Khans of Tarkir promises to be one of the most thrilling sets for Commander in quite a while. Picking up in quality where M15 left off, it exceeds the last core set in flavor and gives Commander fans quite a few new weapons in our wedge arsenals. Remember as with all of my set reviews, this is for Commander only. There will be Draft, Sealed, Standard, and Modern cards that are just tiny blips for the 100-card format.
I'm going to bring in three people who know Khan in order to help me categorize the cards.
The Shatner List
For the cards on this list to be playable in Commander, you'll need Kirk's solution to the Kobyashi Maru. And the programming really has been reprogrammed-many of the cards on the Shatner list have gotten me interested in drafting again.
Ainok Bond-kin; Alabaster Kirin; Dazzling Ramparts; Defiant Strike; Feat of Resistance; Firehoof Cavalry; Jeskai Student; Kill Shot; Mardu Hateblade; Rush of Battle; Sage-Eye Harrier; Salt Road Patrol; Seeker of the Way; Siegecraft; Take Up Arms; Venerable Lammasu; War Behemoth; Watcher of the Roost
Blinding Spray; Cancel; Crippling Chill; Dig Through Time; Dragon's Eye Savants; Force Away; Glacial Stalker; Mistfire Weaver; Monastery Flock; Mystic of the Hidden Way; Riverwheel Aerialists; Scaldkin; Scion of Glaciers; Set Adrift; Singing Bell Strike; Treasure Cruise; Waterwhirl; Wetland Sambar; Whirlwind Adept
Bellowing Saddlebrute; Dead Drop; Debilitating Injury; Disowned Ancestor; Dutiful Return; Gurmag Swiftwing; Krumar Bond-kin; Mardu Skullhunter; Mer-ek Nightblade; Molting Snakeskin; Murderous Cut; Necropolis Fiend; Retribution of the Ancients; Rite of the Serpent; Rotting Mastodon; Shambling Attendants; Sidisi's Pet; Sultai Scavenger; Throttle; Unyielding Krumar
Ainok Tracker; Arc Lightning; Arrow Storm; Bloodfire Expert; Bloodfire Mentor; Bring Low; Canyon Lurkers; Dragon Grip; Dragon-Style Twins; Goblinslide; Horde Ambusher; Leaping Master; Mardu Blazebringer; Mardu Heart-Piercer; Monastery Swiftspear; Shatter; Summit Prowler; Swift Kick; Tormenting Voice; Trumpet Blast; Valley Dasher; War-Name Aspirant.
Alpine Grizzly; Archers' Parapet; Awaken the Bear; Become Immense; Feed the Clan; Heir of the Wilds; Highland Game; Hooting Mandrills; Incremental Growth; Kin-Tree Warden; Naturalize; Pine Walker; Sagu Archer; Smoke Teller; Temur Charger; Tusked Colossodon; Windstorm; Woolly Loxodon
Artifact and Land
The Nemoy List
These cards are those who will perform "according to their own gifts." Most are unspectacular but often useful in certain decks or situations.
Abzan Battle Priest: I doubt you'll use the Outlast all that often, but giving everyone else lifelink-because you know you're playing this in a Gavony Township deck-for no additional cost could be worth it.
Abzan Falconer: Ditto with flying.
Brave the Sands: The combination of abilities combined with the cheap cost seems worth it. No, it's not what you're fetching with Academy Rector, but it's a nice tool, especially in an enchantment-heavy deck like Heliod, God of the Sun.
Erase: I'm not so sure people are going to play this reprint, but I'll suggest they might seriously consider it. I like the M13 art best.
High Sentinels of Arashin: The +1/+1 counter decks are just getting more and more weapons.
Mardu Hordechief: Soldier and blink decks will create something for nothing.
Master of Pearls: "It's always Willbender" will be the buzz phrase of the set. It's a combat trick that's going to surprise some folks the first few times. Fortunately for you, it's going to surprise them to death.
Smite the Monstrous: This one is The Corbomite Maneuver. Giant things need to go.
Suspension Field: Get rid of something scary, at least for a time for a very nice cost. Constellation is looking better and better.
Disdainful Strike: I'm giving this one a maybe, only for the blowouts it might cause on (Project) Genesis Wave.
Embodiment of Spring: An excellent little one drop to provide some early defense and some ramp.
Jeskai Elder: There is enough good simple straight card draw in blue that the spot for this is in a deck with black in it to be able to reanimate your monsters.
Stubborn Denial: Let's face it. You're frequently going to have a big creature when you really want to counter that spell.
Taigam's Scheming: Another tool for reanimation decks. There are arguments for it in delve decks, but we're not going to see too many of them in the format.
Thousand Winds: Being a little expensive for what it does keeps it of the list that follows, but I think it still has a little game.
Weave Fate: Splashable card draw keeps the warp core on line.
Despise: For one mana, stripping away one of the two most popular nonland permanents in the format is all kinds of upside.
Kheru Bloodsucker: The obvious thing here is to have big creatures and then dare someone to kill them. Really useful with a card like Minion Reflector. You create a temporary copy of something large, then have a sacrifice outlet to deal with it. Trying to do Corpse Dance tricks with it would be cool but pretty expensive.
Raiders' Spoils: A little narrow, but that's what the Nimoy List is all about.
Ruthless Ripper: Essentially a combat trick for no cost, tribal assassins just got a pretty good weapon.
Swarm of Blooodflies: Note that it's any creature, not nontoken creature. Obv combo is with sac outlets, Blood Arist, and Reassembling Skeleton. Too bad it's not a Zombie or you could add Gravecrawler.
Act of Treason: No reason to see a status change on a card that's been getting played in decks since it came out.
Ashcloud Phoenix: Outstanding card conceptually, the cost to unmorph it is a little high for it to be super-exciting.
Crater's Claws: I don't see the ferocious part of it being super-relevant, but X spells to the face get played. Now if the ferocious line had "…and can't be countered…" then we'd have a winner.
Hordeling Outburst: Great. More goblins in the rutabagas.
Jeering Instigator: Early or late, this is a creature worth turning face up.
Mardu Warshrieker: Creating additional mana can always lead to interesting plays. I expect to see this creature in a Rosewater puzzle at some point.
Lonshot Squad: Even if this card was terrible, I'd play it because it's a Hound Archer. Giving a bunch of green creatures flying-an ability green doesn't do well-will make it valuable.
Meandering Towershell: There has to be some way to make cool use of this. Attacking every other turn doesn't seem all that great. Maybe with Warstorm Surge or something you could dial up some damage. Or in a Doran, the Siege Tower deck. Someone's going to figure out something cool to do with this card, I know it.
Roar of Challenge: A fine way to get a final attack through, and cool that the lure is likely going to survive.
Savage Punch: Brother's punching a bear. A bear!
Seek the Horizon: For the same mana, I'd prefer to put two Forests onto the battlefield (Ranger's Path or Skyshroud Claim), but I can see situations, like those where you get extra land drops on a turn, in which the horizon must be sought.
Trail of Mystery: Making the all-morphs deck (an awesome idea) possible is worth the small investment of the Trail.
Abomination of Gudul: A great role-player in the mill yourself deck, I can't imagine seeing it played face down all that much.
Ankle Shanker: A card name that I love and hate at the same time.
Avalanche Tusker: I like forcing a block, even if it just takes the block away from something I'd rather get through.
Bear's Companion: You better not punch this warrior's bear.
Chief on the Edge: A little tribal bump. Just make it so that cowards can't block warriors.
Chief of the Scale: Probably gets played for flavor's sake.
Icefeather Aven: Lots of good room to play with this creature. Bounce a lethal attacker, get a new enters-the-battlefield trigger, drop an attacker back down after combat in order to blow. Very solid, if unspectacular card.
Ivorytusk Fortress: Strong if narrow effect. But hey, elephants. Note to R&D: Still waiting for that elephant lord.
Jeskai Charm: The first and third modes are fine. Unlikely to see the second one used.
Kheru Lich Lord: When I started reading this card, I was fist-pumping, cabbage-patching, krumping, and engaging in end zone dances that would have made Icky Woods proud. Then I read the last sentence, and the celebration was over.
Mardu Ascendancy: Not really grooving on the second ability, but the first has something going for it.
Mardu Roughrider: We've already talked about being able to take the best blocker out of a combat. Definitely changes the math.
Mindswipe: I think this will be one of those that doesn't turn out as good as people think it will. Note that they take the damage even if they pay the X.
Ponyback Brigade: If this triggered only when turned face up, it'd be on the Shatner list. Since it's an enters-the-battlefield trigger, it's well worth it.
Rakshasa Vizier: If you think that your graveyard is eventually getting hit anyway, I suppose you could take some upside from it. Still don't think this will lead anyone to playing a delve deck in this format.
Siege Rhino: Perhaps Karador-style decks could make use of it, but I think they'd have to recur it a bunch of times to get value. Adding Conjurer's Closet might seem like the right call, but I think there would often be other things that you'd rather blink.
Sultai Ascendency: No, it's not Sensei's Divining Top. Speaking of which, if you play online, you should go weigh in on this thread. It's not even Mirri's Guile, but it does what the decks built with it want it to do.
Trap Essence: Countering creatures is always good, but the mana requirement might be a little awkward. Plus you'll have to have a creature to get full value out of it.
Warden of the Eye: Yeah, okay. Narrower Eternal Witness in Jeskai colors? Not bad considering they're also blink colors.
Artifact and Land
Ghostfire Blade: There are a lot of maybes surrounding this card. Like "maybe I'll play it because it's cheap" and "maybe I can put it on Darksteel Colossus." Too many maybes.
Bloodstone Caves, Blossoming Sands, Dismal Backwater, Jungle Hollow, Rugged Highlands, Scoured Barrens, Swiftwood Cliffs, Thornwood Falls, Tranquil Cove, Wind-Scarred Crag: Sure thing. I'm always careful about having too many enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands in a deck.
Bloodstained Mire, Flooded Strand, Polluted Delta, Windswept Heath, Wooded Foothills: Like I said a few weeks back, I don't think these are particularly necessary to play the format, but I'm happy that those who really want them now have easier access to them.
Tomb of the Spirit Dragon: Seems okay. Will definitely go into the Karn, Silver Golem deck I plan to build.
The Takei List
These are the cards which are going to make you go "Oh, myyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!"
End Hostilities: Another reasonably-priced Wrath of God effect will get played, and this one has the opportunity to destroy even more. This card is a photon torpedo strike right into Uril, the Miststalker's engines.
Clever Impersonator: Clones keep getting better and better! At these prices, you can't go wrong. I especially see it in a blink deck where you can just run it out there to copy something useful at the moment, then copy something cooler later.
Icy Blast: Tapping down creatures in order to engage in combat tricks is already good enough; keeping them tapped takes it to a new level.
Quiet Contemplation: This is going to be one of those sneaky-good cards. You're going to toss it in to give it a whirl and later find out how much you really love it.
Bitter Revelation: Not a card that will immediately make you go "Oh, my!" until you play it several times. Then, whenever you do, you'll give that knowing nod.
Empty the Pits: It's an instant! It's like Zombie Sun Zenith. This card will occasionally end games. One of the few delve cards which I think we'll see.
Grim Haruspex: This card gets played a great deal and nearly never gets played a morph. You're playing black. Other creatures die. Draw yourself some cards.
Barrage of Bolders: Get out of the way little dudes! On second thought, everybody get out of the way!
Burn Away: Whoa! Serious graveyard hate from red. Best blowout will be hitting a creature with it when someone else wraths.
Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker: I like that they're printing planeswalkers which aren't completely bonkers. I suspect we'll see the first ability played quite a lot. Because, you know, dragons.
Hardened Scales: Since I've already gotten some emails asking to emergency pre-ban this card, I know it must be good. It's awesome, it will get played lots, it may even be the chase card for Commander from this set, but there's no way it ever gets banned.
Hooded Hydra: The math majors will be able to tell you the optimal value of X versus playing it as a morph. I can just tell you that it's going to deal damages to many peoples.
Rattleclaw Mystic: Temur decks didn't need much help in the first place, but boy did they get something here. It costs two to turn face up and generates three mana. There has to be infinite mana in there somewhere.
See the Unwritten: My kind of card, because you know I'm getting two creatures. Big, fat ones.
Abzan Ascendency: Both abilities are interesting enough to have by themselves. Having both together gives both your Karador deck some extra fodder. In Ghave, Guru of Spores, not so much.
Abzan Charm: The question is never going to be "should I play this?" but "when should I play this?" Powerful in many situations, it's in the early running as being my favorite of this set's charms.
Anafenza, the Foremost: Holy Squire of Gothos! A new Abzan commander that can also be a serious player in other decks. I probably won't put it in my Karador, Ghost Chieftain deck because I like other people having stuff in their graveyard (with Puppeteer Clique and Sepulchral Primordial), but I might figure out that it's well worth it to swap those out and put this in. I just have to remember this can get played against me and keep that Riftsweeper ready. Graveyard recursion is such a powerful strategy, I think that having great graveyard hate is reasonable protection.
Butcher of the Horde: Demons eating creatures has been happening since the beginning of Magic, and I'm happy that we're continuing. I'm also happy about affordable Mardu creatures. Long time readers know that I also love sacrifice outlets to keep other peoples' hand off of my stuff.
Deflecting Palm: We've talked a fair amount about Uril today, and this is another way to combat it since the spell isn't targeted. The bad news is that Deflecting Palm deals the damage, unlike Reflect Damage, so you can't use it to kill someone with their own commander. Still, it's a lock to go into You Did This to Yourself. Talk to the paw.
Duneblast: Outstanding name on outstanding art. Good Wrath effects are good. Keeping your best creature makes them even better. Remember that they can regenerate. Might be cool if the player two seats to your left is out of hand, and you can't do anything about it-giving the person one seat to your left the chance.
Flying Crane Technique: Sure, it's pricey, but when it works, you can use all the Mr. Miyagi quotes you want to. Either a supreme blowout to someone who thinks they have a clear attack or just murdering someone who thinks they still are in the game.
Jeskai Ascendancy: This thing has comb written all over it. You can build an aggressive attacking deck, then still have your creatures for defense. The first time you surprise someone with your onboard trick will make people twitchy every time they attack you.
Narset, Enlightened Master: I know lots of folks, me included, are excited about the new Jeskai commander. It'd be interesting to run with a bunch of multiple attack step and creatures can't block cards to see if you can get a commander damage kill. Remember that when you play the cards, they go to the graveyard, so you can reshuffle use them again!
Sidisi, Blood Tyrant: I'm super-fond of the self-mill plan anyway, so Sidisi is a new weapon in my arsenal. I'm pretty sure that it'll be 1 of 99 in my Mimeoplasm deck, but I can definitely see the argument to that it should command its own. Outstanding card that I know I'm not the only person excited about.
Sorin, Solemn Visitor: I love this kind of planeswalker: the one that people will tend to leave alone because it doesn't seem so scary. In most cases, I see activating the first ability twice, which could yield quite some lifegain for your four mana investment, and then the table orc-piling onto Sorin (which isn't the worst thing, since they're not orc-piling onto you). Be careful though. Some of them might find that his ultimate isn't all that scary since they might have creatures that they want to sacrifice.
Sultai Soothsayer: This is raw dog card draw from your pick of four. I'd play this even if I weren't attempting recursion shenanigans.
Surrak Dragonclaw: Wait, what??? Surrak has everything! Certainly one of my top cards in the set and one that I might not even pretend to try to put into only one deck (since I have three of the wedge). Remember that dancing I started doing with Kheru Lich Lord? It's happening right now.
Temur Charm: And the Temur hits just keep coming. I don't think this one is as solid through the middle as the other charms on the Takei List, but I think it's the one that will lead to the biggest haymakers-like countering that giant Genesis Wave or rendering those Plant tokens useless against the incoming attack.
Zurgo Helmsmasher: An affordable Mardu commander that's not Kaalia of the Vast. I call that a winner. There are a number of ways to take a Zurgo deck-and most of your opponents will be taking it directly to the face.
Artifact and Land
Dragon Throne of Tarkir: Equipped to something immense multiplies that creature's power to crazy proportions. An onboard threat everyone has to take seriously.
Ugin's Nexus: Another one that I've already had calls to pre-ban; I still don't understand how it's all that scary. It's nice protection against extra turns, and then if you need one yourself, there you go. It's exiled, so it's not like it can get out of hand.
Frontier Bivouac, Mystic Monastery, Nomad Outpost, Opulent Palace, Sandsteppe Citadel: Great that we now have wedge tri-lands. I really wish they would have just named them after the clans though. Would have made it way easier.
The density of excellent cards for Commander is slightly smaller than in M15, but the impact will be greater. There is so much high-quality (and much-needed) love for some of the wedges that we will see many of these cards make immediate splashes in your local environments. While it seems like the Temur cards are objectively the best, it's Mardu that seems to have closed the gap most, since it was probably the weakest wedge (or shard).
Good friend Brian David-Marshall will be vising for the Pre-release, so look for some reports of tomfoolery as the two of us attend the Sunday event at Armada Games. I hope you have as much fun at yours as I suspect we'll have at ours.
Our regular Decks Without Comment feature will return post-Khans of Tarkir release.
If you'd like 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."
Here is the latest database version of all my decks:
ADUN'S TOOLBOX ; ANIMAR'S SWARM;AURELIA GOES TO WAR;DEMONS OF KAALIA;EREBOS and the HALLS OF THE DEAD;HELIOD, GOD OF ENCHANTMENTS;DREAMING OF INTET;HALLOWEEN WITH KARADOR;KARRTHUS, WHO RAINS FIRE FROM THE SKY;KRESH INTO THE RED ZONE;LAVINIA BLINKS;LAZAV, SHAPESHIFTING MASTERMIND;ZOMBIES OF TRESSERHORN;MELEK'S MOLTEN MIND GRIND;MERIEKE'S ESPER CONTROL;THE MILL-MEOPLASM;NATH of the VALUE LEAF;OBZEDAT, GHOST KILLER;PURPLE HIPPOS and MARO SORCERERS;ZEGANA and a DICE BAG;RAKDOS: LIFE IS SHORT;RITH'S TOKENS;YOU DID THIS TO YOURSELF;RURIC THAR AND HIS BEASTLY WEREWOLF FIGHT CLUB;THASSA, GOD OF MERFOLK;THE ALTAR of THRAXIMUNDAR; TROSTANI and HER ANGELS