Is Smothering Tithe a Fair Card?

Is Smothering Tithe a Fair Card?

Kristen GregoryCommander

Kristen sits down to talk about one of the most divisive cards in Commander, Smothering Tithe. Is it a fair card? When should you play it?


Smothering Tithe. It’s a card that rocked the format on its inception. I remember getting access to this insane white ramp in my Boros decks, and feeling on top of the world. I could cast Wheel of Fortune over it and go off. And I did. Between it and Mana Geyser, I was able to have some nice big explosive turns in my Boros Angels deck. 

Things got more exciting with the addition of Underworld Breach, but it was always the decks with access to more colors that could take better advantage of Smothering Tithe. I built Elsha of the Infinite, and used the wheels tech (easier with Windfall and Echo of Eons) to build a combo deck, featuring Dockside too. This wasn’t cEDH, but it was a deck that hogged the chess clock, and even in 2019 I felt disgusting for playing this kind of deck. I eventually dismantled it. 

Over the years, I’ve played Smothering Tithe in all sorts of decks, and, in 2024, it’s currently only in a few of my builds – and the more high power ones, at that. It’s a card I have a lot of thoughts on.

Is Smothering Tithe Fair?

The question that most often gets asked is a variation of: is Smothering Tithe a fair card?

In short, the answer is yes.

If I were to unpack it more, the answer is… probably, but with some caveats.

Before I get into it, though, I want to clarify one thing. I think Smothering Tithe gets a lot of hate for being a card that causes excess table-chatter. Constantly asking if people are paying the {2} can be annoying. It can break up the flow of a game. And it reminds people of Rhystic Study, another card they hate. 

While I do think this isn’t completely dismissable, I do think it’s a little overblown. You can easily play Smothering Tithe in the following way: I make a treasure every time you draw, unless you say otherwise. It’s how I play it at my tables, and walking back a treasure creation is easy enough. It has thus far never been an issue. It’s similar to how I handle people tutoring with Tezzeret, the Seeker, in a way – get whatever you want and set the loyalty after. It’s a casual format. 


In order to decide how fair Smothering Tithe is, we need to talk about Goopy Goblin Gamer Brain (GGGB). GGGB was immortalized by NakeyJakey, a videogame essay YouTuber, in his video on the Outdated Game Design of Naughty Dog.

Goopy Goblin Gamer Brain is a phrase used to describe the depraved dopamine addled state that we increasingly find ourselves in. It describes gamers’ tendency to eschew slower or more relaxed games, or sections of games, because they need the rush of action and excitement. If the gameplay isn’t running at a mile a minute with flashy animations and explosions, then the GGGB is starved of the adrenaline it needs to have fun.

In Magic, design has catered to GGGB over the years in how they approach card design for Standard. Because Standard is the premier format on Arena, FIRE design was established, and more cards either replace themselves or are modal. This serves two purposes: to reduce “dead” time and slower games, and to decrease variance. It’s not something unique to Magic, but present in the gaming industry as a whole. 

Smothering Tithe is the antithesis to GGGB. Smothering Tithe is like asking gamers to go outside and touch grass. It’s delayed gratification. It asks them to slow their roll. Not to drop all of their cards too quickly. 

Not to become the Uno Player and draw 25, basically.

But the problem is that most Commander players have the goopiest, goblin-est gamer brains, and if they aren’t making the neurons make happy noises, then they aren’t interested. While having a GGGB isn’t something to be pathologized – and we are all guilty, addicted to our phones, social media and sugar, among other things – it does have an impact on the social aspect of the format.


You know what card gets removed a lot for me? A card I’ve stopped running, because people waste removal on it, leaving themselves empty on removal for insane value engines like Consecrated Sphinx, or game-winning threats/combo pieces? A card that should just die in a wrath, but rarely survives to be wrathed, because people don’t play enough wraths?

Thalia, Heretic Cathar. Yes, it does give the controller a tempo advantage, but that tempo advantage against three other players isn’t great enough – over the couple of turns it should last until a board wipe – unless it’s backed up by a lot more actual stax and hatebears. Not Everything that Slows You Down is Stax, after all. 

The issue with running cards like Thalia3 in casual Commander is that they rarely have an impact, singularly, on the pace of a game. They will draw out a removal spell, sure, allowing you to land something more exciting. But more often than not, because the opponent’s GGGB takes over and removes the Thalia because it stops them “going fast”, it only ends up in screwing both the Thalia player and the GGGB player long term. 

The other issue with hatebears in casual is that they aren’t creating advantage, when everyone else is doing so. Unless you aggressively mulligan and run every Torpor Orb, you’re likely to not create the stranglehold on the game you want to outside of very high power or cEDH tables, where the rest of the table actively enjoys hatebears, and has a lot of interaction for when the dam bursts.

I guess what I’m angling at here is the dearth of interaction in Casual Commander, but also the tendency for players to be “selfish” with their interaction, only spending it on things that actively stop them trying to win. That creates an environment for Smothering Tithe to flourish while being oppressive, because it doesn’t actually stop anyone doing anything. People kick the can down the road. 


I don’t want to condescend here and say “because it’s just a good card, have you read it?”, but it is kind of that simple. 

When picturing it as a “fair” card, Smothering Tithe is a card that can generate advantage, but only by profiting off of other players gaining advantage. It will only “go off”, outside of wheels, if other players are drawing a lot of cards. It therefore asks people to slow down, and people should do so until someone can answer the Smothering Tithe.

Now, the counterpoint is that it triggers off of the natural draw for turn, and you know what? I’ll give you that. If it triggered only off of the second+ card a player has drawn, it would probably be a lot “fairer”. So at baseline, that’s potentially two to three mana a turn cycle, for free. 

The other thing is that the format is currently in a place where every deck can draw a lot of cards. If people include all of the tailor-made draw pieces for their strategy, they will, most turns, draw two or more cards. So, in a way, Smothering Tithe has aged pretty well. 

Because the “race” aspect of casual Commander has become a key facet of gameplay – trying to generate resources constantly, for every game action and attack, in order to bury the opponents in value – Smothering Tithe is very rarely paid for. For the same reason it can feel rough to lose the tempo on tapping out to deal with Ward or play a wrath while other players get to generate more value, paying for Smothering Tithe is the worst kind of Prisoner’s Dilemma, and one that vary rarely ends in cooperation at a casual table, except for one specific circumstance.


If you want to see people team up against a Smothering Tithe, then have the player cast it ahead of time by dropping Ancient Tomb, Mana Crypt, Mana Vault or Sol Ring on turn one or two. That’s it. That’s enough to take the card firmly into broken territory, and it does something very rough to games.

I’d go as far as to say that it can invalidate games in a similar way to an early reanimated Vorinclex. Both plays create a… smothering… mana advantage, that can choke players out of a game before it even starts. Having to deal with a Smothering Tithe early game is impossible, for the most part. Unless someone already has removal, there’s just no way that players can pay for the tax on their card draw when they’re still in the developing stages of a game. 

If it’s such an oppressive play, then why do people do it? Why do they play the card at all?

Well, it’s simple. It satisfies the Goopy Goblin Gamer Brain. For the same reason opponents don’t want to deal with paying the {2}, you’re happy to drop this card and reap the rewards. It’s just so. much. value. You get to do everything you want to do, cast the cards you want to cast, and look on with mirth at the peasants who can’t afford to have their cake and eat it; no, the peasants who spend deck slots and mana irresponsibly so that they can’t deal with it appropriately.


Still, Smothering Tithe does feel a lot fairer in some decks: primarily, mono-white and white decks like Orzhov, Boros and Azorious that don’t get access to green’s ramp or red’s rituals. Certainly when it came out, it felt like white got hooked up with a high-power card that could sit alongside The Great Henge, Rhystic Study, Wheel of Fortune and Consecrated Sphinx

Is it too easy to splash at 3W? Yes. Does the 3W cost make the card way too abusable with Sol mana? Double-yes. I think if it were printed today, it might well cost at the very least double white, if not triple, to be safe. In fact, it might even just straight up be an Orzhov card. 

Even today, I think some decks can play this card completely fairly, especially if we take into account that gameplay with this card should have people slowing down their GGGBs to deal with it. Decks should play enough removal to reliably nuke this card from orbit. If they don’t, then who’s to say that white decks can’t be part of that arms race too?


So one thing I’ve been doing in my deckbuilding recently is eschewing “must-answer” cards that have a high threat-memory, unless one of two conditions are met:

One reason I don’t run these cards often is because I don’t like to Time Walk myself. The other reason is because they often end up giving the deck a “spike” of power that isn’t representative of the rest of the deck. Much like adding an A+B combo to an aggressive combat deck, it can lead to games where the deck overperforms, or performs in a way that isn’t representative of what the deck can normally do. 

An example of this is games where you draw Smothering Tithe or Life Insurance in a Carmen, Cruel Skymarcher deck. Those games are very different to the ones you don’t. This is also a bad example, though, because you’d run those cards anyways. So, a better one would be running Smothering Tithe in a deck that is ostensibly casual and can’t compete at a higher power table. It unfairly gives the deck a “spike” in expectations from opponents. 

Salubrious Snail coalesced a lot of these thoughts in a video on something I’ve come to dub “Smushing Your Consistency”. He explains how adding a generically strong card that spikes a deck’s performance can be a bad thing, as it makes the deck less consistent, not more consistent, and it leads to opponents feeling like they need to bring stronger decks that will dominate your deck’s true average performance.


Yes, in the sense that it has counterplay, it can be removed, and it generates value in a way that isn’t massively stronger than some of the strongest value engines in other colors. It’s as must-answer as the next card. 

It’s also fair in that it gives some colors (particularly mono-white) the ability to have explosive turns that other decks can already achieve using other tools. I still think mono-white in particular lacks the explosiveness of other colors, but it’s getting there, slowly. 

It is especially fair at higher power levels, as a speed-bump for decks trying to draw into their win conditions or overwhelm with value.

Smothering Tithe isn’t so fair in decks that don’t need it to have explosive turns. Think Naya decks like Pantlaza, or four and five color decks with access to green. Think Selesnya decks, particularly, enchantress, that already ramp a lot with auras, and where every spell cantips. 

Smothering Tithe also isn’t fair when played alongside Sol Mana. It just isn’t. In fact, in my stronger decks that run both effects, I very much judge the vibe of the table, and often mulligan away an opening hand with Sol mana + Smothering Tithe. I stand by the notion that it’s similarly as oppressive as reanimating a Void Winnower or Vorinclex early game – it just grants the illusion of agency, which hard stax doesn’t. 

Mulligans are very important in 1v1 formats and cEDH, but I think they’ve become more important in casual Commander, too. You sometimes need to mulligan to find an answer and/or a gameplan, not just lands and spells. Mulliganing with intent makes Smothering Tithe more reasonable – and by extension, a great many must-answer cards and Commanders. But that’s a topic for another article.


I think Smothering Tithe, to borrow a classic Sheldon-ism, is a tool. Tools are used with intent, and it’s the person using the tool that dictates the impact the tool has. While it’s just as strong a card as some other format staples that feel crushing in more relaxed games, the problem is less Smothering Tithe, and more the framing around it. 

Someone using it with a deck full of wheels and Sol mana isn’t the same as someone using it in mono-white to keep up with what other colors are doing. It’s also detrimental to add cards that spike the power level and performance of your build in such a way that it causes opponents to misjudge your deck’s power level, so sometimes, you’re better off just not playing it.

Ultimately, Commander players need to stop surrendering to their Goopy Goblin Gamer Brains, play some removal, and pay some taxes. Call me when it happens.