Commander Spotlight: Urborg Justice

There’s a debate that always happens whenever the lottery starts creeping up into stupid amounts of winnable cash: if you happened to win, would you rather take the lump sum payout or have it distributed out over a number of years?

Most people would say take the money and run, even though doing so means you’re only taking a percentage of what you actually won. But you also get to lay claim to it and do what you’d want with it right away instead of waiting around for 20-30 years to collect on your total winnings. Many people counter that not only is an annual payment more profitable in the long run, it’s less of a risk that you’ll squander money away. Plus, the argument goes, there is a rewarding experience all its own knowing that you’re going to have that winning experience recaptured year over year. It may not be as explosive of a payout, but repetition has its own rewards. It’s sort of like the idea whether you’d rather eat all the cookie dough now or turn them into cookies so you can space it out.

The reason why it gets debated every time is that, without going into all sorts of math, both decisions have merit. Each approach can be strategically done while also being emotionally rewarding.

The same thing applies to games of Magic. Shocking, I know.

Consider the notion of why it is that some players vastly prefer decks that are light on creatures or enchantments but are positively brimming with spells. Aside from the old-school Magic days where it was a product of poor creature quality by comparison, many players like spell-based decks because they can pack a powerful punch in one swift move. Why have a creature peg your opponent for two damage a turn when you can Fireball them into crispy planeswalker bits instead? For this crowd, the power of one-time use effects generates the kind of Magic experience that they want – one where they get to have a spell-slinging wizard dual. Such decks are prone to work more off combos and tend to behave in bursts, but they can be potent and dangerous all the same.

By contrast*, many other Magic players see the game as a fantasy-based Chess match, wherein every move is a tactical battlefield calculation and every creature summoned can be countered by another creature or utility permanent on the board. Spells play into their equation too, but they aren’t the sole focus of any given deck. This approach relishes using all of your assets to their fullest effect, which ideally means some kind of repetitive effect. The upside to having something on the board repeatedly go off ensures you get more payout on your investment. The downside, however, is that you lose the element of surprise, and having a powerful recurring effect sitting on your side of the board can easily make it – or you – a quick target in Commander games.

Take, for example, a card like Grave Pact (or its creature version Butcher of Malakir). Unless you’re running a token deck with lots of expendable creatures, having an ability on the board that says anytime one player’s creatures die you must sacrifice one of yours too simply won’t sit well. No protection, no indestructible, no regeneration – it’s gonna die. It can be a particularly frustrating card to face because, more often than not, decks that run them tend to also run expendable creatures or sacrifice mechanics designed to take full advantage of that fact. Grave Pact / Butcher is the type of card that makes exactly zero friends once it hits the board, and unless you’re creatureless at that moment, getting rid of it usually becomes the immediate goal of the entire table. There is no doubt this effect is handy, but with all the ire it generates, it can make you wonder sometimes if a permanent version is always worth the trouble.

If only there more of a surprise one-time effect to utilize instead…

Oh wait, there is!

Today we have: Urborg Justice

Urborg Justice

Name: Urborg Justice

Edition: Weatherlight

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Creature Destruction

Highlights: The biggest problem with Grave Pact / Butcher of Malkir is, essentially, that it’s too effective at what it does, which can often make more trouble for you than their intended benefits. Massive one-sided creature kills can quickly galvanize forces against you – especially if it’s as repeatable as these cards. That being said, if you simply can’t resist the urge to turn your sacrifice engine into an offensive-based assault on another player, Urborg Justice is one such alternative to immediate board hate.

With its modern wording, Urborg Justice will force an opponent to sacrifice creatures equal to the number that you have lost this turn. For those who take full advantage of sacrificing lots of creatures – such as chucking your own chattel into the vast array of available sac outlets in the game – Urborg is an ideal followup to those efforts for just two extra mana. Not only will you get the entire upside of whatever sacrificing is being done, but someone is still going to pay for your antics in a painful way.

Ironically, Urborg Justice can also be the perfect answer to someone performing such a lopsided board wipe. Indeed, this card’s other great attribute is when it’s used purely as a retaliatory move. With such a low casting cost and the ability to be cast whenever, Urborg Justice makes for an amazing left field style response card to when one person benefits from your pain a little too much.

Or not enough.

Either way, it’ll hurt.

Aside from its one-and-done effect, Urborg’s major limitation is that it will only affect one person. While this is quite useful for a projected attack on one opponent (and thus lowering your chances of becoming Enemy Numero Uno), you will have to choose your target and timing of it carefully for maximum effect. It won’t help if there are multiple board threats, and the last thing you’d want to do is tip the balance of power from one person to another if one of them isn’t you. Generally speaking, though, the most optimal person to use it against is probably the best. Whoever has been annoying you is a close second. Just be sure it packs enough of a punch in case they’ll want revenge.

Because, really, there will be revenge sought with this kind of card. Luckily, it’ll only be from one person, and not a continual barrage from the entire table.

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.

*Okay, okay, there is technically a third group here – those whose decks are almost entirely creature based. But although Wizards loves this group something fierce, we won’t speak of them or their strange and overly-linear gameplay ways.

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