In my previous article I suggested some characteristics to look for in a casual card. Today I would like to take a number of cards from David Schumann's excellent articles on Commander cards in Eternal Masters (part one and part two) and give my view on their casual appeal as I happen to disagree on some of them.
I will first describe them using the characteristics I suggested last week and try to show why someone might like them for casual (regardless of my own feelings on them). I will then share how I feel about them and why.
- WOW! Factor: Many creatures die in multiplayer games, I could gain a near infinite amount of life off of it!
- Playability: Easily castable!
- Scalability: More opponents means more creatures dying.
- Taste: The Artist helps defensively, is a good role player, and helps kill opponents. There are bound to be many casual players who see something they like here.
It should be obvious that Blood Artist is a card I like very much as a casual pick. When I see the card my thoughts immediately go towards decks with lots of recursion or decks that like to kill a ton of creatures. Often those even overlap as you want something to bring back with that recursion and how about some of your own creatures that you just killed?
I have in fact been playing the Artist in my Lyzolda and Glissa EDH decks and it's doing very good work there. I have seen many players play this sort of deck and have heard players ask around for this particular card.
I would definitely recommend having a few spare copies of these in your binder!
- WOW! Factor: Turning off that pesky blue mage's Counterspells, hell yeah!
- Playability: Cards don't come much cheaper than this.
- Scalability: Doesn't scale particularly well, but with diplomacy or in the right format, you may just manage to only have one opponent to worry about.
- Taste: Griefer players like to disable opponents' abilities to play cards. Flying is a rare ability in green; pile all sorts of nastiness on this and the defending player won't even be able to play spells to deal with it.
I can certainly understand how this card could be seen as a good casual card. In fact David gave a little more background on his choice for including it and in the format variant he usually plays it actually makes a lot of sense. The problem with the Swarm though is that a lot of conditions need to be met before it becomes good.
You may not have that blue mage at your table, or really anyone you want to limit (they could be your temporary allies after all). Griefer players are actually an uncommon sight. Casual players usually play to have a fun game, including fun for opponents, and griefer players actively try to ruin their opponent's fun by limiting them as much as possible. While green doesn't have much flying, other colors do and players who want to do something against the Swarm will just do it before it's been declared as an attacker.
In multiplayer there's also a good chance that players take the Swarm as a signal that an evil combo is coming and decide to take preventive measures, such as removing the player playing said combo. I can easily see half the table ganging up on a player who drops a Swarm. I've even had the same experience with Wild Growth where one of my opponents commented that I "would never play such a bad card if I didn't plan to combo with it" (he was right).
On the whole I think the card looks good on paper, but your average casual player just isn't likely to try to do this to opponents. Those who are will likely prefer Grand Abolisher if it fits in the same deck because it scales much better and is always on.
You're probably better off trading your Xantid Swarms to a Legacy player or just bulking them out. You may be lucky and run into a rather completist casual player like myself, but I wouldn't count on it.
- WOW! Factor: Black never gets land destruction and it could take out anything!
- Playability: Most annoying lands take some time to set up, so getting BB by the time they should be destroyed shouldn't be too difficult.
- Scalability: This does not scale.
- Taste: There's always one player abusing some land or another, usually to get a ton of mana. Everybody needs ways to take care of such lands.
I'm not a fan of Sinkhole in multiplayer. Not because the card is bad---it's actually pretty decent at what it does---but because there are better alternatives. Any deck can play a Strip Mine and wealthier players can add a Wasteland. More money-tied players can go for cheaper alternatives like Dust Bowl, Ghost Quarter or Tectonic Edge.
All these have one very important thing in common: they do something even when there isn't a land in play that you want to destroy. If you get them out early they may even keep several players from playing nasty lands. Sinkhole, on the other hand, is a blank in your hand until a land you want to destroy is played.
I do see a role for this card in casual one-on-one play where the traditional mono-black deck sporting Dark Ritual, Hymn to Tourach, Hypnotic Specter and indeed Sinkhole can be a pretty satisfying weapon to have in your arsenal. So if your area commonly sees casual one-on-one games go for it.
- WOW! Factor: Protect anything for 2W; can even be played as your commander!
- Playability: WW is quite doable, 2WWW to be able to also protect it may prove to be more of a challenge.
- Scalability: This scales fairly well as nobody wants to be the player to lose a spell or ability to open you up.
- Taste: Some just like to say "no" or keep what they're building up to safe from opponents' interference.
I like Eight-and-a-Half-Tails for multiplayer. You probably won't even have to use him too often, as the threat of activation will make them look for easier targets to avoid wasting something.
My one concern with him is that he may signal to opponents that you have some nasty plans to protect, particularly when you use him as your commander. If you have a regular group they should realize after a few games that this isn't the case, and you should be able to play as appropriate for the deck.
On the other hand, if you play with new opponents on a regular basis they may fear what could be in the deck and overreact. Fortunately there are many commanders that give off signals, so even in this case there may simply be someone at the table who draws more attention than you.
At near-bulk prices I can see these be a good investment for the future, though don't count on spikes---this is probably something you trade in at about $1-$1.5 and move out of around $2.5-$3 when the Eternal Masters supply starts running low.
- WOW! Factor: It's free and highly abusable!
- Playability: Five mana is quite a bit, but you probably don't mind as you get it back immediately.
- Scalability: This does not scale.
- Taste: You get to re-use your nasty lands! Combo time! Easy on the wallet!
The Drake puts a casual player in a difficult position: do you want to play combo? This is a more difficult choice than it may seem to a more competitively-minded player ("Whatever is needed to win!").
To the casual player it's not as clear cut. The problem with playing a combo is that in many cases you just end up ending a perfectly good game all of a sudden, and it generally leaves a bad taste with the opponents. You can still have plenty of fun playing combo, but it ruins fun for others.
Responses to combo vary. Some groups embrace them, getting into an arms race trying to build the nastiest deck to dominate the group. Other groups will actually shun combo players or proceed with the game as if nothing happened (ignoring the combo win).
Most groups fall somewhere in between and their response will vary based on how dedicated the deck is to comboing, how nasty the combo is (infinite turns > infinite life > infinite tokens) and how frequently the player plays other decks that aren't combo-oriented.
I would expect many players to err on the cautious side when considering combo and stay away, possibly only playing less obvious combos. The Drake pretty much screams combo. I do agree with picking up foils for those people who decide that they want to try for a combo deck, though I wouldn't expect them to move quickly.
- WOW! Factor: It's free, and what's not to like about getting two turns ahead of your opponents?
- Playability: Amazing playbility, as cheap as they come.
- Scalability: This does not scale (but doesn't need to).
- Taste: The Crypt speeds up your plans by two turns at a negligible cost.
Mana Crypt presents some difficulty for me. As a player I very much dislike it, and cards like it, for multiplayer. Crypt paints a huge bulls-eye on your head as you pull well ahead of the rest of the players. It's also a wasted draw later in the game when you want a card that actually does something and it's an unreliable source of mana as it may randomly be taken out by mass destruction.
These issues can be prevented by aiming to win quickly through a board lock or combo. But as nice as those are to build as a thought experiment, in reality playing such decks will draw repercussions as I mentioned above.
All of that doesn't really matter from the finance perspective though, as despite my thoughts on it as a player, it and cards like it are widely popular in Commander. Sol Ring is probably in the top five most-played cards in Commander and if Crypt was as widely available I have no doubt it would make top ten and possibly even top five too.
Part of this is the speed of the local metagame---if everybody is accelerating like crazy you need to follow or risk always getting crushed early on by whoever got the broken acceleration hand. Another part of this is that some people simply copy what others play and conventional wisdom suggests to play cards like this. Finally, there are those who feel like these cards may let them pull far enough ahead to gain and keep control of the game.
I must agree with David: given its small previous printings and mythic rarity in Eternal Masters, the Crypt is probably rare enough for demand to outpace supply. Thus it's a good idea to pick up copies while it sits relatively low.
These are just a few examples from David's articles. I enjoyed his articles and believe they gave great food for thought. Far more often than not I agreed with his analysis, and knowing his preferred way of playing Commander his picks make even more sense.
If you have any cards you would like to get my view on (from Eternal Masters or otherwise) feel free to post them in the comments. I intend to use those in a future article.