Commander Challenge 04/08/23 – How to Stop a Juggernaut

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Hey there Magic afficionados! Yesterday was the latest Commander Challenge at the Connection Games & Hobbies in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Commander Challenge is a casual Commander (EDH) tournament. Breakdown is here. Tickets to the next Challenge, April 29th, can be found here. That Challenge is ‘No Search’ and all cards that search libraries are banned!

Hindsight is 20/20, they say. Who’s they? Marit Lage, maybe? I remember one time I’d played Dark Depths and made the token, and somebody cast a removal spell on it, and I had Not of This World in my hand, and I just stared at it and did nothing. I don’t remember why. Saving it to protect my Commander, Kozilek, the Great Distortion? Just having a total derp moment?

Well yesterday I took a deck built around another colourless Juggernaut, Graaz, Unstoppable Juggernaut, to the Commander Challenge, and boy did I have some moments.

To preface, the goal of the deck is to make a bunch of creatures, play Graaz, and swing hard. Let’s see if I did. I’m also not going to type out the J word a hundred times like in my deckbuilding post about the Graaz deck, to spare us both.

Round 1

The first pool of opponents were Hans Eriksson (played by my RL roommate, Andrew Wade), Slicer, Hired Muscle, and Baeloth Barrityl, Entertainer with the Background Agent of the Iron Throne.

This was quite the game. Slicer took a free mulligan, then led with Sol Ring, Mana Vault on turn 1, followed by Gamble and the Commander on turn 2.

I have a few further notes about the game, but it’s all about us getting hit by Slicer, then getting passed Slicer, then having to hit each other with Slicer, and then we were all dead.

There was a Chaos Warp from Baeloth that bought us a round, but none of us had any meaningful early interaction.

It’s tough to know even what we could have done. We tried a second game, with a similar result, although I managed to make things much more interesting by casting Sculpting Steel and targeting Slicer when it was passed to my on my turn. Due to the Legend rule, and because it was still pre-combat, actual Slicer went back to the Command Zone, and I had a Slicer that wouldn’t attack me so easily.

I didn’t pass the copy to the Slicer player on their turn, prompting a Judge call, to find out what would happen when the copy tried to flip. The result was that, since there was no other side, the copy stayed as-is, on the front side. Neat, and kind of confusing.

So now we come to hindsight. In the very first game, when Slicer was passed to me, I had City of Shadows in play. Here’s a picture of my copy. If you hover over the cardname, or look at the picture below, you can clearly see the word ‘sacrifice’ on the card. Slicer can’t be sacrificed.

This morning, I thought I’d double check the Oracle text on Gatherer, just to see. It’s a unique sacrifice effect, involving exile, before Magic even used the term exile. Here’s the listing on Gatherer. Turns out it’s not a sacrifice after all, just a straight out exile. Should I have checked during the game? Sacrifice was right there on the card.

Curse you, hindsight!!!

So I never found out what Baeloth was trying to do, and Hans Eriksson was a really cool concept built around the Commander, but Andrew never got to show it off. Maybe I can get Andrew to write a post about it.

Round 2

The next round was a much different game. We had Ghidorah, King of the Cosmos in glorious foil (AKA the Godzilla version of Illuna, Apex of Wishes), Kibo, Uktabi Prince, and Ovika, Enigma Goliath.

These decks were all great. Ghidorah was all Godzilla cards and mutate, most in the foil Godzilla treatment. It looked fantastic. Kibo was all apes and monkeys, including some OG classics like Uktabi Orangutan and recent commons, like Ferocious Tigorilla. Ovika was high cost spells and token synergy.

I had 5 lands in my opening hand, and that felt great, so I kept it. My deck had no basic Wastes in it, so all my lands had some upside beyond making a single mana. Plus the Commander cost 8. Fast forward to hindsight, and this was a great decision. Turns out I just plain outplayed myself.

The game started with one of the best bad starts I’ve ever seen from Ghidorah. I don’t know that they ever had more than a few lands in play, but they were always doing something.

Kibo started very strong, pumping out apes and buffing them quickly. My deck being artifact-heavy required some careful playing. I started with Field of the Dead, luckily, and drew a Maze of Ith, so I was able to manage okay making non-artifact tokens. I also had the City of Shadows again.

I was able to keep the heat off me, and anyways, Kibo was very concerned about Ovika popping off and kept the heat on them. I was helping Ovika stay alive, mostly just to maintain table parity, by using my Maze of Ith on Kibo’s biggest attacker.

I actually had managed to build up a nice board state, and when Ovika cast Blasphemous Act and wiped everything out I was able to rebuild quickly. I had good token generation from the Field of the Dead and from an Akroan Horse I’d given to Ghidorah, which was slowly ticking up my City of Shadows.

Kibo had pushed Ovika all the way down to 8 life, and I looked at my hand and saw The Filigree Sylex and thought I’d be tricksy and push it up to ten counters and kill Ovika that way. I usually keep Ratchet Bomb and similar cards like the Sylex at 0, because tokens can be a big problem. Like the goblins produced by Ovika.

Ovika played Ral Zarek and started ticking it up. While I have played the card myself, and know what the ultimate does, I never really considered it a threat. I guess I thought someone would take it out. Turns out that was me. I had a Sandstone Oracle buffed with Forsaken Monument that equaled Ovika in the air, and could have beat Ral down. I also had (oops), Ugin, the Ineffable, which could have destroyed Ral easily the turn I played it.

Had I played the Unwinding Clock in my hand, I could have ticked up the Sylex to 10 in time… but I spent a key turn durdling, making tokens, getting value, and not dealing with Ral Zarek, who went to ultimate.

We ran out of regular match time. Ral’s ultimate resulted in 3 extra turns. I spent mana to target Ovika with Maze of Ith when it could have been spent better. We ran out of extra time, and the table conceded that Ovika would have won with their extra turns, and voted them winner.

While it’s hard to blame me for not knowing my City of Shadows could have slowed Slicer down in round 1, this one was all bonehead on my part. I barely made any progress towards making Juggernauts and turning them sideways, which I believe was the plan.

Round 3

The final round featured Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis (K&T for brevity), The Tarrasque (Big T) and Karlach, Fury of Avernus with the background Raised by Giants (Giant Karl).

While we played a pretty long, involved game, I didn’t get the greatest sense of what either of K&T or Big T were doing, for entirely different reasons.

First, every K&T deck I’ve every played against was group hug with scary game-enders like Price of Progress and Treacherous Terrain. The Commander came down turn 4, usually, and everybody’s mana and card draw were turbo-charged. I think this deck was a little more cautious on how they let their opponents have resources. The biggest example came at my expense. More on that in a moment.

Big T on the other hand, kept a 1 lander. The land was Cloudpost. As a personal rule, they never mulligan, which is pretty cool, but wow. Just Cloudpost. Maybe it was for the best, honestly. They and Giant Karl were friends, and Giant Karl seemed to think we’d all get squished by Big T if they had drawn more lands.

I kept a 3 lander. Like in round 1, I’d drawn Urza’s Mine and a land that required a sacrifice. I round 1, it was Lotus Field. This time, it was Scorched Ruins.

Playing Scorched Ruins is often a test of how kind your opponents are, and what their decks are calibrated to beat. Not every deck has ways to destroy lands, and even when they do, it’s a mean opponent who will use a Ghost Quarter or Wasteland, or even Field of Ruin on your Scorched Ruins.

I never, ever, considered Toxicrene out of K&T. Awesome to play a Scorched Ruins into, because you don’t have to sacrifice lands, but ouch. My mana went from 5 to 2. I had a rock and a Foundry Inspector to keep me afloat, but my mana was majorly stunted.

So add Toxicrene to the list with Blood Moon, Blood Sun, Tsabo’s Web, Back to Basics, and a few others. I digress.

The game was in progress. Giant Karl came out swinging, and I was forced to cast All is Dust early to get rid of Combat Celebrant, Halana and Alena, Partners, and The Reaver Cleaver.

K&T then built up, including Toxicrene, stopping me cold.

Giant Karl rebuilt really fast, dropping their Commander, Karlach, Fury of Avernus, their Background, Raised by Giants, and Kediss, Emberclaw Familiar. This was going to be 20 damage to all opponents every turn, to start. It connected once, but Big T had managed to play a few more lands and started casting Fog variants like Obscuring Haze.

In the meantime, K&T played Fevered Visions which is something I should play more of. Despite the Fogs, I was clinging to fewer than 10 life and counting. K&T also played Skullwinder, targeting me as an apology over the Toxicrene nerf. I chose All is Dust over one of the lands I’d sacrificed to Scorched Ruins as I felt something could kill the Toxicrene and I’d have mana for it.

Giant Karl played Klauth, Unrivaled Ancient and tried another attack, but Big T had Constant Mists. Then Big T suggested I could cast the All is Dust again by using my Mirage Mirror to copy Klauth and attack for a bunch of mana. I did so, but attacked with all my creatures, and lost a Crystalline Crawler I immediately wish I’d kept. Still, I got the mana, and All is Dust brought Giant Karl back down to earth again.

While the table was clearer, I had 3 life, and Giant Karl still had a Sword of Feast and Famine and plenty of lands in play to replay the Commander. Giant Karl finished off Big T.

K&T cast Molten Psyche with Psychosis Crawler in play, which was more than enough to end me, but not enough to take out Giant Karl, who rolled over K&T one turn later.

And that was that. Pretty good game overall. Lots of twists and turns and we almost went to time.

Wrap-up, Prizes, and More Hindsight

I did okay in the rankings, considering I didn’t win any games. I didn’t finish last. Somewhere in the middle. Andrew did better. We both won a pile of Jumpstart packs.

I don’t know if you noticed, but my games failed to produce any Juggernauts. I think I went to combat about 5 times, several of which were with me controlling Slicer. I did not play my Commander at all.

The deck had plenty of tricks and answers, but it never came together. I think I’d redo it if I’m going to play it again. I’d go much heavier on cheap token producers, and plan a curve filled with creatures with Graaz at the top. Honestly, the thought of playing the card in the deck I built felt bad, because it wasn’t going to come down on a board filled with dorks, ready to turn sideways. Too subtle, too tricksy, not enough Juggernaut.

What do you think? Would you have played or built it differently? Let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading!

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