Magic 2010 was a bold move, flipping the script on the core-set concept and exciting the entire Magic community. The older version of the core sets, Fourth through Tenth Edition, caused veteran players to avoid the set like a Loathsome Catoblepas due to its usage as an introductory product. With no incentive to actually draft or play the core sets outside of local tournaments, players treated them as checklists for what staples were going to be in the current Standard season. Magic 2010 was announced as a bold new way to design core sets, bringing 112 new cards along in addition to the usual host of reprints for the current Standard. With the newfound freedom to create cards that were specifically designed for a core set without the limitations of a thematic set like Scars of Mirrodin or Innistrad, Wizards R&D could make fluid card designs that fit the format and solved problems in the current metagame. Not to mention the rule changes that, with a sweep of Matt Tabak’s pen, kicked out mana burn, pushed combat damage off the stack, fundamentally changing how the combat step functioned. Although we weep for the Mogg Fanatics, Magic 2010 and the core sets that followed are one of the most impactful moves Wizards of the Coast has made for Magic with cards that even see some Legacy play! Due to the importance of these sets and the staples printed within them for our Commander contest, I’ll be tying the M10-M14 sets together as a single influential block for the Commander metagame.
Odyssey Block brought Magic to the graveyard as flashback and threshold were introduced to players around the world. The story of Odyssey Block picks up as Chainer, Dementia Master discovers the Mirari in a shattered house on the outskirts of the grand Cabal Pit fighting city. The mysterious artifact soon becomes the focal point of Odyssey Block as the once-peaceful factions of Dominaria fight to attain the power within the polished sphere, turning barbarians into druids and entire cities into ash. The story of the block is shown in cards like Mirari’s Wake and Kirtar’s Wrath, each displaying the true power of the Mirari. One of the greatest accomplishments of Odyssey Block was the way the mechanics were woven together over three sets to create a very synergistic block, turning lynchpins of the format like Wild Mongrel and Psychatog into multi-format all-stars. Decks like Blue-Green Madness and Psychatog control dominated entire Standard seasons due to their interaction with the mechanics from Odyssey Block, cementing Odyssey, Torment, and Judgment as some of the best-developed sets of the current era.
This is the last battle before the Sweet Sixteen of the Battle of the Blocks as the winner of this one goes on to face the Commander product in the next round. Here is a quick look at the current bracket!
I’m looking forward to getting to the Sweet Sixteen because of the league of heavy hitters sitting with byes from the current set of rounds. Remember, these battles are to decide which block contributed the most to Commander, not the best block in all of Magic: the Gathering. They will be compared in five different categories. The Staples that each block brought to the format is our first category, which is followed by the Commander category that speaks to the legendary creatures that are the lifeblood of this amazing format. The Strategies category judges the approaches that were bolstered by the blocks, while the Flavor category is where the oft-played but fun cards get a chance to shine. Finally, The Bad is where the blocks can lose points for bringing unsavory things to Commander.
Five Noteworthy Staples from M10-M14
For a couple of core sets, the number of staples printed in M10-M14 are mind boggling. The mindset to make new cards for a core set allows Wizards of the Coast to create cards that are basic and fill noteworthy holes in the Magic card catalog. This allows them to create cards like Acidic Slime, Rune-Scarred Demon, Warstorm Surge, Sphinx of Uthuun, or Sun Titan, all effects that fit perfectly in the color pie but would feel out-of-place in a large set. Each of the Titans made a splash in Standard and then traveled over to the battlefields of Commander to wreak havoc underneath mimic vats and returning Wood Elves across the world. Magic 2013 brought us two cards that are tailor-made for the grand proportions of commander: Diabolic Revelation and Boundless Realms, each play to the speed of the format and allow the slower decks that are common in Commander to develop a heavy lead. To round out the staples, Overwhelming Stampede has overtaken Overrun as the finisher in green decks while Ogre Battledriver has already established himself in red decks as a potent enabler for blistering-fast starts attached to a decent body.
Five Noteworthy Staples from Odyssey Block
With such a graveyard-influenced set, it’s surprising that the number-one staple is Mirari’s Wake over Entomb, but Wake fits in more Commander decks than the reanimation- and dredge-enabling Entomb. Mirari’s Wake fills out two requirements for green white decks in an easily-castable, five-mana package giving both a Glorious Anthem effect and a personal Mana Flare. Entomb is a close second, finding extra utility in decks with flashback and unearth and letting Odyssey Block do what it does best, make the graveyard shine. Krosan Verge is the perfect land for a green-white deck with its unrestricted fetching of forests and plains allowing decks to find their Sacred Foundrys and Stomping Grounds, fixing mana at a very low cost while providing both ramp and card advantage. Cabal Coffers is the final card I want to touch on here, it’s very important in mono-black and has allowed these black-devoted decks to have a slight advantage on the rest of the format for a long time.
One of the biggest strikes against Odyssey Block when it first came out was that it forced players to interact with the graveyard, effectively tunneling the play options for the format. That also shows in this section as the strong card designs of M10-M14 outshines Odyssey Block.
Odyssey Block brought some great characters into the Commander landscape with the introduction of the fiery Kamahl, Pit Fighter and the shadowy Chainer, Dementia Master. Chainer, Dementia Master is a very strong commander for a mono-black reanimator build, allowing players to focus on dumping creatures into the yard and relying on Chainer to bail them out with the built-in reanimation effect. The Lightning Bolt-throwing Kamahl brings an interesting flavor to the Commander metagame by giving players access to a hasty 6/1 whenever they want. Another important commander from Odyssey Block is everyone’s favorite Zombie Dwarf, Balthor the Defiled. Balthor enables a very different kind of reanimation deck, one that focuses on bringing back the entire graveyard at once instead of specific creatures. This lets the Balthor deck play more wraths than most mono-black builds and take a controlling stance on the game.
Magic 2013 brought five Commanders to the format: Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis, Krenko, Mob Boss, Odric, Master Tactician, Talrand, Sky Summoner, and Yeva, Nature’s Herald. Of the five, Nefarox sees the least amount of play due to his clunky ability and high mana cost. The rest of these commanders are heavily played in the format due to their powerful abilities and cheap price tags. Yeva, Nature’s Herald decks trend on the elf side of the wagon and focus on slamming down hard-to-answer threats when the opponents’ shields are down. Odric, Master Tactician find his place in a mono-white Soldier deck as a dependable Falter effect for a tribe that heavily values evasion and can utilize his low mana cost to turn Odric into an impactful curve-topper. Talrand, Sky Summoner adds another avenue for blue decks to take by making use of cheap cantrip effects paired with Coastal Piracy and Gravitational Shift effects to dominate an entire table of opponents. Krenko, Mob Boss is the scariest of the bunch, his unassuming ability even finds its way into some Goblin Legacy decks and with a Thornbite Staff and any of the plentiful sac-outlet Goblins, the game is over.
Even though the core sets only bring five legendary creatures to the format, the impact of these commanders outreaches the utility from Odyssey Block and takes the category.
Did I mention that Odyssey block liked the graveyard yet? If you plan on spelunking into the discard pile Odyssey Block is the place to start. From printing Entomb to reprinting Buried Alive and then giving us Stitch Together, your reanimation needs are easily solved within these sets. The discard outlets are also easily found in Odyssey with cards like Wild Mongrel, Psychatog and Zombie Infestation putting the important spells into the graveyard. An instrumental card for lifegain decks, Test of Endurance, was also printed in Odyssey Block and gives slow-as-molasses mono-white lifegain decks a way to actually win the game. Terravore also stomps onto the Commander scene in Odyssey by giving land-based Life from the Loam decks and land-throwing Borborygmos Enraged decks another win condition, while Cartographer helps bring those lands back from the grave. Also, Odyssey houses one of the most fun creature types in all of magic, squirrels! From Squirrels Nest to Chatter of the Squirrels, most of the cards for the tribal Squirrel deck call Odyssey Block their home, giving a boost to this off-kilter tribal strategy. One final highlight for this paragraph is Parallel Evolution, an amazing green sorcery that pushes token-based green decks over the top in power level.
The amount of strategies helped with the new and improved core sets is rather impressive. The most recent bolstering is the horde of Slivers printed in M14, giving the already-strong Sliver decks some more redundancy and kicking the five-color Sliver deck into overdrive. Lifegain decks can also turn to the core sets for some heavy hitters in both Serra Ascendant and the newly-printed Archangel of Thune for finishers and cards like Angelic Accord, Rhox Faithmender, and Ajani’s Pridemate as other notables for the deck. Tribal decks are another strategy assisted with the printing of completely new lords for Goblins, Elves, artifacts, Illusions, Merfolk (twice!), Knights, Zombies, Vampires (twice!) and the choose-your-own Lord, Adaptive Automaton. That’s more tribes helped than Onslaught Block, an actual tribal set! Mono-black decks also received a helping hand in the printing of Liliana of the Dark Realms and Liliana’s Shade for their dependability in finding lands, while land destruction decks acquired a seven-mana present in Destructive Force. Open the Vaults and Trading Post are two cards that have found their way into decks like Hanna, Ships Navigator as assets for white-blue artifact-based control decks. Liliana once again helps out magic players by giving Liliana’s Caress to painful Wheel decks while Jace also donates his archivist to help with drawing cards. There are more cards then I have space to write about from these sets, the list is a long and continuous one.
With its printings of multiple new lords for Tribal strategies and the support for popular Commander archetypes, M10-M14 wins this round!
The new core sets not only brought about a new purpose to core set development, but they also helped spur on core set design by allowing Wizards of the Coast to transfer classic fantasy creatures and spells easily into the mythos of Magic: the Gathering. A great example is a card like Djinn of Wishes, which hits the flavor ball right out of the park by presenting a flying Djinn that gives the player three wishes, creating a simple and effective way to convey the flavor of a Genie in a bottle. The recent card trio in M14 of Bubbling Cauldron, Festering Newt and Bogbrew Witch also do a great job in telling the story of a crazed witch adding a couple of newts to complete her magical spell.
Odyssey Block gets to take these card designs further by using interesting mechanics like threshold to tell a full story. Stich Together uses the threshold mechanic to show the player that by waiting for a fully stocked graveyard they can assemble an entire creature onto the battlefield instead of rushing the process and having to pay for the creature again. This same usage of threshold as a passage of time can be found on Possesed Nomad, where the filling of the graveyard is a trigger for the demon to jump out of the human’s body. Repentant Vampire may be one of my favorite cards due to the beauty in its design and the great way it uses the threshold mechanic to execute its flavor. Repentant Vampire tells the story of a predator of the night that kills for power – until the body count rises to the point where the monster realizes the horrors of its actions and turns around to destroy monsters instead of innocents. It is the perfect execution of a great story told in a single card using a not-that-interesting mechanic.
Odyssey Block wins this round due to having advanced mechanics that allow for better storytelling and more flavorful cards.
Starting with the cards banned from both blocks, we have Primeval Titan and Worldfire from M10-M14 versus Upheaval and Braids, Cabal Minion. Primeval Titan absolutely dominated the format for one year and is the most contested ban for a Commander card, while Worldfire never had the chance to ruin that many games due to the quick whack it received from the Rules Committee. Upheaval and Braids, Cabal Minion are two cards that existed for a long time in the format until meeting their eventual end on the Commander ban list. Neither of the cards are sorely missed except for Braids, because of mono-black stax players that are still mad about her banning. With the blocks even on banned cards, it comes down to the cards that are slowly poisoning the current Commander format. Time Stretch is a card that hasn’t seen the banhammer due to people just scooping to it when it gets cast, the two extra turns are insurmountable in a game of Commander when it’s gotten to the point that a person has ten mana to command. If Time Stretch is bad, Omniscience is worse. The ability to cheat out Omniscience with cards like Academy Rector means this monolithic blue enchantment ends the game whenever it appears and turns the board into a no-fun zone.
With a pretty even balance of bad on both sides of this battle, M10-M14 edges out Odyssey Block due to the irritation of countless “Tooth and Nail with entwine, grabbing Primeval Titan and… who cares?” and the still-unbanned Omniscience.
The new design mantra introduced in M10-M14 allowed these sets to print cards that function like the timing belts and lug nuts on a car, although they aren’t the flashiest additions to the whole product they are required to get from A to B and keep the machine running smoothly. Odyssey Block’s heavy graveyard theme caused it to tunnel in on a certain strategy, preventing it from helping the entire Commander format. Due to the way that M10-M14 block have helped multiple archetypes, they win this round over the Mirari-loving Odyssey Block!
M10-M14 block will go on to face the Commander sets in the Sweet Sixteen! For those asking, the Commander sets will include the cards released this November 1st due to the cards being in the format for about three weeks before the article is written.
I cannot wait to start the Sweet Sixteen of the Battle of the Blocks with next week’s article: Lorwyn-Shadowmoor Block versus Alpha through Revised! If you think I got it wrong or think that I didn’t give Odyssey Block its fair shake, let me know in the comments!