Commander sets provide a great outlet for R&D to print cards powerful enough to influence the Eternal formats like Commander and Legacy, without worrying that they would hurt Standard or Modern. ChannelFireball’s Commander 2014 preview card offers a great example of what this kind of flexibility allows the design team to create:
An instant-speed 2-for-1 removal spell at 2 mana is awfully appealing. Just compare it to a strived Silence the Believers! Sweet. Of course, Commander 2014 doesn’t only influence its namesake format, of course. Malicious Affliction will be legal in Legacy, and is a potential candidate for Cube. For that reason we’re trying something a little different to break down this card—a roundtable discussion between myself, Level 3 judge Eric Levine, and Magic personality/sometimes-competitive player Luis Scott-Vargas.
Andy: Since this is a Commander 2014 card I’ll throw to our resident Commander-in-Chief, Eric Levine. What do you think about this card in Commander Eric? Is Malicious Affliction the kind of card that will become a staple in every black deck? How does it compare to other similar cards like Reckless Spite and Ashes to Ashes?
Eric: A lot of people focus a lot on mass removal in Commander, which makes sense. When dealing with a lot of opponents at once, efficiency is important. However, it’s important to remember that sometimes your opponents are allies. (At least, they are until they aren’t.) Where Wrath of God and its ilk are great for clearing the board—of your creatures as well as theirs—this is a much more surgical tool.
Ashes to Ashes does exile the creatures—and it hits nonartifacts rather than nonblack creatures—but it comes at sorcery speed. Reckless Spite is much more easily comparable, but in both cases, losing 5 life is a real cost. Lots of people justify life-loss effects in Commander with the fact that we start at 40, but while we Commander experts are quite durable, we tend to have a worse opponents-to-life ratio—something I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone talk about.
At instant speed and with a relatively easy trigger condition, I can see Malicious Affliction being one of the better spot removal cards in the format. This, of course, leads us to a question: what good are spot removal spells in Commander anyway? It doesn’t tuck, it doesn’t exile, and it doesn’t do anything but kill. Is spot removal like that worth it?
Andy: In my limited experience with Commander I’ve felt like cheap spot removal is important to knock off real problem cards or creature-based combos but that 1-for-1s like Doom Blade can be hard to justify in a format that depends so much on value. This might get right in the intersection of those two competing problems and offer a great solution.
Eric: Yeah, I’ve been known to run cards like Doom Blade and Go for the Throat, conserving mana and life, but the 1-for-1 is really not where you want to be. Honestly, white really has the monopoly on good 1-for-1s (Swords, Path, Oblivion Ring) in Commander. Malicious Affliction is easy to play in black decks, which often run on the blood of their own creatures, and since most such decks have at least some recursive elements, it should be possible to rebuy on the dead creature should it even be relevant.
If we’re on mono-black commanders, I’d look toward Xiahou Dun, Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker, or Endrek Sahr as decks to include this in, although honestly I have barely scraped the surface of where I think this card is applicable. If we’re going multicolor, let’s look to the new stuff and talk Sidisi, though it obviously makes sense in Kresh and Sek’kuar. It’s hard to find black decks that don’t want this card in Commander!
Of course, I play the way I play, and in groups that are focused on combos or extremely degenerate decks, I don’t know how good this card will be. Obviously some people in this conversation are more experienced in formats where degeneracy is the norm, so I’ll leave that discussion to you guys.
Andy: Degeneracy—I think that’s your cue Luis. This isn’t blue and it doesn’t say “Draw a card” anywhere on it, so I suppose I shouldn’t ask whether you “like” the card, per se, but could it have a future in Legacy?
Luis: This has a few things going for it (and some working against it, but I’ll get to those in a second). The first thing to notice is that this kills just about anything (Dark Confidant and Deathrite Shaman aside) for BB, with the additional bonus of killing two things if something else has already died this turn. Cheap removal that can sometimes be an easy 2-for-1 is certainly interesting, but what makes it more interesting is that the copy you get off morbid has to be dealt with separately if your opponent wants to counterspell this. Much like storm, it’s a trigger, and that makes this somewhat like Abrupt Decay when it comes to playing around counterspells.
Andy: This requires 3 creatures in play to get the full value though. How often is that going to happen in a format like Legacy?
Luis: Yeah, the main drawback I see is that you won’t always have that many good targets, so some amount of the time you are going to have a 2nd Malicious Affliction copy that has nothing to kill. Luckily, you don’t need to always trigger this yourself, and that is where a lot of the power comes in. If you have this at the ready, all you need is your opponent to kill one of your creatures, and all of a sudden you get to wipe out their pair of Tarmogoyfs (or if we are being realistic, their Young Pyromancer and Elemental token).
Eternal formats are becoming more creature-based, even Vintage, so I don’t think it’s ridiculous to try Malicious Affliction as a way to keep up with that. Offering the promise of card advantage and pseudo-uncounterability on an already-reasonable card is very interesting indeed, even if not quite as effective as it will be in Commander (my experience with Commander is limited to 1v1 games with Dralnu, Lich Lord, so suffice it to say it looks a little different than most player’s).
If this could kill Deathrite Shaman (poor Bob has mostly been left at the dock while everyone goes Cruising), it would have a good amount more value, but there are still enough targets that I’d be surprised if it didn’t see some Legacy play. Vintage is a tougher sell, given the lower creature count and BB requirement, but stranger things have happened.
This looks like an easy inclusion in Cube though, right?
Andy: Cube will likely end up being the format where this card is best. The general trend toward a world dominated by creatures that you mentioned has affected Cube as much as the rest of Magic, and it already revolved around them much more. It’s not a reach at all to imagine triggering Malicious Affliction with a trade in combat and still have two targets on the board, and beyond that there are some great sacrifice synergies to exploit in Cube. In the end, Doom Blade for BB is playable in Cube, and the upside makes Malicious Affliction totally insane and a certified permanent staple of the format.
[Editor’s note: This article originally referred to Malicious Affliction incorrectly as “Morbid Affliction.”]