Send In The Clones

Posted in Command Tower on March 12, 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.

Clones and I have a history in articles.

Art by Florian de Gesincourt

One of the previews from early in my Serious Fun days was Quicksilver Gargantuan. Looking back, I still remember how excited I was for a beefy clone that upsized nearly any creature it copied. More recently, I shared a modern version of copying with Clever Impersonator from Khans of Tarkir. This version harkens back to the progenitor Clone but copies most permanents on the battlefield: enchantments, artifacts, and even Planeswalkers are fair game.

Of course, I'm not the only one with sweet Clone spells: Pro Tour Historian (and Draft fiend) Brian David-Marshall shared one of the most obnoxiously smart-yet-annoying versions of Clone with Supplant Form.

What all of these spells share, and what I talked about when I covered Clever Impersonator specifically, is how copy effects naturally scale to your opponents.

Crossing the Scales

In Commander, it's terrifically easy to overpower most opponents. Tuning a deck to find every edge and answer is possible: It's a Constructed format, after all, and ultimately prone to breaking down when pressuring is applied.

Scaling effects are the compromise between actively choosing a card that "feels" weaker and a card that's "obviously" stronger. Clone is only as good as how the following two questions are answered:

  • What are the options opponents control?
  • What are options I control?

The latter is entirely under our control. Are we jamming powerful, easy-to-cheat-into-play creatures so we can copy them early and often? Or are we playing supporting choices and softer ways to keep opponents interested elsewhere?

When I last answered the question, it was for Worlds 2011:


Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Sakashima the Impostor
Planeswalker (1)
1 Jace Beleren
Sorcery (1)
1 Rite of Replication
99 Cards

The deck was pretty straightforward:

  • A handful of emergency counterspells to prevent something that breaks the game.
  • Plentiful clone effects that take the form of whatever opponents throw down.
  • Card-drawing effects to encourage awesome options from said opponents to appear.
  • Potent Equipment with a splash of removal to tie it all together.

After giving it a go throughout the long weekend in San Francisco, I took it apart and moved onto other decks and projects, but I never forgot about how fun the deck felt. Mixing moving the game forward with scaling effects was a rare blend that worked well with both strong opponents with strong decks and those that took different roads in games.

Dragons of Tarkir is giving me a reason to return to some Commander roots from three years ago. It's time to meet today's preview: Clone Legion.

The card reads exactly as you see:

  • You outright copy an opponent's entire battlefield of creatures. It doesn't matter if they're tokens or creature cards, you get one-for-one across the swath.
  • It costs a whopping nine mana to unleash.

For two mana more than Quicksilver Gargantuan's cost you get the whole shebang someone else is rocking. Let me explain why that's so important.

One of the frustrations that crops up in games of Commander is helplessness. If you miss enough land drops and mana sources, you can end up feeling like the piñata everyone takes a crack at. Bring a deck woefully short of powerful cards in comparison to everyone else and you walk leaps behind the pack. Someone gets lucky and beautifully curves out a string of ever-increasingly powerful threats means even solid decks built ready for challenges get clipped hard.

It's in moments like that we desperately want something to pull us right back into the mix. Typically, what we resort to is destructive. We pack Planar Cleansing or Perilous Vault or Overwhelming Forces to knock down whatever's in our way. It feels right, after all: We're behind the ball and someone else is running away with it all.

While I have a few ways to dole out the harshness in all of my decks, I usually find constructive ways to get into a game for fun. While some players will cast Tooth and Nail entwined for Mephidross Vampire and Triskelion (How clever!), I like to use it to grab things like Sepulchral Primordial and Indrik Stomphowler. How you use cards can mean the difference between catching up in the game and crashing it.

Clone Legion doesn't crash games, it pulls you into or ahead of the creature position of someone else. Whether it's a token army or just a Siege Rhino-colored brigade of powerhouses, getting your own troupe to work with sounds better than just quashing all the fun.

At least it isn't like returning everyone else's stuff for about the same cost, or making it all fall apart at the slightest glance. I mean, who likes destructive stuff?

Look Out, Young Son

While previews inject some excitement into things, few can trump a near universal truth about Magic: We all have favorite colors. A few weeks ago, I asked you to share what your favorite pair for Commander was, and these are the reasons why that came back. Andrew started with my favorite Commander pairing as well:

When it comes to color pairs, our palettes are the same. I too favor black-green and for similar reasons. Outside of political action, decks that win tend to do three things: deploy threats, have answers, and find ways to get more of both than anyone else. black-green is probably the best color combination at doing these things, being the colors best at ramping mana, destroying permanents, and recurring cards from the graveyard.

Few commanders epitomize this more than Glissa, the Traitor. She's an interesting take on artifact decks because you're not often looking to just cast the biggest, most powerful artifacts you can find. Instead, you're looking to build synergies and gain lots of value out of a single card, often one that wouldn't normally see Commander play. It's difficult to fall behind in a game where you can keep casting Solemn Simulacrum and sacrificing it to Phyrexian Vault as more and more creatures die. Wurmcoil Engine eats up enough removal as it is, but when you can chump block with the deathtouch token to bring the whole thing back, things get ugly for your opponents.

I also tried to put as much Phyrexian flavor into this deck as possible. Because that's fun too.

ALL WILL BE ONE—Andrew's Glissa Commander

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Glissa, the Traitor
Planeswalker (1)
1 Vraska the Unseen
99 Cards

Some answer, some fatties, some tricks, and plenty of ways to ensure we cast it all: Black-green is why I adore my Pharika, God of Affliction. And much of what Andrew does here carries over to my take on the colors. Also, I can't help but appreciate extra flavor poured into it.

Spencer shared our appreciation for black but took it into the Mountains to make it work.

My favorite two-color combination for Commander deck building is the classic red and black attack. Both colors bring to mind aggressive, go-for-broke playing with lots of removal, which is something I thoroughly enjoy bringing to the table in big group games. Terminate has always been close to my heart, and Dreadbore is a card that has risen in my personal stock dramatically, as my playgroup has begun making use of the new Planeswalker Commanders. I especially love red-black's penchant for "betrayal" cards, like Delirium and Traitor's Roar, turning your opponent's biggest threats against them.

My Lyzolda deck makes use of all my favorite red-black tricks. I can steal creatures with red theft and sac them to Lyz' built-in outlet or simply throw them against another player, knowing the attack will either break through and deal some damage or get the creature killed outright. The deck also makes use of red-black group hate, with Havoc Festival and Spiteful Visions. I love how both of these cards put every player on the edge of their seat. Of course, they also tend to put a bullseye on my chest, so I rarely see endgame with Lyz. That said, half the fun is seeing your opponents, weary and low on life, as they struggle to duke it out among themselves for the win.

Playing red-black in multiplayer, but Commander especially, means you're always going to have fun, your way, and to heck with the consequences!

Spencer's Lyzolda, Blood Witch Commander

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Lyzolda, the Blood Witch

Black-red often gets described as being reckless, and it's Commander decks like Spencer's that show it off. Dealing damage, turning the tables on powerful players, and generally moving life totals down and making graveyards fuller are all things I appreciate enough to keep a Mogis, God of Slaughter deck at the ready.

I always found the ability to dish out damage and keep the battlefield unstable an elegant way to move Commander games forward, but Mandy had a different take on that:

This was actually kind of hard for me because I'm more of a three or more color person. But color pair wise, black and white, two classic colors, especially in the fashion industry. I see black and white as elegance, a combination of the two makes gray, which is how the world is. Both colors have a give and take mechanic with white being lifegain while black is stealing creatures or just making your opponents' lives miserable the whole time.

I'm not the best Magic: The Gathering player, I love deck building and taking cards I have and turning them into decks. I play for fun, not in a competitive environment. I find the usual instant win combinations boring. Why have a deck that is overly competitive? Why go infinite when you can run the most elegant legendary creature of all time? That's right, Athreos is Love, Athreos is Life, and Athreos is Pain. Athreos, God of Passage, the commander of this deck, is an elegant commander. He is the passage between evil and good. The passage of making your group miserable and having a fun time with your playgroup. The pain are cards like Thoughtseize, Spirit of the Labyrinth, Eidolon of Rhetoric, and Aegis of the Gods. Love is Master of the Feast and Ornitharch. Life is Nyx-Fleece Ram and Tormented Hero. With Athreos' ability, I can return my creatures at a cost.

Out of every color on the color wheel, black and white are two colors that I go to for a color scheme. Elegance in the way a deck works is what I consider black and white. Athreos, God of Passage, defines elegance and the way that I make my decks work. They aren't the best of decks, but flair to them.

Mandy's Athreos, God of Passage Commander

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Athreos, God of Passage

Fashionable doesn't mean functional, but Mandy makes the most of the compromises along the way with this deck. While the "commander damage" rule may make lifegain seem awkward, it's actually a great way to stymie decks that throw fatties down early and often. Extra life takes the edge off cards like Read the Bones, and while the duo of Greed/Erebos, God of the Dead isn't here it's an obvious addition if you're into drawing plenty of cards.

I Fight Dragons

With Dragons of Tarkir almost here it's all eyes back on two-color combinations—at least the allied pairs—and the new Dragons taking to the air. This week's question is a fun one, at least if you like the latest tribal focus: Which new Dragon in Dragons of Tarkir are you most excited for Commander, and why?

  • Feedback via email, in English
  • 300 word limit to explain the card and deck
  • 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)

While allied-color Dragons dominate in splashy cycles, there are plenty of monocolored options that beg exploration too. I'm excited to see which you want to take on a test drive first.

Join us next week when we get tribal beyond the Dragons that are coming. See you then!

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