This weekend, I was having lunch with my kids and I could not help myself. I pulled out my phone, pulled up Ixalan previews and showed them some cards.
"Dinosaurs, kids. This new Magic set has Dinosaurs."
I may have giggled. I probably did. The kids looked at me bemused. My daughter is nearly seventeen; my son is fifteen. Though I have tried for years, I have never been able to get them into Magic. I thought that perhaps Dinosaurs might spark a little interest. I mean, they were not far away from being that age where Dinosaurs just captured the imagination.
"Check it out. They're even biologically correct, with plumage like birds!"
They chuckled. Which is different from giggling. You giggle with someone. You chuckle at someone.
Desperate, I tried another tack. "There are Pirates too!"
Okay, so my kids are not Magic fans (yet, I still have hope) but for the rest of us, this set has been a blast discovering through the previews so far. I am super-excited about the ramifications of Ixalan and the coming rotation for Standard – and I will talk a little about that later – but for now, I want to talk about how cool Ixalan appears to be for Commander.
Commander 2017 has been a roaring success with its tribal themes, and I think it was a brilliant move for Wizards to continue beating the tribal drums in Ixalan. I am not sure whether that was planned or a happy accident, but Commander fans are reaping the rewards. Let us talk about some of the great things for Commander that has been previewed so far.
In My Tribe
Speaking of tribal, there are a handful of cards previewed so far that slot right into any deck built around creature type synergies. Therefore, no matter which of the Commander 2017 decks you have picked up and are looking to tweak, there are some goodies for you in Ixalan. Vanquisher's Banner in particular is a fantastic card, giving an immediate boost to your creatures when it hits the Battlefield, and then reaping card dividends each time you cast another one. Tribal decks often run out of gas in Commander due to the many powerful "destroy all creatures" spells people play, so this is another great way to refuel. Pillar of Origins and Unclaimed Territory help with color fixing, though only specifically to cast spells of the selected tribe.
Arcane Adaptation is an oddball card that takes the conservative approach of Conspiracy and Xenograft and kicks it up a notch for two less mana. If your tribal deck plays blue and you have some creatures not of your focused tribe but provide benefits to that tribe, keep Arcane Adaptation in mind. One combo I have seen mentioned is this card with Turntimber Ranger. Then have an Ally enter the battlefield under your control and you get a 2/2 Wolf token that is also an Ally, so that triggers the Ranger. You ever wanted a Wolf pack that encircles the globe? You got it!
If you are a fan of Vampire tribal, this has been a great couple of years for you! Vampiric Bloodlust from Commander 2017 is a great deck right out of the box stuffed to the gills with great tribal synergies. There are plenty of great Vampires not in the deck that you can pick up to juice the power level, especially with Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon rotating out of Standard and the Spikes looking to liquidate so they can buy the new set. With Vampires a supported tribe in Ixalan we have even got more to choose from, including a few legendary creatures (which I'll talk about below).
Bishop of Rebirth is just a potent Magic card, period. I expect it to see play in non-Tribal Commander decks (imagine it alongside Selfless Spirit or Dauntless Escort) and might even break into Standard. Its size can be quickly outclassed in Commander, though, so having some tribal synergies to boost it will help ensure you get to keep attacking with it.
If you pay attention to your mana curve in Commander, one thing that is often lacking is a good one-drop, and Duskborne Skymarcher might do the trick for Vampire tribal. A one-mana flying Vampire is pretty good, and later in the game its ability can help push through some damage.
I am not sure whether Bloodcrazed Paladin makes the cut in Commander, but it feels a lot like Khabal Ghoul and Caller of the Claw. The mana is dirt-cheap, so it could make the grade in Vampire tribal.
A 4/4 flier for six mana is a bit behind on rate, but I love the flavor of Deathless Ancient and the recursion ability is quite nice. In particular, this seems easy to trigger when you have Edgar Markov's eminence ability.
So what about the other Ixalan tribes? Well, Merfolk is a longstanding heavily supported tribe in Magic, and I imagine Merfolk fans of all stripes, from Commander to Modern, will be getting a few goodies along the way. Deeproot Waters seems like a great card for Merfolk Commander decks. Pirates and Dinosaurs as creature types are pretty thin across the history of Magic, even with the recent creature-type adjustment for old cards now becoming Dinosaurs. My hunch is that Ixalan and the handful of older cards will not provide enough support for a competitive Commander deck, but let us keep our eyes peeled for more of those in Rivals of Ixalan!
If you are a Commander fan, I have no doubt you're super-stoked for these double-faced cards with super-cool destination lands on the flip side. In Standard, you are not always going to have the time to go on the quest to transform these cards, but that sort of thing is right in Commander's wheelhouse and I imagine these cards are going to make an immediate splash in Commander and be doing cool things for years to come.
Search for Azcanta transforms into Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin, which gives you access to a three-mana Impulse each turn—wow! Arguel's Blood Feast transforms into a Diamond Valley that can also tap for black mana if you need to. Growing Rites of Itlimoc transforms into Gaea's Cradle that can also still tap for a green mana even if your opponents have rudely wiped your battlefield clean.
Conqueror's Galley transforms into Conqueror's Foothold, which is a veritable Swiss Army knife of abilities, depending on how much extra mana you have to spend. Primal Amulet transforms into Primal Wellspring that taps for any color mana, and if you spend it on an instant or sorcery, you get to copy it—yes, please! Thaumatic Compass finds Spires of Orazca, which is a Maze of Ith that can also tap for a mana.
Last (so far) is Treasure Map, which transforms into Treasure Cove, giving you three Treasure tokens and the ability to sacrifice a Treasure token to draw a card. This is not as super-splashy as the other ones for Commander, but it could still do some decent work in Commander. If Pirates and Treasures get pushed hard in Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan, this might get even better. We'll have to see. I do think it will probably do some good things in Standard.
There are some great utility cards previewed so far that will no doubt do some good work in Commander decks. Ashes of the Abhorrent is a partial graveyard hoser that can still generate value even if you are not playing against that sort of deck. Ixalan's Binding is incredibly flexible temporary removal that can do some interesting work against opponents' Commanders. I'm not a big proponent of stealing creatures in Commander, but I have to respect the power of Entrancing Melody. River's Rebuke is a little more surgical than a kicked Cyclonic Rift and thus is a better political card, with recursive shenanigans potential if you want to target yourself.
Revel in Riches seems great even outside of a focus on Treasures (though I would probably put Treasure Map in any deck with Revel in Riches). Pair this up with "everybody draws" cards like Temple Bell to ensure that your opponents keep having creatures to cast so you can keep reaping the rewards from their deaths. Wow, this plus Black Market can really generate a ton of mana for you in the late-game outside of the potential "oops, I win" from the second triggered ability.
We get two haymaker spells in red that seems tailor-made for Commander in Star of Extinction and Sunbird's Invocation. I cannot wait to cast Star of Extinction, blowing up someone's Maze of Ith with a Mogg Maniac on the battlefield! And Sunbird's Invocation seems fantastic alongside cards with high mana cost but some sort of mana reduction mechanic, like delve or improvise. I could see the card potentially doing cool stuff even in Standard.
Of course one of the best things for Commander fans is the reprint of the "checklands," Dragonskull Summit and pals. Sure, in the short-term the price of these will bump up a little bit due to Standard demand, but they have been printed enough that the price will eventually dip back down and there will be plenty in circulation. These are just really great lands for two- and three-color Commander decks so I am glad the supply will continue to grow. And the artwork on these new ones is simply fantastic!
What is cool about this batch of legendary creatures is that none of them seem particularly insane for Commander, yet they'll be decent in the right decks. Gishath, Sun's Avatar is certainly big, bad, and splashy, but the power of its triggered ability is predicated on how many Dinosaurs you can put in your deck. It is certainly something to keep an eye out on as more Dinosaurs are printed. The same goes for Admiral Beckett Brass and Pirates.
Tishana, Voice of Thunder feels an awfully lot like Prime Speaker Zegana, and I imagine they will both be hanging out in each other's Commander decks. Tishana can get very big in a hurry, so watch out for trample effects! Vona, Butcher of Magan will be surprisingly good in decks that focus a lot on Vampiric-style lifegain. You have to love vigilance paired with a tap ability. Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle is extremely low-powered as a Commander, but I could see it making the cut as one of the 99 in some other Vampire Commander deck.
I'm a little disappointed in Captain Lannery Storm, since her ability to be great is tied very closely to how many good Treasure-making cards there will be in Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan. I wonder if the card was just too good getting the +1/+0 boost for any artifact that gets sacrificed? My opinion could be completely turned around if there ends up being some crazy Treasure-generating card, but we will see.
What Ixalan cards are you excited to see for your Commander decks? Are there any of these legendary cards you're excited to build around?
I could not let Ixalan preview season go by without touching on my excitement for the upcoming Standard rotation. While I am sad about the Eldrazi leaving, along with many of the cool lands I was playing in my Green Eldrazi Desert deck, the sweet Dinosaurs of Ixalan are here to ease my pain.
As many others have observed, Ripjaw Raptor looks really good to me and I can't wait to jam games with a playset of them in my 75. I actually think the Enrage mechanic is neat and I think Wizards has been subtly making it even better by printing some good red spells lately. If the Standard world is ruled by Abrade, Lighting Strike and Harnessed Lightning, then big hulking Dinosaurs with Enrage seem like a good call.
Case in point… a lot of Dinosaur hype so far, other than Ripjaw Raptor, seems to be tied up in this card.
And that's understandable. This Dinosaur is hard to stop—you can't counterspell it, and you can't kill it with targeted removal. It's big enough that it's going to be tough to kill by blocking it, especially if it's paired up with instant-speed removal. But my excitement has been tied up in an uncommon Dinosaur at the same mana cost with Enrage, especially paired up with this other card.
So assuming you've got a Walking Ballista with at least two counters on it and some other creature, when you cast Bellowing Aegisaur, you can ping it with Walking Ballista to put a +1/+1 counter on each other creature. You can do it four times each turn without killing Bellowing Aegisaur. This can lead to some insane battlefield states, right? Not to mention that Walking Ballista is nuts with any of the Enrage Dinosaurs, not just Ripjaw Raptor but also Ranging Raptors—each time you ping Ranging Raptors (Ranging Ramptors? Ramping Raptors?) you get a Rampant Growth, which just so happens to play fantastically with a deck chock-full of Walking Ballistas.
Here's is my initial sketch for a Standard post-Ixalan deck:
- 2 Metallic Mimic
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Bellowing Aegisaur
- 4 Drover of the Mighty
- 2 Raging Swordtooth
- 4 Ranging Raptors
- 2 Raptor Hatchling
- 2 Regisaur Alpha
- 4 Ripjaw Raptor
The numbers reflect some experimentation. I'm not sure how good Raptor Hatchling is going to be so I've split that with Metallic Mimic. Regisaur Alpha is good in a vacuum, but I really like Raging Swordtooth's ability to sweep away smaller creatures and trigger Enrage. Savage Stomp might be amazing or maybe horrible, but it certainly feels pushed and worth experimenting with Enrage.
What do you think? Is the Bellowing Aegisaur / Walking Ballista combo worth exploring?
New to Commander?
If you're just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:
- Commander Primer Part 1 (Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
- Commander Primer Part 2 (Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
- Commander Primer Part 3 (Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
- Commander Starter Kits 1 (kick start your allied two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 2 (kick start your enemy two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 3 (kick start your shard three-color decks for $25)
Commander write-ups I've done (and links to decklists):