Since making a Kefnet the Mindful Commander deck, I’ve been in love with cards that let you play off the top of your library. With Kefnet, I used those cards to keep a full seven cards in hand so Kefnet could go into combat; I’d just play off my library instead of ever needing to use my hand. This year’s printing of Aminatou, the Fateshifter took the core cards – cards like Future Sight and Oracle’s Vault – and added white and black, so I can do fun things like survive Duskmantle Seer longer than everybody else, get whatever I want out of Druidic Satchel, and break the symmetry of Zur’s Weirding (since I don’t need to draw cards).
Then Guilds of Ravnica added red to an ability that was very blue-centric. And in doing so, it created a critical mass of cards to make a new, unusual, and effective card advantage engine that red’s not used to. I’m not building a deck with this engine, because its use is as varied as the readership; I’m just highlighting what Experimental Frenzy and its friends can do to enable what you want without having to go to other colors for more cards.
A Word About Critical Masses
Several archetypes only become archetypes when Magic prints enough cards that do the same thing. When Standard summers had multiple Core Sets overlap and a card like Megrim would be replaced by a card like Liliana’s Caress, just having access to eight cards with the same effect enabled cool decks. Merfolk in Modern and Legacy was a product of enough cards getting printed over 25 years that the greatest hits formed an effective deck.
It’s no different in Commander, and it’s easier to notice because of the singleton restriction. You don’t see a lot of Archer tribal because Greatbow Doyen is the only payoff, but if they ever make a couple more, that might change. Everything develops this way; it’s just that some things develop faster than others.
A Word About This Particular Critical Mass
For a few years, red’s most frequently good card draw has involved exiling cards from the top of your library with a one-turn window to cast them. Outpost Siege is the most played of the group, but Chandra, Pyromaster, Etali, Primal Storm, Grenzo, Havoc Raiser, Stolen Strategy, and several others have the same kind of ability, whether it’s your library or an opponent’s.
The oldest variant I’ve played with in red decks is a decade older than Outpost Siege and is used for a completely different purpose: Uba Mask. Instead of giving access to extra cards like Outpost Siege does, Uba Mask restricts cards that would be drawn to a use-it-or-lose-it existence in exile. It’s the same mechanic and restriction as Outpost Siege, but it’s a foil to several types of card draw, especially end-step card draw since any cards “drawn” can only be used on that end step.
Uba Mask hasn’t had a critical mass (critical mask?) to go with it, but it has a close friend in Omen Machine. Omen Machine goes a step further than Uba Mask in that it prevents all card draw and requires the top card of a player’s library to be exiled and played each draw step. I’ve liked those two for years in red and red-white decks to fill the “card draw” role – by stopping other players’ card draw, I am getting a form of card advantage, so I can count the cards in the card draw slot.
What Experimental Frenzy does that all these cards haven’t done before is tie the Outpost Sieges and Omen Machines together. You could have put those cards together already, of course, but drawing cards is still generally better than not drawing them. That concept changes with Experimental Frenzy, where you alone have a chance to rip through your library regardless of whether anybody else can draw cards. Experimental Frenzy breaks the symmetry of Omen Machine in the same way Future Sight breaks the symmetry of Zur’s Weirding; you’ve found another way of accessing new cards, so you don’t need to draw cards anymore.
If this sounds appealing to you – red tearing through its library off the top instead of caring about card draw – here’s the group of cards you definitely want in that “draw” engine:
Chandra’s 0 is the classic iteration of the ability, but note that the -7 ultimate is similar. Fun fact about that ultimate: because it copies a card in exile rather than a spell, you can choose different modes of a modal spell for each copy; if it were Kolaghan’s Command that you copied three times, you could make three different Kolaghan’s Commands. It doesn’t come up often, but it’s cool that it’s there.
Chandra’s a great pick-up, especially now that she’s rotated out of Standard and come down in price. +1 to do what this deck wants to do is good enough.
If nothing else, it will get lands off the top of your library and onto the battlefield.
It would be pretty fun to make a Commander deck all about these cards with Etali as the commander.
The best of the lot.
Grenzo could be your commander for this, too, if you like more aggressive commanders.
Slower to get going, but once it’s triple-bricked, it’s a source of card and mana advantage.
If you like Experimental Frenzy, you almost definitely know and love this card.
A Loxodon Warhammer away from being spectacular.
It’s not in Etali‘s league, but it’s very good.
Mostly used as a backup Outpost Siege, although its back side is relevant sometimes.
That’s 12 cards that can form the core of an Experimental Frenzy-based card advantage package. If you like it, cards like Abbot of Keral Keep, Commune with Lava, Dark-Dweller Oracle, and Dream Pillager can add to it. If you have a Sensei’s Divining Top or Scroll Rack, they can set up your library exactly how you want it. And don’t forget to destroy a Grafdigger’s Cage on sight, since it neuters the Frenzy.
You could use this for straight value – a way to keep up with traditional card drawers and not to have to use Howling Mine or Temple Bell. But you also can take it further and make a game plan around it.
If you get some of the pieces out with this, opponents will be jealous of red’s card advantage. Since when has that been a thing?
You’re already setting up the rest of your deck to work like this; might as well make unprepared opponents play on your level.
Since you’re still drawing fewer cards than everyone else, there are other applications involving hand size that are interesting:
When you’ve made a hand out of your library, keeping your actual hand empty is easy.
There’s no drawback on Hazoret if most of your card advantage never goes to your hand.
Create multiple alternate libraries! Why not?
Venturing outside red for a moment, mass discard looks super good with this package; Mindslicer and Sire of Insanity hold no fear for you. If you do go into blue, besides Future Sight, Magus of the Future, and Precognition Field to add to Experimental Frenzy, you get top-of-library manipulation like Brainstorm and several other quirky choices. Parallel Thoughts is similar to Mangara’s Tome in giving you an extra mini-library. Idle Thoughts lets you draw cards for cheap if you have none in hand, which is great, but Words of War does you one better by letting you replace your next card draw with two damage to a target. Combine those two cards and you can deal two damage for three mana whenever you want, which is a pretty reasonable return. The new Izzet cards that care about instants and sorceries in exile and your graveyard – Beacon Bolt, Crackling Drake, and Ral, Izzet Viceroy – play nicely with Outpost Siege-style cards.
But my favorite of the bunch is definitely Temporal Cascade. Entwined, it’s a nine-mana Timetwister – no big deal. But for its first half, it’s a seven-mana way to make everyone get rid of their hand (and graveyard, if someone’s shenanigans are bothering you) without replacement. When I’ve had it in a deck, it’s always for that first half. Cards like Noetic Scales get silly when you strip everyone’s hand, and they never expect it in blue, either. And while regular card draw would move you past Temporal Cascade‘s hand-emptying just as well as the cards in this article can, the point here is that it can become a larger strategy of an empty hand. If you never intend to have a hand, it doesn’t matter that Experimental Frenzy forbids playing things from it. If you lean into that, you can have a lot of fun.
You could also go in a completely different direction and use Experimental Frenzy in service of cards like Kefnet; keeping your hand full while getting cards from elsewhere. That’s much harder to do if you don’t pair the red with blue, but it’s an option nonetheless.
Experimental Frenzy was generally viewed with curiosity during spoiler season and seemed to be high-variance. But its adoption in Standard shows that its ceiling is sky-high, and in Commander, it has the support in red to reach that ceiling. I love how it finishes a card advantage package red’s had to ask other colors for since the dawn of time. Break free of the Howling Mines and Temple Bells – get into an Experimental Frenzy!
Brandon Isleib plays a lot of Commander and Brawl and loves finding the intersection of unusual and effective plays. He worked for Wizards of the Coast in 2014, he has put flavor text on a few cards, and he’s partly responsible for “create” being the word for cards making tokens. He is a legislation editor for the city of Seattle, he has written a baseball book, and he is proficient at making his bio sound more impressive than it is.