Sunday, October 13, 2019

Magic: The Gathering - Commander Night Playback - Hard Won Lessons with Konrad and Korvold

In my playgroup, we've been trying and failing to reduce our overall power level to promote more diverse decks and playstyles. For the reason, when Bennie Smith, the guy who literally wrote the book on Commander, opened up for questions on the format, I asked him for advice on how a group and lower their power level.

On his advice, I proposed a change in our rules, doubly so since some players were growing annoyed at the $300 budget limitations. And so, we began another experiment. This time, we moved backed to an unlimited budget, but banning any cards that let players search their libraries for cards, except those cards like Cultivate and Rampant Growth that let players accelerate their land drops.

While I'd say the experiment is still being conducted, as one night isn't enough to give a definitive result, I learned some things in these games.

Our first match had me using a revamped, tutorless version of my Syr Konrad deck. The rest of the table was running Sheoldred, Whispering One, a land/aristocrats hybrid deck helmed by Korvold, Fae-Cursed King, and a big-value deck with Golos, Tireless Pilgrim as its general.

Unfortunately, this match wasn't very interesting because the game was over before any cards had hit the table. In my opening hand, I had Mindcrank, Liliana Death's Majesty, and a nice helping on lands. In a next few turns, I drew into Morality Shift, though the Syr Konrad and Mindcrank combo went off before I ever got to 7 mana.

The fact that Sheoldred and Korvold were my opponents only accelerated my plans. Sheoldred had to avoid playing their commander because I would like get several triggers and win before their next return would crop up. However, because Korvold was missing land drops, they sacrificed a Reassembling Skeleton with a Journey to Eternity attached. With 3 decks packed with creatures all caught in Konrad's Mindcrank chain, that was enough to end the game.

That said, the resulting bad feels due to how hard it was to keep track of it all in Cockatrice made realize that the deck isn't a healthy one for our group. Were we playing in Magic Online, and a system was doing all of that work for us, then it probably would have been fine. In a rough facsimile of paper magic we use to play together on the cheap, it's not a deck I'm comfortable bringing back anytime soon.


The next match was a 5-player game, as our last group member had gotten home from their new job just as we were wrapping up. In the interesting of not becoming the absolute monster of the playgroup, I swapped out Syr Konrad for my Estrid, the Masked deck. Sheoldred and Korvold stuck to their guns, but Golos was swapped out for an Alesha, Who Smiles at Death build. Our final player entered with Yarok, the Desecrated sitting in the command zone.

But alas, this game ended in the same landslide the first one did, except this time I wasn't the victor. Korvold had a strong opening statement and used that opening to create a board state no one else was prepared to content with.

Using Azuza, Lost But Seeking and Ramunap Excavator (and later Crucible of Worlds) to accelerate the lands rapidly with one of the Zendikar fetch lands. Using Lightning Greaves to protect Korvold, and a combo of Dockside Extortionist, Cauldron of Souls, to create vast amounts of treasures to sacrifice for card draw and Korvold boosts that it was scary. Once Destructive Flow was in play, and it was clear none of us were going to ramp up any further, we all began to fold quickly.


After a brief post-game talk, Korvold agreed to remove Destructive Flow from the deck since, like Syr Konrad and Mindcrank, it wasn't conducive to a fun environment for our playgroup (which is why you don't see it in the updated decklist), and Sheoldred had to withdraw for prior obligations.

Korvold kept on it, but Alesha swapped out for a spell-slinging Mizzix of the Izmagnus deck, Yarok moved to Chulane, Teller of Tales, and I brought out a one of the first commanders I ever fell in love with, before I even started played Commander: Muldrotha, the Gravetide, with a deck focused on reusable permanents. This would end up being the big game of the night.

Mizzix took a very early start. Although they kept a one-land hand, it was also a hand with Sol Ring and an Izzet Signet, so that had a decent amount of mana to start our with, casting their commander on turn 2. In the next few turns, one they acquired some cards and Experience Counters, they established themselves as the game's archenemy thanks to their suite of counter magic.

Tellingly enough, despite that fact that both my own Phyrexian Scriptures and Pernicious Deed were countered by their Forbid and Whispers of the Muse synergy, which only protected the rest of the board's army of creatures, the table chose to keep ignoring me and focus them down for fear of more counter magic. They even managed to have enough resources to counter Chulane's Aluren immediately afterwards.

Ironically, the fact that they countered by board clear ended up being their undoing, and Chulane and Korvold's combined forces brought them to a point they knew they wouldn't be able to crawl out from. Rather than bow out gracefully, them decided to go out with style by casting a Rolling Earthquake with enough mana to kill everything on the board and bring their life total down to 1. Korvold sacrificed one of their lands to their Sylvan Safekeeper to give it the extra power it needed to survive, but everything else was dead.

For Chulane, this was devastating because they were a single turn away from using Shaman of the Forgotten Ways to end the game, since neither Mizzix nor I had a board and there was enough power left to swing at Korvold for game. For me, having no creatures on the board at this point meant that this was just the opening I needed.

At this point in the game, I had enough mana to summon Muldrotha and then recast Pernicious Deed. The following turn, I cracked it to kill Korvold and most of the enchantments and artifacts my opponents were using to reestablish. This did have the side effect of accidentally killing Mizzix with an accidental Syr Konrad trigger, but by that point I was quickly growing to the point where I was the next archenemy.

I had managed to use Ashiok, Dream Render to both fill my graveyard with potential assets firmly established my hold on the game, and then something expected happened. Chulane, that tricky devil, managed to cast Agent of Treachery. I expect him, in one feel swoop, to take control of the Commander and end this silly little engine of mine. But he was even more clever than that. Instead, he could control of my Ashiok, and used it to erased by hard-earned graveyard. It was, admittedly, an insidious and ingenious play, but not one I couldn't recover from.

That's when I looked at my hand and got... inspired. Using both the Clever Impersonator and Spark Double in my hand, I played them as copies of Agent of Treachery and took control both of Chulane and Korvold. I lost Korvold to a bounce spell, but I did managed to take Chulane and eventually kill Ashiok so I could recast them.

The board eventually reset again after an Austere Command, but I was able to use Muldrotha to reestablish. Then, Chulane top-decked and casted an Approach of the Second Sun, and the truce they had with Korvold had been broken. They attempted to draw enough card with Chulane, Mulldrifter, and The Great Henge. Unfortunately for them, it wasn't enough. Since I had been counting their draws, I had Ashiok mill and then exile Approach of the Second Sun.

At this point, the game had been doing on for a while, and Chulane had played 8 times, and Korvold about 5 or 6, meaning that command tax had started adding up. I had only played Muldrotha about 3 times, since she only enables combos without needed to be a key piece of them. This meant that I was still in a better position to establish a board than everyone else. Using Phyrexian Altar and Liliana, Death's Majesty, I was able to recur Ravenous Chupacabra to keep their commanders off the board.

With no real gas left in the tank, I had knocked out Korvold. However, since Chulane had been a bit too far out of my reach in terms of life, and both of our decks were running low, I had adjusted to using Ashiok to mill him out as my win condition. I normally wouldn't care and just keep milling myself, but at this point my Jace, Wielder of Mysteries was in exile thanks to an earlier Void Shatter. (Laboratory Maniac wasn't the version I was playing that night, I have switched it in to take Mindslaver out on request of my playgroup.)

That's when he pulled a daring, and desperate gambit. With only 5 cards left in the deck, and knowing that he had his own Clever Impersonator, he had exactly one hope left to win. On his turn, he played his own Jace, Wielder of Mysteries. Unfortunately for him, when he activated Jace, he milled instead of drawing his Clever Impersonator. If he had hit, it would have been over.

Instead, I swung in at Jace, killing him. And used Ashiok both to finish off Chulane's deck and exiling away his last hope. After a long and challenging game, I had finally emerged victorious.

The game took about an hour and a half to finish up, and it did devolve into a bit of a grind, but it was also a very interesting match when I look back on it. I don't know if my playgroup would agree, but that conversation is always happening as we learn more about each other and get better at building decks so that we're all having a good time. Such is, after all, the essence of the game.

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