On just about every level, Magic has never been more popular than it is right now. The return to Mirrodin block was their best selling block on record. Until Innistrad beat that. And from what it appears, the Return to Ravnica block is easily on pace to break that. Core sets are not only being bought – they’re actually saleable again. Metrics have shown that more people play the game now than ever.
It seems every person has their own reasons for it, but in a nutshell the consensus seems to boil down to four things.
- Refining their core and expert expansion sets for better, more cohesive , and more appealing synergy.
- Promoting the hell out of Limited, Standard, and Modern formats of play, which drive in new players (and revenue).
- Striking a careful balance between newer players while leaving enough of carrot out there for existing players.
- Supplemental products for the casual player base.
It’s that fourth part I’m interested in here today.
The last few years have been great for those who prefer a more nuanced approach to the game, and – perish the thought – play with more than one person at a time. It’s been a mainstay of the players since the very beginning, but originally the game did not have rules for multiplayer – those were added on later. That’s great and all, but only in the last 4-5 years has Wizards actually figured out that not only is that multiplayer activity a reality, but there’s a market for it.
We don’t know what took them so long either.
Since then we’ve seen two different Planechase sets, Archenemy, and of course, Commander decks. Commander is the oddball in the group there. Think about it: they acknowledged the popularity of a format that they didn’t create, don’t have control over, and isn’t sanctioned – and then they made unique cards just for it.
That’s huge for casual players. It gives those who get tired or bored of the 1 v 1, 10 minute duels, a reason to stay playing.
It’s also a brilliant business move on Wizards part.
Commander is continually growing in popularity, and we’re due for another dose of Wizards-related product for it later this year. For now though, they threw us a bone in the most recent set, Gatecrash. Specifically, these guys:
While Return to Ravnica had a cycle of uncounterable spells aimed at Limited and Standard play, it’s been confirmed the Primordials were specifically for the Commander and/or multiplayer crowd. It’s sort of obvious: they’re all 7CMC creatures with big power/toughness bases and some significant “enter the battlefield” triggers that can cause a significant tempo swing. It’s crazy to think that the evergreen abilities like flying and intimidate are just tacked on, but they sort of speak for themselves.
Making cards that cater to a popular casual play style is undoubtedly favorable, but are the Primordials going to help or hurt Commander going forward?
The Titan Problem
The answer is: yes and no.
It’s true, the Titans caused a gigantic mess – in Standard. They were beefy creatures with a manageable casting cost and abilities when they came into play and when they attacked. For awhile, you either played with Titans or you developed ways to deal with someone else’s Titans.
Yay copycats. But that’s another story. Fortunately, we don’t really care about Standard here.
In multiplayer usage, generally speaking they were far less detrimental. The association between EDH and the Titans is mainly that they were the last cycle of large, powerful creatures that came through recent sets. People are drawing parallels because that’s their most recent point of reference, and the Titans were popular in other formats.
The simple truth is there was only one titan to worry about: Primeval. Frost Titan isn’t used. Sun Titan and Inferno Titan are usable, but they don’t generally cause panic at a table. Grave Titan can get unwieldy if he keeps spitting out tokens, but he still can’t compete with Primeval’s fame. (Or infamy as it’s turned out.) Primeval actually did cause a degenerate game state, where meta groups either all used them, or built in ways of dealing with them. Primeval became enough of a problem that he ended up getting banned. A similar pattern emerged with flying legends cycle in Avacyn Restored: it wasn’t the four angels that caused problems, but the one demon.
However, Sylvan Primordial is not Primeval Titan or Griselbrand. Luminate Primordial is not Elesh Norn. If anything, Sylvan Primordial is the new Woodfall Primus with a Forest land fetch rider built in. Sure, the Primordials make for solid Commander cards, but they are nothing that should cause the same waves as a Titan or two did.
The Staple Problem
It’s been stated since the very beginning here: we’re not fans of “staple” Commander cards. Feel free to read the article, but to reiterate: there are too many affordable cards out there that can be used. Moreover, for casual formats there is no need for “must use” cards. It smacks of arrogance and allows the idea of Constructed play to bleed into casual play in a manner that we don’t deem to be positive.
To wit, the question becomes: are we looking at new staple cards for Commander?
It is too early to tell precisely yet, but there’s a number of factors in their favor:
- They are rare and not mythic rare. This means there is more of them in circulation and, therefore, more people able to use them.
- They are prohibitively expensive and inefficient to to be widely used in Standard. This will keep their prices down and easier to attain.
- They fit the philosophy of Commander: big cards that can swing the position of power when used.
- They can be utilized for individual use or as part of combos.
- They are “stock color” abilities that can be added to any deck with the correct color.
- They are part of a very popular set during a time when Commander is very popular. This gives them (and, hopefully, the format) greater attention.
- They are not part of supplemental products. This, again, means easier access.
- They have the all-important “up to” clause in their abilities. This allows you to choose as many or as few targets as your current state of table politics necessitates, making them very versatile.
Most of them have a decent shot at seeing regular use, and that should be considered a good thing. (This should be especially welcomed by Red decks, as the Red components of cycles aimed at multiplayer use tend to be lackluster compared to the other colors.) We’ve already established Sylvan to be a new Woodfall Primus, albeit less prone to combo abuse. Molten, Sepulchral, and Luminate Primordial all can cause game-changing shifts in creature advantage when you’re stealing, reanimating, or exiling your opponents biggest (or most frustrating) creatures. And while it may not seem impressive at first, Diluvian is a damaging late-game card, as getting to cast multiple spells for free is rarely a negative.
We hope that the Primordials aren’t looked at as possible future staples, partly for philosophical reasons, and partly because the temptation for them to become that way is just so evident. And rightfully so. Each of them are solid creatures that could find a home in just about any deck that fit their color. Pair that with some of the aforementioned facts on versatility and availability, and you’re setting yourself up for a couple years from now when people deal with their scarcity the same way they do other popular Commander cards.
Yet, none of them are at the “broken” power level, and most of them aren’t in the “must have” category either. Sure, they can be abused with the right conditions, but so can hundreds of other innocuous cards when paired up correctly. They’re helping to bring attention to a format that really has become a force unto itself, which is good if you are a proponent of said format. If their presence in the Ravnica block brings new players into the entertaining world of Magic games with more than two players, one can hardly argue with that.
Ergo, the Primordials should be a welcome addition to multiplayer gaming without being overly prohibitive or degenerate. Ultimately, their presence should be mostly benign to Commander.
That said – Sylvan, we’re keeping an eye on you. Don’t make us regret our words.
What is your take on the the Primordials and other Commander cards? Discuss this article on our forums!