Brutal Commands

Posted in Top Decks on September 11, 2015

By Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

It's preview time, and Battle for Zendikar is anything but devoid of interesting cards. In fact, I have one today that looks incredible—a card that combines flexibility and raw power in one brutal package.

There's a lot going on here, so let's start with the first line.

Devoid is one of the themes of the set, so there are plenty of colorless cards with colored mana symbols floating around. I don't quite know all the implications of that, but rest assured there are some—in addition to looking strange and otherworldly (which the cards accomplish easily).

The second line is where I start to get really interested. Historically, cards that say "choose one or both" are pretty awesome, and anything that harkens back to Commands is already well on its way to being great.

The first choice is a line of text very similar to one that appears on one of my all-time favorite cards, Venser, Shaper Savant.

The unparalleled (well, once-paralleled now) flexibility of bouncing a spell or creature is incredibly powerful. It's basically impossible for this mode to not have a target, and getting a spell that affects both the board and the stack in such a manner is something any deck would kill for. If you are behind, bouncing a creature helps, and if you are ahead, being able to stop a big spell is critical. Anywhere in between, you are happy to have both modes—and at any given time, you will desperately want one or the other. This is near Vindicate-level flexibility, but that flexibility comes at a cost.

Of course, by "comes at a cost" I really mean "comes with more upside," as you even get to pick off a creature or weaken a planeswalker for free. If you have no targets, you can just cast the top mode, but you will often have a target of opportunity floating around, especially if you've done some work to set this up. The first choice is the big one, and the one that justifies paying four mana, but the second choice is definitely relevant. This, along with Kolaghan's Command, really pressures small creatures—which is something to keep in mind while deck building.

The exile clause isn't a throwaway either, as another theme of the set is taking advantage of the opponent's exiled zone. It's already a benefit that this conveniently removes threats like Hangarback Walker, but adding to a potentially important resource pool is definitely relevant. The number of little details that matter about Brutal Expulsion is surprisingly high, especially considering how complicated this card looked to begin with. There's a lot below the surface, and the surface is already very appealing.

The first place I think to add this is Jeskai, as Brutal Expulsion is tailor-made for tempo decks, which could lead to a list like this:

LSV's Jacekai

Download Arena Decklist

Here, Brutal Expulsion bolsters the normal game plan of playing one threat and protecting it, while playing into the backup plan of dealing with everything the opponent does. I know that the introduction of Brutal Expulsion does make cards like Goblin Rabblemaster or Soulfire Grand Master a little more vulnerable, but you can just sit on those threats and force your opponent to answer them rather than play into Expulsion.

Speaking of which, playing around Expulsion is going to be critical in the new Standard format. This card is so powerful that it will see plenty of play, and it will live up to its name if you walk into it. You can avoid the biggest blowouts by not playing expensive cards when you have a 2-toughness creature (or 2-loyalty planeswalker) in play, which should help. Even so, part of the strength of this card is that if you pass without doing anything, your opponent can fire it off end of turn and settle for "just" a one-for-one.

Another way to avoid getting expelled is to not play any small creatures. That too helps, but if you aren't playing any small creatures, you are most likely playing big ones, which makes the first mode still quite reasonable. Playing no creatures at all is the next step, which does reduce this to the world's worst Remand. But it's hard to build a truly creatureless deck, and those decks tend to have their own vulnerabilities.

Brutal Expulsion is an incredibly powerful card—one so powerful it will dictate how decks are built, which will determine exactly how impactful it ends up being. I suspect it will be very impactful, especially given potential future interactions with both devoid and exiling.


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