The Last Known Survivor
I recently had a chance to play a Commander game that had some interesting twists and turns, and a few decisions on my part that I'm still not sure were correct. Let me know what you think.
This was the final game of the night and it would be a three-player battle. Each of us brought a deck that does its thing in rather dramatic fashion. The expectation was that this would be a short game.
I brought Ol' Buzzbark to the fight. I hadn't played the deck in a while and the opportunity to drop dice all over token creatures sounded like a great way to quickly finish off my opponents. Or more accurately, it would be an opportunity to drop my foam dice onto my cards again and again, yet never seem to get anywhere when it comes time to do damage. The Ol' Buzzbark team needs to be a little more hasty.
Andy brought his Teysa Karlov deck to the fight. I still refer to Andy as the "new player" but he has been playing for almost two years now. Not surprisingly, during that time his deck-builds have been steadily improving and Teysa Karlov is definitely his strongest deck. Teysa is an aristocrats-style build. While those builds can be miserably oppressive, Andy's deck is strong, while giving you a sense that with just a couple of cards, you could get out of the mess you are in and take him down. I've discovered that is often an illusion, but we haven't reached the point where my inner voice is screaming, "Why! Oh God, I hate this deck!" yet and we are nowhere near that point.
Will brought their Varchild, Betrayer of Kjeldor deck. I had seen this deck once before, but really didn't remember much about it. My assumption was the deck would pound away with Varchild on an opponent that couldn't stop it, then hope all the Survivor tokens would swing toward the other player since you can't use them to block or attack the Varchild player. I know Will puts thought into their decks and delights in really twisting the knife, so I expected the deck would do its thing efficiently.
The game started off pretty slowly for everyone. Will hit their first three land drops, then things dried up a little for them. I didn't notice it much from their board state, but around turn six they mentioned that they only had four lands and that was reason enough for them to play Howling Mine. I knew there was a reason I liked them so much! I played my first two lands, then missed the next two land drops. I did get to play a first turn As Luck Would Have It, and that started me dreaming about foam dice raining down from above again and again.
Andy was the one that took the real hit. His second land drop wasn't until turn four, and the third one didn't arrive until much later. I later discovered he had a great hand, assuming he could find a couple of lands in the next three draws. Luckily for Will and I, that didn't happen. Before the game started, I expected this was going to turn into a two on one early on against Andy as Teysa can be pretty cruel pretty quickly. While Andy did drop a couple early cards to gain life whenever a creature entered the battlefield, that was about it.
My early turns didn't result in many creatures, but I was setting up for some serious fun later on. Krark's Thumb made an early appearance, and suddenly all the dice I was imagining just doubled!
The first real move was a Varchild, equipped with a Fireshrieker, coming my way. There was nothing I could do about it and took an early six commander damage. I did get six Survivor tokens which brought three thoughts to mind:
- Survivor tokens! Buzzbark loves plenty of creatures and Survivor tokens will be happy to scoop up +1/+1 counters that fall from the heavens when Buzzbark deigns you with his presence. The tokens would have no use other than to attack Andy, but that didn't seem like too much of a downside.
- The downside. If Will loses his commander, he gets all the Survivors, including any +1/+1 counters I put on them. While I hadn't seen any sacrifice outlets show up, I had to assume they were in his deck. Even if they weren't, I was going to have to kill his commander at some point, assuming he would continue to swing at me. I still had no way to deal with Varchild and taking six damage per turn wasn't going to give me much wiggle room.
- Survivor tokens! Great! Now Eye of the Tiger was playing in my head. This would continue through the entire game, making the game that much better. I recommend you put it on a loop for the rest of this article.
Once my next turn came up, I found a couple of answers with a Walking Balista and Willing Test Subject. Neither could kill a Varchild Shrieking about Fire, but at least it would give me a little time without getting burned. Will then took their turn and played Bedlam. I took another six commander damage, and was gifted with another six Survivor tokens for my trouble. The writing was on the wall.
Andy took his turn and managed to get a couple of creatures on the battlefield. The Teysa engine wasn't running yet, but the pieces were starting to fall into place. His life total was already over fifty while I was already into the 20's.
I drew for the turn and decided it I was it was time to cast Buzzbark for the thrill of the fight. While I was still worried about the Survivor tokens going to Will, at this point I was going to die to commander damage if I didn't do something and big Survivor tokens seemed like the least of my problems. Besides, if I was going to win this game, I didn't want Andy to be over sixty life when I started to try. I had done my time. It was time to take my chance. I cast Buzzbark with X being six.
Remember that Krark's Thumb? How do you choose the best of two dice when you are rolling six? It would be unfair to roll twelve dice and choose the best six, so I found a solution. Colored dice! I have six different colors of the dice and I just roll two of each color. That way I can pick the better roll of each color pair.
Like many times before, the roll was gangbusters! It happened so fast! Buzzbark was an 11/11, Willing Test Subject was a 9/9, Walking Balista became a 4/4, and there were several big Survivors ranging up to a couple of 6/6 humans. I traded the passion of the die roll for the glory, and swung at Andy for 20 with the 6/6 Survivors and a couple of 4/4 Survivors.
Will's next turn was likely going to be painful for me. With Bedlam still out I couldn't block Varchild and I was looking at 18 commander damage. Thankfully I had drawn into a solution, so I sat and waited to see if Varchild would continue to come my way or if Will would shift gears and take a shot at Andy. I didn't lose my grip on my past dreams and prepared to have to fight just to keep alive. Will opted to stay on course and swing at me. It was time for the eye of the tiger!
Remember the Walking Balista? I removed three of the four counters on it to destroy Varchild, rising up to the challenge of my rival. With Varchild gone the last known Survivors left me to join Will. I knew those Survivors would be stalking me, their prey, on the next turn, but I was ready.
Andy took his turn and gained some life all while driving Will and I closer to dead. Even in the heat from the Teysa deck, I hung tough and stayed hungry. On my turn I saw all the creatures on the board and knew it was time to swing the odds in my favor. I played out the Savage Twister, doing six damage to skillfully kill each creature except the Willing Test Subject and Ol' Buzzbark. This wiped out Andy's building lock, and killed off all the Survivors that were certainly coming my way. I swung at Andy again and put him close to death while Will and I were down to the teens for our life totals.
Will played out Varchild again and equipped her again, but Andy's Authority of the Consuls demanded that she enter the battlefield tapped. Will dropped a flying creature but that would all have to wait until the next turn. Andy managed to recover his engine somewhat but his life total didn't get above 20. On my turn I swung with Buzzbark and the Test Subject at Andy again for another 20. He wasn't able to get his life total high enough and couldn't block because of the Bedlam, so the game ended for him. Before ending my turn I played a Triskelion to be sure I could take out Varchild again. Will saw the writing on the wall and conceded.
Ignoring the result, was swinging with Buzzbark and the Survivor tokens at Andy throughout the game the correct play? There were ways in my deck to remove the enchantment but once I decided to accept that Bedlam would be there for the whole game, everything fell into place. Throughout the game Will was the bigger threat on board, but I knew what Andy's deck could do, so I kept my focus on Andy. I also wanted to keep the Howling Mine and Bedlam on the battlefield, since I had no trample effect and didn't want to be slowed by chump blockers.
Would you have played it differently? Would you have been more conservative? Would you have noticed the Eye of the Tiger lyrics in the article if I never mentioned the song?
Eye of the Tiger baby!