Grapple with the Past - Fate Reforged

(Reality Shift | Art by Howard Lyon)

Are You Telling Me That You Built a Time Machine?

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.

I really enjoyed the story surrounding the Khans of Tarkir block at the time. I respect that the story fully committed to the Back to the Future archetype and delivered a well-crafted, three-act story. Fate Reforged was the middle set in that old block structure, and it takes place in the distant past. As such, we will most likely never see some of the beloved characters that appeared here again in the ongoing Magic storyline.

Outside of the story, the set has endured in EDH memory, even five years later. What has impressed me by digging through the cards here is that there is still so much implied design space to explore for EDH. The Siege cycle is perfectly tuned for our format and the idea extends far beyond the plane of Tarkir, as we've seen on Mirrodin Besieged. Imagine a white enchantment that asks you to choose Azorius or Orzhov. What about a black-and-white enchantment set on Innistrad with two modes: Angels and Demons? On top of this, Manifest has so much untapped potential. When Scroll of Fate was first revealed for Commander 2019, I misread it and thought that it let you Manifest the top card of your library, giving you moderately-costed and restricted card advantage. I was elated. I still want a card like that in the future.

Fate Reforged still excites me for its potential applications of these mechanics. But enough thinking of what could be, let's travel into the past to change the decks of the future.

The Commander Class

Fate Reforged has a surprising number of well-loved commanders, with the top two leading 2,456 and 1,954 decks. While these numbers don't place these commanders into the top from the past two years, they only just miss it. Queen Marchesa, who appears at the very bottom of the Top Commanders of the Last 2 Years, helms 2,689 decks, only 133 more than Tasigur, the Golden Fang. (It is also important to note that this section of the EDHREC page does exhibit a recency bias, with no commander on that list being from before 2016.) The Fate Reforged commanders are doing just fine for themselves.

For a long time, Tasigur, the Golden Fang was the go-to for my Sultai friends and acquaintances. This card can lead a nasty control deck that manipulates its own graveyard in order to replay the same powerful spells over and over again. Alesha, Who Smiles at Death is an incredible host to the Reveillark + Karmic Guide combo that can be scaled down into a value reanimator deck. Finally, I used to play a Yasova Dragonclaw deck, and it was some of the most fun I've had at an EDH pod. It only works in creature-heavy metas, but stealing and sacrificing creatures for value can be a lot of fun. My best find for that deck was Dracoplasm. If you build a Yasova deck, try it out!

The Top 10

Do you like sets with a lot of staples? Look no further. While this set isn't as utterly stacked as Planar Chaos, it does have its fair share of EDH all-stars:

Reality Shift sees play in 13% of all potential decks, a high number for a mono-colored card, and for good reason. This is the best single-target removal in blue that isn't a counterspell, if you count those as removal at all. Blue has no business exiling creatures, but here we are. I'm so happy that this card got a reprint in Commander 2019 because I remember finding copies for around $2 a piece. This is an uncommon that only sees play in EDH. Shamanic Revelation is the best Collective Unconscious that we have so far. This is a powerful effect for strategies that like to go wide and that do not underestimate that life gain. Gaining eight or more life off of this card is a significant and powerful swing that can save you a turn. Crux of Fate is one of the better budget mass removal spells that we have in black. Versatile, splashable, and only five mana.

Two members of the Siege cycle also make their way into the top 10. Outpost Siege comes as no surprise because it's one of the better card advantage engines in red. Palace Siege, however, is a card that I wouldn't expect to see in a greatest hits of Commander catalogue. I just don't run into it that often in the wild. That being said, it does seem like it has a home in decks that turn the graveyard into a second library and can turn its Khans mode into a tutor every turn.

The rest of the top ten is a mix of good cards. Merciless Executioner, like Fleshbag Marauder and Plaguecrafter, is a good removal tool in a very particular removal package, namely one that likes to play cards akin to Grave Pact. Temur Sabertooth is a combo piece, and Atarka, World Render is a great Dragon for The Ur-Dragon and Scion of the Ur-Dragon.

Think Twice

There are still quite a few cards here that I either play with some frequency or have thought about including in several places. It's important to note that Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, an amazing card in EDH, is only the 20th most-played card from this set, but not for lack of trying. While Ugin only sees play in 3% of potential decks, this is because he is colorless and could see play in every EDH deck every built. He is played in 11,242 decks out of a possible 418,512 decks. By sheer numbers, this would be the third most-played card from this set. With that out of the way, let's look at some lesser-known cards.

Yes, enchantments are easier to remove than the land fetched by Kodama's Reach, but the raw power of green enchantment ramp is undeniable. Frontier Siege is a perfect example of this. Four mana for an enchantment that produces four mana on each of your turns. Yes, that mana is parceled out in two-mana increments, and it is restricted to your main phases, but this is a high rate of efficiency. Frontier Siege exists in a class with Wild Growth, Utopia Sprawl, and Overgrowth. These are enchantments that provide a rate of ramp that is unmatched by other green cards, but they still haven't secured a foothold in the format. Play them in enchantress decks first and foremost, but I bet you'll find that you want them in your other green decks as well.

Fruit of the First Tree is difficult to evaluate. Unlike Frontier Siege, this card is much more limited strictly to enchantment archetypes because it's vulnerable on multiple levels. You're sad if an opponent bounces the creature that this is attached to. You're sad if they exile that creature. You're sad if they destroy all enchantments. You're sad if they destroy Fruit of the First Tree, itself. For this card to earn a slot, you really need to be playing Satyr Enchanter, Argothian Enchantress, or their sisters, or in a deck that runs Greater Good or Momentous Fall. My Gargos, Vicious Watcher Aura deck is the perfect home.

Finally, Harsh Sustenance is a card that pops into my head every once in a while. This card seems versatile and powerful with tokens or in decks that stay low-to-the-ground and reanimate their small creatures in bulk. This can be removal, lifegain, or even a finisher. I haven't had the opportunity to try this card yet, but I will as soon as I get the chance.

Up Next

That's all she wrote on Fate Reforged. What do you guys think? Did you enjoy the time travel storyline of the Khans block? If you were a modal enchantment, would you be more Khans or Dragons? Finally, let's think of another fun cycle of Sieges in the comments!

I'm going to try an experiment with the next article. Instead of looking for a particularly good set, I will be combing through the sets of the last ten years to find the one that is least played. To elaborate, I'm going to find the set in which the top ten cards have the lowest play rate: those that show up in the fewest decks on EDHREC. This could be a disaster, but it'll be a fun exercise, nonetheless.

Remember to EDHREC responsibly: always dig a little beyond the statistics. I’ll see you all on down the road.

Steven Vincent is an ESL teacher located in Oaxaca, México who uses Magic as a teaching tool. He hasn't introduced his students to Commander yet, but he is inching them toward the format so that he has a play group and can more frequently sate his thirst for EDH.