Superior Numbers - Brewing Around Tunnel Vision

Right now, I gotta keep a tunnel vision

Welcome to Superior Numbers, where I conduct numerical analysis on cards and deckbuilding trends using just a little bit more math and a little bit less snark.

A person in my LGS recently asked me to look over his deck and and make some suggestions. As readers know I usually don't like looking at Magic cards and offering opinions about their power and place in a particular deck, but on this day I was feeling charitable so I decided to offer my suggestions. I noticed that he was running Austere Command, Cleansing Nova, Day of Judgment, and Wrath of God.

When I asked about Blasphemous Act, he responded that he hadn't even thought about red board wipes because he had access to white.

That's an easy mistake to make; I've made it before, where you just default to assuming the color "generally" considered to be best at a certain thing contains the best cards at doing that particular thing. It's simple to tunnel vision on an assumed piece of common knowledge and not think about other options outside that box. So let's look outside the box.

I can't stop those flashing reds

Red has comparable creature wipes to white, and in some circumstances they're flat out better. Red has always had board wipes, of course, starting way back with pseudo-wipes like Earthquake in Alpha and full destroy-all-the-things wipes like Jokulhaups in Ice Age. Still, among plenty of people the perception remains that red's suite of wipes are second to the ones in white, and that's not without cause. Almost each year sees an expansion add another useful mass destruction spell in the color. For example Cleansing Nova from 2018 is in 7,862 decks, and Urza's Ruinous Blast from the same year shows up in another 4,624. Fumigate from 2016 is in 13,771 decks, and Tragic Arrogance from the same set is in another 3,518. It's easy to understand why someone looking for creature sweepers would automatically just assume if they wanted to build a deck that even though red has wipes the white options might be better.

They're not.

Blasphemous Act may be the best board wipe in EDH, full stop, and its only competition for that title isn't even in white (Toxic Deluge). How many times is it a full clear for a single lone R? 90%? More? Probably more. Yes, on occasion it doesn't hit that ginormous suited-up Uril the Miststalker, or Lavinia of the Tenth shrugs it off, and it doesn't do anything with The Wanderer in play, but the vast majority of times it's simply the most efficient creature sweeper ever printed.

Chandra's Ignition isn't just a great board wipe, it's a legit win condition in plenty of decks. I have a Kresh Fling-based deck that routinely sees creatures with power in excess of 20. Chandra's Ignition often just ends the game, full stop. I wouldn't recommend it everywhere, but the decks where it works well it's an absolute monster. Rightfully so, it's finally being recognized as the haymaker it is, showing up in 6,962 decks in our database, but it's a card that was slept on for many years and should be the kind of thing people consider for a sweeper if they can avoid getting tunnel visioned onto white wraths.

And you made me feel so blue

Black has a long history of being THE color for creature removal. Terror is right there in Alpha, and just like white with wraths, black seems to get a new option every year. Blue, on the other hand, does NOT have a long history of being great at targeted creature removal like red does with sweeping creatures. Yes, historically it's been great at everything else, but not targeted creature removal. Blue handled that with spells like Unsummon. Enter the Time Spiral block, a strange little period where all the rules of Magic were turned on their head, including the notion that there should maybe be one thing blue can't do better than every other color.

Pongify is the card where it was decided that yeah, blue should, in fact, be able to do all the things. In the context of Standard at the time it makes some sense; a 3/3 token isn't nothing in that environment. It hits for 1/7 of your health pool and can effectively block a whole lot of bodies. We are, however, not playing Standard in 2006; a 3/3 body in a 40-life total format where you have three opponents is a whole different thing, and that 3/3 body winds up being way, way less impactful in the game we play when you give it to your opponent in exchange for that Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. It works on turn 1 or after someone drops a Leyline of Anticipation, situations when Murderous Cut is dead in your hand, and in the vast majority of situations the token your opponent gets is irrelevant to the game state. It's just a fantastic card.

Rapid Hybridization is just a functional reprint of Pongify making your opponent a green Frog Lizard instead of an Ape, because what's better than having one 1-drop instant that's better than anything black has at the same cost? Having two of them.

Reality Shift costs one more colorless to cast, but it exiles and makes a Manifest creature out of the top card of your opponent's library. They can flip over that card for its casting cost if it was a creature, but the odds are so low for that happen that it's almost always worth the one extra mana to be able to exile your target. Plus it makes for a nice way to mess with the person who just cast a top-of-the-library search spell like Vampiric Tutor.

The three cards above are a perfect example of a situation where I got caught up in the tunnel vision around black removal. I was brewing a Dimir deck, and when it came time to add a couple of targeted creature removal spells I immediately slotted in Go for the Throat, Murderous Cut, and Malicious Affliction. It was months before someone made an offhand comment in another game about how great Pongify was, and I agreed, literally commenting that, "It's probably better than anything black has to offer." I knew that enough to comment on it but STILL had built my Dimir deck with three spells that I generally find less useful than the three blue options above.

All they thought they knew were lies, lies in black

Black has better unconditional cheap raw draw than blue. It just does. Sorry Brainstorm stans. Yes, Brainstorm a near-busted card in eternal formats where the ability to hide cards from hand hate is strong and where fetches provide a chance, at will, to shuffle away the two cards you put on top. It's also great in a format like cEDH where you're digging down for a piece that just wins the game. I won't argue against any of those things. We're not playing Legacy, though, and this isn't an article about cEDH. We're talking typical standard Commander, and in typical Commander where folks aren't ducking Thoughtseize or trying to filter down to a fast combo win as efficiently as possible, or where almost nobody is running every possible fetch just to give a free shuffle, just putting raw cards into hand is often what you want more than anything else. And black does that better than blue in the slots at three CMC or less.

A large part of that is because black's draw almost always has a downside requiring you to pay life as part of the cost, and the amount of life you pay for these effects has traditionally been scaled for a 20-life format. Everywhere else Night's Whisper dings you for 1/10 of your starting life total. In EDH, however, that's only 1/20 of your starting life, a much more palatable exchange. Regardless of why black's small draw spells are so efficient in our format, the fact remains that they are, and these three are the best choices.

Night's Whisper is maybe my favorite card in Commander. It's castable at almost any point in the game, and it just gets you cards ahead with no preconditions or extra factors to worry about. Pay two, lose two, draw two. Clean, simple, and perfect. Winged Words is pretty fantastic in blue, but it's reliant on having bodies in play, and can't be cast nearly as reliably on turn two in your average deck, same with the also fantastic Chart a Course. Black does it better, more consistently.

Read the Bones costs one more, but it lets you scry down two before the draw. That's better than anything blue is going to do at three mana short of Delving a Dig Through Time or Treasure Cruise, something almost impossible to do early, and sometimes impossible to do at all depending on how much grave hate your meta runs.

Sign in Blood is a slightly-harder-to-cast Night's Whisper with an added bonus of allowing you to choose target player instead of only using it on yourself, and friend, let me assure you that you haven't seen Shakespeare the way it's meant to be done unless you've killed someone with a Sign in Blood.

Be colorblind, don't be so shallow

These are just the first three examples where being overly fixated on a color's known strengths might make you miss out on the fact that other colors, in fact, do those things better. Have any specific examples of your own? Sound off in the comments below and let me know. I'm always looking to challenge my own assumptions about what things do what better.

Vela the Night-Clad: Intimidating Machinery

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Dana is one of the hosts of the EDHRECast and the CMDR Central podcast. He lives in Eau Claire, WI with his wife and son. He has been playing Magic so long he once traded away an Underground Sea for a Nightmare, and was so pleased with the deal he declined a trade-back the following week. He also smells like cotton candy and sunsets.

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