This entry is part 21 of 23 in the series Savor That Commander Flavor

By William aka BlueRam

“The feeble resistance of the flesh is over. Phyrexia spreads its shadow over all.” -Life’s Finale

“The emergence of the Eldrazi isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as you’ve already lived a fulfilling and complete life without regrets.”
—Javad Nasrin, Ondu relic hunter ~All is Dust

The Praetors. If you haven’t seen one by now, consider yourself either lucky, or brain-dead. These five pillars of misery bring forth doom and despair upon anyone on the wrong side of the fence with a hulking display of power and suppression. They are the pinnacle Magic villainy. At one point, it was believed that these cards would be so overpowered that they would be banned from EDH completely.

Any time a player brought one of these praetors to the front lines you can expect panic and mayhem to ensue. These lords of suppression demand immediate attention. If they’re not countered, then the spot removal rains down on them. Urabrask and Sheoldred might be stopped, as can Jin-Gitaxias (if you’re quick enough), but Elesh Norn and Vorinclex both have immediate impacts on the game, wiping out creatures and locking down mana in one fell swoop.

A lot of people are still sore that Wizards ever released such horrors upon us and call them out as idiots who don’t know how to design for Commander. I, however, praise how well their design works.

I think that sometimes players forget that these cards were meant to be hated by anyone who wasn’t using one. These were the villains who took over Mirrodin, after all! Mark Rosewater himself, said that these cards were designed to feel as evil as possible. The Exarchs, the chancellors, even cards that caused the tiniest loss of life, were all designed to feel insidious and evil in some way. OF COURSE the leaders of each faction would have to be the strongest of them all, with the heinous powers to match.

Regardless of how much you know about Magic, the instant you see the praetors you understand that they’re playing by their own rules, and that you’re dealing with the scourge of the multiverse. Anytime you’ve had one played against you, you’ve felt the uneasiness and despair that follows them everywhere. The Praetor’s are among the multiverse’s most wanted, both figuratively and literally. Everyone but their caster wants them gone and is willing to spend any amount of removal to make it so.

Most people took the Praetors as a sign of things to come from Wizards. Commander was starting to become a secondary market for design (remember that this was after Wizards had announced the Commander Pre-cons), and the recent string of staggeringly powerful creatures didn’t give players much confidence that Wizards knew what they were doing by printing such “large and overwhelming creatures”. Really, it was all just bad timing.

The Blightsteel Colossus came out before the praetors did, and was a huge catalyst for this type of EDH backlash. The problem was, this card wasn’t made for Commander. The card was meant to shock people by turning Mirrodin’s greatest weapon against itself. It was created as a way to get the emotional response R&D wanted from their players.

Rosewater is on the record as saying, “The card was a lightning rod on purpose for a very specific reason. I designed the card…because I wanted to communicate the infection of Mirrodin by the Phyrexians in a big bold way. We wanted the audience to get a sense of the violation the Mirrans were feeling by the invasion.”

It’s fair to say that in this instance, Commander was just a casualty of design plans for limited with goals that were much different than most players wanted, and it’s far from the first time that this has happened.

The Eldrazi were created to be the hidden world-eaters of Zendikar, the literal gods among the men, elves, and other miscellaneous humanoids of our favorite adventure-based block. The pitch was literally “Cthulhu meets Galactus” and we, the commander players in particular, really felt the true extent of their brutal and overwhelming power.

I should take special mention to say that I’ve never seen Emrakul, the Aeons Torn ruin a game before. I didn’t start playing Commander until just after New Phyrexia came out but a couple of months before the Commander Product. I never got to see how game-warping Emrakul was or the many fits it gave players everywhere. From what I hear though, all I missed was a huge headache.

Even now, I still hear people complain about the Eldrazi and how much they’re hated. I asked twitter about the its reaction to the Eldrazi, and one person said they ran Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre in every deck JUST to avoid decking themselves out, but avoided casting the world-eater at all costs. Any time an Eldrazi hits the board at our local game store, that player just became the most feared player on the table, but isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?

I remember when I first got back into magic my freshman year of college, and I was playing my (poorly put together) 60/4 Boros aggro deck against a much more experienced girl in the cafeteria who was walking me through some of the new cards as she played them. I would have been pretty enamored with Garruk Wildspeaker if I could’ve fully grasped the idea behind Planeswalkers at the time, but he was just a pawn, Galactus’s herald if you will.

She quickly brought out Spawnsire of Ulamog and powered out his all-summoning ability on the next turn to bring out several Eldrazi on the next turn. At least some of them must’ve been the big three, but I can’t remember it too well. I just remember seeing HUGE, MONSTROUS, WORLD-GORGERS ABOUT TO ANNIHILATE MY SOUL INTO OBLIVION. It was as awesome as it was scary.

My fascination with the Eldrazi hasn’t stopped once since I’ve discovered them, even going so far as to convince Damia to join me in my endeavors to control their power. At this time, I have plans for us to gather even MORE Eldrazi to join us, and it will lead to the glorious world slaughter they so desire.

Both New Phyrexia and Rise of the Eldrazi featured powers that expanded beyond what’s been the normal for magic, leading many players to call Wizards out on both power creep and lazy design. While there’s merit to the former as Wizards continues to move the game closer to creature-based combat for their sanctioned formats, I really think players are making an unfair evaluation to call the cards “lazily designed for EDH” when they were never designed with the format in mind to begin with. That’s not to say I think Commander was completely absent during the creative process, but I think its safe to assume that it wasn’t on their list of Top 15 priorities when the sets were being put together.

This is a HUGE deal to me as both the resident flavor expert, and as someone who’s studying design himself. It’s easy to say someone missed the mark when you don’t know what they were aiming for to begin with. Just because Wizards is supporting Commander officially doesn’t mean that everything that isn’t for standard or limited was made with us in mind, nor can you judge them in the EDH vacuum of a “big, dumb spell/effect/beater” or a “card that’s just better than anything else you could put in” (a la Consecrated Sphinx). Being interesting is secondary to the emotional response that’s needed to sell a set when you’re advertising your flagship cards. It’s almost imperative that you try to look at everything else that was around the cards originally before judging their design.

Why are the Praetors so lopsidedly powerful? Because playing against one makes it feel like you’re in the presence of true evil. You’re under the same oppression that the Mirran resistance is trying to fight against, with the same odds of survival. Why are the Eldrazi so mind-obliteratingly powerful? So that you can feel absolutely insignificant and powerless, just like Zendikar feels right now. There’s a special dread that you feel when something feels like it’s constantly watching you, interested only in figuring out how long it’ll take before you’re gum underneath its shoe.

But if you’re the caster, you get to feel the sudden rush of power. You get to watch everyone else suffer under your might. You get to taste the victory that comes with crushing rebel alliances, or the inevitability your unworldly might drowns people in as you wipe their board like you’d wipe your plate. Whether you enjoy it or not, is completely up to you.

I can understand not enjoying the game state that the cards provide, and in some cases that’s justified. Just don’t go around complaining that R&D doesn’t know what they’re doing, or that the EDH cards they make are ruining the format. The cards are doing their job perfectly. We’re just the collateral damage.

No doubt I’ll get some angry responses for this. You can always direct them to my inbox at Wiehernandez(at)gmail(dot)com, tweet me @BlueRam1409, or leave a comment below. I’ll be happy to defend that these are well-designed cards through and through.

Join me next week as we dredge through a game of attrition that took waaaaaay longer than I would’ve liked.

Until then, don’t go to a firing range if you can’t see the bulls-eye.

Series Navigation<< Savor That Commander Flavor 24 – Making the CutSavor That Commander Flavor 27 – Reduce, Reuse, Recursion >>