Magic is a complex and often complicated game, especially in formats where just about everything goes. Each year a dozen new mechanics and hundreds of new cards are added to the rolodex. It can be daunting sometimes.
This is arguably one of the areas that makes Constructed formats appealing to people: there is a finite list of options. Standard only has room for a handful of sets at any given time, Modern excludes anything before 8th Edition, and while most things are legal in Legacy, the format has such a finely-threaded scene that no player worth their salt would touch 90% of what exists if they want to actually win.
Winning is, after all, sort of the idea. Regardless of how many new sets come out or how thick the rulebook gets, the vast majority of the time, players win by taking their opponent’s life down to zero. How you choose to do that, be it direct damage, life loss, or clouding out the sun with the sheer volume of frenzied creatures, the end result is the same. If your opponent gets to zero and they aren’t protected somehow, they lose.
Once you’ve played the long enough – or your play group is full of frenemies – it’s eventually learned that there are other ways you can lose. Sometimes, it’s because an opponent mills out your deck and you can’t draw a card. Other times, it’s a result of a player actually accomplishing one of the 17 cards that generate an alternate win condition. Whether it’s Battle of Wits or a Coalition Victory, these cards provide ways to claim victory besides player elimination. Still, these alternative win conditions are often fragile, difficult to reach, and require building around. As a result, players don’t generally mind when one of them actually works, even if they can be somewhat anticlimactic.
There is one method, however, that requires no specific card, and it’s arguably the most contentious of the lot. It’s been part of the game since almost the beginning, and it was revamped and modernized in recent years, making it a much more viable way to win than it was before. Indeed, doing 20 damage to someone is one thing. . . but what if you only needed to do 10?
Yep, we’re talking about poison.
When a player reaches 10 poison counters, they lose the game. And the infect mechanic – a combination of Wither and much more potent poison cards – makes this possible. Only having to do half as much damage to a player speeds up a normal game dramatically, and poison via infect is one of the most hated game tactics in awhile. The reason is because infect is designed to work quickly. It wants to strike at you fast and claim victory. It puts players on the immediate defensive, having to choose between taking poison damage or their creatures getting -1/-1 countered to death, which can make for not-so-fun gameplay right out of the gate. Decks entirely based around infect are often hard to stop if you’re caught unawares.
In a vacuum, though, individual instances of infect world-shattering. In some circumstances, it can be a necessary tool to break a lengthy stalemate. Even in Commander.
Today we have: Grafted Exoskeleton
Name: Grafted Exoskeleton
Edition: Scars of Mirrodin
Focus: Creature Buffing / Creature Sacrifice / Alternative Win Condition
Highlights: Commander sees a lot of wonky situations. What do you do, for example, against a player that has 1,000 life and climbing? It makes defeating that player all the more difficult, and it also can drag out a game that already is going to be lengthy by nature. With Grafted Exoskeleton, it makes that player think twice about simply taking the hits. After all, it currently only requires 10 poison counters to win in Commander.
What makes this card worth it is three-fold. Fist, it can be put on any creature. The inherent problem with infect creatures is that most aren’t terribly imposing, with a few notable exceptions, and thus aren’t usually seen in Commander. Commander, by contrast, has no shortage of beefy creatures, and blessing one with infect (and +2/+2) can be devastating – especially if it has some kind of evasion or Trample. Such a move frees up logjams in gameplay by either forcing said problematic opponents to start making tough decisions. Or just dying. It operates in the same spectrum as having to worry about taking 21 combat damage from a general. And if your creature happens to be dispatched, another creature can simply take up the mantle instead.
Secondly, players can see it coming. That may sound counterintuitive, but most casual players don’t look fondly on infect to begin with, so something like surprise infect won’t sit well in most metas. The Exoskeleton, on the other hand, is very apparent, and it gives players the potential to react to it. It has to be cast, equipped, and it is susceptible to artifact destruction (with the added bonus of taking out the creature attached to it in the process). You don’t engender a lot of love when any kind of infect mechanic shows up, but at least in this instance there is time to react, and that helps mitigate the political hate somewhat.
Lastly, it’s a sacrifice mechanic. If you want creatures you control to die, it’s as simple as moving the equipment. The reasons for such a move vary, but for those seeking a way to do it, the option is available.
Be careful with Grafted Exoskeleton. It’s a useful tool in the right circumstances in a game, but it also will draw hate as poison is not universally beloved as an alternate win condition. If you can wield it successfully, however, it can be a very useful in shoring up a win. Or, at least, securing another player’s loss.
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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