Geetings everyone. I have been trying to spread my writing between casual and competitive Commander as I go so today I want to talk about the MTGO 1v1 format. I won’t spend much time on what’s been happening recently (nothing much, really) but rather what we may see once Commander 2017 cards are released on MTGO. It is very likely that nothing will compare to Commander 2016 and the massive impact of the partner mechanic. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some incredibly juicy build-around generals to play with this time around.
State of the Metagame
The MTGO metagame has remained unchanged lately. The top performing decks still consist of Kraum/Ludevic, Breya, Baral, and Leovold. Despite the banning of the format’s most broken card draw spells in Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time, along with the best cantrips like Preordain and Ponder, blue still reigns supreme. Since I last visited the format in depth, Hour of Devastation has done little to shake things up. I suspect Ixalan to do little to change the status quo either. Despite the lack of variation of top tier generals, the archetypes they represent vary.
Kraum/Ludevic decks are tempo oriented and play small creatures that come blisteringly fast out of the gates. Using Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist’s powerful ability as a personal Howling Mine, the deck looks to bury you with a mix of card advantage and pressure.
Breya and Leovold decks play the role of midrange-control. They play threats, card advantage, and of course, counterspells. Personally, I find this to be the top strategy in 1v1 Commander because of the redundancy and power level of the cards and colors. Baral is a hardcore control deck, but having access to only one color usually means it has to lean on some combo elements as well for potential quick kills.
Nissa ramp decks and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy High Tide decks also sporadically place well in Leagues and Challenges on MTGO. If you like any of these decks I’ve mentioned, you are good to go. But what if you want to try something new?
Commander 2017 Additions
I wrote an article talking about Commander 2017 as a set and its implications for EDH in general. Now I want to further discuss a couple of powerful generals that could steer the metagame in a new direction. While there is no guarantee either of these generals will provide enough power to shake things up significantly, I think that they will be a welcome surprise.
Kess, Dissident Mage provides value each turn just by existing on the battlefield. There are multiple ways you can build her, ranging from High Tide combo, control, or turns. I want to focus on a turns deck, which is a strategy that employs “take an extra turn after this one” effects in an attempt to chain them together to victory. Kess does a better job at the helm than some previous generals and may even replace one of my personal favorites, Narset, Enlightened Master.
Narset costs 6 mana and Kess costs a mere 4. Kess coming down so early allows you to accrue value much earlier than Narset. The difference between 4 and 6 is more than just two turns’ worth of mana. Most games you will want to cast your general with countermagic up as well so you may drop Kess when you have 6 or 7 mana at least. Narset is more of a YOLO general where you only cast her at 6 mana with a Cavern of Souls or Pact of Negation for backup. Otherwise, ramping up to 9+ mana to protect her usually doesn’t happen for a long time. Check out this lean, mean turn-taking machine.
Commander: Kess, Dissident Mage
Loic G (Duel Commander)
The largest drawing points to Kess are her colors and her cheap cost. Blue and black are the strongest colors in 1v1 Commander by a decent margin and red isn’t far behind. Let’s look at some of the deck’s key cards.
Taking extra turns with planeswalkers in play isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. As a general, Kess rewards cheap interaction, both in the form of removal and permission. Because of this, you can often take over a game with a planeswalker because they will mostly come down on empty boards. From there, protecting a planeswalker becomes a quick route to victory. This is an excellent plan B in scenarios where graveyard hate or repeated deaths make Kess obsolete in-game.
Extra turn effects have a glaring weakness in a format as streamlined as 1v1 Commander. They are all sorcery speed, and when they get countered you are left wide open. Kess helps with card disadvantage—if you have your extra turn effect countered you can simply get it back later. In a prolonged game, you can even cast her and an extra turn effect in the same turn for a full blowout. This gives Kess late-game staying power on the level of Tasigur, the Golden Fang, which is certainly an appealing place to be.
Kess’s ability doesn’t work on your opponent’s turn. As a result, you will want to play counterspells (ideally played on their turn) that do something on your turn as well to maximize your value. Countering a spell with Supreme Will’s “Mana Leak” mode on their turn, followed by “Impulse” mode on your turn is a Rachel-approved play. Mystic Confluence being a better Cryptic Command, followed by a Concentrate, is just dastardly.
With all the sweet spells just sitting there, why take advantage of your general alone? Jace and Snappy are here to put that phat graveyard to work. You want to include many of the midrange/control elements we see in decks like Leovold and Breya but unlike those decks, you will also be utilizing your graveyard more.
So is this the only Kess deck I think you will see? Not by a long shot. I hope to see other Kess variations and would especially like to see an Ad Nauseum or High Tide fast combo deck hit the scene. It’s hard to do without the fast mana accessible like it is in multiplayer EDH, but I know there are some excellent possibilities out there.
Learning From Other Formats
Within the last week, the Duel/French Commander scene was shaken up by the banning of Edgar Markov as a general. Again, please note, this refers to the 1v1 French ban list version of Commander, run primarily out of Europe with a separate set of rules and its own independent rules committee. I have to admit that I did have a good chuckle when I checked on a few EDH Facebook pages at players freaking out about “Edgar Markov’s banning!” The number of players confused appeared to not be in dozens, but closer to the hundreds.
Edgar Markov was banned along with several efficient and powerful burn spells such as Eidolon of the Great Revel and Sulfuric Vortex. French EDH has a starting life total of 20 and so I can understand that aggressive strategies are significantly more powerful in that format than they would be in the 30 life format of MTGO 1v1 Commander. Burn spells and aggressive creatures have high redundancy, a trait that is to be admired in 99-card formats.
Looking at the similarities between the various Commander formats helps us understand what role their differences play in affecting their unique game play. In the case of Edgar Markov, his ability to turn normal Vampires into value-oriented additional bodies was too much for a 20-life format. But does that mean he won’t be powerful or fast enough for a 30-life format? Only time will tell, but in the meantime I’m seeing red—err, black.
Edgar Markov is perhaps the most interesting general from the set. While it may be easy to write him off for being a casual-themed Vampire, Edgar Markov may prove to be the first aggressive tribal-themed general we have seen for 1v1 Commander. Decks like Elves and Goblins have the issue of leaning too hard on their generals and being diluted from the 99-card nature of the format. You just simply have a lower chance of drawing Goblin Warchief/Elvish Archdruid and that makes these strategies suffer.
EdgarMarkov is different, though. His eminence ability sets him a tier above other tribal-focused generals because it turns any Vampire you control into a threat. The Mardu color combination is perfectly suited to be aggressive while at the same time not pigeon-holing you into one color. Let’s look at the weapon we will use for this bloodbath.
Commander: Edgar Markov
Sylvain K (Duel Commander)
Aggressive and cheap costing Vampires are the blood and butter of this deck. Bloodghast is a solid creature in his own right, but 30 life is a tall order for your graveyard friend. Luckily, the deck’s goal is attack, attack, attack, and Bloodghast will perform admirably in the face of the format’s plethora of permission.
More aggressively oriented tribal spells make a rare appearance in 1v1 Commander here. These cards can shine in the deck because they provide a way to utilize extra mana or turn a few creatures into a potent force. There isn’t much in the way of blockers but there are several sweepers in most decks. These spells allow you to not over-commit and have built-in synergy with Edgar.
Speaking of built-in synergy with Edgar, you have these two doozies. Aside from the excitement of playing with very rarely seen cards in a competitive setting, there is also the excitement of playing with these all-stars of a Standard format long-gone. Ever steal an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn with a Captivating Vampire before? It feels bloody good!
Goblin Bombardment is a rarely seen finisher that can clean up a close game and prove quite difficult to remove. Skullclamp shines in a deck where you get free 1/1s. That’s enough value to make even Dracula smile with joy.
Does a deck like this have what it takes to compete in the upcoming and current MTGO metagame? I think it does. Some of the cards in this list like Worship and Umezawa’s Jitte are included for their power in the aggro-heavy French metagame. I expect to replace those cards with the most potent inclusions for the blue-heavy MTGO metagame.
That does it for my discussion on Kess and Edgar Markov. I am excited for the release of Commander 2017 on Magic Online and hope that it brings a welcome shakeup to the format. Having an aggressive deck enter the fold will do wonders for the format and maybe improve its overall health. What are your thoughts on the 1v1 Online Commander format? Are there any cards you expect to make a huge splash? Have some ideas for Edgar and Kess? Let me know in the comments! Thanks so much for reading and until next time, stay away from mirrors and out of the sun.