Friday, May 13, 2016

Commander Cube: Lessons Learned From Pauper

When I play Magic, do I always play the Commander format? No.

Usually, but not always.

I was on a pauper kick for a while. The pauper scene is active on Magic the Gathering Online (MTGO), so it's easy to get in a few games here and there. Building decks out of all commons is strangely satisfying and can really change your perspective on the power level of certain cards.

Reality Acid

What does this have to do with Commander Cube?

I learned a couple of lessons while playing Pauper that apply to the limited card pool of a drafting cube.

The Pauper format is slow.

There's probably someone out there reading this that just grabbed a lamp off the desk and chucked it at the wall, but in my experience during the dozens of games I played against a ton of different decks it took forever to close things out. Most games came down to topdecking a solution to a stalemated board.

This means that some combinations of cards that would be ridiculously slow in other formats are game breaking in Pauper. Reality Acid + Capsize is a good example.

Reality AcidCapsize

What we have here are two blue cards that when combined a certain way form a repeatable and nearly universal removal machine. For a total of 6 mana to pay for buyback, Capsize is already a powerful card. But, with Reality Acid, you can spend a total of 9 mana to remove almost anything from the equation.

Yes, we are really talking about a 9 mana, two card combo.

It's that kind of format.

But, if you build a Commander Cube, where the card pool is limited, you will find that strange cards become powerful due to the way that the cards interact with one another when no other options are available.

Mesmeric Orb

I recently removed Mesmeric Orb from the Cube for this reason. I originally included it because I wanted a milling theme available, but what actually happened was that Mesmeric Orb could be slammed into almost any deck and would stall the game. It was interesting, but it wasn't fun.

You know what else I learned from Pauper?

Creatures that do stuff are awesome.

Spellstutter Sprite

Magic has come a long way.

It used to be that creatures were a lot like sorceries. You could only cast them on your own turn, and only when there was nothing else going on. Instants were like quick spells you could cast on your opponent's turn or at other times when you couldn't normally cast sorceries or summon creatures. Instants added strategic depth to the game.

Fast forward to today, and we have a lot more creatures with "flash," giving us the ability to throw creatures out there when we normally can't. This adds a significant amount of strategic depth to the game because a surprise blocker or a creature that shows up at the end of the turn can tear apart a carefully laid plan.

With creatures that flash in, there's more to think about.

We also have access to a lot more creatures that actually do something when they enter the battlefield. They do lots of things that we used to have to rely on an instant or sorcery to get done. Stuff like drawing cards, and destroying things.


What does this have to do with Commander Cube? Well, a high creature count makes the games way more interactive. You can build the cube to include creatures that have a spell effect, but that leave a body behind.

Think of it this way. If I cast Naturalize to destroy my opponent's Sol Ring, I trade my one card (Naturalize) for her one card (Sol Ring), and then that's it. My opponent has access to less mana, and I have access to one less card, but there's nothing else to think about.

NaturalizeReclamation Sage

But! If I destroy that same Sol Ring by casting Reclamation Sage, there's a creature left over to think about. For one more mana than Naturalize, I get a 2/1 body out of the deal. I can do all kinds of stuff with that creature. There's way more synergies available with Reclamation Sage than there is with Naturalize. Flicker, bounce, reanimate, attack, block, pump, you name it.

Momentary BlinkUnearth

The pauper format really brings this concept to light. Having a creature that does something useful and that sticks around to attack or block is a big deal. It makes for a more interesting game. So, when considering cards for the cube, look for creatures first that can fill the utility roles when possible.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Five Color Commander: Crushing Dreams on a Budget

Oh, man.

Crushing Dreams on a Budget

How cool is that? It's too bad I can't take credit for it, but I ran across that lyrical gem when I was researching five color deck alternatives. What deck are we talking about? Pauper Dreamcrusher Child of Alara.

Child of Alara

Get a load of this guy.

Here's the thing. "Pauper" commander means different things to different people. For the purposes of this deck discussion, it means that every card in the deck was printed at common rarity except the commander.

So, we have a deck that consists of Child of Alara + 99 commons.

This is where things get interesting.

I've been playing a five color deck for a long time that is a soul-crushing control monster. It's creatureless and attacks the game from an angle that is difficult to play against. When the lock is in place, it's only a matter of time before the game is officially over.

The scary thing about the Child of Alara deck is that it is strategically similar to the five color control deck I'm referring to, except it costs 100 times less. Tappedout is telling me that the Child of Alara deck is about $50. Heck, you probably already have - or can get your friends to give you - most of the cards for it.

CultivateMind ExtractionDisturbed BurialNegate

The deck basically works like this. You ramp a bit to get access to all five colors. You cast your commander. You proceed to blow up your commander and replay it over and over, reaping massive card advantage and generally wrecking everyone else's day.

From there, you win.

Your commander, in the form of Child of Alara, is both the control condition and the win condition. Most decks in this format cannot handle repeated destruction of all non-land permanents.


You are essentially engineering a situation where you have Child of Alara in play, along with a way to kill it and return it, backed up by countermagic and bounce spells. Despite working with an all common card pool, this situation is alarmingly easy to put together.

The problem is that this deck suffers from the same problem as the other five color control deck: it sucks to play against. Now that we can no longer tuck commanders, the Child of Alara deck is almost guaranteed to have access to the board wipe, typically on command because of the way the deck is built.

Olivia VoldarenWrecking Ball

I was playing this deck on MTGO last night in a quick 1vs1 game against Olivia. The BR Olivia deck is a powerhouse, especially since my opponent didn't have the same "only commons" restriction I was working with. We had some back and forth action for a few turns. I killed Olivia with a Wrecking Ball at his end of turn, untapped, played Child of Alara, and then passed. He played a land and passed back. I transmuted Dizzy Spell for Sidisi's Faithful and played it. My opponent conceded.

Dizzy SpellSidisi's Faithful

This may not be immediately obvious, but Sidisi's Faithful lets you choose Child of Alara to "exploit," then choose itself (Sidisi's Faithful) as the creature to return to its owner's hand. In other words, you can trigger the Child of Alara board wipe every turn and Sidisi's Faithful will be back in your hand before it happens. As long as you can replay Child of Alara from your graveyard, you can wipe the board every turn.

Game over.

For a low-cost deck, it's a fun to build and play with Pauper Dreamcrusher. Plus, there is an active forum with discussion on the deck for those of you who like to discuss card choices and strategies with other, like-minded individuals. And who doesn't like looking through commons for gems that break open a certain line of play?

Angelic Purge

Did you know that Angelic Purge from Shadows over Innistrad is a common that deals with indestructible gods while simultaneously giving you a way to sacrifice Child of Alara and trigger the destruction of everything? How deliciously convenient.