Commander Spotlight: Akroan Horse

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned after playing Magic for over 20 years, it is to never underestimate how often people get some rule wrong even after encountering it multiple times.

Jokes are made routinely about the rules to Magic: the Gathering being long and dense, and truthfully those jokes aren’t without some merit. On paper, Magic is an incredibly complex game, replete with two decades of evolution, restructuring, errata, and fresh wrinkles coming from new mechanics. It often doesn’t feel that way once you’ve mastered the basics, though, because like an iceberg, most of the game’s rules mass is under the surface. That can be a daunting thought, if not for the fact that most of these rules are either intuitive or exist simply as an infrastructure to explain how interactions will behave when a situation actually comes up. The developers try incredibly hard to have any rules baggage from new cards rarely impact most games, and they’re generally more successful than not.

Still, the longer you are exposed to the games – especially games involving a longer linear of cards – the more you’ll run into foreign and unexpected card interactions. Part of the myriad reasons Wizards pushes Standard so much is because of this fact. For newer players, only worrying about how the last two years of cards function is a much easier learning process than trying to conceptually grasp everything in a game whose lineage may be older than the player themselves. As you continue down the rabbit hole, however, all sorts of bizarre things come up that can stymie players for years if they learn it wrong.

For instance, it’s completely understandable for even experienced players to not know how things like banding or phasing work since they’re old and unlikely to be encountered much, even in casual settings. By contrast, people are beaten over the head with how haste, flying, or the behavior of whatever the newest mechanic is, and they tend to fare better with those as a result.

Yet it never ceases to amaze how often the game’s secondary rules tier trips people up. These are the types of rules that govern much of the behavior of cards without being something directly referenced on cards, swimming around on the game’s peripheral, and I’ve personally lost track of the number of times it’s come up in games over the years with even seasoned players where they have to be restated or clarified as to how they work. Examples of this would be the difference between an activated and triggered ability, how multiple triggers resolve, or how the end step actually works.

Or, oddly, the difference between something’s controller and its owner.


As a reminder: if you physically own the card, you are its owner. If you have the card in your play area and can do things with it, you are the controller. Controllers can change. Owners do not.

The same also applies to tokens, though that wasn’t always the case. Prior to M10, a token’s owner was the player whose effect put it onto the battlefield, even if the token went to your opponent. This led to some odd scenarios (usually involving Varchild’s War Riders or Genesis Chamber). Most people just assumed that if a token magically appeared on your battlefield, they were its owner and controller, causing unwarranted confusion for the sake of a couple cards. And so a change was thusly agreed to: in M10, they changed that rule to close this odd caveat in the owner / controller definition.

Aside from cleaning up an unnecessary rules exception, this also had practical applications for game design. That is, they could make more effects that generate tokens for other players without worrying about corner case rules interactions. Although it isn’t the most common of card effects, there are certain occasions where you’d want to gift your opponent some tokens. Or punish them for it. Or both, as in the case of this week’s card.

Today we have: Akroan Horse

Akroan Horse

Name: Akroan Horse

Edition: Theros

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Token Generating

Highlights: When Wizards of the Coast first unveiled their new (now annual) Commander product, the most exciting aspect of the decks by far were the creation of a few dozen cards unique to that set. While powerful new Commanders like The Mimeoplasm and Kaalia of the Vast caught the lion’s share of player fanfare, it was a little card called Death by Dragons that the company led with an as an early spoiler.

Death By Dragons is the kind of card that screams table politics. It was precisely the sort of card that fans of multiplayer Magic desired but until that point were rare to come by direct means. Sure, there existed a smattering of other cards here and there over the years that make for fantastic political cards, but they either are very situational or accidentally applicable in multiplayer settings. Showing Death by Dragons was a distinct message to the fan base that not only was Wizards now more acutely aware of the desires of the multiplayer wing of the game for political cards, but that they were finally going to help to that end.

Since then, Magic has seen a rise in numerous cards that are overtly designed for Commander play, even in normal sets. Akroan Horse is one of them.

In normal games of Magic, giving your sole opponent a 0/4 blocker to slowly get 1/1 soldiers isn’t the fastest way to defeat your opponent, and so this flavorful little horsey was often passed over in normal gameplay. In EDH, however, its subterfuge get more interesting.

When you get down to it, Akroan Horse is a colorless cousin to Death by Dragons. Rather than being limited to Red, however, this artifact creature can slide into literally any EDH deck while also being two mana cheaper. In a duel game, deliberately giving one of your opponents a 0/4 defender in exchange for a slow payout of soldiers can be disadvantageous, but in a Commander game, the longer it’s on the battlefield, the more apparent the positive political implications become.

Yet in several ways this wooden horse is a safer multiplayer move than handing out 5/5 dragons. For one, giving most of your opponents some 1/1 creatures is far less dangerous than handing out a giant flyer that that’s just as likely to be used against you as against your slighted foe. For another, unlike dishing out a single creature, Akroan Horse is the gift that keeps on giving; each round it stick around, every player but its controller will continue to get new troops. For those benefiting, this continual source of tokens gives players more options, allowing you over time to be offensive and defensive with them, or anything in between. Most importantly, though, is the political clout it offers: the longer Akroan Horse stays around, the better political return you get – especially for such an economical costing card.

Well, at least for those who don’t get stuck with it.

Whether you give the Arkroan Horse to someone fueled by a sense of justice, vengeance, the desire to keep them in check, or good old fashion spite will be up to you. Sure, it can be destroyed by any number of means, but the longer this wooded equine sticks around, the more annoying it will be to its controller. So they may come looking for some retribution. Apparently people have a long memory for this sort of story.

But hey, those are the rules.

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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