Rules are meant to be broken…including the rule that “this is an article series about Commander.” At least, I’m breaking the rule where there is a silent “exclusively” in the middle there, because I’ll be talking about Commander as well as the other formats at play in the StarCityGames.com Open
I went to the SCG Open Series: Providence the weekend before last to assess the new formats and play decks that excited me. I had a design for Legacy that
I have been building, playing, and working on for some time; it’s within an inch of being exactly where I want it to be. I also had five or six designs for
Standard I could pick and choose from as I saw fit, mostly aggressive decks but also a weird Titan / Rites counterless control deck and U/B with Lone
Revenant (a.k.a. Lone Impulse Machine) to close the game out Shroud-style. I also had a secondary objective, to put Animar through his paces…and take
another crack at Ad Nauseam, this time with the purpose of seeing if Griselbrand was too good for Commander.
Preparing for Standard, I liked some goofy control decks, a version of U/W Delver with Champion of the Parish that I never found the time to test, and some
red decks. I settled on decks a few days before the event and decided to play mono-Red (-ish…I did something Patrick Sullivan would find unforgiveable),
when my other instincts were telling me I should be playing the Boros Tempered Steel deck I liked. Failing to listen to these other instincts did not serve
me well, though I still liked the list I played:
I liked the deck against other creature decks and Delver especially, but I ran face-first into two White planeswalker-based decks: B/W Tokens and Esper
Control, giving me the resounding thud of an 0-2 drop without a single game won. It took some bad luck; in one game, between looting and stalling, I had
about seven draws to find a Thunderous Wrath or Bonfire of the Damned to kill my opponent (or at least all of his creatures), and two Incinerates or
Brimstone Volleys would have sufficed instead of the pile of lands I drew. The relevant part of the loss, though, is that this deck was not designed to
deal with Gideon Jura well, and after facing down the first copy it tends to be exhausted.
My opponents averaged two Gideons a game, while I averaged zero Shrines. (To be fair, I did draw two Shrines in one game, but two out of four games is
still 0.5, and in my whining I choose to round down.)
Ultimately, I didn’t regret the design of the deck, but choosing it in the first place; I had a deck I liked better and which I felt was more explosive and
more competitive, but that I had simply talked myself out of for no really good reason. With the new metagame focus seeming to be on fast and aggressive
decks, potentially with pump enchantments, I didn’t have a good reason not to go back to the drawing board and play Tempered Steel. Watching a
similar deck to my design playing very deep into the day, I simply had no answer as to why I did something stupid and second-guessed my better judgment
when I had this list ready to go:
It was depressing to have half the Open Weekend behind me already when it was just past noon on Saturday. The best I could do to take care of myself was
wander around Providence in search of lunch – preferably a lunch that did not come from the food court of a mall. After finding a rather nice chicken
caesar wrap from a local organic food joint, it was time to work on the ‘backup plan’ of the weekend and sleeve up the forces of evil.
Six months ago, I wrote an article I titled
The Worst Thing You Can Still Do to People
, in which I mined the Commander format for what were, effectively, single-card combos. Those have a good trend for getting banned, after all, and I sought
the one card that says “I win” when you cast it, plus as many cards as could reasonably tutor for it. That research led to Ad Nauseam, as well as a deck to
display why the card needed to be banned.
There is another argument-“this is why Commander should not be played as a competitive format for prizes”-but there are plenty of people who will play the
most degenerate thing possible because they can play it and you can’t beat it. Card access was admittedly an issue if you wanted to play the exact version
I listed in that article, designed as it was with the “play around everything” mentality; Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed was there to enable a Regrowth on Ad
Nauseam that didn’t exile it like Yawgmoth’s Will would, which, combined with Elixir of Immortality, meant the deck was capable of infinite damage with
very little starting set-up and no permanents you had to expose to harm’s way.
Then a certain legendary Demon came and eliminated the need for Xiahou Dun while also providing backup copies of my primary single-card combo.
Having Griselbrand, effectively Yawgmoth’s Bargain on a stick, as your commander is every bit as ridiculous as casting Ad Nauseam. I set out to see how
good Griselbrand was in a format where people were trying to scrimmage as hard as they could and meet me on the degenerate playing field, giving me real
results to compare to my starting opinions (Ad Nauseam: still too good; Griselbrand: too good to be a Commander, maybe fair as a random eight-drop).
Fully intending to make a few pods of people unhappy, I brought the following:
- 1 Strip Mine
- 1 City of Traitors
- 1 Thawing Glaciers
- 1 Wasteland
- 1 Mishra's Factory
- 1 Boseiju, Who Shelters All
- 1 Ancient Tomb
- 1 Polluted Mire
- 1 Ebon Stronghold
- 1 Crystal Vein
- 1 Phyrexian Tower
- 1 Vault of Whispers
- 1 Barren Moor
- 1 Lake of the Dead
- 1 Winding Canyons
- 1 Rishadan Port
- 1 Peat Bog
- 1 Dust Bowl
- 1 Blasted Landscape
- 1 Wintermoon Mesa
- 1 Cabal Pit
- 23 Snow-Covered Swamp
- 1 Darksteel Citadel
- 1 Blinkmoth Nexus
- 1 Mouth of Ronom
- 1 Scrying Sheets
- 1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
- 1 Reliquary Tower
- 1 Inkmoth Nexus
- 1 Cavern of Souls
- 1 Sensei's Divining Top
- 1 Tendrils of Agony
- 1 Cabal Ritual
- 1 Vampiric Tutor
- 1 Grim Monolith
- 1 Yawgmoth's Will
- 1 Duress
- 1 Scroll Rack
- 1 Mana Vault
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Mind Twist
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Dark Ritual
- 1 Grim Tutor
- 1 Mana Crypt
- 1 Diabolic Tutor
- 1 Krark-Clan Ironworks
- 1 Defense Grid
- 1 Oblivion Stone
- 1 Culling the Weak
- 1 Rain of Filth
- 1 Mox Diamond
- 1 Lotus Petal
- 1 Lion's Eye Diamond
- 1 Urza's Bauble
- 1 Lodestone Bauble
- 1 Chrome Mox
- 1 Engineered Explosives
- 1 Pithing Needle
- 1 Infernal Tutor
- 1 Mishra's Bauble
- 1 Lotus Bloom
- 1 Slaughter Pact
- 1 Thoughtseize
- 1 Ad Nauseam
- 1 Expedition Map
- 1 Everflowing Chalice
- 1 Elixir of Immortality
- 1 Brittle Effigy
- 1 Mox Opal
- 1 Exsanguinate
- 1 Black Sun's Zenith
With the ‘backup plan’ of Ritualing to victory by getting up to eight mana instead of getting to five and having Ad Nauseam, the deck clarified neatly
toward its singular purpose. That my partner-in-crime for the weekend, Morgan Chang, happened to have a Grim Tutor that I could borrow…well, that may be
an expensive choice usually outside of my reach, but I wasn’t about to say no.
Normally I would seek to give a game play-by-play in order to defend my decision-making processes, or give you some visceral joy of playing Commander. This
deck is not one for play-by-plays, because every play-by-play will end with “I cast Ad Nauseam on turn X and everybody died” or sometimes “I cast
Griselbrand on turn Y and everybody died.” That’s not what the format is about, but these are the stories I have to offer you.
I played Trial by Fire #1 against Phil, CJ, and Anthony, with CJ on Damia, Sage of Stone and the other two players on Child of Alara decks. CJ actually had
a pretty awesome start and cast Damia on turn three thanks to turns 1 and 2 tutors plus other mana ramping to help make seven affordable – it was good, I
guess, to see I wasn’t the only one playing Dark Ritual in Commander. I was one mana short of killing everyone on turn 3, which is to say I hadn’t had a
tutor for Ad Nauseam and was relying on eight mana for Griselbrand, so despite my Gemstone Caverns into two Swamps plus Lake of the Dead draw, I’d drawn
nothing else of relevance and had to ship the turn after playing a third Swamp. Anthony had Damnation for Damia, leaving CJ crippled with one card in hand
instead of untapped with solid resources and a fresh grip ready to combat me, so on the fourth turn I cast Griselbrand with my life total intact and no
My habit for these events is that I’m just here to prove a point, not rob people entirely of their prize winnings, so after using a large Tendrils to set
all three of them at 28 and readying a 28-point Exsanguinate, I ascended to victory and told them I’d be leaving them five dollars of the $20 prize for
whomever won the remainder of the game, because playing four turns of Magic is discouraging even when you’ve built your deck to compete on a high level, as
clearly CJ and Anthony had. I stuck around to watch the rest of it play out. There was some back-and-forth interplay mostly between CJ and Anthony, with
Phil unfortunately light on mana and mostly spinning his wheels without even being able to play Child of Alara or deploy many meaningful spells.
Five or six turns after I’d killed them all in the “no, really, that wasn’t fun” sub-game, Anthony cast Increasing Ambitions and then flashed it back
thanks to Urborg plus Cabal Coffers, and used this to assemble Thopter Foundry, Sword of the Meek, and Ashnod’s Altar, establishing “infinite” life,
creatures, and mana. Even with this plethora of riches, however, he was forced to pass the turn, giving Phil and CJ time to break up what was in play and
actually get back into things. Phil still wasn’t able to deploy Child, which would have made CJ’s game easier (“just kill my Commander please!”), and
instead saw shenanigans happen. Earlier, Phil had a Crystal Ball which he had made a creature with Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, and CJ had cast Rite of
Replication on the Ball with kicker, and thus had five token copies of Crystal Ball to scry away with.
CJ used many Crystal Ball activations to set up, and in fact was able to try again with a Time Warp effect to give him another turn to try and get back
into it. Unfortunately, the best he could do was deploy Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur, which was not an out since he was left with about two mana and had to
rely on whatever answer he drew to be an instant. Predictably enough, he couldn’t kill infinite creatures plus the permanents that created that problem in
the first place, and Anthony won the game with a Time Sieve that added “infinite turns” to his other “infinities.”
Moving on to the second game, I actually lost this one. What it took to do it was impressive – playing against a Kaalia of the Vast deck, Brittany’s Ghave,
Guru of Spores deck, and Derek’s Azami, Lady of Scrolls deck, I knew I had one credible opponent to focus on and fought with Azami throughout the entirety
of the game. The trouble started when she landed on turn 2, thanks to Sol Ring and Mox Diamond letting the ridiculous happen. As I was constrained on mana,
I started playing the Ad Nauseam game, only to find Azami had drawn Force of Will, and Derek wisely countered the follow-up tutors lest I find a way to
sneak something past him. The final tutor left to me, a Vampiric Tutor, was going to point for Cavern of Souls when Derek wisely asked for a take-back and
used his last untapped mana to counter it.
Because Commander is still a lightly competitive format, I allowed him the takeback and succumbed to the Lady of Scrolls for whom this article is
titled…but only because I was nice and she’s broken, especially on turn 2. Later, we learned that Brittany’s Ghave deck had a copy of Swords to
Plowshares ready for Azami all along, but she felt rushed and didn’t know what was going on, allowing her to unknowingly play queenmaker and let the Lady
of Scrolls go unchallenged. The Demon Lord Of Heck sat on the sidelines for once while Azami took infinite turns.
Losing because the opponent a) was playing Azami, b) had two pieces of acceleration, c) went entirely unchallenged by opponents who actually wanted to stop
him from running the table, and d) I allowed a takeback does not add up to a compelling argument against Griselbrand’s utter brokenness,
especially considering that otherwise I had a very credible turn-three kill with Ad Nauseam barring an actual Force of Will.
One more game for Griselbrand at the queues led to a quick and easy win on turn 3, and there was nothing more to write about there. Even winning was
boring, because the opponents were simply unprepared for what was about to happen, and while I left them part of the prize voucher, it wasn’t exactly
something that made them happy – they wanted to have fun, which I’d clearly denied them, and if there is a prize to be reached for, “here is your entry fee
back” is uninspiring. I moved on to more fertile and interesting pastures, almost entirely by chance…someone didn’t believe me when I told him that both
Ad Nauseam and Griselbrand were too good to play and challenged me to prove it head-to-head in a straight-up fight with his Kaalia of the Vast deck.
He seemed pretty intent on proving it, too. On the play, he played so many mana accelerants that Kaalia of the Vast entered the battlefield on the first
turn despite her triple color requirement. He went down to one card in hand to do it, though, putting all his eggs in one basket. My Thoughtseize stripped
that card away and left him with a legendary 2/2 and the top of his deck to work with. After getting attacked three times, I used Blinkmoth Nexus to trade
for his commander on the fourth swing, and on my fifth turn I ended it by drawing the missing ritual needed to cast Griselbrand and Tendrils him out.
The second game went better for him – on the play again he ramped so fast it hurt to think about, with Gilded Lotus as his turn-two play while he raced my
Lotus Bloom and thus almost certain turn four win. His third-turn play was Iona, Shield of Emeria, with no tutoring to set it up or Kaalia to cheat on the
cost – he just cast her. Unsurprisingly, with just two outs left in my deck and the tutor in my hand literally uncastable, he was able to take
that one on the strength of Iona alone, beating the Bloom and casting a nine-mana spell the hardest of all possible ways.
The third game, he had a fast start as in the other two games, and while he trash-talked me I pointed out that in each of the three games we’d played, he’d
started out with either Sol Ring or Mana Crypt and at least one other piece of acceleration. He claimed this was entirely typical for his deck,
which suggested to me a lack of understanding of statistics, which is to say that drawing one of two cards out of 99 is by itself a statistically unlikely
thing, no matter the remainder of the cards in his hand; just drawing one or the other three times running for turn 1 was pretty bonkers. He thought I was
complaining and threw Kaalia and some hot Dragon action in my general direction to teach me a lesson.
I untapped and killed him. It wasn’t close. Turn 4, easy peasy… if anything, that felt slow.
I put Griselbrand to rest with one last queue, facing off against Jerry with Balthor the Defiled, Anthony with Niv-Mizzet this time, and CJ again, now
armed with his Azuza, Lost but Seeking deck. Everyone knew what I was up to, and there were no surprises. I had a turn-two Demonic Tutor but slow-played
since there was no reason to move faster, and passed the turn on my fourth turn with five mana in play. Jerry cast Balthor the Defiled, and Anthony Mana
Drained it because he needed the mana during his main phase to move forward in the game. I took advantage of his tapping out to Ad Nauseam for some forty
cards or so, leaving myself at thirteen with the reasonable life total cushion to play around the worst Azuza could do if Niv-Mizzet pointed a Time Warp
his way. After I untapped on turn 5, it didn’t matter how many counterspells Anthony had, because I had too many must-counter spells and too many free
rituals. He couldn’t do enough to contain me.
I took Griselbrand home at the end of the day and dismantled him, wanting never to see the deck again and hoping the Commander rulings committee would do
the right thing and take my broken toys away.
Sunday meant the Legacy Open, in which I would be playing my strange variant on Dredge, and if there was any time for Commander afterward, a slimmed-down
and turbocharged update to my Animar, Soul of Elements deck so I could actually have some fun playing Commander.
Legacy went by quickly – not due to poor deck choice or design, but because I didn’t know how to play it very well. Despite the fact that I have been
looking at Dredge since last summer as my deck of choice for Legacy and the card quality has only gotten better with the printing of Faithless Looting, I
haven’t actually found a lot of time to play it.
I’d opted out of a Legacy Open I was present for just because I didn’t feel like playing that day, wimped out on playing it as my Legacy deck of choice for
an Invitational to play an untested control list, and skipped the most recent Invitational entirely in favor of an Occupy Wall Street event. To say my
priorities in Magic have shifted since Occupy Wall Street started is an understatement, but hey, I was there, and there were these cards in my hand, so why
not make a go of it?
This is a weird design in that it goes against current Dredge theory, and I believe that is exactly what we should be doing, revising in the face
of new information and new technology. Dredge has become faster as the format has become more critical of those first establishing turns, and sometimes the
deck needs that speed to succeed. With great speed comes different needs for some of the cards, and while it’s easy to get Ichorid back without having to
do anything at all, it’s not something you can necessarily do in the first two turns and thus is at best a turn-three possibility to access as an
additional creature to use with Dread Return or Cabal Therapy.
Is that good enough anymore? Some people don’t bother asking that question and just use it because it is something they have always done; I’ve dissented,
here, under the reasonable belief that Ichorid is the worst card remaining in current Dredge lists, and shifted over to Bloodghast thanks to the ability to
activate it without that turn’s delay. Without the black-creature requirement of Ichorid, a lot of the rest of the deck decisions flow logically from one
form to the other, and the simple fact is that Faithless Looting and Lion’s Eye Diamond very easily and fruitfully replace Putrid Imp and Tireless Tribe.
With those decisions made, you can actually cut back on some of the dredgers, and focusing more on draw spells than on 1/1’s also allows you to improve
your mana base from Gemstone Mine to Volcanic Island, a clear upgrade. Fetchlands also can find Dryad Arbor, which is also a Dread Return target
to get landfall for Bloodghast, so there is a lot more flexibility in play decisions than normally fit in the shell, while still having all the power to
turbocharge a turn-one kill or pull off the slower turn-two variety.
The only things I was uncertain of were these two:
1) I loathe the Bayou, for it has always betrayed me; and
2) Hapless Researcher is probably included more as “my pet card” than “the correct card,” if I’m being entirely honest with myself.
Morgan Chang ran the deck as well, and pushed onward to a 5-1 record before dropping later matches and falling out of serious contention. Whether he came
in 64th or 65th is something he is still arguing with the tournament organizers with after-the-fact; apparently, despite being listed on the final
standings as 64th, the final payout includes drops and someone at 5-3 dropped rather than play Round 9 and had better tiebreakers than his eventual finish
of 5-4 allowed. Considering I walked away from many board states in which it was clear he had no chance whatsoever of winning and then he utterly
demolished his opponent, I can’t quite say what happened in those last rounds, since it is not exactly like he was facing bad matchups: the U/R burn deck
is pretty much a cakewalk, as he demonstrated by beating it in a game in which Surgical Extraction and Snapcaster Mage took out Grave-Troll and Imp on turn
two, and yet somehow he lost a match to it when I wasn’t looking.
Morgan and I dissent on one card in the main – I like the fourth Breakthrough, while he wants a third Cabal Therapy. Noting how infrequently Hapless
Researcher mattered – sure, he was cute, but did he matter? – I have to face the music and acknowledge he should probably be the third Cabal
Therapy maindeck, plus two Golgari Thugs to improve the chaining of dredgers into other dredgers, for while it does look light on dredgers it
doesn’t necessarily play light on dredgers, but once in a while you will in fact lose a game due to not chaining your first dredger into a second
when you really need to. I would also consider a second Wooded Foothills to reduce the number of times you actually have to mulligan for mana alone, but
while I haven’t figured the answer out yet I have at least noted the problem – my pet card.
My own efforts were, well, interesting. Of the five games I played, I was directly responsible for the victory in all five, but unfortunately only
selected myself as the beneficiary one of those five times. Dredge is not an easy deck to pilot, especially a Dredge deck with a significantly
more complex decision tree than usual. I lost round one to SCG grinder Joe Kazhdan with U/R Burn, voluntarily playing a third nonbasic land while at five
life to trigger Bloodghasts that didn’t do much of anything before attacking an opponent at eight life with one card in hand and no creatures in play with
a 10/10 and 16/16 Golgari Grave-Troll. That “one card” being Price of Progress, I was down a game 1 that I never would’ve lost if I’d used my brain; I even
would’ve won if that Bayou were an Island, though I know I am not supposed to begrudge the Bayou its nonbasic status and should remember all those times
when it helped cast Grave-Troll or Therapy during a game. Nonetheless, I still hate it.
Game two was one of the most interesting I’ve ever seen. Mulliganing with Dredge is hard, and I did the following:
Mulligan a seven-card hand of Breakthrough, Coliseum (only land) and Imp just because I thought I could do better, on the play, with a mulligan;
Mulligan a six-card hand with no lands;
Mulligan a five-card hand of one land plus four dredgers;
Mulligan a four-card hand of Breakthrough, two dredgers, but no land;
Mulligan three- and two-card hands because they did nothing;
Contemplate mulliganing the one-card hand (Bridge from Below) out of sheer spite.
While commenting that this would be the most embarrassing thing in the world if I happened to beat him off a mulligan to one on the play, I passed the
turn. Drawing Faithless Looting, a sequence of possible plays actually started to emerge; his Delver flipped and I was on a clock, but his mulligan to six
had no disruption so it was just a race to do something before red spells and Delver killed me. Drawing a Volcanic Island (not even a fetchland,
the one life might matter!) somehow got me into the game, and letting me Loot while still having a card in hand was a good enough reason to not spite-mull
It was absurd watching things fall into place: Dread Return, Iona, Bridge from Below. Faithless Looting even let me keep a Faithless Looting in hand, so
while I hadn’t yet found a dredger or anything and was on a rather short clock, way more was happening than I had any right to on a mull to one. Another
round of looting let me put the third relevant card plus a Bloodghast into the graveyard, with another Looting somehow having appeared in my hand. The
third Looting – last chance before dying to his side of the board – turned up two lands; replace either of those with a Cabal Therapy and I would’ve been
able to pull off the impossible: fetchland, get back Bloodghast; Cabal Therapy Joe (naming: who cares?) to get a 2/2 Zombie. Crack the fetchland getting
Dryad Arbor and returning the Bloodghast, Dread Return Iona naming red and get two 2/2 Zombies for my trouble.
Not a bad mulligan to one, I’d say. Considering it was the first time in my life I’d ever mulliganed below four, and I could previously count on two hands
the number of times I’d resorted to a mull to four since they invented the Paris mulligan, that was actually surprisingly awesome and goes to show that the
sheer power of Dredge with Bloodghasts is not to be underestimated.
The second round was counterproductive; I still didn’t really know what I was doing, and didn’t figure out how I’d managed to lose the first game till I’d
gotten halfway through the second game, at which time I smacked myself in the head and reversed the exact same line of play, killing him and winning my
first game of the weekend with a sixty-card deck. Game three was harder, in that he actually had a hate card, and while I was able to Firestorm the
Scavenging Ooze immediately he still had one mana up when he played it, and that made my life just difficult enough to win that game. Losing just the
Bridges I’d flipped already was going to be bad enough, but he nixed my Dread Return as well, and there wasn’t enough going on to prevent me from falling
to the remainder of his army.
With that disappointment under my belt, and me still trying to figure out how to win that third game, it was time to command Animar, Soul of Elements for a
while. The realization came, two hours later: “Just go off and ignore the Ooze; you’ll still have your Bridges.” Of course, it didn’t come to me nearly
soon enough to matter… and that is why I make the 0-2 drops and Morgan plays the deck at Grand Prix events.
The commander pods at StarCityGames.com Open Weekends are pretty darn cutthroat. You have to prepare for degenerate combo decks as a matter of course,
rather than the statistical oddity they would be in a more established local playgroup, which means that the gentlemen’s agreement around which the format
is centered gets broken in two ways. First, playing for prizes enhances competitiveness to a significantly cutthroat level; letting players try to pay $5
to win $20 in five minutes and do it repeatedly tempts them into trying the worst things possible. Second, since there is no danger of playing with the
same people over and over again, the “…so we’ll just always kill you” multiplayer justice created by weeks or months of many-on-one savage beatings
simply isn’t present to balance the format.
With that in mind, I had to retool Animar overnight to scrum faster and harder, establishing itself more quickly with the baseline threat level, and I used
the prior day’s winnings to acquire a Force of Will to add to my defensive arsenal. No sooner did I own one than I needed one, as the one ‘real’
game of the weekend played out…
- 1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Man-o'-War
- 1 Wood Elves
- 1 Myojin of Seeing Winds
- 1 Keiga, the Tide Star
- 1 Godo, Bandit Warlord
- 1 Genesis
- 1 Anger
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Yavimaya Elder
- 1 Great Whale
- 1 Gilded Drake
- 1 Duplicant
- 1 Trinket Mage
- 1 Fierce Empath
- 1 Nantuko Vigilante
- 1 Imperial Recruiter
- 1 Palinchron
- 1 Flametongue Kavu
- 1 Primordial Sage
- 1 Coiling Oracle
- 1 Brine Elemental
- 1 Draining Whelk
- 1 Vesuvan Shapeshifter
- 1 Mulldrifter
- 1 Slithermuse
- 1 Elvish Visionary
- 1 Bloodbraid Elf
- 1 Oracle of Mul Daya
- 1 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
- 1 Vengevine
- 1 Fauna Shaman
- 1 Primeval Titan
- 1 Spellskite
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Animar, Soul of Elements
- 1 Edric, Spymaster of Trest
- 1 Phantasmal Image
- 1 Sphinx of Uthuun
- 1 Soul of the Harvest
- 3 Forest
- 1 Wooded Foothills
- 1 City of Brass
- 1 Mountain
- 3 Island
- 1 Volcanic Island
- 1 Tropical Island
- 1 Taiga
- 1 Polluted Delta
- 1 Winding Canyons
- 1 Gruul Turf
- 1 Izzet Boilerworks
- 1 Steam Vents
- 1 Stomping Ground
- 1 Breeding Pool
- 1 Simic Growth Chamber
- 1 Llanowar Reborn
- 1 Mosswort Bridge
- 1 Spinerock Knoll
- 1 Cascade Bluffs
- 1 Flooded Grove
- 1 Rootbound Crag
- 1 Misty Rainforest
- 1 Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
- 1 Scalding Tarn
- 1 Verdant Catacombs
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Hinterland Harbor
- 1 Sulfur Falls
- 1 Kessig Wolf Run
- 1 Alchemist's Refuge
- 1 Sensei's Divining Top
- 1 Glimpse of Nature
- 1 Brainstorm
- 1 Mana Drain
- 1 Force of Will
- 1 Time Warp
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Regrowth
- 1 Mana Crypt
- 1 Temporal Manipulation
- 1 Sword of Fire and Ice
- 1 Arcane Denial
- 1 Portent
- 1 Survival of the Fittest
- 1 Greater Good
- 1 Mox Diamond
- 1 Remand
- 1 Ponder
- 1 Expedition Map
- 1 Preordain
- 1 Sword of Feast and Famine
- 1 Beast Within
- 1 Blessings of Nature
I was only able to get one game in, but lo and behold, even though I have put it down there is still a Griselbrand deck at the table. Sitting down again
with Anthony and his Niv-Mizzet deck seemed likely to help, as we’d gotten over an unintentional rift caused by my angry nerd-rage at a prior event and in
this game at least there would be two blue mages that were going to need to come together and cooperate a little to keep from just dying. Our fourth player
was on Heartless Hitsedegu, so it’s not like I was sitting at a particularly comfortable table – Heartless can just kill out of nowhere with a
double-damage effect, Niv-Mizzet likes to do his Curiosity thing (and apparently benefits from a Soulbond creature that grants curiosity without caring if
the damage is dealt during the combat phase!), and Griselbrand is as Griselbrand does.
Heartless Hitsedegu came out with an early start involving some mana rocks and a Solemn Simulacrum before setting up a Wheel of Fate for further down the
line, and he had a Strip Mine up as his only way of interacting with Griselbrand. Niv-Mizzet spent his early game developing but was stuck on three Islands
only, leaving more expensive spells and his second color stranded in his hand, while I spent my first two turns playing lands and casting cheap
draw spells before tapping out to play Animar on turn 3. Griselbrand took this as the perfect opportunity to capitalize, after Niv-Mizzet tapped out for
Proteus Staff to potentially deal with my Animar, and with two tapped-out blue mages the just-drawn Ad Nauseam threatened the immediate kill.
Luckily for me, I’d drawn my brand-new Force of Will on my third turn, and removed Portent from the game in order to cast it, allowing me to untap and
start applying pressure. I cast a Flametongue Kavu on Niv-Mizzet’s Spellskite to prevent him from Staffing his own creature, just in case, and attacked
Griselbrand’s player (and prompted Heartless Hitsedegu’s player to do the same). In light of the more serious threat developing with five mana in play and
Griselbrand potentially forthcoming, Anthony declined to Proteus Staff my commander immediately, under the premise I wouldn’t attack him with it,
while Heartless Hitsedegu pulled off an awesome trick and Heat Shimmered his Solemn Simulacrum and swung at Griselbrand, then used Strip Mine on a Swamp,
leaving the City of Traitors to kill itself when next he played a land.
That dÃ©tente lasted exactly one turn, with two more threats appearing on my side before it was clear Animar had to go and was Proteus Staffed, and Anthony
finally hit a red land and started to build his board presence more significantly. Heartless Hitsedegu was cast, then killed on my turn by a Man-o’-War
bouncing my own Flametongue Kavu, putting it just barely outside of his reach to recast in subsequent turns without the Wheel of Fate turning up some more
mana. Griselbrand’s life had by now ticked down to 28, so we’d limited him to three shots of cards with which to kill us if he were able to get him onto
the table, but he had only played a Thawing Glaciers (killing his City of Traitors) in order to settle in for the longer haul of getting to eight on the
Niv-Mizzet had been relying on his commander pulling through there and didn’t have very much to add to the board on his turn. Soon enough the turn cycle
came back around twice with no major threats added to the board. I cast Primeval Titan, which got me two Hideaway lands and options on future spells;
Anthony played a Clone to get in the spirit of things as well, finally solving his red mana problems instead of burning a counter on the Titan.
My hand was ticking down, and I was thinking Wheel of Fate was going to be fine, when Anthony simply came out of nowhere with Niv-Mizzet landing on the
table and Curiosity cast directly on him as we were about to face the Wheel of Fate. It seemed like the worst was about to happen–Niv-Mizzet’s combo kill,
plus enough mana to let Heartless Hitsedegu try again, and maybe a few rituals for Griselbrand to come into play–except of course for the fact that my
last card was Arcane Denial. Countering the Wheel went from maybe-I-don’t-have-to to “or die” in the span of a single turn, though suddenly Heartless
Hitsedegu was glad he was not about to die to his own spell and was even pleased he’d still get two cards out of the deal.
My extra draw happened to be Survival of the Fittest, and things just got simple, as the dead Sphinx of Uthuun I had been hoping would draw me something to
answer Niv-Mizzet now could be cashed in directly to become Phantasmal Image, and I had even drawn another creature, so I set up for the next few turns and
used my random dorks to attack Griselbrand a little more, just in case. With the mana I had open, the plan was to chain Survival for several creatures then
settle on whatever was the right one before untapping, and flipped through Anger and Vengevine before picking up Palinchron to add to the table on the
cheap the next turn.
Things instead got nutty – I’d played my two Hideaway spells, and attacking with Primeval Titan this turn allowed me to get a bounceland plus Winding
Canyons just for giggles, to reset the Mosswort Bridge. Revealing the Time Warp when I played the Bridge as my land for the turn made the crazy happen, as
Palinchron let me untap it, and with the extra turn I put all three of my opponents down into the mid-teens, readying for another major strike so long as
nothing changed in the meantime. I’d even drawn another creature to Survival with, and after giving another turn around the table I was ready to set up for
that one big turn to end the game with by putting Godo in my hand, which found Sword of Feast and Famine and equipped. Haste thanks to Anger allowed an
immediate attack, and having drawn a creature that turn as well, the remaining bits of mana went to Survival for Kozilek, Butcher of Truth, then floating a
little mana for the Winding Canyons activation, letting me flash Kozilek in before my Godo-granted second attack step, drawing four cards and getting just
enough damage to kill the table.
Good thing, too…I’d have felt like a real jerk showing them I could still manipulate the time-stream even further.
That capped the weekend off for me. There was a draft, but that wasn’t really relevant, and a long car-ride home in which the only meal options started
with an ‘M’ and ended with ‘cDonald’s,’ which my degree in chemistry precludes me from actually acknowledging as food; I’d rather be grumpy and not eat
until I get home at two in the morning than be grumpy and disgusted with myself, because going hungry until two in the morning is better than
Animar, at least, worked out the way I’d wanted to, even if the rest of the weekend had felt like a wash for seeing my ideas play out with meaningful
results. I’d even managed to defeat someone playing the same Griselbrand deck I myself had designed, though apparently the Griselbrand player didn’t know
that I knew the jig was up until his friend came and laughed at the fact that he had the misfortune of getting paired against the person he’d gotten the
decklist from, since the friend was the one who put the deck together for him.
I still contend that Griselbrand is too good to be a Commander, and there is no fair use for Ad Nauseam to ‘balance’ the unfair use that comes with a deck
designed to literally just cast it and win, because it is a one-card combo if you want it to be. By the same logic that tells me I can’t play
Painter’s Servant to go with whatever goofy things I happen to want to do just because someone, somewhere might want to play Painter + Grindstone
in a world of legendary Eldrazi or Tooth and Nail into Painter + Iona, Ad Nauseam is too good to allow, and I suppose you could say I’ll swallow my ethics
and jam Griselbrand until that point is proven and the error corrected. It’s a peculiar twist on my normal moral stance, but it is the kind of stand
someone has to make once in a while – I’ve heard reports of my Ad Nauseam single-card-combo deck being played as far away as the West Coast, and
Griselbrand is only going to make that worse by providing the obvious backup support of having Yawgmoth’s Bargain as your combo deck’s commander.
The status is not quo. The problem must be solved.
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