How about the Gods from Theros! The fully spoiled cycle has justifiably gotten the Magic community salivating over the prospects of playing them across multiple formats and deck sizes, and quite a few writers have thrown in their opinions on how good they are. One thing that seems to be missing from the discussions that I've read though is how well the Gods play with their toys. I mean, each of the legendary enchantment creatures has a signature legendary enchantment artifact that goes with it and presumably is meant to be played alongside it for reasons outside of just flavor, right? There are some patterns I've been noticing about the cycle of weapons and how they pair up with the deities that I think warrants some additional thought and discussion.
Bow of the Hunt
I first got the notion of examining these cards together when I was looking at (naturally) the green God and her Bow. The static effect of these cards together pretty much grants your creatures the peanut butter and chocolate sweet combo of Magic combat: trample and deathtouch to attackers. If you're a little new to the party, here's how it works.
Creatures with trample assign lethal damage to any blockers—usually each creature's total toughness—and then the additional damage gets dealt to the player or planeswalker you're attacking. If the creature also has deathtouch, then a single point of damage is considered lethal—even if you've got a 0/13 Tree of Redemption blocking a 2/2 Wolf token, if it's got trample and deathtouch, one point of damage will be dealt to the Tree (killing it), and one point will be dealt to your opponent. Multiple blockers are handled the same way. Given that green creatures tend to be big and burly compared to the creatures they meet in the red zone, giving them all trample and deathtouch is green creature Nirvana.
The other thing I noticed was the two work nicely together on curve. The Bow costs three mana, and Nylea costs four. So we've got our third- and fourth-turn plays planned out . . . but what do we do before then?
I decided to do a search of green creatures that will survive the rotation to see what good options there might be. I was particularly interested in seeing what sort of creatures there are that cost two green mana, and I was surprised to only find only two: Kalonian Tusker and Burning-Tree Emissary. I noticed another thing as well—there seemed to very few creatures that require more than one colored mana in its casting cost. Here's the shortlist: Renegade Krasis, Rubblebelt Raiders, Witchstalker, Deadbridge Goliath, Kalonian Hydra. I found this fascinating, and to illustrate why let's take a look at two cards, one that we're all very familiar with and the other a hypothetical.
First up is Thragtusk, a card we all either love, hate, love to hate, or hate to love. Next is his cousin Humblebragtusk, who is exactly like Thragtusk in every way but casting cost. You see, Humblebragtusk costs 1GGGG to cast as opposed to Thragtusk's sleek, elegant 4G casting cost. In a vacuum, we'd all agree that Thragtusk is the better card (sorry, Humblebragtusk) because it's easier on your mana to cast. You can nearly as easily play him in a mono-green deck as you could splash him into a multicolor deck provided the color fixing is good enough. Colored mana cost is one of the "dials" that Wizards of the Coast's R&D can use to balance a card's power, and typically adding additional colored mana requirements is a drawback.
Theros is ushering in a world of devotion to color, where colored mana can be an asset. It's fascinating to see how this flips conventional wisdom on its head regarding colored mana in casting cost; in this new world where more colored mana is a bonus, and less colored mana is a "drawback." I did a scan through the partial Theros spoiler available at the time of this writing and noticed that there aren't too many cards that have double mana of a single color, and only one has triple mana: Arbor Colossus. So far, Arbor Colossus hasn't seemed to hit too many radars, but my hunch is that having triple mana in its casting cost is a hidden upside no one's really thinking about. If any other permanents pop up with triple mana of one color, we should give them an extra look.
Okay, back to Nylea and her Bow. I was originally considering whether these two might make a backbone for a more controlling deck, relying on green enchantments to eventually trip devotion and letting Nylea be your win condition. The Bow can ping off fliers or gain you life and could add +1/+1 counters to Nylea (and she could pump herself). Sadly, Nylea doesn't give herself trample, so that really pushes us more towards a creature-heavy build, one that attacks so you can take advantage of the deathtouch.
Spear of the Sun
Next up is Heliod, God of the Sun and his badass Spear. This combo enjoys similarities with Nylea: weapon at three mana, deity at four mana. The two actually make a pretty decent team together even if you're not playing a bunch of other creatures since you'll be cranking out 3/2 Clerics with vigilance and can strike down any creatures that get through your defenses. Get enough white permanents in play and Heliod will be a 6/7 beatstick.
Doing a search for devotion enablers led me to Precinct Captain, Boros Reckoner (three towards devotion!), Banisher Priest, Fiendslayer Paladin, Ajani's Chosen, Archangel of Thune, Scion of Vitu-Ghazi . . . Angel of Serenity is expensive but has that magical triple white mana that goes a long way towards devotion.
There's also an enchantment-loving theme running strong through white, and both the Gods and their toys are enchantments. Might we dust off our Spheres of Safety?
Bident of the Sea
When I first saw Thassa, I had to take to Twitter:
If anything would get me to be "devoted" to blue, it just might be Thassa, God of the Sea ;) http://t.co/4HpeYsm9qB— blairwitchgreen (@blairwitchgreen) August 28, 2013
I mean, for one three-mana investment, you get an indestructible way to manage the top of your library for the rest of the game? This is giving me strong Sensei's Divining Top vibes! I'm not sure whether I'll be playing this in Standard, but I'll definitely be playing it in Commander!
Thassa and her signature weapon, the "Bident," also work in harmony along the mana curve but in reverse of our previous two. You'd ideally play Thassa on turn 3 and then the Bident on turn four. The beauty of this sequence is that if the Bident is what gives you enough devotion to blue, you can immediately swing in with Thassa and either take down a blocker or connect for five mana and draw a card from the Bident's static ability. After that, with the two cards in play, you can spend 1U to make a creature unblockable and draw a card. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal.
So to get the broken Thassa/Bident curve-out, we'll want to seek out a turn 2 devotional, so let's take a look: Frostburn Weird, Tidebinder Mage . . . and that's it. Do we think there will be enough red or green creatures to maindeck that Merfolk? A little further up the mana curve the pickings are slim. Vassal Soul? Deathcult Rogue? Nightveil Specter? The Specter is interesting in conjunction with the Thassa/Bident package since it has a combat damage trigger.
Hammer of the Forge
Ah, now we get to the one God that seems to have everyone all worked up over as the second coming of Valakut! Yeah, on his own he's pretty good, but how good is he in conjunction with his Hammer? Like the green and white deities, they play nice together along the mana curve . . . but to really make use of the Hammer's static ability—all your creatures have haste—you're going to want Purphoros, God of the Forge to enter the battlefield as a creature, which means two more points of devotion to red.
To the card database! Let's see what's around: Ash Zealot, Burning-Tree Emissary, Frostburn Weird, Rakdos Shred-Freak, and of course Boros Reckoner the super-devoted at three. That's actually not a bad group of two-drops for the new Standard, backed with Boros Reckoner and Hammer of Purphoros at three and the big man himself at four all hasty-fied.
I'm actually not all that high on the activated ability of the Hammer. Sure, if you've got God and toy in play, you're getting a 3/3 hasty attacker that hits your opponent for two mana when he comes into play (remember, this can be redirected to planeswalkers). But I don't like how cashing in lands to the Hammer means you have less mana for Purphoros' activated ability. That just feels like awkward design and makes me wonder whether the firebreathing was a "fix" for an ability that was too good.
Whip of the Dead
Last but not least we've got the black God, Erebos, and his mighty Whip! One thing that jumps out immediately after looking at the other deity/weapon pairs is that these two really are rather awkward together. Which do you cast first, and when do you cast the second one? If you cast Erebos first, you'll likely want to spend at least some of your mana each turn drawing cards rather than casting the Whip, which is a gigantic mana hog: four mana to cast and four mana to activate! The one thing that I can give a little credit for is that the Whip's lifelink static ability does help fuel Erebos' card draw.
Interestingly, when looking at the lower-cost creatures, there are zero creatures that cost two black mana that survive the rotation. You have to dip into hybrid mana—Rakdos Shred-Freak, Nightveil Specter—to find some.
Of the two, I find myself drawn to the Whip more so than Erebos himself. A reusable reanimation ability seems pretty strong if you can figure out ways to get suitable targets into the graveyard. Man, what we wouldn't give to have Liliana of the Veil providing both a discard outlet and a substantial devotion to black! There's Trading Post, but that's yet another four-mana card. Whispering Madness? Sire of Insanity? Lotleth Troll? Thoughtseize yourself?
Maybe just draw a ton of cards with Erebos so you have to discard?
And then there's the question of what creature you want to reanimate. Borborygmos Enraged? Giving him lifelink and haste would work quite nicely when pitching a bunch of lands. Angel of Serenity is still good to reanimate, even temporarily.
Methinks Erebos, God of the Dead and Whip of Erebos might require some fiendish plotting!
So which of the pairs are you excited about playing and in what format? Fire off your thoughts in the comments below!
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):
- Nicol Bolas (Kicking it Old School)
- Polukranos, World Eater (Monstrous!)
- Karador, Ghost Chieftain (Shadowborn Apostles & Demons)
- Sliver Overlord (Featuring the new M14 Slivers!)
- Reaper King (Taking Advantage of the new Legend Rules)
- Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker (Outside My Comfort Zone with Milling)
- Vorel of 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)