Commander Masters: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
It's that time of the month again - the rootin' tootin' shooting gallery that is The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Thank goodness that, after the agonizing marathon of LTR, CMM gives us a quite modest number of legends to run through.
Out of the starting gate, Omarthis is a weird one. Colorless +1 counter tribal with manifest as a payoff? Needing Omarthis to die in order to get the manifests is pretty awkward too, and a lot of the best colorless counter-based creatures make poor manifests as they have zero base toughness. I can't really see this being any good even setting aside the CI restrictions.
Final Judgment: Bad
Double cascade is quite a bit of value. On the other hand, a 6 drop with no immediate effect is a disaster waiting to happen, 7-drops are usually difficult to run many of, and colorless is literally the worst color identity. This deck will almost certainly be built in a consistent way - lots of ramp, and then a fair chunk of big fat value. Most likely that will mean cascading into more ramp rather than value, and could make Zhulodok tend to run out of gas more often compared to current most popular mono-brown commander Kozilek, the Great Distortion. Between the risk of removal and the weakness of mono-brown, I don't think it's a particularly strong build in 2023, and cascade isn't really my cup of tea, but I suspect the sort of people who enjoy playing mono-brown in the first place will be interested in this sort of dumb value engine.
Final Judgment: Bad
The first two lines of text are pretty uninteresting here, as is her power/toughness/cost, so let's cut to the chase and look at that big paragraph. Basically on etb and attack, she reanimates an enchantment while turning it into a 3/3 menace. People love enchantress for some reason, but the ability isn't as synergistic as one might like, given that most enchantress cards care about casting enchantments, not putting them directly into play. Needing to attack is also a somewhat vexing issue as she's not particularly well suited to combat, and protective auras don't even synergize with her directly. Might be better to just plan on blinking her. I'd imagine the best route is to lean into the necessity of combat and vulnerability of turning your enchantments into creatures, and just run a bunch of anthems to make a powerful enchantment army alongside her. That doesn't sound particularly strong, but I don't think she's that strong in general.
Final Judgment: Just barely good
Planeswalker commanders are always tough to evaluate against creatures, but let's break Guff down. He's got three abilities - a triggered ability that gives you a free loyalty counter as long as you control at least one other planeswalker, a plus to get a planeswalker-only mana dork, and a minus to draw and deal damage to enemies equal to the number of planeswalkers you control. So there's not a lot of ambiguity about what sort of build Guff wants - he's a planeswalker commander for a planeswalker deck. His triggered ability only needs one other walker, but his loyalty ability wants you to keep casting and controlling planeswalkers respectively. Generally I think the strongest planeswalker decks are those that focus on either wiping the board constantly and/or using doubling effects to immediately ult their planeswalkers, and Guff doesn't particularly incentivize either option between his gradual loyalty counters and his mana dorks. His triggered is a much less powerful version of Atraxa's, and his minus seems pretty lackluster for the loyalty cost, requiring you to already have a lot of power on the board before it's very interesting. Planeswalker decks generally tend to be somewhat maligned by casual groups because they can get snowbally and tend to dominate the field for a while before actually winning, but in terms of power I don't think they're terribly strong, and I don't think Guff's method is a very effective way to do it either, even though I do prefer the gradual advantages design-wise over the doubling season strats.
Final Judgment: Good
Starting off with most of a Mantis Rider is a solid start, but the french vanilla stat stick is mostly in service to the triggered ability, where things get more interesting. I think Leori tricks people a little by seeming to fuel a (insert planeswalker character here) tribal deck - chandra, jace, maybe gideon or elspeth - but I don't think the ability to double or triple up on value is such a huge factor here. There aren't enough of any single planeswalker. Sure, Chandra has 19, but many of those are pretty atrocious, and almost half cost 6, which is going to be difficult to get multiple on board simultaneously, especially when you don't want to wipe the board in order to keep Leori in play. Of course you may occasionally get double value, but I think generally it's best to think of Leori as primarily a single-target ability that lets you cast the planeswalker post combat. And as long as we've mostly ignored the potential for double value, you only need one planeswalker in play to get the value off Leori, so your planeswalker count probably doesn't need to be too terribly high unless you want to invest in additional planeswalker synergies. Personally I think he's more interesting helming a tokeny planeswalker deck with anthems and equipment to buff the tokens and ensure Leori continues to get through - a lot of the most exciting planeswalker abilities to double are token creation. An interesting build overall, that I think could go in a lot of different directions.
Final Judgment: Good
Narci certainly looks like she wants you to build a saga tribal deck, apparently unaware that the role was just filled in LTR. Which is a bit of a specter hanging over her - Bombadil does cost 1 more, but he gives you five-color access and a much stronger ability, not to mention the potential to be nearly unkillable. He also doesn't require as high of a density of sagas to be effective, since he keeps finding them on his own, though at least Narci doesn't throttle the rewards in the way Tom does. There's also competition from enchantress commanders like Sythis, Harvest's Hand which provide similar value with fewer restrictions and without the wait at a lower cost. We could look towards non-saga synergies, like Seal of Primordium, although those also generally favor Sythis. But then, Sythis is pretty broken and sagas are more fun than the tedium of enchantress classic. I'm not sure how much I value the life drain part - her abilities are a bit at odds since the draw prefers cheap sagas while the latter prefers big ones - but overall I think she's pretty well designed, if not competitive with existing options.
Final Judgment: Good
I have no idea where to put the emphasis in this name. Is it ROOK-a-ROOM-ell? Roo-CARE-uh-mel? And her text box is as confusing as her name. At a glance it seems like she's a sliver tribal commander, but actually she has little to do with slivers. She's essentially a Conspiracy (or Arcane Adaptation) in the command zone that only effects nontoken creatures, unless those tokens are slivers. And there aren't very many things that make sliver tokens. But, she is one of them, so her tap ability basically makes a 1/1 token of whichever type you picked. Now, how useful is that? She doesn't really pull off the omni-tribal deck because she only gives your creatures a single additional type, so you probably need to plan in advance which type that's going to be, and then include tribal effects for that type plus some other creatures which get a significant benefit from it. I think that's going to prove pretty difficult - a lot of the value omni-tribal decks get is being able to use powerful lords from undersupported tribes, like Gilt-Leaf Archdruid, and actually use them without committing to a terrible deck with one good card. But that doesn't really work here because unless you draw the archdruid, naming druid doesn't do you any good. The best use I can think of is with rebels, since they're both an undersupported tribe and also all of the tutoring ones are really powerful. They just lack a payoff because all they can do is tutor each other up and then be dumb vanilla creatures. I wouldn't be surprised if there are other interesting angles to this, and I do think it's fun to have conspiracy as an option in the CZ, though I think most people will read "sliver" and play it wrong.
Final Judgment: Good
Those slivers keep finding new ultimate versions to lead them, don't they? Sliver Queen has certainly lost a lot of her luster. Despite my disdain for tribal decks, I have to admit I do have a soft spot (or at least a slightly-less-hard spot) for slivers as they were one of my first decks back in 2003 or so (Magma Sliver was my favorite). And honestly I think gravemother is probably the most interesting sliver lord since at least Sliver Overlord. A lot of sliver abilities are redundant in multiples, but simply creating a lot of bodies on the cheap is a big game for slivers, which are typically not very good at creating tokens. I think the play patterns are fairly unique for gravemother as well, since she can happily pile up slivers in the grave, even including herself, to erupt explosively for a big alpha strike. Sliver Legion in particular can create some disgustingly large numbers, but even the humble muscle sliver becomes a 2 mana Overrun with 3 bodies attached. Buried Alive as a setup card could be a strong choice rather than going full tribal, though much more fragile. I don't think she'll be fast enough to be obnoxious, but she's definitely going to make people regret not packing grave hate.
Final Judgment: Good
After the vast swaths of jank from LTR, it's not much of a surprise that CMM's selection is much more curated for commander, being a commander-only set and only having precon commanders (though in fairness LTC has plenty of awful commanders too). With commander releases, the themes tend to be a bit boring for me - superfriends, eldrazi, enchantress, and slivers don't hit too high on my interest - but all the designs are pretty interesting and took a while to analyze.
Until next time, cowpokes.