So, wow—how about Battlebond, y'all?
I'm really surprised at how excited I am about this set. I've been playing Magic for 24 years and have played just about every format imaginable, and over time, what I love, like, and don't like all that much has pretty much been set in stone. At the top of my list are Commander and Standard, mostly because I love the deckbuilding possibilities with a large card pool and being able to execute any sort of gameplan you can cook up in the format.
At the bottom of my list is Sealed, because I hate being locked into the random and relatively few number of cards in the card pool you happen to open; sometimes you can get lucky and get some crazy powerful bombs, and sometimes you get unlucky and open cards that don't play well in Limited. For a lot of people, this is a feature and not a bug, but it's not really my cup of tea. The only time I like playing Sealed is at Prerelease events, and that's mostly just because I want to get my hands on the new set's cards before I can buy them.
Two-Headed Giant is a bit better because you get a larger card pool to work with, and you can put together two coherent decks more often than not. You are still subjected to the randomness there without a whole lot of wiggle room, but at least you have a partner to go through the experience with, good or bad.
Team Magic definitely adds an enjoyable social element to the game. Some years ago, Wizards experimented with holding State Championship tournaments, one with the Standard format, and one with Two-Headed Giant format. For the first Two-Headed Giant, a friend and I actually made it to the finals for Virginia, but after an extremely long day (it was after midnight when the finals started), we made a bone-headed mistake and our opponents were able to capitalize and steal momentum from us and take the win. One half of the other team was Pro player and SCG resident Control Master Shaheen Soorani, someone you definitely don't want to make a mistake against!
I haven't really considered playing Two-Headed Giant since then. When I heard about Battlebond, I was mildly curious how a set designed with Two-Headed Giant in mind would look. If I thought about it, it would have obviously been interesting from a Commander perspective since Two-Headed Giant is a multiplayer format, but… wow. Just wow. I don't think any Commander fan was expecting this!
The first exciting part of Battlebond is a handful of great reprints for Commander. Many of these have been out of print so long as to have gotten quite expensive, which puts them out of reach for a lot of folks. Commander fans are hoping that these cards being reprinted will mean a considerable drop in the price tag.
The big jaw-drop moment was when Doubling Season was previewed. Doubling Season was printed way back when we first visited Ravnica thirteen years ago. It was reprinted once since then in Modern Masters, but at $10 a pack and a relatively limited print run, it didn't have much of an impact on the price.
The card is insane in Commander because of its interaction with planeswalkers. It was designed before planeswalkers were more than a twinkle in R&D's eye, so when you cast a planeswalker with a Doubling Season on the battlefield, it gets double the loyalty, which often means the planeswalker can activate its ultimate ability immediately...which basically means that Doubling Season will never, ever be printed in a Standard-legal set. Slipping it into Battlebond is a real gift to Commander fans.
A lot of these other cards have gotten surprisingly expensive over the years, so the Battlebond reprint will help quite a bit. Another card I'm happy to see is Kor Spiritdancer, which is a great card to include in any sort of Aura-heavy Voltron-style deck. When the Modern G/W Hexproof deck got popular and included that card in many of the lists, the price went up quite a while.
Even if Battlebond just featured all these sweet reprints, it would certainly gin up a lot of excitement for Commander players, but that's not even the coolest part of the set. For my money, it's all the sweet legendary creatures you can build new Commander decks around.
First up is the return of the partner mechanic, but this time each legendary creature partners with a specific other legendary. There is one partner set corresponding to each enemy-color pair. Each pair is so chock-full of fun flavor that I imagine it will be a blast building Commander decks around each pair, since you can use both as your commanders. I like the Simic, Golgari, and Orzhov pairs best because the casting cost of each fits so perfectly to cast one and then the other one the next turn (assuming another land drop).
Virtus the Veiled and Gorm the Great seem to be the best cards in a vacuum. Virtus comes down quickly enough that it could threaten to hit someone if they don't get a blocker down in time. Then Gorm comes down and can neutralize the first two blockers, potentially letting Virtus take someone from 40 to twenty, and then to ten, and then to five. Ouch!
Pir, Imaginative Rascal and Toothy, Imaginary Friend are both really small and require some work and some time to get anything going, but once they do, Toothy can provide quite a bit of fuel to keep the card drawing going.
Krav, the Unredeemed comes down at five mana, and while Regna, the Redeemer technically costs six mana, you'd want to keep a black mana open to activate Krav so you can take advantage of Regna's trigger. Regna works great with Krav but is relatively underpowered on her own, and I can see people building decks primarily around Krav's ability and perhaps not even casting or including Regna.
Sylvia Brightspear and Khorvath Brightflame do a nice job of making a tribal hybrid Knight - Dragon deck. Khorvath comes down quite a few turns after Sylvia, but that's okay—you can play out other Knights in the meantime, and when Khorvath comes down, you've suddenly got a bunch of flying Knights. Or, heck, play Territorial Hellkite on the fourth turn and randomly hit someone for twelve! Okay, now that I think about it more, we might just want to play a Boros Dragon deck here…
Okaun, Eye of Chaos and Zndrsplt, Eye of Wisdom are both awkwardly five mana and their power and toughness stats are relatively unimpressive. But if you love coin-flip shenanigans, this team is for you! Don't forget all the fun coin-flip cards from silver-bordered sets if they're okay with your playgroup.
If you're an Izzet fan but coin-flipping isn't your thing, we also have two planeswalkers that partner with each other and can be used as your commanders. How amazing is that? Granted, they're both six mana, so they're showing up quite a bit later in the game, so you'll want to have plenty of things to do in the early- and mid-game. I do like how the two cards suggest melding of blue's "Polymorph" themes to turn creatures into something small and red's ability to efficient deal relatively small amounts of damage to creatures.
Wow! Whoa! What? Who never knew they needed to build a five-color Warrior deck before? That's a lot of hands I see raised! Thanks to Khans of Tarkir there's a ton of Warrior support already in the Mardu colors, but there are some interesting options in green and blue. Warden of the First Tree springs to mind right off the bat. Wild Nacatl is a sweet Warrior if we're playing enough basics or dual lands with basic land types. How about Den Protector, Champion of Lambholt, and Duskwatch Recruiter?
One super-cool combo with Najeela, the Blade-Blossom is Nacatl War-Pride. When you attack with it, you get to make copies of the card for each creature defending opponent controls that last until the end of the turn. If you activate Najeela's ability, each surviving Nacatl War-Pride can attack again, creating potentially a crazy swarm of Nacatl War-Pride token creatures.
Last but not least is Magic's first legendary Wurm, Grothama, All-Devouring! This provokes another… wow! What a strange but oddly compelling card. Grothama is huge as a 10/8 for just five mana, so it must have some sort of drawback. But that's where things get interesting!
Any attacking creature may choose to fight Grothama, which in most cases is going to result in a dead attacking creature. If you can attack with enough creatures to deal eight or more points of damage, you're going to lose your attacking creatures but draw a bunch of cards when Grothama dies. Are eight fresh cards worth the cost of losing three or more creatures and the mana it took to cast them? That's going to be an interesting puzzle to work out when Grothama hits the battlefield.
I'm sure it will surprise no one to know that I'm already cooking up a Grothama decklist. Stay tuned!
Friend or Foe?
But hey—there's even more Commander goodies in Battlebond. How about the friend or foe cycle?
This cycle is really cool because of the political games you can play. Are all your opponents foes and you your only friend? Do you auction off the friend benefits? Do you go full group hug and make friends with everyone? Pir's Whim seems highest in terms of raw power, since the number of potent lands you could potentially search up is quite high.
Can I Get an Encore?
All of these range from being quite good or flavorfully fun to having a major impact on the Commander format. Fumble for instance is a hugely powerful hoser for Voltron decks. It's cheap, easily splashable, and will certainly cause any Voltron decks to play quite differently. Bramble Sovereign gives green yet another way to leverage even more out of the bevy of value creatures people play in Commander, with the capacity of playing politics with it too.
Black has gotten two incredibly tricky cards. If you're expecting to kill someone and they have four mana available, keep in mind they could cast Stunning Reversal. Can they turn the game around with seven more cards? Signs point to yes. Or if you cast a spell or activate an ability that kills all creatures on the battlefield, if your opponent has five mana available to cast Thrilling Encore, you could be a big, big trouble.
Last but not least, we have the cycle of allied lands that effectively act as enters-the-battlefield-untapped dual lands in multiplayer Magic. I hope these cards end up being cheap, because I pretty much want to play these in just about any Commander deck.
Tell me: what Battlebond cards are you most excited to play with in Commander? Are you as excited as I am?
Speaking of excitement, I'm super-stoked that Pro Tour Dominaria happens right here in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia next weekend! While I've never been anywhere close to being qualified for a Pro Tour, it's still fun to go to one of these things, bird some of the best players in the game, and pick up some fun memorabilia. With any luck, I'll get to play another game of Commander with my good friend Brian David-Marshall, who's doing coverage for the weekend.
Don't forget: #SCGCON is just two weeks away! I'm so excited to be a part of the
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):