If you missed it in the digital wave that overtook us last week, Commander (2015 Edition) found its way to your local game store's shelves. While I enjoyed sharing a Tricky deck, the anticipation to get my hands on the newest Commander toys was tough to bear.
I like exploring new things and dislike waiting. Tough stuff.
Getting new cards is exciting for me because of how I manage my collection. My "Commander Box" is an organized group of cards I use for Commander, and just like the deck-building rules require, I only keep one copy of any specific card. This means the decks I build, aside from basic lands, are all entirely unique and force me to ask questions that often get overlooked.
Understanding different cards in the context of the decks I could put them in makes ordinary inclusions of Magic's most powerful options into thoughtful choices. Some cards really do only fit into one deck, but there are always more cards than you need that could serve a role in any deck.
Broadly, that's how I break down understanding new cards. Showing you my approach to ingesting the latest Commander toys is exactly what I wanted to share this week.
We Need Additional Pylons
To create a shortcut for every new card, I split them into three categories:
- Staple—Cards that can easily go into any deck of the appropriate colors. Cards like Sol Ring and Eternal Witness are good examples, but so are Command Tower and Sword of Fire and Ice. These are generically and impressively powerful cards with no real downsides to inclusion.
- Utility—Cards that fulfill a purpose and can fit into most decks of the appropriate colors. Cards like Rampant Growth and Counterspell are great examples, but so are Quarantine Field and Blighted Cataract. These cards will be useful for a wide selection of commanders and often round out the bits and pieces that make a solid 100.
- Specialist—Cards that are narrow and fit best into a specific theme or plan. Often these cards only become powerful when the right tools surround them. Barrage Tyrant, Omnath, Locus of Rage, and Conduit of Ruin are all recent examples of specialist cards. In the right deck, they're excellent, but they aren't cards you'll typically use anywhere else.
This isn't a perfect system, and it's certainly full of discussion points and gray areas. How I group a certain card may not be how you'd do it, but what's important is that you pause to consider what each card can and can't do for you in decks.
It's the only way I can keep up with things, at least.
Commander (2015 Edition) offers just a relative handful of new Magic cards, but each one is designed with the format in mind. But it doesn't mean every card is an automatic slam dunk to put into decks. In fact, I think just two cards really stand out above the rest as true staples you should consider for all of your decks.
- Command Beacon will save your bacon. Expensive commanders, even in decks packed with ways to ramp mana, can run into situations where you have to choose between casting your commander again or doing anything else. This solves that problem, at least in a one-shot effect. Most decks want to use their commander, and therefore most decks should consider if this solves a recurring problem.
- Blade of Selves is what I believe to be the most powerful card in this year's release. There are hundreds of powerful creatures with enters-the-battlefield abilities—Woodfall Primus, Sun Titan, Mulldrifter, Nekrataal, and Avalanche Riders, to broadly name a few picks—and running these types of creatures in your decks gives you both threats and answers to problems in one package. Getting to copy the best one every combat step, and therefore getting extra "spells" off of one creature, is unbelievably powerful.
Many of the new cards fall into a generalist bucket of useful effects. While specialist cards stand out in each deck's themes, and the staple cards are on everyone's radar, the wide selection of utility cards means picking up any of the decks with a color you enjoy will give you plenty of new tools to work with.
- The Confluence cycle—Righteous Confluence, Mystic Confluence, Wretched Confluence, Fiery Confluence, and Verdant Confluence—provides flexible tools for a wide range of situations. Like the Command cycle from Lorwyn, they give you useful options anytime.
- Multiplayer answers make an appearance too: Grasp of Fate, Kalemne's Captain, Shielded by Faith, Æthersnatch, Gigantoplasm, Illusory Ambusher, Mirror Match, Corpse Augur, Deadly Tempest, Thief of Blood, Awaken the Sky Tyrant, Magus of the Wheel, Meteor Blast, Rite of the Raging Storm, Arachnogenesis, Ezuri's Predation, Skullwinder, and Sandstone Oracle are all effects that play off opponents and are generally helpful for a deck. Each of these have some downsides or weaknesses, like how expensive they are or how long they last, but they fit well into most decks. None of these are overly exciting individually, but collectively they'll help fill out more Commander decks whether you're new to the format or not.
- One new legendary creature fits into the utility space: Meren of Clan Nel Toth. Getting back a creature at the end of each of your turns—whether it goes straight to the battlefield or not—is a useful function in any black-green deck.
- The cycle of myriad creatures (Herald of the Host, Broodbirth Viper, Banshee of the Dread Choir, Warchief Giant, and Caller of the Pack) isn't flashy in any regard, but is ultimately serviceable for multiplayer. In particular, Broodbirth Viper and Banshee of the Dread Choir have bonus "saboteur" effects when you hit with them.
Utility cards are the bread and butter of growing Commander decks. I love these types of bridges, particularly the entire Confluence cycle, since you generally want some form of removal, answers, or value generation in multiplayer games. If you're looking to build your own decks and need cards to start, these will put you well on your way toward a working deck. Some of these effects really shine in the right kind of deck, so don't be afraid to look for ways to maximize the potential they bring.
Specialist cards are the heart of building new Commander decks. While staples and utility round out a deck and keep it moving smoothly, specialist cards are the defining themes and strategies your deck can capitalize on.
The remaining new commanders all push choices and decks into new directions, and have supporting cards with them:
- Daxos the Returned wants enchantments, which could be Grasp of Fate and Shielded by Faith, and also Daxos's Torment, too.
- Karlov of the Ghost Council loves decks with incidental life gain, and protecting it with Bastion Protector will give you time to begin exiling annoying creatures.
- Mizzix of the Izmagnus and Arjun, the Shifting Flame love to see a deck filled with instants and sorceries, and fuel the potency of Dream Pillager and Mizzix's Mastery. Both Seal of the Guildpact and Thought Vessel support this plan as well.
- Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest loves to see things like Dread Summons and Scourge of Nel Toth. Obviously Meren of Clan Nel Toth fits right in, too.
- Kalemne, Disciple of Iroas and Anya, Merciless Angel want to swing fast and hit big. Shielded by Faith and Bastion Protector can help keep a commander attacking, but Scytheclaw shines brightest here by demolishing life totals.
- Ezuri, Claw of Progress and Kaseto, Orochi Archmage like seeing creatures, and Ezuri's penchant for small fries that get bigger from his +1/+1 counters matches up to Kaseto's unblockable-granting ability. Pathbreaker Ibex, Great Oak Guardian, and Bloodspore Thrinax all help pump a wide army of smaller creatures into an impressive fighting force, while Synthetic Destiny can make a pile of tokens—say, those created by myriad during combat—into a heap of real bodies.
When starting down the path to a new Commander deck, a specialist commander is where I typically begin. Finding a theme to guide the cards I'm looking for and can use to fill out a mighty new deck means I'm focused on rather than overwhelmed by the opportunities I discover.
It Never Gets Easier
Grouping cards like this helps me work through the thousands of possibilities each new creation asks of me, but this is not the only way to go. However you make sense of the new additions to the format is up to you—but if you've felt pressured by too many choices, I hope this simple approach guides you down a clearer path.
This week's question is quickly becoming my favorite to ask, as it's your questions that are super interesting to answer: What is a tough, tricky, or tall question about Commander you'd like answered?
- Feedback via email in English
- 100-word limit to explain the question
- Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column)
Commander (2015 Edition) is now in full swing in our decks, so I'd like to focus one last time in 2015 on the best part of this column: you, the everyday players out there who I'd like to get a game in with. The "Dear Stybsy" duo of articles—both the first and the follow-up—has been fun for everyone, so closing out the year with one last round of questions and pithy answers felt like an appropriate celebration.
So you ask me, here or on Twitter, your challenging Commander conundrum. I promise to be as direct and pithy as possible for as many of you as I can!
Join us next week when we trawl the depths as a pauper. See you then!