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Scrying for Success with Elminster

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I'll be the first to admit I don't really like Planeswalkers as Commanders. I understand the idea, and I'm actually quite positive on pushing into different spaces and trying different things, but personally, I like Commander damage. I like that there's this unique, unchangeable thing about this particular format where it doesn't matter if you have eight million life: I 21 you with my weird Creature, and you're dead. Planeswalkers take away that vector of attack. (I suppose a very extreme case might use Mycosynth Lattice or Memnarch to turn your Planeswalker Commander into an artifact and then March of the Machines to make it a creature,)

On the other hand, my fellow writer and all-around excellent content-creator of things Commander Jason Alt suggested he'd like to see my take on Elminster. Challenge accepted.

Elminster

First things first, lest you wander down the mistaken path I first trod: when I first read him, I thought my Scrying compounded over a turn, so if I figured out a way to Scry, like, 85, then I could cast a Blue Sun's Zenith for uuu and draw 85 cards. (I suppose I could make someone else draw 85 cards. They'd probably lose on their draw step.) Anyway, it doesn't work that way. It looks at the last time you Scry'd only. So, if you Scry 1, you get 1 off your next Instant or Sorcery. Scry 3? Take 3 off the cost. But if you Scry 1, then 2, then 3, you're still only taking 3 off.

Now that I'm done acknowledging my inability to RTFC, let's see what he actually does for us.

He's a five-mana, five-loyalty Commander 'walker.

He reduces by some amount the cost of Instants and Sorceries by digging through our deck, which is a good thing to do.

He pluses himself with a Serum Visions, which is kind of weird but fine.

He minuses himself by Exiling a card, then spitting out little 1/1 Flying Creatures equal to the mana value of the card he Exiles, which will be the top card of our Library. This is good, because he can actually protect himself with this ability: four or five little Flying dudes will do a good job of keeping combat damage off him.

Let's see what we can do with this.


Thing 1: This is a rough draft. I suspect it'll do stuff (decks which draw a lot of cards tend to do things) but I'm not sure it can actually close a game of Commander with other people all interested in trying to stop you.

Thing 2: I suspect this will be an absolute blast to pilot. No one, least of all you, will really know what you're doing, but it's going to be wild.

Our 40 lands should get us to Elminster on turn five most of the time. We have a few cheap mana rocks to help us along, and don't be afraid to use early selection spells (Opt, Preordain, &c.) to dig for our lands and rocks. We have enough card selection and draw we should be able to play a land almost every turn of the game, and we won't mind having the mana since, assuming we don't get knocked out early, we'll have a lot to do in later turns of the game. We do have two dual land targets for Flooded Strand, so keep that in mind if you draw it later. And remember Castle Vantress is another way to Scry!

Our Commander will draw us a card almost every turn he's out, which is nice but not enough. Most of our Sorceries draw us cards, from the aforementioned Serum Visions to Foresee to Treasure Cruise to Ugin's Insight. Dig Through Time doesn't officially "draw" us cards, but we wind up with two extra, and Brainstorm is a classic for a reason. Diviner's Portent is a nifty little card draw spell. Behold the Multiverse is great whenever.

We also have a number of ways to Scry, because that can be so valuable. We can cast Cryptic Annelid, then, because the last amount we Scry'd was three, we can cast Tamiyo's Epiphany for u. Then, since we Scry'd 4, we can cast Austere Command for ww and Wrath the board. Crystal Ball lets us Scry 2 for 1. Sphinx of Foresight Scrys 1 every turn. Jace's Sanctum buys us a discount and Scrys 1 every time we cast an Instant or Sorcery, which is a lot. Netherese Puzzle-Ward will Scry us 4 sometimes, and at least 1 every turn. We'll be looking at the top of our deck a lot, and moving cards to the bottom, and drawing extra cards, and casting things at weirdly reduced costs, and looking at more cards... it's going to be a lot of fiddling about.

We have a couple of point removal spells in Path to Exile, Swords to Plowshares, and Generous Gift. We also have more board wipes than just Austere Command, including Farewell, Hour of Reckoning (which is great because it will leave our Faerie Dragon Tokens alive), and Vanquish the Horde, which is not only often just two mana but also a great one to Exile with Elminster since it'll be good for eight Tokens. I hate putting Cyclonic Rift in decks because it's so expensive, but it's too good here to ignore (feel free to substitute Coastal Breach). We also have a few Counterspells; use them carefully, because done right everyone will always play around them, even if you don't have one in hand.

We've got a few really fun spells that work well when you're looking at this many cards. Mnemonic Deluge is a great example; we can use this to cast, say, Storm Herd three more times if we want. Or even just Treasure Cruise for nine new cards. Aminatou's Augury is a strange one but one which gives us plenty of free cards; we should be able to get some value out of that. Storm Herd is good because of our cost-reduction ability, and it gives us a big ol' blast of extra Flying Creatures which might actually help us win. Clone Legion is another good expensive spell, both if we want to turn it into Faerie Dragons or just copy someone's board. Oath of Teferi allows us to activate Elminster twice, which is really valuable.

Those Flying Creatures are probably our single best way of winning the game. We can make a lot of them, among Elminster, Storm Herd, and Talrand, Sky Summoner. Going wide with Flying is a decent win strategy, and if some other damage has been pointed at other people, we might be able to chip in enough to win a game.

I'd like to talk about two more cards specifically.

Jace, Mirror Mage is a five-mana spell in our deck. Say it again with me: Jace is 5 mana. There is no situation when we should play him for three. We always want the copy. The extra Scry, the ability to Scry then draw, the additional target for people's attacking Creatures - all of these are why he's a five-mana 'walker for us. We can also plan our draws with Elminster and other Scry effects to draw a land off Jace and lose no Loyalty, then draw action some other way.

The other one is Approach of the Second Sun. This may actually be our best way to win the game. If we draw it, and we can play it, and it doesn't get countered, the likelihood is we'll be able to dig to it in a single turn. We certainly won't have to wait seven turns for it to come back around! We should be able to accelerate the game quite a bit when we cast it the first time, because people will know we can dig to it, so be ready as best you can. Have blockers. Have Counterspell backup. Do it right, you'll win the game on the spot.

Leyline of Anticipation is cheap now and might be quite useful. I'd keep it in the back of my mind as I played the deck, because it might be worth finding a slot. Same for Finale of Revelation, which might be better than Treasure Cruise. The Cruise makes us more Faerie Dragons, but the Finale can get quite out of hand at high mana levels. Teferi, Time Raveler would probably be good but might draw some ire from the table, and Vedalken Orrery would be great but is quite pricey and I doubt necessary.

How do you feel about Planeswalkers as Commanders? How about Elminster in general? Anyone want to build him? How will you build the deck? Let us know in the comments!

Thanks for reading.


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