It's that time again! A new set means new Commander precons. Are Corrupting Influence and Rebellion Rising worth the money, or should you hold off until they are in the bargain bin? Let's find out!
Token Decks Rejoice, More Options!
I have a long love/disappointed relationship with Boros decks. Overall, they tend to do a great job of really killing one player super dead, but have a harder time winning the game. The biggest struggle? Consistency. Whether you are using creatures and buffs or tricks and spells, the RW formula seems to be about the same: one-third mechanic, one-third payoff, one-third lands. Anytime you do not draw the exact right ratio, you tend to have a bad time, and while red has good card filtering options, white significantly lacks there. However, both commanders for Rebellion Rising give you a win condition on top of a scaling mechanic, two things that a RW deck typically lacks.
Who's the Better Commander?
The beauty here is that each is better at different things, and it depends on where you want to take the deck in the future. Out of the box I definitely tip my hat to the Phoenix. However, with its more powerful and lower-mana cards, Neyali is far better.
Keep in mind while the attack trigger is "one or more tokens," it's for each player. That means you can regularly get three free cards per attack step. With extra attack steps, you can continue to get more cards, and potentially more attack steps. The deck definitely can end the game, easily, on turn six or seven with cards like Hexplate Wallbreaker that have perfect synergy.
How Does It Play?
Newer precons are very decent right out of the box, and Rebellion Rising is no exception. One of the most frustrating aspects of playing a RW token deck is running into board wipes. Both Clever Concealment and Flawless Maneuver allow you to fully commit your resources to generating a board state while simultaneously having access to multiple free spells to save your army. Because of experience counters stacking up, replaying the Phoenix will give you several tokens even after a successful wipe. Neyali does not have that claim to fame, and is hurt much more by wipes, so beware and play accordingly.
Every enchantment in the deck is incredibly powerful, whether it's giving your tokens haste, as does Roar of Resistance, or enabling scaling, e.g. Assemble the Legion. On top of that, there are only five, so it's unlikely you draw too many of them. However, even if you do, each of them is useful in more ways than one. Take Felidar Retreat, which can either give you tokens if you have none or power up your already-established board state to end the game.
Another interesting aspect of the deck is the massive amounts of card draw, with options. Consider Court of Grace, Glimmer Lens, Staff of the Storyteller, and Idol of Oblivion. All of these cards both give you card draw and build a board, so they solve the typical problems a RW tokens deck will face.
With 14 two-drops and 17 three-drops, the deck really wants to get established by turn five. That's where you begin to go off, bigger and bigger each turn until you either win or are dead. Not a bad play experience at all, especially if you enjoy Boros.
How Would I Mod it?
More one-drops! Definitely remove Myr Battlesphere because it's just too much mana and probably Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer because it's not a Rebel and costs five. The deck has plenty of activated abilities and X-cost spells, but you want to save mana for Neyali triggers to get more advantage.
Also, lands that enter tapped should be avoided if Neyali is your commander. Normally it's not that much of a disadvantage, but here, you're really losing a lot of value. Depending on your group, I'd add in more extra attack step and/or extra turn cards. Of course, the red extra turn cards make you lose the game, so be careful!
Overall, Rebellion Rising was fun to play, and I can see a case for modding it going forward. If you like being aggressive in Commander and want a new deck, this is one to check out.
Now Let's Get Toxic
Unlike the first deck, Corrupting Influence really wants you to play Vishgraz, the Doomhive as your commander with Ixhel, Scion of Atraxa as a value generator. Corrupted is an interesting mechanic, but it is well balanced, perhaps to a fault.
Follow this chain of thought. Cards like Ichor Rats affect everyone. That means you are hurting your "allies" as well as your "enemies." In a political game like Commander, it's important that the entire table not be against you. Passing out poison counters is an easy way to make enemies. Furthermore, even if you attack someone only once to give them one poison counter, with every proliferate, you remind them "I'm killing you, too."
A (Mostly) Hated Mechanic
Many Magic players have strong feelings about poison counters, and infect in particular. It's very possible to kill a single player by attacking a couple of times and casting a Giant Growth effect. Lots of players remember being taken out by Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon or anything with Tainted Strike, and those feelings have returned in force.
While I do not believe that ten poison counters needs to go up to 15 for Commander, I can see both sides. The fact of the matter is, compared to other alternate win conditions, poisoning someone out is trivially easy. Of course, running more removal stops out-of-nowhere one-shots, but poison counters with proliferate is another story entirely.
A Tale of Two Decks
This is where Corrupting Influence goes off the rails. It has Ghostly Prison, Norn's Annex, Windborn Muse and Norn's Decree because it knows the entire table is going to be unhappy with poison. So what is the idea behind the deck?
What's included is part of a slow deck of spells and control effects, and then a bunch of cheap creatures that make poison counters. Because of that, the deck succeeds at neither dimension. With a dozen cards that threaten a poison counter on turn two or three, are you going to poison someone early? Of course you are! But once you do, you've earned an enemy, probably for the rest of the game. Since you are running proliferate, it benefits you to spread the sickness, giving each opponent at least one poison counter. The reaction from the table should be what, exactly? "Gang up and kill you" is the answer.
One saving grace is if you happen to play in a pod with a fellow poison/proliferate deck. In that case, you are practically partners by design. However, that can also get pretty stale, since you're basically forced partners, and unofficial ones.
Who's the Better Commander?
In any case, it's Vishgraz. A slow and plodding deck loves a value-based commander that gets arbitrarily large and is hard to block. If the shields are ever down, you can smash in for a huge amount of damage and also at least four poison counters, so it's a much bigger threat.
Ixhel, Scion of Atraxa is a completely different card for a completely different deck. If you gut Corrupting Influence and make it much more "pillow fort" style, then Ixhel makes a lot more sense. That deck seems incredibly boring, however.
How Does It Play?
My games were not fun. Putting a two-mana poison creature into play yielded immediate table aggro. A lot of tables frowned on poison just as a general rule. While I did play a bit more passively for diplomatic reasons, the only game I won was by mercilessly poisoning and proliferating the table every single chance I had an opening.
I certainly did not feel the deck was ever unfair, and it seemed like a good amount of work to get ten poison counters just to eliminate one player, let alone the entire table (30 counters). In that case, that's quite a bit harder than going infinite with a variety of combos.
In most games, I have a pretty good sense of when I have to go all-in on or hold back. Poison turns that on its head because you are very obviously killing everyone, at the same time, and no one is happy about it.
How Would I Mod it?
Tainted Strike, Tainted Strike, Tainted Strike... but I digress. I'm not sure why this card was not included in this deck considering they reprint everything. The deck even has Tainted Field and Tainted Wood! Of course, if you've played a lot of Commander games, you may have already been killing players with Tainted Strike and Triumph of the Hordes forever, and might be looking for something different.
The real question: keep it as an aggressive creature deck, or make it a defensive proliferate deck? As it stands now, it's split almost equally, so this is entirely up to preference. I think an aggressive poison deck would use a different commander entirely, so I'd make it a more passive proliferate based deck taking out the cheap poison creatures in favor of bigger spells and effects like Contagion Engine, Plaguemaw Beast, Spread the Sickness, and of course White Sun's Twilight. From a clear board, Vishgraz comes out as a finisher when I'm ready to start winning.
Worth It or Not?
Surprisingly, Rebellion Rising was worth it, and I had more fun with that deck than several other precons. But Corrupting Influence was a definite no for me. On a fundamental level, the deck does not do what it wants to do. Are you attacking with creatures to poison out every opponent? Good luck with that. Are you using spells to control the board and accrue incremental advantage? Not when you draw a 1/1 for two mana every other turn, and some of those 1/1s for two mana are rocks, so you sort of cannot swing with them anyways. To me, that's lose/lose. I'd recommend skipping the poison but enjoying the tokens.
What do you think? Have you played either deck? Am I criticizing Corrupting Influence too much? Let me know in the comments!