The first of the Commander 2016 spoilers is already up (and available for purchase). If you weren’t already excited about the latest Commander release, it’s time to let yourself get giddy. For the first time in the history of Magic, we have four-color legendary creatures (something which I—and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one—started nettling Mark Rosewater on sometime right after Commander’s forebear Elder Dragon Highlander became a thing). Lead Designer Ethan Fleischer showed us the first cards this week, and it’s already time to get brewing.
Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice is a 4/4 Angel Horror with flying, vigilance, deathtouch, and lifelink. That would be enough to be a great starting point. But wait, there’s more. At the beginning of your end step, you get to proliferate. Suddenly, the possibilities for what to do with the deck explode. Let’s brainstorm a few ideas here.
This just in! As I was putting together this list, EU Magic officially spoiled Reyhan, Last of the Abzan.
Reyhan costs 1BG and enters the battlefield with three +1/+1 counters on it. Whenever a creature you control dies or goes to the command zone, if it had +1/+1 counters on it, you may put that many +1/+1 counters on target creature. Seems most excellent until you see that it also has partner, which officially puts it into the bonkers zone.
Now seems like a good time to talk about partner, the set’s sweetest new mechanic. Rules Manager Matt Tabak explains all the particulars here. The short version is that if both legendary creatures have partner, they can both be your commander(s), meaning your deck is 98 other cards. There are numerous possibilities for how this will impact the format; we’ll talk about them after we’ve seen all the commanders that have the ability. I’ve already fielded a bunch of questions about Brothers Yamakazi.
Consistent with our long-standing philosophy, we (being the Commander Rules Committee) won’t be issuing format-level errata to make the Brothers partners. If the Magic Rules Team does so, we support the change. I would imagine your local group would let you do it, but as with all house rules, check with them first.
Now back to what you might do with Atraxa.
Ethan mentions that the deck is all about +1/+1 counters, which is the compelling and straightforward approach. There are so many cards you could include in such a deck that you won’t be able to use them all. The colors give you access to cards like Doubling Season and Hardened Scales, which can make counters even scarier.
Fan favorite Forgotten Ancient is also an excellent choice for collecting +1/+1 counters and spreading them around. There are scads of cards in blue and green, like those in my Zegana and a Dice Bag deck, which fit the theme quite nicely. Fertilid becomes an outstanding choice because you can use it to smooth out all your colors and then proliferate back the counters which you’ve lost. A personal favorite is Spike Weaver, which could just give you endless Fogs. Just be careful about cards such as Thief of Blood and Spike Cannibal (unless you’re also playing them plus Aku Djinn). Cards with evolve and monstrous can also nicely fill out your list.
You can easily go the other direction towards all those juicy cards from Scars of Mirrodin block which give -1/-1 counters. Contagion Engine and its little sibling Contagion Clasp jump to the top of the list. Midnight Banshee keeps putting -1/-1 counters on creatures, although you’ll have to be prepared to lose some of your own nonblack ones (which, of course, you can counteract by putting +1/+1 counters on them as well, in a twisty little strategy combo).
Top-shelf creatures with wither are few and far between, but there are some standouts such as Necroskitter which will let you play Black Sun’s Zenith to your heart’s content (and battlefield’s profit).
You’ve probably already thought about planeswalkers and loyalty counters, so I doubt I need to tell you too much about them. Getting to their emblems/ultimate abilities more quickly is most of what you need to know.
You’ve also thought about poison counters, which makes this a reasonable time to mention that we (the RC, that is) don’t have any plans to change the number of poison counters for the format. I know there are some folks who think that ten is too low, but we disagree. Raising it to fifteen or twenty wouldn’t have a significant impact on the number of times poison becomes relevant. Sure, it might give people facing down Blightsteel Colossus an extra turn, but we think that’s enough of a corner case that it doesn’t warrant the change from normal Magic rules.
Creatures with level up become sweet targets for proliferating. You can save 1U on Echo Mage, getting it to level 2 and the ability to copy spells. Lighthouse Chronologist gets to level 7 (and extra turns) that much faster. Transcendent Master is probably the strongest, although the level up cost is cheap enough already.
Age counters, which cards get from cumulative upkeep, are generally things which you don’t want because they make your things more expensive to upkeep. There are a few, however, which do cool things when they go away based on the number of counters they have. Vexing Sphinx is one such card.
Its cumulative upkeep is to discard a card, but you can get some net value by proliferating after the upkeep trigger goes on the stack. You’re playing it here in a deck with black anyway, so you might want to keep the number of counters higher so that you can dump more beef into your graveyard.
Charge counters are a thing. Blue Mana Battery and friends will produce additional mana. Black Market probably doesn’t even need the help. You could get to that extra turn a little faster with Magistrate’s Scepter. Your Riptide Replicator creatures could keep getting larger and larger. Door of Destinies would get out of hand faster. Everflowing Chalice makes more mana, and so on.
Proliferating divinity counters can also be quite a thing. Atraxa’s four colors give you Myojin of Cleansing Fire, Myojin of Life’s Web, Myojin of Night’s Reach, and Myojin of Seeing Winds. Keeping your Myojin indestructible while getting its benefits seems quite strong. You might as well also add That Which Was Taken so that you can put a divinity counter on Atraxa to save her from Myojin of Cleansing Fire.
There are a number of lands which use storage counters to provide extra mana for you: Bottomless Vault and friends from Fallen Empires, Fountain of Cho and the like from Mercadian Masques, and the cycle including Calciform Pools from Time Spiral give you a few starting points.
What about all the unusual counters? Gwafa Hazid, Profiteer’s bribery counters might only be useful if you can spread them around, like with Bioshift. You can get an extra plague counter on Plague Boiler and get it to go off a turn earlier. Who wouldn’t want an extra slime counter on Gutter Grime? Smokestack and its unfriendliest of all counters, the soot counter, become rather nasty. If you want the Crescendo of War to get even louder, you have strife counters. You get even get extra wishes from the wish counters on Djinn of Wishes and Ring of Three Wishes. We have to close with everyone’s favor counter, the filibuster, on Azor’s Elocutors. I’m not usually a fan of “you win” cards, but this one gets big style points.
There are many other ideas with counters; I’ve offered up some starting points, but you’ll find you still have a great deal of territory to explore (and thanks to the folks at MTGSalvation for the consolidated list of all the different counters in Magic). Let’s look at some other things we can do with Atraxa which don’t involve counters.
The first thing which leapt out at me was the unusual Angel Horror combination. Unfortunately, there’s not a great number of others just like Atraxa. Bruna, the Fading Light; Gisela, the Broken Blade; and Wayward Angel are the only three (non-Shapeshifter) which share Atraxa’s unusual pair of creature types. That seems like a dead end, although maybe we can put Wayward Angel, which when you have threshold is a cheaper and less painful Lord of the Pit, on a back burner somewhere.
Angel is already an overdone tribal theme, so I’d rather look toward Horror. There are 173 of them available to you, so you’ll have to dive in a little deeper. Highlights include The Gitrog Monster, Thing in the Ice (which is still a Horror after it transforms), Chasm Skulker (a recent favorite), Consuming Aberration, Creakwood Liege, and the always-useful Deathbringer Liege. In fact, all the Liege cards in your colors which buff the team (and the strategies which go with them) are Horrors. I’ll leave you with one more Horror as a Hidden Gem: Dross Harvester. It seems awkward, but you won’t be sorry. It turns out that creatures die in Commander.
A 4/4 flyer with three other strong abilities is a ripe fruit from the Voltron tree. The one thing it lacks is trample, but that is easy enough to come by. You’re unfortunately missing red, so Kessig Wolf Run isn’t a possibility, but you have plenty of other options.
Equipment like Behemoth Sledge, Brawler’s Plate, Helm of Kaldra, Horned Helm, Loxodon Warhammer, Ring of Kalonia, and Tenza, Godo’s Maul will make your commander Overrun possible while also giving you additional benefits. My favorite along this line is Vorrac Battlehorns, a longtime fixture in my Animar’s Swarm deck, which for the low price of two generic to cast and one to equip has the additional ability of not being able to be gang-blocked. Behemoth Sledge’s cousin Armadillo Cloak gives you a double benefit; it confers a triggered ability which is like lifelink without being lifelink (multiple copies of which are redundant), meaning you get double life. Nylea, God of the Hunt gives all your other creatures trample and gives you the opportunity to buff them.
You obviously have the Voltron staples like Whispersilk Cloak, Swiftfoot Boots, and Lightning Greaves to keep other peoples’ hands off Atraxa. Whispersilk Cloak has the additional benefit of making her unblockable. You might consider Rogue’s Passage for that as well. Like with counters, the number of choices you have for making Atraxa (who gives you a pretty good start) into a Voltron commander are limited only by your imagination.
With four colors, you might want to think about some good-stuff combinations you haven’t been able to before. Think of Atraxa in terms of Bant plus black, Abzan plus blue, or Sultai plus white. You can take a favorite shard or wedge (which obviously doesn’t involve red) and add the functionality of an additional color. I’m already a little stuck on the Abzan plus blue idea, making some sort of graveyard reanimation deck which adds blue for looting and self-mill, like Geralf’s Mindcrusher.
Even though our first Rotisserie Draft League is winding down, I’m also thinking about how I might take the shell of my deck and modify it with Atraxa commanding it. The deck runs on a Bant blink strategy with lots of enters-the-battlefield triggers, which would just go into overdrive adding some black creatures like Sepulchral Primordial, Puppeteer Clique, Ashen Rider, Angel of Despair, or even smaller, simpler creatures like Bone Shredder or Big Game Hunter.
Of course, you can always just start from the ground up, building with things that you love about the four colors, whether some of the guilds together or each card individually. You’re in green, so you have the opportunity to do some ramp and basic land-smoothing in order to get all your colors. If you want to use creatures like Burnished Hart or Wood Elves to do it, you also have access to Sun Titan in white to do it again. What it boils down to (and this will likely be true for all the four-color commanders) is that you have nearly all the options you might in a five-color deck without being forced to think in five-color fashion.
Our first peeks at Commander 2016 are thoroughly exciting. I’m sure the next several weeks, leading right up to the release date, will make the delicious anticipation of what comes next to be quite satisfying. Speaking of exciting, fellow RC members Scott Larabee (who flew in yesterday) and Toby Elliott (who comes in this afternoon) will be here over the weekend. Magic Community Cup representative, podcaster, and all-around fine human being Tom Delia (@mtgradio) will be joining us for some battles, so look forward to some live-Tweeting of our shenanigans on Saturday afternoon.
Last Week’s Comments
Last week’s thought exercise about a ten-card banlist generated quite a few comments. A number of folks posited what their own ten-card lists would look like, which tended to focus on a few core cards.
Ross Pennington asked why Tolarian Academy is worse than Gaea’s Cradle. As I mentioned in the article, Gaea’s Cradle certainly has the opportunity to generate boatloads more mana than Tolarian Academy. The major point is when that mana generation takes place. Tolarian Academy is far more dangerous in the critical early turns, whereas Gaea’s Cradle does its thing much later.
I agree with Abe that the ten-card banned list format would devolve into something we don’t like, one in which early-turn combo kills would rule the roost, especially in competitive events (although that’s obviously not who we’re sculpting the list for). If we accept that as a likely scenario, then we are compelled to think about the games which remain that aren’t Time Vault races. In those games, Sylvan Primordial is an oppressive factor. I know Abe didn’t like my “save what’s left” line of thinking, but sometimes there are no good answers; you have to choose the least bad one.
Mike Delissovoy asks, “In your thought exercise, do you also remove [Perceived Barrier to Entry] as a category of banning, since there is now no reason to consider it? What about ‘interacts poorly with the format’?”
Probably. If we got to the ten-card point, it’s the Wild West out there. Going back to my point on Abe’s comment, the question becomes not “How do we prevent most of the games we think are awful?” but “How do we make it so that at least some of the games are good?” The ten-card list has a more difficult time crafting a narrative than the bigger one does. Honestly, if we were reduced to a ten-card list, I’d probably just throw up my hands and suggest we unban everything. Fortunately, we’re not in that situation.
This Week’s Deck Without Comment: Phelddagrif Do-Over.
- 1 Tomorrow, Azami's Familiar
- 1 Samurai of the Pale Curtain
- 1 Blinding Angel
- 1 Rasputin Dreamweaver
- 1 Silent Arbiter
- 1 Llawan, Cephalid Empress
- 1 Aven Mindcensor
- 1 Battlegrace Angel
- 1 Ethersworn Canonist
- 1 Rafiq of the Many
- 1 Stoic Angel
- 1 Qasali Pridemage
- 1 Lodestone Golem
- 1 Angelic Arbiter
- 1 Frost Titan
- 1 Grand Abolisher
- 1 Spirit of the Labyrinth
- 1 Eidolon of Rhetoric
- 1 Hushwing Gryff
- 1 Containment Priest
- 1 Dragonlord Dromoka
- 1 Dragonlord Ojutai
- 1 Natural Balance
- 12 Forest
- 1 Wrath of God
- 1 Replenish
- 10 Plains
- 8 Island
- 1 Dense Foliage
- 1 Damping Field
- 1 Kodama's Reach
- 1 Imi Statue
- 1 General's Kabuto
- 1 Crawlspace
- 1 Arcane Laboratory
- 1 Wayfarer's Bauble
- 1 Rule of Law
- 1 Primal Order
- 1 Peace Talks
- 1 Equipoise
- 1 Portcullis
- 1 Honor the Fallen
- 1 Crackdown
- 1 Damping Engine
- 1 Back to Basics
- 1 Mana Maze
- 1 Fact or Fiction
- 1 Dueling Grounds
- 1 Telling Time
- 1 Wheel of Sun and Moon
- 1 Ward of Bones
- 1 Mindlock Orb
- 1 Finest Hour
- 1 Elixir of Immortality
- 1 Torpor Orb
- 1 Omen Machine
- 1 Grafdigger's Cage
- 1 Ranger's Path
- 1 Supreme Verdict
- 1 Rest in Peace
- 1 Illusionist's Gambit
- 1 Godsend
Check out our comprehensive Deck List Database for lists of all my decks:
Lavinia Blinks; Obzedat, Ghost Killer; Aurelia Goes to War; Trostani and Her Angels; Lazav, Shapeshifting Mastermind; Zegana and a Dice Bag; Rakdos Reimagined; Glissa, Glissa; Ruric Thar and His Beastly Fight Club; You Take the Crown, I’ll Take Leovold; Gisa and Geralf Together Forever;
Shards and Wedges
Adun’s Toolbox; Animar’s Swarm; Karrthus, Who Rains Fire From The Sky; Demons of Kaalia; Merieke’s Esper Dragons; Nath of the Value Leaf; Rith’s Tokens; The Mill-Meoplasm; The Altar of Thraximundar; The Threat of Yasova; Zombies of Tresserhorn
This space soon to be filled!
If you’d like to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that’s been alive since 1987) which is just beginning the saga The Lost Cities of Nevinor, ask for an invitation to the Facebook group “Sheldon Menery’s Monday Night Gamers.”