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By Dodo Bird Commander writer Josh Jurgensen

Hi there folks – I doubt any of y’all have heard of me, but I’m a longtime off-and-on Magic player (like most of the old-timers are) and I’ve been involved in Commander since shortly after I moved from my hometown Savannah, GA to the DC area around the second half of 2010. I’ve always loved the game and I was drawn to Commander largely because it gave me a venue to play all of the great old cards in our old binders that just ooze flavor and illustrate the history of the game.

I plan to highlight some classic cards throughout the history of the game that could spice up your decks. For some of you, this might be your first introduction to some of these cards – for others, this might be an opportunity to rekindle an old friendship with the one that got away.

Today, I’m talking about a near-forgotten classic that’s recently gotten a massive boost in usefulness. Hopefully some of y’all will try it out – I’m curious to know how it works at your tables.

 

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Spotlight – Tawnos’s Coffin

Here’s a card that stretches back nearly the whole age of the game – Antiquities was released just 8 months after Alpha first hit the shelves. While the game was in it’s infancy, the skies over game tables everywhere were ruled by Sengirs, Serras, Mahomotis and the dreadful Shivan. These were out of bolt range – which left Terror and Swords to Plowshares as some of the few ways to keep them from blocking and killing your Craw Wurm. Antiquities came along and wowed people with gamebreaking cards like Argivian Archaeologist and staples like Strip Mine and Mishra’s Factory – but it’s the Coffin that I recall most vividly, earning equal portions fear and respect.

Times have definitely changed and the Coffin is no longer situated anywhere near the storied heights it once had – but I think that it definitely deserves a second look. It’s usually a solid addition to any deck – but particularly those with sparse creature removal and commanders with sweet ETB abilities. If you’re still a little doubtful about this card, just imagine having a multi-purpose tool that you can use to save creatures from removal, remove problem creatures from the battlefield and even abuse comes-into-play triggers like the ones on Angel of Serenity and Prime Speaker Zegana.

Sound useful enough? Read on.

 

Analysis

Let’s start our analysis by breaking down the thick body of old-style text on Tawnos’s Coffin.

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Mono Artifact

3: Select a creature in play; that creature is considered out of play as long as Coffin remains tapped. Hence the creature cannot be the target of spells and cannot receive damage, use special powers, attack, or defend. All counters and enchantments on the creature remain but are also out of play. If Coffin is untapped or removed, creature returns to play tapped. You may choose not to untap Coffin during the untap phase.

The first thing you’ll notice is that it has a wall of (probably confusing) text on it – and I think it’s the only card ever printed with the word “hence” in the rules text. If you read the original wording and the current wording, you’ll find that the spirit and intent of the card remained largely the same – it just got updated templating. Here’s the current wording:

You may choose not to untap Tawnos’s Coffin during your untap step.

3T: Exile target creature and all Auras attached to it. Note the number and kind of counters that were on that creature. When Tawnos’s Coffin leaves the battlefield or becomes untapped, return that exiled card to the battlefield under its owner’s control tapped with the noted number and kind of counters on it. If you do, return the other exiled cards to the battlefield under their owner’s control attached to that permanent. 

After having read it, you’ll then notice that it costs a total of 7 colorless mana and a tap to get this to do anything. That tells us that it’s costed to be a mid-to-late game card – and it’s fine that it is, since the targets that generate the best value really won’t be seeing the board until mid-game anyway.

As far as timing – it works at instant speed. That means you can use it to save one of your cards (except Tawnos’s Coffin itself of course) from a grisly fate, or keep another person’s creature (or commander) frustratingly out of reach – temporarily, at least. You can leave this untapped with the mana available for it – poised to use it at a moment’s notice.

 

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Applications

Tawnos’s Coffin can do a lot more than just earn you a few extra ETB triggers off your Primordials. There’s a lot more to this card than meets the eye! Here are five ways to use it, some of which you may not have considered.

Creature Removal

This is likely the most obvious use of the card – to temporarily get rid of problem effects in colors with few other options for instant-speed creature removal – like monored, monogreen and colorless decks. If you’re looking for a boost in utility for your deck and you play one of those colors, perhaps it’s time you consider this icebox as an option. There’s few better ways to get rid of (or insure against) that trolly Iona otherwise. Granted – it’s not going to get rid of the problem forever, but sometimes you just need a turn or two to get the table to take somebody out.

Attack Deterrent

The use I hinted at above was probably the first thing I ever saw it used as – sort of a proto-Mystifying Maze used to protect yourself from taking too much damage in combat.

I believe one of the first truly clever uses I saw with this was someone attacking the coffin’s controller – they blocked with their Serra Angel and with lethal “damage on the stack”, they tossed their own Serra in the coffin – saving it and killing the attacker, returning it to play when they untapped the coffin immediately afterwards. We don’t use damage on the stack any longer – but the clever applications of this card in combat remain.

Simply having one of these untapped with mana to activate it can keep me out of harm’s way for a whole turn cycle – particularly if you have a Seedborn Muse or Voltaic Key in play. While I don’t see this being the primary reason for including the card in your decks, it makes me happy that it can do so when I need it. Note that equipment doesn’t stay attached to the creature – so they’ll have to re-equip. Many voltron strategies would need to spend their next turn re-equipping – with your coffin untapped and ready to go again. This is likely the most benign use of the card – a diplomatic attack deterrent.

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Personal Escape Pod

In my opinion, this is what I feel the primary original intended use for the card was (hinted by the artwork) – to help one of your creatures survive a Wrath of God (which wasn’t survivable by any creature at the time, if I recall correctly). What a fantastic use it is, too – who wouldn’t want to “throw Indy in the fridge” with their commander or key combo piece every once in awhile? An active coffin can add two extra layers of need-to-remove protection to a vital creature if used in response to removal – effectively requiring three separate removal effects to remove instead of one.

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Now some commanders will benefit from this more than others – Avacyn is one that springs to my mind that I’ve seen. Typically people fire a single Path to Exile or Swords to Plowshares at her as an answer. With Coffin this in play, you make any creature you control a much harder target to get rid of – and you double the amount of cards opponents must handle in order to do so. It is also worth pointing out here that aura-friendly commanders like Zur, Bruna and Uril can use this to safely tuck themselves away just before an opponent’s removal or your own Akroma’s Vengeance-type effect.

Fantastic Value Engine

The potential for value from this card is astronomical. This plus Solemn Simulacrum is land ramp every turn in any color. Basically, all the spell-with-legs effects with ETB or LTB (but not dies) triggers that Commander players are so fond of can generate value for you on every one of your untap steps.

I’m not going to list everything (and I’ve already mentioned a few) but a couple of my favorites are Sidisi Undead Vizier, Grey Merchant of Asphodel, Terastodon and Prime Speaker Zegana (note that Zegana will keep her old +1/+1 counters and gain a new pile of them when she re-enters play). This is the application that I use this card for the most in most of my decks with it.

Commander Hoser

This is definitely the most ruthless application for this effect – and I don’t recommend using it without telling you that it’s probably going to incur a serious case of the feel-bads when deployed. It’s purpose is to effectively lock/out-tax an opponent from being able to use their commander for the rest of the game. When you target an opponent’s commander, they make the choice to:

  • Leave it in the coffin – and if that’s the case you can just leave it tapped
  • Replace the exile by putting it back in the command zone

Either way, it’s going to take a bit of work for them to regain regular access to their commanders. It’s possible in mid-to late game (once people start to miss land drops) to attempt to tax-out multiple commanders – but you’d better be prepared for the entire table turning on you at that point. At this juncture, it’s worth mentioning that this capability could (in my opinion) make Tawnos’s coffin a contender for best and most flexible piece of commander removal after the recent tuck ruling.

 

Technical

Like all cards in the Oblivion Ring family tree, there’s a variety of opportunities to respond to triggers (and that usually varies from card to card in this family). It’s worth noting the rules reference in the previous footnote that an animated coffin will not bring itself back.

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For the technical-minded, there’s still about a trillion tricks to do with this card and its interaction on the stack. For those that are less technically-minded, grasping the following is a good place to start:

To exile two creatures nearly simultaneously:

  1. Tap Coffin to use ability targeting a creature
  2. Respond by activating Voltaic Key/ Clock of Omens
  3. Key resolves, untaps coffin
  4. Activate & resolve coffin targeting a second creature
  5. Original Coffin ability resolves and effectively exiles both creatures until it becomes untapped or leaves play

To permanently exile a creature:

  1. Tap Coffin to use ability targeting a creature
  2. Respond by activating any effect that causes it to leave the battlefield
  3. Coffin Effect resolves
  4. Creature is exiled with no opportunity for the version of the coffin that exiled it to LTB or untap

I like to think I have a pretty solid grasp on the rules – but I’m still discovering how wrong I can be pretty frequently. I’m no judge and very complicated interactions can get a bit tricky for anyone. If you don’t have a reliable and trustworthy rules expert in your games, I strongly recommend reviewing the errata, gatherer card rulings and other information, understanding what it means and being able to explain these interactions to others at your table in a way that everyone can understand.

Remember that nothing is fun about playing a game when you don’t understand the rules that someone else is using. Try to be a responsible player and a good steward of your group by understanding the cards you use and their common interactions with other cards to the best of your ability.

 

Dealing with it

Unfortunately as things usually are in magic, you’re not 100% immune from anything – and this is as bad for you as it is good for your opponents. If you have a player in your local metagame wreaking havoc with their coffin on everyone’s commanders – or using it to abuse their own ETB effects, there’s a solution to this problem. It’s as simple as waiting for them to activate the coffin and throwing some instant-speed spot removal at it with the coffin’s ability on the stack. The coffin will leave play from your removal and then the creature will be permanently exiled once the coffin’s ability finally resolves.

Likewise, you should also arm yourself with knowledge of this vulnerability when you’re abusing your board’s ETB abilities (and risking permanently exiling your creatures) with this card – knowing is half the battle, after all.

 

Financial

Is $20 too much for a card that’s probably going to be both useful and fun in any deck you drop it in? What if it was on the reserved list – so you knew it was a relatively safe investment insulated from losses from reprints? Is $20 too much for a card that turned 21 years old a few weeks back?

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All of this is your call – it depends on your budget and your group’s philosophy. Personally, this card closely resembles Scroll Rack in that I trade for every single one of either that I find in trade binders (and I hardly ever see any for trade). I have three Coffins and use them in 4/10 decks I own (one proxied). They’ve been pretty darn good inclusions in every deck so far.

I started this series because I got into Commander back in 2010 and I’ve seen things like Rings of Brighthearth and Phyrexian Altar (two reprintable EDH almost-staples) nearly surpass this in price – and people in my group remark about how many pricey cards I employ regularly. Most of those pricey cards I picked up years ago – before they increased to their current price. Hopefully the reprintable ones people want to see come back are in time reprinted.

Nowadays, we live in a time where every written piece – even single forum posts – immediately influence the market. That’s unfortunate for the people who don’t have the resources to speculate on dozens of cards they’ll never play, but it’s harsh reality. I have to be cognizant that the act of posting this will likely influence some manner of market pressure on the card as people discover and remember it and go to seek one or two out to try in their decks.

 

Future Sight

Ultimately, we’ve all flocked to this format because it represents what we find to be fun about the hobby – and I hope to remind myself and everyone else of this on each future Something for Everyone article I write. I plan on the first few articles featuring cards costing about $20 or less that could go in many decks.  Hopefully this gives you the opportunity to remember cards you’ve loved in the past and discover new cards to love (before they become any more unaffordable).

I’ve enjoyed being able to share some of my thoughts and recollections on this hobby with y’all – I look forward to hearing feedback and sharing my thoughts with you again.

 

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