“He who wishes to fight must first count the cost. When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be dampened.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Despite the name The Art of War, this literary masterpiece details strategies and tactics that can equally be applied from to the battlefield to the boardroom, from diplomatic efforts to philosophies on how to properly run a state. That Sun Tzu fellow was shown to have a keen mind on both the pragmatic and philosophical acts of being a leader; his words have withstood the test of time for nearly 2,500 years. You have to be pretty on the ball for your equivalent of a lengthy blog post to withstand more than two millennia of human civilization and still be relevant.
When it come to war and politics, multiplayer Magic isn’t that different, really. While our marshaled troops may be hydras and wizards over cavalry and pikemen, many of the basic principles also apply to playing the game. Reading the book won’t necessarily make you a better player, but doing so may provide you insight on a macroscopic level on human behavior and decision-making during wartime. When it is useful to sacrifice a creature to blocking an attack versus letting it through? When is it acceptable for an all-out attack? How can you use an opponent’s weaknesses against them? And so on.
However, no matter whether it’s the steppes of ancient China or the fields of Zendikar, one thing is always true about prolonged campaigns: resources win wars. It’s a pretty simple concept with wide-ranging application. The person with the most resources over a protracted period of time always has the upper hand. It’s a major factor in how the Union won the Civil War, why America had such a profound impact on World War II, and the reason your annoying cousin is such a pain in the ass to beat whenever you play Risk. The more time an opposing force with copious resources has to bring their war machines online, the harder it is to stop them.
The same is true with Magic. The reason so many competitive Magic players want duels to be quick is because it’s advantageous to stop your opponent before they can bring out expensive cards that have the potential to swing things heavily against you. That is, skirmishes are more ideal in a duelist setting because it’s much easier to control your enemy’s actions when they have fewer options.
Although multiplayer games like Commander tend to be much more political and drawn out – part of its appeal is because everyone gets to tout costly and powerful cards after all – it’s still largely the same idea. Just on a bigger scale. Even in games where everyone’s decks are chock full of cards that make Shivan Dragon seem like a waste of a card, you still can’t escape the need for resources. In EDH, resource control falls into two camps:
- More expensive cards means the need for more mana. The more mana you have in the game, be it from land or mana rocks, the more options you have to cast cards and activate abilities on offense and defense.
- Access to card draw ensures that you continue to have options, either in terms of trying to circumvent / stop the actions of another player, or simply being able to play cards to rebuild your forces after the sixth board wipe.
This week, we focus on that second condition. Not every color is particularly good at card draw (nor should they be), but it’s something that nearly every EDH deck weighs at some point. While Blue and Black excel at it, and Green has been getting more creature-based draw in recent years, Red and White have a distinct disadvantage. Luckily though, when a color has some kind of deficiency players always have the option of turning to another color – or to artifacts. We are here to offer up one of the latter.
Today we have: Mercadian Atlas
Name: Mercadian Atlas
Edition: Mercadian Masques
Focus: Card Draw
Highlights: Artifact-based card draw isn’t super rare, but neither is it cheap. As a general rule, most artifacts that offer decent, repeatable card draws come in two categories. The first are cheap to cast but either have high activation costs (i.e. Candles of Leng, Serum Tank) or provide some kind of restriction or drawback (Howling Mine, Tapestry of the Ages).
Those artifacts that offer repeatable draws with low or no barriers make up the second category. These cards almost always cost at least four mana, and usually more. It’s not uncommon to pay 5+ mana for decent artifacts that offer reliable draw options (see Book of Rass, Illuminated Folio, Seer’s Sundial, etc.), and this card is no exception. Mercadian Atlas offers up a free extra card at the end of any turn in which you don’t drop out a land.
Assuming that most EDH players aim for about 1/3 land in their decks, this means that under normal situations two out of every three turns you have you’ll draw an extra card for free, regardless of what color you’re running. Additionally, the Atlas only cares about you playing land, so in decks where you may use a lot of land fetch to put land out, you still benefit from its effects. And to top it all off, Mercadian Atlas is one of a very small subset that doesn’t require you to pay any mana to gain its benefit. Not even the most famous card of the lot, Mind’s Eye, can boast that claim.
What’s more, although Mind’s Eye or Staff of Nin are technically more potent, they also make themselves easy targets for destruction. Because the Atlas is only going to guarantee you a draw about 66% of the time, the fact that it isn’t automatic tends to reduce its threat. This tradeoff means while it isn’t always a guaranteed draw, it’s also more likely to stick around on the battlefield. Oh, and it’s also cheaper to obtain price wise and mana wise, respectively.
Mercadian Atlas may not be as flashy or pack the same punch as some of its counterparts, but its ability to fly under the radar while still giving players a worthwhile resource boost certainly makes it a worthy asset to consider. This can be quite useful, since in war, the one thing you don’t want to do is give your enemy more ammunition.
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!
Do you have a particular Commander card to suggest for us to shine a future Spotlight on? You can send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org