Every now and again, we're delighted to be able to bring you an exclusive, one-of-a-kind interview with someone who has something to say about Magic and Commander. Today, we're lucky enough to have philosopher, conqueror, world leader, and Ahab metaphor Khan Noonien Singh talk to us about the Khans of Tarkir.
We caught him on furlough from extended cryo-sleep aboard the USS Vengeance. It turns out that he's allowed a few days per stellar year to get some exercise and catch up on all the latest news. This interview wouldn't have happened without the timely intervention of Star City Games President Pete Hoefling. Pete, who has a few connections that none of us truly understand, told me that not only did he have the dates Khan would be furloughed, but that he also had some comps from The Borgata which we turned into interstellar travel chits. Those of you who know me know that I get motion sick pretty easily, but I wasn't going to turn down a chance to interview a legend-a man who truly understands the meaning of the word vendetta. I loaded up on the Dramamine and was off.
The Vengeance is on auto-pilot, and every now and again it pulls into a space dock just on the other side of Jupiter for routine maintenance. I was happy that I took the extra travel day, because it took me some time to recover from the G-forces of escape velocity. I met with Khan in the observation lounge, where Jupiter filled the window. The roiling storm of the Great Red Spot raged over his shoulder as we spoke, a fitting reflection of the grudge he still harbors against the Federation. The crew served us a delicious, flinty Lapsang Souchong tea, along with his favorite snack-Moon Pies. I kid you not, the chief architect of the Eugenics Wars loves Moon Pies (especially the banana-flavored ones). I wasn't crazy about the pairing (Milk Oolong is probably better with Moon Pies), but I was here for the chats, not the grub.
Star City Games: Thanks for sitting down with us. I know your time is precious.
Khan Noonien Singh: Time, time, time is all I have. In cryo-sleep, one does not actually sleep, one enters a state of perpetual contemplation. Time therein is meaningless. I have time to consider the infinite possibilities of…everything. It keeps me sane.
SCG: Let's get this out of the way first. Some say your Benedict Cumberbatch incarnation is better.
KNS: It is in the voice, in the voice and the massive power of my massive chest, that one sees my superiority. Would Benedict Cumberbatch have the courage to go shirtless after having lived for 300 years? Would the man who was so weak as to call himself by another name-John Harrison indeed-have the strength to conquer the galaxy? No. John Harrison is a smirking choirboy, too clever by half for his current masters. He is the educated elite. I am a conquistador!
If you are looking for superiority in the new incarnation, look no further than to Alice Eve in her underwear speaking of warp mechanics. This is the proper vision of a new world order.
SCG: Let's change directions before we get into trouble.
KNS: Your pedestrian attitudes regarding the human condition are what will make you the conquered.
SCG: Right. How did you come to know about Magic: the Gathering in general and Commander in particular?
KNS: I am a Facebook fan of Brian Kibler. If you believe eugenics is not a thing in your world, you are sadly mistaken.
SCG: So you follow the Pro Tour?
KNS: Absolutely. I will tell you that I dislike very much, it vexes me greatly, to see combo decks like Eggs win. Magic is about using one's superior intellect to dominate and defeat one's opponent. Combo decks are not competition, they are onanism. They require some skill to be sure, but skills are best tested under fire, under the assault of an honored opponent.
SCG: How did you find out about Commander?
KNS: One of my crew told me about your interview with Ruhan. It intrigued me. It is better that he has split from Michiko Konda. She was not a worthy companion. She kept him from achieving greatness. The heart is a fickle organ. It provides us with the blood we need coursing through our veins to reach for the stars, but its weaknesses ground us. The superior intellect does not allow this.
SCG: What struck you about the format?
KNS: Tribes. I know something of tribes. Tribal decks are the most entertaining. Goblins can provide amusement, but the unifying power of their cooperation is something to behold. The format provides opportunity to lead glorious armies crashing into one another for dominance of entire planes of existence! Command, and reveal whose is the superior intellect.
SCG: We had hoped you would give us some help in just that arena. We'd like you to offer some advice to the Khans of Tarkir on how to best sculpt their armies to do battle.
KNS: I have studied these Khans of Tarkir. They are cousins, they are children of mine. They are less evolved, but they are nonetheless powerful. The only viable outcome is for them to battle one another for supremacy. One will prove to be the…
SCG: Superior intellect?
KNS: Do you remember those bugs I put in Chekhov's ear?
SCG: Sorry. No more interrupting.
KNS: The struggle makes us stronger. Only when we have tested ourselves against foes equal to the task can take our rightful place as a strong leader. Leadership is not a birthright, it is an endless war to prove our fitness to dominate. From the great, the greatest will arrive.
SCG: Should we just go down the list alphabetically?
KNS: As suits your purposes and allows your inferior mind to best understand a complex situation.
SCG: Then let's start with Anafenza, the Foremost.
KNS: Anafenza's epithet is most fitting. She has the power to truly be the foremost. One of the responsibilities of leadership is to prepare others for success. Anafenza does that, albeit somewhat more slowly than Borborygmos or Mikaeus, the Lunarch. She does, however, insist that who she helps must go into battle as well, or at least has used their skills toward the army's goals. A great commander inspires others to do their utmost in service to glorious ends.
SCG: What kind of army would you suggest Anafenza build around herself?
KNS: We value persistence and loyalty in our followers. Anafenza's army must be constantly moving, constantly attacking. Powerful allies such as Woodfall Primus and Twilight Shepherd would crush her foes. The temptation would be to engage the services of Puppeteer Clique, but Anafenza's ability to send the bodies of the vanquished into the aether make this an unwise choice. This ability is powerful. The fallen will be consigned to Perdition's flame and shall trouble us no longer.
SCG: What about a graveyard strategy for Anafenza?
KNS: Oh, you task me, you task me! It is a thing that requires delicacy and planning. Against the blue mage, with its love of copying, it could cause us great distress. But no battle was ever won without risk! Graveyard recursion is a piece of Anafenza's strategy, but she need not commit to the depths of it as Karador, Ghost Chieftain does. We would give attention to placing Anafenza in a greater position of authority. She rules by power, not to be undone by trickery. We would place the Asceticism enchantment around her so that the cunning of the blue mage cannot thwart our plans. The regenerative power of the enchantment ensures that she will live to lead battle after battle. We would equip her with great weapons, such as Sword of Fire and Ice. Anafenza herself may be enough to swing the battle tide and win the war!
SCG: Should we move onto Narset, Enlightened Master?
KNS: Only after another Moon Pie.
SCG: Okay, then.
KNS: Narset is a lonely figure, slotted against a backdrop of pain and sadness. Her enlightenment leads to her solitude, for she understands truths that lesser people do not know exist.
SCG: Um, what?
KNS: Narset is an army unto herself. One must equip her in the Voltron (note: he really rolls his r's on this one) style. Darksteel Plate. Sword of War and Peace-you understand irony, yes? Extra attack steps, yes many extra attack steps. Fortellings of the future-your, how do you say, library control. Crystal Ball. Scroll Rack. All these things can Narset bring by her own powers.
SCG: Would you run Narset otherwise creatureless?
SCG: Let's move on to Sidisi, Brood Tyrant.
KNS: Weaker minds, weaker constitutions are unwilling to capture the power of what they consider unnatural. We have no so such qualms. All things created in the universe are natural. The zombie and the star ship are one and the same. They are an assembly of parts which already exist naturally. On Ceti Alpha VI we learned the value of using what was left to us. When the pirate coward James T. Kirk left us abandoned on a dying world, we gave it life, we gave it power. We made our own future!
SCG: You sure did. So how would you make Sidisi?
KNS: There are times when it is reasonable to think-how do you say-outside the box. Sidisi's army is not one of those times. Sculpt the power of Sidisi in direct coordination with its abilities. You are in the colors of dredge, so make use of them. We would mill ourselves and our adversaries with artifacts such as Mindcrank and Mesmeric Orb and then use the explosive power of flashback to build immense armies. Embrace the living dead. Give rise to an Army of the Damned. Sculpt a new future with Rise of the Dark Realms. All shall look on your works and despair.
SCG: Doesn't that leave you vulnerable to graveyard hate?
KNS: Yes. Protective measures must be taken. Witchbane Orb to protect against Bojuka Bog and Tormod's Crypt. Elixir of Immortality-a subject I know something about-to reuse your resources. This build seems so simple, so straightforward, but it is not. It is a two-layered thing. In the first order, it is about creating a number of creatures. This may be enough to assure victory. If not, then the invigorating power of the graveyard comes to the fore, and enemies are laid to waste before you.
SCG: How would you lay your enemies to waste with Surrak Dragonclaw?
KNS: With a powerful army of lieutenants which could of their own accord be generals themselves. Riku of Two Reflections; Animar Soul of Elements; Edric, Spymaster of Trest; Xenagos, Master of Rebels; Ruric Thar, the Unbowed. And Maelstrom Wanderer. I have wandered the maelstrom and the Antares Nebula, I have been around the galactic rim, and it has reignited the fire in me to unleash devastation! Surrak granting trample to all his allies will strike justifiable fear into the hearts of all who would dare oppose you. But for all his aggression and all his power, there is some subtlety yet to Surrak Dragonclaw. Under his rule, creatures cannot be countered. This brings a finality, this brings the ultimate ability, ( side note-here he goes off on a long screed about how people misunderstand and misuse the word "ultimate," which we've cut for brevity's sake; it then launches him into how peoples' misuse of the word decimate is an even more egregious sin. We cut that as well. ), with creatures such as Draining Whelk and Mystic Snake to be the last word in all discussions. Against the superior will of Surrak Dragonclaw, there can be no victory.
SCG: Since that's clear, we can take a look at our final Khan, Zurgo Helmsmasher.
KNS: Zurgo is a powerful weapon which must be employed with some level of direction. He will blindly charge into battle because he is indestructible when he does so. One must seize this advantage. One must unleash the power of destruction to clear the path, the destruction of all creatures, all things which are an irritation to us. Akroma's Vengeance. Sweet, sweet vengeance, only angels understand you the way we do, the way lesser men cannot. And I will have my vengeance. From hell's fiery heart…
SCG: Yeah, everyone was waiting for us to get to that one. We can probably skip over it.
KNS: (He gives me that look again, the one that lets me know he's already seven steps down the road plotting my demise, but he simply continues.) Chain Reaction. Blasphemous Act. Wrath of God. Zurgo must also have vigilance so that he may afterwards engage in one-on-one combat with a viable opponent. Heliod, God of the Sun is Zurgo's greatest ally in that he, too, is indestructible, he will withstand the hell and fire you will unleash in Zurgo's name. An ally like Magus of the Arena will then ensure Zurgo's domination over the battlefield. If you would like to add an unconventional combination of artifacts, we insist on Angel's Trumpet and Crawlspace. It makes Zurgo vigilant, as all great leaders must be, as well as limiting one's exposure. You may also achieve a similar effect with Blazing Archon, Ghostly Prison, Norn's Annex, Sphere of Safety, or Windborn Muse.
SCG: That's quite a rundown. You've given us all some great ideas.
KNS: Of course. From great minds spring forth great ideas.
SCG: If you had to choose one of these to manage, which would it be?
KNS: We would love to read the tales of a local group which constructed one of each and engaged in five-way battles over some weeks or months. It would provide us entertainment while we were studying strategy and tactics. If we were to join such a group, we would choose Surrak Dragonclaw's raw aggression backed with cleverness and subtlety. This seems the perfect combination for the superior intellect.
SCG: It looks like the guards are coming to take you back to the cryo-ship. It's been an interesting ride. On behalf of all of our readers, thanks again for the ideas. Any last comments?
KNS: Look for our return. It will come. There is no accident that the next set in Khans of Tarkir Block is called Fate Reforged. Whose fate is to be reforged? You will see.
I watched as they put the cuffs back on him and led him to the turbo-lift. Just before he stepped across the threshold-just as all great villains would do-he turned his head back to me and gave me a knowing smile. It was very Benedict Cumberbatch.
Decks Without Comment will return next week.
If you'd like to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that's been alive since 1987), ask for an invitation to the Facebook group "Sheldon Menery's Monday Night Gamers."
Here is the latest database version of all my decks:
ADUN'S TOOLBOX ; ANIMAR'S SWARM;AURELIA GOES TO WAR;DEMONS OF KAALIA;EREBOS and the HALLS OF THE DEAD;GLISSA, GLISSA;HELIOD, GOD OF ENCHANTMENTS;DREAMING OF INTET;FORGE OF PURPHOROS;HALLOWEEN WITH KARADOR;KARN, BEATDOWN GOLEM;KARRTHUS, WHO RAINS FIRE FROM THE SKY;KRESH INTO THE RED ZONE;LAVINIA BLINKS;LAZAV, SHAPESHIFTING MASTERMIND;ZOMBIES OF TRESSERHORN;MELEK'S MOLTEN MIND GRIND;MERIEKE'S ESPER CONTROL;THE MILL-MEOPLASM;NATH of the VALUE LEAF;OBZEDAT, GHOST KILLER;PURPLE HIPPOS and MARO SORCERERS;ZEGANA and a DICE BAG;RAKDOS: LIFE IS SHORT;RITH'S TOKENS;YOU DID THIS TO YOURSELF;RURIC THAR AND HIS BEASTLY WEREWOLF FIGHT CLUB;THASSA, GOD OF MERFOLK;THE ALTAR of THRAXIMUNDAR; TROSTANI and HER ANGELS