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November 3, 2015

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Inside the Commander’s Studio – Benjamin Milette

Good morning all! Today we take a new turn in our exploration of the Commander format by speaking with local combo enthusiast Ben “James” Milette, he of the Niv-Mizzet horror, Jhoira abomination, Momir Vig valuetown and just a generally fun and amiable guy to be around.

We met Ben at the Wizard’s Tower in Barrhaven, your premier spot for playing, trading and competitive play. Lithe, blond and mischievous like a younger Paul Newman, Ben agreed to answer a few questions for us, to take us deeper into the psyche of one of the Commander scene’s more irritating and confounding players.

1. Ben, tell us a little about yourself and how you started playing Commander.

“Well, obviously my name is Ben, I’ve been playing Magic since Rise of the Eldrazi and love playing decks that win with combos whether infinite or just storm, dredge or reanimator. I started playing Commander about three years ago, I can’t remember how long. I was just walking around and saw some people playing EDH and decided to build an EDH deck. My first commander was Crosis, the Purger, but I rarely actually played EDH for quite a while until I got Robert (McEachern) to build a deck (and my deck was horrendously bad). I then switched commanders to Nicol Bolas, but the first actually good EDH deck I built was an Oona, Queen of the Fae deck with 10ish infinite combos.”

2. Ben, you’ve coined a new term around here in “unintentional combo”. Define that please and how many of these are in your decks, on average?

“Unintentional combos are just the infinite combos in decks that I didn’t put in the deck knowing they were a combo, such as Daretti, Scrap Savant (his -10) + Mindslaver in my Pia and Kiran Nalaar deck, they both went in at different times but I just happened to draw them both and realized that I just won the game. If I aimed for an average number they wouldn’t be unintentional combos now would they? They would just be regular combos.”
(Ed. Good point by Ben here. Sometimes the organic nature of Commander leads to new discoveries and sometimes those discoveries crush opponents underfoot. Such is life!)

3. Ben, how do you balance being a friendly, easygoing young man with your capacity for utter evil and combo shenanigans at the EDH table?

“I don’t really balance it, playing combo shenanigans and being “utterly evil” is just fun, so it doesn’t really need any balancing .Fun equals happiness, and happiness equals friendly easygoingness.”

4. Non-Commander question: If you were a tree, which tree would you be?

“Umm… I don’t know much about trees but I guess I’ll say an Upas tree.”

(Ed. An Upas tree is apparently a poison-bearing tree, so Infect deck incoming?)

5. Your opinion on the current Banned List and a card or two you would like to see added or removed?

“It’s pretty fine as is, two cards I think should probably be banned are Hermit Druid and Ad Nauseam, they’re just really broken and are the key pieces for what are probably the two best decks in the format. I also wouldn’t mind seeing Painter’s Servant or Primeval Titan come off the list. They really aren’t that broken compared to some things that are legal.”

6. Be as passive-aggressive and obvious as possible here without naming names. In a recent game you were in, what happened that was memorable and how fast did someone try to eliminate you?

“Well, the game before I had gone infinite rather quickly with Momir, so that game on turn five I was being attacked by a hasty Deus of Calamity. I can’t really recall a game where I got hated out really badly, usually I’ll just get hated a little at the beginning and possibly get half my spells countered even if they aren’t doing anything.”

(Ed. In our defence, it’s rare that Ben’s spells are useless. They are usually only less apocalyptic than other spells.)

7. What is the most degenerate thing you’ve done in an EDH game? Did it bring you the quiet happiness that would a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows?

“That depends whether you mean degenerate as in turn 3 oops I win or gross things like Mindslaver everyone in a 4 player game either way it’s one of those two, I’ve done both with my Pia and Kiran deck (the turn 3 using Ashnod’s Altar and Nim Deathmantle to make infinite mana and Thopters accelerated by turn 1 Sol Ring) and the other using Goblin Welder and [mtg)_card[Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient[/mtg_card]. Doing degenerate things most definitely does bring me a quiet happiness but marshmallows make me really nauseous so not like that”.

(Ed. You see, we had no idea that marshmallows made Ben ill. We apologize for any psychological or physical distress this question may have caused him.)

8. Your favourite commander and its use in your deck style?

“My favorite commander is Momir Vig, Simic Visionary. His use in my decks is that he is a tutor on a stick, so I can just cast him and immediately tutor for Prophet of Kruphix who then lets me cast a creature to tutor for Mystic Snake for protection and eventually one of the many infinite combos in the deck. He’s like an enabler for a million different combos while also being a tutor for them.”

9. Non-Commander question: What’s your “wake up drink” in the morning? Orange juice? Tea? Coffee? An energy drink? Something else?

“I actually only drink water with the exception of a coke or something once a week at most.”

(Ed. Same here! Here’s a fine example of healthy living from one of our rising young players. Take note all, you don’t need to give up anything to be healthy and an EDH powerhouse!)

10. What advice would you give someone new to the format, and what further advice would you give them if playing against you?

“Advice for someone: You need a lot of mana acceleration, make sure you have enough or people are going to be way ahead of you, also aggro decks are more difficult to make work, slower decks and ramp decks have more power in the late game and so are generally more effective. Advice against me: Everything is a combo piece, you only really need to counter the last one though (or obvious multipurpose ones like Aluren and Ashnod’s Altar) if you do try to stop everything, you’ll run out of answers.”

We’d (Dave: this use of the third person here proves Pierre’s questionable sanity) like to thank Ben again for his time in answering these questions, as he’s super busy of late. If you know anyone you think should be featured in a tailor-made interview, let us know and we’ll get in touch with them! Until next time, may you always draw turn one Sol Ring.