Commander Spotlight: Lord of Shatterskull Pass

The range of how long it takes to play a game is as varied as the styles and themes you have to choose from. There are insanely short complex games and ridiculously long games largely dictated by the luck of a dice roll. Video games are often measured in how many hours it takes to progress through the stories being told, and tabletop RPGs have campaigns that can stretch into years. So when it comes to picking up and playing a game, it’s guaranteed that there exists something that will fit your desired time frame.

Most people implicitly accept this convention of the stated average play time for the game they’re about to play. Issues arise, however, when that expectation doesn’t meet reality. There are instances when a game that’s supposed to go for five hours ends in two, or something that’s supposed to take 45 minutes stretches two or three times beyond that. When those things happen, the satisfaction you get out of playing that game can diminish, either because you feel you didn’t get the experience you wanted to its fullest potential, or because the entertainment value has been diminished due to it wrapping earlier or later than you desired. If it cuts off to quickly, you feel cheated. If it drags on too long, you get bored.

The same applies to Commander games. Because every group ranges wildly in play style, deck builds, and personalities involved, there isn’t one universally accepted time frame for the format – let alone multiplayer in general. For instance, when it comes to my own group, I generally use the formula that for each person you have beyond two, add 45 minutes. This puts a 4-person EDH game in at around two hours. Sometimes it’s longer or shorter, but the average (for us) seems to be accurate.

No matter the case, however, Commander is not a fast format. If anything, it intrinsically rewards taking the time to plan your moves and understanding that things won’t be over in a handful of rounds. To that end, players can – and should – take advantage of this fact, including the cultivation of cards that reward you for having a little bit of patience. Cards like this week’s pick.

Today we have: Lord of Shatterskull Pass

Name: Lord of Shatterskull Pass

Edition: Rise of the Eldrazi

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Damage Dealing / Spot Removal

Highlights: Not every card in EDH is intended to have an immediate payoff. Just like an expensive spell or combo-laden setup, a large part of Commander’s appeal is working the long game. And Lord of Shatterskull Pass fits right into that process. While it’s not much to look at when initially cast, it can be down right scary if you’re willing to just give it a little time to grow.

Like many of the better Level Up cards, Shatterskull is somewhat deceptive in its use at first glace. For four mana, its initial casting provides you with a meager 3/3 with no abilities, making it essentially a Hill Giant – something almost no one would advocate for in their EDH deck from an effectiveness standpoint.

Yet investing just two mana into its first activation immediately jumps this minotaur menace up to a 6/6. While it still lacks any ability at this point, even a vanilla 6/6 for a six mana investment isn’t terrible to attack or block with, especially given that said mana can be spaced out over multiple turns. This segmentation can be quite handy in early game stages or if mana is would otherwise be an issue.

It’s understandable though if some players aren’t keen on the slow burn approach, nor is it trait Red is particularly known for. Many may even balk at the realization that reaching its final stage will require both time and another 10 mana to achieve. But if you think solely along calculating pure numbers, two things are often overlooked in the process:

  1. The whole time you’re leveling it up, you’re still wielding a 6/6 creature, and
  2. Once again, that mana does not need to be provided all at the same time. Ten is indeed a lot to make it something besides an expensive vanilla, but that can easily be spread over a few turns.

That all said, even in Commander patience can be a virtue, and Lord of Shatterskull Pass is a great example of being rewarded for doing so, as once you reach its final level this creature quickly goes from being something that is largely ignored to being a threat almost immediately. And with good reason. By attacking at Level 6, Shatterskull performs a six damage Simoon, which can utterly eradicate most player’s defenses even in EDH settings.

What’s more, the targeted nature allows the creature to survive longer than indiscriminate damage dealers since the damage isn’t affecting all of your opponents at once. This can be a huge advantage when trying to dish out loads of damage or focus on a single player without drawing the ire of the entire board at once.

That is, if you’re willing to put in the effort.

Lord of Shatterskull Pass is a weird card, simultaneously treated as both a danger to contend with and an ineffectual glass cannon that’s hardly worth the effort. And in faster formats, the latter would undoubtedly be more likely to be true. But in Commander, if you’re willing to bide your time and wait it out, you will be rewarded with an ability most don’t may much attention to until it’s barreling down at them to devastating effect.

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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