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So Much To Do [with Crimson Vow], So Much to See [in Commander]


So, what's wrong [with taking the back Streets of Capenna]? Are you as tired [of these jokes] as I am? Don't worry, we've gotten it out of the way so I promise you won't have to see it again.

If you haven't heard, cleave seems to be the mechanic in Innistrad: Crimson Vow that has generated some of the most discourse around the internet and spawned countless jokes almost as lame as mine.

Cleave [But Not the DnD kind]

Dig Up

Anyway, we have almost everything from Crimson Vow revealed, and the wedding of Olivia, Crimson Bride even came complete with a huge reveal show from Wizards featuring celebrities. Honestly, I thought this entire event was pretty cool and I really like what they've been doing in this space. I hope we get to do something as cool for the first paper Pro Tour back (whenever of if-ever that is)!

But it was cleave and its brackets that have dominated the first week, though I'm not quite sure I understand why. Whereas one person (probably a programmer of some kind) may find the [brackets] quite elegant - after all, it communicates the most amount of information in as few characters as possible. The editor in me loves it for that reason.

On the other hand, if a writer submitted anything approaching cleave to me, I'd rewrite the sentence in all likelihood. The tradeoff in characters, no matter how creative it is, to me is not worth the additional mental strain to decipher these cards, especially when some of them have multiple parts in cleave brackets.

Also, it's been said before but it really must be repeated: this really is just kicker.

Yes, everything is kicker. They could have still kept the reminder word for cleave just like they did in Adventures in the Forgotten Realms but spelled out in a complete sentence how the card worked for its cleave cost. Mechanically this is a riff similar to overload and it will play perfectly fine - it's just kind of meh.

A Feature, not an Exploit

Fell Stinger

While cleave is an example of a mechanic not particularly loved so far, the reintroduction of exploit is an example of WotC design doing what they do best: finding ways to make Magic feel fresh even as we approach 30 years of MTG. Given how often players leave and come back to the game, bringing back old mechanics has a ton of upsides that are evident here.

For starters, for a lot of players it will be their first time with the mechanic, so there's no reason to hold it back simply because "it's been done before." But as someone who breathes this game for a living, I haven't taken a set off in 12 years. While exploit isn't anything new to me, it doesn't have to be for it to be exciting.

Now, I'm certainly getting a lot of mileage out of the fact I play a ton of Limited on Arena (and paper in the before times), but the nostalgia hit of old mechanics coming back is actually an upside to me rather than a heavy cost to be paid.

Graf Reaver

All of this is to say that exploit is a perfect match for Decayed Zombies. That will certainly apply to Limited (for the upcoming Double Feature Innistrad draft), but it may also make the jump into Standard.

This has a completely different vibe to it than the original exploit debut did, in that you have a very clear target for what to sacrifice in this set. Turn the tables and eat those Zombies to fuel some great value!


I never expected a card with these words on it to see print, but here we are and Necroduality is really something else. We've seen with cards like Pyre of Heroes that WotC is leaning into making more Tribe-specific effects that go outside of the typical "creatures of the chosen type get +1/+1 and keyword. This is another step in that, and this is a really cool one with Zombies.

The immediate thought is to just spam Geralf's Messenger for fun and profit, and that's certainly a valid use of this card. But I happen to like it much more as simply a value engine - we've never really experimented with what can be done via copying your Zombies in Commander, but I have to imagine there's some pretty sweet options.

Wash Away

Finally, I have to spend some time talking about this card. This has quietly slipped under the radar so far, but it's hard to overstate the importance of this card in this set.

Let's start with Standard. Also known as "the format dominated by Alrund's Epiphany." Well, we can now counter extra turns for a single mana - but if you happen to have three mana open you can counter anything you want.

Again, this is really just kicker, but Spell Pierce has found its way into a lot of Standard decks and Wash Away is probably better than that in a format full of foretell cards.

But let's talk Commander. The place where this really shines. Swan Song is a staple in Commander because it's just so powerful in that format for a single mana - you're usually up seven or eight mana when you actually counter something with the Song.

Wash is similar, because for a single mana you can flat-out stop anyone's Commander since it wouldn't be played from their hand. Now I don't think that would get it played on its own - although Tale's End comes close - but add in the fact you can kick this to function as a boring-but-serviceable regular counter and it really pushes this over the top. I don't think this is a new Commander staple, but you should definitely consider it in your lists moving forward. Plus, it'll be a great Breaking Bulk so pull this from your box leftovers!

Midnight Hunt hasn't been here long, but we're onto the wedding now and Crimson Vow is nearly here. What are you most excited for from the set so far?

Thanks for reading,

Corbin Hosler


Commander HQ: Decklists and Strategy for Innistrad Crimson Vow's Legendary Creatures!

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