First Impressions Of The Commander 2018 Decks

With new themes, new reprints, and new strategies to build around, Commander 2018 has something for everyone! Bennie Smith discusses which parts of the set are just for him!

Wizards of the Coast capped a breakneck pace of spoilers last week with
full deck lists for all four Commander 2018 decks. So now we can start to unpack the impact of the new decks and new cards.

Overall I’m really stoked about the brand new cards. There are only four
cards that I could take or leave, so that leaves a whole lot I’m excited
about. Let’s start out the face cards for each deck, the planeswalkers!

The big innovation from Commander 2014 were planeswalkers you
could use as your commander and everyone loved them. Battlebond
got into the game with Rowan Kenrith and Will Kenrith, only this time they
also had the partner with mechanic attached to them. For Commander 2018 we’ve got four more commander planeswalkers and
this time they’re multicolored and incredibly exciting. I know a lot of
people were hoping that Wizards of the Coast might change the rules now
that planeswalkers are considered legendary to allow any of them to be
commanders (like in the Brawl format), but I’m glad they didn’t.

planeswalkers would be way too overpowered if you could always have access
to them and be able to play them multiple times in a game, especially with
a lot of ways to increase loyalty. This would require some planeswalkers to
be banned in Commander as well as Doubling Season and maybe even The Chain
Veil. It would also put constraints on future planeswalker designs – a card
that could be sweet in Standard may be broken in half in Commander and so
they’d have to go a different way.

No, I think this is the better way-it lets these particular planeswalkers
be special in what they do and allows for design to make sure they’re
thoroughly tested for the format they’re intended for. For instance, both
of the new green planeswalkers have been designed to not immediately be
able to use the third ability when a Doubling Season is on the battlefield.

Let’s dig a little deeper on each one.

Alison Luhrs previewed this creepy and cool card

with a great overview of the character’s abilities and motivations that’s
nicely realized in the amazing artwork. As a three mana planeswalker it
comes out quickly and starts helping smooth out your draws with its first
ability, functioning like a mini-Brainstorm or Sylvan Library. The
Subjective Reality deck has a fair number of sweet cards that care about
what’s on top of your library, but there’s plenty of room to add your

The second ability lets you “blink” permanents you own, so you’ll want to
have a fair number of permanents that have some sort of nice effect
attached to them entering or leaving the battlefield. It’s also a good way
to release your permanents from Aura effects like Darksteel Mutation, or if
someone has rudely stolen one of your permanents with something like
Bribery or Confiscation Coup.

The last ability is a wild one and will lead to some truly memorable games.
Unless you’re evil. If your mind goes immediately to pairing this with
Teferi’s Protection, you are evil.

Even though the abilities don’t really tie together, I like that-it gives
you a lot of flexibility on the types of cards you may want to include in
your Aminatou deck.

Scott Larabee previewed
Estrid, the Masked

and gave a little insight into designing the card and the deck Adaptive
Enchantment. All three of Estrid’s abilities synergize extremely well with
each other, and makes a fantastic commander for an aura-based enchantment
deck. You’ll certainly want a fair number of cards like Wild Growth and
Fertile Ground, so the first ability can generate extra mana, and any
creatures with auras that pump them up will gain pseudo-vigilance. +2 for
each activation will ramp up Estrid’s loyalty pretty fast so the third
ability will be within reach pretty quickly. Since you’re playing
enchantments that third ability is likely going to net you quite a bit, and
I like the way it’s worded you can get some benefit even if your opponents
keep your graveyard in check.

The second ability is a nice way to help protect key permanents from
destruction, which will let you save any counterspells you may have for
something that might exile instead. It plays nicely with the first ability

Gavin Verhey, the set lead design and overall Commander point man for

Lord Windgrace in his article about designing Commander 2018

. Fans of Magic lore are stoked to see this character from Magic’s distant
past finally realized on a card, and the artwork nicely realizes Lord
Windgrace’s majesty and wildness. It has a solid starting loyalty and for
+2 on its first ability means it won’t be taken out by any old small
creature attacking it.

The first ability does a nice job of being a mini-Faithless Looting, with a
bonus draw tossed in if you discard a land. This ties in nicely with the
second ability which converts up to two lands in your graveyard into a ramp
spell. Note that these lands aren’t tapped when you put them into play so
you can use that mana to cast something else. Ramping is powerful in
Commander and having it attached to your commander is going to make Lord
Windgrace a very potent card to build around.

The third ability is going to be tough to build up to since it’s likely
your opponents will want to keep that in check, and honestly you’ll
probably be using the -3 ability as often as you can. Still, if you can get
there that’s going to be a huge battlefield swing. I’m glad they didn’t
allow the ability to hit lands since taking out six lands from a single
player would lead to some bad play experiences. And I love the Cat tokens,
though watch out for Gather Specimens-those Cats would love to walk in your

Mark Rosewater introduced
Saheeli, the Gifted in his column talking
about making planeswalkers for Magic over the years

. For those that have been clamoring for an artifact-centric commander
specifically in blue/red, now you have it! Its first ability is modest, but
it does create a blocker to protect Saheeli from harm, and it’s also an
artifact that likely plays nice with oodles of artifacts-matter cards. That
second ability – now that’s a doozy! Assuming even a modest first few
turns, it will likely shave two or three generic mana from a spell. I fully
expect the more ruthless Saheeli players out there to be casting Time Warp
for UU.

The third ability reads modestly, but it entirely depends on what sort of
artifact deck you’re building-I can see all sorts of engines firing off if
you can suddenly double the artifacts you have on the battlefield, even if
it’s just until the end of the turn. I have visions of Sol Rings, Solemn
Simulacrums, Paradox Engine, Combustible Gearhulk, Torrential Gearhulk,
Duplicant, Wurmcoil Engine, Trading Post… the sky is the limit when it
comes to sweet artifacts to copy!

Before I dig into each of the individual decks, let’s look at the three
cards that are shared across all four decks.

Sol Ring and Command Tower are welcome reprints and staples of the format.
Sol Ring goes into just about every deck, and Command Tower is an amazing
mana fixer you run in any deck outside of monocolor. Force of Heroes is the
new ubiquitous land that we’ll want in most of our Commander decks going
forward. For the cost of an extra mana (Force of Heroes itself), you get to
add a +1/+1 or loyalty counter to your commander. The +1/+1 counter is a
minor boost to most creature commanders, but that extra loyalty for
planeswalkers is quite nice!

Forge of Heroes works particularly nice with legends that transform into
planeswalkers such as Kytheon, Hero of Akros and Liliana, Heretical Healer.
It’s also sweet with effects that can blink your commander like Conjurer’s
Closet or Momentary Blink.

On to the decks!

Exquisite Invention

Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer is a very exciting new choice for an Izzet
commander. I love the crazy shenanigans you can brew up utilizing blue and
red’s ability to generate tokens and the ability to create token copies of
particularly good creatures. I have visions of creating armies of Wurmcoil
Engines, and each one that dies creates two smaller tokens that will turn
into full-blown Wurmcoil Engines the following combat.

Tawnos, Urza’s Apprentice is a nice callback legend that plays nicely with
most artifacts. I’m not sure I’d build a deck with Tawnos as my commander,
but I’d happily include it in the 99 of all sorts of artifact-friendly

Varchild, Betrayer of Kjeldor is a very interesting card that steps nicely
outside the box of what mono-red typically has. I look forward to brewing
around this card, so stay tuned!

New Cards:

I like every single one of these cards and can’t wait to have them
available for various Commander decks. Ancient Stone Idol is going right
into my Feldon of the Third Path deck. Retrofitter Foundry gives me a weird
cross between Trading Post and Staff of Domination. I’m also a big fan of
Geode Golem which lets any deck under the right circumstances cheat out
their high cost commander card or help mitigate the cost of too much
Commander tax.

Those of you thinking of pairing Treasure Nabber with a sacrifice outlet
like Krark-Clan Ironworks, let me persuade you otherwise. See, if people
know you’re going to be sacrificing their mana artifacts after you steal
them they will simply stop using them until they deal with Treasure Nabber.
So that basically just makes Treasure Nabber a disruption tool that annoys
everybody. But if you don’t demonstrate that you’re going to steal and
sacrifice, it might tempt people to keep using their artifact mana and let
you borrow it, in which case Treasure Nabber ends up being a rather chaotic
bit of temporary mana ramp.

Key Reprints:

I’m very stoked to see Mimic Vat reprinted, the first time since its
original showing in Scars of Mirrodin. That seems like a great way
to make tokens with Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer, right? Duplicant and Steel
Hellkite are fantastic cards that slot easily in all sorts of decks of all

Subjective Reality

Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign plays decently alongside Aminatou’s “top of the
deck” themes, but then there’s Varina, Lich Queen and Yuriko, the Tiger’s
Shadow that strike their own unique pose that demand decks of their own.
Fun fact-I grew up in Varina, a district of Henrico county here near
Richmond, Virginia. I went to Varina Elementary and graduated from Varina
High School. Varina was the name of the first tobacco John Rolfe cultivated
in the Americas. So it was a little weird to see a Magic card named Varina.
I like that Varina, Lich Queen is a cool Zombie lord that lets you bring in
the bumper crop of white Zombies that showed up on the plane of Amonkhet
along with all the black and blue Zombies.

I’ve seen a whole lot of people get excited about Yuriko, the Tiger’s
Shadow. We now have a black and blue ninja tribal lord with a cool ability
to ninjutsu right out of the command zone, circumventing any Commander tax.
While there aren’t all that many Ninjas available, you can stretch the
theme out a bit with changelings, or Conspiracy and Arcane Adaptation.

New Cards:

I’m really stoked for the return of manifest with Primordial Mist, a very
cool and powerful card that immediately stokes the urge to revisit morph
and manifest. It’s also awesome that we get our first black miracle spell,
Entreat the Dead. Sower of Discord and Loyal Unicorn scream out Saskia the
Unyielding to me, kicking its power up a couple notches.

Mark my words-no good will come out of the printing of Magus of the
Balance! I expect there to be some very poor play experiences tied into
that card because no one ever plays that card in a balanced way. Expect
many eye rolls and shaking of heads. I know, not every card is for me.

Rolls eyes. Shakes head.

Key Reprints:

I played Adarkar Valkyrie to great effect while it was in Standard and
loved it. Fun fact: I didn’t realize its ability could target opponent’s
creatures until it had rotated out and I started playing it in Commander.
While I felt really dumb on the one hand, the other part of me was excited
about how much better it is than I originally thought. It’s a card that a
lot of people forget about (even me, even now), and I’m glad it’s back to
remind everyone of its awesomeness.

I am not very excited about the return of Terminus. It’s a very good
card-it’s Legacy good. My undying creatures were so sad when Terminus was
in Standard. I have a feeling my creatures will be quite sad in Commander
going forward.

Nature’s Vengeance

None of these three cards play into the “lands matter” themes that Lord
Windgrace suggests. But that’s okay-all three are very interesting cards
that suggest cool new directions and decks of their own. Gryus, Waker of
Corpses is interesting in that it’s the most mana efficient of all the
X-hydras, and yet you wouldn’t want to play those Hydras in your Gyrus deck
because you couldn’t really exile them for effect. Its reanimation effect
precludes playing extremely large creatures so I think you’d just want to
include a lot of value creatures you can grind more value out of when Gyrus

I really like Thantis, the Warweaver and Xantcha, Sleeper Agent as cards
that can really get games moving rapidly toward their conclusion, with both
slightly tipping the scales in your favor.

New Cards:

For my money, Crash of Rhino Beetles, Whiptongue Hydra and Windgrace’s
Judgment are the wow cards in this deck. I really like Nesting Dragon and
Reality Scramble too.

I’m not the biggest fan of Emissary of Grudges. I just feel like too many
things have to happen right in order to make this worth the mana
investment. I could be wrong though. I mean, a six mana 6/5 flier with
haste is a decent rate in non-Dragon decks.

Key Reprints:

It’s good to see Avenger of Zendikar back again after it’s reprint in Commander 2013. And while Myriad Landscape has shown up in a bunch
of Commander sets and even Masters 25, it’s such a fantastic mana
ramp card that non-green decks can take advantage of I’m always happy to
get my hands on more copies.

Adaptive Enchantment

Last but not least is the enchantment-themed deck, which is probably my
favorite of the bunch. Kestia, the Cultivator and Tuvasa the Sunlit both
play great in the enchantment deck with Estrid, the Masked, but I also
think they can each helm their own Commander deck too. In particular I
think Tuvasa opens up the door to Merfolk tribal across all three Merfolk
colors with incentives for a strong enchantment sub-theme.

I’m not going to lie though-my favorite of all the Commander 2018
cards is Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle. It is such a flavor home run and just
downright weird. I love that it’s basically an Explosive Vegetation with a
12/12 Kraken attached. I love its interaction with Thespian’s Stage. I’m
not entirely sure it’s going to be a good commander outside of people who
just want a four-mana ramp spell always available to them, but I’m eager to
explore that space!

New Cards:

I’m very excited about adding Heavenly Blademaster to my Aurelia, the
Warleader deck (because it has a fair amount of equipment). Estrid’s
Invocation is a super-cool card that slots right into any enchantment-heavy
deck. Octopus Umbra is a super-flavorful addition to the totem armor auras.

I’m torn on Myth Unbound. I think it’s a neat card, and is a decent hedge
in decks that are heavily focused on keeping the commander on the
battlefield. But we are choked with good to great to fantastic Commander
cards that cost three mana, especially with green, and I’m not sure it
holds up against other options at that casting cost. I can’t help but wish
it maybe did a little less at two mana or a little more at four mana and it
would see a whole lot more play.

Key Reprints:

There are a lot of solid reprints here, with Winds of Rath at the head of
the class. It hasn’t really been widely available since its original
printing so it’s awesome to find it here in the deck that can most break
its symmetry. Sigil of the Empty Throne also makes a welcome return.
Creeping Renaissance is back to remind us how cool the card is in a deck
that’s heavy on the permanents.

So, tell me-which of the decks are you most eager to get your hands on?
Which of the legends so you most want to build a Commander deck around?
Which of the new cards is your favorite?

New to Commander?

If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:

Commander write-ups I’ve done
(and links to decklists):

Zurgo Bellstriker (Bellstriking Like a Boss)

Dragonlord Ojutai (Troll Shroud)

Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund (Dragons, Megamorphs, and Dragons)

Dromoka, the Eternal (One Flying Bolster Basket)

Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest (Tempests and Teapots)

Tasigur, the Golden Fang (Hatching Evil Sultai Plots)

Scion of the Ur-Dragon (Dragon Triggers for Everyone)

• Nahiri, The Lithomancer (Lithomancing for Fun and Profit)

Titania, Protector of Argoth (Titania’s Land and Elemental Exchange)

Reaper King (All About VILLAINOUS WEALTH)

Feldon of the Third Path (She Will Come Back to Me)

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant (Calling Up Ghouls with Sidisi)

Zurgo Helmsmasher (Two Times the Smashing)

Anafenza, the Foremost (Anafenza and Your Restless Dead)

Narset, Enlightened Master (The New Voltron Overlord)

Surrak Dragonclaw (The Art of Punching Bears)

Avacyn, Guardian Angel; Ob Nixilis, Unshackled; Sliver Hivelord (Commander Catchup, Part 3)

Keranos, God of Storms; Marchesa, the Black Rose; Muzzio, Visionary Architect (Commander Catchup, Part 2)

Athreos, God of Passage; Kruphix, God of Horizons; Iroas, God of Victory (Commander Catchup, Journey into Nyx Edition)

Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient (Ghost in the Machines)

Jalira, Master Polymorphist (JaliraPOW!)

Mishra, Artificer Prodigy (Possibility Storm Shenanigans)

Yisan, the Wanderer Bard (All-in Yisan)

Selvala, Explorer Returned (Everyone Draws Lots!)

Grenzo, Dungeon Warden (Cleaning Out the Cellar)

Karona, False God (God Pack)

Child of Alara (Land Ho!)

Doran, the Siege Tower (All My Faves in One Deck!)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (my Magic Online deck)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (Shadowborn Apostles & Demons)

King Macar, the Gold-Cursed (GREED!)

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind ( Chuck’s somewhat vicious deck)

Roon of the Hidden Realm (Mean Roon)

Skeleton Ship (Fun with -1/-1 counters)

Vorel of the Hull Clade (Never Trust the Simic)

Anax and Cymede (Heroic Co-Commanders)

Aurelia, the Warleader ( plus Hellkite Tyrant shenanigans)

Borborygmos Enraged (69 land deck)

Bruna, Light of Alabaster (Aura-centric Voltron)

Damia, Sage of Stone ( Ice Cauldron shenanigans)

Derevi, Empyrial Tactician (Tribal Birds)

Emmara Tandris (No Damage Tokens)

Gahiji, Honored One (Enchantment Ga-hijinks)

Geist of Saint Traft (Voltron-ish)

Ghave, Guru of Spores ( Melira Combo)

Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)

Glissa, the Traitor ( undying artifacts!)

Grimgrin, Corpse-Born (Necrotic Ooze Combo)

Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord (drain you big time)

Jeleva, Nephalia’s Scourge ( Suspension of Disbelief)

Johan (Cat Breath of the Infinite)

Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo’ Myrs)

Karona, False God (Vows of the False God)

Konda, Lord of Eiganjo ( The Indestructibles)

Lord of Tresserhorn (ZOMBIES!)

Marath, Will of the Wild ( Wild About +1/+1 Counters)

Melira, Sylvok Outcast ( combo killa)

Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker ( Outside My Comfort Zone with Milling

Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis (evil and Spike-ish)

Nicol Bolas (Kicking it Old School)

Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius ( new player-friendly)

Nylea, God of the Hunt ( Devoted to Green)

Oloro, Ageless Ascetic (Life Gain)

Oona, Queen of the Fae (by reader request)

Phage the Untouchable ( actually casting Phage from Command Zone!)

Phelddagrif (Mean Hippo)

Polukranos, World Eater (Monstrous!)

Progenitus (

Fist of Suns and Bringers


Reaper King (Taking Advantage of the new Legend Rules)

Riku of Two Reflections (

steal all permanents with
Deadeye Navigator + Zealous Conscripts


Roon of the Hidden Realm ( Strolling Through Value Town)

Ruhan of the Fomori (lots of equipment and infinite attack steps)

Savra, Queen of the Golgari ( Demons)

Shattergang Brothers (Breaking Boards)

Sigarda, Host of Herons ( Equipment-centric Voltron)

Skullbriar, the Walking Grave ( how big can it get?)

Sliver Overlord (Featuring the new M14 Slivers!)

Thelon of Havenwood ( Campfire Spores)

Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice ( new player-friendly)

Uril, the Miststalker (my “more competitive” deck)

Varolz, the Scar-Striped (scavenging goodness)

Vorosh, the Hunter ( proliferaTION)

Xenagos, God of Revels (Huge Beatings)

Yeva, Nature’s Herald (living at instant speed)