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Sep 19 2014

Uncommon Sense – Celestial Flare

Hi there, I’m Tom. I’m new around here. I’m a dedicated EDH player who loves to take “useless” cards and make them useful. In this series, I’ll be looking at supposedly unplayable or forgotten cards and trying to find a way to slot them into Commander decks for fun and profit. If you have a card you want considered, you can hit me up on the email or the Twitters with @MrTomDawson. For my other ramblings, you can check out The Ontological Geek, where I run the regular-ish Magic column Tricks of the Trade. Enjoy!

In Commander, bigger is better. The length of an average game tends to run upwards of an hour, giving players ample time to build huge manabases and play spells which would be considered far too expensive or slow in 60-card formats. When Laboratory Maniac is winning games, we are far beyond the normal rules of the table. One time I even saw Biovisionary claim a win through judicious application of Progenitor Mimic, and if that’s not a long-game strategy then I don’t know what is. As a result, the emphasis in EDH deckbuilding tends to skew towards the rare and mythic given that those cards tend to be flashier and more dramatic than those poor post-NWO commons and uncommons. Take a look at practically any non-pauper decklist for Commander, and check the percentage of cards at higher rarity than uncommon; be it rare dual/fetch lands, legendary creatures or mythic artifacts, the bulk of the cards will be towards the wallet-punishing end of the rarity scale.

In all the talk of Mindslavers and Ashen Riders, the more populous but less immediately impressive cards tend to take a back seat. But is this really fair? Amongst the boring, vanilla creatures and the useless burn spells, the lower rarities house plenty of cards which can really change the direction of a game when played wisely. Today we will be looking at one of these cards, the unassuming Celestial Flare.

flare

Celestial Flare is oft-overlooked by deckbuilders, failing in several ways to be what is considered “good” removal. Firstly, it isn’t spot removal – “target player” is not “target creature”, after all – instead offering the choice to the attacking player that may not go the way you desired. Secondly, it does not destroy or exile, merely demand a sacrifice. Compared to Swords to Plowshares or Hero’s Downfall, it seems there are much more powerful cards for getting rid of troublesome creatures. So why am I shining a spotlight on it today, when ostensibly better options abound?

Because Celestial Flare is, depending on your local metagame, an incredibly powerful tool for hosing Voltron builds.

When Bruna, Light of Alabaster swings for the dome, buffed to the gills with Whispersilk Cloak,Indestructability, Illusionary Armor, Battle Mastery and Steel of the Godhead, there often isn’t much to be done. She’s hexproof. She’s unblockable. She can’t be boardwiped away in the majority of cases. However, for an investment of two mana, she can go straight back to the command zone. For Bruna it’s a hefty knockback given that it will take her a turn or two to re-equip all her auras and equipment, but for other Voltron commanders it’s even worse as they wave a forlorn farewell to all those enchantments heading to the graveyard. Given that a Voltron build is centred, often entirely dependent, on attacking with a single creature this means that when Celestial Flare hits the board, that creature is the only possible target. It’s always fun to watch the Voltron player grind their teeth as they figure this out. Even better, the Flare can be a handy political tool – note that the instant-speed casting allows you to play it even when the Voltron pilot is targeting someone else at the table, keeping someone else in the game long enough to perhaps strike back at the Voltron player.

So, a quick review of the positives:

  • Instant speed for political upsets
  • Gets past hexproof (on creatures, at least – not much luck if the player runs Witchbane Orb, but really, who does?)
  • Gets past indestructability (much like with -1/-1 counters, an indestructible permanent can go to the graveyard if sacrificed by its owner)
  • A mere two mana to remove a troublesome creature, in white, without providing any benefit to the creature’s owner
  • Versatile, with uses on both the offense and defense

All this from a card currently priced at mere pennies. If you’re having trouble with Voltron commanders wrecking your day, Celestial Flare will sort them right out. If you can’t push your token swarm past a Guardian of the Gateless, Celestial Flare fixes the problem. If you don’t want to throw your 20/20 Mistcutter Hydra into a suicide run against Serene Master, worry no more, for Celestial Flare has got your back! With the advent of Kahns of Tarkir, red players even have a new way to aggro; wiping the board with Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker in play and then swinging for the fences, but Celestial Flare will be sending that overconfident ‘walker straight to the grave. Sleeve it up, keep it close to the chest, and have fun making the Voltron guys cry!

 

 

4 comments

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  1. Kuchisama

    Hey Tom, welcome aboard!
    Great start with a very in-detail analysis of a card that many people will definitely have overlooked. As a person who has been playing Magic almost from the beginning in the 90s, I’m really looking forward to what other gems you’re going to dig up!

    1. Tom Dawson

      Thanks! There are a million cards out there that do cool stuff, but we forget about them. Hopefully I can come up with something interesting!

  2. SonnetMTG

    …I’d rather be playing Wing Shards personally…

  3. Charles Sneerbite

    I like the cut of your jib! Its true there are literally thousands of commons and uncommons that are unfairly given the short-shrift in EDH. I think that your article is spot-on, but a major limiting factor of this card is its WW mana-cost—hindering it’s ability to be truly compared to other 2 costing sac spells. That said, it can be a truly nasty card—voltron decks have a tendency to believe they are invincible once the swiftfoot boots or lightning greaves are attached to their win condition and this little number erases that grin. I can’t wait to see what you analyze next!

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