These Cards Do WORK! - The Locust God
(The Locust God | Art by Lius Lasahido)
Working 9 to 5
Hi there! I’m Jeremy Rowe, AKA J Ro, the Unsummoned Skull, a former Judge, Tournament Organizer, and Pro Tour competitor. I'm also a current teacher, college professor, streamer, community leader, and content creator. When I first learned how to play Magic: the Gathering, I could not figure out how combat worked for the life of me. Combat was complicated, so I learned to build combo decks to avoid that. Combo taught me to evaluate the individual roles of cards and the ratios of effects to get the pieces to work together. I refer to the cards and effects that decks need to operate consistently as “jobs”.
Magic is a complicated game in every facet of the term. The commander breakdowns on EDHREC can be helpful resources for newer deckbuilders, but can also be overwhelming and confusing. What makes a card good? What’s the difference between popularity and synergy? What even is that synergy thing anyways? Doesn’t Cyclonic Rift just go into any blue deck, based on power alone?
Similarly, cooking shows on television often say ingredients "go" together, but don't go into how, why, in what way, or why that's a good thing. My intention is to differentiate between high- and low-synergy cards, describe in what ways the cards work with the commander, and explain why high synergy is such a good thing. For a deck to be powerful and consistent, each card needs to do a job, and these cards do WORK!
For our inaugural article, we're taking a look at a big bad buggy boy.
The Locust God is a commander that's hungry for cards. As you draw cards, it creates a swarm of tokens to overwhelm your enemies. Hordes of Insects blot out the sun... once. By now, The Locust God is a well-known commander, and one that comes with a certain amount of baggage. People have seen the swarm, lost to it, and learned not to let it do its thing. Also, the deck has a tendency to draw a lot of air and not be able to deal with what’s happening on the board, especially if the deck isn’t balanced. Drawing cards is wonderful, but how can you get your cards to do more work for you?
To investigate (not the mechanic, although it would draw us cards!), we’ll look into how Locust God can do the jobs a deck needs to do, but in its own way, unique from how other blue and red decks function. The Locust God is a special commander, so let’s find the right tools for these jobs!
Most decks need ramp to play high-impact spells at a time when they are still relevant. This is especially true in the era of rapid power creep, and even more pertinent when your commander costs six mana and is a lightning rod for removal.
For each job, I'd like to highlight a low-synergy-score card, a high-synergy-score card, and an underrated card for this commander, to add more context to the qualitative data and see how each one magnifies the abilities, accentuates the strengths, and mitigates the weaknesses of our commander.
All of these cards cost two mana, ramp by one, and provide some additional value.
Izzet Signet filters mana from any source, even a colorless land, and helps to make sure you have both colors needed to cast your spells. On The Locust God's EDHREC page, you'll see that Izzet Signet has a low synergy score (5%) but that doesn't mean it's a bad card here. Synergy scores on EDHREC are a form of uniqueness calculation (80% of The Locust God decks play Izzet Signet, and 75% of all other Izzet decks also play Izzet Signet, so the difference = 5%).
Thought Vessel, by contrast, has a synergy score of 25% on EDHREC, which signals to us that it's a little bit more unique to our Locust friend than to other Izzet commanders. The “no maximum hand size” clause is important when our commander wants to draw lots of cards, and we want to keep them all. It doesn’t provide colored mana and costs about five times as much money as the Signet, which likely accounts for why it's played less often.
Mind Stone is an underrated mana rock that provides another great boost. Less than half of Locust decks play it, but I think that's too low. Unlike the other mana rocks, Mind Stone can be sacrificed to draw a card, making it one of the only rocks that can also create a token with our commander, and at instant speed, no less! This is not to be overlooked if you find yourself having difficulty locating card draw spells. Sometimes, the solution is to hide those effects inside of that cards that are doing other jobs!
In addition to being able to cast spells on time (or early enough in the game to still be relevant), decks need removal to be able to deal with the threats opposing decks present, as well as to be able to protect their own threats from opposing removal.
Negate is excellent at both answering noncreature threats and protecting our threats from noncreature removal, both of which are important to a deck that wins with creatures, but does so using copious amounts of noncreature spells. It's got a 0% synergy score on Locust's EDHREC page, because other Izzet decks play it at the same rate as The Locust God. Locust probably runs it at that same rate because this spell doesn't do extra things like drawing cards, but we still like the protection.
Arcane Denial, meanwhile, has a synergy score of 28% for our Locust friend. It can counter any spell, which makes it more flexible than Negate, and it also synergizes with the commander by drawing the caster a card, which makes an Insect. It draws cards for the opponent, though, so it can occasionally backfire, which is probably why fewer other Izzet decks make use of it. Here, though, we're willing to take that risk for the extra bonus.
Izzet Charm is an underrated option, played in less than one-third of Locst decks. Like the others, it costs two mana, but the mana also includes a red, making it a bit more difficult to cast. While the cost may be less flexible, the modal nature offsets that cost. Its counterspell mode is a worse Negate, but it functions well if you can catch someone tapping out, or if a Rhystic Study or Mystic Remora complicate the tapping of their mana. Its second mode, dealing two damage to a creature, can be relevant, especially if an Ethersworn Canonist is slowing you down, or a Gaddock Teeg is preventing a big play. The operative ability, though, is the last one: draw two cards, then discard two cards. Even as a topdeck, it makes two tokens with our commander! As a result, Izzet Charm is never a bad draw, and is another example of hiding a job (card draw) within another job (spot removal)!
Most decks need plans for what to do if things get out of hand, and The Locust God is no different. However, as a deck that maintains a large board state and is usually the one responsible for things getting out of hand in the first place, you don’t need too many of these effects.
Blasphemous Act is a slightly deceptive card; it looks like it has direct synergy with our commander, but it doesn't. Blasphemous Act cares about the number of creatures in play, which our Insects can help account for - except that we don't want to cast this when we have lots of Insects anyway. Of course, a card doesn't need extra synergy to warrant play. I suppose it's pretty nice that even our own board wipe would just return our commander to hand, though, avoiding commander tax.
Cyclonic Rift is an extremely flexible card (sensing a theme?) that can temporarily remove a permanent or bust the game open wide enough for the horde of Insects to buzz through. Here's the extra synergy I like about Rift: it actually can get rid of something permanently if you follow it up with a wheel effect!
Aetherize is our underrated mass removal pick. It's a more time-sensitive, less-universal effect, but can be plenty devastating, and is also very spicy when followed up by a wheel effect. (It also helps that it costs about 45 times less money than Cyclonic Rift!)
Every deck needs card draw, selection, tutoring, or advantage, to help find the pieces it needs to transition between the phases of the game. There are always going to be spells that are better early than late, or better from ahead, or better from behind. The Locust God is unique in that drawing cards directly translates to a board presence and a win condition. There are a lot of ways to draw cards or gain advantage, especially in blue and red, which makes finding the right tool super important.
Jeska’s Will shows up with a -14% synergy score on Locust's EDHREC page. This is a popular red spell, quickly becoming a new red staple. That's actually why it has a negative synergy score; other Izzet decks tend to play this card more often than The Locust God plays this card. Jeska's Will provides a burst of mana or card advantage, or both if the commander is out. It doesn’t work well with this commander, though, because it uses an exile-based form of advantage, rather than drawing cards. As a result, it won’t make Insects. 21% of Locust players are still running it, so it deserves a mention, but as a form of card advantage, it doesn't quite hit the mark.
Distant Melody, on the other hand, works really well with a commander that produces a flurry of creatures that all share a type. This is why, even though it appears in fewer Locust decks than Jeska's Will, it has a higher synergy score (15%). The downside of it, however, is that it requires you to already have a board to be useful, and it won’t draw you into more action if you've fallen behind.
Chemister’s Insight is a non-conditional card draw spell, so of the three cards here, it catches my eye most, and it might be a bit underrated. It can even be cast once from the graveyard by discarding a card, giving us a place to put potential extra mana. Since Locust draws a lot of attention, I like card draw that doesn't depend on having our commander in play, or having a big board of tokens, but which simply has some extra bonuses if we do happen to cast it when our commander's around.
The last major job that most decks need is a way to actually close out the game. Ramping allows you to play spells out, but can be dead draws late game. Removing threats works for a while, but with three opponents, someone’s going to stick something, and games can either stall out or develop into arms races. Card draw helps, but what are you looking to actually draw? The answer is... win conditions! Even in a deck where card draw creates small, evasive threats, you need a way to break through and push to win the game.
Expansion//Explosion seems like a solid fit at first glance, and 18% of Locust players are currently using it. Explosion is the attractive half, removing a threat or dealing direct damage while making more Insects. The problem is the amount of mana it takes to do anything. It’s a solid late-game sink, but it also requires tapping a lot of mana, which leaves Locust open to responses. Even Expansion is mediocre, as copying cheap spells is likely not worth losing the top-end power of Explosion.
Cavalcade of Calamity, on the other hand, is a powerhouse card here, and can shape games around itself. With its cheap cost, it can be played before we even cast our commander, and it can take advantage of our tokens’ haste to get massive damage flowing quickly. It can even help close out games against decks that use much bigger creatures, because it triggers on attack. With enough Insects, we don't even need to actually deal combat damage! Additionally, it doesn’t target, so opponents having hexproof wouldn’t matter. It wouldn't trigger if we buff up our tokens with a static ability (like our next card) but that's perfectly acceptable, because we're playing a very wheel-centric deck. We just need to make sure we swiftly locate at least one of our win condition cards, and can wheel away whatever else we don't need after that.
Mindwrack Liege, our last card of note, is a lord that capitalizes off of the Insects being two-color, as its bonuses stack. This increases damage output dramatically and can swing board states and combat math well in our favor. It even has the ability to place a blue or red creature from our hand onto the battlefield. While cheating a large creature into play is, of course, the dream, that ability truthfully just synergizes well with The Locust God because of its triggered ability to go back to our hand whenever it dies! The two of them can make it really difficult to keep the commander down.
Time to Fly
Let's round it out with a sample Locust God decklist! We're focusing on doing the jobs a deck needs to function, in a way that capitalizes on the commander’s unique characteristics.
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer
Hopefully, this guide helps you to evaluate cards and use the data at hand! Results may vary, as playgroups, deck choices, and the luck of the draw can impact how games go.
Which cards overperformed for you? Which cards were overrated? Join me next time as we explore which cards are dead weight, and which cards do WORK!