Commander Spotlight: Prismatic Strands

We all have blind spots. Whether it’s something massive, such as your own naivety on some societal or cultural facet simply due to the fact that it doesn’t impact you, or something absolutely trivial, like completely overlooking owning a basic household tool until you need it, despite having lived in your place for quite some time. Usually the closer something is to you personally, the more likely you are to pay attention to it, but even then sometimes it isn’t always 100% guaranteed that your focus at every waking moment.

It happens. For instance, I for one didn’t realize I lacked possession of a mop for the first six months of living in my first place. Right up until the point when it would have come in really handy.

Despite our best efforts, it’s incredibly hard in the modern world to be attentive and mindful on every single part of your life, and even if you do your due diligence of being aware of as many aspects of the world around you both large and small, it’s inevitable that certain things are going to fall by the wayside from time to time. We are not machines. We get tired. We get distracted. Our senses can be overloaded and they can be impaired. We can be influenced by external forces like our environment and internal forces like illness.

So, yes, while sometimes having blind spots on a particular topic or situation is a case of willful ignorance, many other times it’s simply a matter of someone not giving it proper thought either in that moment or in the moments leading up to it.

Which includes something as trivial as the cards that get mentioned in this series. Specifically, basic archetype cards you’d probably expect to show up in Commander decks now and then.

Case in point: I recently realized that as we’re rapidly approaching the 250th unique card spotlight in this series, there is one type of card that has gotten very little attention here, and that is damage prevention.

This isn’t a case of it not being part of a play style I and others around me use, nor is its omission a case to be made that it’s a poor mechanic. Quite the contrary. Damage prevention has been used in my Magic circles for decades. It’s a staple inclusion in some form in almost every White deck I use. A friend once had a casual multiplayer deck with no less than 8 different Holy Day flavored Fog effects. In Commander, it’s an incredibly potent defensive tool that undeniably bears recognition.

And yet, we’ve never really focused solely on a damage prevention card, because there was an unconscious assumption I already had done so. Because I was so familiar with it as a deck choice that it seemed patently obvious as to its merits.

Because blind spots.

So, this week we’re fixing that by selecting a classic damage prevention card, and one of my personal favorites at that.

Today we have: Prismatic Strands

Name: Prismatic Strands

Edition: Judgment

Rarity: Common

Focus: Damage Prevention

Highlights: From the very first Magic sets, Fog effects have been a staple in the game, and because of its combat-centric nature, it has indelibly been associated with Green for that reason. Over time, however, Magic started branching out into White as well. White has always otherwise predominantly been the color of damage prevention, albeit usually on a more single target or specific use basis, and so it seemed a logical extension to extend combat prevention to this color as well. And for quite a few years White actually saw as many Fog variants as Green – if not more. To a point where it started rivaling the classic creature color for common perception over which color was its primary.

Eventually, though, Wizards decided to scale back its use in White  (and the usefulness of damage prevention in general to a large degree), and so massive White damage prevention started seeing less and less new cards, with the last instances of them appearing as recently as 2015. While it remains to be seen if we ever get new cards in White again, the game has left us plenty of flavorful cards to use in Commander decks. And Prismatic Strands is one of the favorites among them.

Like most cards of its ilk, Prismatic Strands is a reactionary card and is priced fairly cheaply to that end. For three mana, this iteration has you choose a color upon resolution, preventing all damage that color would do that turn. Although technically it could be used in some comboing moves as a proactive card first, its color-based damage prevention is almost always used defensively. What makes Prismatic particularly useful to this end is threefold. First, Prismatic Strands will prevent all damage that color would do, not just combat damage. This is especially helpful when facing down massive Red damage spells or other effects that may generate repeated instances of damage for the turn and makes it more versatile than simply stopping a handful of creatures.

Second, and equally worthwhile, is that the card has Flashback, which means you can get a second use out of it, doubling its general effectiveness (or at least a single usage if you’re forced to discard or mill it). What’s more, its Flashback cost isn’t even mana based: all you need is to tap a White creature. Which, given the matching color, makes the odds of being able to do so incredibly high.

Finally, because you are preventing all damage of a specific color, it has the potential of aiding potential allies at the table to prevent someone attempting a knockout move against one or more players. Table politics can often shift when such an attack fails, and being the one stopping the attack can help raise your position at the table in the eyes of others who were also spared damage.

Prismatic’s one downside is that it trades off unilateral combat damage prevention for double-use color-based prevention, regardless of type. In practical terms this means that it’s not as effective against armies of multiple different colors bearing down on you, and it’s completely ineffective against colorless-based damage. So while you may be able to stop the largest sources of damage against threads of multiple different colors – which isn’t unheard of in Commander settings – it isn’t a cure-all.

But then again, no damage prevention card is perfect. Prismatic Strands is a powerful prevention card, but it too has its own blind spots in efficacy. So long as you are aware of the various tradeoffs it provides, however, it can be an incredibly advantageous card in key moments.

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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