Milling for 53
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Milling for 53

Lighting the Torch Commander

Originally published November 4th, 2017

Tuktuk the Explorer by Volkan Baga

had me twist my tongue to form aesthetically-pleasing sounds as I announced the name of each card I played during games. Now the “creatively-constrained Commander” torch is passing on and into the hands of my latest general: Tuktuk the Explorer.

The theme? Every card in the deck depicts a torch in its art (even the basic land).

Here’s the decklist in text form then visual form. Below that, read about how this deck came to be.

Note: This deck is VERY weak in terms of power level. Don’t play this if you like to win.

Commander (1)
Tuktuk the Explorer

Lands (40)
36 Mountain
Barbarian Ring
Hall of the Bandit Lord
Keldon Necropolis
Thespian’s Stage

CMC 1 (7)
Blazing Torch
Goblin Balloon Brigade
Magus of the Scroll
Norin the Wary
Orcish Spy
Tunnel
War-Torch Goblin

CMC 2 (10)
Abbott of Keral Keep
Madcap Skills
Makeshift Munitions
Mogg Cannon
Reckless Reveler
Sanguinary Mage
Scent of Cinder
Subterranean Scout
Torch Fiend
Wall of Torches

CMC 3 (12)
Boggart Arsonists
Captive Flame
Deputized Protester
Enraged Revolutionary
Five-Alarm Fire
Ghitu Fire-Eater
Mark of Mutiny
Mudbutton Torchrunner
Orcish Cannoneers
Reiterate
Staff of the Flame Magus
Torch Song

CMC 4 (15)
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Dance with Devils
Fated Conflagration
Goblin Grenadiers
Goblin Razerunners
Hotheaded Giant
Impetuous Devils
Jeska, Warrior Adept
Pillaging Horde
Reign of Chaos
Talon of Pain
Tapestry of the Ages
Tooth and Claw
Vigilante Justice
War Barge

CMC 5 (7)
Blood Rites
Burn at the Stake
Eldrazi Monument
Pyromancer’s Goggles
Storm Fleet Arsonist
Vulshok Battlemaster
Witch Hunt

CMC 6 (4)
Devils’ Playground
Flayer of the Hatebound
Incite Rebellion
Inescapable Brute

CMC 7 (2)
Ignition Team
Vicious Shadows

CMC X (2)
Blasphemous Act
Kaervek’s Torch

Lighting the Way

My previous execution of EDH restrictions with Rhys the Redeemed relied upon names of cards. For my second stab at creating a heavy constraint, I wanted to look elsewhere. Something that was, ideally, the opposite of text. That’s when I moved my gaze from the top of the card toward the centerpiece of it: the art.

But what ABOUT the art? What am I supposed to care about? I didn’t trust myself to be able to accurately determine consistently amongst cards I looked at whether or not a piece of art followed an art aspect that many might miss until they see a Magic Man Sam video or a Vorthos Mike tweet. I decided to only focus on literal depictions in the illustrations. That way, there’d be no dispute.

The theme I ultimately arrived at was: “a torch in the art.” But what IS a torch? (Funny, I had to determine a specific definition for this deck just like I had to determine what made the cut for alliteration cards for my alliteration Commander deck.) Here’s what I defined:

A static pole-like object with a flame-like source of light at one end used for means of illumination or destruction.

Here’s what that means:

  • The source of light doesn’t have to be natural fire but should be fire-like
  • I’m ignoring that flashlights are called “torches” in real life in parts of the real world and that flashlights don’t meet the above definition since the light that emanates isn’t “flame-like”
  • Depicted torches don’t have to be possibly portable. I’m not talking about torches mounted on dungeon-crawler walls. I mean ones that you can’t feasibly pick up and carry around. See The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for an example of a stationary torch
  • Torches sometimes are used to light your way but sometimes used to set fire to things. Both uses are embraced for this deck.
  • Candles don’t count
  • Cauldrons of fire don’t count
  • The focus is on whether the depicted object FEELS like a torch more than other types of fiery and/or illuminating objects
  • Humanoids are not torches
  • “Torch” in the name or flavor text doesn’t count
Torchling by rk post

Cauldrons of fire. You see this at the Olympic games after the Olympic torch is used to light it. And in other places where a receptacle is HOLDING fire within it. This is no torch.

Let’s talk “no humanoids.” I’m looking mostly at Chandra, but also at Torchling. I decided that even though Chandra’s silhouette, when she stands perfectly straight while enflamed could resemble a torch, using Chandra would kill the spirit of the torch deck. There’s a LOT of artwork that uses Chandra. And, for at least the planeswalker cards, her presence in the artwork would be overpowering enough.

Like Mark Rosewater says about Magic design, “If the theme isn’t at common, it isn’t your theme.” The reason that is the case is because folks see commons most often in a booster pack of any given set. Including Chandra means you’d see more of her rather than other kinds of art most commonly. The torch theme would take a hit.

…Sadly, as much as I want this power and despite the name “Torchling”, that “alternate reality Morphling” is also out. The focus was more on it being a red Morphling than it being a living embodiment of torches (shout out to Wall of Torches for being that “living” embodiment).

Lastly, “torch” in the name is a no-no. Same goes for flavor text. The focus of this deck is torches in art. Not mentions of “torch” elsewhere.

Trial by Fire

So, how did I go about building the deck? Oh, goodness. Lemme tell ya.

Before deciding on which torch commander to use, here were my possibilities: Tuktuk, Norin, Thraximundar, and Sedris.

I decided Sedris’ torches were more like burning effigies, which were their own feel, less of a torch. For Thrax compared with Tuktuk and Norin, I felt like there wasn’t as strong of a torch connection for Thraximundar, even though I REALLY wanted to include blue due to Ixalan’s Marauding Looter.

Marauding Looter by Jason A. Engle

Lastly, Norin was already its own novel gag as a commander and more popular on EDHRec. Tuktuk is the one that felt most like a champion of the torch (and the one that needs most a (torch)light shined upon ‘im).

After deciding on this monored commander, the realization sunk in that I was super lucky to only have one color to deal with. Because the next task of finding cards with torches in the art is not an easy one. You can’t filter card on Scryfall by “torch.” So thus began, months ago, the arduous task of searching every single red identity card that exists in Magic — which includes artifact cards.

Luckily, Scryfall has a “save” feature that lets you save up to 100 cards, which I found was plenty considering just how few choices there are available in the “torch in the art” card pool. A life-saving resource as I spent many commutes on the train to and from work doing the manual work of scrolling through search results on my phone and scrutinizing card art for tiny little depictions of torches.

As an aside, by happenstance, Cube April happened to mention the topic of filtering Scryfall results by depictions of things in the art while I had this blog post in its draft state (It’s what spurred me to expedite finishing this post!).

So, after weeks of searching through every single red and artifact card that existed in Magic, saving cards I found using Scryfall’s save feature, what was the next task? Doing it again.

You know that phenomenon that happens when you’re reading a novel or otherwise a passage of text, and you catch your mind was elsewhere, resulting you in not actually absorbing the information you were reading and thus requiring you to re-read the text? I figured the same thing might have happened while I was scrolling through art after art. …and the result of the second pass of red cards and artifact cards? I ended up finding MANY cards I missed during my first pass. Whew.

Throughout my two passes, I came upon some cards that, even with a definition above, I still couldn’t determine if was an eligible torch card. Sometimes, I took to Twitter and asked. And in some of those cases, if the artist was accessible on Twitter, I just asked the creator of the art directly!

Like when trying to determine whether some specks of red above an archway in the background was a candle or a torch (remember: candles don’t qualify) for the art of Blasphemous Act, and I really hoped to have Blasphemous Act count in my torch card pool for having access to a mass creature board wipe. So, I asked the artist of the card, Daarken:

After the two passes, and scrutinizing and asking questions, I worked on a list from my available card pool. Very little synergy to work with, I did manage to find a few cute little interactions. Even by now, I’m sure maybe there are some cards I cut that I didn’t think counted that perhaps should be counted and, conversely, some cards I included that maybe shouldn’t have.

Anyway, below are some of the highlights of moments I had during my torch commander journey. Thanks for reading, and you can catch me and this deck in action in games of Commander at Grand Prix Portland. :) See you there.

Illuminations

  • “Chandra, Torch of Defiance”, despite my two rules above against humanoids and word mentions, still was eligible. That’s because the San Diego Comic-Con 2017 promotional art for Torch of Defiance depicts a person holding up a REAL torch to the wall art of Chandra.
  • The Card Kingdom website listed Orcish Spy’s set versions but not its art versions. I only needed the Fallen Empires version with specifically art #61c, and not the #61a that the site only displayed from Fallen Empires. I put in an order and mentioned in the notes of the order to grab that specific art I needed. They were able to fulfill the request. :)
  • Norin and Vigilante Justice is a funny combo
  • Ixalan was fantastic timing for providing torch cards since pirates like to hold torches
  • Angry mobs of townsfolk like in Innistrad like to hold torches
  • Devils REALLY like torches
  • War Barge on opponents’ creatures then sacrificing War Barge to Makeshift Munitions = LOL
  • I’m PRETTY sure that orange glow at the end of protrusion of the silhouette of one of the three humanoids depicted in the art for the Basic Mountain I included in my deck means there’s a torch depicted in the art. If not, no big deal: basic lands already have exception rulings in Commander.
  • Subterranean Scout + Goblin Grenadiers is the kind of creature removal this deck is about
  • Tunnel is my favorite card I hope I can cast one day in a Commander game

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