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November 10, 2015

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Commander 2015 Review

Welcome back everyone! This week we’ll peruse the new Commander product to see which might have more impact at your local tables. I won’t be doing a full examination of deck contents, except in a cursory fashion as connected to the new cards. Let’s begin by examining the new mechanics, then the new commanders and interesting new cards.

Mechanics:

Experience Counters: The five new flagship legendaries have a triggered ability that grants the player an experience counter whenever a condition is met. For example, effect. We’ll look at each colour pairing and use our rating system (A=quite playable, likely to see play in a group, B=good, but by no means an auto-include and C=could have been better but somewhat useful) while also examining new toys and reprints in each pair.
Please note that if a new card appears in multiple decks, I’ll be listing it in the first deck discussed.

Golgari – Plunder the Graves:

Meren of Clan Nel Toth

I’ll immediately admit that this was my preferred targeted purchase if only for potential reprints of green staples like Eternal Witness or various ramp spells. The deck has added a nice sacrifice theme to complement its tools, and the commanders do well in this context.
Meren of Clan Nel Toth: The flagship commander for the Golgari faction clocks in at a very respectable 3/4 for 2GB. Its experience tied ability reads: “Whenever a creature you control dies, you gain an experience counter. At the beginning of your end step, choose target creature card in your graveyard. If that card’s converted mana cost is less than or equal to the number of experience counters you have, return it to the battlefield. Otherwise, put it in your hand.” There’s a lot going on here. If you have a creature with decent enter the battlefield triggers, a board wipe will set your experience counters for four or five. From there, you can just bring back your ramp enablers, your fog machines and so on. Otherwise, you can just bring that Krosan Tusker back to your hand to get more ramp. Such potential, so much evil to be had! (A)

Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest: “Whenever a player sacrifices another permanent, put a +1/+1 counter on each creature you control.” Hmm. A sacrifice enabler. In black-green. Good thing those colours have Greater Good, Fleshbag Marauder and a host of other things. And hey, permanent Spike Feeder and Spike Weaver can’t hurt anyone, right? (Literally, you’ll just be gaining a ton of life and preventing damage, no harm done!) (A)

New Goodies:

Centaur Vinecrasher: While he seems puny as a 1/1 Trample for 3G, he should enter as a respectable 4/4 or 5/5 given he gains counters for the number of lands in all graveyards. Add that you can return him to your hand for GG when a land goes into the graveyard from anywhere (yes, even discarded or cycled lands will return him!) and you have a pretty consistent beater. Not Bloodghast by any means, but still decent. (B)

Great Oak Guardian: A beefy 4/5 with reach and flash that can play well with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker as its ability gives +2/+2 to a player’s team and untaps them whenever he enters the battlefield. Fun and politics abound. (B)

Caller of the Pack: This deck’s Myriad enabler clocks in at a beefy 8/6 trample for seven mana. If nothing else, consider it a removal spell as it chews up part of your opponent’s team. Pretty vanilla overall though. (C)

Pathbreaker Ibex: A 3/3 for six isn’t great, but it also grants your entire team +X/+X and trample until end of turn, where X is the greatest power among creatures you control. Since green loves garangtufat critters, this essentially becomes a game-ender. (B)

Scourge of Nel Toth: Zombie Dragon, yay! A 6/6 for seven that you can return from your graveyard for BB by sacrificing two creatures. Nice body, nice for the long game and great art. Thumbs up on this one. (A)

Skullwinder: An Eternal Witness with deathtouch that plays nice with an opponent, allowing them to also return a card from their graveyard. Not sure how I feel as it’s only a 1/3 for four mana, but it’s sure to cause a little mayhem at your tables. It’s also a snake, which plays well with one of the Simic commanders. (C)

Wretched Confluence: Three fairly useful modes in shrinking a target creature -2/-2 until end of turn, having target player lose 1 life to draw a card, or returning a target creature from your graveyard to your hand. At five mana, it’s worth playing and will always be useful. (A)
Banshee of the Dread Choir One of the better Myriad offerings, this grisly apparition comes in at a 4/4 for five that makes each opponent discard a card if it connects. Worth it for that ability and even better since it helps your own game plan. (B)

Reprints: A nice amount of staples including Acidic Slime, Wall of Blossoms, Viridian Zealot, Skullclamp, Butcher of Malakir and the Eternal Witness make this a great bang for the buck as well as a cool stand alone offering.

Izzet – Seize Control:

Mizzix of the Izmagnus

Arjun, the Shifting Flame: A 5/5, Flying Mindmoil, Arjun offers a nice body and a useful ability to help you sift excess lands or countermagic into more useful cards whenever you wish. While Mindmoil saw on and off play, tying it to a creature makes it that much easier to abuse (B).

Mizzix of the Izmagnus: Previously mentioned under the experience counter heading, Mizzix will turn your early game cantrips and sifting into larger bombs, making the endgame inevitable for your opponents. Canny players have already surmised that adding a few Fireball variants to throw away early will pay off in the long run, but there are enough Impulse variants that something that clunky shouldn’t be necessary. If nothing else, he can see play beside Melek, Izzet Paragon (conveniently included in the deck) to make more spells, cheaper spells, opponent death knells. (A)

New Goodies:

AEthernsatch: A Desertion that will gain control of any spell and place any permanent (not just a creature or artifact) under your control, for one more mana. Sure to lead to some hilariously bomby plays. (A)

Awaken the Sky Tyrant: You’re trading four mana to potentially get a 5/5 flier. Sure, it can act as a rattlesnake but you can likely do better things with your time and mana. Not a fan, but willing to be proven wrong. (C)

Broodbirth Viper: Blue’s Myriad entry is especially tantalizing. A solid 3/3 body for five mana that draws you a card when it connects and has three friends show up as well. Note that the draw is optional, so you can choose not to overload your hand. Fun stuff here. (B)

Dream Pillager: The 4/4 body for seven mana isn’t that great, but the ability to sift through your deck equal to combat damage dealt is enticing. Unfortunately for our dragon friend, there are already more broken options to do this, like Narset. Almost begs to be tied to sorcery-speed as well, which isn’t great for the blue pairing. (C)

Fiery Confluence: The confluences are essentially tweaked commands. You still have multiple modes but you can choose three modes instead of two and repeat the same mode. Red is the weakest here, offering to either shock players, deal 1 to each creature or destroy (not exile, destroy) an artifact with each mode use. It’s also a sorcery. Nice thought but no thanks. (C)

Gigangtoplasm: Another Clone variant, this one adds the twist that you can alter its base power and toughness for X mana. Not bad, but there’s a lot of competition for that copy slot, sadly. (C)

Illusory Ambusher: After the underrated Ghost Dog and his martial arts ways, we now have Ghost Cat! A 4/1 with Flash that refills your hand when dealt damage (any damage, not just combat damage!) this is just begging to be a “Draw 13” when someone inevitably plays Blasphemous Act. Do want for my Zedruu deck. (A)

Magus of the Wheel: So many decks want this. Niv-Mizzet wants it to refill its hand and deal seven, my Zedruu wants it for mid-game gas, Animar wants it to get more creatures out. A great example of how design, utlity and power can intersect in the commander products. Did we mention he’s a 3/3 body for only three mana? (A)

Meteor Blast: Dealing four damage to any number of target creatures and players seems fine. The starting cost of RRR is prohibitive though, and you can likely find cheaper options as a potential board wipe in red. (C)

Mirror Match: This fits perfectly into the “you did it to yourself” theme of my Zedruu deck. Simply put, whatever they hit you with gets cloned and blocked. It is six mana but the potential value from this is too much to resist. Even if you’re just matching their token army it’s not bad. Think of it as a six mana fog that can also put a bunch of value triggers on the stack. Not bad at all! (B)

Mystic Confluence: As usual, blue gets a good addition to its arsenal. Your modes include Mana Leak, Whispers of the Muse or Unsummon. Everything is useful, it’s properly costed at five mana and will make a fine addition to your array of defensive tools. Great work here. (A)

Mizzix’s Mastery: You can replay a single instant or sorcery in your graveyard by exiling it for four mana or you can play all of the same type by overloading for eight mana. Did we mention you replay them for free? Oooooookay then, time to add more graveyard removal to my decks. LOTS more. (A)

Rise of the Raging Storm: Essentially, at the beginning of each player’s upkeep, that player puts a somewhat weaker Skizzik into play that gets sacrificed at end of turn, except that you can’t be attacked by them if you control the enchantment. It’s a good source of permanent damage and at five mana won’t be too hard to play or keep around. In a four player game, the Lightning Rager token will eat away at blockers and life totals, and the political aspect is going to be off the charts fun. (A)

Synthetic Destiny: A Mass Polymorph that can be played at instant speed and that triggers on your end step. It’s cute and offers blue a response to wrath effects, but isn’t an all-star by any means. (C)

Warchief Giant: Puts a 5/3 with Myriad into play. A little too vanilla when you can get better with Rise of the Raging Storm, even considering the giant will stay on the battlefield. (C)

Seal of the Guildpact: Reduces the converted mana cost of two different colours by one. Decent enough but with all the mana rocks out there, seems surprisingly underwhelming. (C)

Thought Vessel: Reliquary Tower meets Mind Stone, without the bonus of being able to sacrifice it for a card later on. Quite solid though and an easy addition to any commander deck. (A)

Reprints: There isn’t a lot here to rush out and buy, but seeing Windfall reprinted is nice, as is Stroke of Genius, Dominate and Blue Sun’s Zenith. Sadly, Chaos Warp didn’t get reprinted, and that’s a card that badly needed a comeback, perhaps over the average Urza’s Rage. Overall the reprints here are serviceable and won’t drive up the cost of the deck too much.

Orzhov – Call the Spirits:

Daxos the Returned

To their credit, the designers went off the board with this group and centered the offering around enchantments instead of sticking to the tried and true themes of tokens or sacrifice.

Daxos the Returned: He’s back and he’s making Spirit enchantment creature friends as well! Their power and toughness ties in to the amount of enchantments you play and at only 1BW to activate, you’re sure to always have enough fuel to throw at your opponents. Very cool art, design and pretty playable too. (A)

Karlov of the Ghost Council: A decent 2/2 for BW that gains two +1/+1 counters when you gain life, then transfers these counters at a rate of six removed to exile a creature for another BW activation, Karlov gives you some nice late-game inevitability. (B)

New Goodies:

Bastion Protector: Now we’re talking! A very respectable 3/3 body for three mana that gives all commanders you control +2/+2 and indestructible. Eminently splashable, could we see a pairing here with aggressive white decks? (A)

Daxos’ Torment: Another enchantment I’ll likely be adding to Horobi, this four mana spell turns into a 5/5 Demon with flying and haste whenever it or another enchantment enters the battlefield under your control, thanks to the Constellation ability. Not bad (but not apocalyptic) for a turn two play off Sol Ring. (A)

Deadly Tempest: The set’s mass sweeper. Six for a wrath effect is fine; add the ability to kill someone through the 1 life lost to every creature death and it becomes much more playable. (B)

Grasp of Fate: An Oblivion Ring that hits every opponent? Yes please. (A)

Herald of the Host: A Serra Angel that multiplies itself thanks to the Myriad ability. Evasion makes it worth a second look and vigilance is always a nice support. (B)

Oreskos Explorer: Another in a long line of pseudo ramp for white, the Explorer will get you X Plains cards where X is the number of opponents with more lands than you do. A respectable bear body as well. (B)

Righteous Confluence: The weakest of the cycle still offers some utility, unfortunately at sorcery speed. Gaining 5 life is a bit of a buffer, putting a 2/2 white Knight token with vigilance is fine and exiling an enchantment is likely to be your meat and potatoes. Will never be mistaken for Austere Command but that’s true of almost all the confluences. (B)

Sandstone Oracle: A colorless, flying Slithermuse with a 4/4 body. Yes it costs 7 but that becomes irrelevant in Animar and even in other decks you probably draw 2-3 cards when it enters the battlefield. Speaking of which, it works with that jerk Deadeye Navigator as well. (B)

Thief of Blood: Sure, Spike Cannibal sees very little play in the format, but she should get a good shot by virtue of being a flying creature and offing planeswalkers and being a reset button for cumulative upkeep on cards such as Dystopia. I’m especially excited to add this to my Horobi deck, and expect her to be a respectable 5/5 for six when I first play her. (A)

Reprints: This deck does well by bringing back Phyrexian Arena and Karmic Justice and the very used Burnished Hart, not to mention the criminally under-printed Black Market. You also get Lightning Greaves and Ghost Quarter to make this deck quite a find.

Simic – Swell the Host

Ezuri, Claw of Progress

This offering plays well with a few Simic staples in playing with combat tricks, adding counters to creatures and offering a metric ton of utility, all tacked onto a somewhat odd snake tribal theme. The new Ezuri is already creating buzz with its potential to break Sage of Hours, but let’s move on and see what we have.

Ezuri, Claw of Progress: Looks like Jin-Gitaxias finally got to our Elf friend. He gets an experience counter whenever a creature with power 2 or less enters the battlefleld, and you can put X +1/+1 counters on another target creature you control at the beginning of combat, where X is the amount of experience counters you control. He’s a very respectable 3/3 body as well. We’ve already talked about the Sage of Hours silliness, but even making your Cold-eyed Selkie draw you a boatload of cards is going to be super fun. (A)

Kaseto, Orochi Archmage: Our new snake overlord grants anyone a free hit in combat by paying UG and if that creature is a snake, it gets an additional +2/+2. The obvious application is to just make an Ohran Viper or so on into a card advantage machine, and that’s not bad. She can also swing through for commander damage. Lest we forget, the various swords are still very much playable, so drawing cards, untapping your lands, making your opponents discard are all possibilities. Sssssssssssssexy! (A)

New Goodies:

Archanogenesis: Spiders! Many spiders! And a fog tacked onto them! At a reasonable 2G, you get as many 1/2 spider tokens with reach as there are attackers, and you prevent damage from said attackers. Such great flavour and the art are sweet too. Want many copies. (A)

Command Beacon. The “gimmick” land for the set, this one lets you put your commander into your hand from the command zone. Great for avoiding that nasty commander tax, and also great for discarding Haakon, Stromgald Scourge or even playing Phage the Untouchable. Fun card here. (B)

Ezuri’s Predation: How much would you pay for a green Wrath of God? This isn’t Wrath, exactly, but it can fill the role in a pinch. For eight mana you create as many 4/4 beast tolens as your opponents have creatures, then THEY FIGHT! If your tokens survive, they remain in play. Is sure to clear a path against someone and deliver huge beats thereafter. Also, eight mana is turn four for green, so… (A)

Scytheclaw: A Quietus Spike with the living weapon ability tacked on. This seems…suboptimal. Even with the +1/+1 granted by the equipment, it doesn’t really fill a niche in the format, but I suppose it does offer some redundancy. (C)

Verdant Confluence: I wish a Naturalize had been tacked onto this one, but at six mana it is fairly evaluated. You can distribute two +1/+1 counters, get a basic land tapped from your library or return target permanent to your hand from the graveyard. All the modes are fair and should be useful at all points in the game. (A)

Reprints: Lots of goodies here, from Eternal Witness to Solemn Simulacrum through to Cold-Eyed Selkie, without forgetting staples like High Market, Mystic Snake and even Prime Speaker Zegana.

Boros – Wade into Battle

Kalemne, Disciple of Iroasi

Sadly, Boros is hemmed in by its reliance on static abilities tied to creature combat. While this could lead to some over the top commanders, the offerings here are sadly hamstrung by tying them to huge mana costs or difficult to achieve game states. Still, there might be something worth looking at, so let’s begin.

Kalemne, Disciple of Iroas: A decent 3/3 body for 2RW with Double Strike and Vigilance, its experience ability is wanting. “Whenever you cast a creature spell with converted mana cost 5 or greater, you get an experience counter. Kalemne Disciple of Iroas gets +1/+1 for each experience counter you have.” An already slow colour pair is punished by having to rely on larger creatures, forsaking what could have been a nice ramp or hate bear strategy with a finishing commander. Yes, the titans and primordials are in that range, but just making it four or greater would have been a huge help. (B)

Anya, Merciless Angel: A respectable 4/4 flying for 3RW, she gets +3/+3 for each opponent whose life total is less than half his or her starting total. Additionally, she becomes indestructible if those same conditions are met. I already prefer this to Kalemne since you’ll be whittling away opponents throughout the game, and this has a better chance to swing in for 21 commander damage, especially if equipped with various swords. If nothing else, she should see some sporadic play once the new set launches. (A)

New Goodies:

Blade of Selves: The buzz card of this year’s Commander product, the two-cost, four to equip sword grants Myriad to the chosen creature. Obvious (and hideous) applications include Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Solemn Simulacrum with a sacrifice outlet, Kokusho, the Evening Star or her Kamigawa dragon friends, who will die when being copied but still trigger, and those are just some of the fair uses. This is a fun, bomby card that will need your immediate attention, whether you play it or play against it. (A)

Reprints: Lots of nice stuff here, from Sun Titan and Inferno Titan through to Lightning Greaves, Gisela, Blade of Goldnight and Warstorm Surge. My preference is still for the Golgari deck, but this is still worth it for some mindless smashy fun.

In closing, this year’s Commander products make up in build potential for what they might lack in chase rares and Legacy staples. If all you do is grab one or two of the commanders as singles, you’ll likely build something memorable and powerful with the tools at your disposal.
Until next time, may your wilds keep evolving into greater and more dramatic plays.