Cards I Am Grateful For: 2017 Edition!

Bennie Smith saw a lot to love in 2017! He’s a Commander man with some Standard and Modern tendencies, so he’s basically the target audience for the whole game! Which were your favorite cards of the last year?

Wow, can you believe it’s 2018 already? 2017 was a wild ride and it seemed
to blast by fast. The New Year is always a good time for retrospect and I
wanted to go through the Magic cards Wizards gave us last year and express
gratitude for having them in my life. It seems so easy to criticize
creative endeavors, and the fact that Wizards of the Coast had to ban some
cards to try and balance out Standard certainly makes some criticism
justified. Constructive criticism is healthy, but I feel some in the Magic
community go overboard way too often. I’ve been playing Magic since 1994,
and when I think about where the game is now compared to where it was in
the very beginning, I’m frankly amazed at the journey Wizards of the Coast
has brought us on and continues to bring. There is a ton of work a
relatively small number of people do to bring this dynamic, creative,
engaging, and multifaceted game to millions of fans around the world, and
the hits far, far outweigh the occasional misses. I would rather Wizards
take some chances to bring us exciting cards and mechanics and have
mistakes every once in a while, than to have them play it safe all the
[My man. – Ed.]

Aether Revolt

January brought us Aether Revolt, the follow-up expansion to the
ground-breaking Kaladesh set. I know a lot of people lament the
initial power level of the new vehicle card type but as a fan of green I
was extremely happy to have some sweet artifacts to add to my decks,
especially ones with flying.

In my exploration of the Standard format early in the year, I had a theory.
Wizards had taken away the one cost mana creatures like Llanowar Elves
because casting three mana spells on turn 2 was too powerful. So my theory
was, if we cast four-mana spells on turn 3, that might be quite powerful
too. Luckily, we had two-mana creatures to choose from and I found that,
indeed, having four mana on turn 3 was a good way to push an early
advantage or to steal initiative if you were on the play. The problem of
course was having the creature live and when Druid of the Cowl was printed
I was quite happy to add it to my decks. The three-toughness helped it
survive some of the two damage burn around and it could often block an
early attacker and live to tap for mana the next turn. Having a card like
Druid of the Cowl helped my decks be the best Tireless Tracker decks since
I could cast Tracker on turn 3 before playing a land, getting a Clue token
immediately. I hope we continue to get simple but good two-cost mana
creatures in green.

While it’s tough to keep two mana up in Standard “just in case,” I really
love this card for Commander. Mono-color means it can go into more decks,
it’s low on the mana curve so it’s easier to keep this mana available later
in the game (especially if you’re playing Seedborn Muse). It’s hard to find
a better card than this in terms of keeping your permanents protected from
harm with the one-two punch of hexproof and indestructible.

Card drawing spells are tricky to balance out for Commander. If it’s too
cheap it’s often not worth playing, but if it’s two expensive you risk not
having the mana to take advantage of the infusion of new cards until
everyone else has had a turn. Rishkar’s Expertise strikes just the right
balance by potentially providing a ton of cards (assuming you have a big
creature out and, since you’re green, you’ve probably got a big creature
out), and then letting you play a card after you’ve refueled your hand. At
six mana it comes at the point in the game when you need to refuel. I wish
it had made more of an impact in Standard, but I’m thrilled to have it in
most of my green Commander decks.

When I talked about the Vehicles I loved, this is right there near the top.
Green decks are notoriously weak on fliers and having this one so cheap to
cast and so easy to crew is a sweet tool to have in our toolbox. The
lifelink capability is icing on the cake, and plays great with any way you
may have to pump its power. I remember on more than one occasion getting a
sweet life boost by attacking with Harvester, giving it lifelink, and when
it came through unblocked targeting it with Spatial Contortion.

Such a great card. I’ve seen it make a little splash in Standard here and
there as a way to gain a distinct advantage in grindy games, but it’s a no
brainer inclusion in just about any green Commander deck.

I’ve been a big fan of green “big land” decks in Standard all year, and
Walking Ballista has been a fantastic inclusion. It up shores green’s
weakness in creature removal. It’s flexible casting cost gives you a lot of
options up and down the mana curve so it’s great when you draw it early and
even better when you draw it late. It even plays great with the new enrage
mechanic from Ixalan’s Dinosaurs which I’ve been running to great
effect in my new green Standard deck for Friday Night Magic.

Modern Masters 2017

March brought us this year’s Modern reprint expansion. I don’t play a lot
of Modern, but I’m glad that Wizards prints these to help keep the cost of
entry into the format lower than it would be otherwise. The main thing I’m
grateful though is keeping the costs low on Commander staples that are also
used in Modern decks.

Basilisk Collar is a fantastic Commander card. It’s one of the rare
one-mana cards that can have a profound impact on the game no matter when
you draw it. It provides lifelink in decks that might otherwise be short on
life gain, makes any creature lethal to engage with, and combines to
masterful effect with any Commander with trample. It’s a card that’s been
creeping up in price over the years and saw a spike when Modern Tron decks
experimented with running Walking Ballista and combining it with Basilisk
Collar. I hate suggesting cards for Commander decks that are way too
pricey, so I’m glad this reprint helped mitigate its price rise.

If you’re playing a tribal deck Cavern of Souls is an invaluable color
fixer and a great way to push through counterspells. I was lucky to get a
playset when it was in Standard and have hung onto them over the years, so
I get to make use of them, but the price has really gone through the roof.
Even with the reprints the card is still quite expensive, so I hope it
continues coming around in Modern Masters, if not a future Standard

Damnation is like Cavern of Souls-a fantastic Commander card with Modern
appeal that has really gone through the roof in price. Even with the
reprint it’s still pricey, so keep it coming.

When it comes to efficient pinpoint creature removal in white, there’s
Swords to Plowshares and then there’s Path to Exile. A lot of people
neglect pinpoint removal in their Commander decks, and having Path be so
pricey certainly hurts, so I’m glad they keep reprinting it.


April brought us Amonkhet, the much-anticipated expansion with
flavor inspired by ancient Egypt! I know most of us were impressed with the
execution of the set, not only the Egyptian flavor but the unique elements
too. I think the only miss was that we didn’t get to see Nicol Bolas here

I really like the design on this planeswalker. The art is fantastic, and
its power level is strong without being overwhelming. I’m a little sad it
hasn’t made much of a splash in Standard, but I think it might once Kaladesh rotates out. I’m also excited to build a Liliana
Commander deck with lots of Liliana planeswalkers now that the new rules
are in place so that you can have some same planeswalker types so long as
they have different names.

I loved the design of this answer card. It comes down and destroys an
artifact while attached to a significant body, while also having a
not-insignificant effect on the game later. I’m not sure if it was designed
to keep the Cat Lady combo in check or not, but it did just that so long as
it wasn’t killed first. Which, actually wasn’t that tough to do. My one
beef with the card is the mana cost of three, which is way too full of
great options in Commander. I can’t imagine playing this card much in that
format. But I certainly hope Wizards continues to make solid answer cards
like this one.

This has a subtle but good effect, and I’ve made use of it as a sideboard
card in Standard to help in grindy games. The biggest problem I’ve had with
it for tournament Magic is that its effect is redundant-if you draw a
second one, it’s just a vanilla 3/4 for four which is seriously behind the
curve in Standard. I mean, if it tapped for mana that would go a long way
towards making this something to think about for Standard. Of course, the
redundant problem isn’t a factor in Commander, where this is certainly a
fine piece of card board.

While Wizards sadly didn’t provide enough cool -1/-1 counter synergies to
make Hapatra a player in Standard, it is super-cool that she’s a legend we
can build a Commander deck around to take advantage of several -1/-1
counter themes printed in previous sets.

This cycle is a home for quality mana fixing, both in Standard and in
Commander. I look forward to the inevitable enemy color cycle at some point
down the road, and it’s certainly easy enough to envision its perennial

The Bolas horns in the artwork on these basic lands are just super-cool.
It’s nice to get excited about opening a basic land!

Hour of Devastation

July brought us Hour of Devastation, the follow-up to Amonkhet and (finally!) the return of one of Magic’s greatest
villains, Nicol Bolas!

One thing I hate to have happen in Magic is for you not to be able to do
anything. Say you have a fistful of counterspells but your opponent doesn’t
play anything because the few creatures they played before you had
counterspell mana up are good enough to kill you. Or you draw a discard
spell and your opponent has no cards in hand. I like cards like this
because they give you options when one mode isn’t helpful. These are the
sorts of control cards that I’d be down for playing in Standard, and I can
see these potentially making a splash in Commander, though the mana cost of
three just adds to the glut of options.

The eponymous card from the set lives up to the name, giving red a potent
sweeper against most creatures that matter as well as planeswalkers. I love
that Bolas planeswalkers are immune to the effect-of course! It even does
great work against what is typically the bane of red creature removal,
being indestructible. This deals enough damage that I think it’s a fine
inclusion even for Commander.

I really love the interesting twist to the game that happens when Neheb is
on the Battlefield. Turning a Lightning Bolt into a Dark Ritual is sweet. I
still haven’t activated Aetherflux Reservoir for 50 with a Neheb in play
yet, but I will one day live the dream.

Crucible of Worlds is a sweet Commander card so long as you aren’t doing
Strip Mine shenanigans to deny one player having enough mana to play, but
the card is crazy expensive, so I was extremely happy to see the effect now
attached to a creature. I only wish it could have had more useful creature
types attached to it.

Nicky B in the hizzy! The original Nicol Bolas was pretty much the best of
the Elder Dragon legends, and the first planeswalker was quite potent, so I
was pleased that the newest Bolas card was fearsome too. I just recently
picked up my second copy, and have been plotting the opportunity to unleash
him onto some of my unsuspecting compadres at Friday Night Magic when they
least expect it!

First, the artwork is adorable. Second, the name is adorable. Third, the
base stats are pretty good-a 1/3 flier for two mana! Then add the card draw
and life gain for whenever you have extra mana lying around (Seedborn Muse
*cough*cough*) and you’ve got yourself a card!

This is just the ultimate in flexible utility for Commander, and it can go
in any deck. It’s so good that I think it stands out in a very crowded
field of good three-mana cards.

If you play locally you know that I’ve been having a great time playing
with these deserts in what I’ve nicknamed my Mono-Green Zombie deck. They
really made some fantastic deserts in Hour of Devastation and if
you’re willing to go mono-color, they can provide some great rewards.
Especially in green!

Commander 2017

August brought us this year’s Commander products, and this time we got
heavy emphasis on the ever-popular tribal synergies and including newly
awesome Cat tribal cards! Just about all the new legendary creatures are
awesome and have been given full-article treatment by me already so I won’t
retread that here. Instead here are some other individual cards I’m
thankful for.

This is such a weird card that can lead to some crazy early board states if
people don’t get blockers in place quickly. It can synergize with so many
different things you want to do in Commander.

Commander is all about big splashy plays, but sometimes people can get out
of hand with it, especially when it comes to card drawing. White is the
color of rules setting so I’m glad they made this Cat that can come down
and keep the most outrageous shenanigans in check. Though combining this
with Wheel of Fortune most definitely counts as outrageous shenanigans too.

I love the utility of this card and how it instant gives Cat tribal a
sweet, sweet boost. And the tacked-on reach ability is helpful too!

While this isn’t Skullclamp-level good, I think it’s not that far off. It
bothers me that this is three mana, but other than that I really like what
this does in any tribal deck. The one downside to equipment is when you
don’t have any creatures to attach your equipment to, and this card helps
address that.

Another stellar tribal card that can go in any color deck, making it easier
to cast the more expensive critters and occasionally letting you draw an
extra card. But, yet another three-mana card to add to the glut…

This is the kind of mana ramp that leads to crazy plays. It’ll help pay for
outrageous spells or an outrageous Commander tax. It’s easy to splash, and
not usually very effective to cheat cast it early. Just a cool and powerful
Commander card.

I love having scry effects in Commander because the nature of deck design
makes you prone to having a string of bad draws that can keep you from
participating in the occasional game. Scrying helps ameliorate that issue
without being too powerful, so I’m glad they gave tribal decks this sweet

I really like the “Commander creatures you control get” creatures, and this
one is particularly sweet since it gives them haste. These cards are even
better after last year’s legends with the partner mechanic.

Black Market has long been a big favorite of mine for Commander, though it
was another one of those cards that started creeping up there in price. I’m
glad for the reprint to help keep the cost reasonable for anyone who might
want to have it in their black decks.

At its base level it protects you from attack for a turn, but when you do
have multiple opponents out there I love how this will make them fight with
each other. What a great design for a disruptive spell that very much has
red flavor.

The story about how this card was initially conceived as a mechanical way
to capture the “turn to mist” vampire trope and ended up bringing back
phasing is cool, but wow-this is just an incredibly powerful and flexible
card to save your bacon.

Like many of you, I was tormented by this card for its run in Standard. I’m
thankful they printed this in the Commander products to remind me that this
is a pretty sweet card for multiplayer games. It will nearly always
generate a ton of value for just three mana, taking down multiple big
threats around the table.

I am so glad to be playing Magic at the same time this card exists. The
epic stories this card will generate, I cannot wait to hear them all!

Wow. Just wow. Yes, it chafes me a bit that the very best of the Kindred
cycle is blue, but that’s mitigated a bit by just loving the card so much
for any tribal deck with blue. If you’ve been loathe to include pinpoint
enchantment removal in your Commander decks, let this enchantment be a
lesson to you.


October brought us the exploration world of Ixalan, with exciting
new emphasis on Dinosaurs and Pirates! And treasure! The flavor of this set
has been off the chain and I love it.

I really like this card for Commander. I’m not a giant fan of counterspells
in general, but if you’re playing blue I recognize that’s one of the things
that the color does well, and it certainly has utility in a big game of
Commander. There are times when the only thing that stands in the way of
one player comboing off is a well-timed counterspell. I love Spell Swindle
because it creates the mana as Treasure tokens that are available right
away, to use whenever you might need them. Not to mention any funky
artifact synergies you might have going on.

Duress is just a sweet utility spells to keep control decks in check. I’m a
big fan of keeping control decks in check.

This is like another Black Market, only there’s also a win-condition
attached to it. And you can use the mana whenever you want, artifact
synergies, etc. See Spell Swindle.

When you absolutely, positively, need to kill every freaking creature and
planeswalker on the Battlefield. And that Maze of Ith.

I haven’t been able to cast this spell in Standard or Commander yet, but I
really, really, really, really want to.

I’ll tell you a secret. I love turning the tables on control players and
making them feel helpless. Their tears sustain me and make me happy.
Carnage Tyrant is a control player’s worst nightmare. When I was building
my green deck for the new Standard, I knew I wanted a few of these for my
sideboard. But when I looked around for six-mana spells for the maindeck,
it occurred to me: Carnage Tyrant (or Carny Tee as he’s affectionately know
in these parts) is just a big, honking monster that’s hard to deal with. I
ended up with four in the maindeck and haven’t looked back.

While it’s not game breaking, this is a fantastic two-mana card that helps
smooth your draws, particularly in the early game when hitting your land
drops is crucial. I really love the ways that green cards get you value.

Speaking of value, I’ve been loving these cards in my Standard green deck
alongside Savage Stomp and Walking Ballista. Ranging Raptors let me cast
Hour of Promise on turn 4 last week, which led to a pretty sweet turn 5.

Of course green can’t have all the value (grumble), and this card is sweet.
I really want to pair this up with green’s mana acceleration though, so I
can ensure I get the value right away. I mean, three toughness isn’t
exactly difficult to deal with.

As a proud member of the Golgari guild, I heartily approve of this
utility-packed black and green planeswalker. I plan on casting this in
Standard quite a bit, and in Commander for many years to come.

I keep singing the praises of Conqueror’s Galleon for Commander, but
seriously give this card a try, especially if your Commander has power of
four or greater to crew. The transformed land side is just insane.

Speaking of insane, if you’ve ever played Gaea’s Cradle you know how crazy
that card can be. Sadly, the original card is over $200 these days, so I’m
very grateful Commander and Standard players can feel the power in this
much more affordable card, even if you must jump through a few hoops.

I’ve long been a big fan of Journeyer’s Kite in non-green Commander decks
as a great way to keep making your land drops, so imagine my delight when
they made one that was even better. Thank goodness they didn’t make the
mana cost three!

Iconic Masters

November brought us Iconic Masters, a set featuring a lot of
really old cards we’d love to play in our Commander decks! The ones below
are the ones I’m glad they reprinted so we could potentially put in our
Commander decks. Mana Drain is a card I’ve always kind of wanted to have
since the earliest days of Magic but have never wanted to put out the money
for it. I played in a couple drafts hoping to crack one or trade for one
but no such luck. I did however, open a Horizon Canopy so that was sweet!


December brought us another “un” set Unstable, thirteen years
after the last one Unhinged, and nearly twenty years since the
first one Unglued. It’s a ton of fun to draft, but it’s also been
fun to incorporate some of the cards into a few Commander decks. I’m hoping
to keep one or two Un-Commander decks together for others who might like to
get wacky even after the window of legality closes.

I opened a random pack of Unstable and got a foil Sword of
Dungeons & Dragons, which made me incredibly excited. I’ve played
D&D since 1980 and that game paved the way for Magic, so I feel a
personal connection to this card.

I don’t have one of these yet, but it seems cool. I’m glad it’s around.

I like everything about the card. The artwork. The artwork on the promo.
The name is fun to say. The squirrellink mechanic!

This card is so amusing both in flavor and in execution. I slipped this
into my Feldon of the Third Path deck and the other day snuck this onto the
battlefield and hid it under a pile of lands. It took a while before
someone attacked me and I had two mana up, but I did finally get to kill a
creature with the Entirely Normal Armchair and it was glorious!

These full art lands are simply gorgeous.

This is such a weird and wonderful card, particularly in multiplayer where
you can wait and see who you may want to attack until well after your own
turn. It does have a very small body that gets outclassed quickly, so I
think it might be best in something like an equipment-heavy deck
(especially if you can give it vigilance).

I really, really love the flavor and execution of the contraptions, but
this one stands out for the best name of them all.

The idea of giving trample to a burn spell is genius, and I hope that
maybe, just maybe, it might show up in a black border card one day. I think
it’s unlikely, but maybe in a Commander product?

What cards did Wizards print in 2017 that you’re grateful for?

New to Commander?

If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:

Commander write-ups I’ve done
(and links to decklists):

Zurgo Bellstriker (Bellstriking Like a Boss)

Dragonlord Ojutai (Troll Shroud)

Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund (Dragons, Megamorphs, and Dragons)

Dromoka, the Eternal (One Flying Bolster Basket)

Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest (Tempests and Teapots)

Tasigur, the Golden Fang (Hatching Evil Sultai Plots)

Scion of the Ur-Dragon (Dragon Triggers for Everyone)

• Nahiri, The Lithomancer (Lithomancing for Fun and Profit)

Titania, Protector of Argoth (Titania’s Land and Elemental Exchange)

Reaper King (All About VILLAINOUS WEALTH)

Feldon of the Third Path (She Will Come Back to Me)

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant (Calling Up Ghouls with Sidisi)

Zurgo Helmsmasher (Two Times the Smashing)

Anafenza, the Foremost (Anafenza and Your Restless Dead)

Narset, Enlightened Master (The New Voltron Overlord)

Surrak Dragonclaw (The Art of Punching Bears)

Avacyn, Guardian Angel; Ob Nixilis, Unshackled; Sliver Hivelord (Commander Catchup, Part 3)

Keranos, God of Storms; Marchesa, the Black Rose; Muzzio, Visionary Architect (Commander Catchup, Part 2)

Athreos, God of Passage; Kruphix, God of Horizons; Iroas, God of Victory (Commander Catchup, Journey into Nyx Edition)

Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient (Ghost in the Machines)

Jalira, Master Polymorphist (JaliraPOW!)

Mishra, Artificer Prodigy (Possibility Storm Shenanigans)

Yisan, the Wanderer Bard (All-in Yisan)

Selvala, Explorer Returned (Everyone Draws Lots!)

Grenzo, Dungeon Warden (Cleaning Out the Cellar)

Karona, False God (God Pack)

Child of Alara (Land Ho!)

Doran, the Siege Tower (All My Faves in One Deck!)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (my Magic Online deck)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (Shadowborn Apostles & Demons)

King Macar, the Gold-Cursed (GREED!)

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind ( Chuck’s somewhat vicious deck)

Roon of the Hidden Realm (Mean Roon)

Skeleton Ship (Fun with -1/-1 counters)

Vorel of the Hull Clade (Never Trust the Simic)

Anax and Cymede (Heroic Co-Commanders)

Aurelia, the Warleader ( plus Hellkite Tyrant shenanigans)

Borborygmos Enraged (69 land deck)

Bruna, Light of Alabaster (Aura-centric Voltron)

Damia, Sage of Stone ( Ice Cauldron shenanigans)

Derevi, Empyrial Tactician (Tribal Birds)

Emmara Tandris (No Damage Tokens)

Gahiji, Honored One (Enchantment Ga-hijinks)

Geist of Saint Traft (Voltron-ish)

Ghave, Guru of Spores ( Melira Combo)

Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)

Glissa, the Traitor ( undying artifacts!)

Grimgrin, Corpse-Born (Necrotic Ooze Combo)

Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord (drain you big time)

Jeleva, Nephalia’s Scourge ( Suspension of Disbelief)

Johan (Cat Breath of the Infinite)

Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo’ Myrs)

Karona, False God (Vows of the False God)

Konda, Lord of Eiganjo ( The Indestructibles)

Lord of Tresserhorn (ZOMBIES!)

Marath, Will of the Wild ( Wild About +1/+1 Counters)

Melira, Sylvok Outcast ( combo killa)

Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker ( Outside My Comfort Zone with Milling

Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis (evil and Spike-ish)

Nicol Bolas (Kicking it Old School)

Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius ( new player-friendly)

Nylea, God of the Hunt ( Devoted to Green)

Oloro, Ageless Ascetic (Life Gain)

Oona, Queen of the Fae (by reader request)

Phage the Untouchable ( actually casting Phage from Command Zone!)

Phelddagrif (Mean Hippo)

Polukranos, World Eater (Monstrous!)

Progenitus (

Fist of Suns and Bringers


Reaper King (Taking Advantage of the new Legend Rules)

Riku of Two Reflections (

steal all permanents with
Deadeye Navigator + Zealous Conscripts


Roon of the Hidden Realm ( Strolling Through Value Town)

Ruhan of the Fomori (lots of equipment and infinite attack steps)

Savra, Queen of the Golgari ( Demons)

Shattergang Brothers (Breaking Boards)

Sigarda, Host of Herons ( Equipment-centric Voltron)

Skullbriar, the Walking Grave ( how big can it get?)

Sliver Overlord (Featuring the new M14 Slivers!)

Thelon of Havenwood ( Campfire Spores)

Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice ( new player-friendly)

Uril, the Miststalker (my “more competitive” deck)

Varolz, the Scar-Striped (scavenging goodness)

Vorosh, the Hunter ( proliferaTION)

Xenagos, God of Revels (Huge Beatings)

Yeva, Nature’s Herald (living at instant speed)