This entry is part 1 of 37 in the series Generally Speaking
By Imshan aka Sinis
BRILLIANTOne of the things I like about the reliability of a general in Commander is that you can play with cards that flat out change the way some of the mechanics of the game work, and for the games that you play with that general, those changes are pretty reliable.  Some examples of legendary creatures that ‘bend the rules’ are Azusa, Lost but Seeking who lets you play all the land you want with few limits, Hokori, Dust Drinker who slows the pace of the game to a crawl, or Karador, Ghost Chieftan who lets you play out of your graveyard in a limited, but painless and persistent way.  In the grand scheme of things, Azusa, Hokori, and Karador merely bend a few features of gameplay.  Azusa lets you play economic land-to-hand spells to race ahead.  Hokori enhances the value of cards that create value without mana costs, or gives some decks a tempo advantage.  Karador can positively win a war of attrition, or abuse entering the battlefield effects.  But these effects generate a game that continues to resemble a regular game of magic; costs, effects and gameplay are relatively unchanged, even if you’re doing something different like casting a creature from your graveyard instead of from your hand, or racing ahead of the other players because you’re allowed to play a lot of lands each turn.

Every once in a while, I’ll find a card that rewrites the way an aspect of the game works so completely — effectively breaking the rules — that cards an opponent has included in their deck will no longer do what they want them to, and cards in your deck will have effects that are disproportionate to their face value costs.  Traditional effects with traditional answers suddenly do not work properly, the normal rules do not apply.  No, scratch that.  The normal rules not only cease to apply, but have been dragged out back, beaten up and left for dead while a new parody of rules has taken up residence in its apartment and has started entertaining guests.  Of course, the fun part about this is that no one else gets to know about the ‘rules change’ until you reveal your generals at the start of the game.  Your deck is going to be built on the new rules, while everyone else can wonder when they missed the memo.One of these game changers is Horobi, Death’s Wail.  Horobi is a 4/4 with flying for 2BB, whose text reads “Whenever a creature becomes the target of a spell or ability, destroy that creature.” Read the rest of this entry »

This entry is part 2 of 37 in the series Generally Speaking

By Imshan aka Sinis

imshan, dawgAndy: You really like Kamigawa, huh?

Imshan: Pretty much.  I think the mechanics were more interesting even if most were objectively weaker than other block’s mechanics.  Infect/Metalcraft for example.  Not interesting.

Andy: But Imshan, modern R&D is the same brain trust that brought us Bloodbraid Elf…  What do you mean you like old mechanics?

For those who know me, it is no secret that I think the Kamigawa block is really cool stuff.  I’m not a weeaboo, I don’t serially watch anime, read manga or wear a kimono.  The difference between me and the people who do not hold Kamigawa close in their affections might be the fact that I didn’t play during that block, which I’ve been told by numerous sources was less than stellar in both constructed and limited.  I like Splice, Flip and Arcane cards, and I think that the design of cards like Kaho, Minamo Historian and Eight-and-a-Half-Tails is more interesting than that of Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer, and the myriad of infect-related cards including Melira, Sylvok Outcast.  Sure, mechanics like Spirit-craft are weak stuff, but it’s interesting weak stuff.  In a format where we’re all trying to win, but look like we’re not trying too hard, interesting weak stuff might be the choicest cut.  Now, this doesn’t mean I think all new cards are uninspiring.  I like some of the new stuff, like Glissa, the Traitor and many of the cards in the Commander product.

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This entry is part 3 of 37 in the series Generally Speaking

Sinis yoBy Imshan AKA Sinis

“You can’t win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.”

―Obi-Wan Kenobi

This line comes from one of the most dramatic scenes in the Star Wars films; Obi-Wan Kenobi faces his former student, Darth Vader, who has the obvious intention of killing him.  Obi-Wan is pretty sure that he’s going to lose this one, but he’s got a trick up his sleeve that his nemesis, flush with hate and impending triumph, simply cannot understand: Obi-Wan never meant to leave the Death Star at all because of the danger Vader represents to his allies.  Luke learns this lesson well; in Return of the Jedi, he surrenders to the Imperials on the forest moon of Endor for many of the same reasons, intending to occupy his allies’ most powerful enemies while the hammer falls on the Empire, even going so far as to inform the Emperor that the three of them will soon be dead (though, since the Emperor is a competent villain, the whole scenario is part of his plan, minus the dying part).  Obi-Wan throws the fight with Darth Vader, confusing the Dark Jedi with his vanishing act and allowing his allies to escape.  His sacrifice makes him less, and yet more.  He cannot hold a lightsaber or interfere in the universe directly, but he can guide his allies no matter where they are.  The tropes of an evil student slaying his former mentor and a sacrifice as the greatest benefit are not new, and echo throughout much of literary history.

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This entry is part 4 of 37 in the series Generally Speaking

So far in the Ascendant article series, we’ve looked at Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant and Homura, Human Ascendant.  The first deck is a mechanical mix of life gain, Auras, and a narrow set of ways to abuse the commander, while the second is an intensely thematic deck based on Obi-Wan Kenobi and his travels.  This instalment of the Ascendant article series seeks to tackle the most problematic from the cycle.  Erayo reserves a special place of infamy for Commander players as one of the most ‘unfun’ and until recently, unbanned generals, and arguably the most recognizable from the Ascendant cycle.  In fact, it was near the completion of this very article that Erayo had found her way to the banned list.  Of the people I spoke to, most of those who knew of flip creatures from Kamigawa block immediately knew who Erayo was, but had very little idea of what the other Ascendants did.  For those who don’t know, Erayo, Soratami Ascendant is a 1/1 Legendary Moonfolk Monk with flying that costs 1U and reads “Whenever the fourth spell of a turn is cast, flip Erayo, Soratami Ascendant.”  The flip side of this card is Erayo’s Essence, a Legendary Enchantment which reads “Whenever an opponent casts a spell for the first time in a turn, counter that spell.”

Traditional deck construction for Erayo is well-trodden territory; the people who typically played Erayo prior to its banning either played in high-powered circles where prison, greased lightning combo and heavy control are the norm, and as a result had decks with the express intention of casting Erayo, followed shortly by a game plan to flip in a hurry in order to start taxing their opponents one spell at a time.  A list with that sort of goal might look like my own from before the banning: Read the rest of this entry »

This entry is part 5 of 37 in the series Generally Speaking

In the last segment of the Ascendant series, we looked at Erayo, Soratami Ascendant, and how we could play with Erayo, as a suspend, time and clock themed deck, while avoiding the usual problems with early instances of Erayo’s Essence which results in a variety of discontent ranging from grumbling to homicide.  This week’s Ascendant is Sasaya, Orochi Ascendant.  For those who have never heard of Sasaya before (and justly so), Sasaya, Orochi Ascendant is a 2/3 Legendary Snake Monk that costs 1GG and reads “Reveal your hand: if you have seven or more lands in your hand, flip Sasaya, Orochi Ascendant.”  The flip side to this is Sasaya’s Essence, a Legendary Enchantment which reads “Whenever a land you control is tapped for mana, for each land you control with the same name, add one mana to your mana pool of any type that land could have produced.”

With Erayo, there was a mechanic whereby a number of spells could be cast ‘on the same turn’: suspend.  There didn’t have to be a lot of free useless rubbish to flip Erayo, and in exchange, the flip gets delayed and a theme developed at the very same time.  Sasaya is not so flexible.  There are no cards that let you cheat your way past the flip condition, where you can suddenly have enough lands in hand  (like a weird Memory Jar no one would play).  For Sasaya, you really will need seven lands in hand to get a torrent of mana from her enchantment side, and once that bridge is crossed it isn’t entirely clear where you’re going to spend all that mana; after all, you’ve still got seven lands in your hand.  So, when you’re flooded, you’re really flooded.

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This entry is part 6 of 37 in the series Generally Speaking

By Imshan AKA Sinis

Back when I started playing Magic in the mists of history, cards were really weird. Sometimes you opened a pack and couldn’t tell what card was the rare except by its position in the pack itself, since they were not conveniently colour coded like they were from Exodus and onward. Some cards like Touch of Darkness were printed ‘just because’, while at the same time Wizards of the Coast still had a tenuous idea of balance, reprinting cards powerful enough to be restricted in Type 1, like Mana Vault and Necropotence, alongside the modern mascot of creature derision, Craw Wurm, as late as Fifth Edition. The retrospective ‘silliness’ in Magic, with its Moxen, Ancestral Recall, and other overwhelmingly powerful cards became something of an impossibility for other games that flooded the market. As the CCG market matured, these sorts of deep flaws in game balance and ‘just because’ printings vanished altogether, becoming unacceptable. CCGs that came significantly later than Magic and the enormous crop of games in 1995 needed to be evolved in terms of game design, or be relegated to periphery of the industry as players wanted more competitively balanced games to play. Wizards rotated out their silliness, other games never included it. The result is a sort of unique age of CCGs that has passed, and will never come again.

Playing and collecting during those times was likewise interesting. Competitive decks at the time sported four Strip Mines, creating a low-curve environment where anything more than four mana was not likely to ever be cast, and if it was, it had better be Nevinyrral’s Disk, Ernham Djinn, Wrath of God or Armageddon. Overwhelmingly powerful sets have been printed since, but there is a certain nostalgia to opening packs and playing with cards from sets with crazy balance issues. Back in those days, I was first opening packs and collecting Elder Dragon Legends from the Chronicles compilation set, blissfully unaware of the collector’s ire that those cards in particular had aroused. Among the beasties I opened in hope of an 8 mana 7/7 flier with variable abilities and colours was Johan. Just “Johan”. Not “Johan, Mountainlord”, or “Johan of the Shadowless Hands”, as if every legend since Urza’s Saga needed a paperback novel worth of titles. Just “Johan”. Since it’s Olde Tyme week at CommanderCast, I’ve dug Johan out again, and am going to make him work. Read the rest of this entry »