Winning Is Not A Dirty Word

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[Editor's Note: I'm pleased to welcome Neale Talbot to the QS Timmy team! He's a Commander player with a very distinct perspective, one many of you will be able to appreciate. If you play Commander online you'll find Neale will always have something useful for you! Enjoy!]


There, I've said it.

Win, win.

It's not so hard. Give it a try.

Win, win, win.

Don't you feel better now?

You're allowed to win Commander. It's a game, and the point of the game, dare I say it, is to win. There is nothing in the "Social Contract" that says "Thou Shalt Not Win". The social contract is about giving everyone a fair chance to play the game. That happens to include giving your opponents a fair chance to lose the game.

There are, however, various ways to go about winning. There's a big psychological and cultural difference between winning on turns 3, 4, and beyond (all of which are possible in Commander). A turn three win, regardless of how its achieved, will often be reacted to with open hostility by those who only got to play a couple of land and were therefore "never in the game". A turn 4 win, still pretty ballsy, will also be treated with more contempt than kindness. I have found that once turn 5 has passed people tend to settle down and accept whatever fate comes their way, as by this time everyone has at least played a non-land permanent or two and felt they've at least had the chance to interact with other players.

This, then, leads to the question "How can I win?".

Going For The Throat

There are various 'I win' cards in the format. For instance the epic keyword cards (Enduring Ideal, Endless Swarm, Eternal Dominion, Neverending Torment, Undying Flames) all act as one-card win conditions, but are relatively clunky to play. Kudos to the Commander player, however, who manages a win using Neverending Torment.
Phage, The Untouchable is a high risk/high reward strategy that usually gets one opponent out of the ring but leaves you open to any number of blink effects. I've always seen the risk as outweighing the reward when it comes to Phage, but I still play her.

Felidar Sovereign is seen as a pretty unfair card, but in a format where you can have your life total taken to 10 due to one spell being played, he's not really that bad. He only works in a deck dedicated to lifegain, and without any protection he's fragile at best, so he remains legal in the format.
Barren Glory is another 'I win' card, but the effort you have to make in order to pull off the win is such that doing so is more an act of panache than anything else. The same goes with Near-Death Experience, although it does combo nicely with Angel's Grace.

Mayael's Aria is a card I wish I saw more of in Commander. It's the kind of card that loves big creatures, and could probably pull of a sudden win more often if built around. Mortal Combat, Epic Struggle, Chance Encounter and Test of Endurance are all similar win conditions - but I actually like the idea of someone building a Chance Encounter deck, especially having recently seen someone pull off a triple-flip Fiery Gambit.

A lot of one card kills are made for the late game. The poster child for this is Insurrection. With a complicated board state, low late-game life totals, and big critters on the table, Insurrection can end a game fast. There are various X spells that accomplish similar results; a lethal Exsanguinate has been known to end many a game, and a colossal Genesis Wave stops games in short order as well. Similarly, Wolfbriar Elemental acts as a way of turning massive amounts of mana into your own personal army, although Martial Coup has a similar effect with the added benefit of destroying all your opponent's creatures at the same time. Given enough mana, even Capsize can be its own finisher.

Comboing Out

There are so many two-card kills available in Magic it's hard to know where to start. Certainly playing Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir followed by Knowledge Pool will end the game in short order (as your opponents are effectively locked out from playing spells thereafter). Equally as brutal is playing Enchanted Evening followed by Cleansing Meditation, generally leaving yourself with a full board and your opponents with nothing.

Commanders themselves are no slackers when it comes to comboing out. Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind has long been known to combo with A-Mischievous Catgeist // A-Catlike Curiosity (which is why Psychosis Crawler deals life loss, not damage). Sharuum, The Hegemon combos with Sculpting Steel, creating an infinite recursion loop that can easily be abused. Sliver Queen works nicely with Mana Echoes to create an infinite army, while Scion of the Ur-Dragon works with Bladewing the Risen to tutor up the best dragon for the job then reanimate it as well.

That leaves all the remaining two-card combos out there: the Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Pestermite kills, the False Cure and Beacon of Immortality kills, the Wall of Blood and Rite of Consumption kills. (Okay, that last one doesn't actually ever happen, but you get the point.)

The problem with two-card kills is (and strangely, unlike a lot of one-card kills) they are seen as cheap. There's actually a surprisingly larger amount of effort that goes into a Genesis Wave kill than simply laying down Niv-Mizzet, playing Curiosity, and declaring the win. As a result the two-card combo kill is the most frowned upon thing in Commander, now matter how 'viable', 'difficult' or 'fair' it is. Your mileage may vary when playing two-card combos in your playgroup; if you decide to go for a two-card combo kill, you may be universally labelled as Johnny Unfun and uninvited from playing Commander again.

Taking Eternity

Excuse me, for a second, while I don my fire-retardant pants and bullet-proof vest.


Another sure-fire route to winning is taking infinite turns.


Yes, taking infinite turns is a perfectly viable way of winning the game. Yes, it will make turn you into a social pariah, forced to walk the lonely path that blue mages have walked for eternity. But it's possible, practical, and it ends the game quickly (or your win gets acknowledged, you get booted, and the game continues without you).

Time Stretch is the most abusable of the extra-turn cards, especially when copied, recovered and replayed. Mnemonic Wall (and a way to blink it) is a blue-mage's best friend, preventing you from ever having to worry about passing the turn to an opponent again.
Likewise, Beacon of Tomorrows is a great card, especially when you have a Planar Portal on the field and enough mana to search and recast the Beacon again and again. And again. And again.

And again.

Okay, it’s going to get real boring, real fast, for anyone but you. But what do you care? You’re winning!

And Then There Was Ooze

I have not discussed winning with aggro, land destruction, lockdown, or 'total control' yet - I'll talk about those in another article - but I did want to quickly discuss Necrotic Ooze.

Necrotic Ooze is in a category all its own. It’s not really a one-card kill as it needs a bunch of support cards, and these cards need to be in the graveyard rather than the library.

The principal enabler for Necrotic Ooze is Hermit Druid, but again there are so many other avenues to getting Ooze online (Survival of the Fittest, Buried Alive) that it is hard to state that Hermit Druid is the problem. What Hermit Druid provides is a consistency and speed that the other competitors can’t touch.

Essentially, Necrotic Ooze is a card that allows you to combine all the other activated abilities of creatures in your deck in order to combo out at instant speed. Sometimes it’s Kiki Jiki, sometimes it’s Viridian Joiner, Umbral Mantle, and Kamahl, Fist of Krosa, sometimes it’s as simple as Quillspike and Devoted Druid. Whatever the enablers are, Necrotic Ooze allows you to have a single permanent on the board and still win, which is pretty broken.

Here’s the most broken Necrotic Ooze/Hermit Druid deck I’ve seen in a long time, which uses Glissa, the Traitor as its Commander.

Glissa, Traitor to Fun

The deck has two central, very strong game plans.

Plan A: Tutor for Hermit Druid and Dryad Arbor. Playing Druid and activating it, dumping the library into the graveyard. Playing Dryad Arbor to return Bloodghast to the battlefield. Sacrifice Hermit Druid, Dryad Arbor and Bloodghast to Dread Return to recover Necrotic Ooze, then give Ooze haste. Tap Ooze for 2 mana, then untap for 1 B using Pila-Pala. Make infinite mana, then infinite Oozes, then give them all haste. Alternatively, just shoot your opponents to death using the Masticore ability instead.

Plan B: Play out a lot of 0 and 1 mana artifacts to accelerate mana then play Glissa. Then either get out Kuldotha Forgemaster, or Smokestack or Possessed Portal and Myojin of Night's Reach. As your opponents sacrifice creatures, you recover the cheap artifacts you sacrificed and replay them. Eventually your opponents boards are wiped as you slowly kill them off or find the time to implement Plan A.

The deck does not muck around. It has the kind of winning streak I have not seen in Commander in a long time. It is also the type of deck I would only consider for competitive play, not casual play. However, if you play on Magic Online you should be aware of it and be packing heat for it. There is a metagame slowly forming in online Commander, and its name is Glissa.

Good luck. I hope you win.

4 thoughts on “Winning Is Not A Dirty Word

  1. Neale,

    Despite (or perhaps because of) our vastly differing opinions about how Commander ought to be played, I really enjoyed reading your first article today. I look forward to working with you and learning about competitive Commander through your writing!

  2. Neale, I didn't mean to imply that you were ignoring the social contract, but just what you said, that we have different views about what it means. I hope to see more of your writing up soon, should be fun to finally get some dialogue going!

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