Wow, can you believe it's 2018 already? 2017 was a wild ride and it seemed to blast by fast. The New Year is always a good time for retrospect and I wanted to go through the Magic cards Wizards gave us last year and express gratitude for having them in my life. It seems so easy to criticize creative endeavors, and the fact that Wizards of the Coast had to ban some cards to try and balance out Standard certainly makes some criticism justified. Constructive criticism is healthy, but I feel some in the Magic community go overboard way too often. I've been playing Magic since 1994, and when I think about where the game is now compared to where it was in the very beginning, I'm frankly amazed at the journey Wizards of the Coast has brought us on and continues to bring. There is a ton of work a relatively small number of people do to bring this dynamic, creative, engaging, and multifaceted game to millions of fans around the world, and the hits far, far outweigh the occasional misses. I would rather Wizards take some chances to bring us exciting cards and mechanics and have mistakes every once in a while, than to have them play it safe all the time. [My man. - Ed.]
January brought us Aether Revolt, the follow-up expansion to the ground-breaking Kaladesh set. I know a lot of people lament the initial power level of the new vehicle card type but as a fan of green I was extremely happy to have some sweet artifacts to add to my decks, especially ones with flying.
In my exploration of the Standard format early in the year, I had a theory. Wizards had taken away the one cost mana creatures like Llanowar Elves because casting three mana spells on turn 2 was too powerful. So my theory was, if we cast four-mana spells on turn 3, that might be quite powerful too. Luckily, we had two-mana creatures to choose from and I found that, indeed, having four mana on turn 3 was a good way to push an early advantage or to steal initiative if you were on the play. The problem of course was having the creature live and when Druid of the Cowl was printed I was quite happy to add it to my decks. The three-toughness helped it survive some of the two damage burn around and it could often block an early attacker and live to tap for mana the next turn. Having a card like Druid of the Cowl helped my decks be the best Tireless Tracker decks since I could cast Tracker on turn 3 before playing a land, getting a Clue token immediately. I hope we continue to get simple but good two-cost mana creatures in green.
While it's tough to keep two mana up in Standard "just in case," I really love this card for Commander. Mono-color means it can go into more decks, it's low on the mana curve so it's easier to keep this mana available later in the game (especially if you're playing Seedborn Muse). It's hard to find a better card than this in terms of keeping your permanents protected from harm with the one-two punch of hexproof and indestructible.
Card drawing spells are tricky to balance out for Commander. If it's too cheap it's often not worth playing, but if it's two expensive you risk not having the mana to take advantage of the infusion of new cards until everyone else has had a turn. Rishkar's Expertise strikes just the right balance by potentially providing a ton of cards (assuming you have a big creature out and, since you're green, you've probably got a big creature out), and then letting you play a card after you've refueled your hand. At six mana it comes at the point in the game when you need to refuel. I wish it had made more of an impact in Standard, but I'm thrilled to have it in most of my green Commander decks.
When I talked about the Vehicles I loved, this is right there near the top. Green decks are notoriously weak on fliers and having this one so cheap to cast and so easy to crew is a sweet tool to have in our toolbox. The lifelink capability is icing on the cake, and plays great with any way you may have to pump its power. I remember on more than one occasion getting a sweet life boost by attacking with Harvester, giving it lifelink, and when it came through unblocked targeting it with Spatial Contortion.
Such a great card. I've seen it make a little splash in Standard here and there as a way to gain a distinct advantage in grindy games, but it's a no brainer inclusion in just about any green Commander deck.
I've been a big fan of green "big land" decks in Standard all year, and Walking Ballista has been a fantastic inclusion. It up shores green's weakness in creature removal. It's flexible casting cost gives you a lot of options up and down the mana curve so it's great when you draw it early and even better when you draw it late. It even plays great with the new enrage mechanic from Ixalan's Dinosaurs which I've been running to great effect in my new green Standard deck for Friday Night Magic.
Modern Masters 2017
March brought us this year's Modern reprint expansion. I don't play a lot of Modern, but I'm glad that Wizards prints these to help keep the cost of entry into the format lower than it would be otherwise. The main thing I'm grateful though is keeping the costs low on Commander staples that are also used in Modern decks.
Basilisk Collar is a fantastic Commander card. It's one of the rare one-mana cards that can have a profound impact on the game no matter when you draw it. It provides lifelink in decks that might otherwise be short on life gain, makes any creature lethal to engage with, and combines to masterful effect with any Commander with trample. It's a card that's been creeping up in price over the years and saw a spike when Modern Tron decks experimented with running Walking Ballista and combining it with Basilisk Collar. I hate suggesting cards for Commander decks that are way too pricey, so I'm glad this reprint helped mitigate its price rise.
If you're playing a tribal deck Cavern of Souls is an invaluable color fixer and a great way to push through counterspells. I was lucky to get a playset when it was in Standard and have hung onto them over the years, so I get to make use of them, but the price has really gone through the roof. Even with the reprints the card is still quite expensive, so I hope it continues coming around in Modern Masters, if not a future Standard expansion.
Damnation is like Cavern of Souls-a fantastic Commander card with Modern appeal that has really gone through the roof in price. Even with the reprint it's still pricey, so keep it coming.
When it comes to efficient pinpoint creature removal in white, there's Swords to Plowshares and then there's Path to Exile. A lot of people neglect pinpoint removal in their Commander decks, and having Path be so pricey certainly hurts, so I'm glad they keep reprinting it.
April brought us Amonkhet, the much-anticipated expansion with flavor inspired by ancient Egypt! I know most of us were impressed with the execution of the set, not only the Egyptian flavor but the unique elements too. I think the only miss was that we didn't get to see Nicol Bolas here (...yet)!
I really like the design on this planeswalker. The art is fantastic, and its power level is strong without being overwhelming. I'm a little sad it hasn't made much of a splash in Standard, but I think it might once Kaladesh rotates out. I'm also excited to build a Liliana Commander deck with lots of Liliana planeswalkers now that the new rules are in place so that you can have some same planeswalker types so long as they have different names.
I loved the design of this answer card. It comes down and destroys an artifact while attached to a significant body, while also having a not-insignificant effect on the game later. I'm not sure if it was designed to keep the Cat Lady combo in check or not, but it did just that so long as it wasn't killed first. Which, actually wasn't that tough to do. My one beef with the card is the mana cost of three, which is way too full of great options in Commander. I can't imagine playing this card much in that format. But I certainly hope Wizards continues to make solid answer cards like this one.
This has a subtle but good effect, and I've made use of it as a sideboard card in Standard to help in grindy games. The biggest problem I've had with it for tournament Magic is that its effect is redundant-if you draw a second one, it's just a vanilla 3/4 for four which is seriously behind the curve in Standard. I mean, if it tapped for mana that would go a long way towards making this something to think about for Standard. Of course, the redundant problem isn't a factor in Commander, where this is certainly a fine piece of card board.
While Wizards sadly didn't provide enough cool -1/-1 counter synergies to make Hapatra a player in Standard, it is super-cool that she's a legend we can build a Commander deck around to take advantage of several -1/-1 counter themes printed in previous sets.
This cycle is a home for quality mana fixing, both in Standard and in Commander. I look forward to the inevitable enemy color cycle at some point down the road, and it's certainly easy enough to envision its perennial return.
The Bolas horns in the artwork on these basic lands are just super-cool. It's nice to get excited about opening a basic land!
One thing I hate to have happen in Magic is for you not to be able to do anything. Say you have a fistful of counterspells but your opponent doesn't play anything because the few creatures they played before you had counterspell mana up are good enough to kill you. Or you draw a discard spell and your opponent has no cards in hand. I like cards like this because they give you options when one mode isn't helpful. These are the sorts of control cards that I'd be down for playing in Standard, and I can see these potentially making a splash in Commander, though the mana cost of three just adds to the glut of options.
The eponymous card from the set lives up to the name, giving red a potent sweeper against most creatures that matter as well as planeswalkers. I love that Bolas planeswalkers are immune to the effect-of course! It even does great work against what is typically the bane of red creature removal, being indestructible. This deals enough damage that I think it's a fine inclusion even for Commander.
I really love the interesting twist to the game that happens when Neheb is on the Battlefield. Turning a Lightning Bolt into a Dark Ritual is sweet. I still haven't activated Aetherflux Reservoir for 50 with a Neheb in play yet, but I will one day live the dream.
Crucible of Worlds is a sweet Commander card so long as you aren't doing Strip Mine shenanigans to deny one player having enough mana to play, but the card is crazy expensive, so I was extremely happy to see the effect now attached to a creature. I only wish it could have had more useful creature types attached to it.
Nicky B in the hizzy! The original Nicol Bolas was pretty much the best of the Elder Dragon legends, and the first planeswalker was quite potent, so I was pleased that the newest Bolas card was fearsome too. I just recently picked up my second copy, and have been plotting the opportunity to unleash him onto some of my unsuspecting compadres at Friday Night Magic when they least expect it!
First, the artwork is adorable. Second, the name is adorable. Third, the base stats are pretty good-a 1/3 flier for two mana! Then add the card draw and life gain for whenever you have extra mana lying around (Seedborn Muse *cough*cough*) and you've got yourself a card!
This is just the ultimate in flexible utility for Commander, and it can go in any deck. It's so good that I think it stands out in a very crowded field of good three-mana cards.
If you play locally you know that I've been having a great time playing with these deserts in what I've nicknamed my Mono-Green Zombie deck. They really made some fantastic deserts in Hour of Devastation and if you're willing to go mono-color, they can provide some great rewards. Especially in green!
August brought us this year's Commander products, and this time we got heavy emphasis on the ever-popular tribal synergies and including newly awesome Cat tribal cards! Just about all the new legendary creatures are awesome and have been given full-article treatment by me already so I won't retread that here. Instead here are some other individual cards I'm thankful for.
This is such a weird card that can lead to some crazy early board states if people don't get blockers in place quickly. It can synergize with so many different things you want to do in Commander.
Commander is all about big splashy plays, but sometimes people can get out of hand with it, especially when it comes to card drawing. White is the color of rules setting so I'm glad they made this Cat that can come down and keep the most outrageous shenanigans in check. Though combining this with Wheel of Fortune most definitely counts as outrageous shenanigans too.
I love the utility of this card and how it instant gives Cat tribal a sweet, sweet boost. And the tacked-on reach ability is helpful too!
While this isn't Skullclamp-level good, I think it's not that far off. It bothers me that this is three mana, but other than that I really like what this does in any tribal deck. The one downside to equipment is when you don't have any creatures to attach your equipment to, and this card helps address that.
Another stellar tribal card that can go in any color deck, making it easier to cast the more expensive critters and occasionally letting you draw an extra card. But, yet another three-mana card to add to the glut…
This is the kind of mana ramp that leads to crazy plays. It'll help pay for outrageous spells or an outrageous Commander tax. It's easy to splash, and not usually very effective to cheat cast it early. Just a cool and powerful Commander card.
I love having scry effects in Commander because the nature of deck design makes you prone to having a string of bad draws that can keep you from participating in the occasional game. Scrying helps ameliorate that issue without being too powerful, so I'm glad they gave tribal decks this sweet land.
I really like the "Commander creatures you control get" creatures, and this one is particularly sweet since it gives them haste. These cards are even better after last year's legends with the partner mechanic.
Black Market has long been a big favorite of mine for Commander, though it was another one of those cards that started creeping up there in price. I'm glad for the reprint to help keep the cost reasonable for anyone who might want to have it in their black decks.
At its base level it protects you from attack for a turn, but when you do have multiple opponents out there I love how this will make them fight with each other. What a great design for a disruptive spell that very much has red flavor.
The story about how this card was initially conceived as a mechanical way to capture the "turn to mist" vampire trope and ended up bringing back phasing is cool, but wow-this is just an incredibly powerful and flexible card to save your bacon.
Like many of you, I was tormented by this card for its run in Standard. I'm thankful they printed this in the Commander products to remind me that this is a pretty sweet card for multiplayer games. It will nearly always generate a ton of value for just three mana, taking down multiple big threats around the table.
I am so glad to be playing Magic at the same time this card exists. The epic stories this card will generate, I cannot wait to hear them all!
Wow. Just wow. Yes, it chafes me a bit that the very best of the Kindred cycle is blue, but that's mitigated a bit by just loving the card so much for any tribal deck with blue. If you've been loathe to include pinpoint enchantment removal in your Commander decks, let this enchantment be a lesson to you.
October brought us the exploration world of Ixalan, with exciting new emphasis on Dinosaurs and Pirates! And treasure! The flavor of this set has been off the chain and I love it.
I really like this card for Commander. I'm not a giant fan of counterspells in general, but if you're playing blue I recognize that's one of the things that the color does well, and it certainly has utility in a big game of Commander. There are times when the only thing that stands in the way of one player comboing off is a well-timed counterspell. I love Spell Swindle because it creates the mana as Treasure tokens that are available right away, to use whenever you might need them. Not to mention any funky artifact synergies you might have going on.
Duress is just a sweet utility spells to keep control decks in check. I'm a big fan of keeping control decks in check.
When you absolutely, positively, need to kill every freaking creature and planeswalker on the Battlefield. And that Maze of Ith.
I haven't been able to cast this spell in Standard or Commander yet, but I really, really, really, really want to.
I'll tell you a secret. I love turning the tables on control players and making them feel helpless. Their tears sustain me and make me happy. Carnage Tyrant is a control player's worst nightmare. When I was building my green deck for the new Standard, I knew I wanted a few of these for my sideboard. But when I looked around for six-mana spells for the maindeck, it occurred to me: Carnage Tyrant (or Carny Tee as he's affectionately know in these parts) is just a big, honking monster that's hard to deal with. I ended up with four in the maindeck and haven't looked back.
While it's not game breaking, this is a fantastic two-mana card that helps smooth your draws, particularly in the early game when hitting your land drops is crucial. I really love the ways that green cards get you value.
Speaking of value, I've been loving these cards in my Standard green deck alongside Savage Stomp and Walking Ballista. Ranging Raptors let me cast Hour of Promise on turn 4 last week, which led to a pretty sweet turn 5.
Of course green can't have all the value (grumble), and this card is sweet. I really want to pair this up with green's mana acceleration though, so I can ensure I get the value right away. I mean, three toughness isn't exactly difficult to deal with.
As a proud member of the Golgari guild, I heartily approve of this utility-packed black and green planeswalker. I plan on casting this in Standard quite a bit, and in Commander for many years to come.
I keep singing the praises of Conqueror's Galleon for Commander, but seriously give this card a try, especially if your Commander has power of four or greater to crew. The transformed land side is just insane.
Speaking of insane, if you've ever played Gaea's Cradle you know how crazy that card can be. Sadly, the original card is over $200 these days, so I'm very grateful Commander and Standard players can feel the power in this much more affordable card, even if you must jump through a few hoops.
I've long been a big fan of Journeyer's Kite in non-green Commander decks as a great way to keep making your land drops, so imagine my delight when they made one that was even better. Thank goodness they didn't make the mana cost three!
November brought us Iconic Masters, a set featuring a lot of really old cards we'd love to play in our Commander decks! The ones below are the ones I'm glad they reprinted so we could potentially put in our Commander decks. Mana Drain is a card I've always kind of wanted to have since the earliest days of Magic but have never wanted to put out the money for it. I played in a couple drafts hoping to crack one or trade for one but no such luck. I did however, open a Horizon Canopy so that was sweet!
December brought us another "un" set Unstable, thirteen years after the last one Unhinged, and nearly twenty years since the first one Unglued. It's a ton of fun to draft, but it's also been fun to incorporate some of the cards into a few Commander decks. I'm hoping to keep one or two Un-Commander decks together for others who might like to get wacky even after the window of legality closes.
I opened a random pack of Unstable and got a foil Sword of Dungeons & Dragons, which made me incredibly excited. I've played D&D since 1980 and that game paved the way for Magic, so I feel a personal connection to this card.
I don't have one of these yet, but it seems cool. I'm glad it's around.
I like everything about the card. The artwork. The artwork on the promo. The name is fun to say. The squirrellink mechanic!
This card is so amusing both in flavor and in execution. I slipped this into my Feldon of the Third Path deck and the other day snuck this onto the battlefield and hid it under a pile of lands. It took a while before someone attacked me and I had two mana up, but I did finally get to kill a creature with the Entirely Normal Armchair and it was glorious!
These full art lands are simply gorgeous.
This is such a weird and wonderful card, particularly in multiplayer where you can wait and see who you may want to attack until well after your own turn. It does have a very small body that gets outclassed quickly, so I think it might be best in something like an equipment-heavy deck (especially if you can give it vigilance).
I really, really love the flavor and execution of the contraptions, but this one stands out for the best name of them all.
The idea of giving trample to a burn spell is genius, and I hope that maybe, just maybe, it might show up in a black border card one day. I think it's unlikely, but maybe in a Commander product?
What cards did Wizards print in 2017 that you're grateful for?
New to Commander?
- 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):