This Friday, in game shops all over the world, players will be tearing open the long-anticipated Commander 2013 decks, ready to use them as blueprints to embrace all new kinds of chaos. It's stocked with old favorites and hidden gems from sets all across Magic's history, and designed to include some cards that weren't widely available when they were printed. Let's take a look at the cards we'll be playing with starting this weekend. My main focus will be on covering the 51 new cards that are in the set, but where appropriate we'll make mention of some of those reprinted returning favorites.
Act of Authority: I'm quite fond of this card because it provides outstanding flexibility. You can use it to simply exile a single artifact or enchantment and be done with it. You can also start passing it around the table. There are many scary artifacts and enchantments running around Commander, so getting some help from the other players if one person is getting out of hand is a good idea. Run Privileged Position plus Greater Auramancy or Sterling Grove with it and your enchantments at least will be off limits.
Angel of Finality: Especially since it's Halloween time, other peoples' graveyards are really scary. Angel of Finality will bring on All Saints' Day in no time, potentially doing it repeatedly with some recursion or blink of your own, all while providing a nicely-priced 3/4 flying body.
Archangel: A simple nod to the late, great Quinton Hoover. RIP, sir.
Cradle of Vitality: This is a reprint from Shards of Alara, but it bears a fresh look. If you're gaining large amounts of life in single batches, like with Beacon of Immortality or Trostani, Selesnya's Voice, the payment to make something immense is cheap at 1W.
Curse of the Forsaken: There is a cycle of Curses in the set, and this one is moderately weak. I get that the idea is to make people attack the cursed player instead of you, but I don't see the one life as all that much of an incentive. If you're in the power position, you'll still get attacked.
Darksteel Mutation: This enchantment version of Humble doesn't excite me. I'd rather have it as an instant and simply be able to get rid of the creature than have it hang around, waiting for someone to Disenchant the aura.
Eternal Dragon: Another reprint. It was a Pro Tour promo card some time back, and it's nice to get it back into print since we haven't seen it since it came out in Scourge. White has some trouble with making regular land drops, and Eternal Dragon makes that a little easier.
Kongming, "Sleeping Dragon": I'm a fan of reprinting Portal Three Kingdoms cards, and I'm a fan of giving my creatures anthem effects. It's the definition of win-win.
Mystic Barrier: I hope the next Commander's Arsenal product comes out with giant discs with left/right arrows on them for the cards in this chaos-embracing cycle. The wording is a little clunky, but it gives you some additional political control of the board, the Commander version of gerrymandering.
Serene Master: Beautifully and cleverly designed. The mechanic is straightforward, flavorful, and elegant. Extremely well-designed card.
Tempt with Glory: Another stroke of genius in design, the Tempting Offer mechanic captures an interesting part of the multiplayer environment. For the most part, they're all really dangerous, and I think you can get punished very badly for being greedy. This one doesn't seem so frightening. I might play it in white-black-red with Kulrath Knight and Spike Cannibal.
Unexpectedly Absent: A nice tuck variant, the time to cast this is when someone has just cracked a fetchland. With enough mana, you can get rid of a problem card (like Avacyn, Angel of Hope) for enough turns to find other answers. With just a little mana, you can mess with the combat math. It gives white a nice trick.
Arcane Denial: I'm generally unexcited about giving opponents cards, but I love the nod to the ancient days of Magic by reprinting this.
Borrowing 100,000 Arrows: Another cool P3K reprint, it's a card that I've wanted to pick up for a while but just never got around to.
Curse of Inertia: Once again intended to point combats away from you. Unless it can fuel some crazy combo for the attacker, I'm not sure it's worth it. I'm particularly concerned with the idea that I can pay for this and it can still be used against me. Not bros.
Diviner Spirit: A symmetrical Cold-Eyed Selkie, I suppose that Diviner Spirit doesn't have any evasion because of the assumption that the defender won't block. I still prefer the Selkie, which will always be able to find its way to drawing cards for me and me alone.
Djinn of Infinite Deceits: The inability to play the ability during combat reduces its value slightly, but since you have all the control of what gets exchanged, I still think it's quite strong. You can even play some politics. You don't have to exchange one of your own creatures, but can mess with the plans of two other players. I think there are many laughs to be had with this card.
Illusionist's Gambit: Pure, unadulterated genius in card design. You can use it as an emergency Fog if you need to, but its best use will be getting Player B to kill Player C out of nowhere. It is also nice for leading someone into a disastrous attack for their side. Especially useful when Craterhoof Behemoth makes an appearance. Ruhan will play this card.
Lu Xun, Scholar General: The General isn't getting blocked, so draw away. More P3K deliciousness.
Order of Succession: Talk about changing the board state! Make sure you have distinct sleeves if you're playing with this. The obvious time to cast this is when you have no creatures.
Propaganda: Love the new art. Hope we get it in foil someday.
Tempt with Reflections: I'm going to repeat this for all the Tempting Offers: when someone casts this, do not give into the temptation unless you have a concrete and specific plan. Don't let yourself be fooled that it's going to be better for you than it is for the player casting this. I don't even want to think about what happens when someone copies Consecrated Sphinx.
Tidal Force: Twiddle, I'd like you to meet Verdant Force. To be really useful, it would probably need to be combined with things like Meekstone so you can make sure other folks' fatties stay tapped down while letting you untap yours.
True-Name Nemesis: Nice in your Merfolk deck, I suppose. If someone names me with this, I'm not all that scared of its 3/1 body. Sure, it survives my Chain Reaction. Whatever. I'll take 3. If its power was six or higher, I might start getting concerned.
Wash Out: Another reprint with new art that I really like.
Baleful Force: Probably the strongest of the Forces. Long ago, we all agreed that we'd be happy to pay one life for one card almost any time. Sure, there's a possibility that it's going to kill you, but given black's ability to get some of that life back, I don't really think there's too much to worry about.
Curse of Shallow Graves: Here's a curse I can get behind because it makes zombies. Tom Delia can kill himself faster with Graveborn Muse. Playable in strategies that punish people for having creatures, like playing it with red and Repercussion.
Fell Shepherd: Playing this card might require rethinking how you're using your graveyard in black. Most of the time, animating creatures out of the yard is the way to go, rather than getting them back and recasting them. The combination of the two abilities, one of them being the all-powerful sacrifice outlet, makes this quite interesting. Note that the triggered ability doesn't target, so you can activate the other ability with the trigger on the stack and still get back the creature(s). Also, that ability is an all-or-nothing with that 'may.' You can't sacrifice two creatures then only return one of them.
Hooded Horror: I like the idea of being able to punish the front-runners in things, but this is more like a slap on the wrist.
Ophiomancer: This thing is going to get called “Opie” until the cows come home, assuming it gets played. You'll have to play additional cards like Goblin Bombardment or Phyrexian Plaguelord to maximize Opie's value.
Tempt with Immortality: Before you accept the Temping Offer from the black mage, make sure that his graveyard isn't stocked with goodies. One Sepulchral Primordial there and a Clone in someone else's means a one-sided Living Death for the tempter. I'm going to play this card and hope people don't heed my warning.
Toxic Deluge: A sneaky-good card. Three mana and some life is a small price to pay for being able to wipe the board, including any indestructible creatures. I like it a great deal.
Curse of Chaos: Looting is good. I like to loot. I don't like you to loot. Stop looting. I'm not going to help you with your looting.
From the Ashes: One of the things I love about the world of Aaron Sorkin, mostly described in “The West Wing” and “The Newsroom,” is that it's okay to take bad guys and bullies out to the woodshed. From the Ashes does just that. It's one of my absolute favorite cards in the set. Regular readers know that I'm not a fan of mass land destruction, but I'm even less a fan of greedy mana bases. I will absolutely play this card, and it will be just fine for most folks and a complete blowout for the avaricious—exactly how I like it.
Sudden Demise: A nice tool for red, often recognized as the weakest color in the format. It's especially good with Repercussion, since none of your creatures will get damaged. It doesn't seem particularly sudden, given that it's a sorcery, but maybe that's just me being nitpicky.
Tempt with Vengeance: Seemingly the least scary of the Tempting Offers, remember that a whole swarm of creatures will come into play and the person who gets the most creatures is also getting a combat step. Just like with the other Tempting Offers, unless you have a concrete plan, don't get sucked in.
Terra Ravager: Once again, punishing greed is good. If on turn four it's a 4/4, there's no problem. If it's a 12/4, then you deserve what you'll get. It might be huge in the late game, but you'll have sufficient resources to protect yourself. Without evasion or trample, it's not that worrisome. It's another card that I find a little misnamed. It doesn't really ravage the land at all, now does it?
Widespread Panic: First, the good news. If an opponent makes you shuffle your library (like when you're on the other end of Bribery), this doesn't trigger. Now, the bad news. If you're fetch- and search-happy, it's going to cost you cards. Finally, the worse news. If the last card in your hand is a tutor, you'll need a way to draw the card you tutor for. At least the card goes on top after you shuffle. This is great design.
Witch Hunt: I think lifegain is underrated in the format, and I like this card nonetheless. It completely shuts down my Trostani deck, but it's my responsibility to make sure I have outs. The EOT damage getting passed around at random is wild and wacky. I think the casting cost might be one too high to see much play.
Bane of Progress: I see this getting a good deal of play and a great number of +1/+1 counters. Putting that effect on a creature means it's easier to get multiple uses out of it, whether that's with blinking it, recurring it, or cloning it. Really strong without being overpowered.
Brooding Saurian: A great reprint. People will steal your stuff, and here's an easy way to get it back.
Curse of Predation: Things that put additional +1/+1 counters on other things make me think first about persist creatures and how dangerous that can get. I don't even want to think about how insane this might get with Ghave, Guru of Spores.
Night Soil: I have been singing the praises of this card since the format's formative first days. I'm happy to see it reprinted. Or not, since I love my graveyard.
Reincarnation: It's been so long since we've seen a reprint from Legends that it's worth mentioning for that reason alone. The wording on this card is a little weird. Note, for example, that the target isn't the creature that's in the graveyard but the creature that's going to die. It sets up a delayed trigger so that when that creature dies, its owner gets something back from the yard. Because the creature in the graveyard isn't targeted, it doesn't get chosen until the trigger resolves — which means it's too late to remove it with Withered Wretch or the like. It also means that you can reincarnate what just died. I don't want to give anyone ideas, but try this on for size: With Karmic Guide's echo trigger on the stack, target Karmic Guide with Reincarnation. The echo trigger resolves, and you don't pay. Karmic Guide gets binned, and the Reincarnation trigger goes off. Bring back Karmic Guide (and then something else). The stack is a place for fun and knowledge.
Restore: The big thing to pick out here is that the land card is from any graveyard, not just your own. It's ramp of a different kind.
Spawning Grounds: Eight mana seems like a lot. Then again, a 5/5 trampling beast every turn for effectively one mana is also a lot.
Tempt With Discovery: This is the Tempting Offer you're most likely to want to take, and it's the one that will consistently turn out worst for you because the lands enter the battlefield untapped. I swear that when I cast it, it'll turn out just fine. Go ahead and get your lands. No, really. Just fine.
Baleful Strix: I'm happy that now more folks will be able to get their hands on one. It is a solid if unspectacular card.
Derevi, Empyrial Tactician: If there were ever a Bant-colored Commander that would make me think about replacing Phelddagrif, Derevi is it. I'm sure there are some absolute shenanigans to be done with the triggered ability. The STAX crowd will certainly find a use for it. What I really love about Derevi is the combination of not having to pay the Commander tax for him (her?) and making it far more difficult to counter.
Fiery Justice: Ice Age cards for the win.
Gahiji, Honored One: Although it sounds like it could be a P3K card, Gahiji is brand new. Powering up the offense in Naya colors means games are going to get shorter if you don't have some defensive cards. With the M14 legend rule change, copies of Gahiji could mean imminent threats to your life total.
Jeleva, Nephalia's Scourge: The good news if you're playing against Jeleva is that her 1/3 body isn't likely to survive too many attacks. The bad news is that she is easy enough to cast with increasingly devastating effects that the person playing her isn't going to care if you have favorable blocks. Note that when the spell cast with Jeleva resolves, the card will go to the graveyard and not stay exiled. I suppose that at least is good news.
Marath, Will of the Wild: Probably a straight upgrade for those of you playing Ulasht, the Hate Seed in your decks, Marath is in colors which can produce some mana. Be very afraid, especially if Doubling Season and/or Primal Vigor are involved.
Nekusar, the Mindrazer: Yay, I draw extra cards! Boo, it burns us! Kyle, one of our local players, has a Crosis, the Purger deck which kills you while helping you draw cards. I imagine Nekusar will be stepping into that slot.
Oloro, Ageless Ascetic: Play Oloro, gain life. Even if you don't actually play him. I'd play the card even if the middle ability was modal and I could only choose one. Together, I'm a little swoony.
Prossh, Skyraider of Kher: One of the first-spoiled cards in the set, Prossh has already been divided into a thousand parts and infinite combos have been assembled. I absolutely love how it creates tokens which make Rohgahh of Kher Keep worthwhile. I can't wait to Mirror Strike it.
Shattergang Brothers: The only other brothers in Magic are Brothers of Fire and the Yamazaki twins. The activated abilities are at the perfect mana cost to be good but not overpowered. Thematically, I like that you have to break something of your own in order to break something of someone else's.
Sydri, Galvanic Genius: Breathtaking artwork (again) from Terese Nielsen. The card isn't going to make me run out and replace Merieke Ri Berit as my Esper commander, but the card is interesting enough to play in that Merieke deck, especially since there are a fair number of artifacts in it. Wouldn't it be wild to animate Mycosynth Wellspring to battle with?
Druidic Satchel: MAN BAG!
Surveyor's Scope: The thing that makes this card so good is that the lands come into play untapped. It's a fine way for decks that don't ramp (like Esper and Boros) to catch up. I'm particularly fond of the card and will be scooping up as many as I can for all my non-green decks.
The five Commander 2013 decks provide a new jumping-in point for players new to the format, plenty of classic cards for those who have recently gotten involved, and loads of exciting new cards for everyone. It has without a doubt been worth the wait.
Embracing the Chaos,
Facebook = Sheldon Menery
Twitter = @SheldonMenery
Food and Wine Blog = http://discoveriesinfoodandwine.com/
If you want to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that's been alive since 1987), ask for an invitation to the Facebook group "Sheldon Menery's Monday Night Gamers."