Commander Spotlight: Alchemist’s Refuge

It’s been mentioned here and there over the course of this series the idea that Magic players typically favor one or two colors. Whether it’s the flavor that color offers or the style of gameplay that color represents (or both), there is a reason that even early on, players are drawn to the color that best represents how they want to play.

Most new players I’ve seen over the years, for example, tend to be drawn to either Green, White, or Red. This makes sense for a first-timer, since they are arguably the simplest to wrap your head around. Green and White both tend to be creature-based, be it in the form of an army of soldiers and angels or an army of lumbering hulking beasts that walk right over their opponents. Creatures are a simple concept and easily learned, so when they’re combined with other easy to understand notions of buffing said creatures or gaining life, Green and White appear very approachable by comparison. Red takes the opposite approach but is likewise easy to grasp: it’s all about burning things to death. With explosive spells and maybe a dragon or two, Red is about as straightforward as it comes – lock on to your enemy and keep firing. It’s not that there aren’t new players drawn to Blue and Black, but their strategies aren’t always as self-evident for the uninitiated.

The color you most identify with has a habit of changing over time, perhaps due to the format you play, the people who play with, or how long you’ve been in the game. What doesn’t tend to change as much, though, is the style at which you play. You can play Green and be tricky like a Blue mage or use White tactics as a Black mage. It’s all about finding the natural equilibrium between how you like to play Magic and the cards you’re doing that with.

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I once created a series of Vanguard cards of my Magic-playing friends prior to EDH really taking off. Part of it was for fun, but part was also a personal exercise to illustrate how our individual personalities are expressed through our play styles. Each Vanguard had one passive or triggered ability and one activated ability, and they usually played off of one another in some fashion. (Coincidentally, one of the abilities I crafted for one friend’s Vanguard ended up getting printed on Basandra, Battle Seraph by Wizards themselves later on.) These Vanguards were made not just as a vanity project but also so we could play as our characters if we wanted. Naturally, I also made one of myself.

I’ve learned over time that my play style isn’t usually to be the most aggressive or have the most unstoppable force (though those are nice). Rather, my primary goal is always to have options to ensure I stick around as long as I can. This is shown in my personal love of utility cards and cards that can serve multiple purposes – also known as great Commander cards. That said, I also have a desire to ensure that when I need to make a power move, it definitely happens, however convoluted or costly as it may be. This usually involves having the right resources, the right timing, reading the board carefully, and more than a little luck, but I’ve developed a knack for it over 20 years. As such, while I may not win a majority of multiplayer games, I at least can be problematic to eliminate.

My Vanguard’s passive ability reflected that. It said, “As an additional cost when casting spells, you may pay 3. If you do, that spell gains Split Second.” It’s a powerful trait to be sure but also situational, as paying an extra 3 mana for a spell is hardly cheap. Still, it reflected the notion that if I want to make sure something happens, I will. As fitting as it seemed, that ability surprisingly ended up being used less than you’d think.

Yet there arose a card in recent years that gives off that same notion of paying extra to pull off something on your own terms, which is what made me think on the Vanguard project in the first place. And it is that card we take a look at this week.


Today we have: Alchemist’s Refuge

Alchemist's Refuge

Name: Alchemist’s Refuge

Edition: Avacyn Restored

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Spell Utility

Highlights: Alchemist’s Refuge is yet another one of the original Innistrad’s series of excellent utility lands. This one tended to get a little overshadowed in the same block that gave us Kessig Wolf Run, Cavern of Souls, and Vault of the Archangels. A larger reason for this was because of the instant gratification effect. Unlike cards like Kessig and the Vault, Alchemist’s Refuge doesn’t give you any immediate effect by activating it. What it offers instead is options.

Yes, for three mana, this land enables you to cast practically anything on that player’s turn – if you have the extra mana –  making it tangentially useful on your own turn but incredibly advantageous on someone else’s. In many faster formats, paying an extra three for flash isn’t incredibly useful, as theoretically if you have access to that extra mana you shouldn’t need what the Refuge offers in the first place. In Commander, where mana is usually more accessible and games a bit slower, this card is an excellent way to cast cards that aren’t essential to being cast on your turn. It permits you to keep mana open during other player’s turns so you can react as necessary – something highly understated in the middle to late stages of multiplayer games. And then, if nothing transpires for a little self-taxing, then you are free to cast that creature or enchantment before your turn begins. Rinse and repeat.

Of course, because of the timing component of the land’s ability, this card also lets you play some mind games with your opponent. This could be activated on an opponent’s upkeep, for instance, and make them wonder what you may cast that turn, potentially causing them alter their decisions. Maybe you do have a response for their actions like a surprise blocker or a board wipe…or maybe you cast nothing at all.

Aside from the immediate reward part, the only real restriction to Alchemist’s Refuge is that it is limited to decks using Blue and Green compared to its predecessor Winding Canyons. Winding Canyons admittedly has more deck options since it uses colorless mana for its activation. The tradeoff, however, is that Alchemist’s Refuge isn’t limited just to creatures like the Canon is. It’s also significantly cheaper and easier to acquire. In either case, it’s a powerful ability that is hard to get rid of easily since it is on a land.

Alchemist’s Refuge is precisely the type of card for those people who favor play styles that favor deception, feints, and above all, being flexible. Or, in other words, people who like Blue. Don’t let that dissuade you though. Even if that isn’t your color of choice, in EDH everyone can benefit from having more options, Vanguard or otherwise.


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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