Commander Spotlight: Brightflame

The Magic community is well into the cycle for the newest set, Guilds of Ravnica (not to be confused with the nearly identical name of many years earlier, Ravnica: City of Guilds), and talk for the last few months have been all things Ravnician. With the game undergoing its third trip to a plane that’s essentially the MTG equivalent of Coruscant, conversation has ranged wildly from one topic to the next as the set’s initial release fervor reached its apex and attention inevitably started shifting to the equally anticipated second set.

For some players, their most enjoyable fascination has been how the of the set itself is shaping out, where it would seem that after a series of victories and stalemates, the ancient and ever-scheming Nicol Bolas has entered the endgame of his agenda, orchestrated since the Mending, by working behind the scenes to sway the influence of as many Ravnican guilds to his side as possible (whether they realize they’re doing his bidding or not).

Others have been enjoying the in-set dynamicism itself, delving the strategic and tactical depths of what the set has to offer and what the various guild combinations mean for deck builds in Limited and Standard. As is often the ultimate intent of any new set, this group wants to mine as much of this one’s secrets to create decks that best suit their individual ambitions (e.g. making the best Golgari deck possible), or ascertaining the most potent tournament options to get a leg up on the competition.

And then there is the third group, who sort of exist between those whose primary focus is with the gameplay and those whose excitement resides with the ongoing story. These are those who love to discuss the evolution of Ravnica itself, comparing and contrasting the way the plane has grown and changed over the years thanks to the merry-go-round nature of the guilds and their interactions with one another. As planes go, Ravnica is easily one of the richest and most resonant with players, so this part isn’t hard. Especially when you factor in that it’s now the third block where we get to explore the many, many avenues it has to offer.

One of the more common threads in such a discussion, as you’d expect, is that of the guild mechanics themselves and how they stack up – both as how representative they are to the philosophies and behaviors of their respective guilds as well as how the mechanics have fared over time. Looking at how the guild mechanic iterations changed was a highly active part of guild conversation during the Return to Ravnica block, and it would seem that upon visiting thricely, that cycle is repeating itself.

Of these, some mechanics wind up on the beloved end of the spectrum, whereas others wind up forgettable at best and derided at worst. ‘Bloodthirst? Sure. Cipher. Ok. Extort? Yes please!’ Sometimes it was obvious when the mechanics were enjoyed, such as Overload, Dredge, or Convoke, and when they weren’t, such as, say, Hellbent or Haunt.

Occasionally, however, you got a mechanic that had a mixed reception, usually based on who was playing with it. Chief among these over the years appears to be the original Boros mechanic, Radiance. This is an ability that did something to a target and all targets that shared a color with it, with the idea of the influence of the Boros not just affecting one member in a group but the entire group itself. Which sounds much better as a Boros trait in theory than in practice.

In truth, nearly everyone considers Radiance a complete flavor miss from the perspective of representing the guild that tends to act as the quasi military arm of the Ravnican government. It just didn’t ever really fit that purpose well, and as a result it tends to rank fairly low on most players’ guild mechanic rankings. The combination of missed representation, paired with the fact that it’s an ability that also cares extensively on a creature’s color, ensures that its chances of ever being reprinted outside of Commander decks is pretty low.

Yet there are quite a few players who do enjoy Radiance separated from is Boros roots. It is a powerful if temperamental ability that actually has design space to explore further if R&D so choose to – especially in a multiplayer capacity like EDH.

They would just…actually want to do that. Which, while possible, is probably not high on their list at the moment.

Still, Radiance has room for use outside of its Boros trappings, and in the right hands it can be a highly useful tool in the multiplayer arsenal – especially for the ability to cheaply target large swaths of permanents.

Championing that spirit, this week’s card looks at one powerful Radiance-based option to consider.

Today we have: Brightflame

Name: Brightflame

Edition: Ravnica

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Damage Dealing / Life Gain

Highlights: Lining up roughly along similar lines with other guild mechanics of the time, Radiance was only ever printed on ten cards. It may seem wordy and complicated, but Brightflame is actually surprisingly simple: in typical Red / White damage dealing form, you try to do as much damage to as many creatures as possible and gain as much life from that damage as possible. Which if done right can be incredibly substantial. Yet many shied away from Brightflame at the time, mostly because it is not a fast spell.

As a 4X costing Sorcery, it isn’t all that effective in the early stages of the game – which at the time for Boros was all there was. In Boros decks (especially the earlier renditions), you either won early or you didn’t win. Which is why for a lot of those running this guild at the time, Brightflame was passed over in favor of cards like Rally the Righteous and Lightning Helix, which were cheaper, quicker, and much more in line with an up-tempo strategy. Brightflame was essentially deemed too slow for a ‘real’ Boros deck even in casual duels, let alone Standard. At best it was seen as an emergency card in case something went wrong and the game went longer than planned. For the vast majority of the Boros Legion, Brightflame just wasn’t shiny enough.

Within the casual multiplayer community, however, Brightflame found an audience, mostly because it created situations where you could actually build up and show off the card’s untapped potential. Say you spent seven mana on casting it; it would deal 3 damage to a target and all of its like-colored ilk. At first glance this again seems akin to a highly ineffective Helix, but that’s discounting its wave effect. For instance, if your opponent has just four creatures of a shared color (fairly common at a minimum in Commander games), and you did a mere 3 damage to each, that’s 12 damage for 7 mana. The more creatures available and the more mana you invest, the exponentially more efficient the card becomes.

Moreover, it’s often overlooked that Brightflame doesn’t need to kill the creature to gain life. While this is the primary situation, you could cast it for a slightly lower cost to get rid of 50-70% of a player’s board and still gain 100% of the life from the damage dealt. Life gain here may be more of a secondary characteristic, but it’s hardly a wasted one and can definitely come in handy.

That all said, Brightflame does come with two notable limitations. The first is that its color hate is indiscriminate. Which means that depending on the color you’re targeting, it can lead into some unfortunate situations. If, for instance, your main target is Red creatures, Brightflame will hurt your own Red creatures as much as your opponents, making it the type of card that’s that much riskier to splash into decks beyond two colors. Likewise, if your main threat on the board is primarily, say, Green, and that damage spills over to harm Green creatures of other players with whom you don’t have issue with, that may create some table politics issues unless it’s addressed ahead of time.

The other area where this card runs into limitations is that Radiance, by its nature, only affects similarly colored permanents. Which means that it is rather ineffective against armies of artifact creatures. While it could still be used in a pinch as an expensive one-off spot removal, it’s not going to be nearly as ideal.

Brightflame is undoubtedly powerful if wielded right, but it doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. Between the guild disconnect, being a later game spell best used in EDH settings, and that it can sometimes be hard to focus the fire depending on the opposition, some have eschewed in favor of more straightforward mass damage card options. But the one-two punch of doing damage and gaining life is exactly what you’d expect a Red / White fireball to do, and if given the chance, this one won’t disappoint. Usually.

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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