Void Where Prohibited

Posted in Command Tower on September 10, 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.

You cannot hide. You cannot run. They are coming, and you cannot hope to survive.

When the time comes, can you even stand against them?

Art by Chase Stone

Battle for Zendikar is coming, and with it is the return of the Eldrazi. The terror they inspire in my games of Commander is nothing short of staggering. Legendary titans like Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre and Kozilek, Butcher of Truth are awe-inspiring and game-ending sights on the battlefield. Artisan of Kozilek is a favorite of mine, ensuring you end up with two great creatures for the price of one expensive one. Perhaps the most troubling of all is It That Betrays, turning effective cards like Merciless Executioner into brutal beatings.

Now they're back, and they're just as impressive as before. This is Void Winnower, and it's going to win games.

Your Winnow of Opportunity

Void Winnower is just one of many obscene monstrosities in Battle for Zendikar, but it's also one that's going to cause severe fits for me. Setting aside its comfortably big 11/9 body, both of its abilities are natural foils when fighting other Commander decks.

While it's hard to say whether shutting off spells with an even converted mana cost cuts out half the spells opponents cast, it's a blanket that covers powerful ones: Day of Judgment, Supreme Verdict, Counterspell, Cryptic Command, Shatterstorm, Creeping Corrosion, Doom Blade, and a list that can go on far longer. What Void Winnower's first ability does is increase your odds that it (and everything else you control) sticks around. There are plenty of odd-costing answers to use, of course, but forcing opponents into a narrower set will sometimes be enough.

Also note this effect isn't symmetrical. Unlike Rule of Law, which throttles your ability to cast spells, too, Void Winnower only interferes with opponents. You can protect your Eldrazi with Center Soul. You can return it to your hand with Boomerang. You can cast Sakura-Tribe Elder to keep ramping up lands. The power of Void Winnower isn't only in splitting up the spells cast but also ensuring that it's only your opponents who feel the pinch.

Limiting the spells that can be cast is the first half of Void Winnower's power. The second ability is really where it hits harder.

The Eldrazi mean business. Think you can defend against an onslaught of powerful fatties with some tokens? If only it were that simple to hold the Eldrazi back.

One of the common ways multiplayer decks keep up with multiple opponents is by generating multiple cards of value. Casting something like Grizzly Bears is great in a duel: You have one opponent to attack and defend against, and a reasonable 2/2 creature early on is totally fine for the fight.

In multiplayer games, the effectiveness of one creature is lower; attacking one opponent leaves you open to being hit by another, and it takes more attacks to deal the same damage to everyone. This means how you look at creatures will shift slightly in favor of those that can help shore up defenses even as they attack. Topan Freeblade is a step in the right direction: Vigilance keeps it available to block, and renown means an opening to attack an opponent makes your creature even stronger.

But it's still just one creature, and that's a problem all by itself.

One bad block, or one Fleshbag Marauder, or one removal spell, and the next players in turn can go to beatdown town on you. But if you play something like Ghirapur Gearcrafter, you end up in a different situation. Two creatures from one card gives you an extra chance to block, an extra target to equip to, and an extra option for sacrificing or paying other costs.

The entirety of even-converted-mana cost creatures includes plenty of powerhouses like Stoneforge Mystic, Solemn Simulacrum, and Grave Titan. But it's the tokens of all shapes and sizes that get hit hardest by Void Winnower.

And as someone who enjoys taking planeswalkers down, I'm excited that all the Elspeth- and Sorin-sourced tokens won't keep your opponents safe when this Eldrazi shows up.

Throwing Stones at Winnows

The mighty Eldrazi are amazing as your allies—albeit not actual Allies—but they come with a steep price. For planes like Zendikar, the destruction is pretty clear. But in a game of Commander, most Eldrazi bring a different type of ruination: focused fire.

Whenever you bring out a paragon of power like Void Winnower or another titanic Eldrazi menace, all eyes turn to you. It doesn't matter if the Winnower's abilities aren't impinging on someone else's style. It doesn't matter if they have plenty of ways to deal with it at their leisure. Permanent, powerful, global effects draw the attention and ire of the entire table.

That's the difficulty with Void Winnower: It doesn't win you the game outright for its beefy nine mana, but it does tilt the balance of power in your favor in a way that cannot go unnoticed. Sometimes you can slip troublesome permanents into play without disturbing everyone. Vedalken Orrery, Perilous Forays, and Soothsaying all provide clever power without interfering with opponents outright.

The Eldrazi are not among them.

That leads me to this week's question, one that should interest all the Eldrazi fans out there: What is the biggest, most powerful card you play in Commander, and why?

  • Feedback via email in English
  • 300 word limit to share the card and decklist
  • Sample decklist (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)

What makes a card powerful is often up to the user. While Time Stretch and In Garruk's Wake are obviously powerful in what they do, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker finds its home alongside a whole host of cards without breaking the game open by itself.

The power you use is the one I want to hear about.

Join us next week when things stagnate in our favor. See you then!

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