Bennie did it last week , and I'm doing it now: taking a look at the Commander 2018 decks as whole pieces, as opposed to their constituent parts, which I did last week . The individual cards will matriculate into existing decks, but since the pre-cons are playable as soon as you unwrap them, we'll talk about how they might play with each of the commander choices, as well as what kind of upgrade paths you might take with them.
One of the strengths of having professional developers to follow up on the work of professional designers is that we get consistently good, coherent decks that you can crack and run, but haven't locked you into a path you can't escape from-whether you're upgrading wholesale or one card at a time. They're built with the fact that you're going to update them already considered, so there's some clever construction that goes into ensuring that your first few changes won't completely upset the structure of the decks. Let's take a look at each.
Planeswalker Commander: Saheeli, the Gifted
I'm with Bennie that Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer is an exciting new Izzet commander that feels very red and blue, mostly in its token creation and copy making. It's the "what you'd hope for" choice. Unlike other six-mana commanders in the colors, it has a beefy enough body to hold its own down in a battle, making it more worth casting additional times. Brudiclad is who you want to command the deck the first time you unwrap it, because it's centered around what the deck wants to do-make tokens, both Thopters and Myr, and have swarms to attack with (buffed up by Chief of the Foundry) and/or sacrifice to your other artifact abilities-so making them for free is what you want to do. You'll also want them to cast a giant Saheeli's Directive so that you can dump most of your deck onto the battlefield and then have Hellkite Igniter be more than lethal.
Tawnos works better as 1 of 99. It pairs nicely with Mimic Vat to get two copies of something, but it doesn't copy Hellkite Igniters since it's not an artifact. Copying Bosh, Iron Golem's ability for double the damage is great, but the deck wants more high converted mana cost artifacts to do that with. Tawnos will be the commander that you build around with all kinds of artifact activated and triggered abilities, like destroying something with Spine of Ish Sah or killing more than one thing/drawing extra cards off of Nin, the Pain Artist.
Varchild is a token-creating element of the deck which has its challenges going it alone-although the payoff is worth the risk. I expect to see lots of folks lining up to build a version of it.
Saheeli can be better than Brudiclad if you want to go in that direction, but it's still more of a build it than play it out of the box. Especially compared to some of the artifacts run in many Commander decks, the ones in Exquisite Invention are nice to copy, but aren't all that saucy.
Best New Card: Enchanter's Bane. The color pair needed a way to get rid of enchantments and Enchanter's Bane is a step in the right direction. It's not foolproof, but it will work often enough that you're happy with it. Honorable mention to Treasure Nabber.
It's obvious that the upgrade path for all Preconstructed decks involve working on the manabase, so I won't feel the need to repeat that every time. An Academy Ruins would be a sweet land upgrade for this one, though. The deck seems to get rolling when creatures connect, like with Sharding Sphinx, so I'd go with something like Archetype of Imagination or Sun Quan, Lord of Wu, to make everything unblockable. The next buffs, such as Master of Etherium and Chief of the Foundry, make Archetype of Aggression a little more viable. In general, the upgrade path for this deck continues along its original arc, just does it more.
Tawnos is where you'd go off in a completely new direction, so much so that you'd probably just want to build it instead of cannibalizing major parts of the deck.
All in all, the deck is solid, but I wouldn't jump to have it be the one of the four I played.
Planeswalker Commander: Aminatou, the Fateshifter
Not grooving on Varina as the commander for Subjective Reality. She's clearly designed to lead a new Zombie deck, not this one. Sure there's Army of the Damned and a few Zombies, but that's not enough. In fact, she might be one of the first cards I would remove. Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign, on the other hand, which leads this one out of the box. It becomes a bit of a Sphinx Tribal deck with a proper Sphinx leader. It has a good air game and a reasonable card draw engine, plus you get to cast some stuff for free. You have to keep an eye on the skies to make sure things don't overwhelm Yennett, but having menace means it can't be from just one big creature. Using Yuriko to lead the deck might be a precursor to playing Skull Storm since it's so cheap to cast. There are only two other Ninjas, Silent Blade Oni, and Ninja of the Deep Hours, so you have plenty of room to expand into.
The right commander for this deck is clearly Aminatou, the Fateshifter. Her ability to manipulate the top of your deck makes a card like Yennett extremely strong while getting you to the cards that you want now instead of later. Her second ability is best on Sphinx of Uthunn or Sower of Discord, one of the finest of the new cards. Of course, we're all going to want to play with her ultimate ability just to see what kinds of tomfoolery we can get into. People like Aminatou, and it's probably because it seems like an Un-card.
Best Reprint: Djinn of Wishes. Card doesn't get enough love.
The upgrade path is to do even more top of the library manipulation, running Aminatou as the commander. Scroll Rack, Sensei's Divining Top, Future Sight, even Crystal Ball and scry lands are a nice place to start. The best thing about Aminatou is that you can go full tribal with either Zombies or Ninjas, although there's some room to just play which creatures you want and add Arcane Adaptation to hit your theme. The Zombie deck led by Varina is a complete retooling. The Sphinx deck with Yennett doesn't need too many buffs, just some of the other techy Sphinxes like Unesh, Criosphinx Sovereign or Sphinx of Magosi.
Aminatou all by herself makes choosing this deck desirable, but there are plenty of other things to love about it as well.
Planeswalker Commander: Lord Windgrace
Nature's Vengeance is right up my alley. Creatures, plenty of them, and big ones, plus some cool tricks and some graveyard stuff-just I want from a Jund deck. It then adds the "lands matter" sub-theme and we have something new. Gyrus, Waker of Corpses still isn't getting my vote, because there are just not enough ways to get those exiled cards back. I want to use things several times. One day, when exile retrieval is better, we'll see. Thantis, the Warweaver is the way to go. It forces everyone to be aggressive, but since you're set up for it from the start, you have the advantage. Unlike cards like Avatar of Slaughter, Thantis helps protect you somewhat from the violence going, since it gets bigger for each creature that comes your way, which of course can get out of hand in a hurry. Xantcha is a fun and slightly chaotic 1 of 99, which would need something built around her to lead a deck.
Lord Windgrace wouldn't have any trouble leading this deck either. It feels like it wants more graveyard recursion to take advantage of his +2 ability. There is plenty you can do, however, ping-ponging between the +2 and the -3.
Best Reprint: Charnelhoard Wurm. One of the ways of getting back creatures from Lord Wingrade.
Thantis makes a great upgrade commander. The first card you'll want to grab is Arachnogenesis. You might not go full Spider tribal, but Ishkanah, Grafwidow and Silklash Spider are worth the price of admission. In your upgrade, you'll want to play your share of Fogs. Tangle and Spore Cloud are great because they keep creatures tapped down. You're not in Propaganda colors, but Crawlspace will send creatures toward other faces instead of yours. Rampaging Baloths and Baloth Woodcrashers hint at Beast tribal, which is always great if you like to turn them sideways.
If you're running Lord Windgrace instead, fetchlands become even more highly desirable. I'd have a tough time not overhauling the deck if I were to use him as the commander because I'd like to take advantage of his ability to put the card I want into the graveyard without having to go through the trouble of casting it. You know Living Death would make an appearance, along with Patriarch's Bidding if we held onto that Beast tribal idea. You'd have head a more defensive direction if you want to use the ultimate-at which point, you've probably already done the job of controlling the battlefield, so you might not have cause to activate the ability.
Planeswalker Commanders: Estrid, the Masked
Our first legendary creature with bestow is the first reason to like the Adaptive Enchantment deck, because it gives a new take on the old enchantress favorite. Having the option of casting Kestia for the bestow cost then gives you some built in protection against Wrath of God effects. Enchant up any creature you like, get your commander onto the battlefield, providing the same benefits it did a moment ago-namely drawing cards. Eidolon of Blossoms now does double duty, drawing cards both when enchantments enter the battlefield AND when they attack (assuming they're enchantments as well). While Tuvasa the Sunlit might seem like a better Enchantress commander, that appearance is deceiving. Sure, it gets bigger for each enchantment you control, but you're only drawing on the first one you cast each turn. That severely limits the ability of the deck to do infinite things, which is probably reasonable. To me, Tuvasa only becomes the better choice to up your commander storm count for Genesis Storm and Empyrial Storm. Then there's Arixmethes, which you'd have to take too much out of the deck to play (since you couldn't have the white spells). I've already talked at length about directions we could take the card in. I certainly wouldn't take it out of the deck, but I wouldn't let it be in charge, either.
Estrid, the Masked leading the deck leads to some compelling possibilities, especially if you want to get in with Bruna, Light of Alabaster. Although Estrid's middle ability is neat, not to mention an affordable -1, I'd want to spend my time ensuring I had enough loyalty counters to get to the Replenish ultimate. Of course, that -1 ability is quite nicely synergistic with the +2, so you'll have to do some long-term math.
Best Reprint: Winds of Rath. Nice that we have a new deck to play it with.
Kestia is the commander for your upgrade path. Load up with enchantment creatures (44 choices in all in Bant, which includes some of the ones in the deck) or your favorite auras and enchantments. Remember that the Archetypes are all enchantment creatures, as is Courser of Kruphix, Ephara, God of the Polis (kind of), and our favorite chaos card, Perplexing Chimera. Using Estrid as a piece of Kestia seems like the direction I'd go.
For heading off into Simic land, Arixmethes will be your jam. There are certainly cards from Adaptive Enchantment that I'd keep around, like Cold-Eyed Selkie, but otherwise you'll want to explore more of the drawing cards/beating face angle. Don't forget Oracle of Mul Daya, so that you can play your commander as a land and play another land on the same turn. Also give due consideration to Explore as a ramp spell that's not completely useless lategame.
While I wouldn't be sad getting handed Adaptive Enchantment in a pod or a league, it's not quite my cup of tea. For my particular playstyle, I'd go Nature's Vengeance first, then Subjective Reality, Adaptive Enchantment, and finally Exquisite Invention. The good news is that they're all good, so you can pick the one that fits the way you like to play. They have all some elements which make multiplayer a more fun format, so big props for those. Unfortunately, due to other commitments (like coming to the next SCG Con!), my local group and I won't have time to do a league with this until after the New Year. If we do, I'll be sure to report on it. What I'll definitely be reporting on are which of these new Commander 2018 cards are going into my suite of Commander decks.
Question of the Week
I thought that I'd ask the Question of the Week this time. I tweeted out that I had never built a planeswalker-as-commander deck, and offered a poll of the four from Commander 2018 to choose from. Here are the results:
Lord Wingrace 29%
Estrid, the Unmasked 23%
I've already started brainstorming ideas around what kinds of things would be compelling to see other players control-Demons seem like a strong choice at the moment; I certainly want to pass that Abyssal Persecutor around. Look for that build in the coming weeks. Until then, enjoy your Commander 2018 release events and all the fun that comes with exploring new cards.
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 ; Queen Marchesa, Long May She Reign ; 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."