There seems to be an interesting correlation between the quality of Commander expansions and James Bond films starring Daniel Craig.
The first one was epic; the second sucked penis; the third was pretty good but didn’t live up to the first; and the fourth is best described by words like ‘enjoyable’ and ‘adequate,’ but could’ve been so much more than it was.
I never did a review for last year’s Commander offerings because life gets in the way sometimes (and by ‘life’ I mean Diablo III), but I liked 2014 better than this latest one.
You can see my review of 2013’s Commander here.
So rather than lament the One That Got Away, grab your cognac, sit back, and let us muse for a while about ‘enjoyable’ and ‘adequate’…..
What I find interesting is how the design goals for each Commander release differ every year. Despite being a community created and regulated format, Wizards always insists on reaching out with their dick fingers and turkey slapping us around a bit.
It seems the overall design philosophy in Commander 2015 was to make games more lethal.
Everything seems geared towards closing out the game quickly and many of the new cards reflect that ideology. There’s a goat that slams Overwhelming Stampede at people, Ezuri’s Instant Army Powder and a FUCKING YAWGMOTH’S WILL. A lot of the splashier reprints also create power-plays that are difficult to recover from (Blatant Theivery, Open the Vaults, Beastmaster Ascension).
Some part of me thinks this is a direct response to Commander 2014. One very noticeable element for anyone who played with last year’s precons was the games lasted forever. Games went back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and you get the idea.
I remember gathering my playgroup to give all the precons a whirl before I dismantled them and we found ourselves sitting there for over four hours. I was worried I’d get fucking haemorrhoids.
Other than an overwhelming feeling that the design focus was largely on what’s in this year’s precon than the individual cards themselves, it seems like Commander is being deliberately pushed towards the more competitive end of the spectrum.
While this just mirrors what happens with the hardcore players that skip their mother’s birthday for Casual Commander Night, I worry what it does for the more benevolent ‘75%’ players and the kitchen table crowd.
Quite frankly, I rather like a balanced back-and-forth that runs for an hour and eventually closes out with a dragon attack. It creates a sense of tension and encourages people to use politics as part of their strategy.
I actually feel really cheesed off if I lose twenty minutes in to an Overrun effect or a dirty Voltron general. Sitting there building resources and then windmill slamming a ‘fuck you’ to the rest of the table isn’t particularly interactive. As far as I’m concerned that essence of strategic social interaction is what Commander is all about. I’m worried it’s about to move further away from it than ever.
I hope it sends a postcard.
Thanks to Commander 2015, ‘I’ve got lots of experience’ is now more than just a blatant lie mentioned in every job interview ever.
‘Experience’ is this year’s ‘fucks with the legendaries’ mechanic. Regardless of how fast a general gains experience, those experience counters are permanent and nothing short of restarting the game is going to get rid of them. They’re like a positive version of Poison (and they also function with proliferate!).
While it’s kind of nice to see the effectiveness of your general rise throughout the match, I worry that every experience general is a giant middle finger to everyone else in the late game. There is a huge amount of staying power in each of them.
Everyone else also seems to share that worry. Which means as soon as one appears on the table it gets pelted with more projectiles than a pair of cats fucking outside a bedroom window.
While an interesting mechanic, I am disappointed by the lack of support it receives- it’s literally on only five cards.
What would’ve been great would be a basic instant or sorcery for each colour that does something mundane like Rampant Growth or Counterspell that also adds an experience counter when cast.
It would provide more incentive to play with the latest set of removal magnets.
I mean, if Planechase got Fractured Powerstone, why couldn’t Commander 2015 have had its own little props?
I was waiting a long time for Kharasha Foothills to get its own real card. The result is nowhere near as interesting as the red enchantment which I predicted.
Even though it’s a splashy ability and more fun than a brothel on the company credit card, there’s nothing particularly splashy about any of the myriad creatures. I feel they could’ve done another cycle on top of the uncommon offerings we were given.
Myriad versions of Terra Ravager and Scion of the Wild would’ve made fun rares, and myriad Ink-Eyes or Mindleech Mass would be the very definition of mythic. But instead all we got was more French vanilla than an overstocked ice cream shop. Like experience, there could have been more done with it. And with more myriad creatures, we’d be able to enjoy the mechanic more. Like, common sense Wizards!
Ezuri accumulates experience quicker than a college girl in her ‘post-breakup experimental phase’. Literally any weenie dork is going to provide a pint of experience, which is scary when you consider weenie dorks often arrive in tidal waves (Avenger of Zendikar, Mycoloth).
Counters-and-pump has always been a lot of fun and some less commonly used cards greatly benefit from his post-breakup experimental love. He also plays very well with Morph creatures who always enter as 2/2s. Decks that attempted pump’n’gro strategies before often based everything around Master Biomancer or similar. But now they have their own personal trainer and his giant bottomless protein shake.
Although Kaseto does nothing spectacular on her own, she does open up support for a tribe that previously never really got any.
Snakes have traditionally been spread across green and blue, but the only decent snake commander was mono-green. Snakes also have a larger than normal amount of saboteur abilities. So Kaseto slips into the role of Snake General like a skimpy model does into Dan Bilzerian’s Instagram account.
While snakes might not be strongest tribe, they do have a soft spot in the hearts of many casual players- particularly those who were around during Kamigawa block. To know designers care enough makes Kaseto feel less like a new general and more like a gift to the Magic community. It warms my heart like eggnog on Christmas Eve. It’s also worthwhile noting that she’s an unblockable shade that can swing in for 21 points of game-ending goodness.
Of all the Commander 2015 generals, Simic were the real winners. If the precons all went to a bar together, Simic would be one going home with a hot chick at the end of the night. Despite being relatively straightforward in play style, both of the new generals allow old ideas that previously didn’t work very well to suddenly be the toast of the town.
The problem is one of those old ideas is infect, which I hate because nothing feels like a more anticlimactic way to die. Simic are prime infect colours and both generals play very, very well with it. If we’re still running the ‘going home with the hot chick’ metaphor I hope she reconsiders- because there’s a serious case of STDs there.
Of all the Commander 2015 offerings, I tip my hat to Daxos. As far as I’m concerned this is what Commander expansions should be about.
Daxos presents an entirely different take on a classic colour combination and offers incentive to play decks previously never would have existed. Where the Simic generals campaign for the underrepresented, Daxos leads the charge for the never-thought-of-at-all. He pushes together a brand new strategy to build around.
The thing with Daxos is he’s more parasitic than a nest of tapeworms. It’s impossible to play him as his own card. He either spearheads your army or is forever clogging up your trade binder. He also isn’t as powerful as he looks, and attracts hate like the Westboro Baptist church.
But that doesn’t stop his coolness one bit. The designer in me absolutely loves him. There’s more innovation here than all of Silicon Valley.
Somewhat less awesome is Karlov, Vish Kal’s fat little brother. If there is general I hate with a passion it’s Vish Kal, and this guy gives me an uneasy feeling that he’s going to grow up to be just like him.
He does however eclipse this (haha fat joke) by the cool things you can do with him. A deck stacked with tiny independent life-gain triggers like Soul Warden and Suture Priest could swell Karlov up so large he’ll need his own postcode and would never let a creature appear on the other side of the table again.
Actually wait- that’s exactly what I’m worried about.
If the Simic precon walked away with the hot chick, the Orzhov at least got her cute friend’s phone number. That’s entirely thanks to Daxos, smooth player that he is. Unfortunately he’s got his fat awkward friend with him, who gives off an uneasy vibe. He could turn out to be really cool, or he could turn out to be really annoying. We won’t know until it’s too late.
But at least both can get past the bouncers and join Kaseto at Club Tiny Leaders, which is rapidly becoming the hippest in town. Hat’s off to the designer of the Orzhov deck for actually giving a fuck.
Mizzix is the Izzet experience general and she makes spells cheaper as you cast more of them. I don’t know what else to say about her because I’m bored already.
The irony is that she’s exactly what I wanted to see for an Izzet general and now that she’s here I’m not the least bit enthused. I feel like one of those cats that keeps meowing for food incessantly, then when its owner finally relents the cat takes one sniff and walks away.
You don’t need more than four experience counters to get serious value out of Mizzix. But she doesn’t really change anything. She just happily slips her fat spider-mech ass into an archetype she will now headline by default. Don’t get me wrong I like her, I’m just not excited by her.
Now there are two types of people: those who think Mindmoil is broken, and those who haven’t played with it. Now it has legs and wings.
That said, Arjun is just a lazy design. He’d be a pretty fantastic creature if he was just a creature, but as a general he’s a bore. He works better as one of the plebs in a deck that likes to cycle into gas (*cough* Nekusar *cough*) rather than any real figurehead.
Ultimately I feel he’s a poster boy for missed opportunities. In the build-up to Commander 2015 I saw numerous posts on various forums of players all clamouring for a blue-red artifact general. Instead we all got…this.
I sincerely look forward to all the other Generalized enchantments and artifacts Wizards decides to waste my time with.
Both of the new Izzet generals play quite well into the ‘spells matter’ theme Izzet likes to go to town with. But Arjun doesn’t do anything new or spectacular or prompt any interesting builds, and Mizzix just does exactly what you expect.
It’s a bit like watching The Empire Strikes Back every time there’s a movie night. Sure there’s explosions and mind tricks and techno-wizardry all capped off with a finale that leaves everyone amazed and confused. But ultimately it’s just the same fucking thing over and over again.
Meren is the lovechild of Palace Siege and Sheoldred, only having a token green splash because she was made to eat her veggies. Of the all flagship experience counter generals, Meren is probably the most boring and the most powerful.
Recursion has always been a very strong element in Commander. Other than being a badass dragon-bitch from Jund that’s about all there is to Meren. If she didn’t have a decent backstory posted up on Uncharted Realms, I’d say she’s flatter than the cardboard she’s printed on.
If you want something mechanical and efficient, Meren is great. Otherwise the existing Golgari generals all provide far more unique options to build around.
Of all the new legendaries Mazirek is the strongest. Upgrading your Fleshbag Marauders to Decrees of Savagery is not something trivial. Like a skateboarder with osteoporosis, he has plenty of opportunities to be broken.
I remember reading Rosewater’s design column when the original Ravnica came out, where he said he aimed to have the Golgari guild characterized by growing vertically- as in everybody eating one another to ultimately produce one giant super-monster all jacked up with +1/+1 counters.
Mazirek clearly plays on that theme and is thematically on point with all the Golgari are meant to represent. The trouble is though players are quite canny deckbuilders and there’s not much stopping them growing both horizontally and vertically. It’s not going to be one giant super-monster you’re facing, but a whole token army of them.
I’ve also seen on forums people mentioning they think he’s cool not because of any gameplay reasons, but because he could lead insect tribal. That’s a bit like saying the 2008 presidential election was cool because Sarah Palin gave you something to jerk off to.
On the whole Golgari has the most broken generals but neither of them are terribly interesting. Maybe it was a conscious design choice for players to have some ‘classic black-green deck’ options rather than trying to build around Savra or Pharika or Vhati-il-Dal. But the unfortunate result is that both just come across as more of what’s already there.
What definitely is interesting though is Sarah Palin’s choice of skirts. Be right back…
Kalemne is the Magic equivalent of a fencepost. She’s boring as shit, but can do a surprising amount of damage when used to clobber someone. There are a lot of things you can build with either (like a tribal giants deck, or cattle pasture), but really whatever you build is going to be fifty times more interesting. At the end of the day, both are just blocks of wood.
She was the first general spoiled, and when I saw her I thought ‘well it can only go uphill from here’. I wasn’t excited by her in her at all… but then I became interested. And after I actually saw her on the battlefield that interest became nausea and panic. The whole cycle had remarkable parallels to ordering Indian take-away.
I think what I really underestimated was the ‘double strike’. That makes her extremely dangerous, especially considering there’s a permanent pump effect attached. Although I imagine she’s a wink-wink-nudge-nudge towards tribal giants, I feel she’s going to be used far more for going Voltron instead.
At face glace Anya is fine card. With a little applied pressure you have an easy 7/7 or 10/10 flying indestructible dishing out general damage with every merciless angelic stroke. Due to the low enough cost of 5, Anya opens up the possibility of a very aggressive burn style deck. Burn is pretty rare in Commander due to the logistics of having do well over four times the amount of damage required to win the game, but Anya could serve quite well as an end-game plan. You bring the heat and she mops up the ashes.
But that’s kind of missing the point. Saying ‘you’re in red, you can play burn’ doesn’t open a door so much as a cat flap.
Her design feels like a rush job to fit more of what we already have into an archetype that doesn’t need any more of it. Even the name seems a little off, a bit like Creative decided to pull the names of various Bond girls out of a hat. And wouldn’t her design just make a whole lot more sense in black-red?
Wow. Boros generals. Wizards really missed the boat on this one.
I can’t speak for n00bies, but any seasoned Commander player buying the red-white precon gets some gifts they didn’t really want. Wizards might as well have followed Apple’s lead and put a brand new U2 album in there instead.
If just one of them- one- was a little different from the ‘I LIKE BASHING’ game plan so characteristic of red-white legendaries, the talk of the town would be different.
But red-white already has an abundance of generals that just want to turn sideways (or not, because half have bloody vigilance), and none of them can hold a candle up to Aurelia or Gisela anyway.
Whoever designs Boros legendaries must spend a lot of time trying to crack onto girls in nightclubs, because everything they do is based on trying to get in there. Meanwhile everyone else becomes the said hot girl who just facepalms every time a red-white legendary approaches and says to herself ‘Not this again’.
The people at Wizards of the Coast really need to know this, because right now all us girls have is that Brion guy, and he isn’t too different from the rest of them.
In the meantime though, while you’re here, please feel free to buy me whatever free drinks you want. Or Lightning Greaves. Or Blades of Selves. Or Dream Pillagers. I won’t mind. Just know I’m waiting for Mr. Right.
On the whole, I think the real winners in Commander 2015 are the reprints. Command Tower, Lightning Greaves and Eternal Witness all make their triumphant return alongside the ubiquitous Sol Ring.
A bunch of funkier cards also get reintroduced, like Blatant Thievery, Necromancer’s Covenant and Black Market.
There aren’t any blatant Legacy plants in this set, and currently the highest priced card is Blade of Selves. When the highest priced card has no applications anywhere outside of crazy chaos multiplayer, you know you’re in a pretty special spot.
On the whole I have mixed feelings about Commander 2015. The whole set feels a lot like going home with a hot chick, only to find out she wants to bum you with a strap-on.
As much as I may like the innovation and some of the individual cards, my biggest concern is the direction it’s trying to push Commander. The back-and-forth foreplay before the inevitable climax doesn’t seem like such a concern anymore. Rather it’s just about sitting there getting into position, waiting to either deal or receive some serious pain.
Maybe I’ll find I really enjoy it. Maybe I’ll loosen up enough to tolerate it. Or maybe I won’t and I’ll spend another paragraph making strap-on references.