Morgane's Commander 2019 Review

Coming tomorrow, stores will greet their customers with the new Commander 2019 decks. This time around, rather than picking tribes or card types, Wizards of the Coast built decks based around keywords: morph, flashback, madness and populate. Each deck also comes with both its own subthemes and cards that either support the theme in another way or are just intended as strong additions to the Commander format. Today, I will review them all and hopefully give you some ideas to help use the new cards.

As for the decks themselves and their contents, I consider them an upgrade over last year's products. The builds appear to be far more coherent with their respective themes, and they should provide good starting points for players without forcing you to invest too much money to bring them on par with the average table. In addition, while there aren't any true big money reprints, the reprints we do have suit the themes and make sense. All of this leads me to consider these decks as good pickups, especially for newer players. Those who already own a large amount of decks will still find enough good new stuff in here to justify their purchase.

In this article, I'm going to review every single card in these decks. I'm not going to assign numbers or other kinds of ratings to them, because I feel Commander, as a format, is too diverse for a specific number to stick. Rather, each bit will tell you how I personally feel about these cards, and whether I believe they're worth it in decks or not. Let's get started with the review.

COMMANDERS

Merciless Rage - MADNESS

 

Anje Falkenrath

I was skeptical when Wizards announced madness as a theme for the decks. There aren't a lot of madness cards around to begin with, let alone madness cards that are good in Commander. And now that C19 is out? Sadly, that hasn't changed... Madness's weakness will always hamper Anje Falkenrath, but they did make a good commander that works even without madness. Anje just profits off madness cards as a bonus.

A 1/3 haste isn't impressive on its own, but you don't want Anje to attack anyway; she's here to act as a draw-and-discard engine to fuel whatever it is you're really planning on doing. For that job, they don't come much cheaper than Anje. If you include a few madness cards, you'll get some occasional bonus value out of her, but I wouldn't go all-in on them. Finally, being a relatively cheap Vampire, she may have a spot in Edgar Markov decks as well. I expect to see lots of the new Falkenrath, which is more than I expected from a commander of a madness deck.

Chainer, Nightmare Adept

Chainer got hot and is bringing a new kind of build with him. While his original version may be a better reanimator commander, this one is better suited for aggressive strategies. Even at his minimum, Chainer can simply give creatures haste by discarding the creature and casting it from the graveyard. Later in the game, he's likely to turn cards you don't have a direct use for into useful cards from the graveyard, and that's not going into various synergies he may have with the cards you discard (e.g. Filth or, as the deck theme guides you to, madness cards).

On top of that, his ability to give creatures haste makes mass reanimation spells far more dangerous, since you won't need to have an additional haste outlet to go with it. At his core, Chainer is a very simple but effective commander. One issue is his playstyle may be a bit mana-intensive compared to old-fashioned reanimator. But nothing is saying you can't add typical reanimation cards to his preferred playstyle.

Greven, Predator Captain

One thing I can always appreciate is lore-based synergy, and the newest Greven combos neatly with Hatred, effectively doubling its effect. But that's just scratching the surface of what Greven can do. To begin, he's a 5/5 menace for 5, which is a strong stat-block for any creature. He comes with two effects which work together. First is Greven's sacrifice effect. He needs to attack to do it, but you then draw cards equal to the power of the sacrificed creature, and lose life equal to its toughness. Kokusho, the Evening Star is an all-star here, but any big guy will do; you want some lifeloss for his second effect to boost his power via the Hatred throwback effect.

This effect is continuous, ensuring any life loss effect (even outside of combat) will pump him. From the humble Sulforous Springs to the massive Necropotence, this effect makes Greven a terrifying one-shotter that can come out of nowhere if unblocked. Greven can also easily refill your hand, which ensures you will always have fuel to keep going. Overall, Greven is possibly the most terrifying commander in this whole set. He's not unstoppable, however, as his effect doesn't boost his toughness and a double block can stop him without too much of a hassle.

K'rrik, Son of Yawgmoth

Gavin Verhey mentioned Wizards wasn't even sure if they should print this and oh boy am I glad they did. This is the kind of commander that can and will go utterly nuts, but also doesn't force you into one specific strategy. Yes, there's another Doomsday build to be made with this, but you can also simply go all-in on big black spells. What's more Phyrexian than paying 8 life in order to drop a Phyrexian Obliterator? How about combining with Vilis, Broker of Blood to let Sign in Blood draw you 8 cards in exchange for a paltry 6 life? K'rrik embodies everything that black should be in Commander, and it's a nice throwback to an old lore character to boot. Oh and he's a Minion too: Balthor the Defiled decks rejoice!

Primal Genesis - POPULATE

 

Ghired, Conclave Exile

While marketed as a populate commander, Ghired is more of a token commander, albeit one that prefers large tokens over wide fields. It's a playstyle that previously only had Trostani, Selesnya's Voice as a dedicated commander. Adding red opens a nice set of options via cards like Warstorm Surge, Purphoros, God of the Forge, and Godsire on the token-creation front. On top of that, Ghired plays well with Helm of the Host which quickly gets out of hand. Each token a Helmed Ghired creates of his now nonlegendary self comes with its own pet Rhino, although they won't populate themselves immediately as they're past the point of being declared an attacker.

That isn't to say there's no downside here - Ghired has to attack. The 2/5 Ghired isn't easily killed with a single block, but in the late game, he might have trouble finding a profitable angle of attack. Ghired decks may struggle in finding the right balance between large token creators and Ghired protection. But all in all, I'm always happy to see more fair token commanders that aren't easily broken in half.

Atla Palani, Nest Tender

Who knew Eldrazis hatched from eggs! Please forgive me for this joke (I had to refrain from making dozens of eggs puns), but this is just a hilarious card. To start, creating eggs is the most basic, and slightly slow, way to play the deck. Create eggs, throw them in front of your opponents, sacrifice them to stuff and hit bigger stuff in your library. You can also play one of the few Egg creatures or Egg generators like Rukh Egg or Nesting Dragon in order to speed up the egg process. Since those eggs tend to come with their own creature as well, you get double value.

But the real scare comes from adding changelings. It's going to be hard to balance the ratios, but adding changelings and a swath of massive creatures to crack your eggs into is going to be the best way to build Atla Palani. Mirror Entity is particularly scary. For the low low price of 0 mana, you can sacrifice all your creatures and pop open the top X creatures where X is the number of creatures you had to begin with. And once you've turned a pile of random creatures into a massive army spearheaded by Avacyn, Angel of Hope, Sigarda, Host of Herons, and Balefire Dragon, you'll be finding yourself in an eggcelent position before too long.

Marisi, Breaker of the Coil

Let me start by saying I really like the goad mechanic, as it makes those creatures that just sit back and do nothing experience real danger. With Marisi, we finally have a goading commander and it's a doozy. For starters, we're looking at a 5/4 for 4 mana: a fair rate for any creature. Marisi also prevents opposing combat tricks, insuring everything in combat goes as you want it to.

Marisi's second ability, goading all creatures a player controls upon hitting them with combat damage, works best with unblockable creatures. That's likely how he's often going to be built; unblockable creatures make your opponents kill one another, then alpha strike the last remaining player himself. It's a fun, diplomatic build which is open to a variety of interpretations, and it should mess up many defensive decks.

Tahngarth, First Mate

Tahngarth's second card provides us a unique take on attacking, by swinging along with whatever your opponents are swinging at. This is a fun ability certain to speed up the game, unless you're in the kind of meta that tends to just build up the board from a standoff, or a metagame focused on value and control.

But if there is attacking afoot, Tahngarth will be happy to put his efforts in. He's a beefy 5/5 and can't be blocked by more than one creature. He pairs well with goad cards to force combat, which makes me believe he's better in the 99 as a partner to the likes of Marisi, Breaker of the Coil or Thantis, the Warweaver. If you do run him as a commander, be sure to pack ways to force combat or he might end up just being a mediocre 5/5.

Mystic Intellect - FLASHBACK

 

Sevinne, the Chronoclasm

Red/white/blue isn't lacking for spellslinger commanders, so Sevinne faces some competition. Sevinne distinguishes himself by focusing on spells you cast from your graveyard instead of from your hand. This means you'll want to focus on flashback and cards that help facilitate it such as Mizzix's Mastery and Mission Briefing. Doubling up on the value you gain from already doubling up on value is a fine deal, but it's also a bit of a trap as there are many flashback spells that may seem good but are just too expensive cost wise. This is even true of cards that double their flashbacked effect. Sevinne requires a careful combination of actual flashback spells and value spells you can recast through other means, plus a few flashback/cast-from-graveyard enablers. Finding that perfect ratio will be the biggest challenge, but if done right, Sevinne turns into a terrifyingly strong commander.

On top of this, Sevinne comes with an interesting bit of self-protection. Red, damage-based boardwipes like Blasphemous Act are always an interesting addition and having Sevinne survive them adds to their value. His static effect also enables him to block huge creatures with no sweat, offsetting his meager 2/2 body. All in all, this makes an enticing package to build with.

Elsha of the Infinite

Melek, Izzet Paragon called and said it wants its groove back. Elsha trades Melek's doublecast for being able to hit all non-creature, non-land cards. Elsha is also one mana cheaper, has better combat stats, and gives that card flash, all on top of granting access to white. This makes Elsha one of the most open-ended commanders around, whose only request is that you play a good amount of prowess-triggering cards. Some topdeck manipulation such as Sensei's Divining Top won't hurt either. You can run spellslinger with Elsha, go the superfriends route, or try a control option. I also suspect the Djinn will find a place in the 99 for other Jeskai spellslinger decks. Do note Elsha only gives the top deck of your library flash, not what's already in your hand. This does limit that ability, but it's a small downside on an overall fantastic card.

Pramikon, Sky Rampart

Ever since the first Commander decks in 2011, blue/red/white has been getting some politically-based generals. Pramikon is no exception. It's only the second commander with defender but unlike Opal-Eye, Konda's Yojimbo, it sadly doesn't fit in the right colors to work with Arcades, the Strategist.

Thankfully, it works fine on its own, being able to completely hamstring aggro decks by forcefully directing their aggression. This makes Pramikon a strong commander for defensive pillowfort decks. Combined with a clone that won't be legendary (such as Spark Double) or with the older Mystic Barrier, Pramikon can prevent players from attacking at all as long as there are three or more players at the table. It's an odd one for sure, but the Wall invites some fun deckbuilding. You could consider it the complete counterpart of 2011's Ruhan of the Fomori.

Gerrard, Weatherlight Hero

Gerrard Capashen has long been considered one of the worst cards for an established character, so seeing him get a redo comes as no surprise. To start with, he's got some stellar art this time around. Then there's the card itself which is... pretty strong! With a pseudo-dies trigger and his ability to self-exile afterwards, Gerrard avoids the typical awkwardness of commanders with death triggers (e.g. Child of Alara). What's easy to miss is you can pull him from your graveyard with various effects such as Angelic Renewal or Loyal Retainers before he would move to your exile zone. This enables him to pull off certain combos with sacrifice outlets, lending a new option for the red/white color combo. In addition, he plays very well with every kind of boardwipe and things that sacrifice themselves, such as the infamous eggs strategy. Be mindful of color restrictions when building around Gerrard. Overall, Gerrard opens up new options in a color combo sorely lacking in them and does it well at a very decent mana cost. I expect we'll see a lot more of him in the future.

Faceless Menace - MORPH

 

Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer

Compared to Animar, Soul of Elements, Kadena was always going to face an uphill battle for the prime morph commander spot. Now that we've seen her, she doesn't disappoint. A free first morph is a nice start, and drawing a card for each morph that hits the battlefield is always useful. That said, her abilities do feel a little bland. She makes up for this by adding black, which adds a few new angles for a morph deck to work with. This gives Kadena a definite niche over Animar. Kadena can also employ an Aluren strategy without secondary cards. While Animar can do the same, Animar will need an extra card draw effect to benefit as much from it as Kadena will. All in all, Kadena is the face commander that seems most straightforward of them all. Throw down morphs, draw cards off of them, find ways to cheapen the morph costs, and go from there.

Rayami, First of the Fallen

After I first read and thought over this card, I was excited about a Soulflayer riff on a commander. Then I realized Rayami needs creatures to die while he's actually on the battlefield. That makes him a lot clunkier to work with as he's not going to have any of those keywords the moment he enters the battlefield. Most likely, you'll end up boardwiping with him on the field, and on second cast he'll suddenly be a much bigger threat. But even then, all you really get out of it is a keyword soup commander, which has never been the biggest type of threat.

However, you do also get a commander who exiles creatures instead of watching them die. This will throw off certain game-ending loops in much the same way Anafenza, the Foremost does in another color combination. A 5/4 for four mana is also nothing to scoff at. Ultimately, Rayami does have some tools to work with, but the clunky blood counters mechanic holds back the commander's potential.

Volrath, the Shapestealer

I'll confess: I let out a little squeal the moment I saw him. Volrath has to be among the most popular characters who appeared during the Weatherlight saga and his original card, while not utterly horrible, could do with some upgrading. And oh boy did Wizards deliver. Let's start with the basics; for a mere 5 mana, you get a 7/5 who once each turn will weaken (or kill) a creature. No need to wait for your upkeep; just the start of combat. On top of that, for one mana, he can become a creature of your choice as long as that creature has a counter on it. Any counter works, so you could work with cards like That Which Was Taken or various +1/+1 counter distributors that are commonly found in green in order to widen your choices. From that point on, the sky is the limit.

He'll always be limited to being a base 7/5, but between various creatures that can make him unblockable or indestructable, or give him infect, this still means the threat of a sudden kill is always going to loom when Volrath is around. The effect also lasts until your next turn and allows you to swap bodies quickly if needed, making it easy to dodge removal if you have the proper cards in play to help him do such. All in all, Volrath is a spectacular commander, and I'm fairly certain he'll be one of the most popular of the new batch.

Grismold, the Dreadsower

Grismold doesn't do anything new, playing with tokens in black/green, but it does offer a new way to play the deck. Grismold players can now focus on making the commander itself huge rather than focusing on doing nothing but going wide. The tokens the Dreadsower provides your opponents on every upkeep will be dying with ease, which will grow Grismold even more. With trample, he isn't easy to stop.

Unfortunately, that is where the good news mostly ends. Grismold lacks any form of self-defense such as regeneration or hexproof, which one would hope Wizards would give a Troll. In addition, giving your opponents creatures can backfire spectaculary even if it grows your commander, so it's best to pair him with cards that can immediately get rid of those tokens such as Pestilence. Grismold requires some work as a result, but can get out of hand quickly if left alone for too long.

NONCOMMANDERS

WHITE

 

Cliffside Rescuer

Kinda wish we'd get a Kor commander one of these days that works with the tribe at large. I like the idea behind a tribe that protects one another. C19's Rescuer is another version of this theme, starting out as a 2/2 vigilance for 2 mana. Not bad, but nothing earth shattering in Commander either. These stats do mean that it's easy to recur it, and that's what you'll want to do.

The tap and sacrifice cost severely slows this card down as it means you have a telegraphed move, but the effect itself is a strong one. It effectively blanks anything that player could do to remove the targeted, protected permanent. Rescuer is best used with a commander that needs to stay out on the battlefield for a long time, especially if the deck can recur it, but the low speed and telegraphed style of play hamper it.

Commander's Insignia

Anthems have their place in Commander, but they need to be good. This means having a direct and cheap impact (Glorious Anthem), needing a bit of work for a massive effect (Beastmaster's Ascension), or having extra effects justifying the subpar rate (Marshal's Anthem). Unfortunately, Insignia has none of those characteristics. Unless you've cast your commander before, this does nothing. Casting it once makes this a worse Anthem, casting it twice puts it on par with Dictate of Heliod - which has flash and doesn't require you to pay for your commander twice. Casting it three times gets you a mere Collective Blessing... which again, doesn't require the extra cost of casting your commander several times.

Personal opinion: this feels like the worst card in the set that also looks better than it is. For every +1/+1 this gives, consider the extra commander tax you had to pay. While the counterargument is "You are casting your commander anyway," you can also have cards that have more impact earlier on instead. This tends to simply be better.

Doomed Artisan

This card is weird. Ideally, you'll eventually want it removed while retaining your Sculptures so that they can actually be used as an offensive or defensive force. But at the same time, you also want to keep it out for a long time in order to get a big army. The obvious weakness here is boardwipes, as a single board cleansing will undo all the Artisan's hard work without anything to show for it. Therefore, it's best used in combination with cards that profit off reasonably big creatures entering the battlefield as time goes on, as well as token doublers to speed up the process. A sacrifice outlet can also help, binning the Artisan when you need to attack. If you can't satisfy all those conditions, the card won't be as good as you'd want it to be.

Mandate of Peace

Effectively a fog effect that also prevents followup spells, Mandate is best cast right after attackers are declared unless there are attacker triggers afoot (such as Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger). As many players will only cast spells in main phase two, this also becomes a Silence against most opponents. It makes for a narrow but deceptively powerful card that becomes better the more aggro is played at your particular playgroup. Pillowfort decks will also appreciate having an extra trick to play with; for such strategies, this is a relatively low risk card.

Sevinne's Reclamation

Sun Titan is a card that finds its way in most white decks, and for good reason. Repeated value and recursion are always worth a look, and Reclamation tries to pull off a Titan impression on a sorcery. With the flashback added, you essentially get three recursions for a total cost of 8 mana - a fair ratio even with the converted mana cost restriction. And unlike Titan, it doesn't need outside help to get more than one recursion. The Giant often has to throw itself into danger or get flickered in order to keep up the profit. While Titan has more applications for combos or abuse through other means, Reclamation is the more direct value engine if you don't have those synergies in your deck.

Song of the Worldsoul

Any enchantment that says "Whenever you cast a spell, do X" is worth a second look, and this is no exception. As with most populate cards, Song plays best with huge tokens, the likes of which Desolation Twin might produce. It also synergizes with cards that create copies of your creatures such as Mimic Vat or Rite of Replication. That said, 6 mana is a hefty investment, so unless you have a variety of ways to make such tokens, it's going to be hard to get massive advantage out of this. But once the first one gets going, it can spiral out of control. This even makes Seance look like an interesting card to include in the build, and any card that makes Seance do fun stuff deserves to be put in at least some decks.

Thalia's Geistcaller

At it's core, Geistcaller is a more restrictive version of cards like Young Pyromancer or Talrand, Sky Summoner, except it triggers on any spell that comes from your graveyard instead of just instants or sorceries. The intention of using it with flashback is clear, but there are various other interactions with abilities such as unearth that help you get more spirits. Sadly for the Geistcaller, most of those options are not in white, which limits its usefulness. But to compensate, you do get a better body than most of its counterparts with lifelink on top of it. You also have the option to turn your own Geistcaller indestructible. Finally, Geistcaller's spirit generation also makes Kykar, Wind's Fury an interesting deck addition to explore.

BLUE

 

Kadena's Silencer

In general, morph cards are hard to judge. Even keeping in mind typical morph cost discounts, you still have to keep their base cost of 3 in mind on top of their printed morph cost for those times where you don't have cost-reduction. That said, Silencer is a strong card even with that caveat. Being able to counter any ability at any time can be a major thorn for people who enjoy playing combo. You can also just use it to disrupt value engines. As with all morphs, the Silencer becomes better if you have other morphs in your deck, otherwise people will see through the trick after the first time. If you aren't playing many morphs, however, this is still one of those few morphs good enough to run even without many others.

Leadership Vacuum

This is effectively a kill spell that hits any commander you want as long as its controller has no cards giving them hexproof or shroud, such as Leyline of Sanctity. In addition it can help you retrieve your own stolen commander, though for that use, the price is a bit high. That in mind, I find the power of this card dependent on the kind of meta you're in and what kind of commanders you're likely to face. Aiming this at a Prime Speaker Zegana or Edgar Markov player isn't going to set them back a lot, but it will utterly cripple a Uril, the Miststalker or Sigarda, Host of Herons deck. The card draw rider indicates Wizards considered this as well when printing it, meaning you at least get a card out of the deal. Given these factors, if your meta isn't very commander-reliant, you might want to give this card a skip.

Mass Diminish

The best way to describe this effect is as a fun card that won't do as much as you'd want it to. On paper, this looks like a brilliant card, turning a full army into mere 1/1s for only 2 mana, and being able to do it again for 4 mana. But then you look at it and see it's only one player, which makes it a lot worse when there are two or more strong opponents staring you down. It also only affects base power/toughness. Combat decks don't tend to win through their base power alone, certain exceptions excluded, as usually massive power boosts across the board are involved. It's also not instant speed, meaning you can't use this as a combat trick. The one thing Diminish does do is pair beautifully with cards like Massacre Wurm or Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite to provide you with a board wipe. But beyond that, I would probably give this a skip in favor of colorless boardwipes or mass-bounce effects.

Sudden Substitution

You're bolting my bird? No, I'm now bolting your bird!

A silly exchange, yes, but it perfectly encapsulates what this card will do. I've always been fond of cards that let you take control of an opponent's spell (Commandeer is among my absolute favorite cards in this format) and Substitution is one of the most interesting versions of it. Note you could just as well give someone else a simple Brainstorm in exchange for their Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger just as much as you could exchange a spirit token for a massive Genesis Wave. Split second also means your opponent has very limited ways to react to this effect; countering is out of the question and they can't even kill your creatures in response to this being put on the stack. Absolutely brilliant design.

Thought Sponge

If there's one thing many Commander players love it's drawing cards. So why don't you draw cards while your opponents draw cards with this Sponge? As only the second Sponge in all of Magic after Walking Sponge in Urza's Legacy, Thought Sponge is a bit of a situational card and won't be very good in every meta. But when it's worthwhile, it's very strong. Any single opponent drawing more than one card a turn will easily turn this into a 3/3 flash for 4 mana, who will then draw you three cards upon dying. Far from a bad deal. The downside, however, is that it must die to draw the cards. It's also not a leaves-the-battlefield trigger, meaning you can't use any blink shenanigans. Any effect that will remove the counters will also sufficiently weaken the sponge. This creature thrives in specific metas, so consider if your metagame will regularly let you get a massive Sponge before automatically including it in your deck.

Wall of Stolen Identity

Curiously, the Wall does not have defender on its own, making it the first true Wall I am aware of to not have it. Theoretically, as long as you have toughness boosting effects out on the field, you can actually have a Wall able to attack on its own. Flavor oddities aside, we know nobody will play it for that reason, but rather to hold back a threat and potentially get a powerful effect while at it. Copying an Avacyn, Angel of Hope will grant your field indestructibility and prevent her from attacking and blocking, and that's just one of many options. Generally speaking, the Wall is an effective Pacifism effect, which means you'll want to reserve this either for continuous effect commanders or fatties. This makes the creature a lategame card more than anything, and a strong one at that.

BLACK

 

Archfiend of Spite

Phyrexian Obliterator isn't all that good in Commander, but it is playable in mono-black. By all accounts, Archfiend is a worse version of it. First of all, it's pricier, even taking madness in account. Second, as it flies, it won't often force the choice between blocking it and losing permanents or taking damage. But most of all, opponents can just pay life instead, and in the high life game that is Commander, that's usually going to be the preferred option. The Archfiend will deter damage-based boardwipes if nothing else and for a commander like Anje Falkenrath it's a reasonably cheap madness beater. It also has a somewhat relevant creature type, but if you don't have synergies to work with, the good ol' Obliterator is the better card.

Bone Miser

Waste Not always had the problem of being dependent on what your opponents discard, making its applications a bit limited. It's mostly reserved for decks based around casting multiple versions of Wheel of Fortune such as Nekusar, the Mindrazer. Getting the same effect for yourself? That's incredibly powerful. You get massive synergies with all kinds of discard. It's obviously designed with Anje Falkenrath and Chainer, Nightmare Adept in mind, but the Wheel trick still works, and there are many other discard effects you can use. From various cycling cards to effects like Phyrexian Reclamation or even One with Nothing... okay maybe you shouldn't run that last card unless you're playing a hellbent deck, but the possibilities are wide. The downside, of course, is this one does cost 5 mana, and is on a creature which is generally more vulnerable to being caught with removal. This is very much a land-and-then-do-crazy-stuff-immediately kind of card. You shouldn't play it with the expectation of it surviving a few turn cycles.

Curse of Fool's Wisdom

I'm not a fan of Curses as they feel too much as a way to mess with just one specific player, which causes sour grapes on many tables. This one doesn't help that opinion, though at least this will specifically hurt someone who otherwise would streak ahead whereas many other curses are best placed on easy targets. Having madness is a nice boon, though it's still somewhat expensive for what it does unless you can hit someone who's likely to draw big hands each turn, or if you can use mass draw to force them to do so. Forced Fruition seems especially mean with this. As a side note, this is also a hilarious card with Vilis, Broker of Blood. It instantly kills the Vilis player, or you can curse yourself for a Laboratory Maniac win.

Gift of Doom

Noncreature morphs are rare, but a lot of fun to trick people with. And Gift is among the best tricks they could have ever printed. Indestructibility and deathtouch as a combat trick is powerful, and even if you can't use it as a combat trick, because people won't attack into a few morphs, it's still two strong keywords which you can get on your creature for a mere three mana. This feels best in decks that can get some tokens out to fuel this, which makes it even better as both a combat trick and as a "regular" enchantment. If you play with manifests, which this set also promotes, it can eat up those manifests that won't ever be flipped up anyway as fuel. This means you'll have fuel and bluffs to work with this no matter what. It's interesting design and I hope we'll get more cards in the future that play with these ideas.

Mire in Misery

The big talking point of this card is that it's enchantment removal, which mono-black up until this point had to turn to various colorless cards for (e.g. Meteor Golem or All is Dust). Now Black gets this card and it's the most black way to remove an enchantment. Unfortunately, given the relative value between permanent types, players will generally sacrifice creatures first. This means you might need to wipe the board before getting enchantments, and even then, hitting the enchantment you want is harder. Against an Enchantress player, they'll likely just sacrifice whatever offers them the least value and leave it at that. This is the common problem with Edicts in a format as likely to clog up the board up as Commander. It's probably better in faster games though, where the boardstate doesn't have as much time to develop, so if that's your jam, Mire will be a solid inclusion. If your local group is more likely to develop massive boards, you may want to stick to more direct colorless removal, despite the higher mana costs.

Nightmare Unmaking

Black has a fair share of boardwipes nowadays, and a good chunk of them get past indestructible creatures as well. Nightmare joins the group as a highly flexible option that actually exiles cards, which isn't nearly as prevalent in black. This has a lot of advantages, most notably the prevention of recursion, but if your deck is reanimation heavy, you may want to stick to the old favorites like Damnation or Toxic Deluge. If, however, you do not run those, Nightmare Unmaking becomes a very good card.

Nightmare is also a very flexible card. If you can land the biggest creature on the board and keep your hand slightly smaller than it, you can wipe the board and leave that creature alive. Alternately, a small hand in a token based decks will likely keep those tokens alive while destroying all the big threats. It's the kind of flexibility that makes for a good card, but it also means this card can miss the mark if your hand isn't at the right size to get rid of a specific combination of threats. This might happen when you have three cards in your hand, but need to get rid of a small army of 1/1s and some 4/4s. All in all, it's not the absolute best when it comes to black boardwipes, but it's one I'd always consider, especially if white isn't in the deck as well to provide traditional Wrath effects.

Thieving Amalgam

The Simic Combine opened a branch over at Tarkir and joined the Sultai to help create Ape Snakes. I have no idea how else to explain this. As for the actual effect, it's usually going to be a Verdant Force variant. Now Force itself has dwindled in popularity ever since the early days of the format but is still a decent big creature. The Amalgam gives you one less card each turn cycle, but you get 2/2s instead of 1/1s. Amalgam also drains the opposition as well once those creatures, or any others you've stolen, die.

In addition, you could end up with some tasty goodies for your side of the field to flip over. This effect gets even better if you play more colors so you can more easily pay for those mana costs. You can also play more thieving effects in your deck and focus more on the lifeloss effect. Even without those extra synergies, Amalgam is still an interesting card for the upper end of the curve.

RED

 

Anje's Ravager

Mono red always appreciates draw-power, and for that reason alone, Ravager will be looked at. Being a 3/3 for 3 mana means that in the early game the Ravager is likely to be able to hit for some damage, but the question is if you truly want that. Sometimes you just want three new cards and then play off of that hand, and that's where the drawback of having to attack comes into play. Ravager is a card best played next to a free sacrifice outlet so that once your hand is such that you don't want to get rid of it, you can rid yourself of the Ravager instead.

As for the madness cost, it's a nice incidental bonus that will help Anje Falkenrath decks, and with Red's tendency to use wheel or looting effects, it shouldn't be hard to trigger this cost either. I do not, however, consider it the main reason to play this card. It's just a nice bonus.

Backdraft Hellkite

Past in Flames is a strong card, so a repeatable one should be too. But there are a few catches, most notably being that unless you have a haste outlet, you can't drop the Hellkite and immediately get the effect. And most spellslinger decks, which will be wanting a Past in Flames like effect, don't tend to run those. In addition, as a 4/4 flying the Hellkite is rather vulnerable, making it daunting to even survive the turn, let alone trigger more often.

But if you can protect the Hellkite into the late game, just a single swing should see you get an excess of card advantage right away. And unlike Past in Flames, you're likely to have all your mana available by the moment you attack. It's an interesting take on the effect and while it's not one I expect to see play in high end decks, it is one that will be wanted by more casual and relaxed tables.

Dockside Extortionist

This dude right here is going to be up there as one of the best cards of the set. Red is lacking for ramp, and artifacts are very commonly played. One plus one is a lot of treasure from this goblin pirate. For a mere two mana you get a creature with two relevant creature types - one a bit more than the other - and generally you should be able to get anywhere between three and twenty mana out of him. Do note he looks at all of your opponents, not just a target opponent.

Now I could mention the obvious synergy with Mycosynth Lattice or Deadeye Navigator but those two get broken in half just by giving them a sideways glance. The main point is simple; this is a new red staple, and should easily find its way into many part-red decks as well simply by virtue of the high amounts of mana it should generate. Only if your meta is excessively heavy on the Vandalblast and Bane of Progress will this be a dead card more than once or twice.

Ghired's Belligerence

The first red populate card to ever be revealed and hoo boy it's a doozy. While normally I'm not fond of burn spells that can't hit players - after all, sometimes you just need to throw a fireball to the face for the coup de grace - Ghired's Belligerence makes up for that by allowing some interesting interactions. First, the creatures you hit don't need to die right away in order to trigger populate. Therefore following one up with an effect like Pyrohemia or just plain old combat damage will allow for multiple triggers. Second, consider the humble Godsire and a bunch of Saprolings hanging out on your field. Ever wanted to burn a few Saprolings and watch them turn into 8/8's? I know I do.

Hate Mirage

Red's been copying creatures for a single turn for a while now, but none of its options has ever before been as effective as Hate Mirage is. The downside of course being that you can't get copies of your own creatures. This makes for a card that can be utterly dead in the water after boardwipes and the like come into play, but is also easy to get crazy amounts of value from, especially if you have populate effects going around to help you get more permanent copies going around.

When it comes to this effect, there are only three cards in red coming close to how powerful Hate Mirage is, for comparison. Heat Shimmer, which only gets you one creature but can hit any creature you want, Twinflame, which can get multiple copies going but is dependant on your own board, and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, which costs more but is repeatable. If you run a red based populate deck, each of these should probably make the cut.

Ignite the Future

It appears Wizards is moving away from the "Until the end of your turn" templating for most Red impulse draw like we've seen on Act on Impulse and various other cards, and is instead moving to the "Until the end of your next turn" templating first found on Commune with Lava and later expanded upon. On top of that, more and more of these cards now also allow you to hit lands meaning less dead cards.

Ignite the Future is a late game card through and through. If you cast it early, chances of hitting some dead cards are sizeable, but if you cast it late, you should have enough mana to cast whatever you need. The flashback ability reinforces this, being able to cast spells for free. Of course the dream scenario is to get this in your graveyard early and then cheat-flashbacking it, enabling you to get three free cards for only four mana, but even at a cost of eight mana, if your deck is built with this in mind, it's not a bad deal. Just hope you don't end up hitting three lands.

Skyfire Phoenix

Phoenixes in Magic often follow the same baseline template. Medium sized flier? Check. Average stats for the mana cost? Check. Recurs under specific circumstances? That's a check as well. Skyfire Phoenix is a good card for commander decks that keep replaying their commander, especially if they also blow up the board consistently. You get a free 3/3 flyer for your troubles, which isn't anything spectacular but it's free, and free cards are always worth an extra glance. Skyfire Phoenix can prevent random pokes in your direction, or buy a turn or two against massive threats, and as long as you have discard options for it aplenty, it will do work for you. It gets even better if you have ways to turn the 3/3 into something better via sacrifice for example, of course.

Tectonic Hellion

Land destruction in Commander is a divisive topic, and I'm sure that just for that reason Tectonic Hellion will see some sour grapes. But this is one of the fairer kinds of land destruction, being stapled to a 7 mana creature and only hitting those who are ahead in mana. Being as pricey as it is, chances are the one casting it is going to be among those with high land count, though there are of course ways to cheat it into play, either through the likes of Sneak Attack or Reanimate.

Beyond the land destruction, it's an 8/5 haste which are impressive stats, though for 7 mana that should be expected. It makes sure that beyond its job as a land demolisher it can be a bit of a threat, though the relatively small backside means it'll die sooner than you'd hope... unless you plan to recur it again, then you want it to die anyway.

Wildfire Devils

This card isn't good, but it can be a lot of fun. A quick glance would have one think getting a free spell each turn, one of which comes upon entering the battlefield is a good deal, but there are three issues. First, the player choice is random. Second, they get to choose which spell you get. And third, if there's no spells in the graveyard, it's not going to do anything. As such, this is not a card you can conceivably build around because the effect is just too random and opponent dependent, and you can't really manipulate it either. The saving grace is that you don't have to cast the spell it gets if it's not beneficial. But all in all, unless you're playing something chaotic, these devils are best kept out.

That said, the back devil should consider a career in ballet, just look at it go.

GREEN

 

Apex Altisaur

Mono-green always appreciates some removal, and when that removal is stapled to a 10/10 Dinosaur, all the better. This is a Timmy card through and through but really, any deck that ramps up fast should be able to power it out relatively early and go to town.

The enrage trigger means you can keep fighting until the Altisaur dies, but being a may trigger, you can always stop if there's nothing left to fight that won't kill the Altisaur. There is one subtlety to keep in mind; if you have effects out that prevent damage, it means enrage won't trigger. You'll be able to fight and kill one big creature, but no followups. If you make him indestructible, however, you can easily stomp the entire opponent's field in one go. Keep this in mind and yoou'll have one happy Dinosaur while your opponents only have dino-shaped craters where their creatures used to be.

Full Flowering

Most populate spells are simply single use, single token kind of shenanigans. Full Flowering throws the single token bit out of the window, and gives you a massive amount of tokens - as long as you have good amounts of mana. This is intended to be a gamewinning kind of spell, targeting massive tokens backed by large amounts of mana - Selvala, Heart of the Wilds is the kind of card that pairs best with this for that reason - and goes even crazier if you have Doubling Season effects in play.

Even if you don't have massive tokens laying around, you can still get decent value out of it simply copying a smaller token a few times, but you'd usually want to hold this out for a token truly worth copying. It does make it a bit win-more, yes, but once you get going with the help of this, it's hard to stop.

Ohran Frostfang

Ohran Viper is back and made some friends, which enable our old favorite snake to spread his love to your entire team. This is a delightful card for decks that go wide, as now every single combat turns into a massive headache for opponents. Do you really want to sacrifice your creatures to an army of 1/1's or do you let your opponent draw cards? It's a lose-lose for them no matter what.

I feel this card has in some point been in the Modern Horizons development folder and then moved here at a later stage, given its snow typing, and I'm not unhappy about it. This is the kind of card that a lot of token decks would enjoy, and in general any deck going wide would benefit from giving it a look. Its weird stats makes it easier to recur and be a decent blockade for smaller creatures, and in general going into battle with this thing will lead to massive blowouts. It is, however, a card that requires you to already have a previously established boardstate, if you can't guarantee that, the Frostfang is going to be mediocre at best.

Road of Return

Were this only a Nature's Spiral or a way to get your commander from your command zone to your hand, this card would have been "Just an extra option". Being able to get either effect, or both for a small extra cost, makes it much more worth the effort. I'm a fan of modal cards and this tickles my fancy as a result.

Obviously this card works best in decks that keep casting their commander, where you eventually will need to pull it from your command zone and cast it for the normal cost. That will be the most used mode, along with the option where you recur a card and pull your commander from the zone to cast next turn. It's good card advantage and while you can only recur permanents with it, it's versatile and strong enough that it should make the cut in decks heavily reliant on commanders that tend to die a lot.

Selesnya Eulogist

One of the very few instant speed populate cards, this is the kind of card Gyrus, Waker of Corpses would want to ensure he gets himself a permanent copy of whatever he exiled. It also doubles as grave hate while at it, albeit a weak option if you run it just for that in the face of Scavenging Ooze. But that's just a bonus, the main part is, as noted, the instant speed repeatable populate, which is a rarity.

There are various cards that only grant you a token for a limited time. While a good amount of these can be mitigated with sorcery speed populate, some (like the aformentioned Gyrus) need instant speed, and for those jobs, the Euologist is perfect. It's cheap enough to be of use in the early game as well, though in the end it's mostly intended for the late game when you start getting the massive tokens out.

Voice of Many

Elves with draw abilities are always something that deserve a second look, as elves deck have a tendency to spit out their hand onto the field and then kind of fizzle out if they don't draw the right cards. In recent years green has gotten a lot of creature-based card draw, patching up that weakness, and Voice of Many (Which sadly isn't part of the Voice of Law cycle) is yet another addition. This one, like many other green draw cards, is best when you have a massive army, but the payoff usually isn't all that large. Most of the time, this is going to be a 3/3 Harmonize at best. Which, is not a bad ability for 4 mana. Post board wipe this should still draw you several cards as others are rebuilding as well making it less field reliant than Regal Force, but the longer a game goes, the worse (in comparison) this gets. It's a good mid-game option for those decks, but might not make the cut everywhere.

ARTIFACTS & LANDS

 

Aeon Engine

There's always that one card that feels like a silver-border card. Usually they're utterly worthless but also hilarious, and this...is no exception. It enters the battlefield tapped and it doesn't really do much except make the table order more chaotic...but that is if you only have one of these. If you can repeatedly copy this card with, say, Mechanized Production, you can keep turns bouncing back between you and someone else. It's probably not the kind of move that will get you a lot of friends, but then, this is not a card that'll help you with the "get friends" department. It's a card that's best suited for chaotic playstyles and for those who have a knack of always sitting down right next to the mono-blue control player, who'd like the other party to end up being hit by the onslaught of counterspells.

Bloodthirsty Blade

There are a lot of commanders out there that are simply "Sit back and reap the benefits", as well as a large swathe of utility creatures that do the same, and Bloodthirsty Blade makes sure those creatures are going to die. Or, perhaps, if you're feeling adventurous, you can slap this bad boy on your opponent's big creatures and force some other players to die. This makes for a fun political card and a cute take on equipments that I'd like to see more of.

The major downside is that once every other opponent is down, you can't quite get rid of the blade until the equipped creature dies and the equipped creature can still be pointed at you. The equipping is also sorcery speed only, so you can't be all that tricky with it. But it's fun and can be disruptive against decks that prefer to sit back and relax, though mass goad cards are usually even better at disrupting those.

Empowered Autogenerator

First things first; this is not a fast mana rock. It's terribly slow, and as such it's most likely not for decks that want to move fast and get high amounts of mana swiftly. It's also a poor topdeck late game as it will take at least three turns before matching Thran Dynamo, let alone surpass it (Though colored mana is, of course, better).

But if you have ways in your deck to add more counters or increase counter generation as is, such as Pir, Imaginative Rascal or Atraxa, Praetor's Voice, then you're in business. Proliferate as well, helping you bump this up to become more powerful as the game goes on. It will never be a top tier mana generator because even with those tricks in play there are better options around, but it can be made to work well.

Idol of Oblivion

While green, and therefore most tokendecks, has been getting a lot more drawpower lately, most of it is reliant on having a big mass of creatures, or at least one huge creature out. Idol of Oblivion is a bit of steadier drawpower that helps in slowly building card advantage for you as you spit out tokens. It's best with slow constant generators, from Bitterblossom to Awakening Zone, and since it doesn't require the tokens to be creatures it also works with Smothering Tithe and various clue generators, which should help mono-white more than any other color, and we all know white can use the help.

The token it can create is a bit of a last resort kind of deal as you'll usually want to keep it around to keep drawing cards and instead just try and go for an in-deck answer. It is a sizeable token though so it gives populate decks a nice jumpstart, and it's not hard to recur the Idol.

Pendant of Prosperity

I'm not a fan of grouphug cards, even those that only benefit one other player. I only like them if they benefit you more than they do others, such as the various Parley cards like Selvala, Explorer Returned. And this does not do that. The effect, drawing a card and playing a free land, is plenty of powerful but not only does your opponent get the exact same ability, they also get to control when this happens.

Having said that, there is one way to make this card good: If you're able to get it back to your side of the field such as through Homeward Path. Suddenly, for two mana each turn you get two extra cards and lands on the battlefield. That is high value no matter how you slice it. But if your deck can't do this consistently, or if your commander is anything other than Zedruu the Greathearted, you might want to give this a pass.

Scaretiller

I can't help but shake the feeling Wizards created the Lord Windgrace deck and then just decided "Let's send players on a scavenger hunt through products over the next year" because here's yet another card the deck would be interested in. Scaretiller is not the fastest card around, however, costing 4 mana and needing to be tapped before he starts doing things. Fortunately, there are ways to cheat that clause, such as Clock of Omens or Earthcraft, among various others. The most interesting one though is Retreat to Coralhelm. As long as you have a fetch land in your graveyard, this means you can essentially pull out lands as much as you have that can be searched up when you have Scaretiller. First play a land, tapping the Scaretiller, get the fetchland from your grave, untapping Scaretiller, then sacrifice the fetchland, get a land, tap Scaretiller...rinse and repeat.

Without means to cheat on the tap clause, Scaretiller may simply be too slow and frail to put in a lot of work, but there are many ways to get it to be hilarious.

Scroll of Fate

One of the oldest tricks in the book when it comes to Morph and by extention Manifest is the ability to flip them faceup by blinking them through cards such as Ephemerate or Deadeye Navigator. So if you have that kind of theme going, you might want to consider Scroll of Fate as a way to heavily cheat on the mana cost of big creatures, allowing you to sneak them in on instant speed and then flip them at your leisure.

And even if you cannot do that, you still have a way to make surprise 2/2 blockers once per turn, and you might be hiding some nasty tricks this way, leaving players hesitant to attack you. Scroll of Fate is a delightful card for anyone who enjoys trickery and has specific builds where it becomes stronger even outside of Morph decks, making for a fun card to pick up and experiment with.

Sanctum of Eternity

This land was made for commanders with enter the battlefield effects. Enabling you to return your commander back to your hand for a relatively low cost - effectively 3 mana as you can't tap the Sanctum for mana - is a strong effect, especially on a land.

But there is a major downside in that you can't do this during your opponent's turns. Normally commander self-bounce effects want to be on instant speed such as with Crystal Shard in order to pull double duty, and that alone is why I don't expect this land to be a staple. But there are commanders that will want it, and decks that can abuse it, specifically Zacama, Primal Calamity can easily go infinite with this and enough lands. I feel though that the own turn rule makes it just a bit too careful a design by Wizards.

Closing Thoughts

All in all, I think the new Commander set does what it needs to do. It introduces a bunch of new commanders giving new angles to build decks with and I feel they're almost all in that sweetspot of being powerful without being too obvious/easy to build a perfect list for. In addition, a good chunk of the new cards feel like they should find their way into various decks, and some are perhaps a bit too gimmicky for the more regular lists but will see play in more offbeat decks. Commander 2019 will add to the game in a good way, which hasn't always been the case for the precons, making for a product worth picking up.

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