I had a pretty tiring weekend at Mythic Championship Richmond. Each successive MC has been more difficult than the last, and I’m looking forward to the Players Tour giving us a bit of a reset on things. I did have some fun, though, and one of the biggest sources of fun was my time in the Mystery Booster premiere event on Thursday at the MagicFest.
My performance is nothing much to write about–I went 1-2 with a fairly mediocre pool that couldn’t buoy my mediocre play skills–but I had a ton of fun. It was an amazing feeling to open boosters where the possible contents were entirely unknown to me for the first time since Mirage (I believe), and it was even more amazing when we discovered the gimmick: the 121 “playtest cards” unique to the Convention Edition of Mystery Boosters.
For the uninitiated, R&D tests cards in development by putting stickers on existing cards so that they can represent cards that haven’t actually been printed yet. (What, you thought they were just really good with a Sharpie?) These “playtest cards” were designed and printed to look like the genuine article–they aren’t actually stickered. Well, mostly like the genuine article anyway; the real ones don’t usually have art, especially not art like this. Here, the sometimes rough, sometimes impressive art is part of the charm of the experience. Casting the card Problematic Volcano was made even more entertaining by looking at the art.
After the secret was revealed, the playtest cards were the talk of the weekend. Which ones did you open? Which ones had you seen that others hadn’t even heard of yet? Which ones were the best, the funniest, or the most broken rules-wise? All this got me thinking about playing these cards in Commander. Some of them seemed like a lot of fun, after all. Even though they all say “TEST CARD–Not for Constructed play” at the bottom and are not technically legal, surely players will be asking their playgroups for permission to run these.
So, which ones should you be trying to convince your friends to let you use, and which ones are just too broken? Well, I’m here to give you the definitive (read: extremely subjective) verdict. I’m not going to review all 121 of them, but I’ll run you through my favorites as well as some cards to avoid by breaking them into two simple categories: Recommended and Not Recommended. The meaning there should be pretty obvious, right? I’ve included the rules text as well.
I should also mention that the cards require, to quote Eli Shiffrin’s Release Notes article, “a generous assumption that basic game rules will be updated to allow them to work.” Of course, the actual rules will not get updated for these cards, but what Eli is saying is that we should be cool and take these cards in the spirit in which they’re intended. For specific rules clarifications, check out those notes here.
Recommended Playtest Cards for Commander
Yes, I know your Commander is part of your deck. I, too, have red Comprehensive Rules entry 903.5a. But, like, what if we decided to be cool about it, as is the spirit of these cards?
The restriction makes for a fun deckbuilding experience, though I expect to settle on Niv-Mizzet, Parun as the best option fairly quickly. I think the player using this will have some trouble with big boards, but I also think casting Think Twice in the early game and getting four cards for 2UU paid in installments is pretty busted, so it’s hard to say. Those tempted to do Grapeshot nonsense should note that Ral’s Vanguard only boosts the damage of spells you actually cast, which means, in short, it won’t work. I suppose you COULD play this card with a Commander that isn’t strictly Izzet as a way of offsetting the restriction, but… why?
Fun deckbuilding experience confirmed, by the way, as I paused this article writing experience right here, after reviewing the first card, to draft a decklist. It has that magnetic build-around power.
You don’t actually want to be targeted by most spells your opponents cast save for the odd “target player draws” card. That said, this is pretty funny once or twice, and I love Flagbearers, so here we are talking about it.
This is about as much “fun” as your everyday Wrath effect, which is to say, not directly fun. Wrath effects are hygienic rather than a motivating factor, by which I mean that they don’t make you happier by existing–instead, if they didn’t exist, you’d be less happy. If no one can ever clear the board, there’s a lack of tension (and thus a lack of fun). It’s not un-fun, but it’s not exciting in the way many of these other cards are. This card seems eminently fair for a cost of 4WW.
This card is really fun as long as you’re the one casting it. Once your Commander becomes slow and uncastable from the command zone due to taxes, just pick a new one–which is basically like drawing multiple cards for 1W (albeit over the course of many turns.) The creature doesn’t even have to be legendary, which is pretty unreal. That being said, it’s a sorcery, so it’s not completely broken.
Value incarnate. If all you do is cast this before it gets destroyed, it fails to impress, but as long as you turn a single creature from your hand into a Mulldrifter you’ve done the job, I think. Maybe I’m just blinded by my love of Mulldrifter. Either way, this looks both fair and fun, so I’m sold.
The tribal Commander that lobster/squid/fish people have been begging for has finally arrived. I assume Nautilids are some sort of discarded diminutive token type for Cephalids. To put it in SAT Analogy form, Homarid:Camarid::Cephalid:Nautilid. (For those unfamiliar with Camarids, check out Homarid Spawning Bed, which inexplicably spawns Camarids, not Homarids. Yes, I know. Just… don’t worry about it.) Other than this Nautilid thing, this card is totally printable – get your islandwalkers ready!
Other than the fact that paying ransom costs is a special action (for more information, visit Comprehensive Rules 116) this card isn’t weird at all–and if Licids exist, this is fine too. Weird Sower of Temptation is still Sower of Temptation, right? Plus, it’s a squid pirate. A squid pirate!
I love the phrase “curse defending player,” and as the curses are proper enchantments rather than sitting in the command zone like Chandra emblems, it’s not too oppressive. It seems like fun, actually. If you use other cards that generate insects, such as Beacon of Creation or Izoni, and you make the Cave Witch unblockable with Rogue’s Passage or Whispersilk Cloak, you can start stacking the curses up.
Be cool, folks. This is not a fun way to win the game with Hive Mind. It is, however, a fun way to end the debate about whether or not it’s okay to concede against incoming lethal. No more arguments about how cool or uncool it is to deny the opponent the positive effects of hitting with their creatures or resolving their targeted spell–you have an in-game effect that lets you exit on your terms! Oh, and yes, it is funny to counter this spell.
Reverse miracle will happen rarely enough that this will be a hilarious surprise every time (just as long as you trust your playgroup not to be jerks and do sleight of hand with their bottom card when they pick up their library.) Other than that, the spell is totally reasonable.
Again, this will happen rarely enough to stay entertaining. Plus, it’s a Lizard Wizard, and who doesn’t love that? Sure, it’s a dead draw anytime but in your opener, but it’s still pretty cool.
This is the set’s best counterspell hoser. It subverts the normal “baiting a counterspell” paradigm in an entertaining way.
The best Tibalt! Seriously, this card is chaotic, as its name states, and that chaos seems like a lot of fun. The downside is that the ultimate’s random choice might decide the game if you hit Insurrection, but the other two options are comedic enough that it’s worth the “risk.” (Plus, games have to end!)
Once you figure out that this can’t be attacking multiple things at once (as is sensible), it’s pretty fun. It’s a 6/4 that goes around adding some chaos to combats, and if you’re the person who came prepared to attack with 4-power creatures, as you should be in green, you can break the symmetry. It’s always entertaining to find ways to add some chaos to games, and Interplanar Brushwagg is a master at that. Oh, also, it’s a Brushwagg, and that’s worth lots of points to me.
Yes. Doubling is the type of effect that makes up the heart and soul of casual Commander, and doubling all doubling takes that to another level. Doubling of damage, counters, tokens, life totals, and even power all happen a decent amount, so this has more utility than you might expect (albeit only in the world of Commander, really.)
This card is pretty much printable if you ignore the mixed-up ability words. Sure, effects that pump out tokens will make a board of Elves huge in short order, but isn’t that what Elves does anyway? Also, this is a 5-mana 3/3 and not terribly hard to kill.
The “megalegendary” designation doesn’t really change much in Commander, but it’s cool. I think this would be a fun Commander because you can load up on activated abilities and have a toolbox to use whenever you need it – although I’m sure there are dozens of infinite combos to be had.
Abian’s a scary spell to cast because you’re setting your life total to 5 right off the bat. It’s a little more sustainable than Form of the Dragon because it does let you gain life past that 5, but you’re still taking that same risk that someone will destroy Abian and leave you at a vulnerable life total. I think the -X to deal X to any target is interesting, but it might be the part of this card that turns out to be too broken for Commander.
I always loved Haunt, and this is a really cool implementation of it. There’s nothing wild or flashy about this card–it’s just a legitimate card, in my opinion. It is weird that you get to take control of stuff in Orzhov, but remember that it takes two turns to get Kaya to haunt something in a useful way, so there’s a lot of opportunity for her to be killed before she does anything.
I like the idea of Wrath effects that leave something behind. This one leaves behind lands! So, if you’re behind on board, you’re clearing the threat temporarily but offering your opponents some serious mana ramp. It might not be good, but it’s interesting at least.
I worry a little that this would make everyone build even greedier, more terrible manabases than they already do, but I’m also in favor of friendly games where you just draw 7-card hands until you get something playable (read: not just mulling to the perfect combo hand) so I think I may have some internal inconsistencies to unpack here. Regardless I think this is a fantastic design that definitely doesn’t get the Phish song of the same name stuck in my head. Nope. Not at all.
Playtest Cards Not Recommended for Commander
It’s Delay in a pretty weird form. At a cost of only U, it’s a pretty insane tempo play, and all you have to do to stop the spell from being cast is to either kill the creature or bounce/otherwise remove Animate Spell when the player doesn’t have the appropriate amount of mana. This looks kind of fun on its face, but once you think a little harder about it, you get the sense it’s not really balanced in Commander.
All the fun of a Game Rule Violation backup without the judge to keep the players from arguing with each other. Don’t.
Between the rules baggage and the overwhelming inability of most people to be cool with effects like this, I recommend this about as much as I recommend playing turn 3 combo decks, which is to say, not at all. That being said, if that’s what you and your playgroup enjoy, go for it.
I love this card. It takes Raging River and pastes Gavin Verhey’s story about falling down a volcano to it. On the other hand, the left/right designation is really obnoxious to track in multiplayer, so I suggest leaving this one on the sidelines.
There is simply no reason to do this to yourself.
In a Mystery Booster event this is fun and hilarious, but in a format based around Big Splashy Things, red probably shouldn’t have a counterspell–and that’s what this is.
Green does not need this. There is enough stupid ramp. Just play Into the Wilds or something. Don’t do this.
It’s really easy to spend life. There are enough ways to do so that I get the feeling this is oppressive rather than an interesting balance to strike. That being said, I’d like to see someone try this and discuss how it went in some casual games. I just don’t want that someone to be me!
Yes, keep them busy until they finish storming out, by all means. I’ll be over here having fun in a different game. Look, I play Storm in any 1v1 competitive format I can, so I get it. This card’s cool. It’s just not good for games.
This is perhaps my hottest take of the article, but while this looks fun, it has some real bummer modes. “Everyone discard their hand” is unfortunate. The Teferi’s Puzzle Box effect on Pools of Becoming is unfortunate. You don’t have a sideboard in Commander. This card is fun to read but I’m becoming more and more convinced it isn’t actually fun for anyone when you cast it.
I think it’s well-known at this point that I don’t really like Sliver decks despite loving the story that spawned them. It shouldn’t be a surprise that I’m not terribly approving of Slivdrazi Monstrosity, which everyone would want as their Commander for their Sliver deck, I’m sure. Right, because what Slivers need is Annihilator 1. Sigh.
Okay! If I didn’t cover a card you want to talk about, I’m sorry, I ran out of opinions or time (or realistically the card was not interesting to me even after 2-3 readings.) Please tell me about your thoughts on Twitter – I’m @RagingLevine and I’m ready to hear what you think! Are your friends letting you play with these? Are they just too weird, too powerful, or too confusing? Either way I’ll be back next time to talk about cards that aren’t explicitly not legal in Constructed formats.