Thanks for hanging in there. We’ve experienced some pretty severe technical difficulties that have prevented updates in the past two weeks – hopefully, we’re sorted and have also learned about a thing called “redundant backup”.
Sean: Recently, Bruce and I were discussing our two favorite sets: Commander 2015 and Conspiracy. The sets both include great cards and offer interesting abilities, particularly for multiplayer formats and especially for Commander. We were talking about the interesting legendary creatures each set offers, and the gameplay options in general.
Conspiracy gives you a multiplayer draft option that Commander 2015 doesn’t, but also includes several cards that are just there to improve the draft format and are dead weight otherwise. Every card in Commander 2015 is useful in those decks, and will likely find play in other decks down the road.
Where we started to differ was in how we valued the abilities the sets offered.
Bruce: You really do drone on and on, don’t you Sean? Are you going to cut to the chase or what?
Sean: I’ve read your articles – you’re one to talk. And yes, I’m getting there.
Bruce: Basically, Sean thinks the Commander abilities are superior to the Conspiracy abilities, and I know he is lying or clueless.
Sean: … so we thought we’d offer a point/counterpoint discussion of three features of each of the sets and leave it to the reader to decide.
Bruce: Sounds good. All right great winded one, you’re up.
EXPERIENCE COUNTERS AND PARLEY
Sean: When it comes to multiplayer, Commander is the best, so it should come as no surprise that Wizards saves the best mechanics for the Commander-exclusive products. These mechanics are typically so good that they even make the lesser multiplayer formats more fun.
For example – in the Commander 2015 product we were introduced to Experience Counters. This addition to the game was truly innovative; the only other type of counter a player can have to date are poison counters. Experience counters build up over the course of a game, and they are all identical regardless of what source you receive them from – a counter is a counter is a counter. The experience counters you get from playing enchantments while Daxos the Returned is in play can later be used to bring back Daxos from the grave using Meren of Clan Nel Toth’s experience counter ability. Like poison counters, you can proliferate experience counters. Like planeswalker emblems, there is no way your experience counters can be taken away from you.
Really, what has Conspiracy given us that even compares?
Bruce: Right off the bat, Sean and I agree; nothing in Conspiracy compares to the lack of interaction and dearth of fun offered by the hated experience counter ability. Simply put, the best abilities are ones that encourage interaction between the players, and experience counters are amongst the worst. There is no way to get rid of them, and once they start accumulating counters, Magic stops being Magic and turns into a game that revolves completely around a permanent no one can interact with.
Parley offers that interactivity in spades! Parley on a creature allows for interaction. Opponents can remove the creature from the battlefield in a variety of ways – even Parley on a spell gives opponents a chance to counter it. The other option is to let the player Parley, knowing you are going to get to draw a card! Not only is Parley interactive, but it also moves the game forward as it provides an extra card for everyone at the table. I was initially reluctant to see Parley as a good idea, since giving your opponents an extra card is generally a bad idea. After playing with and against it several times, Parley is strong enough to be worth playing, while not being an ability that turns Magic into games of dueling solitaire.
Sean: I mean, I guess Parley is great interactivity if your name is Phelddagrif. In terms of interactivity, I think players want to be able to really affect the state of the game in their favor. While I am sure there is some political benefit to a small amount of card draw, you are just better off playing things like Jace Beleren or Temple Bell. At least those can be played in a way where the controlling player can get the most benefit. With all the great token and mana producing available, the Parley cards just aren’t up to Magic’s standards.
Admit it Bruce, you only like Parley because it makes you sound like Jack Sparrow.
Sean: If you want a good token producer, Commander 2015 is where you should be looking. Unlike the pathetic elephant and spirit tokens that Parley gives you, Myriad gives you copies of real, awesome creatures. Casual gaming is all about theme, and Myriad is great in a ton of theme decks.
Also, you can add Sundial of the Infinite to your decks and keep the Myriad tokens by ending the turn in response to the exile trigger. The four spirits you have become sixteen, then sixty-four, then two-hundred-and-fifty-six, then ….. MUAHAHAHAHA!!! What cards from Conspiracy can incite that kind of maniacal laughter?
Bruce: Token production. Oh…you mean like EVERY SET EVER PRINTED. Even Homelands had token production! If you are really looking for token production you can look to Doubling Season, Parallel Lives, and Primal Vigor! Commander 2013! Now there was a Commander set!
However, back to the point: token producers are in every set. Suggesting this was an ability, a feature, of Commander 2015, is not a selling point for that set. A quick search finds fourteen cards in Conspiracy that produce tokens (including my favorite, Construct artifact creatures with Sentinel Dispatch!) or give tokens a benefit (Intangible Virtue). And this is in a set that isn’t even trying to make tokens a theme. Token production? Meh. F!
WILL OF THE COUNSEL VERSUS CONFLUENCE
Bruce: Originality is the real key to an interesting ability that shows off a set. Will of the Counsel shows off the subtlety and politics involved in multiplayer games. Will of the Counsel teaches the importance of playing your spells – not as soon as your mana lets you, but when it is optimal in the game to do so. The discussion that goes around the table as the person who cast the spell attempts to get the support needed to maximize the spell…too many players simply play their six mana creature as soon as they get to six mana without considering the repercussions.
Will of the Counsel is a fun teaching tool that takes advantage of a space in the game that really hasn’t been used before!
Sean: Let’s take notice that Bruce mentions none of the Will of the Counsel cards specifically. That’s because he’s too ashamed of the individual cards to ever really consider playing them. The problem with Will of the Council is that it only teaches its lesson in theory. Bruce is clearly more interested in thinking about playing Magic than actually sitting down and shuffling up.
In practice, “when it is optimal in the game” for the player with Will of the Council, it is undesirable for at least one other player. When you really need that Magister of Worth to bring back something from your graveyard, that is exactly the time everyone else votes “Condemnation” and all your creatures die in a horrible fashion. The only thing Will of the Council teaches you is how to spot situations where a random outcome can benefit you regardless of the outcome of the vote.
It doesn’t matter how unique or theoretically cool a mechanic is, if the cards it gets attached too are unplayable.
Commander 2015 can teach you about how to use cards in the right situation. It does this with a cycle of cards that is among the best ever printed for multiplayer – the Confluences. These cards put the ability to choose in your hands instead of your opponents. Really, why would you trust those people with your fate? All the choices on the Confluences are super relevant, and even if you can only use one of the abilities, you can choose it up to three times. Each of these cards is actually like playing 10 different cards in 1! Look at Mystic Confluence, it can counter spells, draw cards, and bounce creates at the same time.
Even Cryptic Command is jealous.
Bruce: Even when Commander 2015 finally gives him a good cycle to defend, Sean messes it up. Charms – because honestly, these are just oversized Charms – don’t teach players anything about playing cards in the right situation. Will of the Counsel demands you create a board state where you will get what you want from the cards. Confluences are cards you could play any time and get some benefit. These inelegant cards are there for the weak player, letting them cast them for an effect any time. The only question becomes whether the player is so bad that they choose the wrong option altogether!
Confluences and 10/10 creatures for one mana with no drawbacks have the same problem: they are good all the time and offer very little in the way of choice or thought to the players. The Confluences make as much sense as this card I designed in five seconds:
Sean’s Confluence – WUBRG
Choose three. You may choose the same mode more than once.
- Draw all the cards in your deck.
- Target opponent loses the game.
- You win the game.
A FEW WORDS ON DETHRONE…
Bruce: If you are looking for an ability that actually makes for interesting gameplay in multiplayer formats, Dethrone is your king/queen. Dethrone encourages players to attack the player with the highest life total to get a bonus for their creatures. In 1v1, this means little, since it doesn’t affect your determination of who to attack; in multiplayer, however, it is delightful. It isn’t a huge bonus, so players will attack elsewhere if the situation demands it, but it creates an interesting dynamic.
When you build your dethrone deck, the entire deck changes. Cards that get bonuses from +1/+1 counters go up in value. Cards that reduce your life total aren’t quite so bad. This is an ability I’d love for them to run back in the next Conspiracy set, since it offers so much and plays so differently from one creature to another. Marchesa, the Black Rose is probably my favorite commander, and it is in large part due to dethrone.
When opponents knock their own life total down just to “get off the throne” you know you’ve done something right.
Sean: I think Bruce is confusing the terms “interesting gameplay” and “boring self-piloting”. Dethrone encourages bad strategy in multiplayer. If you spread the damage to whoever has the highest life total at the time, you reduce the impact of your actions. Multiplayer strategy is about taking into account not just life totals, but board presence, deck strength, hand size, graveyard utility, and how much you hold previous games against your friends. Encouraging players to swing at the person with the highest life total encourages players to focus too much of life totals and not enough about the game state as a whole.
Encouraging players to hurt themselves is fine, but I feel like the better players always prepare themselves for an attack anyway. A mechanic that lets you pick on inexperienced players while they are on the throne just seems mean.
. . . . .
Bruce: I hope you’ve enjoyed our discussion of the abilities and interactions from Commander 2015 and Conspiracy. Each ability has upsides and downsides. It is up to you to figure out the best way to maximize the positive and minimize the negatives of each when building your deck.
If Sean can be this clueless and still put together a decent deck, I’m confident you can too.
Sean: You just can’t help yourself can you?
Bruce: No, I really can’t.