July 23, 2015

The Mind's Eyes

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Predicting opponents in Magic is hard, but rewarding. If you can intuit the spells and actions of other players before they're made, using some sort of telepathy, you have a significant advantage over them.

Jace, Memory Adept | Art by D. Alexander Gregory

In formats like Standard and Modern, where metagame-driven decks often take the top positions, or Limited, where a small pool of cards dictate the reasonable options players can have, this is a pretty straightforward thing to accomplish. You don't need to channel the powers of Jace Beleren.

But in a format like Commander, all bets are likely off.

There are cards common across Commander decks, of course: Sol Ring and Solemn Simulacrum; Spell Crumple and Hinder; Living Death and Damnation; Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Zealous Conscripts; Rampant Growth and Sakura-Tribe Elder; Swords to Plowshares and Wrath of God. The list of powerful mainstays can go on and on. Despite so many potent cards providing the same powerful effect most games, it's the other situations that we recall best.

Surprising moments aren't just a part of Commander's charm—they're the biggest reason so many of us come back again and again, with wilder decks and different cards. The journey to meet the unknown is exciting, and you all showed that off by sharing great, victorious moments.

The Best and the Worst

Using the "best" cards in Commander is great, and there's no doubt they're effective in ensuring each of your decks works like a dream. But Commander also has room for the unrealistic Rube Goldberg machines, as Casey shared:

Intet, the Dreamer is the best worst Commander deck I've ever made.

The goal was supposed to be "use library manipulation spells to make sure you hit large creatures with Intet," but to this day, only one game had this outcome.

I was facing three decks: Heliod, Gahiji, and Geralf. My opening hand wasn't that great and the mulligan wasn't much better. I had no scry cards, but had some ramp to play Intet on turn five.

I slammed the first time and flipped Inkwell Leviathan.

The next time I flipped Fury of the Horde into Bearer of the Heavens,

With no scry.

The deck has never won another game since.

- Casey

Casey's Intent, the Dreamer

COMMANDER: Intet, the Dreamer

Sometimes a little luck goes a long way. I once built a Maelstrom Wanderer deck that used Primal Surge to always dump an entire library of permanents onto the battlefield. Every game it played, the deck performed above expectation. I believe I lost only one game with it before I took it apart.

Deck's like Casey's are the opposite: flimsy machines with lofty goals that aren't pushed to surety with a focus on construction and options. I have a feeling if I had built and played a deck like Casey's Intet, the Dreamer instead of a honed blade like my Maelstrom Wanderer deck, I would have been much happier.


Inconsistency gives more excitement than already knowing in advance how your games will play out, even if that inconsistency leads to unimaginable power like it did for Jonathan:

The most fun I ever had winning a Commander game was when I finally resolved the Omniscience-Enter the Infinite combo. I had put it into my Crosis, the Purger scry/mill deck on my birthday (when my best friend bought me Enter the Infinite to complete the combo), and it was incredible when I finally made it happen. My girlfriend Lea was playing her Zurgo Helmsmasher deck and generally wrecking me and my roommate Aaron, who was running Athreos. I had a pittance of life left, definitely single digits, and I think Lea still had 40—and when my turn came, I had to draw the game-winning card to even stand a chance. I drew Omniscience and I had the mana, so I played it. I didn't have Enter the Infinite yet, but I did have some draw spells and Explosive Revelation, which allowed me to dig into my deck, and voila! The other half came into my hand. Then I drew my deck, cast every permanent I had left, gave Consuming Aberration haste with Portent of Betrayal (forgetting the Aberration's triggered ability), made it unblockable with Aqueous Form, and killed Lea. Aaron couldn't get through my defenses, so I got him on the next turn. Or he conceded, I don't remember. Clearly, it wasn't very fun for them, but I was thrilled to snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat.

- Jonathan

Jonathan's Crosis, the Purger

COMMANDER: Crosis, the Purger
99 Cards

"Instant win" combinations such as Omniscience and Enter the Infinite are a tempting play to build towards. It's possible to tune decks to churn out the game-ending combo every time players sit down with it. It may seem like myself and others give cards like Omniscience a bad rep, but it's really the decks that play them each time I find fault with. Being on the receiving end of a Zurgo Helmsmasher beatdown is no joke, and randomly drawing the one card that resulted in a win out of nowhere is amazing.

I've faced down tons of wild situations in Commander. The painful agony of being ground under indestructible permanents and planeswalkers is a drag. Being locked out of casting spells thanks to Warp World or Armageddon is unbelievably awkward. But getting hit with an unexpected, unplanned loss out of nowhere isn't too bad—at least the first time you see it.


I love seeing little moments jump to life, and I don't feel bad when a quick loss comes out of nowhere late in a game. Stephen's tale of winning by milling—putting all the cards in someone's deck into the graveyard before they draw their next card—is the epitome of this idea:

My favorite victory in Commander was against my brother. He was playing a virtually fresh-out-of-the-box Freyalise deck versus my [autocard]Wrexial, the Risen Deep deck. He had me backed against the wall, staring down an army of elves and beasts. I'd hit him with a Traumatize early in the game, but Praetor's Counsel negated my efforts. I had a couple creatures on the battlefield and a Jace, Memory Adept in my hand.

My chances rested upon my Sage's Row Denizen, my Selhoff Occultist, and the next card in my deck being a creature. I asked for a deck count, and I realized that I was going to be more than ten cards short of victory. That calculation error left me with little life and little hope of stopping the oncoming horde. I drew my final card, and the first words out of my mouth were "Bro, you are going to hate me." I played the topdecked Mesmeric Orb and gleefully watched my brother's face as the realization that his own creatures now sealed his fate crashed down upon him. If we hadn't of been playing on the floor, he would have flipped the table. Best. Boxing Day. Ever.

- Stephen

Stephen's Wrexial, the Risen Deep

COMMANDER: Wrexial, the Risen Deep

Some ways of winning are achievements in Commander. Winning with Laboratory Maniac or by forcing everyone else to draw a card from an empty library is incredibly tough to pull off, at best. Aiming for an unlikely win makes finding it that much more rewarding. I'll never go all-in on trying to mill opponents out in Commander, but seeing the attempts in action as they find unexpected success is something I'm glad I get to see.

Wouldn't you laugh at such an incredible twist of fate?


The Rising Tide

It's fun to win games of Commander, and it's kinda fun to see an unexpected way take you out of the game. Nobody likes getting knocked out, but that's a big part of multiplayer games: There are always more losers than winners.

This week's question is a look at how we adapt to those losing situations, learning from past plays to inform future decks: What's the biggest change you've made to a Commander deck after losing with it?

  • Feedback via email in English
  • 300 word limit to explain the deck and why it changed
  • Sample decklist (does not count against word limit)
  • Decklists should be formatted with one card per line with just a leading number, such as "3 Mountain"—just a space (no "x" or "-") between the number and the card name, without subtotals by card type. Submissions that don't follow this rule will be ignored.
  • Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column)
  • Your Twitter handle if you have one

Looking forward to playing again is important for Commander. Despite a loss or unfortunate turn of plays, you should be having fun and figuring out what else your deck can do. Whether you licked your wounds to better prepare for the rematch or discovered one weird trick to turn your deck into a formidable force, I want to know about it.

Join us next week when we discover the origins of the Commander decks. See you then!



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