Commander 2014. *sigh*

I hate to let down fans of my regular and incessant complaints, but I’m pretty universally excited about this set.

(I know, I know…I’m Googling “Hell Freezes Over” as we speak to try to find a weather report.)

Here’s the thing – Wizards of the Coast really did it right this year. Commander 2014 has hit in a way that is very much unlike the two previous releases. Let’s take a look:

COMMANDER (2011)

  • Tons of hype. (Yay, official EDH product!)
  • New generals! Some solid iconic additions (The Mimeoplasm! Riku of Two Reflections! Karador, Ghost Chieftain!), some new ‘bad guys’ (KaaliaGeddon…boo!), and some…others? (Damia, Sage of Someone or Other)
  • Weird new cards! (Acorn Catapult???)
  • Commander-specific mechanics that end up falling pretty short in the long run (Hello, Vows and ‘Join Forces’ cards!)
  • Eternal offerings seeded into the product (Go check Flusterstorm’s current price…I’ll wait.)

COMMANDER 2013

  • More hype! (Yay…still excited about official product!)
  • More new generals! (Now with far fewer obnoxious options – sorry, Oloro and Derevi!)
  • Head-scratchers that seemed to be designed for our beloved ‘battlecruiser’ format but kinda fell short. (Remember Baleful Force? Anyone? Hello?)
  • Some solid role-players. (Yay, Bane of Progress! Thanks for showing up!)
  • Portal cards!
  • Awesome new Goblin Sharpshooter art.

Mostly, though it was about what we didn’t get:

  • The Mind Seize pre-con. Well, most of us didn’t, anyway, because all the finance sharks and eternal players snapped them up for the True-Name Nemesis and Baleful Strix. (How’s the Eternal card seeding thing going, Wizards? Get back to us on that, okay?)

With Commander 2014, things feel better all around.

I played quite a few stock games with the 2011 and 2013 pre-cons, including some constructed pods at GenCon. What really stuck out to me is that none of the decks seemed…well…good. At least not stock, and not to my grizzled format veteran’s eye. I can appreciate that these products are great ways for new players to get a foot in the door of the format, but as an experienced EDH player, the decks just felt really disjointed. Card quality was not particularly easy to maintain, and the decks felt like a mash-up of someone’s loose idea of “EDH Greatest Hits”, mixed with the new mechanics which didn’t seem to particularly support the design of the decks. I was frequently bored in the games I played, stuck with sub-par threats, awkward answers, and head scratchers (Seriously – Acorn Catapult!)nd while I started with one each of all the decks sleeved up in stock form, I quickly took most apart for pieces.

This time, the decks seem much more cohesive. They all have pretty well-developed game-plans, and the card pools are well constructed in a way that supports them. Even the new cards work well within theme for the most part. It really seems like they were designed with the big picture in mind, rather than what in the previous decks felt like was a showcase for single-card design. Too many cooks in the kitchen, as it were.

Most importantly, though, the ‘fun’ factor is there right out of the box.

GAME REPORT – COMMANDER 2014 RELEASE EVENT

This past weekend, we had a C14 release event put together at one of the local game stores (Off The Wall Games in Hadley, Mass.) I think the final tally was a full thirteen players, split into three pods (two 4-player pods and one 5) to play using a basic point system and with a selection of past promo cards for prizes. The games were substantial, with two of them running out to the three-hour mark.

My particular pod went much quicker; we had two white decks, and one each of the blue, green, and black decks represented. I will concede that the blue deck seemed to fall a little flat, and was the first to fall on the back of plays that seemed to only irritate the other players. The rest of the decks, however, came out swinging, and the games felt very similar to the normal constructed games we play on Wednesdays. (Buzz from the internet seems to suggest we didn’t really see the blue deck do what it is capable of doing; lots of reports of it being awesome are all over Twitter.)

The black deck came out of the gates swinging, landing a Sol Ring and Charcoal Diamond on turn one that led to Ghoulcaller Gisa hitting play on turn two. His token creation was early and off the charts, and it was a long time before the board stabilized. Meanwhile, the green player landed Freyalise, Llanowar’s Fury and started cranking out elf tokens, and both myself and the other white player started to find equipment and tokens of our own; his early Skullclamp was better than my Loxodon Warhammer, and by the time I finally found Spectral Procession, I had taken a decent beating down to 24 life.

Once Nahiri, the Lithomancer hit play for me, I was able to stabilize with an effective stream of Kor Soldiers to grab the Hammer each turn and scratch my life total back up to safety. However, the black player got his hands on Butcher of Malakir, and the game shut down for a bit until I was finally able to resolve a Martial Coup to wipe the board, following it up with Geist-Honored Monk for a nice little army. True Conviction followed and my life totals swung north of 60 before it was destroyed with Return to Dust.

On a critical play, the black player attacked into the blue player with two creatures – Gisa and an enormous 22/22 zombie token. Both the other white player and myself had Condemn ready, and despite the protests of the blue player (who was trying to let himself die for some strange reason), we removed the attackers, prompting an immediate concession from the black player, who didn’t want to deal with point farming. I shrugged, untapped and finished off the blue player (earning a point in the process), at which point the other white player exploded into a token hurricane with White Sun’s Zenith, Nomad’s Assembly, and Cathars’ Crusade. The green player never fully recovered from the board wipe, and fell soon after.

I did my best to keep a straight face and feign a weak position, and it worked – when the other white player announced an alpha strike, I had Comeuppance in hand for the one-sided blowout. My counter-attack took him to within a single swings’ worth of damage, and while he managed to rebuild a small defense, I had the Brave the Elements to secure the win the following turn.

All in all, we all really enjoyed the games (for the most part, anyway.) More to the point, they felt like real EDH games more than they ever did with the older products. The card quality packed into the decks is not overstated, but there are a ton of strong role-players and most of the cards seem to feel good enough to stand up in any game. Better yet, there aren’t (as of yet) any crazy Eternal cards that are serving to make any of them scarce; GP: New Jersey might change things if Containment Priest takes off (and it looks sadly like it may do that), but the “print on demand” nature of these sets will suppress the prices of even the big-name cards (Wurmcoil Engine, I’m looking at you!) over time.

(Side note: If you’re a local gaming shop, and you’re charging your customers more than MSRP for these, shame on you! But I digress…)

I think Wizards has found a great balance here, and I hope future releases maintain this. Let’s face it – it’s not often that I’m not complaining about shiny new things, so if anything, that should be a ringing endorsement! Nice work on this set, WotC

So…Titania.

Titania

I honestly didn’t think I’d be building around any of the new general options from this set. Sure – planeswalkers feel like a natural and flavorful extension of creatures when it comes to being able to choose one as your general. I get that. I might even be convinced that allowing planeswalkers across the board would be a good idea.

The reason that I wasn’t building a new deck out of this release is that none of the potential options from these pre-cons seems very good to me. Black tokens, white equipment, red artifacts…these are all things that I’ve done in Commander before, and none particularly interested me enough to keep around in the first place. I had just taken my tried and (un)true elves deck apart, and I wasn’t about to go back there. On top of that, I’ve played blue in just about every different angle possible.

This ruled out most of the legendary creatures as inferior to other options available, and I really believe that planeswalkers are over-rated and overly fragile in EDH. No spark there to draw me in. I finally ended up in a position where I was aching to build green, and I re-read Titania a few times. She grew on me.

Disclosure time – I have a bad proclivity towards trying to cover all bases when it comes to this game. I hate token decks, but I have a Hazezon Tamar tokens deck. I detest Maze of Ith, but I keep buying copies. When I recently gave up on Sharuum the Hegemon (again!), I was stuck with an annoying itch that had me building mono-brown As a result, that giant pile of green cards that used to be my [card]Eladamri, Lord of Leaves">Karn, Silver Golem[‘card] artifacts within a week. (Side note – turns out it’s a pretty damn-good deck, but more on that in another post.)

As a result, that giant pile of green cards that used to be my [card]Eladamri, Lord of Leaves deck was driving me nuts, so I decided to really look at Titania. I’m a sucker for solid ETB-triggered abilities, and recurring a land is a really strong and relevant one. I started to pull copies of Conjurer’s Closet and Tawnos’s Coffin in anticipation. She has decent stats for a decent cost. When I finally let myself think about lands leaving play, I realized that she has some real potential for explosive token creation, and these are real tokens – not 1/1 elves or goblins. They pack a punch alone without buffs.

Titania lets me not only get in on my green cards again, but my extra copies of Exploration and Azusa, Lost but Seeking were begging me to get back in the game after the last failed attempt at a land-centric deck. (Borborygmos Enraged, if you’re wondering.) I could bust out my copies of Burgeoning, Life from the Loam and Crucible of Worlds and feel good about the fact that I was going to fill some much-needed gaps in my deck bag.

I pre-ordered a copy…along with a pile of 5/3 elemental tokens.

THE ANGLE SO FAR

Lands matter. My plan is to go big on ramp, and big on sacrifice and destroy effects. Since it all relates to the general’s abilities, nothing is off-limits. I won’t feel bad snapping off a huge Boundless Realms at all with this deck, but I’ll be running Kodama’s Reach, Explosive Vegetation, Hunting Wilds, and a boatload of other options on top of a very high land count – likely upwards of 42 lands. As many “play an additional land on each of your turns” effects will be brought to bear – Oracle of Mul Daya, Explore, and so on. I want to be recycling cards out of the yard in multiples every turn and netting beaters in the process.

THE GAME PLAN

I want the deck to be able to function both as a long-term gamer, and also representing an explosive end-game. Looking at the latter first, it means that haste enablers are the order of the day – Concordant Crossroads and Akroma’s Memorial. This will allow me to immediately take advantage of instantaneous beat-down by a host of tokens without opening myself up to a board-sweeper blowout quite as badly. Scapeshift is the obvious prime culprit, but cards like Overlaid Terrain and Wood Elemental are just as crushing.

Mid-game antics are going to be the order of the day as well. I plan on running control elements – Beast Within, Oblivion Stone, Acidic Slime, Bane of Progress, and so on – to hang in the middle of a normal game. To augment that, limited land destruction will be part of the equation. Kudzu is an all-star here, allowing me a constant sacrifice outlet every turn as well as a potential huge end-game explosion. Terastodon doubles as board control, and also a great way to immediately show up with 33 power worth of creatures from one card. There are cards like Constant Mists and Sunstone to help mitigate loss of life, and Zuran Orb on the other end to drag me back into the black.

Extra protection will come in the form of Sylvan Safekeeper, City of Solitude, and Dosan the Falling Leaf. Lands will play a part on this side as well; ones that cause me to sacrifice lands on the way in (Heart of Yavimaya, Scorched Earth), lands that destroy other lands (Strip Mine, Ghost Quarter, Dust Bowl), and going against my usual aesthetic, every fetchland variant I can get my hands on. I also get to resurrect the old Dark Depths/Thespian’s Stage combo, which is good for a quick 30 power as well.

Add as much card draw as I can fit (Of note, I’m thinking Skullclamp gives me a good reason to dust off my copy of Living Plane at long last), some Overrun effects to seal the deal, and I think I’ll have a spicy little deck. (Once I finalize a list – and I plan to in order to play it next week – I’ll get a link up to a list on the site.)

CLOSING TIME

What are your thoughts here? Have you had a chance to play with the Commander 2014 pre-cons yet? How do they stack up in your opinion against the previous releases? What are the big hits – and big misses?

What do you think of Titania? Am I missing any good synergies or bombs? Is this thing a potential role-player, or should I just be prepared to lose all of my lands along with the games?

Hit me up below. I’d love to hear from you.

-Cass
@GDCCommander