Commander: Devour for Power Review (Part 1 of 2)
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.
Be On Your Way
Devour’s three commanders are a wildly diverse lot. Leading the way is The Mimeoplasm, one of the more eagerly-anticipated of the set. The Mimeoplasm itself has no special abilities- it can’t actually do anything on its own. Instead, like tofu it takes on the flavour of whatever it’s cooked with, which in its case means whatever creatures you exile when The Mimeoplasm comes into play. There’s a certain balance to this in that it’s heavily conditional. Get quality creatures in graveyards early and The Mimeoplasm is beating. If instead there’s nothing but Scryb Sprites and Brassclaw Orcs in them, it might be some time before you’re able to profitably cast it. Where The Mimeoplasm has perhaps its biggest upside in repeated play, however, is in the variety it lends you. Commander is a vast world with tons of different decks and creatures drawn from throughout the game’s long history. This commander lets you get a chance to play them- all you have to do is make sure they end up in a graveyard first.
The second mythic commander is Damia, Sage of Stone. A 4/4 with deathtouch for seven mana, she is certainly on the pricier side- especially as you mentally begin adding in for each time you might have to recast her from the Command Zone after she’s killed- she can be hated out through cost fairly quickly. Still, if she manages to stick around, she can provide superb card advantage. If the goal of the second mythic commander was not only to provide a back-up in case two players brought the same deck, but also to inspire players to build a second deck around them, Damia might just be the most exciting of the five (the others being Ruhan of the Fomori; Karador, Ghost Chieftain; Animar, Soul of Elements; and Tariel, Reckoner of Souls). Her ability is useful in Devour for Power, but she virtually begs to be better used in a deck all her own.
While there aren’t a ton of good cards that can exploit the loss of a draw step (Symbiotic Deployment being one, and sadly off-colour is Solitary Confinement), the ability to refill your hand every turn whispers all manner of shenanigans in one’s ear. For instance, Zombie Infestation would allow you to get three 2/2 Zombies each turn, all the while with you throwing lots and lots of creatures into your graveyard. And of course, there’s always more shenanigans that you can do with expendable creature tokens, right? The other possibilities boggle. Got a creature with a brutal tap ability (like the Avatar of Woe)? Immobilizing Ink. Want to wipe an opponent’s hand? Last Rites. Want to lock down your enemies’ hands instead? Damia + Zombie Infestation + Sadistic Hypnotist. And all of these options are just from a quick scan of Odyssey alone! Damia is a “build-around-me” commander and somewhat wasted here, only because of her potential to be a headliner all her own.
The final commander, Vorosh, the Hunter, is virtually a vanilla by comparison. He’s a 6/6 Dragon that has the potential to grow continuously larger each time he connects with an opponent. Passable, but not nearly as sexy as the previous two.
Loose Earth is Not a Burial
The creatures and spells contained within Devour for Power are largely optimised to take advantage of synergies involving the graveyard. There’s an element of synergy here- the more stocked the larder, the fatter The Mimeoplasm can get and the more options that will be available. There are several methods available to keep the graveyards fat and happy, and Devour for Power has elements of them all. Because of the heavy crossover synergy between these various tactics and the creature/noncreature support, we’ll be looking at this deck from a slightly different angle. Rather than break out the creatures first, then everything else, we’ll be sorting this deck by tactic. Remember, though: all roads lead to the grave.
Milling: Milling is a convenient way to pour cards directly from the library into the scrapheap without ever having to deal with them coming into play or hiding in an opponent’s hand. Szadek, Lord of Secrets does not come into your service at a cheap price, but for your purposes he can be a ready bargain. He mills five on his first strike, then doubles his power for every attack that connects with your opponent thereafter. Although he’ll never actually damage an enemy player, should it come down to it he will serve as a most formidable defender! The Extractor Demon mills two at a time every time a creature leaves the battlefield, the Riddlekeeper gets its two whenever you’re attacked, while the enchantment Memory Erosion does the same whenever an opponent simply casts a spell- the death of a thousand cuts indeed! For added incentive, there’s a Dreamborn Muse whose milling is commensurate with the amount of cards in each player’s hand (including your own, as she does not discriminate).
The Sewer Nemesis has a mini-Memory Erosion built in, and while its effect is limited to one player, the Nemesis has a very direct benefit- its power and toughness are each equal to the number of cards in that player’s graveyard. Finally there’s the deck’s join forces representative, Shared Trauma, which is a little weaker than others in the cycle. Most players will happily contribute if it means they get more lands (Collective Voyage) or cards (Minds Aglow), but you’re not going to see too many players get excited to mill the table. Buried Alive might also be considered here as it’s ‘targeted mill,’ letting you pull out three of your deck’s nastiest surprises and get them into the graveyard where they can best serve you and The Mimeoplasm.
Discard: Although much less pronounced, there is an element of discard here- and not all of it Black. Syphon Mind not only forces each opponent to throw a card away, but it also nets you card draw in proportion to the number of cards discarded. Unnerve is a a Mind Rot that- for a mere more- hits everyone at the table. The latest in the long and proud line of discard-inducing Specters, the Scythe Specter similarly hits at the hands of all of your opponents at once, with a nifty little bonus of damage dealing baked right in. Finally, there’s Windfall, which on the surface might seem like a card-drawing engine (which it is). In the hands of Devour for Power, however, it carries the added bonus of seeing more cards sent to the graveyard. You see the same new wrinkle manifest itself in Fact or Fiction, where you might find yourself taking the ‘less appealing’ pile if it means putting something juicy right onto the scrapheap!
Removal: Simple and straightforward, removal lets you take something from the battlefield itself- something your opponent has already spend the mana on deploying- and put it where it belongs. The Dark Hatchling and Avatar of Woe offer targeted removal- something unexpectedly scarce here, so use them wisely. Both the Fleshbag Marauder and Syphon Flesh force the table to sacrifice a creature when played, but for a longer-lasting effect you have recourse to a Grave Pact or Butcher of Malakir. The Triskelavus gives you a limited amount of pinging, though it does so at some cost to itself. For non-creature removal, you have an Acidic Slime, Tribute to the Wild, and Relic Crush. And finally, when the board itself needs a reset, there’s always the Oblivion Stone.
A Thin Layer of Dirt
The previous twenty-four cards mentioned above all enable you to keep the table’s graveyards pleasantly full. Now we turn our attention to answering the next logical question: to what end?
Certainly there is a direct benefit with The Mimeoplasm- fatter graveyards mean more choices. But if that was all there was to it, it would be a ton of work to support a single card, commander or no. Fortunately, there are quite a number of other options which weave a very effective synergy in Devour for Power. They widely fall into some categories of their own.
Recursion: Sometimes the best way to get a creature into your hand isn’t to wait until you luck into drawing it, but rather to pluck if ott the bonepile, dust it off, and lovingly place it into your hand or directly onto the battlefield. The Desecrator Hag, Eternal Witness, and Gravedigger all give you a shot at salvage when they come into play. The Artisan of Kozilek and Rise from the Grave return creature right to play, while Stitch Together can do either depending on how many cards are in your graveyard. The Nezumi Graverobber might seem an odd choice- it looks to empty an opponent’s graveyard so that it might be flipped- once it does you’ll find Nighteyes the Desecrator a powerful ally. Finally, there’s a copy of Living Death here, which can be a very tricky card to play if you’ve managed to do your job a little too well, but if your graveyard is better-filled than your opponents’, it can singlehandedly turn the tide in your favour.
Benefit: A few of your creatures only care about what’s in the graveyards without any ability to interact with them. The Lhurgoyf and Mortivore, fir instance, derive their power and toughness by the number of creature cards found there. Wrexial, the Risen Deep can gain you card advantage by casting spells out of your opponent’s graveyard for free. And like a pair of ghoulish ticket-collectors standing at the front entrance, Vulturous Zombie and Patron of the Nezumi are only interested in cards on their way to the graveyard, but carry a powerful effect.
Incarnations: The last two creatures to be mentioned here are quite a bit different. The Incarnations from 2002’s Judgment were creatures that were ordinary enough, but gave benefits to your entire army if they happened to be in the graveyard (and you controlled the right kind of basic land). There are two in Devour for Power- Brawn and Wonder– though anyone tinkering with their own deck might well consider the rare Green Incarnation, Genesis.
The remaining cards in the deck fall into the usual and customary broad categorisations. There’s card drawing (Mulldrifter, Minds Aglow, Sign in Blood), the Vow cycle of creature buff/threat removal (Flight, Malice, and Wildness), and manabase ramping and fixing (Dimir, Golgari, and Simic Signets, as well as a Sol Ring, Yavimaya Elder, Cultivate, and Solemn Simulacrum). The deck also carries the standard-issue Lightning Greaves, a Spell Crumple (anti-commander countermagic), a Troll Ascetic, a Slipstream Eel (whose cycling is another way to get a fat body into your graveyard), and a final legendary entity, Skullbriar, the Walking Grave.
The manabase is what we’ve come to expect from the Commander line- predominantly basic lands with a healthy splash of other, mover versatile options. There are the Ravnica-block bounces (Dimir Aqueduct, Golgari Rot Farm, Simic Growth Chamber), the Onslaught cyclers (Barren Moor, Lonely Sandbar, Tranquil Thicket), a Temple of the False God, Command Tower, Rupture Spire, Terramorphic Expanse, Jwar Isle Refuge, and Dreadship Reef. Finally, there’s an obvious synergy with Svogthos, the Restless Tomb.
Devour for Power might not solve any philosophical questions of the ages, but for what it does- fill graveyards and take advantage of the fact- it certainly shows an inspiring flexibility and willingness to look for treasure in that which is most often overlooked. We’ll be returning next time with a battlefield report to see how the deck did in the field.