Thursday, 22 December 2011

Rules changes conundrum

Players other than the controller of a trigger are under no obligation to point out that a trigger has been missed, though they may do so if they wish.

Is it me or do the rules changes for triggers spell trouble for all levels of Magic play, not just the higher RELs? The recent update to the Infraction Procedure Guide allows for a different proceedure for missed triggers and defines exactly what optional and non-optional triggers are.

Why would I, casual Commander player, get my panties in a knot about this? These changes will be enforced from 01/01/12 and only in higher REL events. We avid followers of the Commander format know from long experience with the Commander RC that any statement from an official source, even with a pretty large caveat like "in your own group, you don't need to do it like this", will be taken as a de facto blanket change. After all, outside of the target events, there's no form of official enforcement to rule one way or another on any cases that come up. Whereas before, when there was one rule, it's either printed "may" on the card and thus skipped if forgotten, or it's printed "Do X", thus it's obligatory and it's everyone's responsbility to point it out.

What's annoying in addition is being required to re-learn new complex rules in an era when Wizards are purportedly looking to make the game easier to access. We can cite the recent move by Wizards to move away from "may" triggers as they are deemed to confusing as a clear and relevant example. This change is effectively a complete U-turn on that policy making a huge swath of previously obligatory triggers effectively optional if a player or both players aren't vigilant enough. Worse still, they have set down criteria as to which triggers are optional and which are not. You'll see why I say "worse" a little later.

I don't know about your playgroup, I can only comment on mine. We have a very casual playgroup but with time restraints. Our ongoing policy (now that Marc is gone!) is that "Go!" actually means "I've finished my turn and there's no take-backs." The triggered ability on a permanent that doesn't say "may" means that it will happen, even if it's initially missed by everybody and we need to rewind. This may seem a little strict for a very casual group but it's one of the best learning tools we can implement. No-one is afraid to dish out advice, detailed explainations are available before and after the fact and we're pretty honest as to what we consider douchy plays and, for the most part, we avoid inflicting them on our group. Outside of that, it's your responsability to know your deck and to pay attention. You snooze, you lose!

Where it gets sticky is when a player decides that the new policy applies to our group. It's in the IPG after all. Who cares that Wizards say it's only for high REL events? Johnny had to play with these rules at the PTQ, the Grand Prix, States and the National Qualifier, why should it be any different here? Why do we blindly stick to the Commander rules & banned list if we're going to pick and mix other policies?

To be honest, I think we'll manage to sort it out for our group though I'm not so sure that some of the more "competitive" commander groups will weather the changes so well. After all, who actually says, when they attack with Phage: "The ability triggers and you're dead"? No, they don't, they just attack and assume you're dead. I can see the scene already when Phage hits and the attacking player just plays a 2nd-Main-Phase land without announcing the resolution of the Phage's death trigger and is literally flummoxed when the player hit by Phage has the temerity to untap and draw as normal. Let's face it, everyone knows someone who, if they thought they could successfully argue their way out of leaving a game, they'd do it. Groups where the spirit of the rules is championed over rules lawyering should be able to resolve this without too much antagonism; other groups have just found an entirely new level of wrangling and there will be additional tension.

Here's an annotated version of the definition of what now constitutes an optional ability with additional commentary on the "exceptions" (i.e.: those that seem optional but are not) courtesy of Jason Wong's excellent article over on

An optional ability does one or more of the following things, and nothing else:
  • Gains you life or causes an opponent to lose life. (Soul Warden)
  • Puts cards from your library, graveyard, or exile zones into your hand or onto the battlefield. This includes drawing cards. (Elvish Visionary)
  • Causes opponents to put objects from their hand or the battlefield into the library, graveyard or exile. (Ravenous Rats)
  • Puts a permanent into play under your control or gives you control of a permanent. (Sower of Temptation)
  • Puts +x/+x counters, or counters linked to a beneficial effect, on a permanent you control. (Shrine of Burning Rage)
  • Gives +x/+x or a beneficial ability to a target creature you control. (Chasm Drake)
  • Exiles, damages, destroys, taps, or gives -x/-x to an opponent’s target permanent. If the ability could target your own permanents, it is not optional unless that ability could target an opponent. (Kor Hookmaster is optional, Acidic Slime is not optional, Inferno Titan is optional)
  • Gives you additional turns or phases. (Lighthouse Chronologist)
  • Counters a spell or conditionally counters a spell, but only when cast by an opponent. (Chancellor of the Annex)

Abilities that trigger at the same point in each player’s turn and do something to “that player” (e.g. Howling Mine) are never optional.

Here are some abilities that you may think are optional, but are not:
  • Frost Titan’s first ability – In the list of allowable actions for optional abilities, there is an entry that says “… conditionally counters a spell, but only when cast by an opponent.” Frost Titan’s ability does this when your opponent casts Doom Blade, but not when your opponent activates Royal Assassin. Since it is not optional sometimes, it is never optional.
  • Dark Confidant – The ability puts a card into your hand, but it also does something else. Since it doesn’t fit into exactly into the options listed, it is not optional.
  • Crypt Cobra – This follows the philosophy of optional abilities, but it is not covered in the list of acceptable actions.
  • Morkrut Banshee – Like Acidic Slime, it can target permanents you control as well, while not being able to target your opponent.
  • Manic Vandal when only your opponent controls artifacts – The “optionalness” of an ability is not influenced by the game state. In a vacuum, Manic Vandal could target an artifact you control. Even though you don’t control any artifacts, the ability is not optional.

Particularly confusing are the differences between effects like Inferno Titan and Acidic Slime/Manic Vandal. Why would damage be optional but destruction not be optional? Both are encompassed by the same definition but a difference is being made in the application of the definition. In the same definition, Manic Vandal is not optional because theoretically you could control artifacts even if you don't just right now. The issue I have with this is that all three cards are worded to say that it happens, not that you may choose. This was my "worse still": Complex game just got more complex.

How about the +X/+X rule with something that gives multiple creatures +1/+1 counters like Mayael's Aria? If you put counters on some of your creatures but not all you've obviously not missed the trigger. Does that allow you to go back and complete the process for a creature you may have forgotten?

Jason Wong went on to talk about how not to deck yourself with Jin-Gitaxias by "forgetting" as drawing cards from triggered abilities is now optional, irregardless of whether your opponent points it out. You're no longer required to draw 7 at the end of your turn with the Praetor and his "Draw 7" now technically reads "You may draw 7".

The other side of the coin is that, if for some reason you forgot to draw your 7 cards, you don't get to rewind now. How many Commander playgroups are going to want to continue to implement the old ruling (which, I suppose, is still the current ruling seeing as Commander isn't concerned by the REL changes) when you can choose to implement the new ruling and have the Jin-Gitaxias player skip drawing those cards?

I can say with some honesty: Not many.

As a good man once said about Jin-Gitaxias, he's a Knut!!

At least, I think that's what he said.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Best Blue Creature in Commander?

Ok, here's a bold claim.

We've a couple of players that have been rocking a Time Spiral Rare over the last few months and it has iced games multiple times when it has hit the field.

While it's not exactly Primeval Titan level good, it's a great foil for the titan and any other non-vanilla creature, which is to say, pretty much the entire format. It's not Draining Whelk, it's not Deep-Sea Kraken nor, surprisingly enough, is it Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir. My current top dog for best blue creatures in Commander is:

No direct damage to ping off that annoying creature that's just ruining your day? Ixidron

Some general just running away with the game thanks to their activated abilities? Ixidron

Lord of Extinction going to kill you next turn? Ixidron.

The "problem" of leaving a pile of faceless 2/2's sitting around should be mitigated somewhat by your own upturned dudes fending off similiar sized attackers allowing you to be the biggest dog on the block for a turn or two. And that's what a blue deck wants after all, isn't it? A few extra turns of not being milled, targetted or beaten down by the format's diverse set of creature abilities.

Oh and something else, death triggers don't trigger if something dies as a 2/2 morph. Suck it Reveillark!

Essentially the only ways players can get out of the Ixidron "lock" are:
1. Have their creatures die in some manner and bring them back.
2. Blink their creatures in some manner
3. Morph their creatures (Maindeck Break Open ftw!)

God forbid you managed to stick one onto a Mimic Vat. Everyone would be overpaying for vanilla 2/2s all over the place.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Artifacts in Balthor

Someone in my playgroup recently mentioned to me that I have a couple of funky artifacts in my Balthor deck and that, frankly, they both sucked.

He was only half right.

My Balthor deck gets added to and subtracted from pretty often so any given section is never nailed down. I get to make hard choices (If I add a Lake of the Dead, how many basic Swamps should I be running for it to be a hit every time?) and easy choices (Is Soulless One still worth it?*)

One of the places where I do the most tinkering is the artifact section. As my deck is a top-down, flavour-driven Zombie deck (rather than a "best of Black" with some zombies thrown in) I get to make choices based on whether a Door of Destinies should really be present in a Zombie scene. Since posting my last defined list back in January** I've completely overhauled the Artifacts section.

Things like Sensei's Divining Top are, flavourfully, very easy cuts to make because Zombies just aren't known for their divining or the ability to spin a top for that matter. Gameplay-wise this is a huge cut that, along with Vampiric Tutor, as effected my deck's ability to be consistent. Following on theme, that's an acceptable thing to happen though: zombies aren't always a full-on hoard from turn 2 or 3. It also forces me to play the deck differently as I'm not always going to the same outs. If this means that I'm losing more than usual, that's fine too.

Of the original list, only 3 cards have survived the cuts up to now: Lightning Greaves, Expedition Map & Skullclamp. All the boosts, exile abilities and recurring tricks have been cut and boosts have been taken care of by the full compliment of 4 lords available to Mono-B.

In their place, I have added in a couple of artifacts to help load the graveyards. A couple allow me to live the dream of a huge turn 3-4 zombie army but the statistical changes of that are ridiculously low. Here's the combo:

If you play a Mesmeric Orb and follow up with a Basalt Monolith, you can mill your entire deck just by tapping and untapping the Monolith. If you're lucky enough to have a Songs of the Damned or a Crypt of Agadeem (and the mana to use it, of course) you have enough mana to loop your Balthor to raise the Zombie Army you've always dreamed of. Of course, later in the game this is still a valid play allowing for the need to work around graveyard hates as that would seriously crimp your style.

In the meantime Mesmeric Orb is a huge pain in the rear for a lot of decks, not everyone wants to mill for 4-6 every turn.

The other artifacts I've added are Sol Ring, Charmed Pendant (an extremely dubious mana accellerant), Oblivion Stone/Nev's Disk (some necessary protection), and a Memory Jar. The Jar allows for some silly end of turn armies that you wouldn't otherwise be able to accellerate into.

Despite these additions, even more space is needed for the Grimoire of the Dead so I'll have to go back into the tank for that.

Space must be found

So, to sum up: Yes, Charmed Pendant sucks.


* Sadly, no. He's the muscle who's become just too vanilla. We now have cheaper and better options. Goodbye, Soulless One, you are now "Friendless One".

** Coat of Arms, Door of Destinies, Brittle Effigy, Expedition Map, Sensei's Divining Top, Nim Death-Mantle, Skullclamp, Lightning Greaves

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Goodbye, Daddy M.

This week a player left our playgroup. 

Our principal magic playgroup is at our place of work during our lunch-hour. That's pretty neat if you can accept the various constraints, such as the strict time limit and that you could be playing your direct superior any given afternoon. While the nature of the company and commander, our favoured format allow for a certain measure of familiarity, you can't just call your boss a douchbag when he pulls out a questionable play. Luckily, despite him being one of the 3 bosses who partake in our group, this was never the case with Marc anyway.

When he was called on to give his going-away speech, he covered the professional side pretty comprehensively but he skimped a bit on the gaming side so I’ve decided to list some of the Magic things that we’ll miss about Marc now that he’s gone.

Marc is a 40+ year old Timmy. There’s something really great about a guy who just loves his Timmy moments and really couldn’t give a damn what you think. It’s all about the full-on “Leerooooooooooyyy Jenkins!” and, now that he’s gone, we’re slowly realizing that he was pretty much the only full-on Timmy we had.

The profile of Timmy caring more about the EPIC wins rather than the quantity of wins was especially true for Marc and he notched up as many war stories for his epic blowouts as for being epically blown out himself because he waited just one turn too long. He just wanted to go big all the time.

One of the things that isn’t mentioned all that much about Timmys is their love for the red zone. For Marc, there was only one way to win: laying down the beats. So much so that the attack phase was renamed the “Yaaaarrrggghhhhhh” phase in his honor. Picture this jovial, middle-aged man up off his seat, turning his creatures, tokens, playmat and sandwiches sideways while shouting “Yaaaarrrggghhhhhh!!” often accompanied by diverse charging noises and other random battle sound effects while the rest of the company looks up from their lunch platter in bemusement. A full throated bellowing of The Flight of the Valkyeries a la Apocalypse Now was for those exceptional moments of face-smashery. That was Marc every day.

Of course, these epic calls to war wouldn’t be half as memorable if there weren’t equally copious examples of “yyyaaaaaarrrrgggghhhh…….oooooooohhhhHHHHHSSSHHIITTOHSHITOHSHITOHSHIT” mixed right in there too. The attack was the “moment”, the pinnacle of all his hard work. It just that the execution didn’t always match the vision. 

Still, on those occasions when when Rhys & Seedborn Muse both survive a full, mana-rich turn around the table to be boosted by Garruk & Overrun once it come back to Marc, there’s not a huge number of possible results: You either have the Fog (and he generally had it but no-one else did!) or there’s a lot of dead or critically wounded planeswalkers!

Of course, timing was never really one of Marc’s strong suits. Picture the scene: the turn passes to Marc. He draws his card and goes deep into the tank calculating his potential damage. He realizes that he has just enough to deal lethal with cards in hand if the opponent does block but he’s got to finish the job because he’s wide open for the counter-strike.

He thinks some more.

Finally he leans forward and gives us his patented “Yaaaarrrggghhhhhh!!” as he moves into his attack phase. The unlucky defending player(s) go into the tank and calculate damage and blockers and realize that, unless something funky happens, they will survive the turn and kill Marc when the turn comes round to them.
So much better like this.

“No blockers,” they announce.

“No blockers? Then….. [and here he’d pause, draw himself up majestically and shout]… OVERRUN!!”

Now, if this had happened once, maybe twice, it wouldn’t be interesting but it actually happened so often that it got to the point where we could tell if he had the Overrun and could stop him (or not, depending on our life totals) before he got into his attack phase. He even managed to accomplish this magnificent, speed-changing feat twice during the same game! Some humorous cad decided to print out a HD proxy of the card with “Sorcery” replaced by “Instant” and slide it into his deck just to mess with his head a bit and he was presented with a play set of these errata versions upon leaving the company. 

So, what do you get when you give a Timmy a Grand Arbiter Augustin IV and tell him to make a deck? 

A full on Stax prison lock? Noooooo! Counterspells? Sure, a couple. Leviathans? Of course! But a rapid Rhino beatdown was probably not what you expected. We gave Marc a GAAIV and he gave us this:

Turn 1: Land, Sol Ring, Pearl Medallion
Turn 2: Land, GAAIV
Turn 3: Land, Mirror Sigil Sergeant, go.

When your opponent starts with a second turn Grand Arbiter, you know you’re in for a rough ride. Add everyone’s early game mana development torpor to a prison effect and garnish with a self-replicating rhinoceros across the table from you and it all spells >ouch<.  Fastest table kill ever and he achieved it with just one creature.

What about putting Celestial Mantle on a Battlegrace Angel before equipping on a Lightning Greaves and sending it into battle? I think we stopped counting at 3000+ life. There are games when you really need your Wrath of God to resolve and games where you really need to kill someone with your general. We didn’t get there with either solution and Marc stayed above 3000 from there on. He eventually ended up taking it out of his deck after repeated 2-for-1s but that never took anything away from that one occasion when it got there in a big way. From then on any significantly high life total has been regarded with distain and a “Pffff! Well, it’s not 3000+, is it?” by the entire group.

It wasn’t all good times though; Marc could be frustrating to play with and against. His turns would often take the following form:

“Ok, em,  go!
No, wait! Land, go!
No, wait! Attack you for 15!
Eh…… NOW go!” 

When it happens once in a blue moon, you can let this kind of thing slide but when it’s every other turn, it gets to be frustrating very, very quickly. Towards the end, if it seemed like it was one of those days, the table would gently nudge him along with innocent suggestions like “How may lands do you have there, Marc?” or “Gee, that’s a lot of creatures you’ve got there!!” during his pre-combat main-phases. Those touched by the Beatdown Gods have their minds on higher matters and such minutia as phases and being aware of what's happening can often be beneath them. 

Picture Marc as some sort of Beatdown Buddah (but with a lot less inner peace) and you’re half-way to knowing him already. 

With such great and ponderous thoughts of beatdown also comes the ability to realise belatedly what's actually going on and lead to last minute changes of mind. Being the beatdown is a complicated business. Do this first or do that first? Attack him over here or attack him over there? The number of takebacks our playgroup allows is actually pretty low with the exception of Marc who was constantly stuck on “actually, no, I think I’ll do that instead” mode.

This, unfortunately, extended to stuff that uses the stack, which, in Magic, is quite a lot of stuff. Those dreaded words “In response….” engendered a flight instinct in Marc that Norin the Wary would have been proud of. The usual response to another player’s “In response….” was always “In that case, no, I think I’ll do that instead.” If you worked it enough, I’m sure you could achieve a state of perpetual take-backs even when holding only a hand full of land.

That is until he got fed up and just pounded your face into the ground with 475 trampling damage from the pick’n’mix of creatures he had summoned. I suppose the moral to that story is not to bait the bear, the bear has claws.

And we’ll miss you around the table, old bear!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Maelstrom Wanderer: PT/Avenger enabler

I’m not sure that the announcement of the upcoming Planechase 2012 product was all that exciting in and of itself as a format mechanic but a huge amount of interest has been gained from what was announced in the product and hinted at in addition to the product:

First up: cards exclusive to the Planechase product. The Commander pre-cons (and, I suppose, to a certain extent the recent changes in the core sets) have galvanized the community and led to a huge amount of interest in non-core products. If the 21 new & exclusive, planechase-product-only cards are anywhere near as awesome as the ones that went into the commander product, then Wizards will have scored another home run.

Second up: a cycle of multi-colored legendary creatures. They don’t confirm they will all be enemy wedge, but the mention of a cycle strongly suggests they will be. We know there’s at least one enemy wedge legend because they showed it to us:

While I concede that this could be extremely cool, in only 24h of interweb fapping over Maelstrom Wanderer, the idea-mongers have managed to produce just 3 ideas that everyone keeps coming back to again, and again and again.

And again.

And once more again because we’re now approaching 36 hours since the announcement.

Ways to do “cool stuff” with MW: The First

  • Fix the top of your deck to a Tooth & Nail.
  • Play Maelstrom Wanderer.
  • Cascade into the Tooth & Nail, paying 2 for Entwine.
  • Get Primeval Titan & Avenger of Zendikar.
  • Resolve second Cascade into whatever.
  • Resolve Maelstrom Wanderer.
  • Everything gets haste. Attack for 7+5+6+4X (where X is the number of lands you controlled when the Avenger triggered), so probably in the region of 50-ish damage.


Ways to do “cool stuff” with MW: The Second

  • Get Momir Vig, Simic Visionary into play.
  • Play Maelstrom Wanderer.
  • Stack the Momir Vig triggers so you draw first then tutor for an Avenger of Zendikar to put on top of the library (just hope you didn’t draw either it or PT).
  • Resolve the first cascade into Avenger of Zendikar and play it.
  • With the new Momir Vig trigger, tutor up Primeval Titan and put it on top of the library.
  • Resolve the second cascade into Primeval Titan and play it.
  • With the new Momir Vig trigger, tutor up something else and put it on top of the library.
  • Resolve Maelstrom Wanderer. 
  • Everything gets haste. Attack for 7+5+6+4X (where X is the number of lands you controlled when the Avenger triggered), so probably in the region of 50-ish damage. [Yes, I did just copy/Paste that]


Ways to do “cool stuff” with MW: The Third

  • Fix the top of your deck to a Jokulhaups or Devastation.
  • Play Maelstrom Wanderer.
  • Cascade into Jokulhaups or Devastation.
  • Either set up your second cascade into Primeval Titan or cascade blind.
  • Have a fun game!!


About the only suggestion that I saw that was in any way original was by putting a Selective Memory out there, exiling all those annoying little spells that you really need in your deck but are really not exceptional when you are cascading so you know that whatever you cascade into will be pure gold. That gets the thumbs-up for being ballsey from me even if the original poster was still intending to cascade into Primeval Titan / Avenger of Zendikar.

So, yeah, Maelstrom Wanderer will be huge and swingy and big and epic but only if some effort is made to make his cascades original. Otherwise he, like so many other cards, will merely become another route to Primeval Titan / Avenger of Zendikar.

Another 6 months of this before we even get to touch the card.


Third up: hints at another commander specific product.

So not only do we get more commanders, more cards, more new cards, we’re also getting additional commander product?

Hell, yeah.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Gifts Given

About a year ago I got an IM on my account from some random scrub in Canada asking me if I was free the following weekend to talk on Skype about EDH. It seems this guy somehow got it into his head that there was a gap in the market for an EDH podcast, of all things.

Well, much like the visionary Bill Gates, who managed to enlighten millions to a previously unknown void in their lives that could only be filled by his products, Andy, a.k.a. Ghooosts (that's 3 "O's" and plural, all over the internet), has likewise managed to convince millions (thousands) of EDH fanatics that their week is somehow incomplete without a 90-minute helping of Commandercast.

I, like many of the guys (and gal) that have been involved in Commandercast in some form or another, have been blown away by Andy's dedication to the show, something he does for no benefit to himself and on top of his work and family responsabilities. Despite his busy schedule, he's brought together the EDH community every Monday and has not missed a show, all the more amazing because Magic/EDH is apparently not even Andy's favourite game! Andy put himself out there and answered a need and keeps doing it, just for you & me.

That job in the bank must be terribly....what? He drives an ambulance for a living? Does this guy have any faults?!

So, when an all round good guy and generally inspirational character goes and asks you to send him stuff for free, you generally just send it first and ask "Why?" later. The "Why?" this time is a very good "Why?" though and one that bears repeating to anyone who will listen:

Since 2003, over 100,000 gamers worldwide have banded together through Child’s Play, a community based charity grown and nurtured from the game culture and industry. Over 7 million dollars in donations of toys, games, books and cash for sick kids in children’s hospitals across North America and the world have been collected since our inception.
This year, we have continued expanding across the country and the globe. With over 70 partner hospitals and more arriving every year, you can be sure to find one from the map above that needs your help! You can choose to purchase requested items from their online retailer wish lists, or make a cash donation that helps out Child’s Play partners everywhere. Any items purchased through Amazon will be shipped directly to your hospital of choice, so please be sure to select their shipping address rather than your own.

When gamers give back, it makes a difference!

For those of you, like me, who are a little caught up with daily life flashing past, watching your kids grow, taking care of your loved ones, enjoying your hobbies and building impressive collections of Magic cards, giving something back can often take a back seat. This is a charity that at once gives to those who need a little more fun and enjoyment in their lives and taps directly into our own interests as gamers.

Andy has generously extended us this opportunity to participate in Child's Play directly through CommanderCast with his Gifts Given programme, a drive that will donate all receipts directly to Child's Play.

So, take a little time to decide if this opportunity is for you and if this is the way you, as a gamer, want to give something back.

I've decided that Andy is going to get a small pile of cards from France to add to his offer in the knowledge that it all goes to a good cause.

Back Row: 
Hivis of the Scale; Lorthos, the Tidemaker (French); Godo, Bandit Warlord; Arid Mesa (Fr); Marsh Flats (Fr); Verdant Catacombs (Fr); Misty Rainforest; Scalding Tarn; Aven Shrine; Quest for Ula's Temple (Fr)
Centre Row:
Wooded Foothills; Windswepth Heath (Fr); Flooded Strand (Fr); Polluted Delta (Fr); Bloodstained Mire (Fr); Marrow-Gnawer (Japanese), Eight-and-a-half-tails (Jp); Possessed Portal (Jp); Dovescape (Foil/Jp); Sedraxis Specter (Foil)

Front Row: 
Wrexial, the Risen Deep (Fr); Braids, Drinker of Tears (Fr); Zur the Enchanter (Fr); Ib Halfheart, Nation; 2x Helm of Kaldra (Jp); Door to Nithingness (Jp); Heartbeat of Spring (Jp); Momentary Blink/Elvis (Fr/Alt. by Antoine)

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

[CommanderCast Crossover] Grimgrin v Thrax : Grimgrin’s Gatling Gun

November is Crossover Month at Commandercast. Overlord Andy ordered his legion of writers to get out there onto the blogosphere, siteosphere and any other kind of -sphere they could find. Their mission: Spread the CommanderCast Word and send back writers to do the heavy lifting for them whilst they are chilling out as honoured guests on blogs such as The Crazy 99. My own Commander legionaire is Maxwell "Max" Kautsch, usually responsible for the Peasant Rebellion articles on the Commander mothership. 

Welcome Max!

Grimgrin’s Gatling Gun

For Crossover month, Owen and I planned to look at the state of tribal Zombies in Commander now that we have Grimgrin, Corpse-Born in our lives.  I was going to try to make a case for why you might play Zombie tribal with Grimmy rather than the defending multicolor Zombie champ, Thraximundar.  So I started with Cassidy’s sweet “Grimgrin’s Zompocalypse” build and make it a little less Zombie-heavy and a little more combo/control oriented. I’ve always loved Cloudstone Curio and couldn’t resist pairing that with Rooftop Storm.

Although the deck experienced some success, mostly on the back of Curio/Rooftop Storm/Grixis Slavedriver with a Vengeful Dead and Grimgrin on the field, the biggest issue the deck faced was classic B/U: no artifact or enchantment removal.  Even the best of the bounce spells (Venser, Shaper Savant/Cryptic Command) and colourless removal (Oblivion Stone/Karn Liberated) did not seem to be cutting it often enough, leaving me wanting for the red in Thrax’s color identity.  My inclination to just Thrax it up myself was bolstered by discussions on the intertrons resulting in the general consensus that Thrax is still the better Zombie general.  After all, Thrax has haste, a shroud-proof sac ability, and red means MUCH better artifact hate than what a B/U deck offers.  I’m not saying Zombie tribal with Grimgrin can’t be good; I mean, Cassidy’s awesome Future Sight/Rooftop Storm/Gravebane Zombie combo is easier to get into play because a U/B deck makes UUU more efficiently than a U/B/R one.  And his build seems amazing.  But as Cassidy himself mentions in the comments of that article, any truly desirable card in that deck, including Grimgrin, could just as easily be played in a Thrax build.  Yup, Owen, you were right.  :)

So the question is, if Grimgrin isn’t optimal to lead your Zombie army, and if it’s doubtful he can unseat Wrexial, the Risen Deep as a better general for a traditional B/U control build, does Grimgrin really have a place in Commander other than as an auto-include in a Thrax Zombie tribal deck?  

First, let’s remind ourselves why the two cards inspire comparisons.  This is the entirety of the rules text on Thraximundar, a 6/6 for 7:
Whenever Thraximundar attacks, defending player sacrifices a creature.
Whenever a player sacrifices a creature, you may put a +1/+1 counter on Thraximundar.

This is the third clause of rules text on Grimgrin, Corpse-Born, a 5/5 for 5:
Whenever Grimgrin attacks, destroy target creature defending player controls, then put a +1/+1 counter on Grimgrin.

Both cards cause opponents to lose creatures when they attack, and both get bigger for each creature that hits the yard.  This means that the decks are likely to share cards that derive a benefit from creatures dying.  Skullclamp, Grave Pact, Butcher of Malakir, Mimic Vat, and Nim Deathmantle would be probable includes in either.  Grimgrin’s ability only results in destroying a creature if it is successfully targeted, which makes the ability vulnerable in a format rife with Lightning Greaves and Swiftfoot Boots, while Thrax’s triggers a sacrifice that doesn’t care about targeting (although Grimgrin has the advantage against a token deck because he can snipe).  Grimgrin is cheaper, but ordinarily can’t swing until turn 6, where haste lets Thrax swing only a turn later.  Given Thrax is not disrupted by something as common as Greaves, along with haste and access to red, I would agree that the fight goes to Thrax.

Except that we forgot to mention the first and second clauses of Grimgrin’s rules text:
Grimgrin, Corpse-Born enters the battlefield tapped and doesn't untap during your untap step.
Sacrifice another creature: Untap Grimgrin and put a +1/+1 counter on it.

The knee-jerk reaction is to view these mostly as drawbacks.  Yes, it is generally disadvantageous for a creature to enter the battlefield tapped.  Yes, you are potentially looking at card disadvantage if you have to sacrifice one of your own creatures before Grimgrin can even attack.  Yes, it’s too bad Grimgrin can’t sacrifice himself to prevent himself from getting tucked.  What I find interesting about Grimgrin is not only that he first swings as a 7/7 and effectively gets two more +1/+1 tokens for each subsequent attack, but also that he is the only general in print who can control when he untaps.  

Hmmm.  For starters, Paradise Mantle on Grimmy results in a de facto Phyrexian Altar, a card with a track record of Commander viability.  After some Gathering, a deck started to come together; it just didn’t involve Zombies.  So rather than bore you with a Grimgrin Zombie tribal deck when you should just read Cassidy’s article or pull out your Thraximundar, I bring you Grimgrin’s Gatling Gun.

The deck really only needs three things to fire away, given adequate mana: Grimgrin (the gun), some tokens (ammunition), and Surestrike Trident (the pain).  The Trident got some love when infect came out, for obvious reasons, but otherwise doesn’t seem to show up a whole lot.  In addition to targeting your opponents, it gives the equipped creature first strike, which seems relevant for a general who can destroy creatures only if he risks a trip to the red zone.  But how about that second ability with a pumpable general?  

Turns out, the Trident and Grimgrin happily provide the deck’s win condition without ever getting near the red zone as long as Grimgrin isn’t summoning sick and there are enough creatures to sacrifice.  A couple of “shots” is usually all it takes, depending on how long Grimgrin has been allowed to accumulate counters or if the deck is in position to make him infinitely large (and no, you can’t use the Trident to inflict general damage).  

So how do we get there?  The Trident costs 4 to equip, a relatively expensive thing to do at sorcery speed, so land fetchers like Wayfarer’s Bauble and Pilgrim’s Eye, along with and mana rocks and Tezzeret the Seeker, help out a lot.  Ashnod’s Altar is great with tokens, and even better with Nim Deathmantle and an ETB token generating creature.  Paradise Mantle can come in handy, too, and you can of course search it out with the ubiquitous Trinket Mage.  Obviously the Mantle turns any old creature into a BOP, which is good, but the fun begins when it’s equipped to Grimgrin.  When Grimgrin is wearing the Mantle, sacrifice a token to untap Grimgrin and give him a +1/+1 counter.  He taps for mana, sac another creature, he untaps, gets another counter, and taps for another mana.  Rinse and repeat.

So, what if you resolve an Army of the Damned under these circumstances?  Means you get up to 13 sacrifice triggers, making Grimmy +1/+1 each time, while also making more than enough mana to tap him and unattach the Trident as many times as there are opponents.  And then you can look blankly at your opponents, channel your inner Brick Tamland, and say “I killed a guy with a trident.”  

Killing guys (or troublesome planewalkers, if need be) with a trident makes for good fun with Grimgrin’s untap mechanics, but are there alternative effects for his Gat?  Ultimately, only Banishing Knack makes the cut because it helps shore up the deck’s weaknesses against artifacts and enchantments.  Casting this at the end of someone’s turn yields a lot of targets (and yuks) for only 1 blue mana as long as Grimgrin is accompanied by some tokens on the field.  It is absolutely conceivable that you could bounce all your opponent’s non-land permanents right before your turn given enough tokens.

Which brings us to an obviously important component of a deck like this: where are we going to get the tokens to feed a hungry Grimmy, and overcome the “card disadvantage” otherwise inherent in his ability?  My personal favorite has always been creatures with ETB effects creating tokens, especially in black because of black’s ability to recur creatures and not much else.  Blue fails when it comes to generating tokens via creatures, both black and artifacts have some good choices:  
Grave Titan
Wurmcoil Engine
Marsh Flitter
Skeletal Vampire
Precursor Golem
Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder

For once Oona, Queen of the Fae is less combo finisher and more token generator, and cards like Reassembling Skeleton add to the stable of token-generating creatures for our “fodder” suite.  I also included persist baddies Glen Elendra Archmage and Puppeteer Clique because they can trigger two sacrifices in a pinch, in addition to their killer abilities.  Army of the Damned and Rite of Replication make oodles of guys, and watch out for the old kicked Rite on Precursor Golem.  Otherwise, ETB creatures such as Mulldrifter, Trinket Mage and Snapcaster Mage make for palatable sacrifices.  And then there’s the Mimic Vat, a “good stuff” addition that happens to be quite on-theme.  

    The final necessary component is cards that provide benefits when creatures go the the graveyard, all of which fit nicely in Thrax as discussed above.  The most important of those are of course Skullclamp and Gravepact.  The one card I really wanted to get in but couldn’t was Falkenrath Noble. Probably win-more, but you’d think it would have its moments in a deck where the general can sacrifice any other creature for free at instant speed.  

Otherwise, the deck’s choices were determined by its needs for card draw, control, and mana fixing/acceleration.  As you might expect, things like Consecrated Sphinx, Decree of Pain and Damnation made it. 

 Graveborn Muse has nice synergy with Grimgrin and what’s left of the Zombie flavor in Grave Titan, Nim Deathmantle and Army of the Damned.  Along with its ability to ramp, the aforementioned Ashnod’s Altar is one of a handful of sac outlets to help prevent Grimgrin from getting tucked; I also threw in High Market and Phyrexian Tower.   Other key lands include Coffers/Urborg for ramp, Academy Ruins, and Shizo, Death’s Storehouse to give Grimgrin evasion if he needs it.  Tolaria West searches out Pact of Negation, Maze of Ith or half of the Urborg/Coffers dream team.  

Finally, although the deck can’t deal with artifacts the way a red deck can, its ability to win without attacking allows for long range wins that may not require the same degree of removal as if the deck were forced to win with combat damage.  Even so, Kederekt Leviathan and Steel Hellkite join Karn to help with board control.  Life’s Finale rounds out the removal suite; love that card with Puppeteer Clique.

So maybe Grimgrin isn’t a better multicolored Zombie general than Thraximunder, but Cassidy showed he’s absolutely viable as the leader of a Zombie horde.  While my sub-Zombie theme failed as per Owen’s prediction, I have found that Grimgrin’s Gatling Gun v1.0 makes for fun games and a unique win condition.  I mean, if you don’t want to kill a guy with a trident....I don’t know what to tell you.

Deck list here:
Grimgrin, Corpse-Born
Lightning Greaves
Sword of Light and Shadow
Surestrike Trident
Paradise Mantle
Nim Deathmantle
Swiftfoot Boots

Tezzeret the Seeker
Karn Liberated

Cryptic Command
Venser, Shaper Savant
Banishing Knack
Pact of Negation
Decree of Pain
Life’s Finale
Steel Hellkite
Kederekt Leviathan
Nether Traitor
Reassembling Skeleton
Marsh Flitter
Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder
Precursor Golem
Wurmcoil Engine
Grave Titan
Myr Battlesphere
Skeletal Vampire
Oona, Queen of the Fae
Mimic Vat
Glen Elendra Archmage
Puppeteer Clique
Army of the Damned
Rite of Replication

Wayfarer's Bauble
Expedition Map
Armillary Sphere
Memory Jar
Coalition Relic
Darksteel Ingot
Thran Dynamo
Sol Ring
Grim Monolith
Gilded Lotus
Pilgrim's Eye
Solemn Simulacrum
Ashnod's Altar
Dimir Signet

Demonic Tutor
Vampiric Tutor
Rune-Scarred Demon
Sensei's Divining Top
Consecrated Sphinx
Snapcaster Mage
Trinket Mage
Graveborn Muse
Butcher of Malakir
Grave Pact

4x Island
6x Swamp
Maze of Ith
Dreadship Reef
Phyrexian Tower
Watery Grave
Underground Sea
Ancient Tomb
Academy Ruins
Jwar Isle Refuge
Polluted Delta
Tolaria West
Bojuka Bog
Halimar Depths
Temple of the False God
Dimir Aqueduct
High Market
Volrath's Stronghold
Minamo, School at Water's Edge
Creeping Tar Pit
Shizo, Death's Storehouse
Seat of the Synod
Vault of Whispers
Reflecting Pool
Darkwater Catacombs
Drowned Catacomb
Strip Mine
River of Tears
Cabal Coffers
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Buried Ruin