Commander Single Card Strategy #1

Bennie Smith takes a look at individual cards that are funky or off-the-radar for Commander. You may discover some neat tools for you 100-card decks.

Some of you who are newer readers may not know that I had a run as a writer on MagicTheGathering.com, culminating in writing the weekly feature column “Into the Aether,” which focused on Magic Online, from March 2005 through August 2006. I first came on board however to write their Single Card Strategy column, a periodic feature where my editor would give me a funky card (often from a new set) and tell me to “go nuts.” I started in 2002 with Forcemage Advocate and had a lot of fun with it over the next year or so, diving deep into cards like Dross Scorpion, Corpse Harvester, and the Onslaught Charms. I like to credit myself with “discovering” Cabal Therapy before everyone else did, since I featured it in my second SCS column, but it took a while before the card caught fire on the tournament scene.

Recently I was contemplating something fun to write about Commander that wasn’t a set review or presenting a new Commander deck, and I remembered the Single Card Strategy work I did. Commander is such a huge, wide open, and crazy format that includes so many fun and wild interactions that even someone like me is constantly being surprised by cards my opponent plays. I know I personally find it a point of pride to find funky off-the-radar cards to put into my Commander deck to surprise people with, so I think a feature like this would be perfect for the Commander format, providing “tech” that you can then go on to use to spice up your own Commander brews. Between the SCS feedback form and the comments below, I hope to discover some nice hidden gems and interactions from you as well!


This is one of those situationally useful cards that doesn’t do anything on its own and is easy to overlook. That said, it’s got several really good upsides—it only costs two mana to cast, and you can use it over and over again for no mana cost, just simply tap it. Lastly, you can target any permanent with it. So, if you’re going to be using a card like this, this is costed about as good as you possibly can hope for.

So why would we bother with a card that lets us change the color of a permanent?


If your Commander has Protection from a certain color or color then Distorting Lens should be a no-brainer. Right now the best of the bunch is Animar, Soul of Elements; Akroma, Angel of Wrath; and Akroma, Angel of Fury, but there are lower-powered options like Ihsan’s Shade and Tivadar of Thorn. There are also plenty of good ways to give your Commander (or other creatures) protection from certain colors: Sword of Feast and Famine and it’s four sister swords, Absolute Grace, Absolute Law, Pentarch Ward, Concerted Effort, Glory, Akroma’s Memorial. Being able to Lens the one blocker that’s keeping you from inflicting killing Commander damage could be crucial to survival or winning the game. Even something like Earnest Fellowship gets interesting with a Distorting Lens on the table—say your opponent equips his Thrun, the Last Troll with Batterskull, tap the Lens to make Batterskull green and it’ll become unequipped.


Similarly, there are creatures that have the evasion ability of Fear or Intimidate… but sometimes your opponent has a creature of the right color or an artifact creature that can block. Distorting Lens can take care of the problem. Potential Commanders with fear include Wort, Boggart Auntie; Marrow-Gnawer; and Commander Greven il-Vec. Right now the only Legend with intimidate is Geth. You can give these abilities to nearly any legend however with cards like Nim Deathmantle (one of my all-time favorites), Mask of Riddles, Vow of Malice, Cover of Darkness, Dragon Shadow, Intimidation and Shizo, Death’s Storehouse. There are game-ending creatures like Guiltfeeder you may like to swing in on the guy with an artifact blocker.

Turning Tables

Sometimes you’re on the receiving end of a creature with protection from a color, fear or intimidate and you’d otherwise have a hard time dealing with it, especially if you’re monocolor. Distorting Lens in your pocket can be a life saver in those situations.

Closing the Loopholes

There are a lot of Magic cards that do things to anything but a certain color. Terror is a classic example of a host of black creature removal that can kill nonblack creatures (though in conjunction with the Lens you probably want the newer upgrade Doom Blade to avoid that awkward nonartifact clause). Got a lethal Lord of Extinction threatening to go to your face the next turn and the only thing in your hand is something like Slaughter Pact, Bone Shredder, Nekrataal, or Dark Hatchling? Distorting Lens has your back! It even does double duty with Shriekmaw. In fact, having access to Distorting Lens makes playing something like Agonizing Demise much more appealing –especially against things like Lord of Extinction!

There are tons of cards that say “nonblack” but it’s fun to do a search for non-“other colors.” Nongreen brings up Gaea’s Revenge. Nonwhite brings up Exile, Seize the Soul, and Mass Calcify. Nonblue brings up Inundate. Nonred… well, not much there at all but we do start to see another category of fun cards to pair up with Distorting Lens—the “blasts!” Since Lens can change the color of permanents you can use Red Elemental Blast, Blue Elemental Blast, Pyroblast, Hydroblast, even Active Volcano and Flash Flood to nuke lands or whatever problem permanent floats your boat. You can always get value from Filigree Fracture. Pair up with Spinal Villain to destroy any creature each turn, or pair with Jaya Ballard, Task Mage to blow up any permanent each turn (for the cost of pitching a card, of course). The threshold “Possessed” creature cycle from Torment (such as Possessed Aven) gets very interesting, along with Southern Paladin, Northern Paladin, Eastern Paladin, Western Paladin or the ultimate badass Pentarch Paladin. Stretch your color hosers out of the box, cards like Perish, Anarchy, and Celestial Purge.  Leverage more advantage from metagame cards like Reap, Honorable Scout, Pygmy Kavu, Compost, Dystopia, Flooded Woodlands, Teferi’s Moat.

There are the “weaver cycle” cards like Might Weaver from Invasion. Maybe you want to bounce an artifact creature like Duplicant or Solemn Simulacrum with your Stampeding Wildebeests or Oni of Wild Places. Tweak the triggered abilities for Savra, Queen of the Golgari. If you think about it, color is such a vital part of Magic cards and there have been a truckload of cards that care about color, and Distorting Lens helps you tweak and bend those cards to your benefit.

Single Card Strategies… from YOU!

I got a ton of great Commander Single Card Strategies from you all, keep them coming! Here are a few of them:


“Far and away, the reason I sleeve up UG in a lot of games is Spitting Image. A clone on a stick in colors with easy access to enough mana/lands to use it seems insane. The utility here is without question. It kills enemy Akroma’s, which is hard to do in UG. I don’t have to tell you what Avenger of Zendikar into Spitting Image does to opponent morale. The obvious Image on a Prime Time is pretty legit. 4 lands a turn? Yes please. The not-so-obvious uses are with the very nature of retrace. Lands are pretty good in the ‘yard if we are in green with Life from the Loam and Crucible access. The list goes on: Terravore, Worm Harvest, Knight of the Reliquary, etc. I love me some Spitting Image and I’m sad that I’m one of the few.

Yeah, I have to agree with you here. I love Clone variants in Commander, because I consider copying creatures much more diplomatic and flexible than stealing them and risking those uniquely anti-blue feelings that comes from being smacked by your own creature. There are a ton of ways to find lands to put in your hand for green, and the ones that can do it at instant speed are particularly helpful– calling Sprouting Vines, Realms Uncharted, Yavimaya Elder and Krosan Tusker! Turning each extra land into a potentially Commander-slaying Clone is just awesome.


“Play mono red with mana doublers, Gauntlet of Power, Gauntlet of Might, Caged Sun, Koth of the Hammer and Ogre Menial. I play him in Godo which is pretty equipment heavy already so he can usually hit once and do good. Also a great blocker that can double as removal if you leave mana open for pumps.”

The mark of a true gem, I had to look up this card because I couldn’t summon to mind anything at all about it, but I’m glad you did! There are only three red creatures with infect, and none of them jump out as particularly efficient, but thinking about it now perhaps Ogre Menial should be strongly considered for any mono red Commander deck. Mono red is tough to pull off in Commander because it doesn’t tend to have much mid- to late-game reach and its biggest strength—dishing out damage—is naturally weaker in a multiplayer deck where everyone starts with 40 life. Infect offers red a short-cut to the win, and there are certainly plenty of ways to make sure your firebreathing infected Ogre connects with your opponent. Make sure to pack Soul’s Fire, Surestrike Trident, Stalking Vengeance, or maybe splash a little green for Mage Slayer!


“After holding the fort by playing supreme rattlesnake duty, windmill slam Bullwhip and watch your opponent’s armies be devoured one creature at a time. This combo easily handles kills most EDH staples like Primeval Titan and Jin Gitaxias. When the coast is clear (har har, pun), throw down Spreading Seas and go on the beatdown. There is a reason Giant Shark is sold out.”

I suspect this entry was made with tongue firmly in cheek… however, I also think Giant Shark rates as a definite “style points” card… it’s mechanics, abilities and limitations are chock full of flavor, but the card ends up being terribly weak (especially by modern creature standards), but you’ve got to admit if someone manages to kill you with a Giant Shark you’ve got to give them a high five!

And Bullwhip! Another great “style points” card that can be a lot of fun.

If you’ve got a pet Commander card you think deserves more love and attention, let me know the card and the fun uses you’ve found for it!

By the way, if you know anyone in the Richmond area who needs a place to live within the next month or two, I VERY much need a roommate and will have my house ready for him or her to move in by December 1. So keep an ear out for me and if you hear of anyone they can contact me via the email, Facebook or Twitter info below and I will send along the details.


Take care,


starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com

Make sure to follow my Twitter feed (@blairwitchgreen). I check it often so feel free to send me feedback, ideas, and random thoughts. I’ve also created a Facebook page where I’ll be posting up deck ideas and will happily discuss Magic, life, or anything else you want to talk about!

I’ve started a blog, it’s not Magic-related but you may find it fun to read and comment on. I update at least once a week so check on it often and let me know what you think! I recently revamped my blog header with a perfect drawing from the awesome MJ Scott, check it out!

New to Commander?
If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:

My current Commander decks (and links to decklists):

Previous Commander decks currently on hiatus: