Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Thank you all for the kind words I received regarding my last article. I may not get back to everyone, but they are the small acts of kindness that really keep my world going, and the darkness at bay.
That being said, I am not completely stepping away from Magic. I meant to communicate that I will no longer be doing Commander Versus or going to every event. There is a much smaller density of Magic events in Seattle's driving radius, but I will still be playing, writing, and living Magic. Especially the format I have the most Frogmite keywords for: Commander.
Thanks to that artificially delivered segue, I believe there is a new Commander product on the horizon that's set to release in just two days! Wow! So I figured I'd give them the 'ol look over and see which ones might see play in various formats, and my general review on this awesome product, which drives home the feeling they finally know what they're doing with these Commander releases.
Just like every other Magic player that enjoys drawing cards (that's all of us), I'm going to take a look at the planeswalkers first. It's the first set that focuses on monocolored, which is a nice follow-up to the two multicolored releases. Most Commander decks are at least two colors, so that people can harness the maximum amount of card functionality and awesomeness. Monocolored decks often have a strong focus on the Commander, so they'd better be the bee's knees. And these five Commanders have so many knees, I've lost count. They were all made abilities first (bottom up) so they were explicitly designed to break the "legendary creature as your commander" rule, and these cards really drive home the reason that planeswalkers actually have proper pronouns and refer to themselves as "hims" and hers." Since they all cost five (save one, which is in the color that really isn't ruining anybody's day), they will rarely come out earlier than turn 4, and as I've said multiple times, planeswalkers give your opponents reasons to attack you. And by you, I mean your buddy you called in to mow the grass for you.
The grass is your opponent's life total, by the way.
So let's break 'em down!
Do you all remember when Stoneforge Mystic and Jace got banned in Standard? Well it looks like she complained so much that she was a mere creature and not a mind-blowing planeswalker, so she got her very own spark! While the Lithomancer isn't the "exact" Mystic we see on everybody's favorite 1/2, there were whispers about her way back in 2010, but we're now finally exploring Ugin's past, so we might as well divulge her secrets too. I believe this is all setting the stage for The Eldrazi Unleashed, where we try to stop these three colorless dudes from, ya know, destroying the Multiverse.
Oh Nahiri has card text and not just story? I guess that's cool too…
White is usually second from the bottom in terms of general strength as a color in Commander. Wraths are sweet, but small creatures are sour. White, much like The Boros Legion's other color, has to rely on artifacts to shore up its weaknesses. In particular, equipment. So that's the design space this girl occupies. She makes men and allows you to skip both ends of equipment's cost. Sure she's not drawing you cards, but she supplies every part of the buffalo that is needed to start swinging with that Argentum Armor. Move over Kemba, Kha Regent, there's a new mono-white equipment commander around. Also, she just looks insanely awesome. I wish there was a wallpaper made for her, as I would replace my iPhone's current Waldorf and Statler with her in an instant. That wallpaper is just medium. It's not rare, and it's not well done either. DOOOHOHOHO.
What's this? Teferi as a Planeswalker? How is this possible?
Well, this is just a snapshot of Teferi, before he saved his own plane by forsaking all others. Most planeswalker cards are just snapshots of the character at a certain point of time. We first see Ajani Goldmane as the proud, noble Leonin leader he becomes after his hotheaded rebellious youth beginnings as Ajani Vengeant. Jace's third Incarnation was during his stint as the lead singer in an alternative rock band, complete with guyliner. Here we see Teferi in his time as an Oldwalker as he scurries about trying to save Dominaria, and by extension, Dominia, from the time rifts. It's curious to me that Wizards has finally printed a pre-Mending Planeswalker, beings that were near Godlike in terms of power and survivability, while Jace and Chandra are just really strong wizards that can dimensionally travel. If you cut off Jace's head, he's not gonna keep chatting with you. Meanwhile Urza can survive such wounds, but would probably cost about 40 mana as a card (and he would be U/R too!!). While Teferi wasn't quite that strong, he is definitely more powerful than what we see here. However, I'm much more excited that they actually have started printing these iconic characters on cards in these supplemental sets. That's about the only way it can be done, unless we return to Dominaria, or have a Time Spiral 2.
At any rate, Teferi's card is rather lackluster. He costs the most and doesn't go up or down by 2 like every other commander in this set. For six mana, you better be getting something on the level of Consecrated Sphinx, and his plus 1 is definitely not it. His minus 1 is just a Tezzeret, the Seeker impersonation, but if you want more of that effect, then by all means. His ultimate is something I figured they would have put on a card already (activating a Planeswalker ability on an opponent's turn), but it's fairly unachievable on this card. For being the first card in the set and breaking a ton of old rules, I rather dislike this card for actual play.
Remember this guy? First he was this random card with interesting flavor text that only saw play in some (fairly bad) Genesis Wave decks. Then he came back with a vengeance about five years later as a Demon who hates fetchlands. Now we see him as how he was before he got messed up real good by The Chain Veil, and later Nahiri. Now the only real question remaining is: just what does Ob mean? Is it a title? Or does he, like Nicol Bolas, just prefer his planeswalker type to be his last name, because he enjoys taking candy from kids? The world may never know.
Again, making a 5/5 Demon for five is about the most unimpressive thing you can do in Commander and an Agent of Masks activation every turn isn't really going to impress anybody, unlike her flavor text that I quote on a regular basis. It won't win you any games, and people will try to kill him just so they don't have to keep track of all the life changes every turn. His ultimate is just like all the others: extremely sweet if you get to pull it off, despite the fact that you can just recast him over and over (which is yet another knob to tune, on the already knobby card type that are Planeswalkers).
Now we're cooking with gas! I had hoped my dear Sandra Bullock lookalike, Jaya Ballard, was going to be the red planeswalker, but I'm still completely satisfied with this little guy. Non-human planeswalkers are few and far between, and it's about time goblins got some love! Red is often condemned to being the worst color in Commander. It's hard pressed to draw cards, only has fast mana, can't really kill anything, and in a format where everybody starts with twice as much life as normal, Lightning Bolt looks much less impressive.
But the one part of the color pie that red can really tinker with is artifacts. And I am so glad Wizards decided to really sink their teeth into that area, because boy is it fun.
This guy only costs four, which means he's going to come out more often on turn 3 more often than not, and he will shoot directly to 5 loyalty, which keeps him alive against most of the utility creatures that you will see on turn 3. His plus 2 looks card neutral, but in a deck that is designed around him (read: every deck), it's more like drawing a card or so every turn. While every ability on these planeswalkers all work together beautifully, Daretti's really sends home the message that you're gonna be in trouble, and fast. Ichor wellspring, Spine of Ish Sah, Solemn Simulacrum. This card is pure value. His ultimate is probably not going to happen unless you've got nothing better to do, but odds are that you will have something better to do. In all honestly I might just helm my mono red artifact deck with this guy, as he's doing everything my deck is trying to do. The only drawback is that the regular card won't be foil, and I -really -- like my Jaya that is altered to be Redeemed Riven from League of Legends. Oh well, I suppose I can just wait until the Judge promo comes along in about two years. But until then, you can just call me Dean McCoppin.
And here we get to what is probably going to be the favorite of the five walkers: Miss Llanowar herself.
She ramps, she's removal, and she's card draw. Really she symbolizes what Commander is all about. Like Teferi, she is an extremely powerful being that has done a ton in Magic's past. Even more so than our Disruptive Student, as not only did she end the Ice Age, but she was also one of Urza's Nine Titans, and actually survived the Invasion before sacrificing herself to close a Time Rift. While this isn't exactly what Freyalise was known for (she was protective and xenophobic) I'm fine with her awesome art being on a card that is so green, so Commander. Any card that ramps you but can also do other things (like the Temur trio of Kiora, Ral, and Xenagos), gets two thumbs up in my book! I almost want to make a new deck with her at the helm, but making it different from every other mono green deck is a difficult challenge.
But wait, you say this set has other cards? Oh fine, let's take a glance at them, eh? While every card has a home somewhere, here are some of my highlights.
Each Commander set has a card (or two) that is seeded for Legacy. These sets simultaneously allow Wizards to apply hotfixes to their most commonly played "old" format (sorry Mox Ruby and friends). First we had Flusterstorm (and possibly Chaos Warp). Then we got True-Name Nemesis (hey, not all patches are lauded, but how many True-Names do you see running around nowadays?). And now we have this girl. While Maverick isn't really around anymore, Death and Taxes, by its very title, still is. This weird Mono White control/aggro/mana disruption deck is historically weak to combo decks. I mean 1/1s for one mana and 3/3s for two mana can only do so much. But what can this 2/2 for two actually stop?
In case you're wondering, that's about three different entire decks, plus some marginalized hate. Sure, it's a bit of a nombo with Aether Vial, but if it's good in the matchup and keeping you from losing, what's to complain about? I await the day when somebody goes EoT Containment Priest, then casts Flickerwisp targeting a Tarmogoyf, turning it into Brain Grain. Their opponent's wish bubble will pop right then and there, and their creature won't be coming back.
I'm not sure this is what Miss Containment is doing, but I'd like to believe it.
While I'm not too keen on White Weenie strategies, this card is exactly what the doctor ordered for those decks to function. Don't be "that guy" and Armageddon people. Just kill all their creatures and attack with your merry band of 2/2s. Just watch out of that your target doesn't get bounced/killed in response.
Finally! There are nine Gales for Keeper of the Nine Gales to Keep! I actually really like this card. It bounces anything, which is important, and it's perfect when you want to rebuy an EtB effect on one of your own creatures, to survive for one more turn, or for when bouncing five just isn't enough. I think it's a perfectly fine version of Cyclonic Rift that doesn't make all your opponents feel horrible. Of course, they also included Cyclonic Rift in the deck, so maybe they weren't going for that at all.
You get to feel smart every time you cast this. Or you can just join a four player pod and cast this on your buddy so that you two can reap the sweet sweet rewards of like fourbooster packs and ruining the days of the other two players in your pod in this quasi-tournament setting, ya big jerk.
This card wins the award for "Sweetest Tokens." Blue isn't really known for its intense token-generating skills (Master of Waves notwithstanding), nor its sacrificing skills, but this card is good at both! You also get the tokens immediately, something that I wouldn't necessarily champion, besides the fact that the textbox is already filled to the gills with flavor.
Most wraths are around 4-5 mana. Unlike Standard, you often don't have to have the wrath on turn 4, lest dying, so a little extra mana for a bonus effect is completely welcome, and I'd say this bonus effect is extremely welcome. I'll be playing this in most every black deck imaginable, and I will be constantly be thinking of what creature I want to bring back, so I don't take forever casting this spell. I advise you all out there in Real World land to do the same too. And I guarantee that the exile clause was added when somebody brought back an Eternal Witness with this card for the first time. This card is like eating Funnel Cake: once is sweet, but at ten times, and you're likely to get kicked in the groin.
Here's a guy that likes to party. Oftentimes players will decline to attack or will roll a dice to determine who they send their forces toward. I always attack the person who I think is currently "in the lead" even if that person hasn't done anything (like the blue combo mage who is just sitting on tons of mana). This guy is Ruhan's older brother who went crazy listening to the Jeskai Giant ramble on about plowing buses through banks. And the straightjacket comes with a toughness of 6. That's one sturdy Zombie!
Besides the name, I love this card (seriously, I know you want to evoke Snapcaster Mage here, but give it some spice. Maybe Zapcaster mage or "Mimeographer Mage" or something.) But at any rate, this guy will go in most red Commander decks. I always keep Wild Ricochet around in case of awesome shenanigans, and this one is a creature! Sure, he's harder to trigger than Snapcaster or Eternal Witness, but people will still find a way.
He also has a chance of seeing Legacy play. With Ancestral-- I mean Treasure Cruise running around, how about copying your, or your opponent's copy? It can be an odd Snapcaster Mage when it comes to counter wars. And have you thought about this card copying a Fireblast? I understand it absolutely couldn't be two mana, and I am extremely happy it is double red. We need to keep our red cards pure and away from filthy blue mages!
Story Incarnate. Sure he can "reanimate" creatures in red's automatonic, transitory way, but it's the blending of the picture, the flavor text, the mechanics, and the story behind a character that we all have heard of, but don't really know, that blends it all together into art. I really like this guy.
They could have just made this a colorshifted card and called it a day. I will, of course, be including this in my Jaya/Daretti deck. Props for including Daretti in the art. We need more cards with planeswalkers on them that aren't actually planeswalkers. It allows us to explore their character more, what with no more book or ebooks explaining the story.
Now this is a Hydra. Pelakkalakkalakka Wurm lovers rejoice! I imagine this will go in most G/B decks, as they will be most keen on sacrificing it. They even mention Pharika in the flavor text! Shoutouts to Theros!
Lignify has come a long way. I can excuse the small breach in color pie (much like Hornet's Sting) for the unique effect. Pacifisms are much more awesome in Commander than in Constructed formats, due to the commander recasting paradigm. I imagine this green Path to Exile/Vindicate hybrid will be going in many decks in the years to come. Props for targeting an Island with it just to stick it to the blue mage.
The only Lieutenant card I like. I think the mechanic was easily done, as people enjoy being rewarded for stuff they're already doing: like casting their commander! But it's still a welcome addition. Of course, only five cards have this ability, and this is the only one that actually does anything. Like killing your opponent(s).
She is another oldie character, but has a very unique text box. For somebody who's labeled a protector, I foresee a lot of Wasteland/Strip Mine/Tectonic Edge activations in her games. At least she costs five, so you can kind of be set up by then. But she dies to bolt, so that's one way to fight her.
If I have a two-color deck and the commander is more than three mana, I more than likely will be playing this card. It is double-focused and sits alongside Spine of Ish Sah, Karn Liberated, and All is Dust in letting black and red destroy Enchantments.
I can't believe Selesnya was holding this over our heads with Krosan Verge for so long. I for one am happy they finally allowed the other colors to do what green and white have been oppressing us with for so many years: ramping one mana with a unique land.
And there you have it! Every card in this set is unique in some way or another, and I think Wizards has gotten the right people on the job finally. No more Ruinations in decks that are rather lacking in power level. You can bring these decks over to gatherings and at least stand a shot of winning! Or you can harvest them for their precious new cards to slot into your own existing decks. Or you can just rip out the Containment Priest and attack for two at an SCG Open near you.
The choice is yours, planeswalker.