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The Commander Heat Index


I was inspired to write about a mono-black deck built around King Macar, the Gold-Cursed this week, and—

Hey! Don’t you dare close this article. Let me finish a sentence before you just X out of here—damn. I said I was inspired to write about it, not that I’m going to. I mean, I still might, but I’m going to bury it in the bottom three quarters of the article, so by the time you realize I tricked you, you’ll be so invested in what we’re talking about you’ll read it anyway. I realize announcing my intention to try to deceive you accompanied by a step-by-step guide of how I plan to do it is a little foolish, but I like a challenge. You’ll forget in half a paragraph anyway.

I receive my inspiration from a lot of places, and I won’t pretend a recent tweet and a separate reddit conversation didn’t make me think about today’s topic.

This isn’t a new concept. I have been talking about The Rafiq Problem since before it even had the name I made up for it, but it steered me away from talking about the problems associated with the King Macar deck I cooked up and steered me toward wanting to talk about problems associated with Commander in general. Which problems? Well, let’s get the King Macar discussion out of the way, so if you’re good, I won’t post a decklist.

It all started with a good reddit discussion on the /r/EDH subreddit. The poster asked about using a fringey commander to use a card in an unusual way, such as a Zedruu the Greathearted player who donates a Transcendence or a Feldon of the Third Path player who uses Feldon’s ability to turn his creatures with enters-the-battlefield abilities into combat tricks. I chimed in that Koskun Falls, an erstwhile useless card that no one really knew how to use, was useful in a deck with King Macar, the Gold-Cursed to tap down Macar or Pain Seer for later untapping shenanigans. This triggered a response from the poster, who actually had (and had torn apart) a King Macar deck of his own. I plugged him for some info, thinking maybe I could either run his list in an article or at least get some tips and try to reverse-engineer a list. However, a particular passage in our correspondence struck me.

I had to tear Macar apart because everyone aggro'd me real hard. It turns out people like their creatures and their graveyard shins butane, and they don't like having to hold creatures in hand in fear of permanent exile.

King Macar, the Gold-Cursed
The Rafiq problem is popping up all over this week! Granted, turning everything into an artifact with Mycosynth Lattice so you can tap Macar and the new gold token to untap Macar with Clock of Omens and machine-gunning the whole board feels bad for the opponents, and if you turn all of the gold tokens into 2/2 creatures with Summoning Station and threaten lethal, chances are people won’t like you doing that a second time. Still, it looks like a really, really durdly deck and a lot of fun, but not Rafiq-esque! If you play with a group of people long enough that they know what you can do with Macar, you don’t want to build 75% anyway. You tune to that group or, in the poster’s case, you tear the deck apart because they’ll dogpile you.

Why do some things, some commanders, and some lines of play get you dogpiled when others won’t? Are there some actions that are deemed more threatening or more antisocial than others? Of course! I decided to think more about the Rafiq problem and come up with a sort of “Commander heat index” based on certain situations and how much heat they’re liable to bring down on you. We can discuss whether we want to do that in games with 75% decks, not because 75% means we need to take it easy on people, but because our decks might not be able to withstand ticking off the whole table. So what’s going to bring the heat and what do we want to maybe avoid?

Transgression: Playing a Mono-Blue Commander

Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
How That Will Be Interpreted: “This guy is about to counter every spell we try to play.”

Commander Heat Index Score: 5/10

Notes: People see Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir or the like on the mat, and they can be forgiven for assuming you’re running some silly Laboratory Maniac combo deck or a permission deck out to counter all of their spells. “I bet he has Consecrated Sphinx in there,” they’ll think. “Better kill him before he can cast it. I can’t have him casting Forbid with buyback all day”.

Transgression: Your Commander Is Rafiq of the Many

Rafiq of the Many
How That Will Be Interpreted: You’re like every other Rafiq deck.

Commander Heat Index Score: 8/10

Notes: Rafiq is the reason we have the term “The Rafiq problem.” Tell them your deck is 75%, and they’ll probably agree with you—as they look through the deck after killing you on turn three thinking you were about to kill all of them on turn four.

Transgression: Using Combo of Strip Mine and Crucible of Worlds

Crucible of Worlds
How That Will Be Interpreted: “I hate combos like this.”

Commander Heat Index Score: 4/10

Notes: Real talk: This durdly combo, especially provided you didn’t tutor for the pieces, is pretty slow, and in a multiplayer game, you’re not developing your mana (unless you’re dumping a ton of lands, like with Azusa, Lost but Seeking). You’re just stunting the rest of the players a little or one player in particular a lot, and either way, you’re not making friends, but you’re not crippling them enough that you can afford so many enemies. People don’t like their mana messed with, and this earns a higher score than it reasonably should in recognition of that fact.

Transgression: Blowing up Everyone’s Lands

How That Will Be Interpreted: You want to play a game of Archenemy with no schemes.

Commander Heat Index Score: 11/10

Notes: You’d better win. If you blow up everyone’s lands and they spend a miserable half hour fruitlessly top-decking, trying to make it back into the game while you durdle, people may seek their revenge outside the game. If you win the game, whatever, you played a 4-mana Insurrection. Mass land destruction isn’t a bad choice for 75% because it’s unfair, it’s a bad choice because it doesn’t always win, people will hate you, and I won’t even stick up for you when they talk about how much they hate you. Don’t make the game go longer, man. Just don’t.

Transgression: Kicking Cyclonic Rift

Cyclonic Rift
How That Will Be Interpreted: You won’t make any friends, that’s for sure.

Commander Heat Index Score: 7/10

Notes: This had better win you the game. Much like mass land destruction, this can make the game take a lot longer. Don’t make the game take a lot longer; try to win soon. You are the only person with creatures right now. Try to make the most of it.

Transgression: Playing Insurrection

How That Will Be Interpreted: “The game is over” (including mixed feelings about that).

Commander Heat Index Score: 2/10 or 8/10

Notes: Sometimes, people are glad to get the game over with, and sometimes, they are mad that you wrapped it up with such a “cheap” spell. I like the shuffle up and having the opportunity to try a new deck. I imagine whether it’s a 2 or an 8 can also vary greatly depending on how many times you tutored for Insurrection right before casting it.

Transgression: Summoning a Consecrated Sphinx

Consecrated Sphinx
How That Will Be Interpreted: “I either have to kill that or kill you.”

Commander Heat Index Score: 6/10

Notes: People don’t like when you do this. That’s not necessarily a reason not to, especially since you’re drawing so much gas you should be able to fend them off. You hope.

Transgression: Summoning Prophet of Kruphix

Prophet of Kruphix
How That Will Be Interpreted: Sure, take every turn, cheater.

Commander Heat Index Score: 5/10

Notes: Don’t abuse this newfound power, Spider-Man. Keep your, “Haaaaaaaang onnnnnnnnn a seeeconnnnnnnnnnd . . . Yeah, no responses,” on everyone’s upkeep to an absolute minimum—by which I mean none. Don’t do that, man. You’re cheating. Let that be enough.

Transgression: Casting Sensei's Divining Top

Sensei's Divining Top
How That Will Be Interpreted: “Good thing we can’t go to time . . . ”

Commander Heat Index Score: 4/10

Notes: This is higher in a lot of groups. The fact that you have the mana to spin the Top doesn’t mean you have to spin the Top. I honestly like Crystal Ball for a lot of reasons and how people react to Ball compared to how they react to Top is a big reason. Top is annoying; don’t be annoying.

Transgression: Casting Wrath of God

Wrath of God
How That Will Be Interpreted: “This game will never end . . . ”

Commander Heat Index Score: 1.5/10

Notes: Someone had to do it. What are they going to do about it if they’re mad? Not attack you with creatures, that’s for sure.

Transgression: Nekusar, the Mindrazer Is Your Commander

Nekusar, the Mindrazer
How That Will Be Interpreted: They’ll probably not be happy.

Commander Heat Index Score: 3.5/10

Notes: There is basically just the one way to build Nekusar, at least according to everyone I’ve played against who has a Nekusar deck: Wheels and punishers. The monotony is going to be worse on everyone than your silly Teferi's Puzzle Box.

Transgression: Playing Rhystic Study

Rhystic Study
How That Will Be Interpreted: “If you call out one more missed trigger . . . ”

Commander Heat Index Score: 4.5/10

Notes: People don’t have to like all the cards you’re drawing or the mana they have to pay to keep you from drawing. Make sure to say, “Ha Ha! You forgot to pay the extra mana! I get to draw an extra card!” every single time anyone misses a trigger, and see how long it takes to get punched in the throat.

Transgression: Playing a Deadeye Navigator and not Forgetting to Pair It

Deadeye Navigator
How That Will Be Interpreted: “This will end in tears.”

Commander Heat Index Score: 6/10

Notes: Try removal spells. You gain priority when the soulbond trigger is on the stack, I promise. This number is higher than it should be, but it’s not up to me, it’s determined by people who could easily form an angry mob and burn you at the stake. Sure, people could learn how to disrupt your shenanigans with removal, but they’d rather complain that the Commander rules committee is tyrannical and out of touch because they haven’t banned this card yet. After all, isn’t Deadeye Navigator the only reason Sylvan Primordial was a good card? Play this at your own discretion.

Transgression: Playing Sol Ring on Turn One

Sol Ring
How That Will Be Interpreted: “Must be nice.”

Commander Heat Index Score: 0/10. Add 5 points for every consecutive game you do it.

Notes: This isn’t unfair, per se, but people will not be happy if you do it every game, even if they give your deck the last shuffle and your group allows you to partial Paris.

There are more of these obviously. There are a lot. There are tons. I had a lot of fun talking about the different things you can do to bring the heat down on yourself and why you might want to do something else instead, and if I receive some good suggestions from you readers, I may revisit this topic in a little while. What do we think? Are some of my numbers off? Is the whole concept silly? Are you very aware of these potential pitfalls when you build 75%? Leave it in the comments section below. Until next week!

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