For the past few sets, I’ve been trying to outline my thoughts on deckbuilding and how they impact my assessment of new cards. Today I’m going to continue that theme and talk a little bit about functional redundancy.
What is functional redundancy?
Essentially, it’s the concept that you sometimes want several cards that perform a similar role in your deck. It’s one way to increase consistency in a singleton format that doesn’t involve packing your deck with tutors. It’s definitely less efficient and less flexible than packing your deck with a top-tier tutor suite, but it’s something that I always consider whenever I’m building around an effect, like I did when I became a dragon a few weeks ago.
Functional redundancy can be direct, when Wizards reprints cards with different names that have identical costs and effects:
In these situations, there’s no discussion over which card is better than the other – aside from personal preference for things like art, and set symbol. If you have to choose between the Llanowar Elves and Elvish Mystic, your decision ultimately doesn’t matter. Functional redundancy comes into play in situations where you want to run both cards in one deck, as the unique names allow you to run both, even though you couldn’t run two copies of one or the other.
Functional redundancy can also be indirect, where the two effects are similar in that they fill the same role in your deck without being word-for-word reproductions:
Finally, functional Redundancy can be colourshifted. Colourshifted functional redundancy can help you in deckbuilding quite a bit if your colour identity doesn’t normally get access to certain effects, or if you’re fortunate enough to be in a multicolour identity that lets you duplicate an effect as though it were directly functionally redundant:
Why is functional redundancy important?
Simply put, building a theme into a deck can be extremely difficult if the effect you’re building around isn’t stapled to your commander. Proliferate strategies were essentially nonexistent prior to Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice being printed in Commander 2016. This is because there were only 14 cards with the proliferate mechanic. One of them is in red (meaning you’d have to add a colour to your deck just to run it), and 7 of them are one-shot effects. That’s fine if you only ever want to proliferate 7-8 times over the course of a game, but something tells me people were waiting for an enabler for counter manipulation strategies. Atraxa provided a piece of functional redundancy that’s in the right colours, and – more importantly – is in the command zone. Strategies that want to proliferate were gift wrapped a tailor-made commander, and it’s one of the most (if not the most) popular commander. Sorry, Vorel of the Hull Clade.
I got really excited when I heard that Commander 2017’s theme was going to be tribal, because indirect functional redundancy is one of the most important considerations when building a tribal commander deck. Similar to the way functional card reprints can enable or revitalize certain strategies, new cards in a specific tribe can encourage people to brew up interesting new decks that increase format diversity. Each on-tribe card in a tribal commander deck can serve a specific purpose, and additions to the tribe allows for more freedom in choosing the most appropriate cards to include in your list. At the moment, it’s nearly impossible to build a Brushwagg tribal deck because there’s only a single non-changeling Brushwagg that exists in the whole of magic.
If Wizards of the Coast decided to reprint Brushwagg a dozen times using different card names, we might be in business, even if there was no variation at all in the card effect. Every card that’s added to a tribe – even if they’re pretty underwhelming on their own – makes generic tribal cards like Door of Destinies and Mana Echoes more powerful.
It’s exactly for this reason that I’d get irrationally excited whenever a set included a new golem. Out of 97 non-changeling golems that exist in the game, only about 10-12 of them are actually playable. Sure, my Roon Golem tribal deck worked with things like Alloy Golem, but having the opportunity to swap it out for Colossus of Akros meant that I could maintain a critical mass of tribal creatures and improve how the deck functions at the same time.
What is Commander 2017 bringing us?
There are quite a few interesting additions to the format that I’d like to talk about today, so let’s jump right in with my favourite:
This is an incredibly powerful effect, and Mind’s Desire has been a top-tier storm enabler for years. Magus of the Mind (like all Magi) has a pretty significant downside in that it’s weak to removal and requires you to cast it a full turn early. Mind’s Desire is a pretty unique effect, though, and its power is undeniable. I really love the whole Magus cycle as a way of reprinting slightly more balanced versions of incredibly powerful cards from Magic’s past. They’re not all super playable, but I have a feeling this one will find its way into at least a few decks as either a replacement or a backup for actual factual Mind’s Desire.
This one is kind of interesting. Although the effects are very similar, Mairsil has a Grixis colour identity, while Necrotic Ooze is mono black. This means that Mairsil is only functionally redundant if you were already in Grixis. Mairsil has some strengths:
- The cards are in exile, making them more resilient to graveyard hate once Mairsil’s trigger resolves
- Mairsil can use activated abilities of artifacts, and there are a lot of good activated abilities on artifacts
It’s also got some weaknesses:
- Its ability being tied to an Enters the Battlefield trigger means you can’t take advantage of having a full bin and winning the turn it comes down like you can with Necrotic Ooze
- Being limited to one activation per turn makes comboing more difficult, but not impossible
Overall, Mairsil is a very cool card. I’m even more excited to try brewing with it after a person in my playgroup pointed out that the quote from the The Dark printing of Fellwar Stone adds some flavour to the deck if you decide to run it.
Curse of Bounty has the downside of helping out your opponents, but it has the massive upside of being a break from the traditionally similar effect. This effect normally only untaps lands, but for whatever reason we’re getting a little extra something from this curse, allowing for synergy with extra combat step effects and literally anything you could want to tap for value.
I don’t think we’ve ever really had a package of effects like Teferi’s Protection before. It’s kind of a weird conglomerate of a Fog, Angel’s Grace, and the second mode of Boros Charm. This one might be a stretch to call a functionally redundant effect, but it can sub in for any of these 3 effects so I’m including it.
These effects can be pretty darn useful when they’re deployed effectively. Having another cataclysm effect in your arsenal can be awesome if your threats are concentrated on one or two permanents, but the new one works a little differently. You’re probably not getting to keep your stuff if it’s the scariest thing on the board, which makes it a little worse than its predecessors.
As far as I know, this is a new effect in white. Drawing when other people draw is pretty blue, and stealing their draws is pretty Dimir. I guess you could say that Spirit of the Labyrinth is pretty close, because it also curtails mass card draw. Either way, Alms Collector can be a valuable piece of a package that aims to metagame against card draw strategies.
If you’re playing around with a strategy that aims to screw with combat, or maybe need to buy a little time after painting a target on your head, Portal Mage is a neat little tool to add to your package. It’s not going to break the format, but if you’re in the market for this kind of effect it’s decently costed.
If your commander has an activated ability and includes red, I’m willing to guess that you’ve looked at haste enablers at some point. This one goes out to all the Heartless Hidetsugu and Krenko, Mob Boss players out there.
People often focus on early game ramp, but some especially fat lists need to be able to go from 5 to 10 mana to start deploying their end game strategy. This is a neat little tool that will help you get there, and could be played alongside or instead of Tempt with Discovery or Boundless Realms. If your commander has a landfall trigger like Omnath, Locus of Rage, I suspect you’ll be leaning towards “alongside”.
If you’re currently running Puresteel Paladin or Sigarda’s Aid to sidestep equipment attachment costs, this should pique your interest. All three of these things play really nice with expensive-to-equip things like Argentum Armor and Worldslayer, allowing you to swing with them the turn you cast them without having 10 or 12 mana available. This package of cards gets a little bigger thanks to Commander 2017.
People love their fatties, and cost reduction is one of the ways you can mitigate big casting costs. This has the added benefit of rewarding tribal deckbuilding with card advantage. If you’re currently playing Urza’s Incubator, you’ll probably want to at least consider this.
It enters the battlefield tapped, but it gives you a little upside to compensate. If you’re playing a 4- or 5-colour deck and need help with fixing and card selection, this could be pretty good in long games. If we remember back to Frank Karsten’s piece on coloured mana sources, card selection can count for fractions of coloured mana symbols when you’re calculating how many sources you need to cast your spells.
I’m sure I’ve missed a few, but these are the cards that jumped out at me as adding to functional packages that people might already be running. This is something that I do in every set in addition to determining whether a new card is better than the options that already exist, and I find it’s a useful exercise because I tend to remember my research later on when I’m brewing. If I know I’m going to need 3 or 4 cards that serve a similar purpose, I’ve already done a little bit of the legwork.
Are you going to be adding any of the new Commander cards to your existing functional packages? Do the new additions enable any new strategies you wouldn’t have considered before? Let me know in the comments!