In Defense of Sen Triplets in Commander

In Defense of Sen Triplets in Commander

Jason KrellCommander

In Magic: The Gathering, there are always cards players love to hate — especially in Commander. There is endless “discourse” about the subject anywhere players congregate online. However, Magic is an ever-changing game riddled with subjectivity, and some cards catch a reputation many think they don’t deserve. With that in mind, today we’re going to defend Sen Triplets in Commander.

Can I have some?

It should be fairly easy to understand why players hate Sen Triplets, which debuted in 2009’s Alara Reborn. Not only does it allow your opponent to use your precious cards against you, but you can’t do anything about it (or anything) until the turn is over. 

And despite the abundance of theft-based effects in Magic, players psychologically hate having their game plan disrupted this way more than anything I’ve seen. I’d wager many players would rather face an endless onslaught of counterspells (or mass land destruction), effectively locking them out of the game, than see a card previously sitting in their hand pop up on their opponent’s side of the battlefield.

This denial of resources seems similar in many ways to Mill, another oft-loathed strategy, and it must be one of the hardest design spaces to work in for Wizards of the Coast. Game design across genres has demonstrated that while people need some kind of challenge to make playing satisfying, everyone is much happier with mechanics that enable their own plan instead of those that hinder opponents.

Still, there are some people afflicted with a beautiful kind of brain-rot who love to slowly strip away everything an opponent has and watch the hope fade from their eyes. Their first word as a baby was probably “no.”

Hi, it’s nice to meet you.

However! Despite appearances, more than five years of playing Sen Triplets has taught me this card is not about Control in Commander. And that’s how I know you don’t actually hate the triplets. What you really hate are the decks built around the choices players make.

What’s mine is not yours

I built my Sen Triplets deck at my entry to Commander for two reasons. First, I have been a draw-go Control player since I was old enough to understand Magic, which makes Esper my favorite color combo. Second, I was a broke 20-something-year-old getting back into an expensive hobby who couldn’t afford more than a single deck. 

“Great!” I thought at the time. “Playing Sen Triplets means that even if I’m playing the same deck every time, no two games will ever feel the same if I’m up against new people.”

The triplets offered a way to let me have ALL the decks at the table, to play all the expensive bombs my opponents brought, without racking up any more credit card debt than I needed to survive at the time.

Me to the pod (or LGS), probably: Ok everyone, just be cool…

The reality I found after building this deck was quite different. Instead, playing Sen Triplets was like manifesting that meme where a dozen knives are pointed at a smug looking cat. If I ever  untapped with her, it was because my opponents had no removal or needed to stop someone else from winning the game. If the game state was anywhere in between those two scenarios, I was spending five mana (or more!) to Time Walk myself.

Suffice it to say, I don’t win many games with Sen Triplets. And were I a different person, I might have walked down the path I see many explore after a long string of losses. You see, a particular deck building pattern emerges when you have a “hateable” card like this in Esper — you start building Stax. 

The obvious answer to “everyone is trying to kill me because of my Commander” is, after all, “don’t give anyone the chance.” So, you start by building a pillowfort made of Propaganda or Ghostly Prison and end up with a Winter-Orband-friends. And if you squint at Sen Triplets, it seems like the text box effectively says “no,” just like so many Stax pieces do.

But that’s a misunderstanding. There are many Commanders that say “no,” much louder than Sen Triplets. In Commander, with three opponents, this card really says, “Let’s share. Let’s put it all on the table.”

After all, think about how the triplets encourage people to play after they’re done hyperventilating. They dump their hand as fast as possible so you have nothing to steal and take every opportunity to remove you from the game. That already makes it hard to play your game.

Beyond that, as it turns out, sharing is not the winningest strategy for dominating opponents. That’s because your deck must be full of cards that let you use whatever random stuff your opponents have lying around instead of a focused game plan of their own. Then, if you do manage to nab something juicy, it disappears as soon as the owner loses, often leaving you vulnerable.

The majority of Sen Triplet wins I eventually find are cobbled together through an absurd collection of cards from multiple opponents and held together by Scotch Tape. Playing this deck is not like being an unassailable ruler — it’s like walking a tight-rope with people throwing tomatoes at you.

In fact, until very recently with the release of cards like Thieving Amalgam, Agent of Treachery and Brainstealer Dragon there weren’t many cards that even rewarded you for doing the thing your deck is built around (a hallmark of powerful strategies). Also, for the record, those cards all cost seven mana, which is often what players want to spend to win the game regardless of strategy.

This doesn’t even take into account how dated a card like Sen Triplets actually is, being almost half as old as Magic itself. These days, Commanders are chock full of value for far less than five mana.

Meanwhile, the triplets come down after players have had time to set up and it don’t do a single thing except draw removal spells until you untap with them. Plus, the modern take on this effect, Xanathar, Guild Kingpin, is even MORE expensive to cast (probably thanks to color fixing and the ability to see more cards)!

There is simply no other way to look at Sen Triplets players than as Sisyphus pushing the boulder up a mountain over and over again.

Learning to let go

Perhaps now you can see why it might be more valuable to threaten the value player across the table instead of targeting down every Sen Triplets deck that buzzes in your ear like a gnat. It is not a good card by today’s standards and the hate drives many players into unfun shells instead of letting them do the goofy stuff they wanted all along.

This also isn’t to say Sen Triplets players should be left alone to nab your Legos like a grabby toddler, but you can afford to treat them with the same respect you’d pay to your average opponent. At least until you have identified you’re dealing with the Stax shell — then you can let it rip!

All that said, the only criticism of Sen Triplets (and theft cards in general) I will wholeheartedly accept involve a lack of card-handling etiquette. If people piloting theft decks get rough with your cards, don’t ask for permission to touch them or don’t come prepared with dry erase cards to webcam games (or in general), that is a problem.

Otherwise, I challenge you to sit down across from my Sen Triplets deck and embrace the lesson we all learned in Kindergarten. I promise I’ll probably still lose! I’ll just also have fun doing it.