an Diego Comic-Con and PAX Australia both wrapped up earlier this month. Wizards of the Coast revealed a card from the Magic: The Gathering Commander 2013 edition at each location within hours of each other. The cards introduced a mechanic that is designed to take advantage of commanders being recast for ever-increasing mana costs. For those of you who missed it, here are Jeleva, Nephalia's Scourge and Prossh, Skyraider of Kher.
I know, these cards and the five decks in the set aren't available until November 11, but you can't really expect me to just sit here quietly while these new cards have been made known to the public, can you?
There is a lot going on with these cards, so let's break them down into smaller pieces.
The "Amount of Mana Spent to Cast..." Mechanic
This mechanic will likely show up on other cards in the other shards in some variation or other, so I want to mention it here. This brings an interesting dynamic to Commander games as it will create situations where others will not want to kill your Commander, particularly if you have the mana to bring it back at a higher cost. To paraphrase Notorious B.I.G., "Mo Mana, Mo Problems." Well, at least mo problems for your opponents. Enter the battlefield abilities can make killing a Commander a bad idea in many games already, but this mechanic makes it hit harder and harder every time.
The big question with this mechanic is, "Do you want your Commander to die so you can recast it for a bigger benefit?" At least based on what we've seen with these two legends, I think the answer is no. While I can picture a Commander deck that runs a ridiculous amount of ramp in an effort to be able to afford to recast the Commander again and again, I suspect your opponents will do that enough for you, so the benefit of including ways to kill your own commander will leave you with redundant cards. I expect your opponents will be happy to destroy your Commanders for you, and risk the result.
Jeleva, Nephalia's Scourge
So let's work through this card one piece at a time. The first time you play Jeleva, you will spend four mana and each player exiles four cards. First off, this includes you. You face the same risks as the other players who see their deck size reduced. If you were hoping to use Jeleva as a way to mill other players, keep in mind you are getting hit as well.
Jeleva, Nephalia's Scourge | Art by Cynthia Sheppard
If we assume a four-player game, you just managed to exile sixteen cards. You'll look at the cards and see what is there. Your metagame will decide just how beneficial that will be. With my friends, sorceries and instants amount to plenty of mana ramping and fixing, some counterspells, and some mass removal. Obviously not a complete list, but these will be the majority of what is found. The question becomes, "How much of this will actually show up?" Some decks may have only fifteen or twenty instants and sorceries, total. If only one in five cards is a useful card, and you are getting to exile four cards, there is a chance you won't hit, or at least won't hit for as much as you thought you would.
Is it enough to just stop there? Can Jeleva act as a milling-style Commander? If you can recast it four more times, everyone will have exiled forty cards. In a dedicated mill deck, that could be significant help. You may be able to go that route and have it work in your favor.
I, however, want to play their stuff against them! This is going to require attacking. It won't require you to do combat damage to a creature or an opponent. You simply have to attack with Jeleva, then choose to play an instant or sorcery for free!
Here again, your mileage will vary depending your group. Given the group of spells I listed above, counterspells are not going to be all that helpful here. Mass removal is probably not what I'm really looking for either (although getting rid of all the creatures, then getting to recast Jeleva for two more will mean many more options to cast for free next turn). Mana ramping and fixing will be handy, considering you'll likely want as much mana as you can get to continue playing Jeleva. With your group, it may be even better: pinpoint removal, significant card drawing, stealing other creatures. You will be limited only by the imaginations of your opponents and you.
This is another spot where I think Jeleva can really shine, particularly with a little deck manipulation. You can stack your deck, knowing that you'll be playing many of your sorceries and instants during the combat step, and that they will be free. I can see the percentage of your deck shifting away from creatures as you imagine the options...
There is a drawback to consider when considering your options with Jeleva: this commander is a 1/3 for four mana. While she does fly, I expect that at some point in the game, and that will probably be soon after you can cast Jeleva, she will be outmatched. You'll still get to cast a sorcery for free, but you'll have to decide if casting a Cultivate is worth losing Jeleva in battle.
Prossh, Skyraider of Kher
Prossh is a little more straightforward. He seems to offer two routes. Route one is to make him big and smash. Cast your 5/5 flier for six mana. On your next turn attack someone, sacrifice the Kobolds of Kher Keep tokens and hit for 11. While that sounds like fun, what are you doing next turn? Now you have a 5/5 flying Dragon, which is nothing to sneeze at, but are you prepared to sacrifice other creatures to make him bigger? The better way to travel down this route involves casting Prossh with Phyrexian Altar and Ashnod's Altar. Those cards will allow you to sacrifice the Kobolds and Prossh, and have enough mana to pay for Prossh again. Repeat as often as you want, then smash in with a ridiculously huge Prossh. While I'm not a fan of infinite loops, I can get behind sacrificing thousands of Kobolds to make a massive Dragon.
Prossh, Skyraider of Kher | Art by Todd Lockwood
A second route involves pumping those creatures in a variety of ways to swing big. I picture casting Prossh and getting your six little Kobold tokens. On the next turn, cast Beastmaster Ascension. Attack with the works. It just so happens you have seven creatures attacking, giving the Ascension seven counters, which makes your Kobolds into the biggest, nastiest Kobolds of Kher Keep that most people have ever seen! Oh, and Prossh is a 10/10 flier without sacrificing a single Kobold.
Of course, you could do both, creating thousands of Kobolds, then attack everyone with those thousands of Kobolds and a Beastmaster Ascension in play. Whatever works for you.
Use in Sixty-Card; or, "How Do I Change the Amount of Mana Spent to Cast These Cards?"
Cards that Make Your Creature Spells Cost More
Using these cards outside of Commander is going to be less effective. There will be times that you can recast the legend, but that won't raise the mana cost—you'll just get the same effect again.
I've listed a number of cards that will increase the cost of your legends. If you check them out, you'll find that these are the kinds of cards you immediately set aside. Derelor is cute, but it isn't so good that you'd be willing to pay more for all your cards. Even using Sphere of Resistance, one of the better cards in the list, you will still have to be running a pretty special deck to make using these cards make sense. If you set up your deck to take advantage of every card costing more, this may work for you, but it is more likely that wasting those spaces in your deck on these cards will result in a much weaker deck.
The better way to use these legends is to take advantage of the obvious: run four of them! The second Jeleva may only exile four more cards, but thirty-two exiled cards in a four-player game is nothing to laugh at. A second Prossh, for the same price as the first Prossh, means a dozen Kobolds racing about. Considering both of these legends include black, running recursion to get them back in your hand to cast again just shouldn't be that difficult.
Sixty-card decks also lets you use four copies of other Kobolds!
Admittedly, these are not easy cards to find, but this deck is all about bringing smiles to the table and notoriety to the old-school Kobold! I can't promise you success with Kobolds, but any deck that relies on 0/1 Kobolds gets serious style points in my book!
On a completely separate note, for those of you who don't follow professional Magic, Worlds Week starts tomorrow. Between written and live video coverage, there will be plenty of opportunities to see and read about sixteen of the top players in the world battle it out to become world champion and the national teams battling it out for world supremacy!
I enjoy the opportunity to watch the best in the world play against each other, just as I enjoy watching the best hockey players play against each other. I may play Magic and hockey only casually, but watching people play both games at a professional level is a joy. I've been watching Magic coverage long enough that I remember laughing as Kai Budde won yet another Pro Tour. Every event brings new stories and new decks and the coverage has improved by leaps and bounds in the past two years. I encourage each of you to check out the coverage over the next few days.
While a sixteen-player round-robin tournament is interesting to watch (and is well-suited to a draft with three of your friends), the team tournament is what excites me most. While I enjoy watching Magic, adding national pride to the mix just makes it all the better. Good luck to Tyler Woolley, Andrew Robdrup, Devon Giles, and Jon Stern in bringing the championship to Canada!
1: It is a little sick to reveal a card, then not have it available to play with for another three and a half months! (return)
Bruce's games invariably involve a kitchen table, several opponents, crazy plays, and many laughs. Bruce believes that if anyone at your table isn't having fun playing Magic, then you are doing it wrong.