Revisiting Ojutai’s Command

Two of the Dragons of Tarkir Commands need little introduction. Kolaghan’s singlehandedly put Grixis on the top-tier Modern map. Atarka’s has been buffing every Burn, Zoo, hybrid, and red-green aggro strategy since the spring. These cards have secured pedestals as format staples, capping off a block that gave us Swiftspears, fetchlands, black Goyfs, Bloodbraid Rhinos, and two of the most powerful (read: broken) cards ever introduced to Modern. Given the block’s power-level, and with the end of the year approaching, I want to reexamine another card in the Command cycle many players have forgotten about since its initial spoiling.

Ojutais Command art

In one of our first Modern Nexus articles, a Dragons review, we gave top-marks to Atarka’s Command and Kolaghan’s Command and a runner-up ribbon to Ojutai’s Command. We hit it out of the park on the first two. Ojutai’s Cryptic Command imitator? Not so much. As control players shifted to Grixis and the format turned away from white, Ojutai’s Command sat in trade binders and bad UWx brews, waiting and wanting to live up to big brother Cryptic. That day might finally have come, thanks to metagame changes and a seemingly inconspicuous two-drop from an utterly underwhelming Modern set release.

Today, we’ll take another look at Ojutai’s Command in Modern. With the format changing, and players increasingly realizing the might of Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, perhaps there’s a new home for Command that didn’t exist back in the spring.

Jace’s Command

Jace ProdigyGet used to Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy in Modern, because the Merfolk Looter upgrade is here to stay. We saw a preview of this at Grand Prix Pittsburgh, where both Corey Burkhart and Lloyd Kurth teamed up with the flipwalker to earn 5th and 19th respectively. Jace has been looting and pillaging Modern Top 8s all summer and fall, spearheading the change from countermagic-heavy Grixis Control lists to the discard and Jund-esque Grixis Midrange lists we saw both at Pittsburgh and as early as August. Players are still figuring out the best way to leverage Jace’s strengths, so expect to see him in a wide range of lists as the year closes out.

Naturally, neither Burkart nor Kurth could run Ojutai’s Command in their Grixis lists, but this context is nonetheless an important stage-setter for Command’s (hopefully) triumphant return. Jace’s past performances underscore his newfound relevance in Modern. It is this relevance we are trying to build on in dusting off those Ojutai’s Commands.

Ojutais CommandAt its most basic level, Command addresses Jace’s worst weakness: his piddly two toughness. Outside of Goblin Electromancers and metalcraftless Etched Champions, there are few creatures in Modern with bigger crosshairs on their heads. Jace is a Lightning (Bolt) rod, Terminate bait, Path fodder, a Kolaghan’s Command magnet, and one of Burn’s juiciest targets for Searing Blaze. Command addresses all of that. With the exception of the vicious Blaze, Ojutai’s Command gives you a take-two on Jace while also effectively blanking that old removal. Did your opponent squander their second or third turn with a main phase Abrupt Decay? Just wait two more turns to return Jace, effectively wasting the opponent’s Decay turn, and even getting a second effect out of the deal. All at instant speed!

Snapcaster MageWhen I first reviewed the Command, I focused on its synergy with Snapcaster Mage. Given Command’s utter absence from Modern since then, it’s clear Snapcaster alone isn’t enough to make Command work. Snapcaster plus Jace? That’s serious redundancy and makes me much happier to run Command. Indeed, Jace turns on Command’s best mode (the recursion) a turn earlier than Snapcaster: it takes at least five open mana to return a Snapcaster and still flashback another spell. Running Jace alongside Snapcaster, apart from being a synergy on its own, gives you many more Command lines than you would otherwise have.

This pairing also mitigates one of Command’s biggest drawbacks, its oftentimes too passive modalities. With Cryptic Command, you rarely have to wait to use the card because it counters any spell and always bounces something. Ojutai’s is much more limited, so you’re often waiting to Dismiss a creature or pitch it as a cheaper Resupply. With Jace and Snapcaster as viable targets, you’ll almost always have something to do with the card on turn four (countering something like Rhino and then recurring Jace is gamebreaking), which dramatically improves Command’s stock.

All of these reasons give us new incentive to return to the card. It’s definitely possible these theoretical advantages still don’t make Command good, but it’s a solid foundation we can build from when we start looking at actual lists.

Ojutai’s Command in UW Control

Enough theory! Let’s see Jace and his Command in action. Our first take on the Jace/Command combo is a UW Control silver medalist from an Italian Modern League match in Bologna, Italy. Riccardo Biava took 2nd at the 80 player event, running a playset of Jace and three Ojutai’s Commands. He’s even using Dragonlord Ojutai himself! Here’s Biava’s 75.

UW Control, by Riccardo Biava (2nd, Bologna Modern 11/2015)

Creatures (13)
Dragonlord Ojutai
Restoration Angel
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
Snapcaster Mage
Wall of Omens

Instants (18)
Dispel
Pact of Negation
Negate
Spell Snare
Sphinx’s Revelation
Cryptic Command
Ojutai’s Command
Path to Exile

Sorceries (3)
Supreme Verdict

Lands (26)
Ghost Quarter
Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
Mystic Gate
Prairie Stream
Glacial Fortress
Hallowed Fountain
Tectonic Edge
Plains
Celestial Colonnade
Flooded Strand
Island
Sideboard (15)
Arashin Cleric
Vendilion Clique
Stony Silence
Celestial Purge
Disenchant
Dispel
Negate
Pact of Negation
Supreme Verdict
Timely Reinforcements
Buy deck on Cardhoarder (MTGO)Buy deck on TCGPlayer (Paper)

UW Control has seen a lot of recent success in Modern. The deck climbed up to tier 2 in August and hasn’t budged since,  driven by performances like Michael Segal’s Titan build and Jessy Hefner’s conventional Ojutai variant. For more on the deck generally, you can check out Sky Mason’s UW Control primer or Trevor Holmes’ MTGO foray with the deck.

Wall of OmensBiava builds on these successes in his own list, keeping the core synergies that made UW Control what it is today while also doubling down on Ojutai’s Command interactions. Wall of Omens is excellent both in this deck and in the metagame more broadly. With Burn lists increasingly adopting Wild Nacatl and other creature-based damage sources, Wall frustrates the aggro player’s early progress while ushering you into the midgame. As we see more Gruul Zoo, Naya Company, Nacatl Burn, and all the other strategies in between, Wall is only going to get better. Ojutai’s Command capitalizes on that, bringing back the wall for either a double card-draw or for an added four life on top of the recursion. Wall’s inclusion also guarantees you can use Command proactively on turn four, upping the reanimation target count to nine.

Pact of NegationI’m also in love with Pact of Negation as part of an Ojutai’s Command and Snapcaster Mage line. A Commanded Snapcaster can flashback the Pact at no cost, giving you a hard counter, a cantrip, and the 2/1 body as early as turn five. That’s a turn earlier than you can pull off the same effect with Cryptic Command, giving you more options and making it harder for your opponent to negotiate the midgame. Biava appears similarly invested in this synergy, squeezing a second Pact into the board. Even without Command in the picture, Pact and Snapcaster alone are a formidable duo.

It’s unclear if this is the best way to use Command and Jace in a UW list, or even if UW is the best way to mobilize the combo. I have no clue what this deck is doing about a resolved Liliana of the Veil with Jund or Abzan on the play. I’m also pretty sure our RG Tron strategy is just “dodge the matchup” or “pray”, neither of which are approaches I want to commit to in a large tournament. That said, the deck still gets points for a strong Burn matchup, a surprisingly resilient Merfolk game, and a ton of grinding power most fair decks can’t touch. There are more midgame and lategame synergies here than I can discuss in a single section (Minamo and Jace/Ojutai, Command to return turn four Jace into turn five Verdict flashback, stomping aggro with Command and Arashin Cleric, etc.). Overall, this strikes me as a solid if not conservative way to make Command work in Modern.

Ojutai’s Command in Esper Control

Traditional UW Control is one of the more obvious ways to go with Ojutai’s Command, but I think it’s even better in Esper. Richard Carlton, who has been playing UWx Control in Modern for over two years, took a Command and Jace-fueled Esper Control list to 3rd place at an SCG IQ in Gaithersburg on November 14. Although Carlton’s list shares some similarities to Biava’s, it’s much deeper into Esper colors and switches up its maindeck to reflect that commitment.

Esper Control, by Richard Carlton (3rd, SCG IQ Gaithersburg 11/14)

Creatures (10)
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Snapcaster Mage
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy

Instants (12)
Mana Leak
Murderous Cut
Ojutai’s Command
Path to Exile
Spell Snare

Planeswalkers (2)
Gideon Jura
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad

Sorceries (14)
Inquisition of Kozilek
Lingering Souls
Serum Visions
Supreme Verdict

Lands (22)
Island
Plains
Swamp
Creeping Tar Pit
Flooded Strand
Ghost Quarter
Godless Shrine
Hallowed Fountain
Polluted Delta
Shambling Vent
Watery Grave
Sideboard (15)
Engineered Explosives
Spellskite
Stony Silence
Celestial Purge
Disenchant
Dispel
Negate
Slaughter Pact
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
Thoughtseize
Timely Reinforcements
Buy deck on Cardhoarder (MTGO)Buy deck on TCGPlayer (Paper)

Unlike Biava’s list, Carlton is less invested in Ojutai’s Command synergies and more concerned with playing good cards. Lingering Souls is nasty in Esper, both addressing aggro problems in Affinity and Burn variants and wreaking havoc on poor Lily. I’m also convinced that Inquisition of Kozilek is currently the second-best police card in Modern after Lightning Bolt, and any strategy that can play four is immediately better-positioned in an open metagame. Carlton is also cutting the Walls and relying on Serum Visions for his card-draw, which works better with his Tasigurs and singleton Murderous Cut but again doesn’t do much to leverage Command.

Lingering SoulsAll metagame factors considered, it’s often a better idea to follow this minimalist Command approach instead of the more synergistic one as seen in Biava’s 75. When I tossed together the UW Control version, I found a lot of hands and game-states that never really developed until turn four or five. They were just so reactive. The Esper Control version has proactive plays at every stage of the early game, whether Jace on turn two, Tasigur with countermagic backup on turn three, or Inquisition and Visions whenever you have the mana. This sets you up for those bigger, more reactive plays with Command on turns four or later, while also not putting you at the mercy of early aggression (especially if you’re on the draw). You also have the option of playing reactive, whereas UW Control has no choice. When you want to play draw-go, you can. When you want to crank out Spirit tokens or a protected Tasigur, you can do that too.

If you’re looking to dabble in Ojutai’s Command but not rely on it, then this Esper Control style is the safer approach. That said, I’d at least try more maindeck stock in the Command/Snapcaster synergy, especially with Pacts. Slaughter Pact, a single copy of which sits in Carlton’s board, can be incredibly powerful in this deck. Command into Snapcaster into Pact comes online as early as turn four. You can even double up on the Pact on turn six and still pay for the upkeep triggers. Pact’s targeting restrictions make this a poor line of play in Grixis matchups (Angler and Tasigur laugh at the Slaughter), but it’s a great way to clean a board against a Zoo deck.

Making Command Work

I’d be lying if I said UWx Control is the best place to be in Modern right now. That said, Jace is absolutely a great place to be in Modern, and as the format looks for innovative ways to use our newfound Planeswalker, I’m willing to cast a wide net to see what works. UW Control has enough teeth to bite its way into tier 2, and it’s possible that Jace and Command are the next evolution for this traditional deck style.

Next week, we’ll be reviewing the November metagame in our monthly breakdown (we need to wait until then for all the sites to post their final November lists). Until then, keep on brewing with Jace and revisiting underplayed technologies to see if they can fit into present-day Modern. Do you have any experience with Ojutai’s Command  or other brewing ideas? How else would you get the card to work? Keep the innovation coming and I’ll see you all next week!

Sheridan is the former Editor in Chief of Modern Nexus and a current Staff Author. He comes from a background in social science data analysis, database administration, and academia. He has been playing Magic since 1998 and Modern since 2011.

21 thoughts on “Revisiting Ojutai’s Command

  1. i’m a sucker for anything Jeskai, especially if it falls a bit on the aggresive spectrum and i’ve been working hard to make some jace/pyromancer work

    it frustrates me how close this card was to being a modern staple, if only it could ressurect a creature with power 2 or less, or if it could at least counter any spell, it could bring back Monastery Mentor or even Geist of Saint Traft, that would really revive UW midrange shells, such a missed opportunity

    my goal so far is to have a 50-50 MU vs BG/Twin/affinity/burn and i think i’m getting close, it’s still hard to justify playing Jeskai over Grixis, but i suspect we are 1-2 prints away from the shell becoming viable again, thanks for the write up!

    1. Jeskai is one of the better venues for OC, and I’d love to see more Jeskai decks make it with a combination of Jace and the Command. Definitely let us know if you get any results!

  2. Another place Ojutai’s is relevant is in the Bring to Light versions of Scapeshift. Many of the modes are great in various matchups, and being able to return Sakura-Tribe Elder is amazing. 4 mana for a basic land ramp plus draw a card OR counter a creature OR gain 4 life is pretty amazing (especially as the tribe elder often times will gain you life by chump blocking itself).

    1. Those are interesting synergies! Seems like a good singleton bullet in versions of that deck, although the BtL Scapeshift builds haven’t made a lot of noise recently.

    1. Interesting idea! It’s still unclear to me if Bant is really what you want to be doing in Modern; if Sultai can’t cut it for lack of Bolt, I’m sure Bant will suffer a similar fate. But it’d definitely be worth some testing!

    2. This is a Bant control list I’ve been working on that tries to play out like the Grixis control decks currently seeing play but with even more grinding power and some better anti-aggro options. I play Mardu so I don’t own most of the cards I need for this. I’m sure most will think 8 four-drops is crazy but with Noble Hierarch and Remand to help get you to turn 4 I think the payoff is potentially worth it. I’m finally proxying it up now…

      http://tappedout.net/mtg-decks/bant-command-and-control/

  3. I’d be on board with this card if:
    1) it wasn’t a tad too slow for the format as it stands now.
    2) it wasn’t very vulnerable to dispel, which is proving to be a format staple.

    These are factors that have also pushed out Cryptic Command to some degree. I could see a day when it is viable, but it’s going to sit on the shelf for now for me.

    1. As I indicated in the article, OC’s viability depends a lot on there being grindy decks to beat. That’s where the card is at its best, although it’s not abysmal in more aggressive metagames as long as you have the right shell. I’ll definitely grant it’s terrible in combo metagames, but it’s more workable where other decks have a higher share.

  4. The esper deck looks horribly unfocused to me. Inquisition and Verdict in the same deck (Cut one or the other, don’t make bad hedges in a format like modern)? Leak and Path together? I think a proactive Esper strategy is probably very good in modern, but a lot of card choices are just baffling or outright incorrect.

    1. To me, this feels more like a metagame call than anything else. The guy must have expected an incredibly aggressive field, and wanted the IoK and Verdicts to address that. He’s not even in that heavily on the Verdicts at just two copies, which he can ship away through scrying or just discard via Jace. As for Leak and Path, that’s existed in Modern for ages. Numerous Modern pros have used the cards together because it’s the best UWx has in Modern, including Shaun McLaren, a longtime Jeskai aficionado.

    1. Grixis is not currently tier 1 but it’s certainly tier 2, and it was absolutely tier 1 earlier this year. We just go where the data takes us, and with Grixis Midrange making Top 8 at Pittsburgh (with other copies in the T32), along with its wider metagame performance, it’s fair to say this color pairing is here to stay. Indeed, the collective metagame share of Grixis decks is currently 7%-8%, all based around Kolaghan’s Command, Tasigur, and other traditional Grixis synergies. It was significantly higher early in the year as well.

  5. Jace is garbage with counterspells – I dont mind ppl speculating on deck builds but at least be balanced with your assessment of them. Modern nexus is turning to shit lately

    1. I’m sorry you feel that way. Given our traffic numbers and other feedback I’m going to have to disagree, but I’m happy to hear areas where you feel the content could be improved. As for Jace’s functionality with countermagic, at no point am I really drumming up Jace’s synergy with the counterspells themselves. It’s mostly his synergy with the recursion mode, which is pretty clear in the article.

  6. There’s promo Ojutai’s command sitting alone in my portfolio alongside Paths and Delvers and I somewhy think they could get along. Sure, 4 mana spell is a little bit too much for tempo driven deck, but who can blame for trying? Some weird Jeskai Delver brew maybe could be a place?

    1. I don’t think tempo is where you want OC to do its job. Tempo decks aren’t currently playing Cryptic, and they really can’t support a 4 CMC card on their curve, at least not without disrupting other elements of the deck. You could eke by with 22 or so lands (as Grixis Control strategies have done) if you lean on cantrips, but that’s still not what I want to be doing with Delver.

  7. Interesting revision of Ojutai’s Command. I saw it put in some decent work in UW Titan Control decks, but it seems those are falling out of favor of late. I like it in “traditional” UW Control, but I feel that your concerns regarding reactivity are valid. That said, I’m with one of the previous posters in that the Esper deck looks far too unfocused to truly make use of it. I’m thinking a UW or Esper Midrange shell is probably where this card truly wants to be, and I think it has a nice niche alongside Cryptic Command there (less U-intensive).

    That said… why would anyone run Arashin Cleric over Lone Missionary when the goal is to thwart aggro and maximize the potency of Ojutai’s Command? Missionary’s 2 power let it actually trade with attacking creatures, which takes their guys off the board and gives you opportunities for more value with Ojutai’s Command. Furthermore, you get more life per casting. I’m really puzzled by that call.

  8. I think we all agree that Jace plus Ojutai’s Command is very strong, but more quality two drops are needed for a deck to arise. My initial idea is a jeskai list with Jace and Young pyromancer along with lots of cantrips and burn spells/removal.

  9. Hi Sheridan, I am a frequent reader, so imagine my delight to see you mention my deck in your article! Your analysis was great and I agreed with all of your observations! It was a pleasure seeing someone talk about my build. I have been playing the new Jace in Modern since it arrived in Origins. First in Esper, then in Jeskai, now back to Esper. I see some of the criticisms over my card choices, but to me, the card I wanted to get maximum value out of was Jace, not O-Command. I wouldn’t play O-Command without Jace, and my plan wasn’t to try to break O-Command, but to get maximum value out of Jace and to out-grind the grindy decks. The IQ itself was rather small, about 35 people if I recall. I beat UR Twin, UG Infect, RG Tron, and Merfolk in the Swiss. I then intentionally drew in the 5th round to Top 8. I beat the Merfolk deck again and amusingly enough, lost to Jund in the Top 4, one of the decks I thought I had the best match against. I don’t see Supreme Verdict and Inquisition being mutually exclusive, and they were both great the entire day. I felt comfortable being able to “cover the field” because as you pointed out, having Jace means you have more flexibility with your card choices as he can loot away what you don’t need. Jace was an amazing card for me and when unchecked, he stole the game. Even when the Twin player bolted him, then Snap-bolted him again later after I resurrected him with O-Command, it didn’t feel bad because I forced him to react and to use his spells in a way he probably didn’t want to. I like my build here because as you said, it allows you to be proactive. In fact, I drew inspiration for this deck from its Grixis cousin. I see some people talk about counterspells not being great with Jace, but I am running 4 Snaps, and they are obviously great with Snapcaster. As you implied, Mana Leak is a necessary evil for control decks in Modern and the “non-bo” with Path is also an unfortunate necessity for an Esper colored deck. However, I will say that in my experience, the pros of having a hard counter and an efficient removal spell outweigh the cons of the “non-bo.” Strangely enough, I also argue that having Path and Ghost Quarter together is actually more powerful, as at some point in the long game you will likely either have a Wasteland or a Path without “downside.”

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