There were some Commander columns this week that provided some exceptional food for thought. First up was This is an Arms Race by Adam Styborski on Daily MTG. The letter
from Michael was just amazing, illustrating a player coming around to a revelation on the format that makes me want to go up and give the guy a
man-hug. Adam then dives deeper into the questions raised, and by the end of the column, it left me smiling, nodding, and thinking yes, what he said! If you missed the column, be sure to click on the link, and check it out.
Sheldon had another fine Commander article this week too; make sure to check it out if you haven’t already — You Can’t Get Mad Redux, which
features a list of cards in Commander you can’t get mad about someone destroying or stopping you from playing. It ties in amusingly with an email I got
recently from an old friend who was a veteran of the epic multiplayer brawls we used to have at Total Access Games years ago. Mulli brought back some
memories with this:
“I remember in our mega group games we used to play, you sitting quietly, building your saprolings and spore counters, elvish farmering shenanigans
up getting ready to kill the table and then everyone hard targeting you. This wasn’t a one time thing, and you always asked the question, “Why are
you attacking me?” For whatever reason I remember this and it always made me laugh. I think this happened a time or two and then whenever you sat
down with a token saproling deck (always green) I think it became the norm to start hard targeting you. There was a fear of that Elvish Farmer
I can remember one time when, out of nowhere, someone bolted my Elvish Farmer in a game when I literally had nothing going onâ€”nothing on the board and
no crazy combo potential in my hand. He was literally a 0/2 dude who was going to spit out a Saproling every couple of turns. Of course, I had other
fun Saproling madness cards in the deck and could draw into one eventually, but at the time, I was just keeping my head down and trying to buy time. So
someone sent a random bolt at the Farmer on my turn as I added a spore counter to him, and the only card I had in my hand to do something about it was
a Might of Oaks. Just for kicks I targeted my Farmer with the Might to keep him alive. In response, another player threw some instant burn at the
Farmer… now, I did have another card in hand that could do something about it, but it was an end-game cardâ€”Vitalizing Wind, designed to turn an army of
1/1s into an army of 8/8s. Did I really want to invest yet another card into saving my Farmer? At this point, I was angry and yeahâ€”I had the mana, so I
cast the Winds in response to the second Bolt and ended up sending that Farmer into the face of the second bolt-caster (who I believe was Chuck from Legend of Chuck fame).
But I shouldn’t have gotten madâ€”as Mulli pointed out, I’d played the deck enough that everyone knew I could pull off shenanigansâ€”between the Farmer,
Fecundity, and Spontaneous Generation (note, four copies of each, this was pre-EDH), things got out of hand quickly. I’d originally cooked up the deck
because Elvish Farmer was so innocuous that I could play him, and no one would mess with him because there were a lot more blatantly scary things on
the table for people to worry about. Unfortunately, after reaming people out with the Farmer a few times, he got added to “the list” — at least until I
stopped playing that deck.
Which brings us back around to Sheldon’s article and his “You Can’t Get Mad” list. So often when building Commander decks, it’s so easy to get sucked
into the rush of playing big, spectacular cards that are just bursting with raw power. Wizards has even flooded the market with this sort of cardboard
crack in recent sets, making cards that are “automatic includes” for the format (as discussed on the most recent CommanderCast, #14). The downside of
playing these cards are the alarm bells that sound around the table when you play them; savvy Commander players know these are big, spectacular cards
bursting with raw power and rightfully fear them, so you can’t get mad when they destroy or counter them early and often.
The takeaway here is that you need to be careful about including cards in your Commander deck that are on “this list” — not just Sheldon’s list, but
any cards that you know your playgroup is likely to overtly fear. It’s more effective sometimes to use cards that fly below the radar, keeping a low
profile until just the right time when you can hatch your evil plan and take one or more players by surprise with some big, splashy play that no one
saw coming. Of course, once that happens once or twice, that card gets added to “the list” — like my poor old Elvish Farmers — so you can’t get mad
when playing that card again evokes strong responses.
Thankfully, the card pool for Commander is deep enough that not playing many cards on “the list” doesn’t really restrict you that much, right?
Both of these articles tie nicely into my latest Commander deck creation that I wanted to share with you. Recently, I had an itch to build a new
Commander deck or two, so I started sifting through my cards to see what might catch my interest and spark some ideas. As I was going through some blue
cards, I realized that I had not yet made a mono-blue Commander or EDH deck. I’ve built a fair number of Commander decks that featured blue cards but
not mono-blue. I know I have a bit of a reputation for hating blue cards and blue decks, but that’s really not trueâ€”there are plenty of blue
Magic cards that I love, and I decided to use this opportunity to demonstrate what I like about blue.
I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.
— Jessica Rabbit
The problem I see with blue in general is that some of its strongest cards game-wise tend to be cards that are more-or-less antisocial. Most of the
other colors feature strong cards that either directly advances a game plan or answers cards that have already been played. The key here is that both
players are casting spells and doing stuff, feeling like they’re getting to play the game. Blue is really good at preventing other players from doing
stuff. Sure, you can logically say that there’s not much difference in game play when you kill a creature for two mana with Doom Blade versus
countering a creature for two mana with Mana Leak, but the two plays feel different on an emotional level. It feels like one player is
preventing the other player from playing the game.
Similarly, blue’s strength in stealing other cards in play feels so much worse than just answering those cards. While strategically, there might not be
much difference between having someone kill my creature with Shriekmaw or stealing my creature with Mind Control — both plays remove my creature while
adding a threat to the other side of the board — the blue spell just feels dirtier and, yes, meaner.
In tournament play, you’ve got to get over the emotional response and realize that those blue spells are just another part of how Magic is played.
That’s harder to do in a casual, multiplayer format like Commander where players spend a lot of time selecting particular cards that they really want
to play, particular cards that may only actually get played once every couple of games because of the nature of a singleton format, and it sucks hard
when you finally get to play a card, and someone else says “no, you can’t do that” or “thanks, I’ll take that from you.”
My solution to this problem is to focus on another thing that blue historically does really, really wellâ€”copying stuff!
Copying someone’s spells or permanents instead of countering or stealing them lets you both “play the game” without stirring up that emotional
backlash. Dedicating a large number of spells to copying stuff also leads to interesting and novel game playâ€”your deck is going to play out differently
depending on the mix of decks you play against each time.
There’s no better way to focus on this theme than to select Sakashima the Imposter as my Commander. I’m going to supplement the theme with Vesuva,
Twincast, Copy Artifact, Echo Mage, Clone, Rite of Replication, Vesuvan Doppelganger, Vesuvan Shapeshifter, and Body Double. Magus of the Unseen
doesn’t copy, but I figure temporarily borrowing something is very close to the same thing.
I touched on the copy theme before with a U/R Commander deck, and I found that sometimes you’re stuck with copy spells, and there’s just nothing being
played worth copying. A good solution to this was to help other players get more cards to playâ€”the more cards they see, the more chances they’re going
to play something worth copying. I chose Indentured Djinn, Noble Benefactor, Temple Bell, Memory Jar, and Mikokoro, Center of the Sea with this in
Of course, there are going to be times when you need to have answers to what your opponents are doing or else you’re going to lose the game at
inopportune times. Being a blue deck, the best answers are often going to be counterspells, but I picked my counterspells carefully to try and avoid
the emotional baggage. Arcane Denial and Dream Fracture are hard counters that give a consolation prize. Venser, Shaper Savant says “not now pleaseâ€”but
you can keep your spell.” Spiketail Hatchling, Spiketail Drakeling, and Spiketail Drake are critters that sit out there and make people think twice
about doing something drasticâ€”or at least figure out a way to kill those creatures off first (which is tipping their hand). Time Stop is the ultimate
answer card, and while it can be soul-crushing on occasion, it’s sometimes the only answer to certain combo shenanigans that otherwise just win
the game. Often, Time Stop makes you a hero to the rest of the table.
I’m a bit torn on Cryptic Command, since it’s so ridiculously powerful, but the modes can be set on stun instead of destroy unless circumstances
warrant it. I’m also torn on Spelljack, since it does both of what I was complaining about aboveâ€”counters a spell and then steals itâ€”but ultimately I
decided it was okay because it costs six mana and can lead to some amusing plays. I’m keeping an eye on how it actually plays out though.
Some other notes on my card choices:
Building a better version: to supplement the cloning strategy, I decided to add some cards that could make my copy better than yours: Power Matrix, Sword of Vengeance, Loxodon
Warhammer, and Akroma’s Memorial. I also wanted ways to upgrade my clones since better targets are sure to come along as the game progresses:
Cloudstone Curio, Ninja of the Deep Hours, and Tawnos’s Coffin.
Not exactly stealing: Bribery and Acquire are five-mana sorceries that turn into something cool that someone else hasn’t yet drawn and played themselves. I don’t think
they have the same emotional impact of stealing the card in play, but I’m going to keep an eye on how they play out. I’m basically including these
cards to preempt those who are rocking Blightsteel Colossus (as well as intelligence-gathering devices to use on those playing suspect Commanders).
Graveyard, schmaveyard: Being a fan of green and black, I always love utilizing my graveyard as a resource. This time around, I wanted to instead shuffle my graveyard back
into my deck periodically, so I added the fun Trinket Mage/Elixir of Immortality package. Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre does this too, plus gives you
resistance to annoying milling strategies.
The full decklist is below. Most of the other cards are pretty self-explanatory, being a mix of card-drawing and utility, but if you have any questions
or opinions on my card choices, hit me up in the forums!
1 Sakashima the Imposter
1 Maze of Ith
1 Eye of Ugin
1 Everflowing Chalice
1 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Elixir of Immortality
1 Ivory Tower
1 Spiketail Hatchling
1 Magus of the Unseen
1 Grim Monolith
1 Mind Stone
1 Nim Deathmantle
1 Scroll Rack
1 Copy Artifact
1 Arcane Denial
1 Dream Fracture
1 Indentured Djinn
1 Spiketail Hatchling
1 Raven Familiar
1 Sea Gate Oracle
1 Cloudstone Curio
1 Noble Benefactor
1 Echo Mage
1 Rayne, Academy Chancellor
1 Trinket Mage
1 Treasure Mage
1 Crystal Shard
1 Temple Bell
1 Sword of Vengeance
1 Loxodon Warhammer
1 Crystal Ball
1 Cryptic Command
1 Tawnos’s Coffin
1 Ninja of the Deep Hours
1 Inspired Sprite
1 Rite of Replication
1 Reins of Power
1 Rainbow Efreet
1 Power Matrix
1 Voidmage Husher
1 Venser, Shaper Savant
1 Vesuvan Doppelganger
1 Vesuvan Shapeshifter
1 Body Double
1 Spiketail Drake
1 Venser’s Journal
1 Memory Jar
1 Time Stop
1 Steel Hellkite
1 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Dreamstone Hedron
1 Spine of Ish Sah
1 Akroma’s Memorial
1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
1 Academy Ruins
1 Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
1 Mystifying Maze
1 Winding Canyons
1 Reliquary Tower
1 Strip Mine
1 Bant Panorama
1 Riptide Laboratory
1 Lonely Sandbar
1 Soldevi Excavations
1 Tolaria West
1 Oboro, Palace in the Clouds
1 Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
1 Moonring Island
1 Faerie Conclave
21 Snow-Covered Island
You Lika The Juice?
I’ve not yet decided what to do on renaming my column. I got some feedback on possible names after I’d put up the voting last week that I really
wish I could’ve included in the choices, so… I’ll keep you posted.
Robot Viking had a great column
on turning a metal lunchbox (like the cool Mirrodin one I was lucky to get from Wizards) into a Magic card carrying case. Has anyone tried it? I’m
definitely going to do this!
More Myr Plushies
! We all want one, right? Um… for our kids of course.
this week was off the hook awesome
! Not only did it feature Lost’s incredible Michael Emerson in another fine performance, but they’ve been giving the ridiculously sexy Minka Kelly more face time. She needs more face time…
I need her to have more face time. I just hope this isn’t the beginning of the end of her character’s story arc.
By the way… if you were intrigued by Fringe when it first came out, but it didn’t ultimately hook you, I’d highly recommend you getting
caught up. I’ve been a fan of the show since the beginning, but I can understand why people may have fallen off during the first seasonâ€”it was a
show trying to find it’s identity, chemistry, and voice. About halfway through season 2, it finally did, and season 3 had just been a tour de
force. Tea leaves are good for another season,
but I’d still like to encourage as many people as I can to give the show another chance; it’s well worth an hour of your time each week!
I’ll be up at Richmond Comix for FNM, rocking a new take on Elves that I’m curious to see how it plays out, and of course, I’ll have all my Commander
decks ready to rock as well. Hope to see you there!
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 on Magic and life.
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)
My current Commander decks
(and links to decklists)
- Vorosh, the Hunter (proliferaTION)
- Uril, the Miststalker (my “more competitive” deck)