Long-time readers of mine will recognize this title as a signal that I’m ready to return to an occasional series I haven’t done in 13 months. The “Heat Index” is an idea I cooked up when I was thinking about commanders like Rafiq of the Many and how every time I saw him cast, the player who cast the commander was immediately attacked. Some commanders draw an awful lot of heat from the table and this led to me naming this problem in 75% deck-building “The Rafiq Problem” - some decks aren’t worth building 75% because they’re going to draw so much heat from the table that you aren’t going to be competitive unless you’re built for that kind of heat. I realize I’m saying “heat” a lot. In fact, in the unlikely event that you want more elaboration, let’s spare everyone else having me continue to say “heat” like a hyperactive Michael Mann fan who’s arguing about which DeNiro movie is the best, you could read the article that got it all started. I wouldn’t be mad at anyone else who wanted to give it a read, either - it’s nice to see how far my thinking about the format has evolved. I also might reference it later in the article - who knows? What I do know is that I want to cover both sets of this latest Ravnica block, starting with the commanders.
Not all of these really need an in-depth explanation because a lot of these Legendary creatures are pretty bad and seem like they were optimized for Brawl rather than for integration with Commander as a larger format, but a few bear explanation.
Transgression: Playing a Lazav, the Multifarious Deck
How That Will Be Interpreted: “Toolbox, huh? I don’t buy it. Not Gruul, so die”
Commander Heat Index Score: 6/10
Notes: Lazav is probably still seen as a bit better than he is, in my experience. The deck is pretty clunky and while it’s a much better vehicle for a card like Necrotic Ooze than, say, Mairsil, the Pretender, I think a lot of the heat is unfounded. I have seen some pretty nasty builds but I’ve also seen a lot of people running cards that synergize with his surveil trigger. I think this will cool down to sub-5, and I also think people won’t run him for much longer, anyway.
Transgression: Playing an Etrata, the Silencer Deck
How That Will Be Interpreted: “Does that say ‘that player loses the game?’ Not today’’
Commander Heat Index Score: 7/10
Notes: I think a few of these Guilds of Ravnica commanders are considered scarier than they really are because, ironically enough, no one is really building them that much (65 decks on EDHREC for Etrata, 177 for Lazav) and therefore no one gets to see one in actual action and is forced to rely on their imagination. This score is too high for as slow, clunky, and difficult it is for this deck to win. A lot of your build space is dedicated to things like phasing Etrata out or bouncing her, which is sub-optimal. You’ve also got to do it 3 times to kill one player and there are always multiple players at the table. This seems like it was built for Brawl where this is more fun but has fewer bounce and blink cards to help out. In 3 months, this is hopefully a 3 or 4 or maybe we just won’t see Etrata decks anymore. They’re too fair.
Transgression: Playing a Niv-Mizzet, Parun Deck
How That Will Be Interpreted: “I’ve seen this movie before and it never ends well”
Commander Heat Index Score: 8/10
Notes: Meet the new Niv-Mizzet, same as the old Niv-Mizzet. The same Curiosity shenanigans are possible with new Niv, but you have the added benefit of digging to find your Ophidian Eye a bit more quickly because you’re incentivized to play cantrips and other draw spells. Niv-Mizzet was a bit of a scary commander before with his explosivity and access to Blue spells and this is the best version of Niv we’ve seen since he doesn’t tap to draw cards. It was sort of boring not to give us a newer Niv-Mizzet but he’s ruling other formats than just Commander now and not everyone was playing Commander for long enough to remember the combo with Curiosity. They’re about to learn. Expect Commander veterans (aka anyone who still calls it EDH) to know what’s up and not let you go too nuts.
Transgression: Playing a Prime Speaker Vannifar Deck
How That Will Be Interpreted: “I’ll show you a pod chain”
Commander Heat Index Score: 8.5-9/10
Notes: This probably deserves the heat it is getting. Most people could build a nice toolbox deck, but since it’s a sorcery-speed ability that pairs so well with Intruder Alarm you’d think Volrath was on the team that designed Vannifar. Most people are building the same pod chain deck. Competitive EDH players in particular are very interested in this deck and that is going to give it even more of a reputation as a try-hard deck. This card is this set’s Rafiq, so bear that in mind. I like Vannifar a lot, but I’m also beginning to fall out of love with Simic (I think Teysa is the kind of Simic deck I want to be playing) and I’m unlikely to build this deck. I am, however, likely to treat anyone with Vannifar in their command zone with extreme prejudice, quadruply so if said card is foil.
Transgression: Playing a Lavinia, Azorius Renegade Deck
How That Will Be Interpreted: “Half those abilities aren’t even good”
Commander Heat Index Score: 3/10
Notes: I don’t think Lavinia is that scary. She’s sort of a bad Gaddock Teeg in most configurations of the deck. That said, there’s a caveat.
Transgression: Playing Lavinia with Armageddon
How That Will Be Interpreted: “I’m going to throw these useless mana rocks at you until I take out an eye”
Commander Heat Index Score: 11/10
Notes: MLD makes people pretty unreasonably angry and when you still get your mana rocks, that’s even more annoying. In a lot of cases, people with the Lavinia deck may ‘Geddon early and often which make the game an annoying slog for everyone. If you can’t wrap things up in a timely manner, don’t MD that L, unless making the table salty was your goal all along.
I think every other commander from this block has been pretty tame and I don’t think they need discussion, but I do want to spend a bit of time on a few concepts I have evolved my views on lately and I want to hear from you. I got some pretty insightful feedback last time I did a Heat Index article. Here are a few things that I have been thinking about.
Transgression: Playing Bribery
How That Will Be Interpreted: “Get your own cards, you monster”
Commander Heat Index Score: 6/10
Notes: My own personal experience with Bribery has been pretty mixed. I tend toward these effects more often in a 75% build and I play those decks with strangers. A few strangers have been a little “iffy” about me physically handling their cards and that was something I never thought about before because Magic is a game where people shuffle or cut each other’s decks all the time. However, people who exclusively play Commander tend to have a less casual attitude surrounding Bribery effects. The combination of handling their deck, knowing their whole deck, spoiling their plans and beating them with their own shoe metaphorically can lead to some bad feelings. Compound that with the fact that they aren’t likely to know you well and they may feel uncomfortable but be too polite to say so. I have begun to ask people if they’d like to fan their deck and go through it with me and only one person has ever taken me up on that but I could tell they were relieved. When I added more of these effects to my own decks with my playgroup, people I know well are less shy about telling me how they feel about being hit with Bribery or Acquire. I don’t think I want to advise you to stop playing these effects, they’re great. I also don’t think making someone salty that you grabbed their Blightsteel Colossus is incongruous with the tenets of 75% building as some have suggested. 75% doesn’t mean you don’t upset anyone by playing a good game. Swiping their Platinum Angel and blowing up all of their lands with no plan to win aren’t even in the same league, let alone same ballpark. I say play these effects but be mindful about how someone might feel about having their cards handled and entire deck revealed. Keep that info to yourself - let there be some surprises for the rest of the table. With that in mind -
Transgression: Playing a Gonti, Lord of Luxury Deck
How That Will Be Interpreted: “This is what we’re going to do? We’re going to touch all of my cardboard?”
Commander Heat Index Score: 7.5/10
Notes: Gonti is fun and one of the most 75% decks ever given its propensity for scaling your power level to theirs effortlessly by virtue of playing as much of their deck as you can. However, for most of the same reasons people hate Bribery, they might get a little salty. You’re broadcasting your intention to steal their junk so Gonti may have a bit of “Rafiq problem” built into its identity, but you should be ready for it by depriving them of cards. That said, I have a lot more experience with Gonti decks than with most other decks and this is usually pretty fine. Just bear in mind, again, that you’re touching others’ expensive cardboard and foiling their plans, and you’re doing both at once, so be mindful of their play experience. You’re trying to play 75% after all.
That does it for me this week. If you want to quibble about my scores, I welcome it! Did I leave off an obvious Ravnica block commander? Is there a concept you would like to request for next time? Leave it in the comments. As always, thanks for reading. Until next time!