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Phoebe, the Great Eraser

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The best Un cards are the ones that do something you would expect from a black-bordered card, but in a bizarre way. Look at Phoebe, Head of S.N.E.A.K., for example. You wouldn't be surprised if a Blue creature could steal an opponent's creature. That is something you almost expect to see from Blue. Instead, Phoebe just steals the text box. That is just perfect for a silver-bordered card!

Before we get too far in though, let's look at Phoebe from top to bottom and get the full measure of the Head of S.N.E.A.K. Phoebe is a 2/3 creature that costs only three mana. Based just on those stats we know that we can recast Phoebe if need be. We also know that 3 toughness just isn't a whole lot. Without some help she is going to have a rough time in combat and dealing with direct damage.

Thankfully her text box may offer the help she needs. The first portion makes her unblockable to creatures with flavor text. While that is particularly helpful when drafting Unstable, once you put her in a typical Commander game, where far fewer creatures have flavor text, that isn't quite as helpful. In fact, all things considered, she only has two power, so making her unblockable just isn't a big deal.

Everything changes with the second ability. For four mana, she can permanently steal another creature's text box. Now "permanently" is an interesting word. In Unstable this could really be permanent! I'm picturing recasting her from the Command Zone with three different creature's abilities! While tracking that would be difficult, it certainly doesn't seem beyond what an Un card could do, so I looked at the rulings about the card to get some clarity.

Yes, even silver-bordered cards have rulings.

The rulings that particularly interested me were these two:

If Phoebe leaves the battlefield, the stolen text boxes are lost. She doesn't keep them, and she certainly doesn't give them back to their original owners

If a creature loses its text box, leaves the battlefield, and then returns to the battlefield, it will once again have its text box. This won't affect Phoebe, who presumably still has the one she stole from the original creature.

The first ruling eliminates the headache of tracking all the text boxes even after Phoebe leaves the battlefield. It does mean that if we are trying to protect her against combat damage or other forms of destruction, bouncing her is probably not the best option. She'll just lose all the abilities she has stolen up to that point.

The second ability also limits how effective the ability is as a sword, as opposed to a shield. What I mean is that if you are stealing the text box from an opponent's creature, all they need to do is bounce the creature to get it back. If our plan is to use Phoebe as a way to eliminate the threatening text boxes of opponent's creatures, it may not work as well as we hoped.

What is also means, is that we can effectively steal the text boxes of our own creatures. While our creature will lose their text box, we just have to bounce the creature to get it back. This means that we could load the deck with creatures that have hexproof if we want Phoebe to be hexproof. The same goes with all kinds of abilities.

This can also guide us down the road to creating a creature with game-winning combos, infinite loops and all sorts of brokenness, awesomeness, or some combination of the two! Rather than rely on opponents to play creatures with text boxes that Phoebe would want, we can just do it ourselves!

A couple of things to note before we go too deep. This second ability costs four mana. While that isn't a ton, it can dramatically minimize the mana you have left to do other things during the turn. If you are stealing Golos, Tireless Pilgrim's text box, the likelihood that you'll be able to use it the same turn is minimal.

The other thing to keep in mind is that Phoebe can't steal a text box from a creature card before she enters the battlefield, so creatures with enter the battlefield triggers are a lot less interesting.

So where do we go from here? Do we put together a deck with a creature that taps and Pili-Pala and try to create infinite mana? Do we load the deck with creatures that just have crazy abilities and see what happens when they get all mixed together?

Or perhaps we follow my friend Omar's lead and embrace the diabolical!


Omar decided to embrace the "steal stuff" theme to the fullest. He looks to steal creatures, permanents, cards, and even your turns! As someone who has had the chance to play against this deck a couple of times, the deck has played out two different ways. The first time, it was part of what I still refer to as "the Greatest Game of Commander Ever Played." You may believe that you have played better games than this one. There are other games of Commander that I have never heard of that were likely amazing, but that game was the Greatest Game of Commander Ever Played. Omar's role was to steal away essential cards that would have ended the game, and to take other player's turns, doing the most ridiculous things that would make no sense for that player to do!

The other game was much more toned down, but Phoebe played a bigger role, leaving a variety of creatures as blank vanilla creatures. Picture Oko and elks, but without sucking the fun out of the game!

A few of my favorite cards in the deck include:

Mindslaver
Kheru Mind Eater

Mindslaver. This is a dangerous card to include in Commander decks. It takes a very delicate touch to make Mindslaver something that is fun for the entire table. I tried this in a deck that allowed me to loop Mindslaver. My thought was that I would take different players' turns and do all kinds of great things. Instead I was left taking one player's turn again and again since I would die if I didn't. This was miserable for me and no fun for the player who was not playing. I dumped the card that same night and have been very wary ever since. Omar plays Mindslaver like a concert pianist. He talks to the entire table, including the player whose turn he is taking to work out what everyone would like to see and balances it with insanity and a dollop of benefit for him.

Kheru Mind-Eater. On its own, it forces a discard from an opponent. The real talent of the card is the challenge your opponent faces. Do they give you mana to ramp with? Do they give you small cards that will have little effect on the game? Do they give you their most expensive cards, hoping you'll never actually play them? With Phoebe, the Mind-Eater gives Phoebe Menace and a great way to eliminate extra cards around the table. The text is particularly valuable when attacking an opponent with only one card in hand. While they will normally try to give you the weakest card in hand, when there is only one, there is a good chance you will get something they really don't want you to have.

Notion Thief
Thrilling Encore

Notion Thief. Now, this card is a little tricky, since it really doesn't matter if Notion Thief has the text, or Phoebe does. The key here is to be ready to steal the text when someone aims to kill Notion Thief so they can draw more than one card per turn. This essentially gives Notion Thief more resilience. Who is going to waste a removal spell on it if they know you are just going to steal the text off the creature before it dies? Oh, and if you want to steal the text, then bounce the Notion Thief so you can draw two cards whenever someone else draws one, you should go to town.

Thrilling Encore. I love this card, especially when my opponents know I'm running it. Everyone gets suddenly reluctant to play mass removal and anything that can alter how my opponents play in such a significant fashion is great. And when my opponents don't know I'm running it, this really comes out of nowhere. It shuts down a lot of graveyard shenanigans and gives you a board state that is just insane! On top of that, it is an instant! All those enter the battlefield triggers for you, all at the end of your opponent's turn. Now you get to swing with all the creatures on your turn as though they had haste. These are mostly going to be creatures you really don't care about, so blasting into defenses knowing a bunch of creatures are going to be sacrificed is just a winning position!

I'd love to hear some of your suggestions to include in a Phoebe deck! Let me know in the comments and on Twitter!

Bruce

@manaburned