August 06, 2015

Walk All Over You

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Planeswalkers are a central part of the Magic experience now. It's been eight years since Chandra Nalaar, Jace Beleren, Liliana Vess, Ajani Goldmane, and Garruk Wildspeaker first appeared. Now, each of them have multiple versions reflecting story and character development.

Art by Brad Rigney

I have a contentious relationship with planeswalkers in Commander. I've eschewed them, since they have a tendency to not stick around for me long enough to get more than one activation, though some—like Liliana Vess and Sarkhan Vol—have enough utility that I find myself using them more often than not.

The deck I shared last week, built on controlling the battlefield for Oloro, Ageless Ascetic, was a rare exception to my normal choices. It embraced loyalty, with a bevy of planeswalker companions to call upon. When I played it at Gen Con, I was rewarded with a victory in its first game.

I even cast Silumgar's Command to keep my hold on the last turns of the game. It was exactly what I had hoped to achieve with the deck.

Walk the Planes of Victory

A major aspect of my victory came from using The Chain Veil with multiple planeswalkers (including a stolen-via-Dragonlord Silumgar Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker) to get much more out of them than one or two uses. Ultimately, it was Teferi, Temporal Archmage and Tamiyo, the Moon Sage that sealed my victory.

Being on the opposite side of that interaction was how I'd always experienced it before. I like haste and Equipment like Swiftfoot Boots specifically because it gets in under many of the End Hostilities spells players seem to enjoy when they pack in the planeswalkers.

But pinpoint creatures aren't the only way to handle a cadre of opponents' allies. Jack loves to use an old favorite for handling newfangled friends:

So, I think one of my favorite Commander cards of all time deserves some love in response to this week's question. Not only does it feature some of my favorite flavor text in the game, it also handily answers walkers despite having been printed before their creation! It also clears out token armies, divinity counters, and a slew of other problematic things. I am, of course, talking about the all-star board wipe that is Æther Snap.

"May you wake to find that you were only ever a dream."

Brutal. By removing all counters from all permanents, Æther Snap leaves every planeswalker in play feeling a lot less loyal. Combined with the fact that a lot of powerful and popular walkers (the Elspeth and Garruk lines, for example) like to leave behind friends, the snap sends them packing too. And unlike narrower single-target answers, Æther Snap can save you in a large variety of situations, including from "super friends" style decks.

My Sidisi, Brood Tyrant deck can be a little slow, so having plenty of ways to answer fast armies of tokens or oppressive planeswalkers is important. It's true that Sidisi also produces tokens, but they're more like a freebie attached to the mill effect here, so the deck doesn't miss them. (Besides, no true Sultai would bemoan the loss of a few Zombies for the opportunity to crush their extra-planar enemies.)

Respectfully,

Jack

Jack's Sidisi, Brood Tyrant

COMMANDER: Sidisi, Brood Tyrant

Æther Snap is a card I'd forgotten about until Jack reminded me. Sure enough, I found a copy when I went digging through my Commander box, and it's clear I put it there for the reasons Jack outlined. A swarm of creatures is one of the most common ways players can generate threats without using many cards, and Æther Snap handles that scenario just as well as it handles facing down five planeswalkers. Æther Snap is also great for decks that want to keep their own creatures around.

I'll probably find a home for it soon, given how much I like piling my creatures up.


Another way to deal with planeswalker is to simply burn them out. While Lightning Bolt and its myriad descendants aren't quite as popular in multiplayer as they are in duels, there are plenty of effects that cast damage at everyone's faces. With a few exceptions, these effects deal damage only to players or their creatures, which is where the damage redirection rule kicks in: Direct damage—the "deals 3 damage to target player" effects—can instead be dealt to a planeswalker that player controls. Damage dealt to planeswalkers results in loyalty counters being removed.

Where there's no loyalty, there's no planeswalker. Geran takes this idea to its top-down conclusion:

I'll admit it—I'm not really a fan of planeswalkers. In fact, among all of my Commander decks, the only 'walker in the whole bunch is a lone copy of Garruk Wildspeaker in my Omnath, Locus of Mana deck. I have no real problems with any of the planeswalker cards themselves (save perhaps Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded), I just have no real desire to use them.

In my playgroup, however, they're everywhere. My friends adore planeswalkers and tend to jam their decks full of them. One of my closest friends even ran a Narset, Enlightened Master deck with over fifteen planeswalkers for a while, so that he could cheat them out using Narset's ability. Thanks to Commander 2014, my LGS has plenty of planeswalker-helmed decks, as well as lots of Ugins, Vensers, Kioras, and Sarkhan Unbrokens running around. So there's a bit of a planeswalker infestation in my playgroup.

Enter Heartless Hidetsugu. Everyone's favorite oni-binding Ogre Shaman makes for effective 'walker hate, since you can redirect his damage at opposing planeswalkers. Xenagos about to ultimate? Land 20 damage to Xenagos's face!

Hidetsugu will hit you for half your life total every time he taps, but you can avoid this and gain a ton of life by giving him lifelink with Basilisk Collar or Loxodon Warhammer (I haven't been able to get a Batterskull yet, but I'll get one eventually). Glacial Chasm likewise keeps you alive and gives you a strong incentive to end the game, since you'll go from 40 to 0 in six turns otherwise. Furnace of Rath's effect makes Hidetsugu lethal for anyone at an even life total and puts everyone else at 1, whereupon Fanatic of Mogis will usually end the game.

Just remember, an ogre a day keeps the Mind Sculptor away!

Sincerely,

- Geran

Geran's Heartless Hidetsugu

COMMANDER: Heartless Hidetsugu

Burn, baby, burn! I love cards like Rolling Thunder and Rolling Earthquake that give me massive damage across a wide battlefield. Geran's use of Heartless Hidetsugu is one I appreciate and approve of. Ending games quickly while answering sometimes-annoying options like Planeswalkers is great. I have some fond memories from a previous Gen Con of being on the receiving end of the painful damage Heartless Hidetsugu can dish out.

Red, with tokens, haste, and burn, is a natural nemesis for the slow, builds-up-value-over-time planeswalkers I often see played. It's one of the reasons it oscillates between a favorite color and least popular in the format. Red's spread of tools leaves it vulnerable to plenty of other things, too. Trade-offs aren't new to Magic, after all.


Striking Twice

There are more ways to deal with planeswalkers, of course. While I favor creatures, burn, and clever spells, there are more mundane ways, too. Oblivion Stone and Perilous Vault can go into just about any deck looking to deal with obnoxious otherworldly visitors. Cards like Beast Within and Oblation can fix nearly any permanent—including planeswalkers—in a hurry.

Perhaps the most preferred ways to handle planeswalkers lie in black. Hero's Downfall and In Garruk's Wake both appeared when I played with my set of allies recently, and both were as effective as advertised.

This week's question is an idea I got from an email, and it's one I hope we get to have some fun with: What is a question or concern you have about your experience with Commander that you would like an answer to?

  • Feedback via email in English
  • 100 word limit to ask a question, plus 200 to share a decklist if you'd wish
  • Sample decklist (does not count against word limit)
  • Decklists should be formatted with one card per line and 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 use it

There are many player stories that come my way every week. Without exception, there are always too many to share! But player stories and decks can confuse the answer to whatever question the feedback prompted. In the vein of the archetypical "Dear Abby" question-answer newspaper column, I'd like to give you a chance to ask a question and get a clear, directed-to-you answer.

Of course, that assumes you'd want my take on whatever it is that ails you. I hope you have a few problems that I can alleviate.

Join us next week, when we'll look at how to turn losing into a new winning proposition. See you then!



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