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In the Margins – Pacifism
A Non-Pacificistic Approach
Currently, there are 2,696 decks in the EDHREC database running Pacifism, and not a single one of them should have it as part of the 99.
Welcome back to In the Margins, a monthly Commander-centric column where I get to nerdsplain how your card choices, like your life choices, may not have been that great. It’s tough love, dispensed in leather chaps with a riding crop in hand, just the way you like it.
This time around we’re gonna be talking about Pacifism, a card so ubiquitous that other variants are called Pacifism effects. How ubiquitous is it? As of this article, Pacifism has appeared in 25 different sets. It’s an absolutely bonkers efficient removal spell in Limited, and more than holds its own in Standard.
What’s so funny ’bout peace love and understanding?
Pacifism is an Aura that first debuted way back in October of 1996 in the Mirage set. Previous Magic sets had given us Auras that limited a creature’s ability to do damage, but they tended to be outside white’s slice of the color pie. Paralyze and Weakness from the original Alpha sets restricted a creature’s ability to untap and deal damage, and Demonic Torment, Spirit Shackle, and Venarian Gold from Legends had similar combat-throttling effects. It wasn’t until The Dark expansion that white got their first removal aura in the form of the ineffectual Brainwash. This was followed by the equally shoddy Serra Bestiary in Homelands. It wasn’t until Pacifism that Wizards finally made the effect really functional, and not merely functional, but so effective in older formats that it found a place in the sideboard of Gabriel Nassif’s 2004 World Championship deck from GP San Francisco.
The real question though isn’t about Limited or or even Standard, but rather how it rates in Commander since that’s the format we here at EDHREC care about. So, how does it rate? Not that great, frankly. Now, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason to run it. It’s an old card, and some people like running cards from way back when they first began playing. There’s also budgetary concerns, and while most of the replacement cards I’ll suggest are cheap, they all still cost something, and that something might be too much if you’ve been between jobs since 2011 while you wait for your SoundCloud to take off. I mean, your stuff is obviously good. Your mom likes it, even though she wishes you wouldn’t use those swears, and so does your girlfriend, even though I wouldn’t know her because she lives in Canada.
So, Pascifism? One a scale from one to ten, it’s roughly a D+. So let’s take a look at the alternatives that exist since an excess of 2,500 people are running it in their Commander decks.
Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?
Bonds of Faith isn’t going to be a blind replacement if you’re running Pacifism. It’s really more the kind of thing you’d choose to slot in if you play in a smaller meta where you know you won’t be seeing many Humans. In that kind of environment where one friend plays Krenko Goblins, another Slimefoot tokens deck, and a third Elfball deck, Bonds of Faith winds up being Pacifism with an option to buff your own Humans. Personally that’s a lot of hoops to jump through, but I’m sure of those 2,500 decks running Pacifism at least a few would be better off with Bonds.
Crystallization isn’t available outside Bant-inclusive decks, but if you meet the requirements to play it, the card is a better Pacifism, albeit with a slightly more complicated casting cost.
Of the over 2,000 decks on EDHREC for Derevi, Empyrial Tactician, the most popular Bant commander, 23 are running Pacifism and not Crystallization, a particularly strange decision since Crystallization allows you to use Derevi’s ability to exile the creature after locking it down.
Spectral Grasp is probably better than Pacifism in EDH simply because the creature in question can still swing away at an opponent. Generally the only thing better than not getting attacked is not getting attacked while your enemies get hit. There are of course exceptions to this; a Najeela, the Blade-Blossom can still generate all the tokens in the world in the right situation if it can hit a third party, and Spectral Grasp isn’t going to save you from those tokens. More often than not, though, it’s going to be a better way to keep a scary thing out of your face.
Spectral Grasp is in less than 500 decks in our database. A lot of that is probably do to both the limited amount of Conspiracy packs cracked compared to the near-infinite amount of Pacifism copies opened over the years, but of the three options shown in the images above this one is probably the clearest upgrade the most often.
Real talk? All those cards are still straight trash, stinky like a diaper left out in the sun. In this series I usually try to do apples to apples comparisons when it comes to the cards I’m evaluating, and I’ve done that as much as possible here, but the situationally better cards still aren’t situationally better enough. When I recommend Chromatic Lantern as a replacement for Manalith I sincerely think it’s a card worth running. Same with Disallow in place of Cancel or Skyshround Claim in the slot where Explosive Vegetation would go. The problem here is even in the best case scenario, neither Pacisfism nor any of these variants get the job done. Why? Take a look at this list of the top five most commonly played commanders in EDH:
- Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice: Sure, stopping attacking or blocking renders her keyword soup cold and congealed, but she can still proliferate those planeswalkers, +1/+1 counters, and that sweet, sweet poison.
- Meren of Clan Nel Toth: Does Meren even attack ever? Meren keeps doing busted Meren stuff.
- Breya, Etherium Shaper: Like Meren, does this lovely robot lady even attack? Not often. All her abilities still work, however.
- Oloro, Ageless Ascetic: Assuming Oloro is even in play, Pacifism does nothing to his abilities.
- Nekusar, the Mindrazer: Good luck with that Pacifism making a difference when you get wheeled into a wheel into a wheel.
It gets a little better outside the top five, where Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder, Kaalia of the Vast, Brago, King Eternal, and Alesha, Who Smiles At Death all need to swing to get stuff done, but for every commander who does need to attack, there are two Omnath, Locus of Rages or Mizzix of the Izmagnuses that don’t care about your anti-war protests.
The reality is that we don’t want Pacifism when we run Pacifism. What we want is a card that turns the creature into a potato and forces our opponent to either remove the enchantment or their own creature before it can do anything at all. No proliferation from Atraxa, no reanimation from Meren, not artifact shenanigans from Breya, no draw or life gain from Oloro, and no damaging off wheels from Nekusar. We want that creature stuck to the board like that frog you dissected in science class, or the frog you dissected in your back yard when you first began your long journey to becoming the Smiley Face Killer.
My spirit gets so downhearted sometimes
Darksteel Mutation still lets the creature in question attack and block, but that’s about it. It loses all abilities, all creature types, colors, card types, and tribes. It just sits there, accomplishing nothing. At first glace, it seems the fact that the creature becomes indestructible is a problem, but more often than not, that’s actually a boon, because it means the creature stays put through board wipes, shrugs off non-exile removal, and can’t be salvaged via chump blocking. It’s a potato. And in color combos like Grixis, Rakdos, Dimir, or Izzet that lack enchantment removal, it’s a potato that’s pretty hard to un-potato.
Mutation is in 8,466 decks on EDHREC, and is a perfect CMC substitute for Pacifism. Pacifism and the variants above I’d never run, but Darksteel Mutation gets the job done, son. Still, there’s 36 decks on EDHREC running Pacifism and not Darksteel Mutation, and all 36 would be better if they made the switch.
Deep Freeze turns off all abilities and leaves you with a Wall with defender. Wall of Potato, as it were. One semi-useful modal ability Deep Freeze has is that there are a few cards in Arcades, the Strategist decks like Hornet Nest and Wall of Kelp that make defender tokens, and in a pinch you could technically use Deep Freeze on them if Arcades is out to deal a little extra damage. There’s already enough reasons to run this card over Pacifism, and that rare corner case is just one more. Still, EDHREC has 8 decks in the database running Pacifism and no Deep Freeze.
Imprisoned in the Moon not only hits a creature but also a land or planeswalker, and it turns it into a colorless land, effectively potato’ing a host of problematic cards. I guess technically it makes it a potato growing out of a Wastes, but still, potato. That said, making the target a land does make it a little more vulnerable to rescuing in colors without enchantment removal. Bounce lands can bounce it back to hand, and simple land destruction (whether in the form of Stone Rain or the ever-ubiquitous Strip Mine) can be used by decks that generally don’t have an out to get their card back. Still, so what? If someone needs to spend a valuable card to get rid of their commander and recast it, that’s not functionally different from getting it with a Hero’s Downfall.
Despite being just over two years old, Imprisoned in the Moon is in 7,013 on EDHREC already, but there’s over 40 Brago lists running Pacifism instead of the Imprison.
I feel it slippin’ away, just makes me wanna cry
Lignify is the oldest of this group of cards, showing up in a mere 3,115 decks. It lets your creature stay a creature, but makes it a 0/4 Treefolk with no abilities. Unlike Darksteel Mutation, a Damnation will kill the target, but it still potatoes up the target pretty efficiently at two mana. Plus you can fetch this with a Treefolk Harbinger if you want, which is a thing some person has probably done at some point. It also functions like Deep Freeze as a possible desperate combat boost to a weak token in an Arcades deck.
Metamorphic Alteration is the newest member of this club, and also the one that sees the least play in a mere 85 decks. What’s really nice about Metamorphic Alteration is it can flex between removal and a buff. There’s almost always some uninspiring creature in play, be it a 1/1 Thopter token or a Snapcaster Mage that has already snapcasted. Alteration lets you turn the thing you want gone into that useless uninspiring thing. Alternatively you can turn your less exciting 1/1 Thopter or Snapcaster Mage that has already snapcasted into the scariest thing in play. It’s never a dead card.
Song of the Dryads is in 9,377 decks on EDHREC, and Mark Rosewater loves each and every one of them. Song is the most versatile of the lot, enchanting any permanent and making it a colorless forest land. As with Imprisoned in the Moon, this makes it vulnerable to land bounce and land destruction as a way to save the card, but the fact that it hits everything easily offsets that fact.
Still, despite the card’s popularity outside the Rosewater household, the top three most popular Selesnya commanders have about 100 decks running Pacifism and not the Swiss Army knife that is Song of the Dryads.
Each time I feel like this inside, there’s one thing I wanna know
If you’re still running Pacifism, odds are one of these options will work a little better for you, and over time, a bunch of little betters adds up to a lot better. There are just too many other options to keep running Pacifism for any reason beyond nostalgia. If you’ve got an argument for it, though, I’d love to hear it. Leave a comment below and make your case, or just leave a compliment about how my graying temples and kind yet firm voice is stirring up some deep-seated daddy issues you’ve been keeping carefully repressed.
Until next time, I’m Dana and I’ll see you In the Margins.