M13 Set Review: Commander

If you’re a fan of Commander, don’t miss Sheldon’s review of M13 in which he goes over the cards he thinks probably won’t get played, might get played, probably will get played, and definitely will get played.

Now that I’m back from a great weekend at GP Atlanta, where I hope you tuned in for lots of great Legacy action (and if not, the broadcasts are archived on ggslive.com), it’s time to settle in to look at the latest core set and how it relates to our favorite format.

Before I get there, I want to give a shout out to Rusty Kubis, the behind-the-scenes member of the GGS Live broadcast team. Rich and I get most of the airtime, you already know and love Rashad, but the show doesn’t happen without Rusty’s diligence and hard work, so I want to say thanks to him one more time.

While this is a full set review, I’m not necessarily going to talk about every card individually. I’m going to go back to the style of the AVR review, breaking down cards in categories of "Probably Won’t Get Played," "Might Get Played," "Probably Will Get Played," and "Definitely Will Get Played." Remember, this list is focused on Commander only. If a card is bonkers in Draft, I might not mention that fact even if I know that’s the case.

Probably Won’t Get Played

These cards are either poorly costed for the format, don’t do enough, or are clearly designed for Limited, where some of them might see a fair amount of play.

White:  Angel’s Mercy, Battleflight Eagle, Captain’s Call, Divine Favor, Glorious Charge, Guardian Lions, Guardians of Akrasa, Pillarfield Ox, Prized Elephant, Rain of Blades, Show of Valor, War Falcon, Warclamp Mastiff

Blue:  Arctic Aven, Battle of Wits, Harbor Serpent, Hydrosurge, Kraken Hatchling, Talrand’s Invocation, Watercourser, Welkin Tern, Wind Drake

Black: Cower in Fear, Crippling Blight, Dark Favor, Disentomb, Duress, Giant Scorpion, Liliana’s Shade, Ravenous Rats, Servant of Nefarox, Shimian Specter, Walking Corpse, Zombie Goliath

Red:  Bladetusk Boar, Canyon Minotaur, Cleaver Riot, Craterize, Crimson Muckwader, Fire Elemental, Kindled Fury, Mogg Flunkies, Reckless Brute, Searing Spear, Trumpet Blast, Turn to Slag, Wall of Fire

Green:  Bountiful Harvest, Centaur Courser, Duskdale Wurm, Flinthoof Boar, Sentinel Spider, Serpent’s Gift, Spiked Baloth, Timberpack Wolf, Vastwood Gorger,

Artifact:  Kitesail, Phyrexian Hulk

Might Get Played

Like the previous section, it seems unlikely that any of these will get played, but there is a bit more of an outside shot that we see them shoehorned into a deck or maybe someone will find a niche use for them.

White:  Angelic Benediction, Attended Knight, Aven Squire, Divine Verdict, Griffin Protector, Serra Angel, Serra Avenger, Silvercoat Lion, War Priest of Thune

Blue:  Downpour, Essence Scatter, Faerie Invaders, Index, Merfolk of the Pearl Trident, Tricks of the Trade, Unsummon, Vedalken Entrancer,

Black:  Bloodhunter Bat, Duskmantle Prowler, Duty-Bound Dead, Essence Drain, Harbor Bandit, Mark of the Vampire, Mind Rot, Tormented Soul, Veilborn Ghoul

Red:  Arms Dealer, Chandra’s Fury, Dragon Hatchling, Firewing Phoenix, Flames of the Firebrand, Furnace Whelp, Goblin Arsonist, Krenko’s Command, Rummaging Goblin, Torch Fiend, Volcanic Strength

Green:  Bond Beetle, Deadly Recluse, Farseek, Naturalize, Plummet, Predatory Rampage, Primal Huntbeast, Quirion Dryad, Revive, Titanic Growth, Yeva’s Forcemage

Artifact:  Chronomaton, Jayemdae Tome, Primal Clay,

Land:  Hellion Crucible

Probably Will Get Played

This section is dedicated to cards that stand a reasonably good chance of getting played in the format, but are either narrower in use or simply less exciting than the cards in the next section.


Ajani’s Sunstriker:  There are already Cat decks out there, so it’s reasonable to assume this will get played in them.

Crusader of Odric:  Someone is pretty likely to put this into a "generate a pile of dudes" deck.

Erase:  A reprint from Urza’s Legacy that I don’t recall seeing much of, it coming out in M13 might pique some interest. Exiling things instead of destroying them is almost always preferable if you’re not intending to Reanimate them.

Healer of the Pride:  It’s just for your guys coming in, but it’s a double Soul Warden effect. Plus it’s another Cat.

Knight of Glory:  The tribal element, the protection from black and the exalted all pile up to make it somewhat likely we’ll be seeing this improved White Knight on our battlefields.

Touch of the Eternal:  Mechanically interesting as well as the interesting art, it’s kind of a "it’s going to be tough to kill me" card. Perhaps also played with Worship and/or Angel’s Grace. Remember that changing your life total means gaining or losing that amount of life, so appropriate things will trigger.


Augur of Bolas:  Not quite as nice as Sea Gate Oracle because you can whiff on it. Setting it up with Mystical Tutor seems like a good idea. Speaking of which, I’m surprised we haven’t seen more use of Mystical Tutor to put miracle cards on top of decks. Seems like a match made in heaven.

Courtly Provocateur:  This is an elegantly designed card, simple in idea but interesting in application. It doesn’t say who the creature has to attack, but I’m pretty sure you can create unfavorable situations for opponents.

Divination:  Probably not played by folks who have immense collections and access to instant draw cards in blue, but a nice addition to decks for those new to the game.

Jace’s Phantasm:  I know there’s lots of chatter about this in Standard. I think it’s likely to get its day in Commander as well.

Mind Sculpt:  Interesting to me that it’s target opponent—probably because the seven cards is too good for two mana in self-mill.

Redirect:  At the same price, I think we’ll simply see more Twincast. I’m struggling to envision a scenario where this is better. Even if it’s a giant, lethal Fireball, Twincast will likely make it so that the original doesn’t resolve. I suppose this gets put into decks that have multiple ways to monkey around with everyone else’s spells.

Scroll Thief:  I’m pretty sure we’ll see an uptick in Merfolk tribal decks with the new Merfolk Lord, which means we’re more likely to see this guy. Fish.

Switcheroo:  Downgrading this due to its awful name.


Blood Reckoning:  Having trouble with token decks? Reckon them in blood. It probably won’t help against that Avenger of Zendikar guy who just dropped Craterhoof Behemoth, but it pretty much shorts out most other swarm decks pretty quickly.

Bloodthrone Vampire:  While not quite as good than its bigger, flying cousins Devouring Swarm and Fallen Angel, Bloodthrone Vampire probably gets played in more than just Vampire Tribal decks.

Knight of Infamy:  Just like with Knight of Glory, the combination of abilities makes it somewhat playable. I think people underestimate the value of early pressure, and this guy can make it happen.

Murder:  Because there are no restrictions on the type or color of creature this can kill, which is pretty traditional for black, this next step on the Terror-to-Doom Blade evolutionary path is likely to be one of the one-for-ones that sees play.

Phylactery Lich:  It’s a little janky, but combine it with any number of indestructible artifacts available in the format and you might be onto something.

Public Execution:  It’s probably a little expensive for what it does since if you’re worried about creatures swarms, they’re generally all of the same type (Plant tokens, Saprolings) so you could play Tsabo’s Decree instead. Still, cool design worth a look.

Vampire Nocturnus:  Obviously only valuable in the tribal decks, but in them can be really strong.

Vile Rebirth:  I’ll say it again: there’s not enough graveyard hate running around. Getting a Zombie out of the deal might encourage some play of this card, but at the same cost there is Cremate, which seems better.

Wit’s End:  That Guy will probably play it just because he’s That Guy. Then there will be others who play it because of That Guy. It’s an endless cycle.

Xathrid Gorgon:  The flavor of the card is awesome. Getting it into play and activating it is a little expensive.


Fervor:  Most likely played in red decks that don’t also have access to green since they’d play Fires of Yavimaya instead.

Goblin Battle Jester:  I think this can be a little more useful than at first blush. Sometimes attacks don’t get made because of a single creature’s ability to block. Casting one spell—maybe a creature with haste—would make a huge difference in an otherwise unfavorable combat.

Mindclaw Shaman:  While it seems like this would be a blowout card, I think it’s only situationally worthwhile. You have to hold it until you know (or suspect) that someone has an instant or sorcery that you want access to. I think some folks are going to try it out and eventually become disillusioned with it.

Slumbering Dragon:  Another card that has a great flavor in the design, I can see some folks trying to make it work. I might even throw it into my Animar/Proliferate deck (hello Forgotten Ancient!).

Smelt:  For players operating on a tight curve, this might be a choice. Certainly fine with Isochron Scepter.

Wild Guess:  Certainly something Reanimator decks might like to have in their arsenals since they can pitch exactly what they want and draw some cards too. Even in non-Reanimator you can certainly upgrade a dead card into two potentially useful ones.


Arbor Elf:  Elf and Elf combo decks are pretty likely to use the untapper.

Elderscale Wurm:  I can see someone wanting to make hay with this. It’s an expensive Fog and probably great against the Naya Ramp decks that overrun you but don’t have too much spot removal.

Elvish Archdruid:  Another one for the tribal decks.

Elvish Visionary:  Sometimes creature decks, like Animar and Karador, want to cast cheap card draw. While there are better options (Masked Admirers), there aren’t cheaper ones.

Fog:  Funny how people will play Fog but not Darkness. I think Darkness would be a complete blowout, especially in a non-green deck where it looks like you can’t have any Fog effects.

Garruk’s Packleader:  I’d call this a well-underplayed card. The Shards cycle depended on creatures with five power. Three is way more manageable.

Ground Seal:  Graveyard strategies being as good as they are I have to imagine this has a place in decks, especially since it replaces itself.

Prey Upon:  You’re in green. Your guys are bigger and badder. Green creature removal for one mana makes the best color in the format even better.

Primordial Hydra:  A little janky, but there’s room for it in "+1 counters matter" decks.

Ranger’s Path:  Despite being strictly worse than Skyshroud Claim, it’ll probably get played because players have access to it and those Claims might be hard to find—and people like to search up their dual and shock lands.

Roaring Primadox:  We don’t see too many Stampeding Wildebeests getting played, but I see this one as slightly better since it can return a creature of any color and it’s a little more splashable. Momir Vig will probably enjoy having this guy around.

Silklash Spider:  Another card that I think is underplayed; I hope that getting reprinted brings it some limelight. It blocks all the Dragons and occasionally clears the skies.


Clock of Omens:  Any time there is untapping, especially of artifacts, I see a combo deck somewhere.

Door to Nothingness:  There’s a deflation you can see on someone’s face when they lose to this. The Door player untaps with the ten appropriate mana, and everyone tries to not make eye contact. It’s interesting that there are ways people don’t mind losing and other ways that they hate. This is one of the latter.

Sands of Delirium:  Sure, you can mill out someone by creating infinite mana, but winning with infi is already pretty easy. The mill strategy in Commander is considerably weakened by the presence of Gaea’s Blessing and the Eldrazi, although I can see folks going for it with some combination of Sands of Delirium and Keening Stone. I see this getting some use in self-mill decks as well, like Sedris and Mimeoplasm.

Staff of Nin:  Once it’s on the battlefield, it does its business without further mana investment. Still, it might be a little pricey and have trouble competing at six mana with Caged Sun, Contagion Engine, Dreamstone Hedron, Steel Hellkite, and Duplicant.

Stuffy Doll:  It’s pretty likely that someone is going to run out Stuffy Doll + global damage effects (like Blasphemous Act). The art is suitably creepy, too.

Trading Post:  It does many things, most of them in a thoroughly mediocre fashion. Still, someone is likely to find an outside-the-box use for it. One of the reasons I love Commander players is that they use jank in interesting ways.


Cathedral of War:  Outside of Uril, the Miststalker and Rafiq of the Many, I’m not seeing too many exalted strategies, and both of those decks need to keep an eye on the number of lands producing colorless mana that they run.

Definitely Will Get Played

These are the cards that we all know will find their way into both existing decks or perhaps have new decks created around them. New cards and reprints alike, you’re going to see them.


Ajani, Caller of the Pride:  There are few unplayed or unplayable planeswalkers out there. The flying and double strike ability is probably enough. The adding of counters is quite good with persist creatures. His ultimate, if you can get there, is crazy. Last but not least is that after that ultimate (or if he gets killed beforehand), you can bring him back with Sun Titan.

Captain of the Watch:  It’s already getting played, and it having more availability is likely to see it get even more play.

Faith’s Reward:  One more expensive than Second Sunrise—but it’s only for you. Strong card that might replace Ghostway in some builds. I’m sure we’ll see someone along the way float twelve to cast Obliterate and then this.

Intrepid Hero:  Like a number of other reprints that are already getting played, the card coming out in M13 is likely to get it played more.

Oblivion Ring:  Here’s a reprint that I’m not sure could get played more in the format.

Odric, Master Tactician:  I’ll be surprised if Monday Night Gamer and Armada Games EDH League regular Keith Bogart doesn’t build an Odric deck that features of a bunch of banding creatures. We’ll see him in Soldier decks, and I think we’ll see a fairly diverse number of ways to use him like with creatures that have protection or deathtouch.

Pacifism:  This is a card for which a type of mechanic is referred to, Pacifism gets less play these days than it once did due to more available options. It’s still effective and classic.

Planar Cleansing:  With more and more good stuff getting printed, I can only see the (play) value of this going up and up. Also a combo with Faith’s Reward.

Rhox Faithmender:  We don’t even need to be on the verge of a Rhox Monk deck to see that the life gain crowd will love the Faithmender. Add Wall of Reverence and Serra Avatar for absurdity.

Safe Passage:  As decks get ever more aggressive, having Fog effects is a survival tool. Safe Passage protecting your creatures as well (hello, Blasphemous Act) is a very nice bonus.

Serra Avatar:  I think my next two-color deck is going to be Boros colors, and this pairs with Fling. And Gisela.

Sublime Archangel:  Well-named and appropriately Mythic. Putting her into a Rafiq deck makes it even that much more deadly.


Archaeomancer:  Scrivener gets played, and it’s more expensive and the extra power not significant to its uses, so I’m pretty sure Archaeomancer gets played as well. The extra blue requirement is probably wholly insignificant. And the art is cooler.

Clone:  Now in its tenth set printing (not including being in the Collector’s Edition and Venser vs. Koth Duel decks), Clone is simply classic. While it won’t ever be a format-defining card, it’s certainly a card we’ll always see. "Format-defining cards" is now in my head as an article idea.

Encrust:  I’m not sure I’m fond of the idea of giving blue access to a Faith’s Fetters-like effect, but it is what it is.

Fog Bank:  The new art is really cool. Kind of defines a pillow-fort card and will see even more play than it has before.

Jace, Memory Adept:  I play this Jace in more decks than I do the Mind Sculptor, but that’s admittedly because I dumped them when they got to three digits. Great for Mimeoplasm and mill decks, I’m dreaming up a self-mill deck to use this in.

Master of the Pearl Trident:  Merfolk are back! Sygg loves his new friend.

Negate:  Already getting played and no reason to think its play will get diminished.

Omniscience:  The latest card causing panic, there’s no reason to pre-ban this card. Yes, we understand that Academy Rector is a thing, but it’s a ten-mana enchantment that needs other cards in order to be really good. I seriously doubt it warps the format, although I’m pretty sure some folks will try.

Rewind:  We haven’t seen it since Ninth Edition, and we’ll see it more now. There are more than enough lands that tap for more than one mana.

Sleep:  I put this in "definitely played" because I’ll definitely play it more. While unspectacular, it’s solid and can keep scary things from tramping on your head. LOLZ card to combo it with:  Siren’s Call. Gotta put that in my Ruhan deck.

Spelltwine:  The blue players are positively giddy over this. In addition to being able to recast something awesome of your own, you get to throw something awesome back in someone’s face.

Sphinx of Uthuun:  FoF-Sphinx continues his reign of FoF-ing.

Stormtide Leviathan:  This is a Commander card:  giant, expensive, and big effect. Love it.

Talrand, Sky Summoner:  Master of the Pearl Trident keeps this from being best mono-blue commander in the set. It’s going in the Merfolk deck for sure.

Void Stalker:  Void Stalker would be great in the format even if it couldn’t target commanders. Since it can, it will see quite some play. It will also restart the tuck debate, although it’s not tuck in the strictest sense.


Diabolic Revelation:  Another card that’s already generated quite a bit of discussion, I’m pretty sure that it’s expensive enough to be unproblematic. With a giant pile of mana, it’s dangerous and likely game ending, but that’s true of a great number of cards. It may change the way some folks play—making Aven Mindcensor more popular for example—but I don’t see the card as panic-worthy. Will it be strong? Situationally. Will it be sometimes insane? Yes. Will it warp the format? I doubt it.

Disciple of Bolas:  Sweet squibbity-do! The Disciple has a home in at least two decks (Kresh and Thraximundar) right now. There are no targets on this guy’s triggered ability, meaning you wait until resolution to decide what to sacrifice. That means while someone might decide to kill your Hamletback Goliath so that you don’t draw half your deck, you still sacrifice something else. The worst-case scenario is that you have to sacrifice him, which means you’ve paid four to draw two cards—less than optimal, but not the end of the world.

Liliana of the Dark Realms:  Planeswalkers whose ultimate abilities give emblems are always going to get some attention. As they go, this one is nicely balanced. It doesn’t seem as game breaking as Elspeth, Knight Errant and Tamiyo, although it certainly seems worthwhile. While the design suggests she belongs in mono-black—a deck like Maga, Traitor to Mortals is sure going to love her—she can probably go in most two-color decks pretty easily and any three-color deck that leans heavily on the black component.

Mutilate:  It already sees some play so I think we’ll see a little more of it after M13, which may encourage some new (or at least more) Mono-Black decks.

Nefarox:  And this guy might be the general that inspires some creation. Maga, Dralnu, and Mikaeus are Mono-Black commanders that inspire a great deal of fear. Nefarox might slip under the radar despite his pretty cool ability. He also might seem pretty spicy as an aid in your Thraximundar deck, but if he attacks alongside Thrax, you don’t get his ability.

Rise from the Grave:  Already seeing play because it can get a creature from any graveyard. Nicely flexible in a straightforward design.

Sign in Blood:  I’ve seen this used as an opportunistic kill card. Otherwise, it’s just useful.

Vampire Nighthawk:  This card already sees some play in tribal decks, but I’d like to suggest that it see more outside of them. Dropped early, its lifelink ability gains some valuable life. Later, deathtouch plus flying keeps the worst monsters from heading your direction. It’s a winner.


Chandra, the Firebrand:  The damage abilities are secondary to the copy ability. I imagine the play line is almost always to cast it and use the +1 ability the first turn, then cast something awesome to copy the next.

Hamletback Goliath:  The Giant that can get the biggest, he’s truly scary when a bunch of creatures enter the battlefield at once.

Krenko, Mob Boss:  The new Mono-Red Goblin deck poster child, I imagine him leading scary Goblin swarms to a table near you. Watch out for him with Mogg Infestation.

Magmaquake:  Even though it’s not nearly as good as Fault Line, this will get played for the combination of its abilities.

Mark of Mutiny:  With the cool Flicker effects from AVR, I expect to see more Mark of Mutiny.

Reverberate:  Did you just spend 20 for that Genesis Wave? Thank you!!!

Thundermaw Hellkite:  The damage to the opponents’ flying creatures isn’t all that important, but the tapping sure is. This is another card in the set that out of nowhere kind of radically changes a combat scenario.

Volcanic Geyser:  Overlooked if it were a sorcery, being an instant makes it eminently playable.

Worldfire:  Do not panic. This may turn out to be a thoroughly annoying card and get kicked to the curb in September. It may turn out to be no big deal. If it’s going to get broken "normally," we can all see how it will: float mana, let it resolve, then cast your commander. If it’s going to get broken in Jhoira, it has plenty of company. That’s a different discussion.


Acidic Slime:  I may have seen this targeted with Rite of Replication even more than Primal Titan.

Boundless Realms:  I think some folks are irrationally excited by this one. I think it’s a fine card, but I think you’ll have to put it to some use other than just doubling your lands like landfall or some such. Will it be sometimes crazy? For sure. Is it broken? Clearly not.

Fungal Sprouting:  Hello, Lord of Extinction. Pleased to meet you.

Garruk, Primal Hunter:  I play him, I’ve seen others play him, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen his ultimate go off, mostly because folks don’t want to pass up the opportunity to draw lots of cards in hopes of later getting lots of Wurms.

Mwonvuli Beast Tracker:  I’ve heard some folks reduce this down to "search for Primeval Titan," but I think it has way broader implications. Reach might not be the keyword you search on much, but I’m willing to bet pulling that Acidic Slime out at the right time will really pay dividends. Sigarda is probably the newer card that we’ll see it search up. Cool design.

Rancor:  This might be the reprint that folks are most excited about for Standard. It sees play in Commander now, and I’m pretty sure it will see more. It’s the push over the top some Commanders, especially those which tend to get large but don’t have evasion, need to get through:  Kresh, Omanth, and the obvious Uril, the Miststalker.

Thragtusk:  Another card that I think the Standard players are really excited about, Thragtusk is definitely going into a few of my decks. Note that his second ability is a "leaves the battlefield" trigger not a "dies" one, so combining with Roaring Primadox is natural and obvious. Throw in a Cloudstone Curio for extra hilarity.

Yeva, Nature’s Herald:  Maybe my favorite card in the set, it gives green, a color I play a fair amount, access to something that’s traditionally outside its purview. This opens up green, especially its utility creatures like Acidic Slime, to new lines of play.


Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker:  The flag-bearer for the whole set, there is a fair amount of excitement over him coming back. He’s never gone away in Commander, and he’s still just as scary as he always was.


Akroma’s Memorial:  I think card price and availability has affected this getting played. This will certainly change, and we’ll see armies of friends of Akroma running about.

Elixir of Immortality:  In Commander, this is more of a "shuffle in my stuff so I can reuse it" card than it is a "gain five life" card. It’s a pretty cheap way to protect your graveyard from removal.

Gem of Becoming:  This upgrade to Armillary Sphere is definitely going into those Grixis decks which are trying to keep up with the ramp of the green decks. As I mentioned earlier, folks like getting their dual and shock lands.

Gilded Lotus:  Another reprint that I’m happy to see because the cost of the original was creeping up into uncomfortable for some players. It’s a card rarely countered but frequently blown up.

The Ring Cycle:  Thematically really cool. Ring of Evos Isle is the one I’m looking most forward to, since it will be a welcome addition to my Animar deck. Ring of Kalonia, like Rancor, is for those Commanders that are having trouble getting through. I see Ring of Thune, Ring of Valkas, and Ring of Xathrid getting a little less play, but the cost-effectiveness of the abilities combined with adding the counters will make players give them a whirl.

Tormod’s Crypt:  Despite the fact that I love my graveyard, I hope reprinting Crypt will encourage more folks to play more graveyard hate. You know, for the kids.


Dragonskull Summit, Drowned Catacomb, Glacial Fortress, Rootbound Crag, and Sunpetal Grove:  The budget dual lands are already getting played. I know some folks are a little disappointed that "better" duals didn’t get printed, but I’m perfectly happy with them. Mana bases are the most expensive thing about Commander decks, and I wouldn’t mind seeing them getting a little more cost-effective.

Reliquary Tower:  A signature card in the format I didn’t know was getting reprinted until I saw the full spoiler—and was quite happy about it.

That’s a full 74 cards that are no kidding getting into decks in the format, making it an absurdly good core set for Commander. Admittedly, some of them are reprints, but I love the idea of making heretofore difficult-to-acquire cards readily available to the broader player base. Avacyn Restored certainly had more bomb-y and Chaos-Embracing cards in it, but I find M13, in addition to being an interesting core set in general, a really solid effort.

My 5 Favorite New Cards Are:

Mwonvuli Beast Tracker
Faith’s Reward
Yeva, Nature’s Herald
Disciple of Bolas

Next week, I’ll talk about exactly which M13 cards are going into which decks and what’s coming out, an exercise that continues to get more difficult because of all the great cards getting printed to go with the great cards of the past.