Elder Dragons are back and coming to a Commander table near you! Not only
does Core Set 2019 give you new versions of iconic favorites, it
also provides some new additional fuel for your Commander engines.
Remember that this is a review for Commander only. There are plenty of
individual cards, especially at the common and uncommon slots, which will
be houses in other formats. Not including them here isn’t an indictment of
any kind of the card, just recognition that it’s not a great fit for the
format. I’ll break everything down by color, pick some winners for the
color, and then give it an overall grade. Let’s jump right in.
Aethershield Artificer: Sure, you don’t want Solemn Simulacrum to be
indestructible, but there are plenty of other things that you want to keep
from dying. Even Wurmcoil Engine might be really nice to keep perpetually
Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants: The low mana cost makes this Ajani quite
playable and quite capable of getting to that emblem. I can’t see too many
situations that lead to using the -2 ability, but remember there’s always
Phantom Nishoba. Or Saffi Eriksdottir.
Cleansing Nova: Excellent choice of modes make cleansing Nova worth the
extra mana, although it still doesn’t have the flexibility of Austere
Command. There’s no reason you can’t play both as part of your
board-sweeping suite. Creatures can regenerate from Cleansing Nova, but
it’s not like there are lots of regenerators running around anyway.
Leonin Warleader: A fine addition to any Cat deck, since it makes more Cats
every time you battle, which is what you’re always doing with them anyway.
Mentor of the Meek: Obviously a reprint, but worth calling out because it’s
a bit of an underplayed card.
Remorseful Cleric: Graveyard hate is getting better and better. I don’t
want to jinx what that might mean for some cards.
Resplendent Angel: Power creep is real, as there was a time you’d never
find a three mana, three power flying white creature, let alone one that
has two other relevant abilities. Many Angel decks have no trouble gaining
five life, sometimes every turn. This is going into my Trostani deck, and I
Suncleanser: Sweet design space. There are so many creatures in Commander
that love counters, from Kresh, the Bloodbraided to Blood Tyrant to Ghave,
Guru of Spores, that the sun will frequently get cleansed. The other great
use for this will be to remove age counters from a card with Cumulative
Upkeep. As far as removing counters from a player, there’s the obvious
making-of-friends with poison counters, but also remember that the player
gets the experience counters from Ezuri, Claw of Progress and friends;
removing them might just keep you alive.
Valiant Knight: I’m already keen on making a Knight deck and then some
sweet ones came out in Dominaria, like Arvad the Cursed and Aryel,
Knight of Windgrace (and commanders getting double strike is always saucy).
Now Valiant Knight to go along with Knight Exemplar, and we’re in business.
I think I have a new project.
Good, not great, with nothing that makes me want to run around and be
crazy, and a modest number of playable cards (which is of course due to the
reprints, so it’s not like I’m counting that as a sin).
Djinn of Wishes: A reprint that deserves a little more love than it gets.
Mystic Archaeologist: At first glance it doesn’t seem that great, but then
you realize that it doesn’t tap to use its ability. It’s still a little
expensive, but if the baseline for drawing a card with no downsides is four
mana, then the flexibility makes it worth it.
One With the Machine: Previous cards like this have tended to be targeted,
so you could get really screwed if the target were removed. Here, even if
the big thing gets blown up, you still get something.
Patient Rebuilding: Mill decks love the card already without the card draw.
Once that gets stapled on, you don’t even have to be all that patient in
Psychic Corrosion: Cards that do something you want done when do you other
things that you are already doing at no mana are
deceptively strong. Note that it’s each opponent and every time you draw a
card. I’m imagining some scenario in which two players who both have
Consecrated Sphinx decide that they can mill out the other players.
Tezzeret, Artifice Master: You know you’re nearly always drawing two cards
with that +0 ability. Getting to the emblem will be a little tougher,
although I suppose you could use those Thopters to protect Tezzeret. And
again, the bees.
Windreader Sphinx: It’s a reprint from the Magic 2014 Core Set,
but I think it needs a little more love. You get to draw a card whenever any creature with flying attacks, whether or not you’re
involved in the combat. Super sweet and will pay for itself in no time.
As with white with a few saucier cards.
Abnormal Endurance: My kind of card, the +2/+0 is not significant; saving
your best creature for only two mana, however, is right in my wheelhouse.
Demon of Catastrophes: Oh, the heady days when Demons were bad for you. In
2018, we have 6/6 trampling fliers for four mana. I have an “old school”
Demons deck, and this one wouldn’t go in it. In something like Karador,
Ghost Chieftain, however, this Demon is not catastrophic at all.
Fraying Omnipotence: I’m not really sure the format needed a bigger version
of Pox, but there’s also an argument that super-high life totals need to be
combatted with something other than commander damage. Of course, Fraying
Omnipotence goes right into your Thraximundar deck.
Infernal Reckoning: On first blush, it might be easy to dismiss Infernal
Reckoning, but then we remember that Commander is full of Eldrazi, such as
Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre and Kozilek, Butcher of Truth, that need to get
exiled so that their abilities can’t trigger. I’m not big on one-for-ones
in Commander, but the fact that you gain life from the creature’s power
makes it better than a straight up trade.
Isareth the Awakener: I’m going to try to use Isareth in a deck to get
around my dislike of exiling my own cards. I’m not promising (emotional)
success, but we’ll see.
Liliana, Touched by Death: This Liliana is pretty much limited to your
Zombie decks, but the fact that you can use her last ability right away is
Liliana’s Contract: Showing her diversity, Liliana moves from Zombies to
Demons with aplomb. Even if it doesn’t win the game for you, it’s a good
addition to your Demon deck due to the card draw. The “draw cards/lose
life” signature is quite prevalent in the black cards in the set.
Open the Graves: Quite useful for a deck (like the aforementioned Karador)
which likes to move creatures in and out of the graveyard, there’s also the
simple value to Open the Graves of helping you recover from a big board
wipe. You won’t be protected against the next one, but it’s still good
enough for me.
We’re improving in small steps as we go.
Apex of Power: Apex indeed. This is such a representative card of Commander
that there should be a picture of Timmy on it. Sure, you need the ten mana
to cast it, but then you basically get your choice of casting one or more
of the next seven for free. Yes, you’re limited by the fact that you only
get one color of mana, but that’s hardly a downside.
Demanding Dragon: A card that will definitely see Standard play, it’s not
likely to see much action in Commander outside of a few tribal decks.
Doublecast: It is, of course, no Fork, since it’s not an instant and you
can only copy your own spells, but it’s a nice tool in red’s kit for
dealing big piles of damage for only two mana instead of twice whatever
you’ll have pumped into that X spell.
Goblin Trashmaster: You probably don’t need all that many Goblins to make
the Trashmaster quite useful-and we all know that there are going to be
more Goblins running around than you know what to do with. Also, a nice bit
of retribution for someone else’s Blasphemous Act.
Lathliss, Dragon Queen: Simply put, your Dragon deck just got an order of
magnitude better-as if they weren’t already dealing out death and
destruction. The pump ability seems a little unnecessary and a bit of an
Sarkhan, Fireblood: Cool art. Meh card.
Sarkhan’s Unsealing: Wait, what? Clearly six and seven power is a strong
demarcation, but still-repeatable board wipes for your opponents when
you’re doing the thing that you came to do? Awesome.
The cool stuff is pretty cool, but the rest of the color doesn’t play out
Colossal Majesty: Hey! I like having creatures with power four or greater!
I also like drawing cards. Majestic.
Elvish Clancaller: It’s not calling much of the clan, since it
doesn’t do anything in Commander besides buff up your other Elves. What
would be cool is if you’re also playing Wheel of Sun and Moon, activated
Elvish Clancaller’s ability, then respond by sacrificing it to do something
strong. Then it’ll be in the library when you resolve the ability-but
honestly, six mana is a lot for just a neat trick.
Elvish Rejuvenator: Interesting take on ramp in that it will occasionally
whiff (I suspect less often than you might think), but it gets more than
basic lands. For me, that makes it playable.
Ghastbark Twins: The option to block two creatures would be better if it
weren’t a 7/7 trampler that doesn’t have vigilance.
Gigantosaurus: I can hear it now: “But it doesn’t have evasion!” It’s a
10/10 for five mana. You’ll be able to spend what you saved on some method
of getting around the problem.
Hungering Hydra: X mana creatures can sometimes be awkward (like when they
get blinked), so this one only gets consideration because of the triggered
ability. Pro play: with Aether Flash on the battlefield, cast this for X
Pelakka Wurm: Just giddily happy to see this old favorite in a Core Set.
Runic Armasaur: Another card that I think some folks will gloss over, Runic
Armasaur is going to draw you way more cards than its mana cost would
Scapeshift: I’d be interested in hearing why the development team wanted to
put this in the set. I’m not complaining, I’m just curious.
Vine Mare: Cool flavorful design, although I don’t suspect we’ll see it in
too many Commander decks.
Vivien Reid: Vivien will be all about the long trek to getting that emblem.
The +1 ability is fine; the -3 will be pretty useful in desperate
situations, but having indestructible creatures that are bigger and more
tramply is a thing of beauty.
Vivien’s Invocation: I love the Timmyness of this set. Seven mana is quite
a bit to pay, but you’ll only play this in your deck if you fill it with
creatures which are worth finding. You put the creature onto the
battlefield as opposed to casting it without paying the mana cost. This
might be significant if you find an Eldrazi with a cast trigger, which
won’t go off.
The cool stuff is every bit as good as red’s, but the rest of the color is
Arcades, the Strategist: The return of the Elder Dragons in younger (and
less upkeep-y) form excites me a great deal. We’ve probably already picked
out our next Rotisserie Draft theme. The smallest of them all, Arcades is
akin to Doran, the Siege Tower, in that they can have powerful effects, but
your deck becomes quite dependent on its commander. We old school players
immediately thought of Wall of Blossoms to go with this version of Arcades.
Chromium, the Mutable: In one of the triumphs of flavorful design in all of
Magic history, you have to get quite creative in order to make the
activated ability useful. I suppose that giving it hexproof keeps you from
having to cast it again, but there aren’t too many situations in which I
want to turn my flying 7/7 into a 1/1 unless it’s getting targeted by
removal or theft. Sure, when the Dragon hunters come around, it has a need
to be able to hide among them, but the ability seems like only an emergency
measure. That emergency measure can have an upside, which is getting that
card which you’d prefer to have in the graveyard instead of your hand
actually into the graveyard.
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager: Inexpensive mana cost is only the first step of
the multiverse’s greatest villain’s latest incarnation. At the low cost,
the discard might even be relevant. The more expensive thing is
transforming it into Nicol Bolas, the Arisen, which is completely bonkers.
Drawing two cards for zero mana will excite the most stoic player. The ten
damage probably isn’t relevant in Commander, but it might occasionally be.
The reanimation, which I’ll point out is from any
graveyard, is super-relevant. The ultimate, of course, is just a wrecking
ball for someone. I think my preferred plan is to use the +2 until I’m at
eleven loyalty counters, then use the -4 just to 1) let folks know that I’m
not going to use the ultimate, and 2) hey, free stuff.
Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner: Mostly misnamed, because it doesn’t really ruin
very much besides life totals. Even then, its only a 6/6, not a 7/7. Okay,
it ruins life totals pretty well, given the flying, vigilance, and trample.
It doesn’t thematically bring anything to a deck, so I might end up just
making it one of 99 somewhere.
Poison Tip Archer: You know how good Blood Artist is? Poison Tip Archer is
better. For one, it has other relevant abilities. Reach plus deathtouch
will keep lots of scary things from crashing into you. Two, it’s all
opponents instead of targeting just one.
Satyr Enchanter: Enchantress decks get another tool for their kit.
Vaevictus Asmadi, the Dire: They saved the best for (alphabetically) last.
I’m in Jund heaven. There’s some play in this card, because you have to do
proper threat assessment-plus, you choose yourself as well. Polymorphing
that utility creature like Solemn Simulacrum into something huge is all
full of win. Lategame, you’re probably turning a land into a creature for
yourself while taking out relevant permanents of your opponents.
All of them.
Elder. Dragon. Legends.
Artifact and Land
Amulet of Safekeeping: I’ve heard this called the enemy of storm, which we
don’t really see that much in Commander. Also making those Plant tokens off
of Avenger of Zendikar a little smaller is fine by me, although that -1
probably doesn’t matter much when Craterhoof Behemoth comes along.
Arcane Encyclopedia: Remember when I said the baseline for drawing cards
with no downside is four mana? Turns out it’s now three.
Chaos Wand: A fun and harmless toy until Paradox Engine comes along and
ruins it for everyone. Also, a beating for the player with a heavy creature
deck which doesn’t contain too many instants or sorceries. What I mean to
say is that I’m getting occasionally wrecked by this card.
Dragon’s Hoard: I think I’ll still prefer my three-cost, any-color-of-mana
artifact to be indestructible, but this variation on a theme has its uses
in your Dragon deck. There will be a point at which you don’t need the mana
boost, so drawing cards for free is great. Kudos for the design of a card
which is differently useful at various stages of the game.
Sigiled Sword Valeron: The mana and equip costs are appropriate to the
value that you get. Vigilance is often a life-saving ability.
Unfair to grade because there simply aren’t that many cards in the
We’ll give Core Set 2019 an overall B on a pretty harsh grading
curve. By its very design and intentional appeal to the Core Set audience
of less experienced players, we knew going in that it would have fewer
cards which resonated with Commander players-meaning a B might be the best
it could hope for. Nonetheless, there are enough new toys to keep most
Commander players happy between now and the date that we’re all really
waiting for: August 10-and the release of Commander 2018.
Deck Without Comment will return after release season.
Obzedat, Ghost Killer
Aurelia Goes to War
Trostani and Her Angels
Lazav, Shapeshifting Mastermind
Zegana and a Dice Bag
Ruric Thar and His Beastly Fight Club
Gisa and Geralf Together Forever
Shards and Wedges
Angry, Angry Dinos
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
The Altar of Thraximundar
The Threat of Yasova
Zombies of Tresserhorn
Adun Oakenshield Do-Over
Karador Version 3
Lord of Tresserhorn 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.”