Commander fans, I've got some news for you! Starting this week, you will find dedicated Commander content each and every time you click on one of my articles. That's not to say I won't occasionally talk about my adventures in tournament Magic, since that's still something I very much enjoy, but when I do it'll be bonus content found at the end of Commander talk. So make sure you spread the word to your Commander friends: when they want to read about Commander, they need to stop by StarCityGames.com® and check out my weekly column!
To help facilitate this I'd like to remind everyone that I have a link to my email address below. I get emails from fans now and then, and that's something that always makes my day, but I also want you to know you can use email to get a conversation going, not just with me but with other Commander fans too. If you've got a question on strategy, whether general or card-specific, shoot me an email and I'll try to include it in an upcoming column. I'll provide my thoughts and answers to them, but I'll also encourage my readers to join in the conversation.
Most of the time, I write about entire Commander decks, but today I wanted instead to talk about a particular card that generates some mixed feelings in the Commander community. That card is Sol Ring.
I know there is a sizable part of the Commander player base out there that would love to see the card get the banhammer. Its power level is so high that it sits in the same space as Black Lotus and the Moxen: banned in Legacy and restricted in Vintage. It can lead to some insanely broken starts in Commander, such as turn 1 Sol Ring, tap for two, cast Talisman of Dominance, tap for one, cast Mana Vault, done. Now the rest of the table has to quake in fear, wondering what that player is going to do with the eight mana he or she has available on their second turn (assuming a second land drop). If your opponent kills the table while the best you've done is play a land that enters the battlefield tapped, that could understandably leave a bad taste in your mouth. Even so, I don't think those rare occasions justify the banning of Sol Ring, and here's why.
Sol Ring Is Iconic to the Format
I started playing Magic in 1994, and in many ways my friends and I exemplified the vision that Richard Garfield had with the game: each player would purchase a limited number of booster packs and starter decks, and the very rare cards would be rare even among the group of people who played. None of us had a Black Lotus. I was the only one who had a Mox. My friend's girlfriend was the only one who had a Serra Angel.
Sol Ring, though, was an uncommon artifact, so there were a handful of them floating around the group and whoever had one or two could toss them in any deck. Once the game started pivoting more toward tournament Magic, I saw less and less of old Sol Ring; in the only format it was legal in, what used to be called Type I, it was restricted to one copy, and fewer and fewer people played it as the cards got more expensive and harder to find.
When Elder Dragon Highlander (or EDH, what Commander used to be called) began to grow in popularity, all of a sudden many of us were able to dig through old binders or card boxes and dust off our old copies of Sol Ring. Something about being able to play with that iconic one-mana card with the flaming ring on it just felt like going home, reconnecting with the very first games of kitchen table Magic. No matter what sort of fiendish deck you were planning to build in EDH or Commander, you could bet that Sol Ring will help you execute your plans.
Sol Ring Helps Fuel Epic Plays
Commander is the sort of format where performing or even witnessing an epic game play is often better than being the last player standing. Haymaker-style cards fuel great stories, but they often cost quite a bit more mana to cast than the spells we typically see in tournament Magic. But even the most powerful and expensive haymaker spells lose some of their punch as the game drags on longer and longer. Casting a Tooth and Nail with entwine is going to be much more exciting and impactful if you do it on turn 6 rather than turn 15. Sol Ring is a spell that can help any deck cast their haymaker spells a couple of turns faster, when the impact will be larger and the storytelling potential that much more ripe.
Sol Ring Is an Oh-So-Precious One-Mana Spell
Commander is a casual format where big spells regularly get played, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't at least pay some attention to your mana curve. It's not much fun if you have to twiddle your thumbs for the first five or six turns of the game because you're not able to cast your spells. The problem is that it's tough to find good multiplayer cards that are low on the mana curve and are still as decent to draw in the mid- to late-game as they are when you draw them early.
In my experience, there is no shortage of fantastic three-mana spells in Commander, so much so that you often have to leave quite a few of them on the chopping block if you want to have some semblance of a mana curve. You can usually find enough two-mana spells so that your curve can more or less start there and work its way down. Even so, I still try and have a decent number of one-mana – and occasionally zero-mana – cards to play early, and Sol Ring is the first one I reach for.
Sol Ring Helps Mitigate Some Awkward Draws Due to the High Variance of a 100-Card Deck
As a follow-up to my last point… even if you build your Commander deck with a relatively low mana curve, the nature of Magic infuses a high level of variance. There will be occasions where you just keep pulling expensive spells off the top of your deck and find it difficult to participate in the game. Sol Ring helps mitigate that some by providing a way to cast those spells and be a part of how the story unfolds.
Sol Ring Provides Excellent Ramp for Those Not Playing Green
This point also ties in to what I've been talking about the past two paragraphs, but I think it bears drawing specific attention here. Green is the most popular color in Commander for several reasons, not least of which is its ability to reliably ramp mana to cast the big haymaker spells. Sol Ring, along with other artifact acceleration, allows the other colors to at least try to play the same sort of game.
If we didn't have Sol Ring, it might put non-green decks at such a mana disadvantage that people would just stop playing anything except for green decks…or, worse yet, turn to land destruction spells to try to fight it. Sol Ring is so good at mana acceleration for any deck that it becomes a great equalizer among the color combinations. And I'm sure we can all agree having a variety of decks around the Commander tables makes for a better experience for everyone.
Sol Ring Declares Who's Going to Be the Archenemy
One thing I've noticed around many Commander tables is reluctance to start going on the offensive too early. Maybe you've got an early aggressive creature like Bloodsoaked Champion on the battlefield with a Rancor in hand, but you hesitate to start making waves. So your creature just sits there idle and kind of looking ridiculous.
If someone casts an early Sol Ring, they can't be mad when you start to point early aggression their way! That gives you a great excuse to start the beats, turning your Bloodsoaked Champion sideways and getting those life total dice moving. Unless someone is playing Oloro, Ageless Ascetic—then you always turn early aggression their way.
Sol Ring Provides a Good Default Target for Thada Adel, Acquisitor
If you're like me, you've looked at Thada Adel, Acquisitor and had a few thoughts. The first thought is, wow, she makes a pretty sweet Commander for intel-gathering on tricksy blue mages who might have evil thoughts of combo-killing the table in their hearts. The second thought is, intel is nice, but what if there isn't a decent artifact in my opponent's deck that I'd want to nab? The third thought is, hahaha, don't be silly—they will at least have Sol Ring!
Everyone having Sol Ring really makes Thada Adel much more playable than she otherwise would be; if you play her early you may not necessarily want to spend all your early mana casting the artifacts you're stealing from your opponents' decks. But at the same time, you don't want to just toss away the value of the ability. Being able to nab someone's Sol Ring gives you a target that pays for itself and actually gives you an extra mana for the turn, and then the next turn provides two extra mana to help you cast a more expensive artifact later.
Sol Ring Makes Maindecking Artifact Kill Worthwhile
It's usually a good bet that you're going to play against creatures when you're playing Commander, so it's wise to include creature removal spells in your deck. Some players can take advantage of that fact by playing few or even zero creatures. But that's usually not going to be an issue.
However, when it comes to dedicated removal for other permanents, you can sometimes risk having dead cards in hand that aren't going to do anything, and in a battle against multiple opponents, it can be dangerous to have too many dead draws. Sol Ring being so ubiquitous in the format means it's rarely going to be a bad idea to run dedicated artifact kill.
Enchantments can be risky; there are some really powerful enchantments we want to have answers to, such as Survival of the Fittest, Mirari's Wake, and Lurking Predators. But I have definitely run across battlefield states where there isn't a single enchantment to be found. If you include removal that can hit either artifacts or enchantments – spells like Revoke Existence, Krosan Grip, Act of Authority, Return to Dust and Indrik Stomphowler – even if you don't run across deadly enchantments, at the very least you can nab someone's Sol Ring.
So where do you stand—are you pro-Sol Ring or con-Sol Ring? What is your reason for that?
Commander Rotisserie Draft
About two weeks ago, I was approached by four friends to participate in a Rotisserie Draft for Commander, similar to what Sheldon Menery has written about here, here, here and here. Sheldon's put a lot of words down on his experience, so if you're interested in diving deep, please check out those links.
Due to logistics ours was going to be a bit different, and we decided to conduct the draft via email. I imagine it's a lot more fun to do the drafts in person where smack talk can freely roll, but it's been fun doing the draft this way. The comments within the email chain have been minimal but the sidebar texting comments have been amusing.
As I write this, we're still drafting our cards but we're definitely on the home stretch (I just sent an email with my 82nd pick). I'll touch more on the draft when we're done, but I thought I'd share the initial rounds where we drafted our colors, one color at a time. Jay got first pick, and Nic was first wheel. Once color identity was locked in, the pick order would be reversed for the rest of the draft. Here's how the color identity draft went down.
BENNIE: Green (no surprise, right?)
TEJAI: White/Green (I was a little surprised when TeJai became our fourth green mage)
BENNIE: Green/Black (Golgari for Life!)
JAY: Green/White/Blue (Bant)
BENNIE: Green/Black/Red (Jund)
SHANE: Blue/Black/White (Esper)
TEJAI: White/Green/Red (Naya)
NIC: Green/Blue/Red (Temur)
Sheldon's group had a rule that there could be no more than three people sharing a color, but we decided not to enforce that and ended up with four green mages. Shane could have joined the green party with Sultai but wisely stayed clear of the bloodbath by locking in Esper. I actually think it made things interesting to have four of us in green, since good green cards are so deep for Commander, but there were certainly cards at the top of the list that everyone would want to nab.
I was fairly certain I wanted to be in Golgari colors from the start, but I wasn't sure whether I wanted to end up in Abzan, Jund, or Sultai. Abzan would have been an easy fit and is the combination of colors I enjoy the most, but I wanted to stretch a bit outside my comfort zone for this exercise. I decided to go with Jund because I expected red is generally thought to be the least powerful color in Commander, and so I expected to have maybe one other player to compete with for red spells.
In fact, when I locked in red for Jund, I was the only red player, so I was surprised when the last two picks locked in red for Naya and Temur. Still, I wasn't unhappy with how things shook out. Regarding the various two-color combinations in Jund, I had Golgari and Rakdos all to myself, and the third guild, Gruul, I shared with TeJai and Nic. The only other black mage at the table was Shane.
After the color identities were locked in, we had the weekend to think about our strategies and picks, and also to decide on which three legendary creatures we would draft at the start as potential Commanders. After looking at the potential Commanders for Jund, I decided that my angle would be Shattergang Brothers as my first choice, mostly because having Shane in Esper got my spider-senses tingling that he might try to do some sort of combo deck, and if it were based on permanents like artifacts, I could make life difficult.
Also, if Jay or Nic tried to go too deep with G/U creature shenanigans, Shattergang Brothers can make life difficult that way too. To provide a little bit of cover, I decided to also choose Sek'Kuar, Deathkeeper and Kresh the Bloodbraided, so that picking things that were good sacrificial fodder didn't tip my hand too much for Shattergang Brothers.
I also decided to stay out of what I anticipated to be a frenzy picking green ramp spells. For one thing, I rarely go deep on green ramp spells anyway, but knowing my fellow green mages, I suspected all of them to value green ramp rather highly. Staying out of the fray meant I could focus my early picks on securing some of the more powerful cards. There are a ton of green ramp cards available, so I figured that once all the obviously powerful options got snapped up early I could swoop in and nab a few later on.
Here are the three legends each of the drafters picked as potential Commanders.
I've seen how the draft has gone and what sort of decks the guys are angling for, but I'm curious. What guesses do you have on their strategies, based on the potential Commanders picked?
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)
Commander write-ups I've done (and links to decklists):
- Trostani, Selesnya's Voice ( new player-friendly)
Uril, the Miststalker (my "more competitive" deck)