than both (and I can recur with Sun Titan).
I didn't really have any way to abuse Seedborn Muse in this deck. It was mainly there so I could have untap steps while Hokori was on the battlefield. Similarly I never really wanted to cast Hokori, Dust Drinker when I had him in hand, unless I also had Seedborn Muse, so both had to go.
Spore Frog is an early drop and a recurable fog effect. Yosei, the Morning Star was on the maybe list and plays into the mana denial themes of the deck, as well as being a big flying beater.
Life from the Loam never really did anything for me in this deck, so I cut it and two of the cycling lands that formed the card draw engine. I still have Crucible of Worlds, if I need land recursion, so I think it will be ok.
Novablast Wurm has been sitting in my file since Worldwake, so I thought 'why not give it a go?'. This deck can certainly generate the mana and has no qualms about destroying other creatures.
To replace the cycling lands, I added another Plains and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. I have a fair few enchantments, and creatures with heavy colour requirements, so hopefully it will be generating extra mana sometimes
Sylvan Primordial was banned, and without its mass forest-into-play capabilities, Avenger of Zendikar lost some of its explosiveness. Harrow was also cut because the instant landfall was no longer needed and sacrificing a land lost some appeal with Crucible of Worlds out.
Angel of Finality is simply a bit of good stuff. Having some grave hate is worth it, and this one can be recurred and clears a whole graveyard at a time. Of course there is a chance my opponents use it against me, in which case it may end up being cut.
Iona was never a fun choice, even in this deck which wants to destroy all the lands all the time. Emeria Shepherd provides extra recursion which is my main source of card advantage as I don't really have any ability to draw extra cards. She also has pretty good synergy with all the ramp cards I run and Knight of the Reliquary.
With all the mana I can generate, why not save my self from sorcery speed removal by giving my creatures flash?
The medallions are decent mana rocks if you're shutting down activated abilities, but not really very exciting. Tireless Tracker is an amazing source of card advantage given the landfall triggers this deck generates and the Clues have good synergy with Martyr's Bond. There is a bit of anti-synergy with Stony Silence, but I think it's still worth it as unchallenged Tireless Tracker will draw a lot of cards and become a huge threat at the same time.
Always Watching has great art, which really made me want to use it in a deck. This deck is creature heavy and doesn't use any token creatures, so it should be good on board much of the time. Vigilance is a great ability in multiplayer and it affects my land creatures, letting me attack and then still play spells in second main phase. If feel the Glorious Anthem affect makes it playable (to contrast I don't believe Serra's Blessing is playable in the deck).
I've kind of made a decision to avoid token creatures in this build and so Avenger no longer suits the limitations I've set myself (some may argue including Clues with Tireless Tracker may already void this, I guess).
Animist's Awakening doesn't do enough when you compare it to Boundless Realms, Collective Voyage and the all star Genesis Wave. The major difficulty would be choosing which card to cut for it if I decided to try it.
Living Plane is on the wish list, but I'm not really in a position to pick up cards at the moment and again I'd have trouble choosing something to cut for the redundant effect.
Jolrael makes lands into 3/3 creatures so they don't immediately die to Elesh Norn, which is why I haven't included her. Sometime last year I was playing around with the idea of building a mono-green Jolrael deck, but then I decided to sell most of my cards and move country, so that's on the back burner. She is an awesome legendary creature.
I'm slowly upgrading the OP here, with a vague idea of making it into a primer since I'm winding down on my Animar deck, but Selesnya is well represented in the list of current primers, so I'm in no rush.