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A Commanding Conspiracy – By Connor Clarke

Posted on May 29th, 2014

Articles Events Magic: The Gathering Moncton

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Every player has a favorite format. For some, the ever-changing environment of Standard and the contingency of yearly Rotation keeps the game exciting and fresh. For others, the larger environments of combos and power cards associated with Modern and Legacy are the perfect catalyst for an enjoyable Magic: the Gathering experience. However, many secondary formats exist, with one of the most popular being Commander. Commander is a format that, with its strict deck-building guidelines and focus on a single Legendary Creature (your “General”), tends to lend itself to fun interactions, intense combos, and sometimes just plain old fun. This level of uniqueness seems tobe the general draw to the format.

At the heart of the format, however, is the idea of a Commander. Your General is a Legendary Creature which, more often than not, serves as a keystone from which you build your deck. Due to this, many Commander players will start a deck-building process by finding a General that suits them. Whether that is through strength, color identity, or simply the appearance and background of their character, everybody is different. And with every set that is released, more and more potential Generals are introduced to the Multiverse. And with the soon-to-be-released Conspiracy set, a group of five Legendary Creatures will soon make their debut appearances in many Commander decks.

Kick-starting our list is a new White and Blue Legend: Brago, King Eternal.

At first glance, Brago appears to be relatively simple: he’s a 2/4 creature for four mana, with Flying being his only ubiquitous ability. Even his second ability isn’t entirely unfamiliar to most Magic players. It’s a mass-targeting “Flicker” ability which can exile any number of non-Land permanents you control, only to immediately return them to the battlefield under their owner’s control.

This doesn’t seem particularly powerful initially, but when his color combination is taken into consideration, Brago seems to be a potentially very powerful General. White and Blue are the two colors largely filled with this sort of ability, with White having such cards as Flickerform and Flickerwisp, and Blue possessing cards like Ghostly Flicker and Deadeye Navigator. With this in mind, it isn’t hard to imagine building a deck largely based around cards with abilities that activate upon entering or exiting the battlefield. Creatures like Twilight Shepherd and Archaeomancer would allow for easy recursion of spent cards, while other creatures like Augur of Bolas and Archon of Redeption allow for gradual advantage over your opponents.

This effect isn’t merely limited to creatures, however. Artifacts, Enchantments, and Planeswalkers are all able to take advantage of Flickering. Artifacts with a cost requiring it to tap can use this opportunity to untap and be ready for use once again. Enchantments like Inner Sanctum that provide powerful effects in exchange for a cumulative Upkeep can be renewed by Flickering. Finally, every Planeswalker can benefit by having their Loyalty reset after falling too low. Overall, it seems that there is a lot of potential support for this kind of a deck. On that principle alone, I give Brago a 4/5.

 

The second Creature to pique my interest is the Green and White Selvala, Explorer Returned.

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Like Brago, Selvala seems to have a fair cost at first sight: a 2/4 body for three mana, without any returning abilities. In fact, Selvala is a prime example of one of the new abilities being introduced in Conspiracy: Parley. For those unfamiliar, “parley” is a word derived from French, which means to speak or to discuss something. And every Parley-ing card in the set accomplishes that by involving all active players in the ability. For Selvala, she demands that each player reveal the top card of their Library. Then, for each nonland card revealed, Selvala’s controller adds one Green mana to their mana pool and gains one life. Finally, each player draws a card, presumably the card they just revealed.

Initially, Selvala didn’t impress me significantly. White is my least-favored color and the idea of revealing my deck to my opponent and then allowing them each to draw a card turned me off of her ability. However, upon later deliberation, her ability is quite impactful. For one, she doesn’t pose an on-board threat, and is unlikely to be killed in lieu of a more traditionally-powerful creature. Second, in an average four-player game, it is likely that each time you tap her she will be netting you three or four mana AND life. Considering how quickly one could play her, Selvala could quickly rake in life and mana. The last part of the ability, each player drawing a card, is presumably the worst part. However, it does give you some card advantage, and provides an opportunity to know about a card in each opponent’s hand.

As far as deck construction is concerned, Selvala fits nicely into the pre-existing tradition of Green mana ramp, and white politics. In addition, her Elf creature type would allow for her to even lead a Tribally-themed deck of elves. Finally, her ability melds well with creatures like Seedborn Muse, artifacts like Illusionist’s Bracers, and enchantments like Mana Reflection or Helix Pinnacle. Unlike the aforementioned Brago however, Selvala seems like an easy addition to the regular fare of a Commander deck, being a strong utility card for other Generals like Rhys the Redeemed or Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice. Due to her ability to be easily included in a deck, but relative utility as a General on her own, I will give Selvala a 3.5/5.

 

Following Selvala is the singular three-colored Legenday Creature in the set: Marchesa, the Black Rose.

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Marchesa is a pretty neat creature and probably intrigued me most of all, initially. She’s a 3/3 for four mana, putting her past Brago and Selvala as far as power is concerned, but weaker in terms of defensive capabilities. She also highlights another of Conspiracy’s new abilities: Dethrone. Dethrone is a relatively simple ability with a fascinating spin on similar types of effects. It reads that whenever a creature with Dethrone attacks, if they attack the player with the highest life total or tied for the highest life total, they get a +1/+1 counter. In a format like Commander, this means that a creature with Dethrone will want to be targeting either the least-interactive player, or a player piloting a life-gaining deck. That’s not all, however. She also gives all of your other creatures the Dethrone ability, and revives any creatures you control at the end of the turn, so long as they died with a +1/+1 counter on them.

Her abilities immediately caused me to recall a similar keyword from recent memory, with that being the Innistrad block’s Undying. However, unlike undying, Marchesa could potentially revive your creatures indefinitely. In fact, it works quite well alongside Undying. Say, for instance, your Grealf’s Messenger has died and come back with a +1/+1 counter. Now, if it were to die again, nothing would happen. Unless Marchesa is on the field, in which case he would be revived again, this time without his +1/+1 counter, meaning that he could activate Undying again. Considering that Undying is featured prominently in the Red-Black-blue range, in isn’t inconceivable to think of a deck based around cycling between Undying and Marchesa’s revival ability for an unrelenting horde of creatures.

However, Marchesa is not without her downfalls. Her color identity is just outside of the two colors ideally suited to a +1/+1 counter strategy, meaning she doesn’t have access to all-stars like Cathar’s Crusade and Juniper Order Ranger. In addition, her extremely powerful abilities mean that she is a likely candidate for removal spells and you’ll have to put in some work to keep her alive. If I were to build a deck based around her, it would likely be full of creatures with good abilities when they die or enter the battlefield, and other cards based around sacrificing my own creatures, and controlling the board state. Counterspells, board-wipes, and spot removal should abound, with Marchesa acting as the glue to hold them all together. I give Marchesa a 3.5/5 as well.

 

Following Marchesa is the only monocolored Legendary Creature in the set: Muzzio, Visionary Architect.

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Clocking in at 1/3 for three mana, Muzzio is objectively the weakest potential General in terms for combat ability. However, that combat deficiency is immediately offset by his monocolored cost, and incredibly powerful ability. He has the capability to look at the top of his deck, find an artifact, and put it straight into play for free. Simple, straightfoward, yet full of potential.

When I first saw him spoiled, Muzzio reminded me of Coldsnap’s Arcum Dagsson. Both are blue artificers, both interact with on-board artifacts, and both allow you to play artifacts for free from the deck. However, there are a few key differences which give each an edge over the other. Arcum activates his ability without a mana cost, making his cheap to keep around. However, he requires an artifact creature to be sacrificed, and can only search for non-creature artifacts. This is generally accomplished by playing cheap creatures like Ornithopter, and sacrificing them for incredibly powerful artifacts like Winter Orb and Ensnaring Bridge. This allows for a quick and efficient lockdown strategy, and generally would be set up before Muzzio would.

On the other hand, Muzzio has a mana cost on his ability, and only searches within X cards off the top of his Library. When seen from this perspective, Muzzio seems objectively worse at a glance. However, it is the nuances of his ability and synergy with most blue decks that gives him an edge. For one, he doesn’t require a sacrifice or creature as his basis, which means that he loses no cards from the field. In addition, he can search the deck for Artifact creatures, giving him the ability to play like a combat trick and generate an army. As far as only searching the top of the deck is concerned, blue is notorious for its ability to manipulate the deck and draw cards, meaning that at any given time, it is possible that your Darksteel Citadel is allowing for you to grab a Blightsteel Colossus and put it into play. Deck construction isn’t too complicated, with artifacts being the primary and utter focus of the deck. I give Muzzio a 4.5/5.

 

Last, but definitely not least, is my personal favorite of the new Legends: Grenzo, Dungeon Warden.

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Grenzo is incredibly unique, being the only Black and Red Legendary creature to have an X in its mana cost. He stands at a piddling 2/2 for 2, and possesses no new abilities. He acts like a Hydra, coming into play with X +1/+1 counters where X  is how much extra mana is spent on him past the initial 2, and the ability to dig the bottom card from his Library to the Graveyard. If the card he buries is a creature with power equal to or less than his own, he puts it straight onto the battlefield.

On the surface, it isn’t a unique ability, to be honest. Many cards in his combination revive creatures from the battlefield, and cards like Reanimate do it much more efficiently. However, it is his ability to dodge conventional counters to reanimation that makes him good.  Because putting the card into the graveyard is not a cost, and in fact occurs at resolution like the reanimation half, players are not able to respond between those two steps. This means that cards like Relic of Progenitus cannot snipe his cards away, preventing him from retrieving them. In addition, since Black and Red are traditionally aggressive colors, it shouldn’t be much of a stretch to revive most of the creature cards revealed.

As far as deck construction goes, like Selvala he could easily lend himself to a Tribal strategy. Around 99% of goblins have a power of three or less, meaning that casting him for X=one means that most goblins are within your grasp. The few goblins that are above the three-power threshold are primarily black Prowl goblins, who want to be cast from the hand in any case. Also like Selvala is his status as an easy addition to a pre-existing goblins deck. He could serve as another target for Wort, Boggart Auntie. The only likely downfall to this sort of a strategy is the general lack of scrying ability present in Grenzo’s colors. Cards like Crystal Ball alleviate this slightly, but you’ll have to set up your plays carefully if you don’t want to miss. I give Grenzo a 4/5.

 

In the end, each of these new Legendary Creatures could prove to be powerful commanders. Whether you are flickering with Brago or reviving with Marchesa, they all seem like they will be a lot of fun to play with. I personally plan to build at least one deck with a Conspiracy Legend at the helm, but I can’t quite decide on which to use. And for all those budding Commander players out there, or players who didn’t know where to jump on board, I’d recommend any one of these five as your first General. Take a chance, and dive into the Conspiracy.

This article has been submitted by Connor Clarke

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