The Commander 2020 decks gave us some incredibly powerful commanders to play around with. Not only was there an abundance of brand new cards for our beloved format but a healthy amount of reprints of some fan favorites. It also reintroduced the Partner mechanic, having Partner commanders in each of the 5 preconstructed decks! The pair that caught my eye straight away was Pako and Haldan. I knew straight away I had to play with their unique style of interaction, so I got busy constructing my deck. Pako and Haldan have quickly become one of my favorite decks to play due to the versatility and uniqueness of the deck’s playstyle that people will not anticipate. I want to show you guys how I built around these two and I hope you consider using some of the cards I highlight in this Deck Tech!
How it works
Pako and Haldan are unique because, as commanders on their own, they do not generate the same value. I’ve seen players build around the other Partner commanders on their own with great success. However, Pako and Haldan are two that cannot be separated and for good reason. Pako, Arcane Retriever is a 3/3 Elemental Hound (Dog) for 3 generic mana, 1 Green and 1 Red with haste that reads: “Whenever Pako attacks, exile the top card of each player’s library and put a fetch counter on them. Put a +1+1 counter on Pako for each noncreature card exiled this way”. This good boy is partnered with Haldan, Avid Arcanist; a 1/4 Human Wizard for 2 generic mana and 1 Blue with the ability: “You may play noncreature cards from exile with fetch counters on them if you exiled them, and you may spend mana as though it were mana of any color to cast those spells”. So, not only do the cards you fetched with Pako power him up into a giant threat that can easily start chunking away at your opponent’s life total, but Haldan can play those cards Pako fetched for him (such a good boy) for you to reap all the valued goodness you denied your opponents. It’s key to note that Haldan states “play” meaning you can even play any lands you exile with Pako. There is so much value to have with these two that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play these guys!
I capitalized heavily on this game plan and made it my deck’s sole purpose. Most people who have built around Pako and Haldan have focused on either being aggressive with additional combat steps to ensure Pako gets big quick and eats up the table, making it a combo deck based on their colors and accelerating to their win with their combo, or playing every card that allows you to play additional lands on your turn using your opponent’s lands to help you ramp into big and powerful threats. I wanted to slow the deck down and focus on a playstyle that many people skimmed over and added to the deck just because the partners allowed you to. The idea of manipulating and having complete control over everyone’s top card of their library intrigued me. This is something that I have never seen before and wanted to bring to fruition. The deck has two win cons, either exile enough cards and bulk up Pako enough to kill everyone with commander damage or play everyone else’s win cons. The best way to make sure this strategy works is to play Pako early to exile as many cards as you can. This sounds pretty straightforward, but most people make the mistake of having both Pako and Haldan out at the same time, making them both cost unnecessarily more. If Pako’s commander tax gets too costly, you want to make sure you have enough cards exiled to play with Haldan when the coast is clear. You’ll want to play Haldan later so you can keep him alive easier with counter spells and removal that your opponent ever so kindly lent to you. I built this deck so I could always make sure that I know what I’m exiling with Pako, guaranteeing I exile my opponent’s win cons and denying them the win. This article will focus on how I built my version of Pako and Haldan, by showcasing the best cards to take control of your opponent's top deck and how you will consistently hit nothing but gas and value to win the game!
So, let's start by delving into the creatures of the deck. Most of the spots for creatures are more than likely going to get either mana dorks such as Birds of Paradise and Sylvan Caryatid or utility creatures like Rootwater Mystic. Rootwater Mystic is a fantastic early drop in the deck as it allows you to peak at the top card of any library, letting you gauge if it’s worth attacking that player first. Coral Fighters is a great card that, when deals combat damage, allows you to look at the top card of the defending player’s library and decide whether to bottom it or keep it on top. I also included some cheap and aggressive creatures like Robber of the Rich and Grenzo, Havoc Raiser as they grant similar effects to that of Pako and Haldan, helping me start my engine early or continue it without my commanders. I felt it be important to include creatures that grant similar abilities to what Pako can do, just in case Pako became too much of a target and a magnet for removal. I wanted to make sure that I had some tougher threats too that I can also swing in alongside Pako. The most obvious choice was Etali, Primal Storm due to being able to cast the top card of everyone’s library for free as an attack trigger! That triggering alongside Pako’s attack trigger is devastating. God-Eternal Kefnet is an insane value engine, whose ability can be manipulated to ensure you copy the right spell on your draw step because of how often we will be stacking our top deck. Once more, with how often our top card will be stacked, I also play Galvanoth to cast free spells during our upkeep. Being able to cast or copy the right spells means we must play spells that allow us to manipulate our top deck. So, considering we are going to be casting and copying out own spells for free, let’s have a look at the spells I thought to be the most effective.
Now, I painstakingly spent 2 weeks of my life searching and finding the best cards to include that allow you to manipulate your opponent’s top deck, so you don’t have to! Portent, Eye Spy, and Tahngarth’s Glare are the best 1 mana spells that allow you to look at your opponent’s top card. Portent lets you rearrange the top 3 cards while Eye Spy grants a similar effect to Jace, the Mind Sculptor's +2, by letting you decide whether to keep the top card of target player's library on the top or at the bottom. Tahngarth’s Glare works the same as Portent, however, it allows the player you targeted to rearrange your top 3 cards too. So, unless you have a Sensei’s Divining Top out on your board, be careful. Bamboozle and Second Sight are two of my favorite cards in the deck. They help us to achieve our pre-Pako setup. Bamboozle makes the targeted player reveal their top 4 cards, allowing you to put 2 into their graveyard and the other 2 on top of their library in any order. Second Sight is a modal spell that allows you to look and rearrange the top 5 cards of either your library or target opponent with an entwine cost of 1 Blue. Both of these cards are great as they allow you to dig deeper into your opponent’s deck, allowing you to exile their upcoming combo pieces, win cons or key cards with Pako. Making sure you’re stacking your opponents' best cards ready for when you go to combat with Pako ensures that the good boy gets as big as he can get. Manipulating your top deck is easier and an essential part of this game plan. With cards like Crystal Ball, Sensei’s Diving Top, and Mirri’s Guile you can consistently stack your deck for Pako’s attack trigger, allowing you to draw into what you need and exile what you need later. Of course, spells like Brainstorm and Trickery Charm are great cards to cast in response to his attack trigger.
I also run Planeswalkers such as Nissa, Steward of Elements and Ral, Storm Conduit to keep a consistent Scry option on board. If you can afford him, or already own a copy, Jace, the Mind Sculptor works perfectly in this deck. Not only does JTMS offer you a free Brainstorm effect, but his +2 allows you to look at the top card of your opponent’s deck and decide if you want to put it on the bottom of their library or send Pako to fetch it for you (Have I mentioned that he is a really good boy?) I also run a lot of spells that allow me to put cards from my opponent’s battlefield on top of their library. This is often overlooked by players as it allows Pako to act as removal to problem creatures or other permanents. Do you want to exile a Player’s Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, get rid of annoying Prison effects like Propaganda or even troublesome lands like Gaea’s Cradle? Cast spells such as Temporal Spring to help exile they away with Pako! This is a removal strategy that can weaken your opponent’s board state. There are a lot of spells that offer this effect so feel free to run whichever ones you like. Expel from Orazca is a fantastic choice being a 2 mana instant that targets nonland permanents. Other solid options for these slots include Run Aground, Anchor to the Aether, Vanishment, Set Adrift, Gone Missing, and Primal Command. I find these to be the most versatile and better spells to run as they can target more than just creatures. I’ve also found counters that play fetch with Pako. Memory Lapse and Hinder both counter target spell and put it on the top of the caster’s library ready for you to exile and use later! Thanks, opponent!
Artifacts and Enchantments
I feel like this segment of the deck tech will be pretty universal. I would argue most people in commander generally will be running efficient mana ramp such as Sol Ring, Arcane Signet, and Commander’s Sphere to help ramp into Pako and your bigger threats. Sensei’s Diving Top is an instant auto-include in this deck due to its ability to consistently stack your top deck ready for Pako’s attack trigger. Crystal Ball is a great scry option for you to have on board as it offers another way to have access to scrying. Another fantastic option for this deck is Mirri’s Guile. This enchantment allows you to look and stack the top 3 cards of your deck during your upkeep. I would argue this is a better Sylvan Library, at least in this deck, as it doesn’t cost you life and you don’t need to be drawing cards that often when Pako fetches you the biggest hand at the table. Another underplayed card to consider using is Wand of Denial. A 2 mana artifact that taps to let you look at the top card of any library and pay 2 life to put it in the graveyard! That is so good, why aren’t more people playing this card?! I also want to take this moment to say that Counterbalance is just so good in this deck. What’s that? You’re casting a 3 mana spell? Give me a sec to Sensei’s Divining Top a 3 mana spell to flip in response and counter it. What’s that? You’re casting a 4 mana spell? You get the idea. In terms of protection I run Whispersilk Cloak as an obvious choice of protection, but Aqueous Form shines in this deck. For 1 Blue mana, you make Pako unblockable and he gets to scry on his attack. So, just before Pako’s attack trigger, you can scry, for free. Just for attacking. Buy this common right now. I also partner Psychic Surgery with Soldier of Fortune to not only mess with people playing tutors, but to force my opponent to shuffle so I can use Psychic Surgery to peak at the top 2 cards of my opponents’ deck like the sneaking little dog lover I am. Soothsaying is a cheap consideration as it allows you rearrange as many cards as you can pay for.
There isn’t much to say about the land base as it depends on what cards you have access to. But Fiery Islet and Waterlogged Grove are great options from Modern Horizons as they grant us card draw in a pinch. Halimar Depths is a free way to rearrange the top three cards of our library and Rouge’s Passage gives Pako unblockable and is a must in this deck. The temple lands are great because they offer a free scry which is a lot more valuable with Pako and Haldan. To conclude on the land base. Run fetches and shocks if you have them and rainbow lands such as Grand Coliseum, Command Tower, and Exotic Orchard. With green, you’ll be running a lot of ways to ramp lands and mana, so you’ll never be in a situation where you’re short of mana.
To close, I hope more people consider running Pako and Haldan in this style of play. Using a control style allows to consistently keep control over everyone making sure no one gets ahead of you. You’ll always find yourself having an abundance of value and cards to play which will make winning all the easier. I find this deck to be unique as not a lot of people will expect you to pick and choose what to exile with Pako. Top deck manipulation is heavily overlooked and underplayed in commander and Magic in general, so people will have a hard time getting used to it. It makes playing tutors riskier and your opponents scared to play their trump creatures as you can bounce exile them. I love this deck a lot. Sadly, due to the amount of fiddling you do with everyone’s top deck, it's hard to do over webcam in our current lockdown climate. But with the few games I’ve trialled it in, it was a lot of fun and my opponents struggled to play around me.
I have left my deck list down below for you guys to check out. Let me know in the comments what you think! Did you find any cards that you want to try out? Do you have any cards you want to recommend to me? Let me know and let’s continue this discussion! Hopefully, I have introduced you to something little different and unique.
Pako and Haldan deck list - https://archidekt.com/decks/615903#Pako_and_Haldan_Control