If you aren't an EDH player, that phrase means absolutely nothing to you. But for the rest of us, this is a huge difference. Previously, whenever a commander returned to the commander zone, it never hit the graveyard so any death triggers would not activate.
Thanks to a recent statement by the Rules Committee, we are in a new era of Commander. We are finally freed from the tyranny of technicality.
And I could not think of a better way to celebrate than to build around a creature that I've wanted to for a long time, but was dissuaded from doing so by the old rules. The card that was forever trapped in the 99 until now: Elenda, the Dusk Rose.
My hybrid Vampire-tribal/Aristocrats build went up against Urza, Lord High Artificer, the Ur-Dragon, and the partners Pako/Haldan.
Urza attempted to run a Stax build, and since the rest of us were running much more aggressive decks they got quickly frozen out of the game.
As for my deck, though I didn't win I did have a brief moment where I was able to live the dream with Elenda. My board consisted of her, Cruel Celebrant, Corpse Knight, Cordial Vampire, and Yawgmoth, Thran Physician.
The Ur-Dragon had a Steel Hellkite out, and not much else. In order to start to claw their way out of their disadvantageous position, they played Crux of Fate to clear out the rest of our boards. Since there was a 100% chance that Steel Hellkite would take of any Elenda tokens out with it's ability, I figured it was pretty much time to go for it.
Using Yawgmoth, I sacrificed my creatures, and Elenda, to generate tokens and draw cards, while also using the -1/-1 counters generated to kill the Hellkite and draw a ton of cards while still caching in on my death triggers, accidentally killing Urza in the process. (I didn't want him to die because he was drawing heat off of me.)
Unfortunately, none of those cards I drew were lands, so after a few rounds I found myself quickly falling so far behind in terms of mana that I was no longer able to compete with the remaining two decks. I still managed to get my licks in, but after that it was a struggle simply to remain in the game.
Even though the Ur-Dragon had an army of fliers, Paco was able to consistently deter their attacks thanks to the tokens generated by Vivien, Monsters' Advocate. Up until the end game, when the dragon army was too strong to completely block, those Beasts with reach counters diverted attention away them and onto me. Additionally, Nissa, Steward of Elements in conjunction with Vivien's ability to always look at the top card of their library to cheat out quite a few creatures. And again, with that small army of blockers, neither one of them was getting attacked.
Aside from the Commander, the other card that helped the Ur-Dragon stay in contention was Kindred Discovery. Thanks to those two pieces, the pilot was able to keep a full grip of cards in hand at almost all times, which allowed them to amass an army that quickly established a dominating presence. With Ramos, Dragon Engine on board, and cards in hand, they were able to consistently answer threats that appeared before them. Even despite Pako and Haldan's Shark Typhoon, they were able to push through and finish the rest of us off.
After we wrapped up the first round, one of us had to head out, but the rest of us were surprisingly down for one more match. Tempting as it was to stick with Elenda for another match, I chose to give another one of my brews a try: A Kelsien, the Plague voltron build heavily inspired by Seth Cross at Praetor Magic's deck tech on the same commander.
The Ur-Dragon stayed on point, but the third switched to the Gay Kings of Meletis.
I managed to keep a firm grip on the flow of the game for most of it with many of the minor synergies I had set up, especially in the early game. One easy example was Kelsien's ping ability in combination with Forbidden Orchard. What would normally be a nominal downside to a card that taps for all colors of mana is immediately transformed into fodder generator to generate experience counters. And by throwing in the bounty counters from Mathas, Fiend Seeker, we're able to generate extra card draw and life that benefits us more than the rest of the table, especially when a Smothering Tithe is thrown in.
Unlike the last time where the Ur-Dragon took control of the game, this time they didn't really get an opportunity to do the same. Thanks to General's Enforcer, I was able to keep swinging in with Kelsien even in situations where doing so would normally be utterly foolish. This was a major factor in how the they fell before it had a moment to establish a board presence. While their Ryusei, the Fallen Star set me back briefly, it was not enough to keep me completely off balance, and I was able to get it that last bit of damage and clear the board one more time thanks to Chandra's Ignition.
Despite my presence and powerful commander, I was not able to close the match with the Gay Kings of Meletis. Not only did they have massive quantities of life thanks to Venser's Journal, but they had defenses in the form of both Kefnet the Mindful and Nezahal, Primal Tide. Though my deck does have tools that can either rob creatures like Kefnet of their indestructibility, I was sadly unable to draw those crucial pieces. For that reason, I wasn't able to obtain the necessary commander damage to tip the scales in my favor and finish them off. Thanks to a combination of vast amounts of card draw, Jace, Wielder of Mysteries, and Thassa's Oracle, they were snatch away victory.
And yet, I find myself unable to complain about my performance. I may not have won, but the Kelsien deck did what it set out to to by powering up it's commander to absurd levels so that he can quickly take command of the table. Sometimes, we just don't draw into the pieces we need to tip the scales in our favor, and that's okay. The match was still an extremely close one. I performed to the best of my ability and simply was outplayed. It certainly beats being mana screwed out of a match.