Singleton Shmingleton - Build an Esper Control Deck with Trait Doctoring

(Willbreaker | Art by Dan Scott)

Color Me Surprised!

Hello, and welcome back to Singleton Shmingleton, where I bend the singleton rules of Commander by building decks with as many functional reprints of a certain card as possible. This week we're going to embark on some color-switching shenanigans in order to take advantage of the many weird color-hosers in Magic's history. The card we're building around is one of the worst rares I have ever seen: Trait Doctoring. I remember opening this card in a booster pack when I was twelve years old, and feeling cheated. It didn't do anything! I still feel perplexed about why Trait Doctoring was printed, not because it is terrible (I've since seen that it comes in a line of garbage rares from Mudhole to Terra Eternal), but because there weren't all that many cards that cared about colors in Dragon's Maze. It felt like a relic from a bygone era, where enemy colors hated each other and Circle of Protection: Black was in every core set.

In the beginning, there was Sleight of Mind. And Magical Hack. These cards were already bad; why were there two? They made some amount of sense in a set full of Blue Elemental Blasts and Black Knights, and were a cool concept, a sort of meta-magic that could change the very words on other cards. They just weren't worth playing, and fell a little flat. There's no problem with missing on a few rares on the first try at making Magic there were enough hits to carry the game. But for some reason, this type of card has reappeared over and over. Mirage debuted Mind Bend as the powered-up combination of both the original cards, and it stunk. Many versions offered the ability to play themselves over and over, and Trait Doctoring made that even easier. None of these cards have seen any competitive play, and all have disappointed casual players. But today, we're going to find a home for the most confusing set of cards I know. Here's a list:

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The most played of these cards is Whim of Volrath, seeing play in 5,563 decks. Buyback is a powerful mechanic, and a Buyback cost of 2 is very cheap. The next most common is Trait Doctoring, in 4,958 decks. As far as these effects go, these are the best ones. But I was also slightly disappointed to see that the most common commander for both of them was Orvar, the All-Form. Don't get me wrong, I think Orvar, the All-Form is a really cool commander and opens up a wild and crazy strategy, but it doesn't give me much inspiration as far as what to do with the rest of my Magical Hacks. As far as Orvar cares, these cards' effects end at "Target creature." Luckily, the second-most common commander for almost all of these cards is Blind Seer which absolutely gives us something to work with.

Gathering Inspiration

The EDHREC page for Blind Seer is a blast from the past. All of the cards are either incredibly goofy, truly hateful, or both. King Crab and Homarid Shaman look out of place among the rudeness that is Douse. Coast Watcher and Sea Sprite seem overly cute, until you realize that for the low cost of two mana, they can block anything forever. And then there are cards like Wrath of Marit Lage that can accidentally stop some opponents from playing the game while also locking down key creatures. This deck predates all talk of social contract in Commander, and just seeks to do cool things. Very dope.

One thing to note is that there are two general types of color-shifters. Cards like Trait Doctoring change color words on other cards, and cards like Blind Seer change the color of other cards. But both of these combine well with cards that specifically hate on another color like Homarid Shaman. If we want to use its ability to tap a black creature, we can either target Homarid Shaman with Trait Doctoring and change "green" to "black," or we can target the black creature with Blind Seer and turn it green.

There are a lot of absolute bangers for our deck in here. Of course, Pyroblast and Blue Elemental Blast function great with anything that can replace words or change colors of spells. But I had forgotten about the third child in that cycle, Flash Flood. Get in the deck! Cards like Distorting Lens and Tidal Visionary act as necessary (and repeatable) backup for our color-switchers. And cards like Willbreaker and Vesuvan Duplimancy can let us pivot into a strategy more similar to an Orvar deck, taking advantage of targeting a lot of creatures.

Another commander that cares a lot about manipulating colors is Eight-and-a-Half-Tails, which can very cheaply turn anything white. On the fox's EDHREC page, I found some more heaters. Mother of Runes and Giver of Runes slot into our deck nicely, and Circle of Protection: White looked so good I decided to add all the other Circles of Protection as well. Seeing Pentarch Paladin on this page made me remember the Paladin cycle that it alludes to. Northern Paladin and Southern Paladin act as repeatable removal, and often just the threat of activation can convince people not to attack us.

But What Colors?

There seem to be a lot of powerful effects that care about colors in both blue and white. Almost enough, I would argue, to make an entire deck. So what color will complement these with a few very powerful effects to act like the cherry on top of the sundae? Because most effects that prey on other colors hate on enemy colors, we will likely want to add either green or black, because these cards form "shards" instead of "wedges" with white and blue, making it less likely our color-hoser effects will bite us in the back. In Bant (white, blue, and green), we have plenty of options for strong commanders, but almost none care about colors. I tried to build around Treva, the Renewer, but its ability is just not very good. Esper (white, blue, and black), however, gives us Dromar, the Banisher, which can do a lot of work even without manipulating creatures' colors. A 6/6 Flying can also threaten a lot of commander damage very quickly.

Black gives us access to some obviously powerful cards, like Perish and Nature's Ruin. But it also gives us some weirdos. Flooded Woodlands disincentivizes attacking, but doesn't actually prevent it. Stromgald Cabal gives us the oddest repeatable counterspell. We also can play a Transmute package now that we include the Dimir (blue and black) colors. Shred Memory, Dimir Infiltrator, and Muddle the Mixture can search up any two drop in the deck, letting us have access to some of our most irreplaceable effects, like Painter's Servant or Distorting Lens. They can also grab us whichever Circle of Protection will be most useful at any given time. Just like in 1993, those enchantments can really stop a lot of angles of attack.

Winning the Game

Most of the cards and combos in our deck are angled towards not losing the game. We can prevent attacks, destroy permanents, counter spells, and generally say "no" very effectively. But we do need some ways to turn that around and push our own agenda. There are a few cards in our deck that turn our repeatable color-shifting effects into crazy board states. Willbreaker can gain control of tons of creatures, and Orvar, the All-Form and Vesuvan Duplimancy can make copies upon copies of our Stormtide Leviathan. Orvar, the All-Form can also pull a nasty trick with Teferi's Moat. If we manage to copy it four times, which isn't too difficult with something like Glamerdye, we can name a different color with each new Teferi's Moat and then never get attacked again.

And, of course, no Painter's Servant deck would be complete without Grindstone. This easy two-card combo can mill out an opponent every turn, and we have a lot of different ways to search up Painter's Servant to start it off.

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The Decklist

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If you want to play with more wacky old cards, this deck is for you. Every part of this deck is satisfying, because we have to work for everything. There are plenty of very rude effects in here, but it's hard for anyone to complain. Most opponents are more likely to clap than whine at being locked out by Shifting Sky plus Light of Day, especially when they had to read them ten minutes earlier. The Magic this deck plays is totally unlike today's game, where the emphasis is heavily placed on everyone being able to try to do their thing. We have to jump through a lot of hoops to do anything at all, but once we do, our opponents sure won't be doing their thing. I personally love formats where Choke is a sideboard gameplan, and I'm glad that taking that philosophy into Commander turns out so goofy.

Until Next Time

I'm excited for this one. How much damage can a two-power creature deal? There are so many ways to get around this little Goblin's downside, from Master of Cruelties to Devilish Valet. Can we put them together into something like a functional deck? Find out next time on Singleton Shmingleton!

Read More:

Orvar - The Single Life

Too-Specific Top 10 - Mind Bending

Jesse Barker Plotkin started playing Magic with Innistrad. He was disqualified from his first Commander game after he played his second copy of Goblins of the Flarg, and it's all been uphill from there. Outside of Magic, he enjoys writing and running.

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