Writing a weekly column about Commander isn't just about me saying things and you reading them. It's about all of us engaging with each other about one of our favorite topics. Not only do I borrow ideas for columns and decks from you, but it seems important for us to connect outside of just Commander and Magic. To such an end, I occasionally answer reader mail. I generally solicit it via various social media. I cull the best (and weirdest) questions; the results end up right on these very pages.
As many of you know, have asked about, and offered me best wishes on, I was diagnosed with throat cancer back in November. I underwent a five-week course of radiation treatments, finishing on 13 February. I'm happy to report that I've recovered from the whole body effects of the radiation; things inside my throat are still a little sketchy. I'm doing as well as I reasonably can; throughout the whole episode, even when it was painful to do so, I made sure to continue eating solid meals, just to keep my throat muscles strong. My sense of taste hasn't quite returned, but we'll get there.
Now, we're just waiting for the PET scan to tell us if they got all the cancer—which will actually happen this week. I'll report the results nearly as soon as I get them. Between now and then, let me once again say that the Magic community in general and the Commander fan base in particular have been a great deal of help and support through what you can imagine has been a rough patch. I can't thank you enough.
Now, the questions!
What decks are you currently playing? What are you brewing?
As you saw last week, we finally got around to doing our Commander 2016 Rotisserie Draft, so I'm playing a great deal of Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder. As I'll report in the next week or so, we've played seven League games plus a few preseason ones, and I'm happy that the deck has performed extremely well—so much so that I have quite a large lead in the League standings at the moment.
That's not all it's cracked up to be, however—especially since one of the (roughly eight) points available in each game is to kill the player with the current highest League point total. I might get stomped quite a bit in the upcoming weeks, but I'll deal. Even more importantly, we've had some great fun and great moments. After our games last week, we did an Amonkhet Supplemental Draft, which you'll get the full details on shortly.
As for what I'm brewing, I'm in the rare situation of not having anything up to full boil yet. There's a strong possibility that Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons, which I did some brainstorming on when it got previewed, will be the next thing I actually build.
I know you have a deck with Adun Oakenshield at the helm. Are there any other of the original legendary creatures that you've considered recently as a commander? If not, do you have any particular attachment to or anecdote about a card from Legends?
What are your top three favorite commanders from Legends?
I'm curious as to what brought up the Legends questions—did some new boxes hit the streets, and a whole generation of Magic players discover the marvel and mystery of Chains of Mephistopheles? To the questions, I love Adun Oakenshield—I particularly love the fact that I've played enough games with the deck that some unusual things have happened. The most unusual is that I got a commander damage kill with him against an opponent at 2500 or so life. It was mostly one at a time, but I got through the last four or five courtesy of Kessig Wolf Run.
As far as other favorite commanders from the set, I'm pretty fond of fellow Monday Night Gamer Shea's Halfdane deck, which I featured here two years ago now. For all the play Hazezon Tamar sees as one of 99, I don't think I've seen him leading a deck all that often, which is a shame. Seems like it could be pretty cool.
What was your favorite place you traveled to for the game?
Leading up to Worlds in Rome in 2008, my wife and I took a twelve-day Mediterranean cruise which left from Venice and landed in Rome the day before I had to be at the event. You can imagine how amazing that trip was. I'm a pretty experienced (and maybe even a little jaded) world traveler, and standing on the streets of Pompeii was one of the most awe-filled experiences of my life.
As a thought experiment, if you were forced to ban one card specifically to appease the "Spikey" community in the format, what would it be?
Hermit Druid, because it seems to be the poster child of reliable early-turn kills.
Of all the new mechanics added to the game since the inception of Commander, which ones do you think were the most/least beneficial the format as a whole?
I know it's reasonably new, but partner is a piece of genius. I hope they explore it a great deal in the future. As far as beneficial, I like hexproof, which was a straight upgrade from shroud. As far as least beneficial—not that it does any harm—but who plays with hellbent?
Who is your favorite celebrity/fictional character/historical figure with the name Sheldon?
Television producer Sheldon Leonard, responsible for such early years hits as The Andy Griffith Show; Gomer Pyle, USMC; I Spy; and The Dick van Dyke Show. In other news, I didn't even make Ranker's top 100, so I guess I have some work to do.
In your opinion, what is the best way to build a Phelddagrif deck?
Having done it a number of different times a number of different ways since the format's beginnings, I can honestly say that it's flexible enough to suit your current mood. I'm not in general a fan of Group Hug decks. Maybe someday we can have Hippo tribal.
Who is your favorite and least favorite superhero and why?
Iron Man, because when you take off the suit, Tony Stark is still billionaire, genius, philanthropist, playboy, and deeply flawed, which makes for a compelling character. I am absolutely not a fan of the Hulk (despite the amusing moments he provides in the Avengers films). Mark Ruffalo has done a great job of bringing a spirituality to Bruce Banner, but the Hulk character is so malleable and conveniently plot device-ish that it makes for bad writing. For one, I can't get past the fact that he's constantly changing size. Back to the positive side, we just finished watching Luke Cage. I'm not sure where he ranks on my superhero list, but the show is righteous.
If Wizards asked you to design a commander, what would it look like?
Tyrant of the Red Zone
Legendary Creature – Dragon Shaman
Creatures attack each turn if able.
Prevent all combat damage that would be dealt to Tyrant of the Red Zone.
Combat damage that would be dealt by Tyrant of the Red Zone can't be prevented.
Any plans with the missus for a summer vacation?
Not for summer, but lots for the fall. We're doing a wine weekend in Sonoma with three other couples, which includes Steve and Lindsey Port, whom you might know as owners of Legion Supplies, former Magic writer turned 2020 Presidential candidate Anthony Alongi and his wife, author MaryJanice Davidson, and marriage equality activists/close friends Thom Watson and Jeff Tabaco.
Then, in late October/early November, we're doing a river cruise down the Danube on the AmaStella. We're going to hit three of the few cities in the world which I haven't yet seen but want to: Prague, Vienna, and Budapest.
With the release of Amonkhet, the list of sets (16 core sets and 74 expansions) reaches 90. If we include the Commander releases and Portal/Starter sets, we reach 100. If you had to build a deck using only one card from each of those sets, which commander would you choose? Are there "must-haves" for such a deck?
I tried this a few years ago when there were just under 80 sets (using basic lands for the rest). It's a great, although horrendously difficult, exercise. Under the 100-set model, I'm sure that I'd pick lands first and go from there. It seems like it wants to be a five-color build, although I imagine the job gets easier if you drop it to two or three. Must-haves would include Skyshroud Claim for mana-fixing (and one of the few playable cards from Nemesis).
I'd want the commander to be something with "general" in the name, and the only one which isn't mono-color is General Tazri. We'd have to be selective with which Ally creatures we pick, since most of them are confined to just a few sets—but we could make it work.
Have you ever combined Commander with other casual formats (Star, Emperor, Rainbow Stairwell, etc.). If yes, which combinations do you think "worked" (or not)?
Except for the Commander Leagues, when we have five players, we frequently play Star. It adds an additional layer of strategy and simply makes games different from how they might otherwise be. I've probably played Emperor, but honestly don't remember anything particularly interesting about it. Next time we're stuck at six players, we'll give it a whirl and see if we love or hate it. Rainbow Stairwell doesn't make sense, since it has different deck construction rules. I've also played a fair amount of Planechase (although not for quite some time now) and Archenemy. My issue with Planechase is that it can be a little too random.
Did Wizards of the Coast consult the RC before making changes to Commander on MTGO? Was there discussion on separating the format like that?
We were informed well beforehand and offered up our opinions, which ended up corresponding for the most part with what they eventually settled on.
Have you ever thought of associating your decks with certain wines and foodstuffs? If so, what are the mixes you enjoy?
I have indeed thought about it, but I haven't gone through with it. It seems like a great topic to write about down the road, though, so thanks for confirming that it's a worthwhile idea. As a sampler, Kresh the Bloodbraided is the boldest, spiciest blend of Australian Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon you can imagine.
Is there a goofy card you love to include in your decks?
What is the process that happens when the Rules Committee is presented with a potential addition or subtraction of a rule or a card being banned or unbanned? About how long is spent deliberating any changes?
We have regularly scheduled quarterly meetings. During that time, we discuss both cards that we or the community may have concerns with and potential unbannings. We then have discussion/debate on them. Once the discussion is over, we vote using a system we developed a while back: each member is allowed a -2 to +2 range on how strongly they feel about the card. Negative numbers mean ban (or keep banned), positive numbers mean don't ban (or unban). For a card to change status, it has to reach a certain threshold.
This system works because we've known each other a long time and trust that none of us will game the system. I'm not sure the system would work if we didn't have longstanding relationships of trust that we're all operating in the interests of the format, not any individual agendas. We try to keep our meetings under two hours, which is possible because the four of us are pretty close and talk a great deal anyway. In fact, as you're reading this, Scott will already be here at the house and Toby will be on an airplane on the way.
When is Recurring Nightmare getting unbanned?
If wishing only made it so. That wish would have to make Recurring Nightmare not busted, so we'd need a swarm of genies.
How much input did the RC have with Commander 2017? What tribes do you want to see?
We offered some opinions, answered quite a few questions about mechanics, and Scott was on the design team. I want to see an Elephant Lord!
What are you hoping to get out of Iconic Masters?
Foil versions of cards which aren't currently available in foil. Is Fault Line iconic enough? Time Spiral? That'd be cool.
When building a deck that is trying to use a certain theme or class of cards, what do you do when that theme becomes too big to fit into the deck? For example, I'm currently trying to build a Zombie-tribal deck that could easily be 130 cards. How do you make the difficult final cuts?
Easy: build two decks! I found the same problem with the same tribe. I had a Lord of Tresserhorn deck for the longest time, but there were too many cool Zombies, so I just built a second deck with Gisa and Geralf.
Can you tell us a story about the time you got the angriest/saltiest you have ever been in a game of Commander/Magic?
I'm reasonably even-tempered, so I don't let Magic games get under my skin. Way back in the day in one of the first few weeks of the Armada Games EDH League (2008? 2009?), when Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary was still legal, a player cast Rofellos on turn 2, Umbral Mantle on turn 3. No one had blockers. Then, in one of the most cowardly acts in this history of Magic, he rolled a die to determine who he'd kill. It was me.
I don't mind taking my beatings. If he has just attacked me because whatever ("ha, ha, kill you because you're a Level 5"), I'd have been okay with it. He figured doing it randomly would alleviate any bad feelings and remove his responsibility to own up to his actions. He was wrong. I already knew that he was a jerk before that; found out later he was a cheater, too.
The only other time in all my years in Magic that I can remember being angry wasn't associated with a game of Commander, but a Grand Prix I was Head Judging. During the Top 8, two well-known and loveable knuckleheads who were well-known for hanging around with a third well-known and loveable knucklehead (who may have been playing in said Top 8; details on that are fuzzy) decided that it would be funny to stuff a future Hall of Famer into a trash can. They were all laughing (to include the intended victim), but it was still dangerous and uncool. It was the only time I ever swore at a Magic player at a tournament. I do not recommend other judges follow this particular example.
Cure Wounds or Healing Word?
I haven't played a D&D version since AD&D Second Edition, which we swapped out for Ars Magica from the folks at Atlas Games back in 1994. The things I love about Ars Magica are a reasonably streamlined combat system and the capability for spontaneous magic. I never want to get so bogged down in rules that a six-round combat takes two hours.
Does Sol Ring fall into the "Problematic Casual Omnipresence" banned list criterion, leaving aside the question of whether it produces too much mana too quickly? I often feel I need to play Sol Ring just to "keep up," which you once described as the key feature of this criterion.
Sure, it's as close to omnipresent as any card. We just don't see it as problematic.
What are your pet cards from each color?
White: Faith's Reward
Blue: Perplexing Chimera
Black: Living Death
Red: Urabrask the Hidden
Green: Genesis Wave
What's your favorite pasta?
Homemade fettuccini. There's really nothing like having it fresh. We also make homemade ricotta, which is even easier than making the pasta.
The RC and your close group of friends seem to be pretty tight and share a pretty similar view of the format. Have your games ever gone turned bad? If so, why, and how bad did it get?
One of the reasons we're close is that we all have the "it's just a game" attitude. Sure, anyone is capable of getting momentarily frustrated when they get attacked but they think someone else is a way bigger threat, but we just move on. Among my closest friends, we've never even had harsh words for each other during a game. With one exception, and it was back when we first started hanging out with one player, we never go back on in-game deals—and we stick to the spirit of them instead of being all rules-lawyery. It makes for better games.
Once you have your Master's Degree, what's next for you? Do you have a path or is the degree purely for pleasure?
My intention when I returned to school back in 2013 was to study the craft of creative writing and acquire the skills I didn't have so that I could finish a long novel which I had started. At some point in the process, I realized (with the help of some smart people, to include my wife) that studying great literature was a better path to writing great books. Once I'm done with the Master's Degree, my intention is to finish that novel and move onto the next one.
A PhD isn't out of the question, but since I don't intend to teach or get otherwise deeply involved in academia, it would be a bit of a vanity exercise. I do hope to do some scholarly publishing while I'm still working on the Master's. My portfolio director thinks that my last research project, entitled "Coming to Terms: Un-Frenching the English in Henry V" is worth turning into a scholarly article.
When are you going to talk to Josh & Jimmy about bringing you in on a Game Knights episode of Command Zone?
All Josh & Jimmy need to do is figure out how to contact me.
Despite it not being in the spirit or the intention of the format, competitive multiplayer Commander has continued to gain popularity. Do you think there is a possible future where the philosophy on bannings or rules changes bends in a way to support these players?
Not from us. Both can exist, but not in the same space. We won't resist a competitive splinter group forming, but the official Commander Rules Committee remains committed to Commander being a social, casual, other-than-competitive format.
Also, thank you for everything that you and the Rules Committee have done to make and maintain my favorite Magic format. Commander has come a long way since its creation, and it's a very important and valuable activity in my life. I hope to still be playing this format ten years from now, because it's the most fun I've ever had in a card game.
You and me both. You're absolutely welcome.
This Week's Idiotic Combo
This one comes from the fertile mind of page04z on the official forums:
How about using Emrakul, the Promised End to generate a bunch of extra turns for an opponent, then killing the table (including yourself) with your opponent's deck?
For this you'll need Vedalken Orrery, Erratic Portal or Crystal Shard, Unwinding Clock, and either Mycosynth Lattice to turn your lands into artifacts or enough mana rocks to cast Emrakul, the Promised End (if you're playing green you could also use Seedborn Muse).
Cast Emrakul, controlling the next opponent/creating an extra turn.
During that turn, your relevant things untap.
Bounce Emrakul with Erratic Portal.
Target same opponent again.
Keep doing this and build a battlefield state that kills everyone, saving yourself (obviously) for last.
This Week's Deck Without Comment is Kresh Into the Red Zone.
- 1 Combustible Gearhulk
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 1 Anathemancer
- 1 Big Game Hunter
- 1 Bloodshot Cyclops
- 1 Butcher of Malakir
- 1 Devouring Swarm
- 1 Disciple of Bolas
- 1 Disciple of Griselbrand
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Farhaven Elf
- 1 Flayer of the Hatebound
- 1 Greater Gargadon
- 1 Hamletback Goliath
- 1 Heart-Piercer Manticore
- 1 Lord of Extinction
- 1 Malignus
- 1 Pelakka Wurm
- 1 Regal Behemoth
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 1 Seedguide Ash
- 1 Stalking Vengeance
- 1 Withered Wretch
- 1 Woodfall Primus
- 1 Yavimaya Elder
- 1 Nighthowler
- 1 Etali, Primal Storm
- 1 Kokusho, the Evening Star
- 1 Kozilek, the Great Distortion
- 1 Kresh the Bloodbraided
- 1 Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
- 1 Urabrask the Hidden
- 1 Xenagos, God of Revels
- 10 Forest
- 1 Mountain
- 4 Swamp
- 1 Badlands
- 1 Bayou
- 1 Blood Crypt
- 1 Bojuka Bog
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Dragonskull Summit
- 1 Exotic Orchard
- 1 Graven Cairns
- 1 Grim Backwoods
- 1 Kessig Wolf Run
- 1 Overgrown Tomb
- 1 Rakdos Carnarium
- 1 Reflecting Pool
- 1 Reliquary Tower
- 1 Savage Lands
- 1 Stomping Ground
- 1 Strip Mine
- 1 Taiga
- 1 Temple of the False God
- 1 Twilight Mire
- 1 Phyrexian Tower
- 1 Volrath's Stronghold
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Tormod's Crypt
- 1 Dead Man's Chest
- 1 Goblin Bombardment
- 1 Grave Pact
- 1 Greater Good
- 1 Lurking Predators
- 1 Pernicious Deed
- 1 Phyrexian Scriptures
- 1 Survival of the Fittest
- 1 Vampiric Rites
- 1 Cauldron Dance
- 1 Fling
- 1 Grab the Reins
- 1 Makeshift Mannequin
- 1 Momentous Fall
- 1 Tangle
- 1 Verdant Rebirth
- 1 Chandra's Ignition
- 1 Cultivate
- 1 Deadly Tempest
- 1 Essence Harvest
- 1 Ever After
- 1 Flesh
- 1 Kodama's Reach
- 1 Living Death
- 1 Skyshroud Claim
Check out our comprehensive Deck List Database for lists of all my decks:
Lavinia Blinks; Obzedat, Ghost Killer; Aurelia Goes to War; Trostani and Her Angels; Lazav, Shapeshifting Mastermind; Zegana and a Dice Bag; Rakdos Reimagined; Glissa, Glissa; Ruric Thar and His Beastly Fight Club; Gisa and Geralf Together Forever;
Shards and Wedges
Adun's Toolbox; Animar's Swarm; Karrthus, Who Rains Fire From The Sky; Demons of Kaalia; Merieke's Esper Dragons; Nath of the Value Leaf; Rith's Tokens; The Mill-Meoplasm; The Altar of Thraximundar; The Threat of Yasova; You Take the Crown, I'll Take Leovold; Zombies of Tresserhorn
If you'd like to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that's been alive since 1987) which is just beginning the saga The Lost Cities of Nevinor, ask for an invitation to the Facebook group "Sheldon Menery's Monday Night Gamers."