Hate Bears in Commander

Posted in Latest Developments on October 31, 2014

By Sam Stoddard

Sam Stoddard came to Wizards of the Coast as an intern in May 2012. He is currently a game designer working on final design and development for Magic: The Gathering.

Last year, during Commander previews, I talked about how we use products like Commander to put cards into eternal formats. I think it's safe to say that with True-Name Nemesis, Commander (2013 Edition) managed to make an impact in those formats.

The truth about developing cards is that we don't really know exactly how strong each card will be. We have an idea, informed by playtesting, but we just can't come even close to competing with the entire population of the Magic-playing world in terms of man-hours. We are going to miss some stuff high and miss stuff low, but if we aim things properly (and make sure that the cards we are aiming to make impact in formats are fun) the card should at least be a fun new thing, even if we underestimate how it will be. Shardless Agent is an example of a card that was a bit stronger than we expected, but I think the world is net more fun for it existing.

One of the great things about working in Magic R&D is that we are given the opportunity to try new things. Sometimes those things work, and other times they fail. I personally consider True-Name Nemesis a failure in the sense that I believe it was a net-negative for the Legacy format. While we definitely proved that we could create a card that was powerful enough to have a large impact on the Legacy format, we ended up doing it with a card that really isn't very fun to play against. I am much happier to see cards like Baleful Strix coming out of these products than True-Name Nemesis. And that is closer to the power level we are planning on aiming these cards in the future.

Our goal for the future is to be more responsible when creating cards for eternal formats in an effort to create more cards that would be fun if they were powerful enough to see play, as opposed to cards that are powerful enough and hoping they are fun enough. We will still end up releasing very powerful cards into eternal formats, but hopefully they will land on the fun side of things.

Both Abrupt Decay and Flusterstorm were designed as cards that would have an impact on eternal formats, and both at the very least lived up to their expectations. But I believe they do so in a positive way. Reactive cards are able to make an impact, but there is much less that goes wrong if we are incorrect about the power level, so those are the cards we can push the most on.

But you didn't come here to read my musings on last year's Commander product, you are here to see what awesomeness we have planned for this year. Well, with that, I present Containment Priest:

Hate Bears, A Proud Lineage

One of our favorite cards to print for eternal formats are so-called "hate bears"—creatures that are 2/2s for two with some kind of text that is good against a specific kind of deck.

Some examples of this kind of card are Gaddock Teeg, Samurai of the Pale Curtain, Ethersworn Canonist, and Kor Firewalker. In general, a 2/2 for two isn't nearly a large enough body to compete in eternal formats, but the extra "hate" text allows a deck that is much weaker on the surface to exploit some of the most "broken" strategies in older formats.

As an example, there was a period of time when the Maverick deck in Legacy (despite playing Green Sun's Zenith) would play a Gaddock Teeg to fetch, because there were decks that had an incredibly difficult time beating that card. Ad Nauseam Tendrils, for example, can't cast either its Ad Nauseam or its Tendrils of Agony, leaving it a deck full of cantrips and no real way to win. Maverick is far from the only deck to run hate bears, though. There is a proud tradition that dates all the way back to the Sleight Knight era of Standard, where players played creatures with protection, then Sleight of Minded them to be the correct colors of their opponent's deck. Or just played their Circle of Protection and turned it into whatever color. But that's another story.

Containment Priest does something slightly unusual for hate bears (although not hate birds). They have flash, so you can actually set up your opponents instead of just locking them out. In some ways, Containment Priest is Sergeant Major of the Fun Police—making sure that people play good, wholesome Magic and get their creatures the old-fashioned way. Containment Priest punishes your opponents for trying to slip one by you.

Reanimate targeting Griselbrand? Nice try. You can still pay that 8 life, though.

Dredge revealing a Narcomoeba? More like Not-o-moeba.

Show and Tell? Well, tell me—do you have a permit for that? I didn't think so.

Flash lets you properly hate out your opponent's most powerful combos, hopefully without them knowing its coming.

Part of the fun designing new hate bears is finding a space that hasn't been effectively mined, and seeing if you can come up with a versatile line of text that maximizes just how powerful it is against the strategies it's trying to hate out. All while being as innocuous against the strategies that want to run the cards as possible. Gaddock Teeg is a prime example of this kind of design—where he was designed to keep cards like Wrath of God, Cryptic Command, and the like from being able to easily board wipe a Kithkin deck. He didn't actually prevent many cards in the deck from being played, and certainly allowed the deck to function without those cards. During the time of Block and Standard, the only cards that the Kithkin decks really couldn't cast because of Teeg were Spectral Procession and Ajani Goldmane. Those cards were strong, but also a pretty good follow up to a wrath if an opponent did happen to deal with your Teeg end-of-turn, and then wipe the board on his or her turn.

What Containment Priest Does for Commander

As I mentioned in my article last year, one of the rules for the new cards in these Commander decks is that they should make sense in multiplayer. Containment Priest is a cheap creature that lets you put a halt to everyone who is trying to do something "unfair," while making sure when working on it that the wording wouldn't keep people from actually playing their commanders.

People are always doing pretty busted things in Commander. The format is full of two-cards combos, three-card combos...heck even a few one-card combos. Containment Priest lets you run a creature that can surprise someone to mess up a combo or otherwise nullify a high-value play—like Restoration Angel-ing creatures like Avenger of Zendikar or Terastodon. The Priest won't have the kind of commanding board presence that many of our commanders or other flashy new cards in Commander products have, but it should have enough oomph due to its riskiness to get some value each time you play it.

That doesn't mean that there aren't active combos with the card. For example, Sudden Disappearance becomes a Plague Wind, and Astral Slide becomes a reusable Terror effect. With the plethora of blink-type effects in blue, it's possible to give your white commander deck a lot of potent removal.

What Containment Priest Does for Eternal Formats

The place where Containment Priest will probably find the easiest home in is Legacy sideboards. As I mentioned earlier, being able to flash it out gives you a pretty good hate card against Show and Tell, Dredge, and Reanimate strategies. You can't stop your opponent from putting an Omniscience in play, but no one card can stop everything.

The place where Containment Priest will probably find the easiest home in is Legacy sideboards. As I mentioned earlier, being able to flash it out gives you a pretty good hate card against Show and Tell, Dredge, and Reanimate strategies. You can't stop your opponent from putting an Omniscience in play, but no one card can stop everything.

Containment Priest is fighting a lot of cards for a similar space, so it's possible that it won't see play right away in the format, instead lurking around in the card pool for the right combination of decks to be at the top of the metagame before appearing. As an example, there was a period a little over a year ago where Show and Tell was one of the top Legacy decks, but there was also a lot of Manaless Dredge, as well as a Shardless Agent/Hypergenesis deck. In an environment like that, Containment Priest may very well be a sideboard card of choice and could even see the main deck in a Maverick or Death and Taxes–type of list.

In addition, because Containment Priest has a novel line of text, it has the chance of eventually finding a card that is very powerful with it in a reusable combo, much in the same way that Flickerwisp/Mangara of Corondor became a staple of the Death and Taxes archetype.

That's it for this week. Join me next week for Jeskai Week, when I will discuss prowess.

Until next time,

Sam (@samstod)

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