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No Sweat, My Pet Cards


In the Commander social media sphere we often see discussion of "pet" cards. These are, regrettably, not simply creatures we wish were snuggling with us on the couch or playing fetch in the backyard. If that were the case, this would be my one and only choice:

Mowu, Loyal Companion

Instead, pet cards are frequently defined as, more or less, being cards that individual players choose to include in their decks even though they're not considered to be "as good" as others. Essentially, they're the cards you play to stick it to the man, or...you know, whatever.

I'm on board with that definition, though not entirely. First, who's to say whether cards are good or bad in Commander? I'm not trying to be intentionally obtuse here; of course, there are cards that are broadly considered to be good. Teferi's Protection, Exploration, Mana Crypt, Revel in Riches, and Cryptic Command are just a few examples of cards - pulled right off the top of my head - that any random grouping of Commander players would, by and large, agree are "good".

But in a format with tens of thousands of unique cards at our disposal, unique deck-building constraints and a premium on crafting an enjoyable game experience, "good" and "bad" mean different things in different contexts. I just mentioned Exploration as a good card; I don't know many Magic players who would look at it and decide that doubling their land drops for a single Green mana as early as turn one is objectively bad. But as in all things with Commander, context is king. Yes, broadly speaking, Green loves to ramp - but not all Green decks are ramp decks. Yes, broadly speaking, doubling up on land drops in the early game is fantastic, which is why I would also consider Azusa, Lost but Seeking, Dryad of the Ilysian Grove, and Oracle of Mul Daya to be good cards. Early in a game they can be fantastic cards.

Later in the game, however, things can change. Casting Exploration on, say, turn seven without many cards in your hand and no draw engine is significantly less good than casting it on your opening turn. The card still slaps in a vacuum, but Commander is never a vacuum.

That's why I'd like us to look at "pet" cards in a slightly different way.

The Quiet Part Out Loud

We as Magic players have a nasty habit of putting each other down, intentionally or not, for having different viewpoints, making our own deck-building choices, liking and disliking things and generally just doing anything that isn't in line with the popular way of thinking. This isn't always meant to be mean or condescending; in fact, in my experience it almost never is. It's almost always a case of players seeing things only from their own perspective and not considering those of others. That's a perfectly human thing to do, though that doesn't mean we can't do better.

Here's an example. Chances are that at one time or another you've played a game of Commander with a stranger who said, "Why are you playing this card? You should add that card." Doesn't seem too troublesome on the surface, right? Let's look a little deeper. Let's place some emphasis on a few key words. "Why are you playing THIS card? You SHOULD be playing THAT card."

We don't always say it that way, but players often receive it that way. It adds an unspoken - and likely unintended - air of smugness that, frankly, this format and Magic as a whole could stand to reduce. When someone says that to us, we imagine them adding, "...you idiot," right there at the end.

The same is true with that definition of pet cards - cards you love even though they aren't that good. The implication is that by including pet cards in our Commander decks, we are consciously choosing to make our decks worse by not swapping them out for something "better".

Speaking only for myself: You're damned right I do.

Eye of the Beholder

My number one pet card is Wanderer's Twig. I came across a copy in one of my collection boxes when I was building a hella budget Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain deck. It's a cheap artifact that interacts very well with the commander and other key cards in the deck, so it was an easy inclusion.

Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain | Commander | Dave Kosin

The very first time I played the deck on a stream, I cast Wanderer's Twig and the chat went nuts. What was I doing with this weird old Lorwyn card that's never been reprinted? Did I not know that it's exactly the same as Traveler's Amulet, which has been reprinted numerous times?

I'll be honest - that threw me. I take, and welcome, more than my share of good-nature ribbing during Commander games (and at all times always and forever). But why were dozens of people just teeing off on me over this card? I didn't get it. And while I don't remember exactly how I responded in the moment, as soon as the game ended I resolved to have a Wanderer's Twig in every single deck I build for the rest of my life.

I imagine people will still ask why, and why I don't just use Traveler's Amulet instead. They're the same card, I'll typically respond, so who cares? Additionally, the art is just delightful - it's a TWIG! This recalls one of my very favorite moments from one of my very favorite television shows of all time.

Picture it, Micronesia, 2008. Survivor is in the middle of its 16th season (we're up to 40 now, in case you forgot this show was still on the air), one that will prove to be among its very best and most beloved. There are only a few castaways left, alliances have formed and those on the outside of the numbers are in danger. Ozzy, one of the most athletic players in Survivor history, has found a hidden immunity idol, which allows him to save himself if he believes he's about to be voted out. In order to have a little fun, he makes a phony idol and leaves it in the exact spot where he found the real one, knowing someone else would follow the same clues and find... a twig.

Yes, Ozzy badly whittled a stick and added a smiley face, and poor Jason believed it was a real immunity idol. When he scurried to tell his ally, Eliza, about their newfound safety, she immediately saw the truth.

And, for the record, it was just a [redacted] stick. Jason tried to play it, Jeff Probst laughed at him, threw the stick in a bonfire and Jason - to no one's surprise - was not the winner of Survivor: Micronesia.

So yeah. Wanderer's Twig is a [redacted] stick. I love it, I'm playing it forever, I don't have to justify it, and you'll never make me feel bad about it.

Pets Are Great, Actually

This is why I'm not down with the traditional definition of "pet cards". Pets are dope! We love pets! Sure, not everybody has one, and you might be a dog person but not a cat person or actually a snake person, but pets are pretty great. We love our pets. And we love the cards we love for Commander because... we just do.

There's absolutely no further justification needed.

Commander is our place to play with the cards Magic's history has forgotten. It's where we express ourselves, show our personalities and prove time and again that there is no one correct way to have fun playing this game. Additionally, pet cards often serve as substitutes for ones players may not be able to afford. There can also be sentimental value; I know many a Commander player who includes "suboptimal" cards because they're attached to fond memories.

How and why each of us chooses to include our pet cards in our decks is up to us. But let's dial back on the notion that pet cards "aren't very good". Maybe they are, maybe they aren't - it doesn't matter. This is Commander. Let people play the cards they want, just as you'd like them to let you play the cards you want.

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