Commander Spices - Blue's Hidden Gems

Feature Article from Bruce Richard
Bruce Richard
1/30/2018 11:00:00 AM
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A few months ago, I looked at a few cards from Magic's past that you may not have heard of but would want to add to your Commander decks. I thought I'd try it again focusing on the blue cards this time around. I hope you find something new and exciting that fits perfectly into one of your decks!

Scalpelexis

Mid
Low
 Scalpelexis
$0.40
$0.10
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Kirwan's Game Store 1 $0.13
Collector's Cache 4 $0.14
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Collectible Corner 6 $0.15
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Most Commander players read this card and dismiss it out of hand. They see a card that won't repeat the ability because they are playing in a singleton format. How often are you going to see multiple copies of a single card in Commander? If the card isn't going to do that, then what is the point of including it in your deck?

How many basic lands do you run in your decks? I'm not talking about your three, four and five-color commanders. I'm thinking about Gonti, Lord of Luxury decks. I'm thinking about Krenko, Mob Boss and Sram, Senior Edificer. There has been a push to scale back the number of nonbasic lands in decks since they are vulnerable to more of the land destruction Wizards has created. Players don't sacrifice a Strip Mine to get rid of a basic Plains, they look for the non-basic that can do real damage. Think of all the cards in Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan that flip into lands. Basics are safe and players are bumping up their numbers.

Scapelexis comes into that meta and makes your opponents' basic lands a liability.

To be fair, it is still unlikely that you are going to hit two of the same basic lands in the next four cards coming off your opponent's library, but it will happen at least occasionally. However, even when you set that aside, consider the card. A 1/5 flying creature is going to stop most things from getting through your defenses. It is going to be more difficult to kill with direct damage, and most opponents will not want to waste a card destroying this creature. If you choose to mill with it – honestly, that's why you would put it in your deck – it mills four cards at a time, so it is difficult for opponents to control the top of their library to avoid getting the card they want milled away. It also exiles the cards, so you can safely run your milling strategy against decks that are trying to live off the graveyard.

I know we are focusing on Commander, but take everything I said and consider the card in 60-card multiplayer games. Decks in those games tend to be focused on doing a specific thing, so they tend to run four copies of the same card to make that happen. The odds of hitting two out of the four cards in an entire deck in the next four cards of the library are not good, but it does happen occasionally and when it does, it is pure gold!

Shimmer

Mid
Low
 Shimmer
$3.36
$0.29
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People see phasing and their brain phases out. They move right past the card. Consider my latest game for a moment. One of my opponents had 10 lands in play: three Plains, three Forests, a Savannah, another dual, and two other nonbasics (I think it was Maze of Ith and Command Tower). If I played Shimmer and named Forest, when their turn started, they would lose all three Forest and the Savannah for that turn. Instead of 10 lands, they would only have six. If you can eliminate 30 percent of your opponents' lands every second turn, wouldn't you do it?

Now to be clear, you aren't doing this to shut an opponent out of one of their colors. They can use the nonbasics to get the colors they need. Shimmer doesn't do anything to the mana rocks. And every second turn, they are getting those lands back, so understand what you are getting. This is a way to limit the number of lands your opponent has. When those Forests come back on the next untap step, any new Forests they played on the last turn phase out. Shimmer simply reduces the number of lands they have available.

Now note it doesn't target a single opponent.

This just got real.

The best part about Shimmer is that players don't treat it like land destruction. You didn't destroy their land, you just gave it phasing. It will be back. Many players treat it as an annoyance and nothing more.

Naturally, the card has limitations. You probably are never going to name Island or any land type you are playing since it will affect your lands as well. Sure, if you time things right you could run some kind of Armageddon-style effect (but I didn't tell you to do that, you are just a terrible person). Perhaps you are the type of person who thinks loading up on artifact mana, playing Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and watching all the lands phase away every second turn is good fun. I think you are a terrible individual who probably enjoys poking babies with needles, but I suppose that is an option as well.

Somnophore

Mid
Low
 Somnophore
$0.48
$0.10
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Crossroad Games 3 $0.21
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Gamers Palace 1 $0.22

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It may not look it, but Somnophore is a very political creature. I used to run Somnophore with Hermetic Study or Psionic Gift, doing a single damage to an opponent without having to risk an attack, then getting to tap one of their creatures down permanently. I would tend to go after a single player, locking down their most problematic creatures right before an opponent's combat. Nothing screams, “attack that person!” quite like tapping down their potential blocker. It also discouraged players from attacking you. If you blocked with your Somnophore, it might die and give your mutual opponent his nasty creature back to attack whoever they wanted.

I will say that Somnophore does need help. Quite often the creature you want to tap down is a flying creature, so you can't get through their defenses with Somnophore. Other times, you want to have some way to protect Somnophore from the efforts an opponent will make to take it out. It is one thing if Somnophore is tapping down a single creature, it is quite another when you are tapping down three or more creatures. Also, that help can't be in the form of blinking Somnophore since that would remove it from the battlefield and lift the spell on the Sleeping Beauty of a creature an opponent controls.

Another card I used to like to run it with was Sigil of Sleep. Hit once with Somnophore and an opponent has to replay one creature and the other was left tapped! Ahh, good times!

Somnophore is probably best with commanders that make it difficult to either target creatures or block creatures. I think commanders like Thassa, God of the Sea or Kaseto, Orochi Archmage are both excellent options. When I went looking for decks, I found a Sun Quan, Lord of Wu deck that was running Somnophore that looked like a great fit!

Rayne, Academy Chancellor

Mid
Low
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Rayne, Academy Chancellor is an interesting creature that isn't all that popular because of her color and what she does: she is a blue creature that draws cards. While that sounds like a great combination, Rayne has two very significant drawbacks:

1. She requires your opponents to do something; and

2. For you to maximize her potential, you need to run auras.

For Rayne to draw you any cards, you or your permanents need to be the target of spells or abilities. Your opponents need to make this happen. The only time they are going to do that is when they absolutely have to, meaning you are likely losing a valuable permanent. If you want to do something more than get a card to replace the one you lost, you need to enchant Rayne. As a 1/1 creature, Rayne is fairly weak to removal, so the auras you choose should be Umbras or other auras that can protect themselves and Rayne. All of this is doable, but if you're in blue, there are so many easier ways to draw cards, so why would you bother?

One reason is the Wizard theme deck you are considering. I'm not suggesting Rayne as your commander (although if you choose to do so, I wouldn't Rayne on your parade), but she makes an excellent addition to the theme. With so many smaller creatures, Rayne can dramatically limit the effectiveness of direct damage that can be used against smaller creatures. Rayne helps them grow.

Another reason is Vorthos. Rayne was the Voice of Reason at the Tolarian Academy. While Urza descended into madness and Barrin was left to wonder where to draw the line, Barrin's wife Rayne was never without doubt and helped keep Barrin from being drawn into Urza's insanity. She was the Rayne that followed the thunder and lightning of Urza and Barrin. Rayne is also the mother of Hanna, Ship's Navigator and another key character in the Magic storyline. For more info, click the link!

Setting aside the Wizards theme, the Vorthos reasons and all the wonderful Rayne puns she offers, Rayne, Academy Chancellor is a great insurance policy. When Rayne enters the battlefield, you just make a big show of her being there. No one will be randomly targeting your stuff. That player who is spreading the wealth, hitting a player for one or two points of damage is definitely skipping you. A player who is looking to get rid of several permanents is going to target Rayne first to limit your card draw, meaning every other permanent you control has a little more protection with Rayne.

Rayne can also be a great source of card draw. Instead of playing her with bombast and ceremony, simply cast her and wait. As players target your stuff, you'll start drawing cards. Card draw is generally something I prefer to have in slow steady amounts. The player who targets themselves with Blue Sun's Zenith and draws 10 cards is an obvious threat. Seeing a big splashy spell draw so many cards puts the whole board on alert. Rayne sits quietly on the board, drawing you cards to replace permanents you've lost. This kind of card draw doesn't draw attention to you and still gets you plenty of cards in your hand. The card is as right as Rayne.

Polymorph

Mid
Low
 Polymorph
$1.12
$0.36
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ChannelFireball 3 $0.81
Kher Keep 1 $0.81
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I'm going to wrap up with one of my favorite blue cards that you likely don't run but have heard of. Polymorph does it all. You can get rid of an opponent's best creature and replace it with something less. You can replace one of your weaker creatures with something better. I find that it is ideal in the sorcery and instant-heavy decks. Those decks tend to run fewer creatures, and only ones that are powerful on the high end. If you set up a few ways to make token creatures, Polymorph can act as a search engine to find the powerhouse cards just when you need them. Watching an unsuspecting opponent's face when you flip 15 cards before finding a huge monstrosity is pure joy!

I know this deck isn't a Commander deck, but I've been running this 60-card deck for a long time, with only the occasional addition here and there.

While this deck revolves around Polymorph, I can see Talrand, Baral, Yasova Dragonclaw and even Riku of Two Reflections all enjoying what Polymorph can offer!

I hope you enjoyed our jaunt through some of the cards from blue's forgotten past. Many of blue's older cards offered the promise of something more than just card draw. I hope you enjoyed a peek into something a little off the blue-beaten path! Enjoy!

Bruce Richard

@manaburned




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