I've had a marathon run on the topic of Commander lately. It's been justified. Dragon's Maze provided us with a huge bumper crop of new legends to build decks around, and then last week I wrote about teaching my son to play Magic with the decks I had available—all of which were Commander decks.
To tell the truth, though, I've been itching to write about the new Standard and some of the sweet new Standard cards that Dragon's Maze has brought us. But I've been asked by some folks to talk about the new rules changes that will be implemented when Magic 2014 comes out—and in particular how it relates to Commander—so I wanted to go ahead and touch on that while the topic is timely. For a quick rundown of the new rules, check out the news item posted at StarCityGames.com here.
In a nutshell, I think the new rules are awesome. I also think that Wizards has earned a ton of credibility when it comes to these sorts of decisions they've made in the past, and I have faith that they have good reasons for making these changes and that they will lead to better gameplay. I'm also excited to think about what might have prompted these changes. I mean, it's not like people have been complaining that Geist of Saint Traft is too easy to kill with clone effects and prompted the change. There's a reason for this change happening now.
Back when the rules surrounding legends first got their makeover, it was due to the upcoming Kamigawa block being stuffed to the gills with legends and the realization that the original rules governing legends, while flavorful, didn't really play out very well. It used to be whoever got their legend into play first got to effectively call "dibs" on it, and if your opponent drew their copy or wasn't able to play until after you did, they were just out of luck.
A quick sidebar regarding this: under the old rules, it was sometimes correct to play Gaea's Cradle on turn 1 to get "Cradle advantage" even if you were basically skipping your turn to do so. I won Virginia States with a deck that destroyed my opponents in part due to the huge mana advantage I was able to secure with Gaea's Cradle alongside Rishadan Port and Plow Under.
I had a special "tech" card in my sideboard to help make sure I was able to secure Cradle advantage from other Cradle decks: Deepwood Elder. This Spellshaper could turn my opponent's Cradle into a basic Forest, allowing me to play my own. Then, when the effect ended at the end of the turn, since my Cradle was now considered the "original" copy, my opponent would have to sacrifice their copy. At least two opponents that day called judges over to confirm this was what happened as I romped to victory.
In a block where "legends mattered" as much as they did in Kamigawa, it made sense that the legend rules needed an overhaul. Being able to still play your copy of a legend, even as a removal spell, gave you at least something worth doing with the card—but you know what? In a way, that "fix" was really just a half-measure. It still felt bad to play your own copy of a legend as a removal spell. You put legends in your deck for their power and their flavor, not as a way to cancel out what your opponent did!
No, I think the legend rules fix that preceded Kamigawa only went halfway. These new legend rules come all the way home, fixing legends to be as they were intended: powerful, splashy, flavorful cards you put in your deck because you want to play them and have them impact the game. You shouldn't feel bad about putting legends in your deck just because your opponent has already played one. These new rules take away that sort of bad experience.
Which brings us back to why change now? I think it's clearly because being legendary is something that's going to matter again very soon. The set coming out this fall—Theros—is supposed to be inspired by Greek and Roman mythology, which is chock full of gods along with monsters and heroes of legend. Might the gods have legendary avatars on par with the legendary Eldrazi that you want to play in your deck? Might there be legendary weapons we'll want to equip our heroes with without having to worry about the stupid "Seal of Destroy Your Umezawa's Jitte" games we had before? I imagine we'll have a bumper crop of legendary heroes from which to build new Commander decks; perhaps Magic spins on Odysseus, Hercules, Perseus, and Achilles?
Which brings us around to the new legendary rules and their impact on Commander. If we're going to get an infusion of sweet new legends, people are naturally going to want to play a bunch of them in their Commander decks, which would have led to more of those awkward moments in multiplayer that feel genuinely terrible. I'm talking about when you play something like Yavimaya Hollow, announcing it out loud only to have the table realize that two other people have already played Yavimaya Hollow and nobody realized it before.
Legendary lands are notorious for this issue because they get clumped in with the other lands people are playing and it's sometimes hard to keep track of that from across the table. In the case above, there could be some hard feelings. Who played the Hollow first? If they'd made it clear they played it, then perhaps the second player wouldn't have played theirs yet. Do all three players now have to put their Hollow in the graveyard?
Under the new rules you don't have to worry about that. When you draw your legend, you can play it and don't have to be concerned about clashing with someone else's copy, whether it's already in play or if it's played later. You also don't have to worry about the awkward situation when you and another player both have the same legend as your commander and are forced to either pick another deck or to basically be archenemies from the start of the game.
I, for one, am looking forward to multiple activations of Mikokoro, Center of the Sea every turn!
Yes, legends with hexproof get even more annoying because one way to kill them—cloning them—won't work now. But I think there are still plenty of tools available to us to adapt to the new reality. Creature sweepers are still good, and things like various edicts and Hallowed Burial can punish those who put too many eggs in their overpowered hexproof basket.
Oh, and regarding the seemingly-out-of-left-field rules tweak to land drops: I think the blame falls squarely on the lovely shoulders of Azusa, Lost but Seeking and how insane she'd be under the new legend rules in Constructed formats. Play two extra lands with Azusa in play, play another Azusa, sacrifice the original Azusa, play two more lands, play Phyrexian Metamorph and copy Azusa, sacrifice her, and then you'd get to play two more lands from the Metamorphed Azusa.
I mean, I always thought the ways you could cheat additional land drops from cards like Azusa, Lost but Seeking and Oracle of Mul Daya were fascinating and fun corner cases, but with the new legend rules I think Wizards rightly worried some seriously crazy shenanigans might crop up in Modern. Rather than worry about adding to the ban list, they just went ahead and streamlined land drop rules to its simplest and most intuitive form.
Sheldon goes into the new rules specifically in regards to Commander more deeply here, so make sure to check it out if you haven't already.
All in all, I'd say that players shouldn't give in to the cynicism and fear that big changes always bring. I'm certain that Magic—and Commander in particular—are going to better for the new rules.
There are a couple things I want to do in the new Standard. First and foremost, I want to play Voice of Resurgence! When I first saw this card, I knew it was made for players like me—people who like to play value creatures and enjoy turning the screws on blue players. I hated that it is the type of card that you want four copies of in your deck since it is a mythic rare in a small set—a recipe for a singles price disaster that's normally reserved for overpowered planeswalkers.
When the first presales were offered at $20 apiece, I flinched at the prospect of dishing out eighty bucks for four cards, but when I thought about it, was there any chance I'd not be playing the hell out of this card in Standard for the next year and a half? Wouldn't I be playing it in Modern? If I dabbled in Legacy, I'd probably be playing some form of Maverick, and doesn't Voice go right in there? Wouldn't I even toss this into most Commander decks? I had to be honest with myself and realize that even if the eventual card price fell by half, I'd have gotten a ton of value just in sheer play volume over the coming years.
As a bonus, it appears now that I got these things at a bargain price, which certainly eases the ache from my wallet a month ago!
Anyway, one of the reasons I wanted to play Voice of Resurgence was the opportunity to dust off my Rancors. I remember when we found out that Rancor was being reprinted in Magic 2013 and the collective jaw of the Magic community dropped. Rancor is one of the best Auras of all time—yet in the eleven months or so that we've been able to play with it, it just hasn't been good enough to see regular play. Which breaks my green mage heart every day! There have been too many instant speed ways to make trying to enchant one of your creatures with an Aura just a bad call—until Voice of Resurgence came to the rescue!
On top of that, Dragon's Maze also brings a functional reprint of one of the other top Auras of all time—Unflinching Courage does a mighty find Armadillo Cloak impression!
I'd been brewing up some ideas with those three cards on my mind, and then Jose Cervantes rode those three cards to the Top 8 in one of last weekend's StarCityGames.com Standard Opens. Check out this monster:
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Loxodon Smiter
- 4 Silverblade Paladin
- 4 Sublime Archangel
- 4 Voice of Resurgence
- 2 Sigarda, Host of Herons
- 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
It does my heart proud to see Sublime Archangel here, teaming up with Silverblade Paladin along with our pair of trampling Auras to just hit extremely hard and fast. This is certainly more aggro than I had bouncing around my midrange mind, but it gave me some measure of confirmation that we can give Rancor another few days in the sun.
Rancor, Unflinching Courage, Wurm tokens—that's a lot of trampling! I snagged the Faith's Shield tech from Jose Cervantes, as it seemed like a fine way to protect my boys from targeted removal. You know you've got to be feeling pretty good when you're swinging with a Predator Ooze enchanted with Unflinching Courage and have it fight with Ulvenwald Tracker.
To illustrate the other thing I want to do in Standard right now, here's a quick story. The other day I bumped into my roommate and asked how he did in the Standard FNM he played in the other day. I made a copy of The Aristocrats for him, and he's really enjoying playing the deck. He did pretty well and said he opened up an Aetherling out of the prize packs but traded it to a guy who said he really needed one.
"I knew you wouldn't be caught dead playing Aetherling," Chuck said.
I smiled. "Actually, I'm pulling together a deck right now that's running Aetherlings."
"Oh crap! Sorry dude…"
I just laughed, in part because I've already got a couple Aetherlings. Then I walked Chuck through my plot, which involves this card:
And this card:
I want to get to four mana and then pass the turn, putting my opponent in that vice grip of uncertainty that four open mana can mean. I mean, we used to be we worried about Restoration Angel. Then Advent of the Wurm came along to add to the misery—but I really think that Plasm Capture is worse than Restoration Angel. Plasm Capture is a helluva mana ramp spell, and there are some really nice cards you'd love to ramp to.
Such as our good friend Aetherling. Here's what I've got put together currently:
- 3 Acidic Slime
- 2 Aetherling
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Fiend Hunter
- 4 Mayor of Avabruck
- 2 Progenitor Mimic
- 1 Thragtusk
- 4 Voice of Resurgence
It feels a little weird to go the full monty on the Bant dual lands, but I figure if I want to represent the threat of Advent of the Wurm (1GGW) or Plasm Capture (GGUU) when I have four mana up, I can't greedy with any lands that might stick me with colorless mana.
Right now most people are viewing Aetherling as a control finisher that you wait and play after you've established control of the game and have like eight or nine mana in play. But my plot is to counter something my opponent plays on turn 3 or 4 and then on my turn drop Aetherling with plenty of mana up to protect it and finish my opponent much faster.
There was one deck from Pro Tour Dragon's Maze that had a similar line of play, Larry Swasey's 30th place Bant Midrange:
You know, you gotta love the ability of this deck to end of turn Advent of the Wurm, untap, and then play Scion of Vitu-Ghazi and populate the 5/5 Wurm token. If Capture the Wurm doesn't work out, I might push the deck more in this direction.
His deck is still pretty controlling—much more than my own plan—but there are some similarities. Of course, he didn't have to worry about Cavern of Souls, a card I suspect has kept people's jets cool on Plasm Capture so far. That's why I decided to go with the Acidic Slime plan to knock those Caverns into the Stone Rain Age. You certainly haven't lived until you play Acidic Slime and then copy it with Progenitor Mimic!
Well, I think that wraps things up for this week. I'm not sure which one of these I'll be playing at Friday Night Magic tonight, but wish me luck! And if you have any ideas for tweaking the decks or sideboards, let me know in the comments below.
Hope you have a great weekend!
New to Commander?
If you're just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:
- Commander Primer Part 1 (Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
- Commander Primer Part 2 (Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
- Commander Primer Part 3 (Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
- Commander Starter Kits 1 (kick start your allied two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 2 (kick start your enemy two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 3 (kick start your shard three-color decks for $25)
My current Commander decks (and links to decklists):
- Vorel the Hull Clade (Never Trust the Simic)
- Emmara Tandris (No Damage Tokens)
- Varolz, the Scar-Striped (scavenging goodness)
- Doran, the Siege Tower (All My Faves in One Deck!)
- Johan (Cat Breath of the Infinite)
- Lord of Tresserhorn (ZOMBIES!)
- Borborygmos Enraged (69 land deck)
- Aurelia, the Warleader (plus Hellkite Tyrant shenanigans)
- Oona, Queen of the Fae (by reader request)
- Karador, Ghost Chieftain (my Magic Online deck)
- Karona, False God (Vows of the False God)
- Skullbriar, the Walking Grave (how big can it get?)
- Phage the Untouchable (actually casting Phage from Command Zone!)
- Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind (Chuck's somewhat vicious deck)
Previous Commander decks currently on hiatus:
- Yeva, Nature's Herald (living at instant speed)
- Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis (evil and Spike-ish)
- Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius (new player-friendly)
- Trostani, Selesnya's Voice (new player-friendly)
- Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord (drain you big time)
- Riku of Two Reflections (steal all permanents with Deadeye Navigator + Zealous Conscripts)
- Phelddagrif (Mean Hippo)
- Sigarda, Host of Herons (Equipment-centric Voltron)
- Bruna, Light of Alabaster (Aura-centric Voltron)
- Ruhan of the Fomori (lots of equipment and infinite attack steps)
- Ghave, Guru of Spores (Melira Combo)
- Glissa, the Traitor (undying artifacts!)
- Grimgrin, Corpse-Born (Necrotic Ooze Combo)
- Damia, Sage of Stone (Ice Cauldron shenanigans)
- Geist of Saint Traft (Voltron-ish)
- Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)
- Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo' Myrs)
- Thelon of Havenwood (Campfire Spores)
- Melira, Sylvok Outcast (combo killa)
- Konda, Lord of Eiganjo (The Indestructibles)
- Vorosh, the Hunter (proliferaTION)
- Progenitus (Fist of Suns and Bringers)
- Savra, Queen of the Golgari (Demons)
- Uril, the Miststalker (my "more competitive" deck)