Aside from occasional references or special situations like last week’s recap of Modern Masters 2015, we don’t dive much into Magic’s tournament scene here. There’s a whole host of reasons for this. For one, we don’t really need to; there are dozens of websites out there that cater almost exclusively to the nature of Standard and Modern. For another, Constructed tournaments happen so often and format leading decks fluctuate so frequently throughout the year that it can be difficult to stay relevant on their happenings without a vested interest.
But mostly, it’s because I have no interest in those environments. There’s little inherent interest to me which latest Netdeck took first place or that the winner had to surprisingly wait until turn 7 to kill their opponent. Five minute games of Magic are boring. Turn 3 kills are boring. It’s not that the decks permeating these formats lack creative thought to their construction or that their handlers don’t possess skills as players. Rather, it’s simply that if I’m going to spend an inordinate amount of effort devoted to a game with a very real time and money sink to it, not to mention the time and effort needed in making a deck, I damn well better be able to sit back and enjoy it.
As has been the central philosophy of this column – and my Magic play style in general – I have always maintained a focus on casual multiplayer formats. Multiplayer games operate by an entirely different rubric: they are longer, more involved, more dynamic, and include the freedom for more creative choices. I want to be able to see my EDH deck do something interesting a half hour into the game, and I demand my opponents be given the same leeway. I cherish the choices that have to be made as a result of having more than one enemy and that casual formats by their nature allow your whole friend group to play together.
Plus, multiplayer Magic really helps diminish alpha male tendencies that run rampant in many competitive gaming spheres, including Magic: the Gathering. Case in point: I once had an enlightening discussion with a Legacy player whose most recent deck was designed to quickly hamper the player by making them unable to do anything from the first turn, so much so that if they didn’t die within three turns they’d concede out of frustration.
Or, put another way: this person not only built a deck to win decisively but to purposely also be an ass about it in the process. What’s worse, is that it’s hardly a unique mentality in the competitive circuits.
Gee, doesn’t that sound like a fun time?
(Also, fun side fact: the habit of constantly shuffling your hand is not nearly as psychologically or strategically advantageous as one thinks. It mostly just comes off as pretentious.)
What’s more, the tournament scene and single player duels hardly have a lock on playing competitively. Playing to win is still very much at the heart of casual multiplayer games, but the tradeoff for the more relaxed environment is that you must contend with the added complexity of more unpredictable gameplay, whether in the form of deck variety or the decisions of those playing. There isn’t always an optimal move, and even if there is, there is no guarantee people will make it. Sometimes decks will do things that come out of left field, and sometimes players do things that don’t necessarily make the most strategic (or even logical) sense.
I been at the receiving end of decisions that aren’t always the optimal move more times than I can recall. From my first forays into the game to my current weekly meetups, I’ve historically been a recipient of people throwing hate my way for no other reason than because they can. I chalk it up to respect since a) aside from my early days I’ve consistently been my play group’s grizzled old veteran, b) I have a knack for staying alive, and c) I’ve had my share of memorable wins over the years, either coming through by the skin of my teeth, or because my deck had been allowed to snowball to a point where it became unstoppable. I lose games more than I win, but I’ve developed a perception to the contrary.
Over the years, I’ve sort of accepted that I get the occasional chip shot or sideswipe for no other reason than I’m still in the game. Normally I roll it with, but that doesn’t mean that I forget. From the very beginning of my playing days, I’ve had a tendency to be spiteful if I feel I’m being picked on when unwarranted, and I’ve used a number of cards to get that point across. With cards like Eye for an Eye, Karmic Justice, Grave Pact, Retribution, and even the amusingly wonky Takklemaggot, I’m not against ensuring that if I’m going to be punished, the originator will be as well.
Commander is no different in this regard, as aside from the difference in deck construction and life totals, the same tendencies of typical multiplayer games still apply – including the justification for said spite cards. In fact, many spite cards can go from being simple punitive responses to highly tactical deck choices. This week’s selection is one such card.
Today we have: Chain of Acid
Name: Chain of Acid
Focus: Permanent Destruction
Highlights: Once upon a time, Green had Desert Twister. Although expensive, it gave you the ability to destroy anything. As the game evolved, though, it was decided that philosophically the color should only be able to remove creatures by way of other creatures. Thus, for a long time Green was limited to just removing artifacts, enchantments and lands, or, as it came to be known, ‘noncreature permanents’. Chain of Acid was the first Green card – and the second card period – to use that phrase.
Yet this predecessor to Bramblecrush went almost entirely overlooked in its time for three reasons. First, it made for a terrible card for two players, as the affected opponent would almost always choose to copy it, ensuring you were just as likely to suffer as your opponent. Second, the first card to use the phrase was Karmic Justice, which, being an enchantment and having been released in the previous block, got way more of the focus at the time. Finally, it was because Chain of Acid was part of a lackluster Chain cycle of uncommons, with Chain of Smog being the only other one of the five worth mentioning.
Given its EDH potential, it’s high time this long forgotten card see some worthwhile attention in Commander. For a mere four mana, Chain of Acid lets you destroy a problematic permanent, just like its more popular descendants Woodfall Primus and Terastodon. This fact alone makes it worthwhile for deck consideration.
However, in a format that relies as much on politics as it does luck or skill, Chain of Acid’s copying effect has the potential to go from an effect that’s almost guaranteed to hurt you into a potent political card. That is, when the spell resolves, the recipient of your destruction has a pair of important decisions to make. The initial one is to decide whether they want to continue spewing caustic liquid all over the place or not. If they don’t, Chain of Acid will have worked as a simple spot removal card, which is well worth its casting cost.
If they do copy it though, as most inevitably will, they then have to decide where to send it.
The most knee-jerk reaction is to deliver right back to you. You know, because spite. In turn, those pair of decisions are now at your feet, sans a permanent. Do you target the same person again, and potentially cause some mutually assured destruction, or do you spread the hate around? Both options are possible. Given that land is a targetable option with this spell, both you and your opponent will have to decide how far down the rabbit hole you each want to go.
Ideally, the best reaction instead is for the initial target to choose another opponent, and they another, and so on, removing all manner of problematic cards on the board, thereby creating a limited version of a board wipe. (Well, the most ideal is two opponents annihilating each other while you skip off to the bank, but that’s just being greedy). However, if everyone spreads the hate around, there’s less necessity for any one person to go nuclear. And if someone does, then it’s very likely they’re signing their own death warrant.
Whatever the end result may be – even if you take a fair share of the reciprocity – it often can be highly advantageous for a creature-heavy Green deck. Less noncreature permanents floating about usually means that there is less possibility for your opponents to stop Green doing what it does best: cracking skulls.
Indeed, Chain of Acid exists at a weird intersection as a card whose worth is entirely at the whim of the players. As such, is a hard card to nail down precisely how it will behave, but it’s almost always well worth the casting cost. If for nothing else, it’s effect on an EDH game be memorable. And probably full of spite.
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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Do you have a particular Commander card to suggest for us to shine a future Spotlight on? You can send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org