Posted in Command Tower on September 11, 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.

There are many theories about "what's good" in multiplayer Magic like Commander. Some say it's having the right universal answers, like Perilous Vault or Supreme Verdict. Other say it's the ability to protect your investments, like using Darksteel Ingot as a mana rock or Purphoros, God of the Forge as a "burn" spell.

The approach I put the most stock into is a little different: I believe that access to mana, particularly playing a land nearly every turn of the game, is one of the most powerful ways to pull ahead in Commander.

Art by Sam Burley

I don't have a bounty of evidence to show you, but the fact both Primeval Titan and Sylvan Primordial are the two most recent additions to the Commander banned list speak volumes for what ramping multiple lands quickly does to games.

Personally, and anecdotally, I find greater success in games where I start with an opening hand of five—or more—lands. I'll unquestionably mulligan three-land hands, even if I have a Darksteel Ingot or similar mana rocks, because I really don't want to start missing land drops until my turns are close to or in double digits.

Why are lands so important compared to flashier or "more interactive" cards like creatures and spells? Lands let you do anything.

There's something to be said for decks tuned so well they have the exact number of lands they need. The mana curve and spells are balanced perfectly proportional to the likelihood of having mana by certain turns, rarely leaving the player without something to do. That is a feat of deck construction I admit I don't achieve.

What I do is plan for the worst-case scenario.

I like to play lands every turn, so I'm a bit pickier about the lands I use. Things like Lavaclaw Reaches and Mutavault are de facto creatures if I need them to be, and Polluted Mire and Blasted Landscape and turn into other cards if I happen to really need them. Lands like Temple of the False God and Golgari Rot Farm function like two lands in one, while Volrath's Stronghold and Desolate Lighthouse are more spells than mana sources.

It's why I rate basic lands so highly: they almost never punish me or enter the battlefield tapped. Simplicity is good for its own sake, too.

With all this talk about lands, you might assume I'm going to reveal some epic land in Khans of Tarkir. You would be wrong. Meet Villainous Wealth:

This isn't a land, but oh boy does it care about them.

Next Time, on Mana Hoarders

Villainous Wealth might, at first, look like a strange card. It might look like "Genesis Wave your opponent's library," but it's actually different in some fundamental ways:

  • Villainous Wealth exiles cards. This means graveyard shenanigans aren't synergistic.
  • Villainous Wealth doesn't put permanents onto the battlefield. This means you don't get to "steal" lands and all the spells you cast are eligible to be stopped by Counterspell and friends.
  • Villainous Wealth requires the Sultai colors. This limits the commanders you can use.

So what's really going on with this card? Why did I make such a big to-do about having mana?

Cards like Genesis Wave, Primordial Surge, and Genesis Hydra all get stronger with more mana. Building decks around going big is a common Commander theme, and the number of "green decks with mana ramping and a random Genesis Wave in there" I've seen is something I lost track of a long time ago. Spells that can dump a permanent, or many more, onto the battlefield are as favored as ways to both catch up when you're behind or get further ahead when you're trying to win.

Anyone who's seen the result of a double-digit Genesis Wave without anyone having an answer in the turns after knows what I'm talking about. While Villainous Wealth works a little differently, the effect is essentially the same: apply a ton of mana—ahead or behind—and get a battlefield full of random helpful things.

Of course, this doesn't mean it's a slam dunk for every Commander deck that can cast it. Consider the previous Sultai-colored options:

  • The Mimeoplasm wants creatures to end up in graveyards. Villainous Wealth doesn't put them there. (This, in some circles, is called a nonbo.)
  • Vorosh, the Hunter likes a little extra but it is abilities that manipulate +1/+1 counters he cares about more. There isn't synergy between him and Villainous Wealth.
  • Damia, Sage of Stone can refill even an empty hand up to seven cards. If you're using Damia, the odds are good you already have plenty of things to do, yourself, making the random answers to "What will you get?" less exciting.
  • Sidisi, Brood Tyrant, the newest commander of these colors, hits the same issue as Vorosh—there's no real overlap here—and begs for her own Zombie/creature theme.

So what does Villainous Wealth really bring to the table? Let me introduce you to one of the meanings of the word orthogonal:

  • statistically independent

What I mean is this: The obvious four commanders of the Sultai colors don't harmonize well with Villainous Wealth, and that can be the best reason to use it.

  • When you use The Mimeoplasm, players take note of graveyards and will work to prevent the best possible combinations from happening. Villainous Wealth doesn't care at all how well graveyards have been managed.
  • Vorosh, the Hunter blends well with mana ramping. If you can't hit players directly with the Hunter, Villainous Wealth is a different angle of attack, overloading the battlefield with things that can help you break through.
  • Damia, Sage of Stone can become the target of hand disruption and removal. Villainous Wealth is a backup plan that doesn't rely on your hand to be full to work: draw Wealth, tap your mana, and get rewarded even without the Sage in play.
  • Sidisi, Brood Tyrant's self-milling theme can be contained just like The Mimeoplasm's graveyard shenanigans. Villainous Wealth goes right over such concerns easily.

Orthogonal ideas are something I appreciate in Commander. It's easy to become beholden to a theme. The synergies created from tuning along one axis can create formidable decks, but if someone preys upon your plans you can be in serious trouble. Villainous Wealth lets you go in a different direction and get different results.

Consider this Damia, Sage of Stone deck from Andrew:

Andrew's Damia, Turn Down for What?

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Damia, Sage of Stone
Planeswalker (1)
1 Garruk, Primal Hunter
99 Cards

This isn't what I'd call a "typical" decklist for Damia, Sage of Stone, but it does illustrate the elements often paired with her: controlling cards, ways to incrementally pull ahead, and plenty of combo opportunities to pull the rug out from under opponents.

Villainous Wealth is exactly the kind of card I'd make room for here, or layer on to my own build of a Sultai Commander deck. Earlier this year, Mike sent in a Vorosh, the Hunter deck that wanted to get things started early:

I like to get a credible defense on the board as soon as possible. Being the last person to put a creature down is usually an invitation to unnecessary pain early in the game. Deathtouch + reach makes a great deterrent to opportunistic attacks, so Deadly Recluse and Thornweald Archer see a lot of play in my green-heavy decks.

Cheap, hard-to-kill creatures are also nice for encouraging aggressors to attack into other players who don't want to block with their cheap utility creatures. Lotleth Troll and Phantom Nantuko fit the bill in my Vorosh, the Hunter deck.

With an expensive, tri-color commander like Vorosh, I also spend early turns to prepare for his arrival and maximize his time on the board. Vorel of the Hull Clade; Corpsejack Menace; Master Biomancer; and Thassa, God of the Sea are the typical targets for creature tutors, while Doubling Season, Evolution Vat, and (now) Solidarity of Heroes gets fetched with the noncreature tutors.


Mike's Vorosh, the Hunter Commander

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Vorosh, the Hunter
99 Cards

Unlike Andrew's Damia deck—a pinnacle of powerful stuffs—Mike's deck is down to earth and awesome, filled with ways to make use of +1/+1 counters and come out swinging. Both decks have plans they want to stick to and don't need something like Villainous Wealth to power through.

And that's exactly why I'd find room for it.

Villainous Wealth | Art by Erica Yang

Villainous Wealth is there for when things go wrong. If someone picks apart everything Damia tries to do, and someone else resets Vorosh over and over, casting Villainous Wealth for a ton of mana is an unexpected piece of awesome nobody could have prepared for.

Sometimes greed can be rewarded.

Rather Clannish

What you end up using Villainous Wealth for is up to you, but I plan to pull the surprise maneuver as soon as I have a deck it can be played in. May your adventure be just as awesome.

Speaking of adventures, we've seen plenty of Khans of Tarkir so far and I'm looking forward to fleshing out all the missing details. In that vein, let me ask you an easy question: Which cards in Khans of Tarkirare you most excited to work with, and why?

  • Feedback via email
  • 300-word limit to explain that cards you're pumped about
  • Sample decklist 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)

Whether it's a big, flashy mythic rare or a humble common that you've wanted to see for a while, let me know what you're itching to pick up from the latest set.

Join us next week when we finally see everything there is to see on the plane of Tarkir. See you then!

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