First Look: Commander Legends Non-Partner Commanders

Sheldon Menery reviews the non-partner legendary creatures of Commander Legends. What caught his eye and why?

Nevinyrral, Urborg Tyrant, illustrated by Yongjae Choi

While the focus of Commander Legends might be the partners, there are a few dozen multicolored non-partner legends that will have a lasting impact on the format.  In our second week of previews, we’ll discuss the non-reprints that we’ve seen so far (so we might miss some of the cards from the end of the week).  I’ll talk briefly about each of them in light of how we might build around them as commanders (and if there’s a less obvious path) or if they’ll make a better addition as 1 of the 99. 

Abomination of Llanowar

There doesn’t seem to be much for Abomination of Llanowar other than the obvious Elfball path, but what a path that will be.  Unlike other tribal lords that owe their power and toughness to the number of creatures of the tribe you have on the battlefield, this one also counts those in the graveyard.  Unless someone Bojuka Bogs you, your post-Wrath of God Abomination is going to be nearly as large as it was before.  That means you have two axes to move along with the deck:  going wide with your Elf swarm or high with an immense commander.

Amareth, the Lustrous

This was my favorite from the first week of previews.  It’s a 6/6 flying Bant Dragon, which is already fine.  What I love about it is the broadness of the triggered ability.  If you want to build it creature-heavy, you can.  If you want to go artifacts, enchantments, or even planeswalkers, you can do that as well.  My obvious personal preference line would be to go down the creature path.  I’d actually double up, using a large number of artifact creatures, perhaps going down the modular path with Arcbound Ravager and friends.  Thinking outside the box, I’d dial up Enchanted Evening for some Enchantress goodness. 

Araumi of the Dead Tide

What clearly needs to be a creature-heavy deck can still go in any number of directions, although the band you operate in will narrow due to the fact that you have to exile cards from your graveyard to make things happen.  I’d want to go someplace completely insane with this, using Wormfang Manta and Torpor Orb to combo into getting a pile of extra turns.  Maybe we could go full Merfolk tribal extra turns by adding Wanderwine Prophet.

Archelos, Lagoon Mystic

The flavors of Sultai commanders continue to get better and better.  This one is a flavor win, with the Turtle going in and out of its shell.  There’s some concern that it could be pretty STAXy, but it seems like one of the more solvable STAX puzzles.  You don’t need to send Archelos into the red zone to get it tapped; since you’re in blue, you always have a card like Opposition to get the work done.  I predict this is one that we’ll see quite a bit with some compelling builds—and to be honest, a few miserable ones, too.

Averna, the Chaos Bloom

Obviously a narrow build-around, you’ll need plenty of cascade cards to take advantage of Averna.  The ability certainly isn’t broken, just an nice extra to an already-strong mechanic.  It seems like Averna might be a better addition to your Maelstrom Wanderer deck than leading on its own. 

Belbe, Corrupted Observer

I’m not a fan of giving mana to other players, but Belbe provides incentives to not attack you in doing so.  That might be enough to make it worthwhile, but if you’re the threat, someone is going to give up the two mana of attacking someone else and still head your way.  You could play a card like Subversion to make sure you always get the six extra mana without even needing to attack.  It’s an Elf, so it will slot right into that Abomination of Llanowar deck.

Bell Borca, Spectral Sergeant

A mechanically unique card. You’ll have to pay attention to the fact that opponents can change the power of Bell Borca by exiling something of their own, but at least they can’t make it smaller. The primary use case will be to judge whether or not you attack before casting the thing you’ve exiled this turn. I’ll look forward to someone casting Path of Exile on a huge creature as Bell Borca’s combat trick.

Blim, Comedic Genius

Blim’s form of comedy is a little twisted, but what else do we expect from Rakdos?  There’s a whole Jinxed Ring and Jinxed Choker line to go down here.  You can also donate to them things that make their life more difficult, like Grid Monitor or Steel Golem.  For me, the best use for Blim is just to punish the people who like to steal your stuff. 

Colfenor, the Last Yew

Another potential Abzan commander that I would either love to build around or just jam into (one of) my Karador deck(s), nearly everything is going to have a toughness less than Colfenor, so nearly everything that dies means you’ll put something back into your hand.  The obvious path here is a collection of dies and enters-the-battlefield triggers that grind out value — like Abzan decks tend to.  You might set up some infinite loop with a toughness-boosting permanent like Glorious Anthem, Priest of Gix, and a sacrifice outlet.  Since the Priest’s toughness (due to the Anthem) when it dies is greater than its toughness in the graveyard, you can just bring it back and recast it with the mana you generated when it entered the battlefield.  Maybe have your sacrifice outlet be a creature like Carrion Feeder or Devouring Swarm, making it arbitrarily large.  Lots of possibilities here.

Ghen, Arcanum Weaver

Mardu enchantments seems like new space to explore.  The route to go here might be making enchantments to sacrifice, like with Heliod, God of the Sun.  That way you don’t have to sacrifice the actual enchantments that you want on the battlefield.  You then have three colors’ worth to sort through and find your favorites.  You might consider something like Possibility Storm—you can cycle through the enchantments in your graveyard, knowing exactly what you’ll get, while the other players have to let fate decide.  I’d still want to see a few more cards from the set to see if there’s a thing I would want to build with Ghen.

Gnostro, Voice of the Crags

Gnostro clearly wants you to storm your way into a large amount of life.  While you’re setting that up, you can use the scry ability to find the cards you want.  I’d focus on using the ability as a kill condition with Boros Reckoner.  The obvious way to take incremental advantage of Gnostro is to have cards that cast multiple spells for little to no mana, like Diluvian Primordial.  It’s another card that’s worth liking because while the thing you’re doing might be limited in scope, the number of ways to do that thing is vast.

Gor Muldrak, Amphinologist

I mean, come on.  Who can’t get excited about protection from Salamanders?  How about doing something way wild like casting Arcane Adaptation, choosing Salamander, and then getting to Donate it to an opponent?  Unlike many Simic decks, Gor Muldrak is going to want to control fewer creatures than everyone else, so it will lend itself to either having lots of creature sacrifice (which you’ll likely need artifacts to do) or some kind of Voltron strategy.  This one is honestly a head-scratcher so far, which means that it’s a card that’s right in Commander’s wheelhouse.  I truly look forward to the insanity people come up with on Gor Muldrak.

Hans Eriksson

We finally have an answer to who is running from the Lhurgoyf.  It’s the brainchild of Noah Millrod, whom I had the pleasure of working with on the design team for an upcoming set. You’ll probably want some top of the library control so that Hans doesn’t get into too many unfavorable battles.  The first card that comes to mind for me is Eldrazi Monument, which makes all your creatures indestructible; neither Hans nor his friend dies when they fight.  You might also use Akroma’s Memorial and mostly red creatures to a similar effect.  Hans is another one in which we can trust we’ll see some delightfully wacky builds around.

Imoti, Celebrant of Bounty

It’s nice that Commander Legends has commanders that can do outside-the-box things as well as doing the kinds of stuff we already like to do.  Imoti is one of the latter.  It wants you to just play big spells, and rewards you for doing so.  One of the normal issues of casting things with converted mana cost six or greater is that you don’t get to do too much of it in any one game.  Imoti ups the ante for you.  Adding a fifth cascade to Apex Devastator seems fun and opens the possibility of cascading into more.  Imoti is easily the Timmiest card in the set. 

Juri, Master of the Revue

Juri, some cheap creatures, and a Goblin Bombardment is the straightforward choice, but remember that Juri triggers on any permanent being sacrificed.  Your fetchlands and the like also count.  For me, Juri seems more like a good addition to a Korvald, Fae-Cursed King deck than leading its own.  The thing I like about it, however, is making a Rakdos commander that’s inexpensive. 

Kangee, Sky Warden

Your Bird tribal just got better with a 5/3 attacker that can go high as the rest of the team goes wide. I doubt you’ll use the blocking feature that often, but since you’re in colors that can either blink your creatures out or have them untap to block means you’ll occasionally get in a nice combat surprise.

Lathiel, the Bounteous Dawn

Previewed by our friends Rachel and Dan over on The Commander Sphere, Lathiel is quite saucy.  I want to add Beacon of Immortality and Spike Feeder to the deck, so that you never know if I’m going to gain another immense pile of life or just smash face.  The lifegain deck kind of builds itself, but still gives you the choice of going high or wide.  Don’t sleep on just gaining life in small bits as well—the enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands, Suture Priest, and more.  Slip in some alt-wincons like Felidar Sovereign or Test of Endurance and they’ll never know which direction you’re coming from.

Liesa, Shroud of Dusk

This is a very cool build-around with a unique ability.  Note that you can’t choose to pay mana instead of life; you’re locked in on Liesa’s life track, but that’s part of the fun.  I’d honestly play her in any Orzhov/x deck just because she’s a 5/5 with flying and lifelink for just five mana.  Clearly, she’ll shine when you’ve built around her, since you’ll pile on the lifegain while punishing others for casting too many spells.  Fellow Commander Rules Committee (RC) member Scott Larabee, a compulsive Orzhov player, has already announced his intentions to build a Liesa deck.  He’s not the only one.

Nevinyrral, Urborg Tyrant

The creature we’ve waiting 25 years for has finally arrived!  In a very interesting pile of abilities, you knew he’d have the last one to Disk away things.  The hexproof suite protecting him from artifacts, creatures, and enchantments is unusual, but when you think about it, it makes sense.  It’ll take big mana to get a great deal out of the ability which creates Zombies.  You might get some extra mileage by using an ability that sacrifices creatures to generate mana, like Phyrexian Altar or Phyrexian Tower.  Most folks who have already commented on the card note that it, like the Disk, doesn’t hit planeswalkers, so there’s some argument for an Aristocrats-style build.  Esper can be especially tricky to build with, and this looks like a mana-intensive option. 

Nymris, Oona's Trickster

Free card draw for the kinds of things you’re already doing is a great bonus.  You can play lots of interaction in a Dimir deck, with Nymris giving you extra bonus for doing so.  Faerie tribal is the clear obvious choice.  The less obvious is to focus not on what cards you’ll draw, but the ones you’ll discard.  You can start filling your graveyard with things you’ll later reanimate.  My Hidden Gem choice for reanimating as an instant is Makeshift Mannequin

Obeka, Brute Chronologist

This is just neat design and a great political card.  You can use it yourself for all the same things you’d do with Sundial of the Infinite, but I’d focus on other players.  It’s a clear choice when someone is about to do something busted as an instant—like Gather Specimens when someone has cast Living Death.  I wonder if there’s some way of forcing players to make a difficult choice.  I really like the idea of playing chicken with them—they do something big, you activate Obeka.  Sometimes it’s a bluff, sometimes not.  You make them think about whether or not they want to commit additional resources now or punch out.  The times it’s not a bluff, you really have to punish them.  Obeka brews are going to be really spicy.

Reyav, Master Smith

Extremely strong in an Equipment-matters deck or Voltron build. Don’t sleep on the fact that it also gives double strike to enchanted creatures as well. Suddenly your Felidar Umbra– or Angelic Destiny-enchanted creature becomes a real force to be reckoned with.

Thalisse, Reverent Medium

It seems like it’s (finally!) canonical that the white Spirit tokens which abilities create also have flying.  I’m a fan.  As far as Thalisse goes, it doesn’t seem like there’s too much room to go for the non-obvious.  There are other Clerics to lead the tribal deck, so she might slot in there as 1 of the 99.  Otherwise, it’s just create tokens, then create more tokens. 

Tuya Bearclaw

Now we’re getting aggressive.  You could easily commander damage someone out by dumping a Malignus onto the battlefield.  My direction with Tuya would be the same kind of thing I try with Kresh the Bloodbraided in getting two players at once:  one by attacking them, the other by Flinging the now-huge creature.  Tuya is another one in which the kind of line you take is clear, but the flavor in which you do it is left to personal choice.  You don’t really need Malignus-level creatures to get some serious work done with her. 

Yurlok of Scorch Thrash

Mana burn is back.  Some players will love it, and some will hate it.  The safest thing about this card is that it’s symmetrical, meaning that it affects you as well as the other players.  Still, you know you’re playing it and can build around it.  Other players might not be so lucky.  At worst, it’s a commander that you can tap for a net two colored mana in your postcombat main phase after you’ve attacked with it.  There aren’t too many shenanigans you can get up to with the card; it’s just punishment for players who get sloppy with the mana. 

Zara, Renegade Recruiter

Another techy design. You might attack Zara into something slightly unfavorable if you think the opponent has something really strong in their hand.  The obvious card choice with Zara is Conjurer’s Closet, so you can just keep whatever you’ve borrowed.  You can play with Telepathy so you know who to attack, but you’re just battling the green player anyway, right?  The other obvious choice to play with Zara is a sacrifice outlet, like Goblin Bombardment or Altar of Dementia, providing a roundabout way of removing creatures. 

The non-partner commanders in Commander Legends show the designers’ attention to the idea of a broad range of abilities and possibilities when building decks with them.  While there are a few that you might not be able to break away from some lines with, for the most part they indulge the deck brewer in assembling some very interesting contraptions. 

Visit my Decklist Database to see my Signature Decks, the Chromatic Project, and more!