Commander Spotlight: Barrin’s Spite

For all of its deep strategy, social scheming, and wide variety of paths to victory, at the end of the day EDH is mostly about who brings the biggest guns to the shootout. Every deck will vary whether that gun is an artifact-laden combo set, an army of behemoth creatures, or packing enough damage-dealing firepower to melt the moon, but often whoever has the right ammo at the right moment is the one who usually winds up on top.

In theory, there’s nothing wrong with that. In theory.

Admittedly, such a reality allows you to be creative in your approach, be it through some passive combo effect or a rage-filled aggressive strike against your foes. This mixing of ramped-up power alongside gameplay variety allows each color to flourish, to bring its own strengths to bear, and ultimately ensures that every Commander game will behave differently than the one that preceded it.

The catch, however, is that Magic: the Gathering over time has seen a slow but steady incline in the median power level of its card sets – a condition commonly known as power creep. There was, for example, a time when Serra Angel was considered too powerful to reprint. Yet cards like Baneslayer Angel or even Archangel Avacyn from the recent Shadows Over Innistrad set aren’t just overly better cards for the same cost, they have effectively obsoleted the classic angel’s usefulness.

The same happens with utility cards. In the beginning, Black was limited to nonblack creature removal with cards like Terror and Dark Banishing. Eventually, such restrictions were curtailed, giving this color what it wanted: the ability to straight up Murder anything it wanted.

At the same time, the game also saw a rise in indestructible creatures – those immune to Black’s destruction effects. On the one hand, this balanced out these new cards’ power capabilities. On the other, such cat-and-mouse antics also pushed the raw strength of the game incrementally higher. This in turn has led to an increase in unrestricted exile-based spot removal with cards like Gild, Sever The Bloodline, and Silence the Believers. It’s not that Black was given a new ability (it’s had exile since at least the Urza block with Eradicate). Rather, it’s that the percentage of these cards ticked up in response to the increase of indestructibility.

Interestingly, a parallel area in Black’s color pie which hasn’t risen along the same power trajectory is forcing an opponent to sacrifice creatures. Much like exiling, creature sacrifice gets around most creatures’s normal safeguards and can take down even the biggest titans. Tossing down a Barter in Blood can be utterly devastating when an opponent only has a couple creatures you very much want to see dead. The problem is that in almost every case of being forced to sacrifice creatures, your opponent gets to pick which ones. If they have a handful of expendable token creatures to toss into the fire instead, then the power of the sacrifice effect is often lost. In EDH, both situations are equally likely since large creatures and cannon fodder armies are both found in spades. The question therefore becomes, is there a way of evening your odds?

The answer, of course, is this week’s pick. Today we have: Barrin’s Spite.

Barrin's Spite

Name: Barrin’s Spite

Edition: Invasion

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Spot Removal / Creature Bounce / Creature Sacrifice

Highlights: Barrin’s Spite has long been a useful tool in removing particularly egregious creatures on the battlefield using a decent mix of both Blue and Black effects. Surprisingly though, this card has repeatedly been overlooked for what it provides as an effect. At four mana and Sorcery speed, Barrin’s Spite was a tad too slow for tournament play, but as is so often the case, it fits quite well in the Commander format.

Indeed, at a modest cost for EDH, this card allows you to circumvent most of an opponent’s defense – including indestructibility – and guarantee that something valuable of theirs is going to die.

As far as focused sacrificial cards go, Barrin’s Spite can be utterly effective when timed well. This could be anything from reacting to a wrong committed against you, to stopping someone at the table from getting out of control, to using it on the offensive and clearing the way for you to swing in for massive damage.

That said, unlike most sacrifice-focused cards which affect everyone equally, Barrin’s Spite only spites one person. This one-sided focus cuts both ways. On one side lies the fact that using it won’t endear you to that person, especially if you’re using it to take our their two most valued assets. Opposite that is the fact that by not unilaterally taking out creatures from everyone, the rest of the table is less likely to seek recompense for your vengeful deeds.

Aside from the fact that the creatures must be targeted (like almost all spot removal), the one main caveat to Barrin’s Spite is that, yes, you cannot dictate which creature they will sacrifice and which they will save. However, this card ensures that at least one of someone’s two most valuable creatures are going to go up in smoke. What’s more, even if one target still exists when it resolves, the sacrifice is resolved first, ensuring the remaining creature’s death.

Even in an era where Black is gaining more options to handle creatures that just don’t want to die, this classic card provides a host of strategic sacrifice-laden options when used correctly, and it’s often not a card most players see coming.  It may not be on the upper threshold of the power curve, but it certainly gets the job done. And in the end, that’s all that really matters.

Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.

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