For the first time in seven years, Scott Larabee, Toby Elliott, Gavin Duggan, and I, the four members of the Commander Rules Committee (RC), were physically together in one spot.
There have been multiple times three of us have been together, frequently Toby and Scott visiting me in Florida. Toby and Gavin (who are distant cousins) came here for a wedding and we got together, and I seem to recall Scott and Gavin being here for Commander night at Armada Games once. Of course, the two of them and Scott attended multiple large Magic events after I had retired from coverage in 2013. It hasn't been since the Pro Tour in Seattle 2012 that we were all together—and at the time, we didn't constitute 100% of the RC, since Alex Kenney was still with us. In addition to doing some panels together and having a few meals, we got the opportunity on Sunday to sit and play a game with each other. I thought it would be compelling to look into how that game between us went, especially since some stuff happened that sparked conversation.
We had decided beforehand that we'd build decks with the new Core Set 2020 commanders. Scott called dibs on Kykar, Wind's Fury; Toby picked Omnath, Locus of the Roil; Gavin grabbed Kethis, the Hidden Hand; and I took Yarok, the Desecrated. I ran out of time putting together the Yarok Energy deck I wanted to build, so I simply ran Yarok as the commander for my Muldrotha, the Gravetide deck. It's full of enters-the-battlefield triggers anyway, so it would be an excellent test of how good Yarok is even without building around. Turns out it's okay.
- Scott (Kykar): Command Tower.
- Toby (Omnath): Forest.
- Me (Yarok): My keep is a somewhat-greedy two-lander (Bayou and Swamp) with Wood Elves and Solemn Simulacrum. The odds seem with me to peel a land by Turn 3. Don't draw a land, drop the Bayou.
- Gavin (Kethis): Temple of Silence. Scrys and ships it to the bottom.
- Scott (Kykar): Mountain.
- Toby (Omnath): Forest.
- Me (Yarok): Swamp, Phyrexian Reclamation. No third land.
- Gavin (Kethis): Forest, Sakura-Tribe Elder.
- Scott (Kykar): Plains, Frantic Search.
- Toby (Omnath): Khalni Heart Expedition, Forest.
- Me (Yarok): Third time's the charm, and I get Underground Sea. Cast Wood Elves, get Breeding Pool. End of turn, Gavin cracks the Sakura-Tribe Elder for a land.
- Gavin (Kethis): Shizo, Death's Storehouse; Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed.
- Scott (Kykar): Arid Mesa, and sacrifices it to get Steam Vents onto the battlefield untapped (37). Casts Kykar.
- Toby (Omnath): Yavimaya Elder, but misses a land drop.
- Me (Yarok): Command Tower, Solemn Simulacrum, and get an Island.
- Gavin (Kethis): Swamp, Kethis, and Helm of Kaldra. He's old schoolin' it. Battles me (37).
- Scott (Kykar): Clifftop Retreat, Metallurgic Summonings, gets a Spirit. Looks like he's going the tokens route. He doesn't miss getting a token off either Metallurgic Summonings or Kykar, so in the interest of brevity, I won't mention it every time.
- Toby (Omnath): Plays Mountain, putting a counter on Khalni Heart Expedition, and casts Forgotten Ancient. I imagine that if it were a different creature (save perhaps for something that ramped), he might have waited to get the lands with Yavimaya Elder, but the draw of a large Mr. Babycakes seems too good to pass up.
- Me (Yarok): Hinterland Harbor, Yarok.
- Gavin (Kethis): Plains, Sorin Markov. We laugh, thinking he's not going to "ten" somebody. To the surprise of three of us, he sets Toby to (10), then attacks him to (7). In fact, Toby's still laughing and doesn't initially realize he's been targeted. It becomes the source of a brief conversation, mostly because there were people waiting to grab games afterward with us. It could have gone longer and deeper.
To be fair, we never had a pre-game Rule 0 chat, because I think all of us assumed we didn't have to. To be even more fair, Toby, Scott, and I have played lots of games together since the last time more than one of us have played with Gavin. Three of us settled into a power level agreement over the years, and it's firmly 75%. Turn 5 Sorin definitely doesn't fit that model.
In the abstract, it's a perfectly acceptable play. It's only less so if it's outside of a group's comfort zone. Since we hadn't had the group discussion involving Gavin, it's a fair play, even if I'm not a fan of what the play does (see below). Gavin's argument was a version of “Toby's already getting out of hand,” which is somewhat reasonable under the circumstances. Theoretically, I disagree that it's a good play, because even if it cripples or kills the one player, the other two are thinking “I don't want him to do that to me,” which makes you the archenemy (and for me would violate my theory of being second best).
The play itself isn't what I'm saying is problematic; it's what the play does in the bigger picture that slips us down the slope. Knowing that Turn 5 Sorin is a distinct possibility, the best defense is to kill the Sorin player on Turn 4—which is where the problem starts, as it ramps up the arms race really quickly.
Please don't take this as any kind of criticism of you if you and your group like to play the style that races to kill everyone as quickly as possible. If you're all in agreement and having fun, that's great. It's simply not the game that the majority of Commander fans are looking for, and when someone isn't on the same page (in either direction), it becomes problematic, leading to some feel-bads.
In the end, it's simply not healthy for the format to turn into nothing but an arms race. If Commander were alt-Vintage, it would not enjoy the popularity it does, and it's our intention to keep the format popular. You can see by this example, even within the RC, we have some different ideas on what that may or may not mean. While the four of us regularly have philosophical discussions regarding the format, this practical example shows that we can come at implementations of philosophy quite differently, which are only revealed when we sit at the same (physical) table.
- Scott (Kykar): During his upkeep, Scott casts Brainstorm. He plays Kor Haven, then sacrifices enough Spirts to cast Electrodominance for five, killing Yarok and casting Primal Amulet. Very saucy play.
- Toby (Omnath): Doesn't draw a land, so he sacrifices Yavimaya Elder to get some. Drops an Island and casts Leafkin Druid. He then casts Flamekin Harbinger, getting Thornling. Attacks Gavin with Forgotten Ancient (34).
- Me (Yarok): I recast Yarok.
- Gavin (Kethis): Kagemaro, First to Suffer, with three cards in his hand. Attacks Toby (3).
- Scott (Kykar): Prahv, Spires of Order. Ral, Storm Conduit. Attacks Gavin, who pops Kagemaro, killing Scott's entire team. Plusses Ral to six.
- Toby (Omnath): Thornling, attacks Gavin with a now quite-large Forgotten Ancient (20).
- Me (Yarok): Overgrown Tomb tapped, cast Thragtusk to gain 10 (47).
- Gavin (Kethis): Exiles two things from the graveyard to cast Kagemaro again. Puts the Helm on Kagemaro, and attacks Toby for lethal. Scott uses Kor Haven to save him, and further discussion ensues. Gavin is kind of incredulous that Scott would save him. Scott is kind of incredulous that Gavin doesn't see the Sorin play made him the target, and making an ally helps. In all honesty, I'm mostly on Gavin's side here because Toby's battlefield is getting a little scary (especially when Omnath comes online), but I definitely understand where Scott is coming from.
- Scott (Kykar): Prismatic Vista into Island. Ral to eight.
- Toby (Omnath): Descendants' Path and Ashling, the Pilgrim. At end of turn, I put Solemn Simulacrum back into my had with Phyrexian Reclamation (45).
- Me (Yarok): Solemn Simulacrum nets me two lands. I battle Gavin (12). I like my play of The Gitrog Monster. I like it a little less when Scott Mana Drains it.
- Gavin (Kethis): Duneblast, choosing Kagemaro; Toby makes Thornling indestructible. I get a Beast token. Gavin casts Kethis.
- Scott (Kykar): Spends some of that Mana Drain mana to recast Kykar and Sensei's Divining Top. Plusses Ral to ten. Casts Finale of Promise for one so that he can Brainstorm and get more Spirits and Constructs.
- Toby (Omnath): Casts his commander, killing one of Scott's Spirits with the triggered ability.
- Me (Yarok): Commander's Sphere and Protean Hulk (or, as I'm playing it, Value Hulk).
- Gavin (Kethis): Sheoldred, Whispering One.
- Scott (Kykar): Sacrifices a Construct to Sheoldred, then casts Smothering Tithe. Attacks me with Kykar and a Spirit (44). At end of turn, Toby sacrifices the Expedition, gets lands, draws, and puts counters on Thornling.
- Toby (Omnath): Mass Manipulation for two, taking Sheoldred and Protean Hulk. Plays Island, draws and puts a counter on Thornling. Stays back with his defense.
- Me (Yarok): Sacrifice the Beast token. Progenitor Mimic, copying Protean Hulk. Unfortunately, the stack isn't going to work out for me. On my upkeep, Progenitor Mimic and Sheoldred will both trigger, with mine going on the stack first, then Toby's, meaning I'll have to sacrifice something before I get the copy (which would otherwise be awesome).
- Gavin (Kethis): Sacrifices Kethis. Casts Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon, puts the Helm of Kaldra on it, and attacks Ral. Scott Kor Havens it. Plays Fetid Heath and cracks it (11) for Godless Shrine, tapped. Casts Swiftfoot Boots but doesn't have enough mana to equip it, obviously not considering it worth two of his now-dwindling life.
- Scott (Kykar): Attacks me with Kykar and a Spirit (40). Activates Sensei's Divining Top, then puts it on top. Sacrifices four Spirits and casts Finale of Revelation for five, causing many triggers. Plays Serra Sanctum, which he taps to cast Sensei's Divining Top again, and sacrifices some tokens in order to cast Warstorm Surge.
- Toby (Omnath): Returns Flamekin Harbinger with Sheoldred, using it to get Bane of Progress on top of his library so that when the Descendants' Path trigger resolves, that's what he casts. It's +10/+10. Attacks me with Sheoldred (34), Gavin with Hulk (5), and slams Thornling into Ral, Storm Conduit. Casts Budoka Gardener.
- Me (Yarok): I sacrifice Progenitor Mimic (which is Protean) to Sheoldred, getting Massacre Girl (and I don't have a one-drop), which wipes out everything except Bane of Progress. Toby's Protean Hulk gets Multani, Yavimaya Avatar. After all that resolves, I get a Protean Hulk token. I cast Zendikar Resurgent and play Miren, the Moaning Well, then have enough mana to cast Keiga, the Tide Star.
- Gavin (Kethis): Gavin goes deep into the tank. After considering several options, settles on Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite.
- Scott (Kykar): Vesuva, copying Command Tower. Nezahal, Primal Tide.
- Toby (Omnath): Battles Ral, Storm Conduit to finally get rid of it. Casts Greenwarden of Murasa, getting back Mass Manipulation. Casts Cultivate for a Forest onto the battlefield and one into hand.
- Me (Yarok): Courser of Kruphix, drawing Bone Shredder off the Zendikar Resurgent trigger, which I cast to kill Elesh Norn and draw and cast Erebos, God of the Dead. Cast Nim Deathmantle. Forget that I can kill Gavin and Toby (assuming neither has tricks).
- Gavin (Kethis): Plays Emergence Zone. Casts Freyalise, Llanowar Fury, makes a token to try to keep himself alive.
- Scott (Kykar): Talrand, Sky Summoner. Attacks Toby with Nezahal. Gavin gives it fear with Shizo, Death's Storehouse, finally killing Toby. Casts Opt. At end of turn, I sacrifice the Protean Hulk token to Miren (47), getting Duplicant, taking out Nezahal.
- Me (Yarok): Verdant Catacombs. Cast Yarok, getting Coiling Oracle, but then draw a blank after I cast it. Attack Scott (30).
- Gavin (Kethis): Freyalise takes out Zendikar Resurgent. I respond by sacrificing Keiga to Miren (52) to take Talrand, getting Keiga back with Nim Deathmantle.
- Scott (Kykar): Casts Wheel of Fortune, Monastery Mentor, and Martyr's Bond. He was desperate, didn't come up with any great answers, and filled my hand.
- Me (Yarok): Tatyova, Benthic Druid, drawing two and going to (54). One of the draws is Puppeteer Clique, and I suspect this game is over. Even if Gavin flashes in Kethis, Elesh Norn is the only legendary card left in his yard, so he can't keep me from getting it. Better yet, putting Elesh Norn onto the battlefield under my control with one of my two Puppeteer Clique triggers will kill three of Scott's creatures, triggering Martyr's Bond, allowing me to get a third and fourth Clique trigger since it has persist. Before I even look at Scott's graveyard, they both scoop, knowing that Elesh Norn will buff up the two things I get for enough to kill them both, since Keiga flies and is enough to go over Kethis.
Even not built around, the deck functioned relatively well. There were a number of times that I really wished that I was playing Muldrotha instead, but Yarok's multiple triggers got me where I was going and sent me to the win. There's no room to be upset about that.
As far as my Gen Con goals went, I only failed at two. As mentioned, I didn't play the Yarok Energy deck, and I didn't get the chance to play a cEDH deck. Jan of the Spike Feeders and I kept missing each other, as we both had commitments (he was judging) that conflicted with playing time.
I certainly did more than enough of all the other things on the list. In addition to playing at least two games each day with all the Legion Supplies contest winners and Olivia, I played numerous pickup games in the TCG Hall. Every single one of them was exactly what I was hoping for—plenty of big, swingy, interactive fun in which everyone got to participate. I had great conversations with fans of the format from all ranges of play and experience, which was the primary reason I wanted to be there.
Getting out to more and more events garners greater insight into player mindsets, desires, and hopes for what Commander can become as well as continuing to evangelize the format's philosophy. I enjoyed some deep philosophical conversations with Olivia on both the format and the world in general. The strongest moment of the weekend for me might have been when just the four RC members got our one dinner together and we planned how we're going to take the format into the future. Stay tuned.
Sheldon Menery's Deck Database
Check out our comprehensive Deck List Database! Click each section for lists of all my decks.
These are the decks that define my personal play style to the greatest degree and to some extent lay the original foundation of the format. They're also the ones you're most likely to see me bringing along to spell-sling at an event.
The Chromatic Project
The Chromatic Project started as an effort to build at least one deck of all 27 possible color combinations, which was expanded to 32 when we finally got four color commanders. There's more than one of some combinations, mostly because I have a Temur problem, plus some partner combinations are too enticing to pass up.
Shards and Wedges
The Do-Over Project
The Do-Over Project is the next step after the Chromatic—building a deck with each of the same Commanders, but not repeating any cards save for basic lands (props to Abe Sargent's "Next 99" idea). The Do-Over Project is still ongoing because we keep getting saucy new sets with creative and colorful commanders to build new decks with.
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."