Commander Spotlight: Lavinia, Azorius Renegade

Welcome back to week thirty-three of Monday Magic: COVID Edition. It is a sad and sorrowful 268 days since my last summoning for all of the reasons you might expect, both direct and indirect. Sorrow to my own predicament. Sorrow to the predicament of my friends and fellow gamers. Sorrow to state of the country that prevents us from enjoying one another’s company and to those whose lives are in far more dire situations than ours. Sorrow for those who seemingly have no capability to consider others in their thoughts and actions.

I try to keep our reality firmly in mind when sitting down to prattle on about the dearth of playing with cardboard during these times as a means of keeping perspective. And doing so is just taking into account the day to day nature of this endless holding pattern we’re all in. It certainly won’t be any easier in the next few weeks. The end of year holiday season can be a tough time on people for a variety of reasons under normal circumstances. During this holiday season, that declaration is both exponentially more significant and bound to include a lot more people. So if anyone you know seems particularly on edge in December, just remember to give them a bit of a break.

Honestly, it’s the people who have zero cares right now you should be most wary of anyway.

Coincidentally enough, it was this line of thinking that once again got me pondering about the last sets I was especially invested in, at least conceptually. This was the third trip to the plane of Ravnica and the culmination of years of story arcs coming together in what promised to be this epic narrative showdown between a scrappy band of heroes and antiheroes against one of the game’s ultimate villains: Nicol Bolas. There was tons of hype in the War of the Spark leadup, so much so that Wizards drew parallels between it and Marvel’s similar climatic MCU battle with Thanos in the final Avengers two-parter. Which, out of pure dumb luck, occurred at the same time.

Sadly, from a storytelling perspective, in both cases I was left heavily disappointed. In the case of Marvel, the first part of the story (Infinity War) generally worked, even if it was significantly rushed between its bevy of offscreen actions and a shipload of contrivances. The conclusion (Endgame), on the other hand, was a narrative mess from start to finish, creating more meta questions than it answered, played with time travel like a toddler splashing around in bath water, and whose cohesion didn’t leave you feeling all that satisfied. Trying to tie a bow on 20+ movies is certainly a great effort, but the issue isn’t how much or little screen time a particular character got or whether they even had a satisfying conclusion to their arc. It’s the larger narrative that ended up being the subpar part, as if the writers spent so much time ensuring they checked all the ancillary boxes that the main story itself was heavily under-developed in the end.

Magic’s War of the Spark came across the exact same way. Full props bringing together a multitude of different story elements together over several years, and the anxiety leading up to the conclusion was palpable. But just like with Endgame, the major climax fell apart in the end, largely because for all the seriousness of the moment – a planet-wide war against a godlike figure – you never really felt the gravity of the situation. Magic is obviously known for its cards more than its intricate lore, but for those who do enjoy the stories of the sets, this was deemed as not one of its better executions. War of the Spark was about Nicol Bolas mowing down planeswalkers and ripping through the plane’s inhabitants to regain his oldwalker status. Yet by the end of that set’s storyline the game actually left us with more named planeswalkers than when it started. For all the “hundreds of planeswalkers killed” argument, next to none had names we knew, let alone cards. Which sort of deflates the whole seriousness of the moment.

With the two sets just prior, however, it was more pronounced, as pieces were moving and the villain’s lieutenants were doing their part to pave the way. Among those were the takeover of the Azorius guild by Dovin Bann and the ever-skeptical reception to that by a character that just happens to be this week’s card.

As this series’ COVID-era segments continue, I’ve normally been sharing specific Magic cards that I’ve personally wanted to put into an EDH deck for quite some time but haven’t for one reason or another. This happens to be one of the more Magic-focused segues I’ve done in a while, more akin to the series proper. And since that’s where the circumstances have taken me, I’m gladly running with it.

Today we have: Lavinia, Azorius Renegade

Name: Lavinia, Azorius Renegade

Edition: Ravnica Allegiance

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Spell Control

Highlights: As a character, Lavinia has been one of the closest things Magic has to a classic paladin: fiercely determined, absolutely assured she is doing the right thing, and will do whatever it takes to achieve her objective – so long as it’s within the bounds of the law. Which just like all those who deal with paladins usually means she’s a character that you either find quite respectable for sticking to her duty-bound oaths or absolutely infuriating that she willingly restrains herself even if it means letting the bad guy temporarily get away rather than breaking the law.

In Lavinia’s case, this involved her incredible skepticism regarding Jace and his secretive ways. She was convinced he was up to no good during the period of restoring Ravnica’s Guildpact and even afterwards in his role as the plane’s magical legal paragon, leading her to take on the role of the Living Guildpact’s deputy mostly so she could keep an eye on him. Dovin’s later takeover only compounded things further, pushing the character to the very edges of what she could get away with while still enforcing the laws. That notion of being skeptical about the activities of other people weirdly resonated of late, providing a decent pretext to talk about her latest card’s merit.

Whereas Lavinia’s first incarnation represented her role as regional law enforcement, this new one reflects her leading a rebel group within the guild against Dovin’s rule and leveraging the patent Azorius denial charm in a fairly potent way.

For two mana, this new rebel cop packs two fairly powerful abilities onto a single 2/2 card – each of which can be incredibly useful in Commander games to slow down and stymie your opponents. The first ability states that opponent’s can’t cast noncreature spells that cost more than the number of lands they have. In effect, this completely hampers an opponent’s ability to use any mana rocks or other mana-generating cards to speed up the casting of more powerful spells quicker than they normally would be able to without assistance. While in the later stages of a game, when most players are likely sitting on 10+ land, this will become less relevant, but until that point having Lavinia on the battlefield significantly curtails many deck’s ability to quickly ramp into more expensive spells, thereby slowing their tempo.

Her second ability is slightly more situational but no less potent, which essentially creates a blanket counter on any “free” spells cast. Such effects, found across the entire Magic  spectrum from creature combat triggers, to enchantments, to spell copying, are well enjoyed by Commander players in some fashion; it’s not uncommon to run across at least one instance of a free cast during an EDH game. Lavinia simply flat out denies such cards from resolving, offering up a recurring, mana-free counter so long as she remains on the battlefield.

Combined, these two effects offer up highly cost effective denial card which may not stop your opponent completely but will buy you time to either better prepare or counteract them when they do occur. The biggest challenge with her is keeping her alive: a 2/2 creature can make for a fairly easy target on a multiplayer battlefield, especially when it’s a card that’s preventing your enemies from doing what they want. This gives her a notable target on her back in many cases, but for the mana investment, it’s more than worth it.

This last point may also factor in as to whether or not you feel she would work as a Commander itself. On the one hand, her abilities are cost effective, passive, and she can be dropped out in a game early to keep people from ramping too quickly. Moreover, her low casting cost means that she can be brought back multiple times throughout the game before the Commander taxes become prohibitive. On the other hand, she wouldn’t be a general that’s going to propel your own deck forward, and her small stature and the fact that her effects only hurt opponents may lead to repetitive removal attempts at the table. There are merits to her as a Commander, but there are almost as many limitations as well. Bear that in mind.

Personally, in my gaming meta the efficacy of her out front leading the charge I’d find to be a bit…skeptical.

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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