Masters 25 brings nostalgia for our game’s long past right to the fore. Masters sets seem mostly designed (or selected, I suppose) for Draft, but it would be a mistake to ignore Masters 25’s impact on Commander. In addition to providing newer players with a look at some older cards, making some others more easily available (and in foil!), there are cards in the set which will spur the creativity of a new generation of deckbuilders.
This isn’t a set review so much as a running commentary on the cards freshly available, as well as some ideas on what to do with them. While I’m not going the road of discussing every card, I’ll break it down by color for convenience’s sake. And I’ll also say I love the watermark with the original set; very clever idea. Let’s jump right into the cards.
Akroma, Angel of Wrath: One of the great creatures of the early day, this version of Akroma belongs in nearly any white-heavy deck that likes to beat face with creatures. Her combination of abilities makes her routinely deadly, and while folks might want to focus on newer creatures, to underestimate her is to court your own peril. It is no insult to other artists when I suggest that Terese Nielsen should be commissioned to do every piece of Angel art from now to eternity.
Akroma’s Vengeance: I see more players leaning toward Austere Command in the six-mana slot in white. While it might lend you the kind of flexibility you want, it’s not as efficient or complete as Akroma’s Vengeance when you want a (nearly, since it doesn’t hit planeswalkers) complete battlefield wipe.
Armageddon: If you think you need to play it because ramp is out of hand in your local environment, you gotta do what you gotta do.
Darien, King of Kjeldor: I love this card in my Rith’s Soldiers deck, especially since I play with painlands. Darien can really help keep attacking swarms off your face, since no one wants to get counterattacked with what said swarm generated. Hurt yourself and Darien will help you.
Decree of Justice: One of the ruling cards in the earliest days of Commander (known as EDH back then), Decree of Justice still sees plenty enough play today to want to acquire a new foil copy.
Kongming, “Sleeping Dragon”: Newly available in foil!
Luminarch Ascension: This is one of those cards which will help you do some killing or get killed. Especially if it comes out early, you’ll be making Angels until the, um, Demons come home? Anyway, it’s super-strong early on and a great mana sink for games which might have ground to a halt late.
Rest in Peace: Rest in Peace is a card which has an immediate and powerful impact on the game, especially when you consider its casting cost. Commander players (including me) love their graveyards, and Rest in Peace makes them anything but peaceful.
Swords to Plowshares: It’s hard to think of cards more iconic than Swords to Plowshares. I’m not sold on it in Commander, as one-for-ones aren’t doing much good for you, but put this puppy on Isochron Scepter, and now we’re talking.
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben: I like the other Thalia (Thalia, Heretic Cathar) better, more because I think the art is perfectly dark and moody (and has a badass woman with a sword).
Bident of Thassa: What I like most is being able to either force someone into an unfavorable attack or force them to deal some damage to another player. Obviously, I wouldn’t use it if I didn’t have an adequate defense. Combine with Aetherize for all the laughs (and remember that they’re still “attacking creatures” during the end of combat step—meaning that if they’ve attacked someone else, you can still bounce them after they’ve weakened that player). I still want the weapons of the Gods to be indestructible too, but I suppose that’s just me.
Borrowing 100,000 Arrows: New to foil! Also, pretty inexpensive for the potential upside.
Brainstorm: Iconic cards be iconic.
Brine Elemental: I know this is a piece of nostalgia for some folks who played Pickles Lock, but they’re terrible, terrible people, so there’s that.
Exclude: I keep saying that counterspells need to do something additional in Commander. Exclude is a fine example, and a card that got played a great deal back in the format’s formative days.
Flash: Great. Here come more emails about Protean Hulk, although I suppose I’m also happy that it’s another first-time foil.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor: Something, something, complaints about card values, something, something, Dark Side.
Jalira, Master Polymorphist: I love me some Proteus Staff, and I love me some Proteus Staff on a stick. Turn those little creatures into bigger ones!
Pact of Negation: Sometimes, the “something” that a counterspell needs to do is “not cost anything.” Just make sure it doesn’t kill you. My favorite tactic is to distract the player during their upkeep but then let them pay for it anyway. We’re not monsters.
Vesuvan Shapeshifter: Well, I suppose you have to have the other half of the pickle. Or whatever the appropriate metaphor is.
Fallen Angel: One of the early “combo” cards I used in the first draft of Kresh the Bloodbraided to get commander damage kills. I have been playing Fallen Angel in casual multiplayer since I can remember. I think that I had a deck which involved getting four Quirion Sentinels into the graveyard (these are obviously pre-EDH days) in order to be able to loop through multiple Living Deaths (a card I’m happy to see in the set as well).
Ihsan’s Shade: There was a time when U/W control was so big, that Ihsan’s Shade got played. Good memories of putting it alongside Scragnoth for deep beatings.
Phyrexian Obliterator: This is just a mean card. I was once in a game in which I was playing it and someone else had Aether Flash on the battlefield. The natural thing to do was keep blinking Phyrexian Obliterator. About the third time through, they got the message that Aether Flash was probably the thing to sacrifice.
Plague Wind: Now surpassed by In Garruk’s Wake at the same cost, but there’s no reason you can’t play both.
Ratcatcher: If you’re building a Marrow-Gnawer deck, I suppose this goes right in.
Relentless Rats: Yes, you may have as many of these in your deck as you like. Well, up to 99, anyway. I still have about 40 foils that I collected the weekend it was first released. We were younger people then.
Street Wraith: Not a Zombie? What the . . . ?
Triskadekaphobia: It’s amusing when it works, but you have to wait long periods of times between the amusingness.
Will-o’-the-Wisp: During this week’s podcast (which you can find hosted by our friends at Legion Supplies), Anthony and I were talking about when we first started playing and thinking that this was one of those, “How can you lose once this is in play? It can block anything!” cards. This was back before Wizards called it the battlefield, of course.
Zulaport Cutthroat: The not-quite-Blood Artist is still good enough to see play in decks that love to sacrifice creatures.
Akroma, Angel of Fury: Like I said, Terese Nielsen.
Balduvian Horde: This was a four-drop back in the day. How times have changed.
Ball Lightning: Who doesn’t love six damage for three mana? This is what dreams are made of.
Blood Moon: Believe it or not, one of the most frequent questions I get asked is if this is a fair card in Commander. I say absolutely. I like there being some potential downside to running out a bunch of nonbasic lands. I play Anathemancer at nearly every opportunity for that reason. Greed is sometimes not good.
Browbeat: True story—the original wording of the card was so ambiguous that people got into fights over how it worked. Thank goodness for competent editors (and I think this one was all Del Laugel, so kudos to her).
Fortune Thief: Another true story—at one point, Ali from Cairo was more expensive than a Mox.
Magus of the Wheel: That Commander watermark is pretty sweet. Upon seeing this card, please try to resist playing Nekusar, the Mindrazer and a bunch of Wheel effects. Yes, it will kill people, but we’re all bored with it now.
Red Elemental Blast: Yes! A first-time foil of a card that I swear will always do right by you in games of Commander. Someone at the table is playing blue, and someone at the table will get smug about countering your stuff. Teach them the power of REB!
Spikeshot Goblin: I’ve occasionally tried to wrangle this into a Voltron-style deck so that, if the commander gets prohibitively expensive to cast, then there’s something kind of cool to put all that equipment on.
Azusa, Lost but Seeking: Green has one or two ways of getting some lands into your hand, so dust off your Civic Wayfinders and get seeking. The trick with Azusa is not getting locked into the exact strategy that she suggests (something landfall-ish), so maybe while you’re getting out Civic Wayfinder, also dig up Molimo, Maro-Sorcerer. Nice art update which captures the sense of the original.
Courser of Kruphix: A fine card to go alongside Azusa, and just a fine card in its own right. I’ve probably forgotten to gain like half the life I’ve been entitled to over the time I’ve played the card. Maybe I need to put some sort of sensor in each of my lands, which will then alert my cell phone, which I can then of course ignore since I’m having fun playing Commander.
Cultivate: The cards in Masters 25 are iconic to all of Magic. I think Cultivate is iconic to Commander in particular. It’s way easier to get into battlecruiser mode when you have a few extra lands.
Elvish Aberration: I think this was also in that Living Death monstrosity, along with Fires of Yavimaya to give it haste. Lots of folks also forget that it’s an Elf.
Elvish Piper: Right onto the battlefield. For one green mana. Seems like a stronger play than spending ten, although I confess to not being a math expert.
Iwamori of the Open Fist: Cards in the command zone are not in your hand, although many folks have wished they were.
Krosan Tusker: This is an underappreciated card. We played it a lot in the format’s ancient days, and we played it with Genesis so that we could do it every turn!
Living Wish: Someone’s bound to ask. No, “Wishboards” are not part of official Commander. In fact, we removed them from the optional rules set because we heard too many stories of players trying to bully others into letting them have said Wishboards because “it’s on the website.” Also, this card doesn’t do anything by the format’s rules. We are comfortable with you changing that for your local group.
Protean Hulk: Well, now at least you don’t have to sell a kidney to get a foil one. In answer to the question someone is bound to ask, it’s legal because it doesn’t accidentally ruin games. Sure, you can build Hulk Flash or some other combo thing. We’d like to encourage you to think a little differently; playing Protean Hulk simply for value is a decent idea.
Rancor: Clearly calling to mind Enchantress decks, Rancor still has a place in contemporary Commander, whether that’s in a Voltron deck, or just a cheap way to give a creature trample.
Regrowth: My first look at the art, which I’ve since found out was initially from Duel Decks: Heroes vs. Monsters, made me think of Aragorn (a pretty heroic figure) rescuing Merry and Pippen from Old Man Willow.
Animar, Soul of Elements: Yes! Finally, a foil version of the most fun (and sometimes least fun) Commander ever. Sure, some folks are going to tell you that they have a “casual” Animar deck and then use it to drop Turn 4 Void Winnower, but I’d rather surround myself with players who don’t want to be liars. I’m always on the lookout for a clever new Animar deck, so if you have one, feel free to ship it.
Baloth Null: Yes, Ravenous Baloth, there is a Santa Claus, and it’s called Baloth Null.
Brion Stoutarm: This one also has specific resonances in the format, since I believe it was the first deck fellow Commander Rules Committee member Scott Larabee built on his own. He still has it today.
Cloudblazer: If you could have either Cloudblazer or Mulldrifter, the clear answer is to Kobayashi Maru this test and make sure that you can have both.
Conflux: I would like to ask all players who search their libraries for stuff to know what they’re searching for before they cast the card. One of the reasons I play very few tutors is that I felt like I was spending too much time searching my deck and not enough time socializing with my friends.
Gisela, Blade of Goldnight: What a beating this card is, although I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it mostly as one of 99 as opposed to being a commander. I wonder if that’s because it’s simply so expensive and in colors that don’t really leverage much mana acceleration, so that getting it killed once or twice means not being able to cast it again.
Grenzo, Dungeon Warden: This is just a fun card, both as a commander and in your deck. There’s that little chaos element where you don’t know what you’re going to get, and always doing the math on when the right time to cast Grenzo might be—do you wait a turn to make him a little bigger, or do you just start now?
Hanna, Ship’s Navigator: Say it with me again. Terese Nielsen. The card’s pretty saucy, too.
Mystic Snake: You know you want to do it, so go out and treat yourself to a nice Cloudstone Curio (which isn’t in this set, by the way). The Kaladesh Masterpiece Series foil is really attractive, but the original Ravnica version is nicely affordable.
Nicol Bolas: There certainly aren’t many more iconic characters in Magic than Nicol Bolas, although cosplaying him must be a real challenge. And this is the original version, not some Johnny-come-lately planeswalker. Now pay that upkeep and be happy about it.
Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind: A third true story time—Niv-Mizzet, along with Heartless Hidetsugu, were the reason we changed commander damage to combat damage only. Especially back then, in those even longer games than we play today, it just became deflatingly easy to do 21 damage to someone without ever attacking them, which just seemed aesthetically wrong to us.
Notion Thief: Notion Thief is the answer to all those greedy card-drawers out there, especially the ones who don’t share with Party Jace.
Pernicious Deed: You certainly couldn’t go to a tournament back in the Apocalypse days without seeing a pile of these. It’s become a well-used card in commander over the years as well. I can see the ad campaign now: “Pernicious Deed” (cue the threatening music), “killing tokens for twenty years.”
Prossh, Skyraider of Kher: If you’re a regular reader, you’re no doubt familiar with me saying that I appreciate that designers and developers push the envelope and try to give us interesting cards. Sometimes when you push, you’re going to break, and I think that’s what they did with Prossh. It’s pretty linear, so it doesn’t really need banning, but I would have like to see it without the second ability. Sure, it’s still a thing with Food Chain, but it just doesn’t dominate the same way if it can’t pump itself up.
Ruric Thar, the Unbowed: Unbowed, unbent, unbroken.
Shadowmage Infiltrator: Another card that saw loads of early play in the format, it’s been eclipsed by other things. Although the art is really cool, I’m still a little sad that it doesn’t bear the face of one Jonathan Samuel Finkel.
Stangg: A cool commander because the restrictions on it are bound to breed some creativity. It’s another old card never before available in foil, so that’s a plus as well. I’d love to see decks that do something cool with Stangg.
Vindicate: Sometimes you don’t need tricky, you just need Vindicate. Or Angel of Despair.
Coalition Relic: Nice to see this one here, since it’ll make the cost of finding a foil one affordable, and great to give some help to all those nongreen decks.
Ensnaring Bridge: I’ve long said that the creatures in Commander tend to be so large that you can cast Ensnaring Bridge and still keep cards in hand. Try playing it with Bottled Cloister for both fun and profit.
Nihil Spellbomb: A great way to keep control of graveyards, especially in your deck that has Glissa, the Traitor in it (or leading it).
Strionic Resonator: I’m a fan of enters-the-battlefield triggered abilities, so you can imagine I’m a fan of Strionic Resonator. There’s nothing wrong with the art, but when I heard it was in the set, I was hoping for something new and different. The tuning fork is the obvious angle; I would have appreciated seeing an artist challenge themselves not to include it.
Sundering Titan: Just no.
Treasure Keeper: I really liked “death cascade” from the first moment I saw it. I’d like to see R&D explore the idea a little more. I have some thoughts if anyone wants them.
None of the lands have huge impact on Commander save for the five filterlands (Cascade Bluffs, Fetid Heath, Flooded Grove, Rugged Prairie, Twilight Mire). Manabases can get expensive, so I’m happy to see anything which drives down the price a little.
The Twelve Labors of Hercules weren’t as arduous as I imagine choosing all the cards for this set was. Lead designer Adam Prosak and Lead developer Yoni Skolnik and their teams should be very proud of themselves for putting together a great collection which will make all of us—whenever we got into the game—wistful for the olden days.
This week’s Deck Without Comment, Animar’s Swarm, features the only commander of mine reprinted in this set.
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Sun Quan, Lord of Wu
- 1 Man-o'-War
- 1 Wood Elves
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Mystic Snake
- 1 Duplicant
- 1 Nantuko Vigilante
- 1 Flametongue Kavu
- 1 Primordial Sage
- 1 Venser, Shaper Savant
- 1 Nevermaker
- 1 Slithermuse
- 1 Spearbreaker Behemoth
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 1 Oracle of Mul Daya
- 1 Artisan of Kozilek
- 1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
- 1 Garruk's Packleader
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Garruk's Horde
- 1 Rage Thrower
- 1 Deadeye Navigator
- 1 Maelstrom Wanderer
- 1 Yeva, Nature's Herald
- 1 Roaring Primadox
- 1 Thragtusk
- 1 Rubblehulk
- 1 Progenitor Mimic
- 1 Species Gorger
- 1 Archetype of Aggression
- 1 Realm Seekers
- 1 Jalira, Master Polymorphist
- 1 Mercurial Pretender
- 1 Surrak Dragonclaw
- 1 Flamerush Rider
- 1 Shaman of the Great Hunt
- 1 Stampeding Elk Herd
- 1 World Breaker
- 1 Altered Ego
- 1 Ulvenwald Hydra
- 1 Emrakul, the Promised End
- 1 Elder Deep-Fiend
- 1 Vizier of the Menagerie
- 1 Rhonas the Indomitable
Check out our comprehensive Deck List Database for lists of all my decks:
Purple Hippos and Maro Sorcerers; Kresh Into the Red Zone; Halloween with Karador; Dreaming of Intet; You Did This to Yourself.
THE CHROMATIC PROJECT
Heliod, God of Enchantments; Thassa, God of Merfolk; Erebos and the Halls Of The Dead; Forge of Purphoros; Nylea of the Woodland Realm; Karn Evil No. 9.
Lavinia Blinks; Obzedat, Ghost Killer; Aurelia Goes to War; Trostani and Her Angels; Lazav, Shapeshifting Mastermind; Zegana and a Dice Bag; Rakdos Reimagined; Glissa, Glissa; Ruric Thar and His Beastly Fight Club; Gisa and Geralf Together Forever.
Shards and Wedges
Adun’s Toolbox; Angry, Angry Dinos; Animar’s Swarm; Borrowing Stuff at Cutlass Point; Ikra and Kydele; Karrthus, Who Rains Fire From The Sky; Demons of Kaalia; Merieke’s Esper Dragons; Nath of the Value Leaf; Rith’s Tokens; The Mill-Meoplasm; The Altar of Thraximundar; The Threat of Yasova; Zombies of Tresserhorn.
Yidris: Money for Nothing, Cards for Free; Saskia Unyielding; Breya Reshaped.
Tana and Kydele; Kynaios and Tiro; Ikra and Kydele.
THE DO-OVER PROJECT
Adun Oakenshield Do-Over; Animar Do-Over; Glissa Do-Over; Karador Do-Over; Karador Version 3; Karrthus Do-Over; Kresh Do-Over; Steam-Powered Merieke Do-Over; Lord of Tresserhorn Do-Over; Mimeoplasm Do-Over; Phelddagrif Do-Over; Rith Do-Over; Ruhan Do-Over.
If you’d like to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that’s been alive since 1987) which is just beginning the saga The Lost Cities of Nevinor, ask for an invitation to the Facebook group “Sheldon Menery’s Monday Night Gamers.”