Opening the Gates

Posted in Top Decks on May 9, 2013

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.

What makes a card exciting for you? Which cards will delight you when you play them? Questions like these are deceptively simple and are answered by each of us in wildly different ways. Dragon's Maze is our last chance (for now, at least) to see the guilds of Ravnica at work, so it's no surprise there is plenty of excitement to go around.

It's easy to know what excited you. What's difficult is really understanding the diversity of things that others find thrilling. What I mean is just as everyone has different picks for which commanders to use, or which colors they enjoy, the types and uses of cards from sets is a deep rabbit's hole to explore. Last week's prompt for your six picks for awesome Commander cards from Dragon's Maze led to some interesting answers.

For example, would you have guessed that Melek, Izzet Paragon was the legendary creature most cited as exciting?


The Izzet are among the most popular guild affiliations here in our world, so it makes sense the champion of that guild would be popular too. However, the reasons were varied:


  • Something different from Tibor and Lumia and Niv-Mizzet
  • Knowing what comes next is handy for planning things out
  • When it's in play it's like having an extra card in your hand
  • Getting twice the spell for the same cost is amazing
  • "Weird Wizard"—enough said

The same card can create excitement in so many different ways. This variety is exactly what makes Melek so compelling for Commander, and why there's plenty of diversity in our decks. There was another card that appeared frequently, although it stunned me to see it happen. It's a type of card I've heard called into question, yet gets used frequently as an example of a card that makes some of us very happy.

Can you guess before revealing it below?

>> Click to Show

Possibility Storm was, indeed, among the most suggested cards. The ability to twist each spell into a random spell of the same type is as chaotic as it gets, particularly when everyone is forced to follow along. But that idea of variety, randomness, and excitement of the unknown resonates with many of you.

The obvious use for Possibility Storm isn't around specific cards, but creating a specific experience. Commander was created to highlight those types of experiences.

What else did we find interesting? Just about everything.

Trinkets from the Maze

The most common reason specific cards jumped out was that they fit for a specific commander. Will felt it was time to create a brand-new deck:

When Gatecrash was released, I added ten Simic cards to complement my newest commander, Prime Speaker Zegana. I think we've all experienced Will's moment of seeing something new, and deciding to go all-in for it. Savageborn Hydra is just awesome on its own, but with Dangerous and Gruul War Chant around, the potential to wipe away an army with one attack is a potent possibility.

Savageborn Hydra
Armed // Dangerous

Zhur-Taa Ancient is definitely a throwback to Heartbeat of Spring and Mana Flare, and it plays to the same cautions: Empowering everyone's mana will allow very powerful things to happen. It's awesome power, but if you have friends who bring the greatest cards they can muster, this Ancient can derail the entire game in one shot.

Stew had two commanders in mind when looking over things:

First, my blue-black-red mill deck with Crosis, the Purger:

Second, black-red beatdown with Rakdos, Lord of Riots.

  • Morgue Burst—Return and play an Eldrazi (for free) with Rakdos out.
  • Sire of Insanity—No cards in opponents' hands is always a good thing.

Cards like Breaking & Entering and Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker play right into the usual things a Grixis—blue-black-red—deck can do in Commander. Piling cards into graveyards, then pulling things out that you want from them, is a great way to keep up with other players: If their decks are powerful, so will yours be! Melek appears here as well, and Notion Thief can steal away plenty of cards from an unsuspecting opponent.

Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker
Notion Thief

While a common like Morgue Burst may seem clunky, it's clear that alongside its guild's parun it can perform very well. Stew points out that Eldrazi, a colorless set of creatures from Rise of the Eldrazi, works well with that plan, but most artifact creatures will work too.

James has updates to a Treva, the Renewer deck with a strong Selesnya undercurrent to it:

  • Advent of the Wurm—Four mana for a 5/5 trample at the end of turn before mine, need I say more?
  • Alive & Well—Fits the theme of tokens and gives a healthy dose of life at the SAME TIME.
  • Beck & Call—Commander games can get to huge mana so likely I'll be saving this until I can play a creature on top of the four birds for five cards... if they sweep I can just restock with those new cards.
  • Emmara Tandris—No damage to all my tokens? Sign me up!
  • Trostani's Summoner—Three tokens off a creature I can revive, might be a 1/1 but offers up 10 power alongside the tokens, that's enough to squeak in that 6th slot.
  • Progenitor Mimic—Saved the best for last, you didn't think I was gonna leave this out did you?

Advent of the Wurm and Trostani's Summoner are two ways to make awesome token creatures when paired with other abilities such as Call and Emmara Tandris. From the Lab author Mike Cannon shared some of the zany things Progenitor Mimic can do, which gets amplified when everyone is playing awesome creatures. And if there's any populate floating around... boom.

Advent of the Wurm
Progenitor Mimic

Mayael the Anima is a common choice for the connoisseurs of the biggest creatures in the game, and Aaron's picks show that:

The cycle of creatures where Maze Behemoth comes from is a clever way to include "lords"—creatures that grant abilities to all other creatures of a specific type—in a deck. If you're piling on multicolor options, suddenly this quintet is a standout. Similarly, Renegade Krasis may look like a lord for decks full of evolve, but its reach is far beyond that. Undying creatures come back and get even better, but throwing counters across an army can quickly let this Krasis get out of hand, and Gavony Township is a consistent way to ensure that happens.

Maze Behemoth
Renegade Krasis

Another popular commander is Riku of Two Reflections, and Greg wants to turn up the volume of his deck:

As an avid fan of Riku of Two Reflections, I always enjoy seeing the word "copy" printed on a card, especially one like Melek. Vorel has surprising synergy with many storage lands seen in Commander (not to mention Everflowing Chalice), and a copied, fused Give & Take can easily draw you far more than six cards if played right. Plasm Capture is just fun for everyone (or maybe just you).

Species Gorger is a true enabler for any creature-based Riku deck, as it provides a constant stream of creatures to recast and re-copy. Two of my favorites? Charmbreaker Devils and Magmatic Force.

Like Renegade Krasis, Vorel of the Hull Clade has broad opportunities to be used depending upon the other cards hanging around. (Darksteel Reactor may be the most powerful choice.) Recycling creatures with abilities is a trick fans of Conjurer's Closet and Deadeye Navigator know all too well, so Species Gorger will find more homes than Riku's to play in.

Darksteel Reactor
Vorel of the Hull Clade

Ryan found plenty of things to crank the power out of his decks:

  • Hidden Strings—The card screams for infinite combos in so many decks.
  • Possibility Storm—I love cards like this, they are fun and with strategy very good. Polymorph everything.
  • Breaking & Entering—I am going to cast the Entering portion of this card to win many games. Breaking just means I won't ever miss.
  • Debt to the Deathless—Will often win Commander games out of nowhere. Just ramp up and win. Having 24 mana is not that hard.
  • Obzedat's Aid—I want more things with this ability, put my best noncreature permanents into play.
  • Zhur-Taa Ancient—Turning long games into short games with a turn-six (or earlier) Eldrazi.

Some familiar faces made Ryan's list, but it's Hidden Strings that stands out the most to me. Getting Hidden Strings encoded onto a creature that's paired up with ways to make combat happen multiple times in a turn (Aggravated Assault looks promising) can cut a game short. The myriad of things you'd want to untap for a second go each turn is an article unto itself.

Hidden Strings
Aggravated Assault

Orzhov fans are delighted to see a new riff on Exsanguinate (Crypt Ghast's friend to be sure), and this spell has finally pushed me over the edge into making an extort-based Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter deck. Joining Debt to the Deathless will be Obzedat's Aid, which has plenty of uses recycling anything in our graveyards back onto the battlefield.

In fact, Obzedat's Aid is one of the cards that made my own list from Dragon's Maze:

There's some overlap, but I definitely cheated by grouping all of the Cluestones together. Ways that help grow mana but can becomes something else if needed are a neat trick to include in Commander decks. Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch is finally an excuse to break out creatures like Arcbound Slith and Arcbound Fiend. After adding Mikaeus, the Unhallowed and other undying creatures to the pile it's clear there's a deck to be made. And my very first choice of commander, Kresh the Bloodbraided, would find Flesh & Blood to be a hilarious way to drop 20 damage into an opponent's face.

Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch
Kresh the Bloodbraided

The Maze's Beginning

What you see in Dragon's Maze is going to be different from what anyone else does, and that's one of the greatest features of the format. I hope seeing things through others' eyes gave you a few ideas to explore yourself.

This week's prompt is taking those of you who love Melek, Izzet Paragon to task. Which six cards would you include in a Melek, Izzet Paragon deck?

  • Feedback via email
  • 100 word limit to present the cards
  • Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column)

We're going to build an Izzet-powered deck ready to roll right after the Dragon's Maze release for Magic Online on May 13, 2013. I hope you're ready.

Join us next week when we discover what's really important for everyone who plays Commander. See you then!

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