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A Case For “Un” Cards in Commander

It’s no secret that Commander is one of most popular formats in Magic: The Gathering. It’s also no secret that Commander players are being tantalized with a bunch of fresh products and ideas, ranging from new decks to new sub-formats to scary discussions about prospective rules changes. (Also, please don’t remove commander damage oh god please don’t make me have to actually change up my play style where I end up trying to hit my infinite-life-gain opponent eleven times in the face with Feldon of the Third Path because I don’t want to swap out Utvara Hellkite for Witch Hunt or some garbage, I’m only a commentator on this game I can’t be expected to be GOOD at it for crying out loud.)

But one of the most interesting new developments was the push with Unsanctioned for silver-bordered commander decks. We got a cycle of five enemy-colored legendary creatures, as well as a bunch of reprints of older silver-bordered cards including Frankie Peanuts, a card that enhances your round-the-table bargaining through the power of game rules. I’d put Mr. Peanuts (whom I love and who is my best friend) into every white-based commander deck I’d run as a means of dodging counterspells, tricking my opponents, and brokering friendships. That got me thinking: What “Un” cards would actually be interesting additions to pre-existing, non-joke Commander decks?

There are a lot of goofy “Un” cards that revolve around you speaking in a silly voice, or literally tearing your cards to pieces, but there are others that wouldn’t seem entirely out of place with a black border. Take Clocknapper, for example, a slightly more powerful if one-time-only Fatespinner that would be an amazing edition to the twelve clone decks in the world. Imagine the potential game-winning joy that could come from playing Clocknapper and stealing the one-turn-away-from-going-off combo player’s untap, upkeep, AND draw step.

Another card that wouldn’t seem too out of the realm of black bordered imagination is Staying Power. For as long as this card remains on the field, your Craterhoof Behemoth becomes a GREATERhoof Behemoth, your Treasure Nabber becomes a Treasure Mine-forever-er, y- this gag really isn’t going anywhere, you get the gist. There is a pretty broken combo with Staying Power and Heroic Intervention, but it’s not game ending or entirely uncrackable. It’s an interesting card that requires some work to build around for it to truly be good and it’s worth pointing out that it also affects your opponents, meaning that games could quickly ascend into realms hitherto unexplored, such as machine-gunning an encroaching army with a now permanently pacifying Maze of Ith as someone casts Thousand-Year Storm and prepares to tear a hole in spacetime.

But it’s not just massively powerful, game-warping cards that could find a home in your decks. Who//What//When//Where//Why would be a must include for any and all five-color Commander lists as what could possibly be the best utility card in the game. Everything on the card is pretty fairly costed and it’s really only the templating of this card that really makes it stand out as an “Un” card. Same with Growth Charm, one of the playtest cards from the Mystery Box series, which wouldn’t raise an eyebrow at the table if it weren’t for the artwork. I mean, we know Magic has a reputation for good art, but the visionary behind Larg Mouse Atop Wave of Greenery Overlooking Smol Plant stands heads and shoulders above the more middle-of-the-road artists such as Seb Mckinnon.

Even the sillier cards like Zzzyxas’s Abyss could find a neat home in many Zombie decks as a way to deal with troublesome enchantments whilst hiding your Z-named creatures behind everyone else’s board states. If we expand our gaze beyond the “Un” sets themselves to include other traditionally not for constructed play cards then we can also look at cards like Naughty//Nice, a card that seems purpose designed with Commander in mind. It’s a tutor that can take a game winning combo-piece away from an opponent OR it’s a generous gift to another player to act as sweet sweet lubricant for a trade deal. Fruitcake Elemental is a particularly interesting politics card that can either spell salvation or devastation for one of your opponents, and Decorated Knight is at best a complete game changer if you desperately need to shift gears on how a match is turning out and, at worst, the best anti-mill tech you could ever ask for. Whilst these cards certainly look like they’d be a lot of fun in Commander, it is important to note that they are difficult to obtain and often quite expensive and I’m a massive advocate for spending only what you really need to on this game. It’s that part of me that likes Commander best when it’s a casual and silly game between pals that really feels drawn to this idea of including silver bordered cards, hell even making silver bordered decks within this format.

There was a recent Game Knights episode featuring Olivia Gobert-Hicks and Tappy Toes Claws alongside silver bordered commanders with semi-silver bordered decks and it was a joy to watch. It brought back feelings of early commander games I had with friends, where we were still learning the rules and playing cards for cute combos rather than their relative effectiveness. If I’d have known a card like B-I-N-G-O existed when I first started playing commander and didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to play it, it would have gone in every green deck I have. It’s a 10/10 with trample for 2, kind of, that forces everyone at the table to think very carefully about their future plays. Another thing this episode really helped to highlight is that “Un” commander decks don’t need to solely be filled with joke cards. Much as Unglued and Unhinged were supposed to be drafted alongside “serious” magic sets to provide comedic contrast, having only a few silver bordered cards in your deck that help contribute to your gameplan and bring an air of silliness is much more effective and achievable than a 100 card deck entirely full of jokes. If every card in your deck is a gag, no card in your deck is a gag.

I’ve begun bringing a few specific “Un” cards that I think would make for fun additions in my existing decks game nights, such as a copy of Very Cryptic Command (the one that lets you draw a card from an opponent’s deck) for my Noyan Dar Please-Let-Me-Get-To-Ten-Mana-So-I-Can-Safely-Cast-My-Commander deck. Of course, it goes without saying that I’ll be asking my opponents if they’re cool with me doing this, after all it’s one thing to encourage silliness, and quite the other to suddenly take someone’s build-around-me commander out of the game with Lock and Me, I’m the DCI. Some play groups and players won’t be game for these cards to be included in their decks or their opponents decks, and you know what? That’s completely valid.

Whilst I do think a great many “Un” cards, and black bordered cards like Paradox Engine and Chaos Orb, are banned in the format for good reason, there are many that I believe, depending on your playgroup, would make fun additions to your decks. I’ve always believed that the cards banned in Commander are a good baseline for the format but within your own playgroups, and even with strangers at events provided they’re all cool with it, adjustments can and should be made. A simple “Hey, does anyone mind if I swap in Seasons Beatings and Worldfire into my deck” will both suffice and probably be met with “that depends, how competitive is your deck when you put them in?” but EDH competitivity is a whole other kettle of fish for a whole other article.

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