The "Concerted Effort" intro pack from Oath of the Gatewatch is another take on Allies, this time in White & Green. Is it better than the Red & White approach of the "Desperate Stand" deck?
Gladehart Cavalry is the cover card of this intro pack. They cost a whopping 5GG - a total of seven mana. But when the Cavalry arrive, they offer quite a bit of Support. With Support 6, the Cavalry distributes a +1/+1 counter on each of up to six other target creatures. While this is pretty useful, it's important to recognize that you actually need the six other creatures to take full advantage of this ability.
The other cool thing about the Cavalry is that you get a second benefit, as well. Whenever you have a creature with a +1/+1 counter on it die, you gain 2 life. While this is purely incidental lifegain, you never know when you'll need those extra 2 points of life to keep you in the game.
Onto the rest of the deck!
2 Cliffside Lookout
2 Expedition Envoy
2 Kitesail Scout
1 Oran-Rief Invoker
2 Kor Castigator
2 Makindi Aeronaut
2 Kor Sky Climber
2 Shadow Glider
2 Joraga Auxiliary
1 Veteran Warleader
1 Saddleback Lagac
2 Relief Captain
1 Steppe Glider
2 Expedition Raptor
1 Angel of Renewal
1 Gladehart Cavalry
2 Shoulder to Shoulder
1 Allied Reinforcements
2 Lead by Example
1 Immolating Glare
1 Mighty Leap
1 Iona's Blessing
2 Isolation Zone
1 Evolving Wilds
1 Tranquil Expanse
The other rare creature in the deck is Veteran Warleader. The Warleader has been decent enough in his time in Standard so far. The more Allies you play, the stronger and tougher the Warleader gets. With this deck leading up to the Cavalry charging the way, the Warleader's abilities are pretty congruent with this deck's strategy. In the late game, gaining trample is a big deal, whereas first strike and vigilance are useful abilities at any point in the game.
Whereas the Red/White "Desperate Stand" deck focuses on the Cohort mechanic, this deck focuses on the Support mechanic introduced by Gladehart Cavalry.
Joraga Auxillary is one of the Support creatures in the deck. She's 2/3 for 1GW, with an ability that costs 4GW for Support 2. While it's a useful ability, that's a lot of mana for giving out two +1/+1 counters. Saddleback Lagac is a 3/1 for 3G, but his Support 2 ability comes as an enter the battlefield trigger. Relief Captain at 2WW has a 3/2 body, and an enter the battlefield ability of Support 3. It's perhaps the most efficient of the Support creatures. There's also Expedition Raptor with Support 2, but he's a 2/2 flyer for 3WW - not exactly the most efficient creature.
In addition to the support creatures, there's two copies of Shoulder to Shoulder, a 2W sorcery with Support 2 that also draws you a card. The instant Lead by Example is 1G and also has Support 2 but doesn't draw you a card. Having Instant speed is really good to have as it can be a combat trick.
Support is on the slower side as a Mechanic and really requires you to consistently have two or three other creatures on the board to take full advantage of regularly. But whereas Cohort requires you to consistently tap two creatures for a generally underwhelming effect, Support adds power and toughness fairly quickly, even if it doing so often takes up entire turns at times.
The rest of the deck is made up of generally uninteresting other Ally creatures: Expedition Envoy being the best of them. Isolation Zone is the other interesting Oath of the Gatewatch card in the deck. It costs 2WW to cast, and it can exile a target creature or enchantment an opponent controls until the Enchantment leaves the battlefield. It's Stasis Snare without Flash and for one more mana that can also hits enchantments. It's not the most efficient card in the world, but it gets the job done.
Improving the Deck
Support is an interesting mechanic, and in a Limited environment (draft and sealed deck) could be pretty good to build around. But from a Constructed standpoint, it's a bit underwhelming. The best direction to go with this Green/White Allies archetype is to run something similar to this Green/White Allies deck that actually placed second at a Wyoming States tournament. It's fueled by Collected Company to accelerate getting more Allies into play. That list, which includes Kor Bladewhirl and Lantern Scout, is probably the direction you would want to go when upgrading the creature line-up.
Green/White Allies is definitely a playable deck, but the creatures with Support are generally not good enough to be played competitively. Also, while Gladehart Cavalry is a solid card in a vacuum - and is pretty good for Elf decks in Commander - it's a bit too high on the curve and offers too inconsistent a benefit to be a "boss" monster. Ally decks should focus on creatures lower on the mana curve. If you want to splash Red, you can even include Reckless Bushwhacker, who gives all your creatures haste and +1/+0 if you've cast at least one other spell already that turn. There's also Firemantle Mage who has the Rally trigger to give all of your creatures Haste whenever another Ally enters the battlefield.
If you want to play Allies, this isn't necessarily the strongest deck to start with. In comparison with the other Intro Pack, it probably holds up fine. But besides Expedition Envoy, Kor Castigator, and Veteran Warleader, there isn't much to build off of out of the box if you're looking to beef this deck up.
The "Surge of Resistance" intro pack is a Red/Blue deck featuring the evergreen Prowess mechanic and introduces the Surge mechanic from Oath of the Gatewatch. Surge is an alternate casting cost for a number of cards in the set which becomes usable once you've cast at least one spell in the turn. Spells with Surge also often have secondary abilities which add additional value to the reduced cost.
Tyrant of Valakut is a perfect example of this mechanic. He usually costs 5RR to cast for nothing more than a 5/4 flyer. But if you are able to cast him for his Surge cost of 3RR, he also deals 3 damage to a target creature or player. He becomes fairly playable.
But the deck has some other goodies, as well.
3 Lavastep Raider
3 Umara Entangler
2 Stormchaser Mage
2 Reckless Bushwhacker
3 Goblin Freerunner
2 Cloud Manta
1 Cyclone Sire
2 Jwar Isle Avenger
1 Windrider Patrol
1 Tyrant of Valakut
Non-Creature Spells (15)
1 Boulder Salvo
1 Ugin's Insight
1 Roiling Waters
1 Rolling Thunder
1 Grip of the Roil
2 Comparative Analysis
2 Containment Membrane
2 Pyromancer's Assault
1 Blighted Gorge
1 Evolving Wilds
Before getting on to the Surge cards, we should take a look at the other rare in the deck, Ugin's Insight. At first, this looks like an odd inclusion. But with the Surge costs available on many of the creatures in this deck, you'll get to scry for much more earlier on in the game than you ordinarily would.
For example, the Tyrant has a converted mana cost of 7, but you can cast him for 5. This means Ugin's Insight Scrys for 7. Being able to have more of a choose over the 3 cards you draw is pretty useful. It's an interaction that's not clear on the surface, but it's a pretty decent one.
The Surge Cards!
Goblin Freerunner doesn't look all too exciting as a 3/2 for 3R, even with Menace (can't be blocked except by two or more creatures). But with a Surge cost of 1R, this becomes an above-average creature. You can't ask much more from a common rarity creature.
Reckless Bushwhacker is reminiscent of Goblin Bushwhacker from the original Zendikar set. In fact, he's almost the same card. On his own, he's just a 2/1 with Haste for 2R. But if you play him for his Surge cost of 1R, he also gives all other creatures you control haste and +1/+0. The original Bushwhacker was probably better, but this is still a pretty good card. Also, being an Ally makes him very useful for that archetype, as well. (Note: Goblin Freerunner is also an Ally, but that's not relevant in this particular deck).
The other creature with Surge in the deck is Jwar Isle Avenger, a 3/3 flyer for 4U. However, his Surge cost is 2U, making him an efficient, if not exciting, evasive creature.
Boulder Salvo looks pretty inefficient as a 4R burn spell that deals 4 damage to only creatures. But with its surge cost of 1R, it becomes quite useful. and in fact, even above average.
Grip of the Roil is an okay card as a 2U instant that taps down a creature until the end of your opponent's next turn and draws you a card. It's significantly better, though, for its surge cost of 1U. Comparative Analysis is likewise somewhat mediocre as a 3U instant to draw target player two cards, but at 2U for its Surge cost, it becomes an Instant speed Divination. It's not exciting, but it's a lot more playable.
Containment Membrane is an Enchantment that for 2U is fairly meh. This aura keeps a creature from being unable to untap during its controller's untap step. What makes this one playable is that it has a Surge cost of only a single Blue mana. It suddenly looks fairly good.
While none of these non-creature Surge spells are super exciting, they become slightly more efficient versions of effects that have existed on previous cards. In the Two-Headed Giant format they were originally created for (a format where 4 players play in teams of 2), these are actually really good spells. In an ordinary two-player game of Magic, they still serve as fairly useful cards in a deck that wants to cast multiple spells in a turn.
There's another benefit to playing Surge spells. This deck features two copies of the Enchantment, Pyromancer's Assault. Each time you cast your second spell each turn, it deals 2 damage to target creature or player. It's not limited to Surge spells, either. While it's not the most efficient enchantment in the world, if both copies in the deck are on the field at the same time, a 4 damage clock is very quick.
Other Notable Cards
Probably the best card in the deck, and certainly most valuable, is Stormchaser Mage. Even in a set full of good uncommons such as Oath of the Gatewatch, this Mage is the best creature with Prowess printed to that point that isn't a Rare (Abbot of Keral Keep) or a Mythic Rare (Monastery Mentor). Flying and haste on a 1/3 two mana creature is good enough, but for each noncreature spell you cast in a turn, he gains +1/+1. Most times, he's going to be at least a 2/4, if not a 3/5.
When you combine him with one-mana creatures with Dash such as Zurgo Bellstriker and Lightning Berserker, you can deal a lot of damage in a hurry, His best partner in Standard was his Prowess buddy, Monastery Swiftspear. While the Swiftspear has continue to see significant play in Modern, Stormchaser Mage sadly has not, even despite all of the support Wizards have received from the Dominaria set.
The other notable card in the deck is Expedite, a one-mana Red common that gives a target creature haste and draws you a card. It's very similar to a card from years back in Shadowmoor called Crimson Wisps. The only difference is that this instant doesn't make the creature red, which is usually not that relevant. It's a card you'll want to have a full four copies of in the deck when you look to upgrade it.
Upgrading the Deck
As Intro Packs go, "Surge of Resistance" is pretty easy to upgrade. There are a lot of unexciting creatures in the deck that can be easily replace. Jori En, Ruin Diver is a good creature candidate to replace the rather inefficient Pyromancer's Assault enchantments.
While she doesn't deal damage when you cast your second spell each turn, you get to draw a card instead. In a surge deck, not running out of spells to cast is extremely important. As she's a Legendary, you don't really want to run more than 2 or 3 copies since you can only control one at a time.
Monastery Swiftspear is probably the next best card to add to the deck. If you plan to play the deck in Modern, though, she's played in Modern and even Legacy.
Having Haste herself, she's the perfect complement to Stormchaser Mage and any cards with Surge. She also has Prowess, benefiting from the same spells you cast to boost the Mage.
Speaking of Prowess, Abbot of Keral Keep is a creature from Magic Origins. The Abbot is actually perfect for a Surge strategy, too. While he lacks Haste, he makes up for it by exiling the top card of your library when he enters the battlefield. You have the choice to cast this cast that turn - or risk losing it forever.
But, with a deck with alternate Surge casting costs, you'll more often than not be able to cast what you reveal with the Abbot. Be sure to wait to drop your land if you can before casting the Abbot, so you don't just permanently exile a land. This is essentially like drawing a card and fuels the Surge strategy immensely. The Prowess is relevant, too.
You'll also want to replace the inconsistent Boulder Salvo, expensive to cast Rolling Waters and Anticipates with Fiery Impulse from Magic Origins, or a comparable Burn spell. While there's nothing wrong with Anticipate, you don't really need a card selection spell with Jori En and Abbot lurking about. Also, adding two more copies of Expedite to the existing two will make the presence of Comparative Analysis unnecessary, too.
We are cutting a lot of Blue spells, but this is okay since we're adding Jori En and a couple more copies of the Stormchaser Mage. In the long run, it evens out.
If you don't want to invest in the Monastery Swiftspears and Abbot of Keral Keeps, you can alternative choose to play Lightning Berserker and Zurgo Bellstriker instead. These creatures have Dash, which allows you to cast a creature, usually for a lower mana cost, give it haste but return it to your hand at the end of the turn. Dash actually works quite well with Surge, as having to recast them can greatly benefit you.
Which line of play is better in the long-run? What Abbot can reveal can be more inconsistent. Also, the Prowess of the other two can make them more consistently powerful. But both ways can work. Also, having to recast creatures turn after turn can preclude you from playing other spells in addition. But some combination of all these can work if you can't get play-sets of Swiftspear or Abbot altogether at once.
Being a Red/Blue deck, you can't go wrong with Wandering Fumarole. While an investment of 4 mana (2UR) sounds like a lot for a 1/4 man land, you can instantly change this guy into a 4/1 if your opponent is wide open. Best of all, if your opponent then casts a burn spell or other spell that would kill it, you can instantly switch it back to a 1/4, which may not be enough to do away with it then. The ability to fix for your Red and Blue mana alone makes it worth playing, in addition to the "pain land" Shivan Reef.
As a starting place for an aggressive Red/Blue deck that highlights the benefits of the Surge mechanic, "Surge of Resistance" does a fairly good job.
The "Vicious Cycle" Intro Pack for Oath of the Gatewatch is a Black/Green deck featuring the Eldrazi Dread Defiler. The Defiler is a 7 mana creature (6B) with above average stats (6 power, 8 toughness) and a powerful ability. For 3C (3 generic, 1 colorless), you exile a creature card from your graveyard and target opponent loses life equal to the exiled card's power. With the high power of creatures available in this deck, it's a powerful ability that can finish a game in a hurry.
As you may suspect from this deck's "boss" creature, this deck interacts a lot of the time with the graveyard. And with such a powerful ability, you'll want some big creatures in the graveyard to fuel the Defiler.
2 Carrier Thrall
2 Loam Larva
2 Rot Shambler
2 Stalking Drone
1 Essence Depleter
1 Voracious Null
2 Netcaster Spider
1 Null Caller
1 Broodhunter Wurm
1 Smothering Abomination
2 Seed Guardian
1 Kozilek's Pathfinder
1 Brood Monitor
1 Baloth Null
1 Dread Defiler
Non-Creature Spells (12)
2 Bone Splinters
2 Oblivion Strike
1 Vines of the Recluse
1 Altar's Reap
2 Corpse Churn
1 Grasp of Darkness
2 Natural Connection
1 Pulse of Murasa
1 Blighted Woodland
1 Evolving Wilds
2 Fertile Thicket
For those already familiar with Battle for Zendikar, you'll be familiar with Smothering Abomination. This 4/3 flyer for 2BB has appeared in a number of competitive decks early on in its life already. While you have to sacrifice a creature at the beginning of each of your upkeeps, you get to draw a card whenever you sacrifice a creature.
With the number of Eldrazi Scions you'll be sacrificing in this deck, this should net you more than a few extra cards. He can always sacrifice himself to draw a card if you have nothing else you want to sacrifice. Plus, he's 4 power so he's a good target for Dread Defiler's ability.
One of the more interesting Oath of the Gatewatch cards in the deck is Essence Depleter. Being a 2/3 for 2B isn't bad for an uncommon creature. But it's the ability for 1C is what makes this particularly could. For a minimal investment of only 2 mana, you can drain your opponent for 1 life (gain 1, opponent loses 1).
It's a great way to sink in mana you otherwise might not be using, but needing to have those pure colorless sources can prove to be tricky with the deck as currently constructed.
Another notable uncommon from Oath of the Gatewatch is Seed Guardian. When he dies, he replaces himself with an X/X Green elemental creature token, where X is the number of creature cards in your graveyard. This obviously gets better as the game goes along.
The primary issue with this deck is that outside of the deck's numerous sacrifice outlets, the only other way to directly put cards into your graveyard to fuel the Defiler and Seed Guardian is Corpse Churn. This 1B instant puts the top three cards of your deck into the graveyard and even gives you the option to return a creature card from your graveyard. The cool part about this is that you get to return a creature that was put there by this card's effect, too. So there's no worry about accidentally throwing away your Dread Defiler, since you can get him back with this.
One of the quickest ways to upgrade this deck is to introduce the very useful enchantment From Beyond. Not only does this get you a free 1/1 Scion token every turn that you can sacrifice for more mana, but you can sacrifice From Beyond to search out one of your Eldrazi, such as Dread Defiler.
To fuel the graveyard, it's probably good to have another copy of Smothering Abomination. You'll also want some top end threats such as Oblivion Sower or World Breaker to make the Defiler's ability more threatening.
These two Eldrazi are pretty menacing The Sower is a big presence and can steal opponent's lands, too. World Breaker helps to exile one of your opponent's more important cards while being a 5/7 with reach.
There are 4 copies of Wastes, the colorless Basic land, already in the deck. But you'll probably want at least a few more. Also, a couple more copies of Blighted Woodland provide a stable source of pure colorless mana that can give you additional mana ramp in the late game. Also, Grasp of Darkness is solid removal that you can easily add a few more copies of to the deck.
"Vicious Cycle" does provide a useful base from which to launch a Green/Black Eldrazi deck, but it may not be the most consistent at winning with the Defiler. The deck depends on you being able to cast your bigger creatures before your opponent has any way of dealing with them. Eldrazi Ramp has already proven to be a playable deck, especially when you add creatures such as Wasteland Strangler and Blight Herder to the mix.
Adding White allows you to exile creatures with Silkwrap and Stasis Snare and fuel the Stranglers and Blight Herders. Also, White gives you access to Eldrazi Displacer which has an infinite combo with Brood Monitor and Zulaport Cutthroat to drain your opponents to death.
There are plenty of different directions you can go with this deck, but honestly the best top end finisher you can choose is Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. As a starting place for a Green/Black Eldrazi deck, it's solid enough, offering a good balance of useful creatures, mana ramp, creature recursion and removal. But there's plenty of room for improvement.
The "Desperate Stand" Intro Pack for Oath of the Gatewatch is a White & Black Ally-themed deck. Led by Munda's Vanguard, the deck focuses on the synergies between the various Allies. It's also an introduction to the Cohort mechanic, as seen on the Vanguard, fellow rare creature, Drana's Chosen, and a few others. It involves tapping both itself and another untapped Ally you control to gain an ability.
In the case of Munda's Vanguard, by tapping itself and another untapped Ally you control, you get to put a +1/+1 counter on each creature you control. That's quite a power boost if you happen to have a lot of creatures on the board when you use it. While a 3/3 for 4W isn't too exciting as a "boss" monster that doesn't immediately affect the board, he does give a counter to himself when his ability is used. He's functional, if not exciting.
This deck does lack the overall "bang for your buck" that the Twisted Reality deck has, due to having 10 copies of the new Colorless Basic Land Wastes contained within it. But as an introduction to some of the new Ally cards in Oath of the Gatewatch, it seems to do the job.
Here's the Deck list..
1 Cliffside Lookout
2 Expedition Envoy
2 Kor Castigator
2 Ondu War Cleric
2 Serene Steward
2 Kalastria Healer
2 Kor Scythemaster
2 Vampire Envoy
1 Drana's Emissary
2 Spawnbinder Mage
1 Drana's Chosen
2 Zulaport Chainmage
1 Cliffhaven Vampire
2 Kor Entanglers
1 Munda's Vanguard
1 Malakir Soothsayer
Non Creature Spells (9)
2 Allied Reinforcements
1 Dutiful Return
1 Dazzling Reflection
2 Gideon's Reproach
2 Tar Snare
1 Smite the Monstrous
1 Blighted Fen
1 Evolving Wilds
Drana's Chosen is the other rare card in the deck. The ability to put a 2/2 Zombie token into play is pretty good. While it seems a lot to tap both the Chosen and another creature, you can always choose to tap a creature that still has summoning sickness to fulfill that requirement. It's not a bad ability, as an extra creature every turn is fine.
The other Cohort abilities are not overwhelmingly powerful, but do offer incremental advantages over time. Ondu War Cleric's Cohort ability grants you 2 life - which on its own is rather mediocre, but it does interact well with the life-gain & drain subtheme in this deck that we'll get to in a little bit. Spawnbinder Mage's Cohort ability lets you tap down a target creature, useful in making sure your opponent doesn't stone-wall your attacks. She is a bit under-powered, though, as a 2/4 for 3W (4 mana).
Zulaport Chainmage is a 4/2 for 3B, which is relatively aggressive, plus he has a Cohort ability to make an opponent lose 2 life. The best of the non-rare Cohort cards, though, is probably Malakir Soothsayer. Her Cohort ability makes you lose 1 life but also draws you a card. Card advantage is always welcome and her 4/4 body on a 5-mana (4B) creature is solid.
Cliffhaven Vampire is a key part of the life-gain & drain sub-theme in the deck. Along with several creatures from Battle for Zendikar, including Kalastria Healer and Drana's Emissary, you're looking to keep your life total high while whittling away at your opponent's total. Being a 2/4 flyer isn't irrelevant, either.
There are a number of other ways to gain life in the deck, such as Vampire Envoy, which gains you 1 life whenever he is tapped. Serene Steward also benefits you whenever you gain life, by allowing you to place a +1/+1 counter on a target creature for a single White mana. Unfortunately, the most obvious way to consistently gain life, creatures with lifelink, isn't included in the deck.
The first obvious improvement that this deck could use is a few copies of Lantern Scout, who has the Rally ability to give all of your creatures lifelink until end of turn. Understandably, this would be a third rare in the deck, which is why it wasn't included in the first place. But this makes the deck a lot more consistent, for sure.
The "man land" Shambling Vent is a white/black dual land that can become a 2/3 creature with Lifelink until end of turn for 1WB. It's already a very popular land that's proven in competitive play, so having a playset will both fix your mana and give you another source of lifelink. Also, when they become creatures, they benefit from any abilities that affect creatures. You'll want to activate the Vent before using Munda's Vanguard's ability, since the +1/+1 counter put on a land remains there even after it reverts back to just being a land.
If you're looking for another inexpensive way to fix your mana, Scoured Barrens is a common land that comes into play tapped, but gains you a life in the process. Ordinarily this incidental life-gain isn't worth playing these lands competitively, but in a deck that wants to consistently gain life, these are fine to draw in the late game. Ally Encampment is good to fix mana for casting your Allies, and in the late game you can even sacrifice it to get back an important Ally back to your hand from the graveyard.
Cohort seems like a decent ability for Limited play, but in Constructed, it seems a bit underwhelming. Allied Reinforcements is a nice way to get two 2/2 Ally tokens in a hurry, but it may be a bit slow, and you're not really playing many Rally abilities in here at present.
The best direction to go if you want to mold this into a competitive deck is to go more in the direction of Mardu Allies, by adding Red. But if you want to keep the spirit of this deck, you could focus on making the deck more aggressive by adding Drana, Liberator of Malakir and Hero of Goma Fada - whose Rally trigger makes your creatures indestructible. Obviously the very best card you can add to this deck is Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, a planeswalker so useful he sees play even outside of Ally decks.
If you're looking to try out Allies, this isn't a bad place to start. Cohort is an interesting ability, but it doesn't measure up to the usefulness of the Rally triggers from Battle for Zendikar. Adding Planar Outburst as a board-wipe and Ruinous Path & Stasis Snare as targeted removal could make this a solid enough deck. Black/White allies may be a fair deck in the future.
For my 100th post on my old card review blog, Win Target Game, it only seemed fair to review my favorite cards in all of Magic, the Elspeth Tirel planeswalkers. After all, my Magic writing screen name was and continues to be Elspeth for the Win (FTW). At the time, there were only two Elspeth planeswalker cards: Elspeth, Knight-Errant and Elspeth Tirel. Later, when I relaunched Win Target Game - what would inevitably become Gaming Successfully - I wrote a new review, with the addition of the third Elspeth planeswalker incarnation, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion from Theros.
Thanks to damned Heliod, God of the Sun, though, there is no more Elspeth. I can’t tell you how angry I am at Wizards of the Coast’s Creative Team for killing off Elspeth – even if it made sense to make her the tragic hero of the Theros story line. But her legacy will live on in my Magic writing screen name, as well as in the decks that play one or more of the Elspeth planeswalker cards.
A good deal of time has passed since I did this new comparison review. Looking back on it, I wasn’t too happy with it, so I decided to do a much more in-depth comparison of the three Elspeth planeswalkers. She deserves it. So...
Which Elspeth Planeswalker is the Best?
It’s time to revisit this old thread of mine. Which Elspeth incarnation is the best?
Honestly, I’m a huge fan of all three cards. Elspeth is, of course, my favorite planeswalker in Magic. Elspeth, Knight-Errant was one of my favorite cards when I started playing Magic (Kitchen Finks was my favorite for a long time). After a very expensive and miserable several years playing Yu-Gi-Oh without much to show for it, I went online to see what was doing with Magic the Gathering. With that search, a picture of Elspeth Tirel from Scars of Mirrodin popped up. I instantly fell in love with her abilities.
But with any Elspeth review, you have to start with the classic from Shards of Alara, one of the first Mythic Rare planeswalkers ever.
When I first started playing Magic, I was typically a red/green player. I loved aggressive strategies, same as I did in Yu-Gi-Oh. But then I discovered the joys of playing White Weenie. At that time, during the Lorwyn-Shadowmoor/Shards of Alara block era, Elspeth was that archetype’s best friend.
Elspeth, Knight-Errant costs 2WW to cast and begins with 4 loyalty counters on her. She has two +1 loyalty abilities. The first of those gives one of your creatures for a quick +3/+3 and give it flying. The other puts a 1/1 soldier token into play. But it was her ultimate ability that I always loved most about her. That ultimate ability, which costs 8 loyalty, makes all artifacts, enchantments, lands, and creatures you control indestructible for the rest of the game. All of this comes for just four mana.
Having 2 plus loyalty abilities was what made Elspeth, Knight-Errant so popular. Her ultimate came before the advent of emblems, but like an emblem it lasts until the conclusion of the game. That inevitability of such an ability being able to be activated made her a prime target for opposing burn spells and creatures. It made her a target, which could buy you a turn or two if you were behind. She could continue to protect herself from non trampling creatures with her soldier token producing ability. If your opponent couldn't break through somehow and decrease her loyalty, you'd end up having an indestructible army for the rest of the game.
While she proved to be pretty useful defensively, it was her more offensive first ability that won her the hearts of many aggressive players. A 3 power and toughness boost plus flying makes just about any creature a major threat, especially on turn 4.
The first Elspeth saw plenty of Standard play and was one of the more expensive cards in Standard for a long time. Knight-Errant continued to see a lot of Legacy play for years, and was in some Modern decks when the format first came to be. Over time, as creatures have become more powerful, though, she's nearly disappeared from Legacy, seen now only as an occasional one-of in the sideboard of Death and Taxes. She isn't the mainstay in Modern that she once was, either, usually appearing as one or two copies in the sideboard of Naya Company. The Knight of the Reliquary/Retreat to Coralhelm combo deck, known as Knightfall, tends to main-deck 2 copies, though.
Like most planeswalkers, though, Elspeth, Knight-Errant lives on in Commander. Knight-Errant can give one of your big ground-bound beasts a “lift” and a boost over your opponent’s ground-forces at a critical juncture. Being able to make your own permanents indestructible is pretty relevant against anyone wiping the board, too. Popular Commanders that have included the first Elspeth include Avacyn, Angel of Hope (who makes things indestructible herself), Darien, King of Kjeldor (a token-happy Commander), Eight-and-a-Half-Tails, Geist of Saint Traft, and Odric, Master Tactician. Ironically, she also has appeared in a good number of Heliod, God of the Sun decks…
Fellow Planeswalker Nahiri the Lithomancer, who has the distinction of being able to be used as a Commander, has also become good friends with Elspeth, Knight-Errant. It’s also possible if all Planeswalkers become usable as Commanders in the future (as is the case in some playgroups), Elspeth, Knight-Errant could make for a pretty darn good field general.
Knight-Errant’s overall value has taken a hit with multiple reprints. In addition to appearing in a Duel Deck, she's had supplemental printings in the limited print run of the first Modern Masters set and in the Modern Event Deck.
Besides also looking quite bad-ass, Elspeth Tirel takes a much different approach than her original Shards of Alara incarnation. Like Knight-Errant, Tirel begins at 4 loyalty, as well, but costs one more mana to cast at 3WW. Her -1 ability puts 3 1/1 soldier tokens into play. This is a pretty good way to instantly protect her and establish a better board presence in a way that Knight-Errant never could. Her +2 ability allows you gain 1 life for each creature you control. On the surface, it’s a bit underwhelming, but incidental lifegain has proven useful time and time again. Really, her +2 is more of a gateway ability that leads to her ultimate option. For only five loyalty, you destroy all other permanents, except for tokens and lands.
When I first set eyes on this card, that ultimate ability seemed to be a much better ultimate ability that Knight Errant’s. It’s a total board wipe that benefits you playing tokens. If your opponent isn’t playing tokens, too, this ability can be extremely one-sided. Sure, she can get to 6 loyalty on the first turn she’s out there, potentially gaining you a few life in the process. Then, you blow up the board and Tirel survives!
There are a couple of problems with her, though. Wiping the board is always a ton of fun, but it’s usually just better to play a board wipe like Wrath of God, Day of Judgment, or Supreme Verdict - the last two of which weren’t printed at the time. Having to wait a turn to wrath the board without being able to make her tokens first is really what limited her playability, overall. Also, she’s a huge target. No one wants to see an Oblivion Stone-like Planeswalker hanging around the board. Were she able to make the tokens first instead of having to use her inconsistent lifegain ability, this would have been a very, very good planeswalker.
Being able to pop out 3 tokens a turn, though, as a -1 ability, sounded really powerful, though. Unfortunately, outside of some control builds - most of which weren’t competitive - Elspeth Tirel pretty much was left behind. One of her counterparts in the set, Venser, the Sojourner, saw a lot more play than she ever did as part of Planeswalker-based control decks. You’d see a Tirel here and there, but she just never really survived that particular Standard metagame. Caw-Blade and Splinter Twin overran the format and she turned out to be too little too late. Had her minus and plus abilities been reversed, we would have had a very different story.
As it turns out, Tirel’s gaining life as her lone plus ability can’t beat immediately gaining a loyalty counter and creating a 1/1 soldier, which can serve as an immediate chump-blocker. Also, giving some thing +3/+3 and flying until end of turn turns out to be more useful most of the time, especially as a plus one. Ultimately, Knight-Errant proved to be a much better Constructed card than Elspeth Tirel. Knight-Errant is a more efficient planeswalker that threatened a much different sort of ultimate - one that was not as immediately threatening but could be inevitably game winning if your opponent couldn’t deal with her in time.
In Commander, while nowhere near as popular as Knight-Errant, Elspeth Tirel has found a few homes. Commander is an extremely grindy format, and being able to drop a card like Tirel can wreck your opponents’ plans - especially in a multi-player environment. She can serve as a sort of “reset button,” and her life-gain ability has a chance to really make a difference if you have enough creatures running around. While not quite a Commander staple, she has made her presence felt alongside popular Commanders such as Darien, King of Kjeldor, Rhys, the Redeemer, Tajic, Blade of the Legion (who is himself indestructible), Teysa, Orzhov Scion, and Trostani, Selesyna’s Voice. With the exception of Tajic, these are all pretty token-happy decks, who greatly benefit from Elspeth’s token-saving board-wipe ability.
Fortunately, Wizards R&D would learn from the mistakes of Elspeth Tirel and create one of the most dominant planeswalkers Standard has ever seen.
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
A third version of Elspeth, and more than likely the last (unless Wizards Creative somehow resurrects her) came upon us in the Theros block. Interestingly enough, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion was the first review I ever wrote on the relaunch of Win Target Game. When I saw the new Elspeth art I was ecstatic.
Learning from the mistake made with Elspeth Tirel, the ability to make three 1/1 Soldier tokens into a +1 ability was brilliant. Everyone who saw that was a fan of this Elspeth immediately. Her -3 ability destroys all creatures with power 4 or greater. With Theros meant to be a block with some pretty epic creatures, this seemed pretty good. Her emblem, which cost 7 loyalty, gives you an emblem, granting all of your creatures a boost of +2/+2 and flying.
There was only one issue: her casting cost of 4WW. Who was going to play a 6-drop planeswalker in Standard?
As it turned out, this was a 6-drop planeswalker would end up being a format-defining card. Every Blue/Black or Blue/White/Black (Esper) Control deck made room for her. Not only were those tokens often the primary offensive and defensive creatures in the deck, but her Smite the Monstrous-esque ability took care of plenty of Polukranos, World Eaters and other big creatures. The emblem, plus those tokens, would end up as a sort of win condition for the long drawn-out games.
While she ended up being pretty high on the mana curve, Elspeth’s third iteration had so much power built into her that she basically begged to be played. Also, Elspeth’s popularity in general caused her original version, Knight-Errant, to be reprinted in not just one, but two products soon thereafter: Modern Masters and the Modern Event Deck. Sun’s Champion also was reprinted in the Duel Decks: Elspeth vs Kiora. This put quite a damper on her price, but it only made her more affordable to those who wanted her.
Even after her exit from the Standard format in October 2015, she has continued to appear in a variety of Control decks in Modern. But where she really shines is in Commander. She’s become just as popular as Knight-Errant, and has made friends with newer Commanders such as Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim, Dragonlord Ojutai and Narset, Enlightened Master.
Is Sun's Champion the best of the three Elspeths? I think it’s close to being a tie, honestly, between Knight-Errant and Sun’s Champion. Knight-Errant is the more aggressive of the two, but Sun’s Champion is pretty formidable. I still lean towards the original Knight-Errant as being the best of the trio, though.
Sadly, the debate of which is the best Elspeth Tirel planeswalker could well end here. The Creative Team went and killed Elspeth, potentially making Sun’ Champion the final cardboard incarnation of Elspeth Tirel, Knight of Bant. At least she went out on a good note! May she one day return from the Underworld and take revenge on the back-stabbing Heliod! Long live, Elspeth!
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
Back in May 2011, I began a review blog called Elspeth for the Win. At the time, I was just getting back into Magic after a horrible, very expensive experience with Yu-Gi-Oh. I saw the card Elspeth Tirel and fell in love with her, remembering Elspeth, Knight-Errant from my Magic Workstation days during the Shards of Alara block.
But oddly enough, I didn’t review Elspeth Tirel as my first card. That would come later. Instead, I pulled what at the time was one of my more exciting early pulls from a Magic: the Gathering pack.
Around my birthday, I went to the local New Phyrexia pre-release and pulled this guy, Urabrask the Hidden, in my second pack from the prize pool! (My first had Puresteel Paladin, which would turn out to be a pretty awesome card in Standard and later in Commander.) Here’s what I had to say about him.
The First Review
Without a doubt, Urabrask was the best card I opened at the sealed deck this past Saturday, Urabrask the Hidden is a great card. Unfortunately, it was not pulled during the tournament, but in one of two packs acquired afterward in the prize pool. If I’d had this for my deck, it would’ve wreaked some serious havoc.
The praetors in this set (New Phyrexia) are all pretty good, but this is probably my favorite. What makes this card in particular very good is that its converted mana cost is only 5 for a 4/4 with two amazing permanent abilities. The idea that you could have this on turn 5, and possibly even earlier (especially in a red/green deck) is unbelievable. There are so many decks that a copy or two of this guy is capable of being splashed in! It’s not hard at all to produce 2 red mana, not with all the dual lands around.
This is easily one of the better cards in the set. I’m looking forward to reviewing the black praetor next, a card that I know everyone has seen already, and one that I actually think I may try to build a deck around in the near future. Let me know what you all think of this card, and stay tuned for more card reviews!
Of course, I went on to take a look at Sheoldred, Whispering One, who was the pre-release promo for New Phyrexia, and a lot of the other extremely good cards in that set. Yeah, this wasn’t a very in-depth review, but this was never meant to be a serious thing. But as I wrote a few more reviews, people started commenting positively and the reviews were getting a lot of views for a brand new blog. Not long afterward, I decided to change the name of the blog to Win Target Game - with the intention of writing much more in-depth reviews and not just snap judgments - and the rest is history.
What Made Urabrask So Cool?
All I did back then was gush praise for Urabrask. But as we look at his abilities, we see that praise was definitely well deserved. I wasn’t incredibly well-versed in the ins and outs of Magic’s competitive metagame at the time. I didn’t realize that at 5 mana, Urabrask didn’t do quite enough to become any sort of staple. But his abilities were really solid.
First of all, a 4/4 for 3RR with Haste is plenty good. On top of that, his first ability giving all of your creatures haste, himself included, is a nice start. But it’s his second ability that stood out to me: forcing all of your opponent’s creatures to come into play tapped. Back during Shards of Alara, my first decks were red/green or red/green/white (Naya). Drawing on that experience, I obviously saw this being a super strong card in Constructed.
Of course, it didn’t fit well in the Standard meta of the time. The infamous Splinter Twin combo and Caw-Blade decks ruled the day at the time. While Urabrask, interestingly enough, actually stopped the Splinter Twin combo by making all of the “infinite” tokens come into play tapped, he really didn’t see any play. The mono-Red decks that were good at the time didn’t bother to include him since they wanted to win by the time he would even be cast. In Modern, it’s simply outclassed in the 5-drop slot by Xenagos, God of Revels and Thundermaw Hellkite. It’s a great card that just never got a chance to really shine in Constructed.
So What Became of Mr. Urabrask?
So while Sheoldred later became a Standard playable and Commander all-star, a lot of people forgot about Urabrask the Hidden. My good friend Urabrask didn’t go on to see much Standard play. However, he has been a very strong Commander card ever since his release.
He’s mostly played in Animar, Soul of Elements, Aurelia, the Warleader and Rakdos, Lord of Riots decks. Urabrask has also become a key contributor in fringe Commander decks such as Adamaro, First to Desire and Fumiko the Lowblood. Other popular Commanders that have included him more than 25 percent of the time include Gisela, Blade of Goldnight and Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer. He’s serviceable as a Commander himself, but with only about 25 decks listed on Tappedout and Deckstats, it’s clear he’s a pretty fringy choice for field general.
I don’t recall if Urabrask saw any Block Constructed play, as I didn’t know much at all about that format back in 2011, but it was still an actually supported format at the time. I’m just glad that New Phyrexia was my re-introduction to Magic. Without pulling this red Praetor, I may never have been excited enough to want to post a blog about my new Magic card adventures. I’ve had a lot of fun writing hundreds of reviews over the years, and I look forward to writing many, many more.
For those who began playing Yu-Gi-Oh around the same time I did, Buster Blader is a pretty familiar name. He existed as the perfect answer to Blue-Eyes White Dragon, the most powerful monster in the game at that time (besides the practically impossible to summon Gate Guardian.) Even though he had only 2600 ATK points to start with, with a single Dragon on your opponent's side of the field or in the Graveyard, he got a 500 point boost. 3100 ATK would beat anything without help. Against a dedicated Dragon deck, Buster Blader would just run them over.
To be fair, Buster Blader wasn't really ever a competitive card to my knowledge. Perhaps in the very old days of Yu-Gi-Oh, he was. But to me and many other players at the time, he was just a cool card to have. I'd jam him into Warrior decks or any other deck where I knew I'd be up against a Blue-Eyes or three. The Dark Beginnings printing was in fact the very Buster Blader I had for years. I eventually sold him to a vendor at some local big tournament. I don't recall for how much, but it was an oddly high sum even at the time.. It was the right decision, financially, but I miss that guy.
I did later pick up a copy of the Buster Blader from the Yu-Gi-Oh Anniversary Pack. There were a lot of cool cards in there, and I wish I hadn't sold any of them, really. I can't recall what became of the Buster Blader. I think I traded him to my brother. But he probably ended up on eBay and I probably got much less than I should have for such a rare printing of such an iconic Yu-Gi-Oh monster. But c'est la vie.
There were some other printings of Buster Blader, even at common, that passed through my possession at one point or another. But none of them was as special as that super rare holographic one from Dark Beginnings.
I had almost forgotten all about Buster Blader after all this time. But then I saw this.
Breakers of Shadows brings to us Buster Blader, the Destruction Swordmaster. Is he better than the original? Well, he actually counts as "Buster Blader" when on the field or the Graveyard.
This guy, though, can destroy an opponent's monster and equip it to himself. Once per turn, you can send a monster equipped to him to your Graveyard and destroy all monsters your opponent controls with the same type as that Monster. So not only can he hose Dragons, but any other deck that runs a bunch of creatures with the same type: Beast-Warriors, Spellcasters, Warriors, you name it.
Is this ability competitively viable? I'm honestly not sure. People are trying to build around him, though.
But that's not all. We get ANOTHER Buster Blader card in the same set. This one is a fusion monster, Buster Blader, the Dragon Destroyer Swordsman. Is he better than Buster Blader's famous fusion with Dark Magician, the Dark Paladin?
In this case, you fuse Buster Blader with any Dragon-type Monster. He's a level 8 monster with 2800 ATK and 2500 DEF, but can't attack directly. However, he's a sort of super Buster Blader, gaining 1000 ATK for each Dragon on your opponent's side of the field or in their graveyard.
It gets better. The Dragon Destroyer also moves all Dragon type monsters your opponent has into defense position. Also, when any Dragons are in Defense position, you inflict piercing battle damage. Basically, your opponent's Dragons have to lay down and take a serious beating. This is quite flavorful and makes for a great story to tell your grand-kids about. But it's actually quite a drawback if you're not up against a dedicated Dragon duelist.
However, while the competitive ramifications of these two new cards are limited, they are pretty darn cool. There is a combination with DNA Surgery, which can make all face-up monsters on the field into Dragons. That's a possibility., especially as people play that card already as a sideboard option. You could build a deck around these guys. Sadly, Skilled White Magician - the easiest way to Special Summon Buster Blader from the hand or deck needs the original Buster Blader to function. But the new Destruction Swordmaster can be summoned from the Graveyard using his effect. A very old spell called Emblem of Dragon Destroyer can go get either "Buster Blader" card from the graveyard, too.
Then there's these cute little things, the Destruction Sword monsters. Two of them are even Tuners. So there's actually a lot of support for this "Buster Blader" deck to work. It's actually pretty awesome. This archetype is both nostalgic and pretty synergistic.
If I were to come back and play Yu-Gi-Oh, this is probably the deck I'd play. Just for fun. Glad to see my good friend Buster Blader back in action!
In case you really do want to build a Buster Blader deck, here's a good deck list to start from.
Oath of the Gatewatch is a fascinating set full of playable cards. While it may not have the most exciting selection of commons for play outside of draft tables, there are 7 commons in particular that stand out from the rest. Definitely watch for these commons and be sure to hold onto at least a playset of them.
#7 Dazzling Reflection
It’s pretty obvious why Dazzling Reflection was created. This instant is meant to not only prevent a major hit from a big creature, but it gains you a bunch of life, too. Sure, an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger will still make you exile the top 20 cards of your deck. But you’ll gain 10 life in the process and prevent any damage from the attack. While this probably won’t be much more than a sideboard card, it can even be used on one of your own creatures to gain you some extra life.
One place it could definitely show up is in Modern. It’s the perfect counter to those decks that look to pump up a single Infect creature for a one-turn kill - as long as they don’t play something like Vines of Vastwood to prevent that creature from being targeted. It’s also good to counter the big Eldrazi decks in Modern, buying you an extra turn or two. Whether it will actually be played or not remains to be seen, and that’s why it makes our list.
#6 Seer’s Lantern
As colorless mana rocks go, Seer’s Lantern isn’t a bad one. Being able to Scry 1 for 2 mana and a tap can be especially useful in Commander. It’s not yet clear if we’ll see the Lantern in any Standard Control lists. But a 3-mana colorless mana rock is playable in the right situation, and many pros consider Scry like drawing half of a card. It will definitely get into a good deal of Commander decks, but whether it’s competitively Constructed playable remains to be seen.
#5 Slip Through Space
Slip Through Space foils were quick sellers as soon as the set was released. It’s thought that it could be pretty useful in Modern Infect decks. Making a creature unable to be blocked for a single mana is pretty good, but drawing a card out of it, too, is essential. That one more card you draw could be a pump spell like a Become Immense.
It also is a Devoid spell, meaning protection from colors doesn’t affect it. Why does this matter? Say you play Apostle’s Blessing and need to give your creature protection from blue. You can still target it with Slip Through Space. This is probably going to be pretty good in Pauper, too, the extremely popular all-common format on Magic Online that is picking up steam in paper recently. The question is if the card draw is worth playing it over Artful Dodge (which can be flashed back for only one Blue) or Distortion Strike (which has Rebound and can be used on your next turn, as well). But it’s fine in Modern Infect.
Can-trips are usually pretty good cards. This looks like a winner.
#4 Natural State
Natural State is very similar to Nature’s Claim, a popular artifact & enchantment removal spell in Modern, and even Legacy and Vintage. The major drawback to Nature’s Claim is that you have to give that destroyed artifact or enchantment’s controller 4 life. Natural State doesn’t have that drawback, but it can only destroy artifacts and enchantments with converted mana cost 3 or less. Fortunately, most of the targets in Modern, Legacy, and Vintage are 3 or less. In many matchups, this card is actually slightly better. Foils hit $3 very quickly, so obviously there’s real demand already. WIth Splinter Twin gone in Modern, the only thing that this doesn’t hit is the 4-mana Leylines (specifically Leyline of Punishment, Leyline of Sanctity, and Leyline of the Void.) This should be one of the best commons from the set and foils of it will always make your pack money back.
#3 Crumbling Vestige
While not the most exciting land on the surface, Crumbling Vestige is probably the only land in Magic that comes into play tapped, and yet still gives you a mana. Not only that, the mana can be of any color. Sure it’s no Tendo Ice Bridge or Vivid Land, which allow you to spend that mana whenever you decide to get it. But at common, this is pretty powerful. It’s a colorless mana source that helps you color fix at any point in the game. You can’t ask much more from a common land.
Or can you?
#2 Holdout Settlement
If this land reminds you of Springleaf Drum, that’s because it does exactly the same thing! However, it also taps for colorless mana and only costs you a land-drop. Holdout Settlement is probably the biggest winner as far as Pauper in this set. How much better is it than Springleaf Drum? First of all, you don’t have to pay a mana to cast it. Then it also provides you with a colorless mana, which could, yes, be used to cast the Drum.
Will this replace Springleaf Drum in Modern Affinity? It’s pretty doubtful. That’s mostly because having the one-mana artifact on the board is best in that deck for a variety of reasons. But there are Pauper decks that could probably use a copy or two in their mana bases. Where this card will definitely see a lot of play in is Commander. With the new mana rules, there are corner cases where being able to get a mana of any color outside of your Commander’s colors will actually matter. It’s also yet another useful land for colorless Commander decks such as those led by Oath of the Gatewatch’s Kozilek, the Great Distortion.
Yes, Wastes is a Basic Land, but it is the most important common card in the set, hands down. This makes colorless Commander decks a lot more playable, and being able to fetch it up with anything that seeks out basic land makes it playable in pretty much every format. It remains to be seen if Wastes and colorless casting requirements will be included in future sets. If that turns out to be the case, which is very likely, then Wastes will be the one card that everyone will want to hoard. Why make such a major change to the rules of mana unless they planned to use it going forward?
Any other commons you’re excited about in the set that we haven’t covered? Let us know!
The best way to get truly free Magic cards is to be given a collection out of someone’s attic or basement. I’ve had it happen myself. But, there is actually a proactive way to get Magic cards for free. - mostly free, that is. It does require some minimal amount of effort.
The most direct way to essentially pay nothing for Magic cards is to find preconstructed decks with individual cards that add up to more than the suggested retail price of the deck. The most obvious example in recent memory of this is the Magic Origins Clash Pack. Touted as perhaps one of the best values that Wizards has ever produced on a mass-market product, it contains 4 cards that see play in the growing (and eternal) Modern format. They are Windswept Heath (the popular “fetch” land), Collected Company (the lynch-pin of a popular and competitive deck), Dromoka’s Command (a very useful sideboard card), and Siege Rhino (once a staple creature in Standard with obscure play in Modern).
Back at this deck's release, if you combined the retail price of those 4 cards, you get a number close to $25, or the price you can commonly find the deck for online and at local stores. Were you to list them on eBay or TCGPlayer, even after fees and shipping, you’d pretty much have a free deck, give or take a few dollars.
So, back in say January 2016, what would you be left with?
Cards to Sell
These prices mentioned are the lowest retail price minus 15% for fees and shipping, as of late-January 2016.
Windswept Heath - $10.25
Collected Company - $7.25
Dromoka’s Command - $2.00
Siege Rhino - $1.50
Total - $23.50
At the time when I first wrote this article, I said that the prices would likely creep up over time. How has that turned out?
Prices as of July 2019:
Windswept Heath - $12.75
Collected Company - $12.75
Dromoka's Command ($1.00) and Siege Rhino ($0.50) aren't worth even selling as singles any longer.
However, the deck in July 2019 costs at least $36 retail. It's no longer exactly free. Still, let's see what's happened with the rest of the deck.
Left over (low retail price, July 2019):
Avatar of the Resolute $2
Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit $0.75
Sandsteppe Citadel (foil promo) $0.75
Valorous Stance (foil promo) $0.50
Honored Hierarch (foil promo) $0.25
Abzan Ascendancy $0.25
And a bunch of bulk rares, uncommons, and commons
Roughly you’re left with $5 of leftovers. Back in the day, they cost you less than $3. Now, had you bought the deck at $25 (or somehow still acquire it for that price), they are, in fact, completely free. Plus, these leftovers are far from being the worst cards.
Avatar of the Resolute is played in Mono-Green Modern decks. Valorous Stance is a pretty useful card, although it really has only seen play in Standard. Sandsteppe Citadel is mostly used in Abzan (White/Black/Green) Commander decks, but this foil is definitely sought after. Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit is a major combo piece in Modern Collected Company decks, and the only reason her price is so low is her supply is so high. Abzan Ascendancy is a bulk rare but one that some people want.
Wait on it.
Unsurprisingly, Windswept Heath has regained value over time as soon as new copies aren’t hitting the market. Collected Company once again reached $15 as it once did. Unfortunately, Dromoka’s Command dropped to $1 and Siege Rhino has mostly faded from sight. You would think Anafenza, Kin Tree Spirit isn’t going to remain $0.50 forever. But, it hasn't increased yet.
Sure, this deck was a much better quick-flip when it first released than it is three years on. Of course, if you held the deck all this time, you are, in fact, still ahead. But this example goes to show that it is possible to play Magic for essentially nothing. All you have to do is identify the cards that will retain their value and perhaps even gain in price in the future. While it may seem a bit boring on the surface, having guaranteed value in your collection means that if you ever need to sell your cards, you know you have put your money in the right place.
There are other decks out there with similar returns on investment. We’ll be covering them more in the future as we continue this “How to Get (Mostly) Free Magic Cards” series.
The Twisted Reality Intro Pack for Oath of the Gatewatch features Deepfathom Skulker as the cover card, leading a mono-Blue Eldrazi deck. This deck is the perfect introduction to the new colorless casting cost requirements. As its "boss" creature, the Skulker can make one of your creatures unable to be blocked for only 3 generic mana and 1 colorless. What is that diamond symbol mean exactly? Read on to find out.
Also in the deck is the very useful creature, Endless One, who has an X casting cost. The more mana that you pump into him, the bigger he gets, meaning he only gets better as the game goes along.
Let's take a look at the deck list and see how effective this intro pack's game plan really is.
1 Endless One
1 Prophet of Distortion
2 Salvage Drone
3 Blinding Drone
3 Mist Intruder
1 Tide Drifter
3 Cultivator Drone
2 Eldrazi Skyspawner
1 Ruination Guide
2 Gravity Negator
2 Murk Strider
1 Thought Harvester
2 Kozilek's Channeler
2 Walker of the Wastes
1 Deepfathom Skulker
1 Kozilek's Pathfinder
1 Bane of Bala Ged
2 Spatial Contortion
1 Titan's Presence
1 Adverse Conditions
1 Scour from Existence
1 Blighted Cataract
1 Evolving Wilds
Having 10 copies of what is Magic's 6th basic land is really where most of the value is in the deck. Wastes is a colorless basic land that allows you to cast and use the abilities of creatures that require purely colorless mana. That is what the diamond symbol means: pure colorless mana.
This is the major rule change that came with Oath of the Gatewatch: generic mana and colorless mana are no longer the same thing. You can still use any color mana to pay for generic costs (those without a diamond). But Wastes and other colorless mana producers are the only way to pay for these "diamond" costs.
This deck runs 29 creatures and none is better suited to this deck than Walker of the Wastes. Since you have 10 in the deck, this 5 mana trampling Eldrazi can become an extremely powerful threat in the late game. With other big threats like Bane of Bala Ged and the Deepfathom Skulker, not only can you hit for major damage, but draw cards in the process.
The creatures range from the one mana Prophet of Distortion (who can draw you a card for 3 and a colorless) up to Kozilek's Pathfinder (a 5/5 that has an ability to prevent a creature from blocking it that turn.) In between, the creatures have various useful abilities, most of which require the colorless mana from Wastes and other sources such as Eldrazi Scion tokens and Kozilek's Channeler
There are very few non-creature spells in the deck. Two copies of Spatial Contortion double as a pump spell for your larger creature and a removal spell for your opponent's smaller creatures. Titan's Presence is an excellent removal spell in this deck since every one of your creatures is either colorless or has Devoid (which makes it colorless.) Adverse Conditions stops two of your opponent's creatures for a turn, giving you a chance for a final strike. Scour from Existence is 7 mana, but it can exile any permanent, which is quite useful.
This deck is a pretty good start for an Eldrazi ramp deck. There are a couple of directions you could go with it. You could focus on staying Mono-Blue, or add in Green and/or Black to diversify what you can play in the deck.
The most obvious potential additions to the deck would be Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Kozilek, the Great Distortion. Kozilek is particularly good in this deck, since the colorless mana abounds in this deck. The new Kozilek refills your hand, so timing is critical when you play him. Having menace (making it unable to be blocked by only one creature) is obviously good at making him a top-end threat. Additionally, being able to counter spells by discarding cards with converted mana cost X helps make the deck a lot more resilient.
You can also max out with four copies of Endless One to make the deck more aggressive. By adding black you can use Wasteland Strangler to deal with opponent's creatures, further improving your board presence.
Reality Smasher is an upgrade over Walker of the Wastes. While it doesn't gain power from Wastes, it has Trample and Haste. It's also very tricky to remove due to the fact your opponent must discard a card to resolve a spell that targets it.
But the best card of all for this deck is Matter Reshaper. It's only 3 mana (2C) and when it dies, you reveal the top card of your library. If it's a permanent with a converted mana cost of 3 or less (including lands) you put it directly onto the battlefield. It could even be another Matter Reshaper. If not, you still add that card to your hand. A creature that always replaces itself with another card is super strong!
Thought-Knot Seer is another creature you could consider. It allows you to steal the best nonland card from your opponent's hand and exiles it. Once the Seer leaves the battlefield, target opponent gets to draw a card. Notably, in multiplayer games, you can choose a different opponent from the one you originally targeted. In any case, it's a strong card if you want to go more of a control route with the deck.
Overall, this is one of the better Intro Packs released in recent memory. The 10 Wastes alone account for a good chunk of the deck's value, not to mention you get the two packs of Oath of the Gatewatch along with it. Of all the Oath of the Gatewatch Intro Packs, this would be my pick of the five.
When Magic the Gathering first began its competitive Modern format tournaments, Splinter Twin decks were one of the top decks in the format. They have continued to be a mainstay in the format since then, calling for repeated cries for banning. But by January 2016, Twin decks now only made about 10 percent of the metagame. So of course Wizards of the Coast decided that it was time to ban Splinter Twin in Modern once and for all.
I have no love for Splinter Twin. The combo with Deceiver Exarch to produce infinite tokens for the kill pushed me out of playing Standard until its eventual rotation from the format. It also kept me from exploring modern in the early days of the format. But even I have to admit that Modern has gained a great many answers to kill the combo either before or as it's about to happen. Urza Tron and Affinity have become better decks overall.
The other banning was Summer Bloom, an older card that was reprinted in Ninth Edition. Its interaction with Amulet of Vigor made the Amulet Bloom deck a big winner recently. Really it's Primeval Titan that makes the deck work. It was banned in Modern for a time by the way. The Titan returning is what made the deck competitive in the first place. But Wizards decided to just kill one half of the deck’s namesake. This banning I was more on the fence about, but the deck is a lot harder to stop than Splinter Twin.
I realize that it seems stupid to ban a card like Splinter Twin that was just reprinted in Modern Masters 2015. At this point, twin decks are more of a nuisance than an oppressive force in the format. This is good news though for Chord of Calling type decks that focus on using a similar combo with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. The combo is more fragile because of being based off of a 2 toughness creature rather than an enchantment and a 4 toughness creature in the Exarch.
What Wizards is really doing is getting rid of two nuisances. Summer Bloom at this point was an enabler for a deck that just had been running all over the format as of late and probably well deserved being stopped in its tracks. It also doesn't hurt my feelings to see my least favorite Modern legal card bounced from the playing field. What this does is help some lower tier decks that may have had a bad matchup against Splinter Twin and Amulet Bloom more of a chance.
The other effect is the decent sized minority that stayed out of Modern because they remember Splinter Twin bouncing them out of tournaments again and again. Modern is a big money machine for Wizards right now and they want to get all the players into it that they can. They just waited too long to ban Twin. But you'll never see me mad about it.
By Shawn Leonardo, CommanDollar
As of recently, and according to Wizards Play Network policy, *no* proxies are allowed at WPN-sanctioned venues, regardless of whether the event is sanctioned or not. That means:
• Magic events (sanctioned and unsanctioned) can only allow genuine Magic: The Gathering cards.
• Proxy cards are substitute cards created solely by judges in sanctioned tournaments pursuant to the official tournament rules. These substitutes are allowed when authorized game cards become unplayable during a sanctioned tournament because of damage or excessive wear.
• Counterfeit cards are copies or reproductions of actual Wizards trading cards, whether or not they are identified as non-genuine. The creation and distribution of counterfeits violate United States and international copyright laws and negatively affects the integrity of Wizards’ trading card games. Counterfeits are strictly prohibited, even for personal, non-commercial use.
While this will affect mainly Vintage and Legacy players, EDH/Commander players may also feel the heat. As an eternal format, giving players access to all cards that have been printed (besides those cards on the ban list) is part of the joy and appeal. Is this update on policy good, bad, or somewhere in the middle?
Why it’s bad for Wizards of the Coast
Part of the appeal of playing Magic: the Gathering is the wide spread of players, formats, and cards you can utilize. As you go further back into MtG cardboard history, it becomes increasingly more difficult to obtain cards due to rarity, price, collections, and other means. That means new players will likely not have access to these rare and often powerful cards. Most stores have accepted this, especially for Legacy and Vintage, allowing a certain number of cards to be proxied to balance the scales. Without the ability to use proxies, Legacy and Vintage tournaments may disappear altogether, becoming a fossil of ancient times, and slashing the value of those cards due to lack of use.
Why it’s bad for the Players
As said before, having access to cards like dual lands can severely put you behind in certain formats; proxies are needed just to keep up with the pace. Now, in order to play, you need to truly commit-either own copies of the cards you need, borrow them from a friend, or even rent them, rather than quickly searching to find a decent image and print/sleeve them.
Why it’s good for Wizards of the Coast
Perhaps WotC is trying to kill its older formats; it’s like that strange old man that comes around stroking his beard, saying “Hmm…” and then moving on to scrutinize someone else-rarely do we know what goes on and is discussed behind closed doors. While something tells me they aren’t too worried about the secondary/third markets on their product, the overall concern may be a longer-term problem-the Reserved List (as if there wasn’t enough controversy here already). For example, all the dual lands are on the list for a reason-they are extremely powerful to the point where the game can warp around them. Every card on the list was likely put there because it as viewed as a “mistake” of sorts, being too powerful for the set or Magic overall, in an attempt to dramatically slow Power Creep, as making cards of that sort would bring ruin to the game at an unmanageable pace.
Why it’s good for the Players
A few months ago, we published an article on how using proxies is harmful to both the player and the game. It garnished a lot of negative responses, with the words “elitist” and “classist” being used as often as bullets in a minigun. The proxy debate walks quite a fine line there; however, the answer does come down to money.
Magic: the Gathering is a pay-to-play game, and there is little substance to have any illusions about it. With WotC now pumping out more sets per year than before, and the constant rotation of Standard, their main pull where most new players begin at, it does require taking money out of your pocket and putting it in theirs. Some people do get lucky; having a friend who just gives/sells you their cards, finding a collection at a garage sale, or some other means. Others, mainly new players or those who wish to enter a different format, are often left in the dust.
How is this good for the players? I often think back to my college days, where in my playgroup we had one friend who would have to borrow a deck from someone. Not because he didn’t have the means to build a deck-he had been collecting since elementary school-but because his one and only “deck” was entirely proxied Riku of Two Reflections combo deck priced in the thousands.
Unanimously, we told him he couldn’t play that deck with us; every single other player had decks without a single proxy in it, and it wasn’t fair in the slightest. This came when I was new to EDH/Commander as a format, where building a deck was hard, took time and investing in buying/trading/pulling good from packs. It would have been far simpler for me to proxy a $1000+ deck and beat every other player time after time-but I didn’t. I valued what little I had, and slowly worked my way towards the decks I have today(which still often get taken apart and rebuilt on some regular basis). The difference is in work, and fairness. It takes time and work in order to build a deck to the means you want it; it may take weeks, months or years and sometimes even money to “finish” a deck, while printing a deck out takes a few minutes and whatever pittance the printer asks. Yes, it takes time to earn something powerful and useful-which is the entire purpose of something powerful and useful.
Why do we have a stake in this?
As a blog all about the community, and playing/having fun on a budget, why should we not wholeheartedly support players proxying cards, if not whole decks in order to save money? The short answer is that we in our own way support when Wizards is doing a good job; the long answer is that we support the players’ growth.
If the clear-cut banning of proxy cards has you upset because of limitations it has placed on you, my response is clear: overcome those limitations, or don’t. It may take time, it may take money, it may be frustrating-but if it’s worth it to you, then it will be worth it to you. The true value of this game is in the interaction between people and cards, however it is all about what you want. For those who still wish to play with proxies, there is honestly nothing stopping you from doing so at the most important battleground-the kitchen table. Only glory and stories for future gatherings are at stake there, and the scales can be evenly stacked to everyone’s liking.
If not being able to use a proxy card because it’s worth $400 (and you would never pay/trade/come into luck with that) causes you to get upset, think of how someone who would sit across from you, having taken the time or money or trading to get that card would feel when you play a proxy version. All that effort that they had taken to obtain such a rare and valuable piece to their deck was printed out for 10 cents in under a minute. Now, that is something to get upset about, especially when anything is on the line (planeswalker points, qualifiers, prizes, etc.).
As someone who has played Magic on and off(mostly on) for for thirteen years now, I am still nowhere close to making that kind of investment on a card. I likely never will-I’m a budget player at heart, and I’d rather play with a Mountain or an Island than a Volcanic Island, which is easier, more fun for me, and is the whole philosophy of this blog. I also encourage everyone to do the same reason: While WotC may be trying to squeeze every nickel and dime it can out of players, you save TONS of money while still having TONS of fun with what cards you may already have collecting dust in a box or bargain bin. You may think you limit is how much you can spend, or print; I say, your limit is in your creativity, imagination, and willingness to try. So, proxies be damned, and long live the budget options.
Shawn is a casual Magic: the Gathering blogger, and mainly discusses the EDH/Commander format as well as budget solutions. He resides in northern New Jersey, where he plots world domination.
*This article was previously posted on Tumblr by CommanDollar.
by R.A. Rowell; Co-Owner of Intent-sive Nature & the Brand Shamans network
Horrors are among the scariest creatures in Magic, hence their creature type. Is it possible to build a Horror deck that can be fun to play casually and can actually hold its own in a competitive tournament? Here we have a Modern-legal Horror tribal list utilizing one of the most powerful Black creatures in all of Magic.
4 Fume Spitter
4 Despoiler of Souls
4 Gatekeeper of Malakir
3 Creakwood Liege
3 Phyrexian Obliterator
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
2 Go for the Throat
4 Raven’s Crime
4 Wrench Mind
2 Hero’s Downfall
2 Phyrexian Arena
3 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
The Budget Obliterator
Phyrexian Obliterator is a $30-35 card, but he is the heaviest hitter in the entire deck. Requiring a whopping 4 Black mana is no problem in a mono-Black deck. Not only is this a 5/5 with trample that you can play on turn 4, but every point of damage dealt to the Obliterator requires the player dealing it to sacrifice that many permanents. This includes damage from combat or a source of damage such as Lightning Bolt. Once he hits the board, only something like a Dismember, Go for the Throat, and Hero’s Downfall can deal with it. The latter two aren’t played much in Modern.
If you don’t want to shell out the money for 3 copies of Obliterator, though, there is a Horror you could consider. Canker Abomination is a 6/6 for only 4 mana, however, he gets a -1/-1 counter put on him for each creature your opponents control. The upside is that he is both green and black - although you only need black mana to cast him. With the amount of creature removal you have in this deck, it’s rare your opponent will have many creatures to power him down much.
The Rest of the Creature Line-up
Fume Spitter is a useful 1-drop creature that can sacrifice itself to put a -1/-1 counter on a target creature. This is useful for eliminating opponent’s creatures with one or fewer toughness. It’s also a useful way to weaken opponent’s creatures that may otherwise prove to be an issue in combat with your other creatures.
Gatekeeper of Malakir obviously isn’t a Horror, but he’s useful enough to play in this deck. He costs 2 Black mana for a 2/2 but by paying an extra Black mana when casting him, you can force your opponent to sacrifice one of their creatures. You need another early drop that gives you advantage, and this is it.
Despoiler of Souls is a 3/1 for only 2 mana who’s also a Horror. The Despoiler can also come back to the battlefield from the graveyard by removing 2 creatures from your graveyard and paying 2 Black. He can’t block, but you’re going to be on the offensive with this deck, so it doesn’t really matter.
Creakwood Liege is a 4-mana creature that can be paid for with either Green or Black mana. He also boosts your other Green and Black creatures by +1/+1. What makes him particularly good, however, is that during each of your upkeeps, he may make a 1/1 Green and Black Wurm creature token. With a Liege on the board, this token actually gets +2/+2. Also if you have more than one Liege on board, each one gets +4/+4, making them 5/5 creatures.
Gray Merchant of Asphodel is the big finisher. He makes your opponent lose life equal to the Black mana symbols in the casting costs of permanents you control. You also gain that much life. While he costs 5 mana, the swing in life points is definitely worth it with the amount of black mana symbols in the creatures you play in this deck. It’s also why Obliterator is so good - the 4 black mana symbols in his cost alone mean an 8 point life difference. The Gray Merchant also counts his own 2 Black mana symbols in his own casting cost.
In the best case scenario, you play Fume Spitter (without sacrificing it) on turn one, a Despoiler of Souls on turn two, a Gravekeeper of Malakir on turn three, a Creakwood Liege or Phyrexian Obliterator on turn four, and a Gray Merchant of Asphodel on turn 5. That’s 10 or 11 life your opponent will lose and you will gain. The game is essentially over at that point. Just having a Liege or Obliterator on board is enough to make the Gray Merchant worth playing.
If you don’t have the creatures to play, Raven’s Crime and Wrench Mind are discard spells that will limit your opponent’s options. Raven’s Crime has the distinction of being able to be played from the graveyard for a single Black mana and discarding a land. It makes drawing lands in the late game more palatable. If you have the money to replace them, Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek are much more consistent discard options. You really only need 1 or 2 copies of Raven’s Crime for the Retrace ability to be useful.
Dismember, Go for the Throat, and Hero’s Downfall give you multiple ways to deal with creatures. Hero’s Downfall can even hit planeswalkers. Phyrexian Arena costs you 1 life each turn, but also draws you an extra card. There are two copies in the deck, so there will be games in which you’ll be able to play both. Gray Merchant’s lifegain should easily make up for the life loss and the extra cards are quite helpful in making sure you can stay ahead of your opponent.
The mana base is quite simple - 3 copies of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx to allow you to take advantage of all of those black mana symbols and turn them into extra mana, and 19 Swamps. If you don’t care about the deck being Modern-legal, Cabal Coffers is a pricier and more efficient way to produce Black mana. Coffers only cares about how many Swamps you control, but there isn’t a Modern-legal printing of it, and it is considerably more expensive.
You may also consider swapping one or two swamps for Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. This makes your non-Swamps into Swamps - as well as making everyone else’s lands into Swamps, so you do want to keep this in mind.
If you do decide to go the Urborg route, you may consider swapping a couple of Raven’s Crimes and Wrench Minds for Funeral Charm. It is a one-mana Black instant that is legal in Modern due to being included as a Timeshifted card in Time Spiral. Not only does it let you force an opponent to discard a card at instant speed, it also has two other options: give a creature +2/-1 until end of turn or give a creature swampwalk. Both of those other abilities are relevant in this deck.
Is this deck good enough to fare well at a competitive Modern tournament? With Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek it could well be. Liliana of the Veil is probably better than Gatekeeper of Malakir, too, but she’s extremely pricey. You don’t see Creakwood Liege very often and Despoiler of Souls is certainly no Dark Confidant, but for a Horror tribal deck, this is as good as it gets.
Any suggestions on how you might improve this deck? Any other kind of deck you’d like us to build? Let us know in the comments!
by Shawn Leonardo, CommanDollar
Millstone Revised artwork by Kaja Foglio
The game of Magic is incredibly diverse-from the amount of zones cards can be placed in, to the types of cards, and the strategies that place cards from one zone to another. One of those strategies is “milling”-putting cards directly from your opponent’s deck into their graveyard. The name comes from that of the card Millstone, one of the first cards with the ability. With around 200 cards that could aid you in winning the game, this alternate win condition has the support needed to take the gold.
This strategy is difficult to utilize in its entirety, however the results can alter the game tremendously. Through the denial of resources and the unique specific strategy, mill is a viable method. However, beware-its power is great, and not the most well received!
Glimpse the Unthinkable artwork by Brandon Kitkouski
The Denial of Resources
Mill typically appears in the colors blue and black (though it does make an appearance with green!)-control, denial and having the majority of interaction with graveyards. Blue is best known for its ability to counter cards coming into play. Milling, therefore, could be seen as a form of “advanced countering”-stopping a spell before it’s even cast, by denying the card itself from its owner’s hand. While both blue and black seem to prefer responding to threats, in this special case there is already an advanced plan on how to handle them.
Hedron Crab artwork by Jesper Ejsing
The Advanced Strategy
In most formats, everyone starts at 20 life; Tiny Leaders is 25, Pauper Commander is 30, and EDH/Commander is 40. When you primarily play mill, however, the numbers skyrocket. 20 becomes 60, 25 becomes 49, and 30/40 become 99-the amount of cards in your opponent’s library. Mill works best en masse-cards like Archive Trap, Consuming Aberration, Increasing Confusion, and Mind Grind are amazing. While those big spells are hitting, smaller mill cards that chip away pieces such as Dreamborn Muse, Grindclock, Curse of the Bloody Tome, and Memory Erosion will quickly make an opponent’s graveyard taller than their deck.
Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker artwork by Chase Stone
The Uphill Battle
Combat becomes tricky, as some creatures need to deal combat damage in order to deal the real damage you want. Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker, for example, has a devastating mill ability-if it connects with your opponent’s life. Granted, blue and black have plenty of evasion built into the colors, yet putting those in may end up convoluting the strategy. Cards like Elixir of Immortality or any of the three Eldrazi Titans (Ulamog, Emrakul, and Kozilek) can completely reset the alternate life total. These factors definitely play a part in the lower visibility of mill as a strategy compared to others.
Increasing Confusion artwork by Dan Scott
Mill is absolutely an advanced strategy-more so in a multiplayer format. Similar to Poison/Infect, once the overall plan is realized, players take preventative measures to ensure they don’t fall victim, simultaneously painting a target on the would-be miller’s head. If someone does get milled out, chances are they will be the next player to go.
From the opposite side of the table, being a player targeted for a slow, mill-ful death is agonizing and typically demoralizing for the amount of fun you can have in the game (unless your deck revolves around having stuff in the graveyard-then you’re about to have a blast!). The low amount of interaction that can occur when a mill player gets what they need early enough to prevent someone else from playing also tends to leave opponents feeling unsatisfied.
Keeing Stone artwork by Jung Park
The Last Card
Mill requires patience, and a mutual understanding by the rest of the players that, while an effective strategy, may not be as enjoyable for the opponents. As a strategy, it’s not the most competitive-combat in mill is lackluster at best, and life totals for the strategy can be triple of what they normally are. Multiple players also increase the amount of difficulty several times over. Relying on it as the only plan of attack can and will get you killed off, which requires diluting the amount of mill played in order to survive long enough to move the millstone. Both difficult and dangerous, mill is an option only for those up to the task. It’s certainly not for those new to the game-to play or play against!-so play with caution when it comes to mill, commanders.
This was originally posted on Tumblr by CommanDollar
Shawn Leonardo is a casual Magic: the Gathering blogger, and mainly discusses the EDH/Commander format as well as budget solutions. He resides in northern New Jersey, where he plots world domination.
by Shawn Leonardo, CommanDollar
Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon Artwork by Chippy
EDH/Commander is well known for it’s lengthy multiplayer games, lasting hours due to large deck size, eternal turns, and large amount of starting life total. However, poison and Infect, a mechanic primarily in the reduced the life total necessary from 40 (or 20) down to 10, cutting the amount of damage needed to be done dramatically. The mechanic Proliferate in Scars of Mirrodin block was also a large contributor, yet the source is the poison.
The rules committee has not changed that; in EDH/Commander, it is still 10 poison counters to lose the game.
Blightsteel Colossus Artwork by Christ Rahn
The big question is: why hasn’t this changed? After asking the community, it seems that it’s split. With cards like Blightsteel Colossus, which can be placed in any deck and is a one-shot kill, it’s difficult to grasp why the total for poison counters hasn’t been raised to half the life total.
The answer may be in the game itself, however. The ways to lose in a game of EDH are as such: being at 0 life, being unable to draw a card from your deck, having 10 poison counters, and having 21 commander damage from a single commander in the game. The varying ways to achieve victory are part of the diversity of the game, and the only reason Infect is played. If Infect was raised to 20 (half the starting life total, which may be the intent of the mechanic’s design), it would be only 1 damage away from being commander damage. That would turn some players away from using Infect, and taking away from the diversity of the format.
Glistening Oil Artwork by Steven Belledin
Another aspect to consider is the multiplayer foundation of EDH/Commander. When a player starts using infect in a four-player game, the other three can clearly see the threat potential, and typically treat it much as we treat an infection: by cleaning it out. There may be one or even two players who get knocked out via Infect in the game, through a single-shot creature, Triumph of the Hordes or another means, but that’s perfectly alright-the game goes quicker and the other players now know better than to trust the deck when that mana is open.
It's clear that the Rules Committee might never up the amount of poison counters needed to lose in EDH/Commander. It diversifies the game, allows other cards to be played and strategies to be used, and gives players the chance to learn and experience a new strategy in a very large format. Long live the 10; may it compleat you and your game.
Shawn Leonardo is a casual Magic: the Gathering blogger, and mainly discusses the EDH/Commander format as well as budget solutions. He resides in northern New Jersey, where he plots world domination.
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