A Look at Smothering Tithe in cEDH

Harvey McGuinness • May 4, 2024

Smothering Tithe by Aurore Folny

If you sit down and take a good look at the card pool from which the core of most cEDH decks draw upon, you'll notice a few things. Yes, blue is just about everywhere, as are the standard fare for mana rocks - your Sol Rings, Mana Crypts, etc. - but beyond all this is something pretty interesting. Something which isn't there - the staples of casual commander.

cEDH still holds fast to Rhystic Study and Cyclonic Rift, but beyond a few noteworthy examples the cards which make up cEDH's staples are very different than that of casual. cEDH games end quicker, the stack is a much bigger problem, and massive creatures just aren't a threat. That doesn't mean we should abandon the wisdom of casual commander entirely, however. It is the format that taught us to respect Sol Ring and Rhystic Study, after all.

So, with this in mind, let's take a look at another scourge of casual pods far and wide to see if it could hold up in the competitive arena. It's time we reconsider Smothering Tithe in cEDH.

What is Smothering Tithe

Smothering Tithe is a white enchantment that, for three generic and one white mana, grants you two lines of text. "Whenever an opponent draws a card, that player may pay two generic mana. If the player doesn't, you create a Treasure token." Pretty straightforward - for a good chunk of mana now, Smothering Tithe purports to offer a lot of mana in the future. Similiar to Omnath, Locus of Mana style effects,  Smothering Tithe is the pinnacle of "banking" resources; piling in mana and time now in order to be explosive later. But is the delay worth the risk of a blowout?

Perhaps one of the biggest upsides of Smothering Tithe is its capacity to colorwash its initial mana investment. Four mana is a lot, don't get me wrong, but three of that mana is generic, making the card readily castable off of things like Mana Vault, Mana Crypt, or Sol Ring. Yes, it might not be the easiest turn one, but a turn two or three Smothering Tithe is a real possibility thanks to this generic cast component.

Now that we've addressed the significant cost of casting Smothering Tithe, how much value can we expect to get out of it? Well, our opponents need to draw a combined total of four cards before our next turn, after casting Smothering Tithe, for it to pay for itself, and that's hardly an ask in a format as aggressive with card draw as cEDH. Just the normal draw step alone provides three of the four treasure needed to recoup our investment by our next turn, meaning all we need is a single other source of card draw on behalf of our opponents before we go positive. Mystic Remora, The One Ring, Tymna the Weaver, the list goes on. 

Who Should Play It

Getting the most out of Smothering Tithe is all about two things: having an outlet, and being able to happily wait a turn cycle. This puts us firmly into the category of midrange and control lists, which means just about anything white in the current meta. So, who can lay claim to the best bang for their buck here?

Sisay, Weatherlight Captain

Sisay, Weatherlight Captain is a deck that is built around its titular commander's capacity to assemble winning combos using nothing but its activated ability, an activated ability which costs quite a lot of mana - none of it generic. So, whats a commander player to do when they're stuck missing a color, or have too much colorless and not enough of the rest? Well, it's exactly this kind of situation that takes Smothering Tithe and can make it into a game breaking card. Given the number of card draw engines running around the format right now, it's hardly hyperbole to say that resolving a Smothering Tithe almost always guarantees a free Sisay activation each turn cycle, and from there the game might as well be yours. 

Tivit, Seller of Secrets

Tivit is an all together slower deck than Sisay, truly setting itself apart as cEDH's hallmark control deck at the moment. So, what are we to do with the Treasure tokens which will but abound in a game slowed to a crawl thanks to Tivit's suite of countermagic, stax pieces, and control spells? Well, cast Tivit first of all. Unlike Sisay, where the commander has a mana sink attached to it, Tivit might as well be the mana sink in and of itself.

Yes, once he sticks you won't be paying more mana to keep him around, but with a mana value of six Tivit, Seller of Secrets needs all the help he can get to come on out of the command zone. Plus, did I mention you can sacrifice your extra Treasures to get your Time Sieve combo rolling? Games are won and lost at the margins, and it's the little interactions like these that stack up in the long run. 

Blue Farm

Finally, we come to Blue Farm - cEDH's midrange boogieman. Situated somewhere in between Sisay, Weatherlight Captain and Tivit, Seller of Secrets in terms of game plan, Blue Farm is capable of maximizing Smothering Tithe simply because it draws so many cards. Just like with Tivit, your commanders are a mana sink, albeit in a roundabout way - first, pay your combined eight mana to drag them out of the command zone, then dump the rest of your Treasures into the bevy of cards which they rack up turn after turn. 

Now, it's worth noting that just because you can maximize a card doesn't necessarily mean you should maximize a card (more on that in a bit vis-a-vis Najeela). It may run fewer colors than Sisay, Weatherlight Captain, but as any Blue Farm pilot will tell you the deck is already chock full of the best the format has to offer. Four mana can get you a lot of things in cEDH, from Displacer Kitten to The One Ring, and since the mana sink offered by Blue Farm's partner-based card draw isn't quite the same as the direct win line offered by Sisay the need for Smothering Tithe's mana just isn't quite as pressing. The card is certainly worth considering, that's for sure - far from the case in the decks to follow in our next section - but not quite as game breaking as it can be elsewhere. 

Who Shouldn't Play It

As for the decks that either don't need Smothering Tithe or those which are actively worse for running it, we come to a bit of an interesting split. The lists that aren't neccessarily harmed but just don't quite benefit are those which, while they can aford to wait a turn cycle, really have better things to be doing than making alot of mana and sitting back. Sure, they might have activated abilities which the mana could be dumped into, but it doesn't warrant the initial investment.

As for the decks that are actively worse, this is anything turbo. If you're spending four mana, it should probably be on The One Ring or something else that'll get you closer to the cards you need to actually win the game. So, let's dig into it.

Najeela, the Blade-Blossom

Alright, Najeela has the same mana value as Sisay, Weatherlight Captain, is in the same colors, and also has a five mana activated ability which can serve as a mana sink. So, why shouldn't we jam Smothering Tithe here? Well, it all comes down to how frequently you actually want to be in a spot where paying to activate Najeela, the Blade-Blossom the fair way is actually an opportune choice. Short answer? Just about never. In the long run, Najeela is all about finding cards that combo with your sheer mass of tokens in order to make mana some other way to activate her ability, meaning that a fair activation is almost always a last resort. They may cost just about the same, but Najeela and Sisay have very different play patterns, so steer clear of the trap that is Smothering Tithe in this deck.

Mardu Turbo: Tymna, the Weaver and Jeska, Thrice Reborn

When it comes to turbo decks like Tymna and Jeska here, the reason that Smothering Tithe is a bad include is pretty clear cut and categorical: the card costs too much mana and doesn't do anything the turn you play it. Turbo decks are all about making as much burst mana as possible, not colorwashing and banking resources. Sure, Smothering Tithe can help you dig yourself back out of a hole if you've lost your first window earlier on in the game, but that's not enough to warrant running a card that is at its best when the game is going long - i.e. running against your overall deck's gameplan of a short, decisive victory. 

Wrap Up

I hope this article has given you pause to think not just about Smothering Tithe, but to casual commander in general. Whether you played the casual commander for a long time or never at all, there are plenty of gems still running around casual pods which just might be the next secret weapon in a cEDH tournament. Who knows what else could be hiding in those decklists, just waiting to test its metal in your 99.

Harvey McGuinness is a student at Johns Hopkins University who has been playing Magic since the release of Return to Ravnica. After spending a few years in the Legacy arena bouncing between Miracles and other blue-white control shells, he now spends his time enjoying Magic through cEDH games and understanding the finance perspective.