Adamant Flexibility

Posted in Command Tower on January 1, 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.

A concept I love in Commander is scaling. Many cards are simply what they say they are: Runeclaw Bear is just a 2/2 no matter how many players there are in the game. As a card, it doesn't scale with the game it's in.

Being a lonely Bear just isn't that exciting when there're three or more opponents to strike down.

Runeclaw Bear | Art by Jesper Ejsing

Some cards can scale up as the number of players grow. The more opponents you see, the better the odds that Clever Impersonator copies something great. Powerful answers like Utter End shrink compared to how Wave of Vitriol or End Hostilities can reshape the battlefield.

But there's a third class of cards that falls somewhere in between the banality of Runeclaw Bear and the ubiquity of End Hostilities: Cards that don't scale per se but provide abilities that have wider utility in multiplayer games.

It's a vague idea because it's a vague grouping, but one example I think works well is Ghave, Guru of Spores.

Ghave is a great card, either as a fashionable piece of an Abzan deck or as the commander itself. Its abilities are linear: Have mana, make Saprolings or +1/+1 counters. How those abilities interact with other players gets...interesting. The value of a random Saproling goes up with more players as token creatures make great fodder for chump blocking or feeding effects like Dictate of Erebos. The value of being able to sacrifice creatures at will is helpful in multiplayer, where stealing or copying can make your best cards turn against you in a heartbeat. Even the innocuous ability to just target a creature and buff it with a +1/+1 counter can make the difference when cards like Fell the Mighty or coming-with-Fate Reforged Yasova Dragonclaw make their presence known.

While each of those is an obligatory "best-case scenario" selections, taken together they add up to a fair reason to consider the harder-to-cast Ghave, Guru of Spores over a vanilla 5/5 any day of the Commander week. Picking on Ghave here is no accident, however, as his +1/+1 counter shenanigans are getting an Abzan predecessor to join in. Meet Daghatar the Adamant:

This is no mere vanilla 4/4.

Counting Counters

Daghatar the Adamant feels similar to Ghave in many ways:

Both share a color identity of white-black-green, the Abzan trio. While Ghave's is clear on mana cost alone, it's Daghatar's activated ability that shows the rest of the story.

Both enter the battlefield with a fair number of +1/+1 counters. For five mana you get five on Ghave; for four it's four on Daghatar. Neither is impressive alone but it's baseline efficient for mana, nevertheless.

Both can move +1/+1 counters around. Ghave can manipulate counters on the creatures you control to end up anywhere—use one to make a Saproling, then sacrifice that same

At a glance, it might be tempting to say either can serve as the commander to an Abzan deck focused on +1/+1 counters, but it's more complicated than that. They differ in fundamental ways as well:

Ghave is a generator: Any creature can feed into the process of creating +1/+1 counters. Daghatar is strictly a manipulator: You need +1/+1 counters to start with (and fortunately, he gives you four to start).

Ghave has utility: The ability to sacrifice at will for just 1 is impressive when you need it, as is the ability to make a Saproling on demand. Daghatar doesn't have any ability like either of those.

Daghatar wants to get attacks in, thanks to coming with vigilance. Ghave is usually better off resting at home and instead creating some Saprolings to do the attacking dirty work on its behalf.

What about Anafenza, the Foremost? She's another Abzan commander! I could run down the same type of comparison of her to Ghave to find a similar result: Generating counters conditionally and packing a specific, narrow utility isn't quite as flexible as our Guru of Spores. The difference between Anafenza and Daghatar (aside from 1,000 years of Tarkir history) is that Daghatar works better with the same tools we'd use with Ghave.

Ultimately, choice of commander is a combination of "What can I do with this leader?" and "Which card do I like the most?" Ghave gives me the greatest number of options for the former, which for better or worse often informs my decision on the latter. (Thankfully, there are plenty of reasons to go any which way, since I'm sure many of you will inform me with a helpful explanation and informative decklist. Wink, wink.)

Daghatar the Adamant may not be my first pick to lead a Commander deck, but if I'm planning to revive Ghave, Guru of Spores from the depth of its slumber in my Commander Box I'm definitely bringing Daghatar along for the ride. I like building decks to a theme, particularly when I can play with cards in new ways.

Daghatar the Adamant is excellent with cards that care about +1/+1 counters. While Ghave can do the counter-creature-counter shuffle, having a backup way to execute it is a nice touch for a Commander deck. Daghatar, like Ghave, makes combat a nightmare for opponents when Tuskguard Captain, Crowned Ceratok, Bramblewood Paragon, Oona's Blackguard, Mer-Ek Nightblade, Longshot Squad, Abzan Battle Priest, or Abzan Falconer are around. (Bonus: Daghatar is a Warrior, which matters if Bramblewood Paragon is already in play!)

Daghatar the Adamant is a combo piece with cards that multiply +1/+1 counters. Cards like Corpsejack Menace, Hardened Scales, Doubling Season, and Primal Vigor are powerful ways to increase the power of Ghave, Guru of Spores. Daghatar gives you another way to "move" a counter into more than it started as.

Daghatar stretches the value of +1/+1 counter converters. While Ghave itself functions as both generator and converter, there are other cards that transform +1/+1 counters into something else: Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter; Hooded Hydra; Twilight Drover; Spike Feeder; Spike Breeder; Triskelion; and Wickerbough Elder love to have extra +1/+1 counters thrown their way.

I could see something like this rumbling to life in my near future:

Stybs is Adamant

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Ghave, Guru of Spores

There're a few obscure tricks in there that make Daghatar the Adamant shine, such as the obscure Sheltering Ancient: A 5/5 for just 1G is trampling on Tarmogoyf's efficiency, but with Daghatar around you can steal back any +1/+1 counters given away. Daghatar is also best friends forever with the undying mechanic: Howlgeist can either go bigger so it's harder to block or go infinite by having Daghatar (or Ghave, for that matter) take the +1/+1 counter off after it returns to the battlefield.

Small synergies like that go a long way in turning forgotten cards into fresh memories.

Lockstep Leaders

One of the features of including more than one legendary creature in a Commander deck that's eligible to be its commander is the scaling that choice provides itself. Ghave, Guru of Spores may be the "stronger" commander in most circumstances, but against a newer player learning the ropes or a newer deck just getting itself sorted out in testing, it's worthwhile to try swapping Daghatar the Adamant into the lead role.

Daghatar the Adamant | Art by Zack Stella

As always, in Commander, a little variety goes a long way.

This week's question is a one for the deck builders out there: What is your favorite deck that's had multiple commanders available?

  • Feedback via email
  • 300-word limit to explain the deck and commanders
  • Sample decklist or list of cards is requested (does not count against word limit)
  • Decklists should be formatted with one card per line with just a leading number, such as "3 Mountain"—just a space (no "x" or "-") between the number and the card name, without subtotals by card type (Submissions that don't follow this rule will be ignored.)
  • Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column)

Just like with Magic: The Gathering—Commander (2014 Edition), I've built decks where any two or three (or more) creatures could be an eligible commander for them. I want to know the best "choose your own commander" play adventure you've cooked up.

Join us next week as the past continues to be our future. See you then!

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