Stuck in the Middle With You

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Lightning Angel is one of my favorite cards from Apocalypse. When the set was first released, I thought there was something so intriguing about her color combination combined with her ruthless efficiency on the table. It is a mystique that has never truly been explored...until now.

If you are an EDH player, you'll have no doubt heard and read about Wizards of the Coast's recent announcement to support the format (known now as Commander) with its line of Commander pre-constructed decks. While there's much discussion to be had from this announcement I wanted to talk a bit about Wizards' choice of colors for these new Commander decks, and why they're so interesting.

Each of the five decks will introduce two new Legends in "wedge" colors, for a total of 10 new Commanders. You may hear the term "wedge" thrown around a bit in the coming months leading up to the Commander release. In case you weren't already aware, a wedge is a combination of colors consisting of one color paired with its two enemy colors - this single color is "wedged" in between two it does not usually get along with. Like the addition of the proverbial third wheel many unexpected and interesting interactions can result from brewing and playing a wedge Commander deck.

Like a cheese wedge, these gameplay interactions can also be delicious.

There currently exists only one Legend for each wedge color combination, except for WBG, which has two. As you may have guessed, the first five are all part of the Dragon Legend cycle in Planar Chaos:

Oros, the Avenger (WBR)
Intet, the Dreamer (URG)
Teneb, the Harvester (WBG)
Numot, the Devastator (WUR)
Vorosh, the Hunter (UBG)

As Aaron Forsythe wrote in a Daily MTG article many moons ago, the Planar Chaos Dragon cycle was created to mirror the original Dragon Legend cycle from Invasion, a move befitting the WTF-is-going-on theme of the Time Spiral block.

Many of us generally have an idea about allied tri-color combinations and their synergies because of the profound influence of the Alara block (how often do you hear terms like Bant and Jund nowadays?), but interactions between wedge colors are less often tread. What I want to do is discuss each wedge and how its Commander influences the deckbuilding process for that wedge.

Five Guys Sittin' in a Bullpen in San Quentin

Oros, the Avenger:

Oros, and his wedge in general, are quite flexible in that while you will likely incorporate a suite of cards to abuse the Commander's ability the deck's theme is pretty much up to you. I feel this is due to the fact that for a wedge, the three colors are actually quite similar.

If you want to keep creatures off the board, between Black, White and Red have infinite sweepers and spot removal spells available. Oros also has no shortage of ways to finish the game. If you're a fan of dropping players with a giant burn spell you have all the best ones available to you in Red and Black. All three colors also have very capable token strategies, although you may want to stick to White-based tokens because of Oros' ability (unless Vicious Shadows is also part of your strategy). With access to Angels, Demons and Dragons, Oros packs some of the nastiest fliers in the format.

Oros himself has a rather unimpressive-looking ability, until you realize the myriad ways you can abuse it. By giving him Deathtouch or other abilities that trigger on damage (Scythe of the Wretched, Sword of Kaldra) he suddenly becomes all the more dangerous. By giving Oros Infect, via Tainted Strike or Grafted Exoskeleton, you can severely mess up other players' boards and potentially kill them with poison counters.

What Oros' wedge possesses in removal and creature-based strategies it lacks in counter magic and mana fixing. Luckily it has artifacts and enchantment, likeLand Tax, to make up the gap in the latter category.

Intet, the Dreamer:

It is difficult to find a common thread running through Intet's colors. UG offers a number of flexible cards like Coiling Oracle, Mystic Snake, and Voidslime. Blue shares some spell-copying effects with Red, but the colors don't have as nearly as many parallels as Oros does.

Luckily, Intet possesses one of the strongest "build around me" abilities of the five Dragons. He is the opposite of Oros' flexibility: you are almost always going to build your deck around Intet, because his ability is that good. There are a plethora of ways between Blue (Future Sight, Magus of the Future, Mystical Tutor), Green (Sylvan Library, Mirri's Guile, Oracle of Mul Daya, Worldly Tutor) and artifacts (Sensei's Divining Top, Scroll Rack) to ensure that the top card of your library is one of the most powerful you can cast when you can trigger Intet's ability. And in Commander, there are no shortage of game-ending cards in Intet's colors to cast for free. Intet almost screams (or roars) for you to play high-cost, high-reward spells to get the most out of his ability.

It should not surprise many that Intet is the "Blue" dragon in the cycle.

Intet's wedge is more limited in terms of removal, but can cope with bounce and tuck effects (and Pongify!), and more than makes up for the removal deficit with counterspells and library manipulation to find existing answers to threats.

Teneb, the Harvester:

A combination of White, Black and Green likely means that the deck will boast a strong creature-based strategy. All three colors have very strong search abilities and share a deep affinity for getting prime value out of creatures. With cards like Genesis, Karmic Guide, Reveillark, Gleancrawler, Living Death and Debtors' Knell, inevitability is this wedge's middle name.

If Intet is one of the two wedge Dragons to make a case for the strongest in the cycle, Teneb is the other. If you are playing Teneb, you are likely taking advantage of the most powerful creature recursion strategy available to you. And like Intet, the amount of card advantage and board position you can gain for just three mana is an utter steal.

A color combination like Teneb's has very few glaring holes in its game. Red and Blue can fall back on strong sorceries and instants to help win them games, but Teneb also has access to gamebreaking spells like Tooth and Nail, Genesis Wave, or even Exsanguinate. It's this solid base that would lead me to rank Teneb above Intet in terms of sheer power.

Numot, the Devastator:

If Oros is the choice for a flexible aggressive strategy, then Numot's wedge would be the ideal choice for a control player looking to craft his or her own game plan. Because Numot's ability is so flexible, what the deck does is entirely up to the player. The three colors offer a healthy blend of counterspells, library manipulation and removal.

The addition of Blue to any deck usually slows down its strategy, which is not a problem for Numot. Because Numot's colors lack the Green necessary to ramp for potential early land destruction, it is more favorable to sit back and use Numot as a precision tool to remove problematic lands like Cabal Coffers and Gaea's Cradle. Numot's ability can also be the centerpiece for a potential land destruction theme by pairing it with Dingus Egg and other powerful LD spells like Wildfire and Lavaball Trap.

Like Oros, Numot's wedge is fairly balanced. Red doesn't offer a whole lot to the party, but the addition of burn as a win condition (Banefire, Comet Storm) is a good Plan B.

Vorosh, the Hunter:

Vorosh consists of an impressive combination of control-friendly colors. Green can ramp and smooth mana; Black tutors for key cards and removes problematic ones; and Blue provides countermagic and card advantage.

However Vorosh himself seems to pale a bit in comparison to the other Dragon Legends. Don't get me wrong: his ability is perfectly fine when you can kill a player with 21 Commander damage. But when the other Legends can impact the board in more profound ways, six +1/+1 counters seems too focused to capably measure up.

But a properly supported Vorosh can be a scary thing: giving Vorosh double strike with Fireshrieker or Grappling Hook can potentially net 12 +1/+1 counters in one turn. Repeatable unblockable-granting cards like Ethereal Usher and (for the ballers) Zhuge Jin, Wu Strategist ensure you can finish opponents in short order. Vorosh can also become more resilient and evasive with the help of UG Graft-themed cards like Plaxcaster Frogling and Sporeback Troll.

Vorosh's wedge is surprisingly solid because each color solves a problem. When you think about a checklist of scenarios you are likely to encounter, Vorosh seems to have solutions for most, if not all of them.

I'm sure I missed some strategies with these generals but the main take away is that your choice of Commander can either pidgeonhole your deck's strategy or grant you carte blanche. Some people enjoy building a themed deck; others prefer to start from scratch and discover entirely new strategies.

By choosing to print new Legends in the wedge colors Wizards is giving these sparsely populated color combinations a huge boost and some much needed love in Commander. Having the Planar Chaos Dragons is great and all, but new wedge Legends will help foster new play styles and deck types. When Commander is released next year it will offer a fresh experience for new players of the format, letting them discover their own Lightning Angels. And it will also give the old dogs some new tricks to try as well.

All in all, like a cheese wedge: delicious.

5 thoughts on “Stuck in the Middle With You

  1. Vorosh + poison + proliferate.

    I can easily see a deck which can consistantly kill players in one hit, with things like grafted exo and tainted strike, and things like ichor rats + contagion engine.

    1. Yep, I can definitely see that as well – Vorosh is in the perfect colors to abuse those mechanics, and Besieged should offer even more tools for players who want to get their poison on.

      -David (Dave)

  2. along side the slew of stuff mentioned for teneb, it might be worth noting that its perfect for the numerous combos with reveilark.
    the basica layout for these is:
    Reveilark + saffi/karmic guide + any 2 power creature + sac outlet
    this is one of the huge benefits to that color combo. especially since lots of the peices are already good ideas for deck of that color

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