At the end of my last article (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor) I asked people to hit me up with stories of their playgroup evolution. These are some of my favourites!

My main meta these days is literally a Timmy, a Spike, and a Johnny. I’m the Johnny and I’m the most interested in interactive games so I purposely stay away from starting the arms race. Although earlier this year I brewed up a nasty control deck that I didn’t want to play until the Spike insisted… Our meta warped so hard lol and I had to purposely lose for a couple weeks until things settled down. Next time I mention I don’t want to play a brew maybe Tim (I just realized our Timmy is actually named Tim lol) will side with me instead the Spike.

~Reddit user /u/zenbullet

This one really resonates with me, although I have no reservations about the arms race. I definitely skew hard towards Johnny, and my “nasty control deck” was Jund stax under Shattergang Brothers. I made sure to pack it with every miserable effect I could think of. It didn’t win a ton, because I was too focused on making things miserable rather than actually winning.

My play group has been around and evolving for around 10 years. Our play group was born amongst the tents and fires of scout camp and has endured (mostly) ever since. We didn’t picked up commander until the first set of precons came out (2011) and it’s become not only a mainstay but our primary form of magic to date. It was great for a while but alas all good things come to an end. Our meta over the past year has become as stale as stale can be. I’ve been ramping up my decks to be more competitive in response to a new part-time meta brought on by new members who filter through, and consequently creating a new “archenemy” meta. Many members have adopted a “won’t change/why change” mindset when it comes to meta gaming, removal, etc and resorting to bannings instead. Now with the help of the Reddit community I’ve decided to revive my group through actual communication, scaling down power levels and suppressing my inner spike. Cheers to the group hug deck premiering this weekend.

~Reddit user /u/sir-bloodbraided

Actual. Communication. I love seeing those two words. Sounds like sir-bloodbraided is well on his way to refreshing his stagnant meta. So glad to hear it!



With the release of Amonkhet, I reviewed the major set mechanics as well as some interesting cards that I thought had the potential to impact the competitive meta. I’ve been doing some thinking since then, and I’ve decided that doing that for every set might get a little boring to read. As one of the major recurring themes in my articles has to do with leveling up as a deckbuilder, I’ve decided that I’m going to use new set release time as a time to talk about different facets of card evaluation. I inadvertently talked about one of my main methods (comparison to existing cards) in my last article. In this article, I’m going to continue the theme by playing the synergy game

For each card I review today, I’m going to break down its mechanics and talk about how I would structure a Gatherer search to identify cards that synergize with it. Let’s dive right in and identify some synergies:


Evaluation as a commander – The Locust God

Wow – there is a ton of stuff going on here.

Whenever you draw a card, create a 1/1 blue and red Insect creature token with flying and haste

2UR:Draw a card, then discard a card

When The Locust God dies, return it to its owner’s hand at the beginning of the next end step

(Emphasis mine)

What’s interesting about these phrases? Let’s break it down:

  • The first ability’s trigger condition requires you to draw cards. More cards = more tokens.
  • Creatures entering the battlefield is a pretty common trigger condition for a ton of cards.
  • The tokens have 1 toughness, meaning we can Skullclamp them.
  • The tokens have haste, meaning that we can potentially close a game out pretty quick after drawing a bunch of cards
  • The second ability’s cost makes it repeatable.
  • The second ability triggers the first ability.
  • We don’t actually have to worry about protecting our commander too much, because the final triggered ability helps us get around commander tax. This is not something I would normally think about, but for clarification’s sake – the Locust God has to go to a graveyard if you want the final ability to trigger. If you send it to the command zone as a replacement effect, it won’t end up in your hand at the beginning of the next end step.

Assuming we’re doing this card assessment with the intent to build a deck around this guy as a casual commander, I’d focus (at least initially) on the following ideas, which correspond to my bulleted points above:

  • Mo’ card draw, mo’ tokens
  • “Whenever a creature enters the battlefield” as a search condition
  • Mo’ mana, mo’ card draw (mo’ tokens)

Finally, what I’d do is think about other types of decks that run the same strategies. Arjun, the Shifting Flame, Niv Mizzet, the Firemind and Niv Mizzet, Dracogenius, Purphoros, God of the Forge, and Krenko, Mob Boss all jump out at me as similar-strategy commanders, and sources for some pretty sweet tech.

What else am I looking at as a commander?

Commanders, I find, are very personal things. They either speak to you or they don’t. I’ve got some plans to use Unesh, Criosphinx Sovereign and Neheb, the Eternal in my existing decks (Kangee and Anax and Cymede, respectively), but Djeru, The Scarab God, and The Scorpion God don’t really get my motor running.

Evaluation as a combo piece – Solemnity

Not every card in a set is going to get me brewing an entirely new deck. Sometimes when we get pieces like Dramatic Reversal from Kaladesh or Vizier of Remedies from Amonkhet, we care mostly about their interaction with cards that already exist. This method could also be called “Does this work the way I think it works?” because it often involves looking things up in the comprehensive rules. If we were doing this exercise with Vizier of Remedies, we would note that the Vizier’s ability – while similar – is templated differently than Solemnity:

Vizier of Remedies:

If one or more -1/-1 counters would be put on a creature you control, that many -1/-1 counters minus one are put on it instead.


Players can’t get counters.

Counters can’t be put on artifacts, enchantments, creatures, or lands.

On the surface, these seem relatively similar. Mechanically, though, the two cards go about doing what they do in different ways. Vizier of Remedies utilizes a replacement effect – an effect that checks to see if X would happen, and modifies that event by making Y happen instead. Solemnity utilizes a continuous effect that – rather than replacing one effect with another, prevents that effect from ever occurring.

This distinction is actually what makes Vizier of Remedies a combo piece with Devoted Druid! Devoted Druid‘s activated ability requires you to put a -1/-1 counter on it as a cost. If Vizier of Remedies is in play, you attempt to pay the cost, and the game replaces that action with something else – in this case, placing zero -1/-1 counters on it, instead. If you had Solemnity in play instead of Vizier of Remedies, you would attempt to pay the cost of Devoted Druid’s activated ability, and the game would stop you entirely. You can’t put counters on creatures. You can’t pay the cost. You can’t activate the ability.

What does Solemnity do, then? To answer this question, we have to think up a list of some other negative or detrimental counters that we don’t want to put on our artifacts, enchantments, creatures, or lands.

Cumulative Upkeep?

Cumulative upkeep [cost] means “At the beginning of your upkeep, if this permanent is on the battlefield, put an age counter on this permanent. Then you may pay [cost] for each age counter on it. If you don’t, sacrifice it. (Comprehensive Rules 702.23a)

There’s a counter we don’t want placed on our side of the board! If we prevent age counters from being placed on permanents with cumulative upkeep, it means we never have to pay! Seems pretty sweet.


Wouldn’t it be neat if we could pay a suspend cost and have it exiled with zero time counters on it? Unfortunately, this doesn’t work the way we want it to work. When an artifact, enchantment, creature, or land is in exile it is referred to as an artifact card, enchantment card, creature card, or land card. If an effect specifies “artifact, enchantment, creature, or land” without tacking the word ‘card’ onto the end, it is referring to permanents on the battlefield (Comprehensive Rules 109.2a). Even if this prevented us from putting counters on exiled cards, this would be a non-bo with suspend due to the fact that the part of suspend that actually casts the spell is a triggered ability that triggers when the last counter is removed.

Enters the Battlefield with Counters?

This is a pretty natural thought, I think. If you can’t put counters on permanents on the battlefield, how might Solemnity interact with permanents that enter the battlefield with counters, like Dark Depths? This works exactly the way we want it to work. If Solemnity is in play, Dark Depths enters the battlefield with no counters and its ability triggers immediately. You will sacrifice Dark Depths and create your Marit Lage token immediately.

Vanishing and Fading?

Now that we’ve established that these permanents won’t enter the battlefield with counters, we’re presented with a pretty cute interaction. Fading and Vanishing both have abilities that trigger on upkeep:

Fading reads “at the beginning of your upkeep, remove a fade counter from [this permanent]. If you can’t, sacrifice it”

Vanishing reads “when the last time counter is removed from [this permanent], sacrifice it”

Solemnity prevents permanents with both fading and vanishing from entering the battlefield with their respective counters, but fading tries to remove a fade counter on every upkeep. This means you’ll have to sacrifice it eventually. Vanishing’s triggered ability only triggers when the last time counter is removed, which means that preventing the vanishing permanent from entering the battlefield with time counters prevents us from having to remove the last one.

Persist and Undying?

If there’s anything Melira’s taught us, it’s that there are some combos that involve preventing +1/+1 and -1/-1 counters from being placed on creatures during the resolution of Persist and Undying triggers. Solemnity serves the same function as Melira in this regard, so I’m not going to get into it in detail. It’s great for redundancy if you’re in the right colours and are already playing this combo.

Phyrexian Unlife?

Phyrexian Unlife prevents you from getting poison counters in the same way Melira does. Again, this is an existing combo and Solemnity serves the same purpose as Melira does in the interaction.

Delaying Shield and Force Bubble?

This is a cute interaction I came across in the comments of the spoiler post on Reddit. It works exactly the way we want it to work, and I’m going to be incorporating it into my next article, where I’ll be brewing a casual Form of the Dragon deck. Stay tuned for that one!

As resource denial?

This has some interesting applications. I’m not going to get into this in a ton of detail, but preventing counters from being put on your opponents’ permanents can deny them some gameplay freedom that they may have taken for granted. Solemnity hoses experience counters, Yisan, Bloodchief/Luminarch/Beastmaster Ascension, and many more types of counters that your opponents might need.

When you’re researching cards that have the potential to be combo pieces, I can’t stress enough how important it is to look up the relevant sections of the comprehensive rules, the Gatherer rulings on the cards themselves, and even read through some forum posts that talk about the combo. Whenever you’re playing something new it’s always a good idea to understand thoroughly how your cards work and why, because you don’t want to be in a position where you’ve built around something that doesn’t work the way you want it to.

What else am I looking at as combo pieces?

this has the potential to act like a Necrotic Ooze in nongreen decks. There could also be some synergy with creatures whose abilities are tied to their power and toughness, because the tokens are explicitly 4/4s. Hour of Eternity’s power/toughness setting effect overrides the power and toughness printed on the exiled card (Comprehensive Rules 613).

The fact that this grabs any two lands rather than any two basic lands is pretty big. This enables Thespian’s Stage / Dark Depths shenanigans as well as Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth / Cabal Coffers or Gaea’s Cradle / Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. Not sure if I’d really call this a combo but it’s a tutor that enables some existing 2-land interactions.

This is interesting because it can untap any of the lands I just listed.

While not technically a combo, this has the potential to tutor up some combo pieces. My first thought was that this could get Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Zealous Conscripts, or Mikaeus the Unhallowed and Triskelion, but those are both a little high on the curve. For values of X higher than 5 you’re probably better off with Tooth and Nail, and for values less than 5 there aren’t a ton of options. If you’re already in a deck that plays the Devoted Druid / Vizier of Remedies combo you might like something like this. This could probably find its way into an Animar list because it tutors up both Ancestral Statue and Purphoros, but I’m not sure this mana cost is where we want to be.

Evaluation as #Value – Razaketh, the Foulblooded

About a week prior to the Amonkhet prerelease, my fellow Mana Base authors noticed that I hadn’t written anything about Amonkhet. Simply put, nothing really grabbed me. There were some cool things like Manglehorn and Vizier of the Menagerie, but nothing got me out of my seat.

About a 2 weeks prior to Hour of Devastation prerelease, this bad boy got spoiled.

The first thought that went through my head was “Did they just reprint Griselbrand?”, and it appears as though I’m not alone. We’re looking at a demon on a big body that – with minimal set-up and cost – can be a repeatable demonic tutor.

They could have had the card function like Vampiric Tutor or restricted activations like Maralen of the Mornsong instead, but they really didn’t pull any punches in this card’s design. The ability is seriously incredible, and the lack of restrictions means that it’s going to enable a ton of strategies.

When evaluating value cards like this, the main question on your mind should be…

How much set-up is required?

In a 40-life format, 2 life to tutor a card unconditionally might as well be nothing if you’re a combo deck. Similarly, there’s rarely a shortage of creatures to sacrifice.

Before any of that, though, we need to get Razaketh onto the battlefield.

Just like Griselbrand, our desired ability is stapled to a prohibitively-high and colour-intensive casting cost. My first thought is that we might want to cheat this into play. The best part about this is that we don’t have to pay any mana to activate its ability, and that it doesn’t tap to activate. This means that on the turn we cheat it into play, we’re fairly likely to have some mana to cast the things we’re tutoring up. It also means that we’re only gated by the number of creatures we have in play and our life total (which, let’s be real, is barely a limitation). This means that Razaketh is going to really shine in decks that already play a decent density of creatures, like anything in a colour identity that involves green and plays mana dorks. This is a natural fit in things like Meren, Karador, and Sidisi, Brood Tyrant because of how it plays with Necrotic Ooze, a reanimation suite, and not having to worry about flipping it to Ad Nauseam.

All in all, Razaketh is definitely up there with Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite as one of the best things you can reanimate in EDH.

What else am I looking at as #Value?

Neheb‘s really neat because it gives red decks the ability to ramp by dealing damage, which is something they generally already want to be doing (set-up cost is low). This has the potential to slot right into my Anax and Cymede deck as I usually want to tap out to trigger heroic before or during combat, and having the red mana in my second main phase means I’m actually able to build my board state at the same time. If I’m digging in Gatherer, I’m probably looking for effects like Purphoros, God of the Forge that deal damage to each player.

At 6 mana this is pretty steep, but it’s a pretty awesome effect in the decks that can take advantage of it. Yidris and Mizzix spring to mind immediately, but I’m sure there’s more you can do with this.

The set-up cost for this card is essentially nothing. In a 4-player EDH game there should be at least 10 nonland permanents on the board by turn 4, which means this is a 3-mana board wipe. I do like that WotC has figured out that they can push cards’ power level by using mechanics that scale with the number of players in the game, like this and Undaunted from Conspiracy: Take the Crown. It allows us to play with some high power cards without busting any other eternal formats.

What I like about this card is how difficult it is to interact with. Unlike Stifle, there are only a select few counterspells that can interact with this. 3 mana is a little on the high side for the effect, but the cantrip is great.

For decks that are already playing tons of fetchlands, this card is incredible. The fact that the ability is on a creature is especially relevant for green decks as it makes this card super easy to tutor. Along with additional land drop cards like Oracle of Mul Daya, Azusa, Lost but Seeking, and Burgeoning, this has the potential to put you way ahead of your opponents. It serves the same purpose as Crucible of Worlds in the decks that want to play it, and the fact that it’s easier to tutor and put into play is just gravy.

This is essentially a slightly narrower Pariah with flash. I have to say that as far as combat tricks go, this one is pretty excellent. It allows you to attack into what would normally be an un-favourable exchange and come out ahead at the cost of a single creature. Could be neat to toss this on a Stuffy Doll in response to a Blasphemous Act, or really anything with indestructible like Heliod, God of the Sun, Iroas, God of Victory, or Tajic, Blade of the Legion. Either way this – like Boros Charm – can help you avoid some of the devastating tempo losses associated with boardwipes when you’re in a go wide strategy.


Although this wasn’t a complete set review, I hope it’s given you a little bit of insight into what I’m looking for when new sets are released! This is a set I’m reasonably excited about. There’s some new and unique things that will definitely find their way into a ton of different EDH decks. What kind of things do you look for when you’re assessing new cards? Have you come up with some interesting commander, combo, or #value ideas that you can’t wait to jam into your deck? Let me know in the comments!

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