“Ugh, Arcum? OK Fine. Every body kill him first.” Ever heard something like that?
In early May, in the midst of a flurry of public debate about reputations and Magic players, I received a request for an article about Commanders that have bad reputations, how those generals earned the rap, whether it is deserved, how to fight against these commanders, and ideas to play differently using them to improve their reputation.
This is a massive but interesting project, so I’m breaking it up into pieces. For starters, I’ve put together a list of what I consider the generals with a bad reputation, organized below by color/color group. Roughly every other night until it’s done or I fall to pieces, we’ll update the list below with some of answers to the questions raised above, to turn this into an indexed resource for the Commander community.
First, I’d like you to go to the comments or Tweet at me @SwordstoPlow answering any of these three questions:
- Who is missing and why?
- Which Commanders to you agree or disagree with, and why?
- How would you use one or more in an innovative or fun way to counteract their bad reputation?
Commanders with Bad Reputations
Table of Contents
Scion of the Ur-Dragon
Child of Alara
Uril, the Miststalker
Rafiq of the Many
Derevi, Empyrial Tactician
Marchessa, the Black Rose
Nekusar, the Mindrazer
Prossh, Skyraider of Kher
Kaalia of the Vast
Animar, Soul of Elements
Scion isn’t really a problem. The problem is that he has become the poster child for Hermit Druid Commander decks. Hermit Druid decks run zero non-basic lands so they can flip the entire deck, and then use Narcomeba, Hermit Druid, and any card that resurrects itself for free or cheap to fuel a Dread Return based combo. The most common target for Dread Return is currently Necrotic Ooze. Since the whole library is in the graveyard he can have any number of game winning abilities such as Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Mogg Fanatic to burn the table to the ground. This deck runs an abundance of cheap tutors such as Vampiric tutor, Demonic Tutor, Survival of the Fittest, and Worldly Tutor to get druid as quickly and consistently as possible. The final piece of the deck is a gigantic control plan to keep itself alive and protect the combo.
This is honestly an incredibly difficult build to deal with, because the combo requires such little commitment, making it easy to run enough control to deal with the answers that come up. The best thing for this is graveyard hate. Having Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace on board can make all the difference. Otherwise, countering the druid or using Ravenous Trap in response to the Dread Return is key. If all else fails, you can force the Scion player to draw a card in response to the Return, because they have effectively decked themselves.
Scion isn’t bad on his own. If you play it as a five-color ‘good-stuff’ deck or a dragon tribal, you will be fine. Just don’t play Hermit Druid without a decent number of basic lands and you can start to repair the Ur’s reputation.
Child gets a bad reputation for being the go-to leader of Wrath of God.dec. Having the board get completely wrecked every turn can make games last forever and a day. It’s just frustrating for a table to never have the ability to set up.
This is a deck that really needs it’s Commander, and needs the commander to go to the graveyard. Having Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace will force the player to resort to the regular wraths in the deck. The absolute best way to deal with this is to have someone steal Child and then cast Darksteel Mutation on the bad baby. The best Counterspells for this are Spelljack and Gather Specimens
I’m honestly at a loss for how you could possibly improve the reputation of this card. It does what it does, and that can be frustrating.
Big, hexproof commanders are very difficult to deal with. When they changed the legend rule, people were clamoring for the banning of this beast. With the ban of tuck he has become even more difficult to control. Every set seems to improve Uril, one of the most prolific boogeymen in Commander. All of the various Enchantresses and powerful auras quickly make him a two-to-three turn commander-damage clock who you will have a heck of a time killing. Thanks to Totem Armor, wraths are usually pretty ineffective as well.
Arcane Lighthouse and Archetype of Endurance will allow you to use some regular removal on him. If you combine one of those with a Control Magic you could put the Uril player in a position s/he is not prepared for. If you don’t have access to those, mass enchantment removal and hate is a good path to take. Fracturing Gust, Austere Command[card], [card]Back to Nature[card], [card]All is Dust, Bane of Progress, ect, ect.
Aside from not hitting people with Uril, he’s another commander who just is what he is. Avoiding the Armageddon and Jokulhops style of play is a good idea to improve his reputation. Otherwise, you can try playing him on a budget with more of the fun enchantments or not building so much around him as the center.
Rafiq falls into the same category as Uril, Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer, Godo, Bandit Warlord, andThe Mimeoplasm – commanders that can realistically get to the point where they kill a player each turn. Rafiq’s bad reputation comes from abruptly ending games. Grafted Exoskeleton turns him, or any creature with a base power of three or more into a one shot killing machine. He’s also the poster boy for being equipped with Swords of X and Y (like Sword of Feast and Famine). He has double strike, and Finest Hour can give him quadruple strike, for all the value in the world.
Fogs and spot removal are the way to go if Rafiq is a problem in your area. He’s a straight-forward aggro kinda guy, so straight-forward control can usually take care of him.
Rafiq doesn’t have to be a bad man. Putting him at the helm of a soldier-themed deck, and Exalted deck, or just not playing Umazawe’s Jitte and Grafted Exoskelton could go a long way in removing his bad reputation.
Derevi is a card who recently upped her (?) bad reputation. Without tuck, this value monster will never go away. At a converted mana cost of four for the entire game, she can make players feel hopeless. The biggest issue right now is that playing Derevi will look like you are trying to take unfair advantage of the rules change (assuming your group has decided to follow the rules change).
If you are playing a casual Derevi deck, I suspect that the reputation will just improve over time. She currently make this list mostly out of bitterness over the rules change, and maybe her tendency to lead a staxy “unfun” deck.
Marchesa is a bit of a new add onto the bad-red list. Essentially, she is just an upgraded Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker deck. The hatred comes from frustration of never being able to really kill anything on her board permanently. I am not sure how long she will maintain a bad rep, but she is a powerful commander that when built around is effective.
Graveyard hate is one of the easiest ways to deal with Marchesa. If you exile a graveyard, those cards just aren’t coming back. If you don’t have much graveyard hate, using exile, theft, and tuck removal spells shut her down as well.
Since there is no set way to build or break Marchesa, I think her reputation will fade in time. I’d continue to play her and just try and have a good time. Time will do the rest.
Like many other cards on the list, Nekusar has the unfortunate fate of being too niche. Nekusar decks will all naturally look very similar to each other. You see a lot of Spiteful Visions, Wheel of Fortunes, and Teferi’s Puzzle Boxes floating around. The deck also interacts on a different axis – It kills people without attacking. This leads to less interactive games, and that can leave a bad taste in player’s mouths.
Nekusar is fairly easy to deal with. Removal and life gain can both greatly mitigate the effects of the deck. It’s easier for non-red and black decks to deal with the threats because they include many enchantments.
My biggest recommendation to Nekusar players is to make sure it isn’t your only deck. It’s a consistent deck that follows a solid strategy, but opponents will get bored with it quickly.
Nicol Bolas is mean, plain and simple. Very few players enjoy losing their hand from a single hit. It doesn’t really matter what is in the rest of the deck, because the thought of being pummeled and losing all of your cards is enough to fuel a bad reputation.
Killing Nicol Bolas before he can swing is easily the best way to deal with this commander. Library of Leng can combat the effects. Having a commander that reanimates is a way to punish a player for making you discard, and a strategy I highly recommend.
There is not really anything that can be done to improve the reputation of one of the bad-boys of the Magic the Gathering. He’s an evil elder dragon and he’s poised to stay that way for a long time.
Food Chain and Purphoros are the primary reason that people seem to hate seeing Prossh giving them the stink eye from across a table. Essentially any commander with an attached infinite combo (or more than one attached combo) isn’t going to have the best reputation. The way this works is pretty simple; you sacrifice all the kobold tokens for mana and use some of that mana to recast Prossh. You get infinite mana for creatures and infinite enters-the-battlefield triggers.
Artifact and Enchantment instant speed exile/tuck removal is the single best way to shut down these combos and have a good game. Deglamer, Chaos Warp, and Dissipate are all examples of great choices that can save your bacon.
Prossh could easily have a better reputation if people would just avoid the combos. It is a hard temptation to resist, however, and I don’t expect to see a flood of ‘friendly’ Prossh decks anytime soon.
There are many reasons to dislike Kaalia, from sneaking in Iona, Shield of Emeria to hitting you with Master of Cruelties. All the reasons to dislike Kaalia are brutal, effective, and most of all – played out. We’ve all seen dozens of Kaalia decks doing these things and they all essentially look the same.
Kaalia can be handled by killing her about three or four times so that it’s better to just cast the fatties rather than sneak them in. Watch out for the Armageddon Kaalia build and keep mana and spot removal ready so that they don’t have a perfect opening to blow everyone out. If you want to be really effective, try Humility against this deck. It will teach people about Humility on multiple levels.
I guess you could make Kaalia a secondary consideration or just use basic utility angels, dragons, and demons, but it would take a long time to recover from the reputation she has built.
An author on Star City Games once called for the banning of Animar. He compared the advantage that Animar gave to the level of Emrakul, The Aeons Torn. While I don’t exactly agree with that, Animar Is undoubtedly a powerhouse if left unchecked. It has built in protection, mana ramp, and combos out with Palinchron. The main reason for hating Animar comes from the speed of the deck.; Animar comes out early and drops some major threats before people are prepared to deal with them.
My biggest recommendation is to steal Animar. Its level of ramp is relevant throughout a game, so simply killing him doesn’t usually slow down the deck much. If it’s a poorly built Animar deck, some spot removal may work, just to keep them off high levels of mana.
Animar is a value beast, so the best thing you can do to improve its reputation is to play a casual theme. Animar will support/help most themes so have fun and try something a little more out there.
As you will notice, there is a common theme for RUG legends being hated – value. Maelstrom Wanderer gets the hate it deserves from the basic advantage you get by getting three cards each time you cast it. It is big enough to be a threat on the table, but opponents don’t want to see it get recast either. Extra turn spells and the Mirage-style tutors like Mystical Tutor and Brutalizer Exarch make the cascades consistent and powerful. (You see these decks using a lot of extra turn spells.)
Wanderer takes a very specific strategy to stop. You have to destroy lands and regulate mana. This is essentially the pinnacle of a ramp deck, where just having a ton of mana is too much of a threat to ignore. Winter Orb and Armageddon effects should be considered if someone in your group is choosing to play Wanderer.
Maelstrom Wanderer is good, but really only as good as the cards in the rest of the deck since that are where most of the value comes from. If you build it with the intent to be casual, you will improve the reputation overtime.
Another value RUG commander makes the list. He combos out with both Palincron and World Gorger. Legendary creatures that are part of two card combos will nearly always build a bad reputation and Riku is no exception. Having the counterspells to back the combos and the proper colors to tutor for the combos don’t help his case. RUG decks also have the distinction of being able to play a ton of Tooth and Nail combos. Don’t be too surprised when one of these decks also runs Kiki-Jiki, Mirrorbreaker and Pestermite, or Craterhoof Behoth and Avenger of Zendikar[/card,] or [card]Palinchron and Deadeye Navigator or, well you get the point.
Simply having removal should be enough to stop this commander from going crazy. If just kill him on sight, you will go from playing an annoying combo general to an annoying combo deck. Fight this deck as you would any deck: instant speed answers & constant pressure.
Riku can actually be used to play some very fun builds. Tribal humans and tribal wizards are good, as is something with creatures that produce tokens when they enter the battlefield. He is one of the best commanders to use with allies as well. You could also go the opposite direction and go with big spells. If enough people do fun things instead of forcing the combos, he will recover his reputation over time.
Ghave, Guru of combos with everything. If only Ghave produced fungus counters instead of +1/+1 counters we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Sadly, he does produce both tokens and +1/+1 counters and so he combos off with a hundred different magic cards. (My count may be slightly off, but that sounds about right). Among them, Ashnod’s Altar or Earthcraft with Nim Deathmantle, Cathar’s Crusade, Juniper Order Ranger, or Doubling Season (There are more like this).
Ghave also allows players extreme value with any of the Grave Pact effects, Fecundity, Blood Artist type cards, Aura Shard[card], or the soul sisters. There are even some silly combos with things like [card]Mana Reflection and Devoted Druid. Put that on top of a deck that has no problems tutoring for creatures and enchantments and you have this machine of inevitability that even casual players will accidentally combo out with.
One of the major issues with a deck like this is that it combos well with cards that are good on their own, or good together. The best answer I have found to Ghave is being a faster deck. The deck will inevitably win if you let it survive. However, it is incredibly mana hungry. If you can just get out in front of it and knock it out before it gets going, you will have the best chances of winning.
If you build Ghave as a fungus tribal, it could be cool and fun. Outside that, I’m not sure there is anything that can be done to improve the reputation of this penicillin monster.
Fleshbag Marauder is really where most of the hate comes from. There are some other annoyances, but that zombie is the biggest. Essentially, the hated Karador decks are stax decks that break the rules. They don’t care about sacrificing creatures and they usually run ways to either ramp or play lands from the graveyard so that even land destruction doesn’t slow them down.
Graveyard hate will cripple the oppressive factor of the deck without truly shutting it down completely. Playing with value creatures is good even if you can only use their sac abilities once. However, Torpor Orb slams that door.
Honestly, it’s so easy to hate out Karador that I think it’s just a matter of time before his reputation is moved into good standing.
A saturation of Time Warp[\card] effects can potentially make even a single swing with Narset game ending. You pair that with being hexproof to turn off spot removal and you are stuck using mass removal to deal with a single creature. You are stuck with the decision of destroying your board position or losing altogether. Even if you can block or kill her, one good flip off the top and none of it will matter. Pair that with mass land removal available in her colors and the rest of the table could find themselves spectators right away.
This deck is honestly very difficult to deal with. She cost six mana, so restricting the flow of mana is your best choice, but many players see that as breaking the social contract. You can try and win first, but a six mana kill spells is hard to beat. Outside of mana removal, [card]Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir and Counterspells are the way to go. Good luck.
In theory, people building the deck casually without a saturation of extra turn spells could help her recover her image, but I doubt that will happen. These decks can be beyond nasty and I gang up on these decks when they show up. If you like archenemy, this is the legend for you.
Plain and simple, people don’t like land destruction. This deck destroys lands.
You can play things that protect your lands, bring them back from the graveyard, or play low curve. Sadly, at the end of the day if you don’t like playing against land destruction, you will never like this deck.
Maybe you could alter the card to be textless and just use it as a flying beater to improve the reputation?
- Who is missing and why?
- Which Commanders to you agree or disagree with, and why?
- How would you use one or more in an innovative or fun way to counteract their bad reputation?
I’ll work any feedback for the next part, but it may be a while. Real Life incoming.