Court of Cunning – A Magic the Gathering Card Review

Court of Cunning from Commander Legends could well become an Eternal staple for mill decks in Magic the Gathering. Right away, Commander players took advantage of the Enchantment’s obvious interactions with graveyard-happy Commanders like Araumi of the Dead Tide and mill-centered Commanders like Anowon, the Ruin Thief and Phenax, God of Deception. But, for a card that started out as appearing destined for dollar bins at game stores everywhere, this Enchantment has a lot going for it that will likely be discovered over time.

Recently, I wrote in depth about how this card works with Araumi of the Dead in Commander. After writing that article, I became intrigued with this card in particular. Let’s review what this card does, broken down into three parts:

  • When this card enters the battlefield, you become the monarch.
  • At the beginning of your upkeep, any number of target players mill two cards.
  • If you are the monarch, each of those players mills ten cards instead.

First of all, what the heck does it mean to become the Monarch? Originally printed as a rule in the ill-fated Conspiracy format, the Monarch mechanic has survived and actually thrived in Commander. Typically, a player becomes the Monarch thanks to a card that specifically makes the player who casts it the monarch. The benefits of this are two-fold: you get the benefits of cards that mention being the monarch and you get to draw a card at your end step.

However, actually being the monarch is a tricky thing. Whenever a creature deals combat damage to the player who is currently the monarch, that creature’s controller then becomes the monarch. It’s a gimmicky little design space play on “Game of Thrones,” but in Commander, it actually works surprisingly well in keeping things interesting.

Next up, the main effect of this Enchantment is that at the beginning of your upkeep, any number of target players mills two cards. That means taking the top two cards of a library and putting them into the graveyard. This is important since it occurs before you draw. You can choose to mill yourself, but you don’t have to. In some cases, you actually want to do this to yourself, especially if you have cards that are best suited being in the graveyard or other cards you control that interact with cards in the graveyard.

But, if you’re the monarch, this effect mills ten cards instead of two. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing. In a typical Constructed deck, you’re playing with just 60 cards. In Commander, you have 99 cards in your deck. In Commander, you can afford to mill yourself 10 cards several times before you run into a problem in decking out. But, in a 60-card deck, you don’t want to do this more than a couple of times. On the flip side, you can put opponents on a “clock” to decking out.

Court of Cunning in Eternal Formats Such as Vintage and Legacy

Neither Vintage or Legacy are popular formats in the “paper” Magic world anymore. That’s due to the extremely extremely low supply – and therefore extremely high costs – of the best cards in those formats. But, in Magic the Gathering Online, supply is not an issue, and these formats continue to survive on a competitive level. As cards printed in Commander products are legal in only Eternal formats, such as Legacy, Vintage, and Commander, Court of Cunning is limited to these particular competitive arenas.

Unsurprisingly, a card with a power level such as Court of Cunning made it an instant favorite of Vintage players on Magic Online. The deck that immediately took advantage of it was Underworld Breach in Vintage. It’s a relatively new deck in Vintage, considering that its namesake card, Underworld Breach was printed in Theros: Beyond Death. That enchantment costs just two mana (one colorless, one Red) to cast and gives all nonland cards in your graveyard escape.

Escape is an interesting mechanic in that you get to cast a card from your graveyard as if it was in your hand, except you have to exile three other cards from your graveyard including its normal casting cost. Obviously, this is powerful, as the card you cast can be cast multiple times if you have three other cards to cast. We’ve seen the Escape ability be extremely powerful on creatures from Theros: Beyond Death. With two copies of Court of Cunning consistently giving you new fuel for Underworld Breach, you can see how it would benefit the deck.

Plus, the Vintage Underworld Breach deck has a nice little built-in counter for the Monarch ability. If your opponent becomes the monarch, but you have the planeswalker, Narset, Parter of Veils on the battlefield, they don’t get the extra card draw at their end step. Also, being that Vintage is a 60-card format, if you become the monarch, your opponent could find themselves running out of cards quickly if they’re consistently losing 10 cards in a turn. Also, the extra card draw from being the monarch in Vintage is extremely valuable, even more so than it would be in other formats.

Another excellent use of Court of Cunning is in the classic Vintage Landstill control deck. As it is, Lavinia, Azorius Renegade shuts off many of your opponents’ spells already. If your opponent tries to cast a spell where no mana was used to cast them or they cost more mana than your opponent has lands, they are instantly countered. Those types of spells are rampant in Vintage. Add three copies of Court of Cunning to that deck, where you are consistently milling cards on a regular basis, and your opponent will be stuck with both a hand and a graveyard full of cards they can’t even play.

Court of Cunning has found play in a few Legacy decks, as well, but as a three-mana Enchantment, it’s not as easy to cast consistently as it is in Vintage – where you have fast mana like the free Mox artifacts and Black Lotus, which gives you three mana of any color when you sacrifice it.

Court of Cunning in Commander / EDH

As a Commander Legends card, it’s obvious that this card was created for a multiplayer environment. Indeed, Court of Cunning quickly worked its way into many different Commander decks, including Araumi of the Dead, who’s happy to have fuel for their Encore ability. The thing is, the only time that mill has ever been a consistently good strategy in Commander is if you’re using the cards going to the graveyard as fuel for a complementary strategy. That’s definitely the case with Araumi, who needs consistent targets to copy.

But, there are many other Legendary Creatures who may well take on Court of Cunning as a staple in the future. One of these Commander decks that could take full advantage of Court of Cunning is a mill-first Legendary Creature, Bruvac the Grandiloquent, a mythic rare from the Jumpstart expansion set. His ability literally doubles the amount of cards milled by a mill effect. In that context, Court of Cunning actually becomes a ticking time bomb for opponents, as twenty cards per turn puts other players on at least a five-turn clock before deck-out, assuming the controller of the Court can remain monarch for that long.

A less obvious, but still powerful use for Court of Cunning is in Kwain, Itinerant Meddler decks. The “Bunny Wizard” also from Commander Legends appears to be a “group hug” sort of card, allowing all players to draw a card and gain 1 life if they so choose. But, the tricky thing about Kwain is that the best strategy for a deck of his involves actually decking out and winning anyway with the effects of either Laboratory Maniac, Jace, Wielder of Mysteries, or Thassa’s Oracle. Those cards all allow their controller to win the game if you deck out. With the Court of Cunning in play, you can force others to draw cards and mill cards on a consistent basis. Unless they happen to be running a similar strategy, your opponents will lose rather than win.

Another Legendary Creature from Commander Legends who benefits from Court of Cunning is Obeka, Brute Chronologist. His effect is one of the more puzzling in the set when you first read it, but essentially he is a creature version of the Sundial of the Infinite. He allows you to tap him to give whoever has the turn the option to simply end the turn. 

There are two good things about this. One, you can play “politics” by giving an opponent the ability to not give in to things that would potentially hurt them. But, more consistently, you’re using Obeka’s ability on your turn to keep effects that would trigger on your end step from happening. For example, if you have tokens or creatures that would need to be sacrificed on your end step, such as the Encore ability on Araumi of the Dead or the Unearth effects on many Shards of Alara block cards, they would instead remain in play. In effect, ending the turn in an abrupt fashion in this way negates the drawbacks of many card effects. There are other upsides to Obeka’s ability, too, that we can discuss in a review about that Legendary Creature, in particular.

Beyond those popular uses for Court of Cunning, the Enchantment can work into any deck that is happy to mill cards. This includes mill-happy commanders such as Anowon, the Ruin Thief and Phenax, God of Deception, of course. But, it also includes Commanders who while mill isn’t their primary concern are happy to have plenty of fuel in the graveyard. That includes the extremely popular Muldrotha, the Gravetide, who allows you to cast each time of permanent spell straight from the graveyard during each of your turns.

As is the case with many niche cards in Magic the Gathering, Court of Cunning will only grow in usefulness and popularity as more cards are printed over the years. But, while many players initially dismissed Court of Cunning as a playable card on its release, there are other players proving that it’s far more useful than some initial reviews insisted. Not only was it the cheapest way to become the monarch (three mana) at its printing, but it will continue to be a part of some popular Commander strategies, as well as a couple Vintage strategies, for years to come.

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