Dragon’s Maze continues the streak of sets that are chock-full of goodies for your Commander decks. As I’ve done over the last several releases, I’m going to discuss them broken down into four different categories: cards that Probably Won’t Get Played, Might Get Played, Probably Will Get Played, and Definitely Will Get Played. Remember that this review is for Commander only. There are cards that might be awesome in other formats but won’t be that great for the 100-card decks (and vice versa). Let’s dive right in.
Probably Won’t Get Played
This category is for cards that you’re unlikely to see in the format. It could be because they’re good only in Limited, are simply outclassed by other stuff, or don’t have any thematic or tribal tie-ins.
Might Get Played
Still unlikely to see action, cards here have a little sliver of something, like fitting into a tribal theme or having some play with new mechanics (like the Gatekeepers), which someone might seize upon that would inspire them to give it a whirl.
Alive // Well, Ascended Lawmage, Blaze Commando, Down // Dirty, Drown in Filth, Fluxcharger, Goblin Test Pilot, Korozda Gorgon, Nivix Cyclops, Protect // Serve, Scab-Clan Giant, Showstopper, Spike Jester, Tithe Drinker, Viashino Firstblade, Warleader’s Helix, Warped Physique, Woodlot Crawler
Probably Will Get Played
Cards in this category have a strong chance of getting played with some regularity. While good, they might be narrow or limited in scope. They won’t have the broad appeal of the best cards in the set.
Renounce the Guilds: The threat density of what is likely to get sacrificed to Renounce the Guilds is quite high. Multicolored permanents are so prevalent in the format that this may end up being a staple for white. I imagine we might see it in mono-white decks with a fair chance of seeing it in many W/x deck as well.
Scion of Vitu-Ghazi: I’d pop it down to the "Definitely" list if it were a normal enters-the-battlefield trigger. As it stands, it’s less inspiring. Sure, it’s blinkable, but playtesting can’t have shown it to be all that broken. Perhaps played alongside other token-producers in a populate deck ("sure, I’ll have another token copy of Serra Avatar") might be the issue.
Hidden Strings: Since you can tap down a permanent, I suspect that Stax strategies will like this cipher card.
Uncovered Clues: Not as strong as it might be in other Constructed formats, I think early on folks will give it a whirl and eventually find it good enough but not great.
Pontiff of Blight: I can see someone trying to make this work, maybe in a mono-black deck with lots of mana doublers (Nirkana Revenant, Crypt Ghast, Caged Sun, and so on) and small creatures or possibly buyback spells like Lab Rats or Corpse Dance.
Battering Krasis: I actually think it won’t get played, but I have to mention it because it’s a FISH BEAST!
Advent of the Wurm: I don’t think it would get played at all if it were a sorcery, but as an instant it’s definitely worth the slot. Cast at EOT in a Trostani deck, you could suddenly have an armada of Wurms bashing for big damage.
Armed // Dangerous: Really nice flexibility in the card warrants giving it a whirl. I think the most likely scenario for fusing this card isn’t the obvious case of using it to murder a creature. I think it’s more likely to be used to double strike a huge creature or commander and then get the otherwise-lifesaving blocker out of the way.
Blast of Genius: Like Erratic Explosion before it, there’s a Timmy attraction to Blast of Genius. Probably better in a Grixis deck than Izzet just so you can Reanimate whatever you’ve just domed someone with.
Catch // Release: A little too expensive to be great fused together, but the individual halves are reasonable. It might be worth playing in those colors because Catch is the same cost as Threaten and you get the bonus of maybe in some narrow situations getting value out of Release.
Council of the Absolute: I imagine this was playtested as "I Can Haz Sphinx’s Revelation, You Can’t." I had this in the next category down until I realized you couldn’t name a creature and cast your commander sooner. There’s still some value to the control-style decks to make things a little easier for themselves and impossible for everyone else with cards such as Stroke of Genius or Blue Sun’s Zenith.
Deputy of Acquittals: The optional choice of Gating something with this might help you cheaply save a creature that you really want while triggering enters-the-battlefield abilities or providing a chump blocker. Certainly worth a look in appropriately colored decks that have Cloudstone Curio in them.
Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch: I’m not overly excited about it, even unleashed, but I can see it being played in the dedicated Rakdos all-out attacking deck.
Feral Animist: There are enough berserk and bloodrush shenanigans running around to motivate someone to give this guy a whirl (Rubblehulk was the first one to come to mind). I kind of wish it was a Beast, but what are you gonna do?
Gleam of Battle: The mana cost might be prohibitive in the Boros colors. That said, once it’s down it might get out of hand pretty quickly. It’s a battle version Cathars’ Crusade, and if you’re playing an Aurelia, the Warleader deck, you better have lots of counters handy.
Gruul War Chant: The Gruul and Jund decks that like to make lots of creatures will consider playing this as the mana cost is reasonable. Making blocking more awkward for the defender will always work in your favor, especially when they keep back only that one creature with protection from your guys.
Haunter of Nightveil: In order to get definitely played, I think this would have to be smaller and cheaper. It could be part of a "your creatures get smaller front ends" kind of deck with Jace, Architect of Thought and Weakstone style effects.
Krasis Incubation: A well-themed card for sure. It’s a little too expensive to cast and activate to be broken, but I think it’s full of tricks—like waiting until someone battles you to activate it. With Animar, you can basically earn back two of the mana you’re spending when you activate. You might also consider putting it on graft creatures to give them extra counters to hand out. Additionally, you could think about it as a way to get rid of persist counters, but there are cheaper ways to do that, like Juniper Order Ranger.
Profit // Loss: To play this, you’ll end up paying three more than Zealous Persecution, which isn’t so bad for the flexibility of the split card but keeps it from being something you’d be really excited about playing.
Savageborn Hydra: It’s not any one ability that makes this card worth playing; it’s how the three abilities combine. Being able to sink some mana into this and make it bigger is great. It’s just too bad you can only activate that ability at sorcery speed or Braid of Fire would make it absurd.
Sin Collector: The two factors that will probably get this card played are that it’s cheap and that it exiles the card. It’s cheap enough that you’re going to be casting it in the early game to get a look at the bomb—and diffuse—the bomb someone wants to drop later on.
Sire of Insanity: I like that we’re back to Demons that hurt you. I’m still thinking about making a Kaalia and all the Demons deck, and this one would get invited to the tryouts.
Toil // Trouble: Twice as expensive as Cerebral Vortex and not an instant keeps its playability down, but being one cheaper—although still not an instant—might give the Toil half an occasional nod over Sudden Impact.
Trostani’s Summoner: Clearly a house in Limited, I can see liking ten power and toughness for seven mana in a Trostani deck.
Turn // Burn: A janky but effective way to kill an indestructible creature, this card will find a niche somewhere.
Unflinching Courage: Someone will start playing this because they want two Armadillo Cloak effects in their deck. Like with most creature enchantments, it has to be really strong to become a "definitely played" card. While this one is a nice nod to days gone by, it’s not all that due to the somewhat short life expectancy in the format of creatures which attack people.
All the Cluestones: Mana rocks that you can use to draw a card in the late game are worthwhile. Mind Stone sees enough play to suggest that these probably will as well, especially with the folks (like me sometimes) who absolutely have to play everything with the guild name in the guild deck.
Definitely Will Get Played
Cards in the section are the best of the best, the cards that everyone is excited to get their hands on, stuff into multiple decks, and show off to their friends.
Riot Control: This hidden gem might end up as the best white card from Dragon’s Maze for Commander and certainly the best sleeper. We live in a world where you’re going to need Fog capability. When someone is about to swarm you with Craterhoof Behemoth enhanced Plant tokens, gaining fifteen-twenty life and not getting killed is preferable to, well, getting killed.
Aetherling: People love their Morphling knock-offs. Blue control-ish decks will like this because the activation costs of the first two abilities are cheap, allowing them to keep up both countermagic and responses. Solid without being flashy, it’s DGM’s Kurt Rambis.
Blood Scrivener: If we all agree that paying one life for a card is acceptable, then doing so while empty handed is certainly well worth it. Blood Scrivener is a Zombie, and Zombie decks tend run out of steam, so this will help mitigate that. Also, keep in mind the combo potential with Mindslicer.
Crypt Incursion: As if you didn’t need more reasons for playing graveyard hate, Crypt Incursion gives you lots of them. I can easily see this gaining someone 100+ life during a game. Don’t forget that Crypt Incursion is an instant, which means you can cast it in response to an Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre graveyard trigger and get rid of that thing for good. I’m getting extra copies.
Possibility Storm[/author]“][author name="Possibility Storm"]Possibility Storm[/author]: The folks who Embrace the Chaos will certainly pick up this one as it looks like it will always be wild. I can also see the opportunity to make a deck with only two of a certain type of spell in order to double the chances to get it. For example, my Animar, Soul of Elements deck currently has only one sorcery in it: Primal Surge. Adding one more useful but cheap one might be worth it, although I’d have to work out the math for "normally" casting Primal Surge. If you want real insanity, you can cast a spell, let Possibility Storm[/author]“][author name="Possibility Storm"]Possibility Storm[/author] trigger, copy it in order to get the effect of the original one, and then spin the wheel for something else—an "I gotta play it" plan for your Riku of Two Reflections decks. It’s certainly the most fun card in the set.
Mutant’s Prey: Good creature removal not named Beast Within in green is hard to come by, which raises the profile of this card. You either have to go with restrictions on what you kill, like Plummet, or pay large amounts of mana, like Desert Twister. There are lots of great creatures running around with +1/+1 counters on them, so I see this with plenty of utility at the low, low cost of one mana. There are more ways to get those counters than just the new Simic/Evolve decks. Consider that undying and graft put +1/+1 counters on things, and there are all kinds of guys that make their own, like Kresh, the Bloodbraided and Hamletback Goliath. A good-sized Kresh can fight nearly anything, survive, and get larger.
Renegade Krasis: Animar, Soul of Elements and Prime Speaker Zegana decks are already awesome, and this card just ratchets them up a notch. This will give you a reason to spread out your counters from Forgotten Ancient. The only tricky part of this card is that it starts slightly larger than many of the other evolve creatures, so you’ll need some bigger bodies to trigger it.
Beck // Call: Glimpse of Nature is a nice draw engine, and that’s only on casting creature spells. For one more mana, Beck will draw cards for everybody showing up to your party, whether it’s an intimate little affair with Knight-Captain of Eos or a kegger featuring Avenger of Zendikar. If you’re going to play it with Storm Herd, be careful that you don’t deck yourself. Call is less exciting due to its mana cost, but if you’re out of other choices, you might as well fill half your hand.
Blood Baron of Vizkopa: The combination of abilities pushes this one over the top. Blood Baron of Vizkopa is pretty hard to kill with the best and mostly commonly played targeted removal, like Swords to Plowshares, Path to Exile, and Go for the Throat, so it’s up to the board sweepers, direct damage dealers, and sacrifice effects. Once you get the Baron’s backside up to ten, most of the damage dealers are off the table as well. Lifelink will get your life total running, and it’s just part of the game that eventually someone is going to be at ten or less. If you want to speed up somebody’s drop to ten, Sorin Markov will get there pretty quickly without even stepping outside the Baron’s colors. In an Esper deck, Magister Sphinx can do the work as well.
Boros Battleshaper: Master Warcraft on a large body, Boros Battleshaper triggers on each combat, not just your own. Ride it alongside a few enchantments which make it awkward for creatures to attack, such as Lightmine Field and Powerstone Minefield. You’ll get to do a great deal of directing how battles go, making this a very interesting political card, especially in that it’s "up to one" so you don’t need to do it if you don’t want to. But you will.
Breaking // Entering: This card will be amazing whether you choose to play individual halves or Fuse it. Ok, it’ll be SUPERAMAZING when you fuse it. There’s the nice utility of milling cards for whatever reanimation strategy you have going, but the better part of it is on the Entering half. Unlike other reanimation cards, you don’t have to target the creature which you’ll be taking. You don’t even have to target a graveyard! You can keep everyone guessing until the spell resolves, and by then it’s too late for them to do anything about it. I’ve slotted this card to replace Beacon of Unrest in Thraximundar, and it’ll stand a good chance of replacing it in all of my Grixis decks.
Bred for the Hunt: The mass density of great new cards in the last few sets for your Simic decks borders on the absurd: Prime Speaker Zegana, Biomass Mutation, Bioshift, Fathom Mage, Urban Evolution, and Zameck Guildmage are just the tip of the iceberg. That density is going to make finding room for a great card like Bred for the Hunt more difficult—but you’ll have to. Combined with Crowned Ceratok to give your countered-up creatures trample to make sure they do at least some damage means you’ll be drawing all the cards you want. I’d much rather play this and keep the cards to myself than play Edric, Spymaster of Trest and give away cards to everyone else.
Carnage Gladiator: Carnage Gladiator is custom built for savage decks where bloodshed comes early and often. Carnage Gladiator will help you turn on Rakdos, Lord of Riots more easily, making life totals drain away even faster. Blocking or the threat of blocking can keep attacks from happening. When blocking hurts, it’s "Everybody into the red zone!" Ramp up the battles with Grand Melee, where everyone has to attack and everyone has to block, or Invasion Plans (go ahead, we’ll wait while you look it up), where everyone has to block and the attacker gets to decide how.
Deadbridge Chant: Probably my favorite card in the set, it’s obviously destined for Karador, Ghost Chieftain. Having Karador already out, nearly every creature that I might mill is going to be something I want to cast right away. It’ll be like opening a Christmas present from your rich uncle: you know it’ll never be a pair of socks. Sometimes, it’s going to play out like Debtors’ Knell—you’ll spend lots of mana casting it and someone will immediately blow it up. The rest of the time, it’s going to be crazy. I already love Oversold Cemetery, so adding another layer to that will be awesome.
Emmara Tandris: I’ve already heard a great deal of disdain for her, and I’m not sure I get it. Selesnya is the populate guild, so why wouldn’t you want to protect your tokens? I actually see her being more useful in a Naya deck, most likely Rith, the Awakener, which creates piles of tokens and also has access to red board sweepers like Blasphemous Act and Chain Reaction.
Far // Away: Sometimes you want to Chainer’s Edict someone but they have an annoying little creature protecting the big one. When fused, Far/Away can get you around that. I wouldn’t underestimate the value of bouncing one of your own creatures while you’re making someone sacrifice. I think the mana costs on both halves are aggressively costed, giving you a high utility-to-price ratio. I’m thinking of having one altered with Tom Cruise on one side and Nicole Kidman on the other.
Gaze of Granite: A Pernicious Deed that they don’t necessarily see coming makes it strong enough for me. Sure, it’s a little mana-hungry and you can’t leave it there as a rattlesnake, but it’s still a strong sweeper. Unlike Pernicious Deed, it will take out planeswalkers, which is probably worth not being able to spread out the casting cost and the activation cost.
Give // Take: I doubt we see the Give half or it fused together all that much due to the mana costs and being sorceries, but I’m really sure we’ll see the Take side played a great deal. For three mana, you can double up the card draw off of your Prime Speaker Zegana, making her small enough to get killed pretty easily—which is just what you want so that you can recast her. More gas for the Simic Combine.
Lavinia of the Tenth: "I’m going to need you token creatures to wait here for a bit." The raw amount of stuff that this will detain is too long to list. That it’s in colors that like to blink things gives it even more legs. Cloudshift, Restoration Angel, and Ghostly Flicker all present themselves as a few obvious choices. I’d add to the list Conjurer’s Closet and, in Lavinia’s exact colors and mana cost, Venser, the Sojourner. My outside-the-box choice to play with Lavinia would be Galepowder Mage. It’s like there’s a deckbuilding itself right here, right now. I’d certainly play it without the protection from red, but I’m happy that it has it.
Legion’s Initiative: The RTFC contest winner during spoiler season, people got riled up over this card thinking that it returned itself as well. Nonetheless, it’s still really strong just in that it buffs your creatures for two mana. Adding the ability to save them and/or have them ready for someone else’s attack step makes it a worthwhile investment.
Master of Cruelties: The card that has the pitchforks and torches coming out in droves, Master of Cruelties is nasty but not all that scary. Yes, it kills someone with Kaalia of the Vast or ninjitsu from a Ninja, but it’s still not worth the fuss it’s created.
Do I like it? Not really.
Do I think it’s a danger to the format? Not at all.
Maw of the Obzedat: Longtime readers know I love abilities that cost me no mana to sacrifice my own creatures. Well, I love them even more when they power up my team!
Melek, Izzet Paragon: I’ve been wondering for a while which commander was going to lead my Izzet deck. I wonder no more! Melek is a little expensive in colors that don’t ramp well, but I think that it’s a very interesting build-around Commander. I haven’t yet started down the road of exactly what I want to do, but two cards I know I’ll be playing are Galvanoth and Charm-Breaker Devils.
Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker: The Lazav, Dimir Mastermind mill decks are already pretty strong, and Mirko makes them stronger. What keeps him in check is his relatively small body. Mirko might hit your opponent once or twice, but after that they’re just going to have bigger guys than you. At that point, it’s time to either go the direct route with Whispersilk Cloak or give them a reason to not block, like with Basilisk Collar.
Morgue Burst: Vengeful Rebirth already sees play and you have to exile that when you’re done, although admittedly the broken combo possibilities are greater when you’re Regrowing noncreatures. "Get a creature back, dome something" can be really strong, especially if that creature is Lord of Extinction.
Notion Thief: I’d certainly play this Plagiarize on a stick without flash. The ability to play him in response to a big draw spell gives it the biggest potential blowout factor in the set. Just don’t deck yourself when someone casts Enter the Infinite! I suspect that this will become a significant force in the format, keeping in check some of the great draw engines like Consecrated Sphinx and Edric, Spymaster of Trest.
Obzedat’s Aid: From Regrowing vital creatures to getting back a planeswalker, Obzedat’s Aid is just a straightforwardly strong card. My only question is if I’m going to allow myself (slave to theme that I am) to put it in decks other than those with Obzedat, Ghost Council as my commander.
Pilfered Plans: Lazav, Dimir Mastermind isn’t the only commander who wants to pilfer your plans. The Mimeoplasm is a fan of it, too. Drawing two cards for three mana is good enough even as a sorcery. Milling either yourself when you’re set up to do so or someone else when you’re not is a little crazy.
Plasm Capture: I think they’ve done a fine job fixing Mana Drain. Getting colored mana is good, but you paid all colored mana to cast the spell in the first place so that’s not overpowered, right? The good news is I’m pretty sure that it’s not going to fit into too many Vintage or Legacy decks, which will keep the price down—so that you can easily fill your Commander decks with them!
Progenitor Mimic: A strong if slightly more expensive Clone, the extra mana will occasionally translate into extra creatures. The obvious play is to copy someone’s Avenger of Zendikar if the opportunity presents itself. I can also see someone using it to try to get a Biovisionary win. I’ll enjoy casting this for UG in my Animar, Soul of Elements deck and copying the awesome thing that you spent lots of mana to cast.
Ral Zarek: I keep thinking this guy is a Cardassian. There’s probably some cool combo with his first ability, but everyone is going to focus on the ultimate. I’m sure it’ll get played with the otherwise-awful Krark’s Thumb. It’s not as scary as some folks make it out to be.
Ready // Willing: Very aggressively costed and quite useful as instants. This is one where I’d be happy if either side were an individual card, so stapling them together will be outstanding. Most of the time, you have to pay some premium on split cards for the flexibility, but it here we get the full discount. I fear the gross tonnage of Rich Hagon puns that will come out of this card.
Render Silent: It’s no Orim’s Chant, but it’ll get the job done. I actually think in Commander that it’ll end up as one of those cards that people thought was going to be better than it actually ended up being but still be good enough to regularly see play. Countering someone’s aggressive combat tricks and then making them unable to cast more creatures in the second main is well worth three mana.
Restore the Peace: In my final edit of this list, Restore the Peace moved from "might" to "definitely." Watching one opponent eat a pile of damage (perhaps even lethal) and then bouncing another opponent’s team (during the end step so they can’t recast them) is the Azorius definition of "good times."
Ruric Thar, the Unbowed: BOOM! HEADSHOT! The only thing that keeps it within the realm of reasonability is that you have to attack with it so it’s eventually going to die in combat. Putting Basilisk Collar on him will net you some life and make it uncomfortable for opponents to block him with something big enough to kill him. Basilisk Collar also gets back the life you’ll lose when you cast a noncreature. Unfortunately, most other equipment triggers on combat damage, so there aren’t that many ways to pile on.
Species Gorger: We’re all in love with our enter-the-battlefield triggers, and Species Gorger helps us love them more. On a bigger body and less restrictive than Stampeding Wildebeests / Stampeding Serow, I can see it replacing either of those in decks with blue in them.
Tajic, Blade of Legion: I just finished building an Aurelia, the Warleader deck, and now I wonder if Tajic should replace her. If not, he’s definitely becoming one of 99. Being indestructible means that he might be a valid choice as a Voltron commander, and in the Boros colors he’s rarely going to have trouble getting his battalion on.
Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts: As good a rattlesnake as there is, this Teysa might be a little expensive to be a great commander. She’s probably destined for my Merieke Ri Berit deck to try to keep people off my back a little.
Voice of Resurgence: With the what now? Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice has a new best bud. Add Crusader of Odric, Geist-Honored Monk, Scion of the Wild, and Wayfaring Temple for a delicious little cocktail that becomes a sure hangover for someone after you cast Storm Herd. For tasty garnish, spice it up with Goblin Lyre or Superior Numbers.
Vorel of the Hull Clade: Somebody loves Simic! Animar, Soul of Elements and Prime Speaker Zegana are clearly the obvious choices to target with this, but doubling up counters on nearly anything from Forgotten Ancient to Spike Weaver is bonkers. I imagine planeswalker is intentionally left off the valid targets for obvious reasons. I wonder if that was from design or development. If you want an outside-the-box thing to do with Vorel, use it to double the number of age counters on someone’s Cumulative Upkeep card. Maybe even since you’re in blue play Vexing Sphinx of your own. Double up those cards to draw double the cards!
Zhur-Taa Ancient: I’m not a fan of giving everyone else double mana, but I know that some folks are fine with it if they can double their own. Having the ability on a 7/5 body for five makes it a little more attractive—not to mention that it’s a Beast—but it seems mostly like downside. Perhaps you could play it in a RUG deck with Teferi’s Veil so that you’d be the only one getting the Mana Flare.
Zhur-Taa Druid: Those Gruul guys really know how to party. There has to be some silly infinite mana/infinite untaps combo with this creature (perhaps using the recently unbanned Staff of Domination?). That it’s a common feels a little weird, but I suppose Llanowar Elves is a common, too.
All the Guildgates: Because there are some Gate specific cards, there will be some folks who want to play Gates. They’re not as good in a vacuum as the identical lands that gain you life when they come into play (Akoum Refuge and friends), but the Gates stuff will get them played. And, of course, Maze’s End. Speaking of which…
Maze’s End: One of the Armada regulars, Shea, has already said that he’s modifying his "Cromat deck with no real win con" into a "Cromat deck with the Maze’s End win con." I’m sure he’s not the only one who will give it a whirl. I think you’ll need some Exploration; Oracle of Mul Daya; or Azusa, Lost but Seeking action to make it not ponderously slow.
Top 5 Cards
The five cards that I’m most looking forward to playing are Deadbridge Chant, Vorel of the Hull Clade, Notion Thief, Breaking // Entering, and Possibility Storm[/author]“][author name="Possibility Storm"]Possibility Storm[/author]. They all share a "really good, but also really interesting" vibe to me. I’m also looking forward to continuing my chromatic adventure with Melek, Izzet Paragon as a new commander.
Densely packed with flavor and storyline, Dragon’s Maze is also thick with outstanding cards for your Commander decks. Whether you’re adding to existing decks or building new ones with Guild Champions at the helm, you have lots to choose from, with basically a third of the entire set on the "Definitely Will Get Played" list. What this most means is that you’re going to have to find room in your current decks for a pile of new cards—which is always the best kind of problem to have.
Interestingly enough, my Magic play style and my personality seem rather different. I’m at heart a Jund player, so I half expected that I might end up Golgari. I took the guild test, answering as me the person, not me the Magic player. Turns out…
I am Azorius. I suppose that reflects my strong sense of justice (white) and that I know better than everyone else how to bring it about (blue). “I serve only justice. But through that duty, I serve all of Ravnica.“