Attempting to review Magic: the Gathering’s new Doctor Who crossover is like trying to sift through the show itself – a mind-bending, futile exercise that requires the simultaneous evaluation of an exponential number of superpositions.
Let’s do it anyways.
Here’s where we hit our immediate, first problem. The Doctors of WHO are actually fairly straightforward as legendary creatures. But the Doctor rarely travels alone, and Wizards of the Coast have elected to represent this by printing a slew of legendary creatures to represent his traveling companions, all with the aptly-titled mechanic “Doctor’s Companion.”
While reminiscent of the Partner mechanic, Doctor’s Companion is a lot closer to the Background keyword from Battle for Baldur’s Gate. Whenever a player picks a creatures with the exact creature type Time Lord Doctor as their commander (sorry Changelings), they can include any Doctor’s Companion as a second commander. This allows for a slew of A/B combinations between Doctor and Companion, each with a potentially unique color identity and mechanical theme.
The goal of this guide is to evaluate Blast from the Past as it is — while upgrading and optimizing the deck is certainly possible, the plan isn’t to completely rearrange what the deck is trying to do. As such, while we’ll explore alternate combinations of Doctor and Companion, we’ll stick to the overall color identity of White-Blue-Green. We’ll also hew to the overall theme of the deck (historic spells), such that players have to make the least number of overall swaps.
The Blast from the Past deck comes with eight different Doctors, so the natural first step is to evaluate which one best suits our needs. Since we need to go through eight different Doctors, we’ll only be doing a quick rundown of the ones that don’t work. The First, Second and Eighth Doctors are terrible. They don’t do enough with their effects, and anyone trying to play them as their commander is in for a world of pain.
The Third, Fifth and Seventh Doctors are… better. Three and Seven each care about artifacts in their own interesting, non-overlapping ways. A properly built clue deck is going to be able to quickly turn Three into a terrifying Voltron threat, while Seven can let players cheat out an astonishing variety of midrange powerhouses. But a deck that properly took advantage of them would need to strip out a large part of the historic-tribal cards that make Blast from the Past work. Five has the same problem – he’d want a go-wide deck of creatures who benefited from +1/+1 counters.
That leaves us with Four and Six. It’s no surprise that the Fourth Doctor works for the deck, since he’s the face commander, ready to play out of the box. Unfortunately, he’s not terribly impressive. Future Sight effects are powerful, but capping it at one card a turn means that at best we’re drawing one additional card off of our commander. That’s… hardly inspiring. Instead, let’s look at Six. The Sixth Doctor copies the first historic spell his controller casts each turn.
There are some terrifying historic permanents we can copy with that.
Pick a Companion
Since we’re sticking with the overall White-Blue-Green colors of the original precon, let’s take a look at the white-aligned companions we can pick from. The original face choice is Sarah Jane Smith, but like the Fourth Doctor she’s rather underwhelming, likely to produce a couple clues each turn but not much else. Barbara Wright or Ian Chesterton both care about Sagas. Sagas are historic spells, but the original precon only comes with eight of them. Jo Grant and Tegan Jovanka are just flat-out terrible.
The two remaining good options are Peri Brown and Romana II. Peri can help us ramp out both our commander and powerful historic threats, while Romana doubles up the copied tokens created by Six. Fortunately, there’s not really a “wrong” choice between the two of them. Both are going to incentive creating tokens, with Peri biasing slightly more towards a “go wide” strategy and Romana strong, individual threats. Pick whichever feels right to you.
Oh, There’s Another 98 Cards
Now let’s take a look at all the other cards we’ll be playing. While in a lot of situations it might make sense to cut alternative commanders from a precon, Blast from the Past lets us leave them in. As legendary creatures they’re all historic, which is exactly what we’re looking for. We can also leave in all of the other artifacts, sagas and legendary permanents. The deck comes with two wraths, Crisis of Conscience and Time Wipe. Two is a perfectly fine number when it comes to wraths, so we’re fine there.
This doesn’t actually leave that many cards to cut. We might get rid of Banish to Another Universe since it’s not historic (and in fact, not very good as a card). The same can be said of Reverse the Polarity and Twice Upon a Time. But that’s… three out of a hundred cards. It is exceptionally rare for a commander precon to be so well-constructed that there’s only three obvious cuts. It’s definitely possible to cut more cards for some exciting alternatives, but that’s really only necessary if we’re pushing the deck in a different direction.
Of course, players will want to make that change. Commander is a format all about personalization. So let’s emphasize which cards not to cut. Displaced Dinosaurs is one of the few non-historic cards that can’t be removed. Making a 7/7 out of every creature, saga, mana rock and incidental Clue token is far too good to pass up. The Five Doctors represents a massive tempo swing, and even though it’s a bit costly in terms of mana it’s likely one of the deck’s best finishers.
Traverse Eternity is also pretty good – drawing more than three cards for four mana is extremely efficient. It’s not one hundred per cent reliable, but works pretty well so long as we can bring out Six from the command zone. And as a last, golden rule — don’t take out historic cards unless you’re putting another one back in. Part of the beauty of what makes a deck like this work is that all of its “conditional” cards are always on. That’s because while every card says it only works for “historic” cards, all of our cards are “historic.” Keeping that number up is what keeps the deck working.
And when it’s working, Blast from the Past is perfect.
Alex Sowa is a journalist, poet and writer. She also plays an unhealthy amount of Commander, with a dip into Pioneer from time-to-time. She’ll play any deck with either massive creatures or five-color shenanigans, but both is even better. You can find her on Twitter at @lx_sowa