Commander Spotlight: Stromgald Cabal

We all have strong emotional attachments to some part of the world around us. They help ground us even if we may not have substantial control over much else. They provide communities for like-minded individuals. They offer pleasant experiences that give life a little extra excitement. And they allow us outlets for passion, creativity, escapism – pretty much you name it. Whether its a movie franchise, your favorite hobby, or practically anything else imaginable, if it’s something that can be given artificial importance to, then someone likely does.

And there’s no better example of whether that Thing matters to you than when the person controlling said thing goes and changes it. It’s why sports fans perennially freak out every time their team lets a popular player go or when something radically changes to your favorite fictional characters. Whether it’s when Arthur Conan Doyle tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes, Marvel turned Captain America evil, or viewers had to endure the fates of those characters in Firefly or The Force Awakens, it can be challenging separating the subjective emotional response to the material from the objective need for that material to change.

To stay competitive, sports teams need to change their rosters. To expand their artistic horizons, musicians need to experiment with new material. To advance character development and plot, authors and screenwriters often have to do things that aren’t always going to make us happy.

The same thing applies to Magic. Unlike a typical board game, Magic must continually change and improve upon itself to remain relevant (and financially viable). And this means that sometimes the game must make changes to accommodate what the designers feel is better gameplay. To them the game is a job, and they have an obligation to approach such decisions as objectively as possible so that the rest of us can continue to enjoy it.

For those on this side of the design table, however, it can be challenging to accept when such alterations are made. Accepting change is one of the hardest things for anyone emotionally invested in something to do, really.

Case in point: when Wizards recently announced that planeswalkers will be going legendary and therefore follow the same rules as other legendary permanents, it was met with expectedly mixed results from the fan base. Some liked the simplification of explaining one less rule to new players. Others enjoy the new strategic potential it opens up. Others still bemoaned it as a continued example of dumbing down the game.

Personally, I don’t have a strong reaction to the planeswalker rule swap, but as a longtime player I can understand the frustration with removing one facet of the game to make room for another. I for one enjoy Fear and Landwalk. I adore Protection and color-based hosers. Hell, I still prefer the classic frame look. And I didn’t mind mana burn. So, yeah, I’m far from immune when it comes to my share of griping when the game moves in directions I’m not in favor of. But I also have the wherewithal to step back in those circumstances and at least understand why such moves are made. I don’t have to agree with them (or even like them), but it can certainly help looking at it from a more detached perspective.

Which, ultimately, is how you have to make such decisions. If Magic were crafted solely by the emotional fervor of its fans, it would have crumbled decades ago.

Plus, just because card philosophies affect us going forward doesn’t suddenly erase older cards from existence. They’re still there for us casual players to use, well, whenever we want.

To that end, this week I offer up a card that can still be sought out, even if the design era in which it was considered fair game has long since passed.

Today we have: Stromgald Cabal

Name: Stromgald Cabal

Edition: Ice Age / Fifth Edition / Sixth Edition

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Counter Magic

Highlights: Stromgald Cabal was one half of an Ice Age pair of mirrored cards who diametrically opposed one another (the other being Order of the Sacred Torch). By modern standards neither one of them would ever be made. For one, Wizards has almost completely stepped away from powerful color-based hosers – despite some solid reasons why they shouldn’t. For another, both cards employ something nearly no other card generally has access to: being able to counter spells.

In the early days of Magic, when the color pie wasn’t as refined, every color had access to numerous effects that they’d never be allowed nowadays. One of those was color-based counter magic, with the logic being that it was occasionally acceptable if a) it targeted only one color, and b) that color was one of its enemies. Hence, some early Black cards such as this one were allowed to specifically target – and even counter – White or Green spells.

This useful 2/2 creature is one incarnation of that early design mentality. For just three mana, Stromgald Cabal gives you the ability to counter any White spell for the low cost of tapping and paying 1 life. In EDH, this can be incredibly useful, both because paying 1 life for an effect is much less painful than in a normal game, and because many spot removals and most board wipes – common EDH factors – are indeed White. By tapping this creature at the right time, you could play table politics on the one hand while completely negate losing your entire board on the other, making Stromgald an incredibly efficient three mana insurance policy.

Or possibly more enticing: you could potentially prevent an enchantment from ever hitting the battlefield – something Black is incapable of handling other than through discard effects.

The only real limitations to its usefulness, aside from it having to tap to use, is the color-specific nature of its ability. If you’re not in a Commander game with White players, the card is effectively a vanilla 2/2 creature, and as such, many players may not want to take that chance at a possible ‘dead’ card slot.

However, given the deceivingly advantageous benefits this card can bestow to a Commander deck, its generally worth the the gamble.

And that’s objectively speaking.

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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