Anyone who has been playing Magic heavily for a year or more will know the joy of spoiler season. In the weeks leading up to the release of a new set, the internet is swamped with preview cards designed to show off the new mechanics and flashy designs of the set.
The slow revelation of the new cards is usually accompanied by a never-ending stream of commentary from the always-vocal Magic: the Gathering community – we’re a vociferous and opinionated bunch.
We are also very hard to please.
For every card that sparks excitement and joy, there is one that ignites derision and disappointment. Witnessing the initial reactions to a card or mechanic can be fun, especially in hindsight.
If you can manage it, try and find some forum threads from around the time of the first Ravnica block’s release, you will see people dismissing Dark Confidant as nothing special. The initial “meh” is a sharp contrast to how Bob is now remembered – as one of the great creatures for two mana. The dissonance between expectation and reality can add to the sense of discovery that accompanies playing Magic. Rethinking your preconceived notions is one of the best ways to grow as a player and expand your understanding of the game.
Like any fan of Commander, I watch the spoilers leading up to the release of the format-specific product like a hawk. When I saw the 2014 edition spoilers, I was largely impressed. The decklists as a whole were especially impressive as they showed a cohesion that past Commander expansions had not.
Of course, there were some whiffs. I didn’t like the look of any of the new Commanders in the white deck or the blue deck. I recognized that the white deck was one of the most powerful on the tabletop, but it didn’t excite my imagination. The blue deck struck me as a total miss, in terms of both Commanders and decklist – then I played against it.
Both my partner Vanessa and my friend Adrienne used the deck with brutal efficiency. Seeing the Teferi deck in action made me realize that my initial assumptions about the list had been very, very wrong.
If You Can’t Beat ‘Em…
Vanessa’s approach to the deck really highlighted how powerful Teferi was as a Commander. She used him in conjunction with the deck’s plentiful mana artifacts to take over the game. While it was really cool to watch a mono-blue deck playing huge monsters instead of playing draw-go-counter, there still wasn’t anything that really pulled me in.
However, when I played against Adrienne, another card shone. In this case, it was the alternate Commander – Stitcher Geralf.
Teferi was a powerful Commander, but still one that you could fight directly. Geralf, on the other hand, completely warped the game. I couldn’t rely on my deck to give me what I needed, maybe I would top deck a powerful card, or maybe that card would be stitched into a zombie and used to beat me to death. I had to simultaneously fight off a giant zombie horde while trying to figure out how to recoup the resources being funneled into my graveyard.
I had dismissed Geralf as the most underwhelming addition from C14, but after he gave me a resounding beating, I was considering using him myself.
Eventually, I gave in to temptation:
A Stitch in Time by Jackson Miller
So far, I have been enjoying Geralf immensely. Normally, a linear strategy like Geralf might have trouble keeping my attention, but so far – it hasn’t been an issue.
Scratching the Stitch
Let’s talk about why I love this deck. First of all – it’s super silly. The unpredictability of Geralf’s ability really takes some of the sting out of getting hit by it. Sometimes, I will get to stitch a Phyrexian Dreadnought into an Avacyn, Archangel of Hope; sometimes I will lash together a Burnished Hart and a Sakura-Tribe Elder.
The unpredictability can be a strength of the deck. One minute I am being attacked and have to use Geralf to summon an emergency blocker, but when that blocker emerges as a 20/20, suddenly the tables are turned as it slides into my untap phase.
Playing blue makes it really easy to abuse Geralf’s ability. Mind Over Matter, Fabricate into Illusionist’s Bracers, and Long-Term Plans into a giant monster are all ways to make sure that Geralf is doing his job as effectively as possible, but at the end of the day, I still have to win in the combat step.
The deck strikes a fantastic balance between power and humour, a balance that I am basically always striving to achieve with my creations.
While Geralf will always be an unpredictable Commander, this list’s first draft was downright unwieldily. My first instinct when looking at Geralf was to play big creatures and stitch them into bigger creatures. I discovered, after some very unsuccessful games, that jamming my list with fatties and hoping for the best was not going to work. Too often, I found myself holding a hand lousy with bad creatures and milling all of my powerful spells.
After going back to the drawing board, I realized that a more reactive approach was required. Blue is the colour of rigging your draw to be good, and it made way more sense to play to that strength. Brainstorm was in that first draft, but it was quickly joined by Dream Cache, Long-Term Plans, and Scroll Rack (which I specifically tracked down for this deck). So far, playing fewer creatures with a greater emphasis on putting them where they need to go has worked out well.
At the same time, I realized that Geralf also had the potential to act as a very powerful, and repeatable, removal spell. You won’t see many Commander decks with Griptide, Whisk Away, and Time Ebb in them, but here they’re awesome. If an opponent runs out their monstrous threat, you can consign it to their library and then turn it into half of your zombie.
Into the Deep End
Sometimes, a card is Lightning Bolt – you look at it and you know it’s good. Sometimes a card is Dark Confidant – you look at it, raise your eyebrows, and tentatively play two copies, only to find you want to draw it every game. No matter what the case may be, the only was to know for sure is to play with the card in question.
Building and playing with Geralf has been an excellent lesson in putting assumptions aside and learning from experience instead. It has become harder to learn practically in Magic. There are countless primers, strategy articles, and rules of thumb being published every day. It can be tempting to look at those pages and pages of theory and see a shortcut. What you should see instead is an outline of a path, one that you still have to find for yourself.
I’m not saying you should stop sneering at bad cards during spoiler season, because, let’s be honest – it’s loads of fun. What I am saying is that sneering at them shouldn’t stop you from giving them a chance if the opportunity arises. Every card you try and play teaches you more about the game.
Besides, self-improvement is a great excuse to play more Magic, and after all, isn’t that what we’re all really searching for?