As supplemental products continue to be released, and more legendary creatures are printed, the old guard of cEDH is slowly becoming outclassed. So instead of covering one of the many new commanders that have been released recently, I want to take it back to my very first cEDH commander: Kess, Dissident Mage. Building this list has been a long and sentimental project, taking well over a year to put together in paper. Just recently, I managed to finish building the deck completely, and am currently in the process of foiling it out!

Kess, Dissident Mage

Although cEDH has devolved into most decks playing Demonic Consultation and the Lab Men, Kess was one of the first to do it. My take on Consultation Kess has remained constant throughout my year of play with the list. The goal is quite simple, exile your library through either Demonic Consultation or Tainted Pact and then resolve a Laboratory Maniac effect and draw to win the game.

This game plan is supported by a heavy suite of countermagic which prevents your opponents from assembling their win conditions, while allowing yours to get through. One of the most important things to learn in cEDH is threat assessment, and playing Consultation Kess truly puts that to the test. Hard control is difficult to pull off in cEDH when you’re the only blue player in the pod and everyone else’s plan is to just assemble their combos alongside cheap protection, but the addition of ConsultationLab Man to Kess allows you to play a more controlling game while still having your own combo.

Important Considerations

In my experience playing the deck, there are some important gameplay patterns and concepts that really make the deck perform better. One of the most important is knowing the exact sequencing for the combo, which is something I’ve noticed many Consultation Kess players don’t actually memorize. When you go for the win, your opponent has less opportunities to interact with the combo if you consult first, and then cast Laboratory Maniac. Sequencing the combo this way means that you can beat an opponent’s removal spell with either a counterspell or an instant speed draw spell. However, if you cast Lab Man first and then cast Demonic Consultation, your opponent can kill Lab Man in response, making your instant speed draw spells useless.

The one response that I always get when explaining this is “What about Abrupt Decay?”. Well, if your opponent has exactly Abrupt Decay, then you can still cast an instant speed draw spell to win in response, which is why your instant speed cantrips and Sensei’s Divining Top¬†are essential to the list.

A second consideration when playing the deck is threat assessment. This applies to all cEDH games, but especially so when you’re playing hard control. There should always be consideration to any spell that meaningfully advances your opponents boardstate, but generally, the types of spells you want to prioritize countering or getting rid of are wincons, tutors, Stax pieces that harm you, and large scale card advantage spells like Ad Nauseum, in that order.

Bringing It All Together

Commander: Kess, Dissident Mage

Creatures (6)
1 Dark Confidant
1 Dockside Extortionist
1 Gilded Drake
1 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
1 Laboratory Maniac
1 Notion Thief

Instant (29)
1 Ad Nauseam
1 Brainstorm
1 Cabal Ritual
1 Chain of Vapor
1 Counterspell
1 Cyclonic Rift
1 Dark Ritual
1 Delay
1 Demonic Consultation
1 Dispel
1 Dramatic Reversal
1 Frantic Search
1 Flusterstorm
1 Force of Will
1 Impulse
1 Intuition
1 Lim-Dul’s Vault
1 Mana Drain
1 Mental Misstep
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Narset’s Reversal
1 Negate
1 Opt
1 Pact of Negation
1 Plunge into Darkness
1 Spell Pierce
1 Swan Song
1 Tainted Pact
1 Vampiric Tutor

Sorcery (13)
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Gamble
1 Gitaxian Probe
1 Imperial Seal
1 Ponder
1 Preordain
1 Pyroclasm
1 Reanimate
1 Toxic Deluge
1 Yahenni’s Expertise
1 Wheel of Fortune
1 Windfall
1 Yawgmoth’s Will

Artifact (15)
1 Arcane Signet
1 Chrome Mox
1 Cursed Totem
1 Dimir Signet
1 Fellwar Stone
1 Grim Monolith
1 Lotus Petal
1 Mana Crypt
1 Mana Vault
1 Mox Diamond
1 Mox Opal
1 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Sol Ring
1 Talisman of Creativity
1 Talisman of Dominance

Enchantment (4)
1 Copy Artifact
1 Mystic Remora
1 Necropotence
1 Rhystic Study

Planeswalker (1)
1 Jace, Wielder of Mysteries

Land (30)
1 Ancient Tomb
1 Arid Mesa
1 Badlands
1 Bloodstained Mire
1 Cephalid Coliseum
1 City of Brass
1 Command Tower
1 Exotic Orchard
1 Fiery Islet
1 Flooded Strand
1 Forbidden Orchard
1 Gemstone Caverns
1 Island
1 Mana Confluence
1 Marsh Flats
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Morphic Pool
1 Polluted Delta
1 Scalding Tarn
1 Snow-Covered Island
1 Snow-Covered Swamp
1 Steam Vents
1 Sunken Ruins
1 Tarnished Citadel
1 Underground River
1 Underground Sea
1 Verdant Catacombs
1 Volcanic Island
1 Watery Grave
1 Wooded Foothills

Closing Thoughts

Kess has been a deck that I’ve loved for a long time and I truly want the deck to perform well. It has to fight very hard and requires a very skilled pilot to secure wins but once you take the time to familiarize yourself with the lines you have to take, the deck can be an absolute powerhouse. My list does tend to vary from most other ones, as I love the concept of Intuition piles such as 3x rocks, 3x tutors, or even piles that outright win while Kess is on board such as Reanimate, Demonic Consultation, and Laboratory Maniac (Which is the reason I run Reanimate). In the winning pile, the opponent always gives you Lab Man as it costs the most mana. My flex spots in the list are lots of boardwipes due to my creature heavy meta, Gilded Drake because Gitrog, Selvala, and CST are all prominent in my meta and with the commanders usually coming down the card puts in the work. Of course, these are slots that you can customize to your specific meta in order to better fit the control role in your playgroup. Until next week, where I’ll look at another one of my personal favorite lists!


Interested in playing some of the new limited format? Jonah Gaynor has you covered with 5 standout cards from Theros: Beyond Death.

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