Underplayed and Unappreciated

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First and foremost, I'd like to take a chance to thank everyone that made Magic Weekend Philadelphia awesome! There were infinite Commander games to be played, tons of great people to meet, and lots of fun to be had in various side events. Special thanks to @the_stybs and @CMDRdecks for some especially intense games over the course of the weekend! This coming weekend I'll be making the trip to Grand Prix Montreal. I can't wait to meet the Canadian Twitter crowd, and I'm hoping to even get in some Commander while I'm up there!

This week I wanted to take some time to talk about underplayed Commanders. There are currently 466 legendary creatures which you could use as your Commander, and it's sort of interesting to think about just how many actually get used. Especially with the over-emphasis (at least in my group) on Blue and Green, there are some colors that get completely ignored, much less specific generals in those colors. One of the most exciting things about this format is that there's always something new to do - there are cards that hardly ever see play as generals, much less as singletons in your 99!

What I wanted to do this week was take a chance to talk up some of my favorite legends that I haven't seen very much of, and to ask other people what their favorite underplayed legends are. Before we get started though, it's important to talk about what makes a Legend underplayed. Typically, underplayed refers to a card that sees relatively little play compared to other similar cards, but you have to decide what metric to use to define what is "similar." Typically, power-level is the metric that's used, but for this format you could also talk about how much fun a card is to play with, or how flavorful a card is. I'll be discussing a couple of legends fitting into each of these categories, and hopefully I'll start seeing them around a little more! In no particular order:

1. Rosheen Meanderer

I can honestly say the only build of this I've ever seen is the one that my friend Jim built when we first heard about this format in college, and that deck was awesome! It turns out that there are an awful lot of X spells in the history of the game, and most of them are awesome, especially the newer ones. Now, if you want to cast gigantic X Spells, Rosheen Meanderer is not the most efficient way to do it; the "best" way to do it is probably Wort, the Raidmother plus mana ramp. However, Rosheen Meanderer makes for an awesome theme deck, and lets you play with cards like Instill Energy rather than just typical mana ramp and Mana Reflections.

If you take a look at some of the X Spells that are available in Red/Green, there are some pretty awesome things I'd like to power out with Rosheen Meanderer, like Comet Storm, Gelatinous Genesis, and Wurmcalling, and some sweet things that I want to power them out with, like Quirion Ranger and Provoke. Even something like Green Sun's Zenith becomes an even more powerful utility card than it typically is. You can even do some cute things like run Blazing Shoal and Untamed Might, and go for the General Damage kill.

The important question is what other kinds of things are necessary to make the deck more resilient? A Wort, the Raidmother deck gets some resiliency to countermagic just because of her ability, and has pseudo haste if you can afford to cast Wort and then cast a spell. Along with being less narrow, it's these two things that make [card Wort, the Raidmother]Wort[/card] so much more powerful, and it's these things that a Rosheen Meanderer deck should try to emulate. Things like Boseiju, Who Shelters All will protect you from countermagic, and things like Instill Energy and Hall of the Bandit Lord will give your Meanderer haste so you can use him as a ritual to cast a giant burn spell the turn you drop your Commander.

2. Kaervek, the Merciless

I'm a huge fan of Commanders and decks that are more proactive. Way too many of my decks, and most of the decks I play against on a regular basis, are value-engine decks that grind out single cards over a very long game. While these games can be very interesting, and very skill intensive, it's not something that I'm interested in doing on a regular basis. I much prefer games where there are one or two players at the table who are the aggressors, and one or two people who are the controlling players. Kaervek, the Merciless is interesting because it allows you to put pressure on the table in a number of ways. Once you hit seven mana and drop Kaervek, the game is going to end very, very quickly. He's just going to dominate the board, and you can build your deck around speeding the game along to that state.

Something else that you can consider is running lots of cards like Manabarbs and Citadel of Pain to punish people regardless of whether they're casting spells or not. This can put an incredible amount of pressure on the table to answer Kaervek or die. Depending on what you're trying to beat, you can build a land destruction, discard, or removal deck to make Kaervek more difficult to answer. The deck is great at changing up the dynamics of a fairly stale table since you are, in essence, changing the rules of the game by making life a more valuable resources rather than cards. I definitely would recommend something similar if you're tired of ramp decks and attrition decks!

3. Yosei, the Morning Star, Mangara of Corondor, Hokori, Dust Drinker

These are a few different Commanders that I wanted to talk about, and started writing about individually before I realized that the engines that make them all run are very similar, and that I could condense them to fit more content! The two things that each of these Commanders have in common are:

  1. You're going to want ways to sacrifice them at will so you can better take advantage of them
  2. You want as many ways to recur them as possible

With [card Yosei, the Morning Star]Yosei[/card], this means you can lock one or more players out of the game, with [card Mangara of Corondor]Mangara[/card], you get to exile problematic permanents as necessary, and with [card Hokori, Dust Drinker]Hokori[/card], you get to Winter Orb everyone but you!These are all very powerful effects, and are well positioned to take advantage of some of the most powerful engines in white, like Emeria, the Sky Ruin, and maybe Enduring Renewal. However, what's more interesting than what these have in common is what is different.

Yosei, the Morning Star has an incredible late game because you can just lock multiple players out of the game with Enduring Renewal and mana, or Nim Deathmantle and Ashnod's Altar. The name of the game is how many times can I kill Yosei on my turn. You'd be surprised with what the answer is. A Yosei deck is going to have a very powerful late game, just by nature of your general making it very difficult to interact with you when you decide to start locking people down. That said, you're going to have to back up your late game plan with lots of sweepers and spot removal so that you don't just lose the early game when someone gets out of hand.

Mangara of Corondor, on the other hand, is in need of a late-game win condition. You have all the removal you could need, since your general is a recursive removal spell, even if you're not eking extra activations out of him with Thousand-Year Elixir and Puppet Strings. This is a deck that can take great advantage of cards like Sun Titan, and will have no problem keeping the game from getting too out of hand. Giving [card Mangara of Corondor]Mangara[/card] haste is very powerful, and will make Hall of the Bandit Lord worth running. The biggest problem with this deck has to be finding a way to actually close out games, probably with something like Sacred Mesa or Luminarch Ascension.

Hokori, Dust Drinker is the epitome of unfun cards, but it's something that's very powerful which is why I'm not sure why it doesn't see more play. You can easily build your deck to mitigate the impact of Hokori on your own development, with various mana rocks, sacrifice outlets, and Sword of Feast and Famine. Enough recursion will allow you to sacrifice Hokori, untap, and then play him again. It seems like there are two ways to go with this, either a longer, grindy game that ends with Iona, Shield of Emeria or some such, or a Voltron beatdown deck that's very difficult to disrupt. Both seem very powerful, and I'm surprised I haven't seen it before.

4. Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger

This is another really powerful general who I haven't seen much of. It's certainly not very much fun to play against, but it's a very powerful effect that solves some of the problems that green ramp tends to have since Emrakul was banned, namely that your threats are typically very easy to answer. Vorinclex protects himself in a way, and you can build yourself in such a way that makes him even harder to answer, specifically by including Vedalken Orrery and Winding Canyons in your deck, so that you can float mana in response to removal, and then recast Vorinclex. And really, most Green decks should be playing Winding Canyons anyway, for sheer utility.

Typically, people trying to beat Vorinclex have a very small window in which to do so before it just becomes too hard. Witj all the gigantic bombs that he enables,  all you really need to do is protect him for a turn or two and the game should be pretty close to over. Between Winding Canyons and [card Swiftfoot Boots]Das Boots[/card] it shouldn't be too hard to protect your Praetor. The biggest problem that you're going to have is efficient, targeted removal, and that's what your boots are for!

5. Ertai, the Corrupted

Ertai, the Corrupted is interesting in that he is very powerful, but frequently overshadowed by the other legends in the Esper shard. He's very capable of taking advantage of a number of the powerful cards in that color combination, and can certainly be built around (with cards like Thornbite Staff and Hatching Plans). Thornbite Staff is especially powerful with cards like Reassembling Skeleton, Nether Traitor, and Bloodghast. The biggest problems with Ertai are going to be finding ways to close out the game instead of just keeping the game under control, and making sure you get Ertai out early enough that someone doesn't run away with the early game. This shard has more than enough removal to accomplish that.

Cards like Zur the Enchanter would let you find key cards like Hatching Plans or even Spirit Loop. Nomad Mythmaker could be very powerful if you can find auras you want to play. Even Fool's Demise is kind of awesome for protecting Ertai! There are a ton of interesting things that you can do that take advantage of the cost of Ertai's ability to generate all kinds of card advantage.

So there you have it, five Commanders that are underplayed and undervalued. They all enable you to do interesting and powerful things that should be fun for you, if not for the rest of the table, and I'm hoping that the discussion, on twitter, and elsewhere, will encourage even more unique takes on the format in the future! I'm interested to hear what other people think are undervalued Commanders, and the interactions that you think make them powerful. I've already gotten a ton of answers from Twitter, and I'm looking forward to seeing some more in the comments!

Carlos Gutierrez
@cag5383 on Twitter

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