The Commander Advisory Group met to discuss the Commander format as a whole and to solidify the philosophy of the format and you can read more about that here. They also worked with the Commander Rules Committee to discuss bans and unbans and they did both. Paradox Engine bit the dust which isn’t entirely out of left field, but given how many B&R updates it survived, the timing seems peculiar. Perhaps Engine wasn’t bannable enough to do an update just for it (they haven’t made changes since 2017) but if I had to bet money, I would say the printing of Urza, Lord High Artificer was a factor. Whether or not you agree with the banning of Paradox Engine, it’s a thing and we need to move on.
Not content to merely ban a card, the RC also unbanned a card - Painter's Servant. I don’t think it would have ever been possible for them to just unban Painter's Servant without examining cards that made the game miserable and Iona, Shield of Emeria would have been pretty miserable with a Servant in play naming the same color Iona named. The philosophy document said Commander is about fun and it’s no fun if no one can play any spells at all so it was clear Iona had to go. A life for a life, equivalent exchange, something something Nina Tucker. I think Servant is actually a much more interesting card than Iona and you can do some of the same things but not quite as annoying and if they’re part of a two card combo or synergy, not as easy to pull off. Iona was originally considered “safe” on the basis of casting cost, but considering how many ways you can cheat a creature into play, that wasn’t really enough of a reason to keep Iona around, especially in a world with Painter's Servant. Are there synergies with Painter's Servant that will be effective at winning the game? Certainly. I maintain they’re far healthier than hitting the Iona whammy on your Mayael spin and accidentally locking two players out of the game. Let’s explore some things we can do with Servant to make up for the loss of Iona.
Maybe we can bring back the Commander Heat Index article format! Anything goes, apparently!
Transgression: Pairing Servant with Teysa, Orzhov Scion
How That Will Be Interpreted: “Choosing White? Huh? Pretty please?”
Commander Heat Index Score: 2/10
Notes: This is basically a second copy of Darkest Hour and it’s one of the format’s oldest combos. If you want to set Servant to White, though, you can do that and can’t with Darkest Hour. I think there are some shenanigans you can get up to making your lands Black, though, like if you play a Kormus Bell. You can wrap a game up with that kind of play, and I like it. Loops that slam down, get demonstrated and end things are my favorite. Blood Artist the table and have done with it.
Transgression: Pairing Servant with Eight-And-A-Half-Tails
How That Will Be Interpreted: “So you’re turning your White deck into Mono-Blue control, I guess”
Commander Heat Index Score: 2/10
Notes: This is basically just fair and I like it. It’s still mana-intensive and if they work together, they can basically kill Eight-And-A-Half-Tails at will, which is fine. I like being able to Hindering Light at will, though, and if they can’t use removal on you, they’ll use it on each other, gaining you virtual card advantage. This makes the Circle of Protection: White in the deck better since you don’t have to waste mana changing the color of their cards, which cuts you a huge break. This just seems like a good place to stick a Painter's Servant and not cause a fuss, but make a fringe deck like 9ish-tailed-fox a little more playable, sometimes.
Transgression: Pairing Servant with Douse
How That Will Be Interpreted: “So it’s war, then?”
Commander Heat Index Score: 3/10
Notes: This is pretty fair, and Green could just as easily run Lifeforce and live that Counterspell life. In fact, Green has a ton of payoff cards with Servant like Reap, Compost, and Snake Pit. Blue already had ways to counter spells a lot, but this one could ruffle some feathers due to its repeatability.
Transgression: Pairing Servant with Llawan
How That Will Be Interpreted: “How is this not just Iona?”
Commander Heat Index Score: 3.5/10
Notes: This is a pretty fair take on Iona. First of all, it’s a two card synergy so that right there makes it easier to interrupt, harder to get out than just one creature and way less consistent. You can also just cheat Iona into play whereas this is made of six mana spread over two cards so you most likely have to pay the six and cheating isn’t easy or worth it. Once this is assembled, people will find it’s not Iona, in fact. They can’t cast creature spells but they can cast everything else. I think they’ll find that’s pretty fair, especially since they can play spells to remove Llawan, something they couldn’t do with Iona. If Llawan is your commander, you’re sort of a bad deck if you can’t get Blind Seer or Servant or whatever shenanigans you’re using to bounce their stuff. I used to have a casual deck where I’d use Dream Thrush to kill stuff with Northern Paladin, this is about that oppressive.
Transgression: Pairing Servant with Grindstone
How That Will Be Interpreted: “Oh, so this just became an UNfriendly pod”
Commander Heat Index Score: 4/10 (average over the next month)
Notes: 4 seems high but I am actually mitigating a higher theoretical score with the like 2 or 3 out of 10 this will settle to in a week or three, if people are still even trying this. The problem with Painter’s Stone in a multiplayer format is you don’t kill the table (especially not without Paradox Engine to untap your Stone for you), you kill one person. Killing one person is bad for that person but really bad for you if the table decides they don’t want to be that person who gets killed. They’ll likely make you the Archenemy. Once people get used to it, they’ll realize that it’s more a liability calling attention to yourself by assembling a doomsday machine that reloads about as fast as a musket and they’ll be less salty, but the first time a person sees you grab a Grindstone with Goblin Engineer, they’ll have some choice words. This is a fine combo. It’s fair, it’s easy to interact with, you see it coming a mile off, and it makes people want to murder you. Assemble at your own risk.
Transgression: Pairing Servant with Ugin
How That Will Be Interpreted: “Let me read Ugin again”
Commander Heat Index Score: 7/10
Notes: This is an Armageddon. People do not like Armageddon, even when it’s hard to assemble. The problem is, this Armageddon is an Ugin on board after it goes off and you can use this as part of a Stax network. I mean, you don’t HAVE to do that, per se, and in that case this is just the Ugin's Conjurant (his name just keeps coming up) Celestial Kirin combo that’s not that wild. It’s all in how you use it in terms of whether it’s a good idea in a 75% context, but, unfortunately, the Heat Index isn’t tied to your intentions, it’s tied to interpretations. If you can wrap the game up, this will help. If not, you’re making Magic annoying for the table. Watch it.
Transgression: Pairing Servant with All Is Dust
How That Will Be Interpreted: “I liked it better when it was Ugin”
Commander Heat Index Score: 8/10
Notes: Everything I said above but worse. You’re nuking every permanent and resetting the game. If you float mana and they don’t, you better float enough to build up a board that can end it quickly. You’re not going to make a ton of friends. Also, this noise can go in any deck, same as Servant. Gross.
From Mindsparker to Balefire Liege to Kor Firewalker, there are a lot of ways to benefit from making every spell a certain color. Kill everything (slowly) with Northern Paladin. Go ham with Merrow Bonegnawer. Dial your casual Blind Seer deck up a notch. The unbanning of Painter's Servant is great for the design space, so long as it doesn’t end up being a huge mistake (which I doubt). Got a good idea for what to do with Painter's Servant? Leave it in the comments! There are a lot of things we couldn’t do before that we can do now and I look forward to winning a ton of games with them, provided I get the Servant and am not just a silly casual deck. I think Llawan, Cephalid Empress is the best impact to low heat ratio of all of these combinations because you prevent them from playing the creatures you bounced but they can still play other spells. Hindering them from doing what they wanted to do but not anything at all is the 75% way to mess with people and I look forward to all of those copies of Llawan I bought 5 years ago to deal with True-Name Nemesis (tech that never caught on, sadly) finally getting out of my box of shame and into some decks. Until next time!