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.
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.
Get 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.
At 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!
When 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)
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.
Biava 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.
I’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)
2 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
2 Mana Leak
1 Murderous Cut
3 Ojutai’s Command
4 Path to Exile
2 Spell Snare
1 Gideon Jura
1 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Lingering Souls
4 Serum Visions
2 Supreme Verdict
3 Creeping Tar Pit
4 Flooded Strand
2 Ghost Quarter
1 Godless Shrine
2 Hallowed Fountain
4 Polluted Delta
1 Shambling Vent
1 Watery Grave
1 Engineered Explosives
2 Stony Silence
1 Celestial Purge
1 Slaughter Pact
2 Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
1 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.
All 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!