Commander Spotlight: Grab the Reins

Time and again, the most cherished part of what lets Magic: the Gathering continue to enthrall players after more than two decades is how well it makes each color feel wholly unique. Whether you’re picking up a deck for the very first time or you’ve been playing so long that you can’t remember exactly when that first game happened to be, Magic has always found a way of differentiating one color’s behaviors from another while maintaining balance among them.

Of course, as any player can attest, equal doesn’t mean identical.

Take, for example, instant speed combat control. Both Green and White excel at mitigating damage from creatures when they’re attacking. To a lesser extent you also have Black and Blue, who both are capable of removing potential problems in the thick of battle.

Red by contrast…kind of sucks at it.

Red is excellent at setting up combat situations it’ll find favorable, with fast, powerful strikes and occasionally preventing creatures from blocking, but it doesn’t really do the defensive thing particularly well. Aside from instant speed direct damage – which often isn’t very high numerically – Red mostly adheres to the philosophy that the best defense is a good offense.

In quick duels where lightning strikes against a single opponent are ideal, this approach works just fine. In lengthier games like EDH, Red has to dig into its bag of tricks for long term survival. Said bag isn’t as deep as other colors, but it does have the ability to defend itself at times. As this week’s pick shows, however, it still tends to be pretty Red about the whole thing.

Today we have: Grab the Reins


Name: Grab the Reins

Edition: Mirrodin

Rarity: Uncommon

Focus: Creature Stealing / Direct Damage  / Combat Manipulation

Highlights: Grab the Reins is one of many Threaten type effects that Red is known for. In fact, it’s become such a common tactic that there’s been a Threaten-style variant in nearly every block of the last few years. It fits with the color’s philosophy of acting on impulse, using short term effects to generate an advantage by turning your opponent’s assets against them.

The vast majority of the time this effect is reduced to Sorcery speed, likely due to power level reasons. Though Instant speed Threatens are far less common, they’re not unheard of. Amusingly enough, the very first Threaten style effect was at instant speed…in Blue.

Maybe Red is just embarrassed that Ray of Command upstaged them?

Nevertheless, we do get a a speedier version every once in a while. Prior to Turn Against in the latest Zendikar block, the last time we got a non-Sorcery was New Phyrexia’s Act of Aggression.

This speed differential is important because it gives cards like Grab the Reins a dual purpose. You can use Grab the Reins in the standard approach of stealing your opponent’s most powerful or useful creature and then running it at them, but being able to steal a creature during someone else’s turn – especially during combat – should not be discounted. Stealing a creature in the middle of an attack not only lets you gain control of it (and negating its threat), but you can also then use it to block another attacking creature, stopping its damage too while possibly killing an attacker in the process.

It’s also something players generally don’t see coming – especially in Red. This alone would make Grab the Reins worth consideration for a Red Commander deck. But its second effect can also be highly useful, letting you sacrifice a creature for some immediate direct damage, a la Fling.

To top it off, thanks to the card’s Entwine ability, you’re able to combine both of these effects in the later stages of the game to terrible effect. For seven mana, you have the ability to steal an enemy creature, sac it, and do some serious damage, thus giving the color some highly useful surprise utility the longer the game progresses along.

Really, the only thing worse than having someone kill your creature is also being punished for it. And that’s pretty a Red utility approach when you get down to it.

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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