Commander Showdown is a series that compares and contrast two similar commanders, analyzes differences in strategy and deck construction, and evaluates how those differences are represented by the data here on EDHREC.
Modern Masters 2017 is just around the corner, and the set is chock full of amazing cards and sweet draft archetypes. The one that catches my eye is the white-blue pair, which Adam Prosak’s article described as “White-Blue Blink – Use creatures with enter the battlefield abilities and ways to reuse these abilities.” In anticipation of playing this awesome strategy in Limited, I’d like to spend this week’s Showdown with the most famous blink strategies in Commander: the kings of flicker, Roon of the Hidden Realm and Brago, King Eternal.
Roon and Brago are both commanders that exile permanents and return them to the battlefield, an ability commonly referred to as “blink” or “flicker.” As Prosak stated above, this strategy is most often used to repeat enters-the-battlefield (ETB) abilities. Roon’s is an activated ability that requires some mana and a tap, while Brago’s is a triggered ability that fires when he does combat damage to a player.
But if we look closer, these two commanders are actually very different.
The first (and most obvious) difference is that Roon is green. Depending on your point of view, a commander with three colors instead of two can either be a boon or a burden. On the one hand, three colors makes mana fixing much more difficult, while on the other, it opens your deck up to thousands of new card choices. In this particular instance, I personally find mana-fixing to be quite easy for Roon precisely because he’s green, giving him access to excellent ramp effects. By contrast, Brago’s ramp and mana-fixing needs to be primarily artifact-based.
The next big difference is that Roon’s ability only targets creatures. Brago can target any nonland permanent while Roon is limited to creatures. This necessitates a creature-heavy build for Roon decks, which means when choosing between a sorcery or a creature (for example, Rampant Growth and Farhaven Elf) a Roon player will nearly always pick the creature to maximize the value.
Brago, however, is under no such constraints. He targets any number of artifacts, enchantments, or even planeswalkers. So even though Roon has access to green cards Brago can’t touch, Brago has access to cards Roon won’t touch.
In fact, let’s take a look at the average deck pie chart for each commander:
A typical Roon deck has a whopping ten more creatures than a Brago deck. Ten! That’s a gigantic difference: one quarter of your deck versus over one-third. Notice that, as expected, Brago makes up for this by having bigger slices of enchantments and artifacts.
If you’re considering building a flicker deck, this is the first big signal to help you decide which of these commanders is right for you. Make sure you ask yourself which cards you’re most excited about blinking. If you want to abuse Panharmonicon by casting Eerie Interlude with an army of enters-the-battlefield creatures, that’s probably up Roon’s alley. If you’re more excited at the idea of repeatedly enchanting and flickering a Reality Acid to take out pesky permanents, Brago’s your guy.
There are two final differences I want to mention. Not only do Roon and Brago differ in types of cards they can target, but also in number of cards they can target. Roon selects one creature at a time, but Brago can choose any number of nonland permanents you control. Not only that, but the flicker effect’s speed is different too: Roon returns the exiled creature at the end step while Brago brings them back right away.
This makes a world of difference for these two decks. Brago’s mana rocks suddenly become much more appealing, since he can flicker all of your rocks and bring them back into play untapped for your second Main Phase. Basalt Monolith and Mana Vault sure are a lot better when you can blink them to bypass their downside. Planeswalkers are crazy powerful here too, since you can activate their loyalty abilities, blink them with Brago to reset their loyalty, and activate their abilities a second time that turn.
Of course, Brago’s flicker effects are largely restricted to your turn, a constraint that Roon doesn’t share. He may be slower to bring creatures back to the battlefield, but his ability can be used on any player’s turn, and on any player’s creature. In a pinch, Roon can be used to take a creature out of combat to keep you alive. Also, since his blink has a delay, he can even save a creature from a Wrath of God. Roon may be a very creature-based deck, but that doesn’t stop him from being a trickster in his own right.
Ultimately, none of this musing gives us as much information as the data, so let’s get to the fun part. Below is a chart comparing the Top and Signature cards for each deck, to find the overlap:
|Conjurer’s Closet||Mulldrifter||Reality Acid|
|Acidic Slime||Reflector Mage||Strionic Resonator|
|Coiling Oracle||Panharmonicon||Basalt Monolith|
|Mistmeadow Witch||Cloudblazer||Peregrine Drake|
|Farhaven Elf||Deadeye Navigator||Lavinia of the Tenth|
|Brago, King Eternal||Sun Titan||Act of Authority|
|Karmic Guide||Cyclonic Rift||Spine of Ish Sah|
|Prime Speaker Zegana||Venser, the Sojourner||Nevermaker|
|Thragtusk||Solemn Simulacrum||Stonehorn Dignitary|
|Eternal Witness||Swords to Plowshares||Azorius Signet|
|Reclamation Sage||Eerie Interlude||Swiftfoot Boots|
|Aura Shards||Detention Sphere|
|Angel of Serenity||Archaeomancer|
|Avenger of Zendikar||Oblivion Ring|
|Eldrazi Displacer||Lightning Greaves|
|Wood Elves||Unquestioned Authority|
There’s a lot to sift through here, but let’s start with a quick observation:
Swiftfoot Boots and Lightning Greaves, two of the most popular and most-played equipment in the format, are not in the “Both” column. They’re only in Brago’s, which seems odd. Swiftfoot Boots even came in Evasive Maneuvers, Roon’s preconstructed deck, and if we know anything about the Precon Effect, it’s that players often run cards that came in the precon decks even if they’re suboptimal. Despite this, Roon decks only include the Boots 39% of the time and Greaves 29%.
This is probably the most important data on these commanders’ pages, because it shows us the most significant difference between Roon and Brago:
Brago is not different from Roon because of the types of permanents he flickers.
Brago is different from Roon because he’s a control deck.
Resetting those mana rocks is handy to keep up mana for instants on other players’ turns. Blinking Nevermaker can ruin an opponent’s draw step. And Lavinia of the Tenth and Stonehorn Dignitary sure keep your life total intact so you can make it to the late game. (Though for the record, I think Stonehorn Dignitary is pretty good in a Roon deck too.)
Thus, hexproof and shroud are absolutely vital for Brago players, because they need to keep him alive. They even have Counterspell on their Top Cards list to keep him safe. Without Brago, the deck has very few other blink effects, and loses its value engine.
Compare all of this to Roon. He doesn’t care as much about hexproof because he doesn’t necessarily need to stay alive to provide value. His deck of enters-the-battlefield creatures already does that. He also has more room for redundancy, with cards like Conjurer’s Closet and Mistmeadow Witch. As a result, Roon cares more about Ghostway than Swiftfoot Boots, saving his whole team from a wrath, not just himself from a Path.
All of this brings us to win conditions, another tricky difference between these two commanders. If we look at Roon’s column, it looks pretty straightforward. You get a lot of repeated value from your creatures, and once it comes time to close out the game, you should be able to bash in with those creatures to get your opponents to 0. Given enough time, an army of Thragtusk or Avenger of Zendikar tokens can be overwhelming.
Of course, Roon is no stranger to combo. His column also contains famous combo pieces like Karmic Guide and Reveillark, and who can forget the infamous Deadeye Navigator? Along with his friends Mistmeadow Witch and Eldrazi Displacer, Roon can claim victory by paring any of these with something as simple as an Acidic Slime.
Brago, on the other hand, does not appear to have much in the way of face-bashing. Per his role as control, he largely has two main win conditions: infinite combos and stax.
This is pretty apparent by looking at his column. Combine Brago’s triggered ability with Strionic Resonator and a Basalt Monolith and you can generate an infinite amount of mana, along with any other triggered abilities you have on the battlefield. Pair that Peregrine Drake in his column with the aforementioned Deadeye Navigator and you can do the same. Since Brago has so few creatures, and not a lot of power himself, locking down the board until you draw into your combo is his primary game plan.
Of course, this also means that you need to securely lock down the board, which is why another of Brago’s main path to victory is a stax strategy. These cards may not show up on his Top or Signature Cards, but dig around on Brago’s page and you’ll find Stasis, Winter Orb, Static Orb, and Tangle Wire.
Who cares about untapping only one permanent when Brago can bring all your artifacts back onto the battlefield untapped? If you keep resetting the fade counters on Tanglewire, your opponents have to tap more permanents than you do every turn, which means you’ll accumulate an advantage over time.
That is kind of the problem, though: time. I won’t go so far as to say Roon is a quick deck, but he’s nowhere as slow as Brago. Brago, especially competitive lists, can really drag out the game. If you’re choosing between these two commanders, I can’t stress enough how important it is to know how you want to win the game. If you’re the kind of player who has the patience (and a playgroup with the patience) to run out a Stasis lock, Brago might be right for you. But if you really just want to blink a few things and bash some face, Roon may be more worthwhile for your playstyle.
Last up, I’d like to suggest a few cards that don’t see as much play in these decks as I think they should.
It always tickles me to see EDH cards show up in non-EDH formats, so I’m excited to see what happens with things like Deadeye Navigator in Modern Masters 2017. And if, after you draft the set, you still want to play more blink, Roon and Brago might be able to help you out. But watch carefully–like all magicians who make things vanish into thin air, these commanders are not as simple as they first appear.
Until next time!