Like many veteran players, I’ve tinkered with custom cards and concepts for years. In my many years since I started playing, I’ve run the gamut from jotting down interesting card ideas to merely sitting around and speculating on the future of the game as a mental exercise. I recall a friend and I spending most of our math classes during the Tempest block scribbling different card ideas down in a shared notebook. I’ve come up with goofy and whimsical cards that would be straight out of an Un-set. Once I even created an entire series of Vanguard cards for my circle of Magic-playing friends.
I’d never claim that any of them were incredibly great, and I’m not all that convinced that I even necessarily have much in the way of a designer’s mind. What these efforts reflect, rather, is that like most Magic players, the number of creative possibilities theoretically possible with the game is nothing short of impressive, and it’s that openness that dares anyone who has played the game long enough to tinker with ideas of their own.
And that’s just cards themselves, let alone all of the customized and house ruled ways people come up with playing the game. Indeed, my arguably greatest Magic design to date wasn’t a card or mechanic – it was a variant on the way to play the game. I called it Chaos Magic, which consisted of a normal game of multiplayer casual except for the inclusion of an additional deck of cards (mostly artifacts or enchantments) that altered the criteria of the game’s settings. There was a number of these in effect at any given time, and while they couldn’t be gotten rid of directly, they did effect everyone equally. It was possible, for example, that everyone had Propaganda in effect, or everyone had to deal with Umbilicus. In some ways this isn’t unlike what Planechase later attempted to do, and one of these days I should do an article solely on how Chaos Magic worked.
Nonetheless, that versatility of play is part of what makes the game so endearing to so many.
In that vein of thinking, it’s all the more impressive how much Commander has taken hold within the casual community. Indeed, one of the greatest things about the Commander format – and one that seems to surprise many players more often than not – is that it is a fan-made format. Nearly every other major way to play Magic: the Gathering (along with numerous small / fringe formats) has been created and developed by Wizards of the Cost in some fashion. One of the largest exceptions to that is the format formally known as Elder Dragon Highlander. So much so that the company now makes annual supplementary decks strictly for this group. Part of this is self-serving, of course, since they get to sell product to the casual multiplayer portion of the fan base who until that point was only mildly represented in card design decisions. But it was also an excellent way of acknowledging that they were listening to those requests at the same time.
Among the numerous unique rules that Commander has, chief among them is that you are limited to cards and only contain the “color identity” of your Commander, meaning that any mana symbols on the card must match the Legend that you choose. The vast majority of the time, this is a creative limitation towards building your deck, but it also fosters limitations on certain subsets of cards that the larger casual community doesn’t deal with.
The largest subset of cards saddled with this hardship is hybrid cards. In the grander scale, hybrid cards are supposed to be available in any deck where you can cast either portion of the hybrid card’s colors. Fracturing Gust could wind up in any deck capable of White and / or Green. In Commander, however, since a hybrid card counts as both colors, it can only appear in decks where both colors are available. Although this does turn them more into standard multicolor cards, it is a highly creative restriction and reinforces what makes the format so interesting.
Moreover, while some bemoan this creative restriction, it doesn’t mean that hybrid cards aren’t worth the effort. This weeks’ pick is a prime example of that.
Today we have: Waves of Aggression
Name: Waves of Aggression
Focus: Combat Manipulation
Highlights: In the larger world, Waves of Aggression could potentially be found in any deck that could generate White OR Red mana. What makes this so interesting as a card, then, is because of its hybrid factor. Red has a long history with multiple combats, as does Red/White pairings. Outside of Commander, though, Waves of Aggression also grants the multiple combat effect into White. This shouldn’t be understated, even if Commander does limit you to decks that have at least Boros colors.
Indeed, Waves of Aggression allows you to generate a second combat for just five mana, which is pretty much on par with its ancestor Relentless Assault – and still worth the investment. Like many cards of this color pairing, there isn’t a lot of nuance to what you do with it. This card wants you to attack and attack often.
As it so happens, it’s also pretty effective at letting you do that.
Waves of Aggression affords you the potential for a huge tempo swing, especially in moments of the game when attacking a second (or even third) time could cripple your opponent – if not securing outright victory. Whether it’s a token army or several lumbering giants, attacking more than once per turn has never not been incredibly advantageous. It provides significant combat advantage and ensures that the player on the other end will be paying for it.
What makes the card so useful (aside from hybrid mana making it easier to cast), is the card’s Retrace ability. Although it’s incredibly costly to discard lands in the earlier portions of the game, Retrace gives the card even more late game usefulness, effectively converting unnecessary land draws into potential multiple attack steps. At worst, the Retrace option for the card is a nice bonus. At best, it’s a de facto Overrun waiting to happen.
Waves of Aggression affords you the freedom to strike often, hopefully converting some of that effort into a more advantageous board position. It’s easy to understand and potentially lethal when used correctly. All you need to do the design effort to make a deck to include it, which is likely a heck of a lot easier than attempting to make the cards themselves.
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