Last week I participated in an epic game of Commander, and it’s inspired of crisis of conscience in my playgroup. Here’s how.
To begin, you should probably know the composition of the table. I was playing my Tasigur, the Golden Fang deck. It’s vaguely promo’d out, because I love the deck, but it’s also a stylistic outlier in my arsenal: it’s an answers deck. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a control deck, but it contains a ton of versatile disruption, including some confluences, some charms, and some commands. The goal was to build a deck that played out as a bit of a sellsword, letting my opponents choose what strategy or elements they want me to be pointing at more threatening players. When building, I had perhaps given insufficient attention to the possibility that I would be the most threatening player. That, combined with the power of delve, meant I was generally getting back what I wanted to get back.
This guy!

This guy!

Rob (friend of the blog and regular commenter) was running his Thraximundar deck, a relatively high powered deck that uses its commander as strategy Z. It’s powerful, but it’s not reliant on Thrax to kill you, basically. Micah (another friend of the blog and frontman of God Mode) was trying out a Cromat deck he had built to give him a five-color means of leveraging the interaction between Ob Nixilis, the Fallen and Oblivion Sower.
Side note: ever since I stopped reading the mothership due to its incomprehensible redesign, I have somewhat lost the thread of the Magic plot-line. Is it ever well explained who Ob Nixilis is, how he lost his spark, and how he got it back again? Is the terrible Magic 2015 video game really cannon on this?
Finally, there was Alex (Magic luminary and editor of Gathering Magic) rocking his Grenzo, Dungeon Warden deck. Alex was leveraging the power of “graveyard order matters” cards, many of which would see a lot more play were it not endlessly annoying to have to make sure your graveyard stays ordered. Still, if you have the patience for it, cards like Krovikan Horror do offer a powerful payoff.
From the start, it seemed like we were all operating on different axes. Micah was ramping, Rob was copying and raising Burnished Hart and Pilgrim’s Eye to keep up, while Alex was dropping terrifyingly powerful cards like Ashnod’s Altar. Never underestimate Ashnod’s Altar. Amidst it all, I played Tasigur, the Golden Fang (off a Thought Scour, an interaction that’s just as good in Commander as it is in Legacy. The first couple of Tasigur activations they gave me Thought Scour back, before Rob started going all in on the graveyard removal.

Not just a great commander, but also a solid roleplayer in Alesha, Who Smiles at Death.

Rob is the guy who taught me to appreciate the value of graveyard removal.
It didn’t really matter, though. Sure, it was a setback, but Tasigur’s delve ability had gotten me to build what is for me a rare thing: a graveyard deck where the focus wasn’t on repeated recursion. I thought I was doing a good job of it, too, occasionally grabbing things with Tasigur or Eternal Witness, without particularly needing any specific piece, a strategy that stopped suddenly when I first ran out Mystic Confluence.
There may be few phrases in Magic more soothing to the ears of the sayer than, “counter that, draw a card, return Eternal Witness to my hand.” The glee that such a play inspires in its actor is surely matched by the horror with which your opponents will respond to it. When I started that loop, I had enough mana to replay my Eternal Witness the next turn while holding up Confluence or Tasigur’s grind effect. It drew a lot of attention, although much of it was mitigated when my Eternal Witness got exiled and I started having to use Skullwinder instead. In many ways that card feels superior to Eternal Witness, for the effect is still asymmetrical in multiplayer games of Commander, in a way that both lets you play politics, and lets you set up an opponent for a slam dunk on another player.
I mean, I don’t need to win to have fun at Commander, but I at least like to have some control over who makes it to the showdown. Lately, it has not been me, likely due to the “gank the mage” strategy, which is fair. Whether I like it or not, I am an intimidating presence when playing against people who know me well.
A version of Micah's true Commander, basically.

A version of Micah’s true Commander, basically.

I didn’t make it to this showdown, though. I was on the right track, having managed to keep Rob’s shields down for long enough for a combined assault to take him out, but at that point my library was fewer than ten cards, so I was playing a little looser than I would if I were focused on winning the game. Then I drew my card for the turn, and it was Deadbridge Chant. I probably would have cast it no matter what, for the style points, but I had a definite reason to now: in my hand was Bow of Nylea and I had the mana at that point to do all the things.
And that’s how I managed to mill out my own library, and subsequently exile most of it, and still play four more turns in the game. I was really looking forward to more than four turns of that, but Micah snagged my Bow with an off-theme Utter End. I shifted my aggro to Alex at that point, Micah having too strong a board presence for me to puncture with the few cards I still had at my disposal, but that plan got blown up by an overloaded Cyclonic Rift, again from Micah. So that’s when I decided to help Alex win.
Alex’s inevitable victory came via looping Gray Merchant of Asphodel with Soldevi Digger, using Grenzo, Dungeon Warden to bring it back into play. Micah took a good shot to try to take him out, casting Oblivion Sower targeting me, which would have netted him at least 20 lands, but I had been holding up Blighted Cataract, and I killed myself in response to the cast trigger. Apparently his plan (and it was a good one) was to sow out enough lands to cast Ob Nixilis, the Fallen and then bounce Sower with Erratic Portal and get the rest for a large amount of damage, but I was salty at the timing of his Cyclonic Rift, so I managed to get a weird sort of two-for-one: I struck a blow for my self esteem while simultaneously going out with dignity.
epic gamestate

My exile pile was about 70 cards, my graveyard about 10, and there were like 20 cards in play or in my hand. The area Alex is pointing to is where my library should be.

In the wake of this game, which took at least three and a half hours, we started musing on whether or not we were running too much disruption. I don’t think it’s a representative sample, given my Tasigur deck, but I do see the point in general. Without combo finishers, Commander becomes a card advantage grind. I like that, so I tend to avoid combo kills. But combo finishers force you to run interaction or die. I think the solution might be to stay off combo kills, but start running more Baneslayers. The problem with that, though, is that Baneslayers tend to be net-negative card advantage. The card advantage decks can deal with Baneslayers.
So it’s a conundrum. But that game, even for its swollen runtime, felt sufficiently epic. Even if I don’t get to play it all that often, I’m glad that my Tasigur, the Golden Fang deck held up to a proper multiplayer testing.
Jess Stirba is all out of spoons.

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