In this month's Word of Command, we investigate a powerful new mechanic introduced in Shadows over Innistrad, and how Clues can aid a deck in myriad ways. Expanding on the concept of expanding one's hand through card draw, the Tariel deck from last month is given a suite of cards for card advantage.
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Commander Gets a Clue
Innistrad's shadows are upon us, with many new cards and interactions. While this set has been a great boon to Commander players overall, I want to focus on one of the under-discussed mechanics: Investigate, and the Clues it creates.
Drawing cards is especially important in a game of Commander, where you cannot as easily count on depleting your opponents' resources faster than yours. Deciding what types of draw effects one runs, and how many, will ultimately depend on that player's deck strategy and flow. The investigate mechanic adds some new card draw options to consider when building a deck, as there are several advantages to the Clues that are not readily apparent.
This article will go over what benefits a Clue's delayed draw gives, other benefits that can be gained from Clues, and look at some of the notable Clue generating effects in Shadows Over Innistrad
. We will also look at how Clues fit into existing draw options, and finally wrap up by adding a draw package to the Tariel deck we started last time
Analyzing the Clues
At first look, Clues seem to be a bad cantrip effect added onto various spells. After all, Lunar Mystic
adds only a cost of for an extra card when casting an instant, while Trail of Evidence
adds on an extra . However, this comparison is not a good one: Clues have several good advantages over other cantrip adding effects. The first is that they delay the cost needed. Even if a player is tight on mana at the moment they cast the spell, they can always cash in on the Clue in the future, when they have more resources to spend. The second is that each Clue on the board is a potential card, which allows Clues to 'bypass' the hand size limit until needed. If a player were to draw ten cards in a single turn, that player would likely have to discard at the end of that turn. However, players can cash in on Clues on the battlefield whenever they actually need them. Finally, there are several advantages to creating extra artifacts on the battlefield, which will be covered in the next section.
These advantages make Clues fit in well in a variety of different strategies. Aggressive builds can allow Clues to stack up in the early game, only to cash them in later when they begin to run out of steam. This allows them to spend their mana on more aggressive options earlier in the game, rather than diluting their speed. On the other hand, control decks can hold a full grip of cards and leave mana open, then break their Clues in an emergency if none of their current answers fit the situation, or simply cash in their Clues with available mana if no answers were needed that turn. This flexibility is what makes Clues unique.
Examining a Clue from a Different Angle
Clues also need to be examined at more than their face value. Generating artifacts can help with various Combo applications, as well as adding additional synergy to existing decks. Cards that care about artifacts such as Clock of Omens
or Krark-Clan Ironworks
can utilize Clues to make mana and fuel other abilities, while Commanders like the Shattergang Brothers
can make use of Clues as a repeatable source of artifacts to sacrifice to their ability. The Shattergang Brothers
, or even Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest
, will particularly enjoy including Ulvenwald Mysteries
, given the utility of its ability. It is also worth noting that green token decks running cards like Parallel Lives
will automatically have increased synergy with Clues. There are many cards that benefit from artifacts entering
, or being on
While any card can find a home in a niche deck, there are a few additions from Shadows over Innistrad
that are worthy of notice, and would likely find homes in several decks. Bygone Bishop
While Mentor of the Meek
may remain the go-to draw effect to pair with small creatures in White, given that he works with both tokens
effects, Bygone Bishop
will still see play in a number of lists. First off, White has so few excellent card draw options that any new alternative should be examined when it comes out. While it does not work with the tokens and flickering, many decks that recur creatures to hand will be happy to use it. The bishop is also an easier early-game play. Sometimes it can be difficult to continue to develop the board extensively while paying Mentor of the Meek
's trigger, but the Bishop always gives a Clue which can be used later. Some decks also use Stonecloaker
as an answer to problematic graveyards
, and the Bishop can add extra value to that play. Finally, the Bishop's natural evasion will be a boon for any deck that wants to connect with equipment.
Another card that initially looks worse than its predecessor, Ulvenwald Mysteries
will likely lose in a straight up fight against Fecundity
for draw power, but makes up for that loss with additional utility. Doubling as a token producer provides some extra staying power on the board, and also increases the value of all other Clue generators that one may be running. An important point to note is that, again, the second ability does not care how
the Clue was sacrificed, making it an interesting inclusion in decks that might use Clues for other purposes
Trail of Evidence
differs from the other two as it seems on first glance to be immediately better than Seer's Sundial
, and will likely be a replacement in many decks that are able to run it. Coming in with the same cost per draw, but with a cheaper cost to cast, makes the tracker a valuable addition to decks that want its effect. Its second ability is then simply further benefit, potentially allowing it to scale into the game as an effective threat. Like other effects that trigger on Clues sacrificing, the tracker also does not care how the Clues get sacrificed
, which allows for some interesting combat tricks.
Adding card draw onto spells cast is a mainstay of many Izzet Spellslinger and Storm lists in order to quickly cycle through the deck and assemble needed pieces while also fueling the combo with more and more cards. Trail of Evidence
will be seen in some of these lists pulling double duty. Early in the game, it can add extra draw power when the deck gets low on cards. Later on, the Clues can be used with Clock of Omens
to untap mana rocks
and keep the combo going.
Drawing in Style
While Clues are a neat new variety of draw effect, card draw has a much more diverse presence in Commander. Every color has its own styles and flavor of card draw. More important than a specific color's options though, are to examine a deck's goals and strategy to determine what type of card draw would best benefit that game plan. While Wheel of Fortune
is undeniably one of Red's strongest draw spells, it does not fit into every red deck.
One of the first things to look at is whether the deck's goal is more aggressive, or more controlling. Whether it wants to win quickly, or through a game of attrition. Faster decks will want more mana-efficient spells that give immediate impact, such as Night's Whisper
. Decks that want to play a longer game, or that want to keep a steady inflow of cards, instead favor cards like Phyrexian Arena
. Even in longer attrition builds, there is a difference between passive control decks, or active decks which may seek to gain increased value from an engine, perhaps by using cards like Deathreap Ritual
. Quick Draw
Cheap draw effects like Sign in Blood
, or draw fixers like Brainstorm
and Oath of Nissa
may not seem very exciting, but they can help pull a deck together to create a well-oiled machine. While it seems that these cards are slots that could easily be cut for more important 'business' spells, they are in fact a powerful tool that can be used in any deck. They can be run early in the game for a quick bit of advantage, and yet remain viable and valuable top-deck draws even in the late game.
A Night's Whisper
in the early game can be snuck into a turn that would otherwise have some dead mana for extra advantage, or can act like a cheap Phyrexian Arena
with immediate payoff. Yet topdecking a Night's Whisper
in the late game is still not bad, since it amounts to having two topdecks instead of one. Similarly, the fixing cards can be used to grab a land or a cheap drop to smooth out early turns, or they can be used to bypass those into selecting a better spell when topdecked late. Rush of Knowledge
On the opposite end of the equation are large draw spells like Wheel of Fortune
, Promise of Power
, and Recurring Insight
. These spells are great for decks that routinely empty their hands and want to fill them back up immediately. Aggressive decks may run them so as to not waste an early turn developing a card that gives advantage over time, instead refilling their hands before they run out of steam. Cards like Shamanic Revelation
also allow Aggressive decks to over-commit to the board, immediately benefiting from that position. Likewise, Storm-style combo decks can run these spells in order to dig deeply and quickly though their decks, as well as to help go off on a major turn. Value Over Time
Cards like Phyrexian Arena
or Staff of Nin
can generate a lot of value for a low mana investment if left unanswered. These cards hope to trade away immediate value in hopes of getting highly efficient for their cost the longer a game goes on, with little or no further investment from the player as time goes on. Cards like Greed
, Mind's Eye
, or Erebos, God of the Dead
also fit into this category. While they can provide greater benefit the more investment is added to them, the gains are strictly linear. This class of cards fits well into control decks playing for the later game. Added Value
Last but not least, cards can provide value by generating added synergy. If a deck runs a high creature count, a card like Grim Haruspex
which adds card draw to those creatures likely adds about one card for every three cards that player draws. This appears worse than a Phyrexian Arena
, which gives much better value at the same cost, until we factor in other synergy. By running a large amount of reanimation, players can get extra value off each creature they play, often netting many more cards for each card spent. Since each creature is being run is already good value for its mana cost on its own, its mana effectiveness can scale very effectively.
Applying Card Draw
Choosing which card draw to include will be influenced by a deck's strategy, and will also affect the strategy as it plays out. Looking at the Tariel, Reckoner of Souls
list that we started last time, it has several slower and more mana-intensive cards, which suggest a relaxed and longer game would be ideal. There is also a heavy reanimation theme, both for ourselves, and our opponents, so we will run a few cards which capitalize on that.
While Wheel of Fortune
effects are in color, and help with the reanimation theme, they tend to be a more aggressive approach to the situation, by actively seeking to place reanimation targets and reanimate quickly. Though we have an Animate Dead
in the list, we are not running the full suite, so we are better off slowing down the strategy. This means that Black's Phyrexian Arena
effects will be more up our alley, with some small draw in Night's Whisper
effects to smooth out early turns. We start by adding Night's Whisper
, Read the Bones
, and Toil // Trouble
for the cheap spells. I am a bit concerned by Sign in Blood
's double black cost, so we will skip it for now. We will also add the suite of Phyrexian Arena
, Graveborn Muse
, and Bloodgift Demon
. A copy of Phyrexian Rager
will help provide early game presence, and can be used without reanimation if needed. We will avoid Underworld Connections
since we do not have any land synergy, and we do not want to use up too many slots on this effect. Instead, this leaves us room for adding Spiteful Visions
. Spiteful Visions is a great card in that it is an arena effect for us early, while also adding extra pain to other players who want to draw more cards than we do. This helps to slow down the game, in line with our strategy. Remember, since we are going slow, we do not need a lot of cards all at once, we just need them consistently.
Overall, I prefer the more active sacrifice-based draw in Grim Haruspex
effects, especially since we have a minor sacrifice theme as well, but that level of activity goes against the strategy we are setting up, and would require a much greater dedication. It helps to diversify our draw strategies, so we want to add something other than just the Phyrexian Arena
suite. However, the sacrifice theme makes us extremely vulnerable to graveyard hate. The arena effects can keep some form of draw on the battlefield, which can alleviate this dependency, while the creature versions play well with our reanimation. We can still add a small subset of the sacrifice theme, though, with the ubiquitous Skullclamp
, and also add a Relic Seeker
, since we now have the capability to get both land ramp and card draw from our equipment. I am still following a moderate budget, so we will not include Sword of Fire and Ice
or Sword of Light and Shadow
, though both would fit the deck well.
We will also add the new Bygone Bishop
to our creature suite. While its slot will be eventually solidified or cut based on how many three-cost creatures we run, we have a decent density right now, and its slow draw fits well with our deck's archetype. It also plays well with Oversold Cemetery
, and other synergies may present themselves as we flesh out more recursion in the deck.
In order to recover our equipment, a copy of Salvage Scout
will fit well in the deck. We will also add Pulsemage Advocate
at this time, since he can be a powerful reanimation tool. In a pinch, Order of Whiteclay
could fit a similar role, although I prefer to use him in a list with the Swords or some other powerful equipment due to the capability to use his ability as a form of vigilance, and to compensate for his lower stats. The List So Far
The deck is now at 33 of 59 non-land cards (excluding the commander), which still leaves us plenty of room to fit in win conditions and further define the strategy that we would like to shape, adding in slots for removal, some bigger game-enders, and some utility 'flex' pieces to clean up loose ends and make the deck run smoother.
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