The Prossh Experiment

It’s a common question – “how does the Commander Rules Council make its decisions about contentious cards?” Today Sheldon shows a peek inside that process as he tests Prossh, Skyraider of Kher to see how it impacts games as a Commander.

Prossh, Skyraider of Kher generates a great deal of discussion as to whether or not it’s a broken card. I’ve seen it do crazy things and I’ve seen it sputter out. I’ve seen it kill people with some regularity on turns earlier than I see as optimal. A few weeks back, I mentioned experimenting with it a bit. The part and parcel of this highly-unscientific (due to the low statistical sample size) experiment is that I would take Prossh and have it pilot it each of my four Jund decks (Adun’s Toolbox, Karrthus, Who Rains Fire From The Sky, Karrthus Do-Over, and Kresh Into The Red Zone) and report the results back to you. I suppose I could have taken out a random card in each deck and use the commander as one of the 99, but I simply didn’t take the time do so. I doubt it impacted the results in any significant way. What I wanted to look for is an overall impression of the card. The deep result I’m looking for is to determine whether it is the kind of card which dominates, destroys, and/or over-centralizes a game, or if is simply situationally good. I want to hit all angles of inquiry and not presume any conclusions.

Any time that I want to do something outside the normal confines of simply playing a game, I enlist the aid of my friends. They’re understanding about me taking extra time to take notes and calling out the plays that they make so that I understand what’s going on. Five folks initially showed up for this adventure, regulars who you’ve already met: Tom, Shea, Chris, Anthony, and Cole. We talked about playing a six-player game, which under normal circumstances I’m not a fan of because they tend to be super slow, but I was certainly willing to do that with this crowd. It turns out we didn’t need to. Anthony and Cole decided to sit out the first game because they wanted to do some trading and Anthony was finishing up his build of a new deck (which we would see later on). One of the reasons we made sure to get the “regular” gang together is that it was Cole’s last Thursday with us; he is moving up to Tallahassee to attend grad school for Public Health. Nothing says “we’ll miss you” like smashing some face! Another regular who you’ve already met, Apple, showed up later, and we were able to get him in as well. We also added a new player, Patrick, who happens to work for Star City Games and who happened to be in town at the time. For this particular instance, I chose to not do an actual play-by-play because I wanted to take notes on all the games we played and didn’t want to really bog down things, as part of the point was to maximize the number of games we got in. My plan is to play Prossh as early as possible, so long as doing so would not be tactically suicidal. If my turn-five or turn-six choice would be between Lurking Predators and Prossh, the former is probably the strategically superior play (especially given that whichever deck I’m playing isn’t set up to take advantage of Prossh). I reconciled myself to playing Prossh in a spot like that instead, because that’s what we came to do.

Game One: Sitting In For Adun Oakenshield

Shea is playing Maelstrom Wanderer; Chris has Tariel, the Reckoner; Tom is running Wort, the Raidmother. Shea and Tom look to be the aggressors while Chris and I are set up to have the control elements.

The game gets off to a modest start. Chris drops a turn-two Sol Ring which he doesn’t do much with. I have a weak hand but Kodama’s Reach on turn three; unfortunately, I miss my sixth land drop. Shea casts Sol Ring and Garruk Wildspeaker on his turn four to give himself a little (effective) ramp. It only takes me six turns to forget that I want to cast Prossh right away; I instead ended up casting Graveshell Scarab with one mana up in case I want to sacrifice it. I remember during Shea’s turn and write a big note to myself: “CAST PROSSH!” I do on turn seven. Shea meanwhile has gotten into Primeval Bounty. I use the Graveshell Scarab to kill his Garruk because otherwise it means Maelstrom Wanderer a turn earlier. He nonetheless casts Maelstrom Wanderer on turn seven, getting Scavenging Ooze and Blue Sun’s Zenith. He casts the latter for zero anyway, just to get the Primeval Bounty trigger.

The turn after I’ve cast Prossh, I cast Kokusho, the Evening Star. Chris then casts Magus of the Moat, which significantly slows down Shea, who doesn’t have too many fliers in his deck, and probably Tom too. I hit Shea twice with Prossh (not sacrificing anything yet) in order to get him into potential one-shot range later in the game. I know he is the most potentially explosive opponent right now, so we have to make sure he stays in check. You always want to put the aggressive deck back on its heels. If it’s spending its efforts on not getting killed, then it’s not killing you.

Due to Oracle of Mul Daya, we know that Tom draws Warp World. He plays Wort, the Raidmother instead. On the ensuing turn, Chris casts Mob Rule for creatures with power four or greater. I have a total creature power of ten, so I can activate Mosswort Bridge — under which I’ve hidden Decree of Pain. We then get to the first of the day’s blowouts: Tom casts Dualcaster Mage. I have to sacrifice all my creatures (including Kokusho, which nets me 15 life) to keep Tom’s draw in a sensible place. He still draws nearly twenty cards.

When it gets back around to my turn, I recast Prossh because “that’s why we’re here.” On his turn, Shea recasts Maelstrom Wanderer because, he says, “that’s also why we’re here.” A couple of turns later, Tom turns Mana Reflection into a number of Elves and Akroma’s Memorial. Chris believes he has an answer with Blasphemous Act. He then realizes it won’t kill Tom’s army since they have Protection from Red. The board state has changed radically from thinking we need to kill Shea to having a great fear of Tom. When it gets back around to Tom, he casts Warp World anyway. Shea wants to Gruul Charm him, but then again realizes it won’t do anything to Tom’s red-protected creatures. Shea gets ten permanents – and most importantly, no green sources – while Chris gets eleven, I get 22, and Tom gets 28. Tom’s are much better than mine… except for the fact that I get Goblin Bombardment and Oversold Cemetery. Tom’s board is super-good, but Shea kills him by way of that Gruul Charm (choosing the can’t block mode), then kills Chris. I have a few turns of action with Gruul Ragebeast keeping the few things that Shea casts off of my back and Oversold Cemetery restocking my hand. Eventually I can recast Prossh, which lets me finish off Shea with Goblin Bombardment.

If we count “last person standing” as winning then that game goes to me, but I certainly wasn’t the aggressor at any point. Prossh helped wrap up the game, but it was inevitable anyway since Shea didn’t have any green mana to cast his fatties with. Without Prossh it would have simply taken a few turns longer.

Game rating for Prossh: a factor, but not the deciding one.

Game Two: Taking Over For Karrthus Do-Over

Conveniently, Chris has to go run an errand. He takes off; Cole (with Nin, the Pain Artist) and Anthony (with his new Surrak Dragonclaw) slide in. Tom keeps playing his Wort deck while Shea switches to Avacyn, Guardian Angel.

It’s a normal start for everyone except for Tom, who ramps into Boundless Realms before I can play Prossh, which (this time) I do as soon as possible. That Boundless Realms of course makes him a target, and it sets the narrative for the course of the game. He shrugs and casts Avenger of Zendikar, netting thirteen Plant tokens. Cole casts Mystical Tutor for Devastation Tide, which is obviously only a temporary solution. He casts it, and I have to recast Prossh. I’m still looking for an answer for the inevitable, but it’s Shea who comes up with it in the coolest blowout of the day. When Tom recasts Avenger of Zendikar, Shea responds with Hushwing Gryff. Tom sits there, gob-smacked as our British friends might say. He mutters good-naturedly about that simply shutting down most of his deck. Cole casts Talent of the Telepath, targeting Tom, and gets to cast See the Unwritten. I do a quick search to see if that’s a card I’m playing, because it seems like one I’d want to. It is in fact in the deck I’ll play in the next game. Unfortunately for Cole, all he gets off of it is Goblin Electromancer. About a dozen times over the next few turns, someone else mutters about Hushwing Gryff. Tom is the most insistent about wanting to get rid of it, since it shuts down his commander. I hit him twice with Prossh. I’m just on the verge of being able to hit him for the final shot on the next turn when he casts The Great Aurora on the back of Mana Reflection. I consider shuffling Prossh into the deck, but if it comes up I don’t get the Kobolds. The permanent count is 28 for Tom, 22 for me, fifteen each for Shea and Anthony, and a dozen for Cole. Having floated a great deal of mana, Tom casts a bunch of creatures, including something that gives them haste until end of turn. He tries to kill me, and I announce to the table that if someone has a way to save me, I can deal with the swarm. Shea has the answer with Holy Day. On my turn, I cast Decree of Pain; none of the cards I draw are Reliquary Tower, so I discard down to seven when I pass the turn. Anthony casts Wild Pair but doesn’t do anything crazy with it; Tom casts Chandra, the Firebrand and uses her -2 ability then casts (two copies of) Genesis Wave for eleven. The two important things he gets are Zealous Conscripts and Avenger of Zendikar, which nets him 23 4/5s. Zealous Conscripts steals some other thing that gives his creatures haste. We do the math, and none of us can survive the onslaught. On to Game Three.

Game rating for Prossh: Almost got there. If I had something that gave my creatures haste, I could have at least prevented Tom from going nuts. Twice.

Game Three: Trying To Get Into The Red Zone

Anthony sticks with his Surrak Dragonclaw deck and Cole sticks with Nin. Shea switches to Karador, Ghost Chieftain. Tom decides he needs something to eat, so he gets up. The aforementioned Patrick, with Mayael the Anima, jumps in. I play my Kresh deck.

It’s a somewhat subdued start for everyone. I cast Prossh, then Lurking Predators. I get a couple of quick hits with Seedguide Ash and Kokusho, followed by a bunch of whiffs in a row. Prossh spreads around a little love. I lurk into Hamletback Goliath, which gets rather large rather quickly. Patrick controls the action (meaning who gets damaged) a bit with Xenagos, God of Revels and Sword of Feast and Famine (obviously not together). He uses Sneak Attack to get Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger into play for a turn, considerably strengthening his board state. He rightly fears my tokens, so he casts Austere Command, choosing enchantments and small creatures (not wanting to wipe out his significant large ones). I have a 53/53 Hamletback Goliath and cast Nighthowler, which is also huge. Cole casts Rite of Replication, targeting Nighthowler. I consider letting it resolve, but I have Fling. The question is to either kill Patrick or Cole. Cole having five 20/20s is even more problematic than Patrick’s board, so I Fling Hamletback at him. In retrospect, there was no need to rush into that. I would still have the Fling, and if that resolves, Hamletback becomes monstrously huge. All I’d need is trample to start killing folks.

After that, there is lots of back-and-forth with life totals dwindling. Shea is clinging to survival and gains some life. I can kill him in response by sacrificing Kokusho, but I figure his help against Patrick will be welcome. I do have to sacrifice Kokusho the following turn in order to not get killed myself, which sets Shea back to eight and Anthony falls to one. Then Patrick casts Ruric Thar. My life is still in double digits so I can be the one to bite the bullet, and I cast Pernicious Deed with the plan of blowing it for nine on Patrick’s turn. That doesn’t take care of Xenagos. Even after Anthony uses Alchemist’s Refuge to flash in Lurking Predators, we can’t keep up with whatever creatures Patrick casts plus Xenagos, especially after he casts Gisela, Blade of Goldnight.

Game rating for Prossh: not much of a factor.

Game Four: Prossh And Dragons

Tom has eaten and is available, but Apple and Keith have shown up. Anthony and Shea agree to get into a game with Tom and Patrick so that the two recent arrivals can play a game with me and Cole. Cole switches to Kaalia. Keith plays Cromat, and Apple plays Maelstrom Wanderer.

This game goes from ridiculous to absurd in short order. My early play is Frontier Siege. Being a Dragons deck, I really want to choose Dragons, but I have no fifth land and I need mana to cast Prossh. Then Apple asks “Good play or fun play?” and we all choose “fun play” knowing what’s coming (since he has five mana, two of which are red). He casts Possibility Storm and things get wild. And then crazy. My major note from this game is that I’m glad I’m not doing a for real play-by-play. Prossh helps me be on the defensive, where the Kobolds get to usefully block giant things. After Possibility Storm eventually gets blown up, I cast Guild Feud and Might Makes Right in the same turn. It gets crazy again for a bit until they both get nuked. Then Apple, who has no particular way to go infinite, hard-casts Ominscience (he has no card draw in his hand). He jokingly makes noise about being “forced” to still pay for Maelstrom Wanderer — until he casts it and cascades into Greater Good. We ask if he has an Eldrazi in his deck. He says yes, and we know he’s in complete control.

Game rating for Prossh: what did I say earlier about the aggressive deck playing defensively?

The results of this small sampling suggest that without being built around, Prossh isn’t all that great. It certainly doesn’t seem to be able to accidently wreck games. Clearly, it’s significantly stronger with haste – maybe even stronger than most commanders. What these four games tell me (again, recognizing that this doesn’t come close to an actual, viable experiment) is that it’s the kind of card which highly depends on who is playing it. When I cast it, no one was ever immediately scared, although they were sometimes a bit concerned that it would eventually hurt them. Someone with a sufficient will to do so can easily break it, especially when combined with cards like Food Chain and Purphoros, God of the Forge. This means that it’s also pretty linear. I was a little worried going in about the card’s raw power as a Commander; today’s games showed me something different. It’s not about the card, it’s about what you do with the card. This is an experiment I’ll nonetheless return to in the coming weeks and months. We’ll see if the results are consistent with what we saw here; I’ll be sure to tell you everything we uncover.

This week’s Deck Without Comment is the Adun Oakenshield deck from above.

Adun's Toolbox
Sheldon Menery
Test deck on 11-30--0001
Magic Card Back

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