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

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