A Legendary Look At Commander 2016

Join Erik Tiernan as he studies all the incredible new Commander goods we’re getting with Commander 2016! Which cards are you stoked about?

With preview season well underway for Commander 2016, we can see the new legendary creatures Wizards is printing. We are getting twenty new commanders. Twenty! This is a massive shake-up in the format. We finally have official four-color legendary creatures; no more Nephilim creatures filling the gap. We also add five new ally-color* decks and ten new enemy-color* options.

*The easy way to remember ally and enemy colors: ally colors are next to each other on the back of a Magic card, while enemy colors are across.

But Wizards also introduced a new mechanic, partner which allows you to play with two different commanders as long as both have partner. This provides 105 combinations for potential commanders. This introduces more three-color shard options like Esper and Bant and three color wedge options like Temur and Mardu. You can also double partner on enemy colors for a R/W deck with two commanders or run any of the partner commanders solo.

I’ve written entire articles on a single legendary creature, and while I do appreciate Wizards giving me enough material to last half a year (solo commanders), the timeliness of those articles would be poor. In our current age of internet previews, reviews, discussions, and deck techs, we can have a feeling that Commander is a “solved” format. While this is far from the truth, when so many people walk the same path of deckbuilding, it certainly feels true. Instead, I want to provide an overview of the commanders and discuss a few cool things you can do with them.

The W/U/B/R commander mashes mono-red artifacts and Esper artifacts into one hodgepodge of a deck. Breya has a lot of potential for combo, aggro, and control builds. Looping endless little balls of synergy is what attracts me to this card. I think sacrificing two artifacts is going to chew up more resources than people realize, and the mana cost on Breya’s effect is small but not insignificant. I think she will be a useful card in her decks, but not something people are seeking to activate every turn.

This is not something we get to see every day: an aggressive U/B commander. The blue Spellbombs (Aether Spellbomb and Flight Spellbomb) and Executioner’s Capsule are fantastic for helping force Silas through. Then you can pick them back up and get set for the next turn. Deathtouch provides great synergy with anything giving Silas trample. If you go wide, Silas can get back token makers and other value cards to keep the deck humming.

And if you need more, you can pair Silas with nineteen other legendary creatures to do whatever you want to do. Staying four-color, I really like Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder to deal more damage with Silas and get more artifacts back. In three colors, I think a deck using artifact creatures to sacrifice for value and Reyhan, Last of the Abzan to make Silas huge would be fun. Other pairings that intrigue me are blending Silas Renn, Seeker Adept with Tymna the Weaver or Ravos, Soultender, getting value out of critters or combat. Either way, I’m happy to see U/B not sitting in the combo/control seat for a bit.

I can’t get past this art. Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder looks like the Overly Manly Man meme, and making a deck with all the ridiculously macho cards could be funny. Or you make the Goat deck with Bruse leading the stampede. Honestly, the effect is good, but “R/W aggro rawr” is getting lost on me. I do like pairing Bruse with Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker for a deck based on combat. It will have a lot to do with the red zone, but jamming as many cards as possible to reference fighting is the goal.

Look, another R/W aggro card. Is there any other color combination so pigeonholed? Well, the good news is that Akiri, Line-Slinger is strong at what she does: holding Equipment and killing people. She is cheap, gets pumped by having artifacts (Equipment) around, and has vigilance to play offense and defense. There is some overlap with her and Silas Renn, Seeker Adept, but I’m not sure how I feel about splitting the combat focus. I suppose Akiri as a Voltron strategy and Silas as part of the support can work.

My two favorite color combinations are U/R and B/G. I was hyped for Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder. But this effect is a bit bothersome. This design feels really uninspired. Breya want to do stuff; Saskia the Unyielding is ultra-combative and allows you to hurt the pillowfort player while beating down elsewhere (or double up on the pillowfort player); Kynaois and Tiro of Meletis plays up the group-hug angle while giving you a card to help you maximize the extra land drops; and Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice has the keyword list to rival Akroma, Angel of Wrath and plays nicely with counters of every kind. But Yidris just wants you to play cards.

If I’m justing playing cards, then I want to see how big a cascade number I can get. With double strike and extra combat phases, I’m sure I can pull off something absurd to earn flipping into all the free spells. I want to get as many instances of cascade as possible on a card. Five or six cascade triggers on a single card seems like a reasonable goal, but I want to know just how much havoc I can cause with one spell. But no cheating! Sword of Feast and Famine with Aggravated Assault is a combo unto itself that doesn’t count in this deck.

This design delights me. Goblins love random collateral damage. I like that this is a little more controlled than Ruhan of the Fomori, since you can at least scale the damage. But really, I want to cast gigantic burn spells like Rakdos’s Return and hurt two players or knock one right out of the game.

Many of the partner commanders really want help; Vial Smasher the Fierce is perfectly fine on her own. If you want to use partner, have her band together with Kydele, Chosen of Kruphix to deal damage off a big draw spell and then cast the spells drawn with Kydele’s mana. Vial Smasher the Fierce also plays well with Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper to gain life off high-toughness creatures in case Vial Smasher’s random damage brings too much hate.

“Make colorless mana for each card you’ve drawn this turn.”

Wizards actually gave us that effect.

Coastal Piracy, Bident of Thassa, and Edric, Spymaster of Trest are all eager to make this deck crazy. With Psychosis Crawler, you can chain huge X spells to draw an outstanding number of cards and drain every opponent for it. Kydele can do a lot of things in Commander, but she really shines as a partner. Any deck that draws cards will profit from Kydele leading the charge. Green and blue have several creatures that can draw cards while dealing damage, and I would start there for the value train. Outside her colors, Tymna the Weaver draws cards for damaging opponents in combat.

Many players start a G/U or G/U/x deck with Coiling Oracle already in the pile. Coiling Oracle always provides value. But to do that repeatedly, you need to blink it or recur it or bounce it. That takes some work. What if there was a commander who did that for you? Meet Thrasios, Triton Hero. Four mana to scry 1 and then get either a land out or draw a card is fantastic. This does cost more than Coiling Oracle, but you can do it over and over, and the toughness upgrade with Thrasios means that you can block tokens. Adding cards that reduce activated ability costs or double the effect helps you get to Coiling Oracle efficiency quickly. After that, pick a theme and go after it.

My challenge with Thrasios is that his effect is almost too generic. The card excites me because of the incremental advantage it provides, but I don’t know how to best use that. The real strength of this commander is likely as a partner for color access and slowly gaining little bits of value…or doubling up on G/U commanders to go all-in on value.

How much do you like to bring the pain in combat? Saskia the Unyielding may be the best non-Voltron attacking commander we have. Pick an opponent, and whenever your creatures deal combat damage, they deal that much damage to that player.

Everything becomes a focused version of Hydra Omnivore. If you attack the chosen player, your creatures have a pseudo-double strike effect. But if someone is hiding behind a bunch of pillowfort cards, you can attack someone else to deal damage to the pillowfort player. I don’t know if your group has players who hide behind a bunch of Propaganda effects; mine does.

I’m excited to use Saskia to beat people down. This is a very high consideration to take apart my Atarka, World Render deck and use this for new players to borrow for their first Commander games. Another consideration is how well the partner commanders function with the four-color commander, as Saskia’s underlings do work in her deck. While others can supplement the gameplan, the extra legendary creatures contribute to the gameplan in an outstanding way. If people like combat, I am definitely sending new players to pick up this deck.

Bloodrush! Tana, the Bloodsower really excites me. She rewards hitting hard but allows you to go wide with it. Pump up Tana a bit with Rancor and some fun bloodrush cards and you are dealing a ton of damage. Hexproof will matter here, since you want to make Tana deal more damage and still protect her from your enemies. I wish she cost three mana, but I’m greedy. Additionally, Tana is scary when partnered. Bruse Tarl helps her create more Saprolings; Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa makes chump blocking more difficult; Reyhan, Last of the Abzan allows you to abuse +1/+1 counters with her; and the same cards that make Silas Renn strong can be used to clear a path through blockers for two different commanders, racking up damage and getting triggers from combat damage.

Recursion is good. Pumping your team is good. Evasion for your commander is good. Having all three is awesome. Ravos, Soultender does everything.

I know that I am going to see tons and tons of decklists of Ravos, Soultender with Grave Pact effects and a great way to lock down creatures. Yes it is effective. But how fun is it? Ravos provides another Cleric tribal commander, something to use with Silverchase Fox to ruin the Theros block Gods, a way to recur some evoke creatures, and (the best option I saw) recurring token producers like Captain of the Watch and Cloudgoat Ranger. Ravos has a lot of potential as an engine commander. I might remake a W/B deck under him, since I haven’t had a pull in that direction in a while.

Have you heard of melee? Conspiracy: Take the Crown had an effect to encourage attacking the whole table. Custodi Soulcaller and Wings of the Guard love Tymna the Weaver. You do need to deal damage to trigger her effect. But it’s not like white and black are lacking for removal or ways to push through combat damage. Tymna the Weaver is a solid little engine who pairs with everything for more value. I really like putting her with Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper to gain back life you are paying to draw cards. Kydele, Chosen of Kruphix is also a great partner to get the mana to cast all the freshly drawn cards.

I am a huge fan of seeing an interracial gay couple featured as a commander option. Magic is moving in a better direction for representation, and I want to see more of this. As for card mechanics, this really wants to clone/steal Sire of Stagnation to help combat the built-in drawback; Burgeoning won’t work because your opponents don’t play lands off the trigger.

I don’t plan to use Kynaois and Tiro of Meletis to make another group hug deck because I prefer being able to control the help my opponents get. Working around an effect to make a powerful deck is something I typically enjoy. So I might take a crack at this in the future and see if cards like Containment Priest can turn Hunted Wumpus and Boldwyr Heavyweights into punishment cards.

However, I am puzzled by the stats of this couple. A 2/8 Soldier? With two people? Anax and Cymede are a 3/2 that love to rumble. These two are much more defensive. I know Assault Formation can help, but without black mana to get Doran, the Siege Tower to help, I question how well this card can close out a game. I suppose the best solution is to use Kyanois and Tiro of Meletis to support the deck and something else as a finisher, like the previously mentioned undercosted fatties.

Lore hype! Gerrard Capashen’s papa bear is ready to rumble. While Sidar won’t deal a ton of damage on his own, he heavily complicates combat math for opponents. If you partner him with a blue legendary creature, you can use cards like Blinding Spray to swoop past all blockers. Flanking seems odd, but it often means Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa kills any blocker before damage. Give that man trample and off you go! Sidar Kondo is not the most powerful commander in this set, but he gives a plethora of fun options, like Knight tribal, a cavalry- or flanking-themed deck, or messing with combat focus.

No. Just no. The plane of Innistrad has amazing lore and themes. Ludevic is a genius whom Geralf (Stitcher Geralf) admires greatly.

This cannot be the amazing necromancer who terrifies entire regions of Innistrad. A group hug card that doesn’t really put a stopper on you getting attacked? This feels like a last-minute change similar to the one that gave us Emmara Tandris.

I’m sure there are lots of things you could do with this. But almost everything feels better than using Ludevic. Remember how cool Darth Vader was, but then the prequel series gave us little kid Anakin? I’d rather we didn’t get Ludevic than have Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist.

Unlike its creator, Kraum, Ludevic’s Opus is incredible. You either get cards every time someone casts two spells, like casting Sol Ring and something with the extra mana, or you stifle everyone’s ability to develop because they don’t want you to get extra cards. You can add Mystic Remora and Rhystic Study to really make casting spells a difficult choice for your table.

Kraum also has evasion and haste. It can become a combat commander to lead the charge with the U/R spell-based pump creatures like Kiln Fiend and Wee Dragonauts. Or Kraum can be a finisher in a U/R controlling deck. My plan is to turn my Jori En, Ruin Diver judo build into Kraum, Ludevic’s Opus and Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker to really use my opponents’ momentum against them. My judo deck can lack for a finisher, but these two provide good options to close out a game.

Superfriends. We did it. Congrats. But I agree with CMDR Decks, who posted on Twitter that he was already tired of playing against Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice superfriends. She may do great work with planeswalkers, but Atraxa offers so much more.

She has a keyword salad like Akroma, Angel of Wrath; plays well with counters of players and permanents; can run Gilder Bairn and Vorel of the Hull Clade to keep doubling counters; and has excellent stats. With a deck focused on +1/+1 counters, Reyhan, Last of the Abzan can become a critical piece of the deck, and you have access to black’s tutor suite to make sure you can always find the bits of the deck you didn’t draw. Some are talking about infect with her, permanents with counters, an experience counter-based deck, or setting up Magistrate’s Scepter and Magosi, the Waterveil to loop turns. Atraxa is wide open; don’t just focus on superfriends like everyone else.

This works before you need to counter the spell.

How great is Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker? Amazing! This card partners well with everything else in the set. Everything. W/U fliers, W/U control, W/U aggro, W/U theme decks, mixing and matching for some classic stuff like Bant control or Jeskai aggro. Ishai has a good ability to combat your opponents and the colors to protect itself well. I will probably keep Dragonlord Ojutai as my control commander, but I am going to use Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker in decks. This is one of the commanders I will likely pick up extra copies of to use as a commander and part of the 99.

This card is… different. I think Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper can stand on her own but is best when fighting with a partner. I do really like using her with Tymna the Weaver or Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa, but even alone, she officers a niche focus.

Many black spells require life payments, and while green decks can gain life, many B/G decks do not have a ton of lifegain. Ikra Shidiqi allows for cards like Baloth Null and Reaper of the Wilds to get even better. Unlike Doran, the Siege Tower-style decks, you don’t need to feel compelled to run stuff like Grizzled Leotau to maximize value. But you probably still want to use Graveblade Marauder and Guiltfeeder to put a fast clock on opponents.

Once you get an indestructible creature, things get bad for your opponents. Modular was a cool effect from the original Mirrodin block, but Reyhan, Last of the Abzan goes beyond that. You can put the counters anywhere. Both green and black provide excellent sacrifice outlets to abuse with Reyhan, but you’ll want some cards that bring counters along too. Unfortunately, only Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker does that currently for other commanders, but lots of cards generate counters.

The goal to make sure that the collective power of your deck never reduces once you get going. Or you can use Reyhan, Last of the Abzan as support and not build the whole deck around +1/+1 counters; a minor counter theme will let Reyhan shine as a partnered commander.

Building Time

When Commander 2016 finally becomes available on November 11th, the world will race to start playing games with the new legendary creatures. Some will play games out of the box and others will immediately take the decks apart for specific cards. I plan to play a couple of games with friends with the decks right out of the box. Then I’ll gut them for parts…unless one specifically calls to me after some games, in which case I’ll build up the precon into something more formidable.

For now, my plans are Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder to cascade as much as I can with a single spell; partnering Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker and Kraum, Ludevic’s Opus to take over my judo deck; and possibly Saskia the Unyielding or Tana, the Bloodsower to take over my Newbie Commander deck. I also want to work with Liz and help her build another deck. She like Silas Renn, Seeker Adept, but I don’t know if she plans to partner him or not.

Which potential commanders most excite you? Are you planning to partner anyone or run solo commanders? Do the four-color commanders meet your wants, or do you think partner is a cop-out of true four-color cards?