Commander 2019: The Upgrade Path

The Commander 2019 decks are fun out of the box, but that’s only the beginning! Sheldon Menery shares how he’d build around all their potential three-color commanders!

The Commander 2019 decks are arguably the best ever set of preconstructed Commander decks. As evidenced by a slew of release events around the world, they play extremely well together, and could generate endless hours of fun.

They are, of course, more than that. They’re the door in the back of the wardrobe to a pretty magical land. They’re built so that you can take the shell of several different ideas and make them your own. Today I’m going to talk about some ideas to take each of the decks, breaking them down further with each different commander. I’ll try to avoid suggesting obvious format staples—like putting Tatyova, Benthic Druid in the Sultai deck—instead going for some more outside-the-box ideas.

Faceless Menace (Sultai)

Faceless Menace is clearly already a morph deck, so the path with Kadena is toward doing more of the same and then working with the support pieces. It’s not a budget option, but Illusionary Mask is a wild choice, and everyone can practice their reading comprehension. The card that definitely needs to come in is Mischievous Quanar, which has led to some hilarious and epic games in my experience. A card like Hex plays well in the internal game, but I’d want creature removal to be a little more straightforward, like Decree of Pain or Damnation. There’s certainly an argument for All Is Dust, although you’d have to time it. It’s not my style, but since Vesuvan Shapeshifter is in the deck, you can add Brine Elemental for the infamous Pickles lock.

Rayami becomes a horse of a different color. Some of the morphs like Vesuvan Shapeshifter, Willbender, and Nantuko Vigilante have value, but you’d really want to move this into being a token and control deck so that your commander doesn’t exile so much of your stuff. I’d also add some targeted removal—like keeping that Hex around—in order to take advantage of Rayami’s ability. Adding a Riftsweeper is also likely in your best interests. Don’t underestimate the value of Rayami as a five-power commander for four mana. Some beatings can happen there.

This one would demand the greatest overhaul and yields the greatest number of possibilities. There are quite a few ways to go, and most of them involve counters and probably proliferate.

But before we just go down the avenue of -1/-1 counters, like sliding in Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons and and Archfiend of Ifnir, think about the idea of using other kinds of counters, even +1/+1 counters that make your opponents’ creatures better. With Forgotten Ancient, you can spread around counters (obviously, also to your own, which you can then make Volrath a copy of).

There’s an old card from Visions, Aku Djinn, that puts +1/+1 counters on each of your opponents’ creatures. Then you offer opponents incentives to attack elsewhere, like with Vow of Wilderness, Bloodthirsty Blade, or bringing some chaos with Illusionists’s Gambit.

It can mean defending yourself with Propaganda, Elephant Grass, or Sandwurm Convergence, or maybe the criminally underplayed Wall of Souls. Or just wrecking them with Phthisis. Sure, it’s living dangerously, but that’s part of the fun.

I could probably write a whole piece on the half a dozen different Volrath decks I’d build. Like with Rayami, don’t discount the fact that it’s a seven-power creature for only five mana.

Mystic Intellect (Jeskai)

I’m not the biggest flashback fan in Commander, because I like to use my spells more than twice. Still, there’s power in Sevinne’s ability to get what is effectively a third use out of spells. You’ll want a Catalyst Stone to make your flashback costs cheaper, and then you’ll want Pyromancer’s Goggles to doubly copy all the red ones, which you might get to cast off the top of your library since you’re still using Elsha of the Infinite, plus adding Melek, Izzet Paragon. Add your Niv-Mizzet suite to deal out some damage when you draw cards, and you might not have to add too many other creatures.

The second way to take Sevinne is thematically using the first ability; this is a bit more of an overhaul. Play all the things like Mark of Asylum which prevent noncombat damage to your team; then add Aether Flash, Lightmine Field, and Powerstone Minefield, and go to town. This version would be way more of a creature deck than it currently is.

We’re certainly keeping around Melek if we’re going to play Elsha as the commander. We’re also going to engage in some top-of-the-library control, like Sensei’s Divining top and Scroll Rack, so that we can cast what we want when we want to. We could certainly go full Vedalken Orrery here. Being able to look at the top card also means that clash is viable, although the choices aren’t routinely great. Pollen Lullaby or Scattering Stroke might be the best options.

Elsha has prowess, so we’re going to want to make sure combat damage gets through. Whispersilk Cloak, Rogue’s Passage, and Thassa, God of the Sea are all strong options. This is also the deck that I’d move Tectonic Hellion into, since it will likely want the help, which suggests even more unblockableness, like Sun Quan, Lord of Wu. We’ll fully commit to the Talrand, Sky Summoner and Guttersnipe option, adding Adeliz, the Cinder Wind; Feather, the Redeemed; and more. You could even build a shell and then change which instants or sorceries you want to cast from game to game. And don’t forget Diluvian Primordial.

The card that caused the most ruckus at our release event, especially when there was more than one at a table, Pramikon lends itself to something quite defensive. I’d consider using Pramikon in the same fashion as the second Sevinne option, making attacking troublesome. The more attractive upgrade is to change a bunch of the instants into “you did this to yourself” cards, like Reflect Damage and Mirror Strike. Then add Avatar of Slaughter for pretty hefty damage.

The old-school card that you might want to add to a deck with Ghostly Prison in it is Angel’s Trumpet. A nice super-old-school instant that goes with this version of Pramikon is Siren’s Call. Maybe even put it on an Isochron Scepter. If you really want to commit to the Siren’s Call and Angel’s Trumpet idea, you can springboard off the Mandate of Peace idea and just play Peacekeeper and other cards that prevent creatures from attacking. The more I keep talking about it, the more fun this deck becomes.

Primal Genesis (Naya)

The upgrade path here is to go full Giant Adephage: Spawnwrithe, Spitting Slime, Polyraptor, and friends. You really don’t need to do too much. I might swap out the Garruk that’s in the deck, Garruk, Primal Hunter, for Garruk Wildspeaker, in order to get some Overrun goodness.

The first token-making creature that came to mind is Godsire. This isn’t the deck with Seedborn Muse in it, but you could go that route anyway, making an 8/8 during everyone’s turn for no mana. Elspeth Tirel likely gains you plenty of value, especially since the deck already had Rootborn Defenses. I might swap out Naya Charm for Boros Charm to double up on the indestructible (since with tokens, Faith’s Reward really isn’t much of an option). Continue the token-creating theme with Quicksilver Spear or Sigiled Sword of Valeron for equipment.

Because you’re creating a bunch of tokens for little to no mana, Warstorm Surge will reduce opponents’ life totals pretty quickly—or if you want to live a little more dangerously, Pandemonium. If you then add Asceticism or Archetype of Endurance, then at least that Pandemonium can’t wipe out your team. Those also give them protection from Apex Altisaur’s fight ability. The other direction you can either take with Ghired or add as a subtheme is Rhino tribal. If you did that, I wouldn’t call flavor fail on you if you included Crash of Rhino Beetles.

It’s all about the Eggs, and this one’s a major overhaul. Roc Egg is already in there, but you can add Rukh Egg and Dragon Egg. Then you add the Changelings: Chamelon Colossus, Changeling Hero, Changeling Titan, Taurean Mauler, and the mack daddy of them all, Mirror Entity. If someone (even you) were to wipe the battlefield, you can have all of yours back for just one mana, since Mirror Entity’s ability gives them all creature types. When they all come back, you’ll likely draw three from Voice of Many, and maybe have some fun with Heart-Piercer Manticore. I might add a few more creatures with enters-the-battlefield triggers (definitely dealer’s choice here), to take further advantage of this play—or just add Panharmonicon. Atla Palani is in the running for one of the first decks I build from the ground up with the Commander 2019 cards.

Ever since I first saw the card, I really wanted to do something with Tahngarth, First Mate. Marisi, Breaker of the Coil is that commander. I’d remove the populate pieces to head in this direction. Because your opponents can’t cast spells during combat, their window to deal with Tahngarth is a little narrower. I’d want to make Tahngarth tougher to kill, so Darksteel Plate is a fine choice; Hammer of Nazahn might even be a little stronger, since it occasionally gets around equip costs.

The various Swords, like Sword of Feast and Famine or Sword of Fire and Ice, are great choices, because while the creature gets the buff and the protections, you, as controller of the Sword, get the triggers, regardless of who controls Tahngarth. Rogue’s Gloves and Umezawa’s Jitte also apply.

Godsend might be nice to attach as well. Because you’re playing white, you could also make Tahngarth indestructible with Avacyn, Angel of Hope. The good thing about all those Equipment cards is that they’re also strong choices to just put onto Marisi, leveraging its ability to make people attack someone other than you. You could even go for a Cat Tribal subtheme with Marisi, since Arahbo, Roar of the World doesn’t just work from the command zone.

Merciless Rage (Rakdos)

The commander that works best with the deck right out of the box. You have to go full madness with it. The deck already has most of the best madness cards in it, so the question is where to go with it, and Vampire Tribal could be the way, especially since it’d be a way to play with Falkenrath Gorger. The idea of all your Vampires having madness will get Anje untapping all the time. Unfortunately, there really isn’t anything that gives the inspired ability.

Olivia, Mobilized for War is the first card to add, even if you’re not going full tribal. Skyshroud Vampire, while slightly pricey by today’s creature standards, still gets you the kind of discard outlet you want. Sangromancer is just a good card, and if you’re helping other people discard, it’s going to gain you lots of life. Mindslicer is a symmetrical discard outlet that obviously becomes asymmetrical when you have madness; same goes for Sire of Insanity. Chandra Ablaze might be an interesting replacement for Ob Nixilis Reignited (although sometimes you just want to draw cards).

The madness cards in the deck also work pretty well with Chainer, but they become just the fuel to feed the fires of getting cool creatures onto the battlefield with haste—even if you’re not casting them. The ones that come to mind right away are those with persist. In the colors, Puppeteer Clique and Murderous Redcap (plus maybe a few Scarecrow), so nothing too exciting from a hasty perspective. The idea that intrigues me there is Cauldron of Souls—you could cast a battlefield wipe on your turn and then attack with your slightly smaller team without resistance. The problem is that you have to have Chainer on the battlefield when those creatures enter, so while that whole line is nicely techy, there are probably easier ways to give them haste, like Urabrask the Hidden.

It’s a simpler line, but any reanimation that doesn’t already grant haste becomes away better, as suggested by the deck’s inclusion of Beacon of Unrest and From Under the Floorboards. Rise of the Dark Realms becomes pretty saucy. The “until your next turn” clause makes things interesting as well. You don’t have to use creatures with tap abilities right away now—and if you’re on your turn, you have the whole cycle. I’d be more inclined to play Infernal Offering, and one of my favorites, Makeshift Mannequin, gets different life. The card that you get back with Phyrexian Delver can now attack right away, so pitching a card to Chainer does double duty. All in all, Chainer looks like the one in this deck you can go the most directions with.

Greven, whether it’s the commander or one of 99, is going to kill people. It’s the narrowest if you’re building around it, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. It’s saucy. K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth, which is a card that is on the borderline of being unhealthy for the format, makes a great deal of sense in this deck. Cast something, Greven is deadlier. Who cares about losing life?

The trick with Greven’s ability is to use creatures that have higher power (cards you draw) than toughness (life you lose). There are plenty of 4/2s and 3/1s in the colors. Flayer of the Hatebound is one of them, and was an inspired choice for the deck; you might consider adding other creatures with undying, or simply Mikaeus, the Unhallowed.

Some portion of the creature suite of the deck needs to change to better suit what you’re trying to do. Blood Artist is probably a first choice. Vilis, Broker of Blood also seems like a solid pick—just be careful you don’t draw yourself out at some point. Erebos, God of the Dead provides some nice card draw/life loss. The card that I’d most like to play in this pile is Repay in Kind, which makes me feel a little dirty with K’rrik and Bolas’s Citadel. If you’re going all in on Greven, you probably want the Whispersilk Cloak / Lightning Greaves / Rogue’s Passage suite to make sure you get him through.


The Commander 2019 decks are an excellent starting point for your deck-building adventure, whether you’re an experienced player or it’s your first time. Each with three different signature commanders, not to mention other worthy deck-leading legendary creatures, it’s going to be a long time before you run out of ideas.

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