Burninate the Commander Side

Posted in Command Tower on August 14, 2014

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.

I've heard Commander described dozens of ways. Positive descriptions are the usual fare, but I have my own set of "elevator speech" breakdowns to entice the curious. But not all explanations are so endearing. One I've heard that stands out is: "Isn't that the format where everybody just plays Wraths?"

Smokestack | Art by Daniel Ljunggren

"Wrath," if you're unfamiliar with the term, derives from Wrath of God, the first and arguably most iconic way to clear the battlefield of creatures. A host of flavors, twists, and variants have been printed since then, notably both Supreme Verdict and Planar Cleansing in current Standard.

Why someone might derisively call Commander the format of Wraths is because, well, there's a little truth in that. Starting with extra life is designed to give players time to set up bigger plays. Casting splashy six-mana creatures and even bigger spells is part of the draw of the format: It's the atypical Magic experience compared to the mana curves of Limited and Standard.

Since Commander nudges us to longer, bigger games, it's easy to be pulled down the road of "answer all the things" approaches. There are spells in every color, color combination, and even without color at all that can reset the action and roll back other players' advances. When it's so easy for someone else stymie you, single cards that can take over a game become more important, too.

It's a vicious cycle: You choose stronger individual cards to help fight Wraths, which only leads to everyone carrying more Wraths to fight strong cards.

I won't argue that packing your appropriate version of Wrath of God in a Commander deck is bad, but it's hard to say it's universally good too. There are always tradeoffs to using certain cards and, for Wrath effects one of them is how it smothers much more innocent and fun things creatures can do. Who really wants to see a Phelddagrif bite the dust?

Boomtown

Setting aside the downsides of blowing up everything, why do we use the things we do in Commander? It's a question I asked you a few weeks ago, and the answers I got covered a lot of bases, like how Chris pulls in a specific type of Wrath:

I know the focus in this article is on destruction, but there are a few commanders where this simply isn't good enough. My girlfriend plays a very powerful Sigarda, Host of Herons deck that can ramp into a consistent kill by turn five, usually ending a four-player game by turn eight. Totem armor also means I can't effectively deal with her with a board wipe. There are also decks like Avacyn, Angel of Hope that make board wipes a little less appealing.

It is because of commanders like this, where they are indestructible, repeatable, or have totem armor, that I run Terminus in any white deck I make. It is a perfect answer for Commander decks that build too specifically around their commanders.

Nothing is as relieving as staring down death on your opponent's board and topdecking a Terminus for its miracle cost. It has saved me multiple times, and I once tucked five commanders while keeping my own Kemba in the command zone.

My deck is Boots and Cats (Say it quickly and it sounds like you're beatboxing, so it has earned the official name of "Beatbox Commander") and runs Kemba, Kha Regent as my commander. I've got a fair amount of board-wiping ability, and Worldslayer is powerful when equipped at the same time as Darksteel Plate or Shield of Kaldra.

—Chris

Chris's Beatbox Commander

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Kemba, Kha Regent

Chris's Kemba deck is both a deck using one of the more robust battlefield-wiping spells (Terminus) and a good example of a Commander that can fight through waves of Wraths. Loading up on Darksteel Equipment means Kemba sticks around to produce tokens every turn. Even if someone resets the Cat count you can start to rack it up again.

There's another in there Chris uses: Mass Calcify. It returned in Magic 2015, so if you want to use a base of white creatures you have a safe alternative to keep your side of the board filled—at least until someone else casts his or her own Wrath of the day.

Of course, there are ways around even the staunchest commander. Alex kept it simple with the usual blue ways to answer the enemy:

My tried-and-true method of removing commanders is to send them to the bottom of their owners' libraries. I have three ways to do this in my Intet, the Dreamer deck: Hinder, Spell Crumple, and Chaos Warp. Exiling and destroying a commander is temporary, the bottom of the deck is forever!

—Alex

Alex's Intent, the Answerer

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Intet, the Dreamer
99 Cards

Spell Crumple and Chaos Warp may not be the biggest explosions, but in terms of destroying plans built on commanders, these do it right. The "tuck" mechanic—tucking a card into the library and shuffling—is strong for exactly the reasons Alex gave. I'd never call these effects Wraths, but I've certainly witnessed the destruction they cause firsthand.

Indeed, the safest places for a powerful commander is on the bottom of a library. But there are other ways unleash devastation, and Andrew knows:

One of my favorite commanders is Thassa, God of the Sea. Cheap commanders hit the board early, and Thassa helps filter all my draws in a high-variance format. Being an indestructible 5/5 is pretty neat, too. Being mono-blue, however, leaves the deck without many options in terms of removal. While Rapid Hybridization and Phyrexian Ingester are neat, they're the exceptions to the rule.

Instead, this deck is packed with colorless removal cards. My favorites are Spine of Ish Sah and Karn Liberated, which are in almost all of my Commander decks anyway. Spine of Ish Sah works great with Phyrexia's Core, allowing me to nuke any permanent for only eight mana. Even if Karn dies shortly after I cast him, seven mana to exile a permanent is perfectly reasonable.

This deck also utilizes Steel Hellkite, Ratchet Bomb, Lux Cannon, and Tower of Calamities for extra destructive power. While I don't have enough copies at the moment, I'm looking to bolster this suite with Oblivion Stone, Nevinyrral's Disk, and Brittle Effigy. In general, I love colorless removal due to its power, flexibility, and lack of color identity (so it can go in any deck).

And Dismiss into Dream gets hilarious with Curse of the Swine.

—Andrew

Andrew's Thassa, God of Control

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Thassa, God of the Sea

I mentioned that you don't need any colors to power out some serious destruction, and Andrew's deck puts it on display. About the only trick missing is the newest: Perilous Vault from Magic 2015. That's one of the (many) cards I tracked down in premium foil right away. The fact that Perilous Vault exiles—unlike Spine of Ish Sah, Oblivion Stone, and most other colorless explosions—can be extraordinarily helpful against decks that rely on the graveyard.

Being colorless also opens up surprising ways to detonate everything too, as Dan discovered:

Depending on what I'm playing, I have a number of creative ways to deal with creatures my opponents control. My favorite, however, is sticking Spell Crumple on a creature that I know my opponents are going to want to block, like Prossh, Skyraider of Kher. Spell Crumple turns my favorite Kobold-muncher into a board wipe on feet, and there's little my opponents can do when my 21/5 commander is swinging in with flying except to take it or block, and if they block they lose everything thanks to Spell Crumple! I've taken to nicknaming the deck "Prossh Pilgrim vs the World" because of how often this combo has won me the game (I mean, it also helps that I'm swinging in with Scourge of the Throne for added Spell Crumple value)

—Dan

Dan's Prossh Pilgrim vs the World

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Prossh, Skyraider of Kher
Planeswalker (2)
1 Domri Rade 1 Xenagos, the Reveler
99 Cards

Kusari-Gama isn't an ordinary way to clear the battlefield, but in conjunction with the right attacker it's a choice between a rock and a hard place. I've been looking for an excuse to use the copy I have, and finally building a Prossh, Skyraider of Kher deck is a goal I've had for awhile.

Thanks, Dan.

Actually, thanks everyone. There were tons of submissions for this theme, and I appreciated both the more unusual choices (as featured above) as well as the tour of everyday Wraths I was expecting. Everything from Supreme Verdict to In Garruk's Wake and Whelming Wave means you "get" what destruction really is: anything that leaves the battlefield more empty than it started, or breaks up what an opponent had planned.

Don't even get me started on how Warp World can destroy things.

Total Annihilation

There's so much destruction in Magic it's impossible to avoid in Commander, but it also serves the valuable purpose keeping the worst that can happen at bay. I hope you've found a few tools you'd like to use yourself.

This week's question is in line with some prep work we should all put in before Khans of Tarkir is upon us: What is your favorite wedge-colored commander for Commander? (The wedge colors are WBG, URW, BGU, RWB, and GUR.)

  • Feedback via email
  • 300 word limit to explain the commander you like
  • Sample decklist or list of card changes 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)

Every wedge has its day (and name) so I'm looking forward to what you already enjoy from the three-color world of not-Alara.

Join us next week when I get punished. See you then!

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