Commanding the Darkness

Posted in Serious Fun on January 24, 2012

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.

Do you like Commander? When a new release rolls around do you scour the cards, consider the possibilities, and plot your next 99-high deck development? Does a seemingly innocuous card excite you in ways that make your friends concerned for your health? (Or, for that matter, theirs?)

If you suffer from some, or all, of these symptoms, today's Serious Fun might be right for you. I have it on good authority from one Dr. Gustafson that weekly doses can cure all your excitement ills.

Predator Ooze | Art by Ryan Yee

With just a few days left until Dark Ascension Prerelease Events, and Launch Parties following the week thereafter, I find myself in the same situation I do every new release. Similar to the "stages of grief," I experience a sequential series of emotional responses:

  1. Denial—Previews are starting already? Didn't we just go through this?
  2. Anger—Wait, what? How is this card even real?
  3. Bargaining—Okay. Okay. If you give me another token maker I'll break out Rhys the Redeemed again.
  4. Depression—That's it. I can't do this. There is too much awesome to even comprehend.
  5. Acceptance—You know what? This. Set. Rocks!

The net result of this process might or might not be a spreadsheet of new cards I look for at the Prerelease. Don't worry, said spreadsheet that I will neither confirm nor deny isn't what I'm going to show you today. What is on the docket shares something much more practical for everyone else: a short series of recommendations for a few friendly faces.

If You Like The Mimeoplasm

I humbly admit that we've looked at our fabulously slimy copy artist before. But the more I travel to places and see Commander played the more I've begun to appreciate just how powerful, plentiful, and fun our Ooze is.

The main features of The Mimeoplasm are:

  • Copies from creatures cards in graveyards—any combination of graveyards
  • Likes when you put cards from libraries into graveyards, fueling future copy binges
The Mimeoplasm

When you start looking at the cards that work well with The Mimeoplasm, you get something like this:

Purpose Usual Suspect(s) New to Dark Ascension
Awesome fatty to be copied Terastodon Predator Ooze
Evasion for monstrosities Distortion Strike Artful Dodge
"Milling" cards from libraries into graveyards Extractor Demon, Glimpse the Unthinkable, Memory Erosion Chill of Foreboding, Geralf's Mindcrusher, Increasing Confusion
Countermagic with a purpose Desertion Counterlash
Alternative recursion Body Double Havengul Lich

Counterflash | Art by Austin Hsu

While I've already said a lot of what can be said about Predator Ooze, copying a dead one is usually a pretty sweet deal with The Mimeoplasm: you get all the benefits of the base body with the advantage of starting with a significantly higher count of +1/+1 counters. Rise of the Eldrazi gave us one of my favorite attack spells in Distortion Strike, but Artful Dodge is a wonderful replacement for me thanks to the ability to wait and use flashback when you want it (as opposed to automatically on the next upkeep).

Since we're rolling to blue I want to point something awesome out about Counterlash: it's better than Desertion. You see, I'm not the biggest fan of Counterspell's legacy. So when it comes to spells that counter others I'm a little picky. My Sakashima the Impostor deck carries just three: Hinder, Spell Crumple, and the aforementioned Desertion.

I really like Desertion. It's an emergency button that can overwhelmingly swing the tide of the game favorably. You stop something annoying and, conditionally, you also get something for waiting so long. Counterlash is very similar but even better for our heroic Ooze. I will still wait until the right moment, but now I get something awesome (conditionally, of course) while potentially feeding a future casting of The Mimeoplasm. The best of both worlds!

Feeding the bubbly boss is even easier thanks to a wonderful array of effects that puts cards from libraries into graveyards—milling. Chill of Foreboding and Increasing Confusion will place plenty of options into graveyards, and generally serve as an upgrade to permanent-based milling. And while I'm very excited for Geralf's Mindcrusher to start eating some libraries too, I have to point out that it (or anything else with undying) isn't a combo with The Mimeoplasm. Since the 'plasm will enter play with, hopefully, plenty of +1/+1 counters, undying doesn't do much for it!

However, undying is pretty stellar for something like Havengul Lich. Once the undying creature is finally dead, casting it again from the graveyard will be supremely annoying for opponents. Paired with Geralf's Mindcrusher and you'll have plenty of options to choose from. Greedy!

If You Like Ghave, Guru of Spores

Ghave, Guru of Spores is actually the hybrid compromise between two commanders I've been angling to break out:

Rhys the Redeemed
Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter

Making dudes, and getting to sacrifice the extra ones for effects, are the primary attractors here. Dark Ascension packs a few decidedly white-black ways to get down with tokens, but if we go Ghave, then Rhys will be eligible to tag along.

Purpose Usual Suspect(s) New to Dark Ascension
Tokens! Bloodline Keeper, Cenn's Enlistment, White Sun's Zenith Increasing Devotion, Lingering Souls, Requiem Angel
Make tokens even better! Ajani Goldmane; Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite; Gavony Township Mikaeus, the Unhallowed; Sorin, Lord of Innistrad; Vault of the Archangel
Keeps the game moving Disenchant, Withstand Death Ray of Revelation, Undying Evil

Ray of Revelation | Art by Cliff Childs

The color combination of Ghave, Guru of Spores is famous for using cards like Pernicious Deed, Maelstrom Pulse, and Day of Judgment. Little helper spells like Ray of Revelation (which knocks out the usual anti-token efforts like Ghostly Prison), and Undying Evil (which actually saves a creature against any of the broad battlefield-blasting spells), go a long way in keeping a game interesting.

But Ghave, and his likeminded companions, want to make buckets of tokens and apply them liberally. If you've seen what Increasing Devotion can do, then the power of Lingering Souls should impress you too. What makes all this cute is Requiem Angel, which fuels all sorts of silliness.

You've read that correctly:

  1. Make any type of token that isn't a Spirit.
  2. Sacrifice, block, attack into certain doom, or otherwise exchange these assorted non-Spirit tokens for desirable things.
  3. Profit with a newer, flightier army.

Now add a sacrifice outlet (say Altar of Dementia) and Conspiracy, set to anything other than Spirit. Pow! Welcome to the world of arbitrarily large, controlled loops. Have fun!

Of course, upgrading tokens also works through usual channels. Gavony Township made Rhys the Redeemed happy in the same way Vault of the Archangel will make white-black tokens happy. And while everyone has seen Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, it's worth noting that unlike more mundane methods of improving tokens, his emblems can't be removed through any usual means.

Pump away!

If You Like Riku of Two Reflections

Riku of Two Reflections is an animal of spellcasting I, personally, am not as fond of. While his ability to copy just about everything you cast is awesome, it's the usual response from the rest of the players that turns me off. I'd rather be sneakier than flashy when I'm bringing my deck to bear, but there's a lot to be said about being flashy.

Purpose Usual Suspect(s) New to Dark Ascension
Recycle Burning Vengeance, Relearn Mystic Retrieval, Secrets of the Dead
Going all out Decree of Savagery, Twincast Increasing Savagery, Increasing Vengeance
More is better Manic Vandal, Sakura-Tribe Elder Dawntreader Elk, Torch Fiend

Riku of Two Reflections | Art by Izzy

Riku is a recycling champion. Flashback, and buyback for that matter, is a mechanic that makes him very happy: "cast" it twice on the way down, "cast" it twice on the way out. Secrets of the Dead serves the same purpose as Burning Vengeance: get something extra for everything you flashback. I'm sure you can think of a few things to do by drawing extra cards and gaining back the ones you enjoyed using the most.

For me, Riku isn't about subtlety because there isn't much subtle about him. Instead, when I break out my spell twinner I reach for the biggest spells about. Increasing Vengeance amplifies any instant or sorcery you cast, but when you cast it from flashback and copy that with Riku... yeah. (Echo Mage finds this humorous too.) Increasing Savagery is the same deal: copying it from flashback is silly absurd.

Riku of Two Reflections

For those of you who do apply some finesse to the Two Reflections, Dawntreader Elk and Torch Fiend are two new friends you need to meet. While they are the opposite of flashy, getting twice the work from one card is always nice. Dawntreader fetches up a basic land into play, and Fiend disrupts the all-too-common Sol Ring/Lightning Greaves/Sword of Feast and Famine plays. These certainly aren't flashy but are often just as desirable.

If You Like Kresh the Bloodbraided

The very first Commander deck I built was around Kresh the Bloodbraided. Big dudes, red's "borrowing" effects, sacrifice outlets, and a whole bunch of ways to "tutor up" other things. It was, admittedly, a little too focused on doing just its own thing.

Today, more than two years after I last broke him out, I think it might be time to reintroduce the darkness of Jund to my playgroup.

Purpose Usual Suspect(s) New to Dark Ascension
Upping the odds Ambition's Cost, Carnage Altar Grim Backwoods, Harrowing Journey
Finding the pieces Diabolic Tutor Increasing Ambition
Total ruination Insurrection Alpha Brawl
Total devastation Body Double, Karmic Guide, Reveillark Mikaeus, the Unhallowed

Kresh the Bloodbraided | Art by Raymond Swanland

I can't change the way I have fun with Kresh, but I can explore new cards in new ways. Harrowing Journey and Grim Backwoods are probably best described as "fairer" versions of Ambition's Cost and Carnage Altar. They still serve similar purposes, but you can send a friend on a Harrowing Journey if so desired, and Grim Backwoods limits my sacrifice to once per turn while shielding it from things that blow up artifacts (like, say, Torch Fiend). I was also very fond of Insurrection, but Alpha Brawl promises a very similar feel of wiping away someone's dudes without the issue of upsetting everyone else as you do it.

I also still want to play fetch with my deck, but Increasing Ambition is like stapling two extra Diabolic Tutors to the namesake. If I can find three cards using just one, the question naturally lends itself to doing something with just three cards.

It's story time.

A few weeks ago, I caught a tale from former Serious Fun writer (and former editor) Kelly Digges that, essentially, revolved around the absolutely disgusting interaction of Body Double, Reveillark, and Karmic Guide. With all three in normal permutations, you can loop these creatures in and out of play as desired, making great use of whatever sacrifice outlet (or Wrath of God) you happen to have laying around.


White and blue aren't in Kresh's colors, but Dark Ascension does bring the keystone to an on-color way to wildly profit: Mikaeus, the Unhallowed. While he can pull generic duty pumping tokens and protecting monsters, his ability to grant undying is very, very special. Add in a persist creature, like Murderous Redcap, and you have a creature that will simply keep coming back. (You alternate which ability is at work; if a creature went to the graveyard with a –1/–1 counter on it, bring it back through undying for a +1/+1 counter and persist, and vice versa.)

Murderous Redcap

Given the Murderous and Unhallowed pair, Goblin Bombardment (or any mana-free sacrifice method) will let you loop the Redcap into play from the graveyard, over and over, until you've satisfactorily murdered everything and everyone else. This set up is probably more disgusting than the story Kelly executed (it was his cards and deck in action), but if you're into blasting the table you'll find that 60% of the time it is quite reliable.


I do have to apologize for today: 2,000 words just isn't enough to really dive into everything Dark Ascension has to offer. Last week's poll showed that I'm not alone in being excited to play with the new cards:

Are you planning to attend a Dark Ascension Prerelease or Launch Party?
Yes 6145 81.7%
No 1378 18.3%
Total 7523 100.0%

While my faith in Prerelease and Launch events never wavers, it's still amazing to be reminded that most of you are just as anxious too! And just as last week's poll was more discrete, this week's is a step further down the chain, right into actionable instruction!


It won't be long before Dark Ascension makes its way to Magic Online, and when it does I want to be ready to battle a few certain fiends who are all over the digital 99-card decks. (You know who you are.)

Join us next week when I call in the troops. See you then!

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