Building Enfranchised Fans in a New Age

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

If you’ve read my column for any length of time, then you know it’s possible I’ve been playing this game as long as some of you have been alive (perhaps even longer). The reason why is simple—Magic: the Gathering is the greatest game ever. No, really, Magic offers it all: enduring long-running game groups akin to D&D campaigns, Black Jack style pick up matches that are over in under a minute,  and everything in between. Magic is a game of skill and luck, story and substance, and it speaks to us all in various tones and whispers that draw us back time and time again. With all of this in mind, I tend to wonder what type of Magic players are most prevalent today? What keeps us coming back and will the old guard and the new guard be similar or different in their approaches? Can Wizard’s continue designing a game that provides enjoyment on so many levels to so many people?

The short answer—yes! Yes, the game designers, play testers, art department, and everyone who combines in that beautiful cauldron of creativity that is Wizard’s of the Coast (owned by Hasbro…I know, I know) has been killing it the last couple of years. The sets are amazing. The risk taking is grand, unabashed, inspiring, infuriating at times, and key component of what makes them all such a great blend. They are key to creating new players, and keeping the enfranchised bought in. But, that’s the boring short answer. Let’s dive into what makes modern Magic (no, not the format), so great.

The Blessing and Curse of the Information Super Highway (the internet)

It always seemed odd to me that people were willing to “net deck” and build someone else’s deck in order to win, but I wasn’t grinding tournaments and trying to beef up my DCI rating (Planeswalker Points today?). From reading books and articles I have surmised that this was basically, and still is, an information war at heart. The newest innovations and designs are what keep you ahead of the competition. You need to assess each local meta-game, consider the meta of the larger field, and then plan and execute accordingly. You need lots of practice and dedication. Let’s be honest about that end of things; there aren’t many that can be that dedicated for an extended period of time. I’m not saying players don’t return, but they take breaks, and they’re often longer than shorter. Burn out in tournament land is real, and those that don’t are amazing individuals, but they are not the majority. They inspire, but they do not constitute the majority of players. So, when I was playing in the beginning there wasn’t much of this type of thing going on. Decks and strategies traveled a bit more slowly, and there were only one or two websites that actually discussed Magic. It was a Wild West of tournament builds and competition. Those days saw strange and wild deck lists the world over. I contend that those types of experiences are what has kept many players playing despite the years of increased information influx. The rapidity at which deck lists travel and the speed with which the format can adapt is truly amazing. Hours can go by and the sharpest pros will have already changed their lists and played several matches with the latest tech (Tormod’s Crypt to stop Golgari Grave Troll…I’m kidding).

Magic’s original base of players, the ones that’ve been around for multiple decades, have been here because they are builders at heart. Most of the long-time enfranchised players just can’t stop building new toys, and that’s been a big part of what has kept them in the game so long. The problem with this is that the very innovations that keep them coming back have long been a barrier for new players. Is there an inherent problem with how we are kept in the game, and does that lead to a different type of Magic player in today’s world? The enfranchised keep coming back to mix the new with the old. We are drawn to new mechanics and how they interact with old strategies. New synergies form when old and new are thrown together. Chain of Smog and Professor Onyx is just one currently popular example of this old and ugly meets new and spicy to make a super mix. This is pretty exciting, but also presents problems.

Or maybe even this little two card bit of nonsense?

The newer a player is the less likely they are to have these older odd-ball cards. Now, their local game shops may very well have these cards in stock, and so the accessibility issue is instantly solved for those that have a reliable and dependable shop or two at their disposal. For those that don’t have this luxury they are pushed to the online market. That’s fine, but it can make some newer players salty that they can’t get the older cards for as cheap as the newer cards. I personally don’t think that’s a problem. This is often just one more lesson about the depth that Magic now boasts. There are ultra rare collectible cards called Mythic Rares, but there are older and even rarer cards that don’t even have set symbol color coding to clue you in to its inherent worth. This is a collectible game, and so older pieces ought to be a bit more, dare I say, collectible? I guess you don’t expect it when you’re new, and that’s just another piece of the puzzle that newer players are forced to learn, weather, and ultimately gain ground from. The longer they stay in the game and watch their cards appreciate, then the more they are rewarded with perceived value.

Once a bulk rare (well under a dollar, and currently going for nearly $5…woohoo!)

I use perceived value, because until you actually sell those cards you haven’t gained any actual value. You have to actually liquidate your assets in order to gain their value. My cards are worth basically nothing to me, because I’ve no plans to sell them. That’s not to say I don’t smile a bit when I find out one of my reserved list cards has climbed in value yet again. It makes me a bit happier, but I’m not watching the prices ready to unload once a certain price point is reached. My wife is always quick to point out to me that the cards I just got for a great deal aren’t really worth any more than I actually paid for it. Frankly, she tells me they’re worthless now, because she knows that I’ll never part with the cards I’ve amassed. That’s alright, because the perceived value of your collection can really just be another way in which you are able to appreciate your cards (pun unabashedly intended). It’s ok to take pleasure in your card collection being worth more than what you paid for it. It can be exciting to snag misprints, reserved list rarities, special collector’s pieces, or fancy foil etched treatments to add more perceived value to your collection. Collecting adds another enjoyable facet to your hobby aside from merely playing with your cards. Embrace the challenge of amassing a collection and you will be rewarded with the fine art of balancing finances with pleasure. It can be delicate dance, but cardboard crack does give back in ways beyond the initial rush of acquiring the cards.

While acquiring cards is a long-term goal, it also creates an initial problem for newbies. The problem seems to crop up around newer players getting into the game. This game is complicated. There are over 100 expansion sets, over 20,000 unique cards, and more rules than can easily be included in a 100 page rule book. That’s daunting for even the most seasoned board-gamers. The trick has long been to remove a few of the barriers to entry for newbies. You get people started by giving them a deck. You give them some cards, and you play through some games with your hands open and your gums flapping endlessly. Explaining this phase and that phase and then attacking and block and then passing and then doing it all over again. It can be a tick overwhelming for people, but the promise of mass multiplayer madness and wild plays that leave the table moaning and groaning, cheering and jeering, is exactly the type of thing that we all want to take part in. It’s fun to play. It’s fun to win. It’s fun to lose, and get revenge. Today’s modern players have so many excellent on-ramps to Magic that it seems like we are bound to create a whole new generation of Magic players that will surely be as enfranchised as those that first started in the early to mid-nineties.

Will the new base be different from or as long-standing as the old guard? Unlike other people, I don’t wear my age as a badge of shame, but feel proud of the wisdom that experience has brought me. My wrinkles and my regrets are markers of all that I have to share with others. Scars, both mental and physical, are merely bookmarks for lessons learned. I’m sure all players have stories about the terrible trades they’ve made: Gaea’s Cradle for the cool Berserk or perhaps that set of Alpha Lightning Bolts for this beat up Wrath of God playset. I guess the lesson learned here depends on which side of the trade you were on! I recall paying it forward many years later. I decided to help flip the script on this type of thing, and I would often trade an entire deck to a kid for a single rare land. Double or triple the value in the casual Dragon deck for a $5-10 rare. I look back at those trades, and I’m a little sorry I made them. I’m not sorry that I gave more than I got, but I’m sorry I gave too much.

I gave too much in the form of giving them a deck that was well-oiled. It ran smoothly, and it worked really well. When the Eldrazi came out I built a deck using Cryptic Gateway (it was $1-3 for a playset back then) that pumped Eldrazi out on turn 4 or 5 for free at instant speed! It was possible to be attacking with Ulamog’s Crusher, Artisan of Kozilek and Nest Invader on turn 5! That’s nasty for a casual deck. I traded away at least three of those decks. They were under $20 to make at the time, and I just traded them away like hot cakes! My point though, is that by giving away entire decks I may have actually been doing a disservice to newer players. I equipped them with an entire deck. It ran like clockwork. It was upgradeable, sure, but it wasn’t theirs. It wasn’t something they had struggled and grown with. By taking away the productive struggle of deck building I was enabling them to lean on me and other sources for deck building. I have begun to suspect that this is actually not a good way to help build enfranchised players.

Enfranchised players keep coming back, because they love to mix the new with the old. They have an understanding of the old (or older in any case) cards because they’ve had productive struggles with those older decks. They have struggled to make their older decks, and through trial and error they have developed decks that they can say are truly theirs. This leads to players that eventually want to keep tinkering. They want to build new toys and upgrade their old ones. The problem is, that if they never built their own toys, then why do they care as much about it? They probably don’t. It comes across as more of a game piece or in video game lingo a cartridge, and it isn’t an extension of their own creative minds. That’s why I’m not truly convinced that pre-constructed decks are the best way to create enfranchised players. The argument exists that it’s not to create enfranchised players, and perhaps it’s just to help people start. However, when you only ever have preconstructed decks, how do you get started brewing your own decks? Chances are you might not actually do it.

The idea of building a deck from scratch can be daunting to many players. I know players that have been playing for decades that always reach out for help. That’s fine, but I always wonder if maybe they are overly afraid of failure. It’s OK to fail, and theirs no shame in it when we learn from it. Learning from our failures makes us better at everything we do. Failing to build a well-oiled machine of a deck is fine as long as you recognize that you can keep making it better along the way. I worry that pre-constructed decks have set up an unrealistic standard for some newer players. I think that one way of fixing this is having a Magic mentor.

A Magic mentor is someone that makes suggestions, offers advice, and generally helps other players get better. You might even call them a Magic guru if you know what I mean. These teachers of Magic offer insights that pre-cons don’t give. No insert can easily explain the synergies and concepts behind a player’s favorite synergies. It takes another player to point out to us that we often seem to enjoy a particular strategy. It’s may seem counterintuitive, but mentors provide us with the guidance we need to truly know ourselves and what makes our Magic brains tick. These guides help newbies figure out what they like and then try to steer them into building decks that fit with these observations. The dearth of experience the older player has often enables them to easily help a future enfranchised player find the path to longevity. Perhaps its big ramp into big green creatures, or its using Doomsday to combo off. It doesn’t matter; it’s the guidance that does.

We make our own future. There is no fate but what we make. We, as a community of players, make the future. When new players arrive we need to help them not only select a starter deck, but build their own decks. We need to provide play guidance and deck building assistance. We need to give them tools and knowledge of how to build decks, but not merely build them for them. When we can help acquaint players with deck building theory, then we are able to equip them for a lifetime of building. Give a player a deck and they play for a few years, but give that player the knowledge to build their own deck, and that player will play for a lifetime! I hope that wherever you are on the spectrum from newbie to life-time enfranchised player you are able to play your role well in the great circle of Magic life. Until next time, my fellow magictators, may the cards be ever in your favor!

No Lotus? No Problem, Play with Garth One Eye!

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

If you just want to look at the list before reading…here it is.

Let me begin by saying that Garth One Eye is the protagonist for the first Magic the Gathering novel entitled: Arena. You could, back in the day, buy the book and then clip out the coupon in the back and mail away for your very own copy of the card Arena or other potential cards. It was basically the very first Secret Lair, but let’s stay focused here and get back to the story. The book reads like an homage to classic Magic, and if you’ve been playing for longer than 15 years or have any nostalgic feelings for cards from fourth edition on back, then you should really read this book. It’s a quick fun read, and it’s such a cool thing to see a character like this come to cardboard life. Garth One Eye is a real tough son-of-gun and he has an ax to grind as well. So, building a deck focused on him feels more like a task that should be inspired by flavor rather than archetype or mechanics. I initially thought I would build an Eye deck and use changlings, Evil Eye of Orms by Gore and Evil Eye of Urborg and Eyetwitch, and go with a stacked eye theme. However, it just didn’t feel like I was doing justice to Garth One Eye. He represents the quintessential everyman-planeswalker. So, I figured I should build a deck that is both an homage to classic Magic, and something that ties into the modern design mechanics of Garth as well.

Elements of Consideration

Garth One Eye loves being blinked, having haste, and untapping as often as possible. So, some cards that allow us to do things like this are all over the place, because he’s a FIVE COLOR COMMANDER! Woohoo! The hardest part is balancing blink and untap effects while generating enough mana to actually cast the spells Garth can make copies  of and sling around. The beauty of it all is that once we enable haste (often via Anger) we are capable of casting Black Lotus for free, untapping our Garth with one of our untap effects like Djeru’s Resolve and netting two extra mana for free. Ornamental Courage also works to help untap Garth and potentially buff him up for blocks and possibly casting a useful removal spell as well! Tidal Bore is a fun one that most people don’t expect either. Free untapping feels pretty sneaky. Also, it’s a nice way to get yourself ready to crank out free spells while keeping your hand full of action. Granted, we are basically trading the untap spell for one of Garth’s signature spells, but let’s take a look at how the deck breaks down into its component parts.

Blink and You’ll Miss Him!

Now, as for the spell selection Garth grants us, it’s a tool box approach overall. One representative spell from each color and the most famous artifact in the game combine nicely to give us easy access to cast just about anything we need to win a game of Magic. Now, using his regrowth spell to get back any of the cool untap spells is nice, but I also like the idea of resetting Garth to allow us another spin on each of the spells…including regrowth to keep the loop going all over again. The spells that help us loop and blink Garth into reuse include all-stars like Ephemerate and Momentary Blink. Why not also include Cloudshift, Justicar’s Portal, Essence Flux, and even Acrobatic Manuever? These all help you blink Garth and start off with a Lotus all over again. This helps you crank out the extra Disenchant you might need for someone’s unsavory enchantment plan, or kill an annoying creature, or even let you sink a ton of mana into a Braingeyser to refill your hand. Of course, the real sweat spot is making more Shivan Dragons whenever you want to! That is a wonderful way to win. Take it from anyone who played from 93-96…Shivan Dragon and Mahamoti Djinn were the kings! When you run out of cards to cast just recast Regrowth targeting one of your blink spells, blink Garth and then repeat his cycle of spells all over again. Don’t forget that you can hold up a blink effect in order to help keep Garth safe from other’s people’s removal spells as well. Try not to be too hasty with using these blink effects until you can get maximum value.

On second thought…yes, be hasty!

This plan for Garth and utilizing his spells and maximizing the number of Black Lotus spells you cast per game is super fun, but it would be more fun if we did it faster. Like hastily. And maybe with some Anger? Using Anger, Fires of Yavimaya, Fervor, Cyclops of Eternal Fury, Garna, the Blood Flame, Madrush Cyclops, Samut, Voice of Dissent, Temur Ascendancy, Hammer of Purphoros, and even Hellraiser Goblin enable a very hasty Garth One Eye. Once you combine haste and blink and untap effects we really are able to cast two or three of his spells each turn. Considering that Garth with an untap effect allows us to cast Black Lotus each time he blinks back in and taps, then we always have three free mana available to help enable other spells—say even a 5/5 flying dragon with firebreathing. That’s not a bad rate at all. The only rub here is how much mana we have for casting spells.

Ramping into more Magic

Ramping up to and beyond Garth One Eye’s mana cost is pretty important. You can win the game fairly handily if you have a flight of Shivan Dragons at your disposal. However, you’re not making it that far unless you first ramp up enough mana to support casting those dragons. For the ramp package I’d like to suggest a budget conscious version using mostly green, but if you’ve got the duals, fetches, and shocks you know you’ll be using those in place of my suggestions. You can start with a set of Triomes as they are fairly inexpensive and help to fix the mana requirements rather nicely. The ones that are forests also help with cards like Ranger’s Path or Skyshroud Claim which are very powerful ramp cards when combined with non-basic lands with basic land types (duals, shocks, and triomes). If you aren’t running the duals, shocks, and triomes then you’ll be going for a more Circuitous Route on your way to some Explosive Vegetation. If you want to explode all over an opponent there’s always Exploding Borders as well. All-star green ramp cards Kodama’s Reach and Cultivate should find their way into this deck as well. Rampant Growth is a classic, and I’d suggest snagging a Tempest one as well for some real classic ramp feelings. If you end up leaning more heavily on basic lands, then Harrow is a solid include as well. Harrow into a Garth One Eye activation, into a Disenchant targeting that annoying Sword of Feast and Famine is definitely satisfying. Don’t forget to run some solid artifact fixing as well. Cards like Chromatic Lantern, Coalition Relic, Arcane Signet, Mana Geode, and Commander’s Sphere are great fixers as they give us not just what we need for one turn, but any turn.

Answer me this

Now that we’ve covered untapping, blinking, and ramping, it’s time to round the deck out with card draw and answer spells. Now, Garth One Eye is cool in that he’s got an answer for almost everything. The problem permanents are those pesky planeswalkers. Oh, and those Terror dodging black and artifact creatures (though disenchant does deal with those golems rather well). So, perhaps we will need answers that are both flexible and hit black creatures. Maelstrom Pulse seems like an easy include, and any of the following seem like decent answers to cards that might pose problems: Vindicate, Utter End, Swords to Plowshares, Dire Tactics, Urza’s Ruinous Blast and Crib Swap. Now, as we’re also playing blue I’d suggest tossing in a couple counterspells. I understand it can make others salty, but keeping someone from winning and being a spiteful jerk are two different things (well, most of the time). I would suggest running two or three counterspells that are light on the blue requirements, so that you can actually cast them when the need arises. A few solid choices include Arcane Denial (hey, there’s a nice consolation prize for the countered), Delay (three turn cycles is a long time in Commander), Disdainful Stroke (most problematic spells fit the restrictions for this and make it essentially an easier to cast Counterspell), Saw it Coming (foretelling this is just one more way to keep extra spells handy, but not in the hand), and Unwind (free is free, and most creatures can be dealt with in other ways). Between all of these answer spells we should have ways to deal with every board state that comes our way.

Draw up a plan

We have answers, ramp, Garth One Eye synergies, Garth One Eye himself, and mana. We don’t have much for card draw. So, since this is five color we can literally just toss in whatever you have for your best card draw spells. Garth doesn’t benefit from any particular style of card draw, and looting effects don’t gain us all that much (maybe try abusing his access to Regrowth). So, I’d suggest tossing in whatever you feel you enjoy most! I’m choosing cards like Rhystic Study, Dig Through Time, Treasure Cruise, Fact or Fiction, and Ponder to smooth out our draws and avoid top-decking. Having enough draw spells is about as critical as having enough lands. Without lands you can’t cast your spells, and without cards in hand you can’t do anything. That is unless you have an active Garth and mana to sink into your Braingeyser.

Wrap Up:

When you go to play a Garth One Eye deck you’re not here for primarily new stuff, but to celebrate the old. So, in order to maximize my nostalgic feelings I decided to cram a few other spells that Garth actually casts in the novel. These help bring about the simple joys of what it means to be a rogue planeswalker like Garth. I did also include a little secret synergy with Panharmonicon and Isocron Scepter…which seems really solid. Just saying.

 The Deck List:

If you’ve had enough of my pontificating, or you just scrolled to the list, I want you to consider this a starting point for your own Garth One Eye deck, and I hope you have as much fun with it as I know I will. Black Lotus may be banned in Commander, but I’m going to be playing plenty of them in the future via Garth One Eye.

The Core of Commander

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

EDH & Commander get back to the heart of what makes Magic: the Gathering Great. The original game, as designed by Richard Garfield, was a bit different than today’s game, but ultimately owes the majority of its success to core principals and play mechanics that were introduced with the original Alpha set in 1993. Let’s take a look at the original game description from the original Magic: the Gathering rulebook:

Game Description

Magic is a two-person card game in which the cards in your deck represent the lands, creatures, spells, and artifacts at your disposal. When you play the game, you pit your deck against your opponent’s deck in an arcane duel, and the winner takes one random card to keep from the loser’s deck. Over time, your deck will grow and shrink; it will have weaknesses you can try to fix by winning the correct games, and strengths with which you can barter between games. Sometimes winning a duel can be a lot less profitable than a successful trading session, and it is always more dangerous! Be especially on your guard when playing new opponents. They will likely have spells and artifacts you have never seen before, and they will certainly have unique deck mixes and styles of play. Also, watch out for old rivals — anyone can have a magical encounter with a stranger and pick up some new surprises. No matter who your opponent is, never forget the possibility of learning a trick or two with the same old cards.

Wow, now if that doesn’t help us realize why Commander is so popular I don’t know what will. Unlike defined formats that have defined metas, the Commander format really helps to bring back many of the original elements of Magic that helped make it so popular with casual gamers. The unknowns that abound in this rule book’s description are centered on encountering new and exciting things! EDH was designed with those same things in mind. I feel, as do many of you more casual players, that this format truly shines in multiplayer. So, how exactly does Commander help to bring about all the best elements of Magic’s original design to the forefront? Let’s break it down bit by bit.

“Over time, your deck will grow and shrink; it will have weaknesses you can try to fix by winning the correct games, and strengths with which you can barter between games.”

Well, right off we might spy a problem here. Our decks can’t grow and shrink as the format demands we play with a fixed numbers of cards. Yet, I would contend that the deck’s value and consistency will ebb and flow as you and the deck grow. While your deck no longer grows with each victory, you certainly grow after each play session. You learn from your play patterns and figure out new directions to take your deck. You make changes, adapt, and alter the deck based on losses and even a few victories. Perhaps you lost a game to some simple artifacts and now you’ve swapped out a few value creatures like Phyrexian Rager for a card that answers those issues—Phyrexian Tribute? Maybe you found your Lord of the Pit to be a bit too gimmicky and you swapped it out for a Minion of Leshrac, or perhaps Lim-Dul the Necromancer himself? Maybe Commander Legends Competitive Edition…er I mean Modern Horizons 2, sorry, will have a Leshrac card to try out in your new deck? Regardless, the idea that your deck grows and morphs over time is what I’m touching on here. Commander does exactly this. We are constantly tweaking our decks or trying new spells.

When we try out new spells in our decks we aren’t necessarily just using the freshest or most recent sets. Magic has quite the index of cards, and even when you’ve been playing nearly 30 years…well, there’s older cards you may have forgotten about for the last decade or two. Suddenly, you might stumble across a few and then you’re back to making changes and experimenting with cards and strategies all over again.

Sometimes we don’t have the cards we want, and worse yet we don’t have the money to buy them. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to acquire cards. No, I’m not talking about doing anything nefarious, or otherwise uncouth. I’m simply suggesting that you trade to get what you want. The good old fashioned bartering system is alluded to in the game’s original description, “…you can barter between games.” That’s the kind of serious fun that Commander brings to us. When your collection requires you to really ONLY need one copy of any given card, well it’s easy to amass additional trade fodder. For instance, let us say you opened up two Jeweled Lotuses! Sweet! Rather than having half a playset, I think you just got some sweet trade fodder, my friend. You can now use the extra one to shore up some of those weaknesses your deck might have had. No matter what silhouette is lurking in the background, you can find exactly the right card once you brainstorm up a few options. Just remember the advice, “Sometimes winning a duel can be a lot less profitable than a successful trading session.”

“Be especially on your guard when playing new opponents. They will likely have spells and artifacts you have never seen before…”

Now, if playing in a regular league is your jam, then you know this type of thing is almost always true. You never really know who is brining what to the table. Sure, that’s a Golos, Tireless Pilgrim deck over there, but what type? Is this a big creatures, big spells, or perhaps some funky Golem tribal action you’re about to encounter. There are so many unknowns when you see a new player. They don’t even have to have a new Commander for you to suddenly be “on your guard”. The new spells and artifacts will surely be something you encounter nearly every time you play with new players. The beauty of this lies in two things: Commander decks invite us to be creative builders and add our own flavor to decks and each commander offers avenues of expression and gameplay that generally differ greatly between the deck builders and even the pilots! The most recent, designed for Commander commanders are great examples of this concept. These cards often require build around ideas that make them stand apart from previous builds. Just look at the incredibly popular Lathril, Blade of the Elves. Sure, there was Golgari elves back in the day with Nath of the Gilt-Leaf, but those two elf decks play very differently. Likewise, we see a very different take on Golgari colors with decks that use Pharika, God of Affliction versus Savra, Queen of the Golgari. The variety offered in colors and deck building helps keep any sort of staleness out of the format. The constant influx of new Commander cards aside, there’s room for this format to breath for a long time. The chances of running into cards you’ve never seen is pretty high. As far as I’m concerned, if I forgot about a card, and you remind me it exists by playing it against me in an effective way, then you have made me rediscover the card, and that is wonderful feeling. Yes, it’s even wonderful when someone clobbers me with good old Goblin Trenches!

Which brings me to my next point, “…they will certainly have unique deck mixes and styles of play.”

Absolutely, we see so much of this every single time we sit down to play a game. Players have various styles, and their styles influence their deck design and their deck builds. Furthermore, watching someone else’s Maelstorm Wanderer deck play out against mine is pretty fascinating. When we both have different play styles it is fascinating to see how two decks that share so much supposed “identify” actually find themselves only tangentially related. We have similarities and close ties, yet we are individuals through and through. Not only that, but whereas I might play a Cryptic Command as a more controlling card, my friend chose to play it as a tempo piece. These types of choices are what make playing Commander so much fun. You don’t ever get locked into particular lines of play. You don’t have to run the match out with a percentage counter for victory ticking closer and closer to assurance of one result over another. There’s no match-up meta knowledge that allows you to edge your opponents out. It really comes down to dealing with unknowns and making decisions on the fly. That’s a beautiful and exciting proposition to casual players. I’m sure it makes the average pro a bit nauseous to consider, but this isn’t high stakes. At least Magic isn’t high stakes anymore.

“Also, watch out for old rivals — anyone can have a magical encounter with a stranger and pick up some new surprises. No matter who your opponent is, never forget the possibility of learning a trick or two with the same old cards.”

We win, we learn. We lose, we learn. We play Magic, and we all win! No, really, when we play and observe people’s tricks, synergies, bluffs, and play styles we learn all sorts of things from one another. Baiting me into swinging with the entire team is a great call, and even better when you play your Dawn Charm to leave me open to certain death after I pass. How could I resist swinging for maximum damage? Well, if I learned from my previous mistakes I know that swinging for the amount I need and leaving some reserves behind is probably the best chance I have to both win and avoid disasters I might not have anticipated. Likewise, realizing that you can stack triggers in order to keep your Smokestack around another turn and grind out extra value from your Tangle Wire is good knowledge. It’s painful to acquire, but that old maxim, “no pain, no gain” surely has some truth to it. Have you ever brutalized someone with Stasis or Winter Orb? Forsaken City and Relic Barrier are some sweet little synergies to teach people some interesting lessons with those brutal cards. Lock them down and lock them out. Learning from other’s strategies and synergies has long been a part of Magic. Commander opens up a wild variety of learning opportunities as many decks utilize a central strategy, often utilizing the commander, to build a critical mass of cards around the strategy it is leveraging. This makes each gaming session an opportunity to show off your latest discoveries and observe your friends biggest and brightest additions.

In a way this process has been sped up by both online deck building sites like EDHREC and the existence of preconstructed decks. Ultimately, the sharing and spreading of information is generally a helpful thing for those looking to expand their possibilities and encounter new and different takes on the game. The only downside I see to this is that we often find ourselves with fewer surprises to deal with as we’ve often spoiled ourselves with the awareness of all the cards that released for each set. However, you can try to go spoiler free [article link] and try to regain some of the old Magic, or you can simply be taken by surprise when your friends discover interesting new synergies you haven’t yet seen. Like a riddle, the answer seems obvious once we have the synergy playing out in front of us. That initial surprise is always exciting though, and has always been a standout experience for the best game ever created.

“When you play the game, you pit your deck against your opponent’s deck in an arcane duel, and the winner takes one random card to keep from the loser’s deck.”

The final piece of the old Magic puzzle is that one I’ve been dancing around this entire time—ante. When Richard Garfield created the game he wanted to have a game that was similar to Poker in that it provided opportunities for luck and skill and gambling to shine. He wanted surprises and trading to occur. His initial tests with the game are touched upon in Johnny Magic and the Card Shark Kids (great read). I distinctly remember be very anxious when I anted up my Vesuvan Doppleganger against my opponent’s Force of Nature. We were both playing to keep our best cards, and that made the whole match a serious struggle. I ended up trading the Force of Nature back to him for some blue cards, but we were both worried about the outcome of the match more than we normally would be. Ante cards were interesting, and the most powerful card ever printed is easily an ante card: Contract from Below. Who doesn’t love a one mana personal Wheel of Fortune!? Sure, you have to ante an additional card, but the sheer power and desperation of Contract from Below is so Faustian—it’s just perfect. The power of ante cards was fairly strong, and did offer an interesting avenue for the game, but ultimately it just died out. I think the disappearance of ante was inevitable once Magic took off as a CCG. Having it be collectible makes people unwilling to gamble the very cards they’ve worked so hard to acquire. If you read Arena, the first Magic the Gathering novel, then you remember how Garth One-Eye had a pouch of spells that he would wager against other mages. This wagering was the nod to ante and the way it worked within the novel was in back alley duels and such. I won’t spoil anything for you, because you should go read it…it’s good clean old school Magic fun. Perhaps you could even build a Garth One-Eye deck for the purposes of playing Commander with ante? Nothing’s keeping you from developing an Ante-EDH league where the winner takes all the ante cards. I just don’t expect you’ll get enough people willing to play in it is all. So, ante doesn’t really happen in Commander, but it also turned out to be the aspect of original Magic that was naturally cut.

In closing, it makes sense that Commander as a format has brought back so much of the original formula that makes Magic great. It’s no surprise we all chose to leave ante behind, as it was the least effective ingredient. Until next time, may the cards (and your ante) be ever in your favor. 

Don’t Walk Away from MTG…part II

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

Last time we discussed why you were considering quitting Magic. Now, if I didn’t hit on one of your reasons, then this time I’m betting I will. There are plenty of reasons to stop playing Magic, but none of them are good. This is truly the best game ever made, and not playing it anymore is really odd decision. I’d like to offer some insight into why you should consider keeping your cards and your hobby intact. The reasons you have for leaving might not be as solid as you think.

Tolarian Community College (I haven’t seen this video, or I’ve forgotten what he said, but I suspect we agree on several aspects (we usually seem to have share a similar view on most things Magic).

Perhaps you’re considering getting out of Magic because you need cash and you need it now. Listen, quitting because you need the money isn’t really quitting. You’re liquidating a happy hobby to deal with life’s responsibilities. Look, I get it. Life can be hard, and cardboard is not food. Magic is a lot of things, but its not rent, a car, or even a resume. It’s not something that can keep you warm, insured, or help you get to your job. I’ve been down this road before and I’ve sold some expensive cards just to make car insurance payments. That’s right, I wasn’t even paying for the actual car, but just the insurance to drive it. I didn’t even have anything to show for my cardboard. I’m not alone in my stories of parting with cards to meet life’s challenges. Just about every one that’s been playing for longer than ten years has stories of selling their cards for way less than they are worth now. We all find ourselves wishing we had found another way to make that payment. Whatever you need to pay, perhaps you should be a bit more creative in how you drum up the cash for it? There’s plenty of side-job work out available in today’s economy. I wish I had mowed some lawns, or bailed some hay instead of unloading those cards. Some people say they live life with no regrets, but I’m certainly not one of them. I have regrets. I hope and wish that others don’t, and won’t have the same regrets I have. Mike Rowe once said, “Life is full of pain and disappointment.” He’s right. He also knows, like I do, that life is full of overcoming challenges and pushing past the pain. You can find other creative ways to get deal with those annoying bills. Here’s why: you will want to come back to this game again, and when you do it’ll be so much easier to do so with an established collection at your fingertips.

If you have to pare down your collection, then seriously consider keeping at least one of each card. I say this, because at least then you can come back and play casual Commander whenever you’re ready. The opportunity cost of not selling a couple decks or more worth of Commander cards is pretty low when compared to the future opportunities you will lose by shipping off your entire collection. You may think you won’t miss that one dual land, or that one big money card you have, but if you ever come back to this game, then you undoubtedly will. Please, take it from someone that has sold his set of 40 dual lands, Black Lotus, Time Walk, and Beta Mox Jet…you do not want to unload all of your money cards. Selling some of your cash cards may get you through a short term loss, but the long term sorrow just isn’t worth it. Now, if you have to sell some of the collection because there is just no other way, then I’d like to offer a little insight into determining what cards you should try to save from liquidation. To be totally honest, I don’t miss playing with the power as much as I missed playing with the duals. It was fun playing with the power cards, but even if I had them today they wouldn’t offer me nearly the satisfaction that playing dual lands does. I just love the look and feel of the original duals. The ways I originally acquired them and the memories attached them are just so positive. I look fondly on those cards, and you need to take a hard look at each card you plan to sell. Instead of thinking about the money the card can offer, instead look at what nostalgia, play value, and overall emotional connection that card offers. If you find yourself totally unattached to that card, then feel free to sell it off. If you find yourself pining for the good old days of playing it—keep it! Be aware of your emotions, and use them to make informed decisions about what to keep and what to ship.

Too many rules and too much product have been things that keep players away from the game. Magic is not a simple game. Quitting because you are overwhelmed is a real possibility for newbies. The solution to this is rather ironically simple. Just take a step back from the game. Don’t buy anything else. Just play with what you have, and learn only the new cards that are played against you. This might sound counterintuitive. You feel like you don’t know enough about Magic, so you start trying to learn everything about Magic. That won’t work for Magic just like it doesn’t work for any other subject. You can’t just learn everything about something and think it will make it all easier. The more you learn about any complicated subject, like retro video game programming or grammar—the more you realize that it is complex and nuanced. There are subtleties that only become apparent when you combine experience and knowledge. That’s why taking a step back and just focusing on what you have at hand can be the key to unlocking further understanding. People that have been playing this game for over a decade can tell you all about this type of experience. This may seem a bit weird, but people take breaks from Magic, and when they come back they always go through this same “beginner over-load” phase. So much has changed, but Magic is still, at its core, the same. The rules alter slightly, and the cards shift and change, but the basics of the formula remain. That’s the elegant beauty of Magic. Once you’ve learned the game, then you can learn more of the game at any time. Having gaps in your knowledge is totally fine, and most players only know small portions of the entire list of unique cards anyway. Magic has gotten to a point in its index that very few players are actually familiar with most or all of Magic’s catalogue. It’s just too much for mere mortals. So, give yourself the time you need to realize that being overwhelmed is just one of the things you actually get used to. It’s ok to be reading all the time, because once you read the card you know what it does. We’ve always said, “RTFC.” Read the Card. So, don’t quit, but instead, shelve buying cards for a bit. Or, focus on buying cheaper singles that are quirky, fun, or help you complete a pet deck project. You don’t have own them all or even know them all. You can adapt and respond to new cards as you encounter them. This is what helps keep every game of Magic from being the same as the last. The variety and changing nature of the game is what makes it so grand. You don’t need to quit the entire game, but perhaps quit buying cards or quit trying to study the entire catalogue. Focus on a set at a time, and don’t be afraid to skip buying tons of each set. You can simply pick up a few singles that catch your eye, and thereby limit your overall overload.

This last bit is rather sad for me to wrap my head around. I guess what makes it so tough is that I personally haven’t had to experience this in any true capacity. I’m lucky, because I’ve never had to face quitting because I didn’t have a play group any more. This may be the toughest reason. I feel for you. It is awful when you have the greatest game at your fingertips, and no one to play with. I’ve had years where I wasn’t able to play very often, and that’s because I just couldn’t fit play time into my hectic life schedule. I think that Covid sucks, and because it sucks so much I’ve been forced to realize a few things. One of those things is how much I cherish the chance to play Magic with my brother and my friends. I can’t wait to have family and friends over to play again. Those times are precious, and I’ll be sure to record every one of those moments in the Kills Book[article link]. If you don’t have a group, then wait. If you are young enough, then start a club at your local school or college. People will come. Ask for donations from your LGS. I’ve made hundreds of commons only decks over the years just to teach newer players. It’s worth it. Hang on to your collection, and if anything, try to grow it more during the times when you don’t have a group. Sometimes the only way to find a play group is to build a play group. This may seem like a lot of work, but it’s worth the effort. The feeling of joy you get from spreading your love of Magic with others is incredibly fulfilling. I have introduced, taught, and mentored many new players over the years, and I feel blessed that I’ve been able to bring the joy of this game to their lives. Magic has brought me so much, and I know that it will bring just as much to others as well. When you don’t have a playgroup you just have to double down and build one.

I haven’t run across many other reasons why people have quit or tried to quit Magic. If I’ve missed one between this column and the last, then please let me know in the comments section. Ultimately, we each decide what to make of our hobbies. We decide how much time and money to invest in them. However, when you are making the decision to continue your hobby or not, then I urge you to consider how much the hobby gives back to you. How much satisfaction and joy do you get from it? You are worth more than you might think. You deserve to have an awesome hobby with great pieces to it. Don’t sell yourself short, and don’t give up on a source of joy. I hope I’ve offered enough rationale to keep you with the greatest game ever made—Magic: the Gathering. Until next time, may the cards be ever in your favor!

Don’t Walk Away from MTG…part I

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

Don’t walk away from Magic: the Gathering. If you feel like you just have to, then I beg you to please reconsider. Humor me and answer a couple of questions first. What’s your reasoning for doing so? Is the game too simple? Does it provide you with an unfulfilling experience? Are the cards just too darn cheap? Do you wish your collection wasn’t so easy to organize and manage? Is it no longer as fun because you have access to too many cards?

Quitting because someone else thinks you should…NOPE. That’s nonsense. Live your life, and let others live theirs. If you have someone urging you to quit a hobby of yours, then perhaps you need to take a hard look at why that person wants you to quit. Is it because you are addicted to cardboard crack? Having an actual addiction and joking about one are very different. If you’re not sure what I mean by that, then I suggest you seriously look at what actual addictive behaviors look like. For starters, an addict is always looking for the next fix. If you are always looking for more Magic time, then you’re not alone. However, when you replace important responsibilities and people in your life to get your next Magic fix, then you may actually have a legitimate concern. I’m not talking about the occasional decision to play with friends rather than go out with a significant other. I’m talking about ditching your family for Magic or skipping time important work meetings to get a little more Magic time. That’s a serious sign. Otherwise, simply thinking about your hobby or being a little obsessive about it is totally fine. It’s actually healthy to have an active pursuit that is outside the realms of your other daily activities. Finding time to “unplug” from your other areas and plug into a deep and rewarding hobby like Magic: the Gathering is one of life’s greatest blessings. Don’t let others force you to quit playing a game that brings you joy.

I’ve heard people wanting to quit because the game is beyond their current budget. The wonderful thing with Magic is that you can always play with the cards you own. There are so many eternal formats that allow you to recycle your cards time and time again. The lines of play in this game are such that you can easily never play the same game twice. This is one of the aspects that keeps drawing new players to the game. Why not experience an entirely different game every time you play? Perhaps you felt like you were out of control with buying cards. Then I would strongly suggest you try playing Pauper. It’s an amazingly rewarding format that is built for the poorest player’s budgets. You don’t have to proxy you heart out and cash out your morals. You can actually just play Pauper: an all commons format. It’s wonderfully rich and is very rewarding for skillful players. Additionally, you could consider investing in a Cube. Having a dedicated Cube for drafting is wonderful investment that allows you to slowly build and buy and tweak it to your heart’s content, but also limits your purchasing sprees. You only need one of any given card, and you’re constantly limited to the size of your Cube. Plus, you can get tons of drafts in for free time and time again. And, if you’re a Commander player you know that you can always just slim the collection down a bit and focus on one or two decks. You can make slight alterations, and you can decide to focus on things like Uncommons only decks or even create your own budgetary challenges. The key to finding a comfortable budget in Magic is not over-extending yourself. There will always be new, powerful, and extremely rare cards. You don’t have to catch them all, and you can always have fun with what you have. There’s no rule demanding you own everything or that you will actually find more fulfillment playing with everything. I’ve owned the coveted Black Lotus, and I don’t miss playing with. I do wish I had one…so I could sell it!

Sometimes we think we’re done with Magic. Notice I said “we think” as my qualifier. You may think you’re losing interest. That’s fine. Then consider a pause. Let me tell you a little story. Once upon a time I was in college and decided I needed to step away from Magic. It was eating up too much of my time and I wanted to get Dean’s list or higher every semester. I figured eliminating Magic was a good way to do it. So, I packed up the majority of my collection that I didn’t have in decks already (about 6 decks escape this folly). I made a whole container’s worth of envelopes filled with random rares, uncommons, and commons. I doled them out to all the guys on my floor that had started playing or were long-time players. They couldn’t believe I was stepping away. I couldn’t really believe it either, but I figured I needed to. I just didn’t have time for it. Well, I was wrong. I came back to it not even six months later. I mourned the loss of all my “extra” cards. I only had a few decks and absolutely no trade fodder. It was a rough time, but I was so glad I hadn’t ditched all of my decks as well. I guess subconsciously I knew I couldn’t part with them.

Learn from my mistakes. I’ll wager that your collection might be worth a bit now, but it is likely going to be worth nearly the same amount or more 10 years from now. Most of the competitive formats that exist tend to favor particular cards for extended periods of time. Standard powerhouse cards seldom shine only in Standard. As they rotate out and then become popular in other formats they become harder to snap up as the supply has become finite. So, just hang on to those cards for now. Put them in a shoe box in the closet. Stow them under your bed. Heck, hide them in your parent’s attic if you have to! I urge you not to unload all of them for a quick buck. Here’s why. You will probably pick up this game again, and wish you still had that shoe box of cards. Sure, a chunk might just be common garbage. However, some of those commons could have cards like Mystic Remora, Rhystic Study, or other simple commons that balloon up in price or become huge in any given format (in regards to my give-away example, I’m sure I probably gave away around 20+ of each of those cards when I gave away my extra cards).

Some cards fall out of favor while others rise up. The casual market created by the Commander format has brought a clear stabilizing factor to prices and demand. As a traditional casual player I can say that I always had casual demand on my mind. The interesting thing is that the casual demand has become a much more informed group of buyers. There’s tons of content out there speaking directly to the “casual” EDH players. The power level discussions tend to let us know that there are varying degrees of casual Commander. That’s great, because playgroups have always had varying levels of intensity. The thing that’s changed in recent years is the speed at which cards are identified as being great for multiplayer decks. The casual janky combo decks assemble and then disperse themselves much more quickly among the Magic community at large. This is interesting, but also a powerful indicator of just how much EDH can command the market. My point is that your current collection likely won’t lose much value overall. The larger the collection, then the more likely your collection will be something you will miss in a few years. That extra cash you score from it will likely be wasted or recouped in the years to come. Re-acquiring lost cards is much more difficult. Trust me on that note (I did recoup my 40 dual lands and that was bear of task).

A newer reason I’ve heard the last several years concerns people quitting because of some evil cabal that is undermining the game. They cry out that they are quitting because they are morally opposed to something that “the man” is doing to the game.  If you’re like me, then your reaction to this type of complaining is somewhere along the lines of “LOL” to “Wait, what? You’re quitting a game you enjoy because you believe the people that make the game are making mistakes?” I wonder if it’s that they feel the people that are in charge of those making the game are pushing designers to do that which they do not wish to do? I just don’t understand this approach to quitting such a great game. Basically people are deciding that by not playing they are sending the message that they loved this game, but now can’t love it because of…greed? Perceived design flaws? I know this is a lot of questioning, but what the Obsainus Golem is happening here? This is a seriously flawed approach to a problem that is actually fixable. Hear me out. Why quit playing a game that brings you joy? You can vote on how you want Magic to be made every time you make a purchase. When you buy sealed product you vote that you support that product. You support that design team. You support Magic’s current direction. You support the retail plan as well. If you purchase your cards and boxes from a local gaming store, then you are sending the message that you want that supply chain to continue to exist. Every purchase you make in Magic, from singles to collector booster boxes to Secret Lairs are all ways of voting for how you want Magic to exist. Each purchase is a vote. Each single is a vote. If you can’t afford to keep up with a capitalist voting system like this, then the good news is that your voice can still be heard on forums, feedback emails, and other online contacts. We’ve never had a greater voice as a consumer/player base. It’s a wondrous thing, and it’s our responsibility to use it wisely.

I believe that we need to take moral stands on issues that are dear to us. I believe that when we find truth we need to plant ourselves next to that river of truth and refuse to budge. I just can’t see how no longer playing the best game ever created is accomplishing that. You can vote with your wallet, and you can shift your collecting and shift your focus. You do not need to liquidate your collection and abandon a hobby that will bring you years of joy. You do not need to jettison your collection and pass on the opportunity to make lasting friendships and glorious memories. You can keep your cards and your morals too! Vote with your wallet, but don’t sell your free time, and don’t squander the resources you’ve already acquired. Those cards can continue to serve you well for years to come.

Well, I’ve got more to say on this, but I think that’s enough for today. We don’t need to quit because we are being told to do so. We don’t need to quit because we think we’re done…we’re probably just taking a short break! Life can be tough, but Magic should be grand and wonderful escape from life’s difficulties. Use your hobby to find joy and relaxation. Use Magic to help you, and in turn you’ll find that your hobby gives back far more than you initially thought. Consider that you could go to the movies for about $20 once a week. You spend $100 a month for 10 hours of entertainment. Now, I’m certain that you can spend $100 a month on Magic and get far more than 10 hours of entertainment out of it. If you’re going to be a penny about fun, then maybe you need to consider that Magic offers incredible value for your time, energy, and dollar. I’ll wrap up a few other false rationales for quitting next time. Until then, may the cards be ever in your favor!

Djeru, With Eyes Open WIDE

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

Djeru, With Eyes Wide Open

Actual deck:

Budget Version Link:

I wanted to share with you a little side project I’ve been working on. This little mono-white Commander recently crushed my buddies in a three player game. I am fairly certain it would have done equally well in a four player game as well. I know people tend to malign mono-white, but honestly, it can still be very solid in Commander.

But wait you say. Mono-white in Commander—doesn’t it mean your deck will be awful? White doesn’t have ramp, and it doesn’t have big nonsense like Craterhoof Behemoth or Cyclonic Rift. But you know what white has that the other colors don’t? Balance. Sadly, not the card, because that it is banned. But white has balanced answers to just about anything your opponent can throw at you. It has the best targeted and blanket removal around. With Djeru, Eyes Wide Open as your Commander you also get access to card advantage. Planeswalkers are basically value machines, and Djeru tutors up one after another during the game. I’m not usually a fan of tutoring effects in Commander, but when you’re playing mono-white how powerful can it really be? Djeru can also be a serious beater when you have plenty of Glorious Anthem effects in play. This deck is designed to power out an army, and go wide! The smaller creatures get big pretty quickly, and so you win using a combination of anthem effects, tricks, and mass removal. These are all designed to create card advantage over your opponents. It has a few weaknesses, but what deck doesn’t? This plays like a cross between a white weenie deck and a blue-white control deck. And before you tell me that it can’t play like a control deck without Counterspell, then I think you forgot that white has counterspells (Dawn Charm, Illumination, Mana Tithe, and Rebuff the Wicked). I’m not running all of those, but you could. It’s always cute when the blue mage is tapped out and the green mage taps Craterhoof Behemonth, and you get to say, “in response, I’ll counter your spell,” while tossing little old Mana Tithe onto the table.

Synergize for the Win!

This deck leverages several synergies across its build. The sneakiest one of all is that these creatures are almost all humans. The ones that aren’t humans are there to synergize with the humans. This sub-theme helps make the deck more explosive and gives it an edge that is usually reserved for green decks and their Overrun effects. Champion of the Parish, Angel of Glory’s Rise, Rick Steadfast Leader, and Basri Ket all help to achieve that moment of critical mass.  

Lots of the humans in this deck are also Knights. This works out rather nicely because we get to use cards like Knight Exemplar and Worthy Knight to even greater effect. Having knights mount up for a huge offensive charge on their various mounts is sure to be a satisfying way to claim an honorable victory. Worthy Knight and The Circle of Loyalty help build the army as well. The Circle of Loyalty is one of the best cards in the whole deck, because it does literally everything this deck is trying to do: go wide with tokens, pump the team, and gain incremental card advantage. It’s just so good. Meanwhile, cards like Crusading Knight and Knight of Dawn seem cute, but the payoff potential can be huge. Stopping non-trampling fatties in their tracks and brutalizing heavy black strategies and the occasional Urborg Tomb of Yawgmoth with a random rare from Invasion feels wonderful. Sure, cards like this can be sub-optimal, but since they synergize so well with everything else in the deck it doesn’t hurt so much when they aren’t grossly powerful.

Using Glorious Anthem effects also helps to build our unimpressive 1/1’s and 2/2’s into oddly intimidating forces is the secret behind this deck’s success. You can drop a Crusade and follow it up with an Honor of the Pure, and now everything is getting +2+2. Sometimes, you hold back playing one or two anthem effects and then play them all in a single turn to act like a pseudo-Overrun. Cards like Valiant Knight, Knight Exemplar, and Celestial Crusader all help pump the team. Once you have two of these effects in play, that little first striker defense becomes a hard hitting offensive force. Djeru, With Eyes Open helps tie together the anthem effects and token generators. Djeru always tutors up a planeswalker for instant card advantage. Following that play up with a planeswalker we can protect helps us crank out the value and pump up the team.

Humans, Knights, white creatures, and tokens all work in tandem, and we also have many +1/+1 counter effects to help permanently buff up our creatures. Creating a critical mass of both tokens and pumping effects is the goal. People will kill Elspeth on site along with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Gideon will definitely be on people’s radars, because it does everything this deck wants to do. It can create knights, pump the team, and even swing in for some damage on its own. Basri Ket is actually a hidden all-star for this deck. Basri is great at doing the two things our deck needs the most—generating tokens and buffing them. Eventually, people will catch on that Basri Ket is super dangerous as well, and they’ll be happy to spend a card to remove it. Ultimately, this decks looks to gain overall card advantage in order to crush your opponents in big sweeping attacks.

You forgot the life gain.

What about life gain? Isn’t this mono-white? Why aren’t you running Congregate with all those tokens? Well, I chose not to lean too heavily into the life gain sub-theme. I figured that would just make me a target entirely too early on. The deck can handle a little team up, but not for long. The key is to get ahead a bit and then cripple a few others. You don’t want to be the archenemy of the table. You want to swing for plenty of damage and then if things get out of control sweep it all away. The deck has multiple sweeper effects to help cover nearly every situation. I chose sweeper effects that can be either one-sided or at least leave our planeswalkers in play to help us bounce back faster than everyone else. The nastiest little sweeper spice is Ravnica at War. This can tear apart some decks, and can also be a bit lame against others. However, that’s the thing with spicy cards—they can be just right, too much, or not enough. Overall, the mana curve for the deck is very low. This helps you rebuild faster, and gets you swinging in for more damage before people have time to rebuild their defenses.

Spice is Nice

What’s in here that you might not stumble across naturally? What cards did I decide to include because they are fun, radical or surprise people time and time again? Illumination is one for sure. I really need to get an artist to alter one with a little minion on it shouting, “ILLUMINATION!” Now, white is not known for drawing cards, but I felt I would try out using a white draw seven enchantment: Pursuit of Knowledge. Have you ever run? It is both risky and rewarding. So, naturally, I’m in because, “What could possibly go wrong?” Could someone nail you for using it, sure. But, you could also live the dream with it. I think that dreams are worth risking a few draws, don’t you? Additionally, I chose to include cluestones and a banner to help add a few late game draw effects. Unlike other decks, we tend to drop creatures turns 2, 3, and 4, and then drop ramp and creatures turns 5, 6, and 7. The option to sweep it all away is there too, so perhaps you will want to ramp into a sweeper to start building your army double-time afterwards. Either way, you have choices with this mono-white build, and choices are what make decks good. I also felt that including Debt of Loyalty would be pretty fun for this deck. It’s nice to snag someone’s awesome creature when they were expecting it to merely die. The -1/-0 counter it gets is usually negated by all of our various anthem effects, but even if it’s not, it’s still targeted creature theft in white. Additionally, I would definitely consider playing History of Benalia and Silverwing Squadron as well. I chose not to include them as I felt that History makes you a bit too much of a target for too many turns, and Silverwing Squadron didn’t fit my need to keep the mana curve super low.


Being able to be flexible in your approach is key, and white allows you a surprising amount of flexibility. It has balanced answers to so many of the problems that can arise during a game. The ability to sweep away artifacts, enchantments, or creatures is awesome. You can use spot removal to exile problematic permanents and not worry when your tokens or smaller creatures die to removal or other people’s sweepers. You can usually replace your tokens rather easily by recasting Djeru and picking up another one of your value engine planeswalkers. Djeru really helps take this deck from something that can putter out to a deck that has a surprising amount of late game potential. It may seem like you’re playing white weenie, but when you shift into the control portion of the deck’s late-game strategies you will not be disappointed in what you’re capable of doing. This deck demands to be answered, and it can meet other deck’s demands for removal. This is what makes this a strong, flexible, and fun mono-white Commander deck. Plus, this mana base is the cheapest around! You can go all plains or maybe mix it up with an Emeria, the Sky Ruin to have some extra late-game potential. Overall, I think this build is pretty solid, and it does allow you plenty of wiggle room to build your own with whatever you have laying around. This deck can easily be made as a budget build, and so I’ve included a budget list link as well. I hope that you get to sling some spells sooner rather than later. I know that Time Spiral Remastered is around the corner, and it has a few of these cards in it as well. Time to expand the collection! 

I originally wrote this before Strixhaven. So, if you’re wondering why it’s not updated with a few new card draw spells, well, now you now why. Have fun tinkering if you decide to try this build out! I have really enjoyed it so far! Until next time, may the cards be ever in your favor!

Time Spiral Remastered–A Guide for Commander Players

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

**I originally published this back on March 19th for the LGS I write for…so I apologize if it’s a bit dated, but I figured it was worth looking at as a retrospective of sorts.**

Is Time Spiral Remastered worth a look? YES!

Wow, my fellow Commander players. If you haven’t drafted Time Spiral, then you are probably under the age of 30. No, seriously. In October of 2006 the Time Spiral block began, nearly 15 years ago.  So it may still be considered new to the “old guard”; it is clearly an older set by today’s standards. As someone that often likes to teach others to play Magic for their first time, it is always a joy for me when those new players start to realize just how deep the catalogue of Magic cards truly is. They often ask how long I’ve been playing, but that doesn’t quite send the message as seeing them realize just how many sets have been released. When Time Spiral was originally released it was around the 45th expansion set or so. Now, there are over 100 expansion sets, and that’s not even counting the ancillary products or additional collector sets. There are so many sets now that seeing an older block get remastered as a single set is actually very cool.

If you’re worried that this set isn’t going to be super fun because you never played Time Spiral, well I guess you never played Time Spiral. Time Spiral was awesome. It was the original Dominaria block. If you enjoyed the nostalgia and coolness of Dominaria, then you’re going to love Time Spiral. I felt like Dominaria was a Time Spiral set without all the crazy effects and abilities. The story and vibe just felt like old-school magic. Not that Magic needs to feel old-school or anything. Magic is constantly innovating and always introducing new mechanics. However, it does feel good to play Magic based around its simplest and oldest mechanics. It never ceases to amaze me that newer players can continually enter this game. The rules are complex and only get more so with each set. There are always new sets of mechanics and rules that expand or break old rules. The longer you’ve been playing the easier it gets, but when Time Spiral released it managed to pack more mechanics into it than all previous sets combined. No, really, it was ridiculous. Yet, it was also very fun. So much fun to draft and collect and build with. Time Spiral Remastered is going to be a nostalgia packed goodie bag for old and new players alike.

The choices the design team made concerning what to reprint appear to be basically perfect. Now, I haven’t drafted the set yet, but just looking through the spoiler sheet I fondly remember both winning and losing to a variety of those cards. Losing to Angel’s Grace in draft when I over-extended was an epic way for my buddy Andrew to defeat me. Beating my friends with Teferi was pretty sweet too. Playing Akroma as a morph and then flipping her against my opponent’s blue-white draft deck was some crushingly good fun. Living the dream and drafting a five color sliver deck is a wondrous thing (just go for it). If you’ve never drafted slivers, then I suggest you do it. Living the sliver dream is really a thing of beauty. The set seems like what it promises to be: a “best of” reprint set that refines the entire draft experience. That’s pretty sweet. Heck, even if you are just cracking boxes this set seems like good fun.

The old school time shifted borders are also a pure treat for older players. These intriguing reprints run the gamut from chase mythics to staple commons. Every pack comes with a time-shifted card in the old border, and I have no doubt that if you don’t want the card you open, someone you know does. These cards are going to be highly sought after. I’m telling you now, because I want you to trade them to me. No, seriously, please trade these to me. I can’t imagine a simpler way to appeal to older players that also doesn’t leave out the newer players. The list of reprints hits on every single format. These cards will be wanted by many people. Even if you’re someone that doesn’t like the older look, then you are almost assured that you can trade up for the older version with someone else who has the same cards plus a little extra. I have no doubt that these will trade for more than they are worth. People will want them that badly. In a way this is like opening a foil and being able to trade it for the non-foil plus more stuff. Who doesn’t like more stuff? The older borders are nice bonus trade fodder. As a cube owner and a Commander player I can tell you that people like me will be looking to pick up at least a set of each one of these. I honestly don’t think there’s a single time-shifted card I don’t want to own. This old-school treatment for new school cards seems to hit on all the cards that traditional enfranchised players play with across all formats. I was drooling when I saw the old-school gold card treatments. I just love that old gold look. Seriously, this is an awesome idea. I hope they do this with other blocks and remaster them with some other “gimmicky name” in the time-shifted slot. “Guild-gates” for Ravnica or “War Inventions” for Urza’s block, or perhaps “Coalitions Relics” for Invasion? The possibilities aren’t endless, but with over 100 expansion it seems like the mine is pretty rich.

Time Spiral remastered has many strengths. The biggest may very well be its variety. The variety stems from having both the extra slot and the fact that it spans what was originally three different sets. Combining the block of sets that were Time Spiral, Planar Chaos, and Future Sight into one remastered set is pretty ingenious. Instead of spreading ideas and mechanics and draft choices across three sets it all gets condensed down into one set that is basically a highlight reel for the block. Rosewater has spoken about condensing blocks and eventually we got to see this and live with a reality that is a one set block or the occasional two set block. It was easier for design to build good draft environments that fit with a story line by having fewer sets to connect together. So, when Wizard’s applies today’s design approaches to yesterday’s sets we end up with these cool remastered items. They function like watching a best of highlight reel. That’s exactly what this set is, so I’m pretty excited for other people to finally know just how amazing this block really is. It’s both fun and flavorful.

Which cards do I think will be the best new pick-ups for Commander players? Well, let’s take a gander at the colors for a moment and see which rares, uncommons, and commons are the best for including in your 99 or inspiring a new 99. I won’t belabor the mythics, because mythics are usually awesome.

I’m sure you noticed the usually clause about mythics, so let’s talk about Crovax, Ascendant Hero. Crovax has been upshifted to a mythic…ugh. Well, it should end up being a cheap mythic, but this is going to be a great card in your go-wide humans decks. I might even reconsider including it in my Djeru, With Eyes Open deck. Mangara of Corondor is an amazing card for answering literally anything on the board, so I imagine most decks will be excited to have this card as well. Uncommons are also a tough call as there are plenty of cards that slot into many go-wide strategies and plenty of tribal support cards as well. Overall, I think it’s a toss-up between Stonecloaker and Lost Auromancers for best pickups in the uncommon slot. Now, as for the commons I think that Children of Korlis is a very interesting card that makes math a bit more complicated for your opponents. It can do some sneaky things if you have ways of paying life to set up ridiculous turns.

Blue’s ability to take extra turns is amazing. Add “buyback” to an extra turn spell, and the game is usually over in short order once you cast Walk the Aeons. It’s an amazing card, but the card I’m most excited for people to be introduced to or maybe even reminded about is Draining Whelk. That card is amazing. This is the perfect time to reprint the whelk as the inspiration for this card, Mana Drain, was just reprinted in Commander Legends. You have to look at the original Mana Drain artwork, but once you do, then you’ll totally understand what I’m talking about. That’s just one small instance of how interconnected Time Spiral is with Magic’s entire history. The uncommons are the place where you can see the power of split second. That keyword is amazing, and it’s always fun saying no to people when they try to respond to a split second spell. That’s why Wipe Away is the uncommon I’m most excited to see from this set. For blue’s commons I’m giving the nod to the sweet duo that is Reality Acid and Dream Stalker. It has a whole archetype built after it in pauper, but using either card in your 99 in Commander is still a legitimate consideration. Especially if you’re running any sort of blue deck with fan favorite Capsize (with buyback).  

Black’s mythics are cool, but it’s super exciting to see people being introduced to Sudden Spoiling (split second is brutal) and Tombstalker. Tombstalker is probably underplayed as a beatdown device in most decks, but how often are you actually utilizing every card in your graveyard? Being able to drop a respectable threat in Commander for one black mana is very powerful indeed. The uncommons have plenty of depth as well, but I really like Minions Murmurs for all those decks looking to just refill their hand without spending six or more mana to do so. Life is cheap, so spend it on drawing cards. The commons have two cards that are criminally underrated—Pit Keeper and Enslave. They are both better than they seem at first. Enslave seems overpriced, but stealing is not what people expect from black. Meanwhile Pit Keeper is a super cheap card whose upside is very easy to turn on.

Red has some fun stuff, but seeing people picking up more copies of Reiterate is going to be an absolute blast. The flavor behind many of the uncommons is just so cool, but I really loved seeing Basalt Gargoyle in there. I’m not sure it’s worth playing outside draft (perhaps even questionable there), but seeing Granite Gargoyle’s aggressive sibling is just good fun. The true excitement comes from another red spell in the uncommon slot. Haze of Rage has storm and buyback, so it’s going to be a great surprise finisher in quite a few red decks. Red’s commons are ridiculous. Two spells with storm: Grapeshot and Empty the Warrens are both good in the right decks. However, Ancient Grudge is Gruully excellent.  

Green has a couple cool cards outside the obvious fungus among us theme. Heartwood Storyteller is a card I’m excited for people to start playing with a bit more. This card enables an awful lot of card draw and usually replaces itself at the very least. Two cards in the uncommon slot really draw me in for completely different reasons. If you’ve read this far, then you know I’m going to mention Krosan Grip, because it has split second and allows you to destroy pesky artifacts and enchantments without letting your opponent get one last use out of it. I love split second, because it essentially brought back the idea of “interrupts” in Magic. They functioned as instants, but they were faster. Split second is really just the fastest interrupt ever. I love spells with split second. Now, Gaea’s Anthem being downshifted to uncommon is a bit silly. It’ll be nice to have plenty of copies of that lying around in the near future. Green’s commons are basically devoted to slivers and thallids, but Utopia Vow is a great piece of removal for mono-green strategies.

Multicolor has amazing stuff, but nothing as amazing as all the slivers being there. Well, not all of the originals or anything, but plenty of strong slivers are there—Sliver Legion! Now, if you haven’t been brutalized by a deck running Jhoira of the Ghitu, then you’re lucky. If this is your first introduction to that card, then please, go grab every large cmc spell you can find, toss them in a deck with Jhoira, and watch your friends groan every time you announce your commander.

The artifacts and lands are cool, but easily the most exciting cards to see here are Coalition Relic and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. That both of them are merely rares is very fortunate. It would have been awful to see them upshifted to mythic status as they are hard enough to come by now. Thankfully, these should be easier to come by, and people will be expanding their access to mana in truly exciting ways.

I know that the mythics are all pretty exciting, and I spoke about that earlier so don’t think I’m ignoring them, but you don’t need me to point out Akroma’s Memorial or cards without casting costs are incredibly powerful. Overall, this set has many cool tribal sub-themes I didn’t dive into, but I’m sure you’ll see as you peruse it. Those types of things are cool, and should not be underestimated from either a play perspective or collector’s perspective. Getting all the pieces for your tribal decks can be difficult, but when a set is fresh and pieces are abundant, then you should snap up what you can while you can.

Overall, I have to say that Time Spiral Remastered seems like a no-brainer of a pick-up for most Commander players. If you happen to be able to draft this with friends, then you should absolutely get a box or even two. No, really, it’s so much fun to play as a limited experience. The cards you have left over after the draft can easily be put to good use as either Commander deck filler or trade fodder. I just don’t see a world where you can draft this with friends and then not have it be worth the price of admission. Buying this simply to crack packs can be worthwhile if you don’t own these cards. There’s so many sweet reprints in here that you are bound to stumble upon plenty of play material for your gambling efforts. In short, this is a set that has serious depth for Commander players.  I caution you not to dismiss it as a draft only product. While I do consider it a no-brainer for Cube enthusiasts, drafters, and collectors, it is really a set that offers Commander players many cards worth playing.

How Many Players Do You Need to Play Commander?

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

How many players are needed to make the perfect Commander game? If you said four, then you are wrong. Five? Nope. Three? Wrong again. Two? I didn’t say cEDH; you’re wrong again. The answer is easier than you might think. But why take the easy way, when we can get there the hard way? There’s so much Commander content now that I can’t help but think that everyone has the correct answer. But, how can that be? If we’re all correct, then we are all wrong as well. It’s like a tie…no one and yet everyone wins. Are we all losers if we play with the incorrect number of people? Do we only win if we play with the optimal number? How many people do I need to play Commander with to have fun is actually a bit complicated. Let’s walk through the group numbers and weigh the benefits and drawbacks of setting up a Commander game with a variety of group sizes.

The Core Four

Those of you that say four players is the optimal size are probably in the majority. While those that say two are probably looking for a more competitive duel-style experience. I’m going to ignore cEDH, as I’d like to dive into the cases that include multiple players. These types of groupings offer some room for both analysis and discussion. A four player group enables politics with cards like Expropriate, Play of the Game, and other “undaunted” style spells get space to shine. Using cards that have “will of the council” also makes sense in these groups. These politically motivated deck strategies get better with a larger number of opponents. Likewise, spells with higher casting costs tend to be more playable as there is a larger damage cushion in these games. People tend not to just pick on one person and eliminate them early on, but instead spread the love, er damage. These four player games often allow people to “do their thing” during the course of the game. That’s a huge part of what makes Commander a desirable–and above all else–FUN FORMAT! This is usually the argument for having four players. The games go longer than smaller groups, and the spells and turns favor bigger plays. Godzilla taught me that bigger is better, so shouldn’t these decks and these games be the best? Perhaps.

Four Player Commander Game downfalls

Yet, the very strengths of a four player game are also its weaknesses. The downfall of games with four people is that the politics and actual turns slow down the pacing. Slowing down the pacing means you get to play less magic. There’s more stuff on the board, so people take longer to make decisions. Yes, you can play some big spells, and have some big turns, but the emphasis is on some. You can only spend so much mana during the course of the game. When we lean everything into our big spells, then we don’t cast multiple spells a turn. We toss out a few haymakers, and wham, game over. These games can tend to build to a crescendo that ends with big slamming turns and ridiculous combos that have finally been assembled. This is great if that’s what we want. What if you don’t want this style? What if you want to get in more than one game in three hours? What happens when you have a time restraint or you just can’t focus for that long? Well, you find another way.

Three Player Commander Games

Having three players at the table allows the action to move much more swiftly. The pace of the game increases, and slower decks are often punished even more. The need to punish slow starts arises from the danger of those decks being able to take out both opponents at once. Seeing a deck crush two opponents at once is much easier to imagine than seeing a deck crush three players or an entire table at once. That fourth player adds just enough cushion. However, removing that fourth player means that slow starters get punished much more readily. This is great in that it keeps the game advancing, and also makes it easier to punish people for overextending. Alliances can still happen, and politics can still exist, but they don’t necessarily play as heavy a role in the trio. We usually feel awful teaming up on the weak guy at the table. Meanwhile, teaming up to defeat the clear front runner is something that can happen very quickly and be undone just as fast. Alliances are fleeting, but still possible in this smaller pod. Does this mean that a trio is actually a better group to play with? Perhaps.

When Trios fail

The problem with the trio is just that if one deck jumps out ahead of the rest, then that one player can easily demolish someone with a slow start. If only one person has a decent start, then one of the slower starters gets eliminated too early to matter. This leaves someone in the unfortunate position of watching a duel unfold while they wait to play Magic. The hard part is that they never really got to play in the first place. Sure, they’ll end up playing another game in more or less short order, but when your first game never really happened, well, that sucks. Who wants to shuffle up, draw cards, play no spells, die, and then shuffle up and wait to do it all again? Yeah, I didn’t think I’d see anyone’s hands up for that one. What happens when your trio gets highly specialized? The games become hyper competitive paper, rock, scissor matches that involve knocking out the biggest threat early on and then duking it out with the deck that poses the least threat. Perhaps that is what any well navigated multiplayer game evolves into, but when you start with three you skip the whole process of evolution. An evolutionary leap in play style isn’t required, but it certainly feels inevitable when playing in consistent trios.

EDH/Commander with Five or More Players?

Yes, this is actually how it was intended to be way back when. The original Elder Dragon Legends were meant to be the original commanders that lead the five different decks at the table. The balance and politics are widely available in the beginning of larger games. The spells and variance are tremendous. The turns and development that occur during the course of the game is truly an epic saga of Magic storytelling. Watching a table with five or more decks at once is a pretty big deal. The clashing of various decks and personalities is always fun to watch. It’s even better to be involved in. While playing games like this you can expect that it will take anywhere from 3-5 hours to complete a game. Seriously. This type of legendary game play is what urban legends are bred from. It’s a veritable breeding pool in which the survival of the fittest is truly put to the test. I can’t emphasize enough how crazy and wild games like this can become. An arms race just doesn’t do it justice. It is more akin to a Colossus of Sardia blocking a Force of Nature that has banded with a Benalish Hero. Does this mean that five player or larger pods are the best way to play EDH/Commander? Perhaps.

The Epic Downfall of Five Player EHD/Commander Games

The biggest draw to games like these is the way it builds to tremendous turns that include things like an insurrection followed by someone else grabbing the reins of power only to have a holy day. Yet, this takes an awful long time to happen. Sure, someone might help things along with a group hug deck, so perhaps it only takes four hours to play the first game of the night. Yet, unless you have ten hours to devote to playing at a clip, then the epically long games are actually a downside. Four player games require plenty of attention to the complex board states that develop, and when you add one or three more players the board state basically gets two or three times harder to follow. I don’t always play for this long, but when I do, I try to remember it really is a Magic marathon. I applaud you if you have time for these types of games. I look back at the years and I don’t think I’ve played a game like that in over a decade. The crazy part about it is that I do remember playing that last marathon of a game. I can even recall plays that were made during it (someone Conquered my Tundra). So, perhaps that’s a good thing. I worry that too many marathons will lead to some epic burnout and not to routine play. So, the very thing that was its strength shall be its downfall? Perhaps. 

What is the right number of players for a Commander Game?

The right, optimal, correct number of players for an EDH/Commander game is clearly whatever number makes you happy. I hate to take the easy way out, but what other way is there? We just took the hard way by analyzing what makes each group size good. We’ve taken a hard look at what the shortcomings for each size group entails. It really seems a matter of what you’re after when you play. Do you want a well-balanced game with political potential that should be done in 1.5-3 hours? Then you’re looking for a four player group. You want a faster pace and less politicking? Get a Vendilion clique styled trio together and you’re ready for action. You want truly large and epically long games? Go five or more and you’ll be signing up for a Magic marathon. The matter of finding what your playgroup wants is simple, but also a little bit complicated. Sometimes it’s just a matter of whoever can get together. It’s not so much about choosing the right group size, but knowing what to expect from the group before you get into it.

Knowing is half the battle. 

Do you have the right decks for the size of the game you intend on playing. When you look at your collection do you have enough decks to meet all of these situations? Can you find a cEDH deck for duels? Have you built a ridiculous battle cruiser deck that eschews most cards under 6 CMC for those 5+ player marathons? Do you have a balanced or slightly faster deck for trios? Heck, I remember when I only had one deck, and I played it whenever I could. I knew I’d lose 1 v 1 games. I knew I only stood a chance when there were more than three players, but I was OK with that. I wanted to win when there was a bigger audience. I wanted to just play whenever I could. My suggestion to you is that you should play with what you have. Enjoy the games you get, and plan to build for your optimal sized games in the future. This helps you find maximum enjoyment no matter the playgroup and no matter the time constraints. Building your collection and preparing for all groups sizes is a great way to approach potential game nights. Here’s to hoping that this summer will hold many game nights for you all at whatever group sizes you manage to muster. Take care and best of shuffles to you. May the cards be ever in your favor!

Here’s a link to some more of my articles that you might enjoy. Thanks for visiting the site!

Commander Legends 2? Please, not yet.

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

Mark Rosewater was recently posed the question, “If or When? Commander Legends 2, and his response was a question itself: “Would you all like that, yes or no?” By asking this question we have a great indication of how Wizards really is dedicated to listening to the players and trying to accommodate what we, as a community, want. That’s a wonderful and beautiful thing in this age of giant corporations using other companies to do market research on what their player base desires. While I’m sure focus groups and studies are still occurring these impromptu asks by Rosewater and others at Wizards (Verhey comes to mind) can really get the community very excited at times. As Commander players, we’ve been blessed enough to see that there is now dedicated focus on the most popular (strictly numbers wise) multiplayer format ever. So, the question Mark spins back on us is if we would like this. Well, I guess I’ll take a stab at answering that…

In short, no. I loved Commander Legends before it was even printed. So, there’s no need to read any further as we all know that the rest of this article is just an explanation about why this “no” is really just a “yes” in disguise. To be technical, no, we “all” will not want a Commander Legends 2. Despite Commander being the most popular format for multiplayer it isn’t played by the entire Magic community. Thusly, it cannot be wanted by “all” of us. Yet, I suspect that most of us that play Commander would welcome another Commander Legends. I think we can say yes, but only with a few caveats. So, here’s a list of demands concerning the possible or dare I say inevitable printed of Commander Legends 2:

  1. Give us time and give us space.
  2. Give us quality foils (I don’t even like them, but I don’t want useless untradeable cards either).
  3. Give us less power and more tribes.
  4. Make reprints a priority.
  5. Give us a draft/sealed environment.

Our number one demand needs to be time and space. It’s not you Wizards and Gavin Verhey, it’s us. We just need time and space to see our current Commanders in a more intimate setting. We need time to get to know our current pool of partners. We haven’t even had time to spend a few hours at our local gaming stores to get to know each other better. We need time to see others, and we need some space before we get introduced to a larger pool of possibilities. There are plenty of Pokemon (read Legendary Commander Creatures) in the sea, but we don’t need to catch them all. If we end up getting another Commander Legends set in the next year or even two, then I would say we could experience some serious burnout far faster than we may suspect. We need time to expand our collections. The legendary creatures “as fan” (number of times legendary creatures appear in packs) has been pretty solid for the last several sets. We have had no shortage of Commander centric leaders for several sets now. In addition, we are still getting yearly Commander decks with new cards, and plenty of cool staple reprints. It does beg the question, “Do we really need another dedicated Commander product?” Perhaps we don’t right now, but we are coming off the “year of Commander”, so I don’t think we will be for such a spoiled time in the near future. Hopefully, this call for feedback is in order to plan a long term goal. So, yes, we want a Commander Legends 2, but only if it takes awhile to come out.

Now, I don’t often harp about quality control issues. I hate piling on to obvious criticisms. It’s pretty clear that there are some serious issues with the average foil cards from Commander Legends. I bought a Collector’s Box (and lots of regular boxes) of Commander Legends and I was horribly disappointed whenever I opened a traditional mythic rare or extended art rare that was foil. I knew it would be difficult to trade, not worth as much as non-pringled foil cards, and it wouldn’t shuffle well in my decks. In contrast, I loved opening the foil etched cards. Those foils have not curled a wink, and they look unique enough that I actually run them. The foiling treatment is just much more fun than a traditional shiny laminate. This is saying a lot considering I’m the guy that has tried to trade away every foil rare or mythic I have ever opened. Seriously, I open foils and they go to the trade binder. Now, if we can get a Commander Legends 2 that capitalizes on foil etched cards, and eschews the issues from its other poorly foiled cards, then we have a recipe for some seriously collectible and fun cardboard! We need Commander Legends 2 to fix the problems from Commander Legends 1 and capitalize on its successes. That’s a simple statement, but not a simple thing to execute. So, yes to Commander Legends 2 as long as the quality control issues are fixed (of note…they appear to be as of Strixhaven J).

Another way to capitalize on prior success and continue innovating could happen by giving more tribal support cards to popular yet underserved tribes. I’m looking at tribes like Samurai, Treefolk, Kithkin, or Drakes, as a few examples of tribes that could use a little extra love from R&D. The power level for Commander Legends was spot on. The cards allowed draft to actually work and create a fairly balanced and swingy end game. Big spells actually had a big impact, and people were forced to build with a long game in mind. There was no way to rush the table and crush everyone in some sort of Zergling rush (StarCraft reference) where everyone is defeated before they can even get anything fully developed. Many people feared that a dedicated Commander set would be full of cards like Opposition Agent and Hullbreacher. It was not. Those are perhaps the two most maligned cards in the set. Jeweled Lotus hasn’t been the format warper that its original inspiration has always been. In casual pods it doesn’t even place as big of a target as a turn 1 Sol-Ring has. The boogey-men of Commander Legends was really just a couple of cards that were a bit pushed…as in two. Commander Legends 2 will need to emulate this style of design. The cards will need to be balanced, but not overpowered. The worst thing a Commander Legends 2 set could do would be to create some sort of Urza’s block power creep. The Combo Winter that crushed many people’s days of fun revolved around incredibly powerful cards like Tolarian Academy and Time Spiral. I remember losing on my oppoent’s turn 1 before I even got to play a card. That’s not what I expected to see in a Standard format. It’s definitely not what I want to see in a Commander game. Commander Legends was not like that at all. We have since seen that Commander Legends was creative, fun, and non-format warping all at the same time. So, yes, we need more of well-balanced design in Commander Legends 2.

One way to keep the format from being warped is to provide plenty of reprints. I’ve gushed over the beauty of the artwork and the utility that Strixhaven’s Mystical Archive provides, and I feel that Commander Legends could easily do something similar. A foil etched slot dedicated to format staples would be a really cool concept for Command Legends 2. Imagine that every pack comes with 2 Commanders (Legendary Creatures), 1 rare/mythic, and 1 foil etched reprint (or some other cool artsy alternative). How exciting would a pack of that be to open? How exciting would drafting a set like that be? People would have more access to great cards like Mana Drain, Swords to Plowshares, Demonic Tutor, Doubling Season, Sneak Attack, and Mana Crypt all without sacrificing the ability to play them in a limited environment. If any limited environment can absorb these powerful pieces it would be the multiplayer draft environment. This even solves the power-creep problem by using powerful reprints in place of pushed cards to drive up the value of boxes. So, yes please to a Commander Legends 2 that takes advantage of its unique ability to provide powerful reprints.

I’ve heard a few rumblings about not desiring the limited format for Commander Legends 2. I don’t get that. I’m assuming it’s mostly because people didn’t get a chance to draft it. I’m assuming they couldn’t even play sealed using remote technologies. I’ve played Commander Legends sealed, and it’s seriously a good bargain. The boxes have been cheap enough that drafting it feels similar to drafting Double Masters, but without the hefty price tag. Granted, the value may not be as high, but when you get to draft and keep cards, who is complaining? I think the draft format could benefit from borrowing even more mechanics and maybe even reprints from the other seriously fun mutilplayer draft sets—Conspiracy & Conspiracy Take the Crown. Conspiracy 1 & 2 were great fun. Those cards are also great fun in Commander. They have that political flair to them, and a politically oriented design which is a perfect fit for Commander. We need the next Commander Legends set to offer a good limited experience for both draft and sealed deck. It allows us to crack packs, play with “janky” cards, and rip apart the draft chaff decks and actually build with the same “janky” cards that allow us to beef up old and new synergies. This type of multipurpose set is a great deal for players. Including premium foil and premium artwork within the draft experience is another way to hit both the set boost pack crackers and the drafters all at once. Considering that it’s a Commander-based product the limited environment doesn’t need to offer superb competitive flair. It just needs to have the right feel and the right ebb and flow for Commander games. This is clearly something that Wizards has shown they are capable of doing, and we will definitely need it from Commander Legends 2. So, yes please to a well-balanced Commander Legends 2 sealed experience.

Whether or not we will see a Commander Legends 2 isn’t quite a question of if, but when. I would expect that the earliest we would see Commander Legends 2 will be in about 2 years. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it surface a few months before. It shouldn’t require as much play-testing or development as say a Standard set. Wizard’s doesn’t have to worry about drastically warping eternal formats, because they’ve said they aren’t worried about it. That alone helps cut the time down from development to print. I think the two year timeline is honestly the earliest we might be “ready” for such a set. However, with the growing call for nostalgia and reprints being constant threads in the Commander community we can bet that Wizards will be anxious to offer us exactly what we are asking for. I expect that we will see many of the current cards people are calling for now to reappear in a set like this. It will need to innovative in the same ways that Conspiracy Take the Crown innovated on the original Conspiracy mechanics. Partner Commanders and a plethora of legendary creatures will definitely need to exist. The question is what sort of mechanics we will see tribes and abilities being focused on. I’m hoping we see a whole myriad of possibilities! I wish you all the very best of deck construction and mulligans, and may the cards be ever in your favor!

Strixhaven the Set A Quick Run Down

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

Strixhaven is here, and what cards should be on your Commander format shortlist for each color, school, and rarity? What’s going to be the most fun to play in the most social format ever? Let’s find out. There’s some clear standouts and a few “sleepers” here, so I’d like to dig into this piece by piece. We’ll go through the best commons, uncommons, and rares/mythics by color. I’m going to focus on the uncommons and commons over the rares and mythics. The rares and mythics are usually pretty clear as to what decks and strategies they speak to, but the others hold the key to how much playable value is lurking beneath the surface.

White has some interesting cards in this set. Several Magic designers have openly stated that they are trying out new things for White, and whatever they throw at the wall and sticks is what they’re going with. For the sake of excitement there’s Secret Rendezvous. This is not Alan Seeger’s excellent poem, “I have a Rendezvous with Death”, but a secret card draw spell for white. It’s similar to Homeland’s Truce. You and an opponent each get to draw cards. You are spending a card to cast this, so you are being “disadvantaged” when compared to the opponent you are sharing the gift with. Perhaps that’s a good way for white to get card draw. It helps others while helping itself? It seems mostly on point. There’s certainly precedence for it. Meanwhile, the other white mechanic being attempted here is the one on Mila, Crafty Companion. This isn’t a monowhite cards, so it doesn’t get to be slotted into mono-white decks. That’s the biggest downside to this card. If it was something that could be jammed in any mono-white build, then perhaps we’d find out a lot faster how flavorful and effective a taxable draw is in a white deck. I suspect that this mechanic will fit nicely in white. There’s some precedence for white taxing other colors with cards as early as Karma, and more recent cards like Ghostly Prison. Seeing white get the taxable draw mechanic seems like a decent way to go. I’m certainly not opposed to white being able to do this. The last addition to white card draw is Introduction to Prophecy. Scry 2 and then draw card. Wait, that’s a colorless card you say. Well, my friends, I don’t expect a single mono-white deck in existence not to suddenly jam this in the 99. I’m not kidding. While other colors have other options for drawing cards, this is now one of white’s best options. To be blunt, Introduction to Prophecy will be everyone’s mono-white introduction to the philosophy of cycling through their decks and selecting the best cards for each situation. It’s a pricey cantrip, but the scry makes it worth it in a color so starved for worthwhile cantrips and card selection.

I love the not so great original Sea Serpent. I also enjoy modern takes on sea serpents like this new Wormhole Serpent. Wow, this going to be fun in an Arixmethes the Slumbering Isle or other sea monster build. Making giant sea monsters so slippery they are unblockable is very fun for their controllers. It might be painful for those dealing with the unblockable serpents. The best part of this is that it will draw removal away from the more serious threats that you have on the board. Wormhole Serpent makes all those random big creatures without evasion into terrifying game-ending beat-sticks. I’m so looking forward to sliding this one into a deck.

Speaking of playing for fun, Snow-Day is wonderful. I’m a teacher by trade, and I look forward to snow days more than my students. I cannot wait to cast this during my next snow day and declare myself an auto-winner for flavorful play of the day. Of course I’ll probably feel someone’s wrath shortly afterward. Feel free to keep one handy on snowy nights. Snow Day is no Ingenious Mastery (which is so silly good and silly flexible), but it really feels like a fun card to run. Meanwhile, Curate looks to be a fun card as well for sifting decks and reanimating strategies. Meanwhile, Multiple Choice, much like its real world counterpart seems so flexible and useful at first glance. However, it really is just another disappointing and limited tool. I wasn’t overly excited about anything mono-blue in this set. The MDFC cards that have blue in them, and the traditional multi-color cards with blue are definitely exciting. It’s nice to see that mono-blue isn’t getting all the love, but then again it really hasn’t for many years now. It seems to get the randomly or inexplicable powerhouse every now and then. I can’t help but point to cards like Hullbreacher or even the once hated True-Name Nemesis (who doesn’t seem quite so broken these days). Blue has some decent stuff lurking below the surface.

I’ve had my eye on Eyetwitch, and I’m just so happy to see another creature that can attack when I have my Evil Eye of Orms by Gor in play. That combined with Evil Eye of Urborg, and we’re inching closer to Sauron’s Evil Eye Tribal. Perhaps when the Lord of the Rings set releases we will get a Legendary Eye to helm that absurd deck. Keep your eyes peeled for those spoilers. Ok, sorry, I have the puns out of my system now. Anyway, Eyetwitch looks like great fun in reanimator strategies. It provides a sacrifice outlet for cards like Victimize while using the Learn mechanic to dump reanimation targets into the graveyard. Another grossly good common is Plumb the Forbidden. That card looks seriously strong in any tokens deck or anything running Gravepact. I have a feeling people will be plumbing the depths of despair with this seriously solid common. Crushing Disappointment feels like it won’t be as good as we hope it to be. Making everyone lose life while drawing two cards is decent, but I just don’t love leaving up four mana to draw two cards. Blue black decks will struggle to find room for this, and I doubt it will actually slot in, unless you just don’t have other alternatives in your collection. The best place for Crushing Disappointment will be life-loss decks, like Rakdos, Lord of Riots decks, and a few others of its ilk. Of course, it being an instant doesn’t mesh all that well with casting creatures unless you have your pall the Vedalken Orrery out. Now, Tenured Inkcaster looks grossly powerful for Marchesa builds. Any black and X deck boasting +1/+1 counters is slotting this thing in and stealing games with it as well. It’s a bit like casting an Overrun that doesn’t require you to actually deal the combat damage. If you go wide with this in a black white tokens and counters deck, then this card is a dangerous and powerful finisher. It laughs at Spore Frog and that Constant Mists that keeps being bought back. This is the type of uncommon I love to see, because it functions like a mythic rare in the right decks. As for Mage Hunter, I’m impressed with its hateful mechanic. It feels like a modern  take on Ichneumon Druid. Granted this helps punish people doing more than just casting extra spells—you get to nail them for each copy they place on the stack. It feels like using Chain of Smog, Professor Onyx, Hive Mind, and Mage Hunter will be a Johnny Combo Player dream come true. Meanwhile, Unwilling ingredient might be the cutest and most flavorful one mana black creature since Blood Pet. I’m loving the design on that card. There’s a surprising depth of usefulness in black’s uncommons and commons. The problem is that the cards are really only good in particular archetypes and shine only when coupled with synergistic cards. I don’t really believe that’s actually a problem, but a pretty great thing. Don’t be afraid to plumb the depths of darkness in black’s Strixhaven offerings.

Red commons seemed less than exciting to me this time around. Sure, Heated Debate is neat in that it is uncounterable. Three mana for four damage at instant speed is an interesting version of Flames of the Bloodhand. I’ll probably skip running Heated Debate in just about every Commander deck I have. I struggled to find anything exciting in the red commons. The Blood Age General seemed neat in the right Boros builds, and that’s it. Oh, wait, I did notice a dragon card—Dragon’s Approach. That seems like a meme deck, and I fully expect several more versions of it to keep getting listed by people. This is a deck that demands some mathematics. I’m not super interested in building it, but I know I will. I have pages of red dragons just waiting to be cheated in with something other than Dragon Storm. I love that this card actually makes Spell Weaver Helix something that can be played in Commander. I had a sweet Crush of Wurms and Life from the Loam deck that I ran back when Ravnica first came out. I’m excited to build something with Spell Weaver Helix again. Imprinting Dragon’s Approach and Dragon Storm on that Spell Weaver Helix seems like a really fun thing to do in Commander. Spell Weaver Helix is a card that I’ve longingly looked at and wished I could find a way to abuse. Thankfully, the door is open, and dragons will be coming! Maybe I’ll try and do something gross with Balustrade Spy, Bladewing the Risen, and few other sneaky tools. This is another Johnny Combo Player beauty. It feels like this set was made for the combo player in us all. The red uncommons feel pretty narrow, and where the other colors seemed to have some real solid synergies that enabled a few of the cards to be worth serious consideration, I just don’t see it in red. Academic Dispute is maybe a cool and spicy combat tool? The rest just feel very clunky and not particularly exciting. Sorry red, but you’ve gotten plenty of love or should I say treasures, lately.

Green is usually gas. Green gets the most love in modern Magic, and I don’t think Strixhaven (the spells matter set) disappoints for the “creatures matter most” color. Before I speak about a couple neat creatures I’d like to say that the spicy life gain that green is seeing really harkens back to original green’s love for life gain. Stream of Life was the original big life gain spell, and it wasn’t until Alabaster Potion was printed that we got to see white take on a dedicated life gain role. Fortifying Draught (pronounced draft) is a sneaky and wonderful tool for life gain decks. I can totally see someone activating a wellwisher or sacrificing beasts to Ravenous Baloth to one shot someone out of nowhere with this. That’s the type of ridiculous play I love to see. Also, don’t forget that if your creature has lifelink and double strike you can cast this after the first strike damage is dealt, and then pump your creature for gross amounts of damage. Just a fun trick that was first pioneered by Umezawa’s Jitte users back in the days of Kamigawa block. Devouring Tendrils is no Tendrils of Agony. It’s OK, but it’s the type of conditional green creature dependent removal that can be OK, but can also just be utterly useless. To wrap up the spells I’d like to mention how nicely flexible Tangletrap is. Flier hate that hits most fliers that matter, and artifact hate for all those equipment that run wild on everyone. Blow up those swords or knock out those pesky angels with Tangletrap. Now for creatures the standout at common and uncommon is definitely Reckless Amplimancer. I mean elves definitely needed another two mana elf that scales grossly as the game goes longer, right? It’s a solid include in most elf builds, and a fine filler for early builders. Bookwurm is an intriguing card, but even though it replaces itself, I’m not sure I want to spend 8 mana on a 7/7 trample that draws me a card. It does have potential to be annoying, and so by replacing itself and gaining 3 life it could be a decent enough filler in decks that need card draw, big creatures, and perhaps cheap (monetarily inexpensive) reanimation targets. Overall, green leaves most of its grossly powerful cards for the set in the rare and mythic slots. However, overall, the cards are just more narrow.

Getting buffeted with “good-stuff” in every color set after set makes building decks a bit less exciting. However, when good cards show up for particular strategies, then we are allowed to brew and tinker and make our decks our own. So, I feel that despite seeing so many decent cards in the common and uncommons slots for reach color we actually have a decent quality set for Commander play. The rares and mythics are no exception to the design theory in this set. The set, as a whole, appears to be very mechanically driven. The cards in the set work very well when they are allowed to synergize with other cards. If you take most of the mythics and rares from this set and randomly slot them into decks of the appropriate colors you may find yourself disappointed when you draw them. When you look at the elder dragons you’ll see what I mean. They don’t just go in any deck running those colors. They either demand a deck built around them as the commander, or they require a deck that leverages the same mechanics and abilities that they possess or enable. This set is really a breath of fresh air for a standard set.

Most cards in the set are not good in a vacuum, and don’t slot into “good stuff” decks. That’s quite the accomplishment when you consider just how many cards a set like Throne of Eldraine allowed us to just toss into any deck of that card’s color. I could go on about each individual mythic and rare, but I’ll just wrap things up by saying that the cycles that were made in this set are a great example of what I’m talking about. I just touched on the elder dragons, but let’s look at the commands for each school.

Lorehold Command isn’t something that every Boros deck wants or needs to run. At five mana it’s a bit intensive, and it can work in go wide strategies, but not necessarily an equipment based build or even a more controlling build. The same thing holds true for the

Prismari Command. It really needs ways to take advantage of its abilities and finds itself at a competitive mana cost where there are mana three mana card draw and removal spells that make this thing seem just OK in builds that don’t leverage it to greater effect. Spell slinger decks or phoenix type strategies seem the best place for this particular command.

Quandrix Command feels like an odd-ball hoser card. It can punish people running enchantment and artifact spells and recursion. The other modes seem to be a little lackluster for three mana, but they do offer options, and options are a powerful part of Magic.

Silverquill Command is another mediocre offering for black and white builds. It does have some interesting options, but I’d like to point out that this spell is not an instant. It’s a sorcery, and at that speed it really feels a lot less appealing. I’m not saying it should have been an instant, because then it’s a much more powerful card. Yet, as is…well, it’s got options.

Witherbloom Command is the cheapest of the bunch at only 2 mana. It’s probably also the most limited of them all, and really seems like something most Commander decks will be totally fine not running. I mean it does have options, but a slew of poor choices adds up to a poor card. I’m not saying it won’t be good in other formats, but in Commander…well, I’m not enamored.

The best parts of this set are still great things for Commander—Mystic Archive and synergy focused mechanics. The Mystical Archive cards are wonderful. This is probably the best way we’ve ever gotten reprints. They appear in every booster pack, offer unique art, and help break up the monotony of cracking packs for a set. Old reprints and new cards in the same pack is the perfect way to cater to both new and established players. The Mystical Archive isn’t part of the main set, and it may sound like a slight to the set when I say it’s the best part. I don’t mean that the base set itself is awful for Commander players. It does have plenty to offer, but its offerings are more in line with what a Standard set should offer to Commander players. This set gives us mechanically focused cards that slot well into mechanically similar decks. There are cards that work great when they synergize, but fall mostly flat without support. This helps keep power creep from becoming power leap. Overall, Strixhaven is a set that is Standard legal, has great flavor, and offers Commander players interesting and unique tools. That’s great set design, and I hope that we see more sets like this in the future.