Commander 2016 Craziness!

Commander 2016 could not be any more exciting! It’s granting endless EDH wishes, and Bennie Smith is diving in head first for your enjoyment!

One of many advantages you have as Commander fan is the release of the Magic product just for you in the autumn! While the Spikes and the grinders remain focused on all the repercussions of Kaladesh hitting competitive tournament Magic, we Commander fans have an additional boost of excitement for spoiler season leading up to the release of Commander 2016.

And boy howdy, did Wizards give us some juice this year! We were already excited about the prospect of finally being able to build four-color Commander decks, and many of us have been wondering how they were going to deliver on that promise. Legendary creatures with four different colors of mana in their casting cost seemed like a given, but there were a few other paths they could have ventured down as well. Much to everyone’s surprise, they came up with a super-cool solution with the partner mechanic, which lets you have two legendary creatures as your Commander so long as they have the keyword partner.

The ramifications are huge! This gives us a ton of different three- or four-color combinations where we can combine our partners for all sorts of cool decks. We’ve basically gone from having zero options to now a whopping eight variations for each of the five four-color combinations.

For instance, let us look at what we’ve got for Four-Color “Not Blue” (or W/B/R/G), starting with the precon deck, Open Hostility.

Commander 2016 Deck Name: Open Hostility

Theme: Aggression

Development champion: Glenn Jones

On the mothership, lead designer Ethan Fleischer gave us some details into the color underpinnings of the themes:

“Black believes in strangling the young before they grow up to become a threat. Red loves to fight for the sheer exhilaration of it. Green understands that survival of the fittest makes the whole of nature strong, and white is willing to fight to defend its people and its beliefs. Blue, however, would prefer to slow down and study the situation in order to find the correct solution.

“The aggro deck is unconcerned with politics; it simply wants to kill everyone at the table as quickly as possible.

“This deck is ideal for players who hate to durdle and prefer a play style more akin to Limited than the usual Commander fare.”

Okay, what are our Commander choices for Four-Color Not Blue? From what’s included in Open Hostility, we have:

The four-color commander:

Partner option #1:

Partner option #2:

Saskia the Unyielding is an interesting card. When you cast it, you select a player that will take extra damage whenever a player is dealt combat damage. Right away you’re declaring an enemy at the table, but hey, we’re all about aggression, so let’s get the party started! This can certainly be played politically by targeting whoever at the table has obviously jumped to a big lead or someone who is playing an overpowered commander compared to the rest of the table. You can even have open bidding: what is someone willing to give you to avoid being chosen for Saskia the Unyielding’s enters-the-battlefield trigger? Make sure you have some scary creatures on the battlefield before you open negotiations!

When the chosen player leaves the game, that adds an interesting wrinkle if Saskia the Unyielding is your commander, as the other players will have some interest in not killing Saskia and giving you the ability to replay the card from the command zone. This dynamic could be quite handy, since Saskia has vigilance and can both attack and block. You could even be more aggressive with the reluctance to kill Saskia by making it clear that anyone who kills Saskia will be chosen the next time you cast Saskia from the command zone. Saskia didn’t get the moniker “the Unyielding” by being cuddly, soft, and squishy. Practice your steely glare and thirst for vengeance.

With Tana, the Bloodsower we want to deal combat damage with Tana reliably. The more damage we can push through, the more Saproling creatures we can make. Tana has trample, which helps get through blockers, but Tana’s 2/2 size means it will get outclassed quickly. We will want ways to boost the power to push through damage and boost the toughness to survive combat.

We can also find ways to pay off having lots of token creatures in general, and Saprolings specifically.

Ravos, Soultender pairs up really well with Tana, since Ravos provides a much-needed power and toughness boost to Tana and the 1/1 Saprolings Tana creates. Ravos’s upkeep trigger is pretty good for blunting removal spells your opponents play, but we could push it further in this color combination with dredge spells, making Ravos’s ability into a tutor of sorts. We could also make use of creatures with bloodrush we could discard to boost Tana over and over again.

Tymna the Weaver doesn’t directly support Tana quite as well, but if we make enough Saprolings to swarm all your opponents, that can translate into a nice infusion of cards but with a cost of life. Luckily, it’s an optional thing, so if you cannot afford the life loss, you can choose not to draw the cards. Tymna the Weaver’s triggered ability is nicely timed so that you can play it during your precombat main phase and take advantage of it immediately following combat. These sorts of triggers often happen during your end step or make you wait until your next upkeep, so it’s awesome we’d get to take advantage of the bump of new cards right away.

Tymna gives you an interesting tension. The card wants you to deal combat damage to multiple opponents but ideally doesn’t want to kill them off one by one, since that would mean fewer potential cards drawn each attack step.

Okay, let’s see what we have to work with from the other cards in Open Hostility. Here are the brand-new ones:

Charging Cinderhorn

Conqueror’s Flail

Divergent Transformations

Evolutionary Escalation

Frenzied Fugue

Grave Upheaval

Primeval Protector

Stonehoof Chieftain

Sylvan Reclamation

Treacherous Terrain

Ash Barrens

While I really like many of these new cards, I’m a little shocked that none of them seem to really help our themes all that much. I mean, Charging Cinderhorn kind of promotes your opponents attacking a little bit (making them less likely to block), but without any sort of proliferation or counter doubling, this “drawback” of not attacking takes a little while to get out of hand. Moreover, you can always just send one attacker somewhere to have the trigger skip you.

Evolutionary Escalation is a sweet way to grow Tana, the Bloodsower, but at the cost of growing one of your opponent’s creatures by an equal amount. The best bet is to boost up a creature that’s already tapped from attacking. You could hope to combo that card with steal effects like Frenzied Fugue or removal like Divergent Transformations.

Primeval Protector might do some good work if your opponents are playing swarm strategies, and if you’ve been doing combat damage with Tana, you could have quite a swarm yourself.

Stonehoof Chieftain is an expensive curve-topper but does good work in promoting aggressive strategies. The problem is that you’re probably giving a bunch of relatively small creatures indestructible and trample. I’d like the Chieftain better if we stuffed our deck with creatures that tend to be bigger than their mana cost. It’s also a nice way to break the synergy of mass removal spells like Wrath of God.

Conqueror’s Flail is a little bit expensive to cast and equip for a relatively modest power and toughness boost unless you happen to get all four of your colors out, and will be a bit better in five-color decks. Its other effect makes it very worthwhile, however—I’ve played Grand Abolisher in Commander decks simply for the ability to shut down my opponents from messing with me during my turn. Now you can have most of that effect in any deck, and attached to something a bit more resilient than a 2/2 creature.

The basic landcycling spells are awesome, great for fixing early on and if you draw them late and your mana is fine they have decent effects. Ash Barrens is astonishingly good, giving basic landcycling for only one colorless mana! If you do not need the color fixing and just play it, it doesn’t enter the battlefield tapped.

Let’s look at the non-land reprints they gave us.

Okay, first off, how awesome is it going to be using Sunforger to fetch up Crackling Doom, Utter End, or Naya Charm? I’m definitely grooving on that. There are many other utility cards we get to take advantage of in these four colors. Since we’re playing green, we can play a good number of mana-fixers like Farseek, Rampant Growth, and Sakura-Tribe Elder. I really like Quirion Explorer, Sylvok Explorer, and Fellwar Stone—since we’re playing four colors, unless all our opponents are playing monoblue we’re bound to get at least a little color-fixing from those cards.

We have some cards that play along with the Saproling theme: Korozda Guildmage, Selesnya Guildmage, Artifact Mutation, Aura Mutation, Necrogenesis and Mycoloth. Skullclamp easily turns those 1/1 Saprolings into two cards. Beastmaster Ascension, Wild Beastmaster, and Thunderfoot Baloth do good work boosting up all those Saprolings into a formidable army.

There are some ways to push through combat damage. Den Protector has evasion if it gets big enough. Blind Obedience slows down your opponent’s chump blockers. Naya Charm can tap down blockers. Iroas, God of Victory and Ankle Shanker makes it tough and futile to block. The red side of Order // Chaos just shuts down blocking altogether for the turn.

A lot of the creatures can be nabbed from the graveyard with Alesha, Who Smiles at Death. Alesha’s first strike ability can be quite formidable if you boost the power.

Breath of Fury is a card that will often fall flat, but if you pull off a situation where you can attack with Tana, the Bloodsower and a couple random Saprolings you can enchant one of the Saprolings with Breath of Fury and get some extra attacks in.

If we want to use many of the raw materials we have from Open Hostility, I think we should go the partner route and use Tana, the Bloodsower and Ravos, Soultender as our Commanders. Tana allows us to expand on the Saproling theme and Ravos gives our team a boost and provides a card advantage engine from the graveyard, and I like the idea of using bloodrush to boost Tana and then getting the creature back with Ravos to do it again.

Here are the cards I’m cutting from the deck:

Some of these cards are perfectly serviceable, but I’m cutting them because I think they maybe a little low on the power scale or a little clunky with the themes I want to push. Let me know if you have any questions about these choices.

Here are new cards I want to add to the deck:

Can’t Block

Even with Ravos out, Tana and the Saprolings may still be smaller than many of our opponents’ creatures, so giving them all skulk could be handy. If not, then being able to pump our entire team with the activated ability will be clutch sometimes. Gruul War Chant boosts our power and makes blocking a bit more difficult, which seems worth having in the deck.


Ghor-Clan Rampager is a fine card, but since Tana already has trample, I figured I’d use some of the other ones. The deathtouch from Wasteland Viper makes it easy to push through combat damage when combined with Tana’s trample. Pyrewild Shaman’s ability to come back from the graveyard will be nice when we have plenty of mana lying around. Rubblehulk provides a late-game punch that should nicely enhance Tana’s triggered ability and definitely be a worthwhile fetch back with Ravos.


We can obviously go much deeper down the Saproling rabbit hole, but I decided to stick with adding these. With enough Saprolings Deathspore Thallid can really take care of problematic creatures and makes combat math difficult for your opponents. Ghave, Guru of Spores does good work in turning Saprolings into power and toughness enhancements to Tana, which in turn makes more Saprolings. Eldrazi Monument is not a Saproling card per se, but it certainly appreciates a steady stream of token creatures for sacrificial fodder and provides a huge bonus to a swarm strategy.

Other Stuff

Phyrexian Reclamation gives us backup for Ravos with the potential of using it multiple times in a turn on a bloodrush creature. Queen Marchesa introduces the Monarch mechanic to the game, which does a good job of making everyone aggressive and less likely to leave back blockers.

The mana is already good as is, though obviously if you have a good stock of dual lands to pepper in that would be helpful. I went ahead and squeezed in a Stomping Ground and since I am fortunate enough to still have my Gaea’s Cradle all these years it’s a slam dunk choice for a Saproling deck. Here is what I have:

To the above list, add Frenzied Fugue, Divergent Transformation, and Ash Barrens.

If I were making the deck from scratch it would likely look quite different, but I’m not unhappy with how this came together working with the precon. What do you think? Do you like my Commander choices or would you go a different route?

What’s really cool is that we have other options utilizing partner legendary creatures to build our Four-Color Not Blue outside of what’s provided in Open Hostility. The enemy-color legendary creatures from Invent Superiority (Akiri, Line-Slinger and Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder) and Breed Lethality (Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper and Reyhan, Last of the Abzan) give us four different partner configurations that are also Not Blue.

Pair one of these:

With one of these:

What sort of themes do these configurations suggest? Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper certainly suggests going into “toughness matters” cards, and Doran, the Siege Tower fits right in.

For Akiri, Line-Slinger partnered with Reyhan, Last of the Abzan, it might be nice to include a bunch of modular artifact creatures alongside other cards that care about +1/+1 counters. You could even use Ashnod’s Transmogrant to make Akiri an artifact creature with a +1/+1 counter.

Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder and Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper could make use of a lot of “lifegain matters” cards, alongside our new Commander favorite Aetherflux Reservoir!

The allied-color partner cards from Entropic Uprising (Vial Smasher the Fierce) and Stalwart Unity (Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa) form one last option for Four-Color Not Blue.

This is certainly an odd pairing, but maybe we could go a heavy Goblin theme without ways of boosting power so that Sidar Kondo makes the Goblins harder to block. Another option is going heavy on Convoke cards to maximize Vial Smasher’s triggered ability. What do you think?

I find it mind-boggling but thrilling that we have gone from having zero options for each four-color combination in Commander to now having eight options for each! How about you?

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)