Back in September, the Commander Rules Committee announced the end of the “Banned as Commander” category. While it was an easily understood distinction, being legendary creatures deemed acceptable in decks but too dangerous to helm them, it was also a very sparsely used one. At the time of its elimination, only four creatures graced the Banned as Commander list.
What the RC did instead was switch to using ‘being a problematic Commander’ as a reason for banning the card in its entirety. Not only did it clean up minor format rules clutter by no longer having two separate banned lists to track, but it did away with a subcategory of card restriction that was highly underutilized.
Think about it: until that point, such a list was effectively stating that beyond blatantly over the top legends that were so powerful that they couldn’t be trusted in decks in general, only four were dangerous enough not to be trusted with being the Commander itself.
Most people will argue there were far more than four that caused – and still cause – headaches at many kitchen tables.
There are many Commanders to choose from, but as it has been written about before, people have a tendency to rehash many of the same ones over and over again due to them being new and easily found, or as is equally common, that they are easily abused. Like an inescapable lure, many people are drawn to using certain Commanders because of their ability to take things to absurd levels. They don’t just want to win with their avatar of choice – they want to win with it decisively.
It’s easy to blame the creature itself as being the culprit, but as is often the case, it isn’t necessarily their fault. Plenty of powerful legends can be utilized in the driving seat of a deck without becoming one the table needs to kill on sight. Rather, it’s often what players insist on building around those Commanders that can turn an EDH deck into a 120 minute audition for being the next Bond villain.
For instance, it is this reason that Kokusho, the Evening Star was on the Banned as Commander list until its dissolution. This black dragon in and of itself isn’t all that devastating, siphoning five life from each player when it dies. While a potent lifegain effect with a half dozen players at the table, five life isn’t a knock out blow in a game with a 40 point life total. One can argue that Exsanguinate or Sanguine Bond is far more dangerous in the right hands. Instead, the problem was because people couldn’t not resist abusing Kokusho into an easy win condition. Players would simply combo it with any manner of repeatable sacrifice and reanimation effects, and due to life loss being a neigh unstoppable effect nowadays (thanks Wizards!), games would be over pretty quickly.
(Interestingly, Kokusho is the sole one of the four legends on the now-defunct list that actually got unbanned, so we’ll see if people can restrain themselves. Else it could end up right back on the chopping block.)
Many other Commander choices have the same allure as Kokusho, mocking players to continually ratchet up abusable combos and deck engines around them until their power level goes over 9000. Since EDH is designed to be a fun and flavorful casual format, though, the responsibility of restraint is left up to the players themselves. This week’s pick asks you do to exactly that.
Today we have: Merieke Ri Berit
Name: Merieke Ri Berit
Edition: Ice Age / Time Spiral Timeshifted
Focus: Creature Removal / Creature Stealing
Highlights: As a card, Merieke appeared as an interesting variation of an often-used mechanic during the game’s early years. Much like Seasinger, Preacher, Spirit Shield, and a dozen others around its time, Merieke provided a useful effect so long as the card remained tapped. In almost all cases, however, you had the choice to untap them and end its effect. Merieke was the exception, as she didn’t come with the ability to choose whether she untapped or not – nor does she have the ability to untap on her own by paying some kind of penalty.
Effectively, Merieke Ri Berit is a mirrored version of Rubinia Soulsinger. Both cards came from the same era and both steal creatures, but while Rubinia’s Green aspects allow you to untap and send the possessed creature on its way, Merieke’s Black aspect says that if she can’t have that creature, no one can. Merieke’s banshee-like effect is certainly powerful, allowing you to steal almost any creature you want, and if anything happens to Merieke in her tapped state, the stolen creature is destroyed.
At best, this creature can steal one of your opponent’s best assets for you to use. At worst, it’s a three mana spot removal effect with the potential to be used more than once. That repetition, of course, is based on whether Merieke’s effect ending is due to her untapping, or her fragile 1/1 frame being killed off. This makes the card balanced, versatile, and economical, which is always a plus in EDH.
As a Commander, however, Merieke just begs to be abused, and it doesn’t take much. Granting this legend any sort of repeatable untap ability turns it from a useful utility card into a shotgun, with the ability to chain kill any creature on the battlefield unless it’s untargetable or indestructible. And if properly protected, she can continually do so. This can create degenerate games, as unless it’s used as a victory condition or is handled quickly, Merieke has the potential to make things prohibitively lopsided.
Plus, adding insult to injury, whenever she’d be removed from play, not only would she return to the Command Zone to be replayed due to her cheap cost, but she still gets off a last laugh by taking the stolen creature with her anyway. Hooray.
Just because you can abuse a legendary creature doesn’t necessarily mean you have to, and Merieke is a good example of that. Not every legend needs to be broken to be worthwhile. This is a card that can be played and enjoyed in many EDH sessions as an interesting card in your deck instead of one where you base an entire deck around it, leading to unfun scenarios. Ultimately, like many of her kind, the problem isn’t that Merike would make an unstoppable Commander (she isn’t), but that doesn’t mean you always have to try.
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