Unsleeved: Aminatou, the Fateshifter [ENG]
Unsleeved: Aminatou, the Fateshifter
Hello to all Centurions, welcome to "Unsleeved", a column that aims to analyze decks by going beyond the protective envelope and then getting into details regarding deckbuilding choices and game strategies.
For the first episode we will talk about a commander who has been present since the dawn of the format, Aminatou, the Fateshifter.
Commander Analysis: Let's start by stating the obvious, which is that having a planeswalker commander has several advantages. Among the most important there certainly is a greater resistance to removal and the function of a "shield" for our life points, since to remove it often the opponent will be forced to attack it. Using a planeswalker also allows for greater flexibility of play, as we will have the choice between 2 usable abilities as soon as it enters the battlefield. Speaking of skills, the one that allows Aminatou to be present in the meta is the second, the famous “-1: blink”. Note that it can exile and bring back any permanent we own on the battlefield even if it is under the control of the opponent, thus allowing for some tricks that we will see later. The first ability, even if it does not represent a net advantage, still allows you to see extra cards in time of need and, accompanied by a fetch, to remove from the hand and reshuffle any unnecessary card. The synergy with cards that have the Miracle ability, such as Terminus or Temporal Mastery, is also excellent, which allows us to place them on top of the deck at the appropriate time, ready to be used in the next turn (or in the opponent's turn if we have the opportunity to draw at instant speed). The third and final ability, although rarely used, can be a real thorn in the opponent's side since, once it reaches 6 counters, it will force him to think carefully about which permanents to put into play since they could end up under our control. In stalemate situations it is often decisive, since being able to accumulate counters on Aminatou allows us to threaten with the ultimate and bring any nonland permanent that the opponent chooses to play (including the commander) on our side of the battlefield.
Game plan: The most obvious shell in which to use this commander is an atypical control, which does not follow the classic game plan of the counter-remove-support unmanageable threat, but aims to bring home the game thanks to a series of small and repeated advantages accumulated in the course of the game. In early game it is essential to have some low-cost interactions, whether they are removal or counter, to interact with the opponent and slow down his game plan. In some games, on the other hand, the deck can easily behave as a “tap out” control, that is, support solutions that stay on the board to be reused later with Aminatou. It is starting from the mid game that the deck begins to give its best, beginning to weave the dense web of small advantages that will definitively imprison the opponent. Planeswalkers are often dropped in this phase of the game and, thanks to Aminatou's -1, we can use the most effective ability at that moment twice in a turn. This deck requires a particular foresight in planning subsequent rounds, as it will often find itself having to resolve threats that require immediate action without however stopping assembling the pieces that create the necessary advantage. Once you have firmly taken control of the board, there are many ways to close the game, even if the most common one passes from the combat phase and aims to reset the opponent's life points. Usually when we arrive at this stage of the game the opponent has very little chance of recovering, the fly has ended up in the web and it is only waiting for its sad fate.
Analysis of the cards: in this article we will use a different approach, not analyzing step by step a list already made, but we will evaluate the cards based on the role played within the deck. The macro groups we will consider are removals, counters, planeswalkers, card advantage / quality, blink targets, win conditions.
Removals: Like any self-respecting control, the deck has a solid removal compartment, usually consisting of about 10 single removals and 3/4 cards dedicated to cleaning the battlefield.
Among the most commonly played removals, we find Swords to Plowshares, Dismember, Fatal Push, Vindicate, Unexpectedly Absent, Council's Judgment, Trial of Ambition, Detention Sphere and Oath of Kaya. Although some of these are creature-specific removals, we try to both attack the opponent's presence on the board from multiple angles and have as much flexibility as possible, so that non-creature threats can also be resolved. In fact, among the creatures removals there are both those that target in the form of reusable edicts (Trial of Ambition), so that you can also have solutions to untargetable creatures. Continuing, for example, Vindicate has the peculiarity of being able to target lands too, thus allowing you to remove a Cavern of Souls or a Maze of Ith. The 3 removals in the form of a spell can be reused thanks to Aminatou's second ability, thus generating a net advantage over the opponent.
As for the "wrath of god" effects, the deck always includes Toxic Deluge, inevitable if you play black and capable of cleaning any board for just 3 mana, Supreme Verdict, which cannot be countered, and Terminus, which can be fixed in top of the deck thanks to Aminatou's first ability and then be cast for just 1 mana. A separate mention for Cyclonic Rift, which is tutorable with Spellseeker and in the late game allows you to completely clean the opponent's battlefield of any nonland permanent.
Parallax Wave deserves a separate paragraph. This spell, in addition to managing tokens permanently and slowing down the development of the opponent's board, allows for some noteworthy tricks thanks to cards such as Unexpectedly Absent and Tale's End, which we are going to explain in detail:
Parallax Wave + Tale's End - the one that allows creatures to re-enter when Parallax leaves the battlefield is a triggered ability, which is counterable by Tale's End. We can then remove counters from Parallax to exile up to 5 creatures, and when it leaves the battlefield naturally due to Fading, neutralize the spawn ability, leaving creatures permanently in exile. This trick is also very synergistic with Aminatou's second ability, since we can exile creatures with Parallax, blink it with Aminatou, and counter the re-entry trigger with Tale's End;
Parallax Wave + Unexpectedly Absent - also in this case the result is the permanent exile of the opponent's creatures, in fact we can remove all 5 counters from Parallax keeping the priority (remove counter, in response remove other counter etc.) and then, in response to removing the last counter, return Parallax to the top of the deck with Unexpectedly Absent. This will trigger the ability that allows creatures to re-enter while still nothing has been exiled, no creatures will re-enter the battlefield, and after the trigger resolves, they will resolve the various exile effects, permanently removing the targeted creatures from the game. Parallax will be on top of the deck, ready to be used again.
Counter: Another fundamental department, the counters allow you to avoid problems by preventing the resolution of spells directly from the stack. The average number is usually around 15 cards. It is important to pay particular attention to the use of counters in Aminatou, for example, one will rarely be used to neutralize a threat to which we already have a solution in the form of removal. Particular caution also in "counter war", since many of Aminatou's counters are specific (eg. Mental Misstep, Spell Snare) "counter wars" should be undertaken almost only in situations where you want to support a very problematic threat for the opponent.
The counters are essential for interacting with the stack from the early stages of the game, thus avoiding game situations where the opponent manages to have threats in play that prevent the game plan from being developed. In fact, this department contains many low-cost cards, such as Force Spike, Mana Tithe and Daze, very effective at the beginning of the game and able to deal a heavy blow to the opponent even in the most advanced stages. As the game progresses, it becomes possible to use more expensive and flexible counters, capable of both neutralizing a spell and doing other effects, such as Cryptic Command, Tale's End and Mystic Confluence. Obviously, the "sacred monsters" are inevitable, or cards that can be played without paying mana, in particular Force of Will and Force of Negation.
Planeswalkers: Planeswalkers have become more and more popular in the last few years of Magic, they are an essential tool for any competitive deck, capable of generating enormous advantage over the opponent. The flexibility and the ability to use their abilities more than once make them essential, especially in a deck with a commander that allows additional tricks with this type of permanent. Aminatou usually brings 6 other planeswalkers to her side, who cover multiple roles and deserve a separate section and detailed analysis.
The first planeswalker we will analyze needs no introduction, Teferi Time Raveler is now a staple in every format. It allows you not to worry about opposing counters and plays "in response" to our actions thanks to its static ability; the first activated ability, on the other hand, allows you to play sorcery at the instant speed, while the second bounces a piece (not by force of the opponent) and draws a card. Thanks to Aminatou it will not be uncommon to see Teferi come into play, bounce a piece, be blinked by the commander and settle down to 4 loyalty tokens, the right amount to survive a lightning bolt.
Another extremely powerful 3 cost planeswalker is Narset, Parter of Veils. Its static ability prevents the opponent from drawing more than one card per turn, while its activated ability allows us to add a noncreature and nonland card to our hand chosen from the top 4 of the deck, thus creating card advantage for both the number and quality. Even Narset, if blinked by Aminatou, can in the long run provide an unbearable advantage for the opponent, as she will continue to give away cards in profusion.
The first 4-cost planeswalker we will analyze is another of the archetypal sacred monsters, Jace, the Mind Sculptor. With its 4 abilities, this card has unmatched flexibility. The first ability allows you to control a player's next draw, and can be used both on ourselves to skim any bad cards from the top of the deck, and on the opponent, so as to control the quality of his draws. The second ability is a Brainstorm and allows both to seek solutions in time of need and to remove useless cards from your hand. The third ability bounces a creature at the cost of 1 loyalty counter, helping the deck in managing threats, especially if at high mana costs. The fourth and final ability is a win condition that completely exiles the opponent's deck. Jace's strength lies in his synergy with the game plan of the deck, as he helps to gain control of the game thanks to the second and third abilities and, once this milestone is reached, his first ability makes it even more difficult for the opponent to re-enter in play, all waiting for the fateful 12 counters which mean victory.
Also, at cost 4 we find Kaya, Ghost Assassin. Together with Aminatou, the advantage this planeswalker can produce is often unmanageable for the opponent. Its first ability exiles a creature until our next upkeep, effectively taking away from the opponent the ability to use it on offense; again, thanks to this ability Kaya can protect herself by disappearing from the board and returning the next turn with all 5 counters. The second ability saves time and can place the last damage needed to win, while the third ability is the one that really makes the difference: the opponent discards and we draw, creating a gap of 2 cards in hand from the first activation; if Aminatou is already on the battlefield, this ability can be used twice in the same turn, literally overwhelming the opponent with the card advantage.
Last but not least, Serra, the Benevolent. The goal of this planeswalker is to churn out a host of angels which will quickly close the game. In fact, the most common play is to cast Serra, create an angel, blink Serra with Aminatou, create another angel, thus obtaining 2 4/4 tokens at the cost of 4 mana. In case Serra survives until the next turn, her first ability speeds up the race further. A peculiarity of this planeswalker is that it allows you to often win the race, in fact the angel tokens are also excellent blockers thanks to the vigilance ability.
These are the five planeswalkers found on every single Aminatou list. The sixth slot can be occupied by Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, very incisive in a meta control but heavy to cast, or Liliana of the Veil, a very strong card but not too relevant against aggro decks that tend to fill the board quickly. A recently seen solution is Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools, who in tandem with Aminatou can create a wall of thrull tokens or draw a good amount of cards; his ultimate also functions as a real closure, putting all commanders into play under our control.