When we all started scrambling to choose the Pre-Cons we were going to each review here at GDC, I knew I had to have Eternal Bargain. I got my EDH start (more or less) with an Esper deck, and I’ve got a well-documented history of trying to make a “fair” version of a Sharuum the Hegemon deck.
After looking under the hood for a bit, I think there’s never been a truer statement than “Be careful what you ask for…”
I say this because Eternal Bargain seems to both buck the trends and also reinforce the Esper stereotypes all in one little purple boxed set. This deck can run aggro out of the box, as it features both reasonable beaters like Sphinx of the Steel Wind and Divinity of Pride; it also runs Sydri, Galvanic Genius as a “lieutenant” to Oloro, Ageless Ascetic, and she’s able to turn every single artifact in the deck into a nasty little life-linking, death-touching threat.
On the other hand, Oloro himself really suggests a control/combo game plan more in line with what traditional Sharuum decks tend to exhibit. Typically, by the time Oloro hits play, you will have already padded your life total by more than 25% just for having him sit in the command zone. From there, the deck is packed with innocuous life-gain effects that seek to kill parity by drawing you a billion cards and doing damage directly to your opponents. You don’t need to get into the red-zone to win, and you can soak up a bunch of damage in the process.
And in true Esper fashion, there’s even a bomb combo that comes as a result of running out Oloro, Serra Avatar, and Wall of Reverence. If you’ve got the mana, you can do as much damage and draw as many cards as your heart desires, and watch your enemies all drop dead in the process.
Yeah, this thing is typical Esper.
THE BASIC RULES
A few quick guidelines here:
*Don’t Expect This To Stand Up To Custom EDH Decks.
This goes without saying in relation to all of the Commander 2013 Pre-Cons, in my opinion. They’re great against each-other, and they’re great starting points for tweaking and building into custom decks, but the overall power level of the cards is very low. Even pretty casual decks will blow these things out of the water. You have been warned.
*Don’t Swap Legendary Creatures Like You Did With The Original Commander Pre-Cons.
The original decks did a far better job of creating a balance between the available generals; if Karador, Ghost Chieftain wasn’t your cup of tea, tossing Ghave, Guru of Spores into the command zone instead didn’t really set you back there or with the creature you would eventually draw. This isn’t the case with this particular Commander 2013 deck, at least. Sydri does a fine job at the helm of the deck, but she works far better in conjunction with Oloro, turning his abilities into a draw/damage engine. This works both ways of course, but you lose the life padding Oloro provides from just being in the command zone if he’s in the deck, and he’s the one you need to have on the table; if Sydri gets killed off, your main plan is still in place, and this deck doesn’t do a great job of reanimation; long story short, you need the command zone mechanic to keep Oloro in the fight, and the deck is worse with him as one of the 99.
Oh…and just because Sharuum is in here does not make this a Sharuum-worthy deck. Don’t do it. Seriously.
THE NEW CARDS
Here’s a quick look at the all-new toys you’re getting in Eternal Bargain.Act of Authority
In-flavor for the deck. Unfortunately, to get the value you would get out of, say, Return to Dust, plan on losing your best toy in return. And since your deck is the one most hurt by artifact removal, this is likely going to be a one-and-done option.Curse of Inertia
Make friends by screwing over one guy. Or more likely, just piss off the one guy while providing more untap engines for the Derevi, Empyrial Tactician deck and a sure-fire way for the Prossh, Skyraider of Kher deck to keep everyone shut off. I’ll pass.Curse of Shallow Graves
This out-of-flavor option is better titled “Curse of Trying to Complete Cycles.”Curse of the Forsaken
This is the curse most likely to matter to this deck. If you get going with Sydri, it has the potential to really start swinging life totals in your favor with Oloro out. It will rapidly become obvious that this is helping you more than it is helping anyone else, and it won’t stick around long.Darksteel Mutation
The best use of this card is to play it on your own Sphinx of the Steel Wind the turn that you also play Nevinyrral’s Disk. Oblivion Ring this is not (and that thing has the same damn issue in this format.)Order of Succession
The worst thing about this card is that someone is going to eventually put it into a Hive Mind deck.Tempt with Immortality
It’s no Living Death or Patriarch’s Bidding; that said, this thing will provide you value, provided that A) people have never seen a “Tempt” card resolve even once, and B) you’ve put it into a deck that actually has more than about three good reanimation targets.Toxic Deluge
Because you gotta kill that True-Name Nemesis.
Really, this is a decent option for an EDH deck in general (because I love –X/-X removal), and it shines with all of the lifegain this thing packs. A fixed low cost means you can almost always bring this to bear, even if X=two life against Avenger of Zendikar tokens. This is (sound the ‘Obvious Gong’) one of the standouts of the deck.Diviner Spirit
I personally despise “if this deals damage to an opponent” effects to begin with. When you put one on a card that is over-costed due to a balanced ability, it gets the finger. Seriously – would you pay five mana for “Draw two cards. Target opponent draws two cards.”?
Maybe this is Wizards of the Coast giving the EDH Rules Committee the finger for banning Trade Secrets after they included it in the original Commander product.Hooded Horror
…Huh? What? Sorry…dozed off for a second there. The good news is that you have a clear front-runner for “Card to pull out to make room for a better card” once you start upgrading this thing.Serene Master
Flavorful card is flavorful. Card that flavorfully belongs in another Pre-Con flavorfully belongs…eh, you get the point.
Neat card. Not super impressed, because I don’t like sitting around waiting for a non-flying creature to attack me. But it is neat.Tidal Force
It must be low tide, since this thing is missing trample. Seriously, Wizards…stop making cards that don’t deliver on design flavor. It’s a 7/7 that looks like it’s about to crash into the coastline like a tsunami. And it’s called TIDAL FORCE. Tell me that shouldn’t be trampling. Seriously.
I’m going to suggest that we add “This Doesn’t Add Up” as a point in our EDH league. You and an opponent each get a point when you answer one flavor mistake with another flavor mistake. Like, for example, blocking this thing with Whippoorwill.
NOTABLE REPRINTSSphinx of the Steel Wind
One of the best sphinxes in the game. Don’t sleep on protection from green, and the combination of first strike, flying and vigilance makes this a monster by any definition.Phyrexian Delver
One of the few reanimation options in the deck, this thing has very little downside in a lifegain-happy list like this. Five mana, any creature you want. It’s that good. Great new art too.Death Grasp
Very underrated removal. One of the better X-spells out there when you hit late game, since it effectively doubles the damage spread between you and an opponent.Lim-Dul’s Vault
There’s a reason this card is always a fringe player in Vintage. One life to dig five cards deep? This needs to see more EDH play.Spinal Embrace
One of the best combat tricks in the game, not to mention the Commander 2013 Pre-Cons. A solid offensive surprise, removal, surprise defense, and life gain all in one tidy package.
– Only ten non-creature artifacts for Sydri to animate…two cost four, and the rest are cheaper. Wasted opportunity on her first ability.
– Thank goodness some decent graveyard hate in Nihil Spellbomb made the deck. Which reminds me – Trinket Mage is at the door.
– Don’t get me wrong – I love all of the Portal: Three Kingdoms reprints in these decks. But Kongming, “Sleeping Dragon”? Why?
– This deck goes way overboard with the lifegain effects; that’s great if Oloro sticks around, but without him? This deck is a huge pile of bad lifegain effects. Prossh still kills you with 21 damage.
– Needs more draw. I count about four honest draw spells.
The removal package tops out with Toxic Deluge and Nevinyrral’s Disk, keeps a little steam with Dromar’s Charm, and it goes pretty south from there. I would have liked to see the Decree of Pain that Mind Grind got over here.
When your high-end beaters (Tidal Force, Serra Avatar) don’t have any evasion, you know that your offensive capability is in trouble. The better offensive value comes from Myr Battlesphere and Sharding Sphinx.
All in all, Eternal Bargain is a compelling package. There are some really solid toys in here, and I’m really excited to see what can be realized in dedicated Sydri and Oloro decks. Overall, I think this deck is down on power versus the other Pre-Cons; it needs to lean on Oloro to stay afloat, and the lack of reasonable answers and solid offense means that things can get problematic in a hurry. There are only four or five reanimation cards in the deck, which means Phyrexian Reclamation is likely the all-star in terms of keeping you in the game and giving you some offensive capability. Otherwise, as I said, you tend to end up in these hopeless positions where Sharuum gets you back Nihil Spellbomb instead of a solid answer or offensive option nine times out of ten.
The positive thing about this deck is that it firmly plants ideas. It doesn’t take long before you start to realize the capability Oloro would actually have in a dedicated deck, because Eternal Bargain goes a long way towards showing you the effect in a fair and balanced manner. Toying with Sydri for about ten seconds will leave you scrambling to your binder to grab Darksteel Forge and Akroma’s Memorial.
All in all, the deck does what it should do – It showcases the new generals, gives new players a great introduction to some lesser-represented strategies, and provides some good value for the advanced player to build off of.
I’ll be revisiting this thing in the near future to see what a little cash can do to make the deck be able to stand up to a reasonable metagame, and what deep pockets and no limits can do to add a real Esper threat to your quiver.
See you all soon-