Charting your course through Adventures in the Forgotten Realms starts with the legendary creatures. Now that we’ve hit the full set release, we can focus on all the potential commanders and big, splashy bodies that Adventures in the Forgotten Realms will offer us. We’ve seen a fine spread of mono and multicolored options; the latter are probably more likely to be leading a deck. We’ll discuss whether they’re worth building around and how, or if they’re better placed in the 99. Note that this piece only covers the legendary creatures in the main set. Those of Forgotten Realms Commander will deserve their own treatment.
Before we get there, I’m sure you’re aware that we banned Hullbreacher this past week. The full writeup is on the Commander Rules Committee (RC) site, along with a little housekeeping on Rule 11 to clarify things regarding dungeons, and the exciting news that we’ve added Kristen Gregory and Ellie of the Veil to the Commander Advisory Group (CAG). Agree or disagree, if you want to talk more about it and get into a few more details of our decision, head over the to quarterly-announcement channel on the RC Discord server. We’ll have some lively (and civil) conversation.
I’m already struck by how small the Adventures in the Forgotten Realms Dragons are compared to other Magic Dragons. A 4/3 flyer with vigilance and a decent triggered ability for four mana is fine, but Icingdeath loses combat to Breena, the Demagogue after she’s (appropriately) attacked only once. Icingdeath will probably be a house as one of the 99 in your Adventures in the Forgotten Realms Boxing League, but I’m not high on its other possibilities.
Mono-white dungeoneering can definitely happen with Nadaar. You’ll move through the rooms as Nadaar swings into things, getting even further with cards like Dungeon Map and the well-named Planar Ally. Support your low-mana-cost build of Nadaar with some token creators and Court Street Denizen, and you’ll be swinging through Tomb of Annihilation in no time.
Oswald seems to me to be a support card, giving you the artifact version of Birthing Pod. I look forward to some of the great deck brewers out there coming up with a mono-white build, since Oswald’s low mana value means you’ll be able to get him running early.
Grazilaxx is Cunning Evasion with some deal-extra on a 3/2 body, and I’m here for it. You only draw one card per combat with its second triggered ability, but that’s nothing to complain about. Grazilaxx might fit into your Ninja deck or one led by Vela the Night-Clad (or that Vela + Ninjas thing you built).
You’ll always draw a card when Iyrmith hits in combat, but the strength will be in drawing extra cards. That means it’ll fit into the unusual blue deck in which you like to empty your hand. One way to get your hand size smaller might be to use Azor’s Gateway, on your way to transforming it into Sanctum of the Sun. The straightforward way is to play Iyrmith near the top of your curve in an aggressive Jeskai deck, so you’ve already committed your hand to the battlefield by the time it enters the battlefield. Ward 4 is nothing to joke about. Since it’s only applicable if Iymrith is untapped, you’ll want to give it vigilance, which is easy if you’re playing white.
We knew there’d be some Tomb of Horrors (and Tomb of Annihilation) representation, and Acererak has come calling. Before they start reading abilities, players are bound to notice that it’s a 5/5 for three mana. Once you read on, you’ll note that you’ll need to complete the dungeon of sacrifice in order to keep him on the battlefield. What’s nice is that he starts the exploration before going back into your hand; if he’s your commander, you’ll avoid an early commander tax. Once Acererak is on the battlefield and battling, your opponents will have the difficult choice of sacrificing creatures if they don’t want you to have Zombies. Acererak as a commander suggests the Zombie direction but doesn’t force you into it.
Well, this is a thing. It’s not quite the Griselbrand plus Necropotence that some folks have said it is, most notably because it doesn’t have lifelink, letting you fill your hand for free. It’s more of a fixed Necropotence in creature form. Binding Contract gets around draw triggers like Nekusar, the Mindrazer — at a price. You don’t get any cards that you’ve exiled until you pay for it. When you’re playing it, you’ll never want to tap out for fear of losing all the cards that you’ve exiled. You still get your normal draw step, but that card goes into the exile pile. This is a card which will have some impact and may fuel some sort of combo deck, but at first blush doesn’t seem particularly broken.
Ebondeath appears quite combo-ready, especially if you’re sacrificing creatures and itself to things like Ashnod’s Altar or Phyrexian Altar in order to generate enough mana to recast Ebondeath over and over again. From there, it’s killing with cards like Blood Artist. For me, it’ll probably go into a deck that has Greater Good in it, so that I know there will always be a ready way to draw five, discard three. Just beware of Angel of Jubilation.
This card is spicy and all upside for no mana. You have to attack with it, but then you get a copy of your best creature 75% of the time. The other 25% you’ll get one and possibly more. There’s no condition that the creature you’re creating the token copy of needs to be attacking, so you can use Delina on a creature that’s just entered the battlefield. The token can also attack a player other than the one Delina is attacking. From the coolest enters-the-battlefield triggers to the smashiest monsters, Delina is going to lower some life totals. Delina is a support card and still one of my favorite legendary creatures out of the set so far.
Flying, hasty uncounterable 6/6s for six mana are already good enough to drop into a deck. Then there’s that activated ability, which is a little unusual in more ways than one. It’s not targeted in the traditional sense. You don’t choose a target when you activate it, you wait until resolution to see if its power becomes 20. If it does during resolution, then the ability triggers and you pick a target to roast for 20. What’s neat is that if you have a way to lower the power back to 19, you can activate it and do 20 again. A creature having 20 power isn’t that easy, so instead of trying to pour all that red mana into it, slap Eldrazi Conscription on and go to town.
The enrage-like mechanic on Zalto is neat. My first thought is to play him with Lightmine Field and some exalted cards; attacking alone means he’ll get larger and only take one damage. Don’t discount that seven power on a five-mana body, either. You won’t have to work all that hard to get some commander damage kills if you Voltron him. If I wanted to bring a specific dungeon along, it would be Lost Mine of Phandelver, swinging down the left side to create a Goblin token, put the counter on Zalto, and profit.
Okay, here’s a properly-sized Dragon that plenty of people are justifiably excited about. Sure, it costs seven, but once you’re up and running, Old Gnawbone is going to keep fueling your insanity. If you’re playing him as the commander, you’re likely curving up into him, so you’ll be making Treasures the turn he enters the battlefield from your other creatures battling. I’m more likely to put it into my Kaarthus Rains Fire from the Sky deck. It’s easy to imagine a scenario in which Old Gnawbone is part of an attack that takes out one player, creating enough Treasure to Comet Storm one or more others into oblivion.
I don’t like piling on, but count me among the disappointed in this card. For such an iconic creature to be so limp hurts me to my nerdcore. How does it not have trample? Really, don’t get me started.
In a vacuum, Varis is a decent creature; she costs only three, which is a good rate for a 3/3 with two pretty relevant static abilities. Add on the two triggered abilities and we’ve driven through value town, leaving our burger wrappers floating in the breeze. Varis gets you moving through the dungeon and gives you a reward for completing it. She’s another that I’d run through Lost Mine of Phandelver as often as possible.
Barrowin and Tomb of Annihilation go hand-and-hand. Our hardy Dwarf Cleric gets us venturing and then regrows sacrifice fodder during your subsequent runs through the dungeon. Once you’ve completed it the first time, Barrowin will always trigger, whether you’re currently in a dungeon or not.
Bruenor Voltron is happening. The first Equipment that goes on is Colossus Hammer. Getting the free equip turns him into a 17/13, so all you need is one more Equipment with two more power (remember Bruenor gives himself an additional +2/+0 for each Equipment attached to him) and you’ll have a one-shot-capable commander. He’ll also go as one of 99 in a Kediss, Emberclaw Familiar / Ardenn, Intrepid Archaeologist deck.
Arguably the most famous character in the Forgotten Realms after Elminster, Drizzt brings the beatings both in his own ability and creating his running partner Guenhwyvar, a trampling 4/1 Cat. Drizzt isn’t done, though. Should any of your creatures larger than him die, he’ll get a number of counters equal to the difference. Since he has double strike, he’ll get deadly pretty quickly. You might sneak him into a deck with black in it, like Karador, Ghost Chieftain, to have the creature sacrifice tricks that’ll really get him rolling.
Farideh will lead you to some of the dice-rolling cards in the set, like Scion of Stygia, Wizard’s Spellbook, and the famous Deck of Many Things. With Farideh drawing cards more than half the time you roll a d10, you will indeed have the dark one’s own luck.
I’m not sure what the lore behind the character is, but I know it’s another Simic card that Commander doesn’t need. Generically good Simic commanders (or any color combination, really) are the opposite of what’s healthy for the format.
Dungeons and colorful things like them are more of what Commander needs. We can get into these loops of homogenization; cards like Hama Pashar can get us out of them. Let’s get to some dungeoneering!
Despite my hopes that designers will start leaning away from Treasure tokens sooner rather than later, Kalain makes some novel use of them. Thematically, the card is excellent, the artist turning his patron’s gold into masterpieces.
There’s certainly a mill deck to build around Krydle, but I’m looking for more of a payoff. I’ll slip him into my Millmeoplasm deck and get double duty out of Krydle’s small mill and ability to make something big unblockable.
No matter what else gets said about Minsc, everyone’s going to focus on the adorable little Hamster that can turn into a giant monster. Many Naya decks (especially those not run by Hazezon Tamar) are built around the beef. Minsc will reward for building around the small creatures and token creators. You’ll go wide with smaller creatures until such a time as you want to go wide with really big creatures courtesy of Minsc’s activated ability.
Another thematic home run, Orcus, Prince of Undeath might be a little spendy but you get loads of value. You can partially sweep the battlefield pretty easily by just paying a mana or two extra. Reanimating creatures will be well more expensive, but that makes sense — growth is more difficult than destruction. Where you go with Orcus will depend on which mode you want to make more use of.
Shressra screams “put me into a Meren of Clan Nel Toth deck.” Her abilities are build-around enough for her to lead her own 99, but she slots so well into a Meren deck that I suspect she’ll go there more often.
Targ Nar is a strong choice to command a deck because of his low mana cost and relevant combat abilities. You’ll want to go a little wide in order to get the bonus to more creatures, but since Gnoll tribal isn’t going to be a thing, you can fit to your own flavor. You could find yourself in a popular tribe like Goblins or Elves, or just picking some favorites in the colors.
A Gruul commander opens the perfect door to play a classic creature like Wilderness Elemental, who in most Commander games will provide the six power for Targ Nar’s trigger all by itself. That Targ Nar can also go big is a cool design choice. With a little help from the pack, there are going to be some savage Targ Nar combats. This is a card I’m drawn to trying to build around since it could lead to such a multi-dimensional deck.
Finding five Dragons with different names isn’t going to be difficult in your Tiamat deck; the question will be how many will you cast and how many will you be forced to discard — to then regrow with Bladewing the Risen? Continuing a theme, I’m pleased that Tiamat is Dragon-sized; I’m also thrilled that a five-color commander costs WUBRG to cast. I can’t see Tiamat in someone else’s 99; I imagine no self-respecting Dragon God would, either.
Cards like Trelasarra are compelling because they send you in a general direction to build with, but don’t pigeonhole you into something specific. Her low mana value means you’ll get her going early and start ticking her up with lifegain lands, creatures with lifelink, and other multiple ways to gain life in a turn. Scrying is just a nice bonus. The first card that sprang to mind is Wall of Reverence. It seems like you’ll want to give Trelasarra lifelink so that she can power up herself, whether that’s Basilisk Collar, Shadowspear, or True Conviction.
Volo is a Simic commander that I can get behind and get in front of building with. He’s the anti-tribal leader we didn’t know we needed. Although they didn’t go the party mechanic in this set, it’s a viable approach, although you’ll want to vary the races. You’ll obviously also want to avoid too many legendary creatures since copies won’t do you any good. Same goes for Shapeshifters and Clones. It might get you into some unusual creature types, like Wombat or Lhurgoyf.
Hitting the idea of the Eye Tyrant right on the head (in the eye?), Xanathar is a great way to shut down the control player on your turn. Being able to play stuff (to include your land drop) off the top of their library is some extra plus extra. Add Paradox Haze for additional tomfoolery and you can have your pick of the cards from two different players. If you want to really go with the theme, play Xanathar in a Sen Triplets build. That’s the kind of deck I’d want to have a pretty good pregame chat about; it’s easy to see how some players might not be up for that kind of experience since it could get a little oppressive. Your mileage may vary.
Adventures in the Forgotten Realms provides a few dozen potential commander choices which offer a broad swath of the brewable and buildable. You’ll have the opportunity to put together some decks which will offer compelling experiences to your tables. The excitement around this set is justified. I can’t wait to get building.
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