Commander Showdown - Marisi vs Thantis
(Marisi, Breaker of the Coil by Rudy Siswanto | Thantis, the Warweaver by Jehan Choo)
Test Your Might
Magic: the Gathering's combat system is set up to privilege the defending player. They get to assign blockers, they get to team up creatures against a single attacker, and they get priority to cast spells or activate abilities last, allowing them to respond to dangerous abilities more effectively.
Multiplayer formats exacerbate this issue; not only does attacking present an enemy with opportunities for profitable blocks, but attacking also makes you vulnerable to not one, not two, but three opponents who could swing back in while your defenses are down. This makes many players afraid to attack at all, preferring instead to hide behind amazing blockers like Atraxa, Praetors' Voice while they accumulate loads of value uninterrupted.
Well, that just won't do, will it?
Thantis, the Warweaver appeared in C18 with a seething hatred for defensive strategies. She forces the entire table into a state of perpetual war while simultaneously discouraging enemies from pointing that aggression her way not only with vigilance and reach, but also by growing larger whenever they do.
The following year, Marisi, Breaker of the Coil broke onto the scene with the impressive ability to Goad a player's entire board by simply dealing damage to them with a single creature.
If you're looking to break up stale games by forcing players to attack and by toppling all sense of defensive decorum, which of these commanders is right for you: Goad kitty, or attacky spider? Let's find out on this very aggressive edition of Commander Showdown!
Thantis the Mantis
Let's begin with Thantis, the Warweaver. This many-legged commander faces a series of peculiar conundrums when building around her abilities, since Thantis forces all creatures to attack, including her own, which renders typical defensive creatures like Vampire Nighthawk somewhat moot.
Thantis also does not have direct access to cards that explicitly prevent people from attacking her, a la Ghostly Prison. There's Elephant Grass and Koskun Falls, but they have awkward downsides. Thantis can really only discourage attacks through advents such as Revenge of Ravens or No Mercy effects (and, of course, by growing larger herself), but there aren't many ways to specifically prevent them.
Thantis's EDHREC page shows us a significant degree of redundancy: creatures like Fumiko, the Lowblood or Warmonger Hellkite make their appearance to reinforce the combat step in case Thantis perishes.
We also see a funny trend for Thantis to give tokens to other players. Rite of the Raging Storm, Hunted Troll, Grismold, the Dreadsower, and many more token-making effects populate her page, both to create an army and to force others to attack each other. If those creatureless Spellslinger decks aren't going to participate in combat, this is a way to force them to do so.
When we give enemies tokens to attack with, we're effectively concocting a delightful game of "why are you hitting yourself?" To be clear, this is hilarious, but it has difficulty addressing decks like Mizzix of the Izmagnus, who can casually wait out the storm and explode later in the game in a way we cannot interact with. What's worse, giving enemies lots of tokens, only for them to remove Thantis and then attack you with the army you supplied them, is a very troubling prospect indeed. Even if Thantis does survive, the payoffs are still somewhat minimal; Thantis does grow larger, and likely takes out one of their powerful attackers, and this leaves that player open for retaliatory attacks, but if any one of those steps goes wrong, the entire strategy suffers dramatically.
On top of that, this strategy has some diminishing returns as the number of players whittles down. In a four-player game, you might be able to force players to attack one another, but once it's down to a one-on-one, that army is definitely coming for you, and no matter how big Thantis is, she can't block an entire army.
There are definitely ways around these downsides, and a simple Fog goes a long way, but I want to try something different for Thantis. I want to apply her philosophy one step further and see if we can motivate players to attack not just because of her rules text, but also by taking advantage of their psychology. What makes a person want to attack in Commander?
Many-Legged WalkersView on Archidekt
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Players don't attack just because we've given them weapons. Players attack when they fear they have no other option. Players attack when their spidey senses (pun intended) warn them about an imminent threat that must be dealt with.
In other words, rather than giving other players something to attack with, I'd like to try giving Thantis something to defend.
Planeswalkers provide Thantis a meaningful late-game ploy. As they inch closer to their ultimate abilities, our opponents will realize they have to do something about it. These draw attention, but ol' Jodah, Archmage Eternal isn't exactly excited to try and bypass our enormous commander. Additionally, Thantis runs a downright stupid number of Fog effects, from Arachnogenesis to Winds of Qal Sisma. She also loves her instant-speed removal spells, which can punish any creature that dares to swing in her direction. These effects are even better with planeswalkers, who love to be protected.
My favorite thing about walkers, though, is that they have abilities to create tokens that Thantis won't force to attack right away, which gives us some much-needed perpetual defense, a thing Thantis normally lacks. As the planeswalkers move inexorably toward their ultimates, even decks that usually ignore combat will feel forced to try and stop us, and the only way we'll let them do that is if they jump into the red zone... right where we want them.
Marisi the Khaleesi
We turn our attention now to Marisi, Breaker of the Coil. I won't try any tricksy maneuvers with Marisi. The Goad ability means Marisi doesn't have to worry about psychology at all. Forcing other players to attack is great, but forcing other players to attack other players is extremely straightforward.
Marisi forces an opponent's entire army to attack someone else if we manage to get just one creature through in combat. Naya colors aren't known for their unblockability, but they also don't need to be; trample, menace, and sheer numbers are more than enough to force enemies to take damage. From Pathbreaker Ibex to Iroas, God of Victory, and with token-makers like Ezuri's Predation, we'll make sure people feel the pain.
Additionally, these colors actually happen to excel at disruption. Blind Obedience, Thalia, Heretic Cathar, and Urabrask, the Hidden won't let anyone block with any new toys, leaving them open to Marisi and to whomever Marisi forces to attack.
What I enjoy about Marisi is that he isn't necessarily forced to Goad creatures to be effective. If an opponent doesn't have any creatures to Goad, then great! That means the coast is clear! He's also a great combatant that shuts off enemy spells during battle. Goad keeps his strategy chugging forward, but it's not a make-or-break situation; a simple Naya beatdown strategy will glean plenty of rewards, and you don't need to stretch too far outside of those normal deckbuilding requirements to make his abilities effective.
Let's see what else we can learn from the big cat by looking through a possible decklist.
Bright Lights Big KittyView on Archidekt
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With this much focus on combat, Marisi seems inclined to tighten the reins even further.
Opponents searching for combo cards? Aven Mindcensor will stop them and will poke them in the air, forcing their army into service. Enemies who dare to try graveyard shenanigans? Rest in Peace and Ravenous Slime will keep them honest. Restrictive creatures like these can sometimes be a bummer in combat, but their simple evasion makes them phenomenal assets to Marisi, and they centralize the game on the battlefield, which is entirely Marisi's domain.
Playing with Strings
Thantis, the Warweaver and Marisi, Breaker of the Coil genuinely feel as different to me as their respective colors. Thantis includes black, and indeed digs into enemy psychology to force attacks in the most heartless, ruthless manner, measuring the precise thought processes of her enemies to anticipate the paths they will take. I know most Thantis decks aren't going to look quite like the planeswalker-laden deck I proposed above, but they will all share a common thread: turning an enemy's own game pieces against them.
Meanwhile, Marisi includes white, and the strategy is therefore not about tricks and strings, but simple, honest-to-goodness punchy time. Marisi can lean into his own form of aggression without meticulously accounting for the cascading tides of combat, though an effective Marisi player will definitely measure when they can deal the most damage by using their own creatures, and when they can deal the most damage by using someone else's.
In short, Thantis cannot be trusted, but Marisi won't give you a chance to trust anyone.
Cards to Consider
Before we go, here are a few cards with low popularity on these commander's respective EDHREC pages, but that might be worth examining more closely.
- Sudden Spoiling: How is this only in 9% of Thantis decks!? This is one of the best Fog effects in the game, let alone in Thantis's arsenal.
- Rishkar's Expertise: You may laugh, because this is one of the best green draw spells in the entire format, but it's only in a criminally low 19% of Thantis decks at the moment.
- Captive Audience: The mode opponents usually choose first is to give away Zombie tokens. Thantis is pleased by this.
- Asceticism: Not a cheap card, I know, but I'm still fond of its efficacy here. Thantis gets a big target on her head pretty quickly, so find ways of keeping her alive whenever possible.
- Mirage Mirror: This is whatever you need, whenever you need. Perfect for a Spider who likes surprises.
- Soltari Champion: With a few solid tokens, I don't think Marisi has to try too hard to get creatures through unblocked, but a few old Shadow creatures will basically always allow you to put a leash on any enemy you desire.
- Order // Chaos: Did you force someone to attack? Bye, creature! Better yet, are there some pesky blockers in the way? Bye, creatures!
- Aurelia, the Warleader: 15% popularity? These digits should be reversed. This evasive attacker gives Marisi two combats, which means the chance to Goad multiple opponents. Dance, puppets, dance!
- Savage Beating: There are few cards as true to their names as this one.
- Crescendo of War: I'll admit I went back and forth on this one, an oft-forgotten treasure from the very first Commander product in 2011, but I think it ultimately does belong in Marisi decks. What better way to raise the stakes tan by increasing the power of all creatures on every single upkeep?
Move to Combat
So, which of these red-zone menaces catches your eye? Are you inclined toward intrigue, deception, and psychological warfare, like Thantis, or do you crave simple, honest combat, like Marisi, who forces everyone to join in on the fun?
Oh, and which pair would you like to see on next week's Commander Showdown?
Til next time!