Raging Levine – Playing Against Yourself

This is a weird one.

So I used to write the rules column for this very website, called Tolarian Academy. It earned me a lot of visibility as a judge, and to date I’ve ruinedsigned over fifty [card tolarian academy]Academies[/card], many of which reside in Cubes or Commander decks, because at this point they have no actual resale value. After a while, though, it became tiresome to write about cards every week while also planning events for ChannelFireball.com’s retail store, Superstars Game Center. As Tim Froehlig, our video editor and resident Level 2 Judge, would put it, I “fell off.”

Here we are again now, though. I’m leaving my job as event manager to go get my MBA, and I want to make sure Magic continues to be a big part of my life. So, when our managing editor mentioned that, “EDH content is the biggest hole in what we are turning out right now,” I jumped at the idea.

So what of Tolarian Academy? Well, I’m leaving it in capable (if insane) hands. The aforementioned Tim Froehlig, whose dry wit is known across the land, will be teaming up with Level 2 Judge Jess Dunks—new events manager at Superstars Game Center and current host of JudgeCast—to produce that content for you. I look forward to seeing what they can do.

Let’s jump right into it. One thing I notice about Commander players with lots of decks is that, while they may have different Commanders with different color identities and abilities, their decks often feel the same, because everyone builds decks according to their preferred playstyle. Commander is a format where you generally get to do what you want, so everyone tries to do their favorite stuff. After all, if you’re going to spend three hours playing one game of Magic, it had better be fun. (Local PTQ grinder and recent MOCS champion Sam Pardee likes to say that cards printed for Commander should all just have “Gain 200 life” printed on them, so people can keep playing the same game forever, since this seems to be what they truly want—but that’s a subject for another article.)

I am a reasonable example of this phenomenon. If you open my Commander deck box, you’ll see the following decks:

• [card]Thraximundar[/card] (Grixis Haymakers)
• [card]The Mimeoplasm[/card] (Classic Mimeoplasm stuff)
• [card]Ghave, Guru of Spores[/card] (Tokens! More tokens! Gotta get them tokens!)
• [card]Momir Vig, Simic Visionary[/card] (ETB effects galore)

These decks are very different, but the style is the same during gameplay. I sit around looking like a doormat in the early game and generally not bothering anyone. Ghave might make a few tokens just so that he can chump something, or Momir might draw a card off a [card]Wall of Blossoms[/card], but mostly I just play mana rocks and crack wise to pass the time. Once we hit the midgame, however, all bets are off.

Thraximundar will start waving a [card]Sword of Fire and Ice[/card] at you. The Mimeoplasm will turn into a 20/20 [card Skithiryx, the blight dragon]Skithiryx[/card]. Ghave will make twenty Saprolings and cast [card]Vigor[/card]. Momir will generate massive card advantage off bouncing and replaying creatures. Basically, each deck generates a “deal with this or die” situation for the table. To put it bluntly, I become the Archenemy. If the game goes long and I’m still alive, each deck can win the game in short order: Thraximundar will come back for the fifth time; The Mimeoplasm will cast a backbreaking [card]Living Death[/card] after eating all the creatures in your graveyard; Ghave will make even more tokens, but this time with [card]Cathars’ Crusade[/card] in play; or Momir will [card]Tooth and Nail[/card] for something terribly unfun, because the game has to end eventually.

Not every Commander deck has to look like this, but somehow mine always end up that way—Or, at least they did until I built [card Kangee, Aerie Keeper]Kangee[/card]. Back in Odyssey/Onslaught times, when I was 18, I commented to my friends that [card]Soulcatchers’ Aerie[/card] was a powerhouse card, and that I was going to one day play it on the Pro Tour. Eight years later, before Pro Tour: San Diego 2010, I threw together a [card]Kangee, Aerie Keeper[/card] Commander deck. It’s full of truly horrible Birds—cards like [card]Giant Albatross[/card], [card]Carrier Pigeons[/card], and a lone FNM promo [card]Squadron Hawk[/card] star; alongside cards like [card]Soraya the Falconer[/card], [card]Serra Aviary[/card], and the occasional Onslaught-block Bird tribal card like [card]Keeper of the Nine Gales[/card]—and it barely does anything.

I took that deck to the Pro Tour and played a 1v1 game with my good friend Nicholas Sabin. In this CFB vs. SCG throwdown, Nicholas brought his [card kresh the bloodbraided]Kresh[/card] deck to the table, eager to crush me. A handy [card]Dismantling Blow[/card] on Nicholas’s [card]Eldrazi Monument[/card] kept his creatures on the ground, and a very large Soulcatcher smashed in for victory alongside a few Bird tokens and a Kangee with six Feather counters on it. (Dismantling Blow has since left the deck on the grounds of having no birds in the art.) [card]Sage Owl[/card] (who has “HOOT HOOT” sharpied on him) actually helped me win this game. This deck has become such an important part of my Magic identity that my fiancée made me an owl-themed deck box, and an oversize spindown D20 with art from various cards in the deck on it. (I fought back in the Crafting Wars by making her a copy of From The Vault: Lorthos last year, but she is still winning.)

What’s the point of this long, rambling story about Birds, one which I may or may not have told Level 1 Judge JD Nir that I would cut? The point is that not every Commander deck has to do the same thing for you. You might have more fun with your silly tribal deck, your Game of Thrones-themed deck (I once saw a [card]Gideon Jura[/card] that was altered to look like Ned Stark. Winter is coming, and it’s badass), or your mono-rk post art deck than you would playing your [card Azusa, Lost but Seeking]Azusa[/card] deck again. Or you might have more fun switching up your style. If you’re a lifetime aggro player, pick up some Islands. If you usually play creatures, throw together a 5-color creatureless monstrosity. Expand your horizons!

I usually play control or aggro-control in every format, so I’m thinking it might be time to get more aggressive in Commander. I was looking at the new legendary creatures from M13 and trying to figure out which one works against my usual style the most, and I came upon [card]Odric, Master Tactician[/card].

[draft]Odric, master tactician[/draft]

I think that, most often, you will be informing your opponent that they’re not blocking when you come in with this guy. That’s one of my favorite ways to choose blockers! However, sometimes you can kill a problem creature—a commander like [card momir vig, simic visionary]Momir Vig[/card], or just a utility dude/dudette that’s vexing you—and that’s one of the best ways to get value out of Odric.

So what does Odric need? He needs friends. He’s a very needy gentleman. Odric is also a Human Soldier, which means that we can get some tribal subthemes going on should we so choose. When you’re living in the land of mono-white, equipment also tends to be an important theme. That sword Odric has is cool, and I’m assuming it gives him his [card]Master Warcraft[/card] powers. Unless looking like Christopher Lee is what does it.

So let’s get some ideas out there. What should we put in here? Well…

Commander: [card]Odric, Master Tactician[/card]


[card]Lightning Greaves[/card]
[card]Swiftfoot Boots[/card]
[card]Akroma’s Memorial[/card]
[card]Sol Ring[/card]
[card]Caged Sun[/card]
[card]Door of Destinies[/card]
[card]Mind Stone[/card]
[card]Eldrazi Monument[/card]


[card]Hero of Bladehold[/card]
[card]Cloudgoat Ranger[/card]
[card]Captain of the Watch[/card]
[card]Angel of Jubilation[/card]
[card]Darien, King of Kjeldor[/card]
[card]Daru Warchief[/card]
[card]Gustcloak Savior[/card]
[card]Mentor of the Meek[/card]
[card]Mirror Entity[/card]
[card]Goldnight Commander[/card]
[card]Intrepid Hero[/card]
[card]Knight-Captain of Eos[/card]
[card]Crovax, Ascendant Hero[/card]
[card]Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite[/card]
[card]Jotun Grunt[/card]
[card]Sun Titan[/card]
[card]Stormfront Riders[/card]
[card]Soltari Champion[/card]
[card]Victory’s Herald[/card]
[card]Geist-Honored Monk[/card]
[card]Mikaeus, the Lunarch[/card]


[card]Cathars’ Crusade[/card]
[card]Oblivion Ring[/card]
[card]Endless Horizons[/card]
[card]True Conviction[/card]
[card]Marshal’s Anthem[/card]
[card]Mark of Asylum[/card]


[card]Path to Exile[/card]
[card]Swords to Plowshares[/card]
[card]Crib Swap[/card]
[card]Return to Dust[/card]
[card]Brave the Elements[/card]
[card]Divine Deflection[/card]
[card]White Sun’s Zenith[/card]
[card]Faith’s Reward[/card]
[card]Decree of Justice[/card]


[card]Mass Calcify[/card]
[card]Nomads’ Assembly[/card]
[card]Conqueror’s Pledge[/card]
[card]Phyrexian Rebirth[/card]
[card]Cenn’s Enlistment[/card]
[card]Austere Command[/card]
[card]Increasing Devotion[/card]
[card]Spectral Procession[/card]
[card]Timely Reinforcements[/card]
[card]Martial Coup[/card]
[card]Entreat the Angels[/card]


[card]Elspeth Tirel[/card]
[card]Elspeth, Knight-Errant[/card]
[card]Ajani Goldmane[/card]


[card]Emeria, the Sky Ruin[/card]
[card]Ancient Tomb[/card]
[card]Mistveil Plains[/card]
[card]Cavern of Souls[/card]
[card]Temple of the False God[/card]
[card]Windbrisk Heights[/card]
[card]Kjeldoran Outpost[/card]
[card]Haunted Fengraf[/card]
[card]Buried Ruin[/card]
[card]Secluded Steppe[/card]
[card]Drifting Meadow[/card]
26 [card]Plains[/card]

Many of the card choices are fairly obvious in this one. Cards of note include:

• All of the cards that make Soldiers play well with with cards like [card]Knight-Captain of Eos[/card], [card]Captain of the Watch[/card], [card]Daru Warchief[/card], and so on. I tried not to go too deep on the Soldier theme, so you won’t see [card]Veteran Swordsmith[/card] in here; but something like [card]Cenn’s Enlistment[/card] can work extremely well with the Knight-Captain. Combo with [card]Endless Horizons[/card] for repeat fogging action!

• All of the army-in-a-can cards like [card]Geist-Honored Monk[/card] and [card]Cloudgoat Ranger[/card] play very well with Odric, and with [card]Windbrisk Heights[/card].

• [card]Gustcloak Savior[/card] is like a second bizarro, not-as-good copy of Odric. I’m not sure if it’s redundant in a good way or a bad way.

• [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card] is not a card I’ve thought about outside of actual Constructed tournaments, but it looks like something that will gain life and make Soldiers a high percentage of the time.

• [card]Goldnight Commander[/card] and [card]Cathars’ Crusade[/card] are very real. The next time you [card]Martial Coup[/card] for 8, watch what happens with your [card]Cathars’ Crusade[/card].

• [card]Mark of Asylum[/card] replaced [card]Dolmen Gate[/card] late in the deckbuilding process, once I realized Dolmen Gate and Odric were not a combo. Mark can save us from [card]Magmaquake[/card] and its ilk, which is probably a good thing.

• Flipping [card]Entreat the Angels[/card] in the mid-to-late-game seems unreal.

• A [card]Faith’s Reward[/card] after someone’s Wrath effect can really ruin their day. [card]Marshal’s Anthem[/card] plays a similar role at a slower pace—getting back a [card]Captain of the Watch[/card] is very good value.

• [card]Stormfront Riders[/card] is real. Seriously. Girl, look at that body.

• [card]Victory’s Herald[/card] and [card]True Conviction[/card] edged out [card]Windbrisk Raptor[/card]. Sorry, but you’ll have to stay in the Kangee deck! (Caw!)

• If you have a prerelease promo Hebrew Glory, make sure to put it in this deck for maximum confusion.

• [card]Intrepid Hero[/card] is an awesome reprint that throws javelins at lots of unfun creatures. Sign me up!

Now, you might be saying, “Eric, you’re just going to build this deck and run off?” Well, no. I’m actually going to build this in real life and play it to see how it works! I’m going away for a couple of weeks, so I’ll probably not write about this deck’s real life performance for a bit, but I guarantee you’ve not seen the last of Saruman… I mean, Odric. (Am I the only one seeing this resemblance?) I’ll come back and tweak this deck in a few weeks, but I’d love your input. Leave it here in the comments! If you’ve got an Odric deck of your own, I’d be excited to hear about that as well.

If you’ve got ideas about what you’d like to see here next, send me an email at [email protected] I can do deck techs, spotlights on cool ideas, concept articles, whatever. Otherwise, you’ll have to suffer through me making my deck themed on the 1988 John Carpenter film “They Live,” starring [card]Kamahl, Pit Fighter[/card] as Rowdy Roddy Piper. (Put on the Glasses… [card glasses of urza]of Urza[/card]!)

Eric Levine

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