Elder Dragons are back and coming to a Commander table near you! Not only does Core Set 2019 give you new versions of iconic favorites, it also provides some new additional fuel for your Commander engines.
Remember that this is a review for Commander only. There are plenty of individual cards, especially at the common and uncommon slots, which will be houses in other formats. Not including them here isn't an indictment of any kind of the card, just recognition that it's not a great fit for the format. I'll break everything down by color, pick some winners for the color, and then give it an overall grade. Let's jump right in.
Aethershield Artificer: Sure, you don't want Solemn Simulacrum to be indestructible, but there are plenty of other things that you want to keep from dying. Even Wurmcoil Engine might be really nice to keep perpetually alive.
Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants: The low mana cost makes this Ajani quite playable and quite capable of getting to that emblem. I can't see too many situations that lead to using the -2 ability, but remember there's always Phantom Nishoba. Or Saffi Eriksdottir.
Cleansing Nova: Excellent choice of modes make cleansing Nova worth the extra mana, although it still doesn't have the flexibility of Austere Command. There's no reason you can't play both as part of your board-sweeping suite. Creatures can regenerate from Cleansing Nova, but it's not like there are lots of regenerators running around anyway.
Lena, Selfless Champion: This one seems a little schizophrenic, since most token decks want to buff them up. Of course, if you're buffing with Cathar's Crusade, Lena gets bigger too, so all is well.
Leonin Warleader: A fine addition to any Cat deck, since it makes more Cats every time you battle, which is what you're always doing with them anyway.
Mentor of the Meek: Obviously a reprint, but worth calling out because it's a bit of an underplayed card.
Remorseful Cleric: Graveyard hate is getting better and better. I don't want to jinx what that might mean for some cards.
Resplendent Angel: Power creep is real, as there was a time you'd never find a three mana, three power flying white creature, let alone one that has two other relevant abilities. Many Angel decks have no trouble gaining five life, sometimes every turn. This is going into my Trostani deck, and I predict hijinx.
Suncleanser: Sweet design space. There are so many creatures in Commander that love counters, from Kresh, the Bloodbraided to Blood Tyrant to Ghave, Guru of Spores, that the sun will frequently get cleansed. The other great use for this will be to remove age counters from a card with Cumulative Upkeep. As far as removing counters from a player, there's the obvious making-of-friends with poison counters, but also remember that the player gets the experience counters from Ezuri, Claw of Progress and friends; removing them might just keep you alive.
Valiant Knight: I'm already keen on making a Knight deck and then some sweet ones came out in Dominaria, like Arvad the Cursed and Aryel, Knight of Windgrace (and commanders getting double strike is always saucy). Now Valiant Knight to go along with Knight Exemplar, and we're in business. I think I have a new project.
Grade: C+. Good, not great, with nothing that makes me want to run around and be crazy, and a modest number of playable cards (which is of course due to the reprints, so it's not like I'm counting that as a sin).
Djinn of Wishes: A reprint that deserves a little more love than it gets.
Mystic Archaeologist: At first glance it doesn't seem that great, but then you realize that it doesn't tap to use its ability. It's still a little expensive, but if the baseline for drawing a card with no downsides is four mana, then the flexibility makes it worth it.
One With the Machine: Previous cards like this have tended to be targeted, so you could get really screwed if the target were removed. Here, even if the big thing gets blown up, you still get something.
Patient Rebuilding: Mill decks love the card already without the card draw. Once that gets stapled on, you don't even have to be all that patient in your rebuilding.
Psychic Corrosion: Cards that do something you want done when do you other things that you are already doing at no mana are deceptively strong. Note that it's each opponent and every time you draw a card. I'm imagining some scenario in which two players who both have Consecrated Sphinx decide that they can mill out the other players.
Tezzeret, Artifice Master: You know you're nearly always drawing two cards with that +0 ability. Getting to the emblem will be a little tougher, although I suppose you could use those Thopters to protect Tezzeret. And again, the bees.
Windreader Sphinx: It's a reprint from the Magic 2014 Core Set, but I think it needs a little more love. You get to draw a card whenever any creature with flying attacks, whether or not you're involved in the combat. Super sweet and will pay for itself in no time.
Grade: B-. As with white with a few saucier cards.
Abnormal Endurance: My kind of card, the +2/+0 is not significant; saving your best creature for only two mana, however, is right in my wheelhouse.
Demon of Catastrophes: Oh, the heady days when Demons were bad for you. In 2018, we have 6/6 trampling fliers for four mana. I have an "old school" Demons deck, and this one wouldn't go in it. In something like Karador, Ghost Chieftain, however, this Demon is not catastrophic at all.
Fraying Omnipotence: I'm not really sure the format needed a bigger version of Pox, but there's also an argument that super-high life totals need to be combatted with something other than commander damage. Of course, Fraying Omnipotence goes right into your Thraximundar deck.
Infernal Reckoning: On first blush, it might be easy to dismiss Infernal Reckoning, but then we remember that Commander is full of Eldrazi, such as Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre and Kozilek, Butcher of Truth, that need to get exiled so that their abilities can't trigger. I'm not big on one-for-ones in Commander, but the fact that you gain life from the creature's power makes it better than a straight up trade.
Isareth the Awakener: I'm going to try to use Isareth in a deck to get around my dislike of exiling my own cards. I'm not promising (emotional) success, but we'll see.
Liliana, Touched by Death: This Liliana is pretty much limited to your Zombie decks, but the fact that you can use her last ability right away is quite something.
Liliana's Contract: Showing her diversity, Liliana moves from Zombies to Demons with aplomb. Even if it doesn't win the game for you, it's a good addition to your Demon deck due to the card draw. The "draw cards/lose life" signature is quite prevalent in the black cards in the set.
Open the Graves: Quite useful for a deck (like the aforementioned Karador) which likes to move creatures in and out of the graveyard, there's also the simple value to Open the Graves of helping you recover from a big board wipe. You won't be protected against the next one, but it's still good enough for me.
Grade: B. We're improving in small steps as we go.
Apex of Power: Apex indeed. This is such a representative card of Commander that there should be a picture of Timmy on it. Sure, you need the ten mana to cast it, but then you basically get your choice of casting one or more of the next seven for free. Yes, you're limited by the fact that you only get one color of mana, but that's hardly a downside.
Demanding Dragon: A card that will definitely see Standard play, it's not likely to see much action in Commander outside of a few tribal decks.
Doublecast: It is, of course, no Fork, since it's not an instant and you can only copy your own spells, but it's a nice tool in red's kit for dealing big piles of damage for only two mana instead of twice whatever you'll have pumped into that X spell.
Goblin Trashmaster: You probably don't need all that many Goblins to make the Trashmaster quite useful-and we all know that there are going to be more Goblins running around than you know what to do with. Also, a nice bit of retribution for someone else's Blasphemous Act.
Lathliss, Dragon Queen: Simply put, your Dragon deck just got an order of magnitude better-as if they weren't already dealing out death and destruction. The pump ability seems a little unnecessary and a bit of an afterthought.
Sarkhan, Fireblood: Cool art. Meh card.
Sarkhan's Unsealing: Wait, what? Clearly six and seven power is a strong demarcation, but still-repeatable board wipes for your opponents when you're doing the thing that you came to do? Awesome.
Grade: A-. The cool stuff is pretty cool, but the rest of the color doesn't play out that well.
Colossal Majesty: Hey! I like having creatures with power four or greater! I also like drawing cards. Majestic.
Elvish Clancaller: It's not calling much of the clan, since it doesn't do anything in Commander besides buff up your other Elves. What would be cool is if you're also playing Wheel of Sun and Moon, activated Elvish Clancaller's ability, then respond by sacrificing it to do something strong. Then it'll be in the library when you resolve the ability-but honestly, six mana is a lot for just a neat trick.
Elvish Rejuvenator: Interesting take on ramp in that it will occasionally whiff (I suspect less often than you might think), but it gets more than basic lands. For me, that makes it playable.
Ghastbark Twins: The option to block two creatures would be better if it weren't a 7/7 trampler that doesn't have vigilance.
Gigantosaurus: I can hear it now: "But it doesn't have evasion!" It's a 10/10 for five mana. You'll be able to spend what you saved on some method of getting around the problem.
Hungering Hydra: X mana creatures can sometimes be awkward (like when they get blinked), so this one only gets consideration because of the triggered ability. Pro play: with Aether Flash on the battlefield, cast this for X => 3.
Pelakka Wurm: Just giddily happy to see this old favorite in a Core Set.
Runic Armasaur: Another card that I think some folks will gloss over, Runic Armasaur is going to draw you way more cards than its mana cost would suggest.
Scapeshift: I'd be interested in hearing why the development team wanted to put this in the set. I'm not complaining, I'm just curious.
Vine Mare: Cool flavorful design, although I don't suspect we'll see it in too many Commander decks.
Vivien Reid: Vivien will be all about the long trek to getting that emblem. The +1 ability is fine; the -3 will be pretty useful in desperate situations, but having indestructible creatures that are bigger and more tramply is a thing of beauty.
Vivien's Invocation: I love the Timmyness of this set. Seven mana is quite a bit to pay, but you'll only play this in your deck if you fill it with creatures which are worth finding. You put the creature onto the battlefield as opposed to casting it without paying the mana cost. This might be significant if you find an Eldrazi with a cast trigger, which won't go off.
Grade: B. The cool stuff is every bit as good as red's, but the rest of the color is worse.
Arcades, the Strategist: The return of the Elder Dragons in younger (and less upkeep-y) form excites me a great deal. We've probably already picked out our next Rotisserie Draft theme. The smallest of them all, Arcades is akin to Doran, the Siege Tower, in that they can have powerful effects, but your deck becomes quite dependent on its commander. We old school players immediately thought of Wall of Blossoms to go with this version of Arcades.
Chromium, the Mutable: In one of the triumphs of flavorful design in all of Magic history, you have to get quite creative in order to make the activated ability useful. I suppose that giving it hexproof keeps you from having to cast it again, but there aren't too many situations in which I want to turn my flying 7/7 into a 1/1 unless it's getting targeted by removal or theft. Sure, when the Dragon hunters come around, it has a need to be able to hide among them, but the ability seems like only an emergency measure. That emergency measure can have an upside, which is getting that card which you'd prefer to have in the graveyard instead of your hand actually into the graveyard.
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager: Inexpensive mana cost is only the first step of the multiverse's greatest villain's latest incarnation. At the low cost, the discard might even be relevant. The more expensive thing is transforming it into Nicol Bolas, the Arisen, which is completely bonkers. Drawing two cards for zero mana will excite the most stoic player. The ten damage probably isn't relevant in Commander, but it might occasionally be. The reanimation, which I'll point out is from any graveyard, is super-relevant. The ultimate, of course, is just a wrecking ball for someone. I think my preferred plan is to use the +2 until I'm at eleven loyalty counters, then use the -4 just to 1) let folks know that I'm not going to use the ultimate, and 2) hey, free stuff.
Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner: Mostly misnamed, because it doesn't really ruin very much besides life totals. Even then, its only a 6/6, not a 7/7. Okay, it ruins life totals pretty well, given the flying, vigilance, and trample. It doesn't thematically bring anything to a deck, so I might end up just making it one of 99 somewhere.
Poison Tip Archer: You know how good Blood Artist is? Poison Tip Archer is better. For one, it has other relevant abilities. Reach plus deathtouch will keep lots of scary things from crashing into you. Two, it's all opponents instead of targeting just one.
Satyr Enchanter: Enchantress decks get another tool for their kit.
Vaevictus Asmadi, the Dire: They saved the best for (alphabetically) last. I'm in Jund heaven. There's some play in this card, because you have to do proper threat assessment-plus, you choose yourself as well. Polymorphing that utility creature like Solemn Simulacrum into something huge is all full of win. Lategame, you're probably turning a land into a creature for yourself while taking out relevant permanents of your opponents.
Favorites: All of them.
Grade: A. Elder. Dragon. Legends.
Artifact and Land
Amulet of Safekeeping: I've heard this called the enemy of storm, which we don't really see that much in Commander. Also making those Plant tokens off of Avenger of Zendikar a little smaller is fine by me, although that -1 probably doesn't matter much when Craterhoof Behemoth comes along.
Arcane Encyclopedia: Remember when I said the baseline for drawing cards with no downside is four mana? Turns out it's now three.
Chaos Wand: A fun and harmless toy until Paradox Engine comes along and ruins it for everyone. Also, a beating for the player with a heavy creature deck which doesn't contain too many instants or sorceries. What I mean to say is that I'm getting occasionally wrecked by this card.
Dragon's Hoard: I think I'll still prefer my three-cost, any-color-of-mana artifact to be indestructible, but this variation on a theme has its uses in your Dragon deck. There will be a point at which you don't need the mana boost, so drawing cards for free is great. Kudos for the design of a card which is differently useful at various stages of the game.
Sigiled Sword Valeron: The mana and equip costs are appropriate to the value that you get. Vigilance is often a life-saving ability.
Favorites: None, really.
Grade: Unfair to grade because there simply aren't that many cards in the subsection.
We'll give Core Set 2019 an overall B on a pretty harsh grading curve. By its very design and intentional appeal to the Core Set audience of less experienced players, we knew going in that it would have fewer cards which resonated with Commander players-meaning a B might be the best it could hope for. Nonetheless, there are enough new toys to keep most Commander players happy between now and the date that we're all really waiting for: August 10-and the release of Commander 2018.
Deck Without Comment 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 .
Adun Oakenshield Do-Over ; 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."