Defending the Commander Social Contract

Category: Imshan

Table Politics Part Two – Incentives

It’s all well and good to understand how players’ identify threats. But do you have any chance to influence that process?

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How Do You Contend With A God?

Despite my general loathing for DC Comics, I find one power relationship in the whole of their canon interesting (even if one of the characters is as one-dimensional as they come)-

Superman, and Lex Luthor.

Think about what it means to be Lex Luthor; he has chosen (and let’s face it, he picks this fight) to contend with a being that cannot really be defeated on a regular axis of struggle. In a stand-up fight, Superman simply cannot lose.  But Lex picks that fight anyway, because that’s the kind of world he lives in, and those are the kinds of fights he needs to pick. In a sense, he’s a courageous fellow.

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Next Level tech

Sometimes, when I’m playing with my friends at my dining room table, I get looks for “always having an answer” (even though, like most magic players, I have an answer roughly half the time). [Editor’s note: Welcome back Imshan!!!!!!! We haven’t heard from our swarthiest member in a while. Hope everyone enjoys his wisdom.)

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Memorial Day At GDC – A Short Post On Things Past And Things To Come

Hello, fellow readers-

I hope the day finds you all well.  For those of us in the US, this long weekend brings us Memorial Day today; as a result, I’ll be heading out shortly to spend the day with family, so the update for today will be a light one.

That isn’t to say that we don’t have some details to look at, though.  I try never to show up empty-handed, after all. 


Most of you know that I’ve been helping fill in for ‘Dear Azami’ for Sean McKeown over on while he gets out to handle some of his many other responsibilities.  As you may have seen on his article today, I’ve been offered a permanent home as co-author of “Dear Azami’ moving forward.  As a result, Sean and I will split the schedule on an alternating week schedule.  Pretty exciting stuff!  

I don’t plan on changing the schedule over here one bit, however; GDC is my baby, and we’re speeding up, not slowing down.  As a result, I plan on sleeping less in order cover the increased load.  Seems like a great plan, right?  I know half the joy of my articles is trying to decipher what the hell is actually being said through the early-morning caffiene-deprived haze anyway, so…get ready for more of that.

Alternately, feel free to send donations in the form of Dunkin Donuts French Vanilla coffee.  If I could figure out how to breathe that stuff, I totally would. 


I’m also moving ahead with the ‘guest writer’ plan too, which was kicked off last week with Imshan from fame chipping in for the Intet piece.  So far, the response has been really strong from his article, which should come as no surprise to anyone who has read his article series “Generally Speaking” over on the ‘Cast.  I want to thank him again for dropping in, and hopefuly he’ll be stopping back over for a visit now and then.

I’m finishing up securing a few other writers at the moment, and we’ll be premiering another article later on this week from one of them, so please stay tuned.  I’m pretty stoked on the added content -It’s all quality, it’s all pretty different in a “world view” sense from where I come from, and I can catch a nap every now and then as well.  Kind of a win/win/win…


You’ve probably also noticed that I’ve got both a Twitter and Facebook account up for GDC now.  Anyone who knows me knows that I’m pretty much anti-social media because I don’t want anyone from my past to find me to get sucked in to all of that crazy business.  Well, my brother (who is part of the team working on the site redesign and also did my curret header art) talked me into it, so here they are:

Check out my Twitter feed here

Check out my Facebook page here

And yeah…I’m still figuring out what to do with both, so hang in there as content develops.  (Shoot me an e-mail with any ideas on how to make these new-fangled contraptions better as well…I’m all ears.)


Okay, okay.  I’m already rebuilding the stable a bit already, so soon on the heels of the reset I detailed a few weeks back.  I stopped and looked at my current four decks, and came to the realization that for someone who preaches the joys of old obscure generals, I was woefully under-representing.  

Enter one of my old flings from back in the day:

I also realized in re-examining things that I managed to completely wipe out my dedicated aggro offerings when I took apart my other decks, and since I’m really into the idea of attacking in this format, I wanted to get back in the game with a decent R/G aggro deck.

With that, the Livonya Aggro Project begins. 

Right now, I need some help on an initial direction, so I need e-mails from you.  Hit me up here, and tell me which one of the following directions is the correct way to go:

1. Equipment
2. Voltron-Style
3. Giant Beaters
4. Tokens
5. That Other Angle I Missed

Feel free to mix and match or dive into details on your suggestions, but I need to know where to start with this thing first and foremost, and so far I’ve only got the generalherself sitting in a light-grey sleeve.  Help a brother out.

With that, I’m off.  We’ll see you all very soon.



(Guest Column) The Danger Of Nice Things, Part 2 – featuring Imshan Poolar

Welcome to the second part of the Danger of Nice Things.  My name is Imshan, and I’m here to lead you out of – or deeper in – the mess that Cassidy started.
Good Stuff, or the Greatest Stuff?
Like Cassidy, I am also a bad person.  I like to play good stuff in my decks too.  Like Cassidy, I squirm a little bit when I include Primeval Titan, Consecrated Sphinx and the usual goodies in my decks, though it helps that I only have one copy of each.  Those cards are played out and potentially really boring, but it helps us win and there’s that feeling of power behind them.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that there’s nothing wrong with playing good stuff.  However, want to temper this notion with the idea that your deck has to go somewhere, rather than simply using the best cards available to win.  In other words, playing Eternal Witness is okay if it’s going to do something for you by being a creature.  Having it carry a Sword of Protection and Value, or bouncing it with other cards is a reason to play Eternal Witness.  Obviously, this is going to make some cards very easy to justify.  Primeval Titan’s presence is always justifiable because you can always use more mana or effects stapled on lands, and Consecrated Sphinx is always going to be justifiable because you can always use more spells to cast.
The kind of good stuff I avoid playing is the stuff I can’t justify in terms of what I want my deck to do.  I personally try to avoid the typical win condition packages like Tooth and Nail, Avenger of Zendikar and Primeval Titan (for these purposes).  That might make me a sort of Commander hipster, but Tooth and Nail has lost its lustre for me.  I think this is perhaps the biggest complaint about good stuff that I have – good stuff finishers are commonly used, and do not make for memorable or interesting games.
The Problem of Intet
When I first saw Intet, much like Cassidy, I also felt the call of ‘free stuff here’.  I gleefully did my best to play free stuff all the time, and it was not until much later that I realized that Intet had serious trouble, not only with having ‘real’ board wipes, but also dealing with single creatures that cause issues.  Without black or white, there are no Swords to Plowshares, Diabolic Edict effects, or targeted conditional removal like Go for the Throat, or Doom Blade.  Dealing with single creatures will be difficult.
What’s the solution?  If you play tried and tested cards, you end up in Cassidy’s space, where you’re playing the best things in your colours and do not have a solid game plan except for the ones people are already expecting (and possibly packing specific answers for).  If you play Avenger of Zendikar, don’t be terribly surprised if someone plays Echoing Truth for your plants.  You might also not have any fun.  Rather, if you play towards a mechanic, synergies of all sorts can work out in your favour which will result in a more powerful list overall, even with some omissions of good stuff.  Some of the problems, like removal and sweepers, will not seem quite so difficult once your deck plays toward synergy instead of raw power.  For the first contest on Cassidy’s blog, I recommended this very same thing; rather than keep a bunch of the good stuff my entry for the Thraximundar contest included a bunch of sacrifice effects to pump Thrax and clear the way.  My final list still has good stuff, like Phyrexian Arena and Solemn Simulacrum, but the deck is not a Grixis ‘good stuff deck’.
For Intet, the mechanic to run with – or at least, one of the mechanics to run with – is to play a deck that focuses on manipulating the top of the library.  The prime choices for this are Sylvan Library, Scroll Rack, Sensei’s Divining Top and Mirri’s Guile.  There are others, but whether they are worth playing depends on how deeply you want to depend on this mechanic.  Top of library manipulation has a fairly obvious benefit for Intet, where you get to control what you get for free (no more free islands!), but there are other benefits as well.  There are a small host of cards that depend on the top of your deck.  Tried and tested (and arguably in the ‘good stuff’ category) cards like Oracle of Mul Daya and Djinn of Wishes obviously benefit, but there are many more.
One of my favourites is Mul Daya Channelers.  On its face, if your deck has 40 lands and 25 creatures, Mul Daya Channelers is going to be a useless 2/2 jobber 35% of the time.  If you’re manipulating the top of your deck, there’s a much better chance it’s going to be a 5/5 beater, or a powerful mana critter for relatively cheap.  Conundrum Sphinx is another creature that finds itself being made into something silly by top of library manipulation: if you know what’s on top of your deck, via the Mul Daya cousins, or through manipulation, you can get free card draws by attacking with a 4/4 flying creature for 2UU.
Finally, there are cards that can cause a ton of grief.  Most players cannot reasonably afford a Mana Drain, but Scattering Stroke is nearly as good; even at 2UU and an effect that requires a bit of manipulation, it feels absurdly powerful and can make a big splash.  Another, like Predict, has less obvious power but it is still there: Commander players frequently play top-of-deck tutors like Worldly Tutor or Mystical Tutor.  Predict handily discards the top card of their deck, and gives you two cards if you guess what that card is beforehand.  If no one seems likely to play a mirage-style tutor, you can easily predict an unwanted card off the top of your own deck for the pair of cards behind it.
Removal, and the acceptability of Primeval Titan
Intet still has its weaknesses.  Something Cassidy wrote in part one of this piece still gnaws at me.  He wrote that in Intet’s colours, there was no removal independent of damage.  But he also wrote that green has unbridled mana acceleration.  The first thing that grabs my attention is that we have been trained to believe that cards like Swords to Plowshares are the only acceptable kinds of removal.  They might be the best kind of removal, but that doesn’t mean other varieties of removal should be sidelined forever, even if they cannot deal with everything Swords can.  The second thing is mana acceleration, and the existence of scaling red burn.  I’m talking about churning out lands, and then playing Fireball variants (even if there are creatures with protection from Red). 
Mana acceleration and the top-of-deck mechanic live together with another of my favourite cards: Titan’s Revenge.  If green has such great mana acceleration, and there exists manipulation for the top of deck, there’s little reason why Titan’s Revenge can’t be a continual thorn in your enemies’ sides.  There are ways to stop it, like failing to win a clash, countering it, or if the victim gets sacrificed before Titan’s Revenge resolves, but by and large repeatedly lighting up creatures (or players!) should bring delight to anyone.
Finally, the issue of sweepers needs addressing.  Cassidy writes that the most real sweepers live in other colours, and that Oblivion Stone and Nevinyrral’s Disk are unreliable, and that other colours have sweepers that are more efficient, flexible and powerful.  Cassidy is not wrong.  But, there is a different kind of power available for Intet’s colours.  Evacuation is one of those cards that makes mana acceleration really work for you.  Evacuation can be used to undo every player’s good work and require them to cast all their creatures again.  A player in green, like someone running Intet as a general, can recover faster because they have mana acceleration rivaling none.  With Eternal Witness, Evacuation is very repeatable, and can create a constant state of advantage for the Intet player, especially if there’s haste involved like Cassidy recommends using.  Evacuation does very well for a great many creatures with entering play abilities.
Back in top-of-library mechanics, Devastation Tide lives in the same space as Evacuation, offering sorcery-speed bounce that will slow down all the creatures, and other mana acceleration that aren’t extra lands, like mana rocks.   The miracle mechanic begs to be used with an end-of-turn activation of Scroll Rack, or for it to be continually rearranged lower until needed with the other manipulators, and the nature of its cost only makes mana acceleration more appealing.  The same theory of tempo applies; a two-mana Devastation Tide, followed by laying out creatures (possibly with haste thanks to red) gives the Intet player a distinct advantage that a white or black player could not hope to match.
Finally, Bonfire of the Damned.  If Titan’s Revenge is a continual problem, Bonfire is a one-use-only disaster.  Not only will blockers be circumvented, but direct damage to a player might put them in reach of a lethal combat step.  White and black may have versatile sweepers that deal with traditional problems, but Intet’s colours provide a unique cross-sectional opportunity for instant, cheap, or one-sided sweepers that will play to the colour’s strengths.  Each of these cards or effects are in Intet’s colours, and not others.  It should be noted that any miracle can be highly useful with an instant-speed draw effect; using a Sensei’s Divining Top to draw the top card can set off a Devastation Tide or Bonfire at the end of an opponent’s turn or during a combat step for maximum effects on the board.
And here’s where Primeval Titan becomes acceptable; if you’re accelerating mana for a purpose, and here that purpose is having decent removal, you’re not playing Primeval Titan just to play Primeval Titan.  You’re going to do something important with that land, and it’s going to do work for you.  What’s important is finding out if the best cards fit for the kind of mechanics you want to play with, and then playing those if they do.
.   .   .   .   .
Imshan is the lead editor for written content and a weekly writer at He likes Kamigawa, and isn’t afraid to say so.  Email him at or follow him on twitter:!/generalspeak

Friday at GDC – Imshan’s winning Thraximundar list; Also, is in the house!

Hey team-

Happy Friday!  We’re diving into Imshan’s winning Thraximundar decklist today (and it’s going to be a long post), so I’ll keep the intro short; some of you may have noticed, but we’re now officially online at!  Update your browsers…or don’t, because the old way still works too.  (I’m nothing if not a slave to the old school…)

So…on to the goods!


For those of you just tuning in, we just put the wraps on a deck redesign contest featuring my failed Thraximundar list.  For those who don’t know him, Imshan (a.k.a. Sinis) is one of the Commandercast crew, as well as a regular on the Official EDH Forums.  He was one of two co-winners that stepped up, deconstructed my terrible list, and resurrected a far superior offering.  Today, we’ll take a look at what he did, and where we ended up.  (spoiler: It’s somewhere that decks don’t suck…)

I had asked for a list that had a significantly stronger internal synergy; one of the problems I tend to have in my decks is that I fall into the “good stuff” trap like there’s no tomorrow.  From Imshan:

“My offering will take Thraximundar in a sacrifice themed direction aiming at synergy with Thraximundar’s second trigger with some minor zombie and skeleton action.  Sacrifice effects have always been decent, and they play into Thraximundar’s text with relative ease.”

Killer.  When I first built my initial list, I was focused on the fact that Thrax’ has haste (I’m a big fan of actually getting a chance to use my general from time to time…), and I keyed in on the ‘sacrifice’ ability as the real draw.  Honestly, I could care less about the +1/+1 counters being added; I really only had visions of Ulamog and Darksteel Colossus dropping dead at the sight of him.

But what about the rest of the deck?  Why does it suck as bad as it does?  I’m sick of sitting around doing nothing.  Fortunately, Imshan has my back here:

“At first glance, I think you’re running a lot of really high curve creatures.  Deepfire Elemental and Scourge of Kher Ridges are pretty off-theme, and are really pricy for what they do.  Skeletal Vampire is also really pricy, and even though it’s got some sacrifice goodies on deck, it’s unpalatably expensive and weak.  High cost creatures are better served in a reanimator-style deck, where the costs are typically cheated and their come into play value is extracted multiple times.  Here, their expense is unwelcome.   Additionally, Thraximundar is easily a win condition; the fatties don’t necessarily contribute to that, and are not quite capable of substituting for it as some other choices are.  Cards like Shriekmaw, Mulldrifter, etc. are spot on; they sacrifice if you evoke them, are low curve, they do stuff.  Playing them as permanent bodies can help for chump blocking, or other sacrifice mechanics.  Some expensive creatures such as Steel Hellkite and Avatar of Woe serve purposes that suit their costs.”

Right on…guilty as charged.  What else?

“You’re also running a few cards that I like to think of as ‘mono-colour fixers’ that really shine in single colour decks that don’t have a particular piece of the colour pie, but require the missing mechanics to work.  Specifically, Phyrexian Ingester and possibly Duplicant are costly and could be substituted for cheaper and more synergetic substitutes.  These guys are great in mono-blue, but black has a ton of good cheap and synergistic creature removal, making these guys a tad redundant.  Similarly, Oblivion Stone shines in decks without other board wipe options, but is redundant or even bad next to Damnation, Decree of Pain, and others.”

…He’s good.  😉

Finally, Imshan explains the master plan:

“To help all this stuff out, I’m going to recommend some low curve creatures, draw, and especially sacrifice-removal.  I’ve also included more graveyard hate, which is where people usually get more gas.  Power through synergy.  Here is the updated list, with new additions in bold and explanations after.  There’s lots of room to change stuff around, and find a spot for Rooftop Storm.  Explaining the cuts would take a lot of space, but I generally removed cards that I thought were just too high mana cost and didn’t generate enough value.  The mana base is spectacular, except Keldon Necropolis and Crosis’ Catacombs, which is too costly to activate effectively and a lousy temp-loss respectively.”

I love it.  Power through synergy.  This is exactly where I wanted to head with this deck to begin with.  Here’s the list:


Creatures – 25

Enchantments – 4

Artifacts – 5

Planeswalkers – 1

Sorceries – 18

Instants – 9

Lands – 37
2 x Island
2 x Swamp

Halimar Depths

There we go!  This list does a ton of things better than the original one did.  Right off, the overall CMC average of the deck probably dropped by about three or four with the substitutions Imshan made, which makes this thing so much easier to get off the ground.  He also did a far better job than I did at really adhering to the ‘sacrifice’ theme, getting in with cards like Chainer’s Edict, Innocent Blood, and Gatekeeper Of Malakir that I just glossed over for more standard-color inclusions.  I managed to miss completely that in this deck, a card like Geth’s Verdict manages to be removal and creature pump at instant speed, and he’s spot-on with the inclusions.

I somehow also managed to miss the awesomeness that is Curse Of The Cabal and It That Betrays in my first pass.  For someone like me who tends to be head over heels for big, splashy, expensive-as-hell cards, this is absolutely inexcusable.  I can’t wait to cast these things!

He does a great job of upping my graveyard hate, which is important in any metagame (and especially so in mine), and I get to retain Rooftop Storm with the zombie subtheme, so I’m stoked there too.  And he pulled some of my janky land inclusions for better ones that fix mana (Grixis Panorama) and open up swampwalk (Urborg), so both are welcome.

All in all, Imshan did exactly what I wanted to see in a revision, and I couldn’t be happier with this thing.  Thanks very much for the help, Imshan!  I really appreciate it.

Coming up shortly, we’ll get into some playtesting results with this badboy, and then move on to Patrick’s co-winning straight-up zombie tribal list.  We may get a bit off-topic between then and now, though – I have a few bones to pick with some recent happenings, and a story or two to drop as well.  (I’d hate for you to think I’ve gone soft already…) 

As always, thanks for dropping in, and stay tuned!


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