Justify Your Card Choices!

Abe Sargent takes a good hard look at his Commander Cube and discusses why it is important to keep your sacred cows to a minimum!

One of the things I like to do every so often is to swing by my Commander Cube and then sort of force every card there to justify their continued presence
in the Cube. What are you bringing to the table? Is there another card that better suits the needs of the Cube than you? If you aren’t willing to ask this
vital question, then your Cube won’t be great, and you’ll have a tendency to have sacred cows that need to be trimmed.

Even if your Cube project isn’t Commander, you need to go over your cards again. What are those weak areas? What works, but could work better? What have
you held sacred that needs to go?

Sometimes we find some cards that we thought were safe, but later on, things change.

Take Kor Sanctifiers. They are fine, but the enters-the-battlefield trigger only works with kicker and isn’t prone to abuse. You could swap them out for an
anti-enchantment guy such as Monk Realist, but doing so loses that flexibility to handle artifacts as well. Which one is better? Could I pull an
instant/sorcery that I don’t like for a Disenchantment effect, and then free up this spot for a better card? A lot of Cubers often just look for 1:1 swaps
and upgrades, rather than looking at things more holistically.

Asking these sorts of cards to justify themselves is a great way to strengthen your Cube!

For example, I once had Resurrection in my Cube. It was a perfectly adequate Zombify effect for white. There weren’t any obvious spell-based upgrades to
consider (I already had the four-mana, slightly cheaper Breath of Life in as well). But when I acquired an Enlightened Tutor, I pulled the Resurrection for
the Tutor, and then swapped an expensive, under-performing creature for Karmic Guide. That way I kept the reanimation spot, but simply slid it to creature.
That’s an important big-picture way to better your Cube.

Here are some cards that I just can’t justify any longer:

Out: Order // Chaos for Boros Charm
I love Order // Chaos. It’s one of my favorite pet cards of all time. But this Cube is not a place for pet cards. The Order is an expensive and limited
removal effect, and the Chaos is awesome but rarely used. This article is about pushing myself to find that extra card. Boros Charm can be used reactively
to keep your team alive, but the double strike is a surprising twist in combat, and you can occasionally Lava Axe a player to death if you need to. It’s
even better off a Sunforger activation!

Out: Congregate for Unexpectedly Absent
This one hurts. Congregate is one of my weak points. I remember it from multiplayer games of old, when people usually had twenty life. In those games,
gaining eight, ten, or eighteen life off the instant was very game-swinging. Congregate ruled multiplayer. It was so commonly played that I ran False Cure
in order to turn the tables and kill some Congregating fools. And it’s not just the playgroups I encountered either! The Ferrett and Anthony Alongi both
extolled the merits of the card and talked about how it changed games. There were playgroups that banned Congregate it was so good.

So what happened?

Commander came along. And it brought 40 starting life with it. And in Commander, Congregate is adequate at best. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with gaining
life. But it’s the loss of a card, and I already have 40 life, so outside of the deck that really wants lifegain (cough, Oloro, Ageless Ascetic, cough), it
doesn’t have a lot of respect. It’s not Congregate anymore. And since this is a Commander Cube, I have to get past my insecurities and just let it go. I
can’t force it. It doesn’t justify a spot. Sigh.

Out: Grimoire Of The Dead for Eye of Doom
– The Grimoire isn’t drafted that highly even in decks that could benefit from it. That’s a death knell. I was thinking about Conjurer’s Closet here
instead. It would be solid support for a lot of strategies. I considered Quietus Spike or Voltaic Construct. But in the end I just decided to go with the
multiplayer friendly Eye of Doom. It certainly works, and you can use it in a variety of decks.

Out: Empyrial Armor for Flickerform
– I like Empyrial Armor as a surprise aura to toss onto Zur the Enchanter when he attacks. It also works on white-based beaters like Rafiq of the Many. But
its usage is limited to very specific roles, and outside of those, it downright sucks. Instead, we’ll slide to Flickerform. Zur can still get it to protect
himself, and you can use it on a ton of creatures and commanders alike. Flicker away my friends, flicker away!

Out: Wall of Frost for Talrand, Sky Summoner
– I had Wall of Frost in the Cube as a support card for Phenax, God of Deception, and then also as a solid defensive body for all of the various control
builds that draft blue. When I removed Phenax for Dragonlord Silumgar, the Wall of Frost’s days began to be numbered. I am moving to a support card for the
Izzet sorcery/instant matters deck built around Melek, Izzet Paragon and other Izzet shells. Like Wall of Frost, it also fits in the sorcery/instant
heavier control decks but in a more proactive way that provides more power to that role. Welcome our new Sky Summoner.

Out Ruric Thar for a certain Dragonlord Atarka
– I actually like both Dragonlord Atarka and Atarka, World Render for this spot. But if I’m going to pay seven mana for a pure beater in Gruul, it seems
like the 8/8 is simply the better investment, and thus, Dragonlord Atarka is joining Silumgar as the only two Dragonlords in the Cube.

Out: Shard Phoenix for Firewing Phoenix
– Very few people recur Shard Phoenix when they play it at all since it’s hard to commit mana in the upkeep. It’s just not that powerful these days. Is
there a better choice out there? I liked the sacrifice-for-a-ground-Pyroclasm, but outside of the occasional Izzet build, it’s not really doing its thing.
What about another Phoenix? I like Firewing Phoenix. It’s cheaper to play, bigger, and you aren’t forced to recur in in your upkeep. When you aren’t sure
if you need your mana or not, you can just wait until it’s almost your turn and then pull it back. I could swap to Flamewake Phoenix or Skarrgan Firebird,
but I like the Firewing the best.

Out: Helvault for Vessel of Endless Rest
– This is a simple addition of any color of mana to the Cube for a card that no one played much, even the control decks that would benefit from Helvault.
When it’s not drafted, or even played, then it’s time to get benched.

These cards are out!

Part of justifying yourself is to explore cards that already work, and then to see if there is a better alternative. It’s worth massaging a card slot to
find a better partner.

Take Shelter. It’s a two cost instant that gives one of your creatures protection from a color to prevent targeted removal or battlefield craziness. And
it’s a cantrip to boot, so it’s a free spell. Now, it there a better role-player out there? Would I find the +1/+1 counter fun of Feat of Resistance better
since we have that theme for white?

Again, justify yourself! Are you good enough in this Cube to keep your spot over Feat of Resistance?

Here’s another. Would Prismatic Strands be served by being a different style of protection card? It’s double use is nice, but would Rootborn Defenses just
be a better choice?

And what about Akroma’s Blessing? Could I make the card different, but better by swapping over Spare from Evil?

White has a few spells to protect your guys, and I had to run some in the Cube to represent that, but are these the best three choices?

Shelter? Yes! I like Shelter enough to leave it in since white has little raw card drawing, and it’s a two-for-one when used against something like
removal. And the Blessing of Akroma is nice because you can cycle it or use it to aggressively to swing through a color-based defense. It’s just perfectly


Out: Prismatic Strands for Rootborn Defenses
– That’s a swap that’ll surprise no one.

Justify yourself!

How about Tel-Jilad Justice? Right now, green has Krosan Grip, Beast Within, Slice in Twain, Return to the Earth and Rain of Thorns as sorcery/instant ways
to take out an artifact. Don’t forget Seal of Primordium, Woodfall Primus, Terastodon, Reclamation Sage, Acidic Slime, Indrik Stomphowler and even Bane of
Progress. I don’t think the Justice is that necessary, since it only hits artifacts, and the scry isn’t exactly game winning.

If I cleared up that spot, what makes it in instead? More land fetching? Another Fog effect?

I was considering a removal “spell” that can fight against commanders now that tuck is gone, still can take out an artifact, and works well with Eidolon of
Blossoms. Enter Song of the Dryads. But instead, I’m going to pull Seal of Primordium for it. That way, I can keep this spot open for another spell.

We only have one spell in green that FogsSpore Cloud. I want to toss in another. Hmmm… There are a ton that I like, such as Tangle. You could run a
trick that might keep your stuff still smashing like Winds of Qal Sisma. Maybe a lifegain spell like Respite or Blunt the Assault? But at the end, it comes
down to Constant Mists, Tangle, and Moment’s Peace. Two can be used more than once, and the other taps down stuff for another turn, so it buys you an extra
turn as well. All three have longer game options. I’m going with Constant Mists

Out: Seal of Primordium, Tel-Jilad Justice

Constant Mists, Song Of The Dryads

Some cards work fine, but you can better the spot. In your own projects, what could be improved to work even better than it does already?

In addition to these justifications, I want to push my Cube’s support for Yasova Dragonclaw. Decks built around her have developed into a Steal ‘N Sac deck
because Jund has sac effects, so you can just snag the sacrifice effects from the Gruul part of Jund, such as Birthing Pod or Goblin Bombardment. Then use
the creatures you steal with Yasova to fuel them up. You can pair Yasova with cards like Helm of Possession, Vedalken Shackles, and such. But the addition
of this theme alongside the various sacrifice archetypes in Jund and its other colors leads to a decided lack of good sacrifice cards running around these
days, and colors with sac subthemes need more juice.

Where can I find some stuff?

The first place to explore is sacrifice engines that don’t suck. I want things that fit nicely into a Commander-style Cube, let’s not push something bad
that doesn’t fit, like Despotic Scepter.

With that in mind, where can we find some gas? I don’t want to lean on cards that are so relegated to the sacrifice themes that they can’t be drafted
elsewhere. You can run a card like Flesh Carver in a lot of different decks without necessarily running a Jund sacrifice deck. A card that supports one or
two archetypes and is virtually unplayable elsewhere is a poor addition to my Cube. Ooze Garden is one such card. How often do you really want to use it if
you don’t have a dedicated sacrifice theme?

And what’s even worse is that a lot of quality sacrifice cards are already in the deck.

I’m ready to make some changes now, as I came across cards that no longer justified themselves:

Out: Yixlid Jailer for Krovikan Horror
Yixlid Jailer is a solid two-drop and gives you another tool against some types of graveyard abuse, which isn’t much. We really don’t need the extra
attack vector on our graveyard stuff, we need more support actually. So I am pulling it for Krovikan Horror, which gives us a sacrifice outlet for decks
that care, as well as a self-recursion ability if you can toss a creature on top of it in your graveyard.

Out: Defense Of The Heart for Greater Good
– Defense was one creature-into-play effect too many for the Cube, and Greater Good is an awesome tool that I just picked up. That thing is pricey these
days! Anyway, let’s sacrifice my love for some serious card drawing potential.

Here’s a few that intrigue me:

Plaguemaw Beast
It sacrifices a creature while the proliferate works with a lot of green’s other themes, so it could easily be taken in a sacrifice deck like Yasova
Dragonclaw’s Temur deck or Jund’s Sek’Kuar, Deathkeeper or Prossh, Skyraider of Kher. Meanwhile you can grab it with Simic or Abzan’s counter-heavy themes.
That’s a strong amount of flexibility.

Greater Gargadon
– You can sacrifice stuff to bring ol’ Gargy down faster! In Commander, the 9/7 creature, without any ability to protect itself or to smash through
defenses when it arrives, just isn’t really a major threat. Especially since it warns others of its arrival and when people have drafted creature removal.

– You can sacrifice a creature for one red (snow) mana with Thermopod and thereby make some mana later in the game for things, but unless you have
something specific to do with the mana, I’m not sure how generally useful it’d be.

What about Perilous Forays, Orcish Bloodpainter, or Scourge of Skola Vale?

To help Jund decks, there’s no reason not to toss in a few more sacrifice engines in black, to reduce the need to fight early to grab sacrifice stuff in
green/red from a Yasova drafter.

Viscera Seer
– Because it’s mana-free to use and cheap, you can drop it and sacrifice all day, but scry 1 isn’t really a lot of value from your dying stuff.

Phyrexian Plaguelord
– Again, we have a mana-free way to sacrifice a creature, and this time, it’s for some minor -1/-1 removal, and if we piled up some sacrifices, we can kill
a few creatures or one bigger one.

What about Fallen Angel? Or Hell’s Caretaker or Stronghold Assassin? Shoot, even Sadistic Hypnotist is a strong play.

We can also run a one-time sacrifice effect such as Life’s Legacy or Victimize. Or even Skullmulcher.

Want to dig into colorless support? What about Phyrexian Vault or Spawning Pit?

Are there any other sacrifice outlets that I’m looking at?

Out: Ghitu Slinger for Orcish Bloodpainter
The Slinger was adequate, but the echo has always been a weakness. The Bloodpainter is still a two-powered creature for the slot, supports all of the
various sacrificing that red wants, and it can be used early to blow stuff up (including itself). The Slinger was mainly used to hit something early like a
cheap utility creature such as Goblin Welder or Birds of Paradise, and the Bloodpainter can sacrifice to support that role.

I can’t find a spot for the Plaguemaw Beast. I do like it enough to run, but the cards that I think would be legitimate options (Arashi, the Sky Asunder;
Deadbridge Goliath) aren’t easy to pull since they support various roles in green. I’ll keep my eye on it though.

Meanwhile I’d like to add in some stealing cards for the Yasova deck.

Out: Emrakul’s Hatcher for Zealous Conscripts
– I recently pulled one five-drop red creature for another in Emrakul’s Hatcher. The goal was to add a better team player to give the various red sacrifice
decks more tools to use with cards like Goblin Bombardment. And you get four creatures with the one body, which is a strong result. Outside of those decks?
The Hatcher isn’t really anything.

So I am going to downgrade my support of that deck to another five-drop that has an enters-the-battlefield trigger. But this time, it’s just a better card
generally, and thus should see more play. Enter Zealous Conscripts. You can steal their creature and then sacrifice it. Or you can take something else as
well, and it’s got a solid pedigree.

Now, after that swap is over, what’s left?

What about something like Beguiler of Wills or Callous Oppressor – something that can tap to steal a dork, sacrifice it, and repeat?

You could add in a way to steal one creature at a time for a while – such as Chamber of Manipulation or Overtaker. Sure they require the investment of a
card to work, but the creature taken, which then gets sacrificed, is pretty useful.

Cards like Sower of Temptation, Harness by Force, and Domineering Will suggest themselves.

You could even run some blue sacrifice stuff like Profaner of the Dead or Drowned Rusalka.

I wish I could toss in stuff like Diamond Valley or Old Man of the Sea to help out. But that’s just pipe dreaming.

What do I like enough to toss in?

Out: Ray of Command for Domineering Will
– Because the Will is less flexible, I did not make this change earlier, but since you can get up to three dorks for a turn, it seems like a better fit for
our Yasova plans, and it’s still a fun combat trick for creature light decks to play.

Out: Act of Aggression for Mass Mutiny
– Again, this swap is more powerful since the new spell can grab more creatures. You could use the Act defensively or offensively, but this is pure
offense, with the side of sacrifice love to kill what is left.

Could I run something like Rakdos Riteknife? Starved Rusalka? Squee, Goblin Nabob?

No, but it’s worth continuing to ask the questions. With these swaps I’ve enhanced one of the major mechanics of my Cube. No matter the size and content of
your Cube, that’s important to do anywhere.

Future Questions For my Commander Cube

Is there a better high-end black creature than Pestilence Demon? Is Deathbringer Regent good enough? Could I just drop out of the higher end slot
altogether for something like Geth, Lord of the Vault instead?

Because it no longer tucks a commander, is Void Stalker able to continue to justify itself? Is there not something better I could run here?

What about stuff like Blazing Archon? Celestial Force? Shrapnel Blast?

Check out the new Cube over at Cubetutor.com and draft it! (Change it to draft with 6 packs).
You can see all of the updates there from this past week since
last week’s article about Commander Cube and its mana issues
. And now we’ll move to non-Cube stuff for a while.

Anyway, what are the sacred cows of your Cube? Commander or otherwise, what are you holding onto that you really need to let go? Because your Cube will
only get better if you can find and excise those Congregates.

PS – And a special thanks to the many folks who drafted my Cube last week and saved their decks for me. I review every deck that someone drafted,
built, and saved to see where others are angling for cards, building their archetypes, and more. I’ve made changes on the Cube based on comments online
from others, so thanks for helping!