Welcome back to Magic Gatherings!
Last week we talked a bit about bringing Magic in general (and Commander in particular) to game time with your friends. This week we’re going to continue to develop that theme with an eye to costs.
So, Commander is great, and you should play it more. Assuming you have a few friends who know how to play Magic, or are willing to learn, what gets in the way of playing it more often?
Usually, I think, it boils down to a question of investment. And I mean that it both senses of the term: first, getting really into Magic (like getting really into every hobby) is an investment of time and energy. It’s no mean feat to start as a new player and familiarize yourself with over twenty years’ worth of cards. There are lots of things you can read on the internet (and thanks for reading this thing in particular), but that takes time, and you can’t reasonably expect all your friends will put that much investment in.
If we’re trying to treat Commander like a game night game, one way to do that is to build your own decks and offer them to your friends. If you take charge of the Magic gaming in your group, your friends can focus on enjoying the fun cards and hilarious scenarios that multiplayer Magic offers.
But that brings us to the other sense of “investment”—building four or six or eight Commander decks and having them on hand at all times can get really expensive, really quickly. So it’s important to look for ways to make this easier on yourself.
The best parts of multiplayer Magic games (like any good game) are inter-player interactions. Fortunately, there are lots of common and uncommon cards which are plenty powerful enough for multiplayer games: they advance your own strategies in ways your opponents will have to respond to, or they give you the tools to affect what your opponents are doing.
That’s what we’re looking at today: great budget choices from Fate Reforged‘s commons and uncommons. Fill your decks with cards like these, and you can have great games that don’t cost great amounts of money.
Defenders can be effective in multiplayer, though this isn’t big enough to discourage the most dangerous attacks. Saving a creature at instant speed can be useful, though.
Loading up one creature with auras can be dangerous, since all your cards can get blasted away if the enchanted creature dies. Luckily, Journey into Nyx introduced a lot of cards that pay you off for playing enchantments. If this is drawing you a few cards and triggering a few constellation effects, it can definitely be worth it.
Cards which give you options tend to be good, and this gives you two excellent ones.
Similarly, limiting opponents’ options can also be good. Note that the way the dragon’s ability is worded, as soon as it’s attacking, it’s too late for opponents to do anything about it. That means they have to choose to remove it before they know whether you’re sending it their way.
There are so many ways to put creatures back into your hand, or remove them from play and put them back again, that it’s easy to trigger this enter-the-battlefield ability over and over. This costs one mana more than [mtg_card]Mist Raven[/mtg_card], but it’s still a good deal at the price.
A two-power creature, even an unblockable one, is probably not going to swing most multiplayer games. What’s interesting is that this card gives blue (really blue-green) an effect it hasn’t had access to. In particular, [mtg_card]Animar, Soul of Elements[/mtg_card], goes nuts with this card, if you can find a way to sacrifice it repeatedly: you will quickly be able to play the Prowler for just a blue mana, and Animar will get an extra counter each time.
This joins [mtg_card]Pongify[/mtg_card] and [mtg_card]Rapid Hybridization[/mtg_card] in the club for cheap blue spells which remove creatures more efficiently than it seems blue should be able to. Notably, this exiles, which will keep your opponents from reanimating the creature again. Just watch out: most times the manifest won’t be a creature, but if it is, it could pretty dangerous.
Wonder Trade comes to Magic! Sure, you give something away, but no one said it has to be as good as the thing you’re getting. Perhaps I have a 1/1 [mtg_card]Farhaven Elf[/mtg_card] lying around, which already got me a land when I cast it? I will trade you for that dragon of yours. Bonus: you don’t actually have to control either creature, so you can make mischief by forcing your opponents to swap. You’d be surprised how tame some Commanders look, when they’re suddenly playing for a different deck.
[mtg_card]Fleshbag Marauder[/mtg_card] is already a proven Commander staple. This effect is useful in multiplayer games because you’ll usually clear a card away from each other player (though watch out for token-based decks). Forcing sacrifice also gets around all the hexproof running around these days.
Meanwhile, if your deck is the one making tokens, this guy can pick off small to medium creatures all around the table. Look for mass reanimation effects, too.
Black has plenty of reasons to want to sacrifice its own creatures anyway. There are also lots of creatures with Persist or Undying that will pop back right away, so this may not even cost you anything. Even if your creature stays dead, you get a 2/2 (which can sometimes secretly be better than that), which itself is ready to be sacrificed to the High Priest next turn.
[mtg_card]Gravedigger[/mtg_card] effects are great, and late in the game you’ll have plenty of other things to Delve away, so the high cost isn’t as prohibitive as it might seem. This is also a strong blocker, so unlike, say, Gravedigger, the creature half of the card is useful, rather than incidental.
Tons of creatures do things when they hit your opponents, and this ensures that they’ll get through. (Some suggestions: [mtg_card]Raving Dead[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Surrakar Spellblade[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Stigma Lasher[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Throat Slitter[/mtg_card].) The haste is a bonus, but easy to underrate.
Playing this card as written is already a ton of fun, as you and your friends pass it around the table—a great inclusion if you enjoy “group hug” decks which help other players. But you can also pull cool tricks: tap it for cards, then (before you get the cards) untap it, or sacrifice it, or return it to your hand, or do anything which keeps your opponent from getting it.
Two damage doesn’t look like a lot, and it isn’t, but it’s still enough to pick off annoying creatures if you need to. The bonus here is that the Ferocious mode stops damage prevention, which means that a key mode of protection—nullifying damage from particular sources—won’t work.
With [mtg_card]Grim Contest[/mtg_card] in this set, and [mtg_card]Kin-Tree Invocation[/mtg_card] in the last set, we’re starting to get some exciting payoff cards for a defensive, “toughness matters” deck. [mtg_card]Doran, the Siege Tower[/mtg_card] is surely the Commander you want there, but you could also assemble a casual 60-card deck out of Khans block cards and have some fun with it.
What’s not to love? A 4/4 flyer for six is a good rate, especially considering green rarely sees flyers. DD brings along some retribution for the opponent who kills it, which will make people think twice about attacking you.
This card has tons of applications. We already mentioned returning your own creatures to your hand for value; green has more than its fair share of guys who are happy to be bounced, as well as reasons to bounce creatures, in general. You can also save creatures from removal; you can block, then return your block to your hand before damage to protect it; and, of course, you can make the Sabertooth indestructible to win fights or block forever.
My sleeper pick of the set. It’s easy to underrate [mtg_card]Fog[/mtg_card] effects in Commander, but they have a reasonable amount of flexibility: they keep you from getting killed (of course), but they also give you a chance to play politics by saving another player. This has an easy-to-meet condition which allows your creatures to rout your opponent’s on top of that.
Basically, this says, “When you play your Commander, equip this for free.” Not all Commanders want this effect, but if you plan to attack a lot with yours, or if your Commander appreciates having high power, this will be handy.
Bonus Bulk Rare section!
Wizards has been doing a great job over the last few sets with making sure that almost all the rares in a given set have at least some appeal for some player somewhere. Not every rare can be a tournament all-star, but most other rares are either great in booster draft, or shine in casual decks designed around what that rare is offering.
Since tourney cards drive sales and secondary market value, that means each set has loads of useful rares you can come by for a quarter or fifty cents, jam into a Commander deck, and enjoy on the cheap. Some quick highlights of Fate Reforged cards that probably won’t make it to tournament tables, but will still play well on your dining room table:
The Siege Cycle ([mtg_card]Citadel Siege[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Frontier Siege[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Monastery Siege[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Outpost Siege[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Palace Siege[/mtg_card]): Like [mtg_card]Valorous Stance[/mtg_card], these cards give you a choice between two great options.
The Dragon Cycle ([mtg_card]Atarka, World Render[/mtg_card]; [mtg_card]Dromoka, the Eternal[/mtg_card]; [mtg_card]Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury[/mtg_card]; [mtg_card]Ojutai, Soul of Winter[/mtg_card]; [mtg_card]Silumgar, the Drifting Death[/mtg_card]): These will fit well into most decks that can play them, and if you combine them with more dragons, they can get out of hand quickly.
The Khans Cycle ([mtg_card]Alesha, Who Smiles at Death[/mtg_card]; [mtg_card]Daghatar the Adamant[/mtg_card]; [mtg_card]Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest[/mtg_card]; [mtg_card]Tasigur, the Golden Fang[/mtg_card]; [mtg_card]Yasova Dragonclaw[/mtg_card]): Tasigur is tearing up Standard and Modern right now, so his price is high. The other Khans aren’t making much impact yet, but despite their low price, any of them could hold down a Commander deck.
[mtg_card]Arcbond[/mtg_card]: Wild fun. Pair with deathtouch or lifelink creatures for something worthy of legend, just like Alesha would want.
[mtg_card]Archfiend of Depravity[/mtg_card]: Helps keep token swarms under control.
[mtg_card]Mob Rule[/mtg_card]: Insurrection is a staple for good reason, and in many games, using the “power four or greater” mode on this will have a similar effect.
[mtg_card]Shamanic Revelation[/mtg_card]: Tokens love this, of course, but if you can even get four cards off this you already got a great deal. The life helps to make sure you have time to use what you drew.
[mtg_card]Supplant Form[/mtg_card]: Six mana is a lot, but you have lots of options–in particular, saving a fellow player from a lethal attacker (and getting a snazzy copy for yourself) will make you an ally and add to your board.
Let me know in the comments if I missed your favorite pick of the set! We’ll be back next week to talk a little more about designing a set of Commander decks you can keep on your game shelf to play with your friends.
One thing I think you have missed in these two articles is Pre-Cons. These are cheap to buy, are relatively balanced, and perfect for a casual group where Magic is just one option in a selection of games. If people are buying their own cards then it prevents arm races or the more invested players simply having better crafted and unbeatable decks. Or if you just want to buy a set to bring out whenever then that is perfect too: I picked up a set of Commander 2013 decks myself for this purpose. New decks come out with every new set which keeps things fresh and putting together out of print decks from singles is usually even cheaper than buying current. 18 years worth of decks with a consistent power level (better spells vs better creatures): what more can you ask for? Definitely recommend gradually putting together a precon library. 🙂
Thanks for the comment! You’re totally right, it was an oversight not to mention them. They’re great choices for new players and those who don’t have extensive collections. (Though not just those people, either–I picked up a Commander 2014 precon and two of the Commander 2013 ones, and I’m a big fan of Duel Decks, too. Go Nahiri!) My caveat with the precons is that they sometimes have trouble closing games. My group played a five-player star game with unmodified C14 precons that went on for hours and hours. This is partially because they tend to support two different themes, so if you play them out of the box they can get conflicted draws.
The “arms race” phenomenon is a good point too. I played a few games this past week which were a little lopsided: three invested players and one more casual player who built his decks out of what he had on hand. He was a great sport, but the differences in power level were clear.
I’ll spend some of next week’s article to talk about the precons in greater depth. They definitely deserve some attention. Thanks again for the feedback!