Commander Staples – Swords to Plowshares

Hey Commander players! Today I’m covering one of the original Staples of not just Commander, but Magic the Gathering in general. Since this Staple was printed in Alpha, it has seen dozens of similar and lesser cards printed, but it still remains arguably the best at what it does. Blacksmithing! Right?

Swords to Plowshares (STP) as a concept was a bit mystifying to me as a young Magic player, so I looked into it. If you don’t already know, the concept comes from the notion that peasants had limited amounts of metal in their lives, and when a peasant transitioned to or from peasant-militia, their on-hand metal would often change shape. A peasant recruited from the fields to the front might turn their plowshare into a weapon, like a sword, and a soldier returning to peasant life for one reason or another would do the opposite. So essentially, ‘Swords to Plowshares’ is a fighting entity giving it all up to farm. Retirement. Forced retirement, if it’s not your creature.

When STP was first printed, there was no ‘exile’ term. The creature was ‘removed from the game entirely.’ I’m sure somebody did that wrong on some epic level they’d never admit now, like taking the card outside. But the mechanic that would become ‘exile’ was undeniably powerful. For starters, there was nothing else like it. And barely any other removal in white at all. And it was instant speed. And 1 mana. I feel like it would never be printed today for fear of being extremely unbalanced. All these things made it extremely playable, and the life gained as a drawback was almost inconsequential. Nothing has changed. Except for a soul-sibling in Path to Exile.

Path plays a little differently, and I’d like to cover it separately, but the comparisons are obvious. They both show off the gigantic strength of such a spell. While it doesn’t fully answer Commanders, there is no more efficient and effective way to deal with a problem creature at instant speed. There are no conditions on what creature can be exiled, and only a tiny handful of creatures that can come back from that.

Being able to dispose to nasty creatures with equip triggers on the stack, or at any stage of combat, is one of the keys to the power of STP in Commander. STP also shouldn’t be underestimated as a utility spell that does more than take care of problems. You can absolutely use it to gain life for various payoffs and triggers, and using it on your own creature that’s going to die or be exiled anyway can be a pretty sweet tradeoff for one mana and a card. You can also use it as an emergency return-to-the-Command-Zone card for your Commander. When might you do this? In response to a theft spell against it, or even Darksteel Mutation.

One of the best things about STP is that it has been printed frequently, and often as an uncommon. Supply is generous, and should be again. It’s a good fit for a Conspiracy/Battlebond type set, and not a bad addition to Commander precons and such. There are four different art options, and three of them are available for a dollar or two. The FNM foil is very expensive, and the fourth art-style, the Judge promo, is also quite pricey. But as far as getting a functional, playable copy, STP is one of the best buys in Magic. Cheap and available are possible the best qualities of a Staple.

In summation, Swords to Plowshares is a unique and powerful card from early Magic, which embraced an obscure but appropriate trope. While the balance of the card might raise some eyebrows in R&D now, it has been so fundamental to Magic since the very beginning that it’s hard to imagine the game without it. It’s tough to argue not playing it Commander if you can make white mana, and even tougher not to get one for your collection because of the low purchase cost, heavy printing and extreme playability. And like many great cards, the ‘downside’ of the lifegain (and exile), can even be turned into an upside. What more can you ask of a card? A true Staple. Thanks for reading!

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