The Legendary Creatures Of Zendikar Rising: A Commander Perspective

Zendikar Rising abounds with legendary creatures for Commander decks. Sheldon Menery shares his thoughts on what the new set has to offer.

Moraug, Fury of Akoum, illustrated by Rudy Siswanto
Moraug, Fury of Akoum, illustrated by Rudy Siswanto

The heart of any new set for Commander players is the collection of legendary creatures from which we’ll pick our newest deck to build.  The second week of Zendikar Rising previews offered us a full view of what we’ll be choosing from for our next project.  Today we’ll discuss which of them will be helming those efforts and potentially how, as well as those that might be a better fit in the 99.

Akiri, Fearless Voyager

Card draw in white, and even better in Boros, is a great way to start.  Unattaching to give a creature indestructible is grand.  Akiri certainly can lead a deck, whether that’s a Voltron strategy with itself as the recipient or finding other Boros friends to equip up.  I also have it on good authority that Cowards can’t block Warriors.  She certainly could function as 1 of the 99, but her build-around ability is something you want to make sure you can consistently use.  The thing that struck me from the outset with Akiri is that she lost the creature type Ally from when she was Akiri, Line-Slinger.  I wonder if that’s a story element or just a typeface issue. 

Anowon, the Ruin Thief

Rogue lord!  This has “build-around commander” written all over it.  You’re in the colors of trickery and evasion, so it’s likely that you’ll be milling folks for lots.  Even though it’s not a Rogue, Consuming Aberration is definitely a card you’ll want in this deck. 

You’ll note that in the deck previewed by our friends from the Command Zone, Oona, Queen of the Fae makes an appearance.  I always thought that the creatures Oona created were just Faeries, but it turns out they’re Rogues as well.  Although it will shine leading a deck, I can also see this version of Anowon fueling any mill deck. 

Ashaya, Soul of the Wild

One of the most-discussed cards of the set so far. I talked about some of its rules implications last week. Outside of the insanity that happens with Blood Moon on the battlefield (if you want to do some rules reading, check out Layer 4), it does quite a few other things.  First, it’s going to be quite large most of the time, well-exceeding its mana cost in power and toughness. 

The big thing is that, because your nontoken creatures are now also lands, they gain immunity in varying degrees from 300-ish cards in Magic, from Banishing Light to Child of Alara to the big one, Cyclonic Rift.  Leading a deck with Ashaya feels like going all in in a single direction, especially since it’s monocolor.  I think I’d rather play it as an element of a landfall deck—and we’re getting plenty of directions to take that in Zendikar Rising. 

Charix, the Raging Isle

Don’t have any 0/17 creatures in your collection?  Need a Leviathan Crab?  Charix has you covered.  There’s nothing about Charix that says commander or build around.  I suspect that it’s best as a part of your sea monsters deck, led by everyone’s favorite sleepy boi, Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle

I’m a fan of the built-in limitation and gamesmanship required with the activated ability.  It reminds me a little of Morphling in that regard.  How far do you go for max power?  What do you expose yourself to if you do?  Not the most exciting of the legendaries, but it’s a player. 

Drana, the Last Bloodchief

Although Rakdos, Dimir, and Grixis Vampires all have viable decks, I’d certainly be happy to run Drana, the Last Bloodchief at the helm of a mono-black deck.  You don’t really need to make it Vampire tribal, although sprinkling in a few cards that leverage the creature type is a good idea.  Anowon, the Ruin Sage comes to mind, and you’ll have non-Vampires that you want to sacrifice for fun and profit, both for dies and enters-the-battlefield triggers. 

Of course, this version of Drana is going to be highly effective in any graveyard strategy.  The cost of 3BB for a 4/4 flyer is already strong, and adding the +1/+1 counter to the creature it returns sends it into overdrive when you include creatures like Puppeteer Clique and Woodfall Primus

Grakmaw, Skyclave Ravager

Whatever deck you built for Slimefoot, the Stowaway might now want to be a Grakmaw deck.  Or you can pick and choose between the two each time.  I’m sure I’m not the only one waiting to jam it into a Muldrotha, the Gravetide deck, either.  We’re all probably also looking around for an extra copy of The Ozolith as well.  If you asked me to choose whether Grakmaw would be better as the commander or just in the deck, there’d be a pretty long pause before I offered up an answer. 

Kaza, Roil Chaser

One of the repeated issues in Commander history has been the high cost of playable Izzet commanders.  That trend is continuing its sharp turn toward the more affordable with Kaza.  Offering a pleasant alternative to Wizard tribal (I mean, who isn’t already bored with Azami, Lady of Scrolls?), Kaza rolling us into red gives us lines that involve Pyromancer’s Goggles and all kinds of damage shenanigans.  Then we add Zendikar Rising’s Lithoform Engine (one of a number of legendary artifacts in the set), and things just get silly.  Kaza seems much stronger leading a deck than being 1 of 99. 

Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate

Party time!  Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate’s full party ability is fine when you have it, but the ability that we’re going to see most from out of her is making your creatures indestructible.  She’s really Dauntless Bodyguard (in blue instead of green) with more abilities.  If you want Linvala to lead a deck, you’ll probably want multiple ways of making her cost less to cast subsequent times, since her primary utility is in sacrificing herself to save your creatures.  You’ll want to have Command Beacon (and some recursion?) handy while lamenting that Myth Unbound is green. 

I’m pretty sure I’ll be using her as a regular instead of a commander, in some measure because there are so many other creatures from the set I’d want to build around first.  Just so you know, there are two Angel Clerics in Zendikar Rising, Angel of Destiny and Shepherd of Heroes, the first in Magic.  There are no Angel Rogues but three Angel Warriors:  Emeria Captain and Legion Angel (by the way, no, doesn’t work) in the set and Warrior Angel from Stronghold. 

Moraug, Fury of Akoum

What in the name of Boundless Realms is happening here?  As if Scapeshift weren’t silly enough already.  Sure, it can’t go infinite with Sword of the Animist, since the land enters the battlefield during your combat and the ability only works during your main phase.  Other than that, all bets are pretty much off.  Even if you’re not going full-bore shenanigans with this, just playing a land (which you were going to do anyway) can net you an extra combat step. 

Minotaur tribal just got a new leader.  Of course, if you’re running it as the commander, you’re limited to red, but I have a feeling you can make it work.  I’m much more likely to run this in a deck that can indeed take crazy advantage of the landfall triggers, which probably means something involving green.  This card is going to just straight-up murder folks.  This, dear reader, is why I encourage you, nay, exhort you to (in addition to eating your vegetables and staying in school) play your Fogs.

Obuun, Mul Daya Ancestor

I kind of glazed over the first ability when I read it.  I’m not a huge fan of turning my lands into creatures because I’d rather have them around to fuel whatever other nonsense that I’m up to.  This one is a little less risky because it’s only a land until end of turn.  If Obuun, Mul Daya Ancestor’s power is great enough for the land’s power to matter, then Obuun is the danger (although it doesn’t natively have trample). 

What might be cool is giving the land some kind of Lure effect so that Obuun and whatever else could crash in.  You’d sacrifice a land a turn to make all other creatures unblockable, right?  Obuun’s landfall trigger is the exciting ability here.  Get The Ozolith out just in case, but I’m putting my counters right back onto my commander, thank you very much. 

Omnath, Locus of Creation

Predicted, anticipated, and much-ballyhooed, the latest incarnation of Omnath at least demonstrates that someone in design was paying attention to the danger of leaving previous versions unbound.  It doesn’t have the raw power of its older siblings, but it’s still worth exploring the build-around.  The second ability is the one that intrigues me the most, as it will generate mana for the simple cost of a second land hitting the battlefield.  That could be as a result of a fetchland or Evolving Wilds; Oracle of Mul Daya; resolution of a trigger from Chulane, Teller of Tales; or a host of other things.  Seems like four extra mana a turn isn’t out of the question.   

Orah, Skyclave Hierophant

Orzhov Clerics are definitely going to be a thing after we’ve seen the entirety of Zendikar Rising.  Orah might be who you want leading them.  You’re in black anyway, so you’ll being playing with enough recursion elements and sacrifice outlets to get some loops going.  I might suggest Dawn of the Dead

Both black and white are going to give you the lifegain so that you don’t care about the one you lose.  You’ll get to pick the creature that comes back, so you choose the highest mana cost to return, so that you have a better choice when you inevitably sacrifice it to get around the end-step exile.  Don’t forget that Mikaeus, the Unhallowed is a Cleric, as is Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose.  Orah is much stronger as a commander than just one of your creatures, mostly because it’s the one that most cares about the creature type.  I keep threatening to build a Cleric deck, and this might be the push across the line I need.

Phylath, World Sculptor

The first thing I did when I saw Phylath was double-check to make sure Ashaya said “nontoken.”  Still, it seems like getting more Plants for your Avenger of Zendikar to embiggen is just full of win.  If you want to go on a full Plant-based diet with Phylath at the helm, you also have Dowsing Dagger; Nissa, Voice of Zendikar; Khalni Garden; Turntimber Sower; and Skinshifter.  It’s not quite enough to go tribal, but it’s a viable sub-theme. What this means is that you don’t necessarily have to go with Phylath as the commander.  You have room to subtheme it as part of your landfall deck that has green and red in it. 

Taborax, Hope's Demise

Speaking of new cards for that Cleric tribal deck, Taborax, Hope’s Demise will add some delicious gravy to your fries.  As you loop your Clerics (note that it triggers only on nontoken creatures), it will both get larger and draw cards for you.  Also useful in a non-tribal deck, it works with a proliferate strategy to ramp up the counter count in short order.  It could certainly be a commander, but it looks better as part of the team. 

Tazri, Beacon of Unity

Five-color the weird way (white mana cost, other four colors to activate), Tazri, Beacon of Unity loves to host your party.  Although she’s a Warrior, she can get party members plus Allies with the activated ability.  The two-brid mana cost in the activation is mechanically clever, giving you the opportunity to activate even if you’re a color (or two) short.  Clearly meant for command, she can theoretically cost just W to cast the first time.  Being able to get Allies opens up a host of possibilities, to include making Ally (instead of party) tribal and maybe incidentally getting party creatures. 

Verazol, the Split Current

Verazol, the Split Current is a mechanically thought-provoking card, in the vein of Gyrus, Waker of Corpses. It gets counters equal to the mana you spent to cast it, not the raw value of X. Normally, that’s X+2, since you also paid the UG. If it’s your commander and you paid additional tax, you also get those counters. The bad news is that discounts don’t do you any good. You can set X to whatever value you want, but you’re still only getting the counters based on what you paid.

For example, let’s say you have Animar, Soul of Elements with five counters on it and access to eight mana. You set X=11, so the total mana cost is 11UG. Animar reduces that to 6UG, so you get eight counters (thanks to @natedogg316 for providing the example during our chat on the RC Discord server #rulings-and-questions channel).

Copying a kicked spell leads to great places. The copy of a permanent spell becomes a token, so all those creatures with kicker apply. What I’ll be interested in doing is copying Strength of the Tajuru after multi-kicking it several times, and getting the counters right back on Verazol. I suspect we’ll see it most often as a commander.

Yasharn, Implacable Earth

I’m not sure I get the flavor reason behind the two seemingly incongruous abilities of Yasharn, Implacable Earth, but I will not complain.  While it will fit into any W/G/x deck, I want it coming out of the command zone, because I know I’ll be smoothing out my land selection early. 

The clear first addition to the deck is Walking Atlas.  Then you add extra land drop cards, like Explore, and you’re off to the races.  Yasharn isn’t quite Karametra, but who is?  The second ability might make up the difference.  Yasharn one-ups Angel of Jubilation in that the enjoinder isn’t just on creatures, but all nonland permanents.  From Armillary Sphere to Wayfarer’s Bauble, from Aura of Silence to Pernicious Deed to Sterling Grove, folks that want to sacrifice stuff are just out of luck. 

Zagras, Thief of Heartbeats

Zagras can certainly be a commander due to the party mechanic, and moreso due to his slate full of abilities.  Giving all your other creatures deathtouch turns some small things into deadly ones.  You can successfully chip planeswalkers dead, which I’m not going to be sad about. 

Building a Zagras deck, I’d start adding Equipment like Thornbite Staff or an old format staple like Ancient Hydra (quite a bit better now in the post-proliferate world) to machine-gun down creatures which are the biggest threats.  Going back to the party, there are plenty of Wizards that ping.  Drannith Stinger sets up a nice engine with cycling cards.  Cuombajj Witches might be a political card in the deathtouch circumstance.  Goblin Chainwhirler (a Warrior) turns into a Plague Wind.  Zagras is going places. 

Zareth San, the Trickster

A very Ninja-like Rogue, Zareth San is a fine leader for a Rogue deck.  I might run it with a good selection of Rogues and then Arcane Adaptation and a bunch of other creatures for pure tomfoolery.  Maybe even Ninjas.  Of course, Zareth San can simply exist in a deck which makes blocking difficult – hello, Sun Quan, Lord of Wu – in order to get the triggered ability.  Unlike Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni or Scion of Darkness, Zareth San gets any permanent out of the player’s graveyard, opening up a world of possibilities. 

We’ve seen the whole Zendikar Rising set, so there will be plenty to talk about in the upcoming weeks. What’s clear is that Zendikar Rising’s legendary creatures will be out front, leading the glorious battles into the great unknown. 

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