Commander Spotlight: Vile Consumption

Welcome back to week forty-seven of Monday Magic: COVID Edition. It’s been 366 days since my last summoning, which officially means we’ve hit the one year mark since anyone in our play group has sat across from one another to lob mana-fueled spells and unleash a plane-spanning menagerie of fantastical creatures.

A full year of so many things sidelined. A full year not of missed opportunities but absent of opportunities. A full year of unbridled doubt and uncertainty. A full year we can’t get back.

One year. Poof. Gone. It’s like the storyline from Avengers: Endgame, but inextricably, somehow, even worse.

As harrowing and demoralizing as that big singular number is, it admittedly pales in comparison to the litany of other COVID-related numbers we’ve experienced (and continue to) over these last many months. With so much profound hardship, pain, and grief being experienced on such a wide scale, to focus on the epitome of a first world problem in not being able to play a card game with one’s pals simply doesn’t exist anywhere near the same level. For as much as any of us complain about not being able to return to everyday humdrum activities, it’s both prudent and important to keep the relative context of such problems in our minds as often was we can. For millions of people the last year has been an absolute hell, and for most of them the trauma of the pandemic will endure long after life for the rest of us settle back to a sense of normalcy.

A full year.

Still, few would attest to actually having enjoyed being socially isolated from their various communities for an entire year, and we’re no different here at CR HQ. The last 12 months haven’t been a cakewalk for us either, and though we’ve weathered the multitude of events as best we could, not being able to see friends – even for something as trivial as to play a board game – hasn’t been a desirable or pleasurable one. After all, you don’t get into tabletop gaming if you don’t actually enjoy the company of others. To go from seeing people on a monthly, if not near-weekly, basis to not at all is comparatively minor in broader terms, but it’s still been a pretty significant disruption in the rhythm of our normal lives. And hours-long Commander games are very much a part of that.

There’s little more I can say after these many weeks. The entire ordeal has been awful, and I hope in the not too distant future the “COVID Edition” part of this series can be retired forever.

But it is not this day.

And so, as has become the default with these articles of the last year, rather than bringing up Magic-centric topics or a specific discussion point, I’ve mostly resorted to showing off Magic cards I’ve wanted to put into an EDH deck for some time but haven’t for one reason or another. This week falls largely on that same angle. However, there is a twist: this week’s card card pick is actually one I do have in one of my desks because I opted for it over the wish list card in question. That card is Pendrell Mists. This one is potentially even more painful, depending on your objective. Its flavor also happens to be far more on point – though entirely by coincidence.

Today we have: Vile Consumption

Name: Vile Consumption

Edition: Invasion

Rarity:  Rare

Focus: Creature Destruction

Highlights: Throughout my entire Magic career I have a well-known soft spot for three types of cards: interesting multicolor cards, utility artifacts, and nonbasic lands. And I have been an absolute fan of The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale since my early days – not because of its well recognized strategic and competitive potential but because I like seeing lands do different things beyond simply adding or filtering mana. (Indeed, one of my favorite aspects when it came to building a colorless Commander deck was getting to select all the different nonbasic lands to toy around with.) The iconic Tabernacle very much fits into that milieu.

The problem, of course, is that The Tabernacle is ridiculously expensive. Even back in the days when it could have been gotten for double digits rather than quadruple it’s always been prohibitively expensive for me to obtain and served as just one of those unobtainable cards I’ll only get to appreciate from afar. I’ve longed desired to complete a Legends set since it and Arabian Nights are two of the only normal expansion sets I’m largely missing at this point, but many of those cards have always been priced out of affordability, and that’s not likely to ever change at this point.

So as a more budget-conscious young mage, I went with the next best thing, which was Weatherlight’s Pendrell Mists. It’s the exact same effect except on a Blue enchantment, which immediately made it less desirable by comparison for the alpha players. I on the other hand didn’t mind. Both cards fall under a game effect called “taxing”, where effect X happens unless a player pays a random. Usually that ransom is mana, but it can also be other things such as discarding cards, taking damage, tapping cards, or in the case of Killing Wave or Vile Consumption here, paying life. Pure Tax effects have fluctuated over the years between Blue and White (though a subset of taxing effects called “punisher” cards exist in every color). And although they saw comparatively higher frequency in several of the game’s early blocks, they’ve never been super common. This is even more true in recent years since Wizards tends to do them quite sparingly. Even after all this time Pendrell Mists holds up as a useful card at harassing and decimating creature-heavy deck strategies. Which can be incredibly handy in multiplayer settings.

Yet while I have managed to use the Mists in a couple pre-EDH multiplayer decks, when the chance came during a Black/Blue deck creation, I opted instead for Vile Consumption for a couple reasons.

Mana-wise, there isn’t much a difference between the two. In fact, at three mana Vile Consumption costs one less mana than the Pendrell, making it relatively easy to cast and well worth the investment. Both enchantments contain a single line of text, stating that each creature on the battlefield gains an upkeep trigger stipulating its controller must pay X or sacrifice it. With Pendrell (and many such tax cards), X is to pay 1 mana. Vile Consumption takes it one step further and says that you must pay 1 life instead.

The general idea behind taxing tactics is to force a pain point on your opponent by making them suffer some kind of setback or eat up their mana base to prevent it from happening – Rhystic Study perhaps being the most famous example in the Commander format. As such, Pendrell Mists forces a player between maintaining a standing army or casting new cards. With lots of creatures, even in EDH, it can lock a player up fairly quickly during most stages of a game. Which is entirely its point.

Vile Consumption by contrast doesn’t force players into a frozen board state. You can still completely cast new cards as normal. It casually just takes its toll in the form of life. You can keep as many creatures as you want, but the more you keep, the more painful it gets. Even in a format with higher life totals, maintaining 4-5 creatures over a few rounds can start becoming incredibly costly and increasingly hazardous to your health. Trying to hold on to a token army becomes a death sentence. Yes, focusing on life payments over mana means it may give an opponent a better mana pool to destroy it or exact retribution, but both enchantments (as with most tax cards) easily become removal targets after a couple rounds. Double so from anyone with a creature-based deck – even taking into account these cards affect you as much as your opponents. Neither one of them survive longer on the battlefield than the other.

Moreover, Vile Consumption has the added advantage of breaking logjams and actually moving a game along rather than slowing it down, which can sometimes be a problem in EDH. It’s one thing if everyone is in a standoff with their bevy of creatures, but few are going to want pay life each round to continue to do nothing with them. This gently forces people into being more proactive with their creatures…with all the subtlety of a cattle prod.

And it works. Either you pay to keep a creature alive on the battlefield or there aren’t creatures to worry about. While both enchantments are desirable to prevent swarm decks from running amok, Vile Consumption essentially puts all creatures in the game on a timer: use them or lose them.

Even if after all that, the final differentiation is that Vile Consumption is still quite affordable to obtain. Like many other older cards over the last couple years, Pendrell Mists has succumb to rampant price speculation and is no longer a reasonable choice for the average Commander player. It’s not Tabernacle prices, but its prices has jumped 500% in less than 3 years. So…yeah.

But that’s another topic for another day. Hopefully one in which that is the biggest Magic-related problem to confront at that moment.

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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