Commander Spotlight: Sire of Stagnation

Part of the genius behind a game like Magic: the Gathering is the depths at which it can be a cohesive, compelling, and exciting game while still allowing its players to sculpt that experience in their own hands through unique deck construction. The rules play the same irrespective of the size, style, or focus of the deck you decide to use. If you want to play a seriously honed, tightly controlled, boot to the throat of your enemies experience, you can do that. But you could also make a deck entirely based around unicorns. Or flipping coins. Or even leaning into the chaos and unpredictability inherent in the game rather than fighting against it. This is one the best games to see first-hand the ingenuity, flexibility, and creativity that we associate with the wizards of our imaginations – including Wizards’ own D&D. There are few others games with that degree of openness to the possible, limited only by the player’s desires and a scant 25 years of card releases.

Yet there are plenty of players out there who carry with them a disdain for the entire concept, unintentionally or not. This is most evident when it comes to the discussions of the freedoms around those deck builds.

See, there are a lot of Magic players whose entire drive is to win. In principle, that’s fine. That is the point of the game after all; even with a table of 10 people, most of the time only one person is going to emerge the winner. However, despite their decks taking different shapes depending on the format and methodology around them, nearly every one of these alpha players behaves exactly the same when it comes to how you should be tailoring your card slot choices. Do not include anything that isn’t absolutely essential to the deck. Never use a moderately good card when a more powerful, more effective, and more cost efficient card exists. “I know it costs more but…” is a heretical statement. And always be looking for ways to mitigate the annoying luck factor the game has. Oh if only Magic was less luck based how great it would be!

When you put this deck building philosophy together in aggregate deck patterns and trends develop. When enough players decide on using the same extreme subset of cards to be successful, entire deck archetypes emerge. It’s no coincidence so many players have variations on the same deck ideas in Constructed formats like Standard, Modern, and Legacy. It’s all by design, fueled primarily by those who are only there to take the ‘W’ and move on to the next challenge. With that comes a dismissiveness towards anything or anyone that isn’t after the same goal.

And therein lies the problem. More so than hyper-competitiveness, one of the most caustic elements of the Magic community is the denigration of anything that doesn’t fit into this win-at-all-costs mentality. Most of the time this is expressed by treating anyone who opts towards (or is limited to) playing less powerful cards or more laid-back deck styles as inferior, less experienced players who either don’t know what they’re doing or are incapable of rising to their status as a top tier player. At the most extreme ends (though sadly not as rare as we’d like it to be) this superiority complex is applied at the players directly, leading to harassment, hostile game environments, and a toxic culture of trying to exclude or excise anyone who doesn’t meet their threshold for how a Magic player should play and think. If unchecked, and taken to its logical conclusion, this highly tailored, highly competitive game approach inevitably creates situations that makes the game itself wholly uninviting.

This isn’t the game’s fault precisely. Magic has ample room for amusing, laid-back, and more colorful game environments. Rather, the issue is that the game relies on its players to police themselves, both in their behavior that 4-turn kills aren’t the most enjoyable to face down and not to assume that a min-maxed deck is always the best approach. Play casually. Play multiplayer. Use decks over 60 cards. Use cards because they’re interesting or amusing to you. Use cards because you’ve had them for years and always wanted to use them in a deck. Realize that unless you’re playing for money or in drafts, it’s completely ok to pull punches if it leads to a more enjoyable experience overall.

And perhaps most importantly, stop disparaging others for what they put in a deck. Just because you might not use a particular card doesn’t mean another player shouldn’t. Maybe it fits a theme, or it has some kind of personal significance. Maybe it’s part of a deck combo or synergy you’re simply not seeing. Or maybe – crazy at it sounds – they just want to. There are over 20,000 unique Magic cards. We don’t all need to use the same 500.

Case in point, this week’s card pick. When this card initially came out, I knew it was one I immediately wanted to put in one of my EDH decks. Looking around, at first it seemed like a number of other Commander players felt the same. However, alongside the commentary from this card’s pro camp came a contingent of commentary of naysayers decrying it as a wasted card slot outside of Limited and casual dueling. The major reason, and I kid you not: it dies to removal.

You know, like nearly every other creature in the game.

Today we have: Sire of Stagnation

Name: Sire of Stagnation

Edition: Battle for Zendikar

Rarity: Mythic Rare

Focus: Card Draw / Board Control

Highlights: In all of the return to Zendikar fervor and the storyline focus on taking down the major Eldrazi titans at the time, Sire of Stagnation found some popularity in drafting but its fanfare among the competitive crowd dwindled after the set rotated despite both being a mythic level creature and the power level it offers. Among the casual and Commander crowds, however, it has enjoyed a steady if not slightly under-the-radar existence since its release, in no small part due to the fact that with more people, the more useful it can be.

At this creature’s most basic, Sire of Stagnation is a 5/7 creature for six mana. While that gives it a decent sized frame for combat purposes, it admittedly has no other evasion abilities common to similar creatures such as Flying, Hexproof, or Trample, making it easy to stop on offense – which is admittedly strange in concept for a higher profile Eldrazi but not necessarily unheard of. For the competitive crowd, this lack of evasion, coupled with no Enters the Battlefield trigger makes it less desirable than something like a demon or kraken of similar size and casting cost. Nor is it nearly as broken as the similarly abilitied Consecrated Sphinx.

That’s where we are: a 5/7 creature for six mana isn’t good enough for some EDH players. Which is just spoiled when you get down to it.

It also has Devoid, but barring certain cards and corner cases, that will rarely factor in to most Commander games…so that’s kind of a wash.

Sire of Stagnation’s real power comes not from its stats but from its triggered ability, which states that whenever an opponent drops a land onto the battlefield, they must exile two cards and you get to draw two cards. This puts your opponent into a frustrating situation. On the one hand, they can choose to withhold playing lands while the Sire remains on the battlefield, thereby slowing their land drops and the progression of their deck. On the other, they can simple accept the tradeoff that putting out land will hurt them by losing two cards from their library (always psychologically more painful than in practice) and allowing you to draw two cards. If there’s one thing that most Commander players are loathe to do in general, it’s let other players freely draw cards for zero effort.

Either way, the card provides a useful tempo advantage, either by letting you constantly refill your hand or curtailing the actions of your opponent. In practice, you’re likely to get both, for when you’re playing against multiple opponents it’s unlikely that everyone is going to be willing or able to simply wait it out by not playing land – especially if you’re already behind. This creates an interesting board dynamic (not unlike, say, Mystic Remora), where players will have to decide each turn whether letting you draw & exile is better than not doing what they want.

The tradeoff to this table advantage is that Sire of Stagnation’s effects do paint a rather large target on its back, and so, as the critics like to point out, it often will die to some kind of removal befoer too long. (Shocking.) However, statistically you’re going to get several card draws at a minimum before that happens. In a more casual game group, probably even more so. And…that’s ok. Even just even two triggers can justify its cost in a normal game; anything after that is surely a bonus.

Is it annoying? Sure. Is it game-breaking? No. Which sounds precisely like the kind of potent Commander card should hope for.

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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