In the past few weeks I have been finding myself in more and more discussions that revolve around Primeval Titan. In a few local playgroups, we decided that Primeval Titan was fine, and we are letting people play with it. Before you let emotions take over and have flash backs to the bad old days where you saw games revolve around copying, stealing, destroying, recasting, or bouncing Primeval Titan, let me make a few points clear.
- If the mere thought of playing with Primeval Titan in the format churns your stomach, don’t do it.
- I am more concerned with people being aware of the threat level of having a lot of mana available than I am with actually changing the ban list.
- I concede that all groups are different, and this may not apply to you.
Over the years, Wizards have printed a plethora of cards that, once resolved or activated, end the game. They let you draw your whole deck, tutor up and put into play multiple combo pieces, dump your whole library into your graveyard, create infinite mana, let you cast all your spells for free, take a player to zero life (or close enough to it), or literally win the game. You may have played with or seen many of these cards;
- (CMC2) Hermit Druid – Dumps your deck into the graveyard. Combo with your whole deck in the yard.
- (CMC5) Ad Nauseam – If you built it right, you draw your whole deck.
- (CMC6) Felidar Sovereign – Win if you are at 40 life.
- (CMC9) Tooth and Nail – Tutors up and puts into play 2-card creature combos.
- (CMC12) Blightsteel Colossus – One hit wonder.
- (CMC12) Enter the Infinite – Draw your deck.
- (CMC10) Omniscience – Cast all the spells for free.
- (CMC6/14 for loop) Planar Portal – Lets you search up Beacon of Tomorrows every turn.
- (CMC8) Insurrection – Take control of all of the creatures.
- (CMC10) Primal Surge – Put your deck into play.
- (CMC6) Hatred – One-shot a player with commander or infect damage.
- (CMC8) Craterhoof Behemoth – Overrun the table.
- (CMC4) Triumph of the Horde – Overrun the table with infect.
- (CMC4+) Armageddon/Jokulhaups/etc. – Resolve in a way that leaves the rest of the table with nothing and you in a position to quickly win.
- (CMC3+) Genesis Wave – Put your deck into play.
- (CMC4+) Exsanguinate/Comet Storm – Kill with direct damage.
- (CMC9) Rise of the Dark Realms – Gain control of all the creatures in all the graveyard.
- Lots and lots more.
There are cards that can end games at nearly any point along the mana curve. When we reach converted the mana cost range of eight+, the number of cards that could end a game go up sharply. In highly competitive groups, you need to be prepared for someone to cast a spell that could end the game at any time and have some answer for the card (or at least thick skin about losing.) This is where the hatred for Primeval Titan comes in.
Prime Time casts for six and gets you to eight+ the next turn. This means that even in the most casual environments, the number of spells cast the turn after a Primeval Titan has resolved that end the game is huge. Logically, when players see enough games end right after a Primeval Titan resolves, they associate the experience of losing with the Titan. Competitive groups may have never seen a problem with it because if they already considered the game in danger of being over before the Titan was cast. The effect of Primeval Titan was negligible or at most on par with everything else that was being done.
The Commander world has gone a fair share of time without Primeval Titan, yet all of the cards in the list above still find ways to be cast. Primeval Titan was never alone in being able to take players from six mana to eight+ mana. The truth of the matter is that the Titan was never even the best way to reach a critical mass of mana; he was just the most popular because he was a well-known card and cost exactly six mana.
The list of cards that take you from six to eight+ is staggering. Some of the more notable options are:
- (9) Gilded Lotus
- (12) Mana Reflection
- (12) Mirari’s Wake
- (12) Caged Sun
- (12) Gauntlet of Power
- (12) Vernal Bloom
- (12) Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
- (8) Skyshroud Claim
- (8) Sol Ring
- (9) Mana Vault
- (8) Mana Crypt
- (9) Thran Dynamo
- (9) Scapeshift (grab Cabal Coffers and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth)
- ETC, ETC, ETC…
You may have noticed that a lot of the above cards have a significantly lower mana cost than Primeval Titan. That is why it is less likely to see them hit play as late as the turn before a player wins – you cast these spells as soon as you can. Primeval Titan may be able to get players to more total mana than many of the other options, but since those options put a player into a position where they could win the game, the difference is negligible. Once a player has met or exceeded the threshold of mana they need to win in a turn, putting more mana into play is simply overextending. It’s like putting more creatures onto the battlefield when you have lethal damage on board.
People and animals tend to confuse correlation with causation. This can lead to Pavlovian responses to stimuli. If you haven’t heard of Pavlov’s dog, here is a very basic summary;
-Ivan Pavlov, a Russian researcher, ran an experiment where he would ring a bell whenever he fed a dog. After doing this for some time, Pavlov tried ringing the bell without feeding the dog and it still salivated, thinking it was about to be fed. The dog related the bell to being fed even though it was no longer actually related.
Primeval Titan is similar to the bell. Whenever Primeval Titan got played in certain groups, the game ended the next turn (or soon after that.) Naturally, players related Primeval Titan to losing and so tried to copy or steal the Titan to help themselves win. It is because of this response that many games did revolve around Primeval Titan. Players prepared themselves to deal with the Titan instead of the game-ending spells that having a critical mass of mana allowed. This also meant that the games still ended quickly after a Primeval Titan hit play, even with everyone dealing with what they thought the problem was. With no apparent solution beyond ‘use it or lose to it’, more Titans got put into decks in these groups and eventually the saturations of ramp decks featuring Primeval Titan caused the card to be added to the ban list. Once Primeval Titan was banned, groups could no longer blame the games ending on Prime Time.
Luckily, a new scapegoat was quickly printed and now you have probably heard a lot of players calling for the banning of Sylvan Primordial. (EDITOR’S NOTE – This article was written prior to the Sylvan Primordial banning. Sean can, in fact, see into the future.)
I don’t expect Primeval Titan to be unbanned anytime soon. When one side of the argument is “I hate that freaking card sooooo much!” and the other side is “Eh, I don’t think it’s really an issue.”, the side with more emotions will win out – and should. I am much less upset by not being able to play Primeval Titan than most of the players I have talked to that are against removing the card from the ban list seem to be upset by the prospect of playing against Primeval Titan.
Just keep in mind – no matter how many utility cards you ban, Commander will always have that critical mass of mana. Once players have enough mana, you should prepare yourself mentally for the possibility of the game ending. Please don’t let yourself be surprised when someone wins using eight or more mana and blame it on utility cards.