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Grapple With the Past – Alara Reborn
After the Gold Rush
Greetings, everyone, and welcome back to Grapple With the Past, a series in which we look back at the set pages for old releases to discuss the cards that made it and the cards that fell into obscurity in EDH. Once a set releases, Commander players write and read reviews, test out the new cards, and incorporate winners into their EDH repertoire. But with the constant stream of new products, it’s easy for cards to slip through the cracks. I’ve found that by exploring set pages on EDHREC, I frequently stumble upon cards that could easily find a spot in one of my decks. In this series we look for irregularities in the data, try to identify sleeper cards from formats past, and discuss the legacy of particular sets in Commander.
Today we’re looking back to Alara Reborn, a set that I return to every few years. This set pitched itself as the definitive multicolor release. Every single card in this set is gold. No lands. No colorless artifacts. While this was and remains a gimmick, it led to intriguing design. Just look at, for example. This Equipment is indicative of the bizarre nature of the set as a whole: it’s an artifact with four colored pips in its casting cost, split up across three colors. In EDH, this means that can only be played in Grixis decks with good mana-fixing. Beyond that, what Grixis deck wants this Equipment, or any Equipment beyond ?
Alara Reborn is alluring exactly for the questions that it raises and refuses answer. To me, this set has the same elusive flavor as Future Sight. There are powerful and interesting cards that suggest a world to come that is still unimagined. Even eleven years later, I’m unsure wherefits, or whether it could ever find a home in our format. I feel the same about and several other cards here. Let’s dive in.
The Commander Class
As far as commanders go, this set is actually fairly tame. The most salient common factor here is that the most popular among them are annoying to play against. Even if the commander options presented in this set aren’t overpowered, some of them do affect the table in abrasive ways. Who really likes playing against?
can be frustrating both for its ability to strip opponents’ hands as well as its pseudo- effect. Then we get to , Bogle incarnate. Voltron as a strategy may not win games very often, but Uril decks can fairly efficiently remove at least one player on a whim. The other commanders present here are a bit underwhelming: high-costed and not particularly worth it. might make it big one day, but it needs a new effect that turns all of your opponents’ creatures into Dragons as well. Until then, it’ll do as a conventional Dragon tribal commander.
The Top 10
I am not a fan of, and I was slightly surprised to see that it’s so highly played. It has never been included in a Commander product and is not frequently reprinted. When I first started playing EDH, I arrived with the preconception that versatile, sorcery-speed removal would be the best in the format. I bought a couple copies of and traded for , neither of which were cheap at the time. Now, years later, I’ve found that I vastly prefer the versatility of instant-speed to the versatility of hitting more permanent types. Yes, I like better than and better than .
Also in the top ten, we find cards that illustrate the skew toward cards of three or more colors that exists on EDHREC. By percentage,and see play in 7% and 6% of possible decks, respectively, and they’re the first and third most-played cards from Alara Reborn, respectively. In total number of decks, however, they only see play in 2,146 and 3,208 decks, respeectively. In between them, the second most-played card from the set is , which sees play in 6,102 decks, or 7% of possible decks. Although it sees play in nearly three times as many decks as , it is less represented on EDHREC This isn’t a mistake, and is a better way to present this data, but it is a skew to keep in mind when using EDHREC as a resource.
As cards, these are three stellar options in their colors.is obviously highly restricted by its identity, but it provides an enormously powerful effect. The first spell you play on each turn, including your opponents’, you draw and play a spell for free. All for five mana. I would play this in nearly every five-color deck I make. is a good role-player in creature-based decks, and is an extremely powerful tutor that could probably find a home in any Bant deck.
As I alluded to earlier, Alara Reborn is speckled with hidden gems waiting to be found. I feel like every time I visit the set’s page, I find more cards that I want to pick up and jam into a deck.
Three such cards can be found above.is one of the better counterspells that nobody plays. Sure, it costs three mana, and it only counters creatures, but it exists almost in its own category. This is a value spell that trips an opponent while replacing itself in your hand. This card is like , another underrated counterspell, but better in the right decks, because you can be selective about the card you return to your hand. Nobody likes a three-mana counterspell, but sometimes they aren’t bad.
, on the other hand, is one of the best lifegain cards that has ever been printed. Lump sum lifegain can be underwhelming in our format because it doesn’t scale as well to four-player games. , however, is the exception. This card can be used to deter and negate a big attack on your life total, capitalize on another player being hit hard, or cap off your own drain strategy. I play this card alongside and , and it does not disappoint, often gaining twenty or more life.
Finally,has been a powerhouse in my Selesnya tokens decks, and it often reminds me of . The Crusade has a higher ceiling and can spiral your board out of control, but has a higher floor and is no slouch in its own right. It can give token strategies a significant kickstart or bolster +1/+1 decks that focus heavily on 1/1 creatures.
Mitch from the Commander’s Quarters mentioned in a video last year, but the extra exposure hasn’t yet translated into increased popularity on EDHREC. It only sees play in 479 decks, 1% of the possible. This card is the real deal, though, and is one of the better armies in a can in the format. is just so versatile: you can use it to produce a squad of chump blockers, or make a board from nothing. You can use it when you attack with your own creatures, or wait for your opponents to attack either you or each other. Combine this with for maximum effect.
is a confusing card that lacks a clear direction. Do you want to go wide or tall? your opponents, or knock them out one by one with a single creature? That’s part of the beauty of this card, you can do either. And if you don’t want to, cycle it for just one mana! Try this out with .
Finally,is a garishly expensive form of graveyard hate, and it only exiles creature cards. The true power of this card, though, is what it can do in Zombie decks. Yet another army in a can, this card can build an imposing board without much effort. , in particular, reaps huge benefits from giving your Zombies lifelink, which almost earns the card its slot by itself.
I imagine people have two aversions to playing. First, this card only targets one opponent. Second, it is an undeniably mean card. I had these reservations when I first found a copy in my collection. But, after playing with for several years, I think it has an often misunderstood purpose in our format. This is a punishment card. This is the vinegar to Group Hug’s honey. Verbal threats can be a powerful tool in EDH, but they need to be substantive. is one of the best cards available to back up your threats. Think of it like . Rebuke has less sheer power in EDH than or even , but these comparisons are slightly facetious because should be used more as punishment than removal. If somebody crosses you, it is valuable to punish them specifically.
Switching gears,seems like it should be very good. I’ve picked up several copies over the years without any particular deck in mind. I still haven’t found the right home for it, but I have faith that one day, I will play it, I will draw three cards two turns in a row, and it will all have been worth it.
That was Alara Reborn, one of the most perplexing and compelling sets to contemplate as a whole. What do you all make of this set? Did I miss any good one? Let me know in the comments below! Next time, we’ll be digging into Planar Chaos, a set that broke the barriers of the color pie. In Commander, a format of color identity, how does this expansion of effects available to each color impact our decks? Tune in next week to read my take and chime in. Remember to EDHREC responsibly: always dig a little beyond the statistics. I’ll see you all on down the road.