This entry is part 14 of 37 in the series Generally Speaking

By Imshan AKA Sinis

A card that gets a fair amount of press in the Commander community with fairly little explanation is Torpor Orb.  To veteran players, the application is obvious; Commander players always want more value and flexibility out of their cards since games go long, and higher costs can be paid.  Naturalize gives way to Acidic Slime for flexibility, the bonus deathtouch blocker, along with more and better recursion potential.  Having a spell effect ‘with legs’ is simply better, no matter how weak it seems.  A creature with an entering the battlefield ability could hold a Sword of Protection and Value, serve as a blocker, or sneak in some early damage against players with slower starts.

The same can be said for a huge number of commonly played cards; Shriekmaw, Angel of Despair, Chancellor of the Spires, Chancellor of the Forge and Draining Whelk are all examples of cards players run for the value added for having a body.  Additionally, there are plenty of other singularly powerful creatures that just happen to operate on an entering the battlefield basis, like Avenger of Zendikar, Iname, Death Aspect, or Sunblast Angel.  Some aren’t even creatures, like Warstorm Surge and Pandemonium.  If you play Commander for more than a few months, all this will feel familiar.  Enter Torpor Orb.

Commonly played value-trigger creatures will have their extra value removed, making the usual suspects vanilla creatures, often at exorbitant costs.  Entire mechanics and strategies will also be put on notice; anything revolving around the Flicker or ‘blink’ mechanic will fail, soulbond creatures will never find their mates, and many value engines, especially those involving Crystal Shard or Mimic Vat will find themselves unable to function.

The biggest step to playing with Torpor Orb is to avoid ruining your own answers and game plans.  If you’re going to stop all those triggers, it pays to avoid being hurt when it happens.  If you are a veteran Commander player, this often means you will need a major overhaul of the creature base in the decks you plan to run Torpor Orb in.  The first solution is to find creatures that will perform the same function without those ugly words “When X enters the battlefield…”.  This immediately means that cards like Avenger of Zendikar and Craterhoof Behemoth are simply out of the question to run.  There will just need to be different finishers in a deck with Torpor Orb.

In terms of functional removal or other effects, there are, amazingly enough, plenty of creatures out there with activated abilities that will serve in place of a creature that enters the battlefield.  For example, Acidic Slime can be easily replaced by Wickerbough Elder, who lacks the deathtouch or ability to destroy a land, but is a larger body and still functions with Torpor Orb.  Similarly, Angel of Despair could become Necrotic Sliver and Draining Whelk could become Daring Apprentice instead.  These cards are not the same, but offer the same recursion potential and capabilities of simply being a body.  Additionally, some of these have other advantages, such as being far less expensive in terms of mana, and often in terms of real world money.

The second and most basic solution is to start running the cards that the value-trigger creatures replaced.  This means changing your Shriekmaw back into Terror, even though it is considerably worse when Torpor Orb is not there.  This will often result in a faster deck; playing with one-shot answers like Terror will mean that your deck can be quicker to respond to threats.  Even an evoke creature like Shriekmaw cannot be played at instant speed under normal circumstances.  Often, the costs of creatures with entering the battlefield triggers subtly makes the deck that plays them more slow as more spell effects get replaced.  Some, like Rune-Scarred Demon, Sphinx of Uthuun and Chancellor of the Spires are quite expensive and often cannot effectively respond to threats or generate the value needed at appropriate times.  A deck running these in lieu of other options may find themselves doing nothing while the game moves forward without them.  Once Torpor Orb affects them, it certainly will.

The final option for switching out value-trigger creatures is to find spell-equivalents that generate the most value per cast.  A card from Avacyn Restored, Rain of Thorns epitomizes this; your opponents will frequently have land and artifacts, and you can probably throw an enchantment in too.  A player running Acidic Slime might nab one of these things and a creature in combat, but Rain of Thorns will destroy three cards for one.  These cards tend to be expensive, creating the same problem as the more costly and flexible value-trigger creatures.  However, there are not many of these, so a rampant proliferation of them is entirely avoidable.  Cards that fit well into this category are the Command cycle from Lorwyn (Primal Command, Profane Command, etc.).  Alternatively, some lower cost cards offer flexibility instead of raw power.  Cards with ‘charm’ in the title with flexible and powerful choices have been printed over the years.  My favourites are Grixis Charm, Bant Charm, and Dawn Charm.

Since there is a lot of effort going on to avoid the effects of Torpor Orb, it only makes sense to try to maximize the harm done by playing tutors for it.  Aside from the usual tutor suspects in black, there are some very playable ways of getting it out sooner.  Shred Memory and Muddle the Mixture – which are favourites of mine – can find Torpor Orb, while being very effective cards on their own.  Additionally, Tezzeret the Seeker, Fabricate and a few others can search for Torpor Orb while remaining playable, or even very powerful.

Thus far, I’ve talked about Torpor Orb as something of an environmental choice: if you play against typical Commander players who have a penchant for running these sorts of creatures, playing Torpor Orb and making some adjustments will give you an edge.  Torpor Orb need not be an entirely reactive tool; there are plenty of ways to make it work for you.  There are a few creatures that require costs in the form of an entering the battlefield trigger.  The most famous from sanctioned formats is Phyrexian Dreadnought, whose trigger has been famously Stifled since the Scourge expansion was printed.  The potential does not stop with this guy, however.  A choice general for a deck using Torpor Orb might be Lord of Tresserhorn, who exacts a costly toll for his services, but might not be so inclined to collect.  There are plenty of other cards that the Orb makes much more powerful: Wormfang Manta will fail to skip your next turn in the presence of the Orb, but will gleefully grant you an additional turn when it leaves play, Orb or no.  Two of my favourites from Avacyn Restored, Demonlord of Ashmouth and Treacherous Pit-Dweller both offer persistent strength on the cheap.  Similarly, the Hunted cycle from Ravnica (Hunted Dragon, Hunted Phantasm, etc.) grants cheap, powerful creatures that are otherwise playable in their own right.

Finally, playing with Torpor Orb will force players in your group to explore new options if they’re hung up on value-trigger creatures.  Cards like Archon of Justice may not see play until you’re effectively disallowing mainstays with more immediate effects.  More than anything, the effect of Torpor Orb I am most pleased with is that many ways of generating value are eliminated.  Oh, and I hate Sharuum the Hegemon, Palinchron and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker.

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