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Trying Not to Win in Commander: Omnath's Petting Zoo


For the last several articles, we've been exploring different ways to not win in Commander. Okay, that's not exactly right - there are plenty of ways to not win in Commander. Rather, we've been talking about having a goal other than winning, to the point that actually winning the game would be considered a failure. When I first thought about this, I came up with four goals aside from winning one could use to build a deck. They are:

  1. Group Hug (where the point of the game is to help the other players do their thing better or more consistently. We took an approach based on equity rather than equality.)
  2. Choose a different winner (where we decide who wins and make them win.)
  3. Force the game to a draw (we went the Divine Intervention route, but there are multiple infinite combos which, if not interrupted, force the game to a draw.)
  4. Do something absurd (get to exactly one million life, turn all your lands into Food tokens, put Divinity counters on every permanent, stuff like that.)

It's that fourth one we're going to explore today, but there's an important caveat to this type of alternate-goal setting which is important to talk about.

Winning is an agreed-upon goal among all players, with an understanding that once the game is won, it is over. Whether it's an infinite combo from Oloro, Commander beats via Uril, or a down-to-the-last-life-point with a pile of precons, we all (normally) agree once someone has won, we're done. We play another one or go home or whatever.

In the case of the first three trying-not-to-win styles, the game still ends. Either we help elongate the game for fun but still ultimately have a winner, or we choose the winner, or we force a situation where no one wins but the game definitively ends. But the fourth one is funny, because once we've done our thing, we may consider it a "win," but everyone else is still playing a game with a different goal. And now we have a bunch of Food tokens instead of lands and can't really do anything else, so... what? We scoop? That's fine, but I'm generally not a fan of scooping barring a definite loss or personal situation.

Have you ever played an Un- set? They're great fun, if a bit flawed, but one of the most fun things about Un- sets is they're far less about winning and far more about hilarity. More games just kind of... end with those sets than any other style of Magic, because something so absurd happens, you'd rather just end the game than go on.

With that as inspiration, I set out to do something really, really absurd, where everyone else in the game is likely to scoop in response because there is no other reasonable response to something so ridiculous. I suppose, technically, if everyone else scoops to what we do, we have "won," but I don't think it's likely that's how it's going to be thought of. Rather than spoil it, go on a journey with me. We'll take a look at the decklist at the end.

We start, like most other decks, with lands. We play land drops. Early on we'll do a few things: we'll play a piece or two of pillow fort, like a Ghostly Prison, Crawlspace, or Norn's Annex, and we'll make some random tokens, like a Goat with Springjack Pasture or a Caribou with Caribou Range.

At some point, we'll start searching our library for enchantments. We'll get some big ones and some little ones. It'll be clear we're up to something, because no one gets Enchanted Evening and Starfield of Nyx without being up to something. But we're also getting Intangible Virtue. We're probably Transmuting for a couple things too: Deadeye Navigator and Freed from the Real? Searching for Selvala, Heart of the Wilds or Great Whale?

We're also drawing cards. A fair amount of cards. That explains why we Transmuted for Reliquary Tower. Every opportunity we get, we're drawing. Actually, we've played a couple of Enchantresses, and we've got a number of Enchantments... wait a minute! Enchanted Evening? Starfield of Nyx? Uh-oh!

And then it's too late. In one turn, we play out Deadeye Navigator and Great Whale or Peregrine Drake, or we put Freed from the Real on Selvala with Omnath on the 'field. Either way, we make infinite mana of all the colors we need.

(In case you don't know how the infinite mana combos work: Deadeye Navigator and Peregrine Drake [or Great Whale] Soulbond. You pay 1u to flicker the Drake and untap five lands, then tap them again, making sure to make at least u. You'll use two mana to flicker the Drake again, and untap five lands again, netting you three mana in the process. Repeat until you have all the mana you need. Selvala needs a creature with power four or greater on the battlefield. We've got a couple, but the obvious one is our Commander, since we'll always have access to Omnath. We put Freed from the Real on Selvala, pay g and tap her, making four mana [with Omnath out. It'd be five with Deadeye Navigator], at least one of which is u and another g. Use three of it to untap her with Freed from the Real, netting one mana. Repeat until you have all the mana you need.)

This is when things get really silly.

We play Enchanted Evening, turning everything on the battlefield into an Enchantment. We then play Intangible Virtue, giving all our random Hamster and Cat tokens +1/+1. We follow that up with Aura Thief, which we promptly sacrifice to High Market or Martyr's Cause, which means we gain control of every permanent on the battlefield. Creatures, artifacts, planeswalkers, lands - literally everything comes to us.

We play Starfield of Nyx, or maybe Opalescence, and turn all of those permanents into creatures. (Intangible Virtue or its creature-based counterpart, Phantom General, is important here. When all the enchantments become creatures, they get power and toughness equal to their mana value. With tokens, that's zero, and it's a replacement effect for their existing power and toughness, so they would go to having a toughness of zero and die to the state-based effect. With a toughness boost to all tokens, though, they survive with a toughness of one!).

Then we blow the rest of our mana on Curse of the Swine and turn every. Single. Permanent. Into a Boar (or, in our case, pig).

At this point I recommend you reach into your bag and pull out a pile of cute stuffed animals, then invite everyone to your petting zoo.

We're Going to the Zoo! | Commander | Mark Wischkaemper

I said to heck with a budget on this one and went all in, though without all the ridiculous original dual lands and stuff the deck came in under $600. That's still a lot of money to spend on a joke, but I figured if I were going to do it, may as well do it right. The truth is, if you were going to really play this deck, playing out original duals might draw more attention than you want; I know if I play with someone who drops a Taiga turn one, I'm going to assume they're the threat. Might be better to run a much more budget mana base just to draw less attention. The color requirements aren't terrible for the deck, so it'll surely work without the fancy mana. The truth is, this deck will need some willingness from other players to work out anyway - we have to sort of sell that what we're doing is worth it, because at some point someone is going to break through our defenses and all we'll have is our wits to stay in it.

Picking which tokens could be made was tricky; there aren't any deer tokens or donkey tokens, which are traditional petting zoo fare, at least in the United States. No llamas, either. There is one horse token, but they come from Crested Sunmare, require you gain life, and are 5/5s, which are huge and would probably scare the kids. Obviously, no Goblins or Sharks or Beasts. Despite the artwork, Release the Dogs seemed good, and Regal Caracal makes some Cats; both of those animals tend to not mind being petted, despite not normally being included in a zoo. Squirrels could probably be tamed to be fed, so they're included, and while I've never pet an elephant, I rode one once, so I think that's fair. And, of course, Curse of the Swine; they may be called Boars, but they're pigs, and pigs both make great pets and are cool additions to a petting zoo.

Again, technically if we pull this off, we win the game. I mean, the other players don't have to scoop, but they no longer have a board state at all, and would have to start over completely with only what is in their hand. Besides, what are you going to do but laugh when someone makes a petting zoo at a Commander table? The story is the point, not the win.

A few more quick points. We have a few Instants which make all our creatures indestructible. This attempts to keep us from getting Wrathed so we have stuff other than pigs in our zoo. Otherwise, we have no interaction, just pillows to attempt to stay alive. Going to have to do some sweet talking to pull this off, I think. Also, there are a couple of ways to make infinite mana, and Opalescence and Starfield of Nyx are functional copies, but we only have one Aura Thief. We'll need a way to sacrifice it, and a way to keep our tokens alive. As long as we do all those things, we're good. Think it through as you go.

I'm desperately curious what you think. Please let me know in the comments. Not necessarily specific questions, just - any thoughts you have. I appreciate them in advance.

Thanks for reading.

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