Sometimes it’s simply fun to be impractical.
Here’s the thing about Magic that sometimes gets lost on its players: at the end of the day, it’s still just a game. Games are meant to be enjoyed. Gamers are supposed to be fun. I couldn’t quite fathom treating Magic entirely like an obligation or a serious enterprise, and while I certainly give some of them credit for being able to do so, I’m not sure most people would actually like being one of the illustrious few who manage to make a living playing in high end Magic tournaments. At that point it’s not that different than poker. To most, playing poker at the kitchen table with friends is one thing, but sitting at a high stakes table across from someone who isn’t there to have fun and converse so much as to solely defeat you is another entirely.
Sometimes, the longer and more involved a Magic player gets, the more they shift away from the Fun side of the spectrum towards the All Business side. Casual formats such as Commander are, at least for the majority of players, more on the laid back side of the equation, but even then the desire to fine tune and streamline 100 card singleton decks can overtake the primary motivation to enjoy a game as a game.
Yes, Magic can only have one winner, but that doesn’t mean you have to put your boot on the collective throats of everyone you play against whenever you sit down.
At a recent Commander session, one of the players at the table made an offhand statement that really resonated with my play group. They said that to get the maximum value out of a Commander deck, design your decks at around a 70% efficacy rate. That is, take whatever stupendously amazing, streamlined and janky deck you may designed on paper and then dial it back by around 1/4. It’s a reminder that a) you don’t actually need to include The Best option for every single card slot in the deck for it to be enjoyable, and b) if everyone does this, games end up actually being more dynamic, engaging, and enjoyable in the process. Commander games are long social affairs. You want board states to shift and change repeatedly. You want different people to be in the driver’s seat at different times. You want a bit of unpredictability. Those are the games that are memorable. If someone pinwheel slams their deck onto the table and kills everyone with little engagement or ability to stop them, it makes you less interested in facing that deck – or sometimes even that person – again anytime soon.
In short, it’s ok to put cards in your deck that are little less potent, a little less dangerous, if it means you’re going to enjoy your time more.
I for one, insist upon it. As I mentioned way back in my EDH deck construction series, Assembling the Dragon Engine, when making decks I always add at least one oddball card that I’ve always wanted to have in a deck but have never been able to for one reason or another – even if newer or better alternatives exist. Certain cards resonate with you as a player, and I decided long ago in my deck construction habits that I wasn’t going to forever brush those aside. If you’re going to enjoy using it and it’ll be remotely useful or fitting to the deck, there’s really no reason not to include it, aside from the lure of favoring power over personal attachment.
In other words, it’s alright to sometimes go impractical if you’re going to have fun doing it.
Seriously, cannot stress that enough in Magic.
This week’s card reflects exactly that desire. For many years this was a card that I had personally always wanted to include in a Commander deck but never quite found the space. I used it many, many (oh god, so many) years back in a casual multiplayer Humility deck (to minimal effect), but when that deck was shelved because it had a tendency to drag games out into eons, it sat unused. When the advent of EDH appeared, it became one of dozens of cards I wanted to find a use for someday but for reasons of theme, space, or, yes, practicality, it wasn’t until last summer that I finally was able to provide it a home in a new deck – even though it meant forgoing a more powerful artifact in the 99 that arguably could have been equally useful.
I regret nothing.
This week’s article was originally meant to talk about a different artifact, but in the spirit of championing the 70% approach, let’s talk about something in that mindset.
Today we have: Phyrexian Splicer
Name: Phyrexian Splicer
Focus: Creature Buffing / Creature Debuffing
Highlights: Phyrexian Splicer is one of those strange cards that, in the minds of many players, is good enough to praise but not necessarily good enough to actually use. And though it received some use over its lengthy existence, it’s rarely anyone’s first choice. Which is unfortunate, as it turns out.
For starters, the Splicer is a cheap and affordable artifact in every sense of the word. Not only is it easy to attain, but its footprint is also minimal. It costs just two mana to cast and two mana to activate once on the battlefield. In multiplayer games like Commander, that is considered practically free after the first half dozen rounds or so. Its colorless costs also enables it to be slotted into any deck, with minimal effort.
The catch is in deciding if that’s what you want to do. Because while it’s certainly an interesting card, it’s not overwhelmingly powerful in and of itself. Rather, it enables and / or causes minor table shenanigans.
When activated, Phyrexian Splicer allows you to temporarily shift one of four creature abilities from one targeted creature to another, being Flying, First Strike, Trample, or Shadow. While the latter most is highly uncommon (though hilarious to offset in those rare circumstances), the first three abilities are incredibly common in multiplayer games. By stealing an ability from one creature and handing it to another, you are potentially able to create major swings in combat at pivotal moments. Defensively, if someone attacks you with a large flier or a hard-to-stop Trample creature, as long as there is a second creature on the battlefield to target, this allows you to negate that creature’s evasion effect and allows you to block them much easier. When on offense, it does the opposite, letting you press a sudden advantage. You could, for instance, ‘borrow’ the Flying ability from another creature and give it to your own for the turn. This can be stolen from another player’s creature, or better yet, from the opponent you’re attacking, preventing them from being able to easily block (if at all). With limited combat attacks this can be quite advantageous, letting you manipulate combat in subtle but effective ways. Which, ultimately, is what all games of Magic hinge on in the end.
From a table politics standpoint, its situational nature can be equally as useful, letting you influence third party combat at the table. Though it doesn’t seem it, Phyrexian Splicer can be great at leveraging politics and table positions, assisting in helping – or hurting – combat outcomes at specific moments for next to no investment.
Plus, bonus for originality. Phyrexian Splicer is admittedly a strange card, and adding some card variety to Commander is always a plus. No one wants to see the same cards over and over again. Sure, there are other artifacts that have come out since with similar ideas and could make for a stronger case in your deck, but I’m quite glad it found a home in one of mine all the same.
Even if it isn’t always the most practical.
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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