Monday, November 18, 2013

Commander 2013: a set review, part 5

We now arrive at our fifth and final review, 

This is the Jund (black-red-green) deck, and is my personal favorite of the five. In my opinion, it is the strongest of the decks as is out of the box. It is an attrition-based deck that uses creatures as a resource. The creatures aren't usually as big as the ones in Nature of the Beast, or as flexible as the ones in Evasive Maneuvers, but there are more of them. Lots more. And quantity is a quality all its own.

The deck employs lots of token makers to produce enormous armies, and atypically, the deck doesn't tend to use them in the swarming version of token decks that might play things like Beastmaster Ascension, though by all means you can alter the deck towards this sort of thing if you'd like. Rather, it uses them as a resource by sacrificing them, and there is a lot of different ways to get value out of this.

The deck uses creatures to fuel even-the-odds removal with cards like Shattergang Brothers, Stronghold Assassin, Elvish Skysweeper and Quagmire Druid. The idea being that you're prepared to feed more creatrues to these effects than your opponent has, and you'll be fine doing so since your deck has so many ways of recouping the losses. And you are. Thanks to cards like Prossh, Endrek Sahr, Tempt with Vengeance and Sprouting Thrinax, you will almost always have more creatures than everyone else at the table. 

Not only will you have more, but you'll have more things to do with them. You can convert them into kill spells as mentioned above; into damage from Blood Rites, Goblin Bombardment, Goblin Sharpshooter and Stalking Vengeance; into card draw off of Carnage Altar, Jar of Eyeballs, Fecundity and Foster. And even when they're dead they're still useful thanks to things like Hua Tuo, Charnelhoard Wurm and Night Soil.

The deck is resilient. It has the greatest capacity to rebuild after a board wipe thanks to various cards that make multiple creatures, and thanks to the myriad of sacrifice outlets your opponents will have a hard time really gaining value by killing your creatures since its a thing you want to do anyway. Most changes I would make to the deck depend on which direction you want to take it, and that is highly motivated by your choice in commander since Jund has a lot of good choices.


Prossh. Let me tell you about Prossh. He's beast mode. He is an incredibly powerful flexible creature and commander that I never felt bad about casting. He provides blockers, fodder for your sac outlets, an army for your anthem effects, and when the opportunity presents itself, can general damage your opponents to death out of nowhere. I really don't have anything bad to say about the guy. At six mana, he's at the top end of what I usually like to pay for in a commander, but in a deck built to maximize his qualities, that's a non issue. Prossh is where it's at.

The most memorable play I saw with him was during a four way game. I had cast a particularly large Earthquake, wiping the board of creatures and bringing everyone's life totals to a tantalizingly low range. The Prossh player, untapped drew his card and cast Endrek Sahr, then Prossh, then fed his now enormous army to the Goblin Bomardment he had played earlier killing me in one hit. I never saw it coming, and neither will your opponents.


The Shattergang Brothers represent an interesting option for Jund players. They're not hard-hitting like Prossh or Karrthus or Kresh, and they're not resilient like Sek'Kuar. They are flexible, allowing you to turn things previously not a resource into a resource. They force your opponents to play fairly by making them manage their resources. They allow you to play with fire by giving you a way out of permanents with dangerous downsides like Baleful Force or Phyrexian Arena.

They incentive you to build a flexible reactive deck that attacks from different angles (by playing enough enchantments and artifacts to enable their abilities) and reward you for doing so by blowing up your opponents scary enchantments and artifacts. Any reasonable board state you have that includes the brothers is one that is more capable of dealing of breaking your opponent's board states into nothing.

They're also goblins if you've always felt like building goblin tribal but felt that current options were too weak or boring for EDH. There's so many ways you could take a deck in that direction. No matter how you take it, I would include cards that are fine in any normal deck but really shine with the Gang. Mycosynth Wellspring and Spine of Ish Sah both appeal to me, and Hammer of Purphoros manages to be the only card in Magic that currently produces Enchantment Artifact Creatures, feeding all three abilities.

There are certain strategies that the Shattergang Brothers do very well against; any Voltron deck is pretty much doomed against your ability to force them to sacrifice their heavy hitter since you'll have more creatures than they can afford to feed to the effect, but there are also strategies that will be difficult for the Brothers. Any deck that specializes primarily in enchantments or artifacts is bound to have more than you, who had to diversify, to sacrifice, and likewise creature swarm strategies. But at the end of the day, you have a deck that can carefully react to most any battlefield-based strategies, and sometimes that in and of itself will be enough.

For you collectors out there, the following cards in Power Hungry have new art:
Goblin Sharpshooter

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Commander 2013: a set review, part 4.

Another day, another deck


This is the Grixis (blue-black-red) deck. It wins of the back of its spells. Creatures have the greatest opportunity for long term value, but instants and sorceries are so much harder to interact with. The deck has the most card draw, a lot of it symmetrical, yes; but it also has the most removal, so its going to be drawing into all the kill spells it needs to keep people on the table honest.

Beyond all of its numerous spells, it also has the most ways of interacting with them. There are cards in here like Arcane Melee, Nivix Guildmage, Uyo, and Mnemonic Wall that give you that much more mileage. And of note, a lot of the spells in the deck are modal, that is to say they can be used in different ways. Crosis' Charm, Grixis Charm, Incendiary Command, and Soul Manipulation all do a lot of different things, so no matter what is happening, you'll have an answer to them.

Secondly, it's a sort of a group hug deck. There are a lot of cards in here that make everyone draw cards; Vision Skeins, Skyscribing, Prosperity and Nekusar all fill everyone's hands. The idea being that firstly, because you have more killspells and modal spells, you'll be able to choose which threats stick; and second, opponents are less likely to take you out if you're helping them. Lots of political plays involved here.

I didn't get as much experience with this deck as I did the other ones, but when I played against it, players frequently left it alone for two reasons. 1. The afformentioned group hug angle, 2. because it relies more on spells than permanents, it was often perceived as being less threatening. If you're interested in playing EDH in a way that is a little more atypical, this deck might be for you.

Also, it has True-Name Nemesis and Baleful Strix, both legacy playable cards, in it and therefore goes for something like double MSRP in some places. Even if you don't like the deck, it is worth the investment.


I had high hopes for Jeleva. I had been wanting to build a Grixis-spell centric deck, and they gave me a leading lady perfectly suited towards that. And she has sweet art, win-win. In practice in games between the precons, and even against a few customized decks, I found that she wiffed quite a bit unless you were casting her for 8 or more mana. The biggest problem is that while, indeed, Commander is the format of big splashy spells, it is more typically dominated by big scary creatures. Jeleva benefits best not as a dedicated strategy, but as a meta call in an environment that is more suited towards things on the stack than things on the battlefield.

She also has the unfortunate side effect of being very physically underwhelming, especially when she's run out of spells to cast. 1 power, 3 toughness means nothing in Commander; and if you manage to run out of spells and your opponents have some way of ignoring her, such as by pacifying her, then you're especially screwed. I would definitely recommend running enough Lightning Greaves effects to protect her from removal, and better yet give her haste.


Now this guy here; this guy is something special. He combines something tempting, a howling mine, with something devious, something that can accidentally kill the table out of nowhere. The relatively small size and the helpfulness of the effect can put a lot of players off, thinking that they'll be able to benefit from the effect, or it's not a big deal, they can kill him before the effect gets out of hand. And then you do something horrifying like overload Cyclonic Rift and activate Jace's Archivist, hitting everyone else at the table for 20 damage. Whoops.

All of those 'everyone draws' effects I listed above? Those are terrifying when they come with a Blaze attached. Better yet are Windfall effects; Dragon Mage, Reforge the Soul, Whispering Madness. Terrifying. My only real problem with Nekusar is that I don't seem to be alone in realizing how nuts Nekusar can be, and I'm not particularly interested in playing something everyone else is. But I don't want to stop you from playing something you enjoy, so by all means, jam a deck full of permission, removal and windfalls. You'll have something scary.

Also, you can give him infect.

Collectors, the following cards have new art in the set:
Crosis' Charm

Monday, November 11, 2013

Commander 2013: a set review, part 3.

Let us continue in our reviews


This is the Bant (green-white-blue) deck. It seeks to, well, outmaneuver your opponents. It doesn't have as much raw power (in my opinion) as the other decks, but makes up for it by being more efficient. It's creatures aren't as large, but they're more evasive or have some utility or having synergy with a lot of the other cards in the deck. It has more political cards than the other decks, it has more card draw, it has more synergy. It won't always have the best answer, but it always have an answer.

The deck has a couple of things going on. Theme number one; blinking. Blinking is neat, right? For those not in the know, Blinking is when you exile a thing and then return it to the battlefield. Depending on how the way this ability is worded, it has several different applications. It can allow things to dodge removal spells aimed their way, it lets you remove negative attachments like pacifism, it lets you return things to their owner's control. But most typically, its used to get added mileage out of enter the battlefield triggers. Cards in the deck like Acidic Slime, Angel of Finality, Farhaven Elf, Fiend Hunter and more get lots of extra gas thanks to cards like Roon, Flickerwisp, Conjurer's Closet, Flickerform, etc.

Theme number two; activated abilities. There's lots of cards in this deck that tap to do things. Why is this a theme you may ask? Because it also has lots of ways of untapping things. Things like Derevi, Curse of Inertia, Sword of the Paruns, and Thousand-Year Elixir. So while using the ability of Azami, Djinn of Infinite Deceits, or Kazandu Tuskcaller might be fairish when done once per turn, less so three or four times.

Theme number three; politics. The deck has lots of things that can potentially be used to benefit opponents. Roon can save opponents creatures from removal, or give them the afformentioned enter-the-battlefield abilities. Djinn of Infinite Deceits can give your opponents a nice creature. Most of the untapping things I mentioned above work on any creature, not just your own. These sort of things are nice because other players are more likely to go after someone else if you're benefiting them in some way.

This deck isn't really my thing. I felt it was being pulled in too many directions, and while some may prefer the Jack-of-All-Trades approach, I prefer something a little bit more linear and beefy. Both of the new commanders are generally speaking (heh) aiming to do different things. I would start their and pick your favorite.


Derevi was hard to evaluate. She's very subtle. Neither of her abilities are overtly powerful, but they add up into a general that is hard to deal with in most traditional means. The twiddle ability is useful and is only limited by your IMAGINATION, but what makes Derevi really special is that she is so hard to kill. General damage is real, and hooking her up with some scary equipment will definitely be the death of more than one person.

To make the most of her untapping ability, I would stick her next to a bunch of evasive critters. Things most likely to be able to connect and trigger the ability, along side things worth untapping. I wish I had better advice, but the commanders I lean towards are usually less subtle in how the mangle their opponents.


Roon is a man with a plan, and that plan is blinking. Roon wants to be a long side lots of creatures that want to be 'reset' for whatever reason. Creatures with menacing enter the battlefield triggers like Avenger of Zendikar, Angel of Serenity, and Gilded Drake are all that much more terrifying when you get to do it every turn. And as mentioned above, Roon as the added benefit of resetting negative effects like pacifism, -1/-1 counters on creatures and mind control effects. Better yet, you can do it to your opponents creatures for political value. One of my favorite things to do with Roon in some of the games I played was switch control of a thing I had with Djinn of Infinite Deceits and whatever the scariest thing someone else had, and then getting my thing back with Roon.

I have several problems with Roon. First of all, he's somewhat expensive for a commander with no immediate impact. While this isn't a problem in and of itself, it does feed into the next problem. Roon is scary. The value you can get off of Roon isn't remotely subtle, and whenever you play him, he's bound to be one of the scariest creatures in play at any time. This means he's bound to attract a lot of negative attention, so I would definitely be playing things like Lightning Greaves or Swiftfoot Boots along side him. Doing this would cover my final problem, Roon is slow. You don't get to play him until you get to five mana, and then you have to wait a whole turn to use him provided he even survives. Haste enablers go a long way, so the above equipment and things like Opal Palace is a must.

For you collectors out there, the following cards included in Evasive Maneuvers have new art:
Karmic Guide (previously Judge Promo only)
Rubina Soulsinger
Arcane Denial
Basalt Monolith
Control Magic
Selesnya Signet
Simic Signet
Wash Out

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Commander 2013: a set review, part 2.

Another day, another deck review. Today I'm picking apart


This is the Naya (red-green-white) deck, and it's general strategy seems to be "big creatures are better than not big creatures". Players who were around for Shards of Alara might find this familiar. This deck has more ways of ramping into higher amounts of mana than most of the other decks, goes without saying being the green deck, and thus rewards you by being able to play bigger scarier things turns earlier than other decks.

The deck also has a slight beast subtheme via cards like Contested Cliffs and Ravenous Baloth. Most of the other creatures in the deck, including two of the commanders, have the beast creature type, so these cards will often be relevant. In some one-on-one testing I did, I won every game I stuck a contested cliffs. That card is scary.

This beast subtheme was somewhat unexpected but often played out in good ways. Beasts don't usually come to mind as a tribe to build around in this format, largely because there aren't as many cards that reward you for playing beasts as some of the more iconic tribes like elves or goblins. But the way these games played out really reinforced the fact that it's not necessary the quantity of cards, but rather the quality. I definitely have some beastly ideas for the future, and this deck is a good place to start.

This deck is the deck most like the archtypal EDH day, full of haymakers. This deck doesn't have as many synergies as some of the other decks, and doesn't have as many politically minded cards, but it has more cards that are scary by themselves, and is probably the deck most capable of rebuilding after a board wipe.

A personal issue of mine is that I never felt like Mayael was living up to her potential. Don't get me wrong, I love Mayael. She was one of the earliest cards I ever played with, and my first EDH deck. But in this deck, I feel like she was wiffing more often than if the deck was built with her in mind. There are a lot of creatures in the precon that are big when in play, but start out small enough that Mayael can't cheat them into play. Baloth Woodcrasher, Naya Soulbeast, Marath and similar are nonbos (combos that do not work) with Mayael, and sinking 6 mana to do essentially nothing feels horrible. Were I you, I would take Mayael out, or add more fatties.


Marath was interesting to me in play. A jack of all trades, master of none; Marath does a lot of things, but there are other cards out there that do those things better. What makes Marath better is one of two things. One, he's your commander. You get the benefit of getting the effect more than once, and at a time of your choosing. Two, he's flexible. Want to attack for a little bit more, for whatever reason? Put some counters on your dudes, or hey, someone else's. Need to kill something? Kill it. Need to make an emergency blocker? Make it.

Marath's flexibility gives him a number of different potential roles as a commander. You could just cram a deck full of good spells, and have another as your general. Beast and Elemental are tribes with support cards, build yourself a tribal deck. What really interests me is a Naya-based swarm deck. There's all sorts of things in these colors that reward you for having lots of dudes or have redundancies for this sort of effect; Assemble the Legion, Rith, Beastmaster Ascension.


Gahiji reminds me of another general from the last iteration of commander decks; Edric, Spymaster of Trest. They're legendary creatures that give everyone a reward for attacking players other than you. In both cases, whatever your opponents get out of the creature, more cards or more severe beatings, is likely less than what you're getting out of it because you had the added foresight of building your deck around the effect.

A lot of what I said about about Marath applies to Gahiji as well. He's powerful enough to be at the helm of a good stuff deck where your opponents just beat each other to death off your bonuses. He has the relevant beast creature type. He rewards you for playing with swarms. Something I like about Gahiji over similar swarm generals in the same colors like Rith and Hazenon Tamar is that his effect is almost instantaneous. You don't have to wait a whole turn to attack, you get it that turn. Also, because it benefits your opponents, they might be less likely to kill it than someone like Rith.

New arts included in this deck:
Eternal Dragon (previous Pro Tour promo only)
Ravenous Baloth
Fiery Justice
Savage Twister

Friday, November 8, 2013

Commander 2013: a set review, part 1.

So the time has come and gone, and the latest round of Commander decks have come out. Now that I've had a few weeks to play with them, I thought I'd give them all a rundown based on their contents to help any of you that haven't made a decision which deck is best for you.

Here are the decklists:

Eternal Bargain is the Esper deck (white-blue-black). It is split between two primary themes; artifacts and life gain. Two of the generals, returning heavy hitter Sharuum the Hegemon and new girl Sydri, favor artifacts. Oloro, Ageless Ascetic favors using your life total as a resource and Sydri's ability to grant lifelink to artifact creatures gives her a backup functionality in the same respect.

A thing I had worried about going into the product was that the divergent themes of some of the generals would force the decks into two different directions, making them weaker overall. While that is true to some degree, I am pleased to tell you that it's nowhere near as bad as I would have thought. Almost every artifact in the list is either a powerful utility spell, or an artifact that rewards your use of life (Sun Droplet, Well of Lost Dreams, Thopter Foundry, etc)

There were times running the deck with Sydri at the helm where I didn't have any artifacts to turn on, but it was never so bad as to ruin the experience. And honestly, you never want your deck to be a slave to its theme. It makes your deck far too inflexible and easy to play answers to if your theme is that linear, and you never want your deck be dependant upon your commander to function because that's not a guarantee.

The deck as a whole was about playing the long game. It has lots of effects that gain you buttloads of life, and once you've stabilized, lets you use that life to various ends; drawing cards, making dudes, killing dudes, etc. I like this kind of play because (Oloro aside) life total is the most innocuous, largely invisible resource. You can easily missrepresent how much of a threat you are when you're fighting at an angle no one else is expecting.


Let's get this out of the way; I like Sydri. She's an interesting card with cool applications. First of all, loads of commander decks already run lots of utility artifacts. Being able to get further usage out of your mana rocks late game when they aren't as relevant is a win win. Attacking is cool, blocking with deathtouch creatures is cool.
Secondly, she gives Esper-artifact decks a general to play with that isn't as mean as Sharuum. Anyone who's played Sharuum for any length of time 'knows' Sharuum. She has a reputation as an extremely powerful general. Sydri gives players who want to play an artifact-centric deck an option that won't make them public enemy number one. Alternatively, it gives Karn players a general that actually lets them play colored spells. Win-win.

If you want to customize your deck to focus on Sydri, I would include more artifacts (Duh). This really isn't much of a stretch, as there is a veritable buttload of amazing artifacts of all sorts throughout Magic's history that are entirely EDH playable. I like Sydri's ability to turn any utility artifact into a beater or deathtouchy blocker in scenarios wherein they might not be useful. Turn 30 and you drew a manarock? Groovy. Blocks their fatty boom boom like a champ. One card in particular that I like is Unwinding Clock, which allows you to potentially attack with all of your animated artifacts and then threaten to block with them during your opponent's combats.


This guy. Let me tell you about this guy. New pillar of the format. Never let it be said that I am afraid of hyperbole. This guy does it all. The ability to have an effect, especially one that can be built around and may or may not be perceived as innocuous, is insane. I've always been interested in the various cards that use your life total as a resource; the life totals start out too high not to, and he rewards you for it. Late game, better yet, he provides you with an additional resource of drawing cards.
Now for the downside. He is annoying as hell. The ability to gain incremental advantage, especially one that cannot be interacted with in any reasonable way, can put people on tilt. I saw a number of games devolve into "let's gang up on Oloro, his life total is too high" even when there were far greater threats on the table. If you favor Oloro, you need to be prepared to paint a target on your head, or be prepared to defend yourself. If you can, you'll have yourself a fine general.

I think the trick to using Oloro is to do it in a way that minimizes just how much more life you're gaining that everyone else. Use it to pay for lots of little incremental effects to have your life seem comparable to the other players. Play politically, using your resources to prove yourself more of an asset than a threat. Play against people who know how to properly assess threats. That last one might not be so easy.

I rather liked playing the deck as-is as a life deck, really the only changes I would add are those that cater towards your own preferences for life-gaining or themed cards. I've always been a fan of Phyrexian Processor for one.

For you collectors out there, the following cards had new art:
Dromar's Charm
Lim-Dul's Vault
Phyrexian Delver
Phyrexian Gargantua
Raven Familiar
Reckless Spite