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Dave's Commander Mailbag #4

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It's been a while since I checked the mail - who among us, right? - so let's spend this week answering some Commander questions from the community. Here we go!

When you prepare for a game where you know someone's 7 is actually a 9, but they think it's a 7, what do you add to your deck to make it not an utter blowout? - Vorthos Mike

Short answer: Nothing.

Longer answer: As I've discussed in this space over and over again, including just this past week, my strongest preference is for players to have a brief but robust and, most importantly, honest discussion about their decks, play styles and objectives before the game begins to make sure everyone's on the same page. I am also long on record as being staunchly opposed to numbered power level scales for Commander. I've said it before and I'll say it again: They don't work, and this example is one really great reason why - subjectivity. One person's 7 is another's 9 is another's 4 is another's 13.

So really, in my perfect Commander utopia, this scenario would never happen. But alas, we don't live in a utopia, so this question does lead me to broach a subject I had hoped to include in last week's discussion about the nature of universal fun at Commander tables, and that's the nascent trend of "modular decks". I now know of a good handful of frequent Commander players who have decks that contain a designated subset of cards that can be hot swapped in order to adjust power level, tempo and win conditions as a way of meeting the rest of the table where they are.

And frankly the idea is so good I'm jealous I didn't come up with it first. It makes all the sense in the world. Many of us often say that our decks are this powerful as they are, but with just a few swaps they can be THAT much more powerful. If you've got a deck where a mass land destruction card like Armageddon is part of a win condition - not your only win condition - but the folks you're about to play with really don't want to see it, just yank it right out and replace it with something else.

It's a novel way of being able to adapt to the group rather than hoping the group adapts to you. I highly recommend playing around with it the next time you brew.

Now that Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths is almost a year in the rear-view mirror, what are your thoughts on mutate and companions in Commander? - Atrus

Lurrus of the Dream-Den
Snapdax, Apex of the Hunt

First of all... what is time?

But second, they are largely non-factors in my estimation. I've played against exactly two mutate decks and haven't seen a companion used as a companion since the rules change. From the discussions I've seen, which surely don't come close to being an accurate representation of the entire Commander player base, there are a handful of folks who are in love with these mechanics, very few who outright hate them, and everyone else is mostly indifferent.

On one level I find that to be a shame. Mutate is a cool idea for a mechanic, no doubt, but my word it is cumbersome. I appreciate the design for giving us flexibility in whether we mutate over or under the existing stack, but I almost wish they had made that choice for us. I've witnessed games featuring mutate decks in which it took a painfully long time to make sure all the of the intricate rules were followed - and that's not even counting the time it subsequently took to resolve all the triggers.

I think mutate was a really fun idea. I wouldn't be mad if it came back, and I certainly wouldn't be heartbroken if it didn't.

As for companion, again, that rules change effectively made the mechanic an afterthought in most formats, including Commander. I remain exactly where I was when Ikoria released: The companion mechanic, and its associated deck-building restrictions, simply shouldn't function in Commander. That would greatly simplify things - just use them as your commanders like any other legends, and yes, I believe that would make it safe to welcome Lutri, the Spellchaser into the fold.

Unlike mutate, I frankly don't expect to see companion return, at least not in a Standard set. Having to rewrite the rules of a mechanic on the fly as Wizards of the Coast did leaves a mark and I don't imagine those folks are eager to tread that ground again anytime soon.

But never say never.

Snapdax, Apex of the Hunt | Commander | Dave Kosin


Why is Forest Bear the best card and best card art in the history of Magic the Gathering? -Megan

LOOK AT THIS BEAR.

Forest Bear

Adorbs.

I chose to answer this one because it helps inform the answer to another question I get a lot - what's my pet card?

I've answered this here before, and as a refresher:

Daxos, Blessed by the Sun
Wanderer's Twig
Mowu, Loyal Companion

But the more I hear this question and think about it, the more I realize my actual answer is that my favorite pet card is your favorite pet card. I get so much joy whenever I'm playing with someone and they get to use their pet cards, simply because it brings them so much joy. Commander has always been and will always be a wonderful vehicle for self-expression, Wizards's continual pushing of the envelope with new and broken Commander-specific cards be damned, and knowing that getting to cast their Forest Bear will bring Megan SO MUCH joy does exactly the same for me.

It's so easy to get caught up in the "new hotness" of Commander, to feel the constant pressure to upgrade our decks with the latest busted stuff or to brew around every single new legend or have a deck for every color combination or every tribe or synergy or whatever. That's all incredibly awesome, too, don't get me wrong - it's just that I, like many others, have neither the time nor the energy to keep up at that level.

So, if there's a weird, random card that makes you smile when you play it, then PLEASE play it. It'll make me smile, too. Especially if it's Forest Bear because LOOKIT HOW HAPPY THAT BEAR IS.

What is your opinion on proxies in Commander? It is always a hot button issue, but have heard a lot of chatter about it in recent weeks. - CrabGoneBerry

First let me acknowledge the inherent awkwardness that comes from discussing this topic on a website that is, primarily, a Magic card vendor. It's awkward. Acknowledged.

That having been said my position on this has evolved greatly over the past year. In the past, I'd been fairly staunchly against proxies; I wouldn't mind it seeing one or two in a deck if someone actually owned the card and it was just being used somewhere else, but I'd bristle at seeing five or ten or more.

Now, though, I see it differently. I do still believe that, by and large, we should be using actual cards as much as possible, but I'm never going to get upset at seeing multiple proxies in a deck, especially considering how insanely expensive some cards are getting. Dual lands are a prime example. We're at a point where, given their limited supply and reserve list status, many Commander players will simply never have an opportunity to own them. I absolutely do not blame anyone for not wanting to spend half a year's pay or more on ten pieces of cardboard, and I absolutely don't care if they write "tropical" in sharpie on top of a basic Island for a Simic deck.

Yes, Magic is a collectible card game. I know that and I like it. But there are some cards that are growing ever more financially unattainable for so many players, and I don't think anyone should be punished for not having been playing since 1994 or not having enough expendable income to invest thousands of dollars into a handful of game pieces. If you want to save your pennies and get a Gaea's Cradle one day as a sort of "achievement unlocked", then that's awesome! I absolutely love it and it's a truly amazing feeling when you finally get to bring that treasure home with you. But if you don't, or can't? Write "Gaea's Cradle" on a Forest and sleeve it up. I truly do not care.

What's your favorite thing about Magic in the past 12 months? - Alex

You know, the last year has been about 82 years, and it's brought a lot of worrisome, troublesome things to our world and, indeed, to our game. But being the unassailable optimist that I am, I choose to look at the good and I can actually see quite a few things.

My first good thing is this, right here, these articles. As it happens, this is precisely my 52nd article for CoolStuffInc... so happy anniversary to me! Having a venue to air my thoughts and add my voice to the discourse about this amazing game and even more amazing format has been wonderful.

Speaking of our format, Wizards didn't mean it this way but the pandemic meant that this truly has been the year Commander took its place at the head of Magic's table. That's not because of the product. Not even a little bit. It's because of the players. With competitive Magic in a very odd place and relegated to Arena and MTGO, a lot of enfranchised players turned their focus to Commander. My friends at the Masters of Modern podcast have played a hell of a lot more Commander over the past 12 months than they have Modern.

The ascent of webcam Commander has certainly helped with this. And to be quite honest, I'm not sure that ascent will slow all that much even when the world is all the way back up and running again. It's just too easy now to connect with friends and strangers from all over and play Commander anytime you want. It has allowed us all to broaden our horizons and play with people we'd have never had the chance to play with before.

And, to be quite honest, the best thing about the past 12 months is that if you're reading this, you've made it. I've made it. A great many people haven't, and that guts me every single day. But you and I, we're here. So, what are we going to do to make the most out of the next 12 months?

I'll share my answer with you next week. I don't know if you're gonna like it.

Dave is a Commander player currently residing in Reno, NV. When he's not badly misplaying his decks, he works as a personal trainer. You can bother him on Twitter and check out his Twitch channel.

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