Commander Spotlight: Tariff

Like any game, a player’s skill comes from many places. Some of that may simply be raw potential, such as having a faster reaction time trying to evade an opponent on the athletic field or the ability to easily read another player’s nonverbal queues at the poker table. In Magic, this could be demonstrated in numerous ways, from a proficiency with deckbuilding synergies, to being able to anticipate your opponent’s next moves in a Chess-like manner, to (at least in multiplayer games) deftly navigating the ever-changing web of table politics.

Yet as you’d expect, raw skill only propels you so far. Being really strong or fast or intelligent may certainly give you an initial competitive edge in your game, but if you want to maintain that edge, the best means of doing so is through experience.

Experience in a game is gained by playing it over and over and over again. Experience helps you refine strategies, develop advantages, and evolve new tactics. Through this learning process, you slowly figure out which approaches fit to your strengths and which are the most effective against your opponents. It also increases your ability to adapt to new scenarios should the rules of the game change or if you find yourself facing an entirely new slate of unknown players.

It sounds a bit like one of those annoying motivational office posters, but it’s true: nothing will better prepare you for the challenges you’re facing like experience.

It’s why in games with fairly low luck, for instance, the person who’s played it more is generally going to win. They’ve already put in the time and effort to understand the rules of the game and can instead focus entirely on what works and what doesn’t, often by trial and error.

With respect to Magic, one of the first real experience hurdles for new players to learn is the nuance of timing. While the core of the game is relatively straightforward, it still takes a while for most newcomers to get their bearings on the different card types and how and when to cast them – let alone the entire concept of working with a CCG. So at first, the idea of timing isn’t a priority. They aren’t worrying about which main phase is more ideal to cast something or whether or not trading specific creatures in combat is the right move. Their initial focus is wanting to make sure they have the rules down and then getting as much onto the board as they can.

Once they move beyond that stage, one of the first lessons learned is when they inevitably realize they can use spells and abilities on other players’ turns – and that it’s often far more advantageous to do so. That realization is almost always one of excited understanding.

That is what experience provides.

Another piece of gameplay timing that comes around this point is the notion that just because you can cast a card in any particular moment doesn’t inherently mean you should. You wouldn’t want to cast a creature if you felt a board wipe was imminent, nor would you want to put a planeswalker out that you have no means of defending.  That sometimes means biding your time, deferring your action until the most opportune moment.

One such common moment to do so is typically referred to by Wizards as a ‘shields-down’ moment, but is more commonly referred to by players as being ‘tapped out’. This is when you’ve had to commit all of your mana to doing something on your turn and have left yourself temporarily unable to respond via spells and / or abilities. In and of itself it isn’t a bad thing. It happens regularly in every game and isn’t guaranteed to have a negative outcome. However, it nevertheless does leave yourself open to your opponent pressing that advantage on their turn, as you’ve made a clear signal you will be unable to respond to whatever they’re going to do. It is during these moments where many cards are at their most effective. If you play your cards right.

This week’s card is one such instance of waiting until just such a moment to drop it down.

Today we have: Tariff

Name: Tariff

Edition: Weatherlight / Sixth Edition

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Spot Removal

Highlights: Tariff is a wonderful example of a card that is as useful as you’d like it to be. Demonstrating a very early example of White’s ‘taxing’ mechanic – quite literally – Tariff stipulates that each player must pay the casting cost of their most expensive creature or sacrifice it. Tariff was never a marquee card in its lifetime, but it has maintained a low-level fandom among casual players for nearly its entire existence. But with the advent of the Commander format, replete with an above-average percentage of expensive creatures, Tariff has found renewed interest.

Of course, imposing your Tariff is all about finding the right moment to use it. Because of its two mana casting cost, it can be cast at almost any point in the game. Casting it early in an EDH game could be an early means of stopping a potentially dangerous utility creature, but most of the time it’s going to show up in the later stages where you have much better odds of taking out multiple creatures with a 6+ casting cost. Moreover, you’ll likely hold on to the card until it’s evident that your opponent won’t have the option of paying the mana cost to begin with. While there are times where an opponent may pay to keep their creature alive (but also diminishing their available mana for subsequent actions), Tariff ultimately works best when they simply don’t have the option.

Also, Tariff being a forced sacrifice effect versus basic destruction is an excellent means of dealing with expensive indestructible or untargetable creatures other players are sitting on.

Tariff’s limitations are, admittedly, twofold. The first is the aforementioned timing component. When timed right the effect is almost always beneficial, especially if you have lots of opponents with expensive creatures on the board, but there could technically be times when it’s simply ineffective, such as if your opponent has copious available mana.

Second, in a thematically fitting way, everyone is taxed by Tariff equally, including you. This means you have to either a) ensure you can also pay for your own expensive creature, b) not have an expensive creature on the battlefield to worry about, or c) not care if it dies. Even then, for many players, sacrificing your most own expensive critter for the sake of everyone else doing the same would still be a worthwhile trade.

That said, just don’t expect its effect to be a universally loved one. Because, you know, taxes.

For such a low costing card with a potentially stellar return on investment, Tarif’s tax decree is well worth consideration in many White EDH decks. It does require being mindful of the board state and knowing precisely when to use it, but so long as you have the skills to watch for that moment, you will be rewarded with one of the most cost effective creature spot removal cards out there.

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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