As we’ve moved past the 250 article mark and towards other numbers beyond, this week I thought I’d share a bit of a behind the scenes look at exactly how the process of the weekly card selection is chosen. Because apparently, this has been a question a number of people have asked over time, and so it’s an easy enough thing to go over, even if it’s a fairly low-tech process.
When it comes to picking a Commander Spotlight card, the first test that any potential candidate has to pass is the underlying philosophy of the Commander Spotlight series as a whole, consisting of three intrinsic parts. First, it can’t be a card that is particularly hard to find. Initially this mostly meant that I wouldn’t include really old uncommons and rares that hadn’t been reprinted somewhere along the way and wouldn’t be from sets that could potentially be a challenge to source, such as Portals Three Kingdoms. Over time, this was eventually broadened for a variety of reasons to include any cards that could only be found purely in supplemental products. Which, a little ironically, includes the annual Commander sets. The intent is always to provide cards that anyone should be able to acquire with minimal effort, and many supplemental sets are printed at lower and more limited quantities than normal sets. This not only makes tracking such cards down more difficult, but it also makes them more expensive. Which brings us to the second criteria: price.
I have been adamant from the start that any cards talked about in the Spotlight series be those that any Magic player can easily afford, even those on shoestring budgets. This isn’t to say that more valuable cards are bad or shouldn’t be used in your decks if you have access to them, but in a casual format like Commander – especially nowadays – you don’t need to break the bank to be competitive. I’ve seen tricked out decks worth thousands of dollars be beaten by budget decks worth under $40. More than anything, a deck’s viability will be shaped by the style of game you want to play and the people you want to play with. More competitive or aggressive metas certainly foster the desire to up your deck’s potency with more expensive or more powerful card versions, but thanks to its casual multiplayer nature and 100 card deck sizes, more expensive doesn’t guarantee better odds of winning; luck of the draw can raise up or strike down decks with equal dispassion.
Honestly, it’s one of the main reasons I’ve always preferred the casual multiplayer side of the Magic: the Gathering – I’ve never been a fan of the ‘pay to win’ framework inherent to CCGs in general. As a result of all this, any card picked for these articles doesn’t exceed $5 in value at the time of its publication.
The third criteria states that the card should be older and off-radar. In time, this has come to mean that on the one hand it won’t be some kind of marquee or super popular card that everyone is using (always trying to avoid the ‘EDH Staples’ mindset after all), and on the other hand that it isn’t something ubiquitous that everyone has seen recently. Thus, in sort of a reverse Standard process, I discount picking any card from a set/block less than two years old. There are some excellent EDH cards that have appeared in the last few sets, but they are hardly overlooked or obscured by the passage of time…yet.
Taken together, this creates a pretty handy initial framework to get started with, and doesn’t limit the scope of Magic’s overall card pool all that much.
Before any of this is applied, however, I must also decide what the card’s color schema will be for that particular week. There is no scripting or algorithm that determines this – it’s all tracked manually. When the series began, the first 10-20 cards were those chosen from memory as those I thought would be a good fits. At some point though, in the interest of parity, I started to track the color breakdowns to ensure every color (as well as artifacts and lands) were being represented equally, both in monocolor and multicolor forms. That is a dance that continues to this day.
It may be a little surprising to realize, but to date every color has had roughly the same number of monocolored cards featured over the years, and each has had the same number of card types between creatures, sorceries, instants, enchantments, and auras. Moreover, when it comes to multicolor cards, every color has had roughly the same number of appearances. Tricolor cards are slightly uneven color-wise for a couple reasons, admittedly, but every dual-color pairing has been represented approximately the same number of times as well.
Because of this, most of the time the process is fairly simple. First, I look at what monocolor hasn’t had a card in a while or which multicolor schema is most underrepresented of late. Then I inspect card types for that subset and see again what type hasn’t been seen in a while. Then I research which cards fit those criteria find cards that would not only be fitting EDH cards but also adhere to the conditions spelled out earlier. Some breakdowns are certainly more fruitful than others, and on the occasions where there simply aren’t any viable candidates, I start that process over.
While all of this allows me to plan the cards chosen weeks or even months ahead of time, it’s also far from an ironclad process. There are plenty of times where cards get bumped, removed, or replaced when other cards I come across resonate as good candidates, either through playing, flipping through my own collection, or research cards elsewhere.
To avoid making the task even harder on myself and save a bit of prep time, however, I often jot down the multiple considerations before settling on a final choice for a specific colored card. That way when the cycle comes around again I can revisit past runners-up and see if they’re still viable options. Yet sometimes through this process, a card becomes the runner-up time and time and time again. This has been the case for this week’s pick several times over. It has been on my shortlist of Blue/Green cards for over two years, but every time I ended up settling on something else. When it was time for Blue/Green to come around again, this time I decided its time was finally due.
Today we have: Invert the Skies
Name: Invert the Skies
Focus: Combat Tricks / Board Manipulation
Highlights: Hybrid cards were introduced to much fanfare in the original Ravnica block, but they especially took an upturn during the Shadowmoor/Eventide sets where the design space for hybrid cards was heavily explored. Among those included a dozen or so cards that provided an either / or / both effect depending on the color of mana being used to cast it, with Firespout arguably being the most famous of them. Tucked in that group was the deceptively useful utility card Invert the Skies, which has a more potential to it than seems at first glance.
As a four mana instant, Invert the Skies provides two different effects based on whether you’re spending Blue or Green mana to cast it. If Green was used to cast this card, it acts as a grounding effect by causing all of your opponent’s creatures to lose Flying for the turn. This is only one of 7 cards in the entire game capable of stripping away Flying from creatures en masse, and only one of two where it only affects those of your opponents. That alone makes the card an excellent surprise to cast, particularly as a defensive move prevent yourself else from being swarmed by a flying armada of doom or as a political card to save someone else. With minimal effort, this can cause an attacking army to come crashing down – hopefully into a horde of much larger blockers.
The Blue side of Invert the Skies is a tad more predictable, allowing your creatures to gain Flying for the turn. This likewise can be used defensively to block a specific attack, but it also provides you with widespread evasion for a turn, letting you attack with whichever creatures you want to go on the offensive with but may otherwise not have been able to get through to an opponent with.
Of course, its combined effect is the most potent, as if both Green and Blue are used to cast it – something quite likely given Commander requires it be in a deck containing both colors – then you can both ground your enemies and lift your own battlefield up in a single move, effectively making your attack unblockable. This could be incredibly powerful in the right moment to do some serious damage, especially given the creature colors involved.
Invert the Skies is one that’s easy to overlook partly because of its situational nature, either needing to focus on a specific round of combat or corner cases of spells explicitly targeting Flying or nonflying creatures. Yet ultimately the card’s biggest problem is that it’s not particularly flashy, and so it’s easy to forget about adding into a deck. Or in an article.
That said, once it’s in there, its unassuming nature can easily work in your favor.
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!