Greetings again, fellow Commander enthusiasts.
This week I’d like to address an issue that’s plagued the Magic community for years: the existence of “that guy”. You know who I’m talking about. The guy who never stops talking. The guy who insists on informing you of the rules that you already know. The guy who expounds to the universe on what an amazing deck he has constructed far beyond the point of interest. If you suspect that you are “that guy” (and, let’s face it, we’re all “that guy” some times), stick around, you might learn something. Unfortunately, “that guy” usually doesn’t read articles about such unimportant topics as “how to be a good player”, that is, a person that people actually want to play with.
This past Saturday, I, my friend Zach, and my cousin Ben had the bad luck of shuffling up with “that guy”. But let me back up a bit. Every year, the weekend before July 4th is Jazz Fest in Iowa City. Some of the best local musicians and some of the best players in the world come to share their talents on four different stages simultaneously over three days. There’s great food, great entertainment, great people, and there’s always the option of going downtown to check out all the wonderful local shops. It’s one of my favorite times of the year, so, needless to say, my spirits were high before I went to Critical Hit Games that day. I was in for a shock.
I had worked on my Zedruu the Greathearted deck all week and was eager to see it in action. Zach and I spent an hour in the store before the game started looking through the dollar bin, and I was able to find some nice additions in the form of Brand, Karplusan Minotaur, Grid Monitor, Spawnbroker, and Armored Guardian. We were not sure how many other Commander players would show up, especially on Independence Day weekend. We were in luck, though, or so we thought, as five other players came out to sling some spells. While Ben and I were still going through cards and Zach was sleeving up his newly bought Counterpunch Deck, four of the five decided to start early. Although we had wanted to play some of the other regulars, we weren’t above playing each other in the mean time, and we were soon joined by the fifth of the others, a man that looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties. He had short black hair, a cap, and a mustache worthy of a plumber. Let’s call him Mario.
The Game Begins
After we were all shuffled and cut each others’ decks the game was on. I won the roll so I chose to go first. I kept a decent opening hand, played a Mountain, and cast Goblin Cadets. Here, Mario made the first of many annoying remarks.
“Oh, I took that out”, commented Mario as I cast one of my favorite cards in the deck.
Heck, they’re all my favorite cards. In Commander, your choices are so limited that the owner of the deck probably feels strongly about every card they include, as I felt about my Goblin Cadets. It goes perfectly well with Zedruu the Greathearted and it’s a goofy card. I have a soft spot for goofy cards if you couldn’t tell. But no matter; I shrugged off the comment and kept playing, though I began to feel wary of Mario. The problem is, Mario made these same kinds of remarks over and over throughout the game, condescendingly questioning our card choices and making himself seem superior. Take this as your first lesson. Don’t be rude about someone’s cards, especially if they’re a stranger, or else they might never want to play with you again. That’s certainly how we felt about Mario after the game was over. If you want to talk about deck-building or make a suggestion, do it politely and kindly, or don’t do it at all. The Commander format is, most importantly, about casual, friendly play. It’s an almost purely social format. That’s why it’s my favorite. Why ruin that atmosphere with rude comments and mean-spirited play?
The Tension Rises
The game went on, and soon enough alliances were being made. I got a couple early hits in with my Goblin Cadets on Zach and Mario, but after that the way through to their life points was blocked for a long, long time. Zach got Ghave, Guru of Spores out as soon as he could. Mario formed a pact with Zach almost purely because they were playing the same colors. Ben was mana screwed from the beginning and couldn’t play a card until he found his Silver Myr around turn five or so. I cast my Clambassadors. It had been a last-minute addition I made to the deck when I realized how well it went with Zedruu the Greathearted. Of course, Mario got bent out of shape again.
Now, I can understand someone getting upset about an Unglued card in another format, but in Commander I think Clambassadors is perfectly reasonable. Aside from breaking the serious fantasy setting a bit, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the card. I would certainly never play cards that distract from the game like Shoe Tree or Eye to Eye without asking someone first. And I would probably never play overpowered cards like AWOL or Mox Lotus. But there are many, many Unglued and Unhinged cards that are perfectly playable in Commander. In fact, many of them have been printed by Wizards with black borders as almost the same cards. Fowl Play is pretty much Turn to Frog. The ability super haste from Rocket-Powered Turbo Slug is basically the same as that of Pact of Negation. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but the Un cards never get the spotlight they deserve, and in Commander I feel that at least a few can come out to play.
At any rate, the game continued with my clamfolk resolved. After a few more turns, though, it looked like Mario and Zach were going to walk away with the game completely. I managed to donate a Mountain to Ben with Zedruu and hold off Mario’s and Zach’s assault with walls like Fog Bank, Gomazoa, and Wall of Denial, but eventually Zach found a way to give intimidate to his Spawnwrithe. It was aimed squarely at me and dealing a small yet insistent amount of damage a turn. I was able to draw a couple extra cards and gain some extra life with Zedruu each turn, but I didn’t know how I was going to get out of this jam. Mario had his Aura Shards out and was destroying every enchantment or artifact I put on the board like Ghostly Prison and Shared Fate. He even chose to kill my Howling Mine first when Zach had his Attrition out. It’s that kind of play that ticks me off.
To make matters worse, every time I or Ben would play a creature that Mario knew he would kill, Mario would say, “That’s gonna die”. I wouldn’t have gotten mad if that had occurred once or twice, but it happened so frequently that I was almost at the point of quitting the game. There’s a good chance that almost every creature that gets played in a Commander game will die at least once, and pointing that out smugly only makes you look like a jerk. I did get a nice jab at Mario, though, when I cast Hinder when he tried to play Karador, Ghost Chieftain. Mario was visibly less chipper after that, and I knew then that I would have to put the last nail in the coffin personally.
In the Thick of It
Zach was able to keep us in the game when he dropped Monk Realist to destroy Mario’s Aura Shards, but Mario really began to pull ahead when he cast Debtor’s Knell after playing Decree of Pain to wipe the board and draw something like 18 cards. Zach then played his Awakening Zone, and that combined with Attrition was a deadly combo. He even got his Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter onto the battlefield. Zach was becoming even bigger threat, but I played Reins of Power and exchanged my Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs for Zach’s Juniper Order Ranger; Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter; Spawnwrithe, and some pumped up Eldrazi tokens from Awakening Zone. I sacrificed everything to Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter and swung at Mario for 15 flying, lifelink damage. Mario was down to just eight life while I was sitting cool with the highest life total at 45. Then I sacrificed Vish Kal to himself, and Zach sacrificed my Kazuul to his Attrition to kill off Zedruu the Greathearted. We were all a bit set back but I was beginning to see a way out, or at least a way for me to get Mario out of the game.
The board started to develop again over a few more turns, but Mario began to pull way ahead. Through Debtor’s Knell and some fancy sacrificing tricks with Deathrender and his own Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter he was able to get rid of Attrition and Aura Shards by summoning Zach’s Monk Realist. The real trouble started when he got Hornet Queen and Lord of Extinction into play, which entered the battlefield as a 61/61. Of course, Mario had to immediately yell to the store “I’ve got a 61/61!”. It looked grim after that. I had Insurrection in my hand for a long time but was one red mana short. I found myself wishing I hadn’t given Ben a Mountain with Zedruu or Mario a Mountain with Vedalken Plotter, although the Temple of the False God I got in return helped out greatly. Zach, Ben, and I were able to stall a long time, but just by the skin of our teeth. Ben’s Nin, the Pain Artist never stayed around for very long, and his Galvanoth couldn’t find the cards we needed.
Insurrection of the Best Kind
Zach was left nigh helpless for several turns as he top-decked lands many times and could not play Ghave, Guru of Spores because Mario had his own in his graveyard and could simply resurrect it with Debtor’s Knell. When Mario sacrificed Lord of Extinction to Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter and attacked Zach I was forced to save him via Chaos Warp targeting Vish Kal. Of course, Mario simply sacrificed the vampire and got his team back after a couple turns but it gave us time and ensured that Mario’s life total did not become untouchable. Finally, on what seemed like the last possible turn, I drew a Mountain off the top, cast Insurrection and sent everything squarely at Mario. Although he was able to sacrifice all his own creatures to Vish Kal, the combined damage of Ben’s, Zach’s, and my creatures was able to get the job done. I don’t think I could have wished for a sweeter victory, especially since it was my Insurrection’s very first victim.
Mario extended a hand to me, was visibly disappointed, and then proceeded to gloat to the rest of the store about how he almost defeated all of us. There is no almost winning in Commander. You either win or you lose, and you should be respectful enough to your opponents to admit that.
Needless to say, we were all extremely happy to have Mario out of the way so we could play our own game. Unfortunately, Mario insisted on sticking around, because “his Commander was a ghost so he should stick around like a ghost” and he wanted to continue keeping track of our life totals for seemingly no reason. So Mario stuck around to our chagrin and proceeded to tell us more redundant facts, like the basic rules of Commander and how much better his cards were than ours.
Ben made a surprising comeback through some big leviathans and Nin, the Pain Artist, but, in the end, Zach took home the win with a 21/21 flying Scavenging Ooze. I think we were all okay with that. By that time, we were all mentally exhausted, frustrated, and had to return home. We still had fun and plan on returning, but we’ll all do our best to avoid Mario next time.