Mechanical Engineering - An Embarrassment of Riches
By Chris “Commander Mechanic” Balon
Hey folks, I’m Chris and I’m YOUR Commander Mechanic. You may recognize me from my YouTube Channel or from guesting on major streams around the community—I’m a deckbuilder and brewer with a very analytical view of the format of Commander.
Some have said I take a competitive mindset and apply it to casual Commander, but I prefer to think of it as taking an efficient look at deckbuilding. More of the game is played before you ever sit down at a table with other players.
There’s a lot to be said about other players’ impact on play experience. Expectation mismatches, lack of communication, and differing opinions on what constitutes ‘fun’ can all play a part in how much you enjoy Commander.
Throughout this series I want to take a look at how you can improve play experience—your own and that of others—before you ever play a game. Avoid not being able to play the game due to deckbuilding issues, avoid imposing poor scenarios on others, and ensure you have concentrated efforts in mind when deckbuilding.
But, as always, Commander is about having fun YOUR WAY—don’t let anyone tell you there’s a right or wrong way to play this game.
The Concern Over Treasures
It’s a hot-button issue lately, especially with the release of Streets of New Capenna but… are Treasures REALLY a problem? Many people have voiced a concern over their prevalence and frequency and the ease of creating them, like with new cards such as Smuggler’s Stash. But let’s take a look at what Treasures mean from a design—and, of course, deckbuilding—perspective.
I also want to look at why design builds on design, and why Treasures feel ubiquitous NOW but not when introduced, and how we can self-regulate or exploit these design choices if we so choose.
But let’s put our money where our mouth is and dive into Treasures like Scrooge McDuck.
Treasures as a design and game element have ONLY been around since Ixalan; for reference, that set was released on September 27, 2017, so we’ve only had Treasures as a part of Magic for about 5 years, but in those 5 years we’ve seen over 150 cards printed that create or interact with Treasures in some way.
Again, that doesn’t seem like a lot. That’s less than a full set’s worth of cards that make or interact with Treasures in any way, BUT, when you look at the cards themselves, you realize how playable each and every one of them are. From commons, like Deadly Dispute, to uncommons, like Malcolm, Keen-Eyed Navigator, to rares, like Monologue Tax, and mythics, like Old Gnawbone, every color gets access to playable cards that make Treasures either as a key focus or as an incidental benefit.
But that seems to be the problem: making a Treasure token has become akin to cantripping—the effect when a card draws a card in addition to its effects. When the mechanic was introduced in Ixalan, cards that created Treasures did JUST THAT: ONLY made Treasures. However, over the course of 5 years we’ve seen the design of cards that implement Treasures go from being focused on them to having them tacked on.
This brings with it some issues players have pointed out as well. Treasures were very strong in Grixis when they introduced, aligning with the Pirate tribal faction of their original sets, but very quickly it was identified that Treasures could be a way to solve white’s issues with mana generation. As white’s identity has shifted to be more artifact-focused, this makes sense thematically as well, and we’ve seen how well Smothering Tithe has worked in bolstering white’s playability in eternal formats.
Shifting the generation of Treasures from blue to white makes sense, but there has been no shift. Blue has always traditionally been focused on artifacts, and rather than gradually migrate that focus from blue being innovators to white being archaeologists, Magic design has just… kept both.
Remaining in black and red makes sense. These colors have always been strong with ritual mana—Dark Ritual and Pyretic Ritual for instance—and what are Treasures if not ritual mana persevering?
But with Wizards deciding that Treasures are fine in four colors, it was eventually decided around the time of Adventures in the Forgotten Realms and Modern Horizons 2 that green, the color of ramp and mana generation, fit the design criteria for Treasures too. With Tireless Provisioner leading the forefront, green’s mana ramp has shifted away from being on creatures and tutoring lands to generating Treasures.
Which is where where many people have drawn the line. When every color gets access to a mechanic, it’s not a mechanic anymore. It’s not rare or special or interesting. Making Treasures was special until it became as expected as drawing a card or playing a land, and we’re reaching that saturation point.
Building on a Foundation of Gold Bricks
This brings us to building around Treasures. When they were introduced, Treasures were a novelty. You got to reach back through Magic’s history to look at cards that interacted with artifacts and see how you could synergize. Disciple of the Vault and Cranial Plating had new life breathed into them. Reckless Fireweaver, relatively new at the time of the introduction of Treasures, saw a massive boost in popularity to synergize with the capability to make multiple Treasures at once.
If you sat down at a table with “a Treasures Deck”, people were excited to see it—excited to see what could be done with this NEW THING. But now if you sit down with “a Treasures Deck”, people know it’s going to be BUSTED GOOD.
But why? What has taken this mechanic from “interesting” to “broken”?
With as many new cards printed as possible around Treasures, it’s led to there being NEW synergies about Treasures being printed in such a high volume that we no longer need to look back into Magic’s history to find ways to use the mechanic. Why? We now have Goldspan Dragon and Academy Manufacture and Professional Face-Breaker that ratchet up the value we get from this SO MUCH that there’s no thinking or planning left to do.
You simply jam everything that says “Treasure” on it into a deck in the colors you want and you have a fully formed, functioning deck. And that’s turned people off. It’s become…
Too Much of a Good Thing
When a new mechanic is introduced to shore up a color’s deficiencies, such as impulsive draw effects in red, like on Outpost Siege, you expect it to be used to good effect, and in the case of impulsive draw, it has been. It’s been exclusive to red and used throughout sets to really give the power boost needed. Decks like Laelia, the Blade Reforged have sprung up that focus on this mechanic and they’re interesting because you have options that build on each other to get better, but you aren’t drowned in it.
Treasures very much feel like they’ve been shoved down our throats. No wonder cards like Smothering Tithe and Monologue Tax and Life Insurance depict people choking on gold!
I’ve been a big fan of the mechanic of Treasures since their introduction because of how they synergized with non-mana effects. They’re artifacts first, mana second, and really good artifacts too. They’re Lotus Petal, but you make A MILLION OF THEM. And Lotus Petal is good enough that cEDH decks dedicate one of their precious 99 to that card.
I had put together a full-power, no-limit Treasure deck a while ago and found it to be just TOO GOOD. I, personally, experienced the eye-rolling of people who are exhausted by Treasure’s ubiquity, so I’ve been working to maintain a $50 budget Rakdos Treasures deck to show off what I feel are some of the best aspects of working with Treasures. Not the strongest effects but the synergy. Take a look:
Kalain EDH Starving Artist Treasures
In just recent weeks I’ve added 5-6 new cards to the list from Streets of New Capenna. I can’t remember a time where I’ve gone back to an existing list and changed THAT MANY cards outside of a set that pushed very specific tribes into a spotlight.
Naturally that’s impacted several of the cards in the existing list, too. Price spikes have affected my beloved Academy Manufactor, which seems way overdue, pushing him from $2 to $6. Same can be said for Grim Hireling, which has been crawling up north of $10 for weeks now. Many more cards in the list are becoming unreasonable for a budget deck due to the prevalence of Treasures as a mechanic set over set over set.
Instead of the mechanic being used sparingly and being used to bolster colors that NEED the assistance, like white, instead we’re seeing the mechanic used in overabundance in colors that don’t need it like, green. This is where many are sourcing their burnout. To paraphrase Syndrome from The Incredibles: “When everything is Treasures, nothing is.”
What do we do about this? Do we try to ignore the near-perfect mana and incidental color fixing we’re being handed even if we don’t want it? It takes massive amounts of self-restraint to look at a card that just hands you Treasures and say ‘no, thanks’.
If Treasures are too much, enforce restrictions. Try thinking outside the box and doing something different with your decks. Themes, budgets, deckbuilding restrictions, like ONLY using old cards or building from specific blocks only. We can’t change Wizards’ design policies and, by the sounds of it, we’re getting Treasures for years to come, but what we can change is how we approach the format and our own decks.
If you’re worried that your decks are becoming ‘too good’ because of Treasures, or if you’re tempted to include cards because they create Treasures ON TOP of what you want them to do… no one can solve that problem but you.
I’m personally tearing apart my other deck, focused around ⅓ creatures with a Treasures sub-theme, because more and more the focus has been on Treasures instead of the creatures, and honestly? I’m fine with that. Change and evolve not just with your playgroup but with Wizards’ new era of design.
MTE - Magic’s Treasure Era
As we wrap up, I want to again say that Magic design is ever-evolving. It’s important to know that Magic sets are designed YEARS in advance, and if we’re seeing Treasures in abundance NOW, and our feedback to the game’s developers is “please, stop”, it’s likely we’ll still see more Treasures over the next 5+ sets.
That leaves us with the hard choices as deckbuilders. Do we resist or do we embrace?
Let me know what you think in the comments: are we getting too much of a good thing? Are Treasures so ubiquitous that they’re no longer fun or special? Are you going to actively avoid using Treasures or, because of their frequent use in design, lean into it fully?
And of course, as always folks, good luck & have fun!