We're seven matches into the Commander 2016 Rotisserie Draft League, and it's time to let you know how it's going. The short version is that it's going pretty well for me. The biggest takeaway so far is that Selvala, Heart of the Wilds is kind of dumb—in the "we might need to talk more about this card" kind of way.
I'm going to start with a brief personal note. I generally hold off on stuff like this until the end, but this merits mentioning in the beginning since it's pretty big news. I've discussed with you on these very pages my battle with throat cancer. Through your support, many of you helped me through the dark patches, from the initial diagnosis and the absolute beating that came from the radiation treatments.
At my three-month checkup after the treatment, just two weeks ago, I discovered that I'm currently cancer-free and the disease is in remission.
I'm still suffering from a few of effects of the radiation being in my system, but as you can imagine, this is a huge relief and I'm well on my way to completely getting my groove back. The doctors are optimistic for my long-range full recovery. Obviously, it's something that I'll have to keep an eye on the rest of my life, but for now, the news is as good as it can possibly be. I can honestly say that this experience has shown me who I am as a human being, how amazing my partner in life is, how remarkable my friends are, and how some people I barely know rose to the occasion to help get me through my life's most challenging trial. Thank you all again and again.
Let's get to the part of the League setup which didn't get discussed in the original layout. We agreed that we didn't want the same points as last League, so we came up with a different list. We decided to add a bounty system this time. Each player is randomly issued a card with the name of one of the five players (or four if one of us isn't playing, four being the minimum for a "legal" game). Who your bounty is isn't revealed until the end of the game, even if you eliminate your bounty or you are eliminated (it keeps everyone guessing). If you end up with your own bounty, you get the extra point if you're the last person standing.
Points (or, more correctly, points per game) are used to determine League standings, which is important after each week's games when the waiver wire opens. We select cards from the waiver wire in inverse order of standings. Standings are additionally significant during New Set Supplemental Drafts (I'll talk about our Amonkhet Supplemental Draft in the upcoming weeks). In addition to the order of the supplemental draft being the same as the waiver wire, Seat 1 is chosen by the player in last place—so if they want first pick, they can have it, but if they want the first wheel, or think Seat 3 is a better spot, they can choose that as well.
Here's our point list:
Blood Feud (+1): Eliminate the player for whom you hold a bounty. If you hold your own, get point for being the only player left in the game.
Blood of Kings (+1): Kill the player with the current highest League point total.
Cool Blood (+1): Get voted a cool play.
Drop of Blood (+1): Eliminate a player when they are at one life.
Enough Blood (+1): Save an opponent. Available once per game per player per opponent.
Eternal Blood (+1): Be the only player left in the game (meaning if the game ends with any simultaneous deaths, such as through a large Hurricane or something, no one gets this point).
Gimme Blood (+1): Eliminate another player.
First Blood (+1): Be the first player in the game to deal damage/cause loss of life to an opponent.
As a side note, I'm keeping track of the creatures which have helped their players earn First Blood. So far, it's Plaxcaster Frogling (Shea); Sakura-Tribe Elder (me); Stoneforge Mystic (Tom); Melira, Sylvok Outcast (me); Managorger Hydra (Tom); Tuskguard Captain (Shea); and Lotus Cobra (Anthony).
We also reduced the "Dookie" penalty to only one thing: -1 for each additional turn taken this game beyond the first if you generated the turn (so no giving someone a Dookie by targeting them with Time Stretch). The point led the other players to realize that they can indeed give the penalty to me by just giving me the turns with Expropriate.
None of us are playing the other things for which Dookies have been traditionally assigned, such as mass land destruction or eliminating a player too early. The one we've dropped which might be the most controversial is the limitation on drawing cards. Previously, we've issued a penalty for each full ten cards a player draws in a turn cycle. We decided to dispense with it because everyone likes to draw cards, it added a bit of bookkeeping, and we didn't think, based on the drafts (you can see all the cards we drafted in The Draftening: Part One and Part Two) that anyone could get too far out of hand.
It turns out we might have been wrong about that one, since I've demonstrated once or twice that I indeed have drawn way too many cards in a game to be fair (although, to be honest, one of those games, Shea still got most of the points). Honestly, the offender of drawing cards in bulk has been Greater Good to go along with my strategy of playing huge creatures. And no, Greater Good isn't in any danger. I'm not the only one who's drawn big piles of cards; it's just that, when I have, it's been in absurd amounts—in the second or third game, the other players nearly decked me after exiling both of my graveyard-triggering Eldrazi. We constantly re-evaluate how the League goes, so we might think about re-adding the penalty in some fashion at the midway point.
After seven games, the standings look like this:
Ten of my 25 points came in the last two games. You'll notice that one of the points is for eliminating the player with the current highest point total. We had agreed that we'd go the first five games before we implemented that one, and things were kind of close between me and Shea going into Game 6—which is when I really jumped ahead. Going into Game 5, he was actually ahead, but I managed to sweep the table. Then, in Game 6, Shea made a play he regretted and will likely not repeat. The seating order was Shea, me, Tom, Anthony, and Keith.
The battlefield was pretty spicy, and we had gone back and forth for a while, with many damages being dealt, quite a bit by Tom, whose battlefield was quite thick with creatures. Keith eliminated a blocker or two and then attacked into Tom for lethal damage.
Shea, who knew he had a Deadly Tempest in his hand and some long-range plans—which included having Tom as his bounty—saved Tom (for the point) with Fog. He then cast Deadly Tempest on his turn, getting life totals down a little further. It's a good setup play. My hand wasn't all that great, but it included Dualcaster Mage.
Then I peeled Tooth and Nail.
The game got quite savage quite quickly. You'll note, looking at the draft, I don't have any auto-win combos in the deck (like Mikaeus, the Unhallowed and Triskelion). I Tooth and Nail for big value—I drafted it hoping for some Lord of Extinction and Consuming Aberration action, or double Eldrazi. After I cast it, however, I realized that I have Clones.
I'll be honest; Anthony kind of nudged me a little in this direction, and it wasn't my plan when I started searching the deck. I was looking at graveyards, wondering what foolishness I could do with Sepulchral Primordial and Clones, when he asked, "Why don't you just Tooth and Nail again?" So it went like this:
Tooth and Nail, entwined.
Respond by casting Dualcaster Mage.
Copy 4 resolves, getting Lord of Extinction (which is immense, due to Shea's Deadly Tempest) and Sun Quan, Lord of Wu (so now all my creatures are effectively unblockable, since no one else in their right mind would have horsemanship).
I've long been a proponent of the idea that Tooth and Nail isn't nearly as bad as everyone thinks it is. Sure, it's a nine-mana sorcery that can end the game if you've built around it. It turns out that it might be able to do so even if you don't specifically build around it—although, in hindsight, it sure looks like I might have done said building, even if that's not the case. As you see in my notes from the draft, my thoughts on drafting giant creatures were that they would help Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder by letting me cascade into larger things. Obviously, larger things also kill players.
Of course, one of the points to consider here is that this Tooth and Nail doesn't do much without Dualcaster Mage. I might be able to kill one player from 40 with Xenagos, God of Revels and Malignus, but nothing wild happens (at least in my deck) without the ability to copy Tooth and Nail repeatedly. You be the judge: is this the kind of epic play on which Commander has made its bones, or is it representative of a problematic card for the format? To be fair, I had at least twelve mana and it was later in the game. This wasn't a ramp into multiple Tooth and Nail on Turn 4. Nonetheless, it underscores we probably want to have further discussion on the card. And all things considered, it wasn't the craziest of scenarios—that came in the next game.
So, About That Selvala...
My opening draw included Forest, Island, and Evolving Wilds as my three lands, and Selvala, Heart of the Wilds as one of my creatures, along with a few midrange creatures, once of them Sangromancer (hidden gem, by the way; try it out sometime). It didn't have any of the other huge cards which would eventually make the game kind of ridiculous.
My first line of thought here, especially after not drawing a land on turn 1, is that my obvious play is to crack Evolving Wilds for a Mountain, since there are more Swamps in my deck (plus, Keith is playing Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, so you never know). I was focused on having the mana to cast my commander. Then I stared at that Selvala, and realized that if it survives, it will produce at least two of any color of mana for me, and I can just get to my commander that way.
I get Forest instead and cast Selvala on turn 3. I'm off to the races, as my turn 4 Yidris gets me to cast the Lurking Predators that I drew in the interim. Then my turn 6 draw is Mind's Dilation. A few turns later and still with only five land on the battlefield, half my deck is on the table, as Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre is the first thing I Lurk into.
My opponents have to cast spells to get into the game, and as they do, I'm putting my own creatures onto the battlefield and once a turn casting something from their libraries. Keith steals a kill away from me by pinging Anthony for a last few damage with Breya, Etherium Shaper (really a case of me not paying close enough attention), but the game is for the most part over before it ever gets started.
Selvala was the fuel for all of that fire, and I have no argument to the contrary. It was obviously quite conditional, but it got me wondering if "too much mana, too early" applies. The following week, fellow Commander Rules Committee members Scott Larabee and Toby Elliott were here visiting, and we talked about the card some, although not in depth. It's definitely coming up at our next official meeting. Note how, in that Tooth and Nail scenario, once I had haste, getting Selvala as one of the creatures would have allowed me to do even more stupid things (not that they were required at that point).
The counterpoint I'll offer is that it's not that Selvala let me cast some big things; it's that the big things let me put creatures on the battlefield or cast spells for free. As much fun as it occasionally is to vomit your deck onto the table, when you get stuff for free and you don't have to spend resources to do it (as opposed to something like Mind's Desire, when you're going to have to take some action to generate a storm count), it is generally bad for the game.
Standard has learned that recently with Aetherworks Marvel. Does this mean Lurking Predators and Mind's Dilation are candidates for the axe? Not at all. They're justifiably expensive and don't have a way to protect themselves. They're also not guaranteed hits. Lurking Predators, even in the most creature-thick decks, is going to blank three times out of five; Mind's Dilation failure rate will normally exceed one in three. A fixed Lurking Predators would, like Mind's Dilation, only trigger once per opponent's turn. They're great value cards, but not in themselves game-breaking. Yet in combination with other things—like getting to cast both of them really early—they can set up some game states that aren't that much fun, even when you're on the winning end.
I want to make clear that this discussion about both Selvala and Tooth and Nail and the wild plays they created here is by no means a precursor to any upcoming action regarding either card. I certainly don't have an agenda regarding either one of them (other than putting them on our future agenda). I do hope, however, that this conversation can lay to rest the idea that cards get banned because a member of the Rules Committee lost to them. Trust me; sometimes it's because we win with them.
This Week's Idiotic Combo
Courtesy of specter404 on the official forums, the straightforwardness of this combo disguises its downright silliness. It involves destroying any permanent which offends you with Liquimetal Coating; Karn, Silver Golem; and Predator Flagship:
Turn said permanent into an artifact with Liquimetal Coating.
Make said permanent a creature with Karn.
Give said permanent flying with Predator, Flagship.
Destroy said now-flying permanent with the same.
Liquimetal Coating and Karn can also make many other delightful things happen, like turning planeswalkers which normally can't become creatures (so basically all the non-Gideons) into creatures. I look forward to the day when one of you tells me that you got a commander damage kill with Nahiri, the Lithomancer.
This week's Deck Without Comment is the version of the Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder deck I played in the games mentioned above.
- 1 Burnished Hart
- 1 Noxious Gearhulk
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Big Game Hunter
- 1 Consecrated Sphinx
- 1 Consuming Aberration
- 1 Crypt Ghast
- 1 Dack's Duplicate
- 1 Disciple of Griselbrand
- 1 Dualcaster Mage
- 1 Farhaven Elf
- 1 Lord of Extinction
- 1 Malignus
- 1 Oblivion Sower
- 1 Oracle of Mul Daya
- 1 Pawn of Ulamog
- 1 Protean Hulk
- 1 Puppeteer Clique
- 1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
- 1 Sangromancer
- 1 Sepulchral Primordial
- 1 Stalking Vengeance
- 1 Stunt Double
- 1 Vesuvan Shapeshifter
- 1 Woodfall Primus
- 1 Yavimaya Elder
- 1 Edric, Spymaster of Trest
- 1 Kokusho, the Evening Star
- 1 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
- 1 Maelstrom Wanderer
- 1 Melira, Sylvok Outcast
- 1 Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
- 1 Rashmi, Eternities Crafter
- 1 Selvala, Heart of the Wilds
- 1 Sun Quan, Lord of Wu
- 1 Surrak Dragonclaw
- 1 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
- 1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
- 1 Urabrask the Hidden
- 1 Erebos, God of the Dead
- 1 Xenagos, God of Revels
- 1 Birthing Pod
- 1 Sensei's Divining Top
- 1 Sword of Feast and Famine
- 1 Sword of Light and Shadow
- 1 Asceticism
- 1 Greater Good
- 1 Lurking Predators
- 1 Mind's Dilation
- 1 Oversold Cemetery
- 1 Survival of the Fittest
- 1 Warstorm Surge
- 1 Cyclonic Rift
- 1 Mana Drain
- 1 Momentous Fall
- 1 Decree of Pain
- 1 Explosive Vegetation
- 1 Genesis Wave
- 1 Living Death
- 1 Overwhelming Stampede
- 1 Selvala's Stampede
- 1 Tooth and Nail
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."