Challenge the Stats - Single Mathas, Seeking Fiends

(Mathas, Fiend Seeker | Art by Joe Slucher)

Fiend Seeker or Friend Seeker?

Hello, and welcome to the new EDHREC series Challenge the Stats, based off of the wonderful segment by the same name on the EDHRECast. In this series, we’ll challenge the inclusion rates of 10 cards in a deck on EDHREC. Our goal is to highlight cards that we think are seeing too much play or too little play and classify them as overplayed, underplayed, or sleeper picks (not showing up at all on the commander’s page, but really should).

Keep in mind that these suggestions are meant as considerations to accompany EDHREC’s data. However, inclusions made on account of flavor, budget, art, or anything important to you as the deck brewer are always valid and are what keep our format unique.

This is our first week of writing about a commander that you voted on! Last time, readers chose Mathas, Fiend Seeker, with a Curses theme. Apparently, it's Curse month: we've already had two great Curse articles by SLVS and Angelo, so if you haven't seen those yet, check them out!

This is also the first Challenge the Stats we with a theme. So far in this series, the commanders have had similar deckbuilding paths, so it hasn't made sense to specify a theme. Moving forward, we'll do this for commanders that have multiple tangential directions in which they can be built. For example, Mathas can be built with Curses, Vampire tribal, Lifegain, or other very different strategies, so it's necessary to specify, as challenging a Vampire tribal card when we care about Curses wouldn't make much sense.

Mathas is essentially a Curse in our command zone that generates card advantage and incentivizes our opponents to get rid of creatures we think are threatening. Mathas lore describes how he hunts other Vampires and marks them for death with his brand. I'm pretty sure that's a magical curse-brand. Some of our other Curses are silver bullets that stop players in their tracks, and others are not as potent but still punish players who get greedy (maybe rubber bullets?). That is, they are meant to slow down specific advantages that allow a player to accelerate into an unstoppable lead.

For example, if an opponent is producing lots of 1/1 tokens, we should fetch a Curse of Death's Hold; if they're spellslinging, we can tutor for a Curse of Exhaustion. Keep an open mind about what you consider a "Curse": since few cards in our deck specifically care about Auras or Curses, we're free to explore cards that embody the spirit of a Curse yet don't have the Curse subtype. We're looking at cards that specifically punish one player, such as Captive Audience or Agent of Erebos if our opponents are threatening some graveyard shenanigans (sorry, Joey!). I like an on-board threat like Agent of Erebos because it opens up politics: if our opponent doesn't want us to exile their graveyard, maybe we work out a deal in exchange for leaving their yard alone.

We want to make alliances when playing this theme. If there's an archenemy, or if there's two strong players at the table, we're the ones keeping them in check. We're the sheriff, the law-man, and the kingbreaker of the table–we keep the peace, so no player gets too out of hand. This is usually in the interest of one or two other players at the table, so we'll use that to our advantage.

Since we're building alliances, cards that negatively affect all opponents will make that challenging. As the kingbreaker, we should focus on taking down the archenemy (or two strong players) with minimal collateral damage to our temporary allies, so we're going to lean on cards that negatively affect one opponent at a time. (This is flexible! You can hand-pick Curses specific to your playgroup.)

I typically enjoy the variance of a tutor-free deck. However, our deck wants to be prepared to have the right Curse to any deck our opponents are playing. We can't rely on luck to find exactly what we're looking for, so we're running a host of tutors to make this deck hum. Luckily, there are lots of options for cheap tutors for Auras. If we don't want to splurge for a Demonic Tutor, we can simply use Open the Armory, Idyllic Tutor, or Bitterheart Witch! Depending on your politicking preferences, you may even opt for tutors that help an ally, too, such as Wishclaw Talisman and Scheming Symmetry.

However, our Curses don't usually add to the board state, which potentially makes protecting ourselves a challenge. There is an enchantment sub-theme, so we'll lean on that for protecting ourselves with Sphere of Safety and Ghostly Prison and for adding to our board with cards like Sigil of the Empty Throne and Archon of Sun's Grace.

Now that we've established what kind of cards we want in our deck, let's take a look at some picks. You can see how often a card is currently being played in the Mathas Curses theme next to its name.


Overplayed

1. Cards that punish all opponents:

Blind Obedience (66%) and Mogis, God of Slaughter(23%)

As we previously discussed, these cards that punish all players might not be the best inclusions in a Curse theme. First of all, they don't feel like Curses, which conjure up images of targeted malice: a witch stooped over a cauldron and dropping the fingernail of her enemy to complete the roiling brew. Curses are specific to one person, not punishing the whole table. While cards like Blind Obedience and Authority of the Consuls are very good cards, I'm going to say that they may be flavor fails here. On top of that, they may draw the ire of all of our opponents, hurting our chance to make alliances.


2. Curses that are bad:

Torment of Scarabs (92%), Curse of Stalked Prey (64%), and Curse of the Pierced Heart (40%)

A total of 29 Curses have been printed, and 22 are in our colors. I'm not arguing that we should just throw all 22 Curses in; we should carefully evaluate them. For example, Torment of Scarabs (92%) tries to force our opponents to sacrifice their board, but by giving them so many alternatives that they'll usually be able to find an option that isn't impactful. Cruel Reality (91%) is a bit better, but at seven CMC, it ought to do a lot more. Curse of Stalked Prey (64%) gives our opponents a +1/+1 counter if they do combat damage to the player, which isn't much incentive. Don't even get me started on Curse of the Pierced Heart (40%) doing a paltry 1 damage per turn! These are just examples of bad Curses.

Okay, but let's play devil's advocate: let's say our win-condition is Curse of Thirst (82%) and we want as many Curses to to do as much damage as possible. I'd argue that the ratio of set-up cost to damage for Curse of Thirst is very high, and Captive Audience (79%) or Overwhelming Splendor (82%) is much more effective at shutting a player down.


3. Curse of Vengeance (69%)

I'm going to challenge this card, but in all honesty I don't know how to feel about it. It has the most variance of all of our Curses. On the upside, we could play this on a player that's going to play lots of spells and then hopefully they then die? So, a realistic best-case scenario is maybe draw 20 cards and gain 20 life–which is pretty awesome. But, the more spells the opponent plays, the more likely they are to win the game or to find an answer to the Curse. On the downside, we have to wait until someone dies for this to activate, and it could get blown up either from a boardwipe or from the opponent that sees it coming before the target dies. Aside from taking up a slot in our deck, the opportunity cost is fairly low at 1 black mana, and if we have a way to get it back from the graveyard it could really help us win. So let's hear from you: what has been your experience with this card?


Underplayed

4. Rakdos Charm 31%

Even though Rakdos Charm is already played in 31% of Mathas Curses decks, I think it should be higher. All of its modes are highly relevant, and two of them hose specific strategies: graveyard and go-wide; that's exactly what we want to do! It has the spirit of a Curse in the body of a charm. The last mode can even KO an opponent if they have enough creatures!


5. Painful Truths 12%

It might be a boring pick, but it's a fundamental one. This card should be played in most decks with black that are three colors or more, and this one is no exception. Even with two different colors of mana used to pay for it, Painful Truths is just fine as a Divination. But, if we pay with all of our colors, three cards for three mana is a phenomenal rate.


6. Royal Assassin (22%), Intrepid Hero (8%)

These assassin-style, "tap to destroy a creature" cards are quickly becoming pet cards of mine. These deter our opponents from attacking us, and they can destroy the creature Mathas has marked for death to give us a card. Bounty Hunter(66%) is well-represented on his EDHREC page, probably because of the apparent synergy with Mathas's bounty counters (remember, we won't get to draw a card from Mathas with a creature dying with a different bounty counter on it). Royal Assassin and Intrepid Hero do essentially the same thing as Bounty Hunter for less mana, and without needing a counter (granted, they have their own small restrictions). We also see Hunter of Eyeblights (18%) showing up on the page, likely due to it also mentioning counters, but it costs as much mana to activate as simply playing Royal Assassin and Intrepid Hero, and they have free activations.


Sleepers

7. Darksteel Mutation (4%)

Although Darksteel Mutation isn't a Curse, it sure feels like one. Transforming our opponent's commander into a beetle feels so good–and it has enchantment synergy! This is a silver bullet to many decks, from Voltron to simply one that relies too heavily on its commander.


8. Wishclaw Talisman (1%)

Like I said before, tutors that benefit an ally are completely up to personal preference and can be risky. However, consider if there's an archenemy threat on board; we can ask an ally to tutor a card to deal with them. Also, we don't have to reveal the card we got, so we can say we'll also help deal with the archenemy. (Now, it wouldn't be lying to already have something to deal with the archenemy and get something else to help us win the game.) Also, we can try to give it to someone that will agree to give it back to us when they're done with it: then we get to tutor for two cards! In a situation with three players and one archenemy, they won't have any other option but to give it back to us. If you're not a fan of that, I'll remind everyone that Idyllic Tutor (6%) was just reprinted and is a great pickup for this deck right now.


9. Volcanic Offering (1%)

In a deck that wants to make political alliances and take down the archenemy, this card is amazing, letting us team up with another player to significantly hamper the archenemy in one fell swoop! This is five mana to, in all likeliness, remove two creatures and two lands that we don't control. Hold. The. Phone. Four targets removed at instant speed for five mana? We just don't see that kind of value often. Let's compare to other multiple-target, instant-speed removal. There's Fire Covenant and Comet Storm, which will either cost beaucoup life or mana, Windgrace's Judgement, which is probably the closest at three targets for five mana, and Crackling Doom, which hits three targets for three mana, but that doesn't always hit what we want and hurts our allies as well as the archenemy.


10. Endbringer (0%)

This card is a phenomenal toolbox. Not only is it a draw engine, but it also functions like a Curse, removal, and a political tool. The second mode of not allowing a creature to attack or block incentivizes our opponents to attack elsewhere. It can also make it so that they can't attack at all or lets us help our allies get in damage towards the biggest threat. Even its first and least useful mode can chip in for damage or mow down small creatures. As long as we have enough colorless mana to use it, Endbringer is akin to a planeswalker that we can pay to activate each turn.

Here's the decklist:

You Got a Fiend in Me, by Vampy Brewman

Commander (1)
Creatures (12)
Sorceries (11)
Enchantments (27)
Artifacts (7)
Instants (5)
Lands (37)

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

When building this deck, I couldn't help but think that another commander would help handle the downside of our Curses not contributing to our board state: Alela, Artful Provocateur. Blue also adds some fun things to the mix like Curse of Echoes and Curse of Verbosity. There are also some artifact Curse-like cards I'd like to play, for which Alela gives us a Fairy token, such as Cursed Rack. Unfortunately, Alela currently doesn't have a Curses theme page, so there's nothing for me to challenge! So, get out there and build some Alela Curses decks! Here's a list to help you get started:

Alela, Artful Provoca-Curse-er

Commander (1)
Creatures (8)
Enchantments (35)
Sorceries (9)
Artifacts (9)
Lands (38)

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

Welp, that's all folks! Let me know what you thought about these Curses in the comments below! Be sure to vote below on who you'd like to see for the next Challenge the Stats.

I'll leave you with a parting thought: What's the best modern-day way to curse someone? Clickbait? Telling someone about this dumb addictive browser game? Personally, I'd go with:

Jevin Lortie has been playing magic on and off since Portal. He is a nutrition science grad student, so he always tells people to get a healthy serving of fruits and vegetables – especially ramples and drawnanas.