Monday, August 27, 2012

Read Raging Levine!

Not only do I like writing about Commander, I like reading about it.  (I can only imagine your shock!)

Soon enough, I'll be writing about my favorite sites to read, and adding a 'links' page, but for now, I wanted to share an article with you.

Eric Levine's Conventional Wisdom, over at ChannelFireball.

Go read it.  I'll wait.
Okay, let me give you my thoughts:
1) He knows how to articulate the concept of fun.  This is a format originally designed by judges (Mr. Levine is an L3), people who choose to monitor and moderate competitive play.  As such, their goal was to have a game that was enjoyable, not a game where someone consistently combos off turn 3.  This is important, and a topic that shall be revisited.  This is where the 'social contract' comes in (from
"Commander is designed to promote social games of magic.
It is played in a variety of ways, depending on player preference, but a common vision ties together the global community to help them enjoy a different kind of magic. That vision is predicated on a social contract: a gentleman's agreement which goes beyond these rules to includes a degree of interactivity between players. Players should aim to interact both during the game and before it begins, discussing with other players what they expect/want from the game."
Interaction is the key word.  To me, if the only way you can interact with what's going on is to counter a spell mid-combo, then you're not really interacting.  You're disrupting.  I know it's a grammatical fine point, but what about everyone at the table who doesn't have a counterspell in hand?  They are simply "dying of dysentery" as Mr. Levine puts it.

2) His drawing and descriptions are game states that I've been in, and occasionally I've been the offender.  I might have gone a few steps further and created more of those examples, but yeah, it's a pain to do that kind of work and I'd imagine he was at word count.  Perhaps we'll get more.

3) He's unapologetic about the silliness of Commander tournaments.  I 100% agree--stay the hell away.  If you want a Commander game at a big event, be cautious of even the $5 entry games.  It's not hard for a grinder/combo player to build up $80 in store credit in an hour so he can get another Force of Will.  Instead, if you want a less intense/more enjoyable EDH game, look for a game in progress, watch for a few, and then see who else is watching that game.  Put up a sign, do something that has no tangible reward and you'll weed out most or all of the more cutthroat decks.  At GP Anaheim, I had a great game with other people that I met while standing in line to get Terese Nielsen's autograph on cards.

I started reading the comments section, but then someone brought up Armageddon and I tuned out.

See you again soon!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

FTV: Realms - Rights and Wrongs

I'm back from vacation, feeling good and with a lot to talk about.

I'll expand on this idea in a few days, but for now, suffice it to say that Maui has some really awesome people who play a great game of EDH.

As you may have heard, the full card list for From the Vaults: Realms is up.

And for full referential value, here's my predictions for FTV, from a month ago.

I talked a little about the previously spoiled cards, and I'd like to address the entire list now.  I want to talk about the good, the bag, and what might have been.  It wouldn't be hard to put together a list of busted amazing lands, but that is more fantasy.  I prefer to stick with reasonable choices.

Ancient Tomb

Right: It's a card that sees play in Legacy and EDH, and has never been in foil.  Super creepy art, too.

Wrong: I can't really argue with this choice.  We got Temple of the False God in the Commander precons, and so that just leaves us the 'no really, play NO OTHER LANDS' card of City of Traitors for when we want two colorless mana.

Could have been:  The Urzatron would have been tempting, but that's three slots in a 15-card set.  I was super-wrong about most of my predictions anyway.

Boseiju, Who Shelters All

Right: I've played with Cavern of Souls a few times, and let me tell you, it's a good feeling when your spells can't be countered.  This mana comes at a hefty price of a tapped land and two life, but there's no better delight than casting a counterspell that can't be countered.

Wrong: It's only good for instants and sorceries, but if you need creatures, then Cavern is more up your alley, or Boseiju's cousin, Hall of the Bandit Lord.  It's pretty frustrating to have a universal answer--a counterspell--and have that answer be voided.  It all depends on who's casting what.

Could have been: I would have preferred Hall, but I play a lot more creature decks.

Cephalid Coliseum

Right: For graveyard-based decks, this is a pretty outstanding card.  There's assorted Dredge decks in Legacy that will love to get a playset of these gorgeous cards.

Wrong: This cycle of threshold lands gives abilities to lands, but only with Threshold active and at the real cost of a damage per mana use.  Needs a very specific kind of deck for this to function well.

Could have been:  This is a card for the Legacy Dredge decks.  It's very rarely played in EDH, and something like Riptide Laboratory would have carried much wider appeal.  Academy Ruins would have been another blue-based land that tickled many fancies. If this had been Minamo, then we're really up my alley.


Right: Well...not much.  If this could be activated before combat, it would have applications in controlling decks...but those creatures get to hit you first!  Ugh.

Wrong: Everything.  I called this a land that never got played, and then this exchange happened on Twitter.  It's nice to be proved wrong, but this is still the turd in the punch bowl of the set.

Could have been: Even Quicksand is better than this.  Plus, there's two far better answers to attacking creatures coming up on this list.

Dryad Arbor

Right: This is the best type line ever, and has no other text.  So very elegant, especially compared to the original Dryad Arbor.  The futureshifted cardframe is appealing, though.

Wrong: It's your land drop, but since it's a creature, it can't tap for mana until it's been in play a turn.  With Green Sun's Zenith being banned in Modern, this is no longer going to be a chase card.

Could have been: Any of the Worldwake man-lands.  Colonnade has a buy-a-box promo edition, but the others would have been fun to have again, especially since they shied away from putting Mutavault in here.

Forbidden Orchard

Right: Five colors of mana comes at a steep price, and there's a lot of decks that could care less about a 1/1 token for an opponent.  Doesn't work with Brooding Saurian, though.  I like this card a lot, though.

Wrong: I can't argue with this.  I like Rainbow Vale, I like Rupture Spire, but this card is balanced and fun.

Could have been: This and only this.

Glacial Chasm

Right: For a deck that wants to stall and be safe, it doesn't get much better than this.  Lands aren't hard to kill...but they aren't easy to get rid of either.  2,4,6,8 life is a lot for four turns of safety, but if you want it, here it is.

Wrong: This card encourages people to do nothing, to 'turtle up', a gamestate I don't enjoy at all.

Could have been: Wizards has tried very hard to keep mana abilities on lands, but I would have liked a comeback of Ice Floe.  A card below is far superior, though.

Grove of the Burnwillows

Right: There's plenty of decks that use the opponent lifegain to good effect, often with Punishing Fire (banned in Modern) and Kavu Predator.  Or use it frequently and get on peoples' good sides.

Wrong: Not much.  In RG I might have liked one or two other lands more, but this is a fine choice.  I also would have liked some of the other Future Sight duals.

Could have been: I would have liked at least one of the Alara tri-lands, but they don't consult me on these things.

 High Market

Right: It's a free sacrifice outlet, good for stealing things, triggering death effects, all sorts of things, for no mana cost.  The foil of the original was/is pricey!

Wrong: Nothing.  They can't/won't reprint Diamond Valley, and this is the closest possible.  Miren, the Moaning Well costs an awful lot to activate, but the difference is mainly of preference and how much mana you could leave up in a game.

Could have been: Miren, or perhaps Mikokoro, Center of the Sea.  This is another solid and fun choice.

Maze of Ith

Right: I couldn't believe this wasn't on the Reserved List.  Go on, take a look at what can't ever be reprinted.  This is the chase card of the set, since the regular from the Dark goes for around $20 and the judge foil is over $200. (sigh)  This card is defensive usually, making your opponents commit lots of creatures to play before you wrath the table.  This is also Kaalia's best friend, letting her attack, drop a huge creature, then get taken out of combat.

Wrong: Nothing.

Could be: Nothing else.  Amazing art, too.

Murmuring Bosk

Right: For Doran/Ghave decks, it's a tri-color land that can be fetched with Wood Elves/Farseek/etc.  Only a little pain.  This is an elegantly designed card, showing off what Wizards will print when they want to push a tribe/concept.

Wrong: Not much.  I feel green is a little over-represented in this set, but again, that's my own impression.

Could have been: Command Tower, but that's apparently going into the Commander Arsenal later this year. (aka my Christmas present)

Shivan Gorge

Right: I was!  I'm glad I got ONE card right.

Wrong: I have a deck based on pinging your opponents and I don't play this card.  I might now that I'll have a sweet foil, though.  This is just a throwback card that people will throw away.

Could have been: Keldon Necropolis has some application, being a sacrifice outlet.  Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep would have been fun too.

Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Right: This is a double-threat card.  It is part of a three-card combo that is only now in Legacy (Vampire Hexmage, this, and Dark Depths) but was tearing it up in Modern until Depths got banned.  This makes up half of a busted combo in EDH with Cabal Coffers for any deck that needs a lot of black mana.

Wrong: Nothing.  I really can't dispute this choice.

Could have been: Perhaps Coffers, but that card has gotten an FNM printing that people like.


Right: Everything.  This is a super-useful card for any deck, unless you try to copy Legendary Lands--which happens more often than you might think.  This card got Cloudpost banned in Modern!  I highly approve of this reprinting.

Wrong: Nothing.  I can't wait to see this art in foil.

Could have been: Nothing.  I love it!

Windbrisk Heights

Right: This is the best of the hideaway lands, and still a big part of aggressive strategies in Modern.  Important to note that you actually cast the card, you don't just put it into play.  Cheating an Eldrazi into play is usually a winner, though I've seen a Time Stretch hide under one of these.

Wrong: Nothing really.  This is a good choice for reprinting, something that white decks of many formats can use.

Could have been: I like Spinerock Knoll and Mosswort Bridge more, but that's a personal choice.

Overall, I think Wizards did a great job with this FTV.  There's nothing very recent, which was a major complaint of FTV: Legends.  I'm surprised that there's no preview card from Return to Ravnica, but we can't have it all, I guess.  Personally, I would really have liked the set of 'filterlands' from Shadowmoor and Eventide, but again, they never ask for my opinion!

See you next time!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Irrationally loved cards #1

So far, I've shied away from explicitly telling you cards you should or should not play.

I think that EDH is a format where we are rewarded for playing the cards that we have an irrational love for, instead of focusing on the 'power' of a card.

Certainly, some cards are 'strictly better' than other cards, and that's always something to take into consideration, but really, this is a format that lets us play with the cards we like.

Without further ado, here is one of my irrational favorites per color. (There's a lot, but I'm going to give it out in parts, for brevity's sake)

Green: Hibernation's End
I could write an ode to this card, I really could.  I can have decks without Wild Pair, or Lurking Predators, or Birthing Pod...this one is my favorite.  It's slow, and if you play it turn 5 you're finding low-drops while your opponents are dropping Titans onto the table, but this always gets there.  For me, I use the one, two, three, and sometimes fou drops to fix up my mana (Sample from my Adun Oakenshield deck: Ulvenwald Tracker, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Wood Elves, Solemn Simulacrum) and then drop value all over the place.

If you're into card advantage, this is right up your alley.  I've never had this get farther than 5 without someone getting mad and killing it.  Or me.  Same thing. 

Red: Gratutitous Violence
We all enjoy unfair effects far more than we care to admit to.  This is the quintessential unfair effect, doubling your most common damage sources (creatures) while leaving others' alone.  Furnace of Rath is the most direct comparison, and if you don't mind giving up non-creature damage, then this card is absolutely golden.

This plays very well with first strike, not so much with trample (you still have to assign lethal damage to the blocking creature before the doubling effect), GLORIOUSLY with double strike, and is outstanding with pingers...even more so with bigger pingers like Kamahl, Pit Fighter and Lightning Crafter.

Blue: Willbender
If I'm playing a deck...any deck...with blue and I lay down a morph, people start flinching because they know that I love this card.  Some people try to say that Redirect is strictly better, but it's very hard to interact with the Willbender's ability.  It's a triggered ability, so you can even respond to Split Second spells.  Even better, there are spells that say 'Can't be Countered' but you can turn that Banefire for 30 back at its owner!

You can do it for small bonuses, like stealing an Aura.  You can change the Rite of Replication target.  When you lay this face down with 1U can't wait for someone to try something!  It's the anticipation of this card that makes it so fun for me.

Double bonus if you can then return it to your hand with Riptide Laboratory...then play it again face down!

Black: Patriarch's Bidding
While most people run this in tribal decks, I tend to cram it into anything.  When I cast it in a non-tribal deck is tricky, but if it's in my hand, I'll be careful about what I play and the creature types running around.  It feels like I always get good value from this card, even though it's supposed to be a 'fair' effect.

In my tribal decks, this is a total house.  My Zombie decks especially, because Noxious Ghoul will ensure that the Bidding is a totally unfair effect.  Yes, you're reading that card right--if the Ghoul and 3 other Zombies come back at the same time, everything else gets -4/-4!  There has not yet been a card that says "This card is immune to -1/-1 effects."  Probably will eventually, though.

White: Marshal's Anthem
This is a reanimation spell as well as an anthem effect.  In white, we have a lot of options for bringing creatures back, but this Anthem does something unique and worth paying for: it can bring back one, two, or more creatures at once.  It's hard to pay six and get one creature back...but 2 for 8 mana is more reasonable, and the sky is the limit if you topdeck this after a long attrition-grind of a game.

I can see why the mana cost scares people off of this card.  If you have 11 mana but only three white, then it will really sting to recur a single creature.  Don't be scared.  Holding this enchantment in your hand means you commit to the board with far less hesitation, you fear no Wrath.  And if you never needed to cast it, then you won!  Congratulations!

Artifact: Thousand-Year Elixir
In EDH, creatures with abilities are king.  There's enters-the-battlefield abilities, when-it-dies abilities, but generally, the tap abilities are among the strongest, because you have to wait a turn to use those abilities.

Not anymore!

On top of the sort-of-haste clause, we get to use that tap ability a second time for one measly mana!  Or give a creature vigilance, if that's needed!  With this out, it's natural and acceptable to wait one more turn to play your sweet creature in order to get a second use of its ability.

Important to note that this is not a way to abuse Willow Satyr or other creatures that say "as long as this card is tapped" because if the creature becomes untapped, even before the ability resolves, then the duration of the effect has ended.

There you go, six of my irrationally loved cards.  Hope you enjoyed!

P.S.  My lady and I are off on a vacation to Maui for a couple of weeks, so you'll be update-less for a while.  Browse the archives, join a message board, follow me on Twitter (@WordOfCommander) for your fix.  See you later!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Protecting your General

Most Commander decks want to put their general into play and keep it there.  There's a few decks that want to use their general rarely--I'm looking at you, Child of Alara decks--but mostly, we build decks to use our general's abilities effectively.

Other players will see the awesome things you are doing or going to do with your general and decide, "Nope, that creature is not staying in play!"

What's a player to do?  Use protection, of course!

I'm going to divide this into three parts: cards you play before your general, things you want to do when your general hits play, and spells for after the general is on the field.

A couple of notes about this list:  Red and Black are nearly absent from this list...because as part of the color pie, they don't care as much about saving their creatures. A few red and black creatures have regeneration built in, so might need less spells to save them.  Each of these spells presumes that you have the mana needed to cast them, but that mana requirement is a huge part of what makes Lightning Greaves so amazing.

Brace yourselves, people, we're going to get into some rarely-seen cards today!

Beforehand (Permanents)
These are what you'll play in preparation for playing your general.  Laying the groundwork, paving the ground, whatever metaphor you prefer. Play one of these a turn before your commander and you'll feel a little better about exposing your general to the terrible storm of death that awaits.

Creatures (23):
Mother of Runes
Classic enough to get reprinted in the Commander precons, and pretty much guaranteeing that there will need to be two kill spells to get rid of your general.  After she's been in play a turn, Mom can even protect herself!  Her ability is free to use, which puts her in the upper tier of protection.
Devoted Caretaker
If it's Mother above, this is the Aunt.  It's a tradeoff: you can protect any permanent, but only from instants and sorceries (no saving from planeswalkers, artifacts, or creatures) and it costs a mana to use.  Also a rarely-seen 1/2 creature for one mana!
Spearbreaker Behemoth
This is expensive to play but very hard to argue with.  Indestructible gets around most of the spells that will get rid of your general, but your general needs to have a big enough power.  If you've got a 5+ commander, though, this guy is your friend.
Twilight Shepherd
One of my favorite angel pictures, and also one of my 'sneaky awesome' cards. If you play this, then you have to let your general go to the graveyard for the ability to bring it back to your hand.  This isn't good for +1/+1 counters or auras, but sometimes you don't want to pay the full tax to cast your general for the 5th time.
Adarkar Valkryie
This card will be on a future post called "this card is HOW much?!!?" but it's because the ability is ridiculously amazing.  Sure you can save a general, but you can also steal other things that might die.  Combine with your own kill spells to steal lots of things!
Daring Apprentice
Disposable creature.  Break in case of emergency, but you need to play it ahead of time, since it's a tap ability.
Sigarda, Host of Herons
Tajuru Preserver
These two cards save you from sacrificing, which is handy if you know people that play as much All is Dust as I do.
Avacyn, Angel of Hope
Yes, it's 8 mana but worth it all.  Indestructibility is worth the price of admission.
Melira, Sylvok Outcast
Someone cast Black Sun's Zenith?  No thank you, but come by anytime!
Coalition Honor Guard
Standard Bearer
What the heck is a flagbearer, you ask?  It's a canary in a coal mine, a Spellskite that you don't have to pay mana/life to activate.  All of these mean that Murder needs to be cast more than once to get your general dead.  These only help with targeted removal, but offers a bonus of stealing beneficial spells/enchantments as well.
Crimson Acolyte
Obsidian Acolyte
Burrenton Forge-Tender
Granting protection to a creature can help a lot with the most common targeted spells and some mass removal spells, and these creatures will save your general for a low cost.
Kitsune Healer
It's not always damage that can kill your legend, but if that's a problem, this is another save effect that only costs a tap--no mana needed!
Saffi Eriksdotter
Sometimes she's a general, but Saffi allows your general to come back for free, but remember that you have to let your general go to the graveyard to take effect.
Mistmeadow Witch
This could have been filed under the 'blink' effects at the bottom, but any time you can save your general for four mana, it's usually worth doing.  Unlike some of the other blinks, this will save your general from anything, since it will come back at the beginning of the end step.  This will even allow you to dodge Terminus and the like.
Dauntless Escort
Free is good, so is indestructiblity, and a 3/3 for three is always a winner.
Deathless Angel
Two mana to grant indestructibility isn't cheap, but it IS reusable.  It also looks very good in a full-art foil.
Elgaud Shieldmate
Oh, Soulbond.  You're an interesting mechanic and they will get you again one of these days.  It's not like Avacyn Restored had a lot of removal anyway, but if there was, this guy prevented it.
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
Mike v.2 is a legend, but one that plays very well as part of the 99.  If he's in play, all of your creatures get a second lease on life!  Or un-life, if you prefer.
Sylvan Safekeeper
Sacrificing a land to grant shroud can be a steep price to pay, but being a free ability--and one you can do mutliple times if needed--make this worth the cost.
Kira, Great Glass-Spinner 
Don't be fooled by her cost in dollars, this is both a very good and very annoying effect.  She's tough to use with your own equipment/auras, and makes it tough for your opponents' spells.
Benevolent Bodyguard
A free sacrifice of himself to save the more expensive/relevant creature.  A fine bodyguard.
Moonlit Strider
Back when damage went on the stack, this guy was card value king.  Still worthwhile, saving one creature and getting you back a Spirit or Changeling.
Our first edit!  He does indeed protect your general from all sorts of bad things, and for enough mana, can protect your entire board as well.

Artifacts (4):
Cauldron of Souls
Some people are very scared of letting their general go to a graveyard, but if you have this effect on it, your general won't stay in the 'yard.  Some generals are too small for these counters, so use only when needed.
Darksteel Forge
I secretly hate this card, but I cannot deny its power.  Thank goodness there aren't too many legendary artifact creatures.
Eldrazi Monument
This is a card I often use, but its drawback can be severe.  Combine with Dominus of Fealty for real fun!
Akroma's Memorial
I've detailed my feelings on this card in my M13 review, but the fact remains that for any deck, instant protection from common removal is amazingly good.

Enchantments (8):
One of my all-time favorite cards.  I get to ignore targeted kill spells and regenerate from "Destroy All" effects!  Plus it protects all my other creatures at the same time!
Privileged Position
This card is one of the reasons to play green/white.  Call it a staple, a standard, a must-have, but it is tremendously effective.
Absolute Law
Absolute Grace
Protection isn't always relevant, but since all your creatures are protected, it becomes a lot easier to kill off the red or black deck with this in play.
Hanna's Custody
This is shroud, not hexproof, but Sharuum doesn't really care.
Steely Resolve
Generally, tribal decks love this effect more, but if you name your general's creature type, then you're good to go.
Broken Fall
A friend of mine used to abuse the heck out of this card.  Play it before your general, and use as needed.  Always a bonus to have something activate for no mana, and since the return to hand is part of the cost, then they never have a chance to kill Broken Fall itself!
Coalition Flag
This card can get bananas.  The key is that the targeting is forcibly changed if able.  Once the enchanted creature is a target, then you use a different ability to grant hexproof or shroud or protection, and then you're golden.  Thornling enjoys this card, Quicksilver Dragon is in total love with this!  (Example: you have the Dragon enchantd with the Flag.  Someone plays a spell OR ABILITY targeting a creature. The Flag forces that target to be the Dragon, but now you get to redirect that spell to the target of your choice for one blue mana!)
Also: the redirection only applies to your opponents, so they will get mad and kill you if you gloat too much.

Immediate (Play and Protect)
These are the permanents that will keep your general safe.  These have to be played/equipped as soon as possible to save your general from the bad things your opponents want to do, so there's no shame in waiting until you have the mana to play your Commander and then suit him/her up.  Equipment is the most popular of these, since they are colorless and can be used more than once.

Equipment (8): 
Lightning Greaves
This is the gold standard.  Low play cost, no mana cost, gives shroud and haste.  This means that the turn you play your general, you're doing something with it.  They HAVE to have a mass removal spell to get rid of your general is this is in play.  Combine with Leonin Shikari for real shenangians.
Swiftfoot Boots
I couldn't believe that this card got printed.  It's not only an homage to the Greaves, it's both better and worse.  Hexproof is the most unfair ability ever designed, so giving it to any creature, plus haste, for a single mana is just silly good.
Champion's Helm
I don't think this card gets played enough.  It doesn't give haste to your general, but it gives an extra +2/+2 instead.  Slightly worse than the two above, though.
General's Kabuto
This one is another that people don't play enough, but when I lay it down on Animar or Kaalia, people get annoyed.  Kaalia especially, because this gives shroud and damage prevention, traits she needs in order to be able to crash into the red zone over and over again.
Whispersilk Cloak
Shroud AND unblockable.  Pretty darn amazing.
Darksteel Plate 
Indestructible is good, as mentioned earlier.   I must say that I've had my newly-indestructible creature stolen more than once, so this might not be as good as I want it to be.  A lot depends on what sorts of spells your opponents play.
Ring of Xathrid
Ring of Evos Isle
Both of these rings have a cost, but it's not very high.  I think that regeneration is slightly better than hexproof, but either is a fine addition, especially on-color.
Magebane Armor
This is sort of a corner case of damage prevention, but if you play in groups that play these types of cards, this will be a winner.

Enchantment - Auras (12): 
Alexi's Cloak
Since this has flash, you can sandbag it to when someone tries to kill your general, but most of the time, you just want to make your commander safe.  Bonus points for cool flavor text that you can say when stopping a Condemn or the like.
Aspect of Mongoose
There are a few enchantments with this 'come back to hand' clause, of which Rancor is the most popular.  The re-use of this card means that your opponents better have lots of mass removal spells.
Diplomatic Immunity
This is a favored target of enchantment-themed decks, because you can't kill this enchantment directly!
Favorable Destiny
White doesn't often get shroud, but it's a white riff on the ability, requiring you to have another creature in play.  Not too hard to do, usually.
Mystic Veil
There were several enchantments in Mirage/Visions that had the 'you can do this as an instant, but if you do, sacrifice it at end of turn' clause, and over the years it's gone through a few rewordings.  It comes down to when you have the mana and when you need shroud.
Protective Bubble
Yes, this is exactly Whispersilk Cloak, only not re-usable.  Some decks want the enchantment, though.
Robe of Mirrors
Only the Greaves is cheaper for shroud.
Zephid's Embrace
Flying is good, +2/+2 is really good, and shroud takes it up a notch.  Costs four mana, unnfortunately.
I'm so glad this doesn't cost 2W, because that would make it legal for Zur the Enchanter. Nonetheless, it's a worthy spell, with very appropriate art.
Shield of the Oversoul
If your general is G/W, then this card is supremely powerful.   Play this whenever you can.
While this was designed to take advantage of Ravnica's 'enchantments with spell effects' theme, (such as Flight of Fancy) this can be a powerhouse in some decks.  It's expensive, but if you have the mana, nothing can ever happen to your enchantments or your general.
Clout of the Dominus
Only applicable for Red/Blue generals, this is rather cost-effective.  One mana, +2/+2, shroud and haste.  Hard to beat.
Shielding Plax
Mmmmm.....those tasty three words again: "Draw A Card!"  Can only be G/U though.

Afterwards (Instants)
These are spells you can play in response to someone trying to get rid of your general.  I'll leave it to you how many of these you want to play, but I have seen decks that want to max out on these.  Ruhan of the Fomori is popular for this--play the big general for cheap, attack a bunch, keep him safe.  Some people feel it's better to just replay the general for two more mana than have a card in the deck taken up by a reactive instant like these.

Counterspells (oodles):
As detailed in other posts, counterspells are universal answers.  If you're in blue, you can play them.  They will save your general.

Protection [from color/artifact] spells (13):  Remember, protection only helps for DEBT: Damage, Equipment, Blocking, and Targeting.  Damage from the chosen color is prevented (unless it says it can't be prevented, such as Combust), Equipment falls off, creatures of the chosen color can't block the protected creature, and it can't be targeted by spells or effects of the chosen color.
Apostle's Blessing
For one mana and two life, or two mana, you can save your general, even from artifact targeting.
Akroma's Blessing
This can be used in a number of ways, for saving your creatures, for attacking for the win, even cycling it away to get something else!
Bathe in Light
Radiance can be tricky.  Watch out for helping your opponents too.
Blessed Breath
You don't need to have Arcane spells to splice onto, but even using this once to save your general can be useful.
Brave the Elements
Only good for your white creatures, but this costs only a single mana.
Emerge Unscathed
This is delightful.  First, you protect your general from someone's kill spell.  Then, on your turn when it Rebounds, give your general protection from that player's creatures and attack them for their impertinence!
Faith's Shield
The fateful hour ability may be relevant at some point, but this can also protect a permanent if you needed it to.
Prismatic Boon
This can be expensive to cast, but it offers a lot of options if there's multiple things you want to save.
Razor Barrier
Protection for any permanent, and even from artifacts.  Solid.
Redeem the Lost
Clash is a fun mini-game, but when you win it, you feel like a million bucks.  You'll get to protect again!
Reverent Mantra
This can be played for free if needed, but it also gives ALL creatures some protection.  Probably not your best bet.
I can get behind almost any spell with the words "Draw a card."
Stave Off
Notably, you can use this one offensively. Make their enchantments fall off, use this to counter their flashbacked Increasing Savagery...or just save your general for one measly mana.

Regeneration Spells (14):
It is true that most of these won't see play, as too many spells say "That creature can't regenerate this turn" but hey, I'm trying to be thorough.

Dawn Charm
Three modes and none of them useless.  I could be an advocate of this, especially as part of a Sunforger package.
Death Ward
Very straightforward, and very outclassed by the rest of this list.
Debt of Loyalty
Now this has potential.  You can use this to save your guy or steal theirs when a Wrath comes around.  Important to note that something has to kill the creature (causing it to regenerate) for you to take it.
Defiling Tears
Basically, 2BB: Regenerate is not going to get there.
Gaze of the Gorgon
Another card that if you're in the right colors, you should probably be playing this.  Has the potential to be a real blowout with a 'must be blocked' ability.
Those magic three words again, which makes this card not too bad.
This is worse than Death Ward.
In GW, this could be good, as it could save things other than creatures.
Mass regeneration comes easier, as you're about to see.
Run Wild
Offensive and defensive, but if you've got a big attacker, it should have trample anyway!
Seedling Charm 
A much worse set of options than Dawn Charm.
Wrap in Vigor
This is more the ticket.  I could see this being run in a token/swarm deck.
This is awkward, but sometimes it will do the trick.
Wail of the Nim
Another mass regeneration card, with the added ability of taking down problem 1/1 creatures.

Hexproof/Shroud Spells (6):
If you find that targeted spells are the problem, perhaps everyone in your local group started playing Spin Into Myth, then these will be your general's ticket to safety.
Ranger's Guile
Hexproof and +1/+1 for one low mana.  The boost might be useful if you have an attacking general.  Sheltering Word
This is two mana, so a little worse, but if you play a Kresh deck where he gets huge, then you might do some work with this spell.
Vines of Vastwood
This is a favorite of mine.  Shroud for a green, +4/+4 for an extra green.  Be careful on mixing up which is the base effect and which is the kicker.
Mage's Guile
While 1U is more than green has to pay, adding on a cycling cost is very useful.  Sometimes you won't need to save your creature, but dig through the deck instead.
Stonewood Invocation
This is a real bonus, having split second.  None of that 'in response to your spell, kill it' shenanigans, plus a big boost to power and toughness.  If it gave trample, this might be a staple for green decks.
Veil of Secrecy
Once again, blue gets unblockable and shroud.  Very rare to see this spliced onto an arcane spell, but it's possible.

Indestructible Spells (1):
Withstand Death
Very straightforward.  Sometimes you need this as a surprise effect, not like Darksteel Plate.

Undying Spells (1):
Undying Evil
This is another 'yeah, the general goes to the graveyard but it comes right back!' sort of spell.  It's a single black mana for a save and an extra +1/+1 counter!

Exile & Return Spells (7):
While all of these spells will help dodge targeted removal, some will also allow your general to live past a Wrath of God depending on when the exiled creature returns.  Bonus points if there is an enters-the-battlefield effect to abuse!
One mana, one immediate flicker.  Solid.
This sees a lot of play because you can save every non-token creature you control.  They come back at end of turn, after the bad things have happened.
Another 'wait till the end step' card, so use this whenever you want--it'll save your general from just about everything.
Momentary Blink
This is more mana than Cloudshift, but you'll get to do it twice.   Two colors make it problematic, though.
Otherworldly Journey
A strict upgrade over Liberate, because it comes back bigger!  Do not use with Undying generals.
Turn to Mist
Upside: can target your opponents' creatures, putting them out of the way for a turn or undoing some awesome effect they want to have happen.  Downside: you must be at least UW to have this card.
Vanish Into Memory
For a while, I had Kresh the Bloodbraided as a general, and I'd gotten him to some huge level of counters.  Someone cast Vanish into Memory on him, and I was floored.  How dare they!  This is a very strong card in Blue/White, I'd advocate playing it in most decks of those colors.

I realize that I might have left your pet card off of this list.  Tell me what it is and why it's awesome, and I'll add it into the post!

Enjoy keeping your commander safe!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

My Thoughts on the Banned List August 2012

A bit of backstory:  EDH was started by a group of judges and their pals, as a way to play a format that wasn't currently an official format.  Being judges, they worked on the rules, ending up with a Rules Committee.  If you're interested in the history, is the place to see the official wrapup.  Click 'Historical'.

These are the cards that the Rules Committee (RC) has decided warp this format.  Some of these cards are incredibly powerful, some are backbreaking, and others are single-card win conditions.

There's a lot of discussion about the philosophy of the banned list.  I'm going to copy one of Sheldon Menery's forum posts that captures the ideas in a succinct manner:
A few things you should know about the Banned List:

1. We can't ban every card someone finds offensive because the list would be too large.

1a. Banning Card B because Card A is already on the list isn't a slippery slope, it's an impending avalanche.
2. There is no 100% solution because card evaluation is subjective. Ergo, there will never be a player-base consensus list. In other words, no matter what the list looks like, there will be complainers.
3. "Power level" in and of itself is subjective, and not necessarily the only criteria for banning.
4. We will never publish an objective flowchart on how cards get banned because 1) it's close to impossible and 2) a 0% win for us. We'll endeavor to explain why a card gets banned based on which criteria we've used, to wit:
5. The two major things that will get a card banned are 1) it creates too much mana too early in the game (Tolarian Academy) and 2) it makes for bad games even when players aren't trying to abuse it (Biorhythm).
5a. Individuals will interpret those two criteria differently.
6. Creating a "balanced" tournament environment is not a factor.
7. 1v1 play is not a factor.

With that in mind, I'd like to go over the list and talk about the reason it's there and how likely it is to get taken off of that list.

Ancestral Recall
Black Lotus
Time Walk
Mox Sapphire, Ruby, Pearl, Emerald and Jet

These are eight of the Power Nine cards, the ninth being Timetwister.  These 8 are banned because they either give too much early mana (a cardinal no-no) or are ridiculously cheap for what they do.  Timetwister is allowed, because its effect is not intrinsically unbalanced.  Everyone gets a new hand, and there is an even better option for this effect that is legal: Time Spiral.

If you've ever played with a 'powered' cube, then you know what an INCREDIBLE advantage these cards are.  Unbalancing, unfair, and too good too soon for too cheap.

Likelihood of coming off the banned list: 0%.  Don't even think about it.

So this is a card that literally translates to 'fair' or 'even' and yet is the most busted-unfair-crooked card around.  If you've been a player for a long time, you may remember how people would tap all their lands for mana, sacrifice all lands to Zuran Orb, and then cast Balance.  Which meant that everyone else had to sacrifice their lands too.  Lands, creatures, and cards in hand!  This means everyone goes down to the lowest level.  In a deck that can make use of this, it's incredibly unfair.  It might not be so bad if it didn't hit the cards in hand too, but that level of mega-discard for the whole table is far too powerful.

Likelihood of coming off the banned list: 0.01%.  There's a tiny chance that they reconsider, but really, if it's good enough to be restricted in Vintage, Commander is unlikely to embrace this card.

On the one hand, this seems like a very fair effect.  It's not, not in the least, and with it in hand you look for a time to cast it and kill two players.
Likelihood of coming off the banned list: 0%.  This was only added a couple of years ago, and there's little impulse to have it back.

Coalition Victory
Another card that just says "I WIN" for very little work.  With a decent 5-color deck, you could cast this after casting your general and just make the table leave.  Compare to Door to Nothingness, a card that's easier to love since it's harder to use and gives the table a turn to kill you for your impudence.
Likelihood of coming off the banned list: 2%, since perhaps the 5-color players might start a clamor.

Fast mana is too good, and this is 39 free mana.  No.
Likelihood of coming off the banned list:  0%.  Literally no chance.

Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
This is another recent banning, and highlights one of the pitfalls of this format.  Ulamog and Kozilek don't get the same level of hatred, mainly because of the protection and the extra turn.  Entire games would come down to resolving this, or stealing it, or casting Bribery for it, or whatever silly thing was going on.
Likelihood of coming off the banned list: 0%.  It's too recent a bad to be reconsidered at this point.

Fast mana being one of the banes of the format, Fastbond is pretty darn speedy.  Dumping your hand on turn 1 is not to be allowed.
Likelihood of coming off the banned list: 3%, since it's only good once it might get a chance to shine again.  But probably not.

Gifts Ungiven
It's not the card itself that is busted, but the fact that it will always get four combo pieces at the end of someone else's turns.  For example: Rite of Replication, Eternal Witness, Regrowth, Time Warp.  Any two of those cards and you have infinite turns, and that's only one of the silly combos.
Likelihood of coming off the banned list: 0%.  Try as I might, I can't see a scenario where this comes back.

Kokusho, the Evening Star
Ah, good old KK.  I even put at the end of a post that they were going to unban it on June 20th of this year, but I was wrong then.  I think eventually it comes off the list, I'm just not sure when.  It was banned because if cloned or copied it gets too much damage to your table, but there have been so many cards that have the same sort of effect, it just might not be too dangerous.
Likelihood of coming off the banned list: 70-75%.  Eventually, it'll be back.  I think. (could be wrong!)

This land is one of a cycle in Legends, but because of this format, tap a land to return your general to hand is FAR too good.
Likelihood of coming off the banned list: 0%.  EDH is based on your general, and this land negates all value you get from playing it.

Library of Alexandria
I've played with this card in a mega-counterspell Vintage deck.  (Win conditions: 4 Mishra's Factory and 2 Rainbow Efreet)  It's cheap for the very powerful effect that it has, since its drawback is nonexistent.  Having a full hand of cards is GOOD.
Likelihood of coming off the banned list: 0%.  Too little cost to draw a card every turn.

Limited Resources
While this is the name of one of my favorite podcasts, it's also just an unfair and boring card.  If someone plays this, no one gets to play more lands, and is stuck at 5. YAWN.
Likelihood of coming off the banned list: 0%.  No one has fun with this.

As Sheldon mentioned, fast mana is a cardinal sin.  Mishra's Workshop is legal, because casting artifacts is not terribly broken. (Far too often, it is!)  Metalworker can tap for a ton of mana on an early turn, and is therefore too good.
Likelihood of coming off the banned list: 0%.

Sundering Titan
An addition as of this past June, this card is amazingly unfun to play against, especially in a deck that can reanimate him--and most decks that can, will.  This Titan will blow up everyone's lands eventually, except for the person who is bringing it back over and over.  The presence of shocklands makes this card even sillier.
Likelihood of coming off the banned list: 0%.  Just got banned, very unfun, not coming back.

Painter's Servant
Combined with Grindstone, this is a Legacy deck.  The combo applications in EDH make for games that do not last very long.
Likelihood of coming off the banned list: 0%.
Panoptic Mirror
This could perhaps be used in non-broken ways...Oh look, infinite turns.  Yawn.
Likelihood of coming off the banned list: 0%.
Protean Hulk
True story: I didn't know about this card.  Never heard of it except as some busted Legacy deck.  When I got the chance to read the card, I traded for two of find out they are on this here banned list.
Likelihood of coming off the banned list: 2%.  Maybe eventually there will be so many good cards that this doesn't seem like a big threat anymore.  But probably not.

Recurring Nightmare
Play with this card in a Cube draft once.  Revel in its power to recur creatures over and over again.  Understand that this will never be EDH legal.
Likelihood of coming off the banned list: 0%.

Staff of Domination
This got banned a year ago for being a 'beat the table' card once infinite mana is achieved. Draw your deck, kill a player, repeat, blah.
Likelihood of coming off the banned list: 0%.

Sway of the Stars
This is likely on the banned listbecause the 'reset' effects that include a life total change are no fun.  After resolving this spell, it's a race to deal 7.  Not terribly enjoyable.
Likelihood of coming off the banned list: 0%.

Time Vault
Combos for infinite turns with so many cards.  Not happening.
Likelihood of coming off the banned list: 0%.

This is another card that you have to play with in a Cube or Eternal format to appreciate.  I played with a friend's 'powered' Cube once.  Turn 2 I cast this off of a Mox, put Darksteel Colossus into play.  GG.  EDH would be even worse.
 Likelihood of coming off the banned list: 0%.

Tolarian Academy
This is the poster child for what fast mana can do.  This card can get out of hand ridiculously easily, and were it ever taken off the banned list, would reach $100 proportions overnight.
Likelihood of coming off the banned list: 0%.

I would have banned this just because it makes the game take forever, which certainly meets the definition of a 'bag game experience'.
Likelihood of coming off the banned list: 0%.

Yawgmoth's Bargain
Necropotence is not banned, because Necro gives you the cards at end of turn. This is an important distinction.  Bargain is an amazing deal...definitely too good.
Likelihood of coming off the banned list: 0%.

I traded for four of these within two weeks of his printing.  Four different decks of mine wanted this card, and dear lord above, he's even better than that.  As with Bargain, it's too good of a deal.
Likelihood of coming off the banned list: 0%.

    Additionally, the following legends may not be used as a Commander, and will never ever be allowed as generals.  Ever.
    Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
    I built a deck around this card as the general and I have to say, there's something truly degenerate about being consistently able to cast Primeval Titan or Lurking Predators on turn three.

    Braids, Cabal Minion
    It is not difficult to cast this on turn 2 or 3, at which point you're sacrificing lands and wishing to start a new game without the jerk who played this so early.

    Erayo, Soratami Ascendant
    As a general, the goal is to cast this, and then follow up with four cheap/free/untap some lands spells to flip it immediately.  Then you save some counterspells for when your opponents have enough mana to cast a throwaway spell and attempt to destroy the Essence.  Sounds like a godawful game to me too.

    There it is, a walk down the Banned list.  There's plenty of chatter about what should be added to this list--Worldfire is a likely candidate--but the Rules Committee has stated that they want to keep the banned list as small as possible.  They are doing it, too--the percentage of cards that are not allowed is super-tiny.