I'll Make You an Offer You Can't Refuse

Posted in Command Tower on October 30, 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 love using creatures in Commander. Give me Reclamation Sage or Acidic Slime over Naturalize or Rain of Thorns. I'd rather bring out Bogardan Hellkite than Rolling Earthquake. Sepulchral Primordial is more exciting to me than Living Death.

But that doesn't mean I don't find a few kinks in my creature plans either.

Swiftfoot Boots | Art by Svetlin Velinov

Swiftfoot Boots, the hexproof-granting descendant of Lightning Greaves, was a card that captured my attention years ago. Both Equipment have gone on to be staples in my decks, particularly when the commander itself wants to be protected. Giving things haste and "you can't mess with this" is a wonderful way to ensure my plans hold up.

They're also among my biggest frustrations fighting other decks.

I have a friend who doesn't play as often as I do. While he keeps up with cards here and there, he's content to just tweak and maintain his Commander decks. When we rumble, it's like taking trips into the past: I can see the era's most-recent releases at the time forming the core of whichever deck he picked. As an exercise in Magic history, I could write an article in of itself from his cards.

But there's one deck that feels just as frustrating and powerful today as it did then: Uril, the Miststalker.

Before hexproof even had a name I didn't have kind words about this choice of commander. Nigh invulnerable to most targeted removal (shout outs to Diabolic Edict, Barter in Blood, and Dead Drop) and building with protective Auras in mind (Indestructibility is terrifying here), it's a deck that pushed mine to find blockers, stymie attacks, and destroy lots of enchantments. It can overrun me consistently if I stumble. Needless to say, it's rare it appears, but I always know what I'm getting into when it shows up.

I've always wondered why there weren't more easy ways to remove problematic abilities from creatures. While Humility and other effects can do work and Archetype of Endurance quashes hexproof explicitly, they both require specific colors and, therefore, commanders.

That's all about to change.

There's finally light out there for me.

Spotting the Horizon

Arcane Lighthouse isn't a card I would describe as awe-inspiring, but it's a card that fits right into my wheelhouse of preferences.

This is a "spell land."

Spell lands are my term for any land that, well, acts like a spell. Cards like Alchemist's Refuge and the new Myriad Landscape provide mana. Sure, it's colorless mana, but recasting your commander requires additional mana of any variety. As long as you build your decks to fix mana in other ways, spell lands are a fantastic way to get more mileage out of your mana base.

Lands, generally speaking, don't die as easily as every other type of permanent in Commander. While Acidic Slime and Ghost Quarter–like cards can snipe away at these, spell lands go a long way in giving your deck things to do when you don't need the mana. Effects that are helpful when you need them, but useless in other situations, are great on spell lands.

Even better, spell lands make decisions easier. Early in the game, it can be hard to choose whether to play something like Lonely Sandbar on the second or third turn: if you draw plenty of lands afterwards you'll wish you could have cycled it instead. Spell lands like Arcane Lighthouse can sit through the entire game waiting for a moment to shine without regret: you wanted the mana anyway and there isn't anything else to do with the card.

And some spell lands, like Mystifying Maze, are gifts that keep on giving for the right deck.

Arcane Lighthouse is a colorless card.

Unlike Alchemist's Refuge, Arcane Lighthouse doesn't carry any color-identity requirements. Most artifacts can be jammed into any Commander deck without worry. It's why value-driven fatties like Wurmcoil Engine and Solemn Simulacrum are so ubiquitous: Your one copy can shift to any deck that needs it.

It's exciting to filter down through all of the colorful cards that can make your newest deck, but I find by the time I make it to the options without color I'm piling up choices far above what I can actually play. Since colorful cards are often more powerful than less-colorful versions, which in turn outshine colorless choices—consider Embodiment of Spring versus Diligent Farmhand versus Wayfarer's Bauble—it's easy to skip over the least-exciting of the bunch.

Don't skip them.

When you have too many colorful cards your mana can be stretched beyond what it can do. Casting Cryptic Command, Hornet Queen, and War Elemental all from the same Temur deck can be surprisingly tricky. Easing your color needs by including easier-to-cast cards also makes room for lands that don't produce colors.

Arcane Lighthouse card breaks combos.

Stripping away shroud and hexproof only matters when opponents are using those abilities. While there are plenty of occasions where Lightning Greaves is protecting the sole defensive creature a player has left, it's the other moments when someone is moving to win the game out of nowhere that breaking the shield pays off.

We only need to feel Lightning Greaves and Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon team up once to know how valuable Arcane Lighthouse can be.

Arcane Lighthouse card is asymmetrical.

Many powerful effects affect every player equally: Mana Flare, Wrath of God, and Howling Mine spread the power and pain equally. Play with Dictate of Erebos once and you quickly grasp why the word "opponents" is so powerful. If you're so inclined to make the most of shroud and hexproof then you can rest assured your own Arcane Lighthouse won't wreck things.

It's all upside, all the time here.

Simplifying the World's Problems

Dealing with shroud and hexproof is a pretty narrow problem in the grand scheme of Commander issues. As a follow up to last week's "best tip ever" question, I want to know about the thing you struggle with the most: What do you find most difficult about Commander?

  • Feedback via email
  • 300-word limit to explain the frustration and why
  • 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)

There are many ways to take this question, so consider it in the terms that make sense to you. Is it challenging to add new cards? Is it overwhelming to consider so many cards? How do you start over with a new commander? These are questions I've wrestled with from time to time, but it's your toughest nuts to crack I'd like to know.

Join us next week when, to learn the rest of the story, we go back to the beginning.

I forgot about something. There's just one more thing...

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