With Battle for Zendikar imminent and one key spoiler already . . . spoiled . . . ahem, with one key spoiler revealed, I’m already thinking about how this set is going to shape Commander. It may not shape it the way some people hope though. I think some Standard players may have forgotten how Eldrazi worked the last time around—or maybe don’t think they need the triggers.
See the Unwritten has really spiked in price lately on speculation that Battle for Zendikar will be full of Eldrazi that are worth cheating into play. I can’t rule that out—maybe there’s a new Emrakul or Kozilek with new abilities is on the horizon. Maybe there will be new legendary Eldrazi with new abilities. While Emrakul is good enough to See the Unwritten into play because it has 15 power and annihilator for days and is good enough to ban, what if all the Eldrazi in this block are less like Emrakul and more like Oblivion Sower?
You probably want this in a Commander deck, don’t you? Not every deck, but some, right? While the best-case scenario for this card (you gain four lands and are off to race-town) is actually a doubled and reversed Plow Under that could draw your opponent into gas, this is still going to probably see some play, I imagine, unless every subsequent Eldrazi puts it to shame. So let’s pretend the Eldrazi are all like this considering this is a mythic. What do we want to be playing to take full advantage of them in a 75% shell, and what cards aren’t as good? Let’s look at some ways to take full advantage of creatures like Oblivion Sower.
So what’s unique, here? Why is See the Unwritten a great Commander inclusion but not necessarily the card we want with Eldrazi like Oblivion Sower? Well, as you’ve no doubt noticed, he says, “When you cast Oblivion Sower,” and not, “When Oblivion Sower enters the battlefield,” and I’m sure we can all understand the implications. This card isn’t big enough and doesn’t have nearly enough of an impact on the board when attacking to ignore the missed opportunity to trigger its ability we have when we cast it. (It has annihilator of 0, which is not a very high annihilator number.) Eldrazi like It That Betrays are great in Commander decks in which you cheat creatures into play, such as with Mayael the Anima and Jhoira of the Ghitu because the value comes from swangin’ on them. We can still cheat, but we need to get a little creative.
Don’t Play: Deadeye Navigator.
This really applies to a whole swath of cards, a lot of which appear in the same deck. Brago, King Eternal, Roon of the Hidden Realm, Mistmeadow Witch—these are classic value cards. Creatures as impressive as
Sylvan Primordial Primeval Titan umm . . . Bane of Progress or as simple as Coiling Oracle gain repeated value from being Flickered. This is a pretty standard way to gain value, and Wizards seems to encourage the behavior, reprinting cards like Avenger of Zendikar to make sure these powerful cards are affordable enough for every Commander player to be able to afford to stack that value. There’s a reason Roon decks are hated out easily, and that’s because all of the creatures from Stonecloaker to Stoneforge Mystic become better the more they’re put into play. With Oblivion Sower, this won’t work. You need to cast it.
Play Instead: Cloudstone Curio
We’re going to have to do things the hard way. Instead of flickering (for cheap), we are going to have to bounce our guys. It’s not all bad—any Eldrazi worth playing in a deck like in which where we’re forced to bounce for value rather than flicker (which can make it harder to build up a board state) is worth bouncing and replaying. Two Eldrazi triggering back and forth with Equilibrium or Cloudstone Curio can keep the cycle of value going. Even if you’re playing Coiling Oracle or Elvish Visionary to bounce Oblivion Sower, you’re generating value. Is it slower than flickering your whole board with Ghostway? Yes, it is. However, it can be worth it. Gaining a ton of your opponent’s lands with Oblivion Sower is powerful and helps you have the mana to recast him.
And Oblivion Sower isn’t the only Eldrazi in the set! I can’t speak to there not being huge ones with annihilator or enters-the-battlefield-even-if-not-cast triggers, but imagine an Eldrazi that destroys an artifact when you cast it! One that draws four cards, maybe. Now imagine that tandem-casting Oblivion Sower and grabbing two lands you can use to cast other theoretical Eldrazi that destroys two creatures. This is less flashy than flickering, but if there are Eldrazi worth triggering, here’s how to do it. The added benefit here is that it’s almost impossible to find tandems of creatures to bounce and play that isn’t 75%. Tooth and Nail for Mike and Trike? Great, cool, fun game. Bounce Acidic Slime to play Coiling Oracle? Now that’s 75%. What are the two least fair creatures you can do it with? I can’t even think of anything that’s going to elicit groans. So basically, it’s always 75%, and it’s lower on the “Commander Heat Index” (a thing I made up) than Deadeye Shenanigans. How about that? We’re getting full value from our Eldrazi, and we’re accidentally being all 75% when we do it. How ’bout dat?
Don’t Play: See the Unwritten
I won’t harp on this too much because I feel that I did a lot during the preamble, but cheating the Eldrazi into play initially is well and good if they have a good annihilator ability like It That Betrays or they’re as monstrous as Emrakul. If we’re making like Tumblr trolls and triggering everything, we’re not going to want to cast Summoning Trap necessarily, are we? Mayael can put Oblivion Sower into play, but wouldn’t you rather trigger that ability?
Play Instead: Possibility Storm
We love chaotic effects in 75% Commander decks, don’t we? You can scarcely be blamed if you have a good roll of the dice and flop a free Oblivion Sower (which Possibility Storm allows you to cast for free) into play, can you? You exiled a different creature, so you can’t play with all gas in the deck or you’ll pitch something you need but you can’t play with all expendable creatures to pitch to Storm or you’ll never hit anything good. How do you build? Good luck building a Possibility Storm deck that isn’t 75%. And it’s not just this card: Temporal Aperture, Unexpected Results, and Djinn of Wishes are all cards that we may play but don’t realize are so important because of their specific wording are suddenly perfectly viable ways to cheat Eldrazi into play but still generate triggers.
Remember we talked about how It That Betrays is cool in Jhoira decks? Well, read Jhoira! When the suspend counters are gone, you cast without paying the mana cost. That makes Jhoira a sicko commander for Eldrazinanigans. Even Maelstrom Wanderer casts the cards you cascade into, making Eldrazi with 7 mana cost or less appeal to me as a Maelstrom Wanderer player. Most of these effects are random and can make it look like you’re lucky! When we skew powerful, we like to skew away from consistency in 75% deck-building, and is there a better metaphor for that than hitting Oblivion Sower with Unexpected Results? Why not cast Omen Machine and watch everyone squirm? Random is very 75%, and a lot of the ways to cheat Eldrazi into play and preserve their triggers are just that: random. How cool is that?
Don’t Play: Elvish Piper
Cheating is fun, but while this is a great way to get a 5/8 for , this isn’t what we’re about. Quicksilver Amulet and other cheats are cool in most decks with fatties, and Elvish Piper can get some heat if people think you’re going to windmill a Blightsteel Colossus or something. This is not the value elf we’re looking for.
Play Instead: Fauna Shaman
Fauna Shaman adds consistency to a 75% deck and that makes us a little wary, we still have to pitch something and hope Shaman survives a turn cycle. We don’t get any help casting our Eldrazi either. This is the kind of Elf we’re about in a deck in which we’re trying to trigger Oblivion Sower’s ability. I think Fauana Shaman can be fine in a 75% deck, provided you don’t always search for the same card. Remember that consistency isn’t our greatest enemy, homogeneity is. A toolbox card like Shaman is good if there is more than one tool in the box. Be your own arbiter of homogeneity—if the deck feels linear and there is only one card you want to grab, consider cutting. If you have a toolbox full of good stuff and you get the silver bullet you need, swing away. It can be tempting not to always grab Oblivion Sower, but I am confident different Eldrazi for different occasions will emerge.
Fauna Shaman is a great card and is worth protecting. Survival of the Fittest is going to rate way higher on the Commander Heat Index, so be judicious there. I don’t necessarily think something like Survival of the Fittest with its lack of a 2-toughness weak spot and summoning sickness is the best 75% card, but I think the same is-this-making-me-want-to-do-the-same-play-every-game? rules apply. If there is too much heat or you’re playing the same game over and over, consider a cut, same as with Shaman. I jam Shaman in a few decks and Survival in zero, but that’s me. You’re an adult; make a grown-up decision, and as long as you contemplate the 75% deck-building ethos and resolve to take it out if it becomes a problem, you have my blessing.
Don’t Play: Dream Halls
Did you even read Dream Halls? Eldrazi have no color.
Play Instead: Omniscience
Can you handle the heat? I hope so! It’s coming down, but this is how you get those triggers! Is it really cheating if you use a 10-mana spell with triple blue in it to avoid paying 6 colorless on an Eldrazi? Hey, maybe you can use Dream Halls to bring Omniscience out for cheap. Enjoy being at the bottom of a dogpile I guess! Still, get those Eldrazi triggers!
I’m going to just skip this part and talk about a card I want to talk about without talking about a card that’s like it but not necessarily appropriate with Eldrazi that want to be cast. This is my article; I’ll do what I want. You really want me a slave to the structure I established with the whole don’t-play-and-play-instead thing? Because I made that up, and I can just as easily have not. I could go back and redo the whole article or you could sit there and let me talk about . . .
And was it so hard to just let me talk about this card? Oh boy, this card. Is a 4/7 for 4 that gets those sicko triggers really so bad? You can’t play Coiling Oracle in this deck necessarily, but you can sure shave 2 mana off every Eldrazi, and that feels pretty savage. Is it really not cheating to cast an Eldrazi for 33% off? You get those triggers, and if you hit enough lands, who knows? Maybe you can cast another biggish creature for cheap? A 4-mana Grave Titan? Bring on the value with those . . . 1/1 Zombies. Still! Cheapo Grave Titan, rawr! A 4-mana Wurmcoil Engine? Don’t mind if I do! In Commander, where mana curves seem to start at 6 mana, the player who can start earlier has a big advantage. If we’re forced to play fair and cast our spells, we still don’t have to play entirely fair, nor would we want to.
There are a lot more cards we usually overlook because they’re fringier strategies. Why play Temporal Aperture when you can play Planar Portal? Well, when you have to cast your creatures, it matters. There are a lot of cards I missed, and since I’m not trained as a rules advisor or even a competent player, there may be some errors of fact in this article. Believe it or not, I like when you point that stuff out, and I’m sure you like it, too. You get to feel like a big shot, don’t you? Big shot, correcting someone on the Internet. I bet you think you’re a real bigshot now, don’t you?
Anyway, as I was saying, I do actually like when the record is set straight, but to the best of my meager knowledge, the things in this article are accurate. I had the editorial staff fact-check this, but any errors of fact are considered my fault and not theirs, so let’s not throw the editorial staff under the bus, okay? I’m the guy who told people to buy Bazaar Trader because Demonic Pact was a good card. We can safely assume mistakes are a result of my failure to conform to the old adage that “reading is tech.” I hope this was as fun to read as it was to write. What will I be back with next week? I honestly don’t know. Maybe that’s why I like Unexpected Results so much.