If you’re reading my column, you probably like the Commander format. So do I! And in the last few years, it’s been clear that Wizards loves Commander too.


I get it, though. If ever there’s a format that’s friendly to the inexperienced or the casual amongst us, it’s Commander. The singleton nature of the format allows for people with less developed collections to play without the significant cost outlay associated with formats like Modern or Legacy, and the social nature of the game tends to make metas move a lot more lethargically, letting your cards stay relevant for longer.


Dredge isn’t dead dead, but it’s hard to call a deck “entry level” when it requires a playset of this lucky lady to be remotely competitive.

There is little more frustrating than buying into a competitive format and then finding the next set drops some cards that wipe out the viability of your deck. Dredge used to be the entry Legacy deck, and then they printed Deathrite Shaman and Scavenging Ooze and the thing is practically unplayable. Commander won’t do that to you.


Although it was a little frustrating that this was made the GP promo so soon after Prime Time got banned.

And unlike the Modern Event Deck, buying a preconstructed Commander deck gives you more options. Past Commander products have included both three-color and two-color generals, and each deck also had at least two different ways to develop it once you start making the silly things your own.


I have good news: Commander 2014 is a smashing success on these fronts. While I am still a bit skeptical of the wisdom of letting planeswalkers helm Commander decks, I’ve played the decks now and let me tell you, it’s a ton of fun. One of the things I like the most about running a planeswalker as your commander is that it forces you to win for real. Now you can’t shortcut a vibrant game state by turning your general sideways for one or two cheap hits; you actually have to break down your opponents’ defenses and kill them the old fashioned way. I love this, since I think general damage is one of the worst ways to win a game, and it’s not uncommon to get yourself into a position where it’s the only way out.


Just like the Republicans want for our society! Topical!

I have a particular animosity towards generals like Rafiq, for whom the voltron plan is plan A, and there is no plan B.

It’s always an unpleasant play experience when the “right play” is a black hole of fun.


Anyway, these decks are pretty cool. I played a big free-for-all game with the unmodified versions, and for the most part a good time was had… with one or two major exceptions.


A flood of swampwater is basically the worst.

I was playing with my lovely lady, Dana, and friends Clayton, Leslie, and Jesse. I was running white, Dana was on blue, Leslie was on black, Clayton was on red, and Jesse was on green. We shuffled up the decks, all nicely sleeved up in appropriately colored sets of Dragon Shields, and we began.


My opening hand was super slow, but I kept it because it had Gift of Estates in it. I figured the game wouldn’t start all too suddenly, and the ability to tutor out three lands seemed pretty good. Most of us lead off slowly, but Leslie stunned us all by playing Sol Ring into Jet Medallion on turn one, followed by a turn two Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath. From that point in the game on, Leslie didn’t drop below 40 life, until facing down my Serra Avatar in the end game.


I would never put this into a deck on my own, because it feels a little too much like the one-shot-robot for my tastes, but I definitely get why it’s been such a casual staple. It’s a fun card.

Clayton followed Leslie with a turn three Daretti, Scrap Savant, and then Jesse landed his Freyalise, Llanowar’s Fury on turn four. Turn five brought both my Nahiri, Lithomancer, and Dana’s Teferi, Temporal Archmage to the party, and that put us in the neat position of having each one of the planeswalkers on the battlefield. I thought this would be a rare occurrence, but as the turns continued on with all these powerful permanents still gracing the field, I realized they had more legs than I had given them credit for having.


Teferi, Temporal Archmage, was a particular problem. The first time he hit the board, Dana spent five turns using his minus ability, just using him as a reliable source of ramp so that she could keep casting spells. This put her in the position of the control, first using her Phyrexian Devourer to handle the scary Pestilence Demon, and then using Ixidron to blank out Jesse’s army of elves. This kept Leslie and Jesse on the back foot, but Clayton was quietly consolidating his board position off the super-loot from Daretti. When he minused Daretti, sacrificing a Myr Sire to bring back Spine of Ish Sah, and then followed up with a Hoard-Smelter Dragon, we knew we were in trouble.


This card is invariably one of the best cards in any deck; it’s like Karn Liberated, only with artifact synergies.

Leslie clawed her way back into the game, playing a Pontiff of Blight and then using all her face-down creatures for something other than chump blockers. She extorted a bunch off each subsequent spell, finally dropping a Ravenous Dead. It went for Jesse, after a die roll, and Dana popped in with her Domineering Will and threw the Pontiff of Blight in front of it. Meanwhile, Jesse was building up his board of 4/4 elf druids, thanks to a treble-kicked Joraga Warcaller, and it was only with the intervention of Clayton’s Blasphemous Act that the crazy board got trimmed back down to a reasonable size.


This card is way too good in multiplayer. It’s getting a little boring for me.

We all started to rebuild at that point. For me, it was easy; I cast a Bonehoard and passed the turn after my Twilight Shepherd (that would have brought back my Commander’s Sphere) got Excluded by Dana. Dana also had an easy time of it, since untapping four permanents is an incredibly powerful ability. Leslie was getting flooded by this point, thanks to the black deck’s absurdly high ratio of forty-one lands and seven mana rocks to only fifty-two action spells. She kept Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath on the board, but those 5/5 demons weren’t keeping up with the threat level. It didn’t help that Dana had snap-countered her other piece of action, Dismiss-ing it to keep the pressure on.


Of course, this meant that Dana had burnt out all her interaction and was tapped out, giving Jesse the perfect opportunity to cast Praetor’s Counsel. It backfired, though, when Clayton snapped out a Dualcaster Mage to get full advantage of Jesse’s backbreaking spell, only he got to untap immediately after casting it when Jesse had to pass the turn.


Would this be Legacy playable at two mana?

Clayton had all the mana, about twenty cards in his hand, and Flamekin Village. It turns out being able to add haste to your creatures is pretty spot on. He untapped, replayed Tyrant’s Familiar and Hoard-Smelter Dragon, and proceeded to kill Jesse from about 20 life. Then he passed the turn to me.

Would you believe that haste is a powerful ability?


I didn’t see much of a way of getting out of this situation, but I tried. I cast the aforementioned Serra Avatar, which was about a 21/21, and I even got to remain unmolested for a turn while Clayton threw some fire at Dana and Leslie. It was at this point, though, that Clayton made a fatal mistake. He used Chaos Warp to kill off my Bonehoard, right as he was swinging in at me. The gods of chance smiled on me, though, and I ended up flipping basically the only card that saved me: Sacred Mesa.


I really love this new art. So pretty!

Now I had a stream of cheap flying chumps, and Clayton didn’t seem to have any trample. Even the Tyrant’s Familiar, which is terrifying, couldn’t take out my chump blockers since I just spawned them after he had declared his attack. Clayton tried to burn out my team of fliers with Impact Resonance, and in response I cast Brave the Elements. Hoist by his own petard, Clayton Blasphemous Act-ed away the rest of the board, but my guys were left to survive that wave of fire, so when I drew True Conviction off the top, I had the pressure to play out Celestial Crusader and then finally kill Clayton.

I was surprised at how good this card ended up being. I know it looked pretty underwhelming, but it comes down hard.


From that point on it was just a question of mopping up. Dana did a decent job of keeping my Requiem Angel off the board, which would have been brutal with Sacred Mesa’s sacrificial upkeep cost, but I just drew Emeria, the Sky Ruin off the top of the library and sealed the deal. Even Leslie, who still had about 30-something life left at this point in the endgame, ended up dying to the unceasing flood of Swamps and mana rocks. She was super frustrated by this, but at least she got to do some cool stuff in the early game.


I was impressed by the decks, though. They all need tuning, and these have the usual issue where they end up split between two somewhat counter-synergistic themes, but all in all Wizards has created a really solid project.


So, come this holiday season, if you have a casual player in your life who you think might like Commander, this is a pretty good place to start your shopping. Each one of these decks has its merits, so feel free to tailor your selection to a person’s inchoate color identity or persuasion. For example, Clayton, who is not a red player typically, loved playing with the red, artifact themed deck. And, while I generally eschew equipment in Commander, there was enough in the monowhite deck for me to love that I didn’t really notice how limited the deck felt at times.


I think she’s the weakest, at least outside of a dedicated equipment deck.

One final note. If you’re local to the New York region, you should consider checking out GP New Jersey this upcoming weekend. If you’re a Legacy player, check out Tim’s columns this week to give yourself a fighting edge, but the event is worth checking out for casual and limited players as well. I’ll be there, and I hope to see you there too.


Jess Stirba will be kicking some Karakass this weekend.

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