The Sound of Awesome

Posted in Serious Fun on June 21, 2011

Like a shockwave pouring over the land, this past weekend was a flurry of stripped and crumpled packaging strewn across local game stores, kitchen tables, and computer desks. Magic: The Gathering Commander has been released, and it's awesome.

I mean, with all seriousness, there's an Ooze with a T-Rex for an arm. Seriously. What else does anyone need in the world?

For starters, other people: the friends and fellow players that make Magic what it is to so many of us. And it's these new decks for the Commander format that helps make the Magic magic happen.

    The Obligatory Sequel

Last week I asked you to vote in two polls, the second of which is important here:

What type of game-play coverage would you like for the Commander format?
All players exploring and gaming with the new Magic: The Gathering Commander decks.9922.4%
Players mixing it up with the upcoming decks as well as their own creations.25357.2%
Everyone getting into it with their own, personal decks.9020.4%

With a mix-up taking the vote, today is dedicated to my promise of documented shenanigans, and a visual guide to why playing the Commander format is an amazing thing. I gathered my allies of fun for a little release-day Magic: The Gathering Commander action.

Scott, seated across from me, is possibly a bigger fan of green than I am. With a grin, and promise of epic Ooze action, he came equipped with the green-blue-black "Devour for Power" deck. The Mimeoplasm (remember, that's The Mimeoplasm) was his choice of Commander because he "like[s] building creatures. That's what it's about: building something different every time!"

Will is an English expatriate with a penchant for delicately powered Commander-format decks, both online and off. He came bearing a self-gift of blue-red-green "Mirror Mastery." While he chose 3Animar, Soul of Elements to command his forces, it was his deck that he was more interested in. Or, as he put it: "This one has Wild Ricochet, and these are my favorite colors!"

Dan, almost always wearing an alternatively disarming and frightening grin, loves to play combinations of cards and devastate an entire board. This go-around, however, Dan was kind enough to randomly determine the deck he wanted to play. The black-green-white "Counterpunch," with Ghave, Guru of Spores, was his pick. Why choose randomly? "I haven't even played them all!"

And, yes, there's me. Of course, I was sitting next to Dan so the shenanigans started a little early. Being that everyone else was using the new decks (that I got to the store a little too late to grab for myself!) I was left to represent the old vanguard with Kamahl, Fist of Krosa. Mono-green, and keenly mean, I was the only one with the comforting feeling of familiarity under my fingertips.

Will was the lead-off hitter, but it was Scott and Dan who started the show with a Command Tower and matching Lightning Greaves each. Will didn't miss a beat and cast Animar on his third turn off perfect basic-land mana. His follow-up of Veteran Explorer was met by little attention, except from me.

At the end of Scott's turn I dropped my Beast Within on it, causing a chorus of exclamations. Will looked over to me very seriously. "Are you sure you want to drop your only instant-speed removal of that guy?"

An affirming "Yup!" and a grin was all I shared back. I had a plan for all those lands, and I was betting that it would pay off in spades for the rest. (Pro Tip: Secrets are best kept only by one, particularly for multiplayer madness.)

I untapped with enough mana to drop an Indrik Stomphowler into play (Scott's Lightning Greaves took the hit), and Dan was able to take advantage of the mana to drop his Ghave onto the battlefield, equip his Greaves, and plow into Scott.

Will wanted the game to stay in overdrive, and cast Deadwood Treefolk to bring back and recast his Veteran Explorer. When Scott drew for the following turn he cackled with glee: Syphon Flesh. Veteran Explorer, and a few others, hit the bin again and we were all into silly amounts of mana on turn five. While I recouped my lost Indrik Stomphowler with a Deadwood Treefolk of my own, Will launched into full-on shenanigans:

And Will did this all on one turn: the sixth. What ensued was some twisted beatings. Will nipped Dan with Animar. Scott put a Vow of Malice on Intet, keeping at least one of the Dragon-sized monsters pointed elsewhere. I cast a Sword of Feast and Famine to get a free shot through at Will. Dan laid a defense down with Hornet Queen. (Pro Tip: Tokens make great deterrents to attacking, and often soak up all kinds of damage from just being in the way. Pesky insects!)

However, with nine lands in play and some ramping spells of my own I decided to begin moving on my plan, and cast the Avenger of Zendikar that sat fat in my hand, and had since the start. Through playing my land for the turn as well as popping a Sakura-Tribe Elder, with one swoop I had nine 2/3 Plant tokens, with Kamahl waiting just in the wing.

Not be outdone, Will dropped an Artisan of Kozilek before hitting me with Intet, regrowing Faultgrinder, and generally looking at me to bring the pain down. With that in mind, when the turns wheeled I dropped in Kamahl, Fist of Krosa and made on Overrunning slam into Will and Dan (bunny-ears revenge). Through a slight mathematical miscalculation on my part, Will stayed alive at just 2 life, and Dan dipped to 17. (Pro Tip: Doing the math wrong isn't the end of the world. Sometimes getting it right is less important than just getting it on!)

It was time to enter a world of wheeling and dealing political favors and allied effort. Without involving Scott, Will and Dan worked up some hushed words, and counted creatures and mana a few times. An aerial attack from Dan put me down to 26, and Will followed up with a whopper of a turn:

My Sword of Feast and Famine–equipped Kamahl blocked well for me, and by throwing up a few more roadblocks I stay alive at 10 life. In the mess, Scott's subtly played Vulturous Zombie grew to a respectable eight counters.

That would be lethal damage for me, for those of you counting at home.

With a wry grin and a glint in his eye, Scott turned his flying Zombie sideways to put Will out of the game. Wait, what? (Pro Tip: Concede games carefully. I could have just folded up shop before Scott attacked, and that would have been a clear foul against fun—for either Scott or me.)

Scott played the most dangerous of political cards: genuine chaos. While he was certainly keen to use a Dark Hatchling to take out Kamahl after Dan dropped a Tribute to the Wild to take out my Sword of Feast and Famine, this plan was a little more risky but came with a massive payoff: his feeling was that I wouldn't be able to strike him down with my Plant tokens, yet I wouldn't suffer Dan to live. It was like a twisted standoff, and we all had bazookas pointed at one another.

Alive and very much kicking, I resolved to unleash all the damage I could muster. My Deadwood Treefolk finally kicked the bucket, granting me a previously used Sakura-Tribe Elder. Also featured in my upkeep was a Worldly Tutor for Primeval Titan. Through those cards my Plants grew three sizes that day, and even the threat of being the Grinch didn't deter me from the path of attacking Dan and Scott, specifically to take out the latter.

Scott blocked as well as possible to kill some of my Plants, and Dan just took my jab to the chin, staying alive at 13 life. Looking at four mana up, Ghave, and a Hornet Queen without her brood, I was confident that he couldn't finish me.

With his four mana available at the end of my turn, he moved four +1/+1 counters onto the Hornet Queen and then bashed in for 7 damage before revealing his secret trump card: Squallmonger. With the exact amount of mana to cast and activate it three times, he soon had me seeing stars.

Through witty guile and a little luck, Dan brought down the glory for the new decks! Success!

I hope our shared adventure into the depths of the Commander format was enlightening to those of you curious about it (or just plain excited about it like me). While building your own deck certainly comes with its own type of power and potential, the new deck releases punch surprisingly hard!

We did play a follow-up game, with every player using one of the new decks (Hurray "Heavenly Inferno"!), and one thing we all came to a consensus on was that for the uninitiated, Commander-format games generally run longer than other formats. If you're looking for an excuse to gather your allies of fun for a game night, these decks will work like a charm!

    Tinker Toys

Getting back to business, the other poll from last week referenced the different breakout method I was experimenting with.

What did you think of the module-style idea review for Basandra?
Thanks for the ideas! I'd like to see more like this!27172.5%
It was fine, but I'd rather see complete deck lists.9124.3%
I didn't really like the breakouts. (Please share what you would like in comments or by email!)123.2%

From the responses I received (including a few through Twitter, you clever followers!) it's clear that breaking out and down complex ideas and big decks is something that works for all of us. I look at decks through the lens of themes, and create mental modules and compartments for the effects that generate that theme. As a few of you pointed out, it was a clean view of the inner workings of when I "design" decks.

I did catch the calls, though distinctly fewer in number, for a final deck list. Ending with a final deck list, when appropriate, will be the modus operandi going forward. Of course, if you have feedback at any time, I'm certainly still all ears! And I appreciated the words, kind and critical, some of you shared last week. So thanks! (And stay tuned for that final Basandra, Battle Seraph Commander-format deck list! Once I have a Basandra of my own to physically construct a deck with I'll share my final thoughts when she's put through her paces.)

This week I have a slightly tangential question. Last week also featured the release of Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012, something that I wasted no time in picking it up through Steam and PlayStation Network. I've been enjoying a slightly different way to play Magic and I'm curious if you, too, have jumped into the digital foray.

Have you tried or purchased Duels of the Planeswalkers?Yes, but only the original Duels of the Planeswalkers.Yes, but only the new Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012.Yes, both the original and new releases.No, I haven't.

Whether you've tried one out, played them both through, or haven't yet considered them, I'm interested in hearing why! The updated release features Archenemy, one of my favorite ways to play multiplayer Magic. If there's enough interest I'd certainly be up for a community night of playing villain or valiant on the PC. If you feel the same, be sure to let me know!

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