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Innistrad’s Impact on Commander, Part 1

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Over the last couple of weeks, the Interwebs have been rocking with spoilers, set reviews, and debates over recently banned cards. October brought about the retirement of the Zendikar block from Standard, and players are busy researching recent tournament results, scouring the forums, and speculating on the new brews that will define the Standard metagame.

Commander players have the luxury of benefitting from these rotations. The once-costly lot of highly touted mythic-rare cards fades into affordability. At the end of October, the prices of most retired cards will hit an all-time low. If you have not picked up formerly hot Standard cards like Avenger of Zendikar, Lotus Cobra, the litany of man lands, or foils of your favorite chase rares, a prime opportunity approaches.

As the Innistrad block tempts the hearts of players, former love affairs will be replaced by a fiery new lust for chase cards like Snapcaster Mage and Liliana of the Veil. Commander players might begin to notice old lovers like Baneslayer Angel and Vengevine trading for a few dollars. Cards that once brought a veritable king’s ransom cool down and become quite affordable. If you were patient, or are just getting into our Eternal format, pick these guys up at your leisure. A few of the all-stars will see play in Modern, but the end of October marks a very specific, special time. Most Standard Magic players are trading away cards that rotated, and the Modern (and possibly Extended) players are not particularly engaged in trading for a format that is still months away. The October price slump is one of the best times of the year for discounted cards. Commander players should engage (shout-out to financial advisors everywhere).

Going Tribal in Innistrad

In last week’s article, we reviewed the Legendary creatures from Innistrad. Our article outlined the four new choices and discussed some of the directions that folks might choose to take with the new Commanders. We find ourselves with a W/U Spirit deck, a new take on Vampires, a Zombie Commander, and a candle-loving mono-White Commander with a converted mana cost of x.

This week, we are going to take a step away from the Legendary options and discuss how some of Innistrad’s other 260 cards might impact our Commander format. New sets bring a great deal of excitement and buzz. I believe the positive energy surrounding this set is warranted. Commander players love tribal themes. Tribal themes allow new and more seasoned players to impose a scaffolding on deck design to guide construction. There are players who adopt a certain tribe because of the mechanics or flavor of that tribe, while other players simply love building theme decks.

I am a fan of creative and noncreative theme decks. For example, in my first eight Commander deck creations, five of them were tribal. I built White Cats, Blue Wizards, White Soldiers, a super-explosive Elves bomb, and U/B Faeries. Over time, I have experimented with Goblins and Oozes, and I have planned to build Humans. Tribal themes are great. These decks present a sort of deck-construction challenge. Players have a certain goal and work to make an interesting, playable, and sometimes competitive build using an additional, self-imposed deck-construction rule.

While the availability of a tribal theme can promote smooth deck construction, it can also present roadblocks. For example, if you build a Red Goblins deck, your Commander options are restricted. Here are your choices:

One might argue that none of the choices are overwhelmingly strong. I like some of the options, but I don’t necessarily want to march my Squee into battle against an Elder Dragon. You may love Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. You might even have a really hot 3D alteration of Kiki-Jiki; however, building mono-Red decks can be a great challenge, and they occasionally get hosed by certain hate cards.

Fortunately, most tribes have at least one multicolored Legend that allows for greater depth and improved card choice. While you may love Kiki-Jiki, perhaps choosing Wort, Boggart Auntie or Wort, the Raidmother would make for a better build. In any case, debating these decisions, following the theme, and working with additional deck-construction rules can be fun. If you have not constructed your first tribal theme deck, Innistrad welcomes the opportunity.

Innistrad promotes tribal themes, and I expect the block to further develop these themes. We have Vampires, Zombies, Spirits, Werewolves, and Humans. My wife and I kicked around the idea of building an Old White Folks deck. There are older cards like Academy Rector, Mother of Runes, and the ilk that might make for a funny and possibly powerful theme deck. Many Magic cards have the type or subtype of Human. Dark Confidant, Meddling Mage, and most of the other Invitational cards are Human. Many of the Wizards are Human, and every Shapeshifter, such as Changelings, can be Human. Clones are a neat take on Humans, and there are plenty of ways to turn the meek Human forces into powerful armies. The options are vast, and you can imagine spending a great deal of time researching the tribal theme of your choice and building your deck to awe and impress.

It turns out that Innistrad, like the Lorwyn block, should give a couple of the aforementioned tribes a real foothold in Commander. Maybe Innistrad will do for Werewolves what Lorwyn did for Elves and Faeries. If you buy this line of thinking, you might want to begin collecting some of the awesome foil Legends that fit these themes while amassing a collection of cards to fill out your chosen tribe. I spent a good deal of my accumulated store credit purchasing copies of foil Werewolf cards in hopes of seeing Magic’s next set release carrying a R/G Werewolf Legend. Whether your focus is on Werewolves, meek Humans, or the living dead, Innistrad should promote a myriad of tribal theme decks. Which one will you construct?

Collect These Foil Cards

At every set release, I jot down a list of cards that I want to acquire. While some of the cards will find their way into Standard or Legacy decks, most of the cards on my list fulfill my casual deck-construction needs. On the release day, you can find me trading off tournament staples in order to obtain foil cards that I think will make a strong splash in Commander. Some of the cards are obvious, while others are obscure. Finding foil copies of the obscure cards can be a pain after the initial mass-market introduction of a set passes. For example, in the next couple of months, players will crack open packs of Innistrad, the cards will be drafted more than any other set in the block, and eventually the foils will drift around the player base or find a home in a retail store. These are the perfect days to snatch up the chase foils from the set. However, if you wait nine months, it becomes very hard to track down foil copies of the cards that you want. Occasionally, they will pop up on a retail site or might make their way into a display case at the local brick-and-mortar, but they become scarcer and scarcer.

Let’s walk through some examples. When is the last time that you saw a foil copy of Hinder for trade or sale? Most major sites don’t have the foil uncommon in stock (only CoolStuffInc.com had it as I was writing this article). The Kamigawa block is getting a little dated. Let’s try a more recent set. Maybe a common this time? Do a quick search for foil copies of Reliquary Tower. I like to rock that card in most of my Commander decks. Whoa! Reliquary Tower will run players about $3, and it’s almost nowhere to be found in foil. Foil copies fetch almost $20. I am glad that I picked up my foil playsets when the card was readily available.

Imagine waiting some time on a popular rare or even a mythic. Commander drives a certain corner of the market, and as the format grows in popularity and number of players, the cards for our format become harder to find. Rather than waiting on your favorite card to near extinction, you should make a list and start collecting.

Aside from picking up rotating cards and understanding how the Legendary creatures and tribal themes will interact with the Commander format, there are a lot of interesting and powerful cards to watch. In our next edition, we will run through the cards in each color that could make a splash in our format. We will outline some interesting picks and a number of cards that you might want to secure in foil editions. I am interested in hearing your thoughts in the forums and learning about the community’s take on Innistrad.

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