This entry is part 34 of 37 in the series Generally Speaking

By Imshan AKA Sinis

Return to Ravnica is not so much a genius set idea on Wizards’ part as it is an obvious one. With Wizards wanting Modern to be the premiere eternal format, and further wanting to cater to the Commander player base, the block with the closest thing to true revised dual lands and an excuse to print legendary creatures in every two-colour combination is pretty much a no-brainer.

Of the legendary creatures printed in Return to Ravnica, only one of them is a head-scratcher. Rakdos, Lord of Riots obviously begs to be an aggressive creature or burn pile, while Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice is a new take on tokens, a little removed from Rhys the Redeemed.  Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord is stab at direct damage, much unlike Savra, Queen of the Golgari’s creature control.  Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius is simply an alternative to the original that doesn’t draw as much social hate but is just as much fun to play.  Which leaves Isperia, Supreme Judge. What do we do with this?

Isperia offers card draw on a per creature basis in a format known for a tendency towards singular enormous creatures.  You only draw one card from your opponent’s attack with Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre.  Isperia’s design also immediately conflicts with many of the white and blue defensive cards in Magic’s history.  Most white and blue cards that discourage attackers seek to restrict the number of attackers.  Cards like Propaganda work against Isperia by limiting the number of attackers, as does Ghostly Prison, Windborn Muse and Blazing Archon.

Others simply discourage players from attacking you without explicitly forbidding them with a tax or limit, like Aurification, or ‘punishers’ like Brigid, Hero of Kinsbaile or Lightmine Field. Most colourless red-zone control cards do the same; Ensnaring Bridge, Crawlspace, or Silent Arbiter limit the number or quality of attackers.  Even the Return to Ravnica Azorius mechanic, Detain, operates poorly with Isperia.  These all do poorly with Isperia because they limit the number of cards you could draw by limiting the number of creatures that could potentially attack.  By discouraging or preventing attacks, the potential for full payment in card advantage from Isperia just wont happen.

The second problem with Isperia, Supreme Judge, is that she has a lousy power and toughness to mana cost ratio.  Veteran players may immediately note that her evasion and card draw ability aside, her power and toughness to converted mana cost ratio is exactly the same as the Craw Wurm, that icon of of awfulness that internet trolls do so love to accuse internet trollees of playing too many of.  The fear with her mana cost is that an Isperia player would tap out to play her, where she would promptly be removed during another player’s precombat main phase, after which they swing in with creatures that do not trigger card advantage for the Isperia player.

So, how do we deal with all these problems?  Since Isperia provides the cards, keeping her on the table with free ‘pitch’ counterspells is a possible solution.  Cards like Force of Will, Foil, Misdirection and Commandeer and their fuel can be easily replaced when an Isperia player gets attacked.  For some cards, like Sudden Death, there is no solution, but narrowing the problems is the best course of action.  Other cheap or free counterspells in the form of creatures, like Glen Elendra Archmage and Daring Apprentice can serve to stop removal, or to block incoming creatures after Isperia’s draw trigger has paid off.

As for the white and blue cards that discourage attackers, the new direction is to simply not play them, and to play cures instead of prevention.  The best kind of card here is out of place in blue and white, but present nonetheless: Fog effects.  There are a surprising number of them including functionally usable variants: Dawn Charm, Angelsong, Energy Arc, Ethereal Haze, Holy Day, Kami of False Hope, Pollen Lullaby and Safe Passage.  This isn’t exhaustive, there are others, but I generally only recommend the low mana cost ones; you’re going to need most of your mana to cast the cards you’re drawing from Isperia, and it would be preferable that if you do draw into one during an attack, you could cast it to be able to prevent the damage.

Following with Fog duplicates are Maze-effects.  Maze of Ith does the same kind of post-hoc good work as Holy Day, but on every turn for one creature.  White and blue have a few of these effects: Kor Haven, Ith, High Arcanist, Prahv, Spires of Order and Mystifying Maze.  There are plenty of other cards that operate on the same axis, like Righteous Aura and Martyr’s Cry which can seal up major sources of damage.  In addition, the usual workhorse bounce spells will blunt creatures after they’ve paid Isperia’s toll.  A favourite of mine is Command of Unsummoning.

With all these effects, your opponents will catch on, and perhaps not bother attacking you, unless they have a way of stopping your Fogs and Mazes.  Thankfully, we can force people to attack altogether.  Gideon Jura can conveniently force a player to attack every turn with all creatures, and Isperia, Supreme Judge has the clause allowing you to draw cards if Gideon is attacked.  Blue has only a few ‘taunt’ effects; Courtly Provocateur will only encourage a player to attack someone else, though Alluring Siren gets the job done.  For the big winners, Siren’s Call and Taunt will force your opponent to attack you with everything, and give you a grip of cards.  Beyond these, we can only encourage attacks with cards like Angel’s Trumpet and if you’re feeling really risky, Crescendo of War and Archangel of Strife.  The truth of the matter is, unless your opponents are playing a combo deck that can fight through your countermagic (that is, untap with Boseiju, Who Shelters All and have only one critical spell), your only route to defeat will be the combat set, which they will pay dearly for as you pull in cards.

What do we do with all these cards?  Well, I’ll leave that part up to you.  But my feeling is that Isperia can win through general damage with minimal effort.  A quick Steel of the Godhead or Infiltrator’s Magemark, and you’re three swings away from offing a player.  If they try and get you first through creature attacks… well, so much the better.

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