Commander: Counterpunch Review (Part 2 of 2)
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?
Sounding a little land-stuck, Jimi leads off with an Island and a Brainstorm, looking to set up the coming turns. Sam drops a Barren Moor while I open with a Vivid Grove. Next turn sees Jimi play a Forest, Sam with a Mountain and Boros Signet, and me with a Sol Ring and Orzhov Basilica.
With our foundations laid, Jimi’s turn-3 Edric, Spymaster of Trest is like blood in the water for Sam, leaving me the odd-man out. Sam plays a morphed creature and passes, while I lay down a Soul Snare. Next turn Jimi attacks for 2 with Edric (which Sam is happy to take) and draws a free card. Sam swings in on me for the same, then follows up with Kaalia of the Vast. Not to be outdone, I bring out Ghave, Guru of Spores.
Now turn 5, Jimi’s distress is evident as she is forced to discard, tossing away an Artisan of Kozilek. She hasn’t missed any land drops yet, but she has no Red access, giving clue as to the contents of her hand. She attacks with Edric and passes. Sam swings in on me for 2 with the morphling, then lays down a Pyrohemia. I complete the circle with a 5-point attack with Ghave on Jimi, then drop down one of my combo pieces, Attrition. With the prevalence of Black in Sam’s deck it’s not a cure-all, but it should quickly prove its worth. Early and close, after five turns we have Jimi at 35, and Sam and I at 36.
Jimi misses her second land drop at the start of turn 6, but fortunately a swing from Edric nets her a Vivid Creek. At eight cards and needing to play something to prevent discarding at the end of turn, Jimi blasts Sam’s Kaalia with a Firespout and ends her turn. Sam leads with another 2-point attack from her morphling. I pop a +1/+1 counter off of Ghave to make a Saproling, then sac the Saproling to Attrition to kill it (it was a Zoetic Cavern). Kaalia gets a second lease on life, then Sam passes. I send Ghave in again on the defenseless Jimi this time for 4, leaving her at 31. Then I repeat my Ghave/Attrition trick to kill Edric, Spymaster of Trest. I then drop a Selesnya Sanctuary (returning the Vivid Grove) and my turn is up. Next turn sees Jimi land her first big body of the day- an Elvish Aberration. Sam attacks me with Kaalia and adds Basandra, Battle Seraph to the attack. Fortunately, Ghave and Attrition aren’t ‘spells,’ so killing her off like the others works just fine. I take only 2 from Kaalia, and am left at 34. Back to me, I lead with a Temple of the False God which enables me to land both Lightning Greaves and Teneb, the Harvester. I equip Teneb with them and send him into the red zone. Jimi’s now down to 25 life.
It’s now turn 8 and I’m in pretty good shape. Sam triggers Pyrohemia twice during Jimi’s turn, looking to kill off what’s left of Ghave. I trigger him to fuel Attrition on the way out, taking Jimi’s Elvish Aberration with him. Still, the Aberration isn’t completely wasted as she taps it for its mana before it dies, allowing her to replace it with Intet, the Dreamer. Any thoughts of Intet rallying to her salvation are indeed a dream, however (#lsv), as Sam kicks off a Syphon Flesh, sending both our Dragons to the scrapheap and giving her two 2/2 Zombies. A setback but far from insurmountable, I Cultivate to hit a missed land drop, then trot out Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter. On go the Greaves, and Vish Kal tears into Jimi for 5. Jimi’s down to 18, and thanks to Vish Kal’s lifelink I’m back up to 37.
We haven’t heard the last from Intet, though. Jimi’s turn-9 Vengeful Rebirth brings it back to hand, deling Sam 6 points to the face in the process. She’s now down to 26 life. Over to Sam, she recasts Kaalia of the Vast who had died to her own Pyrohemia. Sam sends in the Zombies against me for 4 and passes. With the Soul Snare and Attrition in play I’ve got little to fear from Kaalia and any surprises she might bring, but keeping the mana open is nettlesome. I neutralise her with a Vow of Wildness, attack for 5 with Vish Kal, and recast my commander, Ghave.
Perhaps hoping from a helping hand from Sam- and more than eager to draw some cards- Jimi throws away an Electrolyze on Ghave. No help is forthcoming, however, so she contents herself with an Izzet Signet and passes. Sam’s turn is a complete blank, so it’s over to me. Sam tries to get cute with a 5-point Pyrohemia activation to kill my commander, so instead I just sacrifice him to Vish Kal, who becomes a 10/10. The Pyrohemia put Jimi down to 8 life, so I take her out with the Blood Arbiter. With mana to spare I recast Ghave and pass.
And Then There Were Two
Sam tries to sneak in a turn-11 Mother of Runes, but that foretells trouble to me and I kill her immediately with Ghave and Attrition. She follows up with a Righteous Cause and ends her turn. I swing in with both Ghave and Vish Kal for 14, dropping Sam from 21 to 9 (thanks to the her enchantment’s trickle of lifegain). Desperate to stall, Sam plays a Gwyllion Hedge-Mage (effectively removing a Ghave counter) and Oros, the Avenger. Over to me, I send in Vish Kal, forcing Sam to chump with her Dragon. I then play Karador, Ghost Chieftain, allowing me to recast Teneb, the Harvester.
It’s now turn 13 and Sam tries to buy herself a little more time by recasting Kaalia for a flying chumper. This leaves her tapped out and I take full advantage, triggering Vish Kal’s kill ability by removing all of his hard-won +1/+1 counters and killing her. This leaves the 5/5 Vampire and 6/6 Dragon unblocked against Sam’s 10 life.
Thoughts & Analysis
There was certainly a feeling of tables-turned on Jimi this time, who never got to cast her commander. In our last game, with me playing Devour for Power, The Mimeoplasm and my other graveyard-targeting effects had their claws pulled out by a single ‘silver bullet’ card, in that case Jimi’s Necrogenesis. This time it was my Attrition that had Jimi’s deck entirely solved, for at least Sam had some protection with the inclusion of Black in her deck. Almost anything and everything Jimi could field was susceptible, and I claimed an easy kill. Against Sam, it was the awesome power of Vish Kal that made all the difference. In both cases, the ability to sacrifice creatures for severe effect was the deciding factor.
I had a lot of fun with this deck, and it was notable in that I claimed victory both in our ‘writeup game’ above as well as in the pre-game ‘friendly’ match we traditionally play as a tune-up, when I landed 25 tokens off of Storm Herd with an Hour of Reckoning in hand and a Selesnya Guildmage on the board. One swing claimed Jimi, the next won the game by trampling over Sam. In both cases the win conditions were different, but equally capable of winning the game.
In this case, I wasn’t effectively challenged, but there are some drawbacks to the strategy. With so much reliance put on token creatures in the deck, a Pyroclasm or other board-wiper can have disastrous results. Though Skullclamp is absolutely vulgar in this deck, there really is precious little otherwise in the area of card draw. If you’re not careful, you might find yourself overextended and wiped, with few resources to rebuild your board position.
Pros: Very strong synergy between cards that care about tokens and token creatures; built-in combos like Skullclamp and Attrition give tremendous power from such small packages; Ghave, Guru of Spores superbly supported
Cons: Especially vulnerable to sweepers; other two commanders not nearly as synergistic (though plenty viable); few ways to refill habd once its depleted
OVERALL SCORE: 4.60/5.00