Commander 2019 Set Review: The New Cards

A new yearly Commander release means new designs to explore! Rules Committee member Sheldon Menery goes card-by-card on Magic’s latest.

Commander 2019 is nearly upon us, and we’re going to have quite a few saucy new toys to play with. I’m going to look at the individual cards produced for the set and see where they either might fit into existing decks or suggest new directions of their own.

Plenty has been said about the decks, and I’ll be covering them in a little more detail down the road. There’s currently a plan afoot for my local group to do what we did with the Commander 2016 release: start with the preconstructed decks and update them one card at a time after each game. For now, however, I’d like to dig into the cards one by one, breaking them down by color.


The first-level response is that Cliffside Rescuer will save your permanent from targeted removal or damage. Deeper in, it’s a finisher, especially for commander damage. “Can’t block/kill you” is good beats, although you always want to weigh the risk of then having it targeted with removal.

The card I previewed is no less exciting a week later. It’s especially saucy with partner commanders, although that can be said about quite a few things. It also makes me want to rebuild my Isamaru, Hound of Konda deck.

Reasonably cool, if a little slow, Doomed Artisan already has me thinking about putting it into a deck with Arcane Adaptation, making everything a Sculpture. Be careful playing it with Changelings like Mirror Entity, since you can’t attack or block with them while Doomed Artisan is still on the battlefield.

In the tradition of Orim’s Chant, Mandate of Peace gives you some flexibility in either shutting down an opponent’s turn or keeping them from doing things on yours. It’s better than Orim’s Chant since it shuts down all opponents, the downside being you have to cast it in combat. If you really want to get techy, cast it during your own end of combat (after you’ve attacked and done damage) to free your way to whatever you want to do during the second main phase. As a super-emergency, you can get out of an unfavorable combat that looked good going in, but someone used tricks to turn it upside down on you.

Sun Titan (reprinted in the set, by the way) in sorcery form, it’s honestly a little underwhelming. Maybe with some Wrenn and Six or Tamiyo, the Moon Sage tricks, but otherwise kind of meh.

In the runner for best card name in the set, it seems a touch over-costed; 3WW seems more reasonable. Still, if you’re creating big tokens (like populating that Desolation twin token) every time you cast a spell, things might get out of hand pretty quickly.

Probably a viable option for your Kykar, Wind’s Fury / Spirit tribal deck, even if you’re not playing a bunch of the flashback spells.


Expect big blowout plays from Kadena’s Silencer for the same mana you’d pay for Willbender, such as countering Craterhoof Behemoth’s trigger or making the Avenger of Zendikar tokens huge with Scapeshift. True to its name, the Silencer will have a quiet impact on many games.

In what might become one of the most impactful cards in the format, Leadership Vacuum is the first card to move a commander (or commanders in the case of partners) directly from the battlefield to the command zone, making it (or them) more expensive to cast. It replaces itself as well, so it’s all upside. People have already asked if we’re going to ban this, to which I say “It’s no Karakas.”

Making someone’s team into 1/1s is great if you want to wipe them out with a small Black Sun’s Zenith or Earthquake, or unmorphing Bane of the Living for one. Maybe you use one activation of Pestilence or have a Plague Spitter online. It’ll certainly help set off your Massacre Girl chain reaction. If you really need to, you can use the flashback option to hit two players on one turn. Just note that it doesn’t remove abilities from creatures, so it’s not an answer to Avacyn, Angel of Hope unless you’re giving things -1/-1.

I really like that the designers’ move into some undiscovered territory in this set. This one is akin to Perplexing Chimera, one of the most chaos-inducing cards ever, and the lines of play are legion. You have a utility creature that’s already done its job (like that face-up Willbender)? Trade it for someone’s draw spell. The play I’m hoping to make with Sudden Substitution is someone casting Phthisis on my huge creature; give them the creature, take control of the spell, and let them eat all the damage.

Kind of a reverse Chasm Skulker, Thought Sponge lets you get smashy when another player gets greedy. The obvious play here is to draw into Thought Sponge when someone else wheels, like with Wheel of Fortune or Windfall. Then you get to be greedy right along with them later, once you’re done smashing. This card will fit into nearly any of your blue strategies.

Locking down single creatures doesn’t happen to often in Commander, but this one has some possibilities. You’ll want to copy things that don’t need to attack to be useful, such as Consecrated Sphinx or Diluvian Primordial. On the whole, Wall of Stolen Identity isn’t your first-line copy card (that would be Stunt Double), but it can find a role as part of a suite of copy cards.


Pretty aptly named card. If it’s on the battlefield, it’ll make someone think twice about casting Blasphemous Act or attacking you with an Eldrazi. Of course, the big trick will be to discard it and flash it in via its madness cost, and then put it directly into harm’s way. I’m already theorizing a madness deck with cards like Creeping Dread or Cunning Lethemancer. How about Oath of Scholars or even Rotting Regisaur? There are possibilities, and although I long for the days when Demons hurt you as well as your opponents, this card is very saucy.

Zombie Waste Not For You will go right into the above-mentioned deck, play into your dredge strategy, or pretty much do lots of heavy lifting in any kind of deck in which you want to discard stuff. Mindslicer seems like it would be an okay addition here, breaking the card’s parity.

Most Curses printed in the past haven’t been all that great for Commander. This one is quite different because not only does it hurt that opponent who wants to draw too many cards, it helps your life total as well. It’s a little pricey for the regular mana cost, but the madness cost is spot-on playable.

The obvious play with Gift of Doom is to sacrifice something that’s about to die in order to save something else. My thoughts go right to creatures which have served their purpose and will go away anyway, like Karmic Guide or Bone Shredder. You could use Gift of Doom more proactively to take advantage of a dies trigger, such as on Thought Sponge.

If you want to break this card, it won’t be difficult. Like other cards that let you pay life to generate resources, you can use your relatively high life total to a huge advantage. The first card that comes to mind here is Repay in Kind, which you can cast after having drained yourself into single digits. While the card is easily broken, it’s more along the lines of Bolas’s Citadel than it is Griselbrand. There’s no need for emergency banning.

Some people are hailing this as finally the way for black to get rid of enchantments. I’m not quite so sold, since the opponents get to choose, so it’s only going to be situationally useful. Still, it’s a fine card, since it’s a three-for-one for only two mana.

At first I thought this was a little over-costed, because for some reason I glossed over the “each” part, thinking it was “target.” Fortunately, reading cards twice helps you understand them. Now I think the cost is just fine, thank you, because exiling creatures is strong in Commander. You’ll know this card is coming, so you’ll plan it out in a fashion that doesn’t hurt you. Even if your grip is large, you’ll still be able to hit quite a few creatures at your tables. Love this card.

Not sure about the Ape Snake creature type, but otherwise I’m on board with this card. It’s like a black version of Mind’s Dilation. I’m jamming this right into my Aminatou, the Fateshifter deck for maximum value when fates are shifted.


A problem many red decks have is drawing cards. They play out their hands and the rebuild is slow. Anje’s Ravager solves that problem by doing what the red deck wants to do, attacking.

Red’s version of Snapcaster Mage gives you the opportunity to reuse your instants and sorceries, again by being aggressive. In addition to more complicated setups, there’s the simple play of just flashing back your ramp spells for extra value.

Many of the cards in this set, this being one of them, tell me that the folks who designed it (big props to Glenn Jones, Gavin Verhey, and the rest of the Commander 2019 team) actually play the format in the way that our target audience plays it. They clearly also want to help make red better in the format, for which I additionally applaud them. This is an inexpensive creature, but you’re not going to drop it on Turn 2, since it won’t really have any value. I’m still waiting for the Revel in Riches deck to make its appearance, and when it does, Dockside Extortionist will be there to fuel the fire.

Spreading X damage among creatures generally isn’t an efficient use of mana in Commander, especially when you have X spells that deal global damage. What Ghired’s Belligerence might do is make some other cards, like Flamerush Rider, better, since you also get to populate.

You know I’m a fan of You Did This to Yourself cards, and Hate Mirage fits the bill. I’m thinking of adding Avatar of Slaughter to that deck anyway, and this will just ignite the combat damage fires.

The red mechanic of the last few years has been exiling the top card(s) of your library and letting you play them, a kind of effective card draw in a color that doesn’t draw cards well. What’s nice about Ignite the Future is that it expands when you can play those cards, which offers additional flexibility. Sure, you drop the land right away and cast the creature, but if you also have an instant, now you get to hold it for the right time. It also might become a kind of rattlesnake—other players will know you have it and won’t want to walk into it. To add value to the flashback version, some top-of-the-library control is in order, like Scroll Rack or some kind of tutor. Spicy card.

Pretty straightforward—casting your commander provides extra value.

Whoa! Red’s doing everything in this set, to include addressing the land imbalance that green creates. It’s pretty cool that it’s not the defending player that sacrifices them, just the player who has the most. The brilliance of this design is that at some point, the Tectonic Hellion controller will be the one with the most, so it’s self-limiting.

I see Wildfire Devils as further help for the land imbalance, because you know the first thing you’re casting is someone else’s Cultivate. I’m finally ecstatic about all the (new) red cards in a set, and the reprints are strong as well.


Oh, Dinos, you just keep getting Timmier. Apex Altisaur obviously just crushes something when it enters the battlefield. Then, when it attacks and you have Powerstone Minefield or something similar going, it crushes something else. It’s not fancy, but it’s effective.

The question isn’t if you’re going to play this, but how you’ll get out of hand with it and Minion Reflector.

Fellow SCG writer Bennie Smith saw this card previewed and wondered if he wanted to put it into his Grothama, All-Devouring deck. I wondered why he even thought about it; seems like an auto-jam. It makes a great deal of sense to play in your token deck (Deep Forest Hermit!), since people aren’t going to want to block your 1/1s with their good creatures. Go wide, draw cards.

Superior design here. Unless it’s an emergency situation, you’ll always be entwining it, so for four mana, you give yourself a card back and the opportunity to later cast your commander without paying the tax. There might even be a situation that makes it worth putting your commander into your hand before you’ve ever cast it, just so you don’t start ticking up the tax count.

Graveyard control is necessary in Commander. As it keeps getting better and more present, like with this card, I keep wondering how I’ll protect my own graveyard strategies.

Four mana, draw three? With a mana creature and a cheap commander, will do.


If you were wondering where the fuel was for your madness deck was, here it is.

I see Atla Palani as more of one of 99 in a Naya deck as opposed to its leader, played alongside Mirror Entity. When someone Wraths, activate Mirror Entity for one, giving all of your creatures the important Egg type, and boom, your battlefield state is rebuilt. Also, have a sacrifice outlet, like Goblin Bombardment to turn Eggs into damage plus something bigger. Also, please, please someone make a green Eggs and ham deck.

It’s kind of a weird way to give your creature haste, but kind of techy. Run this Chainer alongside Oversold Cemetery for all kinds of value. The ability doesn’t say “if you cast it from the graveyard,” but “if you didn’t cast it from your hand,” so I’m intrigued by the possibilities of the haste ability with things that put creatures onto the battlefield without casting them, such as Quicksilver Amulet and Lurking Predators.

A build-around commander which has myriad possibilities. The relevant part of Elsha’s ability that lets you cast noncreature, nonland cards is that you can do it as if they have flash. Wrath of God becomes a Rout that you don’t need to pay extra for. All your card draw is now as an instant. Elsha might quickly become the most popular Jeskai commander (and probably healthier for the format than Narset, Enlightened Master).

One of the Gen Con panels I was on previewed this card, and it’s pretty exciting. I know that for a while the folks in R&D have been looking for a way to make commanders dying still be able to trigger abilities (they normally don’t, since putting them into the command zone replaces dying), and they seem to have solved that with this Gerrard. He also solves one of the issues that many Boros decks have, namely rebuilding after the inevitable battlefield wipe. I love this card, and I’m still not sure if it’s leading a deck or going into another.

Rhino tribal, here we come!

Greven is just savage. He’s a two-hit (or maybe one, if you’re sacrificing Malignus) commander damage kill if folks aren’t careful. Then there’s just attacking for the sacrifice in order draw cards with those creatures which have done their work, like Noxious Gearhulk. Plus, it puts them in the graveyard for later recursion. Also, I’m loving the Weatherlight crew stained-glass window art.

Grismold plus Night of Souls’ Betrayal, thanks for playing! You know the first card you’re putting into your Grismold deck is Creakwood Liege. From there, it’s on to Avenger of Zendikar, and faces are getting smashed.

I already have a Sultai morph deck, my Mimeo Do-Over. Kadena is just replacing The Mimeoplasm when I run that, after I update it with some of the other cards in Commander 2019.

More like Marisi, Breaker of Faces. You’ll want to go wide with Marisi so that you can goad everyone. Since you can cast spells during combat, you have plenty of options, although it’s not likely that you’re getting attacked. It’s another reason you might consider playing Avatar of Slaughter. You can build from scratch with Marisi, adding Arahbo, Roar of the World and all its associated shenanigans. There are fun ways to go with this card, and all of them involve being the aggro player.

The only two words we need for Pramikon are Legendary and Wall. The first idea for a Pramikon deck is Jeskai Superfriends, since who can attack you and your planeswalkers is limited. I want to build a Wall tribal Maze’s End deck, but there obviously aren’t enough Gates to do it with Pramikon. Maybe someday.

I want to make Rayami work, but I like my own creatures too much. I’d like them to go to the graveyard when they die, not be exiled, and Rayami is symmetrical. Perhaps a token deck might be the answer, since you can play some control elements and use targeted removal to take care of things. There are hoops to jump through, but it’s possible.

I’d play Sevinne without the second ability, so I’ll definitely play it with it. The damage prevention gives you options like Lightmine Field and Powerstone Minefield, plus just the defensive ability to Sevinne to block anything. It suggests expanding on the theme and playing cards like Mark of Asylum and Dolmen Gate to make all your creatures (mostly) like Sevinne.

Tahngarth seems angry and wants to attack everybody. He’s definitely one of 99 in some kind of aggressive deck. I wanted to use Equipment to make him more savage, but many of the good ones, like Basilisk Collar, grant abilities to the creature, which means its controller gets the benefits. The exceptions to that rule are the Swords, like Sword of Fire and Ice or Sword of Feast and Famine. The creature gets the bonus and protection, but the controller of the Sword gets the benefit.

Lots of folks are talking about the cool things to do with this version of Volrath, but what they’re not mentioning is that it’s a 7/5 commander for five mana! With even one ramp spell (and you’re in green), that’s Turn 4. It’s the most aggressive of the Sultai commanders, and it means I might be developing a Sultai problem in addition to my Temur one.


This card is so full of laughs. It breaks the structure of the game without breaking the game. I see people are already looking into tomfoolery like making multiple copies of it with Prototype Portal. Could be loads of fun, but I feel sorry for the person two seats away from the Aeon Engine player; they might never get any more turns.

A cheap and easy way of using someone else’s creatures offensively, or just keeping them from attacking you.

More solving of the nongreen ramp problem, Empowered Autogenerator is a little slow, but it’ll catch you up eventually. And you can always proliferate it.

Free card draw is great, and I’m not sure there are too many situations in which I’d give that up, even to get the 10/10 creature. You’re only going to put Idol of Oblivion into decks that are making tokens, whether that’s Ghave, Guru of Spores or something with Goblin Assault or Assemble the Legion.

The Group Hug decks get a new toy. I seem to recall some version of this when we playtested these decks during development and thought it was pretty cool. Of course, the way to get maximum benefit is to also play Brooding Saurian in order to eventually get it back.

One word, and that’s Opposition. Scarecrows forever.

A mana-saving weapon for your morph decks, now you can keep the mana up to unmorph the card instead of paying the {3}. Since it only costs three, you gain the benefit of it right away, and you don’t have to commit to putting it onto the battlefield right away.


The Sanctum does three things. First, it protects you if someone steals your commander. Second, it lets you bounce it back to your hand in response to a battlefield wipe, so that you don’t have to play the tax. Third, and not least, if you have a commander with a cool enters-the-battlefield trigger, like Lavinia of the Tenth, The Mimeoplasm, or Queen Marchesa, you get to repeat it. The question isn’t if I’m going to play the card; it’ll be a struggle to figure out which one deck gets to have it.


The individual cards in Commander 2019 are outstanding. As far as new cards go, it’s in the running for the best Commander product ever. Nearly every one of them will see play in the format outside of the preconstructed decks they’re in. The great cards are balanced across the colors, and there are new tools for nearly every play style. If this is what Commander products will be going forward, we have a great deal to look forward to.

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