If you are a skeptic of the Un-sets, I urge you to give Unstable a chance. I played in a draft this weekend and had a lot of fun despite some bumps. My draft was a bit of a train-wreck because I had not really been paying attention to the set for Limited, got a little too mesmerized by Contraptions and ended up drafting ten of them, plus a bunch of cool things to do with Contraptions once they were in my sprockets, but not enough cards that could assemble a Contraption.
I actually was short cards to build a legal deck around in my two colors, with nothing in a third color worth splashing for and few ways of fixing for a third color. I squeezed in a very dubious card to get to 22 nonland cards and crossed my fingers. I actually figured that would be okay, since I had a couple of pricey bombs and there seems to be no shortage of late-game mana sinks in the set, though several of them involved having a Contraption on the battlefield. Including a couple of these:
PSA regarding Cogmentor: the card has flying. I did not realize it until my third match. Yes, this is a 1/1 flier for one generic mana, no drawbacks, and a nifty ability for the mid- to late-game. On an uncommon. It seemed so impossible that my brain just refused to acknowledge the flying ability until someone I was playing pointed out that Willing Test Subject had reach and could block the Cogmentor. D’oh! I wonder how many free points of damage I had missed up until that point?
One thing I felt clever about was drafting a few of these:
I figured enough people would be playing Contraptions that maindecking these Beasts would be perfectly fine, and if I could Augment one with a way I could trigger it reliably, I could keep my opponents off Contraption advantage. So, yeah, this was one layer of cleverness. Another layer was drafting a couple of these:
On the surface, these seem like small effects: tap a creature to draw a card, or tap a creature to gain three life. But there is an important wrinkle here: you do not have to target your own creature, and that creature becomes an artifact until the end of the turn. So if I cranked a sprocket with one of these Contraptions, I could turn my opponent’s giant threat into an artifact and kill it dead with my Bumbling Pangolin! I realize it is entirely probable that people who are more into Limited may have long already noticed this synergy, but like I said, I didn’t really read up on any strategy before the draft, so I was feeling particularly clever and wanted to pass on the wisdom to those, like me, who might be a little late to the party.
Here is the thing: while Unstable has a ton of splashy, crazy cards and mondo-combos, down in the weeds there are all sorts of neat little synergies you can tap into to gain an edge. I was facing down my opponent’s Animate Library on Turn 6 and it started eating a chump blocker each turn. I was desperate, and thankfully I was able to manipulate my Contraptions with Cogmentor and Clock of DOOOOOOOOOOOOM! to set up a turn where I could attack my opponent with an unblockable creature with twenty power, his exact life total, to steal the game.
Anyway, to get back to my starting point: even if you’re an Un-skeptic, I’d recommend trying one draft out and let yourself have some wacky fun. You will recoup at least some value with two to three beautiful full-art lands, some really cool tokens, and a few hours of entertainment.
Okay, back to Commander! Last week I talked about the temporary unbanning of silver-bordered cards in Commander (legal until January 15th) and how that opens up a window for some crazy times. There are some cool legendary creatures in Unstable we can build decks around, and I gave some deckbuilding ideas last week. But two legends dealt with Host creatures and creatures with Augment, which seemed particularly deep strategically and that I thought warranted more than just a couple of paragraphs. In particular, there’s this fine fellow:
This legendary creature has a lot going on. On base stats alone he is a decent value: a 4/4 for four mana is not an embarrassing presence on the battlefield. Dr. Julius is also every creature type, even if not on the battlefield, which is a rather odd ability, but one we can keep in the back of our mind for times when that could matter.
But the real reason we would want to play Dr. Julius is that last paragraph. Wow, talk about a powerful ability! Each time a Host creature enters the battlefield, you get to search up a card with Augment from your library or graveyard and go ahead and combine it with the Host. There are Augment cards in Unstable that are quite good, so it basically makes all of your subsequent Host creatures into overpowered monstrosities, and what could be more fun than that? Yeah, I think we can definitely build ourselves a Commander deck around Dr. Julius Jumblemorph!
First, though, let us make sure we understand the rules for these new cards:
Creatures with augment do not have a mana cost and cannot be cast. What they can be is combined with host creatures to form a new single creature.
Augment is an activated ability that works while the card is in your hand. To activate it, reveal the card, pay the Augment cost, and choose a Host creature as a target. When the ability resolves, combine the Augment creature with the Host creature.
The creature with Augment is not put onto the battlefield until the ability resolves. This means that if the host is destroyed, the creature with Augment stays in your hand. You cannot choose a different Host, but you can activate Augment again if there is another Host available.
You cannot activate Augment unless there is a Host creature on the battlefield. It does not need to be yours. Note that if you Augment another player’s Host creature, that player controls the combined creature.
Cards with Augment are considered creature cards. But they cannot exist by themselves on the battlefield. If you somehow put a card with Augment onto the battlefield without actually Augmenting it, it will head to the graveyard. We probably do not want cascade cards in our Augment deck.
Once a creature is combined, both cards form a single creature. What happens to the creature happens to both cards.
Got it? Got it! Okay, let us see what host and Augment cards we can put in our green and white deck.
Do not be fooled by Adorable Kitten! It may be small and cute and only gaining a bit of life here and there, but the critter has a secret super-power: rolling dice. There are tons of dice-rolling synergies in this set, so we will want to keep an eye out for those as we round out the deck. Mother Kangaroo has the same superpower higher up the mana curve.
Wild Crocodile was a home run for me in my draft, and I expect it to do decent work in our Commander deck. Keeping your land drops coming is always handy, and we should have plenty of use for any extra mana.
Labro Bot is quite handy, providing some much-needed host creature recursion so Dr. Julius can keep with the experimentation. But the host with the most is most definitely Angelic Rocket, appropriately costed for eight mana. It is a little more expensive, a little smaller, and a little narrower than Angel of Despair, but if you can keep it around to Augment and start getting the triggers on a regular, that is some serious battlefield control!
Speaking of Augment creatures, let us look at what is available:
Some of these triggers are more likely to happen than others. Remember we were talking about keeping an eye out for dice-rolling synergies? Well, check out Multi-Headed! Hey, what if we combined it with Mother Kangaroo?
Hmm. At first I thought maybe both sides would trigger each other, but no, it’s more a synergy machine with other cards that roll dice or care about other dice-rolling, all the while getting bigger and bigger.
How about this adorable creation?
So any time any nontoken creature enters the battlefield, you can destroy it if it belongs to an opponent and there is nothing else more pressing that needs destroying.
How about this for synergy?
Whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, search your library for a basic land card and put it in your hand. Talk about keeping the land drops flowing!
Humming- was an Augment card I faced down a couple games this past weekend and it was a total beating. Not only did it give something flying, but the +2/+3 boost often made for a sizeable creature. Plus, the triggered ability is super-easy to pull off with regularity.
For the more aggressive minded, how about this?
Here is a good use for extra mana:
I feel I should point out that there is a combination here that once assembled could conceivably “go infinite” with another creature: Half-Squirrel, Half-Pony.
Mark Rosewater addressed this issue in his UNSTABLE FAQAWASLFAQPAFTIDAWABIAJTBT:
Half-Squirrel, Half-Pony allows you to replay any creature with an enter the battlefield effect (which includes all host creatures) as many times as you want. Black-border shies away from power-level errata, but silver border is more lenient when doing so creates more overall fun for everyone involved. Therefore, as Un-Rules Manager (with full blessing of the editing team), I’m officially changing Ordinary Pony’s Oracle text to:
When this creature enters the battlefield, you may exile target non-Horse creature you control that wasn’t put onto the battlefield with this ability this turn, then return it to the battlefield under its owner’s control.
This will allow you to flicker any creature once each turn. It just doesn’t let you go infinite.
So feel free to assemble the bio-blink-machine, but prepared to cool your jets just a little bit!
All right, if you are anything like me, you are already super-stoked to start Augmenting Host creatures and doing crazy things! But we still have lots more card slots to fill.
One thing we need to remember is that Augment cards are very narrow, and mostly pretty useless unless we have got a Host creature on the battlefield, so we will want some ways to find or dig for creature cards. Unstable provides two of them with Clever Combo and Teacher’s Pet. Keep in mind you will want to lean towards searching for Host creatures first, since Dr. Julius will let you go get Augment creatures.
Survival of the Fittest is an obvious powerhouse card in this deck. You can discard an Augment creature to find a Host creature, cast it, and if Dr. Julius is on the battlefield already, you can simply go get the discarded Augment card and combine it with the Host you just played. That is absurd! I usually shy away from Survival of the Fittest in my Commander decks because cards that tutor over and over again can really bog down a game, but I’m making an exception here namely for its ability to counteract the power of X. If my opponent is playing X and I have a Survival on the battlefield, I expect X to jump into someone else’s hand besides mine!
So a few of our Host and Augment cards care about dice rolling, so let us fill out those synergies more! Mad Science Fair Project is a sweet mana-rock with a free die roll attached. I still have a Jack-in-the-Mox from back in the day and that provides some free die rolling too, though there’s some risk involved, so I am hoping Krark’s Other Thumb can help the odds ever be in our favor.
Of course, one of the coolest die-rolling cards from Unstable is Sword of Dungeons & Dragons. I was fortunate enough to crack open a random pack and got a foil version, so it is going right on in this deck. Most of the dice-rolling cards are keyed towards rolling a six-sided die, so being able to roll a twenty-sided die does some cool things. Pretty sure your Willing Test Subject is going to get a +1/+1 counter with the Sword’s trigger.
Crossbreed Labs Matters
“Watermarks matter” was not really on my radar for this deck until I ran across Druid of the Sacred Beaker. There seemed like enough Crossbreed Labs cards in the deck that I could often get additional mana without really working for it. Secret Base (Crossbreed Labs version) gives the Druid an extra green mana without even costing a nonland slot. I am not entirely sure Proper Laboratory Attire is even worth a slot outside of Limited, but for flavor reasons it seems entirely wrong for Dr. Julius not to have the option of equipping with it.
Other Fun Un-Cards
Entirely Normal Armchair seems entirely way too much fun not to warrant a card slot, especially in Commander where battlefield states can get rather complex to keep up with, especially when you throw Un-cards into the mix. Plus, it can fuel the trigger for the Robo- Augment card. For science!
The Flavorful/Bland version of Ineffable Blessing seems like a solid inclusion, choosing Bland, since neither Host nor Augment creatures have flavor text. Neither does Dr. Julius—science waits for no flavor!
There is no end to the mana sinks available with many of these Un-cards, so in addition to the ones we have already from the Un-cards, I’ve mixed in some of these format staples.
Mass removal is not normally going to be something we want to be happening, but occasionally other people’s battlefields are going to get out of hand, so we will need to push the panic button and cast Wrath of God or Rout.
Selesnya Good Stuff
These non-Un-cards round out the deck quite nicely. Skullclamp, Sylvan Library, Seasons Past, and Rishkar’s Expertise provide some nice card advantage and selection. Nim Deathmantle. Hua Tuo, Honored Physician and Eldrazi Monument help make your creatures more resilient. Occasionally people are going to nuke your graveyard, so Riftsweeper seems like a good way to get a card back from exile, particularly a critical Augment creature card.
I ran across Swarmyard and realized how nice it is with Dr. Julius being every creature type. If I had an Elephant Graveyard, I would toss it in too. Dr. Julius will certainly be hit with removal spells if your opponents have anything to say about it, and occasionally regeneration will help him survive.
Okay, here is the deck in all its scientific wonder!
- 1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
- 1 Hua Tuo, Honored Physician
- 1 Urza's Science Fair Project
- 1 Free-Range Chicken
- 1 Riftsweeper
- 1 Druid of the Sacred Beaker
- 1 Hydradoodle
- 1 Monkey-
- 1 Multi-Headed
- 1 Adorable Kitten
- 1 Labro Bot
- 1 Willing Test Subject
- 1 Half-Squirrel, Half-
- 1 Half-Kitten, Half-
- 1 Ordinary Pony
- 1 Serpentine
- 1 Steel Squirrel
- 1 Angelic Rocket
- 1 Wild Crocodile
- 1 Voracious Vacuum
- 1 Eager Beaver
- 1 Teacher's Pet
- 1 Gnome-Made Engine
- 1 Ground Pounder
- 1 Mother Kangaroo
- 1 Steam-Powered
- 1 Humming-
- 1 Rhino-
- 1 Shaggy Camel
- 1 Robo-
- 8 Forest
- 7 Plains
- 1 Krosan Verge
- 1 Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
- 1 Miren, the Moaning Well
- 1 Temple Garden
- 1 Swarmyard
- 1 Wooded Bastion
- 1 Bant Panorama
- 1 Naya Panorama
- 1 Sunpetal Grove
- 1 Emeria, the Sky Ruin
- 1 Stirring Wildwood
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Gavony Township
- 1 Thespian's Stage
- 1 Opal Palace
- 1 Temple of Plenty
- 1 Myriad Landscape
- 1 Canopy Vista
- 1 Blighted Woodland
- 1 Mirrorpool
- 1 Fortified Village
- 1 Scattered Groves
- 1 Secret Base
- 1 Wrath of God
- 1 Swords to Plowshares
- 1 Sylvan Library
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Survival of the Fittest
- 1 Defense of the Heart
- 1 Rout
- 1 Jack-in-the-Mox
- 1 Return to Dust
- 1 Cauldron of Souls
- 1 Path to Exile
- 1 Eldrazi Monument
- 1 Nim Deathmantle
- 1 Evolutionary Leap
- 1 Zendikar Resurgent
- 1 Seasons Past
- 1 Sylvan Reclamation
- 1 Rishkar's Expertise
- 1 Growing Rites of Itlimoc
- 1 Ineffable Blessing (artist)
- 1 Krark's Other Thumb
- 1 Proper Laboratory Attire
- 1 Really Epic Punch
- 1 Entirely Normal Armchair
- 1 GO TO JAIL
- 1 Chittering Doom
- 1 Clever Combo
- 1 Success!
- 1 Mad Science Fair Project
So what do you think? Are there any cards I have overlooked, especially any silver-border ones? How would you build it differently? What cards are you looking forward to playing during our Un-holiday in Commander?
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:
Commander Primer Part 1
(Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
Commander Primer Part 2
(Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
Commander Primer Part 3
(Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
Commander Starter Kits 1
(kick start your allied two-color decks for $25)
Commander Starter Kits 2
(kick start your enemy two-color decks for $25)
Commander Starter Kits 3
(kick start your shard three-color decks for $25)
Commander write-ups I’ve done
(and links to decklists):
• Nahiri, The Lithomancer (Lithomancing for Fun and Profit)