September 17, 2015

Stagnant Gameplay

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Commander is a format where you can play nearly every card in Magic. With so much diversity, it's a wonder so many decks end up sharing plenty of cards in common with each other. It's almost as though in the face of dizzying choices, we grab onto our favorites.

Solemn Simulacrum | Art by Dan Scott

When you play enough games of Commander, a sense of déjà vu becomes common. "Solemn Simulacrum, getting a Swamp into play tapped. Equip Skullclamp, then sacrifice the Simulacrum to Attrition to kill your commander. I'll draw three cards."

Stop me if you've heard a sequence similar to that before.

Value engines—ways of drawing extra cards, getting ahead on mana, killing multiple permanents, and other ways to generate advantages over time in games—are popular because they're good. Giving yourself more options, mana, and control over the battlefield is pretty great. It's why "Control" is an archetype built on card draw and answers in every format of Magic you can play.

Through the years, I've had the privilege of sharing plenty of cards that have gone on to become standouts in many formats. Entreat the Angels is the game-finishing end for White-Blue Miracles in Legacy, and topped out Alexander Hayne's winning deck for Pro Tour Avacyn Restored. Erebos, God of the Dead was the inevitability built into Mono-Black Devotion when Brian Braun-Duin ended on top at Grand Prix Louisville in 2013, with teammates Brad Nelson and Todd Anderson equipped the same.

In Commander, I believe the card I've shared with the biggest impact on decks was Consecrated Sphinx. The beefy flier made a splash in Standard during its run, but the ability to draw two cards for every one that each opponent draws goes from "obviously strong" in a duel to "absurd and obscene" in multiplayer. A value engine that's built off of what opponents want to do themselves and that bears no additional cost to you is powerful.

Sire of Stagnation is another that you'll soon be expecting in Commander decks:

Stagnation is exactly what you're going to get.

Standstill, But Not That One

Sire of Stagnation has two abilities, the first being an obligatory devoid callout. While you can only pair it alongside commanders like Dragonlord Silumgar or Oloro, Ageless Ascetic, it's still the colorless Eldrazi menace we've come to know and fear. Ghostfire Blade and other cute options work, but the serious side of Sire of Stagnation is in the rest of the text box.

There's three pieces in here, and each are powerful:

  • It triggers off something every opponent does as often as possible in Commander: Put lands onto the battlefield. This costs us nothing.
  • The second thing it does it exile two cards from the opponent's library. This ability helps fuel the Eldrazi Processors, which use cards in an opponent's exile to continue sowing Eldrazi devastation around the table.
  • Finally, you draw two cards.

Let's be perfectly clear: It has a similar cost to Consecrated Sphinx, triggers off a similarly common action by opponents, and results in a significant number of cards to be drawn as long as it's on the battlefield. There are differences (no flying, and playing a land isn't like a required draw step), but I find them negligible. Sire of Stagnation is objectively strong.

Just like when you play Consecrated Sphinx, Sire of Stagnation is going to cause the game to warp immediately around its presence. Opponents will slow down their lands, carefully choosing whether the mana is worth giving you cards. Kodama's Reach and other acceleration effects will be skipped altogether, given how high the price is. Removal spells and battlefield sweepers will step in faster, aiming to unlock the value proposition under which you've sealed the game.

The typical response from opponents will be to avoid playing lands. In black and blue there aren't many ways to force the issue (aside from something like Parallax Tide or Mana Vortex), but if you have a commander like The Mimeoplasm or Sidisi, Brood Tyrant, there are a few ways:

Mixing red offers Hired Giant, an otherwise awkward card that would never be played in Commander. White offers Oath of Lieges, which can backfire if the game goes long. Overriding all of this is the fact that there's really no great way to force opponents to play lands. However, offering them as many chances as possible once the Sire of Stagnation hits plays is a close second.

Stoppage in Play

There is one real risk to gameplay when you start using Sire of Stagnation: true stagnation. Stopping players from advancing their board with lands can be brutal in the early turns, and potent with the right suite of land destruction late. Unlike Consecrated Sphinx, which is purely beneficial to you, Sire of Stagnation punishes opponents. Exiling cool cards, and "giving away" card drawing just for playing a land is a one-two hit that's unpleasant at best and alienating at worst.

Trying to come from behind and sitting underneath a Sire of Stagnation will feel like futility. Be wary of this when you decide to tap into the power of this Eldrazi: Your friends may not remain your friends long after you've completely locked them out from playing at all.


This week's question is just for those bleak situations under pressure: What do you have in your Commander decks to catch up when you're behind?

  • Feedback via email in English
  • 300 word limit to share the card(s) and decklist
  • 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)

Fighting to get back into the thick of things is a tall order in multiplayer. When somebody has a dominant presence that puts you in a rough position, having ways to push back is important. When the going gets tough, I want to know how you get going.

Join us next week when we're devoid of content. See you then!



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