Commander Spotlight: Noxious Vapors

As wonderfully complex and open-ended as Magic has become over the years, it’s not infinite when it comes to creating every concept you can dream up using the cards you want in the format you want. Despite a constant stream of new content, there are indeed limits to your efforts – especially the more specific you get pertaining to specific mechanics and themes.

Take for instance the second EDH deck I ever constructed. It was a White deck centered around Sensei Golden-Tail and every Bushido card that it allowed.

It…did not go well.

The main reason, of course, was that the core concept of the deck consisted of using a mere 19 creatures, the vast majority of which are on the smaller size and slightly overcosted for what they offered. They may have been decent for Limited or Standard during the time of Kamigawa, but most definitely don’t hold up in Commander. I had to significantly augment the deck with other cards and creatures to offset the handicap I had given myself, all in the desire to make it viable in my play group. Unsurprisingly, it only took a handful of playthroughs to demonstrate that the weakest part of that deck was everything Bushido related. To a point where, somewhat ironically, the Bushido parts were entire replaced with other creatures. This made a much more functional deck, but it had fundamentally lost its entire premise in doing so.

Bushido isn’t entirely surprising in its outcome, however. It only had a couple dozen cards overall representing the mechanic (which is actually better than many others), and it only appeared in a single block. There simply wasn’t the critical mass of cards necessary to make it work in a manner that I liked for an EDH setting.

Another style that’s a little more eye-raising in terms of its difficulty is that of discard. Commander format or not, making multiplayer focused decks involving mass discard is hard, despite the concept being prevalent in the game since its foundation. The primary reason for this is simple: much like Bushdio, most discard cards are designed for single player duels. The vast majority of discard cards only target a single player, and even then usually only in small amounts (at least at the lower rarities).

Those that do target more that one player fall into two camps. The first and smaller continent of cards are those that only affect your opponents. These are more preferable since they leave you with strategic card advantage, but there are rather rare as card effects go. In fact, there are only slightly more of these kinds of cards than there are with Bushido, and most of them are either costly to cast or only force them to discard a card or two.

The second and larger group of mass discard cards are those that force everyone to discard cards. These can be useful if your ambition is solely to fuel emptying players’ hands, but it does leave you to the same topdecking whims as everyone else. Still, these are generally more powerful on the whole, and they’re much more common to source for deck building.

Commander decks around mass discarding aren’t super easy to build, but they can be done through using both styles of these cards. This too I learned firsthand a couple years ago when I converted a casual Black/Blue discard deck into the EDH format. During that process, I carried over a card that had served the deck well in its prior incarnation, and as it turned out, worked even better in a Commander setting. That card happens to be this week’s pick.

Today we have: Noxious Vapors

Name: Noxious Vapors

Edition: Planeshift

Rarity: Uncommon

Focus: Discard

Highlights: Like many during the Invasion block, Noxious Vapors was a highly useful card hidden in plain sight. Not much attention was given to it at the time, mostly because the game was highly encouraging players to use decks or three or more colors, so it was generally seen as a flavorful but underpowered twist on a standard discard card. Over time, however, Noxious Vapors has proven to be more lethal the longer it’s existence has lingered.

Like most discard cards, Noxious Vapors is pretty basic. For three mana you’re treated to a color-based discard effect, wherein everyone must reveal their hand, choose up to one card of each color, and discard all remaining nonland cards. The practical effect of this is that while you only may get someone playing with three or more colors to discard a card or two, especially in the early stages of the game, Noxious Vapors can be absolutely crippling to someone running a monocolor deck. What’s more, no colorless cards are spared from their journey to the graveyard – a card type quite common in Commander settings.

Also also, the card affords the added bonus of letting everyone know the cards which are being kept, providing some short-term table knowledge of what’s to come.

Of course, as with many cards of its ilk, Noxious Vapors cuts both ways. For one, the effects of it will hurt you as well as everyone else. More importantly, although it’s a monoblack card, Noxious Vapors is much better suited to decks containing two or more colors, which could limit its usefulness to some.

Still, as cost to benefit ratios go, Noxious Vapors is a hard one to top. And when it comes to making mass discard work in a Commander setting, you’ll want to take every worthwhile card you can.

Otherwise you may end up with another Bushido situation on your hands.

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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