*This post sort of covers the Commander Challenge on September 7th, 2019
I’ve seen a few articles from EDH writers that are a little sour on C19. Mainly on the commanders, and the ancillary commander options, like Grismold, or K’rrik. I feel that. When C19 spoilers started trickling in, I was pretty jazzed. Now I’m struggling to come up with any ideas for the new commanders that don’t feel either forced or generic goodstuff. Like many other, it seems, I was initially excited about Pramikon. …And then things started to look less exciting. I’ve now played against Pramikon a bit, and it’s not so fun. And I don’t think it would be much fun to build either. It disrupts, and forces the game to take a certain shape.
There are aspects of game disruption I do enjoy. I like chaos, to some degree. I like forcing action, again, to some degree. But I don’t like too much chaos, where nobody can really do anything, and the boardstates are a mess. And I don’t like forcing action to the point where I’m playing for everybody else. I feel like Pramikon starts to play the game for everybody. You’re jeskai, which are top-flight control colours, you dictate the flow of attack, you play the permission game, and you probably tick up planeswalkers. You even force your own hand a bit, as you can’t attack arbitrarily anymore unless you’re blinking Pramikon or something. So no traditional Walls-in-combat deck. Core 2019’s Arcades Sabboth is better for that anyway. I don’t want to spend much time talking about what I didn’t build or play, but I don’t think a build of Pramikon is in my future.
What I did build was an attempt at a bit of softer disruption. I wanted to try out one of the new C19 options, and the card with Goad on it stood out. Marisi, Breaker of the Coil. The buff cat. All about Goad on first glance, but actually quite a lot of depth. I love the Goad mechanic. I think it’s a natural fit for multiplayer, or at least, should be.
Marisi is Naya, which is red, white and green. This is a solid combo of colours, specializing in combat, and creature dominant strategies. There are always exceptions, but this is what Naya does well. Naya has lots of answers, and lots of sweepers. Marisi fits the colours nicely. Marisi costs 4, which is nice and cheap for a commander, making replays probable. He is 5/4, which is a pretty big body, making for a 5 turn commander damage clock, that can be sped up pretty easily. The first line of text, ‘Your opponents can’t cast spells during combat’ is a pretty nice little piece of tech. It could be a build around itself. It led me towards playing a suite of utility instants, which Naya has a lot of. And then, finally, the money line: ‘Whenever a creature you control deals combat damage to a player, Goad each creature that player controls.’ That’s what I wanted to build around, with all of the above as gravy on top. I felt like goading could be done easily and cheaply. I was right, but playing the deck had some surprises for me.
*I’m linking to my decklist on a third party site, Archidekt. The plugin for WordPress requires an upgraded account, which is something to consider in future. At first glance, Archidekt seems pretty great. I’ll be uploading all my decks there eventually.
I played a soft disruption deck once before. I played Thantis. I thought it would be fun to have everybody attacking all the time while I grew a large spider and profited from anyone attacking me. I had a number of Fling effects to close it out, and thought about getting a pom-pom or rubber spider to Fling at my defeated enemies. I play in the Commander Challenge, so votes are at a premium. I thought I could get votes by flinging spiders. Boy was I wrong!
Thantis was very poorly received. A lot of people don’t like spiders, for some reason. But that wasn’t all. I got hate I didn’t deserve, considering the other options at the table. People saw the ‘must attack every turn’ on Thantis and freaked out. It was an unquantifiable amount of disruption they weren’t prepared to cope with. Thantis died on sight. She got countered. My deck was designed to power her out, several times if need be, but she wasn’t ever on the table for long. Without her, I didn’t do much. People even assumed I was going to spider my way through their tapped-out-to-attack boards and kill them easily with commander damage. I suppose that made sense. I was probably fighting my own best path to victory. Thantis needed to be immune to her own attack urge to really be what I wanted. I scrapped the deck afterwards.
Marisi looked like he might be what I wanted Thantis to be. I could run cheap creatures and get in for easy early Goading. I would have a cool suite of uncounterable instants to keep me out of trouble, backed up by some of white’s most efficient boardwipes. Green would make sure I was always set for mana. It seemed good. I kept my curve low, and decided that I didn’t want to shuffle any more than I absolutely had to, and cut all the green ramp and fetch stuff. I tried to get some repeatable card draw in the deck instead, and mitigate flooding with cycling lands. A few goldfishes and I was primed to Goad.
There was, however, a complete lack of endgame that I purposefully ignored. I’m still not sure what that should be. A little more focus and the deck could have killed with commander damage, I suppose, but I always feel bad putting Whispersilk Cloak or a Sword of Something and Something on my commander and just waltzing through. It doesn’t satisfy. I wanted to do a Damage Over Time thing, with cards like Raid Bombardment, and Cavalcade of Calamity, but felt they wouldn’t add up to much damage over time. I think I was right.
When it came to the actual Commander Challenge, I did pretty poorly. I was killed often, and usually first. It was quite a contrast with Thantis, however, because the deck worked really well. It did its thing. It got in quick and Goaded often. Here is a quick rundown of my games:
Sevinne, the Chronoclasm, Ruric Thar, the Unbowed and Surrak, Dragonclaw.
Ruric Thar got out to a super hot start, that I cooled with a couple of boardwipes. One of the best ways to keep a 6+ CMC commander in check is make them cast it a few times. It sucks to be on the other end of that, but Ruric was poised to dominate. Sevinne quietly built up a nasty board, and turned a counterspell exchange with Surrak into killing me, using Sudden Substitution to take my Marisi and saddle me with Pact of Negation. Nasty. More on this below. I had a Fellwar Stone on board, and a Commander’s Sphere on the top of my deck, but that was as close I was going to get to paying UU to stay alive. The Fellwar Stone was nuked by my upkeep anyway. Surrak won, with an awesome suite of ETB utility creatures, backed up by the commander’s uncounterable ability. He also had all-Tarkir basics. I love those touches.
Omnath, Locus of Mana, Mono-black ‘not infect’, and some variety of Simic, maybe Sultai.
This game was notable for Omnath not using sleeves, the ‘not infect’ deck having a lot of infect cards, and Simic drawing their whole deck. I’m kidding about Simic. They do that every game. I think Simic players genuinely think drawing their deck every game and using one of Lab Man/WAR Jace, Toothy/Chasm Skulker/Galloping Lizrog or Psychosis Crawler to win is a good time. Goad was intimidating, but infect was equally so. It was hard to gauge the hate in this one, and attacks flew back and forth. I think it was a good game until the end, but I’m blanking on it. Sleeveless Omnath finished second overall on the day.
Kraum and Kydele partners, A nasty Mono black deck, Superfriends, and another Omnath, Locus of Mana.
This was the first of two 5 players pods to close the day. Kraum and Kydele won the whole event. He played well and probably piled up votes. Mono black had lethal on all of us with Bolas’ Citadel, Sensei’s Divining Top and Aetherflux Reservoir. He didn’t see it, lucky for us, and we managed to eliminate him. He discovered, like some players do, that the combo they could pull off is less interesting than not pulling off said combo and letting the game continue. Superfriends was killed too, and the rest of us went to time.
Azusa, Lost but Seeking, Tahngarth, First Mate, Rosheen Meanderer, and another I can’t remember (sorry! I’ll be taking notes from now on)
Goad really warped the table this time, and I was pretty heavily targeted. I was ultimately overrun by Survivors created by Varchild. They were created a turn after after I Goaded their controller, so I couldn’t stop them from attacking me. Rosheen Meanderer was impressive. Hydras have been impressive. Nothing like 8 8/8s to get the point across.
Some cards did exceeding well for me. Bloodthirsty Blade was amazing. I would put it in a lot of decks. It’s a massive hedge against voltron decks, if you can get past their hexproof. My hasty/evasive dorks overperformed. Impetuous Sunchaser was a bit tricky to manage, but it, Silhana Ledgewalker, Loyal Apprentice, and especially Tin Street Dodger were excellent. Dusk//Dawn and Slaughter the Strong were great, even if they killed Marisi. Spirit en-Dal did awesome work as an uncounterable source of unblockability. Soltari Visionary was a huge threat when on board. Lightmine Field would have taken over the game in one game, and all of Rogue’s Gloves. Rhythm of the Wild and Scab-Clan Berserker were removed lest they get out of hand. Riot Control was the MVP of the day, saving my life in two different games.
Some cards were tech I wanted to try but didn’t get the chance. Avenger En-Dal, Prophetic Flamespeaker, Spore Cloud and Sevinne’s Reclamation fall into this category. If I try the deck again, it’s because of cards like these.
Finally, the bad. I needed more or better blockers. Or more Fogs. I needed some sort of closer. Even some equipment that buffed power would have done a lot. Some cards were poor choices. Rite of the Raging Storm underperformed… again. I want to love this card. I haven’t loved it yet. Tahngarth, First Mate was too much work to be in a 99. He needs to be built around or else he seems to be super clunky. Ghostly Prison and Baird, Steward of Argive were either the best thing I could do, or made no difference. I would have preferred holding up a fog in both cases. Orzhov Advocate seemed like a good idea, but wasn’t even on Baird level.
The worst was that, for the most part, people were not keen to be Goaded. I was surprised by how much objection there was. Disruption is a dangerous game to play, even if it’s soft.
So would I recommend Marisi? Yes. I think Marisi is easy to make work. You can do the Goading you want without much difficulty. You can rule the stack during combat. But you may be a big target. Expect to be targeted whenever your opponents have the chance, because they don’t know if they’ll be able to do that again. You may not present the biggest threat, but you will be under the microscope. Beware haste especially. You can Goad all you want, but it’s near-impossible to Goad a creature that’s ETBing this turn, right into a pair of Lightning Greaves. But if you can turn your Goading dorks or the big buff cat into a finisher, this deck is definitely competitive, and interesting to play.
A last thing about Sudden Substitution: imagine we’re playing Vintage, you and me! I lead with Forbidden Orchard, Black Lotus (or any combination of free three mana including 2 and U) cast Pact of the Titan (or Summoner’s Pact/Intervention Pact), cast Sudden Substitution taking your Spirit Token and giving you my Pact… Now I suppose you can wait until SudSub clears the stack, and then counter the Pact with a Force of Will, but that seems like a pretty nasty turn 1. Maybe Vintage players will LOL, but this is totally doable in Commander in the first few turns with a pile of tutors. I was hoping SudSub would be the death of Torment of Hailfire, but it might be a bogeyman in its own right. Ugh.