Everybody Needs Somebody - Pairing up the New Partners
Commander Legends hits the shelves shortly, and one of the major selling points is that there are 40 new, mono-colored Commanders with Partner (and The Prismatic Piper, but it's considerably less exciting). This brings the total number of Legends with the Partner mechanic from 15 to a whopping 56, which grows the number of possible combinations by an order of magnitude. That's an awful lot of possibilities, so it helps to narrow the field to commanders who have some level of synergy. Commander Legends' draft format has ten color pair archetypes, and each of those has one pair of uncommon Partner Legends. On top of that, each color has one Partner with an artifact focus, one "Familiar" that boosts all of your Commanders, a Rare Partner, and a Mythic Partner. Of course, there's a lot of cross-over between the various themes. For instance, Nadier, Agent of the Duskenel is designed to be the White/Black partner to support the Tokens theme, but he's also an Elf (supporting the Black/Green theme), uses +1/+1 counters (the White/Green theme), and likes being able to be sacrificed at will and creates sacrifice fodder (supporting the Red/Black theme). Additionally, some of the original two-color partners have great pairings with some of the new partners.
White/Blue, as it often does, has a flying theme for their partners. Radiant rewards you for playing other fliers by granting her Protection, letting her dodge removal and punch through blockers. Siani likewise wants you to play a lot of fliers to scry large amounts on the attack step.
This theme can be expanded in various ways. Akroma, Vision of Ixidor is a powerful flier in her own right and can also buff your fliers with her ability, rewarding you for going wide or additionally buffing Radiant for her Protection. Alharu, Solemn Ritualist does not have flying, but they create flying tokens, which can help fuel Siani's scry or Radiant's protection. Eligeth, Crossroads Augur, Esior, Wardwing Familiar, Malcolm Keen-Eyed Navigator, and Sengir, the Dark Baron are other mono-colored partners with flying. Eligeth in particular pairs very well with Siani, as Eligeth turns Siani's scry into draws. Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker, Kraum, Ludevic's Opus, and Ravos, Soultender are two-colored partners with flying that can help take the flying deck into more colors.
Blue/Black takes an interesting direction for their theme. The color pair focuses on filling up the graveyard through various means, and then returning those cards to hand or the battlefield. Ramirez lets you return milled or discarded cards to your hand, and Tormod creates zombies whenever cards leave your graveyard, be that via to-hand recursion, reanimation, or exiling to pay a cost.
Several other partners in the set can supplement these two as well. Glacian, Powerstone Engineer and Keskit, the Flesh Sculptor both have draw-type abilities that also put cards from the library into the graveyard. Armix, Filigree Thrasher discards a card on attack, which Ramirez can then return to hand, and also benefits from milling a number of artifacts into your graveyard. In terms of two-colored partners, Ravos, Soultender and Silas Renn, Seeker Adept both have abilities that can recur cards from the graveyard as well.
Black/Red has another fairly common theme: self-sacrifice. Both Keskit and Dargo can help you in sacrificing artifacts and creatures, and Dargo drastically reduces his mana cost based on the things you've sacrificed this turn. Activating Keskit gives you enough dying artifacts and creatures to reduce Dargo's cost down to a single Red mana, becoming a powerful threat very early.
Because of the open-ended nature of sacrificing artifacts or enchantments, there's a lot of opportunity for mixing in other creatures. Token generators like Alharu, Solemn Ritualist, Prava of the Steel Legion, Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools, Tormod, the Desecrator, Nadier, Agent of the Duskenel, and Ich-Tekik, Salvage Splicer all provide bodies to be sacrificed. Even non-creature token makers like Malcolm Keen-Eyed Navigator and Toggo, Goblin Weaponsmith can provide fuel for Keskit or Dargo. Of the two-colored partners, Tana, the Bloodsower makes the best partner here, creating tokens and adding access to green.
Hal and Alena head up Red/Green's theme, which is based around playing creatures with high Power. Alena generates a large amount of mana based on the strongest creature that entered this turn, while Halana lets every creature you play or create strike your opponents' creatures with a one-sided fight effect a la Rabid Bite. While they work well together, you can also break them up (you monster!) and pair them with other partners. Any sufficiently large partner can make for a great tag-in: Akroma, Vision of Ixidor, Radiant, Serra Archangel, Brinelin, the Moon Kraken, Eligeth, Crossroads Augur, Dargo, the Shipwrecker, Kamahl, Heart of Krosa, Kodama of the East Tree, or Slurrk, All-Ingesting. Brinelin in particular stands out as it lets you bounce and replay your large creatures. Similarly, Livio, Oathsworn Sentinel can be used to flicker your large creatures, re-triggering the one-sided fights or Alena's mana generation. In terms of two-colored partners, Akiri, Line-Slinger has the potential to grow exceptionally large, while Silas Renn, Seeker Adept has Deathtouch that can work well with Halana's bite ability.
Green/White embraces another popular theme for their colors, +1/+1 counters. The specific take is a little off from standard, however. Both Alharu and Slurrk bring +1/+1 counters along with them, and then have abilities that trigger when creatures with +1/+1 counters die. This encourages a self-sacrifice type build on top of the counters, as well as token generation to keep the sacrifice fodder up. Other Partners that play well with or generate +1/+1 counters include Keleth, Sunmane Familiar, Nadier, Agent of the Duskenel, Sengir, the Dark Baron, Ich-Tekik, Salvage Splicer, and Numa, Joraga Chieftain. Nadier and Ich-Tekkik are particularly good here as they also care about your dying cards, and make their own tokens. Sengir similarly already wants to see creatures dying. Prava of the Steel Legion, Tormod, the Desecrator. and Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools are other token generators, while Tevesh, Keskit, the Flesh Sculptor, and Dargo, the Shipwrecker can help with sacrificing your creatures to trigger Alharu or Slurrk. For two-colored Partners, Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker and Reyhan, Last of the Abzan also deal with +1/+1 counters, with Reyhan also rewarding you for creatures with +1/+1 counters dying.
Token themes have frequently shown up in the past in White/Green, but this time White/Black takes a crack at it. Prava generates tokens and provides a quite powerful buff to them, while Nadier grows from tokens dying and makes a pile of tokens on his own death. There's a number of ways this can be mixed and matched: Alharu, Solemn Ritualist, Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools, Tormod, the Desecrator, and Ich-Tekik, Salvage Splicer all create tokens of their own. Nadier works with any type of tokens leaving the battlefield, so Toggo, Goblin Weaponsmith and Malcolm Keen-Eyed Navigator both work decently well with him. Nadier also triggers on any time he leaves the battlefield, so he can be flickered with Livio, Oathsworn Sentinel or bounced with Brinelin, the Moon Kraken to get tokens equal to his power and still keep him around. Kamahl, Heart of Krosa provides a powerful teamwide buff that can turn a pile of tokens into lethal damage. Tana, the Bloodsower is a powerful two-colored option for a token generator to pair with any of these, while Ravos, Soultender's anthem effect can be useful as well.
Pirates is a theme that has previously only shown up in Ixalan, but now it takes to the Commander stage as the Blue/Red theme. Malcolm and Breeches both have abilities that trigger on hitting your opponents with one or more pirates. With a couple of creatures punching through each turn, Malcolm can earn you multiple treasures, while Breeches steals multiple cards to cast off of those treasures. Additionally, both Ghost of Ramirez DePietro and Dargo, the Shipwrecker are Pirates, meaning they can be swapped in to mix and match. Dargo-Malcolm is an interesting pair, as Malcolm's treasure tokens can rapidly accelerate Dargo out. None of the original two-colored commanders are pirates, but Malcolm could be paired with Vial Smasher the Fierce or Breeches with Silas Renn, Seeker Adept in order to gain access to the black Pirate tribal cards from Ixalan.
Like Blue/Red, Black/Green has a primarily tribal theme. Miara is a powerful draw engine, turning every Elf into a draw on death. Meanwhile, Numa provides a powerful mana sink, letting you grown your own field of Elves by dumping excess mana into her. Given that Elf decks are known for producing prodigious amounts of mana from cards like Priest of Titania and Elvish Archdruid, both of these effects are very powerful for the tribe. Nadier, Agent of the Duskenel and Gilanra, Caller of Wirewood are also both Elves, and can be mixed in with powerful results. In particular, Nadier and Miara can make for a powerful self-sacrificing Elf tokens deck, while Numa can boost Nadier by dumping +1/+1 counters on him to get more Elf tokens out when he dies. Notably, Tana, the Bloodsower is also an Elf, meaning she can be paired with Nadier or Miara to create a three-colored Elf tribal deck.
The Red/White theme for Commander Legends is Voltron. For those unfamiliar with the term, Voltron strategies are based on slapping a large number of equipment, auras, and other buffs onto a single creature, generally the Commander, to quickly take out opponents. It's named after the cartoon Voltron, in which several robots come together to form one unstoppable giant robot; similarly, the equipment and auras come together with the Commander to create a behemoth. Ardenn lets you bypass equip costs and move auras around, rebuilding quickly if the Voltron creature is removed. Rograkh is a cheap (free!) creature that comes equipped with several keywords that make him an attractive target for buffs. Voltron is a generally very open-ended strategy. The Familiars are at their best here, as keeping the Commander alive and swinging to the best of its ability is paramount. Akroma, Vision of Ixidor, Kamahl, Heart of Krosa, and Jeska, Thrice Reborn all have ways to buff up the Voltron creature to be a powerful threat. Any creature that's large and has built-in evasion and/or protection is a reasonable option as well, including Radiant, Serra Archangel, Dargo, the Shipwrecker, and Sengir, the Dark Baron. Toggo, Goblin Weaponsmith creates a number of equipment tokens that don't do much on their own, but can be combined with cards like Golem-Skin Gauntlets to provide meaningful buffs. Several of the two-colored Partners are good options for a Voltron deck as well. Tana, the Bloodsower amplifies buffs by spitting out tokens. Tymna the Weaver has lifelink, which is another way to amplify power buffs. Akiri, Line-Slinger can gain a ton of power and works well with piles of equipment, while Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder grants both lifelink and double strike to really power up whoever's carrying the gear into the red zone. Silas Renn, Seeker Adept brings back dead equipment for another shot.
The Green/Blue theme focuses on casting expensive spells, specifically those with 6 or more converted mana cost. Gilanra is a ramp Elf who can draw off of one of these spells per turn, while Brinelin turns every one into a bounce effect. Both of these cards can work well when paired with another partner with converted mana cost six or greater, like Akroma, Vision of Ixidor, Radiant, Serra Archangel, Eligeth, Crossroads Augur, Glacian, Powerstone Engineer, Nadier, Agent of the Duskenel, Sengir, the Dark Baron, Dargo, the Shipwrecker, Kamahl, Heart of Krosa, Kodama of the East Tree, or Slurrk, All-Ingesting. Additionally, Alena, Kessig Trapper can be used to help ramp into these large creatures and springboard off their high powers into multiple spells. None of the two-colored Partners have a converted mana cost of over 5, but Vial Smasher the Fierce enjoys it when you cast expensive spells, and Kydele, Chosen of Kruphix is another option to ramp into expensive spells quickly.
As mentioned, each color has one uncommon Partner commander that does not tie into any of its color pair themes directly, but rather has some level of artifact synergy. Rebbec helps protect your artifacts. Glacian turns them into a draw and graveyard fuel engine. Armix blasts things based on the number of artifacts in play and in your graveyard. Toggo generates a lot of artifacts to be used to fuel the others. And Ich-Tekik produces a golem and benefits from artifacts dying. Some of these work better together than others - Toggo, for instance, can create fodder for Glacian, increase artifact count for Armix, or create sacrificial fodder for Ich-Tekik, but does not do anything particularly impressive with Rebbec. The self-sacrifice Partners - Dargo, the Shipwrecker and Keskit, the Flesh Sculptor - work well here as they can interact with artifacts as well. Akiri, Line-Slinger and Silas Renn, Seeker Adept both interact well with artifacts as well and can pair with pretty much any of the above.
Each color also has, as an uncommon Partner, a Familiar. Each of these provides a benefit to each commander you control. This means they work well with any strategy that has a strong focus on the Commander. Keleth adds +1/+1 counters to attacking Commanders, making him a decent option for any Voltron strategy, as well as synergizing with +1/+1 counter based Commanders like those mentioned in the Green/White section. Esior helps protect Commanders from spot removal, which is generally strong with any standalone-powerful Commander like Kodama of the East Tree. It also has Flying, which works well with Commanders like Radiant, Serra Archangel and Siani, Eye of the Storm. Falthis grants Deathtouch and Menace to Commanders. Deathtouch is particularly strong with Trampling Partners like Akroma, Vision of Ixidor, Dargo, the Shipwrecker, Rograkh, Son of Rohgahh. Tana, the Bloodsower, and particularly Kamahl, Heart of Krosa, which gives you minimum 14 Trample Deathtouch damage from Commanders if they're both out. It also works well with Commanders that enable creatures to deal direct damage, like Toggo, Goblin Weaponsmith and Halana, Kessig Ranger. Kediss turns any Commander damage dealt to an opponent into equal damage to each other opponent, amplifying Voltron effects to kill the entire board quickly. Do note that this damage does not count as Commander damage, but it can very quickly rack up and finish off players. Anara grants Commanders you control Indestructible on your turn. Again, this is powerful for Voltron creatures, but it has applications outside of that. Fragile "saboteur" or "when attacks" Commanders with triggers that are based off of hitting the opponent like Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper, Silas Renn, Seeker Adept, Tana, the Bloodsower, Tymna the Weaver, Ghost of Ramirez DePietro, and Kediss, Emberclaw Familiar benefit greatly from being indestructible. Falthis, Shadowcat Familiar plus Anara can force your opponent to chose between taking Commander hits or being forced to double chump block each attacking Commander. Anara also works well with any White or Black Partners which can field Wrath of God effects that will leave both Commanders unscathed. Particularly potent for this combination is Sengir, the Dark Baron, who will pick up two +1/+1 counters for each creature that dies in this way.
White's rare Partner is Livio, Oathsworn Sentinel, which provides the ability to flicker your creatures. Doing so is fairly costly - for each target and then another and tapping to bring all the exiled creatures back, which makes it difficult to go infinite with (unlike, say, Deadeye Navigator). However, this can still be used to take advantage of Enters the Battlefield triggers like Brinelin, the Moon Kraken, Alharu, Solemn Ritualist, and Ich-Tekik, Salvage Splicer, or to flicker other creatures to fuel commanders like Halana, Kessig Ranger and Kodama of the East Tree. Livio plus Brinelin seems particularly potent, as Brinelin's bounce can be used to re-trigger Enters the Battlefield abilities as well, making for a deck that plays in similar space to Brago, King Eternal, but at different times.
White's mythic Partner is Akroma, Vision of Ixidor. With 6/6 stats and a fat stack of keywords, Akroma on her own can do a lot of work as a Voltron-type commander. But on top of that, she anthems all of your creatures based on their keywords. This is potent with Commanders that can grant keywords, like Falthis, Shadowcat Familiar, Kamahl, Heart of Krosa, and Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder. Kamahl in particular can be quite the beating. Every animated land gains Vigilance, Haste, and Indestructible, plus Kamahl himself grants Trample and +3/+3, meaning after all of the abilities have resolved, the 1/1 lands are up to 8/8's, along with a 10/10 Kamahl and a 9/9 Akroma, threatening to quickly wipe out the entire table. Also particularly potent is Sakashima of a Thousand Faces - each Akroma grants the other +5/+5, making them each 11-power Commanders who can threaten two-swing kills.
Blue's rare Partner is Eligeth, Crossroads Augur. This potent sphinx turns any Scry effect into a corresponding number of draws. The most obvious Partners for Eligeth are those that have their own scry abilities - Siani, Eye of the Storm and Thrasios, Triton Hero. Additional card draw helps fuel Commanders that are great at ramping but can fall short if they run out of cards, like Kodama of the East Tree. Beyond that, Eligeth is a powerful, expensive flier, meaning he synergizes decently with the Power Matters Partners and the High Converted Mana Cost partners.
Blue's mythic rare Partner is Sakashima of a Thousand Faces. Sakashima is quite interesting in that she enables you to copy your Commander without risking dying to the Legend rule. And, on top of that, she disables the Legend rule entirely for your side of the table, which enables some additional shenanigans involving additional copies. A number of the Partner Commanders get significantly more powerful if you can double up their effects. Akroma, Vision of Ixidor has each Akroma buff the other into a minimum 11/11. Kamahl, Heart of Krosa grants every creature +6/+6, including making both Kamahls 11/11. Kodama of the East Tree in multiples gets truly disgusting, allowing you to do things like repeatedly bounce and replay a Ravnica bounce land like Simic Growth Chamber or Oboro, Palace in the Clouds, triggering Landfall each time.
Black's rare Partner is Sengir, the Dark Baron. He provides a powerful Aristocrats-style payoff, growing larger for each dying creature. This pairs nicely with Red/Black's self-sacrifice theme, as well as with token generation and Anara, Wolvid Familiar plus Damnation effects. Additionally, killing a player lets you steal their life total, which can provide huge swings to keep you alive longer. None of the Partners directly interact with lifegain, but it's still a nice perk.
Black's mythic rare is Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools. Tevesh, like Sengir, works nicely in an Aristocrats or Self-Sacrifice style shell, offering token generation and a built-in way to sacrifice creatures. Tevesh also does well with the Red/Black self-sacrifice partners, as well as token generation and go-wide buffs like Kamahl, Heart of Krosa.
Red's rare is a real head-scratcher. Krark, the Thumbless, provides a coinflip ability that can copy instant and sorcery spells or return them to your hand. None of the Partner Commanders have a direct relationship with either coinflips or casting instants and sorceries, but Krark does have one Partner in crime he loves: Sakashima of a Thousand Faces. Sakashima not only copies Krark's ability, providing a 50% chance of both copying and returning to hand your spell in a Narset's Reversal play, and a 25% chance of double-copying the spell, but the Mirror Gallery ability also enables shenanigans involving multiple copies of Krark's Thumb using artifact clones. Krark on his own may be goofy, but with several copies of Krark and several of his spare thumbs, every spellcast has a significant chance of both getting copies and returning to hand, which can quickly become oppressively powerful.
Red's mythic rare is the much more straight-foward Jeska, Thrice Reborn. Jeska comes in with variable loyalty based on how many times your Commanders have been cast from the Command Zone, and then has two potent loyalty abilities. Her 0 is extremely powerful with Voltron Commanders, providing tripled damage to players, which can turn even a small Voltron apparatus into a one-shot kill. Her -X provides a payoff for casting your Commander a number of times, letting you burn down up to three targets, like, say, all three of your opponents? Arbitrarily large numbers of Commander castings can be obtained using Dargo, the Shipwrecker and something like Phyrexian Altar. Rograkh, Son of Rohgahh is cheap enough to cast a bunch of times. There's also potentially setups involving Alena, Kessig Trapper or Kydele, Chosen of Kruphix with a sac outlet and a haste enabler, or maybe a couple copies of Myth Unbound. However you choose to do it, Jeska is ready and waiting to burn your opponents down.
Green's rare Partner is Kodama of the East Tree. This card is, frankly, absurd. It provides a powerful ramp engine and payoff, letting you cheat in cards, including lands, whenever you do basic things. Once you start doing beyond-basic things? It quickly spirals out of control. Two partners provide immediate routes to infinites: Toggo, Goblin Weaponsmith and Sakashima of a Thousand Faces. Toggo creates a rock for each land that comes into play, so if a bounceland like Gruul Turf is played, it can be self-bounced and put immediately back in off of the Kodama trigger from the rock. Likewise, Sakashima gives you two Kodamas, whose cheated-in permanents each fulfill the "wasn't put into the battlefield by this ability" clause and therefore trigger each other, allowing you to chain permanents into play with each and every card played, as well as creating infinite bounceland loops. Even without either of these, any landfall token generator like Scute Swarm, Field of the Dead, or Zendikar's Roil will trigger off of a land entering and immediately enable you to put in another land if you have one, or the same land if it's a bounce land. Scute Swarm is particularly disgusting at this, as its copy tokens have a 3 converted mana cost and can drop in additional things above just lands, and you end up getting multiple copies on each landfall. Throw a mutation on top of it and you can bring that converted mana cost up further, letting you potentially dump your entire hand into play each landfall. All that's needed to break any of these situations is a way to consistently draw cards, like Tatyova, Benthic Druid, Aesi, Tyrant of Gyre Strait, Garruk's Uprising (with a token generator like Rampaging Baloths or a mutated Scute Swarm), and similar, and Kodma will end the game extremely quickly.
By contrast, Green's mythic rare Partner, Kamahl, seems almost tame. Despite being costed over the previous Kamahl, he largely seems less threatening as he can't be used as wrath insurance by threatening opposing lands, nor can he be used to multi-overrun with Gaea's Cradle or similar effects for a devastating game ender. Regardless, he is still powerful, and has a lot of strong partner options mentioned above, like Akroma, Vision of Ixidor, Sakashima of a Thousand Faces, Falthis, Shadowcat Familiar, and others.
So which Commanders are you looking forward to pairing? Come on over to the Commander discussion area and chime in!