Flavors of Quintorius
When Strixhaven was released, many players professed a love for the College of Lorehold’s mechanics, since they were a complete reimagining of what white and red can do together. Strixhaven's fresh take on the color pairing moved away from traditional themes, such as combat-focused keywords like indestructible and double strike, instead looking more to the graveyard for inspiration. Many articles and videos have been made commenting about how this is wonderful for EDH (like this one from The Professor), and that is the case for PDH as well.
This article will focus on Quintorius, Field Historian, one of the three white and red PDH commanders that came out with Strixhaven. Quintorius has synergy with a wide variety of mechanics and can be built to use several strategies that usually aren't typically associated with white and red PDH decks. In this article, we will take a look at the similarities and differences between 3 possible builds using this commander.
Regardless of which build you use, Quintorius makes for a resilient deck with no single blowout weakness. He uses a somewhat wide board with a large amount of 2-toughness creatures, so most Quintorius decks take a sizable tempo hit from board wipes. However, it takes quite a large wipe to kill Quintorius himself, and since he plays with the grave and repeatable abilities so much, he has the potential to rebuild quickly after a wipe. As a graveyard-focused deck, you would also expect him to be weak to grave hate, but that is less of an issue than it is for most graveyard decks, since any time somebody exiles your graveyard, you should be getting a free 3/2 out of the deal. All that is to say that in order to fully shut down this deck, your opponents will have to bring a very wide assortment of removal to bear in a short period of time because this deck operates on several different axes at once.
There are a few sets of cards that almost every Quintorius deck wants. The first is rummaging effects like Thrilling Discovery and Cathartic Reunion, which can fill your grave with recursion targets and flashback effects while also digging for cards you actually need to cast from your hand. Some decks also make use of self-mill cards like Book Burning to help fill the yard faster, although it's up to personal taste whether you want to gamble on possibly milling some of your engines. Several mill and rummaging cards also have additional synergy with Quintorius’s token generation, such as Song of Blood and First Day of Class.
Ramp is also important to most builds, since Quintorius costs a fair amount and you'll need to either be able to hold up mana to protect him or be able to recast him for 7+ mana. Having more mana available also increases the number of spirits you can produce in the first turn that Quintorius is on the field, before most forms of removal can resolve.
Another essential category of cards that every Quintorius deck will want are repeatable engines that allow you to consistently crank out spirit tokens turn after turn. Most of these have other uses as well, such as stopping combos, ramping, and bending combat in your favor. Not every deck will want all of these, but every deck should probably be running at least a few. The less aggressive your deck and the more rummaging effects you have, the more engines you can afford to include in your deck.
The fourth category is interaction. There aren't many forms of removal that synergize very well with Quintorius, but there are a few handfuls of cards that allow you to squeeze out a little extra value in the form of generating a spirit token.
With all the shared elements out of the way, let's look at some of the possible builds and how they differ from each other. Below are three of the main options I can see.
Spirit Tribal Build
This is probably the most casual of the builds and the most typical of traditional Boros themes. You start by playing somewhat low-cost, aggressive spirits, often with flying. Then Quintorius comes down, putting his anthem static ability to good use while your spirits keep the beatdown going. With the Soulshift mechanic from Kamigawa, there's even some synergy between spirits and Quintorius's triggered ability. This build focuses moreso on the anthem and lessens the importance of ramping, just using the 3/2 token generation for a little added value in the mid and late game. There are some surprisingly flexible spirits to choose from, though. These are what I see as the real heart of the deck, since they can act as protection for Quintorius, fog effects, and removal.
This build is also the most creature-centric, so it's the best place to use reanimator effects like Resurrection, which will generate a spirit token as well as reanimate a creature. Not all the creatures in the deck have to be spirits, either. There are plenty of supporting cards that create flying spirit tokens, too!
Our second build focuses on squeezing value out of each individual card, leaning on synergy between the token, rummaging, and recursion elements of the deck, eventually overwhelming opponents with an army of medium-sized attackers. This moderately powerful build is what you'll see from most online lists right now and is also the build I used for my own Quintorius list. This build doesn’t have a critical mass of any one card type, so it doesn’t run many recursion cards like Resurrection, Auramancer, or Anarchist. Instead, it focuses on using a smattering of different keyword cards that all can trigger Quintorius, like Flashback, Unearth, Escape, Retrace, Encore, Delve, Recover, Embalm, and Eternalize. In order to find similar mechanics that don’t use keywords, I found it most convenient to run database searches for cards with "put", “return”, or “exile” in the oracle test along with “graveyard” (see this Scryfall search page). It’s also worth noting that when you use escape, it actually generates 2 tokens, one from the exile cost and one from the escaping card leaving the grave (see this relevant ask-a-judge discussion thread). This whole build basically looks like the commonalities section above has been taken to the extreme, trying to squeeze as many spirit-creating triggers into the deck as possible. At the time of writing this I have 37 cards in my deck that can trigger Quintorius at least once. This helps the deck create a lot of virtual card advantage and take chunks out of opponents’ life totals, while not completely abandoning interaction and defense.
A large chunk of this deck is also devoted to maximizing the effectiveness of our spirit tokens once they’re on the field. By combining tap-down triggered abilities, temporary anthems, and self-recurring auras, we can end up with some surprisingly large spirits. One of my favorite tactics is equipping a self-recurring aura (like Brilliant Halo) to a spirit token, so that as soon as the token dies in combat, the aura returns to my hand and generates a new token for me to attach the aura to. This creates an endless supply of buffed spirits with which I can grind down my opponents’ defenses.
The last build focuses on artifacts, using recursion effects like Sanctum Gargoyle alongside rummaging in order to dig for combo pieces, clog the board with defensive spirits, and get back any combo pieces sent to the graveyard by removal. This is also the most competitively capable build of the three I am discussing in this article, since it doesn’t need to maintain pressure in the midgame. That means this build is free to devote more resources to defense and stopping other combo decks. However, this deck can still win through combat with spirit tokens, even if the combos get shut down.
There are a number of different combos that work in these decks, but almost all of them make use of Ashnod's Altar. We’ll focus on the two that are the most compact and have the most synergy with the rest of the deck. The first combo uses Myr Retriever and Workshop Assistant as sacrifices for the Altar. Retriever and Assistant take turns bringing each other back to your hand, and each time they do, they also trigger a spirit token to be created by Quintorius. Because you can sacrifice every other spirit to the Altar, you don’t even need a cost reducer to make this combo go infinite like you would with other commanders. Even with sacrificing spirits to help pay for the loop, this nets you infinite colorless mana, infinite tokens, and infinite instances of any triggered abilities that deal with artifact creatures being cast, dying, entering the battlefield, or leaving the graveyard. All that mana and all those triggers mean you can usually burn out your opponents with triggered abilities, hit them with an arbitrarily large Fireball, fuel repeatable triggered abilities that deal damage, or just run them over with a massive horde of Quintorius’s spirit tokens. (As a side note, this combo line is very similar to the Tormod combo featured in the ZomboCombo deck list by SangvinPingvin, which was an honorable mention in last year’s Commander Legends deck building contest.)
Another possible combo you could slot into this build revolves around sacrificing the same creature to Ashnod’s Altar repeatedly while using the 2 mana from the Altar to give it persist every time with Antler Skulkin. The key is that the sacrificed creature must be white and be able to put a +1/+1 counter on itself when it enters the battlefield in order to cancel out the -1/-1 counter from persist. Some prime candidates for this include creatures with modular and fabricate. There's even a few options that already have synergy with Quintorius, like Kinsbaile Courier and Trusty Retriever (he’s a very good boy). Once again, sacrificing some of the spirits Quintorius produces during the loop will give you infinite colorless mana and infinite spirits, while the loop itself gives you all the same triggers that can kill the table (except the cast triggers). There’s even a secondary line available that replaces Antler Skulkin by combining Kithkin Spellduster and First Day of Class. This alternate line can even use sacrifice effects other than Ashnod’s Altar, since you don’t need the colorless mana to continue the loop.
The downside of this combo is that it doesn’t involve artifacts entering the battlefield or being cast, so the number of triggered abilities that will end the game with the loop is smaller. The upsides of this combo are that every combo piece has some redundancy (whereas the Retriever combo requires 3 unique cards), that the combo doesn’t need Quintorius on the field to go infinite, and that the persist combo can happen at instant speed once you finish resolving all your combo pieces for the first time. Instant speed means you can have the combo primed and go off as soon as a piece of grave hate is out of the way or the control player is tapped out. You can even combo off in response to spot removal aimed at the last combo piece you played. Antler Skulkin is also incredibly useful outside the combo for both keeping Quintorius alive (once) and turning any of your white creatures dying in combat into another spirit token.
As time passes and we get more enchantment- and spell-recursion effects printed at common, Quintorius’s range of builds will only grow wider, and I look forward to seeing what new degeneracy he can bring to the table. For example, I think there will be a controlling, spell slinger build that incorporates spells with madness once we have a few more cards like Revolutionist and Pillardrop Warden. This is wonderful news for diversity in PDH, since control is another archetype that is rare for white and red decks.
So what do you think? Have you brewed or tested Quintorius yet? Have you found any gems not in the above lists? Were you able to combine any of the above builds or go a completely different direction? If so, I would love to hear about it!
As always, thank you for reading.
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