Most people who have ever dabbled in the realm of tabletop or video game RPGs are quite familiar with the idea of developing your character as they gain experience through finishing quests, slaying monsters, and accomplishing various goals you come across, and in most systems once you hit a certain threshold your character ‘levels up’. Doing so typically increases your character’s base stats, opens new possibilities for weapons and armor, and provides the opportunity to learn new skills or improve the efficacy of existing ones.
All in all, the idea of upgrading via leveling up is an elegantly simple concept that’s both highly malleable and has become so synonymous with the genre that we essentially take the whole notion for granted.
That said, the path one should take towards improving your character isn’t always the obvious one, and nowhere is that better exemplified than in the choosing of said upgrades. Whether they’re called skills, abilities, feats, tricks, boons, or anything else that creatively makes the remotest sense to the world being conveyed, deciding where to grow your character traits is an essential part of the decision-making progress for your character. Because while you may be able to learn a new skill every time your character reaches a new level, being a novice at everything is rarely more useful than being an expert at a few select things.
The simple truth is that although most RPGs give your character a bevvy of skill paths to consider, you simply won’t have the time to become proficient in everything. Indeed, the cultivation of your skillsets is just as integral a part of your character’s evolution as finding a new shield or fancy new tome.
Leveraging which colors we use in our Magic decks rewards and punishes us in roughly the same way. Every color prefers that your deck showcase that particular color and no other. Whether it’s providing better synergy between cards and mechanics or access to potent cards requiring a deeper mana commitment to the color chosen, the five camps each want your focus to be on them and them alone. And in many, many cases, that’s precisely what players do.
If we wish to expand beyond a singular color, however, we do so knowing that we are sacrificing one benefit for another. Branching into multiple colors for our deckbuilding is done for a variety of reasons, such as wanting access to additional colors for flavor purposes, taking advantage of themes and mechanics that span multiple colors, or merely to offset the inherent weaknesses of a singular color deck by augmenting it with colors from another. Whatever the inspiration may be, the end result is always the same: if you wish to spread your deck out over multiple colors, you won’t be able to reach the same heights of color expertise as with a single color alone.
This truism is compounded for each additional color you add into the mix. Which is why five color decks are often so difficult to pull off. If done poorly, a five color deck can be reduced to a jumbled mess of abilities that never really excels at any one thing particularly well.
On the other hand, when done successfully, such decks allow you access to the best of the entire spectrum of Magic in a single go. It requires a bit of finesse and planning, but viable WUBRG decks can be done. And so in that spirit of Magic-flavored inclusiveness, this week’s pick celebrates what each color is capable of offering Magic writ large, all in a single card.
Today we have: Obelisk of Alara
Name: Obelisk of Alara
Focus: Card Draw / Creature Buffing / Direct Damage / Life Gain / Spot Removal
Highlights: Like most utility-style artifacts (Staff of Domination, Trading Post, etc.), Obelisk of Alara bestows upon its user a series of mild to moderate abilities to take advantage of, albeit with some of them being more situational than others. When utilized to its full potential though, this five colored Swiss Army knife of effects can tip more than one situation in your favor fairly easily.
Admittedly, each of this artifact’s five abilities may not seem like much at first glance, offering a modest trick for their two mana activations. On the more notable side are the effects of White, Green, and Red, as with two mana you’re able to gain 5 life, give a creature +4/+4 until end of turn, or deal 3 damage to a player respectively. All of which are pretty useful at any stage of the game. Moreover, while not every player enjoys the ‘looter’ effect, Blue’s ability to draw and discard gives you the means to slowly sift through your deck for more advantageous options. This can be particularly handy in the latter parts of Commander games to help avoid unnecessary or unwanted card draws for the round.
The Black ability is arguably the Obelisk’s weakest offering, especially in an EDH setting where most of the problematic creatures are going to be bigger than 2 toughness. Yet it could still be handy for removing smaller utility or indestructible creatures in the right moments. And hey, 4/5 isn’t bad.
This perceived imbalance aside, Obelisk of Alara does have two potential issues to contend with as a Commander card. The first and most glaring is that it is only capable of being in a five color deck, severely limiting where and how often it’s capable of being used in a deck. Secondly, some may balk at the card’s six mana cost. However, as anyone who has faced an Obelisk can attest, the repeatable nature to its activations and the diversity of situational options it provides more than makes up for the fact that it doesn’t generate an immediate or static reward.
So yes, generally speaking, speccing a character into five separate skill trees over one or two isn’t the wisest move to make. Thankfully for us though, the Obelisk here is an object, not a person, and if you’re going to go down the WUBRG road, you might as well have as many tools for the job as you can muster.
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