A Cheap Second Date

Posted in Serious Fun on August 9, 2011

I'm a pragmatist about many things in life. It feels natural for me to look at something like a new restaurant or product as ask "What makes this better than what already works?" While there's significantly less pragmatism between Magic and myself—we all have our indulgences—I sometimes see things that make me pause and consider if there's a simpler way to jump in.

Magic has many ways to play, and I'd argue one of the greatest is with the Commander format. Packed with admirable traits such as card variety, multicolor encouragement, and Magic flavor, I can't imagine heading to my local game store without a 100-card deck or two in tow.

But a quick flip through any of my decks reveals a barrier to entry full of rare and mythic rare cards and hard-to-find oldies. It's not an entirely bad thing, but it's certainly intimidating and frustrating to anyone trying to join in the fun. The idea of a slightly easier way to play with a Commander was the impetus for sharing Pauper Commander a few months ago.

Then we gathered online where you shared back. It was awesome. It was hilarious. It inspired discussions and podcasts. It was worth a second trip.

We're going to make a sequel better than the first, and everyone's invited!

Join me Wednesday, August 10, from 7 p.m. EDT until as late as I can take it, for Pauper Commander action! As before, please email me or post in the forums your Magic Online user name as the games I create will only allow my buddies to join. It was quite a happening event last time, so don't be afraid to start your own game if everything is full!

    On The Last Date...

So what will make this trip better? The last time we rallied for Pauper Commander we restricted every card to being a common on Magic Online. This gave us just ten legendary creatures to work with, two for each of the allied color pairs. Many of you told me that you found them boring and restrictive, particularly since they didn't have any special abilities.

I heard you, and I didn't just leave it at that.

For our second date I wanted to make sure we did something a little more special, and there's little more special than each of us getting to bring our favorite flavored friend. This time, any legendary creature can be the Commander for our decks. This doesn't mean the other cards can be anything other than commons (because then that would just be regular Commander gameplay), but it does open up a lot of fun action.

Or, in other words, you won.

Now, what do we do with our newfound power? While you can make your own decision about how to handle this, I'm going to utilize my all-time favorite Commander: Rhys the Redeemed. Rhys the Redeemed makes tokens, and I've shared a deck for him before. Now, I get to go digging for more all over again. Here are several modules of effects that I pieced together for him.

    Token Making

Rhys may be making many tokens, but it's much handier when we already have a few to work with.

Sensor Splicer, Maul SplicerBring swords to a knife fight.
Gilt-Leaf Ambush, Elephant AmbushSurprise!
Icatian Crier, Cenn's Enlistment, Selesnya Evangel, Sprout SwarmSlow and steady can win the race.
Ambassador Oak, Kozilek's Predator, Nest InvaderA bonus just for signing up.

New Phyrexia brought us Splicers, and two of them happen to be commons. It doesn't matter if the Golem progenitors die off; the artifact offspring will be doubled to new heights. Ambushes, be they Gilt-Leaf or Elephant, can help us do more than have some tokens floating around. And it's through cards like Icatian Crier and Selesnya Evangel that we build an ever-flowing army.

Particularly interesting situations arise if you can amass a pile of Eldrazi Spawn tokens. Most players won't expect your 0/1s to gang-block something big only to be pumped.

    Token Pumping

Kamahl, Fist of Krosa is my Overrun of choice in most decks, but we're not afforded that luxury here.

Gleam of ResistanceVigilance or surprise blockers.
Inspired Charge, Fortify, Bold DefenseAdding +2 power isn't deceptively strong; it just is.
Kjeldoran War Cry, Surge of ThoughtweftQuick pumps for just two mana helps us stack the effects up.
ThriveEvery creature has a birthday. Celebrate by giving the joy of +1/+1 counters.

Without tokens, pumping isn't very effective. Without pumping, tokens are pretty weak. Mixing them together gets the job done, and then some. While Inspired Charge and Bold Defense are the powerhouse options to roll out with, I find Thrive and Gleam of Resistance to be the most compelling. Keeping an army at a healthy size, or having them jump back up for double duty, is a minigame I play.

Reaching a higher number of tokens makes me rethink how to get to the next highest number. (For the record, my record with my regular Rhys deck is in the 1,400 neighborhood. We stopped counting because a Pernicious Deed was involved.)

    Massive Attack!

Growing an army, and making it stronger, is hard work. It doesn't necessarily need to be that way.

Shield of the OversoulAttacking with a flying, indestructible Rhys can work.
Sigil of the Nayan Gods, Strength in NumbersTransform a single token into an efficient, life-crushing monstrosity
Alluring Scent, Seton's Desire, Shinen of Life's RoarLure may be uncommon, but these guys will do the trick.
Dawnglare InvokerPoint. Shoot. Reload.

There was a game not too far in the past where I cast Rhys the Redeemed on turn one and Shield of the Oversoul on turn three, and put my opponent to 17 Commander damage before he finally drew something to knock out the Shield. I didn't cast any other spells, or play any more lands, that game. Someday, 21 from Rhys is going to make me very happy.

Aside from dreams of stars aligning, cards like Strength in Numbers may as well read "Target opponent loses." From our previous adventure into Pauper Commander, it's clear that there's a lot of incidental damage in games. A few attack steps without blockers, and a few beefy bites from brawlers, puts most players into the mid-20s quickly. Once you start approaching that number of tokens, it's go time. Lure effects and the Rise of the Eldrazi Limited star Dawnglare Invoker ensure your writhing horde strikes home.

What does this look like all together?

Rhys the Redeemed

Download Arena Decklist
Artifact (2)
1 Whispersilk Cloak 1 Mind Stone
Tribal instant (2)
1 Surge of Thoughtweft 1 Gilt-Leaf Ambush
99 Cards

A quick glance will reveal some mana acceleration and fetching, as well as a few utility lands like Quicksand and Command Tower, but the bulk of the deck is devoted to devastating attacks. It's seems rather simplistic, but I was careful to include a trick up the deck's sleeve: a quad cards tailored to resist red and black.

These cards serve a very specific purpose: fighting Hurly-Burly, Crypt Rats, Festercreep, and friends. Tokens are pretty fragile, but there aren't many effects that can empty a board at common. By adding these toughness-boosting effects we'll have the fortitude to withstand most effects that would clear away tokens. These little boosters really pull their weight!

As an added bonus, Spidersilk Armor also lets our little friends guard the sky in front of us. It's a treat that would have been otherwise unavailable online without the Duel Decks: Knights vs. Dragons release!

    Five Things I Like About You

While I'm adamantly passionate about kicking it with tokens in the front seat on Friday, or Wednesday for that matter, perhaps they aren't as exciting for you. There so much more than Rhys to work with.

5. The Mimeoplasm

When you can cycle guys like Wirewood Guardian and Jhessian Zombies, and follow it up with Neurok Invisimancer and Distortion Strike, The Mimeoplasm is a machine of graveyard munching. Add in fun creatures like Coiling Oracle and Winged Coatl and you have a veritable party on your hands!

4. Brion Stoutarm

Brion is a Fling machine that doesn't always shine brightly in Commander. When Wrath of God is commonplace it's hard to keep a supply of ammunition for him, let alone keep him on the table. With hardly any board-sweepers to worry about and a more-than-healthy 4 toughness, Brion can sit back and toss at his leisure.

One way to make the most of him is to bundle him up with creatures that have "enters the battlefield" effects. Ghitu Slinger, Ingot Chewer, Torch Slinger, and other cards like you get more bang for your buck. Keep your eyes peeled for Gorehorn Minotaurs!

3. Wrexial, the Risen Deep

Wrexial is huge in pauper, and I don't necessarily mean popular. As if being a 5/8 wasn't enough, Wrexial rebuys any handy instants or sorceries your opponents may have played. That's all well-established as what you get for it.

What makes Wrexial really keen is that if you wanted to play towards milling an opponent, Wrexial will reward you for doing so. Jace's Erasure, Merfolk Mesmerist, Induce Paranoia, and Vedalken Entrancer can all play a coy sub-theme that not-so-secretly rewards your Commander of choice. Without the heavy-hitting haymakers that classically define the Commander format, you'll have much more time than normal to nip at an opponent's library.

Bon appétit!

2. Tsabo Tavoc

Ms. Tavoc gets a bad rap in most Commander games. "She kills my Commander!" everyone cries. "Why would you do that?"

Would you expect anything less from Phyrexians? (Don't answer that.)

In a world where removal is at a higher premium, and most creatures cap out as a 4/4, Tsabo lives as a true killing machine: seven power, first strike, and an on-demand legendary creature execution all add up to a wild ride in red-black. With Grim Harvest, multiple members of the Gravedigger family, and powerful new bloodthirst critters like Blood Ogre and Gorehorn Minotaurs, gearing up to push the gas on attacking can be welcome change of pace from the usual Commander action you see elsewhere.

1. Riku of Two Reflections

Look. Put the pitchfork down. I get that ending on another token produce was unexpected. But look at it this way: you can copy some pretty silly creatures.

Alternatively, you can copy some swank spells:

Riku is a pretty good guy when he has access to every spell in Magic, and he's still awesome even if you aren't doubling up the best clothesline moves in the game.

    Back to the Future

I'm really looking forward to the big get-together, as I've been itching to play more Commander. Joining up with a willing crowd makes a huge difference, and I know we'll have a blast! However, that isn't the only action I'm looking for this week.

Next week is Feedback Week, and like so many of my fine fellow writers, I'd like to respond directly to you! You may have noticed that a poll has been included in every Serious Fun since June. You may have noticed more subtle responses and follow-ups hidden within week-to-week. You may have noticed I'm active, and generally responsive to everyone, on Twitter. And if you're very lucky you may have noticed that I emailed you back (as the form submission really does dump it off at my front Internet doorstep).

I'm doing my best to be there week after week, but I want to truly turn the floor over to you next week. Give me a question—any reasonable inquiry of one sentence or so—that's related to having fun in Magic and I'll try to answer it. Depending upon how many questions I receive I may not get to them all, but the best of the bunch will appear most definitely.

So when you're not busy playing Pauper Commander tomorrow, or have a few fresh ideas in your head today, send them over. (And if you're already following me on Twitter, you'd have seen this call go out sooner. Twitter is pretty much the perfect way to rally for this so I started there!)

Last week's poll covered testing out new decks you construct.

Do you test your decks out before breaking them out for "real" games?
Yes, of course! I can't imagine it any other way!22947.5%
Sometimes, but I don't always get the chance.20141.7%
No, I like to see what happens when it happens!5210.8%

As editor (and PvPOnline.com background-of-the-first-panel star) Kelly Digges put it when he shared the results with me: "What a methodical bunch!" I'm glad many of you make the effort to run your alpha deck versions through gaming iterations before unleashing it upon the world. Whether you're looking to tweak things and make the deck stronger, or check for ways to get more out of what's already in the deck, taking time to work it over shows caring dedication!

But one of my about-to-not-be-secret ways to have a little more fun playing Magic is to use a deck that's relatively untested. Take the pieces, sketch out what's missing, pile it up, and play. The exhilaration of drawing into the unknown is something I really enjoy, and if you've never tried a deck "blind" I'd suggest it.

And, honestly, how many of you "test" your Sealed and Draft decks before firing them off? I sometimes have to scramble and pray I made the right calls!

This week's poll is easy:

Are you excited for Feedback Week next week?YesSomewhatNo

Send your questions over via email, the forums, or Twitter. Join in Pauper Commander on Magic Online tomorrow night. After all that, we'll see you next week!

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