Commander Spotlight: Cultural Exchange

Traveling can be a scary thing to a lot of people, especially if it’s to a place outside of your own neighborhood. This means being immersed in a part of the country or part of the world that isn’t filled with people just like you. They may have a different accent or different sensibilities. They may prefer different foods than what you’re used to or even speak a language other than your own. It can be disorienting, scary, and can even be uncomfortable at times…but it’s also incredibly useful for personal growth and better understanding your fellow human beings.

In an era where it’s so easy to exist within an echo chamber of like-minded people sharing the same ideology, the same concerns, the same preferences, the same demographics, it’s equally easy to forget that there’s a much larger world out there full of people who have wildly divergent priorities than yourself. Occasionally forcing yourself to experience what’s going on with people outside of your daily circle has led to an exchange of people, ideas, and culture for thousands and thousands of years. Entire civilizations thrived on that simple idea.

If you ever have a chance to take a trip somewhere outside of your own regional neighborhood, do it.

This doesn’t even mean you have to travel halfway around the world; there are plenty of eye-opening experience one can have without ever leaving your home country – especially here in the incredibly diverse United States.

An an example: I had a friend once that not only never left the country until his late 20s, but he had never even left New England. New England is an area of the country that has six states which differ wildly in terms of their behavior and priorities (and there’s no easier way to irritate us than to insinuate they’re all the same), it is still admittedly a part of the country that is largely white, irritatingly proud of its sports teams, and whose entire border can fit entirely within many other states.

Yet when this friend managed to get out and see other parts of the world – at first other parts of the country and then other countries themselves – he came to love traveling. Particularly meeting other people whose experiences and way of life were drastically different from his own. Not only did it allow him to have fun and try different things not available back home, but it also allowed him to grow as a person by broadening his perspective on understanding and empathizing with other people better.

Is every such trip guaranteed to be great? Absolutely not. But the potential upsides for learning about new people, places, and things more than makes up for those rare times when you get momentarily frustrated at how differently people around you behave, or when you get lost for an hour because you don’t speak the language easily (true story), or when someone in line with you at Disney World tries to goad you into a verbal fight because you’re from Massachusetts (also true story – thanks Florida!).

As we head into the holiday week here in the United States, approaching our Independence Day with both excitement over its meaning and trepidation over how our current behavior both internally and abroad tarnishes much of what said the country’s whole message stands for, it’s helpful to remember that what helped this country become a worldwide paragon for opportunity, hope and prosperity is due heavily due to its diverse backgrounds of people, each bringing with them thoughts and ideas on how to make not only their lives, but their new home – and the world writ large – a better place. All we have to do is be willing to travel a bit out of our own comfort zones and learn a little.

And sometimes, you don’t even need to travel that far at all. Sometimes it could be as simple as getting off the internet and talking to a new neighbor, a new coworker, or a new business down the street. Sometimes exploring new horizons is as much a state of mind as it is a physical destination.

To serve as a perennial reminder to that end, enter this week’s card pick.

Today we have: Cultural Exchange

Name: Cultural Exchange

Edition: Odyssey

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Creature Exchange

Highlights: Although it’s not one of its more widely printed abilities (mostly due to power levels and complexity), Blue nevertheless has long had the ability to change the conditions of the battlefield. Because the color isn’t particularly adept at permanently eliminating anything at a net loss, it instead has harnessed a number of different tricks in its arsenal to shake up the board all the same. One of these, around nearly since the game’s beginning, is the idea of swapping a permanent of one player with a permanent of another.

In the early days of Magic, there was one iteration of this effect every few sets. Each of these had a different variation, such as only swapping one card of the same type or only swapping the most expensive creature or the card swapping itself for another. When the rather pointed and aptly named Cultural Exchange came along, it was mostly ignored in Constructed due to being too situational and expensive, but it certainly raised eyebrows in the casual community. Even among the then half dozen swap cards, none of them had the capability of upending an entire side of the battlefield in a single move.

For six mana, Cultural Exchange states that upon resolution of the card, you choose any number of creatures one player has on the battlefield, and then swap that many creatures with another player for the same amount. This could mean a massive swing in board power, especially if there isn’t an equivalent exchange of power. If one set of creatures were more defensive, not all that effective outside of the bounds of the deck it belongs to, or mere token creatures, giving them up in exchange for a more powerful set of options not only nullifies the danger of your opponent making an attack on you, but it also opens the door for you to use that player’s own resources against them. Which is certainly one trait Blue is particularly good at doing.

That single fact alone would make Cultural Exchange a worthwhile Commander card, but there are a couple additional areas that increase its usefulness even more.

For one, the card is not limited to you being one of the two affected players. You could choose to instead select two opposing players and swap their creatures around for one reason or another, such as to avoid becoming a target yourself with a giant new army, or merely to muddy the waters of whatever your opponents were gearing up for. Sometimes messing with the board state of two other players is actually more beneficial in the long term than giving yourself an obvious leg up, and this aids in that.

Second, like nearly all such cards, the effect is permanent. Unlike temporary steal cards, if your opponent wants to get their card back, it’s going to take some effort.

Finally, and perhaps the most overlooked aspect of all: unlike nearly every other exchange card in the game, Cultural Exchange targets the player, not the permanent. That is, you only choose the permanents when the card resolves. Because you’re not targeting the creature, you can in fact go after cards that you would otherwise be unable to otherwise target, such as those with Shroud, Hexproof, or Protection. Depending on your play group, that could be a very big deal in and of itself, making the card worth considering on that merit alone.

The one drawback to the card, however, is, in truth, the very reason the tournament scene never cared for it in the first place: it is six mana for a slightly situational card. While the mana cost is less of an issue in EDH, it’s not a particularly effective if there aren’t many desirable creatures to swap for among two players. Most EDH games ebb and flow enough that it doesn’t take super long for this situation to rectify itself, as even 3-4 creatures is enough to make the card worthwhile, but it does mean on occasion that you may need to sit on the card for a few turns before being able to use it to full effect.

But hey, sometimes, the best way to take in a culture is to sit patiently and observe.

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.

You can discuss this article over on our social media!