Commander Spotlight: Game Preserve [Repost]

Editor’s Note: Due to a combination of local power outages from last week’s storms and game conventions attendances, we had to adjust our schedule a bit to compensate. In the meantime, enjoy this aptly-titled Monday Magic article, which was originally published in November 2017.

Variety, they say, is the spice of life. And if that’s the case, Magic: the Gathering is one hell of a zesty game. With nearly a half dozen formally recognized formats, as well as over a dozen fan-made alternatives, as well as myriad cards designed to cater to one or more of those settings, Magic strives in some fashion to be many things to many people. Part of that is the side effect of being a nearly 25 year old game, and part of it is that by appealing to as wide of an audience as possible, it keeps the money flowing in.

Funny how that works.

Today’s sets come with plenty of cards that will likely match your personal gaming habits to one degree or another. The focus and concentration of those cards that’ll suit your ends may ebb and flow from one plane to the next, but as a general rule, even the most selective players can find some theme, mechanic, or card cycle that fits their desires perfectly.

Moreover, because of those differences, you often run into discussions (read: arguments) between players as to whether a particular card or mechanic is good or not. Most of the time those opinions ultimately boil down to the format said person is basing them on, which can generate some pretty vocal biases. Many players will go on and on about the superb powerhouse that is Tarmogoyf, but that opinion is based on the belief that you’re discussing a Constructed format (especially Modern and Legacy). Ask a Commander player, though, and most’ll find it so useless that they wouldn’t even consider putting it in a deck. Likewise, most tournament players found Extort to be rather ho-hum. But in multiplayer casual? It’s down right dangerous.

This is, of course, all predicated on the assumption that rationality is always the primary motivator. Which…it isn’t. There are plenty of occasions where players and their groups may love or hate specific card designs for reasons that have more to do with emotion than logic. In our local meta, for instance, we went through periods where everyone was obsessed with Replicate, where we convinced ourselves that Renown was better than it actually is, and that Unleash was not worth thinking twice about. We love Dethrone as a multiplayer mechanic. Myriad on the other hand? A collective meh.

Hell, I’m still fixated on the idea of making Flanking work in a multiplayer setting, some two decades on. No real reason why really, beyond a combination of stubbornness and nostalgia.

Similarly, our meta has a particular enjoyment over a pair of mechanics that allow you to manipulate the top of libraries for some kind of bonus effect. Neither ability will likely make it into many Top Ten lists, but they nevertheless have a fan base among the local multiplayer crowd. These are Conspiracy’s Parley, and the Lorwyn era mechanic Clash. The latter affected only a pair of players at a time whereas the former affected all players, but in both cases it has the potential to benefit the caster. The payout is uneven and unpredictable, sure, but they’re both enjoyed as handy tools for players to affect the top of their decks without, well, having to do anything.

Of course, the concept – and usefulness – of revealing the top of libraries hardly originated with Clash cards. And it’s one of those earlier iterations that brings us here this week.

Today we have: Game Preserve

Name: Game Preserve

Edition: Mercadian Masques

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Free Casting

Highlights: Mercadian Masques is arguably one of the stranger sets to look back on with a fresh perspective. Although the set wasn’t terribly beloved at release and as a whole has trouble standing up to modern set design scrutiny, it did have a tendency to create a number of cards that seemed worthless at the time but have gone on to become beloved multiplayer options. Game Preserve is potentially another one of these cases.

However, let it be stated up front: Game Preserve is not a powerhouse card. In fact, this is a card that paradoxically gets more difficult to use the more players there are at the table. Its primary effect states that during your upkeep everyone reveals the top card of their libraries. If everyone reveals a creature card, then everyone gets to drop that creature straight onto the battlefield. If just one person doesn’t, then…nothing happens. Because of this, it’s practically impossible to rely on it for any sort of guaranteed effect.

That being said, unpredictability has its own rewards.

For one, while the percentage of success may not be terribly high, it provides an excitement factor to an EDH game. Will it happen this turn? If it does, how will that change the table dynamic? Will it work in your favor, or completely screw you over? That uncertainly creates an energetic atmosphere that can help loosen up Commander games when things may get a bit too serious and formulaic. Sometimes rolling the proverbial dice to shake things up is precisely what the game needs. And given its three mana cost, it’s easy to get out quite early in the game.

For another, its low success rate usually makes it a poor choice for enchantment spot removal; there will almost always be better options for destruction as the game progresses, giving it some baked in removal protection.

Yet it’s biggest contribution resides not in its effect, but in its trigger: Game Preserve makes every player reveal the top card of their library on your turn, giving players a distinct – if brief – look at what the next card each player is about to draw. And knowledge of what is to come can be quite powerful. While this simultaneous reveal affects you as well, this Telepathy-adjacent card information over what everyone draws next can help players plan for the future actions of one another and downplay unexpected surprises. Some may not enjoy this fact in the long run, particularly if they have a reaction-based deck, but such card reveals can create new dynamics and upend table politics just as much as if everyone gets their free creature. How it unfolds as a result every game is anyone’s guess.

How’s that for variety?

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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