Morgane's Eldraine Commander Review
It's my favorite time of the year. Temperatures are going down to more manageable levels, nature is changing into the most beautiful period of the year, seasonal treats are returning to the stores, and there's a new Magic set fresh of the press. A whole new world, the home plane of the Kenrith twins we first met back in Battlebond, which still ranks as one of the best sets ever made as far as I'm concerned. In a world that has the feel of a mix of Lorwyn, Shadowmoor and Innistrad, we as Commander players are getting a bevy of new toys, and I'm here to run through them with you.
As always, I'll be looking at every single main set legendary creature and planeswalker. As Eldraine introduces Brawl decks, I'll be taking those into account as well as they have various cards that are very much commander playable as well. Not every card will be reviewed, however, as there are always many cards that simply have no place in the format, or are far too much of a fringe inclusion. I also won't be looking at cards that are only good for one very specific strategy. For example, while Resolute Watchdog would get a second look for being a good protection piece even outside of Arcades, the Strategist, Saruli Caretaker would not make it to the list because it really only does work in Arcades.
So that said, let's dive right in, this is Thrones of Eldraine: The Commander Review.
Typically, Acclaimed Contender would be at its best in a knight-themed deck, obviously, but this effect is strong enough to consider if your deck simply has enough incidental knights to go about, like Knight of White Orchid or something like Mirror Entity as those are playable outside of tribal. I'd say if you have at least 8 other knights, or if your commander happens to be one, Acclaimed Contender is worth a look because for the 3 mana, it's a mighty powerful effect.
Archon of Absolution
Cheaper but a typically weaker effect than Windborn Muse, Archon of Absolution is an addition to pillowfort decks and possibly superfriends decks to shield yourself just a bit better. It's not the most powerful of effects but can frustrate low to the ground aggro decks well enough to justify the low cost, and having protection from white helps it blank the most powerful single removal cards.
The Circle of Loyalty
While obviously a better card when you run a bunch of Knights, The Circle of Loyalty can also see play in Legendary-themed decks such as Kethis, the Hidden Hand as a way to benefit from repeated castings of your Legendaries, rewarding you with effectively a 3/3 vigilance every time. However, if you do not run a lot of Knights or Legendaries, the value you'll get from this isn't worth the hefty investment of 6 mana, so if you plan to run this card, be sure that you have enough ways to trigger it, or can cast it for a low cost, otherwise it's just not worth it.
Best served in decks that want to spam creatures, Deafening Silence will frustrate many a combo player, while control players will find themselves pressed to answer all your threats, especially if they also want to develop their own board. It also costs only one mana, making for a great start to the game being likely to help get things set up. It slots in nicely with many of white's other restriction cards, but does enough on its own to warrant inclusion without a full hate package.
Happily Ever After
Technically Happily Ever After is a white card, but I don't see mono-white play a 3 mana enchantment that gains everyone 5 life and draws a card, no matter how starved for card draw it is. In effect, this is a fixed Coalition Victory in that you can win pretty easily with this in a properly built deck, but whereas Coalition Victory is "Counter now or you lose" - which is part of why it's banned - Happily Ever After gives you time to deal with it and has more factors that can be disrupted. You need to be above 40 life - which is the easiest resource to attack -, have a total of 6 permanent types on the field or graveyard which means it can be disrupted both by direct removal and grave hate, all five colors need to be represented by permanents on your board and it needs to survive until the upkeep...I don't see this actually winning many games, just drawing removal and being a threat.
As far as armies in a can go, you don't often get better rates than Harmonious Archon, bringing a total of 10 power for 6 mana. Having said that, it's a card for specific decks; namely those that employ lots of small tokens or use creatures with +1/+1 counters as those only get boosted further by the Archon's power/toughness-setting ability. This is also a nice counter to large beatsticks, but opposing token decks will make use of it as well. Harmonious Archon itself is likely going to be the biggest presence on the field in any case, making it a threat on top of what it does for your army of small guys.
Hushbringer makes for the fourth effect to stop enter the battlefield effects and the third on a white creature, and while it lacks the flash that makes Hushwing Gryff such a good card, the tradeoff is massive in higher toughness, lifelink, lower mana cost and most important of all, the ability to blank death abilities as well such as that of Kokusho, the Evening Star. While white already has effects that help with that such as Rest in Peace, having it stapled together makes for an effective and versatile card likely to frustrate many a Yarok, the Desecrated deck.
Linden, the Steadfast Queen
Linden is...a card. One with stats, definitely some stats on her. And an effect.
I don't know what to say, to be honest. For as awesome a character as Linden is in the Eldraine novel, so bland is her card. There are ways to make use of lifegain triggers, but the payoff is pretty small usually. The effect itself is seen before and has never been great for a commander (See: Patron of the Kitsune) and if you want something lifegain-matters with aggressive strategies like Linden promotes, Karlov of the Ghost Council is just so much better. For a casual lifegain deck, sure, she'll do fine. But overall, Linden just isn't a good card.
While I don't think many adventures will do work in Commander, this is one of the exceptions but that's mostly because boardwipes are always welcomed. Not hitting Giants is rarely a big issue and can be turned into a positive in the right decks, but typically it's the 5 mana cost that would hold this back, if it wasn't for the fact that later on it comes with a 7/7 vigilance. The value in this card is not in just the wrath, it's that without spending an extra card you also retain relatively sizeable board presence, though the mana cost may be too high to be reliably pulled off in one turn.
Syr Alin, the Lion's Claw
The first of the uncommon legendary Syrs, Alin is pretty bland and not all that good. His stats aren't terrible and neither is his effect, but if you intend to run Alin as your commander, ask yourself, why not just stick with Crovax, Ascendant Hero? Sure, it's one mana more expensive, but it's a constant effect that is also likely to hurt your opponents more than it helps them unless you're in a mass-white pod.
Syr Alin's advantage is that he is an uncommon meaning he can be used as a Pauper commander, and he has some tribal synergies introduced here in Eldraine. But all in all, he's pretty bland and best left to the Pauper side. But even there he faces competition from Kongming, "Sleeping Dragon" so make of that whatever you want.
Emry, Lurker of the Loch
Mono-blue isn't wanting for artifact commanders as between the likes of Urza, Lord High Artificer, Arcum Daggson and Muzzio, Visionary Architect, there are plenty of options. None come as cheap as Emry though, usually she'll hit the field for a mere 1 mana even late in the game, and unlike the previously mentioned three, her focus is more on retrieval, generally being a better Academy Ruins in the command zone.
She doesn't do much more than that but is it really neccesary to do even more? One extra artifact per turn from your graveyard is a strong play, especially with sacrifice-upon-use artifacts. From the simple but useful Burnished Hart to the lock of Mindslaver, Emry can pull it all off. She's probably the best generic artifact value commander out there, with the others promoting more explosive tactics, which might allow her to fly (or swim) under the radar.
Folio of Fancies
An interesting take on grouphug, the Folio of Fancies will help people pick up their decks faster, but threatens to turn it against them just as soon, meaning that opposing players will want to keep a close eye on it and remove it when the time is right. It's not the fastest way to win but it's an interesting take on an established archetype and might spawn a different variety of it, and some might just want to play all the effects that remove the maximum hand size even if it works for everyone. Fun card.
Frogify joins the ranks of cards like Song of the Dryads and Imprisoned in the Moon as a way to deal with indestructible commanders, or commanders that get a benefit from just being cast again from the command zone. Unlike the afformentioned cards, however, Frogify makes the target into an easy sacrifice or chump blocker to remove the effect, so you'll have to keep that in mind when you run this. If you're in white/blue or green/blue you have plenty of better options, but in purely blue decks or lacking those two specific colors, Frogify can help if you find yourself often having issues with problematic hard-to-remove commanders.
Gadwick, the Wizened
As a Commander that acts as a sorcery speed Stroke of Genius, Gadwick already merits looking at just for that. Drawing cards from the command zone is nothing to be scoffed at, after all. Beyond that, Gadwick isn't all that impressive - his stats don't scale with the X leaving him a small threat on the field, and his ability, while potentionally allowing up openings on the field, isn't as strong as you'd want it to be due to the lack of a clause that prevents untapping on the next upkeep.
The ability does shine when you play with a large amount of instants, allowing you to tap down potentional threats and mana-producing artifacts before your opponent gets to use them. As it can't hit lands, however, it's not really feasible to make a full mana-denial strategy around him which would've made him a lot better. As is, he's a pretty decent value commander that scales nicely in the late game, able to refuel whenever you need it most, or just a quick refill early on.
Into the Story
I'm mostly mentioning this card because it can be highly effective. Drawing 4 cards on instant speed for 4 mana? That's powerful. It is also dependant on your opponents having effectively treshold, which means it doesn't go well with grave hate like Relic of Progenitus which can put a damper on it. But if your opponents often have a neatly filled grave early on, Into the Story is worth looking into as it's hard to beat that kind of efficiency.
The Magic Mirror
This is a weird one, as the effect of drawing extra cards on your upkeep is typically one you want as early as possible, like with Phyrexian Arena, but Magic Mirror tends to come online a bit later unless you're heavy on the self-mill. Once you get it going though, the increasing returns will stack up rapidly, and the infinite handsize sideeffect ensures you can make use of anything you draw. Hilariously, as neither is optional, it is very much possible to die to it in stretched out games, and I can't wait to read stories of such happening. It's held back by the high initial cost but if you can reliably land it by turn 5, it's well worth the effort.
Midnight Clock is a very poor mana rock, but it comes with effectively a suspended one-target Timetwister, giving you some time (haha) to play out your hand, and then let the clock hit midnight. Keep in mind that it gets a counter every single upkeep, so the more opponents you have, the faster the clock will hit 12. The question is if this is better than just going with regular Time Spiral effects. You do get the benefit of not refueling your opponents, but this is also something certain disruptive decks might prefer. If you have ways to benefit of the draw all the better, but this isn't a staple card.
Copy Artifact and Copy Enchantment came together and made a beautiful baby that's 1 colorless mana cheaper than casting one of each. That's all there really is to it, it's two strong cards slapped together to make a stronger versatile card. Every Commander game has artifacts and enchantments laying about so this will never be lacking for targets, and even if the best around is a Sol Ring, that's not a bad investment for 3 mana. It's even better if you've got a sizeable amount of targets yourself, of course, but this functions perfectly fine without support as well. It does face competition from Clever Impersonator which costs 1 mana more but can hit a lot more, so if you're considering this, consider the Impersonator as well.
Sage of the Falls
A bit fringey due to its high mana cost at 5, the effect that Sage of the Falls brings can help you rip through your deck in no time. Especially if you drop sizeable amounts of tokens, you can quickly fill your graveyard while sculpting your hand to perfection. Best in a Black/Blue based deck as it grants you access to mass reanimation. I don't expect it to see all that much play due to the mana cost but there will be decks using it.
Syr Elenora, the Discerning
One of mono-Blue's strenghts is maintaining a large handsize, but often enough there can be issues converting it into a win, especially if you're not a fan of combo builds. Enter Syr Elenora, who will gladly swing in as a massive creature as long as you have a bunch of cards on hand, and she even brings another card with her to help. In addition, she comes with pseudo-protection, meaning investments in a Path to Exile for her become less optimal.
However, that's where the good news ends. Her toughness is fixed at 4, she has no evasion or haste and she costs 5 mana. While equipment can solve those first few issues it does mean extra investment in what is essentially a vanilla beater afterwards. This leads me to expect Syr Elenora to be little played in the end, though she makes a fantastic Pauper general, for those who enjoy that variety of play.
I fear anything that involves a combination of artifacts and card draw, and Shimmer Dragon is no exception. While it's fairly expensive at a hefty 6 mana, it can quickly spiral out of control with a combination of cards like Unwinding Clock or Seedborn Muse, among others, to quickly generate card draw to fuel even more artifacts. But the hefty cost and lack of self protection, as well as it not being an artifact itself, hold it back from being truly great, and it really suffers from the ban of Paradox Engine.
Ayara, First of Lochtwain
To the despair of many in my personal playgroup, I'm a big fan of Blood Artist effects. So it comes to no surprise that I am highly interested in Ayara. Now, unlike the typical Blood Artist effect, this one triggers upon entering the battlefield and only looks at black creatures so there's some caveats to be had, but it doesn't really deter Ayara from being a threat, especially when you consider the myriad of creatures Black can return to the field from the grave one way or another.
On top of that, Ayara can sacrifice a creature to draw a card, which is a small but useful effect to have on top of the lifedrain, combining with the various recursive creatures or the token makers to ensure you can keep the threats coming. It's a package of small effects for a low mana price, each of which on it's own doesn't do much, but combines to make a highly annoying commander. In the 99, she's only truly good in mono-black decks, and even there only if it can reliably make large amounts of creatures, so I don't expect to see her as much out of the command zone.
The Cauldron of Eternity
Cauldron of Eternity faces direct competition from Whip of Erebos as a black legendary artifact that reanimates creatures, each with their own drawbacks. Whereas the Whip exiles that which it exiles, the Cauldron costs a lot of mana early game (but the discount is easily managed) and creatures dying won't end up in your graveyard, so once the Cauldron is out, you'll need to find other ways to fill your bin. Fortunately, that's easily done, especially if you're also in Blue or Red, so the drawbacks are easily managed and the return to the battlefield cost is a low one at a mere 3 mana. It makes for a nice recursion engine, and there are ways to make use of the back-to-the-bottom-of-the-deck effect for dying creatures, such as with Grenzo, Dungeon Keeper. I wouldn't go as far as to call this a potentional staple because the drawbacks are there, but it opens up a somewhat different reanimator style gameplan.
Every deck benefits of having some spot removal. You don't have to massively overstock on it, but a few choice pieces to get rid of problematic cards never hurt. And when it comes to black, few cards are better than Hero's Downfall. Murderous Rider isn't better, but it fills much the same spot, giving a strong answer to Planeswalkers as well as any creatures that may be in your path. You do have to pay 2 life, but you can recoup that later on by casting the creature side, which comes with tribal synergies as well being a Zombie Knight. It then goes to your library for a recast if it dies, or perhaps you can bounce it back to your hand to recast. It's not a strong creature, no, but it's there if you need it on top of the kill spell.
Piper of the Swarm
Piper of the Swarm is technically self contained, but it costs 4 turns and oodles of mana before you can start taking over creatures, so don't run this when you're low on rats. If however you run one of the varieties of decks that ends up with high amounts of rats (or changelings) the Piper should always go in as taking over creatures indefinitely is a mighty powerful effect, even at the tune of 4 mana and 3 sacrifices.
Rankle, Master of Pranks
Rankle is the type of general where you know that each and every option available to him seems fair at first glance, but then you look closer and you know; somebody is going to break the symmetry of the effects so hard, they may very well not even exist. Between cards like Bone Miser to mitigate the self-discard and the likes of Bitterblossom to help with the creature sacrifice, Rankle is going to be a pest.
He also has respectable stats, being a 3/3 flying haste for 4 mana, meaning he can get to work pretty fast. I also expect some folks to focus fully on the hasty flier aspect like Mirri the Cursed already does, opting for a full out beatdown plan. Rankle is flexible, but does paint a bit of a target on your head since not many players like having their hands messed with, let alone their hand and field at the same time.
Syr Konrad, the Grim
Ayara and Syr Konrad combine to give me a grand set of cards to supplement my love for Blood Artist varieties. Now, unlike the typical Blood Artist effect, Syr Konrad doesn't actually give you life in return, which is a shame as it would've given a nice cushion, but he does trigger on far more. Creature goes from the deck to the graveyard via, say, Altar of Dementia? That's a trigger. Empty the Pits for a nice pile of zombies? That's a few more triggers.
On top of that, should you not have an engine going, Syr Konrad can - for the small price of 2 mana - do some work on his own, adding fuel to the fire. The downsides are that he does cost 5 mana and he doesn't have any protection or evasion despite his reasonable stats, making him vulnerable. A small price to pay.
3 mana for a tutor isn't a bad rate, and having the option of being repeatable is nice...but you're going to give your opponents cards as well. This would typically mean that you'd want to use Wishclaw Talisman to tutor up a win condition and just end the game right at that point, but there's a catch. You can only activate it on your own turn, but you can also activate it on instant speed. Which means that if you have, say, a Manifold Key laying around, you can untap it and tap it again while the trigger of ceding control is on the stack. Do it twice, and you can pull off three tutor effects in one go. It takes some investment, but the gains can be massive.
Or you can just play it fair and give it to your opponent, I guess.
Embercleave is an amazing combat trick in the form of an equipment, making it a lot less painful if the creature you intend to play tricks with gets destroyed. It is a bit contrary in that it boosts just one creature while preferring multiple creatures to make the most out of it, but having just 4 creatures to make it cost 2 mana - its minimum - is not hard to attain, and the stats it grants are well worth the effort. Later on the equip cost is manageable, making Embercleave one of the best equipment cards in recent memory, and one I fully expect to see in various aggressive decks in the future.
Fires of Invention
You know the kind of card that says "I don't quite know what to do with this yet but it can be horribly broken in some way I'm sure of it."? Well, Fires of Invention is that card in this set. Decks reliant on activated abilities without much instant speed interaction should be able to abuse it but beyond that, I personally have no idea what to do with it, I just know somewhere, someone will break it in half.
Rituals are usually the domain of storm type decks and that's exactly what Irencrag Feat doesn't allow, so where would you run it? In decks where you want to power out 7 mana cards like Karn Liberated, or commanders like Drakuseth, Maw of Flames. The mana bump is high but you have to make immediate use of it, if your deck can, it's a good card. If you can't reliably cast big spells off of the 7 mana, skip it.
Merchant of the Vale
Red doesn't have a lot of repeatable looting or rummaging effects, especially not those that you can do several times a turn. In that niche, Merchant of the Vale presents a nice relatively cheap way to quickly filter through a few cards when you have the time, and comes with an easy first activation as well with Haggle. 3 mana a pop is a fair rate but does make it better later in the game, meaning it'll be a better card in slower metas where decks have more time to set themselves up.
Robber of the Rich
This guy seems to want to be legendary, with his rider depending on Rogues attacking, but since he himself is a Rogue, this merry man can simply fuel himself. He comes down early and will start exiling cards from your target's library right away, and unlike most of these effects, he can safely let you cast these spells later on - just attack with more Rogues. Or keep attacking with him. The one downside is that you have to have a smaller hand than your intended target but if you're in red that isn't an issue. He's a great card and expect to see him often in aggressive Red-based decks.
Syr Carah, the Bold
I'm a big fan of the Impulse Draw effect, and seeing it on a commander makes me giddy. Syr Carah's stats may be subpar being a 3/3 for 5, but you likely won't be sending her to attack anyway. You want her tap ability to get you an extra card per turn. The caveat of it only being able to be cast that same turn isn't a big downside with her as you probably want to do so in a deck built around her anyway.
She does get silly in a deck that chains spells that harm your opponents as well. While she can't profit off of pings from various Chandras or the likes of Purphoros, God of the Forge, it is possible to build a deck combining spells that hit the face with rituals to keep the mana flowing, creating a different kind of storm deck. A simple Grapeshot with a low storm count will already yield a bunch of spells you can cast immediately. The downside is that her mana cost is relatively high for this strategy and you risk losing cards you can't cast forever, but she's very open ended and can be built in various ways to make use of her ability, simply due to being a card advantage general in mono-Red, which is a rarity in itself.
Thrill of Possibility
Tormenting Voice is a decent early game card. Thrill of Possibility is an instant speed version of it. Not much more needs to be said, instant speed is always better, allowing you to better dance around potentional countermagic or just hold open the threat of other cards. It's a decent filler card that helps making a deck just that bit more consistent, can't go wrong with it.
Torbran, Thane of Red Fell
Heigh ho awesome commander away! Torbran is the kind of card that at first glance looks relatively unspectacular being a 4 mana 2/4, and only adds 2 damage to the various sources of damage to your opponents, for a cost of 4 mana. But then you look at cards like Anger of the Gods that suddenly hits most of the format for lethal, Inferno Titan becoming able to hit three creatures for 3, and all other kinds of fun damage upscaling that works out far better with Torban than one would think at first glance, in which Pyrohemia becomes an absolute allstar.
Sitting at 4 toughness means that Torban will dodge the massive amount of red sweep spells that deal 3 damage, while amplifying them when hitting the opposition. Combined with a relatively low mana cost, Torban threatends to close out games faster than most other Red generals, let alone when put in combination with something like Purphoros, God of the Forge. He's not subtle, but who needs subtle when you can just keep burning the opposing field to a crisp.
The Great Henge
Ever since Innistrad, Wizards has been ramping up the amount of Glimpse of Nature like effects on permanents. We've seen quite a few of them last year especially, and The Great Henge is the next addition to the family. Unlike all others though, The Great Henge requires you to already have a somewhat sizeable creature out in order to start working, but it repays itself doubly so by not only offering card draw, but only giving +1/+1 counters to your creatures and even tapping for double green mana, refunding the initial high mana cost even further. This combination leads to me considering this among the best of these effects when it comes to having them on permanents as it just does so much. There's also the fact that it goes infinite with a sacrifice outlet and creatures with persist like Kitchen Finks as icing on the cake. Overall a fantastic card that maybe does a bit too much for the cost, they could've afforded to tack on 2 or 3 more to the discountable mana cost.
Keeper of Fables
Green decks have recieved plenty of drawpower options recently, and now Keeper of Fables joins the ranks as a would-be Ohran Frostfang. The viper is the obvious comparison and well, it's one the Keeper loses, as it doesn't grant your army deathtouch, and it can only trigger for one card each combat. It is, however, a fine addition to the Frostfang if your deck needs more of these effects, and it is in a somewhat supported tribe, so you could do worse.
Green always appreciates ways to deal with creatures that are bigger than it's own, as well as indestructible ones which tend to provide even more headaches, and Kenrith's Transformation is a fantastic way to do so, much like its direct predecessor Lignify. For a mere two mana you can reduce any massive threat into a bite sized snack for your own big creatures, and it also replaces itself afterwards. Beyond that there's synergy with the various Enchantresses if you play that type of game. All in all it's a fantastic utility piece that's only limited in being unable to deal with anything non-creature, but that's something Green doesn't have troubles with anyway, with Song of the Dryads being the main catch-all option.
Once Upon a Time
Playing in the same space as Winding Way, Once Upon a Time trades the ability to put cards in your graveyard for instant speed, digging one card deeper and, most interesting, being able to be cast for free, provided it's the first spell of the game for you. Inherent to the format this is a fair bit harder than in typical 60 card formats of course, so it shouldn't be judged based on that, but rather the effect itself. And if you're looking for some early game green filtering, it doesn't get much better than this, so if your deck is needing this kind of effect and doesn't particulary care for the graveyard, it's worth picking up.
Mono Green tends to have issues with Fog based effects and well-defended Planeswalkers. Angus Mackenzie can be a right nightmare for those types of decks, even though there have been more answers printed in recent years that Green can employ. None, however, are as on the nose as Questing Beast. Whenever it attacks, something is going to die, whether it's a creature or a Planeswalker. It doesn't even need to attack in order to make your army immune to damage prevention. And it will rush right past tokens that tend to protect Planeswalkers.
On top of that, it's aggressively costed as a 4/4 for 4 with three keywords. Each of which help it do its job better. But that's also exactly it; it offers no utility beyond specifically hating on a few decktypes. I feel it's more of a card you put in the deck rather than in the command zone as a silver bullet against those various decks, making for a good toolbox card more than anything. As a Commander, it's a bit too telegraphed and narrow.
Return of the Wildspeaker
Soul's Majesty got a significant upgrade into instant speed and the option of being a (trample-less) Overrun. And it only costs Garruk's shirt to pull it off. Joking aside, this plays in the typical Green taking advantage of big creatures playbook and probably has the closest competition for a one shot effect in Rishkar's Expertise but being instant speed means it can afford to lose the extra effect, as you can now fire it off in response to removal and still get some cards for your effort. The bigger the creatures in your deck, the better this gets.
Syr Faren, the Hengehammer
I don't get Syr Faren. Knights are typically at least 2/2, and Bears are commonly known to be 2/2...so why is a Knight riding a Bear a mere 2/2? Such jokes aside, Faren is a decent option for a Green aggro deck that employs early creatures and buffs. Giant Growth on Syr Faren will let you hit with a total of 8 extra power, which can add up fast. A Faren deck likely wants to have a healthy mix of early game creatures, pump spells, some drawpower and a few lategame hitters to work.
It's not the most flexible of the Syrs, but it is likely the most threatening of the bunch. A turn 2 Faren can put a good amount of pressure on anything, especially if the followup comes from more permanent boosts like Rancor or an equipment of choice. Faren's weakness lays in difficulties dealing with wide strategies being able to block whatever Faren throws at them before punching back, so go fast or bust with the Bear Knight. That isn't a Bear.
Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig
Yorvo is a relatively vanilla commander whose only true strength simply lays in being big. Starting as a 4/4 for 3, Yorvo can easily grow to scarily high stats within a few turns...but then what. Unless you have ways of granting Yorvo trample or making it impossible to block him, simple tokens will ruin his day and the hard work will be for naught.
He does have synergies with a lot of the proliferate cards and will enjoy the help of Selvala, Heart of the Wilds to help power out more big guys to help him grow faster, but your first priority should always be to get some evasion on him to make his huge size worth the effort.
Steelbane Hydra is a card like Caustic Caterpillar or Wickerbough Elder that allows you to get past effects such as Torpor Orb in your creature-heavy decks without having to put in non-creature answers. It compares somewhat favorably to either, not needing to sacrifice itself like the Caterpillar and usually having more uses than the Elder, in exchange for taking more mana upon each activation. There are various cards with synergies with X-spells and +1/+1 counters that one can run to make it better, letting it play a dual role of a mediocre attacker and an excellent rattlesnake for anyone who wants to play artifacts or enchantments. And it wins the best creature type in Eldraine contest for me.
Single use fight cards generally aren't all that great, even in Green which appreciates creature removal. Repeatable, however...now we're talking. Thorn Mammoth can generally take out one creature a turn at least, all it asks of you is to keep playing creatures if you want more destruction. It also doesn't have to fight - it's a may trigger, so if you don't want your big buddy to die yet, just don't let it fight with anything. It does cost a hefty 7 mana and its stats aren't anything to write home about, ask yourself if something like Ezuri's Predation doesn't do just as much or even more for you.
Dance of the Manse
Replenish this isn't, but it can hit artifacts as well so there's a use for this for certain. I feel for this card hitting X for 3 or 4 will usually be most beneficial, enabling you to pull back a nice set of cards with various utility, hitting most mana rocks and such as well, and most strong enchantments reside around that mana cost as well. Probably best in white/blue/black decks as they tend to pull off both artifacts and enchantments decently well, but not likely to ever become an all-star card, just good recursion. Odds are you don't want to cast it for X=6 or higher because as creatures they'll be far more suspectible to removal, unless you can combo off immediately with it.
Drown in the Loch
Drown in the Loch is a solid control card that doesn't play well with graveyard removal. This is a bit of an issue as any control deck worth its salt will want toys to remove graveyards given how often decks play from them, but even then it's not unlikely to think this will easily hit most spells and creatures late in the game for a mere 2 mana, while early game being able to be held up for anything that may need to be quickly dealt with. The biggest downside is that it's very much a telegraphed card - you'll be counting your opponent's graveyards all game long.
Escape to the Wilds
The Red/Green answer to Urban Evolution, it trades permanent draw for a deeper dig. The extra land drop on the turn you play this ensures that if you hit a pocket of land you should be able to play most of them, and it comes late enough in the game that any cards you hit from it should be castable as well. However, it is a hefty mana investment and in green better draw is readily available, as well as better extra land effects, so I'd only run this if you really need a maximum amount of those effects.
A budget Bloom Tender can still yield large amounts of mana in 5 color decks. Even from the outset it taps for 2 mana on its own and will only grow from there, obviously getting better the more colors you add to your deck, but either way a 3 mana creature that taps for 2 is already decent. It's best to just ignore its combat stats as you'll want to fully focus on getting as much mana from this as possible, powering out bigger plays.
Garruk, Cursed Huntsman
Garruk is back and he's packing some pals. Coming with two wolves that will let him - and any other Garruk you may have out - tick up if they die, we're already looking at a decent base ability, though costing 6 mana, he'd better have something good. His -3 is always useful to let you destroy something useful and still have something left on the board and he even gives you a card, but the starting loyalty of 5 means he can only do this once without outside aid. The emblem, finally, is useful for combat-based decks but you have to ask yourself, if you're an aggressive deck, will you really get to that point?
All things considered, this new Garruk is a bit middling, power-level wise. He's had iterations that are better for Commander and the color combination has other options as well, but his utility is good enough that if you're in a somewhat slower, more controlling deck, he's well worth consideration and he does get better if you include other Garruks as well, and just about every other Garruk printed so far has Commander applications.
Grumgully, the Generous
Grumgully has the best art in the set, that's not up for debate, but this is a Commander review, not an art review. Grumgully is the opposite number of Xenagos, God of Revels in that Xenagos rewards you for having one big massive creature out and needs to boost it every single turn on its own, Grumgully will reward you for having a massive army and uses "Apply and forget" to just let you have a bigger army to work with, which is especially good with tokens.
Grumgully's non-human clause is rather unique, but even not including them there's still a massive amount of creatures available for you to choose from. And since tokens work best here and in these colors tokens do not tend to be humans, the drawback really isn't. On top of that, Grumgully's stats are perfectly on par at 3/3 for 3, meaning that while it won't be a beatstick, it doesn't just die to a stiff breeze either. I love it, and I'm fairly certain it will be among the more popular commanders of the set.
Oko, Thief of Crowns
3 mana and 4 starting loyalty, now that's a good start for our newest Planeswalker. And then we look at the abilities, starting with the +2 to create a Food token. Unfortunately, while Food has some interesting tricks in Limited and perhaps Standard, in Commander it's too disjointed to really work, but it's there just in case. The +1 is a way to deal with problematic creatures that you can't immediately get rid of, or that you don't want your opponent to be able to re-cast. It's a permanent effect, which is rarely seen in this kind of formatting, so bring something to help you remember that you turned your opponent's stuff into a deer.
Finally, the ultimate, which is easy to attain, isn't really an ultimate in that it's just a powerful utility ability, rather than a gamewinner. This is where the Food he creates comes back in play, enabling you to swap a Food token for a useful creature, but you can exchange a lot. The 3 power limiter mostly means you'll be going after either Commanders or utility creatures. All in all, Oko makes for a powerful toolbox, but he can be a bit vulnerable as he can't really protect himself even from the deers he creates.
A Bitterblossom-esque effect except in Red & White, this one is a bit more volatile beyond just lacking tribal synergies. There are three options of tokens to get and while each of the tokens are decent in their own right, chances are you'll usually want the Rogue to ping away annoying little blockers, and sometimes the Warrior for being the strongest. The Cleric is likely the least wanted. And thus, the one I'll end up creating most often. It's also 4 mana so it's not exactly cheap, but the effect is known to be a strong one, especially if you can take advantage of repeated triggers from creatures entering the battlefield.
The Royal Scions
The Royal Scions is a great Planeswalker card. Low mana cost, high starting loyalty, a strong +1 to help it tick up towards the ultimate, a useful if a bit more situational other +1 to help you punch through damage, and an ultimate that, while not gamewinning, should draw you a nice hand of cards while removing a threat. All in all, the Royal Scions makes for an interesting package...
...but they have a bit of a problem in that Dack Fayden exists. Sitting in the exact same mana spot, having a +1 that's exactly twice the +1 of the Royal Scions (funny how that works) and a secondary immediately useable ability that's never wanting for targets, really all the Scions have over him is the higher starting loyalty making them less frail. This means that, while they're good, a deck should always pack Dack Fayden first if available, and then run the Scions in addition to him.
Loch Dragon comes with a color intensive mana cost and mediocre stats, so it isn't for everyone, but the effect which triggers on both entering the battlefield and attacking is a good one. If your local meta allows you to reliably poke at people for 3 in the air without a risk of death, Loch Dragon is the type of card that you can try out and see where it takes you. It won't be an all star but can, in the right circumstances, be a good roleplayer.
When it comes to the hybrid cards, this is the best one in the set by some margin. Blue-Green has plenty of commanders that appreciate large creatures and getting to draw from them is helpful especially since the card draw goes through even when they get countered. On top of that it comes with decent stats and shares the best creature type in the set with Steelbane Hydra. It does compete with cards like Beast Whisperer and Guardian Project though, so keep that in mind when you move to add this into your deck.
Alela, Artful Provocateur
Alela is hard to place. For starters, we're looking at a 4 mana flying, lifelink, deathtouch which is interesting, but not why you'd want to play her. Rather, she gives free Faeries whenever you cast an Artifact or Enchantment, and those Faeries (and everything else that flies) gets +1/+0. Getting free stuff upon casting things is always worthy of further examination, especially when it's as relatively open-ended as is the case with Alela.
You can use the faeries for sacrifice fodder, or you can try to spam a bunch of free/cheap artifacts and enchantments to swarm the battlefield, or try and make an aggro list work that simply gets the occasional trigger off. This leads to Alela wanting some very specific tools but being highly open-ended in how to build her, which makes for good design. I don't expect her to be a top commander in her colors, but she'll be seen left and right.
Chulane, Teller of Tales
I'm going to be blunt about Chulane: I don't like him. Chulane feels like the kind of design that just makes things too easy. Play creatures, draw cards, throw lands on to the battlefield, play more creatures, draw more cards, flip your deck over, win. And if your chain stops working, just use his tap ability to pull back a creature and get one more shot. Between the likes of Aluren, Earthcraft and Intruder Alarm this is going to be way too easy to pull off, and I fully expect many Chulane decks to be built, and then dismantled within a few weeks or months because the playgroup grew bored of it. Its only weakness is that Chulane is a 2/4 without protection for 5 mana, but being part-blue, even that part can be easily remedied.
Korvold, Fae-Cursed King
Any commander in this color combination faces a challenge; can this go up against Prossh, Skyraider of Kher and actually be interesting enough afterwards. In Korvold's case, the answer is: Yes. Yes, he can. He's not as easy to go infinite with as his Dominarian brother, but he does allow for more gradual advantage. There are ways to build him that he churns through your deck rapidly, but just as likewise you can build a relatively simple list and just take advantage of the occasional draw while growing Korvold to become a dangerous beater.
The comparison with Prossh is favorable if you want to look for an open-ended Commander to build around, but if you want to go infinite with him, he'll take a lot more work, and it becomes more of a puzzle rather than Prossh's massive bag of tricks. For a color combination that desperately needed some interesting legendaries, Korvold is a fine addition.
Syr Gwyn, Hero of Ashvale
Knights have been getting a nice smattering of love ever since Dominaria and now in Eldraine it's coming to it's height, with Syr Gwyn being the first tri-color tribal legend for the tribe. (No, Edgar Markov does not count.) Syr Gwyn plays with the Equip Knight ability, which is a nice way to tie the tribe to equipments, and her card draw ability is also tied around this. This means she'll require a rather specific shell - Knights and Equipments - but within that shell there's a fair bit of room to work with.
As a bonus, Puresteel Paladin - one of the best equipment-matters cards around - is also a Knight so you have a good base start to work with. The question as to how best run Syr Gwyn becomes one of how to best balance the Knights and equipments out, along with various support cards like Leonin Shikari. She does cost a hefty 6 mana so it's likely she's going to end up being mid-late game refueling in a color combo that doesn't offer much to push up to that amount of mana, so keep that in mind, she's not going to be an early threat.
Beyond the obvious uses in Arcades, the Strategist, this thing is one of the cheapest mass haste enablers you can get, especially outside of red. Paradoxially you have to wait a turn to actually be able to use it unless you equip it with some Lightning Greaves for example - and don't ask me how to equip boots on a drawbridge. That said, this thing's best uses is to just drop it among your other stuff early game, and then go for a massive haymaker like Genesis Wave, using the bridge to let your army crash into your opposition. It is a bit of a telegraphed play, but other times you'll find the bridge just laying around a few turns doing nothing of note until you're ready to win. It's better than one'd think at first glance.
Eggs is an archetype that sees some play left and right, and I can see two of the new Commanders in the set (Alela and Korvold) go for such builds as well. Getting a new literal Egg for that gameplan is always useful. It's a bit costier than your typical Chromatic Sphere variant, but it is a bit more flexible in that it can make use of the various Food synergies - not that they're very good - should you so desire, or it can be cracked for a bit of life if you really need it. It's not the best Egg but it's not without it's uses.
This is a card that wants to be played in mono-color aggressive decks. In particular White and Red decks will want to take a look at this, providing you with both a mediocre mana rock and a mediocre anthem for the cost, combining to make a card that takes the two roles into something somewhat playable. It's not an all star by any means, but it's a combination that enables you to progress your gameplan even while dropping a mana rock, which can help piling up early game pressure. Multi-colored decks will want to stay away as they should have better and faster options available to them.
There's simple advice you can give to every new Commander player when it comes to card acquisition. Get enough Sol Rings, pick up copies of cheap removal spells and boardwipes...count the number of non-green Commander decks you have, and buy that many Arcane Signets. Arcane Signet is the best 2-mana mana rock around, beating out Signets and Talismans, as well as any Colorless option, as something that can come down, immediately tap for colored mana without hurting yourself, allowing you to immediately use it again. Even Green decks should consider this if they have a lot of 4 drops in the build, as while it's not as good generally as a typical ramp spell at that point, it's still a way to get to that critical point.
While there are some synergies that may make cards like the Signets or Thought Vessel or even Mind Stone better in the 2-drop-slot in some occasions, overall, nothing will consistently beat Arcane Signet, it's just that good.
Tome of Legends
This is the kind of card that aggressive commanders will want. Commanders like Zurgo Bellstriker, who comes out early and starts smashing stuff, or Kaalia of the Vast, they'll both appreciate the Tome and can fuel it with page counters so you can keep drawing for cheap. These specifics make it better in colors with bad card draw such as White and Red, so if you're in those colors and your commander often attacks or enters the battlefield, give the Tome a whirl. And play it with Norin the Wary, because that's fair, right?
While not the best of the Castles, Ardenvale is still a callback to Kjeldoran Outpost which is a good card, it's just a bit limited in its applications in Commander. It of course goes best with Skullclamp and Seedborn Muse, or in controlling shells to help you quickly get a chump out after a boardwipe. Beyond that its value quickly diminishes, but - and this goes for each of the castles - if you're in mono, there is very little opportunity cost in including it into your deck, and once every while you just might get value out of it. It gets worse if you add more colors and by that point, unless you can make strong use of it, its best avoided.
While an army-wide +1/+0 may not be a huge buff, having it on a land means that it can catch people off guard as a very hard to counteract option that enables one to punch through just that last bit of damage. It goes well in most red-based strategies, as long as you're pointing creatures at your opponent you'll want to include it given the low opportunity cost.
Temple of the False God is a bit of a trap in my opinion as a land you really don't want to have in the early game, and in creature-based decks, Castle Garenbrig features the same role except it can start working from your second land drop on as a normal land, and pick up more steam later on. It goes out of hand fast if you have a Mana Reflection out, letting you tap for a whopping 8 net mana. The downsides are that the mana is restricted to creatures and their activated abilities and it's actively worse in multicolor decks, but I feel this should be a mono green staple.
Vying with its blue counterpart for the title of best in the cycle, Locthwain is straight carddraw on a land, which is a strong ability even if the life cost can go out of hand badly. Black has a lot of incidental lifegain that's actually good though, with this set even providing a perfect Commander in Ayara, first of Locthwain for such strategy, making it easy to mitigate the drawback. All in all a fantastic land and one of the best in the set.
Said counterpart being Castle Vantress, which doesn't draw but lets you filter through cards by scrying. Vantress goes best in control shells where you can simply hold up the mana and use the effect if you don't have anything you wish to cast, letting you dig towards your answers or your own threats. That said it should go in just about every blue-based deck anyway as there'll always be that one turn or two where you just don't have anything much to do, and scrying for 2 without spending a card is never a bad deal.
Much like the Castles, the lands-with-basic-type Eldraine offers all have low opportunity cost, but needing three lands of the appropriate basic land type does restrict them a fair bit more. On the upside, being able to be retrieved with fetchlands like Wooded Foothills is a big plus. Dwarven Mine is probably the most average of the three, it's not very good as a single 1/1 token won't ever do much, but it's just a free token, and Skullclamp can make use of that. Probably wouldn't play it outside of mono-red myself.
Prismatic Vista this isn't, but it's a big step up from Evolving Wilds and the likes. I don't think the untap clause warrants the shift to rare but here we are. If you rely a lot on landfall or play effects in the vein of Crucible of Worlds, this is probably on the must-acquire list. Pending how the price works out it can also end up being a decent budget mana fixer. It's useable, nothing great, but also not terrible.
One might notice I've skipped on Gingerbread House and Idyllic Grange - that's because their effects really are too poor to really matter, so we move on to the best land in the cycle instead. Mystic Sanctuary is...crazy, for the lack of a better word. Recurring instants and sorceries, albeit at a slowed rate, is a fantastic effect especially when you can pull it off instant speed via a fetchland, and various synergies can make it even better. For starters there's God-Eternal Kefnet, and what to think of Meloku, the Clouded Mirror next to that? There are several ways to go infinite this way. Not bad for a wee little island.
A bit of a play on Mortuary Mire except better due to being fetchable, counting as a Swamp (Cabal Coffers approves!) and having the option of entering untapped. I don't expect it to see as much play as the Sanctuary, but this is the kind of land that will see play simply due to the lack of a real cost associated with it. It kind of sucks to have in your hand early game, but even then it's just a swamp at worst so no harm done.
So that brings us to the end of the Eldraine review. Personally I think it's a bit of a shame that we only stick around for one set here as I genuinely like the artstyle and the somewhat more whimsical style the set brings, but then I enjoyed Lorwyn just as much. I'm also a bit peeved that there's no card for my namesake, but there's only so much Wizards could fit in.
When it comes to the main set, there's not much one can complain about. There are various new cards that can become roleplayers or even deck archetypes, new commanders for all mono colors - although it's clear White got the shorter end of the stick there - and a bevy of new utility lands that don't tap for colorless.
The Brawl decks will be more divisive. Beyond the obscene power level Chulane and to a slightly lower degree Korvold is at, as well as just how good Arcane Signet is with it being the kind of card that should be in actual Commander precons, these decks are an interesting take but the way the cards in it have been designed and get distributed is a bit hit and miss. Even so it provides some more interesting toys as well, it is however my hope that Arcane Signet will be reprinted into the ground.
Overall though, I'm happy with Eldraine. I hope Food gets explored more as there's some design space there but having only one set of it means it's just not enough to reliably build around in Commander. The same goes for Adventures - some of them are playable, but the Adventures-Matters cards really aren't outside of 5 color Adventures Tribal. And I know I'd enjoy playing against something like that.
However I do feel I'm forgetting something...
...oh right, the buy-a-box promo this go around is actually a Legendary Creature, so let's have a look at Kenrith, the Returned King while closing out. Until next set!
Kenrith, the Returned King
We couldn't have had a Grimm meets Arthurian set without a King Arthur himself and here he is. With beefy base stats and a flurry of abilities, it's clear that King Kenrith is designed to truly be a leader of the five circles of knights, and his abilities show for it, making him very flexible to build around. You can go aggro, lifegain, control and even reanimator with him, and that part of the design I appreciate.
However, I'm not happy with how we're getting yet another 5 color Commander that can be cast with just one color while being an infinite mana outlet. It seems to be a design Wizards has grown fond of recently and while it makes for some interesting legends, the ease with which these decks can win isn't particulary fun. His blue ability, making a target player draw a card, is the issue in this case. I really wish they could've put something else there but I suppose they went for simple abilities as to preserve card text. I do hope he gets built more often without actual infinite combos in his decks.