Deterrence is the art of producing, in the mind of the enemy, the fear to attack. – Dr. Strangelove
Few movies in cinematic history have more accurately – or more comically – satirized the decades-long Cold War and the fear of mutually assured destruction than that of the 1964 Stanley Kubrick black comedy Dr. Strangelove (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb). In a time when the world’s two major superpowers were gripped by the mere idea of nuclear destruction, along came a movie that not only took the idea to its absurdly logically conclusion, but it rightly hammers home that in such a situation there can be no winner.
So, naturally, the movie focuses on the sheer ridiculousness of egotistical and ineffectual military commanders and politicians trying to gain the upper hand on one another, even while in the face of nuclear annihilation.
Still, the idea of military deterrence is hardly new: we’ve been practicing it in one form or another long before humans split the atom. Whether it’s arms races or the threat of ruining long-standing trade deals, opposing factions have tried almost as many methods to avoid war as they have to initiate it.
Really, when you get right down to it the entire idea of a standing army is one of mutual deterrence. That remains true whether you’re talking about an army of hoplites, modern commandos, or the Magic battlefield.
Yes, deterrents in Magic are quite commonplace, especially in multiplayer formats like Commander. Having specific permanents such as a powerful artifact or useful creature on the battlefield can be incredibly handy at preventing others from coming after you. By having those specific assets on the table, it forces your opponents to make a decision about whether it’s worth going after you, knowing full well that they may lose something important in the process. For a time, the reality of your opponent having to sacrifice something – be it temporarily or otherwise – may be enough to stave off an attack.
This mindset is pretty common in multiplayer – hence why so many games usually result in everyone shoring up their defenses and armies long before they start making assaults on one another. Eventually a single deterrent probably won’t hold them at bay any longer, but if one card can prevent someone from attacking you until you’re better prepared, then such a card is well worth its investment.
However, the notion of whether you want to have a deterrent sitting open on the battlefield or held in reserve so your opposition can’t plan around it is a common one. Would you rather sit with your finger on the trigger of a known grenade, or only lob one in surprise when you need to? As with many Magic-based decisions, how you answer that will come down to the deck you’re using, the strategies you prefer taking, and the enemies you’re facing.
We’ve talked about this conundrum before, most recently in January when discussing Gaze of Granite and whether a surprise board wipe is more or less beneficial than letting one sit on the board being advertised to everyone ahead of time. In that case, we were celebrating the idea of the surprise move.
This week, though, we’re going to focus on the opposite.
Today we have: Void Stalker
Name: Void Stalker
Edition: Magic 2013
Focus: Spot Removal
Highlights: Blue has always been the undisputed master of creature bounce, regardless of whether that comes in spell or creature form. From that vantage, Void Stalker is merely a continuation of a long line of bounce-based trickery. Yet Void Stalker continued a mini-trend of Gomazoa-like creatures that shuffles the targeted creature back into the player’s deck as opposed to their hand – at the cost of removing itself from the board at the same time.
This ability to remove a problematic creature by way of tucking it into the deck is highly advantageous in most situations, especially in EDH games where dangerous and abusable creatures run amok. Bouncing a creature to their hand may get rid of an issue temporarily, but most of the time your opponent will simply put it back out again at their next convenience. What’s more, in this new era of rampant Enters The Battlefield triggers, there are plenty of occasions where bouncing a problematic presence can inadvertently help your opponent. By shuffling the creature into a deck instead, it allows Blue a form of spot removal that still fits in with its color pie philosophies.
Moreover, unlike many other Blue creature-based bounce effects, Void Stalker can simply sit on the battlefield either until you want to activate it – or you’re forced to. This can be great for table politics, be it as a deterrent from attacking you (knowing the attacker will lose something important in retribution), or simply as an equalizing factor of removing the biggest problem on the board at any given time.
With a low casting cost and low activation cost, Void Stalker is highly versatile at any stage of the game, That being said, it does come with two small weaknesses. The first is that it’s incredibly fragile. As a 2/1, it’s clear that it’s not designed to actually engage in combat. Rather, its goal is to leave the battlefield at your discretion, and ideally taking out a problematic with it. This could be a creature attacking you, but it’s not restricted to combat; any creature on the board is fair game. That is, except for untargetable creatures – which is its second limitation. Luckily there’s almost always something worthwhile to take with you when you activate it.
All in all, Void Stalker is a deceptively useful little creature, fending off threats on one hand while looking to spring its own trap on the other.
Or, in other words, your typical tricky blue card.
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.
You can discuss this article over on our social media!
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