In the most recent Latest Developments column, guest- and former-columnist Aaron Forsythe traces the development of the Commands from Lorwyn. He leads with this:
As a designer, I really enjoy it when sets contain rare cycles of spells that aren’t really in-theme with the rest of what’s going on, for two reasons. One, they give the set another “hook” for players to talk about without adding additional complex layers to the set’s gameplay, and two, they allow us to make things that might excite players that would otherwise not enjoy that set’s particular theme.
Which was interesting to me, because I kept looking at the Command cycle and thinking, “This is a cool cycle, but it feels really out-of-flavor for Lorwyn block.” Turns out, it was. Good to know.
Aaron talks development in that article, but in the extended, I’m going to take a quick look at the power of the Commands, as well as a deck that tries to abuse one of them that has yet to see much use.
Aaron calls Incendiary out as the weakest of the commands, and that’s true. For five mana you get some combination of 4 to the face, Pyroclasm, exceedingly limited Stone Rain, and Winds of Change. The problem is that these abilities don’t really all go in the same deck, and they’re all bad at five mana. Four to the face is pretty much a RDW-kinda card, and one that you don’t want to pay more than four mana for. Low-damage, Pyroclasm-style effects are for the early game in control builds that don’t run Wrath or Damnation. At five mana, it’s too little, too late. Destroying a nonbasic land…enh. That’s awful at five, although it might fit in RDW at two. Finally, Winds of Change has never been good, even back when it came in at one mana.
Incendiary Command is very much a jack of all trades and master of none.
Ah, Profane Command. The only “X” command, Profane is nicely designed, and three of the four abilities will see extensive use. The resurrection effect is often sweet, letting you recur Shriekmaws to kill things, pull back Bottle Gnomes to gain more life, or do any of the other hijinks you might pull with critters from the graveyard. The -X/-X is obviously good — hey, you kill stuff! Notably, your ability to use both the resurrection and removal aspect of Profane Command scales with your need — as the game progresses, your mana base progresses, and targets for both effects are likely to grow larger (in terms of Toughnes and converted mana cost, respectively). That’s very clean design, and it means the Profane is nearly always useful.
The Fear effect is probably the least-used power, but it’s still nice because it lets you “turn off” part of this Command, so you’re not stick with a bad resurrection or giving -X/-X to one of your own critters. I’m especially happy with the “up to X” part of this one, since I can Profane Command for 5 and give “up to 5 target creatures” Fear — and choose zero as my “up to 5” number.
Finally, the life loss ability in Profane is super-useful in black. It gives black decks reach — and reach that can’t be stopped by damage prevention (as a downside, life loss can’t knock off a planeswalker, either).
Profane is an excellent command, and the popular choice for “second best” in the group.
Austere Command is a powerhouse spell in limited, probably a good control spell in block, and just kind of boring in Standard. Control decks lean on Wrath because it’s cheap, so it comes in time to save you when little creatures threaten to drown you in a wave of 2/1s, 1/1s, and untargetable 3/2s. Austere Command, coming in two turns later, effectively trades speed away for unnecessary versatility. After all, how often do you need to kill just the big creatures, or just the small ones, or sweep away all the enchantments or artifacts? I’ve considered putting in Austere as a one-off in the sideboard in a deck that can tutor for it, but even that might have been wasted space. The characteristic “cool” abilities of white sorceries — completely resetting some aspect of the game — are all so powerful that to do any tinkering with them, whether it’s combining them together or letting you play them as a pitch spell, requires that you crank the cost for the modified card past the useful point.
Basically, any “modified Wrath” has to fit into a specific niche in a deck that can’t use the normal Wrath, or has to be useful in addition to a normal Wrath. So far, Austere Command hasn’t found its niche.
Some people on the boards thought that the triple blue would put Cryptic out of reach of many decks. Maybe this is true, although I think people are still overreacting to the cost — after all, Teferi makes his way into U/B decks, and there are now four U/B duals in Standard. It’s naturally not an early card, but Cryptic is an amazing tempo card, most often doing the job of countering a spell while replacing itself, and occasionally bouncing something (while replacing itself) or fogging (while replacing itself). I suspect that as time goes on, we’ll also see more use of Cryptic for “counter a spell and bounce part of your board,” which seems like easily the most frustrating possible combination of its abilities.
Again, it’s just obviously good.
In his column, Aaron wonders at the lack of recognition so far for Primal Command. I don’t wonder at it, as people are finding stronger things to do with green than tutor for creatures — namely, playing out Garruk Wildspeaker and overrunning with Elves and Tarmogoyfs, or just kicking out a wave of Beasts. However, although it’s no Tooth and Nail, Primal Command does come with a batch of abilities that really make me want to use it in a control-oriented build. It tutors for a creature, it reshuffles your graveyard into your library, it bounces permanents to help kill tempo, and lacking anything better to do, it gives you back a little more than a third of your starting life total. Not too shabby for five mana.
With that in mind…
|2× Imperious Perfect|
|2× Seedborn Muse|
|Arcanis the Omnipotent|
|2× Pact of Negation|
|4× Ancestral Vision|
|4× Edge of Autumn|
|4× Rune Snag|
|4× Oblivion Ring|
|2× Wrath of God|
|4× Primal Command|
|4× Yavimaya Coast|
|2× Adarkar Wastes|
|4× Snow-Covered Plains|
|3× Snow-Covered Forest|
|3× Snow-Covered Island|
|2× Calciform Pools|
|2× Urza’s Factory|
|2× Wrath of God|
|3× Aeon Chronicler|
|Pact of Negation|
|2× Mouth of Ronom|
The goal here is to run this as a board-control deck, using the Primal Commands to keep the opponent off their tempo as you tutor up the combo of Seedborn Muse + Arcanis or Seedborn Muse + Imperious Perfect. The true awesome is the Muse with Arcanis, as that has you drawing three cards on your turn and another three on your opponent’s turn — the game ends soon after. Even barring keeping that combo on the board, the Muse is cool, since she lets you tap out for things on your turn and nonetheless have mana open to defend yourself on your opponent’s turn. You can charge the Calciform Pools on your turn and again on the opponent’s, and you can churn out a ridiculous wave of Assembly Worker tokens to swamp your opponent.
This deck has game against aggro by dint of being able to gain non-trivial life off of each Command, and it has game against removal because you can just Command your graveyard back into your library and then tutor up your newly recycled creatures. I don’t quite know how it does against counter-heavy control, although there I imagine the ability to recycle your counterspells is a handy one, and an online Muse (not to mention Muse and Arcanis) is powerful, keeping your defenses up 24/7.
I have not yet tested this posted version of Muse Engine, although an earlier build did pretty well. I’d like to try it out a little bit more, so I can see how well it holds up against a diverse field.