How Commander 2019 Will Impact The Format

Before the brews, the overview! Bennie Smith takes a wide-ranging look at how Commander 2019 will change the 100-card experience.

Wow, what a whirlwind ride this past week as the entire contents of all four Commander 2019 decks were revealed! Now we have two weeks to ponder and plot how we’re going to use the new cards in our decks. Next week I’m going to start brewing up decks around all the sweet new legends we’re getting, but today I wanted to lay out my thoughts on how the new set will impact our favorite Magic format!

Naya Got the Goods

While I think each of the decks has some really awesome legendary creatures, my feeling is that Primal Genesis – the populate deck – got the best of the bunch. Each of these new legends has really gotten my deck brewer juices going.

At the top of my list is Atla Palani, Nest Tender. You can lean into the populate theme, and keep making copies of the Egg tokens you make for value. You could go full theme and use this as the commander for your Dinosaur deck. You can add actual Egg creatures to your deck like Dragon Egg, Roc Egg, and Rukh Egg along with cards with the changeling ability like Chameleon Colossus and Taurean Mauler for an almost Egg tribal theme. Or you can get degenerate with Ashnod’s Altar and Thornbite Staff to just put every creature card from your deck onto the battlefield.

And yes, you could hatch Eldrazi out of your eggs, but that would be so boring after the first surprise.

Then there’s Marisi, Breaker of the Coil. Shutting down your opponents from casting spells during combat opens up the possibility of actually playing combat tricks without getting blown out. How about Vitalizing Wind? But the real juice is that next paragraph. The ability has haste so long as you control at least one creature that can deal combat damage to a player when you cast Marisi. Forcing other players to attack each other while they can’t attack you is awesome; there’s a reason why Disrupt Decorum is so amazing. The trick of course is to try to get the Disrupt Decorum effect each turn, so we’ll need creatures that can be evasive or effects that can make them evasive. The card that jumps out to me is Falter, and there are all kinds of spells like that out there: Barrage of Boulders, Demoralize, Glaring Spotlight. I’m especially intrigued by enchantment-based effects that restrict blocking. For instance, Familiar Ground plus Goblin War Drums. War Cadence. Bedlam. Bower Passage plus Eldrazi Monument.

Last but not least, there’s the face card of the deck, Ghired, Conclave Exile. I mean, even without any extra synergy he puts six power and nine toughness onto the battlefield for five mana, and then when he attacks you get another 4/4 Rhino. It’s incredibly easy in a deck with access to red and green to give your creatures haste so that ends up being ten power and thirteen toughness for your five mana. I love that he has red in his color identity so you can make use of red’s ability to make temporary copies of creatures. Tap Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker to copy a Sun Titan, and then attack with Ghired and populate the copy token. That is a ton of value. I really look forward to digging deep into all the potent tokens you can populate.

Low-Cost, Big-Impact Gems

When evaluating new cards for Commander, I take a particularly hard look at the casting cost since these new cards have a lot of competition by the vast number of existing cards we can play in Commander. In particular, it’s nice to see new cheap spells that are impactful in multiplayer Magic, since those sorts of cards are much rarer to find than spells that cost more mana.

I was pleased to find four two-mana spells that fit that bill in Commander 2019. The one that really grabbed my eye was Cliffside Rescuer, which is immediately going into my Teshar deck. Vigilance is always welcome in multiplayer, and though a 2/2 without evasion isn’t going to “get there” very often, you can sometimes find opportunities to get in a chip shot. The real juice is the activated ability, and while it does cost you a sacrifice of the creature, the protection it grants is quite impressive. It basically gives any permanent you control protection from just about any sort of targeted removal or effect for one turn. Having this on demand makes for a very strong deterrent for precious removal spells, so the real strength is the lingering threat of using the card to encourage the removal spell target someone else’s permanent. I suspect this will be showing up in all sorts of decks that have white in them.

Mass Diminish is another gem with a big effect for a small mana cost. You can cast it and combine with effects that deal a single point of damage to bring down many of the biggest threats on the battlefield. Goblin Sharpshooter and various incarnations of Niv-Mizzet spring to mind. You can cast it before your combat step to dissuade an opponent from blocking for the turn, or cast it after your combat step to kill off any blockers that might have otherwise survived. To top it all off, it has flashback so you can do it again, in addition to any other flashback synergies you may have going on. Just a solid card all the way around.

I’m not entirely sure about Mandate of Peace. There’s no doubt the effect is strong but it is very narrow. Outside of Isochron Scepter I’ll be curious to see how effective it will be to warrant playing all on its own. I’m also not entirely sure about Dockside Extortionist, though it should have more impact as the game goes on. I can see times when it’s going to net a huge amount of value, and times when it’s nothing more than a 1/2 for two mana. If you know your local metagame has a lot of artifact or enchantment decks, it’s going to do some serious work. It’s also a slam-dunk inclusion in Zedruu the Greathearted, since you can donate Auras and enchantments with global effects.

The Problem with Three

If you follow me with any regularity, you know that I’m a big proponent of having a decent mana curve when building your Commander deck, and when you pay attention to mana curve you’ll know that three mana is a big choke point in Commander—there are simply too many good to great options for your decks at three mana, and not enough card slots. This is universally true no matter what your color combination, but is doubly so if you’ve got green in your deck. So when a new card comes out that looks good for Commander but costs three mana, I get worried. The cards on this list all cost three mana, and as cool as their abilities are, they have a high bar to meet in order to really make any sort of impact on the format, particularly the green Selesnya Eulogist.

I feel confident that Scroll of Fate makes the grade—any deck that has a bunch of really good creatures that don’t have enters-the-battlefield triggers will want this card. It basically gives all your creature spells in your hand flash and can’t be countered, which is awesome in itself, but it also can turn any useless card in your hand into a 2/2 creature, ready for chump-blocking duties. In reanimator strategies, if you draw a large creature, it’s a way to get that card one step closer to the graveyard, assuming you can figure out a way to get the 2/2 creature killed.

I’m very interested in giving Pendant of Prosperity a try to see how often your opponents will activate it and give you the benefit for no additional mana expenditure. It’s another card that’s a slam-dunk inclusion in Zedruu the Greathearted, but I’m thinking it’ll be a cool inclusion in all sorts of decks. In particular, it could be worth finding room for it in Boros, since the color combination can struggle with both card drawing and land ramping.

Commander-Centric Decks Get Better and Worse

Used to be, spells and effects that could “tuck” a card into a player’s library worked on commanders as well as other cards. While this was a vital way to fight against overpowered or difficult to handle commanders, it also randomly screwed over everyone else who just wanted to do fun and cool things with their commander. When the RC changed the rule to make commanders resistant to these sorts of effects, it was an overall positive move to reinforce that Commander should be about your commander.

Taking away a weapon to fight the overpowered and problematic commanders led some players like myself to adopting cards like Darksteel Mutation, Song of the Dryads, and Imprisoned in the Moon. These were nice ways to neutralize problematic commanders without exiling or destroying them so they couldn’t be recast from the Command Zone. Thus, I felt some dismay when Sanctum of Eternity was revealed as one of the first preview cards. Even though two of these enchantments turn the permanent into a land, your commander keeps its “commander-ness” quality, so you can return it to your hand with Sanctum.

I understand such a card was made in the same spirit in which the tuck rule was implemented, specifically to help people keep access to their commanders. The format is called Commander after all, and having your fair commander Imprisoned in the Moon can be as frustrating as getting it tucked into your deck, though in my experience these enchantment-based removal spells are much easier to eventually overcome. Sanctum of Eternity also protects your commanders from getting permanently stolen with effects like Control Magic, though less efficiently than Homeward Path.

So how ubiquitous do I expect Sanctum of Eternity to be? Well, any deck that relies on its commander to combo out is going to want a copy in their deck. Any commander that has an enters-the-battlefield ability gets extra value from being returned to hand and replayed. It’s also a decent utility land to put into one- or two-color decks, though competition is fierce for utility lands. I’ll be very curious to see how many decks people run this land in.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see this happening at some point…

Leadership Vacuum is also a way to get back a commander that’s been enchanted or stolen in a pinch, but mostly the card will be an excellent weapon against a potent commander that’s about to do something problematic to your own plans. Instant speed, it replaces itself, and since it targets a player rather than the commander, it gets around hexproof or shroud.

A Swing and a Miss

I have to say I’m a bit disappointed in both of these cards. I know not every card is made for everyone, and there are probably folks that really love both of them. And I’m not saying either is bad; in fact, I think both have some cool ramifications in multiplayer. But I feel like both of these missed the mark just a bit.

For instance, there’s a reason why you almost never see the original version of Tahngarth in Commander. Tahngarth, Talruum Hero was instantly made obsolete when it was printed because a 4/4 for five that doesn’t do anything when it enters the battlefield was just horrible in a format defined by Flametongue Kavu. For me, the design was doubly disappointing because I’ve long wanted Minotaurs to be fierce, badass creatures in Magic, and for the vast majority of them that has not been the case. So, when I heard about Tahngarth, First Mate, I had high hopes that we might finally have a card worthy of being a legendary Minotaur.

Well, shaving off a mana and gaining a point of power and toughness is certainly an improvement, but even so a 5/5 creature isn’t exactly causing a panic around the table. The ability is certainly a very interesting one; I’m just not certain how often you’re going to want to join in on attacks with a 5/5 creature. I’ll be very interested to see how it plays out. Maybe, since it can’t be blocked by more than one creature, it’ll be better than I think. You can pair it up with equipment that gives him menace to make him unblockable. Perhaps Tahngarth is meant to be a Pirate with Captain’s Hook?

It is certainly big news that we’ve got our first legendary Wall creature, and I was hoping that it would have some thematic tie-in with other Wall creatures. Its effect is interesting but hardly unique or exciting—it’s not like Mystic Barrier is tearing up the Commander tables. And the color combination leaves out green, one of the best colors for “toughness matters” themed cards.

Reprint Value Seems Solid but Not Exciting

On the reprint front, it appears that Wizards hit the sweet spot of reprinting a bunch of medium value cards that no one was particularly clamoring for. Seriously, though it’s not realistic to expect Wizards to put a bunch of high-dollar value into a product designed to be reasonably priced and accessible to anyone who wants to get the cards and play Commander. If they put Mana Crypt in one of the decks, it would instantly double in price compared to the other decks and become very difficult to find on the shelves.

What I like about this assortment of cards is that while you’re getting good value in the reprints—I’ve seen calculations showing between $70-90 in value in each deck just from the reprints—this keeps the Wow Factor squarely on the brand-new cards, which is where it should be. I personally think the high-dollar cards that see lots of play in the format are better kept in reserve to up the Wow Factor in booster products such as Modern Horizons or, if the card would be fine in Standard, one of the regular booster expansion sets.

For instance, Crucible of Worlds made for a great reprint in Core Set 2019; even though it’s seen almost no play in Standard, Commander players were certainly happy to have access to it. Would Oracle of Mul Daya be too good for Standard if it showed up in the next Core Set or the next time we returned to Zendikar? I don’t think it break anything, but it sure would up the Wow Factor for Commander fans.

A word of advice—once Commander 2019 has been released into the wild, make sure you pick up extra copies of Thespian’s Stage and Myriad Landscape. These two cards are stellar in Commander and it’s always great to have extras around to put into decks. Scoop them up while they’re cheap!

Black Gets Some Interesting Goodies

I like some of the novel designs for black in this set. Mire in Misery dabbles in enchantment removal, usually quite far outside its slice of the color pie. You’ve got to jump through a few hoops and it’s slow and imprecise, but it’s an option for decks that are otherwise lacking in those.

Nightmare Unmaking is a very interesting option for control decks that can really put the kibosh on strategies where dead creatures just won’t stay dead. Exile is often the best form of removal available in Commander. It’s even possible to craft your deck or battlefield presence so the effect isn’t quite so symmetrical.

K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth is so Phyrexian it hurts. It turns all the black mana symbols in your spells into Phyrexian black mana symbols. How cool is that? And while the life loss isn’t trivial, black has so many ways to recoup lost life that you can really lean hard into using this ability. Plus, it super-charges Font of Agonies! I’d also like to include some number of artifacts and Inspiring Statuary to help you pay for the colorless side of the black spells.

So Does Green

Full Flowering strikes me as a potentially powerful populate card with enough mana available, so it’s nice that it’s in the right color. Populating three times costs seven mana, which is quite expensive. I’ll be very curious to see how this plays out.

Ohran Frostfang, on the other hand, is an all-star card that will easily slot into any green creature deck that has interest in doing things other than blocking. Not only does it make things difficult for your opponents to block your small attackers with their larger, more important creatures, deathtouch is a crazy combo with trample, an ability often found on many of green’s big creatures. The ability has haste, so you can take advantage of it right away if you’ve got creatures that can attack the turn you cast Ohran Frostfang. The high toughness makes it durable in combat and also plays great with green’s “toughness matters” themes. Just a fantastic card that’s worth picking up multiple copies of.

Then there’s Road of Return, a flexible Regrowth variant that can also let you get around a very high commander tax situation. I like this as a counterbalance to blue’s Leadership Vacuum.


I’m extremely happy with Commander 2019 and want to give a big “thank you” shout-out to all the folks at Wizards who brought us Commander fans such a cool new set. Special thanks to Commander Architect Gavin Verhey, Lead Designer Glenn Jones, and the rest of the design crew: Ethan Fleischer, Brian Hawley, Scott Larabee, Max McCall, David McDarby, Chris Mooney, Ken Nagle, Mike Turian, Gerritt Turner and Andrew Veen. Your hard work and creativity really shine with this set.

What do you think? Which new cards are you exited for? Which decks or singles are planning on picking up in a couple weeks?

Do me a solid and follow me on Twitter! I run polls and get conversations started about Commander all the time, so get in on the fun!

Deck Database

I’ve been writing about the Commander format and Magic: The Gathering in general for nearly two decades. Visit the Star City Games article archives for tons of content dating back to January 2000!

Monocolor Decks

Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma

Kytheon, Hero of Akros (Tribal Gideon)

Two-Color Decks

Ultimate Golgari Commander Deck

Tymna and Ravos

Three-Color Decks

Zur the Enchanter (Mummy’s Curse)

Four-Color Decks

Five-Color Decks

Karona, False God (All the Deserts)

Atogatog (Cartouches & Trials)

Commander Compare & Contrast

Zedruu, the Greathearted