The onslaught of Innistrad reviews continues today with my favorite Innistrad cards for Commander! Commander is a highly personalized format, with each person bringing their own style and flair to every game, so what appeals to me isn’t necessarily going to appeal to Sheldon and Sean. Hopefully, adding my perspective to the mix will help get you pumped and ready to crack packs and start adding Innistrad goodies to your hundred-card creations!
Legends of the Fall
Let’s kick things off with our four newest legendary creatures, primed and eager to have decks built around them. Number one on my list is Grimgrin, Corpse-Born!
He’s definitely big, and that’s a good thing for a commander to be. He can also get bigger, which is awesome—just two +1/+1 counters added to him, and he’s killing someone in three swings. If you’ve got enough creatures out there, you could potentially ramp him up to twenty-one power for a single hit. Lastly, Grimgrin kills opposing creatures, which is pretty awesome. It sucks just a bit that you have to attack to activate that ability, but to make up for it you can destroy any colored creature.
Now, Grimgrin does have a drawback in that he enters the battlefield tapped and never untaps naturally. Seeing as you don’t mind growing Grimgrin, you probably don’t mind sacrificing creatures to untap him if you build your deck right. However, there are plenty of ways to go about untapping Grimgrin. The first that springs to mind is Minamo, School at Water’s Edge, conveniently in blue! Then there’s Thousand-Year Elixir, Puppet Strings, Vigean Graftmage, Norritt, Puppeteer, Tideforce Elemental, Tidewater Elemental, and one of my personal favorites: Thornbite Staff. The Staff is particularly nice in conjunction with Grimgrin’s attack-triggered kill ability, right?
A Grimgrin deck is likely going to want a fair number of sacrificial lambs, so make sure to consider cards like Bloodghast, Krovikan Horror, Nether Traitor, Reassembling Skeleton, and Ashen Ghoul. You can even go nuts with tokens to massively pump Grimgrin—cards like the awesome Tombstone Stairwell, the funky Carrion, and the super-cool Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder.
Next on my list is Mikaeus, the Lunarch. I love how this guy scales depending on how much mana you’ve got, though he does take a big hit if you have to keep casting him over and over, and you can’t really save him with the awesome Cauldron of Souls—which you want in this deck—without jumping through some extra hoops. I’d probably want to put forth the effort to make him indestructible. Still, the best thing about him is that he just taps to do his thing. There’s no additional mana investment outside of his initial casting and you can take advantage of some of the same untapping cards I mentioned above.
Forcing you to be mono-white with Mikaeus constrains some of the things you can do with +1/+1 counters, but there are still some fun angles. You can stack up on artifact creatures, modular, and stuff like Triskelion and Pentavus. Cenn’s Tactician is kind of kooky, and Phantom Nomad or Phantom Flock can be pretty hard to beat through. Shinewend can provide a steady stream of enchantment destruction.
Geist of Saint Traft is another strong option. This Commander forces you to assume an aggressive stance in order to get the most out of him, but unlike Grimgrin he’s pretty small and stays small. He also has no evasion, and you’re going to have pretty common board state where you won’t really to attack anyone with Geist of Saint Traft. The benefit of attacking and getting a 4/4 flying attacker is mitigated somewhat by much higher starting life totals, although you can do fun stuff like Helm of Possession with that token. So why would you want to play Geist of Saint Traft? Well, he is a very aggressive Commander, so if your playgroup is relatively small then it wouldn’t hurt to sometimes play full-tilt aggro.
However, I think what makes Geist enticing is the Hexproof ability, which allows you to Voltron him up with equipment and auras, making him truly scary. Looking for something to put Angelic Destiny on? He’s your man! Been itching to build a Helm of Kaldra deck? Geist of Saint Traft is the perfect Commander—he’s ideal for equipping, and white and blue are fantastic for searching up the Kaldra pieces. Want to get really funky? Give Geist a Runed Stalactite and run your Brass-Talon Chimera, Iron-Heart Chimera, Lead-Belly Chimera, and Tin-Wing Chimera! How does an 11/11 flying, trampling, vigilance, first-striking Geist of Saint Traft sound?
Okay, okay…I’m back from the brink. Last up on my list is Olivia Voldaren, who seems at first blush to be an awesome card for Commander. I’m not so sure; in my mind, she seems awfully mana-intensive and her second ability is going to have all your opponents put a really big bulls-eye on smashing her early and often. Having to recast her once or twice is really going to diminish her power later in the game. Now, she might end up being a pretty sweet tribal Vampire commander, or perhaps some funky B/R control deck commander, but she’s not high on my list of legends to build decks around currently.
Dearly Departed seems like a pretty sweet card for tribal Humans. I have to admit I’m not particularly stoked from a flavor perspective to build a Human deck, as “fear my Humans” just doesn’t have the same ring to it as other tribes, but any W/x Human legend might want to take a look at this card. Hm, speaking of Mikaeus, he’s human…
I initially passed on Fiend Hunter, but then I started thinking about reusable stack tricks with cards like Erratic Portal and Crystal Shard, so maybe I can get behind him in those decks. I just have The Fear of hiding away something dangerous, and then when someone Wraths the board there’s nothing left except that something dangerous.
With the crazy mana and token-generating strategies you can employ in Commander, I have no doubt that Mentor of the Meek will be providing some sick, sick plays. Gaea’s Cradle immediately springs to mind.
Stony Silence is a killer hoser to keep in mind if any of your opponents seem to go off the deep-end with artifacts, particularly equipment. White can often search up enchantments pretty easily.
Back from the Brink is just wow. Played fairly, it gives you an awesome buffer against sweepers—played unfairly, only your imagination is the limit.
I’m not as jazzed about Cackling Counterpart. There are so many great Clone effects that you can use to Clone any creature—particularly useful when everyone has a legend they can keep playing over and over—that I’m not sure there’s room for this one, despite the reasonable mana cost and flashback.
Dissipate reprinted reminds us of how helpful it is to just get rid of the damn card forever, rather than countering something and putting it in the graveyard—where cards tend to be very restless in Commander.
Forbidden Alchemy’s got lots of juices flowing for Standard, and I’m sure there are plenty of people ready to slam it into graveyard-loving Commander decks, particularly ones that can copy spells. Here’s looking at you, Echo Mage and Sigil Tracer.
Looking for something to dump your infinite mana into? Mindshrieker’s got you covered! It also nicely assists you with library management alongside cards like Sensei’s Divining Top and Sylvan Library.
If you really want to pull off some graveyard shenanigans, Mirror-Mad Phantasm is the spirit for the job, especially if you’ve got plenty of mana lying around. And just to shift gears a bit, if you play the two Eldrazi big guns (and maybe Gaea’s Blessing) in your deck, you might consider using the Mirror-Mad Phantasm to instantly shuffle your graveyard into your library.
Creatures die a lot in Commander, so it might behoove you to keep Murder of Crows in mind if you don’t mind cycling through your deck and/or graveyard for shenanigans.
Rooftop Storm is perfect weather for any blue Zombie commander: Dralnu, Lich Lord, Lord of Tresserhorn, Sedris, the Traitor King, and Thraximundar—not to mention Grimgrin! While I’m pretty sure you’d still need to pay the death tax for casting multiple times from the Command Zone, I’d much rather pay four mana for Thraxi than 8UBR, right?
The only thing holding back Snapcaster Mage from being in nearly every blue Commander deck is that it’s going to be ridiculously expensive and difficult to land a copy from all those people who want them for their Standard, Modern, Legacy, and likely even Vintage decks. Thank goodness it’s just a rare and the odds aren’t terrible for randomly cracking some packs and finding one.
Drawing cards leads to broken things in Commander, so if you’re interested in drawing cards then Sturmgeist is a good creature to have holding down the fort—it’s cheap, flies, and replaces itself in one hit. If you’re playing U/G then don’t forget your Greater Good!
Undead Alchemist is a crazy powerful card, and the fact that it exiles creatures as it mills and gives you tokens is just nuts. This guy goes right in the Grimgrin deck.
Army of the Damned is damned expensive to cast, but if ever there’s a format where that mana is feasible then it’s Commander. The fact remains that there are twenty-six 2/2 Zombies packed inside this single piece of cardboard—there are sooooo many things you can do with all those tokens outside of just beating down and winning.
Staple Alert! Bloodgift Demon goes into every single black Commander deck, period, and right alongside Bloodspeaker to go fetch him.
Staple Alert! Bloodline Keeper goes into every single black Commander deck, period. Hyper-efficient all by his lonesome, he also benefits from any Vampire tribal stuff you may want to add to your deck. Whether you just want to make a token army, chump blockers, or sacrifice fodder, the Keeper is your man.
One of my favorite cards is my well-loved—and well-played—Diamond Valley, so I can attest that the ability on Disciple of Griselbrand can be extremely helpful. I’d make sure you have a Nim Deathmantle for fun recursion shenanigans with creatures that do stuff when they enter the battlefield, like Bone Shredder, Acidic Slime, and Treasure Mage.
As Captain Obvious always says, creatures die in Commander, and Falkenrath Noble turns all that dying into life for you and death for someone else. Reminds me of the phrase from Game of Thrones: “only death pays for life.”
Heartless Summoning might be nearly as ubiquitous as Sol Ring for black Commander decks, outside of ones that play numerous X/1 creatures or tokens. Commander is a format for big boom-booms, and Heartless Summoning lets you drop creature boom-booms two turns faster.
Reaper from the Abyss is a big scary Demon boom-boom that will often fit really well in a heavy black deck. Just make sure that you aren’t too efficient at killing off everyone else’s creatures—Gravepact, I’m looking at you—or else you’ll have to start targeting your own non-Demon creatures, unless you’re rocking Conspiracy.
Even in singleton, Zombie tribal decks have so many good choices that many good Zombies end up riding the bench. Unbreathing Horde will not be riding any benches—what a beating!
It’s a real shame that Dragons seem so passé as fat creatures anymore, but Wizards still makes Dragons that hit hard and are devastating in Commander. Balefire Dragon is one of those! A fantastic way to keep token-madness under control, since those decks so rarely have flying defense, but heck—six points of damage will take down any but the largest of creatures. Pair it up with Power Matrix for trample and some way to tap down a blocker or two, like Icy Manipulator, and just wreck their board.
Staple Alert! Blasphemous Act is the go-to red sweeper spell of the century. I was impressed by this card on paper, and even moreso when I had one in my sealed deck. Play it fair to just reset the board, or do crazy things with Mogg Maniac and Vigor.
As a public service announcement, if you’re playing Yawgmoth’s Will in your deck, you might strongly consider Burning Vengeance. And I’ll let you in on a little secret—I’ve been dying to play a Yawgmoth’s Will/Shaman’s Trance deck for many, many years,—since before I started playing Commander! My original plot was to combo with Fastbond, Crucible of Worlds, Zuran Orb, and a land in someone else’s graveyard to gain infinite life. Yeah, not so exciting, and Fastbond is now banned in Commander. I think Burning Vengeance might just help put this thing together somehow, someway.
I’m leaning towards Charmbreaker Devil being not quite good enough for most red Commander decks due to its high cost, relatively small size, and its slow and random trigger. However, if you’re playing a deck that’s mostly creatures with just a handful of really powerful instants or sorceries, this could find a home. Getting back a Time Stretch or Cruel Ultimatum on each upkeep could be pretty sick.
Rage Thrower is another card I got mad respect for after playing it in Limited, and as Captain Obvious says, creatures die a lot in Commander. If you hate having your creatures always Wrathed away, Rage Thrower does a nice job of making someone think long and hard about casting it and taking two points per death to the face.
Staple Alert! Bramblecrush is very near the pinnacle of fantastic green utility cards.
Creeping Renaissance is a card that really has me excited. I love playing cards that sit on the board and do stuff, and that means permanents—so being able to restock my hand with a bunch of them that have been swept away, not just once but twice, really has me stoked.
I know Essence of the Wild has some people really fired up, but I’m not sure that I’ll ever play this card. Yes, it’s kind of neat that your token creatures now come into play as a vanilla 6/6—but so does your Eternal Witness, your Acidic Slime, etc. Didn’t I mention I like playing cards that do stuff? I’m just not sure that this card is doing enough by upgrading your small vanilla dorks into 6/6 vanilla dorks to make it worth not playing all the great utility creatures available.
A quick note here: I do not like Werewolves for Commander because there’s no telling how many times your Werewolf is going to flip back and forth going around the table, between a player who’s drawing off the top of the deck or someone who’s got a full grip. You just can’t count on the guys being flipped when you want them to. That said, I would like to tuck Full Moon’s Rise into my memory banks to go into a future five-color-Changeling deck. Chameleon Colossus is a Werewolf after all, right?
Kessig Cagebreakers really, really wants to have haste, and Commander gives you a ton of options, starting with Anger, Fires of Yavimaya, Madrush Cyclops, Urabrask the Hidden and going from there. And if you happen to play an Essence of the Wild before attacking…
I’m not a big fan of Moldgraf Monstrosity, though I expect it will do adequate work for those who play it. It’s got trample, is huge, and does good things when it dies, but I don’t like that it’s got to exile itself (though I understand why it needs to) and I don’t like the randomness. I can foresee way too many games where I desperately need one particular creature out of only three creatures in my graveyard and I randomly get the other two and go on tilt. Not to mention logistical headaches if you’re playing something like Krovikan Horror that depends on card order in your graveyard, and the number of creature cards you have isn’t easily randomized with dice.
Parallel Lives gives you some redundancy to your Doubling Season deck, or gives you a cheaper Doubling Season if you don’t want to pony up the crazy $20-25 to buy a copy of Doubling Season. I’m still scratching my head that they didn’t print Doubling Season in the Commander decks—maybe they’re saving it for Commander Decks II?
Artifact and Gold Cards
Speaking of Clones, gotta love Evil Twin! Not only can it just outright nuke legends, but it can copy Seedborn Muse and then make sure to kill any other Seedborn Muses out there. Remember one of the Golden Rules of Commander—he who keeps Seedborn Muse in play the longest wins.
Grimoire of the Dead offers some fun reanimation shenanigans, though I’d probably want proliferate or ways to untap it, like Seedborn Muse or Voltaic Key, to make sure that I can fire it off relatively quickly. Otherwise, it’s pretty much a sitting duck for your opponents to destroy right after you’ve discarded three cards to it.
Manor Gargoyle offers up a pretty buff indestructible body for blocking, with the option to swing in at the temporary cost of losing its indestructibility. I could see this getting some play in Infinite Wraths.dec.
Staple Alert! Another one of the Golden Rules of Commander is protect your Commander. Add Mask of Avacyn to the stack of Lightning Greaves, Swiftfoot Boots, and Champion’s Helm as ways to keep your Commander safe when he or she is critical to your deck.
Staple Alert! Witchbane Orb brings a very potent ability to any Commander deck that has previously been the privilege of only white decks with Leyline of Sanctity and the like. Giving yourself hexproof will protect you from some very nasty spells. While it doesn’t appear that there are any really worrisome Curses, we’ve still got two more blocks to go—who knows what might be in store?
When I see Gavony Township with Commander on my mind, I see fun with Persist guys and Spikes. Oh yes, I sure do!
Trample is such a great ability in Commander, where gigantic creatures are often hopelessly stymied by chump blockers. Kessig Wolf Run is a great way to smash through— especially in conjunction with deathtouch. What’s really awesome is that you can give it to other creatures that might be attacking someone else.
To wrap things up:
Favorite New Commander: Grimgrin, Corpse-Born!
Top 10 Innistrad Cards I Can’t Wait to Play:
6. Evil Twin
That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend everyone!
starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com
Make sure to follow my Twitter feed (@blairwitchgreen). I check it often, so feel free to send me feedback, ideas, and random thoughts. I’ve also created a Facebook page where I’ll be posting up deck ideas and will happily discuss Magic, life, or anything else you want to talk about!
I’ve started a blog; it’s not Magic-related but you may find it fun to read and comment on. I update at least once a week so check on it often and let me know what you think! This week I got to do a guest-spot on a much more popular blog called Simply Solo, and that was pretty exciting—it drove quite a bit of traffic my way. I also recently revamped my blog header with a perfect drawing from the awesome MJ Scott, check it out!
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 Primer Part 1 (Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
- Commander Primer Part 2 (Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
- Commander Primer Part 3 (Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
My current Commander decks (and links to decklists):
- Damia, Sage of Stone (Ice Cauldron shenanigans)
- Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)
- Glissa, the Traitor (undying artifacts!)
- Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo’ Myrs)
Previous Commander decks (currently on hiatus):