Part of the beauty of any deck customization game isn’t just that it affords you an entertaining means of trying to win, but also that the player has a direct hand in shaping how they go about doing that. Although there are occasional decks created not to win insomuch as to sow chaos or cause headaches for other players – solely because they can – the overwhelming majority of time people put their efforts into crafting, tweaking, and tailoring decks with the express intent of actually attaining victory. Approaches to what that may look like will vary wildly depending on the player’s preferences, the format being played, the number of opponents, and the available card pool, but at the end of the day, the underlying goal pretty much remains the same. And naturally, Magic: the Gathering has plenty of options in every single one of those categories, which is why it continues to endure after nearly 25 years.
That being said, not every deck is (or should be) considered equal. Some decks are catered towards tournament play, whereas others are aimed much more for the casual crowd. Some players spend sickening amounts of money upgrading and altering their decks, while others simply play with whatever they have in their possession. In some settings being being highly aggressive is rewarded, but in others it’s actively discouraged.
Indeed, one of the lasting quests for any Magic player is finding like-minded players and environments around them that’ll fit the Magic gameplay styles that best suits them.
In my case, I was lucky: although the groups have changed numerous times, most of my Magic-playing friends over the years have all had the same preferences: multiplayer casual Magic for most games, with occasional booster drafts for when the more competitive urge strikes.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that we haven’t had our share of decks that went against the grain of group preferences. Like just about every group, there have been numerous decks over time that caused mild to moderate waves for one reason or another. Some of those were strictly because they mimicked tournament decks, far outpacing the more casual atmosphere the group cultivated. A few of which became so potent that unless they were addressed early things would invariably devolve into games resembling Archenemy.
Netdecking was hardly the only reason that decks gained fame (or infamy), though. One has remained in our collective memories, for instance, because the entire deck was based around playing a rule of the game completely wrong (first accidentally, then deliberately), making it way more powerful than it actually was. Another remained in our psyche solely because it was a hilarious and flavorful deck concept that we applauded the creativity of…and yet it never won a single game.
My most infamous personal contribution to this list was a multiplayer-focused Black / White deck whose entire premise revolved around keeping Humility and Pestilence on the board. It wasn’t overly fast or broken, and it wasn’t chock full of combos to create lopsided wins. Instead it gained its reputation because it was very attrition-based and single-handedly drew games to a crawl. Eventually the deck was shelved entirely because people simply refused to play with it due to time concerns.
Today, however, we are here because of my second most annoying deck. This one too was hardly unbeatable but it wasn’t nearly as much of a one trick pony. This one was a Blue / Green deck with a strong enchantment subtheme. The main focus was to make my creatures as big as possible via temporary buffs or Auras (i.e. Might of Oaks, Ancestral Masks, Rancor, etc.), and then either swing at someone for heavy damage or sacrifice them to the always-dangerous Altar of Dementias I had at the ready.
What made the deck so lastingly memorable to everyone was that the creatures to do this were always someone else’s. That is, either I would temporarily steal your creature and throw them back at you, or with the deck’s incredibly high percentage of shapeshifters, I would copy whatever your scariest creature on the battlefield was and use its strength against you.
Surprisingly, for a casual deck it worked more often than not, thanks largely to a high degree of card utility and the ability to adapt quickly – mostly due to the fact that the deck was easily able to copy whatever creature on the field I needed to accomplishing that. I always had a fondness of using copy effects to turn my opponent’s assets in my favor (with Vesuvan Doppleganger still one of my all-time favorite cards), but the efficacy of that deck hammered home that association amongst my friends as one of my recurring deckbuilding habits.
Hey, clones are fun for a reason.
Case in point: this week’s pick is one of the most notable clone variants in the last five years, and as such, finally deserves mentioning. Today we have: Lazav, Dimir Mastermind.
Name: Lazav, Dimir Mastermind
Rarity: Mythic Rare
Focus: Creature Copying
Highlights: As part of the cycle of new guild-based legendary creatures in Return to Ravnica, Dimir’s contribution was their secretive new guild leader, Lazav. Every bit as manipulative and mysterious as his predecessor, Lazav quickly rebuilt the guild’s power base after its crippling during the climax of the first Ravnica block. Card-wise, Lazav in most ways serves as a boilerplate Clone variant…but it’s the differences that make it worth celebrating.
There are four key traits that elevate Lazav above most of its shapeshifting brethren. First, and most obvious, is that Lazav is part of shapeshifting contingent that can change what it’s copying numerous times. Lazav triggers anytime a creature hits an opponent’s graveyard from anywhere, be it from dying on the battlefield, discarding cards, or milling. In games of Commander where you have multiple opponents and a built-in tendency for short-lived creatures, it doesn’t usually take Lazav long to find worthwhile targets to choose from. What’s more, unlike many other shapeshifters that depend on the graveyard to change form, Lazav in his normal form is not that frail and vulnerable; if you have no legal targets you’re still getting a 3/3 creature for four mana – the average casting cost of a clone. And that’s its worst-case scenarios.
Second, Lazav has Hexproof – regardless of whether it’s copying a creature or not. Depending on which creature you may be copying, this bonus ability can range from mildly helpful to down right scary. After all, the only thing worse than a giant creature about to swing for your head is one you can’t target. In many Commander games, a well-timed Lazav could escalate from mere nuisance to extremely dangerous in seconds, making it well worth the investment.
The third, and possibly most surprising trait about Lazav, is that it’s not actually an expensive mythic rare to attain. In fact, as powerful as it is, it doesn’t even crack the top ten most expensive clone cards to purchase, making it far more of a budget card than it may first appear, and thus a worthwhile card to recommend for this column.
Finally, there is the fact that Lazav is legendary – one of only two clone cards with that status – making it a possible choice as a deck’s Commander. Lazav works perfectly well within a normal deck, but choosing to use it as a Commander generally won’t break most games. The biggest area of caution will be if you choose to copy a large creature and then start launching attacks against opponents for large chunks of Commander damage. Such an act could turn the table against you in a hurry. That said, outside of an apparatus to heavily manipulate getting creatures into graveyards, Lazav’s biggest boon to being the Commander itself is that it’s fairly affordable to bring back multiple times. And given the format’s propensity for routine battlefield deaths, the longer the games go, it gives you more opportunities for graveyard-mimicking antics.
It’s only fair really – if your opponent’s creatures are in the graveyard, you might as well make use of them since they aren’t anymore. That’s just being efficient, really.
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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