No two Magic players are alike. It’s a simple axiom, but it’s also one easily lost when viewed from the outsider’s perspective or from the micro level of individual gameplay fervor. Everyone approaches the game with their own preferences and personality traits, as well as their own expectations for what they want out of the game. Are you playing to have fun, or are you competing for rank? Do you like games to be drawn out, or do you prefer they be played decisively? Just as tabletop gaming in general is diverse enough to fit your desires, so too is it with Magic. The difference is that Magic allows you to the freedom to create that game. All of the pieces are already there.
Like many customizable games, Magic fosters and encourages you to create a deck that truly reflects whatever your ambition may be. To that end, unless you are simply copying decklists from someone, your deck will be individually tailored to your personal preferences. In formats like Commander, such trends can even transcend the color philosophies themselves. Yes, you can play Black defensively. You can be a tricky Red mage. And while the perception exists to the contrary, you can totally play Blue aggressively. The options, they are yours.
That all being said, there are a lot of common trends that many people ascribe to. In most competitive formats, for instance, speed is often the primary motivator. Taking 20 turns to kill someone may be common in EDH, but in other formats you’d be tend three times over by then. Another common trait is the idea of reducing variance. Magic is fairly random by nature. Just having it as a tool in your arsenal means absolutely nothing if you don’t have access to it. Whether it’s as simple as a single land or a specific card to stop your opponent’s machinations, by default your chance of attaining it rests with the luck of the draw.
Depending on style, color, and format, variance is offset in a number of ways. The most common example is by having multiple copies of the same card in your deck. Your chances of drawing that Goblin King or Counterspell is increased substantially by adding more copies into it. However, if you want even better chances, or if adding copies isn’t possible due to a desire for a deck with variety or the format only allows for one copy, variance is also offset through drawing cards, topdeck manipulation (i.e. Sensei’s Diving Top), or tutoring.
Tutoring and card drawing are tried true methods for increasing access to the cards you want, be it for land, spells, or anything in between. It’s why some Commander players even go so far as to claim that draw and tutor cards should be deck staples, as Commander has even more variance due to its singleton card style and larger deck size. There is logic to this argument, but it does have its limits. Chief among these limitations is the timing of when you have access to these variance-smoothing cards. Drawing a late game Diabolic Tutor in Commander could turn into a game-ending move, but an early game Diabolic doesn’t usually doesn’t make your neighbors nervous. Likewise, while an early game Brainstorm allows you unfettered access to sculpting your next few turns, it’s rarely a card you’re excited to topdeck two hours into a game.
That doesn’t make the concept bad, mind you, but it often does mean that to get their fullest effect at any given time, there’s the pull towards the more expensive versions of the cards, such as aforementioned Senseis or Demonic Tutor. As always, however, there are alternatives that may be equally as useful without paining your wallet. In the case of Brainstorm, it even came from the same set.
Today we have: Portent
Edition: Ice Age / Fifth Edition
Focus: Card Draw / Topdeck Manipulation
Highlights: For many years, Portent was seen as Brainstorm’s slightly slower brother, but it was still widely used. The Sorcery speed restriction was always seen as minor given the cheap casting cost and how useful it was as an early game stabilizing effect. But then Serum Visions came along. Then Ponder. Then Preordain. With each successive variation on the one mana Blue smoother, Portent was seen as less and less useful, until it was practically forgotten. In fact, Ponder essentially is the Portent of the modern Magic era, albeit with two key differences.
The first is that Ponder and its new era ilk all grant you a card replacement, providing an immediate reward after looking at the top few cards. Portent, by contrast, is part of the older ‘slowtrip’ group of spells where you had to wait until the next upkeep for your reward. In more aggressive formats not drawing immediately to cast something else can be a big tempo swing, but in early stages of a Commander game, this difference is inconsequential.
As a late game draw, Ponder could potentially be more useful since Portent’s ‘slowtrip’ effect does limit that free draw useful to reaction spells. Yet its other difference helps make up for it. That is, Portent allows you to rearrange and / or shuffle anyone’s deck. So while you can still use this on yourself as needed, this old card can also be incredibly useful in cases where someone else is using topdeck antics themselves as a surprise way of screwing up their plans. More commonly, though, Portent allows you to potentially set up any player’s next three cards are while still giving you the card reward. Whether you want to muck with someone’s early game ramp-up or their late game options, Porent’s economic cost makes it easy to throw a wrench into an opponent’s next few turns.
Let’s see Ponder do that.
Portent is the precise type of card for Commander games. While it’s existence has long been obsoleted in the tournament world, in this realm not only is it still viable, but it can still teach its successors a thing or two about versatility.
Which is just the kind of thing I prefer.
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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