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June 24, 2011

8

Commander: Mirror Mastery Review (Part 2 of 2)

by Dredd77

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!).

The Game

Jimi starts things off with a Secluded Steppe, while I go next with a Mountain. We’re both put to shame by Sam’s explosive start, with a Plains leading into a Sol Ring leading into an Orzhov Signet– a nice turn of events considering Sam mulled to 6. Next turn Jimi fields Lightning Greaves off of a Command Tower. I add a Forest and pass, while Sam misses her land drop entirely, playing nothing.

Things start to pick up on turn 3 when Jimi summons an Orzhov Guildmage, gears it up with the Greaves and swings at me for 2. I cycle a Krosan Tusker which puts me one card above hand size, so I throw away a Valley Rannet. Sam has a second blank turn in a row. Jimi looks to cement her early dominance with a turn-4 Kaalia of the Vast. She adds the Greaves to it and swings in, bringing a Reiver Demon along for the ride. Along with the Guildmage, I’m pounded for 10, taking me to 28 (with 2 points of commander damage). Back to me, I play an Island and pass, while Sam finally draws a Selesnya Sanctuary and can start to build up. After four turns, it’s feeling like Jimi’s clearly ahead, and I worry I’m not going to last long enough to make for an interesting review.

Now turn 5, I tap down Jimi’s Reiver Demon at the start of her turn with the cooler half of Fire // Ice. Jimi still manages a 4-point attack with Kaalia and the Guildmage before winding things up with Stranglehold. I finally draw an answer with Spitebellows, and waste no time evoking it to pick off Jimi’s Demon. Further help comes with Samantha’s Squallmonger, which will let me keep Kaalia at bay once I get some mana up. It’s back to Jimi, who relentlessly attacks for 4 more. I’m now down to 20 life, with 6 points of commander damage. Looking to ramp up, I play a Magus of the Vineyard, while Sam concludes with a Bestial Menace before using the Squallmonger to land the first attack on Jimi.

I’ve left enough mana open to use the Squallmonger’s ability to pick off Kaalia at the beginning of Jimi’s upkeep, sending her packing back to the Command Zone. Jimi balms the loss with a Gwyllion Hedge-Mage (placing a -1/-1 counter on the Squallmonger), then resummoning Kaalia of the Vast. Thanks to the Lightning Greaves, Kaalia picks up right where she left off, and another 4-point attack is inbound to me. The end is coming soon, and I still haven’t even managed to play my own Commander, Riku of Two Reflections. Thankfully, I have again found an answer, casting Disaster Radius while revealing an Artisan of Kozilek. Sam and Jimi both find their boards swept completely clean of creatures, though I can hardly take advantage with the lone Magus standing watch. Still, Sam’s is the last unbloodied body at the table, so the old Maguc shuffles through the red zone and raps her on the noggin with his staff. Now Sam’s turn, she summons her commander, Ghave, Guru of Spores. I’m hopeful that Ghave will keep Jimi’s attention and give me a little room to breathe.

It’s now turn 8, and for a third time Kaalia emerges from the command zone to torment me. She equips the Lightning Greaves and hits me for 2. I deploy a Command Tower of my own, then play Call the Skybreaker to give me a 5/5 flying body. Sam then tries the day’s first join forces spell with Alliance of Arms. Sam throws 8 mana into the pot. I play 2, then Jimi tops off with 3. Upon resolution, we’re each the proud owner of a baker’s dozen of 1/1 Soldier tokens, which ought to tie up the ground game for a little while.

Next turn Jimi assassinates Ghave with a Mortify, then attacks me with Kaalia (adding a Furnace Whelp from her hand) and all thirteen of the Soldiers. I use the Elemental token to kill off the Whelp (Jimi doesn’t have enough open Red mana to pump it up for a trade), and accept a trade of all of my Soldiers for all of hers. Still, I’m now in danger at 12 life, with 12 points of commander damage. Over to me, I discard a Homeward Path to retrace Call the Skybreaker. Worried about what Jimi might cook up, I keep both 5/5’s at home. Passing to Sam, I watch with satisfaction as she swings in hard with all thirteen Soldiers, cutting Jimi down to size with 24 life. She then kills off one of my Elementals with a Shriekmaw, lays down a Darksteel Ingot to add to her manabase, and passes.

Any wonder I have as to why Jimi would expose herself so are answered on turn 10. After attacking with Kaalia of the Vast and seeing her lethally blocked by my remaining Elemental, Jimi blasts the board with an Evincar’s Justice, paying the buyback. This sweep’s Sam’s Soldier army into the dustbin and kills my Magis of the Vineyard to boot- no more free mana! It’s also a 2-point hit across the board, leaving Jimi at 22, me at a perilous 10, and Sam at a more robust 37. It also has me on a 5-turn clock if Jimi opts to sweep every turn. Over to me, I send my one Elemental after Sam for 5, then retrace Call the Skybreaker for another. Sam plays a Temple of the False God, then destroys Jimi’s Stranglehold with a Monk Realist.

Now turn 11, Jimi lays down a Soul Snare before blasting the board again with Evincar’s Justice, buying it back to hand. Buyback is probably my all-time favourite mechanic, so to lose to it would be a sweet irony indeed. Knowing my only way to Jimi is through Sam, I attack with both Elementals for 10, dropping Sam to 20. I then shore up my aerial defenses with a Conundrum Sphinx, and spread the manabase a bit with a Kodama’s Reach. Sam plays an Orzhov Basilica, but otherwise has no other play. Next turn to no surprise Jimi grinds down with Evincar’s Justice before adding some bodies in the form of a Boros Guildmage and a Mother of Runes, seemingly looking to slow down her kill on me so I can get stuck in on Sam.  I obligingly attack for 10 more on Sam, cutting her in half, before finally summoning my commander for the first time. Sam shows us both the scorn with Hex, which destroys all six creatures on the board, though to her misfortune she’s still only responding to threats and not creating any of her own.

Now turn 13, Jimi resummons Kaalia (paying a heavy tax for the privilege, as often as she’s died). In response to her attempt to equip her with the Greaves, I kill her off with a Prophetic Bolt (grabbing a Colossal Might as my freebie card, the best of a bad bunch). Over to me, I add the Artisan of Kozilek and pass. Sam’s turn is a  blank. Next turn Jimi plays a Serra Angel, sending it in on me (with the Greaves) and leaving me at 2 life. I attack Sam with the Artisan, eliminating her from the game, then summon Intet, the Dreamer for all the good he’ll do me. With me at 2 life, Jimi’s Evincar’s Justice is all she needs to win.

Thoughts & Analysis

Undoubtedly there will be ways to modify this deck that will further abuse Riku of Two Reflections’ power, but as it stands the deck feels fairly well-balanced against the others. To be certain, Riku’s ability is very strong, and two mana doesn’t seem like much, but it often felt like it was locking me in to one action per turn. Granted, that was a very powerful action as it was doubled, but there was a certain trade-off in flexibility. The deck is going to hinder your ability to react, be it with instants, activated abilities, and so on. Riku might whisper limitless possibility, but in reality it does tend to fetter you in shackles of your own greed. Because of that, the deck sometimes feels as though it handles like a semi, when what you’d rather have is the responsiveness of a motorcycle.

The greed that Riku inspires also puts something of a drag on your hand. It won’t be uncommon for you to be able to pay a perfectly good card at the time you need to, but try and delay the casting so as to ‘maximise’ your value through Riku. This is the same type of tension in evidence in mechanics like kicker and entwine. Greed can lead to bad plays… but the collary is, so can a lack of it. Our friend of the two reflections is a far more craftier and subtle mage than he might first appear.

Beyond that the deck was a lot of fun to play, something you’ll probably be hearing a lot of in the remaining reviews if what we’ve all seen so far is any guide. If there’s a weakness to the deck, its in its relatively clunky noncreature suite. Riku’s at his best with creatures that have enters-the-battlefield abilities, and creatures with evoke are probably top of the charts for this (see: Mulldrifter). The deck also misses out a little on wider-reaching effects like enchantments, which are kept low to give you the most possible targets for copying. Like Heavenly Inferno, this deck is but the first hints of promise, giving you an idea of a somewhat muted reality, inviting you to take your own brush to it and make it truly your own.

Hits: Great primary commander with a deck largely tuned for him; abundant targets for copying; fair amount of enters-the-battlefield creatures; this is the only deck with a planeswalker card (Garruk Wildspeaker)

Misses: Noncreature suite a little underwhelming; deck’s archetype a little more constricting than it first appears; enters-the-battlefield synergy missed a few obvious opportunities (Mulldrifter, Ingot Chewer) which would be reasonably balanced by scarcity in a 100-card singleton format

OVERALL SCORE: 4.50/5.00

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8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Icehawk
    Jun 24 2011

    Alliance of Arms: 13 soldiers? Wow. I like these Join Forces cards. This one those is my least favorite. Thankful none of these decks have a Coat of Arms as far as I know. Yikes.

    Anyway, I like this deck. Got it with my Puppet. Looking forward to trying it out.

    Reply
    • Varo
      Jun 24 2011

      I don’t understand join forces cards: Why would you want to play something that gives card advantage to everyone but you? It makes no sense for me.

      I got the feeling that Kaalia ruined this review with her million/million creature bringing ability. I hope you don’t use that deck for your reviews anyomore. Hoped to see Riku in action, but what’s done is done.

      Reply
      • Jun 24 2011

        You’ll be happy to note that we’re doing a rotation cycle of decks for the test. Each of the three of us will play each deck once, meaning you’ll have three chances to see each deck in action. I think there’s definitely a role for join forces cards in the medium, for two ways. First, if you can put the effect to greater result than your opponent, you benefit more (asymmetry). The other is that in Commander games there’s a certain strategy which actually looks to -aid- your opponents… the “group hug” strat… that actually turns generosity into a survival mechanism. Those cards are custom-fit for that notion. I’m with you, though, they generally rub me the wrong way personally.

        Reply
        • Icehawk
          Jun 24 2011

          To steal allude to a line from Wizard: Make allies out of enemies.

          Or even just turn enemies against one another. Though these type of cards fit the Political Puppets deck more, but it never hurts.

          Death by Dragons type of effect I prefer where you could pick one person to miss out. Just would need to limit the effect a little. Say make it 6 mana for 5-6 1/1 soldiers that everyone gets except X.

          Reply
      • troacctid
        Jun 25 2011

        Step 1: Play Riku.
        Step 2: Play Baloth Woodcrashers. Copy them.
        Step 3: Play Collective Voyage for eight. Attack for 80.

        Reply
  2. Dan Filgueira
    Nov 16 2011

    Hi!My name is Dani Im a new follower of this site, im spanish and im not very well expresing me in english! I love your analisis of all decks, I have counterpunch and is really strong!
    Add Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, and you`ll see the real power of Alliance of Arms!

    Reply
    • Nov 19 2011

      Welcome, Dani! Glad you’re enjoying the site, and -that- is a nasty little combo!

      Reply

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