Commander Spotlight: Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep

Playing EDH is a dedication for any Magic player, if nothing for the fact that it operates in several overlapping fields of complexity. Magic: the Gathering itself is not an easy game to become proficient at thanks to lengthy rules hurdles, an influx of new cards to keep track of every couple months, and a continually changing environment to process no matter which format you prefer. Multiplayer Magic is not that easy either, as you are tasked with staving off multiple opponents from multiple angles in games that are generally longer and involve more metagaming, table politics, and the necessity to focus on both attack and defense. Typical two-player deck builds and strategies simply won’t work here, forcing you to make decks that are usually more varied, less streamlined, and – gasp – larger than 60 cards. Which to some players is heresy unto itself.

Such apostates are welcome here, for the record.

Finally, Commander itself requires special dedication, being a casual multiplayer subset with very specific deckbuilding restrictions. Games take more than a few rounds, life totals ensure more long-term strategies, and a mandatory 100-card singleton format permitting using over 99% cards of all cards ever made theoretically guarantees that, for the most part, every deck brings with it an air of originality that makes the experience of it feel somewhat unique.

(Side note: if your deck doesn’t feel unique, fix that. No one wants to play against fine-tuned templated Netdeck. Starting with a preconstructed deck and modifying it is one thing, but in the casual card game world, no one wants to be ‘played at’ to begin with, let alone from an idea that’s not even your own. The game has close to 19,000 unique cards, and in a 100 card singleton, there’s no reason – at all – that your deck has to look and feel identical to another, even with the same Commander at the helm.)

Put together in a fancy Venn Diagram, Commander is complexity on top of complexity, masked in a casual game setting. But this truth has also resonated, as it’s become the casual gaming format of choice by players by a wide margin in recent years. There isn’t a direct correlation between complexity and fun, but for many enfranchised Magic players, the combination of extra challenges to face combined with the wide latitude to construct a deck however they want makes it an incredibly alluring prospect to consider.

There are limits to this, of course, and while the setting overall may be a bundle of complicated interactions and unforeseen events, that doesn’t mean every single card in your deck has to be some massive wall of text in order to be useful. Sometimes the most versatile cards can be among the simplest.

And so, in that spirit, we’re keeping this week’s pick both short and simple, with a utility land that can be down right instrumental in the right moments, even if it’s a largely unassuming card on the table otherwise.

Today we have: Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep

Name: Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep

Edition: Champions of Kamigawa

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Creature Buff

Highlights: For all of its grandiose artwork and fanciful name, Shinka is actually a pretty tame nonbasic land. For a legendary land, doubly so. Owing its unique status more to flavor than function, Shinka nevertheless can be a highly useful land when you want to leverage it, which despite its single basic ability, actually can be more advantageous than it first appears.

If nothing else, Shinka is a nonbasic land that taps for Red mana and enters the battlefield untapped, which means that at its absolute worst, it’s a highly decorated Mountain. Entering untapped can be helpful though in early to mid game situations where your mana economy is tighter and you may need it more to get cards onto the battlefield than augmenting things already out there. Is this entering untapped boon alone worth considering for a deck inclusion? No, not really. It’s rare you’d need to be worrying about tempo that badly in Commander as to be agonizing over whether a single nonbasic entering tapped or not is worth bothering with, and if you are, not only do you have much larger problems to worry about, but it’s unlikely that Shinka would be able to help bail you out anyway.

No, Shinka’s primary use is with its dirt cheap activated ability, which gives First Strike to a targeted legendary creature for the turn. Rather benign overall, this ability nevertheless can be utilized in two different ways. First, Shinka can provide a boost to your own legendary creature – Commander or otherwise – while in combat. This is beneficial either when attacking, making it that much more dangerous to block even a modest sized creature, or when blocking, helping give you an extra defensive edge that could go so far as to be seen as a deterrent from attack to begin with. After all, if both creatures are roughly the same size, First Strike becomes a huge deciding factor. It’s one thing to trade two 6/6 creatures; it’s another if only yours dies while the other gears up for next round.

Second, a little more hidden, is the fact that Shinka’s targeting isn’t limited to your creatures. This means that so long as the target is legendary – its only restriction gameplay wise – you can give it First Strike. Depending on which creatures are attacking and blocking, your intervention could ensure that specific creatures live…or die…depending on whatever’s the most advantageous to you in the moment. Sparing another player’s creature could earn favor from them, for instance. Or you could guarantee that what’s chalking up to be a one-sided fight ends up becoming a trade instead, which could help keep an opponent from getting out of hand. It’s subtle, but tipping even just a few combat outcomes one way or the other can have lasting implications in an EDH game. And given the abundance of legendaries that run around Commander, you’re bound to find a few targets each game to test this out on.

Shinka may not be a brain-burning, combo-wheeling Commander card, but in a format that’s already complicated enough, it can be nice to keep things simple from time to time. But as this card shows, simple doesn’t have to mean weak.

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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