Good Grief - Wheels in Commander

Andrew Floury • August 13, 2021

Wheel of Misfortune by J.P. Targete

Hi folx! My name is Andy Floury and you may know me from the Guardian Project podcast. I’m very active on social media so it's possible you've run into me on Twitter too. I’m a tinkerer at heart constantly making updates to my decks and looking for ways to reduce their weaknesses against specific strategies.

In the past few years, I’ve started gravitating towards combo decks with the mindset that games always need to end. I usually build decks that focus primarily on the commander but can win out of the blue if I draw the right cards. Some argue that these consistently powerful strategies involving combo elements aren’t always fun to play against and may not be in the “spirit” of Commander, but I think setting clear expectations with your playgroup will help curb frustrations.

Throughout this series, I’d like to explore strategies that have make us say “Good Grief” and ways to combat them. Many of us have had experiences playing a game against a specific archetype and feeling as though we’d fought an uphill battle that was nearly impossible to overcome. I’ve played a majority of these strategies myself *for science* so I speak from experience. For this first installment, I want to talk about ways to combat a consistently powerful strategy involving wheels.

The Wheel

In Commander, wheel effects, aptly named after Wheel of Fortune, are abundant. Wheel strategies are a form of card advantage that requires discarding or shuffling away your current hand for new cards. Although the OG wheel costs a pretty penny, the recently printed Wheel of Misfortune gives us a similar effect with an added cost of life which has made its way into plenty of decks as an affordable alternative.

You’ve likely benefitted from new hand of seven cards at some point. Sometimes that change comes ala Windfall. We've got options in more colors than just Red. These effects are very popular in Commander.

I regularly see cards like; Whirlpool Rider, Memory Jar, Teferi’s Puzzle Box, Magus of the Wheel, and Jace’s Archivist cast and most of the time I'm thrilled someone wants to give me more cards.

Each of these cards is great to get a fresh hand of cards, when that actually happens. The issue is when you lose your hand to some arguably problematic cards. Let's take a look at the problem.

Who's Causing the Problems?

Although there aren’t a ton of cards attributed to the problem, these are likely the culprits. I want to note that Hullbreacher was on this list until got the recent boot. We can't also forget Leovold, Emissary of Trest. Leovold was banned a few years ago because it “created undesirable game states by easily locking other players out of the game.” These cards are doing the same thing Leovold did easily. Hullbreacher followed in his footsteps creating a similar play experience when combined with mass-draw effects like wheels. Is it cool to try this plan once or twice? Absolutely! Is it fun for your opponents? *Shakes Magic 8-Ball* My sources say no.

Lots of wheel decks attempt to win on that same turn they start chaining their mass draw effects. The Locust God wins with hasty insects, Nekusar, the Mindrazer and Niv-Mizzet, Parun deal enough damage with their card draw, and Xyris, the Writhing Storm makes enough snakes that plane is going to crash into you. How can we stop these decks?

The Plan of Attack

Let's look at a few ways we can stop a wheel deck in its tracks. Let's start by looking at counter spells. Preventing their spells from resolving is solid when you see the writing on the wall. They’re a great way to stop the problem but the issue is they’re not inherently fun to play with. We're trying to combat a consistent strategy so let’s hit them where it counts.

We’ve got a way to counter something in each color but we’re not going to achieve our desired outcome each time. Green isn’t looking so hot on the counter front but it’s likely your opponent is playing other cards we can hit. So let’s include include all of these anyway.

We could also just slow our opponents down a bit. Cards like Eidolon of Rhetoric, Rule of Law, and Deafening Silence help prevent your opponents from doing too much in a single turn. This allows everyone to build up their board state slowly without having to worry about a single blowout turn. The longer the game, the longer you get to enjoy hanging out with your friends. It’s a win-win for all. Another option is Spirit of the Labyrinth. Who needs to draw more than one card each turn? This is a great way to turn off those wheels and it’s symmetrical we’re all in the same boat.

Spot removal is great but isn’t the solution. We won’t always have it but a 1-2 punch with Path to Exile or Swords to Plowshares does the trick. It’s also a big deal when you return a problem creature to its owners’ hand in response to a wheel. They will be forced to discard that creature when their spell resolves. Cyclonic Rift is just two mana and stops a commander that benefits from these spells for a turn. Unsummon is even cheaper at one mana and Vapor Snag will throw a little life loss salt in the wound. We’ve got plenty of cards that return creatures to their owners’ hands, so we’ve got to add a few for good measure.

The last strategy I’d like to dip into is graveyard hate. Lots of these strategies look to fill up the graveyard to cast cards down the road. I’m looking at you Nekusar, the Mindrazer and Brallin, Skyshark Rider and Shabraz, the Skyshark, well... most wheel commanders to be fair. They will say RIP when you cast your Rest in Peace before they start rolling (get the joke?). Many wheel decks play with mechanics like flashback, aftermath, and dredge depending on their color identity. If you can remove the cards they want to play again, you will be ahead of the ball. I try to prepare for the inevitable against this strategy. If you play cards that are going to cause them grief, they are going to have to play around them. They need the opening to start their plan and if you have got one single answer, you can buy yourself some time. We can exile all graveyards with cards like Scavenger Grounds or Crook of Condemnation, target a specific graveyard with Bojuka Bog or cherry pick cards from graveyards with Scavenging Ooze and Relic of Progenitus. The more recently released Sanctifier en-Vec is a neat addition to the graveyard hate gang because the namesake cards that make up wheel strategies are red

Now let’s put a parking boot on those wheels. I want to hear about what you think here. How do you combat wheel strategies? What would you do differently? Happy gaming!

Parking Boots - Kenrith EDH

Commander (1)
Instants (15)
Sorceries (10)
Artifacts (8)
Lands (37)
Creatures (21)
Enchantments (8)

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Andy Floury is one half of the Guardian Project Podcast. He started playing Magic following the release of Gatecrash and has been playing ever since. Insurance professional by day but commander player by nights and weekends. Follow him on Twitter @AndyFloury for updates on his content!