Commander’s Spotlight: Obzedat’s Aid

Play Magic: the Gathering long enough, and you’re bound to hear the same cyclical arguments crop up now and again. Complaints about inconsistent mana dictating the outcome of the game. Complaints about a particular card, combo, or mechanic being unbalanced – or broken altogether. Complaints about the storyline and which people, places, and events were depicted versus omitted. Complaints about the artwork, the card stock, card frames, and the style of flavor text. Complaints about when the rules of the game change. And complaints when they don’t change the rules.

With Magic meaning so many things to so many different people, it’s no surprise that you tend to see the same arguments crop up time and time again. With a bevy of styles and formats, and an ever-changing player base, far more things are in flux with the game than simply the cards themselves. As some players leave, others take their place, and the cycle begins anew. Balancing all of that is not an enviable task, and the fact that Wizards has managed to make it work for 25+ years is admirable to say the least.

Yet of all the griping, whining, and criticism writ large, no argument is more endemic and repetitive than that of color imbalance.

Because, apparently, the idea that one color is better than another at something is just maddening to some people.

Like most players who have seen the game make more than a few rotations around the sun, having the experience of watching the meta game ebb and flow over time illustrates that this ceaseless complaint is largely unfounded. Issues of Legacy and Vintage era sets aside, when looked at from 30,000 feet, the game has shown to be remarkably balanced over time. Different colors are pushed now and then at times, leading to swings in the Constructed environments, but these waves are minor compared to the game’s overall lifespan. Yet try as one might to explain that one Standard rotation or specific story bloc doesn’t automatically make the game itself unbalanced, there will always be those convinced that Wizards clearly favors one color over another.

The biggest reason for this, although anecdotal, is because the colors are asymmetric. Balanced, yes, but not equal. Some colors simply are better at one thing over another. And that drives people nuts.

I get it; people have their color preferences and deck archetypes they enjoy and wouldn’t it be just so much easier if This Color could do This Thing rather than have to make sweeping adjustments to achieve the level of desired outcome.

The thing is, when you really get down to it, most colors can, in fact, achieve similar outcomes. You’ll need to substitute cards and mechanics out for others, but most of the time, there are still ways of attaining a similar effect. It’s just won’t necessarily be as strong or as effective.

Blue will never get a Fog effect, for instance. But what it can do is leverage creature bouncing – something it’s particularly adept at. Likewise, most colors pale in comparison to Red for dishing out direct damage, with Black coming in a distant second. But there are numerous ways to mimic creature damage, from cards that make creatures self-harm themselves to the Fight mechanic, to spot removal itself – which is often more cost effective. Why lament that Green is so efficient at Trample as a means of hurting a player via combat when a similar outcome can be used by making your creatures unblockable. Or saying theirs can’t be blocked via spells, restrictions, or a number of other evasion styles.

Yes, some colors are going to get specific traits that the others do not have access to, but that doesn’t mean that somehow you are dead in the water because of that fact.

It’s sort of like jogging. Most of us with working legs are capable of jogging. That doesn’t mean we are instantly going to be marathon runners, and it sure as heck doesn’t mean we are bound for the Olympics. But having someone out there better than us at jogging doesn’t invalidate our ability to do so. Nor is it indicative of a guaranteed win. Magic can often feel like a sprint to the finish line, but there’s enough obstacles strewn across the board that it’s rarely a straight shot.

One area that every color does have access to is card recursion. Every color is capable of interacting with, and retrieving cards from their graveyard. However, every color has different capabilities to that end:

  • Red can retrieve artifacts to your hand or battlefield, and, occasionally, instants and sorceries to your hand.
  • Blue mostly returns instants and sorceries to your hand.
  • Green can retrieve any card to your hand.
  • White can retrieve artifacts and enchantments to your hand and small creatures to the battlefield. Occasionally, they can also return larger permanents to the battlefield (usually creatures).
  • Black is king at retrieving creatures to your hand or battlefield, depending on your need. (To be fair, half the time they’re also the one to send them there…)

As you can see, no one color has unmitigated dominion over returning cards from your graveyard somewhere else. Green is great at getting cards back, but you sill need to cast them again. Black can dump creatures directly back to the battlefield, but it has a hard time resurrecting anything else. Other colors fall somewhere in between, denoting that whole balance thing. In order to get an unrestricted card return directly to the battlefield, you’d need to combine some colors together.

Which, conveniently enough, is this week’s card.

Today we have: Obzedat’s Aid

Name: Obzedat’s Aid

Edition: Dragon’s Maze

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Permanent Recursion

Highlights: Combining Black’s ability of unrestrained creature resurrection and White’s ability to effectively retrieve any permanent type, Obzedat’s Aid is precisely what you’d expect the outcome to be. This card allows you to take any permanent you may have lying around in the battlefield, such as a powerful creature, a potent enchantment, or even a recently dispatched planeswalker, and put it directly back into action. It’s a highly effective utility card with a very simple premise: giving another of your cards a second chance.

The card itself is fairly self-explanatory and doesn’t particularly possess nuance or the need for lengthy elaboration as to its usefulness. Which is totally fine: not every Commander card needs to ooze subtext. For five mana, Obzedat’s Aid allows you to take another permanent in your graveyard and put it directly on to the battlefield. It rarely saw heavy competitive use due to its casting cost, which some may balk at, but in EDH, five mana to get back one of your biggest hitters or most effective cards is down right economical. Not only in terms of giving it a second life, but because in many cases, what you’re returning likely costs at least as much as this spell if not more.

Then there’s the whole notion of Obzedat’s Aid not necessarily needing to provide something a second life. This is reanimation we’re talking about here. Depending on the deck, it’s entirely possible that you put something in your graveyard deliberately to take advantage of getting it out for that low, low five mana cost, as opposed to something much more expensive or mana intensive.

Whatever the case may be, Obzedat’s Aid is highly useful in Commander games, especially in a format prone to use lots of removal and board wipes, and it should make for an easy inclusion in decks that can take advantage of this color pairing.

It also shows that while most colors can attempt to generate a similar outcome to that of a color that simply does it better, often times, it’s far easier and more advantageous to combine those efforts instead.

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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