There’s a common adage in the working world: when security goes up, productivity goes down.
It’s not a complex bit of logic to understand. It posits that there is a direct inverse relationship between how safe and protected the work you’re doing is and how quickly and efficiency you can get the work done. If you have to put on a hazmat suit every time you need to enter a room, or provide three different passwords every time you need to log on to a system, that is time not being spent on the work itself.
Of course having no restrictions can be just as bad as too many. Innumerable things can – and do – go wrong when a site or situation contains no security or precautions whatsoever, and there are plenty of occasions where having that added protection and preparation is beneficial. If you’re going in for surgery you probably want the doctor to take a few minutes to wash up first, and if you’re calling the bank, it’s worth answering a couple questions to ensure that the banker makes sure you are you before discussing your finances.
However, at some point we all inevitably contend with some form of security hardening, where incremental changes under the auspices of protecting information or an environment come at the expense of getting work done quickly. Individual incidents of this aren’t inherently problematic, but when one change after another is made such that that suddenly something that used to take 5 minutes takes 15, it can get pretty vexing.
A similar relationship exists within Magic between optimization and variety. This is most evident on the competitive side, but it’s found at all levels of gameplay from the Pro Tour to the kitchen table. The more you fine-tune your deck with playsets of powerful and/or combo-laden cards, the more you lower the variance, but you also lower the variety of the cards being seen.
Think of it this way: if you make a standard 60 card deck with 20 land and stock the rest with four-offs, your deck would then consist of a mere 10 different cards (not including basic land). Such a move ensures repeatable behavior, yes, but it also means you’re using the same ten cards every single game. That’s ideal from an optimization standpoint, but it also means such a deck is using less than .0007 percent of all the available cards cards in the game.
By contrast, a boilerplate EDH deck using 67 different cards (again, not including land) represents just .0038 percent. Although still incredibly tiny overall, this still means that your Commander deck is going to contain 5.5 times more card variety, while its singleton nature is going to create exponentially more variance.
The natural inclination is to therefore offset this disparity where you can. And since (tutoring aside) it’s highly difficult to guarantee you’ll draw specific cards, the path many players take is to make each individual card slot as optimal as possible. Which in turn means choosing the most versatile or powerful card for the desired role. Which in turn means players opting to use the same cards over and over rather than try something different.
It’s why Rhystic Study‘s price has risen over 1,000% in the last three years, for instance, whereas something like Mystic Remora only broke the $1 mark in July after not having its value change in a decade. And Mystic Remora is certainly worth considering in its own right.
Indeed, part of the beauty of the Commander format is the realization that sometimes the most optimized card is not the best option for your deck, be it due to variety, flavor, or good old fashioned table politics.
Take Pariah. Pariah is a solid Aura that helps you avoid damage by shunting all of that damage to a creature you control. It’s a worthwhile card for sure. But in EDH decks, most players are going to prefer Pariah’s Shield because its effect can be used repeatedly once the sacrificial creature dies.
Yet while true, Pariah’s Shield also comes with its own set of problems. Namely, its powerful nature makes both the artifact and the creature it’s equipped to delicious targets for removal.
But what if you could get the same effect without having to worry about a specific creature or paint such a big bullseye on itself, all for just a little more mana investment?
Why you’d get this week’s card!
Today we have: General’s Regalia
Name: General’s Regalia
Edition: Mercadian Masques
Focus: Damage Redirection
Highlights: General’s Regalia is arguably best known not for the card itself but for its storyline significance when the Mercadian Goblins designated Weatherlight crew’s resident goblin Squee the status of a general, right before he went on to expose the Kyren’s alliance with the Phyrexians and starting character’s ascent from foolish comedic relief to accidental hero.
But the card is pretty good too.
For just three mana, General’s Regalia allows you to redirect damage from any one source to a creature you control rather than taking it directly on the chin. This effect is quite useful when trying to avoid potentially crippling or even lethal damage chunks such as a massive attacking creature or direct damage spell, letting one of your expendable minions take the brunt of that damage instead. What makes this artifact especially worthwhile – particularly in decks without access to Green or White – is that as long as you have the mana, you can activate it multiple times. This gives you the means to either spread damage out across multiple creatures or dump it all on to one poor soul.
Plus, unlike its equipment-based descendant, you can still make use of its effect should something happen to the targeted creature before damage would resolve.
That said, as situationally beneficial as this wondercloak can be, it does come with a pair of limitations. The first is that unlike some of the other creature-based redirection effects, it can get mana intensive, which means that it isn’t incredibly useful during the earlier stages of the game. Second, just like all card effects in this family, General’s Regalia requires that you have a creature on the battlefield to redirect the damage to; it cannot protect you by itself.
Still, while it may not be the most potent damage mitigation artifact in existence, it does its job better than it may seem at first glance. Plus, if I have to choose between optimization and variety in my Commander decks, I’ll choose variety every time.
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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Do you have a particular Commander card to suggest for us to shine a future Spotlight on? You can send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org