Tricks of the Trade: Commander 2014: Blue


Commander 2014 is one hell of a set. Planeswalker Commanders (Commandwalkers seems to have entered the pub­lic lex­i­con as the stan­dard short­hand, though I’m still lob­by­ing for Walkommanders) are a fresh twist, the mono-coloured nature of the decks prove both a nice change of pace from pre­vi­ous sets and grant more options to the deck­builder – a mono card scav­enged from a pre­con­struct­ed deck can be slot­ted into far more poten­tial builds than a tri-colour – as well as final­ly pro­vid­ing monored play­ers with some great new Commanders.

My only pre-order was the black deck, large­ly because I just bloody love black, but also because I cur­rent­ly run a monoblack deck helmed by Ob Nixilis, Unshackled which def­i­nite­ly wants a chance to play with some of Commander 2014’s new toys. While I secret­ly covet all the shiny new decks, money is a lit­tle tight at the moment and so I resigned myself to just sigh­ing deeply when­ev­er I passed a gam­ing shop. Luckily (very, very luck­i­ly) for me, I have an awe­some girl­friend who decid­ed to sur­prise me with a copy of every deck, putting her­self firm­ly into the black on the Brownie Point Scale1 for at least, oooh, twelve years? With all of these won­der­ful new toys to play with, it seemed only nat­u­ral to write up a set review for my ador­ing audi­ence, which – by com­plete coin­ci­dence, nat­u­ral­ly – required us to play the liv­ing day­lights out of all the decks. The things I do for you peo­ple.

Straying from the usual for­mat you’ll find else­where on the web, I won’t (yet) be pre­sent­ing a card-by-card break­down of the new good­ies; instead I thought it would be more fun, and more use­ful to any prospec­tive play­ers who’re on the fence about pick­ing up one of the decks, to talk about the Commanders both new and re-printed with regards to how they per­form out-of-the-box. That means no tin­ker­ing with deck­lists, no gut­ting the decks to shuf­fle value cards into my per­son­al lists and no com­par­ing the cards to poten­tial­ly supe­ri­or can­di­dates for their slot. This will be a review of the pure pro­duct, not the street stuff cut with wash­ing pow­der or Hellkite Tyrant for a lit­tle extra kick. Want to know how Built From Scratch works with Feldon instead of Daretti? I’m your man. Need to find out if green’s elf trib­al theme makes Ezuri a bet­ter gen­er­al than Freyalise? Read on, my pointy-eared friend. Before we begin, a point of clar­i­fi­ca­tion: most of these Commanders have been test­ed only in 1v1 duel con­di­tions, since the whole “non­stop car­ing for a help­less tiny human” issue makes it dif­fi­cult to gath­er large groups for mul­ti­play­er games. Where I’ve been unable to trial a Commander in mul­ti­play­er, as it was meant to be used, I’ll still be apply­ing a rat­ing to the card with the caveat that the review is based on my expe­ri­ence and sup­po­si­tions rather than actu­al play time.

In order to appease our editor-in-chief’s per­son­al pref­er­ences2, the first deck on our list for today is the Teferi-helmed Peer Through Time, a solid “good­stuff” build for blue packed with pre­cise­ly what you’d expect; tons of card draw, more mana rocks than you can shake a Thornbite Staff at, and some heavy tap-and-bounce based con­trol play. Also Reef Worm. Reef Worm is the coolest.

teferi

Teferi, Temporal Archmage

Duel rat­ing: 4/10

Multiplayer rat­ing: 2/10

Walkommander num­ber one is a true-blue, through and through. High cost on a frag­ile body, he imme­di­ate­ly brings the value when he hits the field by draw­ing cards or untap­ping per­ma­nents. At six mana he’s a hard-sell in the early game, though mit­i­gat­ed some­what once his –1 abil­i­ty untaps your Sol Ring, Thran Dynamo, Dreamstone Hedron and Coral Atoll. His +1 is essen­tial­ly fil­tered card draw, giv­ing you the choice of either of the top two cards from your library. It’s solid but not earth­shat­ter­ing. I’m not sure it’s all that use­ful in the build due to the huge num­ber of ways to draw cards3, but if you’re hav­ing girl trou­bles I feel…no, hang on, if you’re hav­ing draw issues it’s always nice to get a lit­tle extra gas in hand. His ulti­mate is…meh. For a Superfriends4 deck it’s an absolute bomb, but in a deck that only fea­tures a sin­gle Planeswalker it kinda fiz­zles. It’ll allow you to draw an extra card on every other player’s turn or keep untap­ping mana pre­pared to drop a coun­ter­spell on someone’s Dreadbore, but for a monoblue deck Peer Through Time is sur­pris­ing­ly light on coun­ter­mag­ic, run­ning only Dismiss, Exclude and (kinda) Willbender so the need to keep mana open for oppo­nents’ turns is great­ly reduced. There are a few Morph crea­tures includ­ed in the deck, but none of them are par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful or excit­ing so per­son­al­ly I wouldn’t both­er keep­ing the mana in reserve.

Given that his ulti­mate will take a mas­sive eight turns to go off assum­ing he goes +1 every time (more like­ly nine turns since you don’t want to –10 Teferi to get an emblem he can’t use due to being back in the com­mand zone), it’s not real­ly worth the both­er. There’s a school of thought amongst the Spikier blogs that in Commander, a Planeswalker should be eval­u­at­ed on their first two or three abil­i­ties alone, as the ulti­mate is wide­ly con­sid­ered unreach­able in a for­mat where every­one packs plen­ty of removal. To that I say “Pah!”. Yes, “pah!”, social niceties be damned. This is Commander; it’s all about get­ting big and crazy. Aim high. Play a ‘walk­er just because you want to see the ulti­mate go off – it may only hap­pen once every ten games, but when it does you’ll be the one laugh­ing. In this case though, I have to agree with the con­ven­tion­al wis­dom. Teferi’s ulti­mate isn’t worth shoot­ing for when an extra card every turn isn’t going to leave us with many more cards than we’re already draw­ing thanks to the prodi­gious vari­ety of draw effects in the deck. His untap abil­i­ty is use­ful in duel but less so in mul­ti­play­er, where there are more oppo­nents and we need to be more con­ser­v­a­tive about when we choose to Pongify or Cyclonic Rift. You can use it to throw out a big attack and then untap your guys to keep as block­ers, but monoblue isn’t that into the all-out “alpha strike” attack­ing game­play. As a Commander he doesn’t add a whole lot that the deck isn’t already doing out­side of a lit­tle mana accel­er­a­tion, and for that he’s being marked down to the lower reach­es of the scale.

lorthas

Lorthos the Tidemaker

Duel: 10/10

Multiplayer: 2/10

This big fella was a real sur­prise. On first read­ing the pub­lished deck­lists I’d writ­ten him off as just a big, expen­sive fat­tie with a repeat­able (but also very expen­sive) Detain abil­i­ty. And that’s pret­ty much what he is, with one impor­tant dis­tinc­tion; care­ful read­ing shows us that Lorthos – who I’m pret­ty sure made his first appear­ance as one of the Three Musketeers – is miss­ing a very impor­tant word from his abil­i­ty. There are plen­ty of crea­tures like Lavinia, who will allow us to tap down oppo­nents’ crea­tures and arti­facts. Any non-land per­ma­nent, real­ly, which is just gravy. Where Lorthos dif­fers is that his abil­i­ty does not spec­i­fy non-land per­ma­nents, which is a great big ol’ deal since detain­ing lands is func­tion­al­ly a lock­out for the play­er unable to access their man­abase. Given that Peer Through Time has got more rocks on show than Liz Taylor, it’s per­fect­ly plau­si­ble to have the big guy come down on turn five or so and go swing­ing in for dam­age. Example:

  • Turn one – Island, Sol Ring, Sky Diamond
  • Turn two – Island, Thran Dynamo, Mind Stone
  • Turn three – Island, Ur-Golem’s Eye, Swiftfoot Boots
  • Turn four – Island, Lorthos, attach­ing the Boots for Haste/Hexproof
  • Turn five – Island, attack with Lorthos, pay­ing 8 to tap down all the opponent’s lands and mana rocks
  • Turn six – Island, repeat until the game is won

It’s the kind of super-heavy con­trol that oppo­nents are often unable to coun­ter. In test­ing my girl­friend and I have both used Lorthos as our Commander and every game has turned out sim­i­lar to the exam­ple above; once the resources are locked down, play­ers don’t have many options and the early-turn chump block­ers are easy enough to either bat­ter down or bounce back to the hand where they will lan­guish, unable to be re-cast. Since the octo­dude him­self is such a heavy hit­ter we don’t need to worry about pop­u­lat­ing our side of the board with addi­tion­al attack­ing power, which frees us up to cycle through coun­ters and com­bat tricks just in case our oppo­nent man­ages to quick­ly ramp out enough extra mana to actu­al­ly do some­thing.

With a good open­ing hand Lorthos is a fast, heavy game ender. With a medioc­re one he’ll take longer, but the end result is the same. As a 1vs1 Commander he’s the bees knees and the Kraken’s back…en…who will dom­i­nate play once he starts swing­ing. Unfortunately the very things that make him dom­i­nant in duel are what I think will make him weak in mul­ti­play­er. He’s a big guy, mak­ing him a prime tar­get for the spot removal, the like­li­hood of which grows expo­nen­tial­ly the more oppo­nents there are at the table. His abil­i­ty cost is high, mean­ing you’ll often be tapped out on the attack just to lock down a sin­gle oppo­nent but leav­ing the oth­ers free to run ram­pant. Perhaps as a late-game strat­e­gy it’s viable, but once your oppo­nents catch on to what you’re doing be pre­pared to face the wrath of every­one who isn’t enam­oured of the idea of being stun-locked for the rest of the game.

geralf

Stitcher Geralf

Duel: 1/10 (test­ed, tech­ni­cal­ly)

Multiplayer: 0/10 (untest­ed)

I just do not like this card. It’s not the weak milling (two cards a turn? Whoop-de-doo, Tarantula Town!) or the sym­met­ri­cal nature of the mill which in this deck gen­er­al­ly results in your own value cards wind­ing up exiled or in the grave­yard. It’s not the unpre­dictable stats of the result­ing zom­bie, if one even results at all. It’s not even the vanil­la5 nature of the poten­tial zom­bie, though that is cer­tain­ly annoy­ing. What real­ly gets me is that when com­pared to his sis­ter, one of the poten­tial gen­er­als from the monoblack deck, he’s such a dud. The two have the capac­i­ty to make vanil­la zom­bie tokens in decks that aren’t in a zom­bie trib­al deck (ergo not many ways to buff said zom­bies into some­thing more use­ful), but their invert­ed meth­ods make one a viable lead­er and the other a frus­trat­ing flop. Where Gisa pro­vides not just a sac­ri­fice out­let — which is always use­ful for any deck look­ing to draw value from death/leaves-the-battlefield trig­gers — but also dou­bles your avail­able attack­ing power by turn­ing one zom­bie into two zom­bies, Geralf prefers to roll the dice and see what he can dredge up. Usually, it’s noth­ing very much, and even when it is the stats are con­tained in a sin­gle body. The gen­er­al pol­i­cy regard­ing vanil­la crea­tures in Commander is that they’re worth­less unless the total power is divid­ed amongst a lot of crea­tures, a la token decks. A sin­gle crea­ture, how­ev­er large, is eas­i­ly chump blocked if it doesn’t have Trample where­as the same amount of attack­ing power spread across ten small­er crea­tures gives a much bet­ter chance of actu­al­ly land­ing some dam­age.

Geralf’s zom­bies might be big, but they’re eas­i­ly removed or oth­er­wise dealt with, and then you’re down two cards with noth­ing to show for it. The only rea­son he scored any points at all in duel is because the rest of Peer Through Time packs enough com­bat tricks/removal to let his zom­bies slip through to the red zone. In a mul­ti­play­er game, for­get about it. In all hon­esty, most of the time he spent as my Commander he was just hang­ing out in the com­man­der zone while the rest of the deck sol­diered on with­out him, and it was all the more effec­tive for it. He isn’t a very good mechan­i­cal fit for the deck, which lacks much in the way of recur­sion (not even Flashback!) for the non-creature cards dropped into your grave­yard by his abil­i­ty, and as flashy as an enor­mous beat­stick might be it prob­a­bly isn’t going to win you many games.

That’s it for the blue deck — join me next time when I’ll be talk­ing about white’s Forged In Stone, the excit­ing equipment/token mash-up!

Notes:
  1. Also wor­thy of a shout-out is my month-old son, who has been extreme­ly accom­mo­dat­ing by choos­ing to sleep through the major­i­ty of our Magic games. What a champ. []
  2. The lady loves her some blue, appar­ent­ly think­ing it supe­ri­or even to black. We must for­give her, though – what sort of world would it be if we all fol­lowed the One True Path of monoblack supe­ri­or­i­ty? It would cer­tain­ly put Reiver Demon out of a job. []
  3. I count almost 20 non-Teferi ways to draw cards in Peer Through Time, so it’s unlike­ly you’ll ever be too des­per­ate for draw. Three cheers for a Mulldrifter reprint! []
  4. A deck arche­type that’s usu­al­ly five-colour, and host to every planeswalk­er you can jam into the thing, mak­ing for an awk­ward Brady Bunch sit­u­a­tion as a gag­gle of duelling wiz­ards must learn to get along and sur­vive with the Power Of Friendship. []
  5. A term here mean­ing a plain, no-frills crea­ture – one with­out key­word­ed abil­i­ties like Haste or Deathtouch, no spe­cial abil­i­ties, who can’t do any­thing besides attack or block. Essentially a waste of a card slot that could have been used for some­thing that advanced your posi­tion a lit­tle rather than an unex­cit­ing beat­er. []

Tom Dawson

About Tom Dawson

Tom Dawson is, in no particular order; a two-time Olympic bronze medallist (synchronised swimming), ancestrally Atlantean, a compulsive liar, the Green Lantern of space sector 2814 and the inventor of the cordless drill. His fondest wish is that someday he’ll get paid for writing stuff like this.