Commander Spotlight: Primal Order [Repost]

Editor’s Note: We’re still wrapping up our end of the year holiday break. In the meantime, enjoy this Monday Magic article, which was originally published in February 2017.

Collectible card games bear a number of traits that make them prohibitive to a great many people, including difficulty level, barrier cost to entry, the financial burden of continually buying new product, and the potential difficulties of finding others in your area to play with. The chief reason that Magic has managed to sustain itself for over 20 years isn’t solely because its parent company is the corporate behemoth known as Hasbro. Rather, it’s because it overcame its own issues early in its life cycle, which in turn allowed an ever-growing population of people to find, explore, and stay involved with what it was offering. The CCGs of the 90s that lasted weren’t just because they had an interesting game. No, a large part of their success was ensuring both that stores would stock their product and that said stores served as nexus points for players to find one another.

Hell, the whole Reserved List debacle was, in part, because WotC at the time was absolutely terrified that stores would stop carrying their product. The CCG model only works if you’re able to maintain the player base release after release.

That said, should a CCG be lucky enough to expand and mature, its success also engenders another perk for players: the ability to be selective in what you buy. Once it reaches the critical consumer mass needed to facilitate regular set printings without taking a loss, players are free to pick and choose which sets they invest their time and money in. Sure, the most diehard fans will buy every new product a game like Magic puts out, but since most players don’t have the interest or financial luxury to do so, they instead decide which worlds and mechanics they feel are worth tossing money down on the table for.

Thankfully, Magic has hardly had a shortage on variety over the years. Maybe you really enjoy artifact blocks, or perhaps you prefer more tribal-based mechanics. Maybe you focus only on sets that offer a high percentage of tournament-worthy cards. Or, alternatively, you seek the exact opposite. Highly complex sets? Gimmick sets? Introductory-focused sets? We’ve seen all of them at one point or another. Some sets will undoubtedly speak to you; others won’t at all. And thanks to Magic’s success, you’re free to come and go with sets as you please, jumping in and out to your heart’s content.

Naturally, some sets / blocks are far more revered than others (i.e. Innistrad, Ravnica, Mirrodin, Tempest) – both in reception and sales – whereas others weren’t necessarily best sellers but still had an arduous fan base (Time Spiral, Kamigawa, or Lorwyn come to mind). At the opposite end of the spectrum lay the sets that have been universally panned, historically shunned, and financially unsuccessful. Cue sets such as Odyssey, Legions, and Prophecy.

Yet time and again, the debate over which set is The Worst nearly always boils down to the same two: Fallen Empires or Homelands. Fallen Empires was comically overproduced and bloated with multiple versions of the same card in its roster. Homelands by contrast was horribly underdeveloped and underpowered, even for its time. What’s more, because both existed so long ago, many players – particularly those not around during their release – simply assume that neither set has anything to offer us even now.

They would be mistaken. For one of the great aspects of a CCG is that even if a set overall isn’t that glamorous, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain some silver linings. Fallen Empires for all its problems actually sold well for its time, and the set contains many cards that are just as viable now as when they were printed, such as Hymn to Tourach, Goblin Grenade, Goblin War Drums, and the master Blue accelerator, High Tide.

The same can be said of Homelands. Sort of. Homelands may not have a huge list of powerful cards (even comparable to Empires), but it did offer a cohesive and interesting story on the plane of Ulgothra and the great character Baron Sengir. And even with all of that being the case, even that set does provide a few interesting cards that can be worthwhile in EDH, even if few people were swooning over them at the time. This week, we look at one of those rare Homelands gems.

Today we have: Primal Order

Primal Order

Name: Primal Order

Edition: Homelands / Fifth Edition

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Damage Dealing

Highlights: When most think of nonbasic land punishment nowadays, the only color that comes to mind is Red. Yet even for as niche a thing as that is, it did briefly also exist in Green’s color pie during the game’s early years. Until Wave of Vitriol came along, the last monogreen card to even reference nonbasic lands was during Guildpact. The time before that, Urza’s Saga. So it’s understandable that few players would ever even look outside of Red for such a thing.

Moreover, when Primal Order debuted originally, there wasn’t a lot of nonbasic lands running around in the competitive formats, so few wanted to invest in a four mana enchantment that works slowly. If a player wanted to punish someone for nonbasic lands, they had the cheaper, instant-speed Price of Progress to use instead. So Primal Order faded into obscurity.

In the world of Commander, however, this four mana enchantment is quite the bargain, forcing players to take 1 damage on their upkeep for each nonbasic land they possess. EDH is renown for decks running plenty of nonbasic lands, and this isn’t just a simple but effective means to punish people for doing so – it’s one of the best. Unlike its modern Red equivalent Burning Earth, this card goes further and punishes players each round simply for having them on the battlefield. In decks with heavy concentrations of nonbasics, this unassuming card can dish out plenty of damage, making it both dangerous and easily worth the minimal investment – so long as you can keep it around.

The main downside to this card is that it affects everyone equally, meaning that you’ll want to use it in decks that minimize nonbasic lands or those where you can offset the damage. The fact that the card is an equally opportunity offender though helps its chances of staying on the battlefield longer while also partially downplaying the threat it could generate for you.

Yes, Primal Order does one very straightforward thing in a very efficient way. It’s an excellent example of an older card that can find renewed life in the Commander format, as well as a rare example of a highly enjoyable Homelands card.

Okay, okay, the set did also have Wall of Kelp

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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