As I mentioned last week, the Commander 2013 set has now been released and is legal in eternal Magic the Gathering formats, Vintage and Legacy. This caused some concern before the recently completed Eternal Weekend with regard to some cards’ availability, since the limited-release product was made legal that Friday, a mere 24 hours before Legacy Champs and 48 hours before Vintage. As a result, players who wanted some of the decks’ playable cards, and who had perhaps been testing with spoiled versions, would have to scramble to find them or go without, either switching decks or finding replacements if possible.
This struggle could be foreseen, of course; the Commander 2013 release date was known long in advance, so, presumably, players who knew they were going to need four True-Name Nemesis or whatever could make arrangements to secure these, as well as have a contingency plan in place. Also fortunate, for Vintage at least, none of the cards looks so gamebreaking that multiple players would be looking for multiple copies. (Stephen Menendian did report that True-Name Nemesis won a Vintage grinder on Friday.)
I also think it’s a little funny that players were frustrated by card availability in formats where staples regularly run $100+ with demand from 50% or more of the playerbase. In a sanctioned environment like Eternal Weekend, some players are already going to be making bigger deck-construction sacrifices than not running a new and admittedly powerful new removal spell like Toxic Deluge.
Anyway, despite all that, I too went to several big-box stores in my area looking for Commander decks at retail price. I couldn’t find any either. Let’s look at some of the cards I was chasing.
Paying life rather than mana for effects is a powerful mechanic in Vintage, found even on long-restricted cards like Necropotence and Channel. Toxic Deluge won’t be restrictable since it’s just removal, but it will probably be the new standard in a category ruled by cards like Pyroclasm and Massacre.
The big difference is that Deluge scales to deal with everything from Empty the Warrens tokens to X/2 merfolk to Lodestone Golem to Tarmogoyf to (in a pinch) Blightsteel Colossus. The casting cost is accessible, being playable early off of Moxes, and it even gets around Gaddock Teeg since the X is in the box rather than at the top of the card.
Toxic Deluge is probably too good for Standard and draft formats, where Wizards tends to elevate creature strategies, but it seems perfect for Vintage and Legacy. This is a benefit of Wizards’ designing eternal-only cards. I expect to see it played in many sideboards and some maindecks for a good long while.
The other big player will likely be True-Name Nemesis, which introduces the pro: player ability, preventing Nemesis from being dealt damage, enchanted, blocked, or targeted by a chosen player, namely the opponent. (There are, of course, some reasons to give Nemesis protection from yourself—major kudos to anyone who designs a deck that necessitates it.) This makes a respectable three-damage clock that is difficult for Vintage decks to deal with without adjustment, surviving all targeted removal as well as commonly played damage cards like Pyroclasm.
I’m generally cool on new creatures entering the Vintage arena since, by themselves, they’re often too slow to impact the format (with apologies to Vintage Champ Joel Lim and his merfolk). Even now, opening with Nemesis’s seven-turn clock and no disruption won’t usually cut it. However, working Nemesis into aggro-control decks like BUG (with Dark Confidant, Abrupt Decay, and Counters) or RUG (with Gushes, Lightning Bolts, and Counters), perhaps in place of one or more Vendilion Cliques or Tarmogoyfs, could be a recipe for success.
Interestingly, if Toxic Deluge really takes off, the debate on True-Name Nemesis could be rendered moot, since Deluge answers it so handily. I’d expect Nemesis to be a consistent player in metagames with lots of creatures, where it will beat all the creatures plus much of the removal that would otherwise be used to fight them.
Two of the cards worth talking about in Commander 2013 are actually reprints. The first of these is Baleful Strix, which debuted in Planechase 2012 and retains value as a creature that draws a card to replace itself, plays through Workshops’ Thorn of Amethyst and Lodestone Golem, and trades with anything on the battlefield (except, now, True-Name Nemesis). It also interacts well with Goblin Welder and Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, either as a draw engine (being welded in and out) or as 5/5 flying creature with deathtouch.
Strix is a good card for control decks looking to either hang on for the long-game win or just live long enough to resolve Tinker or the Time Vault combo. I’ve also used it in creature-based lists to deal with bigger monsters like Tarmogoyf and Lodestone Golem. I’m glad to see this card reprinted.
Another reprint that works well with Goblin Welder (and perhaps now with Baleful Strix) is Strategic Planning. This sorcery originally from Portal Three Kingdoms showed up in Vintage in 2008, when Brain Demars and Jimmy McCarthy used it alongside Thirst for Knowledge in the Goblin Welder and Mana Drain based Control Slaver deck, then called Strategic Slaver:
Strategic Slaver by Brian DeMars
There, Strategic Planning worked as a filtering cantrip that also fueled Welder and Yawgmoth’s Will.
I’m interested to see if a more affordable reprint will make a splash again or if it will get ignored in favor of something cheaper, like Preordain, or something more flexible, like Izzet Charm. Regardless, I think Strategic Planning is a card that Vintage players should keep in mind when designing, even if it’s never a staple.
As all-around spot removal goes, Unexpectedly Absent is solid: there are plenty of worthwhile targets in Vintage, and it gets them out of the way, at least temporarily. I’d rather deal with creatures using Swords to Plowshares or Path to Exile[/ard], and I’d rather have [card]Disenchant or Leonin Relic-Warder for artifacts and enchantments if I’m playing white, but the new instant does present a few unique benefits.
First, there are enough shuffle effects in Vintage blue decks that you should be able to get rid of troublesome threats semi-permanently by playing Unexpectedly Absent in response to one, even when X is zero. Against Workshop and creature decks, which often lack shuffle effects, putting a permanent on top of the library can effectively Time Walk a stalled opponent, since you’ll know their next draw and play. That turn with no development could be just what a white-based aggro deck was looking for to push the last few damage through.
More importantly, it would be hilarious to put a Blightsteel Colossus on an opponent’s library in response to a Dark Confidant trigger.
I mentioned that Vintage has lots of shuffle effects, with fetchlands and restricted tutors abounding in blue- and black-based control and combo decks. Widespread Panic can take advantage of that and is especially hurtful against topdeck tutors like Mystical Tutor and Vampiric Tutor, which are already card disadvantage.
Ultimately, Widespread Panic is probably too expensive and not quite disruptive enough for the format. It’s not terribly difficult to play around as an on-board trick, and once the opponent’s hand is empty it does nothing. Not to mention that the card does very little against Workshops except against the one Kuldotha Forgemaster it takes them to win the game. However, some red-based control decks might still appreciate the effect alongside those of Blood Moon or Magus of the Moon and might try Widespread Panic as a way to hinder opposing restricted cards and mana.
Sydri, Galvanic Genius
Gorilla Shaman and Karn, Silver Golem, are playable in Vintage—why not Sydri? I like the idea of Sydri a lot; it’s in playable colors, is a creature with a disruptive ability, and is a potential build-around threat. Unfortunately, nothing seems to work out quite right for this card.
Compared to Gorilla Shaman—commonly called Mox Monkey for its ability to eat moxes—Sydri is expensive. As a three-drop, it won’t come down early enough to prevent the opponent from getting mana advantage from their jewelry, making Sydri difficult to justify as a disruptive piece.
Compared to Karn, Silver Golem, Sydri is way too color intensive for the cards it wants to share a deck with. Karn is great in Workshop decks, where it can animate a field of Spheres and Tangle Wires into an often fatal alpha strike. This is facilitated by Metalworker and Mishra’s Workshops in a deck with 30 or more artifacts. Switching artifacts for colored cards and the corresponding mana to support Sydri, though, quickly dulls this plan’s luster. Where does Sydri fit in, in light of better colorless or artifact options?
Jeleva, Nephalia’s Scourge
Like Sydri, Jeleva is probably too expensive and color intensive to realistically see play in Vintage; however, it’s in the right colors and has a powerful ability based on casting instants and sorceries for free. Having a 1/3 flyer is also nothing to sneeze at in the format since it kills many of the smaller creatures like Dark Confidant, Snapcaster Mage, and Vendilion Clique. However, to use Jeleva, you have to fill your deck with plenty of proactive instants and sorceries to reveal: Preordain, Thoughtseize, and Lightning Bolt for example—none of those silly counters that won’t do anything off of Jeleva. It would also be helpful if your opponent did the same, so try not to play against Workshops, anything with lots of creatures, or combo and its “symmetrical” draw sevens. There’s a saying in Vintage that if you’re going to pay more than three for a spell, it should probably win you the game, and I don’t think Jeleva is quite aggressive enough for that.
Commander 2013 brought Vintage two new definite playables, two nice reprints, two cards with potential, and several cards that will test a daring deckbuilder’s creativity. For a format as deep as Vintage, that’s pretty good. Bravo to Wizards for the willingness to test some limits where eternal formats are concerned. I look forward to future Commander releases as well as things like Planechase, Archenemy, and anything that adds cards to the Vintage pool. If you played in last weekend’s Vintage Championship, let me know how it went and what you thought. I’m especially interested in hearing from players relatively new to Vintage. In the meantime, I’ll be going through the decklists and will provide some Monday-morning quarterback analysis next week. Congratulations to all the top eight and especially to finalists, A.J. Grasso and Joel Lim, whose match should have opened the format’s eyes to the potential of creature decks. Their decks may not have the Vintage Restricted List at their hearts, but they definitely showed it’s possible to compete in the attack phase.
Thanks for reading!
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