Jul 26, 20181159 views

A Spike's 1v1 Commander Notes, Parentheticals, and Asides

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To start off meta, in a different sense of the word than we usually use in the Magic community: writing, on anything, can be a magnificent distraction for me. My writing process has never been methodical, but nor has it been stream of consciousness - instead, my process is basically the accumulation of many littler distractions, often one-liners, I know I'm going to want to touch on while I'm going about the business of my overarching topic (one often contrived post hoc to portray unifying purpose when there isn't really one). (Note that in typing that sentence, I originally misspelled "accumulation," a word that would be much easier for me from a typing aesthetic standpoint if it was just "accummulattion." It's my personal written version of failing to plug into the USB port right the first time.) I fill in the gaps later; as I write this sentence, I'm already at least 40% complete with where I think this article is going, and my last step will certainly be removing all the incomplete or abandoned sentences I didn't end up weaving in with the rest.
Even when I'm writing work e-mails, I can't break the habit of starting a sentence with "Note" - subsequent colon optional - to express, offhandedly, a side issue that's probably more of a main issue. I've got plenty of idle thoughts, more scenes than screenplays, percolating in my head, so when I compose my thoughts for writing semi-creatively, those thoughts are a collection of notes, asides, digressions, and strays. And this habit is only exacerbated by having something of substance very temporally nearby that I ought to be focusing on instead (that's just how these things work).
I figured with the Standard-Modern-Legacy Pro Tour coming up, there were few great topics left for me to consider writing about this week. Aside: I imagine many Magic authors face the same pickle, not wanting to risk of spoiling exactly what they or their teammates are going to play; my lackluster results this season when I wasn't suiting up a Bogle explain both how I'm not really holding back on anything all that interesting, and how I definitely can't afford to cede potential information advantages to my opponents.
One of those topics is Core Set limited, a topic that I don't have a ton of enthusiasm for. Obviously core sets serve an important purpose (or Wizards wouldn't have brought them back), but I actually appreciate complexity (as one of the only people in my group of friends in elementary school who knew how banding and regeneration worked (because I kept my Ice Age rules booklet on my person at all times like it was a pocket constitution (because it was for me at that time))). Psychic Corrosion insults me by not being Sphinx's Tutelage (particularly where Tutelage, the "too complicated" one, CAME FIRST). I probably haven't been practicing for GP Minneapolis as much as I should, but it's hard to show the necessary dedication to a format about half as deep as Dominaria.
But another topic sprung up unexpectedly, one that there aren't going to be nearly as many articles about but happened to scratch a niche many Magic content creators ignore: 25 cards were unbanned in MTGO 1v1 Commander; 25 very, very good cards. A community of dozens shouts "We Got Our Toys Back!" in unison. (And yes, I know that's not how niche is pronounced.)
First, to keep track of what is still banned, here's the following, with helpful groupings:
Old Dumb Cards That Are Way Too Good Balance, Channel, Fastbond, Mind Twist, Strip Mine, Sylvan Library, Karakas Slightly Newer Dumb Cards That Require Entirely Too Little Thought Or Effort To Combo Off With Unfairly Doomsday; Gifts Ungiven; Hermit Druid; Food Chain; Natural Order; Survival of the Fittest; Oath of Druids; Emrakul, the Aeons Torn A One-Mana 6/6 Flying Lifelink Because Of The Rules Unique To The Commander Format Serra Ascendant Too Good As Commanders Baral, Chief of Compliance; Braids, Cabal Minion; Derevi, Empyrial Tactician; Edric, Spymaster of Trest; Edgar Markov; Erayo, Soratami Ascendant; Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary; Zur the Enchanter (Clearly Zur and Edgar Markov should be unbanned, as they don't have commas in their names.) Stuff That's Apparently Way Too Not Fun Back to Basics, Humility, Moat, Sensei's Divining Top, The Tabernacle At Pendrell Vale, Winter Orb Dumb Vintage Stuff Moxes and Lotus and Ancestral and Time Walk, obviously, and Time Vault and Library of Alexandria, and Tolarian Academy which is basically power 9 level at this point. Also Tinker is too.
And the things excised from those categories, now unbanned in MTGO 1v1 Commander, with groupings even more helpful:
Ridiculous Mana Sources Ancient Tomb, Chrome Mox, Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, Mox Diamond, Gaea's Cradle, Sol Ring Unfair Blue Stuff that Any Deck Remotely Touching Upon Blue Would Want to Play Treachery, Dig Through Time, Treasure Cruise, Ponder, Preordain, Brainstorm, Mana Drain Tutors Demonic Tutor, Imperial Seal, Enlightened Tutor, Mystical Tutor, Sylvan Tutor, Worldly Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, Entomb A Commander That's Nerfed By The Erasure Of The Partner Mechanic That Was Also Announced Vial Smasher the Fierce Yawgmoth's Bargain and Necropotence, Neither of Which Is As Much a Problem as Delve Yawgmoth's Bargain, Necropotence
And yeah, the special game mechanic made for Commander only, Partner, has been changed to no longer be active in games of the MTGO 1v1 Commander format.
Aside relevant mainly to anyone reading this who actually curates the format: I have never played with or against a Zur the Enchanter deck. I don't know if it does incredibly and oppressively unfun things. But if it merely presents a repetitive play pattern, guess what - so do all the tutors you unbanned; so do all the cantrips you unbanned; so does the game mechanic of having a commander that doesn't cost 6 or more. I can't imagine many more reasons for a card like Zur to even exist but to be played in semi-casual formats centered on explorative deckbuilding. Also, I can't imagine Krenko decks presenting so much more variety than Zur. And if he's too good, ban him. Braids, Baral, Erayo, and Edric at least are justifiably oppressive.
Edgar Markov is a bit too good also, though that seems to be the very point of the card, so I'm not inclined to have it remain banned. If people can play Sol Ring and Dig Through Time, let them have to face off against Shadow Alley Denizen too. Yes, Edgar Markov is a over-the-top Commander release whose text shows no evidence of development or restraint on the behalf of its designers, but at least it's not blue.
Aside aside on my callout to True-Name Nemesis: I would be surprised if Magic's designers didn't see True-Name Nemesis as a mistake. But even if they admit they clearly made a constructed-level card in the interest of making Commander products relevant, I'm still ornery about the actual design decisions that went into creating it. Why's it a 3/1? Why does the blue creature get protection from an opponent, when the most relevant protection abilities ever given to merfolk have been "from red" and "from Kavu"? At least it's remotely defensible to make a 1WW pro-opponent Knight, Incarnation, savior Angel type, whatever. Truly a card without a charitable explanation.

Aaaanyways, the rationale behind the unbannings was that "Attritive mana-advantage strategies trying to interact on tight margins" were dominant. Basically Daze and Force Spike and Mana Tithe were some of the best things you could do and that's stupid and if the format is going to mess itself up quickly every time we try to fix it at least let the good cards be actual good ones and not stupid Force Spike. I wholeheartedly endorse this reasoning, as someone who hates those cards (which will still probably be great anyways to my endless discontent).
I do think that the changes will upend the dominant playstyles of the format. Before, redundancy was achieved by playing many cards that were similar to other cards; post-unbannings, you can skip the "similar" part and go straight to playing a suite of cards that are effectively copies of other cards. This enhances uniquely powerful effects/permanents. There aren't as many efficient alternatives to the card Reanimate as there are to the cards Duress, Counterspell, Swords to Plowshares, or Lightning Bolt, so adding five ways to search for Reanimate means that you can now play as many of that specific card as you were playing less unique, lower power level effects before. You can have as many Mind's Desires as your opponents have Control Magics, and although Control Magic is pretty good, Mind's Desire is busted.
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"Now you get to play with a bunch of tutors and a bunch of the most powerful possible effects so your peaks cause you to have a higher average power level than the homogenous decks with high, but flat, power levels" is a longer way of saying something like "play all the restricted cards" for Vintage. Really, I've never seen a more carte blanche "you ought to play as many of these as possible" unbanning. They know that basically every card they unbanned is individually indefensible, but I think the goal is that they can all coexist. Reminiscent of:
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This is the consequence of all those cute unbanned cards trying to get through that door all at once:
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For those who force Storm in Cube, this should be a revelation. It'll probably be the first thing I pick up and run through five matches. You storm aficionados can absolutely see why I'd be a little distracted by this even with a Pro Tour coming up.
Aside: Fine, some Pro Tour content? I love that among the M19-era Standard lists coming in from MTGO leagues, there are Grixis Energy decks - a deck that had a post-ban heyday but was obsoleted by better Dominaria cards - and Grixis Dragon decks, playing new dragon-tribal cards like Sarkhan Fireblood and Dragon's Hoard, but also Grixis UB Midrange decks, adding Nicol Bolas to the existing archtype, and Grixis RB aggro decks, adding Nicol Bolas to THAT existing archtype. At this rate I won't be surprised to see someone using Nicol Bolas to reduce the cost on Ghalta.
Actually less aside, because it's really at the crux of this article: I love Commander. Yes, I use it as a distraction, not just from the incoming Pro Tour but more generally as a way to engage with Magic when I want to refresh myself. A distraction from control mirrors or endless drafts. Some of my friends can attest to me double-queueing with a casual Commander game during a MTGO RPTQ, and putting my RPTQ match on hold so that my opponent wouldn't leave due to inactivity (because prior to the online sanctioning of Commander, casual was the only arena available, and courtesy, not play points, were what kept your opponents around).
At the heart of every Commander deck I build, there's an interaction I want to pull off, oftentimes exciting but sometimes strikingly mundane, and it just piques some elemental (non-Magic use) emotion in me that puts me facefirst into browsing my online collection, every card at once, to see how else to fill things in. (Aside: that doesn't apply to the Storm deck I just laid out. The people who force Storm in Cube are scary lunatics. Patrick Bateman would have forced Storm in every Cube draft and doodled the above decklist on his scary notepad. I'll only be playing it for a Purge-like release from responsibility. Only one league a year.)
I'm often stuck somewhere around 45 cards, or at other times 120, and either can't bring myself to play "goodstuff" filler or to abandon, through necessary cuts, a bunch of side-themes I wanted to touch on too. The following, for example: I loved the idea of Urza's Bauble and Mishra's Bauble and Chromatic Star and Chromatic Sphere and Herald of Kozilek and Molten Nursery and Salvaging Station and Summoning Station. That's it. I wanted to semi-storm off, but not really, basically doing a larger version of what the Baubles are doing in their text boxes (boxen?): not really anything at all.
The Commander came second, but Jori En fit the bill, and became a goal unto itself - play Jori En, play a Bauble immediately, DRAW! Ultimately accomplish something with some pet cards along the way: Arcbound Crusher, who is eclipsed by his smaller brethren but is a payoff I'm obsessed with; Trinket Mage, which I want to help me assemble both Mana Crypt and Sol Ring every game so I actually get to do things; Solemn Simulacrum, which I feel every Commander deck should be contractually obligated to have; and obviously the aforementioned Stations and Nursery, cards that didn't get their just due.
A rough sketch of what I've got saved as "Cog Commander":
The Cogs Chromatic Sphere, Chromatic Star, Urza's Bauble, Mishra's Bauble Chrome Mox, Mox Opal, Mana Crypt, Sol Ring, Mana Vault Nuts and Bolts Stuff You Need to Get Things Up and Running Thoughtcast, Thirst for Knowledge, Treasure Mage, Trinket Mage, Glint-Nest Crane GitaxianprobePonderPreordainBrainstorm (said all at the same time really quickly. I kinda hate them) Grim Monolith, Mind Stone, Izzet Signet, Coalition Relic, Thran Dynamo Cyclonic Rift, Galvanic Blast, Lightning Bolt Phyrexian Metamorph, Dack's Duplicate Foundry Inspector, Etherium Sculptor, Chief Engineer, Grand Architect Solemn Simulacrum, Coercive Portal Sweet Stuff Herald of Kozilek, Cloud Key (separate from the other cost reducers, because they're obscure-r, they're the inclusions that make me feel smart for making the deck) Summoning Station, Salvaging Station Timetwister, Wheel of Fortune Ghirapur Aether Grid, Molten Nursery, Efficient Construction, Grapeshot Myr Battlesphere, Paradox Engine, Arcbound Crusher, Arcbound RAVAGER - because it's supposed to not be good in a "big stuff, battlecruiser Magic" environment right? And yet it is here! Do you see?!
And, season to taste. Probably with Sai, Master Thopterist, and Karn, Scion of Urza now.

I guess one connection to Standard, Modern, that whole gang, could be that the crux of so many decks have one cute interaction or goal at their inception (not that Inception). Hollow One comes out, and it's neat how you could play it turn 1 off Burning Inquiry. And that seems like a total pipe dream, "Magical Christmasland," don't-be-ridiculous type of play that uses bad cards as its core, but look at us now. Someone wasn't cowed and figured Street Wraith and Faithless Looting worked too, and Faithless Looting was nice with Bloodghast, and Looting AND Hollow One were nice with Flamewake Phoenix, and filled in Goblin Lore and Gurmag Angler as redundant versions of the important cards. Some other people thought Vengevine worked nice with Looting and Hollow One, or thought Death's Shadow worked nice with the Street Wraiths, or that Waste Not worked nice with Burning Inquiry, or that Squee, Goblin Nabob and Zombie Infestation could fit in there somewhere, and they went off in those directions too. (Aside: Squee and Infestation were their own thing at a Grand Prix a generation ago with Opposition, of all bedfellows. Which was the far-out direction one person took Squee-Infestation when it first began in a Reanimator deck.)
Paradoxical Outcome-Inspiring Statuary-Sai, Master Thopterist-Baral's Expertise-Aetherflux Reservoir is another core that started with one or two interactions and built upon itself. You could go off in a different, yet similar-feeling, direction with the Powerstone Shard-Cogwork Assembler interaction: add Trophy Mage and Glint-Nest Crane. Mirage Mirror is nice with Powerstone Shard. Metalwork Colossus is nice with all of these. Artifact mana on turn 3 into Gilded Lotus, Colossus on turn 4 is a great opening, so put Lotus and Cultivator's Caravan or maybe Orazca Relic there. Paradox Engine is nice with those potentially. The issue is knowing where to stop; Hollow One is only a few iterations and synergies off of being a Commander deck itself.
Speaking of which, my Grenzo, Dungeon Warden deck:
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The Mana Sol Ring, Mana Crypt, Chrome Mox, Talisman of Indulgence, Rakdos Signet The Sacrificers Viscera Seer, Carrion Feeder, Goblin Bombardment, Skullclamp, Bloodthrone Vampire, Vampire Aristocrat, Nantuko Husk, Blood Bairn, Phyrexian Ghoul, Falkenrath Aristocrat The Death Triggers Bridge from Below, Grave Pact, Outpost Siege, Dictate of Erebos, Hissing Iguanar, Goblin Sharpshooter, Grim Haruspex, Zulaport Cutthroat The Utility Flametongue Kavu, Torrent of Souls, Kolaghan's Command, Terminate, Dreadbore, Fire Covenant, Hymn to Tourach, Abrade, Sire of Insanity Some Threatens Angrath the Flame Chained, Wrangle, Mark of Mutiny, Kari Zev's Expertise, Zealous Conscripts Some Recursion Pit Keeper, Oversold Cemetery, Dark Confidant, Reanimate, Unearth, Liliana Heretical Healer Card Selection Entomb, Demonic Tutor, Imperial Recruiter, Faithless Looting, Gamble, Cathartic Reunion, Tormenting Voice, Wild Guess, Last Rites, Insolate Neonate The Fodder Bloodghast, Carrier Thrall, Mogg War Marshal, Goblin Rabblemaster, Pawn of Ulamog, Bitterblossom, Blood Artist, Sultai Emissary, Bloodsoaked Champion, Ashen Ghoul, Nether Shadow, Ichorid The Infestation Grouping Zombie Infestation, Veilborn Ghoul, Squee Goblin Nabob, Krovikan Horror
Variation on the secondary themes. (Maybe Wild Guess is stretching the mana a little.)

To close out, I'd be remiss to exclude what I actually think is the most powerful card being unbanned (yes, I'm aware of Sol Ring): Gaea's Cradle. If Tolarian Academy was legal, it would be the most powerful card in the format. I believe Gaea's Cradle is closer to Academy than it is to whatever comes after it. It's ridiculously powerful and easily the type of card you want to build around. Building around Hollow One can get you an early 4/4, but building around Cradle can get you an early double-digit mana advantage. And again, that "many tutors for a peak power level card busting through flat power curves" axiom I inartfully described earlier (and presently) shows up: Crop Rotation, Expedition Map, Sylvan Scrying, Primeval Titan, even Realms Uncharted with Life from the Loam/Petrified Field/Crucible of Worlds/Ramunap Excavator, even Reap and Sow - there are so many copies of this insane card you get to play in your deck.
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One thing leads to another, and:
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I messed up the first time.
This is the other deck I know I'll be trying out. I like decks with lots of permanents much more than decks with lots of spells anyways.
I'm sure I've missed a card here or there or three (er, 13? 30?) but I hope this can excite two or five other people and get more MTGO 1v1 Commander decks built. Even without piloting them in games, the distraction from these other formats that you're allowed when you're building your own deck - YOUR own deck - alleviates a lot of Magic drudgery. I hope to see y'all in the leagues.
Asidedly yours,
Tommy Ashton P.S. My first Commander deck online? Kiki-Jiki, for the interaction of Kiki-Jiki and Tyrant of Discord. Tyrant is nutty and it's a lot more fun doing random effects online (see: the Shandalar game).

Previous Articles · Meet the Massdrop Teams: http://dro.ps/mtg-team-announce · *2nd* at Pro Tour Ixalan: http://dro.ps/ixalan · Unclaimed Creature Types: http://dro.ps/ari-creatures · Why I Never Drop From Tournaments: http://dro.ps/eric-nevergiveup · The Art of Sideboard Construction - Sultai Energy: http://dro.ps/jon-sideboard · A Commoner’s View on Pauper: http://dro.ps/mark-pauper · Blue Moon Beach Control: http://dro.ps/scott-bluemoon · Top 5 Modern Decks: http://dro.ps/pascal-modern · Storm in Vintage Cube: http://dro.ps/ben-storm · An Early Look at Rivals for Standard: http://dro.ps/shaun-rivals · A Standard Approach to Evaluating New Cards: http://dro.ps/rob-newcards · Drafting Rivals of Ixalan: http://dro.ps/tim-ixalan · Team Sealed Secrets: http://dro.ps/eric-secrets · Steal My Standard Ideas: http://dro.ps/tommy-secrets · Vexing Devil. Any Questions?: http://dro.ps/jon-devil · Team Massdrop Rivals of Ixalan Limited Primer: http://dro.ps/ari-primer · Gestation of RG Eldrazi: http://dro.ps/ben-gestation · Top Tim Tournament Training Tips: http://dro.ps/tim-tips · What Makes Someone Bogle?: http://dro.ps/tommy-bogle · A Pauper Adventure: http://dro.ps/pascal-pauper · Blue Moon at GP Phoenix: http://dro.ps/rob-bluemoon · Brawling into Dominaria: http://dro.ps/scott-brawling · Looking at The Current Lands(cape) of Legacy http://dro.ps/jarvis-land · Deconstructing Dominaria Limited: http://dro.ps/jon-dominaria · Diving into Dominaria Standard: http://dro.ps/mark-dominaria · What are your.. drives?: http://dro.ps/tommy-drives · Top 10 Cards for Dominaria Modern: http://dro.ps/rob-dominaria · Brewing Standard with Dominaria: http://dro.ps/pascal-dominaria · Dominaria Team Sealed: A Case Study: http://dro.ps/tim-dominaria · Battlebonding in Vintage and Legacy: http://dro.ps/jarvis-battlebond · Decks I Almost Played at PT Dominaria: http://dro.ps/ben-dominaria · RB Chainwhirler for the Non-Aggressive Player: http://dro.ps/jon-chainwhirler · Top 4 at GP Vegas: http://dro.ps/mark-top4vegas · Return to Core Set Limited: http://dro.ps/eric-core · Drafting Rares with Core Set 2019: http://dro.ps/ari-core · Tuning Jeskai Control in Modern: http://dro.ps/shaun-jeskai · Secrets of Sealed - http://dro.ps/eric-sealed
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This is a great article.