Wizards of the Coast (WotC) announced last week in the Magic Showcase 2021 what we can expect in 2022. It’ll be huge.
Even from someone who offered some thoughts just last week on the idea of set fatigue, it’s difficult to not get excited about the releases that will explore some radical new territory as well as take us back to a few places we loved. There’s a Commander-specific piece that’ll take us back to The Forgotten Realms, but let’s face it: every set is a Commander set, whether it’s designed for us or not. I want to discuss what we know about the four major releases for next year, Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate, some of the ancillary products, and what it all means in a format-specific context. For those sets that visit old planes, it’s also an opportunity to take a fond look back at some of the most significant cards that came from them.
First up are the two things that really get my motor running as an inveterate magpie: new art for Ravnica shocklands and Commander Collection: Black. Mark Rosewater confirmed on his Blogatog that the new shocklands in the Unfinity set will be reprints of the OGs, full art, and — wait for it — set in space. Maybe I’ve just been playing too much Terraforming Mars recently, because I’m a little giddy about this prospect. Also, more prints of the cards everyone wants for their decks mean that the least expensive versions of the cards tend to get even cheaper. You know I’m not a big fan of the concept of staples in the format, but when it comes to manabases, making them more affordable is healthy.
The choices in Commander Collection: Black are strong. There are color-appropriate callbacks to Sol Ring and Command Tower, the latter looking very much like Barad-dûr without the Eye atop it. The key card is Toxic Deluge, originally printed in Commander 2013, then reprinted in Eternal Masters and Double Masters. It’s a powerhouse because you have plenty of life to play with in Commander, offering a significant response to someone who has ramped out some mana creatures and possibly more on early turns. Phyrexian Arena is one of the most beloved cards in Commander history, simple yet effective at what it does. Reanimate has a long history in other formats as well. Ghoulcaller Gisa and Ophiomancer are both created-for-Commander cards that look outstanding with the new art. Finally, there’s Liliana, Heretical Healer, the art on both sides suitably spooky. Also this. All in all, great choices here.
Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty
The first release of 2022 will be Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, returning to a plane that many players regard in language like “what could have been.” The flavor was there; the implementation struggled. It was a relatively early time in Magic’s history. Design and development, not to mention WotC’s vision for the game, have come a long way. Today’s processes are far more sophisticated. Still, there were format-defining cards from Kamigawa block. Here’s my Top 5:
Honorable Mention: Azami, Lady of Scrolls; Azusa, Lost but Seeking; Final Judgment
5. Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni
Everyone’s favorite Rat is also everyone’s favorite Ninja. Long before Yuriko, Tiger’s Shadow terrorized Commander tables, Ink-Eyes was ninjutsu-ing onto the battlefield to steal stuff from opponents’ graveyards. Whether it’s one of 99 or leading its own Rat swarm, you never forget which plane Ink-Eyes hails from.
4. Sakashima the Impostor
Another potential monocolored commander that’s gotten lots of work in the 99, Sakashima’s power is in keeping her name. Back in the time when the legend rule meant there could be only one of a particular legendary creature on the battlefield, this meant even more than it does now. Today, you can still copy your commander with her, getting double the fun (but remember, only single the commander damage).
3. Kodama’s Reach
Before there was Cultivate (first appearing in Magic 2011), there was Kodama’s Reach. The latter is slightly and narrowly stronger since it’s an Arcane spell that you can splice something onto. Otherwise, they’re functionally identical. The kind of ramp provided by Kodama’s Reach is nearly synonymous with the format. You get some extra land, then drop a battlecruiser of some kind. It’s not complicated, but it’s foundational.
2. Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Part of well-worn infinite combos with Pestermite and Zealous Conscripts, Kiki-Jiki is a giant value engine. I wonder if designers of the day thought that, since you could only copy your own creatures, the ability had limits to its brokenness. Turns out, no. The ability to get every turn another copy of your creature with the great enters-the-battlefield trigger for zero mana is quite something, even if you’re not comboing off with it. KJ is legendary in more than one sense.
1. Kokusho, the Evening Star
So format-warping in early EDH that it was banned (probably also due to the lack of good graveyard hate), Kokusho gained its freedom in 2012 and hasn’t looked back. What’s important in the case of the card that represents all of the Kamigawa block Dragons is the signal that we’re okay with the shifting ground of the format creating a situation in which a card once thought centralizing wouldn’t be so any longer. Kokusho’s important because of both its banning and unbanning. Today it exists as an excellent life drain/value piece that opponents justifiably remove from your graveyard ASAP.
Granted, the block produced two still-banned cards, Gifts Ungiven and Erayo, Soratami Ascendant. Like I said, Design and Development have a lot more double-checks these days. (Yes, I know they still let Hullbreacher through.)
Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty has a setting in the far-flung future of Kamigawa. The promo material says that it’s “filled with high-tech delights and homages to fan favorites,” which clearly means cyberpunk and every Blade Runner derivative you can think of. I suspect we’ll have some references to favorites from past thematically, but it seems like they’ve rethought the world mechanically. We know from the video that the set introduces a new planesalkwer, Kaito. They also previewed that the Emperor of Kamigawa, a planeswalker, is “someone you’ve seen before.” Speculation has already run rampant; could it be one of the four legendary creatures I mention above? I’d be for any of them. As a wrap, I know that the whole neon and Ninjas thing is immersion-breaking for some players, but I’m here for it.
A world of super-science and super sorcery? Sign me up.
Streets of New Capenna
As a lover of detective noir, I have to admit that I’m skeptical of Angels and Demons (a world built by or somehow significant to Elspeth, now ruled by Demons and potentially other non-Humans) in a crime syndicate art deco setting, at least thematically. I expect the art to be particularly jarring. Still, I’m willing to be convinced.
The important part for Commander players to hear is that it’s based on five three-color crime families. To me, this sounds like we’ll be getting multiple new legendary creatures in either shards or wedges. Shards, in particular, seem to have slipped from memory for the longest time. Each family is getting its own keyword and game play style, which sounds thoroughly exciting within a biodome. I know very little about this set, but the back of my mind is already churning on some kind of constructed thing for the Commander RC stream. If there are five families and GoToMeeting or Spell Table can handle a fifth player by then, we’ll add noir superfan Brian David-Marshall to the broadcast and we can go full James Ellroy.
The 30th anniversary of Magic will kick off on the plane it all began on, Dominaria. Loads of other sets, like Legends, Invasion, and Urza’s Saga were also set there, wrapping most recently in the eponymous set. The details about Dominaria United are pretty sketchy so far, although they mentioned beloved heroes like Gerrard and Hanna, as well as unnamed recurring villains. All of the plane of Dominaria is too big to pick even a Top 25 from, let alone a Top 5, so I’d like to take a look back at the set that was released just three years ago (which, in pandemic years, is like a thousand), and my Top 5 for cards that have some refence to Dominarian history.
Honorable Mention: Grand Warlord Radha; Muldrotha, the Grave Tide; Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
5. Urza’s Ruinous Blast
A card that I’m surprised we don’t actually see more of, Urza’s Ruinous Blast might be more powerful in a retrospective inspired by The Brothers’ War. Every time I see it played, it’s a blowout. I think that folks avoid it because they worry their sweeper won’t pick up anyone else’s commander. That said, exiling things is super-strong, especially when they’re the pieces of someone’s setup, whether that’s a combo piece like Ashnod’s Altar or all those Equipment bound to be attached to Rograkh, son of Rogahh.
4. Multani, Yavimaya’s Avatar
The newer version of Multani solves a problem that the Urza’s Legacy version doesn’t: it has trample. The OG is definitely going to have a greater power and toughness, but being 25/25 doesn’t matter when you can get chump blocked. New Multani has a tough time getting that big, having power equal merely to the number of lands you control.
3. Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain
Jhoira appeared first in Urza’s Legacy’s Jhoira’s Toolbox. We didn’t see her in person until Jhoira of the Ghitu in Future Sight. She was a powerhouse in the early days of the format and still suspends big, broken cards for profit. Her Dominaria version is a little less busted, but part of a great value engine that draws a card whenever you cast an artifact, legendary spell, or Saga. What’s particularly relevant is her mana value, an inexpensive four. She’s in Izzet colors, which aren’t the best at ramping. Keeping her cheap, especially for subsequent recastings, is significant in making her playable.
2. Helm of the Host
Right in the flavor text, it says, “Forged out of flowstone for the queen of Vesuva.” Flowstone Giant and other Flowstone cards were first featured in Tempest. Vesuva goes all the way back to Legends, as we combine multiple things from Dominaria’s history. Helm of the Host, like the aforementioned Sakashima, can make a copy of your commander that doesn’t die to the legend rule. It’ll get in there battling for you and then not even go away at the end of turn.
1. Blackblade Reforged
Referencing a still-played commander from Legends, Dakkon Blackblade, Blackblade Reforged is a deadly piece in any Voltron strategy. Its inexpensive mana and equip costs (at least to legendary creatures) make it particularly scary. You know you’re playing lands; your commander being bigger for each of them will lead to some two- or three-shot commander damage kills quite easily.
The Brothers’ War
I suspect that Dominaria United will somehow lead into the epic battle of artifacts and war machines that will be The Brothers’ War. Focusing on moving backward from the Antiquities expansion, which showed the aftermath of the war, we’ll get into the action of the epic battle that shaped both Dominaria and the multiverse. It’s not just going to focus on Urza and Mishra, though, but the various characters and locations around the plane. If you’re a fan of giant mechs, I’m willing to bet that The Brothers’ War will be for you.
Speaking of giant mechs…
Universes Beyond for 2022 will feature four Commander decks from the Warhammer 40,000 universe. I’m not super-familiar with the property, but I’ve been around the game shop enough to know that there are Space Marines and Giant Machines, and life is cheap. Again, I get the idea that for some folks crossing of the streams from traditional fantasy into sci-fi just doesn’t sit well. This is another one that I’ll have to be convinced works — but we already have mechs in Magic from sets like Urza’s Saga. I’ll be interested to see if there’s cross-play between Warhammer 40,000 and The Brothers’ War.
The big set for Commander fans will be Commander Legends: Baldur’s Gate. Continuing where Adventures in the Forgotten Realms left off, we’ll stop off in Faerun’s most famous city outside of Waterdeep. They’ve promised a bunch of new legends themed as D&D characters and new multiplayer mechanics in a Commander draft environment. Will we see Bodhi the Vampire or Branwen the Cleric? Is this where we’ll finally get to encounter Elminster? If we do, we’ll also see them in etched foils and rulebook frames, which they’ve said they’re expanding beyond creatures. It seems like the treasures of the Forgotten Realms (so basically artifacts) would make the next logical thing to do with the treatment.
Finally, we’ll have the Secret Lair drops for Fortnite and Street Fighter. The two Fortnite versions will be done with reprints of existing Magic cards. The Street Fighter drop will contain mechanically unique cards drawn from the iconic characters of that universe. As with The Walking Dead, the cards will be legal in Commander. We hope that the folks at WotC have solved the availability problems that existed with The Walking Dead, especially in some areas of the world. Rest assured that if the cards are mechanically broken or are simply unhealthy for the format, we’ll take appropriate action.
There’s going to be a lot of Magic in 2022. I’m okay with the fact that some of it isn’t for me. There’s plenty that is, so I’ll dig into those releases with all the fury and fervor I do with anything I enjoy. Fortunately, all the big set releases speak my language. Four of the five go somewhere familiar, so it’ll be a year of nostalgia as well, celebrating Magic’s 30th anniversary in style.
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