The Commander set that we’re going to be talking about for a long, long time has fully dropped. It has lots of everything for Commander players of every stripe, from the durdliest of durdlers to the sharkiest of sharks. The sheer scope of the set (361 cards) makes reviewing it an immense challenge—but one we’re happy to undertake.
I don’t really need my normal caveat that this review if for Commander only. What I will tell you is that because of the set’s raw density, it’ll be difficult (and perhaps ponderous) to talk about all the individual cards in the set that are worth mentioning. I’ll follow the course of my normal set review and pick out a Top 3, but there are cards that might get little more than passing notice, and then more as part of the color’s density. More than normal, I’m going to focus on the stars. The grading for each color will be relative to what I’m expecting out of a Commander set; if these cards were in a normal set, they’d all get As.
One other change is that as I talk about the cards with partner, I’ll reference them as individual cards. Because there are so many of them, we’ll reserve talking about partner pairs until next time, when I can cover them more fully.
While the set is designed to be drafted and makes a great starting point for a Boxing League, nearly everyone else will be covering it from those perspectives. I’ll be looking at the cards in the light of loosing them on the broader format.
A keyword soup card that goes right into your Kathril, Aspect Warper deck, Ixidor’s vision of Akroma is pretty spicy. She can exist as a single-card strategy with her normal suite of Akroma abilities and then just lead the army to glorious victory. There are more than enough cards that give your whole team the relevant abilities, from True Conviction to Archetype of Courage. This Akroma can be bomby.
One of the modes for four mana is more than enough. Getting both turns it from a defensive punch out to an offensive powerhouse. With double strike, you don’t really need all that many (now unblockable) creatures to deal some heavy damage and gain life from the lifelink. Great card with great flexibility.
Going down the road of Luminous Broodmoth, Alharu simply lets you rebuild some from battlefield sweepers. It’s a fine way to go.
Monarch is back with a vengeance! A big, beefy body to take back the monarchy when you need it and serious life total protection in a single package will get you where you’re going. One of my early favorite cards in preview season, and nothing has dampened my enthusiasm.
White as the color of catching up is good space for what many consider the weakest of the five. The trigger on each opponent’s end step means that you can play with sacrifice outlets for both your creatures, such as Carnage Altar, and lands, such as Zuran Orb. In the latter case, you can then later cast things like The Mending of Dominaria and World Shaper to just race ahead.
While the opportunity to get occasionally blown out when Promise of Tomorrow gets Disenchanted, the upside can be huge. White has a few nice renanimation choices, like Emeria Shepherd, but they tend to be grindy. With Promise of Tomorrow, you can have a big turnaround, especially if it’s at the end of the turn of the player on your right.
Likely more suited to being a commander, though I wouldn’t sleep on Rebbec in any Voltron build or deck that has lots of artifact creatures. If you’re running the latter, however, be careful about trying to equip them.
Maybe a little disappointing as a mythic rare, but the upside when it’s working out is pretty big. It’s cheap enough to cast that you might be equipping it early enough to get an Angel engine running.
A great battlefield sweeper whether or not you’re saving your own commander, since it takes out planeswalkers. You’re in a color that’s pretty good at targeted removal, so you can pick off any stragglers anyway.
A new Serra Avatar that you can actually engage in reanimation shenanigans with, Soul of Eternity will smash some faces. You can just battle with it in your lifegain deck or fling it with Brion Stoutarm. The encore ability is pricey, and it should be for the ability to potentially dump triple digits in power onto the battlefield.
A little spendy, but it should be since it’s one-sided. You’ll need a pretty hefty commitment to the noncreatures in order to make it worthwhile, unless they’re also artifacts and enchantments.
GRADE = B
The sweet cards are there, but all of them are on the top end of converted mana cost. I love me some Battlecruiser Commander, but I wouldn’t mind some more midrange choices here. The reprints are merely okay, with Slaughter the Strong and Rest in Peace being the best of them.
Did I miss the scourge of Salamanders wrecking people? Maybe Salamanders have been marginalized so long that it just doesn’t like hitting its own. Any way you look at it, giving someone a vanilla 4/3 instead of their really good creature is a fine trade. It’s a little weird that it creates a creature of a higher power though. Adding the encore ability makes the card into a finishing move.
You want to become the monarch and make sure you an always get it back? Accept no substitutes for Azure Fleet Admiral.
You had me at the first two abilities. Adding the third puts the card right into the stratosphere. Even drawing a card for just a chump block is good. If someone wants to fill up your hand with a Blasphemous Act, more power to them.
The fixed Tidespout Tyrant is sending cards in a positive direction. More love for all the chunky creatures out there!
I love the fact that Court of Cunning does something even if you’re not the monarch. You can pick the people you want to mill, which is great protection against the reanimation or Dredge decks, or you can go whole hog if you want to pick stuff up out of their graveyards. Pair with Sphinx of the Second Sun for maximum hilarity.
Eligeth definitely doesn’t need to be your commander to get good value. It slots right into your Sphinx tribal as well. I’ll be putting it into a deck with Thassa, God of the Sea and/or Marit Lage’s Slumber.
Tap-and-hold cards aren’t all that popular, but I’d probably give this one a shot because of the monarch mechanic. It made me think about monarch in a different way—it’s just like stapling card draw onto a spell, but with more potential upside.
The Ghost doesn’t need to be a partner to be a solid addition to a deck. You’ll have to do some work to make the triggered ability work, but combine it with some looting, and you’re in business.
Great Commander games often involve huge blowouts, so Hullbreacher is going to be involved in some great Commander games. It’s representative of a direction from Studio X that I like—punishing greed. It’s Notion Thief that won’t get you decked, too.
We need more Laboratory Drudge cards in the format—it’s extremely narrow and therefore a challenge to do something interesting with. I like to do some work to get value out of cards, and this Zombie, who goes nicely with Gisa and Geralf or Havengul Lich, makes you think in different patterns.
My first thoughts on Mnemonic Deluge were time magic, but you’ll probably have to have cast them yourself already (or maybe looted). Then I started branching out into thinking about red spells and it got exciting. A very Commander card, destined to live in the dollar rare bin, which is just fine with me.
I suspect we’ll see more of this Sakashima not coming out of the command zone, since it’s also eminently splashable. The legend rule not applying to all other permanents opens some doors, too, like when you want to cast a saucy Rite of Replication.
Sure, you’re limited to something that entered the battlefield this turn, so it’s not quite as flexible as Stunt Double, but you get that cascade, which might even have something better to copy.
The Sakashima trifecta has come in. Imagine casting the second mode when you already have Sakashima of a Thousand Faces on the battlefield.
Lots of folks have already covered some of the insanity that will happen with this Sphinx, and I just want to sit and revel in all the crazy ideas. While the focus tends to be on the additional upkeep, it’s really the whole package that gets me, from untapping all the way through draw. How about adding Sylvan Library?
Oh, the hilarity that’s going to ensue with this card. Sure, you’ll be giving an opponent something really good, but you’ll be buying yourself some political capital. Its first-order use is simply as a one-creature Fog. If you have an archenemy at the table, you can get two people to hit them with something big instead of one. Of course, you can also use it for all the normal Zedruu the Greathearted tomfoolery as well.
Grade = A
Some big splashy stuff, some moderately-costed other things. Definitely represents the Commander feel. And there’s that sweet Mana Drain reprint.
Really liking the new takes on the monarch mechanic. Again, it does something useful even if you’re not the monarch. I’m not normally a fan of too much discard, but this is one I could get used to, especially since players have the choice.
This is a card for your Aminatou, the Fateshifter deck, right? In what other world do I want to play it? Trying to think it out, I suppose along with Repay in Kind it could be a thing. Still, seems more like a card you want to Donate than keep. Again, a card that makes you think what about what you’re doing, so that’s a positive.
Elves have gotten nasty recently, and I’m not sure I hate it. Being in black, you’re more likely to get multiple uses out of Elvish Dreadlord before you encore it. The tribe is dangerous but linear in mono-green. Branching into black gives it real depth and dimension.
Another one that we saw early and time hasn’t diminished for me. I love sacrifice outlets and drawing cards, so this one is right in the wheelhouse. Even more simply, it’s just a nice response if someone wants to blow up all the artifacts on the battlefield, turning potential loss into gain.
More black tribal support. Some of your Elves are either going to get got or you’re going to sacrifice them for value. Miara values up even that much more.
As if the Elves weren’t already deadly enough, you don’t need to be playing the tribe to get benefit from the Nightblade. It’ll be quite saucy in an Orzhov Daxos the Returned deck. Also, Treasure tokens are tokens. Ouch.
Not everyone is going to have six creatures on the battlefield, so this is a battlefield sweeper in many cases. You’ll obviously want to cast it when your creature count is low, or since you’re in black, maybe you just don’t care because they’re coming back anyway. Really like the flavor.
Another card that punishes players for being greedy, both in whittling away their life total and making itself more deadly, Nightshade Harvester continues to theme in this set of creating the kinds of cards that we need to keep some strategies in check. Someone saw this card and asked me if it mean that Primeval Titan was now safe to bring back, to which my snap call was “no.”
One of the most talked-about cards in Magic in a long time – which is saying something since we lived through Oko, Thief of Crowns – Opposition Agent is well-named because people are lining up on opposite sides of whether it’s good or bad for the format. I’m of the mind that it’s good, even if the power level is a little pushed. I would have been happier had it been four mana instead of three. There would have still been the blowout moments, but not so easily. Still, it’s a great answer to aggressive tutoring.
Continuing to lean into Commanderness with nine-cost spells, the life total exchange is going to hurt someone very badly, and then the Horror is going to hurt them even worse. If I have to face down a 2500-power Horror with my Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice deck, I’ll consider it a good day for the format.
Unlike Scion of Darkness or Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni, which need to deal damage, Rakshasa Debaser just needs to battle. You can send it into an unfavorable combat to get something huge out of a graveyard knowing that you can (for a bit of a steep cost) get it back later.
The counters will pile up quickly on Sengir, whether it’s leading a Vampire tribe or just being a member of the dark army. That means it’ll get deadly quickly, getting into the game loss ability. Of course, you don’t need to cause the other player to lose the game. Even if it’s someone else that does them in, you get the lifegain. Especially good with Voltron strategies which don’t care how high the life total began.
Most likely cast with the first mode and then getting the second as a bonus, but there are certainly situations in which you’ll want to cast just the second mode. Opponents graveyards can be scary, and popping this off in response to a Living Death would be sweet. Then you’ll have tokens to do murder when you play Nadier’s Nightblade.
Getting to ten without proliferate is going to be tough unless you have a truly dedicated strategy, which means it’s more likely to be one of your commanders. I’d be happy to promise to not use the -10 ability and just get the value from them +1 over and over. I don’t think anyone would fall for it, but you never know.
Some very nice protection against Bojuka Bog, although it’s not a complete answer. It’s probably just a win more card with Syr Konrad, the Grim, but then again, what isn’t?
Grade = A-
The best cards lag by comparison to some of the other colors, but the density of good choices is there. The reprints, from the always-popular Vampiric Tutor to the host of solid but not splashy other cards, tick the grade up half a point.
The ability is powerful enough that you’re going to want to have her come out of the command zone, but if you get her in your Boxing League pool, you’re not going to be sad.
Obviously pointing you in a particular direction, Aurora Phoenix will be a fine addition to your Maelstrom Wanderer deck. Or Maelstrom Nexus.
The card in the set with everyone’s favorite name, Breeches works well as 1 of the 99 in your Admiral Beckett Brass deck. You’ll have enough Pirates to go wide, and there’s a pretty good chance that someone won’t have enough creatures to block Breeches. Great flavor design.
You don’t need to have Pirates to deal lots of damage with Coastline Marauders, punishing especially those players who’ve ramped out of control. Another example of a Card That We Need. My favorite play will be to activate the encore ability late-game while I have Stalking Vengeance on the battlefield.
Threaten effects can swing tight games pretty easily. Repeatable ones can get downright silly. Coercive Recruiter sets the stage for every one of your Pirates to do the press gang bit. Neat flavor that it also becomes a Pirate while you have control of it.
While not the monarch, the two damage isn’t much. While you are, you can go rip-roaring through creatures or life totals. Add Fiery Emancipation for a burning good time.
Dargo looks fun and all, and you can get it onto the battlefield pretty quickly. If you want to take full advantage of it, you’ll need to build on said advantage, whether that’s artifacts or creatures to sacrifice or the even more obvious Treasures. Each Treasure provides effectively three mana—one you get when you sacrifice it and then two more towards the cost of Dargo when you cast it.
Just by itself, Emberwilde Captain might lead me to build a new version of a monarch deck. One of the downsides of being the monarch is getting attacked, so you have to protect yourself with cards like Mirror Strike or Comeuppance. Emberwilde Captain can make it quite painful to send battles your way and will do so repeatedly.
You know you’re getting in five damage for the card you draw. The question is, how chaotic and greedy will your opponents be? Note that the card isn’t initially targeted, so it can’t be countered by making the target illegal. You only get targets when cards are drawn. And then hilarity ensues.
Artifacts matter in Commander Legends red, so there’s more to do with those Treasures than just get mana. Having them hang around is good sometimes, too. Such is the case with Fathom Fleet Swordjack, getting some damage in before blockers are ever declared. It can be a pretty effective way of taking out otherwise-protected planeswalkers.
I scratched my head a little on this one, and then realized you can curve into something quite nice with your four- or five-cost commander. I’m not completely sold, but it’s worth a look.
Getting around paying for your commander at a critical moment can end up as big upside for Hellkite Courser. The good news is that it doesn’t tick up your commander tax and you get any cool enters-the-battlefield triggers that it might have. Let’s not dismiss the fact that Hellkite Courser is a big flyer in its own right.
Unique in design, Jeska cares about how many times you’ve cast a commander, so it’s going to be better with a partner. As a single-card strategy, it’s still tied to the commander, so you might want a less expensive one. Having a creature deal triple damage to an opponent for zero mana is strong, but you have to read the fine print. It’s only combat damage, and it’s not a blanket triple damage, just to the player. If blockers and trample are involved, you’ll still need to assign what would be lethal to the blocker, and then assign the rest to the player—which then gets tripled.
Unless an opponent has a pretty huge hand, you’re eating into the profits by having to cast Jeska’s Will. Still, a net of three or four isn’t bad, since you’ll likely get one thing to cast and a land to drop.
The way to take advantage of Krark is in your cascade deck. You cast the instant or sorcery, getting the cascade. Then, you flip for Krark, and if you lose, the spell is back in your hand to cascade again. If not, you get to double up. Wins all around.
The best part of this card is the limitation to prevent you from getting infinite combat steps. In many cases, three is probably enough to take out some players, but you’ll also have to protect the Port Razer. Note that you don’t get any additional main phases in between. Strong design.
There’s so much going on here, but you’ll need big piles of mana to get immediate value. You can shred your library by targeting a bunch of things, and you’re at the whims of fate to make sure you get the right amount of damage in. The big part is that you can then play the cards, but you’ve already spend nine on Soulfire Eruption. The good news is that you can play them until the end of your next turn, so they’re still available when you next untap.
Good old rock. Nothing beats rock. You might consider just piling up your Rock tokens to power up your Fathom Fleet Swordjack.
Games within the game are pretty exciting so long as they aren’t just random chaos. I’m sure there are already spreadsheets running optimal numbers to pick when you’re involved in a Wheel of Misfortune, but gamers gonna game. Obviously, you want to find the middle number so that you don’t take damage but you do get the cards. What you’ll want to do here is play it alongside The Wanderer so that you can pick whatever number you want and deny anyone else the pleasure of the cards.
Grade = B+
There are lots of cool toys, but there’s nothing that really makes you sit up and go “wow.” A real marquee card in here would have done the trick. The sweetest reprint, of course, is Najeela, the Blade-Blossom.
Easily slotting into your Wolf tribal, Beast tribal, or just any deck in which you want to swing with your commander, Anara will have your back.
Whenever I feel like designers don’t “get” commander and create pushed cards that might not be healthy for the format, there’s always stuff like Apex Devastator to bring it back around. This is the Timmiest of Timmy cards. You need ten mana, but when you have it, you get five spells—unless, of course, there’s another cascade spell in there.
Ooze tribal, baby! You have your choice of Experiment Kraj; Prime Speaker Vannifar (who knew?); Slurrk, All-Ingesting; The Mimeoplasm; and Umori, the Collector.
Bounty indeed, as the Court lets you ramp even if you’re not the monarch. If you are, then you can have a free creature if you prefer. Simple, elegant design that’s strong, compelling, and not broken.
Look, everyone, it’s an Elk you don’t want to hate!
Converted mana cost three isn’t the tightest spot for your mana creatures, but the upside of Gilanra is worth it. In green, you’re casting big stuff (and note it triggers on all spells, not just creatures), so you’ll draw some cards here.
Cards don’t need to be super-complicated to feel good and be enjoyable to cast. Halana isn’t going to get out of control, but she’s going to provide you with solid value when you need it. Nick it into a deck with Archetype of Finality and every creature that enters the battlefield on your side is removal.
There is no nuance to Kamahl. All he wants to do is get in there and bash. He gives himself the bonus, so he can get a commander damage kill in short order. What I like about the activated ability is that you can use it to protect an important land—if someone wants to Strip Mine your Gaea’s Cradle or Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, Kamahl will be there to save it.
Another way of making your lands indestructible for a turn, you can also get them to orc pile onto a creature that’s irritating you. It’s neat that the lands have vigilance so that you can attack with them and then cast spells with them post-combat.
Permanent. It says permanent. The card you put onto the battlefield doesn’t have to share a type with what triggered Kodama of the East Tree. Because you can put in something of equal converted mana cost, one land can become two. This is a super value engine for any deck that you might jam it into—just remember to draw enough cards to fuel it.
A new Magus, this one named after Natural Order. The Magus is a little more flexible than the spell, since you can activate it as an instant. It’s a big sacrifice—two creatures, counting the Magus itself—but you’re likely turning in the Magus and something small for something huge. Like Lord of Extinction.
I’m on the fence about a five-mana Naturalize, even with the cascade. It’ll get played in the Limited environments for sure, but I wonder if it has the oomph for the open format.
I’m certainly not the only one who’s gone down the roads of landfall triggers and/or Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. If you want real value, play Amulet of Vigor to effectively make the spell free. A killer with Ob Nixilis, the Fallen.
Is it politics or insanity to cast Rootweaver Druid? Might be a little of both. It’s a creature version of Tempt with Discovery (for basic lands only). You’ll have players wondering if the two lands for each of them is worth the three for you. Seems like the answer will always be yes. Be careful here and don’t also play Brooding Saurian.
One of the potential Ooze commanders, Slurrk also just works in your +1/+1 counters decks, like Ghave, Guru of Spores. I’ll be jamming it into my Prime Speaker Zegana deck.
Speaking of +1/+1 counter decks, this new Spider has it going on. At worst case, you’ll be getting a 3/6 with reach and another spell. In the best (and with some more mana), you’ll add counters to a whole team—like living the Avenger of Zendikar dream. There’s also some play here to put counters on an opponent’s creature(s) if it can get them to lethal damage on an archenemy.
Grade = A
The top grade here is because the best cards are different. They’re not necessarily complicated, but they’re not just simple value engines, which has happened in the past with green cards. I’m a fan of the combination of the design cleverness paired with restraint. And props for the Three Visits reprint.
Last week, I took a look at a fair number of the non-partner legendary creatures that we had seen so far, so I don’t want to rehash any of that. I encourage you to check them out first. There were a few that slipped by due to deadlines and whatnot, so if they’re relevant, I’ll mention them here. The whole suite will be considered for Top 3 and grading.
Clearly designed to go into your Breeches, Brazen Plunderer and Malcolm, Keen-Eyed Navigator Pirate partners (as opposed to the more spendy Admiral Beckett Brass), Captain Vargus will get you going wide. What’s relevant about it is that it’s not dead late game, unlike many other 1/1s. It just has to attack in order to give the bonus, which might be hefty by then.
I’ve been pushing for an Elephant lord for a while. This card is really good, but it doesn’t feel very Elephantine to me. It suggests building with Arcbound Ravager and friends more than leading an Elephant tribe.
It should be pretty easy to make someone the monarch with Jared and then just take it away from them on the same turn by battling them. After that, Jared becomes a pretty solid defender of your crown. He’s also in colors, especially red and white, which have all the best You Did This to Yourself toys, like Comeuppance, Deflecting Palm, and Mirror Strike.
Kwain, Party Rabbit? I’d really love to hear the design philosophy behind what’s clearly meant to be a Group Hug card. You obviously need to have some Jefferson Airplane on while you’re playing this card.
Grade = A
They certainly provided enough non-partner legendary creatures to whet the appetite of the hungriest commander player. Again, they’ve done the job of not always sending you down completely obvious paths, which should have positive net effects on the format. And while we could have lived without Derevi, Empyrial Tactician, there are a bunch of super-sweet reprints that I can’t wait to see in etched foil.
Someone asked me if I prefer Bladegriff Prototype to Steel Hellkite and all I could think about was playing both.
Clever design that has diminishing returns the more colors you’re playing. People are already talking about slapping it on Traxos, Scourge of Kroog. That could get really awkward in short order.
Giving everyone access to the Kruphix ability seems fine. It’s a little expensive and doesn’t come along with being indestructible, but that’s the price for being able to cast it with generic mana.
Sure, you can sacrifice cheap stuff, like Mycosynth Wellspring, in order to either protect your artifact or get it back into your hand so you can cast it again, but consider sacrificing something bigger, like Spine of Ish Sah. Note that Ingenuity Engine can be what you bounce, getting another fat cascade.
I have a good deal to say about this card and will be saying it repeatedly over the coming weeks and probably months.
No, it’s not getting emergency banned, but it has the eye of the RC fixed firmly on it. If you’re going to go acquire one at a premium price, please beware.
The short version of my concern is not necessarily what the card does, but what the card does to the format. Commander has already become faster than is healthy. Jeweled Lotus only hurts, it doesn’t help. The major issue becomes the second-level effects. Players, knowing the card exists, will feel pressured to speed up their own builds, leading to the kind of arms race that can only tear down, never build up. It will lead to players feeling the need to pack ever cheaper removal, just in case. This is not a card that will get played and the table will respond with “Ooh, cool!”
I’ll reiterate our stance that the RC doesn’t lean into Rule 0 in these cases as much as people think. We have no intention of abdicating responsibility if things get awkward. Any banning decision on the card will wait until we see what the impact of the card actually is. Potential danger is different from actual danger. If the concerns turn out to be not a big deal, then great. Like with any other card, if it becomes format-warping, we’ll take action.
Why, yes, Animar, I would be happy to bring along my Maelstrom Colossus!
Nine mana 9/9s would generally prefer to get cheated out with Lurking Predators or Quicksilver Amulet, but even if you’re hard-casting Phyrexian Triniform, you’ll get value if someone manages to kill it. Getting three more with the encore ability that will then turn into nine is just the kind of silliness we all need.
There really aren’t enough artifacts to pick a Top 3 from, but the suite gets an A for all the great reprints, some of which will be available in foil for the first time. I’ll also mention the lands here. Completing the Battlebond cycle gets another A grade.
Whether you’re drafting, playing Sealed Deck, a Boxing League, or grabbing singles for your other decks, Commander Legends will go down as one of the most impactful sets in the format’s history. With a notable exception or two, there are few missteps. The designers have done their job here, giving the core demographic of Commander players just the kind of experience that has made it the most popular format in all of Magic.
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