Achievement Unlocked

Posted in Command Tower on October 15, 2015

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

Achievements feel great. Breaking through a barrier—whether small or tall—is a positive step. Magic is filled with moments to strive for, such as winning Friday Night Magic or qualifying for this weekend's Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. Going the distance is a notable notch to make in one's belt.

Barrage Tyrant | Art by Chris Rallis

While pushing through to a goal in the competitive world is worthy of praise, there's much more to the game than simply defeating an opponent in a tournament. Commander is filled with amazing moments and splashy cards, making every game a wonderful mix of happy little accidents.

Unless, of course, you have something more in mind.

WUBRG Ring of Death

When I asked you to share some of your Commander achievements—amazing moments that came from gameplay—I wasn't sure what to expect. What stands out as stunning to one of us may be just another trip to the 100-card decks for another.

Fortunately there were plenty to choose from, starting with a deck made to run down a checklist of unlockables sent in by The Commander Lounge:

Okay, so the best achievement I've unlocked while playing Commander would have to be winning with Maze's End. My Progenitus deck is a Five-Color Political Turbo Fog deck (I know, long name) that runs all kinds of weird win conditions such as Azor's Elocutors, Door to Nothingness, and Maze's End. The game plan is to group hug everyone while setting up all your fogs so you can try to win with all these unique win cons.

It was icing on the cake that the first game I won with Maze's End was against a friend who said I would never win with that card, because the win condition is too fragile. All the regrowth effects help make this win con more resilient, plus Tempt with Discovery is the best combo with Maze's End.

-The Commander Lounge

Progenitus Political Turbo Fog

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Progenitus
Planeswalker (1)
1 Jace Beleren
99 Cards

Cards that say "lose the game" or "win the game" have a long history in Magic. Once alternate ways to win—or cause another player to lose—started appearing, players started looking for ways to make it happen. Some, like Phage the Untouchable, seem straightforward but come with such severe risks they're a rarity to see. Others, like the recently returned Felidar Sovereign, have some obvious advantages in formats like Two-Headed Giant and Commander.

The deck The Commander Lounge sent in is fairly typical for the long-game approach cards such as Maze's End and Azor's Elocutors ask for. Stymieing damage while setting up the ultimate "I win" turn others see coming is intense, but once you pull off a combo everyone saw coming, it's a moment you won't forget.

There are other ways to win the game, baked into the rules that can come up in the course of play. The most common is failing to draw a card from your library—that is, once you're out of cards to draw, you lose the next time you try to. Milling (effects that put cards from libraries into graveyards) until your opponents are out is tough in any format, but it seems almost impossible in Commander. Larger decks and larger spells means getting the time to get through them all becomes a distant possibility.

Which, of course, just means some of you try even harder to make the achievement happen. Thor made it happen with his Zedruu the Greathearted deck:

Hi Stybs,

Of all the achievements earned in the last few years of Commander play, one is my favorite. I won a game, but I didn't use any of the following:

  • Making my opponents lose life

  • Giving poison counters

  • "I win" or "you lose" cards (Mortal Combat and friends)

  • Milling cards

  • Infinite combos

How did I win, then? Well, many players strongly dislike being milled, so I built a Zedruu "Mill" deck that has no actual milling in it.

While Zedruu is happily giving away Howling Mine and its cousins and replenishing my health, the many Wheel of Fortune effects red and blue have to offer are making all players draw through their whole decks really fast. The two Eldrazi are there only to keep myself from decking while Stifle and Trickbind stop my opponents from doing the same (or Bojuka Bogging my graveyard).


If you say the deck's name, imagine a bleating goat and you'll get it right.


Thor's "ZeDrawawaw"

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Zedruu the Greathearted

While Phenax, God of Deception and a host of blue and black cards are what you can typically expect to see for milling, Thor's approach here is both subtle and smart. We like drawing extra cards, and we feel powerful with a hand filled with goodies to cast later.

Surviving an onslaught of non-stop hitters from opponents is tricky, but the reward for Thor is emptying out their libraries. By the time opponents realize they've drawn too many cards or are at serious risk of emptying out, it may already be too late. Unlike the hard-hitting effect of Glimpse the Unthinkable or similar effects that telegraph your real goal, effects that keep everyone happy and full of cards fly right under the radar. It's quite a sneaky path Thor's built for us.

There's another way to win the game that gets eschewed in Commander, but is among the best competitive ways to defeat opponents in other forms of Magic: Burn. Using Lightning Bolt, Fireball, and their varied descendants through the years to simply deal the damage straight overhead is appealing when you have one opponent with 20 life.

But against three opponents with 40 life each? Lightning Bolt is hardly a scratch.

Wherever there's a way to win that's challenging, there's a will working to make it happen. Rob unlocked the best burn achievement possible:

Hi, my name is Rob, and this is my greatest Commander Achievement with Gisela, Blade of Goldnight.

The game started quickly. I hit all of my land drops and started some major artifact ramp, including turn-one Sol Ring into a turn-two Thran Dynamo into a turn-three Dreamstone Hedron. By turn four I had twelve mana available to me and had just drawn Mirari. I brought out Gisela, Blade of Goldnight and hung back on Mirari. My next draw was Molten Disaster, and I knew I had the game as long as Gisela lived.

On turn six I cast Mirari and left mana up for a Wild Ricochet. This proved to be unnecessary, as neither of my two opponents we're able to destroy Gisela. On turn seven, I played my seventh land and cast Molten Disaster for ten, which was then copied by Mirari to burn my opponents and their non-fliers for 40 damage while I only took 10.

Burning your opponents to death in Commander is hard, and some players would say it's wasted effort. I consider winning the game on turn seven with burn as one of my greatest achievements.


Gisela, Blade of Goldnight Commander

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Gisela, Blade of Goldnight
Planeswalker (2)
1 Chandra Nalaar 1 Ajani Steadfast
99 Cards

There isn't much to say about this path to victory. It's hard, but thanks to three cards and a boatload of mana, Rob found a way to pull it off. There are other ways it can happen, but finagling enough direct damage to take a player out can be done even in a format designed to make sure that isn't the case.

In Magic, there's always a way.

Saving Points

While there aren't achievements in games of Commander in the literal sense, the figurative victories we can find by pulling off the impossible make them something we all seek. It's exciting to accomplish what we didn't think was possible, and it's challenging to plan to make it happen more often.

Impossible is just a word, after all.

This week's question is a throwback to a recent article we all had a ton of fun with. "Dear Stybsy" was a blast, and there are an infinite number of questions left to be answered. I want yours: What is one Commander question you have that you'd like to ask for advice on?

  • Feedback via email in English
  • Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column)

Have a problem that you're not sure how to handle? Have a tough choice to make about a deck and want some advice? Can't decide which commander to build around? I'll take your tough—and easy—queries and respond with the pithiest answers possible.

It'll be fun. I promise!

Join us next week when all the color drains away. See you then!

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