Continuing our streak of articles about Commander 2019, today we’re going to break down the mechanical theme of 2019’s red-black Commander deck: madness! This mechanic doesn’t create many crazy situations, and when played intuitively it rarely creates issues, but not many players understand how the rules actually handle it. That’s what we’re going to learn today (and I’m going to try to break it a little).
Let’s start out as usual, with the entry on madness from the comprehensive rules:
702.34a Madness is a keyword that represents two abilities. The first is a static ability that functions while the card with madness is in a player’s hand. The second is a triggered ability that functions when the first ability is applied. “Madness [cost]” means “If a player would discard this card, that player discards it, but exiles it instead of putting it into their graveyard” and “When this card is exiled this way, its owner may cast it by paying [cost] rather than paying its mana cost. If that player doesn’t, they put this card into their graveyard.”
So, madness is one keyword that represents two abilities. The first ability is the one that puts the card into exile when we discard it. The discard into exile can’t be responded to, because it replaces the normal discarding as a static ability. In fact we can’t discard a card with madness straight into our graveyard, even if we want to. It will always go to exile first, which triggers the second half of the madness ability.
The second madness ability is a triggered ability, which triggers when the card is discarded into exile. The trigger is simple: We may cast that exiled card for its madness cost or else we put it into our graveyard. That means we can discard a creature or sorcery that has madness at instant speed in order to can cast it like it has flash! Since this is a triggered ability our opponents will get a chance to respond to the trigger before it resolves. This creates an interesting opportunity for our opponents: They know what spell we could cast, and they get priority before we can actually cast the spell. For example, if we control a Guttersnipe (which triggers “whenever you cast an instant or sorcery spell”) and we’ve just discarded a Fiery Temper, our opponent could destroy the Guttersnipe before we have the opportunity to cast it. Tricky!
It is important to note that cards with madness are still considered “discarded cards.” The act of discarding a card with madness will trigger any ability that cares about discarding cards, like Faith of the Devoted; the card just ends up in exile instead of our graveyard when it’s discarded. Normally this would mean that if we don’t cast the card for its madness cost, the card that was put into our graveyard would be seen as a “new object” by the game’s rules and it would not be affected by cards like Shadow of the Grave. However, there is a special rule for exactly that purpose:
702.34c After resolving a madness triggered ability, if the exiled card wasn’t cast and was moved to a public zone, effects referencing the discarded card can find that card.
Although the card still becomes a new object when it changes zones, this rule basically says that the game recognizes its “discarded” state. I can’t find any ways to use this rule for nefarious purposes, but I thought it was interesting enough to be worth mentioning.
Now listen – I tried my best to use madness in tricky or interesting ways, but I couldn’t find a ton of options. It’s a fairly straightforward mechanic, which means it’s difficult to use in unusual ways, but I did come up with something interesting (i.e. impractical) to do with it.
With a copy of Possibility Storm or Knowledge Pool on the battlefield, it becomes difficult for any player to advance their deck’s own strategy since the spell they cast from their hand immediately gets exiled for another spell. Fortunately for us, cards we cast using madness aren’t cast from our hand. Possibility Storm won’t trigger when we cast them, so we’ll get to resolve the exact spells we want to be casting!
For the same reason, the new Commander 2019 card Chainer, Nightmare Adept will give haste to creatures we’ve cast using madness. Before researching for this article I honestly thought he was only in the madness deck because he let you discard cards!
Unfortunately, the interesting rules of madness allow players to stop us in interesting ways as well. For instance, opponents can Stifle the triggered part of the madness ability and stop us from ever getting an opportunity to cast the spell! If they do that, the madness card will never be put into our graveyard because doing so is part of the triggered ability’s effect.
If our opponent is playing cards like Void Attendant or Oracle of Dust, they can activate their ability in response to our madness trigger. These “processor” cards will take our madness card out of exile and put it into our graveyard. When our madness trigger resolves, the card will be a new object and we won’t be able to cast it (remember, rule 702.34c only applies after the madness trigger resolves and you’ve chosen not to cast the spell).
The Unsatisfying Conclusion
That’s all I could find for this time, I hope this primer has answered any questions you might have! If you know of any unexpected ways to use madness that I couldn’t find, let me know in the comments or on Twitter! Either way, that’s all from me for this time. Tune in next week, when I’ll discuss my proprietary Phage the Untouchable commander strategy (my opponents haven’t killed me a single time)!