After getting lots of positive feedback about the style of the M13 and Return to Ravnica reviews, I'm going to format this one the same way. We'll talk about cards in four categories: Probably Won't Get Played, Might Get Played, Probably Will Get Played, and Definitely Will Get Played. Remember that this is a Commander-only review. There are great cards for other formats, especially Limited, which don't translate well into 100-card decks.
As fellow RC member Alex mentioned in our January 28th announcement, we've made no change regarding reminder text. It doesn't count toward color identity. The hybrid mana symbol that goes along with extort is in the reminder text.
You may also note that I put multicolored and hybrid cards in the same category despite the fact that they're split up on the Visual Spoiler. I know that there is a contingent of folks out there who think that mono-colored decks or decks with only one side of the hybrid symbol should be able to play them. By the rules of color in Magic and the rules of color identity, the cards are both colors. While I respect the argument that they were designed to do a different thing, to me it's as simple as every hybrid card is all of its hybrid mana colors. You can't kill them with Ultimate Price. While there isn't too much that's off the table for us as a discussion point, that's where we are right now.
As far as the guild-specific mechanics go, I find them all well designed. I think battalion comes up short in the implementation. Cipher is really interesting when you can keep the creature alive. Extort might find a nice home in most Constructed formats. Bloodrush is certainly going to be a factor in Standard and maybe even Modern. Evolve might be the most breakable, especially in any format that has Birthing Pod and/or Survival of the Fittest in it.
Probably Won't Get Played
This category is for cards that you're simply unlikely to see in the format. It could be because they're good only in draft or are simply outclassed by other stuff and don't have any thematic or tribal tie-ins.
Multicolor and Hybrid
Alms Beast; Deathcult Rogue; Drakewing Krasis; Executioner's Swing; Frenzied Tilling; Gift of Orzhova; Hydroform; Martial Glory; Merfolk of the Depths; Mortus Strider; Primal Visitation; Ruination Wurm; Skyknight Legionnaire; Spark Trooper; Truefire Paladin
Might Get Played
Still unlikely to see action, cards here have a little sliver of something, like fitting into a tribal theme, which someone might seize upon that would inspire them to give it a whirl.
Angelic Edict; Basilica Guards; Boros Elite; Court Street Denizen; Debtor's Pulpit; Guardian of the Gateless; Hold the Gates; Knight of Obligation; Knight Watch; Murder Investigation; Shielded Passage; Smite; Syndic of Tithes; Zarichi Tiger
Alpha Authority; Burst of Strength; Crocanura; Forced Adaptation; Greenside Watcher; Ivy Lane Denizen; Naturalize; Predator's Rapport; Rust Scarab; Scan-Clan Charger; Slaughterhorn; Verdant Haven; Wasteland Viper
Multicolor and Hybrid
Arrows of Justice; Beckon Apparition; Call of the Nightwing; Cartel Aristocrat; Coerced Confession; Elusive Krasis; Fortress Cyclops; Kingpin's Pet; Nimbus Swimmer; Ordruun Veteran; Paranoid Delusions; Pit Fight; Psychic Strike; Purge the Profane; Rubblebelt Raiders; Shambleshark; Shattering Blow; Sunhome Guildmage; Vizkopa Confessor; Wojek Halberdiers; Zhur-Taa Swine
Probably Will Get Played
Cards in this category have a strong chance of getting played with some regularity. While good, they might be narrow or limited in scope. They don't have the broad appeal of the best cards in the set.
Angelic Skirmisher: The great flexibility with this card is that she doesn't need to do anything herself (like attack or block) in order to give the rest of your team the ability.
Urbis Protector: Getting the 4/4 Angel every time he enters the battlefield could be good in a Blink deck, but I'm a little concerned about his six cost and 1/1 body.
Hands of Binding: I think lots of folks are going to try to work out exactly what kind of cipher tricks they can get away with. Even though this is clearly really good in Limited, I think there's enough there for a few folks to give it a whirl in Commander as well.
Mindeye Drake: There's a pretty large mill strategy running through the Dimir cards in this set, and I'm reasonably sure folks will try to make use of all of them. Mindeye Drake isn't much of an offensive threat, but with his reasonable backside he can take on good-sized fliers.
Sage's Row Denizen: Of all my commanders, I think The Mimeoplasm is happiest to see these mill cards. The only thing keeping this one from being really silly is that there aren't blue equivalents of Storm Herd or Avenger of Zendikar.
Scatter Arc: Countering spells and drawing cards are favorite activities of blue mages everywhere. In Commander, noncreature spells seem like they're the ones most in need of countering (since you can always Wrath away dudes), so this Negate plus draw for two more seems eminently reasonable.
Simic Fluxmage: Everyone who has an Animar deck is really excited about the evolve mechanic. I know I sure am. I see this guy helping Forgotten Ancient in the task of moving counters onto Animar, Spike Weaver, and all their friends.
Voidwalk: When you're Blinking stuff already, the path is likely more open for your ciphered dude to attack. I think this is one that'll end up being even a little better than it initially seems.
Balustrade Spy: Those Dimir folks just don't want you to have a library, do they?
Death's Approach: We see some Tragic Slip action to get rid of things like Avacyn, Angel of Hope, so there's no reason to believe we won't see death coming as well. Still won't kill Lord of Extinction, but whataya gonna do?
Grisly Spectacle: "Get rid of your dude, mill you a bunch." I don't want to keep going back to the well of Lord of Extinction, but that could certainly be a one-shot on someone. Too bad it kind of sucks to kill an Eldrazi this way.
Ogre Slumlord: Sure, getting 1/1 Rats isn't quite as good as drawing cards like you do with Harvester of Souls, but why not get both? Certainly goes nicely into Rat decks, but otherwise provides a little backup plan for when someone Wraths away your guys.
Thrull Parasite: Hex Parasite gets played, so I imagine this will too. From ticking down your Cumulative Upkeep to taking that -1/-1 counter off of Puppeteer Clique, this little guy will do some work. It seems like a common theme, but extort as an added bonus doesn't stink.
Undercity Informer: I'm putting him here because I'm going to try to make him work. I like my sacrifice outlets (although I like them better when they're free, like Altar of Dementia or Devouring Swarm), and I like milling your stuff so my Mimeoplasm can copy it.
Wight of Precinct Six: The Zombie tribal and the Wrath-heavy decks will both play this. Even if it's not extremely large, it'll probably routinely be 6/6 or so, which even without evasion is just fine for 1B.
Act of Treason: It gets played already, no reason to change.
Five-Alarm Fire: Life totals being higher than in other Constructed formats means this well-designed card isn't quite as good, but I can definitely see the Goblin decks wanting to make a run at it. It'll probably rarely kill creatures, building up instead to be a final strike to a player's face or a retributive strike in case they decide to attack you.
Homing Lightning: Obviously it's only for the creature token decks, but as we've already mentioned, there are enough of them for a card like this to merit serious consideration. I might toss this into Ruhan as another method of completely demolishing the Avenger of Zendikar guy—with Repercussion.
Legion Loyalist: I'm underwhelmed by most of the mono-color battalion creatures in the set, but I think this one has possibilities. I think trample is the significant part of it, as well as the no tokens blocking.
Mark for Death: This is one that will end up on "hidden gem" lists. Sure, you can ensure that you're going to murder a dude, but that part about only one creature being able to block is quite something.
Skullcrack: This is going to be a valuable card in other Constructed formats and is going to be the occasional blowout in this one. Trostani is weeping as we speak.
Wrecking Ogre: Double strike is always dangerous when commanders are involved. With this you can quickly go from "I'll take 8" to "I'm dead." The nearly uncounterable nature of bloodrush cards leads me to believe the best of them will get some play.
Crowned Ceratok: One of the problems with Animar is that he can just get chumped. Once he has trample, it's a different story. This fits the bill for both pumping him up and getting him through.
Gyre Sage: This isn't ramp, this is like multiplication! The trick will probably come from deciding if you want to cast the new creature and then get the mana for something else or use the mana to cast the slightly larger new guy.
Miming Slime: Value might be an overused term at the moment, but getting a large creature for only three mana is pretty much value defined. The spell isn't targeted. It just figures out what your biggest guy is when it resolves. Unlike most copy effects, which copy just what's printed on the card, Miming Slime reads the current power.
Ooze Flux: This is the kind of card that I look at and think that the folks that love crazy combos are going to be all over. Especially with a bunch of evolve guys and Forgotten Ancient, I think this could get insane enough for me to think more seriously about Aether Snap.
Serene Remembrance: Seems like a cheap way to get the stuff from your graveyard back into your library without disturbing the elements that you want to stay there, unlike an Eldrazi would. Also seems like a cheap way to get scary stuff out of someone else's graveyard.
Multicolor and Hybrid
Bane Alley Broker: I can see some folks trying to make use of this, but I think they're going to find themselves mostly disappointed. In the end, there are just simpler ways of drawing cards.
Bioshift: With all the decks where +1/+1 counters matter that are likely to spring up, I can see there being room for this. Add to that it's kind of a neat trick when someone is battling you with Kresh or Hamletback Goliath.
Burning-Tree Emissary: When creatures make mana when they enter the battlefield, I always suspect there's an infinite mana combo not far behind.
Deathpact Angel: This one is going to turn out not as good as folks hoped because of its mana intensiveness. How many times are you really going to keep up 3WBB instead of doing other stuff with it?
Dimir Charm: Maybe the coolest of the guilds, but definitely the worst of the Charms.
Firemane Avenger: I think the excitement of this card from Standard is going to spill into Commander.
Gruul Charm: So far, I've heard that folks think Gruul is the weakest of the guilds in Gatecrash. I think this card might change a few minds and end up more well played than people think. It's not going to kill too many fliers that aren't Pegasi. I think the first mode is the one that is currently underestimated and will reap the biggest rewards.
Gruul Ragebeast: It's a Beast, so I know I'll be playing it. Since I get to pick the other target as well, I like my chances.
High Priest of Penance: This is one I think people have overrated. I'm sure there's some janky combo with making it indestructible and then pinging it with Acorn Catapult, but I really don't think it's all that.
Immortal Servitude: Since it's only an exact match to the mana cost and not "X or less," it's a little narrow. Still, there are probably pockets of creatures in the three to six range that will guarantee you'll have more than one thing to bring back with this. Late game, you might have a whole host of things.
Orzhov Charm: I also put this one in the "Might Get Played" list. It's pretty weak as the Charms from this block go. The one saving your creature and auras might get it played a bit more.
Signal the Clans: You might be searching up your fatties with this instead of utility creatures unless you have redundancy, like perhaps Indrik Stomphowler, Acidic Slime, and Woodfall Primus. There are going to be enough good creatures in your deck that getting one of them will be okay. Obviously, if you're in white, you just play Eladamri's Call.
Simic Charm: It's not the most powerful Charm, but I think it's the one that best represents the greatest flexibility the card style has to offer.
Skarrg Guildmage: Unlikely the second ability gets used, but the first one is going to get there.
Soul Ransom: I think folks are going to try it out and then realize they can get completely screwed by an uninvolved party at the table.
Boros Keyrune, Dimir Keyrune, Gruul Keyrune, Orzhov Keyrune, and Simic Keyrune: I put the Keyrunes from Return to Ravnica on the "Might Get Played" list. I was surprised to see them getting a fair amount of play—mostly as mana rocks—locally. I still don't think any of them are all that great for the format, but I assume these are going to be similar.
Definitely Will Get Played
Cards in this section are the best of the best, the cards that everyone is excited to get their hands on.
Blind Obedience: Very low mana cost-to-effect quality ratio here. I think it would be a niche card without extort. Adding that little bit of an ability tells me we're going to see lots of it.
Frontline Medic: He'd probably make the "definite" list on the strength of his first ability. You know there are going to be mono-white weenie hordes running around. Making them indestructible for doing what you were going to do anyway is serious stuff. The second ability is one of those things you won't use all that often but will be a lifesaver when you do.
Gideon, Champion of Justice: The first ability will probably win him the "most loyalty counters on a planeswalker ever" award. The second ability will ruin someone's day. It seems like the third will only get played in desperation, and how desperate are you when you have a giant indestructible guy?
Luminate Primordial: Holy Hanna! Swords to Plowshares for each opponent is crazy enough already, but we know that someone is going to put this guy in a Blink deck or just straight-up pair him with Deadeye Navigator. The Primordial cycle is the best of the set. The cards are giant, splashy, and epic.
Enter the Infinite: No, it's not getting emergency pre-banned, and it's not going to lead to the banning of Omniscience. I think it's going to lead to epic plays like "Enter the Infinite?" "Sure. After it resolves, with Boseiju mana, Sudden Impact you?"
Rapid Hybridization: One-for-ones don't normally make it onto the definite list, but being able to turn an awesome creature into a 1/1 Frog Lizard is nearly as good as being able to turn it into a 1/1 Ape. I mean, clearly, simians of all kind are just better.
Stolen Identity: The potential upside of this card is insane. Even if it didn't have cipher, it'd be worth considering. Just think about making copies of normally inoffensive cards in single versions that could get bonkers with copies, like Murkfiend Liege, or Giant Adephage from this very set.
Crypt Ghast: Definitely gets played even without extort. With it, you generate the mana for paying the extort when you cast whatever it is that triggered it in the first place. I think we'll be seeing a good deal of this one.
Dying Wish: Could also be called "My Wish to See You Dying." There are enough giant creatures running around the format, like Lord of Extinction, Worldspine Wurm, Hamletback Goliath, and Dimir's new Consuming Aberration, to make this a very cheap source of lots of life draining.
Illness in the Ranks: Creature token strategies are so good and so pervasive that blanking them or slowing them down with a single card for a single mana is complete value.
Lord of the Void: There were times when Demons had drawbacks. The Demon Anti-Defamation League has done its work because now we get guys like this. Not only do you get to get rid of a chunk of someone's library, but you also get to Reanimate a creature of your choice. The question isn't "which deck?" for this guy, it's "how many?"
Sepulchral Primordial: This is my kind of card. Imagine the choice of juicy stuff you have to pick from when you resolve Living Death with him in your graveyard. The Primordials really are all about the haymakers.
Hellkite Tyrant: The question isn't whether or not this gets played but how many times over the next few months someone will want it banned. It's not even remotely ban-worthy; it's just a really cool Dragon with an ability that can hurt you if you're not prepared.
Sylvan Primordial: Craziest thing I've heard more than once since this card was spoiled: WotC/Forsythe/MaRo/take your pick from R&D made this card because they were angry we banned both Sundering and Primeval Titan. I imagine this card will get very closely scrutinized as people start to play it. I predict that everyone will simply forget that it has reach, kind of like Sheoldred and Swampwalk.
Multicolor and Hybrid
Aurelia's Fury: Some of the other Angels have been angry before, but Aurelia is obviously really pissed. From tapping down or killing would-be attackers on an opponent's turn to keeping something you want to cast later from being countered, this card has great flexibility and is the kind of card a good player can get extra mileage out of.
Borborygmos Enraged: When this got spoiled there were people on forums raving about how broken is it. Sure, you can machinegun someone with your handful of lands, but how often is that really going to happen? As a commander, I still like the other Borborygmos better.
Boros Charm: In this format, I suspect the first mode will only rarely get used and the third every now and again. The second is completely bonkers.
Consuming Aberration: Now we are talking. Another Lord of Extinction variant, this time in Dimir colors instead of Golgari, suits me just fine, especially since The Mimeoplasm is both of those. Even if I'm on the bad end of it, it will completely awesome when all three opponents mill into an Eldrazi.
Domri Rade: The low mana cost might get it out early and ticked up to seven before anyone has an answer. The first two modes are useful. The third is the bee's knees. Just don't expect it to happen too often. That said, you're in Doubling Season's color…
Duskmantle Guildmage: It's the creature version of Shriveling Rot that I've always wanted! I can see the card going into different decks that use the abilities independently. Using them together is really expensive.
Duskmantle Seer: This won't be the only format in which this creature sees play, but it's the one in which it's going to suck down the biggest chunks of life.
Fathom Mage: Arguably one of the highlights of the set, I'm not the only one this card has thoroughly excited. The moment this card was spoiled, I could hear Brian David-Marshall (who has only one deck: Momir Vig) scream all the way from New York. I'm just beginning to think about the possibilities of the evolve mechanic and this card in particular. You can move counters from Forgotten Ancient and it will trigger for EACH counter you move. Each. Since it's going into my Animar deck, it might also end up the target of Evolution Vat.
Foundry Champion: It's in colors that can create large numbers of tokens and can Blink it. Yow.
Lazav, Dimir Mastermind: A hexproof commander that can become anything of an opponent's that gets killed seems dangerous. Your opponents are going to have to be careful about what they sacrifice to Greater Good. Imagine Lazav as Kozilek, Butcher of Truth.
Master Biomancer: Simic is really getting the goodies. You get +1/+1 counters even on creatures that don't normally come into play with them, although Tatterkite is a blank. There might be enough awesome things in Simic and Gruul from this set alone to build another Animar deck.
Merciless Eviction: This is probably my favorite art from the set. It's like Austere Command in that it has great flexibility and can be exactly what you need it to be when you need it. In this format, exiling is good.
Mind Grind: Once again, additional mill tricks. With the presence of Eldrazi, I'm not sure there are too many mill-you-out decks out there, but cards like this will make a run at them.
Nightveil Specter: Exiling cards is good enough. Potentially getting to play them (even though you still have to pay for them and obey timing restrictions) is absurd. The only thing keeping it in check is that you can only play cards that are exiled with that particular version of Nightveil Specter. If you Blink it, bounce it, or it dies and comes back, the connection to the exiled card is lost. A Clone or copy will have to do its own work. Still, it's pretty spicy.
Obzedat: The most awkwardly named card in the set. It's not a replacement for Ghost Council of Orzhova, but it's certainly an addition. When I make an Orzhov deck, I'm making it with the original.
Prime Speaker Zegana: Instead of building that new Animar deck, maybe I'll just take the existing one, where the counters matter, and turn it into a Prime Speaker deck, and then build something different with Animar. Prime Speaker would probably have a slot in that deck as well. Card's insane.
Treasury Thrull: One of the earliest cards officially spoiled, and one that's generated excitement ever since. Reminiscent of but not quite as good as Sun Titan, the extort ability once again pushes it over the "pretty good" line.
Unexpected Results: The only worry I might have is blanking because the top card is an instant that isn't relevant to the board state, like a counterspell. Nonetheless, the expected results of this card are promising.
Urban Evolution: I'm not a mathologist, but I'm pretty sure when you draw three cards, there's a reasonably good chance that one of them will be a land.
Zameck Guildmage: And the hits keep on coming. If you activate it twice, the creatures will get two +1/+1 counters. You can't do anything wild with creatures that enter the battlefield at the same time he does (like off of Living Death), but if you activate him before Living Death resolves, all the creatures that come in later will. The part about drawing a card is just gravy.
Glaring Spotlight: This is a "Probably Gets Played" card up until you get to the final four words. Then it's a definite. I can see Zedruu and other stealy decks playing it as well. With the amount of unblockable floating around here, I'm telling you—more Fog effects.
As I was putting together this review, I was a little worried that there weren't that many cards going on the "Definitely Played" list, especially compared to Return to Ravnica. Once I got to the multicolored and hybrids, however, it was obvious where the strength of this set lies. As a set for Commander, I give it a solid B and don't find any of the colors or guilds underrepresented. Simic got the best stuff. The Primordials feel like they might be over the top. Otherwise, there are a great number of giant, splashy, and epic Chaos-Embracing cards for all of us to have a great time with. Enjoy the release!
Interestingly enough, my Magic play style and my personality seemrather different. I'm at heart a Jund player, so I half expected that I might end up Golgari.I took the guild test, answering as me the person, not me the Magic player.Turns out...
I am Azorius.I suppose that reflects my strong sense of justice (white) and that I know better than everyone else how to bring it about (blue)."I serve only justice. But through that duty, I serve all of Ravnica."