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Collateral: Part 2


Last week I introduced a new idea for a spin on my Commander Heat Index articles and I explained why I picked the name Collateral. If you would like to understand these concepts, feel free to refer to last week's article to get caught up. It wouldn't hurt to refresh your memory even if you read it last week. I'll do a bit where I pretend I'm waiting for you to read it and I'll resume when you come back from doing that. Are you back?! I waited patiently for... OK, I'm tired of the bit already, let's just do the rest of the list.

I came up with so many things people hate for their opponents to do in Commander that I couldn't fit them all in one list. I could have done the less egregious ones first and finished with the really bad ones today, but I think it may work better this way because I have more ink to get granular on the ones that are harder to understand. No one needs it explained that Cyclonic Rift or Armageddon to make the game take an extra hour tend to get dander up, but some of my findings are less obvious but no less important. Let's do some more of what we did last week, shall we?

Transgression: No one wins

How That Will Be Interpreted: So we ALL lose? Why are you like this?

Commander Heat Index Score: 4/10

Divine Intervention

Notes: Divine Intervention is silly enough to get its own entry. No one likes Divine Intervention. People will try hard to murder you, even if it means they lose because they'd like someone to win. This card is hilarious to me but I won't pretend it didn't rankle enough people for it to make the list.

Transgression: Make their life total 10

How That Will Be Interpreted: Twice the cards of Standard, half the life, what's to like?

Commander Heat Index Score: 4/10

Sorin Markov
Triumph of the Hordes

Notes: There are two different ways to make their life total ten - the first is to literally set it to ten with Sorin Markov or Magister Sphinx. Both of those cards made the salty hall of fame in 2019, for good reason. People don't like to have half the life they normally have with three times the number of opponents. The other way to make their life total ten is by playing infect. I think if we're doubling life totals, we should double the number of poison counters you need to give a player, or at least increase them to 15. Some playgroups do this, and most Skytherix players don't even care. As it is now, a mere 10 damage gets the job done, and all of a sudden Triumph of the Hordes is a game-winner. Is Triumph of the Hordes equally likely to end the game with lots of creatures in play as, say, Craterhoof Behemoth? I think so. Is Craterhoof on the list both times despite being easier to tutor for and/or play for free? Nope! I think that's because players can gain life to get out of Craterhoof range but can't interact with infect. I personally like when games end which is why I love commander damage, but I can see why people don't like either way for their life total to be perilously low. Blightsteel Colossus is in the Top 30 both times - that's high for a 12 mana creature.

Transgression: Balance Effects

How That Will Be Interpreted: This isn't even helping you win!

Commander Heat Index Score: 5/10

Mana Vortex
Confounding Conundrum

Notes: Low on the list but still on the list are "Balance" effects which limit the development of the board for players, requiring them to return something when they play something else. Limited Resources was the most egregious card in this category, earning it a ban that it frankly deserved. Less egregious and therefore legal in Commander and therefore somehow more egregious are cards you won't always encounter due to how expensive some of them are. Mana Vortex, Land Equilibrium, Mana Breach, Tainted Pact - these all operate by a bizarre Fullmetal Alchemist rule of equivalent exchange that requires you to pay a cost to develop your board, usually meaning you have to un-develop it as much as you develop it, leaving you on a treadmill. Zendikar Rising gave us a new card, Confounding Conundrum. Is this going to generate as much salt as those other cards? That remains to be seen, but WotC is going for it, giving us a new effect that may be salty enough to make the list or may join Overburden and Painful Quandary somewhere in the Top 200 but off the main page.

Transgression: Free Spells

How That Will Be Interpreted: You were tapped out. YOU WERE TAPPED OUT

Commander Heat Index Score: 5/10

Force of Will
Fierce Guardianship

Notes: People like to know what is going to happen when they play a spell. Having a spell countered feels pretty bad. Having a player whose lands were all tapped counter a spell feels even worse. Free spells are always a problem in Magic and Force of Will made the list twice as did Narset, Enlightened Master. Fierce Guardianship was a first ballot salty card, coming in at 54, right after Gaea's Cradle. People don't like free counterspells and its sort of baffling to get 2 new ones this year but this category isn't "free counterspells" because Narset makes people really upset.

Transgression: Reminding them to pay mana every 10 seconds


Commander Heat Index Score: Starting at 4/10, building to 30, eventually

Rhystic Study
Smothering Tithe

Notes: Rhystic Study and Smothering Tithe are both Commander staples, for good reason, but people do NOT like being pestered. These add taxes to their turns and since people are less likely to pay the 2 for Tithe at the beginning of their turn than they are to just tack an extra mana to spells like with Rhystic Study, players just watch the Tithe player build a hoard of mana and laugh. It's frustrating. Grand Arbiter Augustin IV fits into this category because sometimes people forget to pay more, play a spell and you have to tell them they actually couldn't play the spell, and now everyone knows what the spell is.

Transgression: Thassa's Oracle

How That Will Be Interpreted: This is the 5th time I've lost to that card this week

Commander Heat Index Score: 6/10

Thassa's Oracle

Notes: Thassa's Oracle decks can make the rest of your deck not matter. Oracle is so salt-inducing that Demonic Consultation and Doomsday both made the Top 100 this year as well. I personally think people find losing to the "I cast a 1 Black mana spell and a 2 Blue mana spell and win and you can't stop me because you tapped out to play a Cultivate" deck to be really anticlimactic because the game is sometimes just getting started when that happens. It's a Legacy play. People want to play big, dumb monsters. Speaking of which...

Transgression: Eldrazi

How That Will Be Interpreted: (I don't know why people don't like Eldrazi)

Commander Heat Index Score: 6/10

Notes: This might be like a 4 or 5 out of 10 but Void Winnower pushes the whole category up, and I also wanted it to be right after Thassa's Oracle so the ellipses there would make sense. People do NOT like Void Winnower, with good reason. When Winnower comes to town, players can't even, and they want to even. Eldrazi take some work cheating out but it's generally easier to generate a ton of colorless mana versus colorful mana, so Eldrazi tend to come down a turn or two earlier than they should sometimes even playing "fair" cards like Dreamstone Hedron. People dislike Mindslaver Emrakul almost as much as they dislike Blightsteel Colossus.

Transgression: Maindecking sideboard cards

How That Will Be Interpreted: You play that against everyone, do you?

Commander Heat Index Score: 6/10

Aura Thief

Notes: I like my Estrid deck. It's fun, it's goofy and it's fairly low-powered. What I don't like is people playing Merciless Eviction against me, so I play multiple ways to stop that from happening. What I did NOT expect was Sheldon Menery windmilling an Aura Thief. It felt... personal. People don't like seeing cards that are very narrow and often dead against the field but which punish them very hard and in particular. Boil is not going to punish 4 players in a pod, it's going to hit 1 player for 2 lands, 1 player for 1 land, 1 player for 0 lands and one player for 10 lands. Boil, Acid Rain, and Wake of Destruction are fairly low on the list compared to other cards, but it still feels bad to feel like they're being singled out. Curiously, Carpet of Flowers and Reap are not on the list - people don't mind players being rewarded for guessing your deck would have Blue or Black, but they don't like to be on the receiving end of a 1-sided 'Geddon. These cards, in my experience, are saltier in practice than in the abstract and I adjusted my Heat Index score accordingly.

I think it pays to really peruse both years' Top 100 lists to get a sense of cards that may rankle your playgroup. Commander is a special format - it's not always necessarily as competitive and there are some cards that don't give you that much more of an edge than a similar, but less antisocial card. Treachery over Bribery, Frozen Aether over Rising Waters, Laboratory Maniac over Thassa's Oracle, literally any other card in Magic over Smokestack. Stasis was #1 both times we conducted the survey, with a total of over a million votes cast. Winter Orb was 2nd and 3rd. Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger was Top 10 both times, as was Cyclonic Rift. I'm not saying don't play those cards - you won't catch me saying that Bribery isn't my favorite Commander card anytime soon (although I play it less on webcam, but that is more practical than considerate). A core tenet of 75% theory from the very early days was that it was better to deal with and potentially punish an opponent for doing something rather than prevent them from doing anything. Let them play Magic. Counter a key spell, but don't counter EVERY spell they play. Make their stuff come into play tapped but let them untap more than 1 land per turn. Deal them 40 damage with a spectacular combo, but not on turn four.

I mean, or not. Do what you want. Ultimately, nothing that came to light as a result of looking at the saltiest cards was a rule. I'm not telling you how to play. I am merely pointing out that there are things that people universally do not like and doing certain unpleasant things to people can result in you becoming the Archenemy, which is no fun and eventually not being invited to hang out, which is even less fun. This is a goofy format - people talk about the time I had 200 damage on board after resolving Starfield of Nyx but no one talks about the time I played 3 mana rocks on turn one in my Maelstrom Wanderer deck and cast a Tooth and Nail for lethal on turn three. Keep the salt list and the Heat Index in mind when you play and have fun out there! Until next time.

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