Welcome to the land of the lost and things soon to be found! We're just about ready to explore what Rivals of Ixalan will bring us, from gleaming treasures to rampaging Dinosaurs, from hungry adventurers to denizens of the deep.
Remember that this is a Commander-only review for the set. I'm sure there are plenty of cards which will be thunder lizards in other formats; judging them as not quite fit for Commander isn't an insult to them at all. I'm going to break down each color plus artifacts and lands, offering you commentary on the most relevant cards. I won't have snarky things to say about the ones that don't measure up, I'll simply leave them off the list. I'll pick my Top 3 for each color and give it a grade as a whole.
Before we get there, we'll talk about the new mechanic in Rivals of Ixalan, ascend. Simply put, if you play cards with ascend, you'll definitely get the city's blessing. This is Commander, after all. Ten permanents is just getting started. Once the people adore you, cool stuff will happen.
You'll have to be aggressive to get full value out of Bishop of Binding, but there are some rather large creatures running around the format. It can suddenly turn from a tiny 1/1 to something quite immense.
My blazing hope is that someone actually plays this and has it do something.
White Vampires still make my neck twitch a little, but I'll get over it. Whenever triggered abilities untap permanents, I have to think there's a cool combo or synergy lurking nearby. There doesn't seem to be anything infinite or broken here, but comboing with Volrath's Gardens could be neat.
If you're going to play Vampire tribal, you might as well tutor for your biggest, most blood-thirsty Vampire. The second ability isn't all that relevant. Unless you're also playing Horobi, Death's Wail, which then makes life interesting-especially if you're playing Edgar Markov as your commander.
Sorry, it doesn't also tell you that you can have any number in your deck.
Flying Dinosaurs should probably scare the bejeebus out of you.
It's each upkeep, not each of your upkeeps, so the Paladin can get rather large rather quickly, especially if you're slowly draining yourself somehow, like with Baleful Force.
Like I said earlier, you're getting the city's blessing. Feed your tribal decks the ability to stay around and defend you as well as doing glorious battles.
Before getting savaged by the Commander 2017 Vampire deck, I wouldn't have thought too much about putting +1/+1 counters on Vampires. The idea now haunts my dreams.
It's a little weirdly worded, but the upshot is that everyone gets to save up to four power worth of creatures. In Commander, that's going to wreck quite a few dreams-at a very low cost.
Seems a little situational, but I suppose if you're worried about that person who telegraphed Insurrection, you'll have an answer.
When I first looked at the card, I thought that it was a Dinosaur version of Lashknife Barrier. When I RTFC'd, I realized that it was way better than that. Sure, it's only for Dinosaur tribal, but we have some sweet options to explore.
I'm a fan of the enrage mechanic, mostly because I'm a fan of Aether Flash. Repeatedly dealing a little damage to your own creatures never felt so good.
Wait, what? And it's legendary? Way back in the day, we would never have dreamed the dream that included mono white Dinosaurs. We live in exciting times.
Grade: C+. The best few are really nice, but the number of playable cards is slightly low.
With 1UU now being the standard for your basic counterspell, Admiral's Order becomes good. In Commander, however, we have access to the original Counterspell (best art still being the Tempest version), Mana Drain, and more. In this format, your counterspells simply need to do more than just get a one for one. Admiral's Order is probably best when you want to cast Time Stretch after you attack.
It might not do enough to warrant getting played, unless it's in concert with Seafloor Oracle.
My local group and I love the blowout cards like Hushwing Gryff, so you know we're giddy about Crafty Cutpurse. Living the dream would be casting this on the heels (wings?) of Storm Herd. It would also be something if someone wants to hit you with Clone Legion.
What have we already said about ascend? Drawing cards for nothing is always great. In black, you have to pay life (like with Phyrexian Arena). With blue, just have ten permanents. Easy stuff.
I'm grooving on the mono colored Dinosaur commanders, and Elder Dinosaur is a nice nod to the Elder Dragons. Maybe we'll get even more Elders of other tribes. Elder Phelddagrif, maybe? Personally, I'm more likely to play Nezahal as 1 of 99 in some kind of reanimator deck-so it can help me put the cards I want into the graveyard.
Now we're talking! There are obvious things to do with Release to the Wind-such as exile your Mystic Snake until you need it again-but then there's the less obvious. In a multiplayer game, there might come a time when you need to exile temporarily someone else's Mystic Snake so that they can save the table. Love this card.
As if Merfolk tribal weren't already drawing enough cards, here comes Seafloor Oracle-and the call back to Acquatic Incursion.
So what you're saying is draw three cards, amirite?
Just a sweet reprint.
Helping out Admiral Beckett Brass borrowing stuff is all the rage these days. I'm happy to do the raging.
Regular readers will know that I'm not fond of combos which create infinite turns, but I'm not averse to taking one or two here or there. And it's a Pirate, which is extra saucy.
Grade: A. I could have put more than three cards in the Top 3, and the density is good.
You don't really need to be playing Vampires, since it'll still draw a card from itself, but why wouldn't you want to?
Yo ho ho!!! There are many huge creatures in Commander, so enchanting one with this and then somehow killing it will be a winner. You might even be able to deck someone if you kill their Lord of Extinction. If that's not enough, you get to have those cards available for casting as well. Creatively designed, Dead Man's Chest is an absolute winner.
Searching for Pirates is hardly the best part of this card; that would be the second part, in which you start murdering people when your other Pirates show up.
I'm just reminding you that Rule 13 is a thing in Commander. Cards that search for other cards outside the game. I'll also point you to the part of that rule that mentions "without prior agreement." If you want to talk your local group into letting Wishes work, fine-just don't cast the card and then try to badger people into letting you do it. The best groups are the ones who talk with each other. If you're in an open environment, ask before you start shuffling up.
It's nice to have things that help you recover after your creatures die. I'm a fan of Pawn of Ulamog, which also goes nicely with your Mausoleum Harpy. I'm sure, however, when you first saw this card, you thought the same thing I did: Pitiless Plunderer loves to Revel in Riches.
Sure, it's a little less spicy than Noxious Gearhulk, but that's hardly a sin. An eminently useful card.
This card is cool, but it has a limitation. Despite being legendary, it's not really that good of a commander because the ability references revealing it from your hand (not the command zone). I will happily play it as one of any number of 99s. When you're done wrecking house with its triggered ability, it's still a 6/6 beater. Card is full of sauce.
It's weaker than other cards, but I can see a niche role for Tomb Robber in a reanimator deck of some kind.
In Commander we play with a fair number of high mana cost cards, so Twilight Prophet will profit you more than in other formats. I'm a fan of Phyrexian Arena, but I'll also happily pay one more mana for this.
As a three mana instant, Vona's Hunger is probably already good enough without the ascend ability. Tack that on, and it becomes kind of a crazy card. I'm very happy the city likes me.
Top 3: Dead Man's Hunger, Twilight Prophet, Vona's Hunger.
Grade: A. Again, more than three to consider for the top, and the density of playable cards is excellent.
Blood Sun makes me exceedingly happy. It replaces itself right away, shuts down some great lands like Minamo, School at Water's Edge, and makes your enters-the-battlefield tapped lands enter the battlefield untapped. It's not quite Blood Moon in shutting down the lands which can get pretty degenerate, but it's format-friendly in that it doesn't wreck mana production.
More opportunity to Revel in Riches.
Neat combination of abilities, and certainly a card to consider for non-tribal decks.
You still need enough mana to cast the spell (you can't expect Diluvian Primordial for two mana), but otherwise you get to exile what's likely a pretty good card that someone else was going to use later.
What?! Move over, Norin the Wary, a new best mono red commander is here. This card is so crazy, I'm ready to violate my rule of putting only one copy of a new card into my suite of decks. In any deck, you'll probably want to make sure it has haste, so you can get to card munching right away.
First card I thought of to combo with Forerunner of the Empire is Ripjaw Raptor. Every Dinosaur then draws a card! Sweet design, and lots of possibilities (although be careful if you're also playing Repercussion).
Maybe if we can somehow give lifelink to enchantments, this would be really cool.
Dare I ask if red is starting to get good? Mutiny isn't quite as splashy as other cards, but it only costs one mana. Use someone else's Acidic Slime (or other creature with deathtouch) to kill their biggest threat. And if they want to get rid of one of the two creatures to make the spell do nothing, that's okay too.
To make this playable, you'll want a way to buff up its toughness.
Sure, someone can dagger you by killing the token, but if they're spending resources doing that, they're not spending them on bigger, more important things.
Tacking the cantrip onto making it an instant elevates the card to a great roleplayer, especially if you're running an enrage deck. Worst case, you can cast it just to draw the card and find a deeper answer.
It's like a land shark; it smells the blood in the air. You know it's coming, so you'll be prepared with your legion of tokens or stuff that you want to sacrifice anyway. Just be careful that there aren't also permanents other people want to sacrifice.
Nice, small effect that you might be able to get a great deal of mileage out of later in the game, when you have not only the city's blessing, but a huge pile of mana.
Grade: B. There are some delicious things on the menu, but not quite enough variety.
In addition to having a neat name, it will do silly things like untap your Gaea's Cradle.
You can probably just slam the Hatchling into people and make them wonder if you'll be fighting one of their creatures to your advantage. It feels like it will require too much setup, but an easy sacrifice outlet might solve that problem.
Hungry indeed! I've been unexcited about mono green decks in the past, but Ghalta changes my mind. What's great is that it helps pay the commander tax for you. When you cast a spell, you take its mana cost, tack on any additions (like the aforementioned tax), then subtract any cost reducers. I'll be casting Ghalta, sacrificing it to something like Greater Good, and then just casting it again. A 12/12 trampler for GG seems kind of absurd.
I've been ambivalent about explore in Commander, but exploring twice might be okay.
The problem with the enrage ability on this one is that repeatable mass damage will keep killing your Saprolings. Maybe Verdeloth the Ancient will help.
Okay, I'm way less ambivalent about explore now. The problem has been that the creatures which have it are just okay-ish for the most part. When awesome creatures have it too, it becomes very good-and you can bet it'll go into that Prime Speaker Do Over.
Warning! Infinite combo incoming. Cast Aether Flash. Cast Polyraptor. Aether Flash triggers, dealing two damage to Polyraptor and creating a copy of it. Repeat. Unfortunately, once you've started, you'll need something to do with those tokens (like a nice Goblin Bombardment) or eventually have a way to get rid of Aether Flash or the game will simply loop and be a draw. Obviously there are the normal enrage tricks to go with Polyraptor, too. Maybe Hammerfist Giant?
That Prime Speaker Zegana deck is just building itself.
Well, there's the help that Overgrown Armasaur was looking for!
Don't underestimate the value of considering Thrashing Brontodon an emergency four-mana Naturalize. A 3/4 for three with a good ability reminds us that creatures are simply better in the 21st century.
I almost won't care if I don't have the city's blessing yet. The ability to play an additional land each turn means you'll get it sooner!
I liked this card even before I saw that it is a Merfolk. Dredge decks will also love it. Love it to death.
G rade : B-. For once, green isn't the best of a set. For all my love of Ghalta, it drops off after that.
I guess I'd be angry if I were chained to a flame, too. The +1 ability is okay, but sometimes I worry about discard in Commander because there are things that people like to have in their graveyards. The -3 ability is a decent Threaten variant, and it might let you get rid of an annoying utility creature. -8 is a game-winner. Angrath is obviously fond of being in a discard deck, so you could certainly build around the theme and include Rise of the Dark Realms and similar things that let you grow stuff out of opponents' graveyards.
I have a feeling this card might find a home in Standard if there's a cool Dinosaur build. In Commander, mana dorks have to be special to get a great deal of play. The good news here is that you can tap Atzocan Seer for mana to pay for the Dinosaur that you're about to get back, since the second ability doesn't require tapping.
Azor is bringing the law indeed! As if a 6/6 flyer for six isn't enough, it has two powerful abilities. The triggered ability stops opponents from doing the kinds of things that get rid of Azor (although they can still do them on a different player's turn if they're instants). The ability also stops them from countering anything that you might do on their turn. As if that weren't enough, you can get a Sphinx's Revelation when you attack with Azor. Might be the "just wow" card of the set.
I think the Admiral might be recruiting a few too many Orcs for her own good. They're going to mutiny one day.
Even though she's legendary, Elenda fits better into the deck, since her very nice triggered ability is contingent on her dying. If she goes to the command zone, she won't trigger. That said, this is the kind of creature that you want in your Karador, Ghost Chieftain decks.
Cue George Takei. There will be many, many times that you get the emblem on the second time you activate Huatli. The -1 ability is strong as well. I don't see it get much mid-game use, but if you draw Huatli late game, it might be enough to make something large enough to kill two people instead of one.
We're building some kind of Merfolk dynasty here. Seedborn Muse, Quest for Renewal, and even one-shot cards like Benfactor's Draught (which is a cantrip, by the way) will get your Merfolk engines running. I'm sure there are some wild combos with Awakening and Intruder Alarm, but I guess that was already true. Now it's even truer.
It'll definitely get played in the Vampire tribal decks of the right colors.
It's a Pirate, so you know you'll be attacking. It's one cheaper than other basic clones, which is worth is once. If you're doing blink shenanigans with your copy creatures, you'll probably want to stick to the unconditional ones.
Getting slowly larger seems quite good, but you have to start early.
You have to be a little careful at first not to kill it, but after the first time or two, Siegehorn Ceratops will become large enough that you won't have to worry at all.
Cast it and untap all the lands you control so that you can activate all of the three abilities (which don't require tapping). This card is a nice oblique reference to some Alpha set Magic cards, Lightning Bolt, Disenchant (even though the color is off), and Healing Salve. Cast Zacama, bring calamity to your opponents with its 9/9 body as well. The card is everything Timmy could dream of.
Grade A+: The top stuff is TOP stuff, and even though there are fewer multicolor cards, nearly all of them will get played.
Not only thematically cool, but powerfully useful. Obviously, you're putting those counters on a creature that begins with at least two on it, so that you can transform right away and get to the beatings.
Wow. Just wow. I'm not sure you'll want to wait for something huge to put Journey to Eternity onto, because you'll want to get into that cave as fast as you can! Hope my opponents aren't playing Blood Sun.
Should be pretty easy to get Path of Mettle transformed, and once you do, you'll have to start working out if you want the mana or to randomly destroy creatures. It'll be a great rattlesnake to keep people from attacking you with only one thing.
It'll be a bit of a mana commitment, but exiling creatures is strong. Nothing says that you have to bring them back, even once you've started walking the Path of the Dusk Rose.
Lots of folks have already asked if we're going to ban this because it's just like Tolarian Academy. The easy answer is no, because it's not. Tolarian Academy is about generating too much mana too quickly. It takes a while to Storm the Vault, and by the time you do, "too quickly" won't apply anymore. Sure, it will potentially be very strong-but we don't hate strong cards. Whatever happens on Turn 13 is fine; we just don't want it to happen on Turn 3.
Another one folks have gotten a little panicky about, it's basically the same as Storm the Vault. It's going to take long enough to get there that the card(s) are not likely to be problematic. Your opportunity costs for going through the Gateway and into the Sanctum are high. There are times you'll just end up with exiled cards.
Being the weakest of the double faced cards is hardly a sin here. You have to risk killing one of your own creatures, too, which in some cases might be strategically advantageous. Getting two mana might be worth it; spitting out Golems is going to get expensive.
T op 3 : They're all tops, and there aren't enough to pick from.
G rade : A+. From the artwork to the theming to the raw utility of both sides of the cards, these are spectacular. Brilliantly designed.
Artifacts and Lands
If you're playing lots of nonbasic lands, this thing could get huge pretty quickly. Even my decks that have lots of basics tend to have 15-18 nonbasics; I suspect this will always be a nice-sized beater.
Like the design, but not what the card does.
So between The Immortal Sun and Staff of Nin, my previously favorite non-creature six mana artifact, the new one wins. I don't play that many planeswalkers anyway, but having my spells cheaper and creatures bigger is right up my alley. And it's one of those neat alleys, too, with the little bistro down at the end of it, near the entrance to the after-hours club.
Paying five to draw a card is a little expensive, but getting it off of a land might make it worthwhile.
G rade : B. Not really enough cards to make a fair evaluation.
Rivals of Ixalan definitely gets an A for Commander. The number of super-splashy, wonderfully-designed, breath-taking cards is as high as it's been in a long time. There are multiple cards which you're going to want to acquire in multiple copies for your suite of decks. Huge props to lead designer Ben Hayes and team for putting together something remarkable. You won't get an argument from me if you put it into the conversation for best set for Commander ever.
Our normal Deck Without Comment feature will return after release season.
Lavinia Blinks ; Obzedat, Ghost Killer ; Aurelia Goes to War ; Trostani and Her Angels ; Lazav, Shapeshifting Mastermind ; Zegana and a Dice Bag ; Rakdos Reimagined ; Glissa, Glissa ; Ruric Thar and His Beastly Fight Club ; Gisa and Geralf Together Forever .
Shards and Wedges
Adun's Toolbox ; Angry, Angry Dinos ; Animar's Swarm ; Borrowing Stuff at Cutlass Point ; Ikra and Kydele ; Karrthus, Who Rains Fire From The Sky ; Demons of Kaalia ; Merieke's Esper Dragons ; Nath of the Value Leaf ; Rith's Tokens ; The Mill-Meoplasm ; The Altar of Thraximundar ; The Threat of Yasova ; Zombies of Tresserhorn .
Animar Do-Over ; Glissa Do-Over ; Karador Do-Over ; Karador Version 3 ; Karrthus Do-Over ; Kresh Do-Over ; Steam-Powered Merieke Do-Over; Lord of Tresserhorn Do-Over ; Mimeoplasm Do-Over ; Phelddagrif Do-Over ; Rith Do-Over ; Ruhan Do-Over .
If you'd like to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that's been alive since 1987) which is just beginning the saga The Lost Cities of Nevinor, ask for an invitation to the Facebook group "Sheldon Menery's Monday Night Gamers."