Commander Spotlight: Baneful Omen

When it comes to gaming, there are a few tenants that are essential accepted towards ensuring it’s a worthwhile use of your time. First and foremost, a game is supposed to be enjoyable to those playing it; if it isn’t entertaining, everyone would (rightfully) find it a complete waste of time. Second, the game itself must justify its purpose. Every game must provide something that the players can latch on to throughout their time playing it – be it by telling a story, providing a puzzle to crack, offer up enticing goals, or fostering engagement with the other people at the table. Games don’t need to have a deeply meaningful purpose to them, but they do need to convey to its intended audience why it’s worth their attention. Finally, every game has to provide the means by which anyone sitting down the play has a chance of winning. This is usually accomplished by some form of player handicaps or, more likely, randomized and / or variable setup conditions.

Having these requirements baked into a game is paramount to them being considered fun. Think about it: would you find a game particularly entertaining if you got the exact same outcome every time you played it, regardless of the choices you’d make? Probably not. If the outcome can be telegraphed from the onset, there would simply be no reason to open the box.

Consider the the following example. Several months back, I opted to play a board game with four other players, only one of which I knew prior. In this particular game, being a mix of economics and area control, a majority of your strategic decision-making for the first half of the game is determined by the end of the first round. Unfortunately in my case, a fluke combination of going last in turn order, ending up with the weakest starting position out of all five players, and being immediately (though unintentionally) blocked from taking my first few necessary actions thanks to the whimsical moves of a first-time player. Having played this game enough times, I already knew by the end of the second round I wasn’t capable of winning anymore; too many things had coalesced out of the gate to prevent me from making enough of a comeback to win.

While in this case I went through the motions due to it only being a 45 minute game and I didn’t want to spoil the fun of the others at the table, it nevertheless proved challenging maintaining one’s usual level of interest in what I was playing. Had I known I was destined to be locked out most of the game, I probably would have passed on the opportunity. After all, when a game advertises in giant neon lettering what is going to happen, a game can quickly lose some of its luster.

In multiplayer Magic, this is especially true. Playthroughs are already several hours long to begin with. Part of what keeps audiences engaged is that every game is going to play out very differently. Between player sizes, which decks are being used, and good ol’ luck of the draw, the element of unpredictability is key to its entertainment value.

There’s a reason so much of Magic’s allure revolves around tactical moves and countermoves. Surprise spells and unforeseen card responses aren’t just advantageous to winning – they’re also advantageous to keeping the game interesting. If your opponents at the table knew you had a pre-set number of moves you were going to make every time, they would certainly take the necessary steps to prevent and disrupt your means of doing so. Normally, this means that putting out cards which broadcasting precisely what you’re up to can be a challenge.

On the other hand, then you also occasionally get cards like this week’s pick, which essentially puts your intention up on a billboard for all to see, with a little sign underneath that says ‘Bring It’.

Today we have: Baneful Omen

Name: Baneful Omen

Edition: Rise of the Eldrazi

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Life Loss

Highlights: Admittedly, when you are going to drop 7, 8, 10 mana on a single card, you damn well want it to do something splashy. Most of the time spending that kind of mana investment requires substantial buildup time and will require most, if not all of your available mana for that turn. With that kind of lead-up, dropping out a tepid card is hardly worth effort. You want it to do something potent, whether it’s giving you some kind of board advantage, win condition, or massive disruption of the status quo. With Baneful Omen, you potentially get all three. Because this hefty enchantment to possibly drop life totals in a hurry – or at the very least give the impression thereof.

As global enchantments go, Baneful Omen is rather expensive, coming in at a massive seven mana. Some EDH players may be concerned at the investment cost in putting out a card that’s capable of relatively common spot removal, but really, where else is a card like this even useful if not a Commander setting?

Plus, every card type can be fragile depending on your play group, so it’s all rather moot.

What isn’t as dismissive is the effect you get for dropping this card onto the battlefield. It states that at the end of your turn, you reveal the top card of your library and each opponent loses life equal to its casting cost. This can be devastating in the right decks – those chock full of large creatures and other potent spells. Ironically, this is the kind of expensive enchantment that will be most worthwhile in decks with a decent number of other midrange to expensive cards, rather than have it be one of a handful of costly cards in a deck that carries a lower average casting cost – a tendency more competitive Commander players have to maintain a streamlined deck. Even just a few rounds of 5 mana cost cards can add up to significant life loss in a hurry, and the later in the game it appears, the increased possibility the cards revealed could be straight up deadly to one of your opponents. And since Baneful Omen only hurts your opponents, having cards that fuel it makes it all the more painful the delivery.

For all of its danger, there are a couple areas where it may give some players pause, however. For one, its efficacy is tied to the card being revealed, which means that revealing land, mana rocks, or other other small spells can cause its effect to be negligible while still painting a big target on itself – and you – in the process. Second is precisely that: like many costly cards, the longer it sits around, the more dangerous it can be to your enemies; don’t be surprised if it only lasts a few rounds on the battlefield. And lastly, Baneful Omen does live up to its namesake by being a harbinger of what is to come. Its portents reveal the top card of your deck…but you don’t actually draw it. This means everyone has a full round knowing what your next card draw is going to be, which means that barring other card draw effects, the biggest tradeoff to using the card is that so long as it stays on the battlefield, your card draws are no longer secret.

Still, is it worth it? Yes. Telegraphing what you’re going to do in a game isn’t always the best move. That is, unless the benefit of power far outweighs tipping your hand to your opponents.

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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