The Mana Dork

The shadows have thoroughly covered the skies above Innistrad. Spoilers have hit, set reviews are on their way, planeswalkers have nice leather jackets. Time to batten down the hatches and not listen too closely to what might be under the floorboards.

I’m not going to talk about Shadows over Innistrad just yet, though. We’ve got a nice little window here before it launches where I can get on my soapbox and talk about one of my favourite things—playing politically in Commander.

I’ve been back into Magic for a little more than a year now, and in that time, I’ve jammed a ridiculous number of Commander games, and learned a few things about how to keep your head down and get ahead without looking threatening that I’d like to share with you.

Specifically, five things.
Soldevi Sentry

First things first—the thing about politics is, you have to be able to offer deals to people.

A deck with Edric or Gahiji as the commander is not inherently political—most of the time, they’re aggro decks with a little bit of icing for your opponents. What a political deck should allow you to do is say, “Hey – you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” Not, “I WILL SCRATCH ALL BACKS EQUALLY. COME HITHER, THY BACK IS UNSCRATCHED.”

So if you want to play politically, don’t be afraid to stretch your neck out and spend a counterspell or a Chaos Warp or two on something that’s a threat to a useful friend, if you can swing a deal with them. Something like, “Hey, I’ll take care of this Consecrated Sphinx if you promise not to swing at me for X turns” usually works for me.

Note—stay true to your deals, at least initially. If you backstab or betray someone at the drop of a flash creature, it will be difficult for people to trust you and make deals at all!

Also, a nice little not-a-rule within Magic is that there’s nothing stopping you from showing cards to your opponents. Don’t be afraid to reveal your Dismember or Intellectual Offering to a prospective ally in order to swing a deal!

Swans of Bryn Argoll


This takes place more at the deck construction level, but also has some applications mid-game.

Basically—if you want to look like it’s safe to cut a deal with you, hang back on the scary permanents and counterspells.

Most people evaluate the following to see if you’re a threat or not:

  • Board state
  • Previous tendencies—eg. excessive counterspelling, excessive ramping, combo wins
  • Hand size
  • Life total

Be aware of your board state, and try to time playing your Big Nasties for after you’ve cut a deal with the Brago player for them to Swords to Plowshares that thing you just don’t have a bounce spell for. Stay tuned to the stage of the game, too—it gets more difficult to swing deals if you’re in the late game, especially if you look like you still might be a contender.

Diaochan, Artful Beauty

One of my favourite things to do lately has been to cut a deal for X number of turns, then put a die on the board showing that number on its top face.

It’s a strange little thing, but having that physical object there seems to make the deal more “real” for my current newfound friend, as well as my our opponents. Everyone seems to listen to it more, believe it a little more, when there’s something physical there.
Minds Aglow

If you don’t have a way to win—and preferably one that is either difficult to stop, can be set up quickly, or both—you’re going to end up second-last in every game, holding a set of steak knives while Rafiq or Oldzilek or whomever else takes that trip to Hawai’i.

So do yourself a favour and make sure you’ve got at least two or three win conditions. You don’t want too many, otherwise you’re going to come across as more of a threat than a potential political ally. And you don’t want zero, otherwise you’re one of those quote-unquote “political” trolling decks, of which very few people that I have met are fans.
Head Games

I’ve sprinkled them throughout the article, now here are their links:

Head Games— Have you ever been in a situation where you wished you could just tutor a bunch of cards from someone else’s deck? Now you can!

Soldevi Sentry— Note that it has to regenerate (and therefore die) in order to draw an opponent a card. Still, very handy. “Hey, do you want a card? Attack me. It’s cool.”

Swans of Bryn Argoll— The perfect blocker, or very nearly so. A bigger, meaner Soldevi Sentry.

Diaochan, Artful Beauty— I’m sure I don’t have to explain the political uses of this card!

Minds Aglow—Useful for proving your bona fides to the table!
That’s it for this week. Tune in for my next column, when I talk about some of the spooooooooooooooky stuff from the Shadows over Innistrad pre-release at AMNG!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork—his column is for closers.