By Carlos

Let me be perfectly frank:  I’m getting more and more frustrated with the online commander community.  It’s not because you guys are bad people; I get along with most of you pretty well, and I think that the online community is, in general, a good thing for the format.  However, I’m getting a little tired of people running “good” cards just because they’re “good,” and not thinking about why they’re “good.”

The whole idea of running good cards because they’re good in the abstract is something that I can relate to and talk about.  As someone who builds and tweaks a lot of decks, I’ve played with a lot of bad cards.  Like just about everyone, I’ve identified some of the better cards in the format and tried to find excuses to fit them into decks.  The problem that arises is that people (myself included) want to run cards that are generically good rather than contextually good.

I’ll be going through 10 cards that are frequently run in decks that probably don’t need or want that card.  The point here isn’t to say that these cards are bad; they’re all incredibly powerful in the right circumstances.  The problem is that the right circumstances don’t come up as frequently as people seem to think they do.

#10 Obliterate, Jokulhaups, Decree of Annihilation, and variants
These cards catch a lot of hate because they get played in decks that shouldn’t play them.  These are NOT the red equivalents of Wrath of God, and they’re not reset buttons.  These are some of the very few cards that actually need to be cast with a modicum of responsibility if you don’t want to draw infinite hate from the table.

These spells end the game.  If you’re casting them in such a way that they don’t end the game very shortly thereafter, then you’re doing it wrong.  You cast these, and then resolve some threats, or make something Indestructible, or have broken enchantments in play. Cast Obliterate and drop some mana rocks, cast Obliterate with Sulfuric Vortex and Impatience in play, cast Obliterate and replay your general with the floating mana, give Godo a Darksteel Plate before Obliterating.  It doesn’t matter what you do, but if your plan is “Obliterate, go” then don’t play the card; you’ll make everyone’s game a little more enjoyable.

# 9 Mind’s Eye
I don’t understand how much love this card gets.  I don’t understand its status as a staple. I don’t even think it’s that good in the abstract.  Sure, it’s passable in colors that don’t have much card advantage, but in colors that have access to any kind of tutoring or “real” card drawing, why would you play this?  I mean, in order for this to equal a Harmonize, you have to cast it for 5, leave up three more mana, AND have it survive through multiple turns.

My problem with this card is two-fold.  First, its drawing power is conditional at best. Second, you have to invest resources into it every turn in order to get that effect.  So, even though the number of cards that you draw is open-ended, it costs more up front than most “real” card-drawing spells, you have to continue to invest resources into it every turn, and after all that, you’re still not guaranteed to get any cards out of it.  Sure, the best case scenario is absurdly good, but most of the time, I’m pretty sure this is just worse than something like Sign in Blood, much less Tidings.

#8 Sword of Fire and Ice
SoFI is the best sword in other formats, but I don’t think it really deserves that status in Commander.  Protection from Blue and Red is probably the worst set of protections, and while drawing a card is always good, the two damage is much less relevant when life totals are doubled and most creatures are bigger than X/2.  I’m definitely not saying the card is bad, because it’s clearly not; any equipment that gives +2/+2, some kind of evasion, and “draw a card” is obviously going to be very, very good.

I think that this Sword is probably worse than both Sword of Feast and Famine and Sword of Light and Shadow in the Commander format.  The protections are more relevant on both of those swords, and their “primary” effects are more powerful in this format.  I’m pretty sure I’d rather recur a good creature or double my mana rather than draw a random card.

#7 Damnation/Wrath of God
Oh the old standbys, when did you get to be so bad?  I don’t know why people run either of these any more, since there are so many options that are just as good or better for the format.  There are two things that you need to ask to understand why these aren’t very good.  First, when was the last time the regeneration clause was relevant?  That’s what I thought; unless you’re playing against a Thrun deck, it’s just about never relevant.

Second, how important is it that you be able to wrath on four mana as opposed to five or six?  I’d say that there’s not much difference.  It’s unlikely that you’re going to die because your wrath costs two more, and if that really is the case, just back your wraths up with some more spot removal.  I’d rather have a wrath that’s good against everything and leave myself a little softer to creatures.

So what are your alternatives?  Well, to start with: Hallowed Burial, Rout, Austere Command, Final Judgment, and Mass Calcify are examples.  These either provide additional card advantage, utility, or are more likely to wrath your opponent’s board but not yours.  Similarly, black has Mutilate, Barter in Blood, Decree of Pain, Black Sun’s Zenith, and others.  These even draw cards, or get around indestructibility!  You’ve even got Nevinyrral’s Disk, Oblivion Stone and All is Dust as colorless options that are probably better than Wrath. Moral of the story: Don’t play Wrath.  Just don’t.

#6 Crucible of Worlds
I love this card to death, and it’s in quite a few of my decks because of how powerful it can be.  The problem is that I see people throwing it into decks as insurance against land destruction but without any real way to abuse it.  You have to realize that whenever you play a land off of Crucible, you’ve just gained card advantage.  Sure, it’s “just” a land, but it’s still a free card. You’ll want to utilize a variety of powerful lands to maximize the advantage generated by Crucible.

Here’s a good mix:  Fetchlands such as Polluted Delta, Rocky Tar Pit, and Terramorphic Expanse;  utility lands such as Mouth of Ronom; Cycling Lands; land destruction such as Ghost Quarter, Strip Mine, and Tectonic Edge. These are all ways that you can take advantage of your Crucible without warping your deck. Crucible isn’t bad, but you have to put in a little effort to make it as powerful as it ought to be.  Bottom line: tweak your mana base to make Crucible more unfair; yes, it protects you from land destruction, but it can also be a game-winning card advantage engine.

#5 Mox Diamond
This is one of the best pieces of acceleration in legacy and leads to all kinds of broken starts in that format.  It’s also card disadvantage and an artifact.  Being an artifact means it’s going to get destroyed when someone plays Austere Command or some such wiper. Is the acceleration worth it?  Sure, it can be in some decks; more than one of my decks wants a Mox Diamond. All of those decks have ways to recoup that card advantage and have ways to take advantage of the fast start and mana fixing.  I’m pretty sure that most decks would prefer to have a Sol Ring, Signet, Coalition Relic, or some other mana rock that isn’t quite as explosive but is more stable and consistent.

#4 Force of Will
Yes, this is the best counterspell ever printed. Yes, I’m saying you shouldn’t be playing it.  This card does a number of things, most of which I think are unnecessary in Commander.  First, it allows you to counterspell on turn one, even when you’re on the draw.  What, besides Sol Ring, would you possibly want to counter on turn one?  If someone has Sol Ring/Mana Crypt into a Sword or something, you still have time to deal with the creature or run out artifact destruction.

Second, it lets you answer spells when you’re tapped out.  While this is more relevant, I still don’t think it’s absolutely necessary.  You’ve got an entire table of people who can answer problematic permanents, and if you fear spells, then don’t tap out.  The fact of the matter is that the card you have to pitch is probably more important than the free counterspell.  Besides, Pact of Negation and Mindbreak Trap are probably both better in most cases.

#3 Conflux
The most over-the-top powerful tutor in the format.  I’ve run Conflux in a number of decks, and it almost always ends up getting cut, because I can accomplish the same thing for so much less investment.  I can draw five cards with Allied Strategies or tutor for three cards with Intuition, for examples.  The problem with Conflux is that you’re spending eight mana for something that doesn’t affect the board at all when you can accomplish a similar thing for much less mana and time.

Sure, Allied Strategies isn’t the same as tutoring for five cards.  But if you’re playing a lot of good cards and you’re playing some tutors, then it does a pretty fair approximation which should be good enough.  All Suns’ Dawn is another great example of a card that’s probably just as good as Conflux, but without being as costly.  I think the issue is that  people overestimate the power of tutors and underestimate the power of just drawing cards, and Conflux is the flagship for that.

#2 Kodama’s Reach/Cultivate
There are other cards that cost less than three mana, I promise.  I swear that every other deck in the format is green-based just to run Kodama’s Reach and Cultivate. I can’t stand decks that start with Sol Ring and a bunch of ramp spells;  you can ramp all day, but you’re not actually affecting the table.  Run more low cc creatures, like Viridian Emissary or Yavimaya Elder.  There are decks that don’t need to ramp and can just curve out naturally, but they’re running these kinds of ramp spells just because they’re playing green and feel obligated.

Honestly, just try cutting some of your ramp spells and high-cc bombs for more early and mid-range cards.  Your deck will be better equipped to answer problems at every stage of the game, and you really won’t lose that much power in the late game. I promise.

#1 Reveillark
This one I expect to get a lot of hate over, but I actually don’t think that Reveillark is nearly as good as people think it is.  Yes, it’s a 3-for-1 if they waste removal on it. Yes, it’s an absurd engine. Yes, it can combo–but is it an auto-include?  Absolutely not.  You have to be running a reasonably significant number of creatures with power two or less; if you can’t consistently have two of those in your graveyard, then you probably don’t want Reveillark.

If you’re running G/W with Saffi, Karmic Guide and Acidic Slime, Reveillark is obviously going to be one of the best cards in the deck.  However, if you’re playing W/R with Bogardan Hellkite and Stonehewer Giant, Reveillark seems like it’s not going to do very much a lot of the time.

Whether or not you agree with my evaluations, I hope this has made you think about cards that you might be running because they’re just “good” as opposed to actually contributing positively towards the function of your deck.  If you’ve got any comments about my choices, or want to share some or your own, I’m glad to take any comments or emails that you want to send my way.  As always, if you’ve got an idea or a deck you want to talk about, or any kind of comments or criticism, shoot me an email or tweet at me on my new-ish twitter account!