Commander Spotlight: Ashnod’s Cylix

How do you start tackling a project?

As you’d expect, the answer to that seemingly simple question is going to range wildly depending on the person being asked and the project being undertaken. If you’re in construction, for instance, you have to be methodical. You can’t put up walls without a foundation to stand them on. Assembly and building in general have a specific blueprint with which to follow, and there isn’t really another option to reach their planned end goal. Scientists are similar at first, being very adamant about having a hypothesis to test, but are ultimately more concerned with maintaining the validity of the data and the process of attaining it than what the results may be.

Others take a different approach. Some engineers like to start with a vision of the finished project and work backwards to figure out how to achieve it. Crime fiction writers may start with crafting the crime itself long before they even determine who the culprit is. And some artists will eschew a plan altogether, simply preferring to wing it and experiment in order to make their next drawing or song.

In the world of board game design, most take usually one of two trajectories when making a game. The first is to come up with the mechanics of the game – how it is going to play functionally – and build out from there. In those cases, the initial emphasis is how they want the game to work from a rules perspective, trying to figure out how mechanisms will interact, what restrictions to instill on the players, and the overall puzzle they want the play to be navigating when sitting down to play. Once the framework is in place, then a theme may (or may not) be added to it to give the game a more flavorful purpose than collecting resources and moving cubes, giving it a better sense of identity in the larger gaming world than a purely abstract series of actions.

The other approach is to do the opposite. Here, a designer may start with a theme and try to build the mechanics of the game around it. The focus in doing so here is to ensure that the game properly conveys a specific emotional experience. Setting a game on the front lines of World War II is going to evoke a vastly different response than, say, a food fight in your school cafeteria. Theme to these designs supersede the emphasis on mechanics, with the latter being a vehicle for the game’s intended flavor.

More often than not, most designers nowadays hope to find that ideal spot where a game can champion both mechanics and theme at the same time, blended perfectly together, but you ultimately have to start at one end of the spectrum and go from there.

As it happens, the same hold true for this article series.

Sometimes, when drafting up these weekly pieces, there is a specific card in mind that I wish to showcase. That card is chosen, added to the list, and then I try to tie that into a specific topic I always want to talk about in some fashion. Other times, however, the article is led by the narrative I wish to discuss and then find a card that I feel appropriately fits the conversation while being a useful and affordable card for the Commander format.

This week’s particular card pick was originally a case of the latter, wherein I had a very specific line of thought mapped out and wanted to select a card that included an element of risk to it. That is, an EDH card that has the potential to be really powerful or beneficial but can also potentially backfire depending on who it’s used on or what your opponent may do.

In the end, I scrapped the original writing angle but kept the card. And that’s how we got here.

Today we have: Ashnod’s Cylix

Name: Ashnod’s Cylix

Edition: Alliances

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Milling

Highlights: Ashnod’s Cylix is one of many cards that’s fairly sizable on the risk/reward scale, depending on the manner in which you use it. Given the original flavor of the card though – Ashnod not exactly being the most benevolent of people – the end goal ultimately fits her motif of sacrificing resources for power.

Through that lens, interest in using the Cylix has ebbed and flowed over the years in casual circles, largely depending on what players hoped to get out of it, though it never really saw use competitively. Largely this is due to the fact that while it only cost two mana to cast, it requires three mana to activate and only targets one player at a time, making it way too slow for sustained use as the game’s formats became faster and more potent.

Still, 3 mana to activate a deck manipulation artifact is still plenty affordable in multiplayer settings where speed isn’t everything. With that three mana, the Cylix allows the targeted player to look at the top three cards of their library, return one, and exile the remaining two.

On the one hand, the Cylix can be used on yourself, making it similar in effect to Crystal Ball. The main differences are that it allows you to dig three cards down, and whichever cards you don’t pick are exiled rather than put on the bottom of the deck. This can quickly help accelerate your progress in EDH games by grabbing land early or skipping land draws later on, and being able to repeatedly dig down that many cards can give you a decent tempo increase. Typically players balk in these cases, however, because these cards are exiled versus bottom-decked, but unless you have a lot of shuffling or tutoring anyhow, the end result isn’t that much different than Scrying.

On the other hand, the Cylix can also be used on another player, giving them the same option. Yet in this case the intent is to actually cause some strife by making them choose between which card they want to keep in the game and which they want to permanently lose from the deck. This is where the gambling part of the card comes in.

If, for instance, you use it on an opponent earlier in the game, they may be forced to make a tough decision between keeping a useful card for later on or taking a land they may badly need to stay on par with everyone else. While, yes, this could potentially get them out of bad card draws and accelerate their ability into something useful, it’s also possible to cause the opposite, forcing them to make hard decisions over what they’d prefer to keep. And because, again, since they’re exiled, it feels all the more painful, adding an extra emotional component to it.

And, really, there’s only one way to find out.

Not every card in a Commander deck has to be overpowered to be useful, and sometimes, adding in a little risk as to a card’s usefulness can be both healthy and fun – even if it doesn’t always work in your favor.

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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