Among the many areas multiplayer Magic strays from the fundamental tenants of the classic duel are those of patience and nuance. When your sole focus is to kill your only opponent before they do you, there rarely is a need for subtlety. For many, many years – starting from the game’s very inception – it has been hammered home time and again that its entire premise is kill or be killed. Though the cards and colors used to do this are varied and voluminous, at the end of the day Magic: the Gathering is the arcane version of tossing a loaded gun on the floor between two adversaries to see what happens. The shape, size, and efficacy of the weapon may change from player to player, but it doesn’t alter the fact that each bout is to the death. Which is why, generally speaking, the majority of players opt for min-maxing their duel decks within the confines of the format and play style of their choosing, as to give them the best statistical odds of besting their opponent. Despite Wizards downplaying this aspect of the game in recent years, it can’t completely remove the fact that there is an in-game reason for what you’re doing, and that is to emerge victorious at any cost.
Multiplayer, by and large, possesses the same end goals as any other game of Magic. However, there is exists within it a need to proceed more cautiously. If a duel is two people frantically trying to deliver the final shot, multiplayer is an armed standoff: if you start firing indiscriminately, there’s no telling what will happen. Maybe it’ll work in your favor. Maybe it’ll backfire spectacularly. Here you’re fighting along multiple fronts, which forces you to think differently. Not only do you have your deck’s arsenal to leverage, but new tools such as diplomacy, table politics, and coercion become available as well. With Commander specifically, the larger deck sizes and higher life totals ensure a more modest pacing, giving you the room to flex those tools to bolster your position. In these settings, a well placed argument can be just as effective at staving off an attack as the cards themselves. It creates a richer, deeper, fuller gaming experience overall, but it also sometimes blunts the sheer brutality that the game is otherwise known for. Plans in multiplayer may take longer to come to fruition and choices are not always as clear-cut, but the fundamentals remain unchanged.
One of these clear differences, however, is of intent. When dueling, you often lack the time and resources to guarantee always being able to cast whatever spell you want at the time you want. In Commander, time is slowed, giving you the breathing room to establish those resources. Barring a major setback of some kind, once you reach a certain point in the game, you have a wide array of options when playing cards, including some which would be cost prohibitive in other formats. Moreover, the additional time and resources foster another aspect that is so second nature that it almost goes unnoticed: the ability to be insistent. That is, in Commander, if you really, really, really want something to happen, you usually can make it happen. It may not always be cheap, painless, or as effective as you want, but the option is likely there.
Take something as simple as creature removal. All five colors are capable of creature spot removal in some form, with some being more adept at it than others. Which means every color is capable of addressing your average sized creature in some way. And on the ground level, this is true. However, when you scale the game up to Commander, with longer sessions, bigger creatures, and higher life totals, your options along color lines don’t rise equally. Black and Blue, for instance, are just as (if not more) capable of dealing with creature threats. White also benefits from higher costing spells, opening up removal and board wipe options not available to them otherwise. Green and Red, on the other hand, suffer greatly. Because Green has never supposed to have been good at creature removal, it makes sense why Fight doesn’t scale particularly well unless you also have the means of boosting your own creature’s size.
And then there is Red. With the greatest assortment of damage spells, one would simply assume it can handle an EDH setting just fine, but it has struggled until recently. Red’s focus is always about being speedy and concise, and its direct damage spells function accordingly. Which means cheaper spells that deal just enough damage to remove most obstacles in your path. When drafting or dueling, doing 4 damage to a creature is more than enough most of the time. If you want to remove something bigger (i.e. in the 5-7 toughness range), you have to rely on plentiful if inefficient direct damage spells to finish the job. All this keeps the color balanced in most formats. Yet in EDH this works against the color when you start facing down creatures that frequently run around in the 5+ toughness camp. Most creature damage spells become useless and X spells quickly become cost prohibitive, leaving Red with a major weakness in an area it’s actually supposed to be good at. If Red can’t blow something up, what else is there to do?
A few years back, Wizards finally acknowledged that this was a problem and started making some new Commander-friendly cards to address this problem. One early example of this was Blasphemous Act, which was so welcomed by EDH players that it almost immediately became a staple in every Red deck. Since then, additional new multiplayer-friendly creature management spells have come on board. The company insisted that not every Red answer to creatures will be in the same vein as Blasphemous act and Shivan Meteor, and that Red would instead be presented with options other than straight up mega damage cards.
Yet while this has proven true in the latter case, they also went and made this week’s card pick, making the first part of the statement sound rather silly.
Today we have: Star of Extinction
Name: Star of Extinction
Rarity: Mythic Rare
Focus: Direct Damage / Board Wipe / Planeswalker Removal
Highlights: Star of Extinction is a highly flavorful Red damage spell that almost immediately found a welcomed home in Commander thanks to its capability of dishing out a massive color-friendly board wipe. Like most cards of its kind, there isn’t a lot of subtext to consider. Instead, this powerhouse damage card simply does one thing and one thing well: burninate the countryside.
Playing into the storyline of Ixalan and its dinosaur subtheme, Star of Extinction is a de facto damage-based board wipe in Red. For seven mana, it starts off destroying a land of your choice. Which most people barely even notice. Which only goes to show you the potency of such a card – when destroying the most useful land you see on the battlefield comes as an afterthought. Then the Star of Extinction deals a devastating 20 damage to each creature and planeswalker on the battlefield, all but guaranteeing a complete wipe of those permanents from the board unless it had some method of protecting itself.
That, or the creature was so large that it could survive taking a flat 20 damage. In which case your days are probably numbered anyhow.
Either way, even at seven mana, this makes for an incredibly effective Red card and is well worth the mana cost in doing so – especially when compared to heavy hitting red spells of the past such as the equally costing Flame Wave.
That all being said, Star of Extinction does come with two small caveats. The first is that the card has only a single target. The vast majority of the time this shouldn’t be an issue, but should someone be able to invalidate the targeted land somehow, the entire spell will fail. Lands are notoriously hard to target so this should be rare – especially as a defensive measure – but it does open up a corner case where it can be stopped.
Second, like a lot of new Red damage spells, Star of Extinction only affects creatures and planeswalkers. The tradeoff for making this card not cost twice as much mana as it does means that it doesn’t do any damage to players as well. Given what you are getting, this seems more than fair, but it should be noted all the same.
That’s it. Really, when we say small caveats, we mean it. Star of Extinction scales perfectly for the format and gives the color a boost to its signature philosophy: providing a blunt answer to when the other colors at the table start getting too in the weeds on table politics and nuance…
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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