Winter Landscape with Figures and a Windmill by Jacob Van Ruisdael (1670s). Archfiend of Ifnir by Seb McKinnon.
If you read last week's article, you probably got the impression that I think I have all the answers. I certainly have strong opinions about proxies, and about lots of other things as well, but today's article isn't about that kind of answer.
Today I'm going to explore what you can do when a deck is just wrecking your playgroup, dominating your league, or making every game feel like an exercise in futility. I'm going to try to help you give a little misery back to the deck or decks that have been driving you crazy. Every commander has weaknesses; and, for every strategy, there are ways to fight back. Not all of these may be new to you, but hopefully I'll have few cards you haven't seen before and that you might even want to start running in your decks.
Most of us have been beaten by a deck designed to play a single commander that tries to deal 21 commander damage to each of their opponents. Uril, the Miststalker and Bruna, Light of Alabaster usually do it by loading up on auras. Nazahn, Revered Bladesmith and Zurgo Helmsmasher are more likely to pile on the equipment. My Narset, Enlightened Master goes both ways, but all of these decks have a few weaknesses.
A voltron deck's commander might have or get hexproof and they might be indestructible, but until they're on the field they're nothing but a spell on the stack. One way to deal with these decks is simply to keep them from resolving their commander. Counterspells will go a long way toward keeping a voltron deck off their game. If they're the kind of player to wait until they have some way to counter your counter, a spell like Overwhelming Denial, Counterflux, or Last Word will give YOU the final word on whether or not their commander gets to come out and play.
Many voltron decks are weak to forced sacrifice. If they're like creatureless Narset decks, one Fleshbag Marauder can send their major threat right back to the command zone. If they're running other creatures you might have to resort to a card like Crackling Doom, which will force each opponent to sacrifice their biggest threat. If you really want to mess with them and you happen to be in Blue, Cultural Exchange will let you swap creatures with them. You might think most voltron commanders will have hexproof so you can't steal them, but Cultural Exchange bypasses a creature's hexproof or shroud protection. Some decks will be stopped in their tracks by this little gem, but make sure they don't have a sacrifice outlet or they'll just sac it and send it back to the command zone.
Decks That Go Wide
Some decks like to spit out so many creatures that you'll never be able to block even a small fraction of their army. More often than not, instead of killing you with 1/1 Goblins, Elves, saprolings or Myr, they will find a way to pump them all up when they swing for their "alpha strike".
I could sing the praises of Fog, Constant Mists, and Spore Frog, or tell you about pillowfort enchantments like Ghostly Prison, Propaganda, Windborn Muse, and Sphere of Safety, but I'm guessing you already know about them. They are staples in the format for good reason. They are amazing but well known, so let's dig a little deeper.
Lightmine Field is an enchantment that will let you and anyone else with big creatures go to combat, but decks that go wide are probably going to have to deal with it before they can even think about swinging. It will do damage to each attacking creature, even your own, equal to the number of creatures that are attacking. Sorry, Krenko, Mob Boss. Too bad, Rhys the Redeemed. Go ahead and build your army but don't even think about attacking until this is gone or you've found a way around it.
If you're in Blue and you're worried about an opponent even having that many creatures, just play Pendrell Mists. It will require each player to pay 1 mana during their upkeep for each creature they want to keep around. There are other ways to deal with endless ranks of weenies. If you're in Green, Ezuri's Predation will create a 4/4 Green Beast that will fight each creature your opponents control. You can turn your opponent's army of thirty little creatures into your own army of thirty 4/4 creatures. At a table of four, you're one Concordant Crossroads away from swinging that same turn with 120 power worth of creatures.
Cascade & Storm
Anyone who has gotten stomped by a Maelstrom Wanderer or Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder deck knows how powerful casting multiple spells per turn can be. The same can be said for Narset, Enlightened Master and the new Etali, Primal Storm, both of which use attack triggers to hopefully cast a bunch of free spells. Some of the best examples of turning card draw into a win are storm decks. Whether they cast a lot of spells and try to kill everyone with Aetherflux Reservoir or just draw out and win with Laboratory Maniac, a key to all of these decks' power is the ability to cast multiple spells each turn.
The simplest way to stop them is to force them to play fair. Arcane Laboratory and Eidolon of Rhetoric will force everyone to only play one spell per turn. While playing at a snail's pace might not be fun, sometimes it's the best way to keep certain decks from running away with the game. If you don't mind making an enemy, Curse of Exhaustion will do the same thing but only to one player. That player will probably try to kill you for your efforts, but at the very least they'll have to do it much more slowly than they'd like.
If you're in Green and you have to deal with multicolored decks, you might want to look at Hall of Gemstone. It won't restrict the number of spells a player can cast, but it will prevent their lands from producing more than one color of mana each turn. That can wreak havoc on some multicolored decks' ability to cast spells, making it much harder to cast more than a few spells per turn. If their commander isn't mono-colored and isn't on the field yet, they're probably going to have to find a way to remove it before they even try to execute their game plan.
If you're finding yourself having to deal with decks that draw ridiculous numbers of cards each turn, you have my sympathy. This topic makes me think of commanders like Azami, Lady of Scrolls and the new Azor, the Lawbringer but you might have other legendary creatures you have to deal with. Those decks are usually in Blue, so any answers you might find will be that much harder to resolve, but there are definitely ways to try to fight back and stop them from running away with the game.
If you picked up or played against the Arahbo, Roar of the World precon, you probably know about Alms Collector. When an opponent goes to draw their deck, flash in this Cat Cleric and instead you each get to draw a card. If you want to get greedy, play the Notion Thief and you'll get all the extra card draw your opponents had been hoping for and you won't even have to share.
Both of those options can be risky. I've lost games due to a Notion Thief gone awry, so you might just want to stop all of your opponents' extra card draw. Spirit of the Labyrinth will stop everyone from drawing extra cards. It only has 1 toughness, so if you really want it to stick around, you'll probably want to run a little protection.
Another major headache most of us have faced are decks that gleefully tutor up their wincons with the single, solitary goal of winning as quickly as possible. For some of us, that's a sensible way to accomplish the main object of Magic -- winning. For others, it's a frustrating experience that takes away from the fun of having a long, enjoyable game with lots of twists and turns before someone eventually assembles a winning boardstate.
Most high tier decks that run lots of tutors aren't going to be stopped easily, but there are ways to fight back against players who want to search their libraries. Ob Nixilis, Unshackled will force them to sacrifice a creature AND pay 10 life for each search they want to do, even if it's something as trivial as cracking an Evolving Wilds.
If you want them to blow a tutor spell rather than save it for later, you can always flash in Aven Mindcensor and restrict their search to the top four cards of their library. Once it's out, the appetite for searching libraries will probably dry up pretty quickly.
If you just want to stop them cold, and stop any extra turn shenanigans as well, Stranglehold is the enchantment you're looking for. It does both and will either force your opponents to "play fair" or burn through some removal spells before they can get back to business. The best part is that you aren't affected by it, so you can search and play extra turns all you want.
Enter the Battlefield Shenanigans
If you haven't seen a Purphoros, God of the Forge deck blow up yet, you're a lucky Commander player. It is a sight to behold if the deck is truly well built, but there are plenty of other commanders that thrive off of abusing enter-the-battlefield effects. Brago, King Eternal is the King of ETB abuse and usually runs dozens of cards that can be exiled and returned to the battlefield to great effect. Breya, Etherium Shaper, Ezuri, Claw of Progress, General Tazri, Gonti, Lord of Luxury, Inalla, Archmage Ritualist, Iona, Shield of Emeria and many, many more legendary creatures rely on enter-the-battlefield effects for their game plans.
The three solutions available to tamp down ETB effects are both relatively cheap and quite simple. If they're on the battlefield, creatures entering the battlefield don't cause abilities to trigger. They'll shut off some decks quite nicely. Again, you'll want to run protection and recursion if you really need them to stick around.
Graveyard and Recursion Decks
If you've ever let a Meren of Clan Nel Toth deck get out of hand, you know how important it can be to keep the recursion train from gaining too much momentum. Once a good recursion deck gets rolling, whether it's Meren, Sheoldred, Whispering One, Glissa, the Traitor, Ravos, Soultender, Mikaeus, the Unhallowed, or any other graveyard-focused commander, it can be hard to outrace the value they're going to be digging out of those graves, especially if they return cards directly to the battlefield.
There are plenty of excellent answers to graveyard decks. If you're happy to just prevent cards in graveyards from being targeted, Ground Seal does that nicely and will replace itself when you cast it. If you want extra value from your graveyard hate, Grafdigger's Cage will prevent creatures from being cheated into play from the yard or from a library, and will also prevent spells from being cast from anywhere other than your hand. Not only will that help with recursion decks, it will sure slow down Narset and Maelstrom Wanderer.
If you don't mind shutting off everyone's access to their yards, Rest in Peace is a card that is truly, deeply and passionately hated by recursion decks everywhere. RIP exiles all graveyards and prevents any cards or tokens from entering a graveyard from anywhere. This card is no joke, but if you want this effect to only affect your opponents, I have a commander for you.
Last year I built an Abzan () vampires deck around Anafenza, the Foremost. She keeps your opponents from putting creatures into their graveyard at all, shutting down your opponents shenanigans but leaving you free to do as much grave digging as you like.
Mike & Trike and Wincons that Target Players
Anyone who has played enough Commander has at some point been killed by the dreaded "Mike & Trike" combo. Mikaeus, the Unhallowed and Triskelion can be combined to great effect to ping each of your opponents until they are dead and the game is won. If you have a sacrifice outlet you can run Walking Ballista in place of Triskelion, but it should go without saying that these aren't the only wincons that target players. If you've ever been forced to dump your library into your graveyard, either card by card or in one big pile, it's likely that you were being targeted by a spell or ability. There are plenty of cards that target you that are just as dangerous like Villainous Wealth. They might not mill you but can win the game just as easily.
Fortunately, you don't have to go through your games of Commander constantly being targeted. If you run Orbs of Warding, Leyline of Sanctity or Spirit of the Hearth, you too can have hexproof. Will it keep you from ever losing the game? Of course not, but if you're struggling against certain wincons, it might be worth trying these out. Note that Spirit of the Hearth doesn't natively have hexproof, so unless your Mike & Trike wielding opponent is deeply stupid, they will just kill it and then they'll be able to kill you.
If you've got a friend with an Atraxa, Praetors' Voice deck, you're probably familiar with the "Superfriends" deck type. These decks play a ton of planeswalkers and often rely on deathtouch blockers like Atraxa to protect them. If they're left alone for long enough, or if the player gets out a Doubling Season you can find yourself in a world of trouble really quickly.
It should go without saying that removal is key, not only for this challenge but for all of the challenges I've gone over in this article. Blow up Doubling Season as soon as you see it. You may not get another chance.
If you really want to mess with a Planeswalker deck, Thief of Blood is fantastic so long as you don't have any permanents with counters that you care about. It will steal all counters from all permanents and will get one +1/+1 counter for each counter stolen this way. It has flying, so you can go from the brink of defeat to swinging with a gigantic flying vampire in very short order.
If you just want to stop them but don't want to make them cry, The Immortal Sun is a bit of a swiss army knife. In addition to its other abilities, it will stop everyone from activating loyalty abilities. If you just want to get rid of all planeswalkers Merciless Eviction is a fantastic sweeper that has a mode that can do that for you.
Running targeted removal spells that can destroy or exile permanents is important when trying to fight back against a planeswalkers deck, and is just generally good practice. The ability to get rid of a land that can produce ridiculous amounts of mana is going to come up, and a lot of your targeted planeswalker removal will work on any permanent.
This article is the gift that just keeps giving, right?
Well, I did warn you that I think I have all the answers. I even have an answer for those pesky Nekusar players who want to force you to dump your hand again and again and again. It's not a great answer, but it's one you might never seen before.
Penance is an enchantment that lets you dump a card on top of your library and the next time a Black or Red source of your choice would do damage to you, prevent that damage.
That might not sound particularly impressive as a defensive measure, though every Narset and Mayael should be running it as a way to "fix their flops". Who cares about stopping damage from Black and Red sources?
They key here is that you may well have cards in your hand you desperately want to keep. Maybe you just tutored up a wincon. Maybe you've got one key card you need to play next turn or you'll lose the game. With Penance on the field, if you are forced to wheel your hand, you simply drop all the cards you want to keep on top of your library, dump the rest and then draw the good cards back into your hand. You'll still take Nekusar damage if that's what you're up against, but at least you'll have a moment of feeling really clever and not losing the cards you can't bear to part with.
It should go without saying that I don't really have all the answers, but I do sympathize with Commander players who are constantly faced with really strong decks and want to overcome the challenge they are faced with every time they play. To get past these decks, you're going to have to run less "fun" cards and run more answers, possibly including some of these cards I've mentioned in this article.
You should keep in mind that running a single answer is practically the same as running no answers at all. We're playing Commander, so you're playing with a 100 card deck. In many games you won't see half to two-thirds of the cards in your library unless you've developed a pretty good approach to card draw in your deck-building.
This doesn't mean you shouldn't try to run answers.
It means if you want to actually play your answers, you'll want to run more than one or two.
You can run tutors and lots of card draw so you can find them more easily, and you might want to run answers that can cover multiple problems. Instead of running a card that destroys artifacts and a card that destroys enchantments, run cards that do both. Redundancy is important and flexibility is key. It will mean less pet cards, but hopefully your deck will be stronger and more resilient as a result, and you may even find yourself slowing down or stopping the decks that used to dominate your playgroup.
That's all I've got for you today. If you'd like to keep up with how I'm doing in my casual and Commander League games, feel free to visit http://dantesdad.wixsite.com/commanderruminations. That's where I share those stories and my progress each month as I compete for our league's top point total.
Thanks for reading and I'll see you next Monday!