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January 30, 2018

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Esper Commander Review: Part 1

The shard that brought us the artifact sphinxes and blue thopters is the final (finally) chapter in the Commander Three-Colour Review series!

Esper can play a lot of different ways, from swarming thopter or myr tokens, to draining life and controlling the game, to messing around with graveyards with Sharuum. But one thing you will find it hard to avoid with Esper is the artifacts. You will probably play a lot of artifacts in Esper even if you haven’t built around an artifact-based theme.

So, is Chromium still playable? Who’s Dromar? How many sphinxes will we see? Let’s find out in the Esper Commander Review!

A quick reminder of how this will work:

We’re looking at each card’s multiplayer effect, its power level, and whether or not it’s playable in a multitude of decks or just one. For legendary creatures I’ll still assign one letter grade, but also talk about the card’s viability as a commander or in the 99.

The grading looks like this:

A: Bombs/broken cards and excellent commanders. A lot of fun with unique design and interaction. Will effect the board in a big way in just about any deck or will allow for a very strong deck to be built around it if it is a commander.

B: Very good cards in most decks or total bombs in only one particular deck. Solid commanders but perhaps not the best in the colours.

C: A playable commander card, not great, maybe you’re running it because of budget reasons. This card may be perfectly good in a specific deck yet not playable in others. An average commander, the abilities make for a mildly interesting/fun commander.

D: Not really a playable card in EDH except in some corner cases and specific builds. Generally not good. A commander that has no relevant abilities or is just not very fun.

F: Unplayable in a commander deck or as the commander itself.

 


Arsenal Thresher – D

Arsenal Thresher looks like it was a decent limited card back in the Alara block, but in Commander we need more out of our three-colour four-CMC artifacts. The potential for it to be huge is there, but there are just easier ways to get an even bigger and better creature.


Brilliant Ultimatum – C+

Of the five Ultimatums that we’ve covered in these reviews, Brilliant is certainly the one with the most potential to be completely useless. That said, of course casting spells from your library can also be quite powerful in our format – especially when “an opponent” can actually be a teammate or ally. I actually love the EDH potential of this card, but can’t ignore the potential whiffs either.


Chromium – D+

One of the OG Elder Dragons, Chromium wins the award for being the Elder with the most obsolete keyword! What even is Rampage?

No, seriously. I have no idea what it is. Something about how when it’s blocked it gets bigger, right? Yeah, sure, let’s say that is what it is.

Chromium gets cred for being a part of the origin of Commander, but he’s basically a French Vanilla general with a downside of the three-mana upkeep. You can run him for some nice nostalgia, and he can even act as a decent Voltron commander, but this old dragon hasn’t exactly aged well.


Dakkon Blackblade – D

I didn’t play Magic until 2012, so I have no idea how good Dakkon Blackblade was at the time, but what were they thinking with this guy? Did they have a colour pie back then? Was Esper the land-matters colours? What do you even do with this guy?

Dakkon has the potential for getting huge as you play more lands, but without green for the ramp Dakkon Blackblade is just a Commander who’s tragically in the wrong colours for our modern game.


Dromar’s Charm – C

I love charms in EDH! Modal spells can be very situational but also cover a wide variety of situations. Sure, it may seem contradictory, but it’s true.

Dromar’s Charm is a decent example of this providing you with a hard counter spell when you need to protect your board or stop someone from winning the game by providing five life when you’re falling behind, or a little -2/-2 to take out a utility creature. It’s not flashy, but in a control-style deck I don’t mind it at all.


Dromar, the Banisher – B

More like Dromar the BOUNCER! Am I right?

I love Dromar! Bounce one colour is great, it hoses tokens, and makes it very hard for mono and two-colour decks to get a strong board presence. The only problem is that Dromar bounces himself if you name any of his colours. Now, you can build around this, but it’s a bit of a drawback to have to keep casting your six-mana commander if your opponents happen to be running three of Magic’s five colours. Still, I think Dromar is actually a bit underrated as a commander. He’s kinda like the original (but worse) Brago?


Enigma Sphinx – B

Having mana-sinks is a big part of Magic, and if you run the graveyard/sacrifice artifact deck in Esper I don’t see why you wouldn’t run an eight-mana 5/4 flyer with cascade that you’ll draw again in a few turns. Cascade is a wild ability, but when you can reliably make it happen it gets even wilder!


Ertai, the Corrupted – B+

My god have mercy on your soul if you run an Ertai, the Corrupted deck. It looks like a true nightmare to ever have to play against, and I pray that I never have to.


Esper Charm – D

Esper Charm has two usable modes and one that you’ll basically never consider. Destroying enchantments and drawing cards will always be useful, but forcing an opponents to discard two cards is not great. Much like this card; not great.


Esper Sojourners – D-

The sojourner cycle has proven to be disappointing for EDH, but untapping a permanent could be a useful ability. So really, this is the best one by default. Mildly, MILDLY, playable.


Esper Stormblade – F

A two-mana 3/2 flyer isn’t Commander material. Although this guy does look like that one jedi with the crazy neck, so I like him.


Etherwrought Page – C-

This is a fun card! A repeatable modal effect that can help with card selection, life gain, or by chipping away at your enemies. Not a major impact, but essentially having a repeatable charm on every upkeep isn’t the worst. You can definitely build around this card or throw it into an Oloro, Ageless Ascetic deck and have a real party in your upkeep.


Halfdane – D+

While I’m not super stoked with Halfdane’s ability of copying power and toughness, I do like the idea of bulding a clone deck around him where all you do is take power and toughness from other creatures. That said he’s another one of the “I guess he could make a good Voltron?” Esper legendaries.


Lady Evangela – C

Having a commander essentially act as a Maze of Ith (or actually be Ith) seems like it might decent. But is it just me, or so far are the Esper legendaries just overwhelmingly old and bad (Ertai excepted, that is)? When Lady Evangela is the most promising of the legends, you know you’re in a bit of trouble. LE is at least playable, and while her ability only applies to a single creature and only their combat damage, it does still deter Blightsteels and Voltrons.


Magister Sphinx – A

No matter what kind of deck you’re running, Magister Sphinx will always be a welcome sight when you can cast it. Blink it, or reanimate it, play it with other artifacts, or with Sphinxes that pillow fort players, and suddenly the person who just gained 100 life with an Ajani ultimate, or even went infinite with lifegain may find themselves one turn away from losing the game. A powerful ability on a big meaningful body adds up to a totally great card in just about any Commander deck.

Come on back in two weeks and see the absolute conclusion of the Three-Colour Commander reviews and find out if Esper has any actually good commanders made in the last 10 years! (Hint: They do for sure) Thanks!