Last week, Rules Manager Matt Tabak offered his explanation of the new and returning mechanics in Guilds of Ravnica. I encourage you go watch and listen to the videos. Matt has a soothing and entertaining voice. He speaks with an inflection that tells you a good joke is not far away. Back to us, today we're going to go over those mechanics here and discuss their impact on Commander. Plus, we'll take a look at some freshly-previewed cards to see if they'll be any good in the 100-card format.
The Dimir mechanic, surveil, is like scry, only better. It's effectively the same as scry, save instead of putting the cards on the bottom of your library, you put them in the graveyard. The obvious twist here is that instead of tossing away cards you don't want, putting them into the forgotten places in your library, you have the option of choosing things that you want to put into the graveyard for later reuse.
If you're using a mechanic for simple library manipulation (the legal kind, not the mechanic's grip kind), I'd suggest sticking with scry. If you want to reanimate things or use flashback cards (although it kind of defeats the purpose of the flashback spell to not cast it twice), then surveil will be your jam. Graveyards are a huge resource in Commander, and there are any number of reasons you'd want to fill yours. Wouldn't it be sweet to surveil 2 and see one giant monster and one reanimation spell. Maybe they're two classic favorites like Zombify and Mindleech Mass.
Or something a little newer such as Razaketh, the Foul-Blooded. You can also use surveil to fish for something to save your graveyard if need be, like Kozilek, Butcher of Truth. Your graveyard is saucy, but you're in a tight spot because someone just dropped Bojuka Bog on your face. With the trigger on the stack, use an instant with surveil, like the already-previewed Unexplained Disappearance. Cross your fingers and hope one of your Eldrazi is on top. Or increase your odds with cards like Sensei's Divining Top or Scroll Rack. Sure, it's a long shot, but at least you have a chance.
You might also use surveil to just fill up your graveyard, either without the intention of bringing stuff out or using some of these things now and reanimating/regrowing later. Apocalypse Demon cares about that count. If you're in Sultai, Boom Tube (that's Lord of Extinction) loves meatier yards. Most of the rest of the playable ones rely on creature cards in graveyards, such as Revenant, Seed Guardian, Splinterfright, or Svogthos, the Restless Tomb. We'll talk about this more when we get to the undergrowth mechanic. Cards with threshold also fit this bill. Without going outside the bounds of U/B, you have cards like Stitch Together, Possessed Aven, and Repentant Vampire. Add green for an old-timey favorite and mainstay of my first Phelddagrif deck, Battlefield Scrounger. There's also Possessed Centaur and for those of you who would like some combo potential, Krosan Restorer. Don't dismiss Havengul Lich; it's more fun to cast stuff out of other graveyards, but I bet there are creatures in your own to recast as well.
Also, let's not forget dredge!
Actually, let's forget dredge completely.
Another new mechanic that has a whiff of an old one, in this case, some hybrid of flashback and retrace. As of this writing, the only card we've seen is the one in Matt's article, Sonic Assault (which, as of this writing, weirdly doesn't yet appear in the Guilds of Ravnica Card Image Gallery ). We don't have much to go on at the moment regarding whether they're all relatively low cost spells or there are bigger, splashier ones, but there's still consideration about the mechanic itself.
Unlike retrace, which makes you discard a land (but then doesn't exile the card, hence the flashback comparison), you can discard anything to jump-start. Izzet isn't really known for its graveyard shenanigans, so in order to take advantage of the discard in the ways we've discussed, you'll likely have to add black. But there are other ways to enjoy what jump-start does for you.
If that's not your style, remember that Izzet has a commander like Tawnos, Urza's Apprentice, who likes artifacts. Blue also has one of the best lands around for getting back your artifacts, Academy Ruins. There aren't too many cards that trigger on discarding cards, but there are things that like you have to have stuff in the graveyard. Delirium (the mechanic, not the otherwise awesome card) and spell mastery come to mind. More cards in your graveyard can help transforming Search for Azcanta into Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin or Jace, Vryn's Prodigy into Jace, Telepath Unbound. More different card types make Emrakul, the Promised End easier to cast. We'll explore more about this mechanic when we see more cards.
As Matt mentions in his explanation, undergrowth cards will each work differently, so we'll need to pay attention when the cards come out. The previewed one, Moodmark Painter, gains menace and gives a creature +X/+0 until end of turn, where X is the number of creature cards in your graveyard. "Undergrowth abilities provide scaling effects that may start small, but they can be dominating in the lategame," Matt says. This gives me no end of joy, because it's one of the things that I mentioned to the R&D folks that we'd like to see more of in Commander-cards which are modest in the early game, but get explosive later. It's cool to see that we might be on the same page. Matt seems to hint at a few of the other abilities that the Golgari like, such as discarding and putting cards from your library into your graveyard. We should probably expect to see those kinds of things in Guilds of Ravnica.
You might have gotten the impression earlier that I dislike dredge. I do, but not because it's a bad mechanic or anything. It's fine in a two-player game. In a game of Commander, however, my experience is that the dredge player definitely runs more time off the clock than most others. Dredge is a fine, reasonable strategy, but it doesn't port well to the multiplayer experience. I find that most of the time there's a dredge deck doing stuff, the other players fade and start to tune out; that's hardly the kind of thing we want happening in a social experience. Don't panic and go sell all your copies of Life from the Loam or Golgari Grave-Troll, just be sensitive when you're playing to the amount of time you're taking doing stuff.
This looks like another scaling mechanic with an upper limit, which seems quite good. Smaller creatures get larger and your army gets deadlier. If you can somehow move those counters over to the creatures with mentor (not exactly the strength of R/W), then you can rinse, lather, and repeat. I suppose that you could go Naya, adding green, for cards like Vigor and Spikes (Spike Weaver, Spike Feeder). Sticking to R/W, you have cards like Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants, Ajani, Caller of the Pride, Ajani Goldmane, Mikaeus, the Lunarch, or Collective Effort, just to have a few of many, which simply add +1/+1 counters to a creature or creatures you control. Obviously, you want to keep the creatures with mentor bigger than everyone else so that they'll trigger. You'll have lots of choices, and I imagine there will be cards in the set that do just that.
My only problem here are the logistics of counters. In general, cards with +1/+1 counters on them are okay. You and I have both seen, however, how Cathar's Crusade can end up being a nightmare when you have a pile of creatures on the battlefield. At least most folks are happy to use dice instead of individual counters for each. Still, when there are lots of them on the table, dice are invariably going to get jostled, etc., etc., etc. I love creature decks and Cathar's Crusade is a great card for them. I nonetheless intentionally don't play it (maybe it's still in one deck) because of the all the required bookkeeping. It can be very, very time-consuming and messy.
Convoke is a returning mechanic, and as long as they don't reprint Chord of Calling, things should be fine. You know what's a fine card with convoke? Paradox Engine. Add Zendikar Resurgent and you can probably cast most of your deck (until you start running into too many lands in a row). Then again, Paradox Engine is a little busted with quite a few cards. Somebody should give some serious thought to that card (again, don't go on the Great Paradox Engine Panic of 2018 and sell them for pennies). There are other things in the Selesnya family which untap all your creatures so that you can cast convoke spells after you've attacked or the other way around. Gideon, Martial Paragon's +1 ability will do it. Patron of the Orochi does it at least for all your green ones. Village Bell-Ringer and Vitalize do it at low costs.
The one that interests me the most is Benefactor's Draught. It's a Commander 2016 card which costs 1G and is an instant. It untaps all creatures (not just yours) and draws you a card. The big thing is that until end of turn, when a creature an opponent controls blocks, you draw a card. You can make great friends by untapping someone's team so that they can block and save themselves. In addition to the reward of their gratitude, you can draw quite a few cards.
Creatures with convoke, like the Rosemane Centaur which Matt previewed, and permanents in general seem a little less dangerous than spells (like the aforementioned Chord of Calling). Then again, Impervious Greatwurm (7GGG cost for indestructible 16/16) could be smashing quite a few faces. The good news if you're facing it someday is that it doesn't have evasion. The bad news is that getting trample is pretty easy.
Split cards get played only a little in Commander, mostly because you sacrifice power for flexibility (although some of them are really good, like Crime). The earlier ones especially cornered you into a wedge or shard color identity, making them playable in just a few decks. The guild-based split cards tighten things up a little, which will likely make them more playable.
Recently-previewed Status stays within the Golgari guild on both halves. Having both at your command, especially when they do two different things, is the kind of thing we like to see. If it only had fuse, it'd be even cooler. I look forward to seeing each of the guilds getting a useful split card or two as we reveal further previews.
Hybrid mana is a subject we've talked about quite a bit previously. Every year or so, when Mark Rosewater expresses his opinion that off-color hybrids should be allowed in Commander decks (a position he reasonably supports and the Commander RC happens to disagree with), we (the extended we, on social media and other Commander forums) talk about it. Knowing that it was coming in Guilds of Ravnica, I talked about it last week . What I mention is the same opinion the RC has held for a long time.
Here's the short version: Format rules supersede design intent rules. I wouldn't place too many bets on us changing our minds on this issue anytime soon.
Question of the Week
This week's question comes from Cryogen on the official forums ( where I've tucked a thread for questions of the week ):
What sort of feedback do you consider "good?" For instance, I've talked before about experiences with banned cards within my cube, but at the same time I recognize that a draft format has positives and negatives for card testing (such as you largely take away the notion of building around a card in order to break it but you also can't properly build a deck to include removal and counter-options). If players give their experiences and feedback from card testing, what info are you looking for beyond "I played with X and it was broken and everyone hates it"?
First of all, we (that's the Commander Rules Committee) are looking for feedback that's useful-so well-written (or spoken), well-intended discussion. "Here's my/our experience and why I/we think what we think" is better than "ZOMG!!! You're so dumb if you don't
The more direct answer to your question is that the kind of feedback we're looking for here is in what way you find it to be broken. The second question is if there a flood of people playing it, meaning we're looking for additional confirmation from other sources that their experience is similar to yours. We're more likely to take action on a card that unintentionally breaks the kinds of games the target Commander demographic plays and is playing frequently. If it's a niche use and helps combo off on Turn 2, but only in hyper-competitive decks that have built around it (Hermit Druid), we're likely to leave it alone; the fan base we're speaking to isn't playing it anyway, or at least not playing it in that fashion. If you're playing Hermit Druid for extra value with your Deadbridge Chant, you're not threatening the stability of the format. If a card becomes omnipresent and takes over every game that it's in even when it's not built around (Prophet of Kruphix), then we'll be moved to action. We banned Prophet of Kruphix in part because lots of folks offered us similar feedback that the card caused the kinds of games that they didn't particularly enjoy.
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."