It's with giddy, heart-pounding joy that I eagerly wring my hands for this Friday's release of Magic: The Gathering Commander decks. These decks look like a boatload of fun, and picking up one for yourself is perhaps the next easiest thing to borrowing a Commander format deck from a friend.
However, there's more to these decks than just a quick-start kit to jump into gaming; among the 51 brand new Magic cards coming into existence are several legendary creatures suitable for commanding your forces. While I certainly plan to get funky with the wedge-colored creatures during this weekend's Launch Parties, it's the slightly less colorful legendary luminaries coming along for the ride that I'm most excited about.
Yes, I'm talking about Basandra, Battle Seraph and friends. I really like two-color decks, and these new enemy-color-pair creatures are just the commanders I was looking for. Talk about making friends out of enemies.
- Going Down in a Blaze of Glory
I'm continuing to try something a little different this week. Last's week doozy of a card, Mana-Charged Dragon, prompted my brain into looking giving everyone mana and lands, as well as ways to take advantage of getting tons of extra lands into play.
Basandra, Battle Seraph | Illustration by Terese Nielsen
Deck lists for the Commander format are a bit unwieldy. As assembling the requisite 99-plus-1 cards is often a rite of multiplayer passage these days, and given the Magic: The Gathering Commander decks as the instant fix for that, it seems a little cumbersome to build out entire deck lists. The little details and characteristic cards I enjoy may be, and most likely are, slightly different than ones you would key into.
It's keeping things open-ended, for you to decide what you want to use or not, that led me to break out options last week and create just a bare-bones module for our Dragon. This week I'll push this idea a little further, with the exciting ideas I have for Basandra, Battle Seraph.
Basandra is the type of commander I've been looking for: someone to help run combat steps and let me play the colors that I fell in love with during the era of Ravnica. She has two abilities that work together for the common good.
Her first ability stops many combat shenanigans cold. We're all familiar with the classic multiplayer maneuver: set attackers at who they're going at, then Pow! with the Doom Blade or kicked Rout. Basandra forces everyone to call their shots in advance. Worried about an oversized something (like, say, Mana-Charged Dragon) crashing in? You'll have to deal with it before it's time to rumble.
This doesn't mean old tricks don't work. The classic "I know you're blocking with that big, tough dude, so I'll cast my burn spell after combat to finish it off." still works: you just cast it in the second main phase. It's less stylish but just as effective.
And the normal shortcuts to get around "you can't cast spells" effects—Rule of Law and Erayo, Soratami Ascendant and friends, I'm looking at you—are still on the table. Abilities, no matter how much they feel like spells, aren't affected. Things like morph and activated abilities can help us continue to make the most of combat phases.
Her second ability certainly feeds into keeping games exciting. Bullwhip is a pretty neat effect, and repeatable whipping (without the sting) can be incredible. (Pro Tip: I'm putting Bullwhip into my Basandra deck.)
While making little fries like a Selesnya Guildmage or Mistmeadow Witch attack certainly helps resist shenanigans external, it's the idea of building a deliciously defensive deck so we can make even the biggest of bruisers fall that has my singleton-sense tingling.
And if we're prepared to handle the bad boys of the table, the incentive may be for them to attack somewhere else. The ability doesn't say that the creature has to attack us!
- Please See Next Module
I guess it's worth noting that Basandra is also a 4/4 Angel with flying. She can certainly be offensive to opponents (see what I did there), but her stats are neither stellar nor Squire. It's taking advantage of using her two other abilities together that leads me to looks at a slightly different red-white deck: one that does less attacking than opponents.
No, you read that right, but I should clarify: we will be attacking less, but there will be a lot more attacking in general if we have our way. It's a simple three step system:
- Lay down deterrents, followed by Basandra.
- Use Basandra to make other players' creatures attack.
- Profit as they choose to send their dudes somewhere else.
And I believe red-white is the perfect color pair for this. Let's look at a few all-stars:
|Boros Guildmage||We can give creatures haste (so they can attack) or first strike (when we, or other players, block).|
|Aven Liberator||A morph that flips up to grant a creature protection from a color until end of turn.|
|Exalted Angel||A morph that flips up to gain life for however much damage you deal with it.|
|Ironfist Crusher||A morph that, when face up, can block any number of creatures.|
|Weathered Bodyguards||A morph that, when face up, redirects all combat damage from unblocked creatures from you to it.|
|Warbreak Trumpeter||A morph that when flipped up makes a whole platoon of Goblins.|
|Crescendo of War||Makes attacking and blocking more intense very round.|
|Vow of Duty, Vow of Lightning||Makes attacking better, but keeps the blade pointed away from you.|
All of these cards can influence and adjust combat for us, as well as set up a few combos (see below). The creatures with morph let us do some strange things in the middle of combat, with granting protection from a color being perhaps the saltiest (see Shelter and Apostle's Blessing for the usual suspects there). Boros Guildmage can be a great card for "helping" other players attack and block, in addition to its normal use in enhancing your troops.
And it's no surprise that several of the new cards also happen to work well with Basandra: the Vows and Crescendo of War all do their part to make combat a friendly place for us to futz around with. If you're looking for more ways to poke around with combat, creatures like Mother of Runes and Lieutenant Kirtar all work as well.
Of course, keeping enemies at bay takes a little work. There quite a few ways to let attacks happen but keep them flowing elsewhere.
|Sunweb||A big blocker for just four mana.|
|Sworn Defender||Can stop any-sized attacker cold.|
|Beloved Chaplain, Commander Eesha||Protection from creatures—great for blocking and attacking!|
|Wall of Nets||Ties up creatures if you block them with it.|
|Wall of Reverence||Life gain as we sit back.|
|Woolly Razorback||Blocking with it "turns it on" for later attacks.|
|Crawlspace; Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs||Cuts back on attackers against you.|
Creatures like Sunweb and Woolly Razorback are impressively big for their relatively meager cost, but they also don't scare other players either, like with Chameleon Colossus. Other Wall creatures—Wall of Nets and Wall of Reverence—provide a sturdy backstop without being too prickly either.
While these cards won't necessarily be the strike force of victory, they suggest that opponents turn their combat-hungry eyes elsewhere. Crawlspace in particular is an oldie-but-goodie worth looking into: while it won't help protect your planeswalkers, it does put a wide berth of breathing room around you.
These options, too, can be seasoned to taste. Any combination of tough and protective critters, like Felidar Sovereign or Baneslayer Angel, will work well. But even the toughest of bodyguards can use a little help, which is why I plan to turn to Equipment to suit them up.
|Brass Squire, Auriok Windwalker, Leonin Shikari||Move Equipment around mid-combat, making the math of an attack much more interesting.|
|Kemba's Legion; Kemba, Kha Regent||Great creatures to suit up with Equipment.|
|Stoneforge Mystic, Stonehewer Giant, Taj-Nar Swordsmith||Find Equipment for us. Also, can equip it themselves too!|
|Vulshok Battlemaster||A quick way to load up your own Equipment, or borrow from others.|
|Darksteel Plate, Shield of Kaldra||You'll have the best defender around even after a Day of Judgment.|
|Whispersilk Cloak, Lightning Greaves||Shroud shields your best, both for offense and defense.|
While there are many, many awesome options for powerful Equipment—Sword of Fire and Ice, Sword of Feast and Famine, Sword of Vengeance, Batterskull, Manriki-Gusari, Loxodon Warhammer, to name just a scant few—it's including a few defensive options that interests me. Darksteel Plate, and its predecessor Shield of Kaldra, transform your best defender into a superhero of stopping damage.
And that's part of the combo I hinted at above: making Ironfist Crusher or Weathered Bodyguards indestructible should severely limit the combat damage that can flow in. You can even spice things up with a Pariah's Shield on Benevolent Chaplain for a similar effect. Kemba's Legion will grow on the defense as you pile more and more Equipment up on them as well.
Other creatures that go hand-in-hand with Equipment are the everywhere-these-days Stoneforge Mystic and Kemba, Kha Regent. For a little bit of older flair, Vulshok Battlemaster is quite a trick: it's great to pile all your gear onto one guy for a massive attack, but borrowing everyone else's Equipment to boot is fiendishly silly.
- Putting It All Together
So where do we end up? We have a lot of options and ideas to grab onto. I'm a fan of making all my opponents knock each other around, and I plan to keep it that way by making attacks against me as ineffective as possible. Different twists you might enjoy include:
- Adding something like Moat or Ghostly Prison in addition to Crawlspace, then use powerful equipment to have the best attacker around.
- Punishing attacking directly with Caltrops, Powerstone Minefield, and Lightmine Field.
- Sprinkling a few creatures with horsemanship or shadow into the mix, giving you unblockable creatures that can attack at their leisure.
And these ideas can be shifted into a Basandra deck that focuses on the offense as well. Whether it's your first or your fortieth deck, picking up a Magic: The Gathering Commander deck is a step you'll want to take—then take a few steps more.
This leads us back around to last week's poll:
|How excited are you for Magic: The Gathering Commander?|
|I'm so pumped my head asplode! I'm going to burninate the countryside!||473||41.9%|
|This is looking pretty sweet! Can't wait for more!||332||29.4%|
|There's some cool stuff, yeah. We'll see where it sits in the end.||213||18.8%|
|I'm hoping there's other stuff coming that will excite me.||50||4.4%|
|What's there to be excited about? I'm not really a fan.||62||5.5%|
The net result is resoundingly clear: we're all excited for these new decks together! I'll be on the lookout for friendly folks looking to get down at a brand-new Wizard's Play Network location at Novel Places, in Clarksburg, MD this Saturday! Take a look for a place near you!
This week is a little special: I'm actually giving you two polls at once!
I'd love to give you information around the Commander format, among others, but in ways you're looking for. Feel free to share any thoughts you have—the more ways to share I can squirrel away in my bag of tricks the more you'll enjoy stopping in! And that's good for all of us.
As promised, the Commander format is next on the game coverage agenda, and I'd like you to share what you want to see most. I'm thrilled at the idea of seeing the newest Commander-format goodies in action, which is best served by seeing things with just the newest decks. I also know quite a few friends who are rather fond of their creative decks, and giving those a chance to shine would be excellent as well.
Sound off with what your heart desires and we'll be back next week—except this time, it will be personal. See you then!