Commander Spotlight: Kaboom!

Welcome back to week sixty-one of Monday Magic: COVID Edition. It’s been 464 days since my last summoning.

Two weeks ago I crossed the threshold of being away from the game for 450 days due to the events and slow recovery of the pandemic. At the time I didn’t think much of it. After all, these numbers are completely arbitrary. Whether it’s 450, 464, or 500, you begin to wonder what’s the difference. It’s already been 15 months of a game-playing impasse – what does another month or two really mean at that point? That’s the mentality I’ve loosely held once we crested the year mark and haven’t really revisited it since.

Yet as I have steadily crept away from that plateau on towards the next, a burgeoning, nagging thought has begun to emerge as I start inching my way closer to my personal record of time away from the game some 15 years ago. On the one hand, it doesn’t really feel all that different. Then, just as now, I still had an interest of the game but didn’t have much in the way of opportunities to play. Digital options had emerged by that point, and while I did particularly enjoy the somewhat flawed Shandalar-focused Magic: the Gathering game by MicroProse, I never particularly cared for investing my time in Magic Online, which had emerged only a couple years prior. Instead, I kept an eye on the game’s developments and releases while investing my time in other games and hobbies. Eventually my play groups took a renewed interest in the game and in-person gaming resumed in earnest.

This explains the sentiment I’d been sitting on. After all, it happened before, why wouldn’t it happen again?

I’ve started to periodically wonder, however, if there aren’t some glaring holes in that logic. Back then our play group was nearly twice as large as it is today – quite a few friends have planeswalked away from the game in that time. We all were also 15 years younger, which put most of us in that 18-25 year old bracket. Collectively we had far fewer obligations, less responsibilities, and a lot more free time. None of us had children and only a handful were living on their own by then. Back then, staying up playing past midnight on a weekday was a common occurrence. Nowadays that’s relegated to weekends only at best.

The truth is that things – life – has changed for us considerably since the last Magic-related sabbatical. And the thought of general concern began to grow…what if we don’t bounce back? What if the pandemic, while thankfully sparing any of us from serious illness, does succeed in killing our MTG meta?

You have to understand, reader, that I know this is a silly thing to worry about in the grand scheme of things. But the game has also been an element of my social fabric and general interest since 1994. I’m certainly capable of living without it – the last year has demonstrated that – but I’m not all that willing or interested in having that decision thrust upon me. The game is not without some design concerns. I don’t like the CCG nature to it at all. And it is a time and money sink no matter how you cut it. However, if I am to walk away, I demand it be done on my terms.

Still, I’d be lying that even I, a diehard multiplayer casual player of more than 25(!) years and one of the most enthusiastic among my Magic-going friends, hadn’t had the thought cross my mind at some point in the last 450 days.

Sorry, 464.

Will it happen someday? Statistically speaking, it’s probable. I remain optimistic it will not be anytime soon, but I can’t control the fate of those around me. Things will resume in the near future once we nail down schedules. That much is certain. What kind of lasting impact the pandemic will have on the group’s makeup and longevity, on the other hand, I simply cannot predict.

In the meantime, I carry on as we have now for going on 16 months.

Which means, per usual, instead of discussing Magic-related topics or a talking point about the card in question, we carry on by 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. When it comes to this week’s pick, the desire to use it in a deck actually predates EDH itself as a widely played format. Which is to say, a hell of a long time.

Today we have: Kaboom!

Name: Kaboom!

Edition: Onslaught

Rarity:  Rare

Focus: Direct Damage

Highlights: There are so many things for someone to enjoy about Kaboom!, from its goblin-themed antics, to it being the epitome of a Red damage spell that you simply don’t know the outcome of, to the fact that you can pick and choose which players and / or planeswalkers you’d like to lob a grenade at. Also, as we’ve mentioned in the past, the Onslaught block (and the Onslaught set more specifically) was chock full of often overlooked multiplayer cards simply due to the richness of the sets – Kaboom! among them. But far and away the most entertaining thing about the card is its name. It’s really hard to not be amused by a card that requires saying its name with emphasis thanks to including an exclamation point.

The card isn’t called ‘Kaboom’. It’s ‘Kaboom!’ Explosions! Loud noises! Lots of mayhem and chaos! It is one of just two non-joke Magic cards with such a unique namesake (the other being To Arms!. And when used, it should be treated accordingly with the respect to its proper pronunciation.

Oh, and the card itself is pretty good too.

For five mana, this unencumbered stack of dynamite affords some surprising flexibility in being able to fine-tune its blast targets, even if the overall outcome is not guaranteed. Upon casting, Kaboom! states that you choose any number of targetable creatures or planeswalkers you wish ill-will upon. Then when it resolves, for each of those targets you reveal from your deck till you hit a nonland card and your bullseyed target takes damage equal to the mana cost of that card, with the revealed cards put to the bottom of your library.

On the one hand, it is noticeable that there are no guarantees with the card by itself as to which targets will take what for damage. Some targets may only take 2-3 damage while others could take 8 or more. Without some topdeck manipulating, there’s really no way to know for sure. For planeswalkers, this could mean not doing nearly enough damage to destroy them, or they could end up receiving drastic overkill. Likewise, some opponents could skate by with a scratch while to others the output could be downright devastating. To some players, that unpredictability will give them pause.

Those players, however, are probably not those who play super Red heavy in a multiplayer setting like Commander. Because the random damage output is by far worth the tradeoff in favor of two other attributes bearing mention. The first is that you are able to pick and choose which opponents or walkers are on the receiving end. If there were specific targets you wouldn’t want to hurt for table politics purposes you certainly have that option. Moreover, because you’re independently choosing the targets, you don’t have to worry about hitting yourself or your own permanents, giving some cover – though depending on your meta they might not like the one-sided damage dealing. So watch for that.

Second, and more importantly, is that none of the selective targeting or the damage output itself costs any additional mana. None. No X costs or additional target costs. No sacrifices or milling. You simply pay five mana regardless. No more, no less. In a duel, Kaboom! isn’t that explosive. In multiplayer like EDH, the fact that the damage ROI potential is only five mana is something a Red mage will eagerly take every time. Every! Single! Time!

Hence the exclamation point.

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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