Commander 2018 Review: The Cards

Sheldon Menery pulls out all the stops for his signature new card review of Commander 2018! Which cards does he think will lead to the best Magical memories?

It’s easy to get excited about new things simply because they’re new, but I’m not being hyperbolic when I tell you that Commander 2018 is the best set ever made specifically for the format. The decks are saucy right out of the box, and the individual cards will make their way over to your existing decks faster than you can say “I tap my commander for {U}{G}.”

While in a future episode I’ll specifically cover the decks (the full lists are already available), today we’re going to discuss the new cards produced for the set—and there’s much to talk about. We’ll go through it all by color, much the same as a traditional review, but I’m going to hit every new card in the set that I can’t wait to play with. I should add an again there, since we on the Commander Rules Committee got some time with early versions of these cards last year. Where it’s relevant, I’ll bring up playtest memories and notes.

Before we get too deep into the set, which features some planeswalkers which can be your commander, I’ll tell you (since folks have already asked) we still have no plans to make all planeswalkers into commanders. That the folks in R&D are making some means that you’ll have really nice options (plus Brawl) and we don’t have to take an unnecessary and slightly awkward step which would have ripple effects. We continue to encourage the design and development teams to produce planeswalker commanders so that we know they come out fair and balanced cards.


I mentioned somewhere online that I’d put this into pretty much every white deck that didn’t also have green in it. I see no earthly reason to move off that stance.

I reached out to Commander 2018 Lead Developer Gavin Verhey to ask why “commanderstorm” didn’t get turned into a keyword. It had been keyworded in the playtest versions, and I had expected that we’d see it on the cards. Gavin explained that there wasn’t unanimous agreement on use of the keyword from some of the folks in the development process for various reasons, to include limiting some naming conventions going forward. You’ll note that in the cards in the set, “Storm” is in the name to evoke the mechanic. As far as Empyrial Storm is concerned, playing it in a deck with an affordable commander (four or less, I’d think) makes a powerhouse late in a game.

We like Voltron as a style anyway, so the Heavenly Blademaster fits right in, especially if one of those Equipment or Auras gives haste. I’d lean toward playing it with Felidar Umbra or Bear Umbra in addition to your normal suite of Swords and whatnot.

The lieutenant mechanic has been hit and miss over the Commander sets, so I’m happy to see it stepped up with Loyal Unicorn. It’s a triggered ability, so once it goes on the stack, you’ll still get the effect for the turn (short of a Voidslime and friends) even if the Unicorn leaves the battlefield. Talk about loyalty!

My playtest memory of the card is that whenever this hit the battlefield, people started getting nervous. Once it untaps, it’s a giant rattlesnake telling attackers to go another direction. The savvy player will force your hand; it seems like a better idea to get it over with than having it hanging over your head. Of course, if you’re playing this Magus, you can also play Faith’s Reward (although that gets to be an expensive turn).


The common use case on this will be at least a land and a creature; a third type is pretty reasonable. If you’re fortunate or have manipulated the top of your library (like with Scroll Rack), then even more. If we’re going big, remember that Eldrazi Conscription is a tribal enchantment.

The blue commanderstorm card (because we’re all calling it that, even if it’s not a keyword) is extremely reasonably priced for the potential upside. There are already people talking about playing Mycosynth Lattice for other cards in this set; it’d be reasonable to play it with Echo Storm just to give yourself the choice of juicy targets.

I love the design on this card and not just because it came from the fertile mind of dear friend Scott Larabee. Now you’re not locked in to copying just one enchantment; if you decide at some point you’d rather have a second Lurking Predators instead of Mind’s Dilation, there you go. You just have to be careful, because if you blink it and someone blows up all your enchantments, it won’t be able to copy anything and gain the ability. There’s always a risk/reward ratio to consider.

It seems like sometimes good blue spells get pricey, so I’m happy to see a few low mana costs here. This one is pretty simple but can net you quite a few cards at a very low price. Once you’ve drawn three cards, you’ve justified the expense.

And if you also want to draw cards during your own combat, there’s Loyal Drake. Note that you don’t have to attack; you just must control your commander when the ability resolves.

I’m most happy that totem armor has made a comeback, because it’s an excellent mechanic which mitigates some of the historical downside of having Auras—namely that they’re only as good as long as what they enchant stays around.

Having a spell on the battlefield masquerading as a creature will make epic plays happen. Your best-case scenario is using the spell to save your other creatures when someone casts Wrath of God (like with the aforementioned Faith’s Reward or Heroic Intervention). I remember in the playtest version the timing being a little tricky; since timing restrictions apply, manifesting at the end of your turn means you can’t have access to the facedown card if it’s an actual creature until your next turn.

“Massacre Wurm, attack with Vedalken Humiliator,” right? Also seems great with Inferno Titan, or just a damn Earthquake for one.


I’ll confess at first I was all “oh, geez, another Vampire.” Then, of course, I got through the whole card and realized that I shouldn’t have prejudices. None of us should. The skill tester on this card is how much life you’re willing to pay at two per card when someone Wraths.

Oh, sweet Christmas, someone made a card for me. I cannot describe my personal joy at this card. It does everything I want, namely put a bunch of my cards from my graveyard onto my side of the battlefield.

This is the first card that I’ve so far even approached being “meh” about. Thematically it’s grand, and since it’s each opponent, the total life loss piles up.

Here’s your combo with Vedalken Humiliator, since the Humiliator lives through it.

You know what keeps quite a few Magic cards from being busted? Costing nine mana. This card is the format in microcosm. Huge cost, huge impact, not that likely to happen all the time. It’s definitely a finisher. You’ll eventually find this card in the dollar rare box—and will buy every copy of it.

Okay, this one might stop me from longing for the days when Demons hurt you, although maybe it does, since both of the players are going to come for you. My first, sort of heart-rending, realization was that you can play this in a Saskia the Unyielding deck. You will be awarded the Cojones of Steel Trophy for playing this when there are only two players left in the game and life totals are close.


I’m not that big of a fan of all the conditions. If it were a true Emissary of Grudges, it would let you do it even if the spell doesn’t target you or one of your permanents. Maybe just if that person had attacked or damaged you at some point in the game…

Let me, for one, welcome our new red overlords. Okay, it’s not that good, but still, giving red a way to get rid of enchantments in a clever fashion excites me. Fair warning: target my Lurking Predators all you want. I’m taking the six.

Are the days of red getting completely shafted truly over? The only thing that keeps this from being better than Wild Ricochet is that Fury Storm doesn’t retarget the original spell. Of course, when you’re roasting off someone’s face, that might not matter anyway.

Hot take: I don’t like Thopters. Never have, never will. Mostly because they remind me of the “bees” episode of Black Mirror.

What makes most sense to me is to not sacrifice the Eggs unless you absolutely have to. That way, if someone Wraths, you start with a little squadron of hatchlings. For maximum hilarity, combine Nesting Dragon with Dragon Broodmother.

It’s obviously designed to tell people to git their filthy paws off yer stuff, but don’t underestimate the value of getting rid of things which serve you better if they’re in your library to be drawn and cast again.

You really have to be set up for this red version of something like Genesis Wave only for artifacts, but if you are, it’ll be something. It feels a little like a win-more card, but I’ll wait to see it in action.

The card I previewed last week has only gotten saucier as more people think of more cool treasure to nab with it.

This is a very cool nod to Varchild’s War-Riders, and it feels like it completes something that’s been hanging for two decades. There are no other cards which create Survivor tokens, so it’s pretty safe. Maybe if we could somehow hack Hazezon Tamar to create them, it’d be awesome. Even without the War-Riders, this Varchild is strong, since the tokens can’t come your way. The only thing I’d worry about is if the other player has a Goblin Bombardment or somesuch.


Ten or more lands in a Commander game? In a green deck? Never happening.

This might be the safest of all the Storms. Sure, you’re going to get some permanents, but you might hit something good, you might hit Wood Elves. Don’t get me wrong—I’m still playing it. I just have to figure out in which deck I cast my commander most often.

From the safest of all the Storms to the most dangerous of all the lieutenants, Loyal Guardian is a wrecking ball in +1/+1 counters decks, like, I dunno, Ghave, Guru of Spores.

Cutting the cost of the commander tax by one might break the system, or at least a few commanders. We’ll have to keep an eye on this card, or more correctly what it does to some other cards. For now, it looks for the most part like strong value; someone asked me if we’d emergency ban this, and the answer is always no to emergency banning anything. The second part of Myth Unbound is compelling as well. It sucks to lose your commander, even temporarily; drawing a card when it happens makes you feel lots better.

Power doubling can get out of hand pretty quickly. Think about how Xenagos, God of Revels can be deadly and that only doubles up once a turn. Two enchantments could turn a six-power commander into a one-shot killer. Add Eidolon of Blossoms for card draw and Enchanted Evening (obviously getting yourself into Bant) for maximum insanity.

Talk about value! Ravenous Slime can’t be chump blocked and it permanently gets rid of your opponents’ creatures when they die. I’d play this card if it exiled the creature and added only a single +1/+1 counter. The only possible downside to this card is getting it Cloned.

The Dredge decks will love Turntimber Sower, but it doesn’t feel like there is too much more use for the card. It’s nice that they’re Plant tokens to go along with your Avenger of Zendikar, but that’s about it.

Lots of big, fat Dragons and the like are flying around this format. Whiptongue Hydra deals with them. This is a card that players are going to pass up for other things at six mana, but I think they’ll be passing up value.


The first two abilities are things you play around with a little bit. The third is just adding a little chaos to the game. It’s a Reins of Power-like thing that everyone gets in to. You can’t do it as an instant, so there are no combat tricks to be done, but you can certainly set up situations where there are more favorable attacks and blocks than they’d otherwise be. Of course, if someone has sacrifice engines going, you can (or can have someone else) completely screw them over.

Time has not dampened my excitement over this card.

Creating the tokens is only the first part. We’re going to assume that you’ve created better tokens than just those Myr, like from Rite of Replication or Clone Legion. Then all your Myr (which you’ve also worked another angle on) become super-huge monsters.

Another one of Scott’s cards. Everyone is excited about the Replenish effect. I really like the idea of making repeated totem armors. You’re certainly playing Nylea’s Colossus in Estrid’s deck, so make sure you have a way to give haste to all your enchantment creatures—or at least that immense one you’re going to double up repeatedly—for maximum face smashery.

Longtime readers know that I’m not a fan of exiling things from my own graveyard. I’m more about using cards like Entreat the Dead to bring them back. Of course, if we get more cards which can bring stuff back from exile, I might be on board.

Enchantress is a thing. This is certainly one that you’re also happy to see coming back from your Estrid-plenish so that you can draw cards while you’re battling.

More Dredgy goodness for the Dredgy players. I thought that perhaps The Gitrog Monster might make an appearance in the deck. It’s certainly one of the first cards you’ll want to upgrade to if you’re doing any replacements. Lord Windgrace’s +2 ability is also just good if you need to draw some gas in the late game and you topdeck a land. That -11, though, is strong. It’ll take some time to get to it, but if you do, you’ll be in firm command.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a planeswalker with two abilities that add loyalty counters, so Saheeli is quite welcome. The card ended up quite similar to what I remember from the playtest version, and it was a beating. That hasn’t changed at all, and when you pair Mycosynth Lattice with this and you get to make a token of everything you have, we have reached the Donkey Kong stage.

Good to see Tawnos getting more love than just the Coffin. There are many things that happen in Commander which you can copy, from Paradox Engine on the “let’s get silly” end to just the enters-the-battlefield trigger of Solemn Simulacrum at the other. We’re going to have endless fun and foolishness with Tawnos.

Big props for a Jund Spider commander, and I like the abilities, but I’m not sure they make sense to me thematically. I get that the idea is Thantis is weaving war so that people don’t want to attack you; it just feels like something sticky should happen. That said, I will be very, very happy to play a deck led by this because Spider Fog (Arachnogenesis) won’t be far behind.

An enchantress commander ups the archetype’s game to a new level. Anything that gets people playing more Rabid Wombat is just fine by me.

I’m a Zombie traditionalist. Grixis is the Zombie shard. Esper forces me to look at it quite differently, but I’m not so old yet that I can’t change. Varina will help you fill up your graveyard with more Zombies to later come back and snack on brains. The additional lifegain is sweet, sweet…do you put gravy on brains?

There’s not much to explain or discuss with Windgrace’s Judgment, just that you’re definitely going to play it and it’s definitely going to always be really good for you. If someone doesn’t have anything to destroy (or does, but you don’t want to for some strategic reason), then you can still cast it. Most excellent card.

I truly hope the Sleeper Agent is an idea they keep going back to; I’ve drawn up a few ideas on them over the years, and they all end up quite interesting. Other players might not want you drawing cards, but they can probably get on board of letting you have one if it means killing the battlefield threat.

Yennett doesn’t seem cryptic at all. I’d say worst Sphinx ever, but I’d only mean worst at being a Sphinx. Otherwise, the card is pure habanero.

Those of us on Team Commanderstorm are a little miffed that commander ninjutsu got a keyword. But we’ll get over it, because Ninjas. Get attacking with enough Ninjas—and we’re in colors for either Conspiracy or Arcane Adaptation, so you can attack with lots of Ninjas—and you can just kill people with the triggered ability. Add Vela the Night-Clad to seal the deal.


Slapping down a 12/12 in the face of a huge attack—potentially for near zero mana—is the kind of combat trick that turns the tide of a game. If you keep it alive, you get to crack back with it the next turn. I would play it even if it didn’t create the token when it dies; I suppose that means I’ll simply play it more.

Everyone wants to get their mitts on the Coveted Jewel, but the person casting it gets all the major benefits, drawing cards and activating the ability. If Treasure Nabber is around, the Jewel gets passed around even more. It’s a great card that can make a multiplayer environment loads of fun.

Almost an auto-include in two-color decks, and I’m pretty sure that most of my three-color decks can make use of it.

I love the idea of a little extra help casting your commander. Sometimes it’s not the commander’s cost or the tax that gets onerous, but the combination of the two that can run you into trouble in later castings. Additionally, since it pays the colored mana for you and you’re just responsible for the tax (and whatever other additional costs there are), you keep more options open.

Upgrade your Servos to Thopters and your Thopters to Constructs! Thopters still bug me, though.


I don’t mind repeating myself saying that as far as the new cards go, Commander 2018 is the best set ever for the format. Nearly every one of them is front-line playable. Better yet, many of the them help craft the kind of different-from-other-formats Magic that Commander is known and loved for. Gavin and team have captured the spirit of the format extremely well in Commander 2018. I look forward to all the great memories these cards will create.

Question of the Week (That’s Actually a Poll)

I’ll be asking the question this week, and it’s simple. I’ve never built a planeswalker-as-commander deck of my own. The poll, then, is to determine for which of the Commander 2018 PWCs you’d like to see me build. Vote early, vote often.

Once we get the results, I’ll get to work designing a very cool deck that takes advantage of cards from Commander 2018 as well as sets from the past.

Check out our comprehensive Deck List Database for lists of all my decks:


Purple Hippos and Maro Sorcerers; Kresh Into the Red Zone; Halloween with Karador; Dreaming of Intet; You Did This to Yourself.



Heliod, God of Enchantments; Thassa, God of Merfolk; Erebos and the Halls Of The Dead; Forge of Purphoros; Nylea of the Woodland Realm; Karn Evil No. 9.


Lavinia Blinks; Obzedat, Ghost Killer; Aurelia Goes to War; Trostani and Her Angels; Lazav, Shapeshifting Mastermind; Zegana and a Dice Bag; Rakdos Reimagined; Glissa, Glissa; Ruric Thar and His Beastly Fight Club; Gisa and Geralf Together Forever.

Shards and Wedges

Adun’s Toolbox; Angry, Angry Dinos; Animar’s Swarm; Borrowing Stuff at Cutlass Point; Ikra and Kydele; Karrthus, Who Rains Fire From The Sky; Demons of Kaalia; Merieke’s Esper Dragons; Nath of the Value Leaf; Queen Marchesa, Long May She Reign; Rith’s Tokens; The Mill-Meoplasm; The Altar of Thraximundar; The Threat of Yasova; Zombies of Tresserhorn.


Yidris: Money for Nothing, Cards for Free; Saskia Unyielding; Breya Reshaped; Yidris Rotisserie Draft Deck.


Children of a Greater God


Tana and Kydele; Kynaios and Tiro; Ikra and Kydele.


Adun Oakenshield Do-Over; Animar Do-Over; Glissa Do-Over; Karador Do-Over; Karador Version 3; Karrthus Do-Over; Kresh Do-Over; Steam-Powered Merieke Do-Over; Lord of Tresserhorn Do-Over; Mimeoplasm Do-Over; Phelddagrif Do-Over; Rith Do-Over; Ruhan Do-Over.

If you’d like to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that’s been alive since 1987) which is just beginning the saga The Lost Cities of Nevinor, ask for an invitation to the Facebook group “Sheldon Menery’s Monday Night Gamers.”