I might like the January release of a new set best of all, because it's like getting to have a second Christmas. There's even that kind of anticipation, as preview season provides our own Advent calendar of goodies revealed on a daily basis. Well, the whole thing is laying open now; let's take a look at what's laying around our tree.
As always, remember that this is a review for Commander only. Some of these cards are going to be format-defining in Standard, Limited, and perhaps Modern, so leaving them off the list is no slight to any of them. I haven't looked at the cards with much of an eye toward other Eternal formats yet, but it seems like Lavinia, Azorius Renegade might make a splash there.
I'll break down the cards by color which I think will see some Commander play as well as mention some which look like they might but why they're not as good as they seem. I'll then pick a favorite and grade the color as a whole. That grade will be sensitive to the fact that because the set has a multicolor focus, there aren't as many cards in the mono colors as there might be.
Angel's Grace is a card that sees play, so there's every reason to believe this really nicely-costed Angel will also. You can certainly play Angel of Grace aggressively, flashing it in at end of turn to be a beater. The second ability, resetting your life total to ten, can be quite valuable from the graveyard because you know creatures aren't long for the world in many Commander games.
Kind-of-Sublime Archangel is okay. It can lead you down a build path in which most of your deck is a defensive creature pillow fort but with some sure evasion (like with Rogue's Passage) so that you can do a few big swings, perhaps with your commander.
One of the best defenses in the format is making people pay to attack you. What's really nice about Forbidding Spirit, as opposed to Propaganda and friends, is that once the triggered ability resolves, the effect will still be in place even if the Spirit leaves the battlefield. Playing it alongside Eldrazi Displacer or Conjurer's Closet means that you'll get multiple shots from it.
Much of the set is multicolored, but I'm looking more at the Humans angle with HoPO-which is something I hope no one starts calling it.
Also a Human, a little lifegain cheaply.
Clearly a card that's going to provide some blowouts in Limited, we might see some use of this in blink decks just to get our cool enters-the-battlefield triggers.
Especially if you're playing in a Wrath of God-happy environment, Lumbering Battlement provides you with some protection for your creatures while still laying heavy beats. Now they'll need two Wraths to take out your whole team (and you get those triggers when they come back). Of course, attacking with Lumbering Battlement and then blinking it means the creatures will come back, get their triggers, and you can have them go away again.
Preying on our opponents' greed is always good. Most folks won't think that trading a card for a Treasure isn't that great, but then Revel in Riches is a thing.
I'm on record of not being a fan of shutting other players completely out of the game; I'm just fine with slowing them down some, and Tithe Taker fits the bill. There is a host of great cards in the format that it brings back from silliness, such as Greater Good and Goblin Bombardment-making any zero mana cost activation sometimes infinitely more difficult.
Grade: A . Good top cards, good density.
There's already a better version of this in Invasion; it's called Repulse.
You'd have to do some tricks to make this looting worth it.
Sure, you can't blow out someone since it's not an instant, but in many cases you'll be able to see their graveyard setup and know that it's time to slow them down. Plus, it replaces itself. Perhaps in this format and maybe some others, it can be used on yourself to keep your engines running.
It might be worth the mana cost just to get the scry every upkeep. Add on the cool exchange idea and you get some great Puca's Mischief-like action going. The limiting factor of only being able to do it when you could cast a sorcery is moderately annoying but probably keeps it from being broken.
The advantage of Mass Manipulation over other big steal spells, like Blatant Thievery, is that you can target multiple things from the same player. Obviously, you can get only creatures or planeswalkers; add to that the prohibitive cost and you have a card that you'll need to do a little extra work with if you want to max out your value.
Nice flavor, for one. If you want to build Adviser tribal, you'll need a significant number of these, since there are only 54 others in Magic and some of them are not legal (like Leovold, Emissary of Trest and Rules Lawyer). Mill decks will get a big kick out of this, especially if you use something like Arcane Adaptation to turn everything into an Adviser.
Probably not going to replace Mystic Confluence, but I might toss it in somewhere to give it a whirl. Drawing three for five mana as an instant is okay by me.
In a dedicated graveyard or flashback deck, sure, but that six mana still gives me pause.
Find the thing you want near the top for just two mana is probably really valuable in a lategame situation.
Imagine how powerful Sphinx of Foresight would have been in 1999, an era in which control decks ruled. Now, it's strong but not broken. It's absolutely worth playing in Commander and not just in your Sphinx deck.
It's a little narrow, but in Commander your counterspells have to do more than just counter a spell.
Grade: C . Top cards and density both only fair to middling. Kind of happy that blue doesn't get another super broken card.
Make sure you get rid of your Necropotence before you cast this.
Maybe in mono black this gets some love, but in decks with other colors there seems like better ways to draw cards, even if you want creatures in the yard.
There are so many ways to pay life that you can have Font of Agonies piled up with counters in no time. Want to really hang it out there? Necropotence. Want to really, really hang it out there? Hatred.
Its value might be in the fact that it turns on things like cards with spectacle or Rakdos, Lord of Riots. The drain and gain is gravy.
You can make a great deal happen here, especially if you're playing a Karador, Ghost Chieftain, or other recursion deck. My only caveat is that remember sometimes other people want to sacrifice creatures, too, so be careful about giving them the chance to do it for free.
I like that it's a less-expensive Demon to go into tribal decks and as with a few other cards in the set, it turns on spectacle without any effort. Feels like it's poised to make a big splash in upcoming Standard, too.
Sure, it's no Blood Artist, but what is? Eventually, it can just be Wrath protection for when your army is legion.
A Vulturous Zombie with more upside, it will shine as both a commander or as 1 of 99. The thing that puts it over the top is lifelink, since we all know this thing is going to routinely get huge.
Grade: C-. Density lower than blue, top stuff about as exciting.
I'm not a giant fan of puns, but this one is pretty great word play. In Commander, where we have lots of huge creatures, Amplifire can be deadly pretty fast.
There are plenty decks that'll make use of Cavalcade of Calamity, although probably not Goblins, since they tend to get larger pretty quickly.
Very nice to see red getting one of the best cards in the set. You're basically getting two huge spells for the price of one as an instant. I expect a run on Braid of Fire happening soon.
I already love Burning-Tree Shaman, so Immolation Shaman is boss as well. I'm not sure how often we'll use the ability to make it larger. Do note that unlike Burning-Tree Shaman, Immolation Shaman is only artifact, creature, or land, and not planeswalker or enchantment.
Was saucy right up to the nontoken point. Then it was just expensive.
I want to like it, but unless we're also playing black, the sacrifice is too much.
Grade: B- . Top stuff is wonderful, there's just very little after that.
Five mana for two 3/3s (by end of turn) is good enough already. The promise of more to come makes this ooze-tacular.
You're not playing this in a void, you're playing it in a deck in which +1/+1 counters matter, like one run by Ghave, Guru of Spores, or Kresh, the Bloodbraided. A very Timmy card, which is fine by me.
Mini-Overrun might be a little expensive at eight mana, but in many cases you're not waiting until turn 8 anyway, like in Elves or Druids. You've heard me say it before: trample kills people.
I'm just sad that an Elf Crab Warrior isn't playable in the format.
Hooray for singleton formats!!! Definitely finding a home for this one.
It's an Elf and a Druid? Jeebus.
I was honestly waiting for the "exile Regenesis" clause at the end, but since it can only get back permanents, it's probably okay that it doesn't.
It's a Crowned Ceratok with more upside, so it's finding a home rather quickly.
You're mostly going to use it to untap for other players' turns, but don't ignore the possibility of using it during your end step. It's not quite Seedborn Muse, since it only untaps lands, and it only does it once, not on every player's turn. That makes it strong without being broken. Nice to see.
Grade: B+ . Good top stuff, decent density.
Nice reprint (for affordable foils!), nice new art.
I'm not normally the biggest fan of one-for-ones in Commander, but this one gets close due to its flexibility in generally inflexible colors.
First sentence gets my pulse racing; second calms it back down-just not all the way. The adapt mechanic is going to matter in Limited more than Commander, so I don't think we'll see much use for the second ability.
This one's pretty mean, although at seven mana that's probably appropriate. Clearly, the Zombies are the first choice the person makes unless they're 1) lower than four life already or 2) without a hand anyway/wanting it in the graveyard.
Nice flexibility that nettles at your opponents enough, but not so much that you care about sacrificing it to get rid of the artifact or enchantment that's ruining your day.
Gee, if there were only ways in Simic to get a bunch of creatures onto the battlefield at the same time. If you're playing Combine Guildmage in a Bant deck with Cathar's Crusade, you might want bigger dice.
Probably the primary use in Commander for the Deputy will be to get rid of token swarms. Just make sure those tokens have names. Sure, it has more traditional uses, too, especially if someone is Clone-ing their stuff.
I like the move to the planeswalkers that are strong, not broken. The emblem for this version of Domri will be a contributing factor to a strong game without having warped it. Also starting with a number of loyalty counters higher than the mana cost raises an eyebrow.
Given the name, I approached reading the card with some trepidation. It needs some setup before it can get to the ultimate, but it can get there in a single turn if you're playing enough creatures. The card works extremely well synergistically, creating tokens that can either protect it or make use of the first ability. All in all, very good, not very scary.
While this can likely be part of the engine of some combo, it seems more likely to just be value. I imagine that most instants during your main phase might be counterspells for other counterspells.
Hello! Expensive Timetwister with some upside? Sure thing. It feels like that you're always using the addendum unless you're playing the most controlly of control decks.
First two lines got me already. The graveyard control of the third line sends it to a new level. It's a little spendy all around, especially if you're just in Orzhov, but well worth it. My kind of card.
Can't get your hands on Mystic Snake? Or maybe just suffer from ophidiophobia? Frilled Mystic will help you out. While it's a super corner case, note that the spell countering of Mystic Snake isn't optional, while with Frilled Mystic it is. I've seen someone get wrecked by Eldrazi Displacer and their own Mystic Snake.
You have to have the counters already, but doubling them up is sweet, especially on a creature with trample.
I've played Explore in a ramp card slot before; I'd happily play Growth Spiral in one as well. Strong but straightforward. And it's an instant, so you don't even need to commit.
Arcades, the Strategist and Belligerent Brontodon were already moving the butt damage ability away from Abzan; High Alert keeps that train moving. The untap ability is good, but it feels a little stapled on. I get it thematically (you're ready to untap and defend because of the alert status), but just fails the sniff test for me. That won't keep me from playing it.
Wait, what? I don't even want to see the kind of tomfoolery with this card in an Animar, Soul of Elements deck. Having flying and trample on top the lifegain (which is kind of marginal) and card draw (which isn't) will make this a card you're definitely going to see at your Commander tables.
We talked about her last week , and nothing has dampened my enthusiasm about her.
A sweet upside to the fact that you sometimes have to wrath away your own team. Fits perfectly into Karador or any other deck that wants to get its creatures into the graveyard (perhaps some kind of Mardu deck with Stalking Vengeance?)
My excitement since last week has only gone up.
Giving it flash is a compelling move, although the only time it seems that valuable is if the creature is about to attack or at end of turn-not that I'm complaining. I'm happy to pay the one blue over Pacifism to keep a creature from activating its abilities.
Another card I'm happy to have as an instant for any number of strategic reasons. You can do it during the end of turn of the player to your right and still have it on yours. Making it a little larger is fine, and sacrificing it (as opposed to exiling it, like with Puppeteer Clique) means it's there again for you to do something similar with.
"Personal Mana Flare, but I can't cast noncreature spells" is a deal I'll take lots of times. On a five-mana 5/5 that can be your commander elevates it to amazing. Get everything done with creatures and you'll be in great shape. This either slots into a Ruric Thar, the Unbowed deck or gets Ruric Thar to come along in that new one you know you'll be building.
At the mana and activation costs, it's a decent sacrifice outlet; I don't think it's going to replace Ghost Council of Orzhova for me, but I can see giving it a shot.
Now that I've seen some of the creatures in this set, her stock has gone up even more.
We knew he'd bring along more Demons, and we knew we'd be happy about it.
Obviously, a little control of some of the better nonbasic lands running around the format is really good. You can do it a little cheaper and with more flexibility with cards like Ravenous Baboons, but this Wurm has a much bigger body.
So long, Fires of Yavimaya. We hardly knew ye. Okay, okay, playing both is fine. I like the choice here of giving them the counter (if they're a utility creature, like Spike Weaver) or haste if they're a battle monster. The fact that your creatures can't be countered is saucy too.
A nice moody choice for your dark Angel tribal.
Combo with Forgotten Ancient to be able to lock down a creature a turn. And you know, have a Fish Octopus Crab on your team.
Speaking of combos with Forgotten Ancient, you can run up the growth counter numbers pretty fast. I suspect we're going to see some decks win with this faster than anyone expects with cards like Bioshift and Evolution Vat.
What kind of insanity is this, with four mana 5/5s that have relevant abilities? The world has gone mad. Add trample for that extra flair.
Along with her compatriots from last week, time has not dulled the excitement over our newest Teysa.
I think basically the same about this one. Repudiate is why I'd slot it in, but I suspect Replicate would get played just as often.
Okay, this one's completely different. I'd play it just for the revenge part.
Top 3 (among the new cards this week):
Grade: A . The primary part of the set really delivers.
Most excellent mana rocks that do more than replace themselves when they're no longer needed.
Worth considering due to the mana cost.
It's been one of my favorite cards for the entire history of the format. Happy with the reprint.
There really aren't enough artifacts to fairly grade the color. Same with the lands, since they're mostly reprints. It's certainly nice to have even more shocklands in circulation.
Overall, I'd give the set a solid B+. There are loads of cards that will make their way into Commander decks. The new commanders are probably the best of the best, and what's most compelling about them is that they don't look dangerous for the format. Expect to see plenty of new and interesting brews at your Commander tables soon.
Question of the Week will return after release season.
Check out our comprehensive Deck List Database for lists of all my decks:
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 ; Queen Marchesa's Knights ; 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."