There's no other way to say it: one of the most exciting sets ever for Commander is hitting the tables this coming weekend.
How exciting? Scores of favorite cards will get shoved aside from existing decks in favor of new ones and legendary creatures of several color combinations are wondering if they'll be replaced by a new boss.
This review is for Commander only. There are some pretty saucy cards for other formats, and if they don't happen to be included this review, it's simply because they're not that great or aren't likely to get played in the format. I'll break down each color (which will include multicolored and colorless), pick a Top 3, and give the color a grade. Let's dive right in, because there's lots of ground to cover.
The obvious comparison is with White Sun's Zenith; the only negative is that Finale of Glory not an instant. The other side, however, is that for the big mana, you're getting bigger creatures that fly and have vigilance. Very saucy.
This Gideon is both strong and flexible. It's primarily offensive, but once you get some counters on it, you can use the -6 to exile something.
You probably only want to play this in conjunction with Gideon planeswalkers, but even if you aren't, it might be good protection from Voltron commanders that have hexproof or shroud, since it targets the player.
Getting high value out of something that you are already doing is good times. This version of Oketra can move a mono-white deck in a somewhat different direction. I'd probably let it die and go into the library most times instead of putting it into the command zone.
There are already plenty of decks that want to proliferate and more coming every day.
Unless you're playing a dedicated SuperFriends deck, you won't run that many planeswalkers, so it's nice to be able light the beacons.
The fact that you can have thirteen power of attackers for the low crew cost of four makes the mana to cast Parhelion II well worthwhile, especially since the Angels stay around. Consider playing it with Obzedat, Ghost Council so you can continue to play lots of instant mass creature killers, not have to risk attacking with Obzedat, and still beat lots of face. In answer to the obvious question, the Commander Rules Committee (RC) hasn't engaged in any discussions which would allow noncreatures to be commanders.
Not only will mono-white decks play this, but I can imagine quite a few two-color and maybe even three-color decks giving it a whirl. The 3W casting cost makes it particularly splashable.
Ghave, Guru of Spores has a new friend.
The first sentence makes the card good. The second makes it insane. Sure, it affects you, but you're ready for it, and it's unlikely that everyone else will be.
Giving yourself hexproof is pretty good, but I'm a fan of the fact that Teyo will prevent some damage along the way.
Cards getting more flexible is the safest kind of power creep our friends from R&D can bring. We might disregard the card because it looks like a one-for-one, but then we realize it's not, since it replaces itself.
Grade: A-. The density is excellent but the best cards are just short of being screamingly good. That might just be the comparative quality of this set.
Unless you know exactly what's on the top of the library, you're probably waiting until later in the game to cast Bond of Insight, when you have the exact cards you want already in the graveyard.
In addition to drawing cards, you're going to get a rather large creature out of, whether that's adding to an Army you control or making a new one. You're in blue, for crying out loud.
Your proliferate strategy gets a little self-replacing boost.
Good enough to just play on its own for the card draw (it's basically a blue Elvish Visionary), it's obviously not quite as good as a Commander without some setup to take advantage of the draw-two ability—but that setup isn't all that difficult. I'll face a tough decision on which deck to put it into, but I suspect it'll be one with either Future Sight or Garruk's Horde.
You had me at "draw X cards." The quasi-Time Spiral for yourself is just silly. We'll need to come up with a shorthand for "X is 10 or more," because that's a clunky phrase when writing.
Wait, what? My first thought is how insane this version of Kefnet is with draw spells. Sure, I'll pay 1UU for Mystic Confluence and then put it in my hand. Also deadly on other players' turns with Sensei's Divining Top and cool counterspells like Overwhelming Intellect.
The three blue might be a little heavy in three-plus-color decks. Otherwise, it's good enough to play for the +1 ability alone. The Laboratory Maniac wincon is just gravy.
Another one I wouldn't mind seeing off God-Eternal Kefnet.
Probably less useful in Commander than in other formats, but still worth consideration, especially if your local environment uses more targeted removal than mass.
The power and toughness drop is likely of less value than taking away all abilities—especially those on problematic (and perhaps indestructible) commanders.
We'll definitely keep an eye over the next few months on how rough this card will be. Aren't you glad it won't be coming out of the command zone?
I've long been a proponent of the idea that counterspells in Commander need to do something extra. No Escape has it; the exile clause will keep whatever you counter from being a problem a second time. Adding scry to cards is also a relatively safe kind of power creep.
Needs some evasion to be useful, but could slot into a deck that has better utility creatures than attackers.
Poor Clone. We keep getting strict upgrades at the same cost (see Stunt Double). This one just hits all the extra marks, making me wonder if a copy card at 3U could ever get better. The obvious downside is that it can only copy your own things, but given the rest of the card, that's hardly a downside at all.
When I first saw Time Twist(er), I went "uh-oh," but the card is simply a little bit of blink tomfoolery, not anything busted.
Grade: A. Density is strong. Top cards are tops.
Being able to bring a planeswalker back probably makes the card playable.
Like with the new Narset, we'll be keeping our eyes on this card between now and the Core Set 2020 update. It looks frighteningly strong.
I've often looked at Zombify and its variants and wished the creature would get haste. The one additional mana is well worth it. Wish granted.
This is a card I'd be playing without consideration of how to mitigate the damage, but an obvious combo is with The Wanderer. The question for me will be if I'm tempted to violate my self-imposed rule for only putting one copy of a new card into the deck collection.
Kind of strong with a Bolas planeswalker, good enough without—especially if you're working some politics in order to help the table.
You're not going to need to attack too many times to make up for the life loss, so this one's a no-brainer for your Zombie decks.
With the increase in the number of planeswalkers (and how good some of them are), The Elderspell seems like it's going to be worth playing.
Zombies are going to be in your graveyard; you'll now have the choice to decide if you want to keep them there (for your Tombstone Stairwell) or bring them back to your hand. It has similar implications if you play it in a Karador, Ghost Chieftain deck.
I think that the only time you'll want to play this over Black Sun's Zenith is if your relatively sure that you're going to hit X being ten or more (suggestions for which so far have been "Roman," "Ultimate," and "Super plus ultra," to name a few).
The Gods may quickly become my favorite card family in the set. This one is just crazy in your Karador and other graveyard-recursion decks. It's also a strong beater to boot, something my own main Karador deck sometimes struggles with.
For the low, low price of one mana, you get to do any number of cool things, whether it's someone else taking out the creature or planeswalker or you doing it yourself. With planeswalkers in particular, you might be less shy about taking off that final counter, since you know you'll be getting it back. The exile clause is particularly strong in a world in which Rest in Peace exists.
It's a Harvester of Souls that draws when tokens die and doesn't get wiped out by Wrath of God. Then you tack on some planeswalker abilities and you have a card that's worth getting stoked about. One of the top cards in the set for me.
There has been so much already said about this card by other people that the only thing I need to say is "what they said." Card is bonkers.
I want to think about the use of the card, not for the obvious (which will be fine to help keep greedy people in check), but for drawing cards by killing my own creatures.
I can't recall too many Commander games over the last decade that didn't have a bunch of counters somewhere and it would have been nice to get rid of them. From opponents' planeswalkers (about to go ultimate) to your own things with cumulative upkeep, there will be targets. I wonder what the version of Price of Betrayal that could target any number of permanents would cost. That would be sweet.
You know I love my sacrifice outlets, but the three mana might be a tad too much to have Spark Reaper be playable—but I'm willing it give it a whirl anyway.
Grade: A. Strong collection of playable cards and more than three potential choices for Top 3.
One of the things I haven't liked much about red's ability to exile cards from the top of your library and then play them is that you've had to spend mana to do it, and that mana is something you'd rather use to actually cast the spells. Chandra at least solves that. I'm not sure it does too much else, though. Still, effective card draw in red is good.
Maybe in a Kresh, the Bloodbraided deck or one with Stalking Vengeance. Because it doesn't have any kind of evasion, you need something else to make it worthwhile.
I suspect that the weakest of the Finales will be used on more nonred cards—like Time Warp—than on actual red spells. Obviously, copying Time Stretch twice should win you the game—but unless you've really blanked, just casting Time Stretch should have been enough.
New-and-improved Sneak Attack on a stick gets my motor running. Another one which will challenge my resolve to put new cards only in one deck. Team Lives in the Red Zone forever!
A growing number of Goblins agree that a growing number of Goblins is a good idea.
At first I was going to discount Mizzium Tank, but given some of the Izzet decks that want to cast lots of noncreature spells on a turn, it might be worth reconsideration.
So, let me get this straight. Every card in my hand becomes a Simian Spirit Guide that I only have to discard? Could be dangerous to opponents' health.
With not that many Dragons, you'll be pretty much immune to getting battled by all but the biggest of creatures. This might be the best built-in self-protection for a planeswalker to date. The other abilities are just in the noise.
In my local environment, lifegain is a thing, so this Tibalt is more likely to see play.
Grade: B-. The best are strong, but things fall off steeply after that.
Even with a modest early hand, I'd rather put an extra land onto the battlefield on Turn 1 and miss a drop on Turn 4 than hit only one four turns in a row. The math folks could probably shed some better light on why this is good.
While we're not changing the rule to allow planeswalkers as commanders, if you sit down with me and a (Were)Wolf tribal deck, I'm not going to have any heartburn with you playing it.
Especially in mono-green, this might be the kind of creature removal you're looking for, since the other creature doesn't deal damage back.
A viable option for your proliferate decks given its splashability.
A little card draw help for a color that's not historically great at drawing cards. Not great, but worth looking at.
Good value that becomes better when you have lots of creatures that have trample. Combo with Nylea, God of the Hunt for serious beatings.
It seems like Finales have come to push out the Zeniths, although there's no reason to not play both. I'm sure the card that most people thought of with Finale of Devastation is Craterhoof Behemoth, which might actually be overkill. Delicious overkill.
Mono-green's answer to Avacyn, Angel of Hope?
Alternately, this is what you search up with Finale of Devastation. Combat, already an aggressive step in Commander, is about to get a whole lot more aggressive. Love it.
The low number of loyalty counters might limit its utility, but it might also be one that no one attacks.
Three-tailed hounds are less scary than three-headed ones. Very nice offensive option for a proliferate deck.
In addition to having a great name, this Nissa is your personal Mana Flare for Forests. I'm not a big fan of turning my lands into creatures because a Wrath of God tends to wreck one's day, so I'd rely on proliferating this Nissa to get the emblem from her ultimate before actually using the +1 ability.
Perhaps a little too expensive, but I'm really fond of the Citizen token that's all colors as a subtle message of inclusion and diversity.
Naturalize-plus shows how R&D is really thinking about how to make cards slightly better without breaking them.
Unless you're attacking with quite a few creatures—in which case you're probably killing someone anyway—your creatures will need trample to really get value out of Storm the Citadel.
The ability to cast creatures as though they have flash is very, very strong (it's certainly part of what got Prophet of Kruphix banned). The rest of Vivien is good, if nothing particularly noteworthy.
You're going to have to know your deck to effectively play the Arkbow, since you'll need to do some calculations on the best value of X. A little bit of top-of-the-library control will help, but you'll still need to put some decent amount of mana into the effort.
While it may make the cut in a theme deck, the ability might be a little expensive for the one-in-three or maybe two-in-five hit you're going to get.
Grade A: More than three in the running and solid number of playables.
The first thing that jumps out is the number of loyalty counters being higher than the converted mana cost. Without an ultimate to quickly get to, it doesn't come across as particularly dangerous.
Maybe playable because of the flexibility, but it's still a one-for-one.
Dangerous because it has trample and can get kind of large, plus you know you're not playing it in a deck without planeswalkers.
A Decimate that you can actually be confident in playing. Destroying up to five permanents for six mana is the definition of value. I think the temptation will be to wait until you have all five quality targets.
I like having creatures, and I like punishing people who kill them, so I'm going to party with Cruel Celebrant.
The question here is whether you wait for a really dangerous creature to hit the battlefield or just kill something so that you can ramp. I'm going to lean toward the former unless my hand is telling me a different story.
The new Domri is one of those that I see ending up being a little better in play than it looks on the battlefield. From the creature boost to the mana acceleration to the ability to use your Acidic Slime to kill nearly anything, the card will pay dividends.
It's been a while since I've witnessed a real counterspell war over a creature in a Commander game, but Dovin's Veto would settle that once and for all.
Like with Cruel Celebrant, I enjoy the option of making someone pay for killing my creature.
I only see this getting played in a mill deck, but then when you do, you're going to get extra benefits from doing the thing you were doing in the first place.
Some people are already calling Feather the best Boros commander ever. That might be a stretch, but it's quite strong. Generate a bunch of tokens and then Path to Exile one of them every turn for a little Boros ramp.
While mono-red isn't getting as much as other colors in the set, Boros is doing okay. Instant card draw in either Boros color is pretty hard to come by, even if it's only one net card for four mana.
Slots right into most Thraximundar decks.
I'm not sold on Birthing Pod as a one-shot sorcery, but I'm willing to be proven wrong.
Wow! Not only does the card hit a home run flavor-wise, it's just strong. Mostly, you're going to try to run up to that ultimate, which may somewhat tricky to kill people with in Commander. You'll have to do lots of work to knock everyone off the table at once.
I'm a fan that a five-color deck has a different kind of option than those that came before. I believe it will be a tricky but rewarding deck to build.
If someone really wants to attack you, they're going to eat the damage. Two isn't very much.
Even if the life gain is significant, it's all about those counters. It's better than proliferating because the creatures don't have to already have the +1/+1 counters on them (although it obviously isn't going to help with other kinds of counters). It won't go into every deck with green and white in it, but it'll be a strong player in the ones it does.
Copying spells is really strong, and I'd be happy to just spend the four mana for Ral, then copy spells two turns in a row. If I got more value out of it than that, I'd be even happier.
I was excited enough bout Roalesk to sketch out a deck already. The intervening week hasn't changed anything other than a few potential card choices. Still really excited.
How about I give you this nice Thopter token for your giant creature (or game-breaking artifact)? Good times.
There seems to be room with planeswalkers—due to their inherent vulnerability—to staple some pretty strong abilities onto. Your creatures having lifelink only part of the time is still worth Sorin's four mana, because you're getting into the Red Zone anyway. Who blocks anymore?
Storrev is probably my next War of the Spark deck project. It's insanely cheap for what it does, and the possibility of continuing to loop your best utility creature—from Bone Shredder to Solemn Simulacrum and beyond—is quite exciting.
Repeat what I said about Sorin. We don't have much discard in my local group, but we sure have lots of sacrifice.
The ability to easily lock other players out of the game is something that we're always going to keep an eye on. At least Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir is slightly difficult to cast; this version is really easy. Adding the +1 ability to cast a sorcery as though it had flash sometime before your next turn, and you quickly have a card that could become oppressive.
My first takeaway when reading the card is that the ability isn't targeted, meaning that someone can't counter the spell by removing the creature. Second, because you don't choose the creature to return until resolution, you won't get completely daggered if someone takes out your best one in response. I like this card very much, and suspect that it will frequently be returning a commander to my hand.
I love legendary creatures that suggest flavorful tribal builds. New Tolsimir is such a card.
I'm a fan of Mindlock Orb Commander, so the only argument you'll get from me on Ashiok is that it's not symmetrical. The loyalty ability, however, doesn't give me a warm fuzzy, since I like my graveyard a great deal. That said, the stronger the graveyard removal available, the more likely certain cards are to be let out of jail.
Ooh, another Rhystic Study-level irritant. At least it's not for creatures.
I don't see this going into too many decks other than Doran, the Siege Tower, but it'll be a nice backup in case you can't get your commander onto the battlefield.
More like Kaya, Bane of the Soon-to-be-Dead, amirite?
The combo potential of untapping permanents always sets off warning bells for me. Putting that on a really good other ability (not to mention those seven starting loyalty counters) makes this a card that you can also just play for value.
I don't see too many situations in which the -X ability gets activated, because you want to keep the static abilities of first strike and cheaper equips alive.
Do what you're doing already, get a Servo for free. Turn that Servo into something better. Rinse, lather, repeat.
There are cheaper and less vulnerable ways to give your creatures haste, although I suspect that no one is attacking Samut because they don't see it as that big of a threat.
Another resounding "Wow!" Tezzeret plus Mycosynth Lattice equals nastiness. Creatures and planeswalkers effectively cast just their colored mana, and you activate Tezzeret's +2 ability for a huge pile of damage and lifegain. I'm instituting a rule now that every time you play this card, you have to dial up some Led Zeppelin.
Grade: A+. Way more than three picks for the top spot, nearly every card playable.
Colorless, Artifact, and Land
Karn shuts down way more than you might think at first glance. It doesn't have the "unless they're mana abilities" clause, for one. Not being able to activate your Burnished Hart is just rude. I'll also take the opportunity to remind you of Commander Rule 13: Spells and abilities that refer to cards "outside the game" don't work in Commander. Local groups are of course welcome to modify to fit their own needs, and if you'd like to play those cards in an unfamiliar environment, please secure the permission of the folks you're with before the game begins (and please be gracious if they decline).
Pretty straightforward in making your colorless spells cheaper. The +1 ability is kind of cool, because even if you're not doing anything with it like using Proteus Staff or Jalira, Master Polymorphist to turn it into something better, someone is eventually wiping the battlefield. I see the -3 ability as more of an emergency punch-out than something you'll use regularly.
It won't replace Gilded Lotus anytime soon, but getting two colored mana isn't half bad.
Regular readers know that I'm not much of a fan of cards that take away the game from players, so it's no secret that I'm not going to be putting God-Pharaoh's Statue into any decks. I still expect to see it at tables, so I'll have to be ready.
Probably the only time I'll play this is when I can't get my hands on a Darksteel Ingot.
It probably enters the battlefield with a charge counter so that it can't blow up tokens.
I'm already a fan of the Odyssey filter lands (like Skycloud Expanse), and although this one is somewhat more limited, it'll slot into your SuperFriends deck.
Speaking of your SuperFriends deck. . .
I'm not sure how much it's worth, but the ability to potentially activate Mobilized District for zero is kind of cool.
Not enough to choose from.
Grade: Seems unfair to grade the relatively small selection, especially in a set where guilds are important.
Overall Grade for the Set: A+
War of the Spark is set to be one of the most impactful sets for Commander in history. The raw number of playable cards is way off the deep end. The power level of the best of the best will leave all but the most jaded player drooling.
Sheldon Menery's Deck Database
Check out our comprehensive Deck List Database! Click each section for lists of all my decks.
These are the decks that define my personal play style to the greatest degree and to some extent lay the original foundation of the format. They're also the ones you're most likely to see me bringing along to spell-sling at an event.
The Chromatic Project
The Chromatic Project started as an effort to build at least one deck of all 27 possible color combinations, which was expanded to 32 when we finally got four color commanders. There's more than one of some combinations, mostly because I have a Temur problem, plus some partner combinations are too enticing to pass up.
Shards and Wedges
The Do-Over Project
The Do-Over Project is the next step after the Chromatic—building a deck with each of the same Commanders, but not repeating any cards save for basic lands (props to Abe Sargent's "Next 99" idea). The Do-Over Project is still ongoing because we keep getting saucy new sets with creative and colorful commanders to build new decks with.