Official previews for Guilds of Ravnica didn't start until this week, but two weekends back we got a little taste of the set, a kind of pre-preview at PAX West. The competitive player in me is super-stoked to see what's going to be good and fun in the new Standard, and there are signs that I'm going to have several different angles to attack the format.
The casual player in me is also super-stoked to see what goodies the new set will bring for Commander! Let's take a look at what's been revealed so far grouped in the five guilds that show up in this set.
Selesnya sports the lone returning guild mechanic, convoke. To be honest, I don't play many cards with convoke in Commander. The best of the bunch is Chord of Calling, and while I loved that card while it was in Standard, I usually steer clear of tutor cards in Commander. I had Sprout Swarm in my Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis for a while, it would combo with Jeskai Ascendency if I needed a way to finish off a game in one big turn, but I believe I cut it recently to make room for a couple cards from Commander 2018. Obelisk of Urd is decent for tribal decks, and Chief Engineer is solid in a heavy artifact deck. But that's about it.
The Selesnya cards have piqued my interest for Commander. Impervious Greatwurm is gigantic, one of the biggest creatures ever printed, and in a format that's all about epic plays and awesome haymakers, Impervious Greatwurm fits right in! I personally cannot wait to put this card in my Grothama, All-Devouring deck to draw sixteen cards. It's also aggressively costed-compare to Autochthon Wurm which cost a whopping fifteen mana for a much smaller and much less sturdy body. Ten mana with convoke sounds much more reasonable-for instance, if you've got two creatures plus Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma you can cast Impervious Greatwurm for just five mana!
Yes, 16/16 with no evasion can be chump blocked forever, but you're playing green so giving it trample shouldn't be a problem-you've got Rancor, Berserk, Elvish Herder, Dragon Fangs, Talons of Wildwood… and oh yeah, Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma! That's just scratching the surface.
During the Weekly MTG stream that aired right before PAX West, Melissa DeTora and Andrew Brown talked a little bit about the mechanics.
Melissa mentioned that they're digging deeper into the convoke mechanic, and I think Emmara, Soul of the Accord is a great example of that. Even though she doesn't have convoke herself, her ability certainly benefits from playing spells with convoke and tapping her to cast them, giving you a 1/1 white Soldier token for your troubles. I was tempted to sketch out a Commander decklist built around Emmara this week, but I suspect that I'm going to want to wait until we have the entire set revealed since I imagine there will be lots of good convoke and convoke-friendly cards we're going to want to have in the deck. For now though, I've got a bunch of vehicles, Glare of Subdual, and Viridian Longbow waiting to see what's up.
A quick side note: why does Emmara make Soldier tokens rather than Saprolings? Selesnya Elves and Saprolings went together like peanut butter and chocolate the last times we were in Ravnica, and considering the decent push for Saprolings in Dominaria, I'm more than a little surprised. Was it tested and Saproling decks started dominating Standard? I find that hard to believe with Goblin Chainwhirler in the mix...
Whoa, Assassin's Trophy is an eye-popping removal spell that's cheap and about as flexible as you could possibly want. It handles any permanent an opponent controls with basically Path to Exile's drawback attached (though noticeably the land doesn't enter the battlefield tapped). My friend Shivam from the Commanderin' podcast (@ghirapurigears) tweeted out the best nickname ever: "Plant to Exile." I can't imagine any green and black Commander deck not wanting to find room for this interactive card!
Let's talk about Underrealm Lich. Wow, what a sweet card! Most any sort of green and black Commander deck is bound to have some graveyard shenanigans, and Underrealm Lich can fill the graveyard in a hurry. Even without that, the baseline value of effectively getting to dig three cards deep to choose the best card each time you draw means you getting pure gas each time. Coupled with ways to draw extra cards and it can get bonkers. Imagine resolving a Harmonize with this Lich on the table. Look at three cards, put one in your hand and two in your graveyard, then do that two more times. You've dug nine cards deep!
Keep in mind that Underrealm Lich is a replacement ability-you actually stop drawing cards and instead do the Lich's instructions. Ironically, this actually turns off your dredge cards! On the plus side, it prevents you from getting decked by card draw. Also, it's a crazy combo with Sylvan Library and basically gives you a free Harmonize during your draw step.
Underrealm Lich seems to be a potent enabler for undergrowth, letting you fill your graveyard with extra creatures you don't otherwise have use for. The undergrowth cards we've seen as of this writing seem to be made for Limited, but we can imagine some of the undergrowth cards will be pushed for more competitive uses. Necrotic Wound might see some play in heavily dedicated graveyard decks, since a non-destroy way of getting rid of indestructible creatures is quite helpful. I certainly use Tragic Slip in my decks quite often, and tacking on the exile clause makes it intriguing.
The Golgari split card is interesting! I'm not entirely sure how to refer to it, but I'm going with Status or Statue. I would certainly play the Statue side of the card in most Commander decks that could run it since that level of flexible removal at instant speed is well worth four mana. The Status side is a little more narrow, and I'm not sure if I'd find room in Commander decks for it, but it's awesome getting that option essentially for free. There are going to be some cases where it combines with a creature's trample ability to nearly neutralize a large chump blocker and push through unexpected combat damage.
I'm a little leery of the split card Find or Finality. Each side seems to cost just a little more than I'd want for the effect, and I'm not entirely sure the flexibility is worth it. I do want to give it a try though. What do you think?
The one rule of Dimir is you don't talk about Dimir, but since I'm not Dimir I'm going to talk about Dimir. The return of Narcomoeba doesn't really impact Commander since you could already play it if you wanted, and having a single 1/1 flier you could potentially play for free isn't going to be impacting many boardstates. I definitely value scry quite highly in Commander decks as a way to smooth out otherwise clunky draws in a format that is highly variable. Surveil is even better that scry since there are many, many ways to take advantage of your graveyard as an active resource in Commander. Of the ones previewed so far, I could see Sinister Sabotage seeing a little bit of play in Commander.
But wait-late breaking news reveals Starcitygames.com's exclusive preview: Dream Eater! This is a Nightmare Sphinx with flash, flying, and surveil 4 for six mana, and when it enters the battlefield you get to bounce an opponent's non-land permanent. Digging four cards deep with graveyard synergy upside is huge!
Niv-Mizzet is back, this time as "Parun." I like that in his third iteration, he's dropped any pretense of colorless mana in his casting cost and gone pure red and blue. His text box is awesome too, and he's made himself lord over any instant or sorcery spells, not just your own.
Jump start is another cool card that enables graveyard strategies, in particular reanimator style combos where you can pitch a huge creature in your hand to the graveyard to bring out to the battlefield with something like Animate Dead. If you've been tinkering with a Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer deck I'm sure your eyes lit up over Quasiduplicate!
Oh, and then there's Ral, Izzet Viceroy! Everyone loves new planeswalkers, and he's a pretty good one. He encourages you to play lots of instant and sorcery cards to make that middle ability any good, but the +1 ability is solid and the emblem is quite good if you're following the theme. It's narrow but will find a home in the right deck.
Firemind's Research is another "instant or sorcery cards matter" enabler, though I feel like the effects are rather small and slow even for a cheaply costed enchantment like this. Perhaps if you've got a heavy proliferate theme going on? Hey, that would also play nice with Ral!
Boros abilities tend to not be all that great in Commander, and I feel like mentor is going to join the club. It's a boost to aggressive, low to the ground strategies and that's not something that gets traction in most Commander games. That said, I could see something with mentor finding a home in a deck that cares about +1/+1 counters. Creatures like Phantom Nomad, Shinewend, and Abzan Falconer play well with getting extra counters. Also, creatures with double strike tend to be small and could easily pair up with mentor to build into real threats - think Adorned Pouncer, Boros Swiftblade, Warren Instigator, and Prophetic Flamespeaker. And Legion Warboss might see some action in Goblin decks.
I can see the split card Response or Resurgence seeing some play. Conditional 5 points of damage to a creature can deal with many creatures in Commander and is reasonable for two mana, and the other side giving you an additional attack step, plus vigilance is awesome!
I just want to make sure all Commander fans are on high alert for picking up manabase staples right now. The check lands from Ixalan and Dominaria are fantastic in Commander and very reasonably priced, and of course, the return of the shocklands in the next two Ravnica sets are going to help make those affordable too. Basically, get your hands on as many of these as you can, depending on the number of Commander decks you have built at any one time.
So, what do you think of the cards we've seen so far? Which cards are you excited about adding to your Commander decks?
By the way, I've created a YouTube channel, The Complete Commander , so if you like my work here, be sure to go over there, subscribe, and keep your eyes peeled for my videos!
Below I've got links to decks I've written about going back to January 2017. If you want to read the associated article, just put "Bennie Smith" and the Commander name into the Google and it should pop right up. I've written a lot about Commander - and Magic in general - so if you want to explore further the StarCityGames.com® article archives have my articles all the way back to January 2000!
Core Set 2019
Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle , Grand Warlord Radha , Arvad the Cursed, Muldrotha, the Grave Tide , Slimefoot, the Stowaway , Yargle, Glutton of Urborg , Squee, the Immortal , Firesong and Sunspeaker , Jodah, Archmage Eternal
Rivals of Ixalan
Other Commander Decks