Commander Spotlight: Cindervines

Welcome back to week sixty-one of Monday Magic: COVID Edition. It’s been 471 days since my last summoning.

Several statements were made last week that still ring true in this one. First and foremost, the current in-person gaming drought continues, and tacking on another 7 days to an already ludicrous numerical milestone doesn’t really alter or change the conversation before us. It’s very much a Keep Calm And Carry On holding pattern that we are in here on several fronts, and at this juncture I don’t particularly have much more to offer in that capacity. Will it change eventually? Absolutely. Anything more concrete than that I am admittedly throwing my hands up in defeat at trying to prognosticate.

Secondly, as was previously stated, I’ve never been particularly enthralled by Magic Online or Magic Arena – though I was particularly enamored with the old 90s era Shandalar-centered Magic game from MicroProse. While it contained a handful of features such as dueling capabilities and being able to craft decks to that purpose, the main focus of the game was an adventure romp around the magic-heavy plane. Starting with a bare bones deck, over the course of the game you would move from town to town performing basic quests and facing down a seemingly endless bevy of minion sprites insisting on battling you. New cards were obtained by completing said quests, purchasing cards at villages, and of course, by defeating your enemies in quick games of Magic. In time, you were also able to locate nebulous dungeons which came with added challenges but rewarded you with some of the game’s most potent cards upon completing them. The goal, ultimately, was to improve your deck enough to defeat a quintet of evil wizards threating the stability of the plane, one from each color. This meant storming their castles – which behaved like dungeons but even harder.

For old stalwarts such as myself, the MicroProse Magic game has a lot of nostalgic appeal, though even at the time it wasn’t universally beloved. PC reviews routinely mentioned its numerous bugs, lack of multiplayer LAN capabilities (this was the late 90s after all), and its limited pool of cards to play with. The game eventually did release two official expansions which added selective cards from the early expansions, and near the end of the decade the entire thing was given minor improvements and packaged into a single title called Duels of the Planeswalkers – the exact same name Wizards themselves would use for a new video game a decade later.

After writing the previous article, I began to wax on about this Shandalar-based game. It did indeed have some bugs, and the rules were from a time which are largely similar but not identical to the rules of today. This was a game that came out before planes like Mirrodin or Ravnica were ever conceived but where Interrupts and Banding still existed. And though it was only a couple years behind the physical game, it’s true that the card pool was limited: at its height you don’t play with anything newer than The Dark. We’re talking pre-Ice Age here. On the one hand, that reality was pretty limiting. However, in hindsight it actually serves pretty well as a field study in how the earliest sets of the game operated. It demonstrated how the early years were packed with excellent spells but decent creatures were sparse – and how you needed to tailor your gameplay accordingly. The modern era default of having a creature heavy deck just didn’t work in this time period. (For some old fogies, such a reality was a feature and not a design oversight, despite the official WotC stance to the contrary.)

All of this culminated in a thought: would going back and trying it again have the same level of enjoyment as when it first came out, or is simply too old and limiting to be an entertaining Magic-themed use of time.

So I went online, downloaded a copy, and have decided to find out.

In the meantime, per usual, instead of discussing Magic-related topics or a talking point about the card in question, we carry on by looking at Magic cards I’ve personally wanted to put into an EDH deck for some time but haven’t for one reason or another. And in a roundabout way, this week’s card ties into that early era Magic environment where noncreature spells were prevalent – as well as how you can capitalize on a similar trendline in most Commander settings.

Today we have: Cindervines

Name: Cindervines

Edition: Ravnica Allegiance

Rarity:  Rare

Focus: Damage Dealing

Highlights: When it comes to Ravnica’s guild lineup, The Red / Green Gruul Clans are arguably the most straightforward. Do damage! Break things! Nature good, urbanization bad! It’s perhaps a bit on the nose given that’s what the color pair has pretty much always been in favor of, but that also made for an easy way to flavorfully tie that into being representative on a plane that’s essentially Coruscant in a fantasy realm. And Cindervines fits splendidly into that ethos.

Now, the immediate question that some may ask is, why opt for Cindervines over the much more potent and commonly used Commander option in Ruric Thar, the Unbowed? The answer to that boils down essentially into two factors.

First, it should be stated that there’s no denying Ruric Thar is a beater of a card. A 6/6 Vigilance, Reach creature for just six mana is a steal, and it’s not super hard to get a creature like that out in Commander games. It’s also not uncommon for many players to have tried him at the head of their Commander deck at some point, ensuring that when he dies there’s opportunities to get him right back into the fight. When you add on the 6 damage whenever anyone casts a noncreature spell, an early drop can be utterly paralyzing to its opponents.

Which also means it’s not all that fun to have sitting around. Someone only need to play a game with Ruric Thar as a Commander once before it becomes a kill on sight style card. Even accounting for the fact that it can hurt its owner too, no one actually wants it around. Taking 6 damage for some bauble artifact or a minor utility spell gets old really fast. It’s one thing to have powerful and even occasionally punishing cards in your deck, but in a format where you have thousands of cards at your disposal, why stick with ones that will only ever have a negative reaction?

Cindervines, by contrast, offers the same pain point but at a dosage that takes a lot longer to get tired of. It only does 1 damage to an opponent (and only opponents) whenever they cast a noncreature spell, but its death of a thousand paper cuts approach versus Ruric’s slugs to the face significantly increases its likelihood that people will just leave it be until they’ve taken enough damage over time where it starts becoming a problem. At two mana versus six, its mana cost also accurately reflects that power level difference.

The second factor is in the card type. Ruric Thar has a scary effect on top of being a scary creature in combat, which just begs for its removal. Cindervines, as an enchantment instead, makes it harder in most metas to get removed. Moreover, it comes with a secondary activated ability that’s essentially Destructive Revelry on a single mana sacrifice, letting you destroy some other artifact or enchantment and deal 2 damage in the process. This is useful should the time comes it gets hit with a spot removal or board wipe – or simply if you have a need to remove another card from the battlefield.

At two mana, Cindervines is an easy card to slot for these colors. It can hit the battlefield practically whenever, slowly poke at your opponent’s life totals, and has the potential to take something else with it on its way out. It may not be as splashy as its counterpart, but it’s nevertheless a much more versatile card than you typically would expect in Red / Green.

And it’s just as useful in Commander in 2021 as it would have in general Magic in 1996. Which certainly gives it a seemingly timeless vibe to its antics.

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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