I hate a predictable metagame. When any format devolves into the same old cards day in and day out, things will deteriorate. I love fresh ideas and fresh concepts. Let's renovate! That's one of the reasons I adore Commander '95. Playing just cards that were printed up through Homelands for your Commander deck means that you don't see a lot of the heavy hitters of Commander running around. It's new and exciting.
You might not think that a metagame that has just over a thousand cards would have the depth of other formats. But after playing with the variant for a few months, things keep getting deeper. I've learned tons about how the format evolves and feels, and there tend to be a lot of answers to shifts in the metagame.
Today I want to tell you about some of the more advanced aspects of the C95 metagame. What has happened to our games and playgroups? How have decks changed to address the card pool? This format is much stronger and more powerful than I ever felt possible when creating it back in November as a fun little side project.
People tend to play more than one color because we have almost exclusively multicolored options. The original injection of multicolored dorks from Legends can be seen full throttle. Engage!
Of course the monocolored options are a bit erratic. Reveka, Wizard Savant is your only mono-blue option, so if you want to roll with that you'll have a lousy commander. Because Daughter of Autumn has a white activation cost, only Autumn Willow is mono-green, and you have limited abilities there (although a 4/4 shroud in this environment is not the worst commander running around).
Mono-white, mono-black and mono-red all have multiple options. Mono-red has several good ones—Eron the Relentess is generally the best. But Marton Stromgald is right in the rush deck, and Joven and Chandler have their adherents. Black has the most, with Ihsan's Shade, Irini Sengir, Grandmother Sengir, Baron Sengir, and Veldrane of Sengir all options. The Baron is by far the best choice. Plus you can run other Vampires.
The great creature type update made these cards have a lot more tribal love. All of the legendary creatures from Homelands and previous sets were given creature types. Soraya the Falconer is a great example of this. She originally only helped Falcons. Now she helps all Birds. And how many Birds do we have? 11. Osai Vultures, Mesa Falcon, and Clockwork Avian will fit into a deck with Soraya as its legendary creature. I encountered a mono-white deck with Soraya as the general already. General Jarkeld, Hazduhr the Abbot, Rashka the Slayer are okay mono-white commanders. I have always wanted to play Hazduhr as a general, so now I'm thinking about trying him out.
Here's one of the best ways I can sell someone on playing Commander '95. Hazduhr the Abbot might be a really good Commander deck. Hazduhr control for the win—it's Abbot-lutley fun!
Flyers & Walls
There is a trio of flyers that have a high toughness of five that act as a major deterrent to attacking. They are Dancing Scimitar, Wall of Air, and Wall of Swords. We've found that these are a threat to attackers because they have some power (especially Wall of Swords) and are very hard to crack. Very few commonly played flyers can break through one of these three without dying. They are Baron Sengir, the Elder Dragon legends, Killer Bees, Mahamoti Djinn, Shivan Dragon, Dragon Whelp (not for Wall of Swords, just the other two) . . . and that's it.
The vast majority of flyers tend to have four power. Sure, there are some situations where you can break through—attacking with a Mesa Pegasus or another banding flyer and an Air Elemental or something or having enough Swamps to power through with Nightmare. But generally the above are it as far as smashing the five-toughness defenders.
That means a few things. First, these three creatures are getting played more and more in our decks. Because it can swing and be played in any deck, the Scimitar is becoming a common inclusion. Also, some creatures that can smash a five-power defender are getting played even though they have disadvantages. These include Sibilant Spirit and Yawgmoth Demon.
Walls are generally pretty good in this format. Consider the big ones: Glacial Wall, Wall of Ice, and Wall of Stone. How do you even break through them on the ground? If you manage to crack Living Wall once, it just regenerates for one mana and hangs around. Carnivorous Plant is just as big as Erhnam Djinn for the same mana cost. But the worst one is in decks with snow lands where Drift of the Dead is just obscene. And some walls, such as the 0/6 Walking Wall and the Wall of Wonder, can be turned and used to attack later on.
And we are seeing more and more Walls. Wall of Bone and Wall of Brambles offer regenerating fun. Wall of Dust can stymie future attacks by locking down a creature for a turn, and Wall of Earth has to be the cheapest 0/6 wall in the game at two mana. (One more mana buys you Wall of Heat, a 2/6 body that will keep back weaker creatures from even attempting to get through). And that forgets the pump walls like Thunder Wall, Wall of Opposition, Wall of Lava, Snow Fortress, Wall of Fire, and Wall of Water. They can all easily pump to kill attackers (and some can pump to survive).
Walls are powerful tools of defense in a format that has few creatures that can penetrate them. Wall of Stone is the highest-toughness wall. Do you know how many creatures in the format have a power of eight naturally? Six: Akron Legionnaire, Colossus of Sardia, Force of Nature, Leviathan, Polar Kraken, and Marjhan. Most of those don't see play. And if you have a Glacial Wall or Wall of Ice at seven toughness, how many additional ground-based creatures can break through it naturally? Chaos Lord, Cosmic Horror, Lady Orca, and Scaled Wurm. Just four more, so you're pretty set!
So big walls and flying walls and walls that attack are getting some play. I can't wait to unveil Glyph of Doom and perhaps Glyph of Destruction. (Any removal in a format like this!) We've even gotten to the point where I played my first wall hoser: Word of Blasting. It prevents regeneration and smashes someone for a bit of damage for their impunity. Like I said, any removal in a format like this. I'm just waiting until someone unleashes Dwarven Demolition Team.
Lands & Walkers
The other day I said something I thought would never emerge from my mouth. "I'm adding Desert to my deck to protect me from those Righteous Avengers!" One of the players at our table saw some of the stalemates that occurred and observed the large number of three color-decks we were playing. Thus everyone had a 60 percent chance of controlling a given land type.
So in went the larger landwalkers: Righteous Avengers, Bog Wraith, Moor Fiend, Mountain Yeti, and Segovian Leviathan. I haven't seen the two-power ones yet (Pale Bears, Pygmy Allosaurus, River Merfolk, Goblin Flotilla, Lost Soul). Perhaps this developed from someone running Wormwood Treefolk a while ago and walking a lot of decks. And Sol'Kanar was surprisingly good at walking folks, so maybe there was some memory there.
For whatever reason, people began to find their defenses occasionally nipped by a three-power attacker that slipped through their basic lands. Just like protection from a color never violates the "avoid a color hoser" aspect of the format, neither does landwalking (plus most landwalking creatures are walking their own basic land type). And if you start to pump the landwalker, you can get a nasty attacker very quickly.
These sorts of creatures are very dependent on your metagame. If your kitchen table tends to play few colors like one- or two-color decks, then your mileage with a landwalker may be reduced. But if you are facing more three-color decks, then seriously consider them as potent adjuncts to your deck. If you are running a Jund deck, Wormwood Treefolk might be too good not to run in most places with two walking options.
Any reader of my articles or player of the format has seen that there is little in the way of targeted enchantment removal anywhere. This has led to many decks running enchantments they might not otherwise because they aren't powerful enough to run by themselves. Pushing the enchantment theme can be dangerous because we do have both Tranquility and Essence Filter to punish someone who is overly reliant on these cards. But people continue to play them because losing your stuff to mass removal is similar to a creature-heavy deck running into Wrath of God or Hellfire. Sure, it might suck at first, but you can deal with it.
This doesn't include Auras, which have their own inherent weaknesses. This is just enchantments. You would always expect to see powerhouses like Sylvan Library, Land Tax, and Pestilence. These are new enchantments.
Stormbind gets some play even with the random discard because it can shoot stuff down in a removal-light environment and you can play Whiteout tricks with it (discard Whiteout, sac a snow land to recur it, repeat). Underworld Dreams isn't exactly sterling in a 40 life environment with little in the way of mass card drawing, but I've seen it get used. Iceberg is not bad actually and can store mana for big effects. Soul Barrier is not hot (people usually just pay the two mana and can afford to wait on stuff), but it can get annoying when you can't blast it and it gets out of hand. I've run into cards like Smoke and Power Surge and Manabarbs. I've seen Kismet outside of Stasis and Winter Orb decks. I have not seen Hecatomb yet, but I wouldn't be surprised to—that thing is a machine of love for this era.
A commonly played one is Concordant Crossroads because it will destroy other enchant worlds. It's a pseudo-removal spell in that regard. I like Gravity Sphere myself to play with flying and destroy other world enchantments. One card I'm personally fond of is the first Propaganda effect: Koskun Falls. It's an enchant world; just tap a creature to upkeep it and people have to deal with a traditional Propaganda or Ghostly Prison.
Another good world enchantment is Caverns of Despair. If you can combine it with effects like Maze of Ith, Sorceress Queen, or Horn of Deafening, you can easily prevent all damage from the two attackers. And you have built your deck around it, so you can swing with your landwalkers or flyers or use Dwarven Warriors, Joven's Tools, or Tawnos's Wand.
Again, some enchantments make sense, like the tribal love of Goblin Warrens and Fungal Bloom or the power of cards like Elemental Augury and Breeding Pit. But Drudge Spell? I would never run that outside of an enchantment-removal-light environment.
Some players have decks with all of their basic lands as snow lands. Why would you do that? Take a look at cards like Glacial Crevasse, Withering Wisps, and Sunstone. Withering Wisps is a cheaper Pestilence if you use a Snow-Covered Swamp. Both Sunstone and Glacial Crevasse can sacrifice a snow land to Fog for the turn. Sounds like fun, right?
I already mentioned how Whiteout can return itself by sacrificing a snow land.
And I talked above about how disgusting Drift of the Dead can be in a deck with all snow lands.
Now let's look at how other creatures are upgraded while in snow. Woolly Mammoths becomes a 3/2 trampler for three mana, which is a good deal for this era of Magic. You can activate the ability on cards like Goblin Ski Patrol. Karplusan Giant can be pumped into a big massively oversized oaf with all of your snow lands tapping to pump it up. Balduvian Conjurer can make a land into a 2/2 dork.
So there are a few benefits to this, but not a lot though. It does weaken you to hosing via cards like Barbarian Guides. But generally speaking it's not a bad deal at all, and I'm not sure many decks want to water down their stuff by adding snow hosers when the snow benefits aren't exactly sterling. It's not worth the bother, so you can get away with it.
Lands by Gore
I have run into a few more nonbasic lands than before. An Esper deck with nine or ten legendaries will run Seafarer's Quay (almost all legendary creatures in such a deck would be blue by default). The other cards from one of the most berated land cycles of all time are also making the cut in real decks! The same is true of things like Wizards' School, another wildly chided cycle.
I haven't run into the Urzatron lands or The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. But I have seen the storage lands from Fallen Empires several times, especially Bottomless Vault and Dwarven Hold. I've seen Ebon Stronghold once (to sacrifice and fuel a bigger Drain Life they say).
In other words, people are playing a lot more lands now. I still have yet to see the expensive ones (Diamond Valley, Bazaar of Baghdad) or the slow counter lands (Timberline Ridge). But you never know, do you?
And that's the fun of Commander '95. You never know.