Defending the Commander Social Contract

Category: James (Page 1 of 3)

The Trouble With Clones

I want to take a moment to clarify something before I get too far into this.  I love clone effects, and I really love this:

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Dirt Beats Rocks

Mana. We all need it. We all want more of it. Sometimes, we get flooded and that’s annoying, but secretly we like it because when we finally do get some gas we can just FLOOR it.

The worst thing that can happen to your game is to be starved of mana. Not being able to cast your spells is possibly the worst feeling in the world.

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When We Took Apart EDH Decks

Hey!!!! Decks get stale or we butcher them for parts so we rip them in shreds and leave sad piles of cards all over the desk. BUT WHYYYYY? Here’s some thoughts from team members about decks they’ve taken apart and why. Maybe you’ll find some sweet tech to copy?!?

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EDHRec Is Ruining EDH

Y’all ruined Atraxa. Just putting that out there. This is an open-ended legendary creature that screams to be built around in a ton of different ways, and I was absolutely pumped to build them all when she was first spoiled. But then CMDR16 landed and Atraxa shot to the top of the EDHRec pile, and she’s stayed there ever since. And every deck is jammed with every Planeswalker that fits her colours, and the Oaths, and Doubling Season.


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The Team Approach

In my ongoing attempt to like the Partner mechanic (and based off a discussion we were having in our team Slack chat), I want to try something a little different.  A while ago, Sheldon Menery posted an article detailing a ‘modular’ build – not the Darksteel mechanic, but a core deck and a selection of other cards that are interchangeable and can be swapped out to fundamentally change the deck on a moments’ notice.    I remember reading this when it first landed, and brushing it off as way too much work.

But then somebody on the team brought it back up, and then Erik said it would be interesting with Partners, and I suddenly became VERY interested in pursuing it.

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Partners In Crime

I want to like the Partner mechanic.  I really do.  I think it’s interesting and fun, and opens a whole lot of design space for the future.  I like the idea that you  can have a one-two punch in your command zone, and you get access to more abilities than you normally see on just a single creature.  They are like the Praetors from Scars of Mirrodin block (in that you get two things) but they allow you to go out into multiple colours.

I want to like them, like I said.  But I don’t.  I’m trying to, honestly.  But I just can’t.

Each one individually is pretty weak.  Vial Smasher the Fierce is really the only one that can stand on her own, but there are better options in red/black for that deck.  As a result, you’re kind of forced to have a second commander, which leads you into a mire of options.  The problem there is that none of the pairs really complement each other well; the best options are in colour pairs or in wedges/shards that are already home to better options.


For the pairs, you only have enemy-colour combinations that allow partners – Boros, Golgari, Izzet, Orzhov, and Simic.  Of these, the Simic pair of Kydele, Chosen of  Kruphix with Thrasios, Triton Hero is my favourite.  Kydele generates a lot of mana, and Thrasios can give you something to do with it.  Which is nice…don’t get me wrong.

But Simic has Momir Vig. Prime Speaker Zegana, and Kruphix, God of Horizons already, all three of which would  be better at the head of that deck.

Boros brings its own problems, as we all know.  Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper and Reyhan, Last of the Abzan kind of work well together for  Golgari (I guess…), but not really.  And don’t get me started on the Izzet offerings of Kraum, Ludevic’s Opus and the massively disappointing Ludevic,  Necro-Alchemist. Really, Wizards?

The Orzhov pairing is decent, but doesn’t look like a match at first glance.  Tymna the Weaver‘s push toward an aggressive style rewards itself with card  draw, and is complemented nicely by Ravos, Soultender‘s anthem and recursion.

Honestly, ranking these pairings, I would have to go with Simic first, then Orzhov a close second, followed distantly by Golgari and Izzet, with Boros not even really a consideration.


Of course, you have three-colour Partners, as well.  The Alara shards are all represented by five pairings each, with Esper – of course – being the best of the bunch.   Two pairings in Esper are decent – Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker paired with Silas Renn, Seeker Adept prove an interesting bond (albeit one  that doesn’t really do anything for each other.)  I prefer Silas Renn with Ravos, Soultender for a solid reanimator strategy, but, again, Esper does this  better with Sharuum the Hegemon, because Sharuum is always the best option.

The only other shard pairing that does anything well is Tana, the  Bloodsower with Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa for a Naya deck that could actually be a threat.

The wedges have even more options, but nothing really stands out at all.  Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper with Tymna could work, but Abzan has both Ghave, Guru of Spores AND Karador, Ghost Chieftain already, so why bother looking for another deck?  You even have a ‘fun’ option in Doran the  Siege Tower in these colours.

For Mardu, I actually built Vial Smasher the Fierce with Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder, but it wasn’t very  good or any fun.  Bruse and Ravos have potential together, but I’m not sold.

And that’s really it for three colours.  Of course, you can go four colours, too, but why bother?  The ACTUAL four colour legends we got in this set are all pretty  solid, and all work really, really well.  They all also hand you a few lines to build from, which is nice.  I know Cass will disagree with that, because he thinks they are all linear and boring (Yup. – Cass), but he also thinks dirigibles are a neat idea. (They’re great in theory… – Cass)

So…none of the pairings really stand out.  At least, not for me.  They all seem weak, and poorly matched, and none of them really work well with each other.  It is annoying – this mechanic has a ton of potential, and it just fell a little short.  As mentioned, individually the only one who seems strong enough to stand on her own is Vial Smasher the Fierce, and I have a soft spot for that crazy little goblin.


But I still want these to work.  I still want to sit down with two commanders, because that sounds fun and interesting, so I think the better way to look at these pairings is not as two commanders, but as one commander with a second card as part of your 99 that also happens to live in the command zone.  Thinking about things this  way makes a lot of these pairings shine a little bit brighter – Akiri, Line-Slinger can sit comfortably at the head of an aggressive artifact-centric  Voltron build, and having Bruse Tarl in the command zone alongside her basically gives you a repeatable Assault Strobe for your deck.  This approach allows you to focus on one partner, and use the second as a ‘backup spell’ to accent your deck nicely.  In this way, Ravos becomes an anthem effect that is a lot harder to get rid of, and Sidar Kondo turns from half of the driving force of your deck to a nice way to finish the game with your Tana-generated token swarm.  Admittedly, Ludevic  is still El Terriblo, but that’s a design issue, not a mechanical one.

Using this approach, I’m less inclined to use partners to push for colour, and more simply as a tool.  Naturally, you want to get as many colours as you can in these decks – I know I was sorely tempted to look at just the four-colour options with Partner – but that should not be the main goal.  I’m a firm believer that the commander you sit down with should play an important role in your deck, and if you’re playing something just for the colours, then you’ve built the wrong deck.  So now, looking at  these fifteen Partners, I try to focus on the abilities first – what can this card do for my deck?  If I build one of them, I want to build just one.  If I happen to find another that would be a nice fit (as described above) then I’ll go for it.  If that extra card happens to add a third or a fourth colour, then so be it.

This will likely limit my options, I admit.  I am unlikely to ever build with Silas Renn using this approach, for example; if I want blue and black in my artifacts  deck, I’ll add white and go with Sharuum the Hegemon or Sydri, Galvanic Genius…but I’m okay with that.  I have never wanted to build ALL of  the decks – just the ones that are fun.  And while Partner certainly LOOKS fun at first glance, the reality is that Wizards did not give us enough to make me want to explore this the way that they clearly wanted EDH players to.  It’s a huge hoop to jump through, and doesn’t do much beyond make new players ask you why you’re not following the rules.   It adds a layer of complexity that does not bring enough reward, in my opinion.

The kid at your Friendly Local Game Store watches the Commander pods and wants to join in, so she looks up the rules, builds her deck, and shows up the next week  to play.  The rules state that you have to have one legendary creature as your commander, but she sees two people sit down across the table from her with two commanders each.  This is not a huge deal for us crusty old-timers, but it’s another thing to explain to a new player, for no real reason beyond the novelty of it.  I get that Wizards is a business, and they are in the business of making money – any company that tells you otherwise is lying, largely to trick you into giving them more  money – and as such they have to bring new things to the table to keep people interested.  I get that.  But MaRo is always going on about the learning curve, and how Magic needs to make sense to the person playing for the first time while also being interesting for those of us who are twenty years in.  I know that mentality is geared more toward Standard than any other format, but Commander is supposed to be casual.  It’s supposed to be fun.  If it was truly geared toward the hardcore crowd, the pre-cons would be a lot stronger out of the box.


The crux of the problem is that Partner is a great idea.  Amazing.  But the delivery was weak.  I feel like Wizards knew that this could completely change how people play the game and intentionally low-balled the power levels of these fifteen legendary creatures to prevent that.  Unfortunately, when it was announced people got super excited about it, so it ended up a huge let down.  The best way forward, I think, is to keep the mechanic going in the future, but ramp up the power levels.  Maybe in the next run we get fifteen more, ones that are way better partners for the ones we have now.  Splitting the power level across two sets would make up for a lot of the disappointment with this crop.


But what do I know?  I’m just the paying customer.

More Like Boo-Ros (We Fix The Worst Pairs in EDH)

The legends that we get come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colours. I could use this as an opportunity to go on about fairness and equality and string along a huge metaphor for the real world, but I’m not going to do that. In Magic, all colours are not created equal. More than that, all colour pairings are not even close to equal. In fact, some are so far apart in power and design levels that they may as well not even be playing the same game.

Somebody brought this up on Mark Rosewater’s Tumblr a short while ago, in this post.

The gist of the complaint is that Rakdos and Boros legends tend to be boring and linear, while Simic and UGx legends are amazing. MaRo’s response was “let me know what kind of commander you’d like to see for different two-color combinations”.

I took this to the team’s Slack, and we discussed it at length, throwing out multiple ideas and discussing them. There were enough good ideas floated, and enough options, that I would like to share them. Note, these are all fake, and completely made-up, and not legal in any way, but if you manage to convince your playgroup to let you proxy these in actual games, please please PLEASE let me know how they play out.

First, let’s look at Boros. The first entry is one of mine, and it is the one that I brought to the group to start the conversation:
Holand, Temperamental Philosopher 2RW
Legendary Creature – Dwarf Wizard

Creatures you control have “T, discard a card: draw a card”

1W, T: Exile target artifact or enchantment

XR, Discard X cards, T: Holand, Temperamental Philosopher deals X damage divided any way you choose among any number of target creatures or players.

Holand, Temperamental Scholar’s power and toughness are each equal to the number of cards in your hand.

* / *
There is a lot going on here, I know. I like text-heavy cards and lots of things to keep track of. I approached this with the idea to play on white and red’s individual strengths, while not forcing an aggro strategy. Yes, there is burn here, and yes, this creature can get very huge in combat. But white/red does not have a lot of natural positive card draw, so you have to work at getting him big. It leverages the unity of creatures that white likes while also pushing the recklessness and lack of foresight that red is famous for. To get the big effect, you have to sacrifice your own advantage. This is awesome, and I would play this in red/white.

Our second Boros option also loots for cards, and leans a little more white than red mechanically, but is all red in flavour.

Jimmy the wrathful. 3RW

R: draw a card, then discard a card at random and put a counter on Jimmy.

W: Choose 1: destroy all creatures or enchantments.

If Jimmy has 5 counters on him, he is indestructible and has haste.

3 / 5

I like this as well, though he’d be in the 99 more than leading a deck for me. Having a flexible wrath on board is never a bad thing, and the fact that he doesn’t tap is awesome. Decent stats and a fair CMC makes this pretty solid.

Then Cass started running with this, and wants to see a few things.
Dudemar, Boros Interesting Non-Aggro guy 2RW

When Dudemar enters the battlefield, destroy X target artifacts or enchantments, where X is the current ‘general tax’.

2RW, Sacrifice Dudemar: Draw two cards, then discard two cards.
He forces you to sacrifice him, gives you some value, but then gives you more value as the game wears on. And he doesn’t have to attack. But then Cass went even further, with a flip card.

Dudemar 2.0 1RW

Whenever a creature enters the battlefield under an opponent’s control, Dudemar 2.0 deals 2 damage to it.

RW: Flip Dudemar 2.0

(Other side)

Creatures entering the battlefield under your opponents control don’t cause abilities to trigger.

RW: Flip Dudemar

1 / 2
I LOVE this. The ability to flip as needed at instant speed is what sells this. Neither option is too oppressive, which is nice. The Torpor Orb effect is stronger than AEther Flash, but both are good in a pinch. This is the kind of card that makes you process the game on the fly, and make tight decisions based on imperfect knowledge. I like it.

Then we started talking about effects that leveraged the command zone, which is the flagship mechanic of the format. My entry on this was a Boros legend:

Indecisive Boros Guy – 1RW

If you cast Indecisive Boros Guy from the command zone, when it enters the battlefield destroy all artifacts. They can’t be regenerated.

If you cast Indecisive Boros Guy from your hand, when it enters the battlefield destroy all enchantments. They can’t be regenerated.

‘Commander tax’ applies to Indecisive Boros Guy when casting it from your hand.

1 / 3
This would never, ever happen. There’s too much to track here to make this viable, but damn how fun would this be? I intentionally left out a way to self-bounce, because that’s not in red/white’s wheelhouse. You have to work at this, which I like.

Then Cass pushed things out a bit, making you have some tough choices.

Dudemar 3.0 – This Time, It’s Serious 1RW

If Dudemar 3.0 is cast from your hand, exile him when he enters the battlefield. If Dudemar is not placed in the command zone, each player discards their hand and draws seven cards.
That’s scary. That’s a great wheel effect, but you can only get it once. Very cool.

Moving on to Rakdos, we tried to get away from the standard targeted removal and burn damage that the colour pair is stuck in. The first entry was this:

Mama Carnex RB
Legendary Creature – Orc Witch

Sacrifice a creature you control but do not own: search your library for a card with converted mana cost equal to the sacrificed creature’s power, reveal it, and put it in your hand.

RRBB: Gain control of target creature until end of turn, untap it, it gains haste until end of turn. You lose X life, where X is that creature’s converted mana cost.

2 / 2
I really wanted to push the witchcraft side of things here. Stealing and sacrificing for power is great, but it should also come with a steep cost. The more power you get, the more it costs you. This one, more than any other here, is one that I wish was real. This would absolutely be my deck.

Jimmy the grave lord 2BR

BR unearth target creature from a graveyard, when it comes into play deal 3 damage to target player and you take 2.

This was a quick post, I think from somebody’s phone, but it’s interesting. You get the recursion, at a cost, with some burn attached. Serious build-around potential.

Cass went to Rakdos with another Dudemar:

Dudemar the Second, Rakdos Non-Reanimator Guy

When Dudemar the Second enters the battlefield, search your library for a card where X = the current “general tax”, reveal it, and put it on top of your library. This may only be played at any time you may cast a sorcery.

2BW: Sacrifice Dudemar the Second: Deal 3 damage to target creature.
There’s a lot here, and I like the tutor effect stapled on. I also like that you can sacrifice it for a Lightning Bolt to increase the commander tax, making the tutor effect better.

My second Rakdos entry was an odd little guy, more for flavour than anything:
Bad Reputation Guy 2BR

Legendary Creature – Human Warrior
First Strike, Trample

When Bad Reputation Guy is on the battlefield, he is non-legendary.


6 / 2
I LOVE Myriad, and would love to see it on a legendary creature. But that obviously doesn’t work without stretching the rules a bit. So, why not make it non-legendary when in play?

The final Rakdos entry was a play on Faerie Artisans, which is the best blue card in CMDR16.

I dare you guy 3RB

Whenever a creature enters the battlefield under an a opponent’s control without being cast, you may put a token onto the battlefield that is a copy of that creature.

4 / 4
It keeps token and reanimator strategies fair, which is nice. Show and Tell is suddenly all about you, and it is a ‘may’ effect so no Phage shenanigans.

All of these step outside the norm for their colours, but still dwell completely within the colour pie. The Boros legends are not all ‘raaargh attack!’ and the Rakdos legends are not all twirly-mustache bad guys. But they are all distinctly Boros or Rakdos. And we were just throwing out ideas as they came to us, without really thinking too much about it. Obviously, balancing would need to happen and none of these would be printed as-is, but it was really not hard to come up with distinctly Boros creatures that did not push attacking as the only way to win.

If we can do that in a conversation where we also talk about pumpkin beer and bad hair metal, why can’t the people who get paid to design cards for a living do it?

Leovold, the Social Contract, and a Good Time

He’s been out for a while, and for a long time I was convinced that Leovold, Emissary of Trest was actually a prank by Wizards. I had feelers out in the community for a Leovold since Conspiracy 2 was released, and nobody had one. I couldn’t find anybody who had even seen one opened. So I ordered one online, half convinced that I was just throwing money away on nothing.

But he arrived, and he was real, and much joy was had. I had pre-brewed for him, for the first time ever, and immediately set to sleeving the deck. Sadly, it was two weeks before I was able to sit down with him, and in that period of time Leovold, Emissary of Trest gained a bit of a reputation. Go to and search him up and you’ll see that almost everybody is building him the same way. The most common cards in the lists are Windfall, Teferi’s Puzzle Box, and Day’s Undoing.

77% of lists have Windfall. That’s just lazy deckbuilding, and 77% of the people running Leovold should feel bad about themselves. Of the 14 ‘signature cards’ for Leovold on, nine of them have the base effect of discarding hands and drawing seven new cards. This is awful, and makes me sad. My list has exactly one instance of the word ‘discard’ in it, and I’ll get to that later, but trust me, it’s fair. The deck is still bloody awesome though, and it is ridiculously fun to play.

Because, and bear with me here, I talked to my playgroup.

When I sat down, it was against a well-known Oros the Avenger Voltron deck (colloquially referred to in our playgroup as ‘Gary, the Racist Dragon’), Group Hug under Pheldagriff, and the LGS’s copy of creatureless enchantments under Genju of the Realm.

I know, Genju is not technically legal. It’s a casual format.

We revealed our commanders and started shuffling. I took the opportunity to state my claim about my deck, and my intentions for the game I was looking for. I said that there was only one discard effect in my deck, and that you only lose one card while getting all the others you pitched back. I said openly and with a friendly tone that I was looking for a fun game that went a dozen turns or more, and asked if everyone else was looking for the same thing.

They all agreed that it sounded like it was on par with their own expectations, and that was exactly what we got. The social contract works, folks.

The Proof Is in the Planewalker

It ended up being a great game, with power and momentum swings all over the place. At one point, Oros swung at me with 36 power, unblockable and with double strike, and the Genju player, knowing I was the only one keeping Pheldagriff under control, responded with an AEtherspouts to save me. Pheldagriff ended up winning through self-mill and Laboratory Maniac, which seems like a cheap way to do it, but he actually worked to get it and pushed through a lot of control to make it work. This happened after I tried to cast Fascination for 26 with Psychosis Crawler in play, which would have been lethal for everyone until Oros player dropped a Comeuppance on me and Pheldagriff pulled something out that pushed him above 26 life. I can’t remember exactly what it was.

It was a ridiculous game with lots of interaction, with two diametrically opposed decks (Leovold wants to stop everybody from drawing cards and Pheldagriff wants to make everybody draw cards) squaring off against each other while also holding an aggressive Voltron build and a surprisingly resilient enchantments player in check.

In Which I Detail “The Lesson”

This game, however, could have gone very differently. Had I not been up-front about my deck, people would have assumed I built the one that led to Windfall being in 77% of Leovold decks. I would have taken a ton of early aggression and likely would not have been able to survive it. Or if I had built that Leovold deck, I could have easily locked everybody out of the game as early as turn four. Drop Leovold on turn three, then Teferi’s Puzzle Box on turn four, and all of a sudden nobody gets any cards ever again. But that’s not fun, and that’s not how I want to play.

Anyone can do that, but I choose not to.

The social contract works, folks. Thirty seconds of honest conversation while we were shuffling our decks was all it took, and everybody had a great time. Even those of us who lost did so with smiles on our faces, because we talked about our expectations beforehand, and then met them. In the second game, we all decided to play a little meaner, a little more cut-throat, and changed decks accordingly. Even when I killed somebody with poison counters on turn five, they were fine with it because that’s what we agreed to.

The Gold Star

But the star of the whole day, for me, was the deck. Like I said, Leovold has a reputation, and I did my very best to move my build away from that. I even have the cards right there in my collection, and it’s easy enough to sleeve them up. Instead, I leveraged ‘symmetrical’ card draw in my favour. Cards like Howling Mine and Fascination. Or effects that tack card draw onto other things, like Fatal Lore and Damnable Pact. Pain’s Reward is a great way to make your opponents very uncomfortable in this deck, and Seizan, Perverter of Truth is ridiculous with Levold in play.

But the real stars in my list are things that allow me to draw cards using the second ability on Leovold. The one that nobody pays attention to. “Whenever you or a permanent you control becomes the target of a spell or ability an opponent controls, you may draw a card.” Now, my permanents are probably drawing a little bit of hate anyway, just due to the nature of what they do and my playgroup’s knowledge of what shenanigans I like to pull. But I can leverage this a bit, as well, with Spellskite, Misdirection, Redirect, and similar effects. Yes, you can put Eldrazi Conscrption on your Scryb Sprites, OR you could just put that right here on my Urborg Elf, thanks. Oh, and I’ll draw a card to replace the Misdirection I used to make that happen.

Missdirection Not a Directions Miss.

Admittedly, there are not a lot of these abilities in the deck. There are not a lot of them printed in these colours. But there are enough that I can easily swing a game heavily in my favour with them. But the point is, the deck is FAIR. I’m not trying to lock anybody out of the game, and I’m not trying to take your hand away. I want you to keep playing, so I can spring my Willbender on your win condition. When I cast Damnable Pact on you for 12, I want you to have the option to kill Leovold in response to get the cards. I’ll draw first, and hopefully rip a Counterspell off the top, but that’s the kind of play that makes for amazing EDH stories. Nobody cares about the time you locked the board out on turn four and made everybody sit on their thumbs for an hour while you drew into your combo. But casting Chaos Warp twice in a game, and having the Warped target be the card revealed post-shuffle both times . . . that makes for a great story.

(Yeah, that happened to me a few weeks ago. Chaos Warp is now cut from all decks.)

In Summary…

The only card that makes you discard anything in my Leovold deck is Memory Jar. The way it works is, I pop it and you exile your hand. Then you draw one card each while I draw seven. I durdle away my cards, then at the end of the turn you discard your one card, and return your original hand. It’s a way to pop Memory Jar without being awful about it. It just makes sure that you probably can’t stop me from using the cards I draw off the Jar. If I can get you to draw a single card ahead of time, even better – then you get no cards off it, and you don’t have to discard anything. That, right there, is the heart of what I want my list to do. Advantage is all to me, but you’re not locked out of the game. You can still play, because that’s why we’re here.

If I wanted to sit around a table and not have fun, I’d stay home and work on a grocery plan. Instead, I want to have a good time, and sometimes that means my finely-crafted death machine gets stomped on by a Hippo token.

White Is Terrible

Over the years I’ve built a lot of decks. I’ve built decks in every colour combination, and in just about every archetype you can imagine. Most don’t last for long – most don’t even make it to a single game – and are taken apart to make way for other things, or just because I don’t like them once they are finished. Early this week, I built such a deck, under Brago, King Eternal. I was trying to make a fair list, with just some standard, enter-the-battlefield effects for advantage, without any of the stax-y or control elements usually found in Brago.

I failed, and it turned into a pretty normal blue-white control build, and I’m taking it apart as soon as I get a few minutes to pull it out of sleeves. But it got me to thinking about the colours that I build with, and the decks that I like to play. A few weeks ago, David put up a survey about deck colours, and what we liked versus what we disliked. It started internal to our Slack channel, but he expanded it out to Twitter, and the results were interesting. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as the pool got larger the variances evened out and colour spread became closer to parity.

My own personal colour spread is not quite so smooth. Looking back at my past decks, especially the ones that I have actually played and enjoyed, I noticed something odd.

I don’t like white.

Well, sort of. You see, I don’t like white when it’s paired with a single other colour. I love mono-white, and I like Bant, Naya, Abzan, Mardu, and Jeskai. But pair white with just one other colour, and the deck will need to be something special to get me to play it. There have been a few exceptions, of course. Selvala, Explorer Returned was in the command zone for one of my favourite decks ever. But for the most part, I can’t stand those builds. Let’s take a look at them, and see if I can figure out why.

Azorius (Blue/White)

To be fair, I am not a control player in any format, and that may skew my opinion here. Blue/white is pretty solidly in the control spectrum, and while you can break out of that on occasion, it’s really hard to do. You will always need pieces in your deck that can stop your opponents from doing things, and those pieces in blue/white are usually very controlling. Just building a deck to survive in these colours, regardless of your plan, basically requires that you run Swords to Plowshares and Counterspell. My best success with this colour pair was a short-lived bird tribal deck under Kangee, Aerie Keeper. Even that just wanted to play draw-go a lot of the time, and that bores me.

Note that while I generally like three colour builds with white, this dislike of blue/white carries over to Esper. Black brings a lot, but Esper is still very controlly, and unless the deck is absolutely amazing (looking at you, Sydri, Galvanic Genius) I’m probably not going to play it.

Boros (Red/White)

Boros kind of has the opposite problem of Azorius, in that there really isn’t a legendary creature in these colours that isn’t just “make creatures, make them big, turn them sideways”. I get that aggression is good, and attacking is good, but I want to attack with a purpose, not just because it’s that part of my turn. That’s what Boros does, though. You untap and you do your upkeep triggers and you draw your card and you maybe play something and then you move to combat. Every turn. In Boros, any turn that you don’t attack with the team is a turn wasted, and that linear style of play is just not fun for me. In these colours, my best success was with Anax and Cymede and a whole bunch of target spells that I could easily recur. Yeah, it was very much an aggro deck that wanted to attack a lot, but I had to track a lot of things and interact with the board quite a bit to make it worthwhile, which I liked.

Orzhov (Black/White)

You mean like me?

In this pairing, white is possibly worse off than in any other. Any black/white deck is really just a black deck that’s been thinned with a second colour. Literally any Orzhov deck can be improved by swapping the general with a monoblack one and pulling white altogether, and MAKING NO OTHER CHANGES. White is very strictly a sub-par support colour here, and black really doesn’t need it. If you want to play a mean black deck, just go for it; don’t make yourself suffer through a bad colour pair just to avoid being a jerk.

My best success in Orzhov was with either Athreos, God of Passage and 26 copies of Shadowborn Apostle or Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim and literally no other white cards.

Selesnya (Green/White)

As mentioned earlier, this is my most successful pairing of white with one other colour, and Selvala, Explorer Returned will always hold a special place in my heart. I did have an alright Rhys the Redeemed deck in my early EDH days as well, but for the most part Selesnya is just . . . boring. You either run white as the primary colour and use green to ramp into fatties, or you run white as a support colour to protect your green fatties that you ramp into. This is the one pair where white, I feel, actually improves on the other colour, because monogreen is the most mind-numbingly boring deck you can build, but you can polish a turd (no really, you can – but in the end you still have a lump of crap in your hand; and outside of some of the weirder places on the Internet, nobody wants that.

My Selvala build got out of that mold by not using any ramp outside of Selvala herself, and the latest iteration of the deck was actually designed to win via an infinite mill during combat. I’ll leave you to figure out how, but the point is there was nothing in the deck that cost more than six mana and no creature with power higher than five. It also ran Awakening, which made me laugh every time I played it.

But it was not enough to save the colour pair for me. I still, no matter how I approach it, despise the vast majority of W/X decks.

Utter Despise

I think the reason is that white is very much a support colour. That’s the heart of its slice of the colour pie, so you’re basically building a diluted mono deck. White-Red is a red deck that has white support. The same with Black-White or Blue-White, or whatever. It’s almost impossible to find the right balance for white in these decks. Too much, and you’re losing the point of the second colour; too little, and you’re not getting enough support. In mono-white, you get the right balance by default, because white is very good at support but it is also very, VERY good at USING support when it is provided. So it feeds itself well. Adding a third colour allows white to shine in its support role, because there is a lot less room for tangents. You get just enough, and you have access to other support cards from other colours. Or you can drop white as a backup, and use it for key pieces like Wrath of God or Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite.

Talk about this kinda power!

As a third colour, white can pick a niche role, and perform like a superstar. Need spot removal? Disenchant, Path to Exile, and Journey to Nowhere are here for you. Need sweepers? Wrath, Day of Judgment, Rout, and Terminus are great options. Need some defensive cards? Gods Willing and Oathsworn Giant get the job done. You can even have some countermagic in Rebuff the Wicked. But when given more tasks to cover, white falls apart. White needs a specific task to do, and it will do it all day long. This is why it works in a three colour deck, but not two. When it is the only colour, it has the room to branch out into several roles; in three colours, it has the limited space that allows it to focus.

I can’t think of any other colour where I have this problem. Any other pairing works just fine for me. Even Blue-Black, which I hate for completely different reasons, works well. I have the same problems with mono-green, as mentioned, but green with literally any second colour other than white is phenomenal.

That being said, I am a sucker for punishment. I will keep trying to build these decks, in the hopes of finding a gem like Selvala again. But until Wizards starts making some interesting legendary creatures in these colours, it’s honestly unlikely to happen.



Conspiracy 2 Review

Conspiracy 2, Imperial Boogaloo is just around the corner, and spoilers are coming fast and furious.  These are generating a lot of discussion in the tubes, and we’ve not been spared in our GDC Slack chat.  Given the nature of our site and our penchant for 100-card decks, we’ve been looking at these cards largely from the lofty heights of our Command Towers.

There are a lot of nice things in this set, but there are some problems as well.  I want to take a look at things as they stand right now, and give my perspective on how this set will affect EDH tables around the world.  But first, let’s just take a moment to appreciate the amazingness that is Leovold, Emissary of Trest



Just look at that.  Take your time.

That is a COMMANDER, people.  I hate pre-brewing decks, but I’m halfway through a list for him already.  The general consensus among the team is that most people will build this deck with ALL THE WHEELS, much like Nekusar, the Mindrazer, but those people will be first against the wall when the revolution comes.  That’s lazy deckbuilding, and you should feel bad for considering it.

Instead, I plan to leverage these abilities through ‘symmetrical’ card draw like Howling Mine and Seizan, Perverter of Truth, coupled with redirect effects like Willbender and Spellskite.  You get all the advantage, none of the drawback, and nobody feels TOO salty, because you could be playing Jace’s Archivist, right?

He’s BUG, he’s pure value, and he’s three mana.  I can’t wait to get my hands on this card.

Alright…let’s move on to the elephant in the room.  No, not Selvala’s Charge.  I’m talking about the Monarch mechanic.  For those of you who missed it, the story of the new Conspiracy set revolves around my girl Marchesa, the Black Rose killing Brago, King Eternal (Man, what a mistake that nickname was, eh?) and claiming the throne for herself.  Because WotC is all-in on flavour in this product, the Monarch mechanic allows you to take the throne as well.  Several cards allow you to become the monarch when they enter the battlefield, or complete some other easy task.  When you’re the monarch, you get to draw a card at the end of your turn, which is not nothing.  Somebody else can take the monarch title from you by playing a card that does it, or by dealing combat damage to you.

The most important thing about this mechanic is that nobody starts off as the monarch, but once somebody is the monarch there is a monarch FOR THE REST OF THE GAME.


This is a problem, and I don’t like it.  The most obvious card for this is Queen Marchesa, so I’ll use that as my example.  When she enters the battlefield, you become the monarch.  So you cast her from your command zone, draw a card at the end of your turn, then somebody hits you.  You pass the crown over, they get a card, and it eventually comes back to your turn.  Your upkeep, you get three assassin tokens, use a sac effect to kill the Queen, and recast her, becoming the monarch again.  Or flicker her, because you’re in white.  Your opponents, seeing the shenanigans that are about to unfold, team up on you and wipe you out.

In most games, the oppressive problem thing would now be gone.  But no, not monarch.  That stays for the rest of the game.  It forces everyone to play a different game in the middle than the one they started playing when they sat down, and there is no way out of it.  Imagine if somebody’s Forced Fruition stayed in effect even after they died.  Or their Iona, Shield of Emeria.  Or their emblem from Jace, Unraveler of Secrets.

That would suck, and I think we would all agree that we would hate it.  When you kill a player, all effects they still have on the game go with them.  That’s as fundamental to Magic as tapping cards.  I get that Wizards needs to push into new design spaces and find new ways to make the game interesting, but this is a dangerous precedent.  I propose you have a long, serious talk with your playgroups about this mechanic, and how dangerous it can be.  I suggest house-ruling it that the crown can only change hands a certain number of times before it has to be achieved again, or that if the player who first brought it into play dies, it’s gone no matter who has it at the time.  That would add a little pressure to the table, but not overwhelm it.  The current holder of the crown would have to decide between protecting herself or keeping the originator alive a little while longer.  This is what a mechanic like this should do.  Instead, this is going to warp EDH tables into an unfun place.

Now, back to a positive.  New Grenzo and new Daretti are hot.  Like, volcanic hot.  And not just because they’re setting fires to things around the city.  Mono-red has become the best design space for legendary creatures lately, and Grenzo, Havoc Raiser is continuing that tradition nicely.  He needs to be aggressive to get his effect, but once it happens he turns into a serious control deck.  It’s a nice play by mono-red, and I have to decide if he gets his own deck or if he slides into my Jori En, Ruin Diver judo build.  The new Daretti gets a black mana symbol, and is lighting fires under Legacy players’ butts already.  At three mana, he’s curved nicely for Legacy, and all of his abilities will serve that format well.  I can’t see him getting a lot of play in EDH, but I certainly hope I’m wrong.  I plan to try to make him work, at the very least.

.     .     .     .     .

Finally, I want to talk about something we’ve all sort of noticed in our Slack conversations recently.  Namely, that Commander is kind of bad.  Not the format, but the official decks that Wizards of the Coast releases.  The cards they design specifically for the format are woeful for the most part.  There are some that shine through, of course, but by and large they are not good…most especially the legendary creatures.  They are narrow, and focused on one build style, and are generally considered the most oppressive decks out there.  Derevi, Empyrial Tactician, Animar, Soul of Elements, Roon of the Hidden Realm, and Prossh, Skyraider of Kher are all top-tier legendary creatures and they all have very narrow deck designs built right in.

Other side products, on the other hand, seem to have amazing pieces for EDH.  This Conspiracy set has a TON of great stuff in it – all of which I want to put into decks.  I’m going to be spending a lot of money on this set, and I may not even draft it ever.  Just buying singles to get the pieces I want for EDH will cost me a fortune.  And the reprints!  Desertion, Phyrexian Arena. And if rumours at the time of this writing are to be believed, Show and Tell.  SHOW AND TELL, people!

We discussed this disparity, and it really comes down to who they are designing these sets for.  The Commander pre-cons are designed to get new players into the format, so they need really big, flashy things in them that make people go “I want to do that!” and buy the decks.  They design for “battlecruiser Magic”, because that’s what they sell EDH as.

But Conspiracy is designed for fun, engaging multiplayer games.  So the cards they design for it are balanced, and well thought out, and will bring a lot of ‘politics’ to the table.  The vote mechanic from the last set was a good example, and the streamlined voting in this one is even better.  This set is designed to make multiplayer magic fun, and that is what we want in our EDH.  So the cards for this are perfect for that.


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