Not-Commander Secret Lair: Stranger Things

Credit: Pauline Voss, Wizards of the Coast

Late last week Wizards revealed cards from the next “Universes Beyond” release, this time focused on the Netflix series Stranger Things. If you’re starting to feel fatigue from the sheer volume of new Magic releases well, you’re not alone. Today we’ll be talking about the new cards revealed and their impact on Commander. Sure, the release isn’t explicitly a Commander product but it also definitely is.

Phillip York: Okay so Stranger Things is neat and it was a big deal, like 5 years ago. It feels like 20 years ago, frankly – Pandemic Time is its own strange thing – but soon there’ll be a new set of cards you can fork over a bunch of money to get. However, this time Wizards has promised that there will be essentially “in-universe” copies of these cards available later on, as part of “The List,” ensuring they’ll show up in boosters eventually. If you wait six months. But six months in Pandemic time is actually 24 months, which is two years. So two years to play these cards.

To be fair, this edition of not-really-a-Commander-product-but-also-actually-a-bunch-of-multicolor-legendary-creatures-that-are-clearly-intended-to-be-commanders feels far less late than the Walking Dead, which is, apparently, still being made.

Putting aside the meta commentary about the product and marketing angles and Wizards’ weird late-to-the-party cross-promotional synergy (and truly, I’m looking forward to Secret Lair: Yugioh and Secret Lair: Pokemon because how much more meta can it get than cross over into a different card game?), there is a really solid mechanic introduced in this Secret Lair: Friends Forever. Friends Forever is essentially partner with anyone with Friends Forever. I like this a lot; I hope they reuse this with a different name for other sets. Partner with is good, and the mono-color partners they did in Commander: Legends was fine, but this lets them create some new pairings without risking them being partnered with the old broken partners that are essentially boogeymen.

FromTheShire: I don’t necessarily mind the mechanic but it seems unnecessary to me – it’s not like you can’t already make some busted partner combos, and I’m sure that will only be more true going forward with how wildly popular the mechanic is. The name is absolutely horrendous though.

I still really dislike how these cards are being printed. Having them be available in the future only in the more expensive booster packs sucks, and either these have to be present in those packs at a rate that means you’re either overpaying for this Secret Lair, or they’re so rare that the packs have no impact on the price which goes through the roof, thus driving the culture of FOMO that is making a lot of people buy the Secret Lairs in the first place. Additionally, Wizards just announced recently that Set Boosters for Crimson Vow won’t be available for prerelease, and will have very limited supply on release so…. not a great sign.

TheChirurgeon: My first thought is that this is a weird fit thematically, and that was the same thing I thought about the Walking Dead and Warhammer 40k as products. I also agree that Stranger Things’ time in the cultural zeitgeist has passed. Otherwise, it’s… fine, I guess? I like what they’re doing mechanically with some of the cards but no, I don’t love what it will take to actually get them. I’m getting flashbacks to Nexus of Fate as a buy-a-box promo on this one.

 

The cards:

 

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Eleven, the Mage

Pretty strong to be honest. A 3/5 for 4 mana, Grixis colors, the only 3 color partner. Hand size 11 is nice, Red is good at card draw. Blue is good at card draw. Black is good at card draw. Oh neat. And if you get your hand up to 10, then attack you draw and if you’re at 11 get to cast a spell from your hand for free. Thankfully red is good at generating extra attacks and blue is good at taking turns. Those spells are expensive but since you get to cast them for free, I would say that Eleven is an extremely solid commander. Maybe not quite as good as Kess, but then again, maybe as good as Kess.

FromTheShire: Definitely seems solid and I foresee a whole lot of decks where if his ability triggers, you should expect something game ending like an Omniscience to be coming down. Because of that you probably want to be stocked up on counters and defensive spells because this could easily suffer from the Narset, Enlightened Master problem where seeing Elevin in your command zone gets you killed on sight regardless of whether your version is fair or not.

 

FLOOD | Steve Harrington of “Stranger Things” Just Released a Song

Steve, the Ice Cream Man

Oh okay, I guess that isn’t the version they chose.

TheChirurgeon: Tragic.

 

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

 

Chief Jim Hopper

Well, you’d be investigating a lot here. There are some potential synergies with things like Alibou, Ancient Witness or Ardenn, Intrepid Archeologist generating artifacts is never really bad, especially ones that can be sacced to draw cards. 4 mana for a 4/4 partner isn’t horrible, there’s things you could definitely do with this, probably the grossest would be some kind of artifact animating deck that also increases token generation with cards like Anointed Procession. Given you could potentially have access to say blue or green via Mike or Dustin that could be interesting, but pretty slow.

FromTheShire: Being nontoken creature limits this from being too busted but it’s a really nice effect, especially in Boros, and there are a ton of ways to take advantage of making artifacts.

 

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Mike, the Dungeon Master

To me this reeks of being a bad version of Chulane, Teller of Tales. I mean the obvious combo lines are all the same combo lines as Chulane, except it lacks Chulanes’ triggered ability, and blue, to, you know, get Intruder Alarm. But yes, Ashnod’s Altar or Krak-Clan Ironworks and you Intruder Alarm,, or you can use Village Bell Ringer so, yes. Infinite etbs and deaths. Kind of neat. Best place to play it in my opinion would actually be an Abzan deck, so you need a partner with black, death triggers, that sort of thing. Sun Titan and Shepherd of the Cosmos both, or other Reanimators would be powerful combinations.

FromTheShire: I love reanimator decks and drain gain decks so I would most likely combine this with Will to be in Abzan and combine those two things. Whatever other partner you pick, this is better as a grindy deck rather than one trying to combo off.

 

Sup guys, you called an exterminator?: deadbydaylight

Steve, the Mom

Oh, they didn’t go with that one.  Okay well.

 

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Dustin, Gadget Genius

This guy sucks. It’s a bad 4-cost legendary version of an uncommon, Renowned Weaponsmith OH WAIT THAT ACTUALLY HAS MORE ABILITIES. There are a couple other things that tap for 2 for artifacts so this is just kind of lame, and it’s really a “partner for the colors”. Disappointing. Sure you could run Jeskai Dustin/Hopper and use the 2 mana to pop the clue tokens. Yes. You do it. I won’t.

FromTheShire: Kind of fine but below rate in something like an Esper artifacts shell, not great in your command zone.

 

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Lucas, The Sharpshooter

This is neat, I like the idea of goading people’s utility creatures or just killing them off, or forcing commanders to attack when they don’t want to. Sacrificing artifacts is a bit rough, but there are so many clue and token generators now, not to mention things like Toggo, Goblin Weaponsmith, so I think you could definitely build around this. A 2 cost commander who does something interesting and allows a partner is a pretty “fair magic” power level. It drives interaction and is sort the type of commander I want to see more of printed.

FromTheShire: Not bad for pinging off utility creatures or directing an unprotected Voltron commander away from you. A lot of the time this isn’t going to do enough for you, whether it’s because they have a safe attack, they can tap their creature somehow to avoid attacking, or they just have ways to keep you from targeting that one most vital creature you really need to hit. 

 

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Max, the Daredevil

Firing off second spell each turn is okay; there’s some Temur stuff that cares about spells on other players’ turns, mostly blue and red but I could see using this in combination with things like Dustin to build a deck around a lot of casting and doing things, you can use the untap to generate mana to cast your spells on the next players turn too, so that’s fairly neat. 3 for a 3/2 is reasonable, obviously in commander world 2/3 is almost certainly a stronger stat block.

FromTheShire: This is best when the creature you untap is something like Karametra’s Acolyte or an elf so you can cast an instant on each of your opponents turns, but that requires you to also be drawing enough cards to refill your hand to have 2 spells to cast per turn, and if you have that concentration of cheap cantrips you are probably just better being a Storm deck.

 

Stranger Things: Steve's Love Triangle, Almost Hitting Costar With Bat | IndieWire

Steve, the Beater of Ass

Okay, they didn’t choose that one.  Okay which Steve did they use?

TheChirurgeon: Just slap this art/image onto the Negan card and you’re set. Same energy.

 

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Will, the Wise

A black-white creature that has both enter and leaves play triggers is pretty neat. There’s some obvious synergy with Mike, the Dungeon Master , and I like the political aspect of “give a clue token or lose life.” Potentially a win condition since you can just keep doing it, and with something like Krark-Clan Ironworks you could be saccing the clue tokens to generate mana to keep doing it, Eldrazi Displacer can then flicker him in and out, generating minimum 2 clue tokens and netting you one colorless mana, so eventually you have infinite colorless mana then you can draw out your whole deck. What’s worth noting is that Will generates tokens equal to one plus the number of opponents who have investigated this turn, so if they’ve investigated for any reason, you get the bonus clues, regardless of whether they investigate in this particular instance.

FromTheShire: Yeah I like this guy. Either you get card advantage or drain your opponents, and I’m down for both of those things. In the Abzan shell talked about before you have a bunch of ways to reanimate or flicker him, double the Clues you get, do drain and gain shenanigans… solid.

 

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Mind Flayer, the Shadow

So a 9/9 legendary enchantment creature that isn’t a creature until you have stolen (control 3 you don’t own) permanents and lets you play off opponents’ bottoms of libraries. Pretty decent, obviously you’d want to cheat this into play, with Replenish or Ghen, Arcanum Weaver or an effect like that, since 9 mana is a lot, especially for it not to do much of anything. This is a fairly reminiscent mechanic of the Theros devotion-dependent gods. I kind of feel like it should have 0:Mind Flayer loses or gains shadow until the end of the turn. But that’s just me. The ability to play the cards from exile isn’t linked to it being in play, which is nice.

FromTheShire: Another one I like. I have an existing Gonti, Lord of Luxury deck which is a ton of fun, and black has more ways than you might expect to steal other people’s stuff, and a bunch of ways to double your mana so your commander being 7 isn’t that big of a deal. Honestly I think I will frequently be happy if this isn’t actually a creature so that it dodges creature removal and board wipes and just generates value. A 9/9 isn’t nothing but with no built in evasion I’m here for the effect not the body.

TheChirurgeon: Now that you’ve mentioned Shadow I can’t stop thinking about how weird it is that Shadow wasn’t used as a mechanic on any of these. Or at least phasing!

 

Anyway Steve.

Where is Steve’s Card?

Hello? Bueler? Are you kidding me?

Can you get a clue?

Secret Lair x Stranger Things

Okay obviously you can but WHERE IS THE STEVE CARD. Max has a card and Steve, Stever gets nothing?

I’m firmly expecting Secret Lair: Steve.

Okay, is this breaking the world of magic or something? No, and who cares. If you’re a magic purist um, don’t buy secret lair. The story of magic is so kind of over-the-top it’s hard to take it seriously. Also the people writing it never seem to remotely care about having any relationship with the card game itself so, it’s hard to see why anyone could or would care that the Universes Beyond is somehow screwing up the multiverse, but for real, since they’ll be printing mechanically identical cards later, definitely like, if you don’t like them, don’t buy them. But seriously – “partner with a small group” is a winner of a mechanic. I really really hope they do it again, or repeatedly. There’s a lot of room for partner with to be expanded. Partner with a werewolf. Partner with a red creature. Partner with two-color.

TheChirurgeon: Yeah I like the Friends forever mechanic and I’m always up for more Investigate/Clue token stuff.

FromTheShire: I’m going to dissent here and say while no this isn’t breaking the game, these cards continue to be a downer to a not insignificant portion of the established player base. Mark Rosewater himself has acknowledged the commonly used ‘profiles’ of how people engage with the game, and to most Vorthos players these cards and cards like them are a slap in the face. They appreciate the aesthetic of Magic, the flavor, the creative consistency, and having characters from TV shows or Space Marines or whatever is an extremely noticeable departure from that aesthetic. Yes they are free not to play these cards themselves, but that has no bearing on whether or not they are going to sit down opposite another player who IS playing somebody from the Walking Dead as their commander. Just because the story is over-the-top or has been badly written at times doesn’t give license to throw that aesthetic out entirely, and there is a massive community built around engaging with the lore through podcasts, YouTube channels, building flavor decks, cosplaying, and many others that is absolutely justified in being upset about this change to the game being made in the name of what you yourself termed an endless cash grab.

TheChirurgeon: As a fellow Vorthos who actually cares about the narrative and is interested in the lore behind Liesa and Emrakul and all that, I hear you. But also, who cares? People have been making fan cards for every property under the sun forever — of course Wizards was going to get in on the weird fan alters game sooner or later. At least theirs aren’t quite as cringeworthy.

Have any questions or feedback? Drop us an email at contact@goonhammer.com.