After a short break to run our Best Four Days in Gaming giveaway, Magic Beyond the Box is back with a new precon article focusing on the Commander decks. For those still waiting to get theirs and undecided as to which deck best fits their playstyle, today’s piece gives some guidance on which one to go for. Wait no longer!
In the history of Ertai’s Lament, we’ve never bothered to plot a deck schedule out, rather adhering to the simple rule ‘don’t play one you’ve played before.’ In this manner, we ensure that every deck is a part of two different writeups- the main playtest, where I play it, and another playtest as the opposing deck (Jimi or Sam). And for all this time, that’s been sufficient. So it was without any great thought that we did the same with Commander, and everything ran fine until we got to our final game.
Me: “Okay, I’m playing Political Puppets. Jimi, which deck haven’t you played yet?”
Jimi: “Devour for Power. Which one for you, Sam?”
[sinking feeling dawns]
Sam [softly]: “Political Puppets.”
A tragic oversight, and one that we could do nothing about- a lesson learned in a three-player environment. Without planning, overlap can happen. And so we extend our collective apology for those looking forward to three reviews of Political Puppets- alas, our review series will only showcase it twice.
On the upside, Sam opted to go for Counterpunch, so fans of that deck get treated to an extra dose. As before, we’ll go Attack Left/Defend Right, and die rolls have situated Jimi to my left going first, and Sam on my right.
Reader Si has been tinkering around with the Counterpunch deck from Commander, which features Ghave, Guru of Spores and a host of tokens and effects that use or rely upon them. He’d like to keep the general theme of the deck, but wants some suggestions on how to improve upon it.
When I first started playing Magic, as many readers may already be aware, I was a huge fan of defensive-minded decks which defied any attackers from gaining traction. Cards like Island Sanctuary, Righteousness, and Castle backed up by Blue countermagic helped surround me in a virtual fortress, along with a fair number of Walls. I might win through a finisher like Air Elemental, or get clever and drain them out with their own cards via Psychic Venom, Power Leak, Creature Bond, or Feedback. In multiplayer play, I wanted to be the guy no-one attacked, instead moving on to easier and softer prey.
Now moving forward many years to the present day, we find a similar spirit prevailing in the new Commander deck Political Puppets, the last to be reviewed and the one that has me the most intrigued. ‘Group Hug’ strategies have long been viable in the format- decks which take a ‘friendly’ approach to the game giving everyone free cards and other goodies, all the while looking to avoid being a target through excessive generosity. The premise to Political Puppets is simple, but one that has a most unusual twist. Unlike the other four, which have strategies that rely on your skill in the game- this deck also needs a healthy dose of personality to be at its best.
Approaching the end of our Commander coverage, our second-to-last playtest game sees Ghave’s Counterpunch deck- a Black/White/Green token-heavy construction- pitted against two of its contemporaries once again. On my left is Jimi who has selected Mirror Mastery, while Sam is to my right in attack position with the very aggressively-minded Heavenly Inferno. Would Ghave have what it takes to come out ahead? Jimi’s won all three of our previous Commander games… could the streak be broken today?
It is a curious thing how history when running its own course has a tendency to return to the same patterns time and time again. A mind unattuned to this flow of history has little chance to learn the lessons the past teaches, and thus avoiding the past’s mistakes. One can see no better illustration than the tendency for destinies to run in parallel than by examining the shared fates of the elves of Sarpadia and the humans of Drakkus. We recently visited the downfall of the Sarpadian Elves, and related the following tragic tale:
The Elves raised the Thallids as a crop, not unlike cattle, and it appeared that Thelon’s unique solution had saved his people.
For a time, anyway, for nature is an unpredictable thing. The Thallids did not stop growing and developing while in captivity, and before long they became self-aware, which in turn led to aggression against those who were cultivating them for food. That Elvish society was riven by fierce debates over the ethics of their treatment of the Thallids, though this was of little consolation to the Thallids who were continuing to be led to the slaughter to put food on the tables of the Elves. The Thallids rose up against their Elvish harvesters, and the fragile Elvish civilisation came crashing down to ruin. Source
In another time, another place, there were the humans on Drakkus. Had both peoples been able to communicate with one another, the fate of one might well have been spared.
Once more to the arena we go, with Devour for Power in the showcase seat. Unlike previous games, the dice rolls yielded a different outcome this time- Jimi to my left, Sam to my right. With our focused attack policy in place, that meant that I would have to balance striking at Jimi while defending myself against Sam. For her part, Jimi selected the Green-Blue-Black Counterpunch. Sam opted for the doubling strategy of the Blue-based Mirror Mastery. Here is how the battle unfolded.
If we led off with a deck that soared the heavens above, whether it be on feather or batflesh or scale, today we’ll be looking at a deck with an altogether more earthy interest. To mages of a particular mindset, it has been a great shame that one part of the natural order has been so criminally neglected. Sure we’re born, we live lives of varying greatness, failure, and mediocrity, but… what about after? What happens when the great engine of life has exhausted itself, and the body gives itself up to the sweet respite of the grave? What is there for us after our mortal life has completed its journey?
The spirit? The anima? That eternal essence bound up in the heart of all living creatures? Who cares- that’s a question best left to priests and philosophers. No, what we’re here for that thing all living creatures leave behind, that thing they have no need for and won’t miss when we appropriate it. We speak, of course, about their bodies. Why let a perfectly good natural resource go to waste when there are so many uses for it? Indeed, it would be almost selfish of someone to try and hoard their mouldering remains well past the point of having any use for them at all. And thanks to advances in the necromantic arts, why, there are plenty of things we can do with it.
For those who put purposeful efficiency over the squeamish revulsion of the living for the dead… who see opportunity where others see something best left to decay… welcome to Devour for Power.
Ready for our next go of Commander, we’ve already high hopes and expectations. The format has proved to be an immediate success, validating what we’ve heard from other players in the Magic community for quite awhile. We may be the perfect target demographic for this launch- players who would warm to the gameplay of Commander, but who never got around to actually playing any of it. Consider Ertai’s Lament converted- even when not playing we’re often found discussing the various decks and their strategies to a degree most uncommon.
Today I’m piloting Mirror Mastery, the Green/Red/Blue deck which uses its commander to duplicate spells and creatures, (hopefully) leading to long-term card advantage and domination of the battlefield. After dicing for seating arrangements, Sam is again to my left and Jimi to my right. This is important because of our condition on playtesting- attack left, defend right- designed to make for a more balanced review. Sam is playing Counterpunch, the token-generating deck, while Jimi pilots Heavenly Inferno, packed with Angels, Demons, and Dragons (oh my!).
One deck down and four to go, and it’s been some time since we’ve been quite this eager to tear into new decks. Our first review was for Heavenly Inferno, which although fun seemed to be a construction not unlike a regular constructed Black/Red deck, only on a larger scale. Like a Rakdos deck, it tended to burn itself out early and struggle to refill its hand. Looking to see something in quite the opposite direction for our next review, we selected Mirror Mastery, a deck by name and commander that promises a great deal of trickery and shenanigans.
Mirror Mastery’s bit of the colour pie consists of the unique joining of Blue with its enemy colours, Red and Green. Thematically, one can only imagine what might result of a crossbreeding of Simic and Izzet, and that’s what looks to be in store for any pilot of this deck. We’ll begin as we shall, working our way down from the top.