The concept of a borderless world has taken on a lot of steam lately. Political battles ensue globally as well, as the morals of the movement of people is fervently discussed. The status of your nation-state can be intuitive to most modern people. In many parts of the world, children are raised seeing lines drawn across the face of the globe, delineating zones of cultural and geographic significance. Proponents of the borderless world philosophy see those lines as arbitrary and oppressive, while—as has been discussed Ad Nauseam—those for greater border control see the issue as a matter of national and economic security.
The morals and politics of the real world are fascinating, but not appropriate for a Commander article. However, in Magic: the Gathering, both sides of this debate seem to be correct. Let’s discuss that.
Borders in our card game are not simply defined by the black edges around the cards (silver if you’re a little wacky, gold if you’re extravagant, and white if you’re insane). The greatest border is around your playmat/play area. Magic plays as a territory game of keeping your defenses high. The most important way of keeping yourself safe from invaders is to disincentivize attacking or eliminating threats. You can also incentivize other players to attack each other, but let’s discuss the disincentives first.
Guaranteeing security is critical to creating a border. There is no bigger or badder security detail in Commander 2018 than Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle. Yes, it does begin its shift by sleeping on the job, but there are more reasons than power and toughness why the terramorphically monstrous Kraken works well for this analogy. There are plenty of other Kraken friends that can come out to play, working abusively well while our commander sits around as a Simic Growth Chamber.
Deep-Sea Kraken is a powerful three-drop that can come down early if you don’t have a way to ramp from two to four mana. Even though this card is pretty cool, I wouldn’t play it early in most games, because it can actually cause people to want to attack you. Ramping into our commander with Rampant Growth and having six or seven mana on turn four can mean that cards like Ulvenwald Hydra bring us to even bigger creatures. Playing an early Scourge of Fleets can be a huge tempo swing, and just the protective barrier you need to stay in the game. Bouncing effects will become integral to our strategy, as with the aforementioned Scourge or Thing in the Ice.
Other than having a strong front line to defend our life total, taxes certainly deter would-be security threats. If you’re a longtime reader of this series, you’ll know that Propaganda and War Tax are staples in many of my lists. I’ve included them here as great effects to help keep away problem players before you get your forces rolling, but they work pretty poorly with Kederekt Leviathan and some other similar effects we want to be playing.
The other way to tax resources is to punish the used resources. I briefly considered running Exhaustion and pseudo-Time Walk effects, but the simpler solution is Fog. If you become known as the Fog deck, you often see a dampening of aggression coming your way until your opponents can figure out how to circumvent your defenses. This is great for you. You are not looking to stave off attacks forever – just until you bring your threats into play. Playing Haze of Pollen and Lull benefit from the ability to Cycle them away when they’re unneeded. Arachnogenesis is unique in that it Fogs while simultaneously building up your forces.
Better than Fog effects are bounce effects, like Aetherize. Instant speed bounce like this is great, but just ensuring the other players need to continually recast threats can be the exact tax we need. Late game, the best bounce spells we have are cards like Whelming Wave and Crush of Tentacles. They bring us into a position of not only neutrality, but dominance. We can keep our big bad dudes like a huge Octopus token or Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle while clearing the board of defenders.
There are few cards in Magic that actually incentivize opponents to attack opponents, simply because Wizards of the Coast makes relatively few cards for multiplayer formats. With that said, blue and green get one of the best in the form of Edric, Spymaster of Trest. An inexpensive card to cast at only three mana, it may just make early creatures think twice about swinging your way, because they’d lose out on that sweet card draw value.
There’s another way you can also create incentives for others to not attack you: if someone else knows you have Fog, which prevents all damage – not just to you, but to anyone – you can form a truce if they help you. Finding a common enemy is an easy way to find an ally. All alliances in war are bound to end at some point in time, but it never hurts to ask someone at the table for a little assistance.
The thing few people will remind you about opening up borders is how much more efficient the costs are. Borders are not just where creatures attack; there is an inherent barrier from utilizing other players’ resources. Having everyone pitch in for land ramp costs means everyone gets a massive head start. Collective Voyage is possibly the most efficiently-costed mana ramp in the game. Playing this on turn one when some people may have left their land untapped means it has the earliest chance to net you additional mana ramp compared to any other spell. This card can scale well and it lets you reach into Leviathan territory very early. Magus of the Vineyard plays essentially the same role, without the opportunity for early powerful plays, but lacks the same late game ceiling of Collective Voyage.
When you have an efficient early Collective Voyage or Tempt with Discovery, this not only boosts everyone, but it can make for more level field against the lucky player who drew their Sol Ring or got some other equally unfair start. These collective boosts benefit the player with the biggest game-enders, which – judging by the Krakens we have already discussed – is hopefully you. This is underutilized in ramp strategies. Only 25% (279 decks) of ramp decks are taking advantage of a rate like this. This comes with a lot of risk, but the reward can well be worth it if you can manage the outcomes. Keep an eye out for who ramps quicker than you do. This is key. There are plenty of decks that can utilize the ramp much more efficiently than you can. What you’re doing with this deck can be difficult to work around if combo strategies are big in your meta, or even playing against other “go-big” commanders like Xenegos, God of Revels.
Borders are inefficient in another way: they create dangerous situations that could lead to more death. Certainly in Magic, when lots of creatures are out trying to cross into other players’ zones, this ensures that more combat will occur, and thus more creatures in the graveyard. Firstly, this means that your cards don’t have as many chances to attack. They are underutilized. Secondly, combat like this can fuel plenty of decks, from Meren of Clan Nel Toth to Sharum the Hegemon. Blocking isn’t always your friend when you can handle the situation in other ways. Evacuation is a way to deal with problematic cards in our colors without sending them to the graveyard. Depending on how big graveyard shenanigans are in your meta it may be worth considering running Ground Seal. It prevents the two aforementioned commander’s powers, while continually replacing itself if it happens to get caught in your Devastation Tides. These graveyard decks are still an issue to be wary of, with so many discard effects, but hopefully tight play and the plethora of Time Spiral-esque effects bring enough to the table that you can work around that.
The first thing you might notice is how many Windfall type effects are in the deck. The list I have here is quite homogeneous, and a large portion of it is one-time use, non-impacting spells like Fog and Rampant Growth. Emptying your hand and filling the other players’ hands with lots of cards and casting Windfall will give you plenty to work with. Windfall sees play in 16,600 decks, but there is also a whole theme page on EDHREC based on Wheel of Fortune effects, and it’s the source of inspiration I used to build the deck. I actively chose not to use many of the the staple cards in those decks (like Psychosis Crawler) because the point of this deck was different enough from the basis for those decks, and didn’t want to bog the strategy down with superfluous ideas.
The way games will ideally play out will be to draw one of your many one- or two-cost ramp spells early enough to play the commander on turn three (two if you’re lucky), then have six or seven mana on turn four. This gives you enough mana to play a big threat, play some of the six-drop ramp spells, or even play Whelming Wave plus Windfall (or similar cards of that effect). The redundancy is key here. I dug deep into ramp spells that wouldn’t get caught up into Devastation Tide. It’s worse to have your two- and three-mana rocks get swept up than to have to cycle away a card like Edge of Autumn (Sol Ring being the exception because the floor is not bad for the card).
I do know that Arixmethes goes infinite with something like Freed from the Reel. Also, Thespian Stage works well with Arixmethes and Dark Depths, but those simply sounded like less fun. I’m sure those could easily be slotted into this list for some shenanigans. However, Arixmethes is most interesting to me because it – as a land itself – it plays with the barriers of design and encourages you to play with the borders of the game.
Let me know how you would build this sleepy beast. What do you think could improve this list? What did I miss? What do you want to see from future articles in this series? Feel free to hit me up on here or twitter @rickworldnews.