Commander Spotlight: Nantuko Monastery

No one is ever born an expert at something.

This little fortune cookie-esque nugget of wisdom is about as straightforward as they come, and yet it’s a fact often lost on many people. When we look at professional athletes or Nobel-winning scientists, we see the culmination of years of hard work and effort due to them honing their particular craft. Many forget they had long roads leading to that current skill level, Instead, we marvel at that person’s talents in a vacuum, wondering how it is that they ever got so good at it.

This cognitive disconnect may also explain why so many people have skepticism about anyone claiming to be an expert at something, but that’s another story.

Nevertheless, cliche as it may be, becoming better at anything, whether it’s baseball, accounting, or playing Magic, is all about practice. Practice means continually applying those skills as a means of refining them, but it also refers to the learning process of to do certain things. That, or more often than not, how not to do it incorrectly.

The old adages about learning more from mistakes and failures is actually quite true, much to our collective chagrin. It would be nice to insta-learn things Matrix-style, but since that’s not an option yet, we carry on. Lessons learned help us grow and understand the topic we’re striving to improve, as well as how we handle failures when we stumble.

I’m reluctant to consider myself much of a Magic expert per se. Even with 20 years of gameplay experience, a Rules Advisor title, an admirable drafting record, and a nasty penchant for staying alive in games far longer than I should, there are so many things that I don’t do ‘expertly’. I would never begin to dictate to someone on how to play in various Constructed tournaments, for instance, and my insistence on varied and non-60 card decks would make the more competitive players of the game cringe. That said, I do know a thing or two about casual multiplayer games, and I’ve gleaned many tidbits over the years, including such gems as:

  • Just having mana open and cards in hand can deter someone from attacking you.
  • Using spells and abilities at the end of someone else’s turn is essential to effective game management.
  • People like seeing deck combos go off. However, no one likes seeing two-card infinite combos.
  • There is a large psychological component to multiplayer Magic that most people don’t take into consideration. That fact can be used for and against you.
  • Never have a one-trick pony deck when you have more than one opponent.
  • Everyone has a color they like and a mechanic they hate to face. Taking those into consideration shows insight into your metagroup. Punitively exploiting that fact shows poor form. And yes, it is a fine line at times.
  • There is no one ‘true’ way to play Magic, contrary to what anyone tells you.

I’ve also mentioned many other lessons learned elsewhere (such as here, here and here, for example).

One such personal lesson I learned the hard way was because of the card Living Lands. Like many early in my gaming career I toyed around with a monogreen deck, and I really liked the idea of being able to attack with my lands to do extra damage. Unfortunately, many times I had the card backfire on me. There were some games I died because I needed mana that turn to keep on pace with my opponents, and my newly played forest had summoning sickness. Other times I would have the enchantment out, only for my brother or friend to inevitably cast an Earthquake, Pyroclasm, use a Pestilence, and I would lose all my lands (as well as the game shortly thereafter).

I learned the hard way that permanently animating my lands was a very risky thing, and although in the years hence it’s been shown that such an approach can be effective in tandem with the right cards, in a multiplayer game it’s still a highly risky venture the majority of the time. Simply put, it’s a tactic that just begs to be used against you.

Temporarily animating lands, though, is entirely different. For me, using these ‘manlands’ provided a far different Magic lesson.

Today we have: Nantuko Monastery

Nantuko Monastery

Name: Nantuko Monastery

Edition: Judgment / Archenemy

Rarity: Uncommon

Focus: Land Animation

Highlights: Manlands tend to be popular cards, but it can be surprising to realize that even though many have heard the names of various manlands bandied about over the years, Magic prints only about one unique manland on average per year. They are powerful because they not only provide mana, but they offer creature advantage that is difficult to kill outside of spot removal or straight up combat damage. Plus, manlands are highly useful because of how subtle their appearance can be on the table.

All manlands have two major components to them: whether they enter the battlefield tapped and their activation cost for becoming a creature. Nantuko Monastery stands out prominently on both criteria.

Of all existing manlands, the general rule is if they tap for colored mana (which is about half), they enter the battlefield tapped. Nantuko Monastery does not, providing you access to the land right away – both for mana and potential blocking purposes. The tradeoff is that most manlands that add colorless mana don’t get very big. However, as a 4/4 creature, not only is Nantuko Monastery the largest creature of the colorless manland camp, but aside from a situational mtg_card]Svogthos, the Restless Tomb[/mtg_card], Nantuko Monastery is tied with Celestial Colonnade for being the largest manland in the game entirely.

Unlike the Colonnade, though, Nantuko Monastery has a cheap two-mana activation cost. This easily provides the best mana-to-size ratio in the game, beating classic favorite Treetop Village and even dwarfing the other Green / White manland (Stirring Wildwood). That fact alone makes the card worthwhile, but this 4/4 Insect Monk also comes with first strike, making it very dangerous whether on offense or defense. Indeed, Nantuko Monastery’s robust size makes it particularly difficult to kill.

The only drawback to the Monastery is that you need Threshold in order to animate it. Although this removes the land from being an early aggressive card, Commander doesn’t usually have the impetus to strike quickly. (In fact, doing so can often even backfire.) As games of EDH progress along, however, getting seven cards into your graveyard often won’t be difficult, thereby activating this powerful sleeper card with a highly efficient cost. Plus, in those worst case scenarios when Threshold is an elusive option, your worst case scenario is that you still have a land. How ever will you manage?

While manlands don’t offer the same tempo advantage in Commander as they do in two-player duels, they make up for it by providing another simple-yet-versatile tool to your 100-card toolbox. Of those in the game, Nantuko Monastery makes for an easy choice in the utility land and creature advantage department. Truly, as far as learning lessons go, this one is about as easy as they get.

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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