For many people of a certain age, there is a specific fondness for the computer game Oregon Trail. An educational game disguised as a fun, challenging experience, this was a game all about survival. Reflecting the real life emigration of thousands of people during the 19th century to the Pacific Northwest and the extreme hardships they entailed, you as a player are tasked with making the preparations for, and then leading, a wagon train out West. The game was both impressively difficult and impressively insightful, giving many kids firsthand experience on the hazards of frontier life and the myriad obstacles before them. Accidents. Disease. Extreme weather. Starvation. Clashes with Native Americans. There were a lot of things that could go wrong on this trek, and nearly all of them come up at some point, forcing you to make difficult choices over what to do. Above all, the train must keep moving. Your job was to get your pioneers to Oregon as possible – or die trying.
Damn you dysentery.
Part of this process is undertaken before you ever depart on your journey. So much of your chances of survival in the game depend on the choosing which provisions to take with you. Although you have a finite budget, there is an abundance of stuff to purchase for your trip. The trick is trying to find the right balance. Even discounting some of the impractical items, the list is extensive. Food was important, but which kinds of food? Extra wagon supplies were a necessity for when they inevitably broke down, but how many pieces do you bring? What about weaponry? Extra clothes? Medicine? And so on. The back of a stagecoach can only hold so much.
Of course, then there is the word that you pretty much only hear from gamers: encumbrance.
In addition to money, everything you buy in the game has a weight component. The more you take, the slower your wagon train moves. If you take too little with you, you won’t have the necessary items to overcome the baseline harshness of the trip. However, if you take too much, you can run into a host of other issues instead. Just like with so many RPGs, if you stack too much in your backpack, you’re going to get weighed down. And a slow trip can be just as dangerous as an ill-prepared one. Finding the right mix is key, and it takes a few tries to learn how to prioritize. Through this experience, Oregon Trail was indeed a good learning experience, and not just as a (generally accurate) historical lesson.
Coincidentally, the same lesson about encumbrance has been touted in this series as well pertaining to deck construction and the general nature of multiplayer gameplay.
Just like a stagecoach, EDH decks have a finite amount of space to include the cards you want, and just like the trip to the Oregon valleys, time is not always on your side. One of the easiest examples of this is to watch someone play a deck solely designed for dueling in a multiplayer setting. It was made with the express purpose of taking on a single opponent in a specific period of time. Which means that these decks often lack the resources to take on an entire table by themselves, let alone a prolonged battle. It’s not what they were designed for, and they entered that arena ill-equipped to handle the challenges before them.
Because Commander has a fixed size, choosing which cards give you the best chances of making it out alive is paramount. Ergo, the more options you have within that confined space, the better. Which is why so many times the notion of multipurpose cards have come up as a valuable tool to consider. Whether it’s modal cards, utilitarian cards, or split cards, they all provide the same service – giving you multiple strategic considerations from a single card.
All of which brings us to this week’s card.
Today we have: Crime / Punishment
Name: Crime / Punishment
Focus: Card Recursion or Board Wipe
Highlights: Split cards have been a popular addition to the game since their debut way back in the Invasion block. They have appeared numerous times since then and have become closely associated with Ravnican game design given that nearly half of their iterations are in sets taking place on that plane. That includes this tricolor classic, bestowing you the power of both (re)creation and destruction.
In typical split card fashion, each side is effectively an independent card jammed onto the same piece of cardboard, giving you twice as much to consider on a single card. And in the case of Crime & Punishment, you have two very useful options, albeit at opposite ends of the spectrum.
For five mana, Crime very much fits the mold of what you’d expect to see with a Black / White reanimation card. In this case, it’s very close to the classic card Ashen Powder, which allows you to put a creature from an opponent’s graveyard onto the battlefield under your control. This is especially helpful in multiplayer settings when you likely have no shortage of worthwhile targets to choose from the longer the game goes on. The additional White mana cost to the mix expands on that notion by also allowing you to choose an enchantment as well. Its efficacy is admittedly based on the strength of which cards you have to select from, but in Commander, it usually doesn’t take much time before something particularly appealing presents itself due to being discarded, destroyed, or milled. It is effectively a reverse Obzedat’s Aid – a useful EDH card in its own right as we’ve already attested to – but Crime pays just fine as well.
On the other side lies Punishment, which serves as a milder callback to the incredibly popular enchantment-based board wipe Pernicious Deed. In this case, Punishment is less nihilistic and much more targeted in its destruction, stating that for X+2 mana, you can destroy all artifacts, creatures, and enchantments equal to X. While this can become particularly prohibitive at getting rid of more expensive costing permanents on the battlefield, the sheer abundance of cards in this setting at the 3-5 CMC range still easily makes this card a decent mid to late game means of whittling the board state down somewhat. Moreover, Punishment also serves as a nice two mana means of wiping the board of most tokens, should the need arise. It’s not as potent as many other board wipes you’re likely to see in a Commander game, but the fact that you can pinpoint target a specific costing card can be quite useful thanks to the nature of table politics. Surgical strike versus blunt force sort of thing.
Both cards are quite serviceable in the own right, but the fact that you have them only taking up a single slot cannot be overstated. Not only does this free you up for something else to aid you in your chances at winning, but the amount of tactical advantage Crime & Punishment offers in a single card is significant. Both sides are viable choices, and it’s rare that neither side will be advantageous for very long.
It’s also far less annoying to deal with than trying to deal with getting your wagons across all those insufferable rivers.
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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