Hello and welcome to Nerd Alert!  This is a Magic: the Gathering Commander blog, updated every Tuesday and Thursday, featuring deckbuilding tips, strategy, editorials, and more.  Tuesday alternates features between general strategy articles on just about anything Commander, a deck building column entitled Deck Salad Surgery, or an editorial on the Commander scene in general.  If you’d like your deck to be dissected and discussed in DSS, please send it on in!  Thursday is a Card(z) of the Week column, discussing cards or categories of cards that catch my eye for the Commander format.

This blog initially began as an essay for a friend explaining the differences in card selection in Commander vs. standard Magic.  It is now my attempt to bridge the gap between the so-called “competitive” and “casual” Commander crowds.  I believe both crowds want fundamentally the same experience out of playing Commander; their fundamental difference comes from their approach to deck building.  My goal is to educate the “casual” crowd how to understand and approach deckbuilding such that they will not be at a disadvantage when shuffling up against them, but without having to change what their deck does.  As such, it contains intermediate and advanced strategies but is written with relatively new comers to Magic and Commander in mind.  Thanks for reading, and comments are always appreciated!

Status Update

Hi everybody!  Hello in particular to everybody who’s come over from the very generous and much appreciated plug from Commandercast.net!

Ironically, things have been very turbulent for me lately as I’ve just started my second year of law school.  The first month is probably the most hectic as everybody is bending their will toward (trying) to get a job.  As such, updates have been a little sparse!

Hopefully by next week I’ll have some time to get some games in and write some new articles.  I do have a feature planned right now based on something by playgroup is trying, called Pauper Guildmage Commander.  The idea is, we can use any card that has ever been printed at common rarity, and our Commander must be either a Guildmage (from Ravnica or Mirage) or a Battlemage (from Invasion or Shards of Alara).  We’re all super excited for this format because the meta-game is going to be turned 100% upside-down.  No sweepers, poor card drawing and card advantage, and much reduced land-ramp shenanigans!  Right now I’m leaning a bit toward Sunscape Battlemage, but Ana Battlemage, Izzet Guildmage, and Dimir Guildmage also have my attention.  Naturally, the release of new guildmages from Return to Ravnica might change my tune as well!

In the mean time, I’d encourage you to subscribe to the RSS feed (link on the right hand side) to get notifications for my sporadic updates in the next couple of weeks!  After that, things should return to normal.

Thanks for reading!

Card of the Week: Chandra Ablaze

Once again, the CotW feature was moved to Tuesday.  Might have to make this a permanent thing!

Today’s card is our first red card featured, and it’s a hot little Planeswalker number that I’ve put into every deck I own with Mountains.  That card is Chandra Ablaze.

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Don’t Play Your Hand, Play the Situation

This article will discuss a problem unique to muliplayer Magic.  To borrow a phrase from hockey, it’s like skating through the neutral zone with your head down — you gotta watch the play, not watch the puck, or you’re going to get leveled.  In Magic terms, you have to play the situation, not play your hand!

It’s not necessary in two-player Magic to do what the multiplayer crowd calls “threat assessment”.  Threat assessment is understanding who is the biggest threat at the table.  In a two player game, you only have one threat — your opponent.  100% of their resources are devoted to stopping you from winning, killing your shit, and winning the game.  Multiplayer Magic is infinitely more complex — temporary alliances can form and fall apart, the most powerful player at the table varies sometimes by the turn, and occasionally it’s better to leave people alive than it is to kill them. 

Consequently, multiplayer Magic is significantly different from two-player Magic in how one should evaluate their lines of play and pick when to play their cards.  Multiplayer Magic forces us to understand the dynamics of many players all trying to win the game at the same time.  There are many more threats on the table and potential threats in players’ hands, and you simultaneously must not lose to all players, all the time.  Meanwhile, they’re trying not to lose to you as well.  Remember: the single most important factor in winning games of Commander is not losing games of Commander.  Not losing is really hard — everybody is out to kill you!

The potential problem that arises when confronted with this much information is to stop looking for lines of play and evaluating the dynamics of the game, and instead just play out your hand as though you’re goldfishing.  This, in my opinion, is not only a bad play strategy, but it also is the single most important factor informing why people hate combo and land destruction.  Because players are not reading the table and instead are just trying to play the cards they see in their hands, when somebody comes along and stops what it is they think they’re trying to do, they get upset.  And rightfully so, given this mindset — games of Commander can take hours, and when your strategy gets disrupted by somebody suddenly winning or you having all your lands destroyed by an Armageddon, it’s a big kick in the nuts.

But, had you been paying attention, you could have seen this coming and avoided it — or, at least, mentally and Magically prepared yourself for the eventuality.  Here’s how to do that.  But first, a quick scenario on how important this is.

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Cardz of the Week: Colorless Card Drawing

I’m reversing the schedule this week because this article is done and the other one isn’t.  Deal widdit.

Is your deck having a hard time drawing cards?  For the most part, card drawing is limited to blue and black, with a little bit sprinkled here and there in other colors.  White in particular has a very difficult time drawing cards, and Red tends to have to discard as many cards as they draw (though that’s not necessarily a bad thing).  Well, there is help out there, but it can be hard to come by.  There aren’t a lot of card advantage cards with brown (or grey) borders, but here is a list of all of them I can find with my pearls of wisdom scattered throughout.  Enjoy!

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Card of the Week: Long-Term Plans

Last time I said I was making a conscious effort not to talk about only blue cards, but this one’s caught my eye after it worked its way into my new Bruna, Light of Alabaster deck.  I also happen to think this format suffers from the use of too many tutors, and this card is a tutor, but it’s definitely a tutor with a twist.  It’s a strange rare from Scourge called Long-Term Plans.

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The State of the Union: is the format healthy?

A quick glance at Commander message boards will probably reveal a couple of threads on the topic of whether the format is getting stale, whether it’s healthy, whether the competitive and casual crowds will ever get along, and from players who are frustrated with the format and are giving it up.  Is this cross-section of what people are talking about a fair representation of what’s going on in Commander circles these days, or is it a case of the complainer phenomenon?  The complainer phenomenon is that people will often go out of their way to complain but rarely go out of their way to pay compliments or express contentment.  It might have a flashier name, but I don’t know what it is.  Regardless, that there is any discussion on this subject means it can be argued that the Commander format is suffering from a bit of stale air, and could perhaps be very unhealthy at the moment.  I’d like to pontificate on why I think that is (what else is new).

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Card of the Week: Lotus Cobra

After a couple of cardz of the week, we’re back to a single-card column today.  I’m trying to rotate through all the colors so I don’t just talk about blue cards and artifacts all the time, so let’s move on to everybody’s favorite Commander color, green.  Today’s card is a great little mythic from Zendikar: Lotus Cobra.  I think this card is quite underplayed in Commander and I think he’s a great little dude.

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Trading Post: Top 100 (or so) Pimpest Commanders

Welcome to a new feature on Nerd Alert: Trading Post, wherein I discuss the financial side of Commander deckbuilding and collecting. This feature will be an irregular update, unlike the usual Monday Strategies, Wednesday Deck Salad Surgery, and Friday Card of the Week. It will largely be updated when inspiration strikes!

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Politics: When to Slow Roll, and When to Go For It

I said in Friday’s article that this would be about how much and what type of mass removal to include, but while I’ll address that somewhat, the main subject of the article is going to be about gauging the commitment level of other players at the table and how to know when to commit yourself.  By commitment I’m not talking about going steady, but committing to the board.  What this means is, you start committing to the board when you extend somewhat to secure a position.  The commitment aspect really means something like, “commitment with risk” — you have to extend somewhat to secure a position, but you also have to be wary not to extend too much such that mass removal sets you really far behind.  As such, it’s a Balancing Act, and requires some amount of skill, a lot of guesswork, and more than a little luck.

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Cardz of the Week: Sweepers!

This Friday’s CotW is a bonus feature covering ALL the sweeper removal in Magic!  Well, most of it, anyway.  It’s a pretty broad category, and some cards can only be considered a sweeper if you stretch the definition somewhat.  The definition I intend to use for this article is that a sweeper is a card that removes (destroys, exiles, bounces, etc.) all permanents of a certain type, even if there is a condition attached, and that does so by not targetting them or dealing damage.  The condition is often based on converted mana cost (e.g. Pernicious Deed).  As such, Mutilate is a sweeper, but Violent Ultimatum is not.  The definition is pretty fuzzy, as Overwhelming Forces can either be a sweeper or not by these criteria, but you get the idea.  It’s mostly a “feel” thing.

I’m going to go in categories based on what card type the sweeper removes.  The goal is to give everybody an idea of all the options they have in certain colors to get rid of all kinds of permanents at the same time, which is obviously a great thing to do.  Using one card to get rid of a whole bunch is just Good Magic.  I’m also going to leave out Planeswalker ultimates, because, well, they never happen.

Monday’s column will be a strategy article on just how many of these type of cards to include, to tie in with this one.  With that said, here we go!

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