The Key(runes) to Success

Posted in Serious Fun on October 16, 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.

I play Limited at lunch. While it would be faster to simply come with a Constructed deck ready to go, both Craig and I enjoy a very specific feature of Limited: Using cards that you wouldn't consider otherwise.

What cards you might consider for Return to Ravnica Sealed and Draft is the domain of Steve Sadin, but the idea of using more than the ordinary happens to overlap with another way I play often, Commander. In fact, using something different was a driver to building my Commander box, which I shared had grown twice over.

What made it grow is the same thing that leads me to order out for lunch.


@the_stybs All #mtgrtr Limited, all the time. Huzzah!

I'm exuberant about Magic, so things like that happen. So when I went to add fresh Return to Ravnica cards to my Commander box I was disappointed to see that I was out of room. It turns out there's quite a few oddballs to use in Magic, and I had gathered a motley crew of dusty choices. Instead of just adding a few cards – new Commander options like Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius aside – I decided to see if any needed to be retired.

This is the obituary for a few friends I've had to let go.

Masters of Mana

Like Ravnica: City of Guilds before it, Return to Ravnica brought a slew of new ways to make mana happen. I shared why all these ways to make mana are so important. What I didn't share was that to use them I had to cast off some nostalgia.

Invasion was the original multicolor block, and with it came many ways to make mana easily. One cycle of artifacts was featured in many of my earliest Commander decks: the Cameos.

Bloodstone Cameo, Drake-Skull Cameo, Seashell Cameo, Tigereye Cameo, and Troll-Horn Cameo were among my favorite ways to help leaders like Kaervek the Merciless and Wrexial, the Risen Deep accelerate. Cameos weren't flashy, but they did their jobs well.

Return to Ravnica's Keyrunes (Azorius Keyrune, Golgari Keyrune, Izzet Keyrune, Rakdos Keyrune, and Selesnya Keyrune) are everything the Cameos were, but better. On a battlefield that gets blown up regularly, creatures hidden in the same way we make more mana is just good business. I've never been able to equip a Sword of Vengeance to a Cameo, but for a Selesnya Keyrune I can see great things happening.

And since not every Commander is just two colors, ways to make even more colors are something else I've collected. Prismatic Lens's older brother Mana Prism is one example of old school color technology.

Chromatic Lantern

In one of the easiest swaps today, Chromatic Lantern happed in to replace the Prism. Serving a similar purpose but working that much harder doing it is exactly why I started going through things. But some exchanges were a little different.

Consider Tarnished Citadel and Transguild Promenade.

One opens up the flood of any color of mana for the price of three life. The other asks for some away from making mana. The former needs the payment every time. The latter needs it once, upfront. Tranished Citadel is a "fixed" version of City of Brass. Transguild Promenade is almost identical to Rupture Spire, which you can see in the background of my author photo.

I chose to update to a one-time fee for all my multicolor mana needs. Of course, I already had a series of mana makers with an entry charge.

Coastal Tower, Salt Marsh, Urborg Volcano, Shivan Oasis, and Elfhame Palace – the Invasion "tap" lands – have been a venerable quintet, quietly helping mana along. So have the even more esoteric "tap pain" lands from Tempest: Salt Flats, Caldera Lake, Pine Barrens, Scabland, and Skyshroud Forest.

All of them have been replaced by the Guildgates: Azorius Guildgate, Golgari Guildgate, Rakdos Guildgate, Selesnya Guildgate, and Izzet Guildgate. When Gatecrash comes along I'll have the balance of the guilds covered, and I suspect a few more ways to make that Gate subtype say something more.

The languishing Reaper King and Sliver Queen on my short list of decks to make are pleased.

Reaper King
Sliver Queen

The Killing Moon Has Come Too Soon

Among the ninety-nine cards needed for Commander decks, mana is just one problem to address. Blowing things up is usually what comes next, and not as a problem to fight: I like blowing things up. It's why cards like Hit // Run float around in my box.

Hit is a clever way to stick opponents with a tough choice when they're short on creatures and artifacts. I always enjoy watching how others make their decisions, and what they decide can tell you something about their plans. However, Hit // Run is awkward. Requiring a Jund Commander, and giving an option that's only handy with a very large swarm of creatures, often led me to leave Hit // Run on the sidelines.

Fortunately, there's a very flashy new card that kills something we haven't been able to kill directly before.


Dreadbore is an awesome card. I've wanted to kill so many planeswalkers in Commander games, and it's usually through a "destroy target permanent" card that it had to happen. Now, for any deck with black and red, I can hit just the right guy.

Hit. Hit? You got it. Except when I want to smack everyone. Volcanic Wind is a treasure from Mercadian Masques that I've held onto for a long time. While Chain Reaction often serves a similar purpose, Volcanic Wind is more selective: I can choose what gets burned. Generally speaking, we don't want to blow up our own guys.

Mizzium Mortars is exactly the card I wanted. For the same cost: six mana, I can wipe away everyone else's creatures of four toughness or less. For token armies and utility guys, Mizzium Mortars just makes them French fries. Delicious French fries.

When we do want to destroy our own creatures, we want it to be for a good cause. Xathrid Demon is a scary way to make every fatty we play a potential punch of damage right in the life total. While it's a fun way to make opponents sweat, I found it rarely stood up to the challenge of a multiplayer board.

Desecration Demon is my clever change up. I'll miss the idea of unleashing direct damage at an opponent, but I look forward to the squeamish look on the faces of the game as they decide who should throw somebody away. Like another favorite multiplayer card, Curse of the Cabal, giving choices to every opponent can create some interesting action.

Desecration Demon
Curse of the Cabal

Making interesting things happen is what another card in Return to Ravnica can do. Conjured Currency takes some time to work, but once it starts getting tossed across the table "passing the buck" gets hilarious. I used to enjoy a little trickiness with Thakalos Deceiver, a relic of shadowy days of yore. It'd have to wait a full turn to use it, and it made only one person angry at me. Conjured Currency starts with the same waiting period, but it also lets an opponent take something they want. It turns out everyone likes borrowing other people's good stuff too!

Sharing is caring, but you don't always want to do it. Leyline of the Meek, a Guildpact original, makes every token bigger... including those of your opponents. Return to Ravnica solved this neatly with Phantom General. An uncommon creature isn't necessarily splashy, but if you're planning to make a few hundred tokens (as I've been known to do with Rhys the Redeemed) then Phantom General is your man. He's even easier to cast!

Updated versions and new choices are sweet things to see. But there's one class of cards that weighs the most on what I changed: Awesome cards. By "Awesome" I mean that it does something so sweet and unique you just have to have it. It's a want so strong you warp your deck around ensuring the choice has a place.

Two of my preview cards from Return to Ravnica fell into this bucket. It's almost as if it was orchestrated and intentional that I'd share some unbelievable new cards I'd want to slam into decks. Huh.

The first is Worldspine Wurm. It's easy to see why many of us love the eleven mana mythic Wurm. What I uncovered in my box was a very different mythic: Primordial Hydra. While I've done some very ugly things with the Hydra in Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 , waiting for a few turns in Commander is an eternity. Worldspine Wurm is an impressive way to put a presence on the battlefield, and leaves behind presents when it gets killed. Primordial Hydra may be an awesome mythic, but I have a feeling I'll enjoy casting Worldspine Wurm more often.

Grave Betrayal | Art by Lucas Graciano

Grave Betrayal is the other awesome card. I've already described many ways to make the most of this enchantment, so I won't repeat all that. What I can say is that everything I've wanted Grimoire of the Dead to do for me is what Grave Betrayal just makes happen. The latter is just more awesome than the former, at least in my book.

Of course, forcing every new card to swap in for an older one isn't a perfect science. So I didn't, and I straight up slammed a few in! Jarad's Orders is unique in that it finds two creatures and puts them both somewhere handy. I'm a fan of all things The Mimeoplasm, and Jarad's Orders are clearly to make absurd combinations happen.

The other card that's a slam dunk to include is Mercurial Chemister. Why is it an Izzet?

Which Return to Ravnica card should replace Primeval Titan in Adam's Maelstrom Wanderer deck?
Card Name Votes Percentage
Chaos Imps 385 9.2%
Worldspine Wurm 1622 38.9%
Mercurial Chemister 2159 51.8%
Total 4166 100.0%

You guys can't get enough of the red and blue. Now my Maelstrom Wanderer deck will have some additional ways to draw cards, kill creatures, and cascade, cascade into something I want. So thanks!

This week's poll is a black box for you. I'm organizing a special game of Magic that I'll be sharing with you in a few weeks. With only that information at hand, I'm asking you to choose the Return to Ravnica guild I should play:


I'll be rocking out on the West Coast this weekend, watching some of the greatest players in the game duke it out for the glory of Ravnica. There will be plenty of coverage to watch all weekend, so keep your computers on and ready. It's going to be a great show!

Join us next week when we try something new all over again. See you then!

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