Commander Spotlight: Havoc Festival

Welcome back to week fifty-two of Monday Magic: COVID Edition. It’s been 401 days since my last summoning.

One full year of what was supposed to be an interim series.

400 days of separation from one’s Magic-playing cabal.

Either of those alone is cause for solemnity. To have both occur simultaneously adds a particular degree of gravity to the week that I neither asked for nor wanted. Yet while I could certainly have taken this week to produce a rather poignant lament to those facts, frankly I don’t want to give such a milestone more oxygen than it’s already demanding. At this point I don’t really thing anything more particularly needs to be said. Those numbers speak for themselves. And they’re speaking quite loudly.

So let’s just acknowledge that this week is both grim and disappointing, both for what it represents on the micro level with respect to this series and on the macro level with respect to, well, everything else of the last year.

And since why break with tradition now, rather than discuss Magic-related topics or a larger point around the card being showcased, this week we continue on by instead 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. While it may be a little on the nose given the circumstances, I simply couldn’t resist pulling this one off the wish list for this week.

Today we have: Havoc Festival

Name: Havoc Festival

Edition: Return to Ravnica

Rarity:  Rare

Focus: Life Loss

Highlights: When building your deck, in most cases players opt to include cards that provide a strategic advantage to their deck’s goals or to otherwise give them a leg up on your opponent in some manner. Sometimes, however, it can be useful to include cards that aren’t focused on providing you positive effects insomuch as hindering your opponent. So long as they aren’t used in high abundance, utilizing such cards can be particularly advantageous in multiplayer settings like Commander simply because of the wide variety of deck styles that are brought to the table. The form of what such cards take can vary wildly from play group to play group, largely depending on what options you feel can offer some form of passive disruption. Havoc Festival is nothing but disruption.

Among the many traits Commander offers, one of the most notable is that it provides a much longer play experience than a normal dual, or even traditional multiplayer casual. That is, unless you have the misfortune of playing with the ‘cEDH’ contingent of the format: those of the growing “competitive EDH” subset who are insistent on bringing fast, aggressive, highly tuned decks to the table and run with an ethos that is the exact antithesis of what the format is all about while simultaneously advocating that such tuning simply means they’re playing at ‘a higher level’. Which just smacks of elitism. I’ve heard the arguments about cEDH. No one is here to stop you if that’s what your entire group is into. It still doesn’t make it a remotely positive step for the format. No, you’re not going to change my mind on that fact. But I digress.

But, yes, generally, between the larger decks, higher life totals, and additional opponents, Commander games are often multi-hour affairs. Part of that is due to just the nature of the game itself routinely ebbing and flowing as board positions shift and change. Part of that can also be due to players and their decks taking up defensive postures which focus on keeping themselves protected as they bide their time until they can make a sweeping or opportunistic move. It’s a common approach in multiplayer. But while a deck leaning heavily on defense and denial can keep you safe, it also doesn’t really move the game forward, which can drag things out as well.

Havoc Festival addresses the issues of a protracted, stalled game state in a way that only the Rakdos can: by showing up to a party and tossing a ticking time bomb in the punch bowl.

For six mana, when this enchantment hits the battlefield it brings with it two effects. The first is both straightforward and immediate, stating that while Havoc Festival is on the board, players simply can’t gain life. For decks that don’t gain much life this isn’t that significant, but for those that rely on gaining (or stealing) life for one reason or another, the inability to ever go up in life total can be utterly devastating. It also sends a pointed message: this game is only heading in one direction.

This sentiment is reinforced by way of its second effect. This effect says that at the beginning of each player’s upkeep, they lose half their life. That’s it. Nothing cute or complicated. Just…half your life – poof. It serves to break up stale board state logjams, is a helpful solution to opponents with high life totals, and as the trigger affects every player including its owner, everyone faces the same prospect of speedy life reductions. With Havoc Festival on the battlefield, suddenly resting back on your defenses isn’t as much of an option, forcing players to be more proactive in their decisions. Which makes sense – everyone is now on a shot clock. Time is not on your side, and if you don’t start making more overt moves, you may not have too many more opportunities. If you want to speed Commander up in a flavorful but still addressable way, Havoc Festival has you covered.

That said, as with almost all Rakdos-inspired creations, there are a couple aspects to note before deciding to use it. The first is that although you can put it out early on in a Commander game, it’s generally wise to leave it to the middle or later stages. Dropping Havoc Festival too early may be an easy way to quickly drop a few players to 15-20 life right off the bat, but it will not endear yourself to anyone at the table with an early appearance. Many players are likely to be wary of its appearance in general. To do it on turn 5 or 6 is mostly just a good way to turn the entire table against you. Even when acknowledging that it is also going to hurt yourself.

The other is that because the greater danger of the enchantment resides in an upkeep trigger, there is time for players to respond to it; it is not a silver bullet answer. Few cards are. In practical terms it means that while it’s likely that it will swat a few players’ life totals, there perpetually exists the likelihood that one of your opponents will let it work its way through several opponents – perhaps even a full round or two – before removing it before their turn comes around. However, that’s not a failing of the card: that is the danger every permanent faces. The card just has a habit of making it feel that way.

Plus, no one ever said that everyone will have the same experience from attending the same party.

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!