Commander Spotlight: Simulacrum

One of the most memorable cards of my early Magic years was a ridiculously wordy (and sqirm-inducing) card called Takklemaggot. Takklemaggot was part of a subset of old cards that had so much text associated with its function that it actually required they reduce the standard font size just to include everything they wanted printed on the card. And the errata certainly doesn’t help the cause at all. Cards with that level of verbage are particularly rare by today’s standards (Quest for Ula’s Temple being one of the wordier cards in recent years by comparison), but there were more than a handful of cards with literal walls of text, such as Ice Cauldron, Chains of Mephistopheles, and Illusionary Mask. Even after all those years, looking at those cards can still feel slightly intimidating to parse through.

One of the great ironies, however, is that there isn’t a direct correlation between word count and complexity. Takklemaggot, despite its verbose wording, was pretty straightforward in the end, as it slowly ate the creature alive before resurrecting itself onto something else. Its unique Kudzu-inspired way of living on across multiple victims made the card intriguing to us as younger players – even if it’s not something anyone would advocate using in the current day and age of the game.

By contrast, something like Time Stop can be incredibly confusing for novice players despite being just three words due to the intricacies of what may or may not happen when ending a turn prematurely. Or for something closer in the timeline, just look at the card Humility. Debuting around the same time as these massively text-heavy cards, Humility would go on to infamously become one of the all-time most rules vexing cards in Magic’s history, although it is just 11 words.

Indeed, regardless of how lengthy a card may be, the larger determining factor as to whether someone will use it – especially a more novice player – is whether they understand the card’s inherent purpose. It’s easy to understand what the innate potential of a Lightning Bolt or Giant Growth, but the more convoluted the card becomes, the more it either becomes situational or requires a deeper understanding of how the game functions.

This is why, for instance, very few cards explicitly reference or interact with ‘the stack’. New players aren’t necessarily going to know what the stack is (nor do they really need to), and so the number of stack-focused cards over the years has remained relatively low. For WotC, the potential for creative design is almost always overruled by the desire to create something that’s going to be useful to players of all experience levels – not merely just those who have sifted through the Comp Rules.

Of course, that doesn’t automatically mean that every card’s purpose is going to be immediately understood by the entire player base. Sometimes complex cards may only flourish within a niche deck or format. Often, however, such cards are simply overlooked or ignored because the player doesn’t fully grasp the card’s strategic or tactical benefits.

During my more formative Magic years, this certainly was the case. As it is with many people learning the game, there were plenty of cards I didn’t understand why someone would willingly use or why they were even made, let alone how it could help win you games.

Part of that is chalked up that many of said cards didn’t gel with my preferred play style. Others, though, such as this week’s card selection, was a matter of just being too inexperienced to the benefits behind something I deemed too complex for its own good.

Today we have: Simulacrum

Name: Simulacrum

Edition: Alpha through Fourth Edition

Rarity: Uncommon

Focus: Damage Mitigation

Highlights: Simulacrum was a card routinely ignored by many people during its tenure, despite it having a substantial degree of potential. Much of this was because black had numerous answers at its disposal at the time, including Terror, Darkness, Hecatomb, Dark Banishing, and Pestilence. There was a glut of Black removal during this time, and in some ways Simulacrum was just seen as unneeded.

That said, anecdotal evidence also leads me to believe that the world ‘retroactively’ also played a factor.

Whatever the case may be, Simulacrum has never garnered widespread aplomb, which is unfortunate. For just two mana, this card can potentially allow you to soak up an entire turn’s worth of attacking creatures and / or direct damage, letting you shunt all of that taken damage onto one of your creatures and gaining that life lost back in the process. This had potential even in normal multiplayer games of 20 life, but in Commander where both life totals and damage output is higher, this can be an incredibly powerful way of offsetting substantial damage swings for next to no investment. What’s more, because of the way the card functions – with you gaining the life back and Simulacrum dealing the damage to a creature you control – should the creature have its own ways of mitigating damage (i.e. Indestructibility), it can make for a win-win scenario.

Also also, Simulacrum is a card no one ever sees coming. The look on an opponent’s face as you undo an entire turn’s damage output for nearly no cost is sheer perfection.

That all being said, Simulacrum does have a pair of limitations. The first, and larger of the two, is that to take advantage of its effect, you have to survive the damage in the first place, meaning it can’t save you from dying. As such, it’s much better as a midgame card than something that’s going to help you clinch a win. Second, you need a sacrificial creature to take the damage on your behalf. Yet for most players, letting one of your creatures bite it to offset a 20+ damage turn will be well worth the effort.

Simulacrum has a wealth of potential to help you stave off your opponents’ aggression. My 12 year old self didn’t see the potential then. The more experienced player on the other hand can’t recommend it enough.

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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