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Your Meta and Overrated Cards

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A couple of weeks ago, the guys on the Command Zone podcast did an episode where they talked about overrated cards. Nothing can get people going like telling them that the cards they use are overrated! It feels like a personal insult. Look how bad you are at Magic; you are using crappy cards when you could be using something better!

This gets people riled up and gets a discussion going; something the Command Zone guys were likely looking for in the first place. And as someone who disagreed with their position on a few cards, I’m happy to chime in!

Before we get in too deep, we should remember that talking about overrated cards in relation to Commander, is a tricky subject. With competitive play it is a little easier. The data is there. You can look at the format in question and state pretty definitively whether a card is overrated or not. There is still discussion for sure since players will have some differing viewpoints of what is driving decks, but the format is the format.

Commander, and casual formats generally, are different. A competitive format, Standard for example, has a single meta. This group of decks is the best. This is the best way to play a particular deck. There are some minor variances, but the meta is the meta. For Commander, that just isn’t the case. Casual formats tend to be more insular. This means that the meta in your playgroup evolves differently from the meta in my group. For a more practical example, consider the meta that the Command Zone hosts play in as opposed to the meta I play in. They regularly deal with combo and infect decks. My meta sees those decks, but only rarely. When I build a deck, I rarely need to consider the possibility that I’ll be put out of the game in four turns by poison damage. They absolutely have to consider that.

When you have different metas like this, calling a card overrated can be a true for you, but not true for others. Why run Mind's Eye in your deck if your games only last until turn eight or 10? Perhaps your group is heavy artifact removal. Suddenly an expensive card like Mind's Eye, that is only good when it stays on the battlefield for a while, is overrated if it is showing up a lot in metas like that. If your meta has long games where artifact removal is only targeted, maybe Mind's Eye sticks around and draws you a lot of cards. Suddenly it isn’t so overrated.

With all that in mind, let me give you the three cards they mentioned as overrated and why I think they aren’t. Then, to be fair, I’ll give you a few cards I think are overrated, so you can go online and tell me why I am clueless!

Eternal Witness

Eternal Witness

The Command Zone guys give three reasons why Eternal Witness is overrated:

1. The Regrowth comparison. Regrowth does the exact same thing that Eternal Witness does, and it costs one Green mana less. This is relevant since you want to get the card from your graveyard and play it in the same turn. They argue that being forced to spend the extra Green mana can limit how often that happens.

An extra mana is certainly an added cost. I have two issues with this argument for Eternal Witness. First off, why isn’t your deck running both? Comparing it to Regrowth somehow implies you must choose one or the other. I think the better statement isn’t that Eternal Witness is overrated, but Regrowth is underrated. The other issue is that we are talking about Green; the color that can most afford to pay an extra mana. Green is the ramp color. Paying an extra mana and getting a 2/1 creature for it seems like something Green would find well worth it.

2. The lack of benefit for the extra cost. For that one extra Green mana you are getting a 2/1 creature. As they say in the show, “the 2/1 body in Commander is not that significant.”

I’d agree with this statement if we were talking about a 2/1 creature at the end of the game when the big creatures have come out to play, or if the board state had devolved and a 2/1 creature was just another body. The problem is that it completely ignores the first part of the game. Eternal Witness can swing at anyone in the early game! You are hitting opponents for a couple of early points of damage or you have a chump blocker to deter players from swinging at you for a few early game hits. Everyone knows that you don’t care if Eternal Witness dies; in fact, you actually want it to die since you likely have a way to bring it back from the graveyard and use the ability again. In the mid-game, that body is a chump blocker.

The other benefit of it being a creature, is that there are plenty of ways to recur creatures, but getting other cards back repeatedly can be a little trickier. This is not to say that it can’t be done, but it is far easier to get Eternal Witness back to cycle it away.

3. They are not considering the decks that have creature synergies. It is a given that a deck that revolves around creature synergies likely has ways to abuse Eternal Witness. It will be able to get it back from the graveyard or make token copies or do something to abuse the ability. However, they argue that these are a small portion of decks that use Eternal Witness, and if your deck doesn’t do this, Eternal Witness is overrated.

This may be a different meta being the issue, but for me, Green decks are all about creature synergies! That is one of the primary reasons to include Green in decks. Since virtually all Green decks have significant creature synergies, using Eternal Witness just makes sense. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if you are building a Commander deck with Green in it, Eternal Witness should be in the deck unless you come up with a reason why it should not.

Reliquary Tower

Reliquary Tower
The guys argue (and they disagreed on how overrated this card was) that it is in most decks and most of those decks, if not all decks, don’t need it, thus it is overrated.

I can see the argument and to some extent I agree. I rarely run Reliquary Tower in my decks for a lot of the reasons they discussed. Many of my decks simply don’t get more than seven cards in hand. Many of my decks can easily discard down to seven when they do, without any loss to my ability to win games. Some of my decks even prefer to discard down to seven, as the cards end up in my graveyard.

The difficulty I have with the argument is what is the downside of running Reliquary Tower? It means that you are running one less basic land than you would have been otherwise. How much is your mana base hurt by running a land that doesn’t offer a colored mana as opposed to the number of times it was beneficial to hold more than seven cards? If your deck is at all likely to want more than seven cards in hand, running Reliquary Tower makes sense. The downside risk is so minimal that to suggest Reliquary Tower is overrated is silly.

To me, this is like my Urborg. When I first started playing I bought a few copies of some legendary lands from Legends. While Karakas has proven its worth many times over, Urborg was a different story. The ability to take first strike or swampwalk away from a creature just wasn’t something that ever came up. Not surprisingly, it comes up even less now that swampwalk doesn’t get printed on creatures. However, once in a while, I actually tap it and take away first strike from a creature! Sure, it is a land that is difficult to search for since it is a nonbasic. As a nonbasic, it is at greater risk of being destroyed as well, but I continue to put it in. The downside is minimal and the upside is minimal, but I’ll take the minimal risk for a chance at the minimal reward. Reliquary Tower offers a very minimal risk for a moderate reward, so why not?

Mimic Vat

Mimic Vat
This is the card where my discussion of the meta is most obvious to me. Josh on the Command Zone argued that paying three mana for the artifact, and three mana to activate it, coupled with so many games where the Vat just doesn’t do anything, makes Mimic Vat overrated.

My meta is apparently a polar opposite. I have never seen a game where Mimic Vat couldn’t be abused. Wizards prints amazing creatures constantly and has powered creatures so much that running a deck without great creatures is usually a mistake. At least one of your opponents is going to make this card worthwhile. Mimic Vat allows you to take creatures out of opponents’ graveyards to prevent players from recurring their creatures. These uses don’t even take into consideration all of the decks that can abuse the card or even have a sacrifice effect that makes it worth it to pay three. In other words, most Commander decks that run Green and/or Black.

My meta demands that I run graveyard removal in every deck I have. How effective is Mimic Vat against the opponent that uses bounce or flicker effects to slow their opponents? Not very much, but for every deck that does that, there are five others that destroy opponents’ creatures.

Even just having Mimic Vat on the battlefield forces my opponents to play differently. They don’t want me to get a Sakura-Tribe Elder under the Vat, so they don’t play it. The same goes for Grave Titan and so many other creatures that do something amazing when they enter the battlefield.

Josh describes a meta where creatures worth putting under a Mimic Vat rarely go to the graveyard. If that is the case, then I understand why he describes Mimic Vat as overrated. For me, and for most others I suspect since Wizards continues to put out product that encourages creature-based decks and decks that encourage recurring cards from your graveyard, Mimic Vat is often worth a spot in your deck.

My Overrated Card

So rather than list a single card, I’m going to take a big swing. I think that every counterspell is overrated.

Counterspells demand that you answer a spell before you know who is going to suffer most. Commander is a format where everyone has forty life. You aren’t building a deck with the idea that you are going to do all 120 damage to your opponents to win a game. You expect that your opponents will, to some extent, attack each other. You will certainly have to do some damage, but not all the damage.

You have to use counterspells before you know how the spell you are countering will be used. Why would I counter a 20-point direct damage spell if it is going to target an opponent? Why would I counter a creature spell if the creature is going to attack my opponents?

I appreciate the value of a counterspell when an opponent is about to combo out or is playing the card that wins the game. The question is, are you willing to leave mana up every turn to stop that from happening? A counterspell puts you under such strain to be able to play it at any time that you will find yourself so far behind your opponents because you are keeping so much mana open to play it turn after turn. It has its uses, but too many players overrate their value.

So head to the comments or Twitter and tell me how foolish I am, or how completely on point I am. We’ll determine if my opinion of myself is overrated!

Bruce

@manaburned