Commander Spotlight: Sisters of Stone Death

Everything old is new again. It’s a phrase that doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, and yet it has an earworm-like characteristic that ensures its phrasing and its meaning continues from one decade to the next. From literature to film to fashion, there are innumerable situations where the more we innovate something creatively, the higher the likelihood we circle back to something that’s been done before.

Case in point: this week Wizards of the Coast will release Dominaria, the 78th expansion for the game of its 25 year lifespan. It leans heavy on nostalgia, channeling loads of callbacks and revisits to many of the people, places, and events of the game’s home plane – which served as the majority of Magic’s setting for almost a decade, before they started extensively plane-hopping after the finale of the Phyrexian invasion storyline.

Many old players – myself included – have a soft spot for such efforts, much as we did for the Time Spiral block. Which, coincidentally, was the last time we saw the home plane. Wizards has made not-so-secret efforts to move Magic’s nexus point from Dominaria to Ravnica, in part because many in R&D have shifted to preferring the ‘World of X’ model commonly used in screenplays for storytelling purposes to help give each plane a unique identity (i.e. to push distinctly recognizable product).

Dominaria, by contrast, doesn’t have a unique thing. It’s not the sand world. It’s not the ice world. It’s not the city world. It’s Dominaria. It encompasses multiple cultures, a lengthy history, and stands out in that it’s the only plane where we’ve actually explored multiple continents and how the denizens of those locations differ from, and interact with, the larger world.

Put another way: if most Magic planes are a screenplay, Dominaria is a deeply rich novel full of diverse characters and extensive worldbuilding. This makes it a fantastic setting for a book, but a fairly challenging one for a Magic set. The latest expansion set tries to bridge that design gap by showing off familiar territory in a new and different way.

In honor of the pending release, this week’s card selection circles back to an earlier time in the life cycle of the Commander format, back when it was only known as Elder Dragon Highlander. Although the origins of EDH started as early as 1996 – just a couple years after Magic released – EDH as we’d recognized it didn’t really appear until around 2003-2005 when the Rules Committee was formed and the format rules were largely codified. However, it still took a few more years before it would become the de facto multiplayer format we all know it to be.

In those earlier days, prior to the development of Wizards-created Commander product and a shift in design precepts to include more EDH-friendly legends, your options for specific color combinations was hardly balanced in number, and the relative power levels between the creatures you did have access to varied wildly. This was a time when allied-colored multicolored cards were still printed in much larger quantities then enemy colors, tricolor legends were exceedingly rare, and EDH wasn’t quite on Wizards’ radar. It’s why in the pre Time Spiral days, for instance, that if you wanted to run a Black / Red deck your options were either Tsabo TavocBladewing the Risen, or one of seven creatures from the Legends set (of which only two were remotely worthwhile even back then).

By contrast, if you wanted to run a Black / Green deck at this time, you had exactly three choices: Vhati il-Dal, Savra, Queen of the Golgari, or Sisters of Stone Death. (Iname as One was technically an option too but was completely pointless.) And of your options, none fit into the ‘battlecruiser’ mentality of EDH at the time like the Sisters. They were powerful, flavorful, and not seen anywhere outside of multiplayer. Vhati and Savra naturally had their respective fans, and if we were limited to the same three choices in 2018 Savra would easily be the runaway favorite, but back in the early days of EDH, the Sisters were the best representation of what EDH was all about. Unfortunately, as newer options such as Nath, Sapling, Glissa, and Skullbriar came on board over the next few years, this Golgari-colored champion was seen less and less.

So, in the spirit of celebrating past efforts, we’re bringing them back for renewed attention.

Today we have: Sisters of Stone Death

Name: Sisters of Stone Death

Edition: Ravnica

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Board Control / Spot Removal / Creature Reanimation

Highlights: Sisters of Stone Death is everything you would expect a solid EDH-worthy legend to be: potent, splashy, flavorful, and quite easy to obtain. In this case, they wonderfully reflect the notion of what you expect a gorgon to do: destroy anyone in their path. Once on the battlefield, this hefty creature can be quite devastating whether on offense or defense, and as anyone who has faced them down before can attest, its presence should not be easily dismissed.

The Sisters of Stone Death have a trio of abilities that individually can be useful under the right circumstances. The first creates a targeted Lure effect for one mana, where a defending creature must block you. With a sizable 7/5 frame, that alone means you can kill off a fair number of creatures on the battlefield in standard combat.

But why would a gorgon do things the standard way? Of course they wouldn’t. Hence their other abilities.

The second is the most powerful of the lot, in that for two mana, you can exile any creature blocking or blocked by the Sisters – an ability harking back to the early days of the game with Thicket Basilisk…just on a much scarier body. This allows you to simply remove any targetable creature on the battlefield irrespective of size or damage, and when used in conjunction with the first ability, permits you to dictate which creature(s) will do the blocking.

The final ability is tied into the second but is dangerous in its own right, allowing you to return any of those exiled creatures to the battlefield under your control. This effectively allows you to steal creatures from your opponents and potentially create a massive board position swing in a relatively short amount of time.

When put together, for six mana you can therefore force someone to block with their most powerful creature, exile it, and then claim it as your own. No Blue mana needed. Being able to do all three of these abilities at once (or using different ones multiple times) does posit that you will have the mana, but given that the Sisters require a costly eight mana to cast, odds are you will have enough for at least a few activations.

That said, while eight mana creatures should be worth considering within any EDH deck – if nothing else to push back on those who streamline too much – some may pause at using it as your Commander. That is this creature’s greatest (and really only) drawback. Still, regardless of whether they’re part of your deck or leading it, if you’re willing to put in the investment, you will be rewarded for your efforts. The Sisters don’t need any fancy ETB effects or combo pairings to be dangerous right out of the gate; they have everything you need right on the card.

For those who have seen the Sisters of Stone Death in action, it can be fun to see them rampage around the EDH table again. And if you’ve never had the opportunity to experience how fun they can be, now’s the time. For everything old is new again.

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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