Pick your hyperbolic descriptor: absurd. Insane. Ridiculous. Bonkers. They all apply to the new cards of Warhammer 40,000 Commander. The latest installment of the Universes Beyond series truly has gone beyond, in an effort I suspect will both attract fans of the Warhammer 40,000 universe and retain them. With a total of 168 new cards, existing Commander players will also have plenty with which to populate existing decks and some rip-roaring new commanders to build around. Saying “this set has it all” barely scratches the surface.
The four decks have set a new standard for quality precons. They’re not only playable right out of the box, they can hang unmodified in most environments. I suspect the power level is ticked up a bit because it’s a set meant to captivate the interests of fans of the IP. We’ll see if the next set down the line is similarly powered.
Since there will be lots of folks reviewing the decks as whole pieces, I thought I’d take a look at the individual cards and how they might fit into existing environments. We’re not quite in set review territory, but we’re close. I’ll pick a Top 3 in each color as well as that color’s most interesting reprint. The collection in each color is a little small to grade, but nearly all of them would be As.
3. Defenders of Humanity
It’ll get a little spendy on both ends, but Defenders of Humanity will be the salve we need to soothe the burn of a battlefield sweeper. It will set up a situation in which we’ll create enough of a go-wide army that someone will need to Wrath of God, but then we’ll be right there to recover from it. Play with Divine Visitation for some quality beats.
2. Space Marine Devastator
I’m a fan of the new squad mechanic, especially as it scales to the late-game. Space Marine Devastator gives us both reasonable bodies and some battlefield control, often just what we need to get out of a tight spot. Note that squad is an additional cost to cast the spell, not a trigger that you announce and pay for separately. That means it’s subject to cost-reducers, like Defiler of Faith and Herald’s Horn.
1. Celestine, the Living Saint
Celestine herself will set up a Sun Titan-like trigger after she deals damage, although it’s just for a creature and not any permanent. The ceiling just gets higher after that, as she is no doubt a part of a lifegain strategy. We’ll have to gain the life during the main or combat phases because of Celestine’s targeting condition. Waiting to gain life from Wall of Reverence, another end of turn trigger, won’t work because we have to choose the target when we put Celestine’s ability on the stack. At that time, we’re limited to what we’ve gained so far in the turn. Still, this is a very saucy card that I look forward to playing.
3. Sicarian Infiltrator
Once again, we get the scalable benefits of the squad mechanic. The fact that it has flash means that we can hold it back for either a combat or end-step trick, reserving mana for other things we might need to do. Not flashy, but quite solid.
2. Lord of Change
A big, flying Demon that happens to be in blue, where Demons previously have not trodden, just tickles me. It only has one blue pip, too, meaning it’s playable in a deck that’s only splashing blue. The fact that it also draws three cards is just so much gravy. It’ll probably end up in my Lavinia Blinks deck for the obvious reason.
1. Genestealer Patriarch
The only downside is that Genestealer Patriarch still has to be around when the creature with the infection counter dies. The upside is that when someone wipes the battlefield, Genestealer Patriarch will give us a quick recovery, seeing all the creatures with infection counters die. This is absolutely my kind of card, another one easily playable in decks with a light commitment to blue. I suspect it’s destined for my Animar’s Swarm deck, where it will often get cast for just one mana.
Black gets an Honorable Mention slot because right around a quarter of the new cards in the set are black—and that’s not even counting the multicolored ones. Nurgle’s Conscription does two spicy things in a single card. It brings the best creature out of someone’s graveyard and then gets rid of the rest. The fact that it does it as an instant excites me a great deal. This is a card which will stress my commitment to putting only one copy of the new cards into my existing deck suite.
3. Sanguinary Priest
There are two factors that got me on Sanguinary Priest. The first, more minor one, is that it has lifelink. The big one is that we’re not limited to just going to someone’s dome, we can target anything. If several of our creatures have died, we can pile up on a single target.
2. Trazyn the Infinite
When thinking about what else might be neat to have in the graveyard with Trazyn the Infinite, my brain keeps sliding back to Nevinyrral’s Disk. I’m sure everyone is going to have a favorite. Part of the joy will be in finding it.
1. Anrakyr the Traveller
While there might be some combat tricks available in dropping an artifact from hand after Anrakyr attacks, getting cards from the graveyard will produce the most value. Casting them for the low cost of a little life is very strong. Imagine someone has blown up our Sword of Fire and Ice. Who wouldn’t pay three life to get it back onto the battlefield (although it’s too bad we can’t also equip it without additional help). Even if the artifact is just something minor, like Ichor Wellspring, it’s well worth the life. I’d certainly pay four life to have repeatable Solemn Simulacrums every turn.
The designers in Studio X did a nice job of gating the extra combat step mechanic here. We can’t get infinite combats, but are limited to the number of opponents we have. Once Bloodthirster has attacked everyone, we’re done. Still, it’s a 6/6 flyer with trample. We won’t need too many extra combat steps in order to close folks out. The only issue I see is that Bloodthirster is the only creature to untap; we’ll need creatures with vigilance or other ways to untap them in order to get everyone in on the additional combats.
Our first look at the ravenous mechanic, Exocrine will survive its own fiery barrage since its toughness will be two higher than the damage it deals. The flexibility of being able to choose a value for X is great because we might have an early-game case of wanting (or needing) to cast it for X of one or two, or we can wait until late-game and sweep a much bigger battlefield.
1. The Red Terror
The Red Terror doesn’t need to be one of the red sources (although it will count itself if it is) in order to get the trigger. I think at first glance, folks might discount just how quickly counters will pile up. Every one of our red creatures that gets blocked gives us a trigger. Now our opponents’ chump blocking provides value. Although it doesn’t natively have evasion, The Red Terror will just get huge in a hurry—so once it does get trample or becomes unblockable, it’ll be quite scary. It will also be very Fling-able.
3. Hierophant Bio-Titan
A 12/12 that can’t be chump blocked is a great start. At the cost of just five power in +1/+1 counters, we get a discount of ten to cast Hierophant Bio-Titan, and it’s coming out with a vengeance. Vigilance, reach, and ward 2 are just side benefits at this point.
2. Old One Eye
Eleven power in tramplers (as well as giving it to the team) for six mana? You may sign me up any time. Old One Eye’s ability to go from graveyard to hand at the cost of discarding cards makes it right for a reanimator deck, like with Old Stickfingers, getting the exact creatures you want into the yard.
Toxicrene is a clever method of shutting off some of the format’s best lands, like Cabal Coffers, Maze of Ith, and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. It also means that fetchlands don’t function. This will be one of the biggest-impact cards in the set, hands down. Folks will sleep on it until it shuts them down.
The commanders are all so good that it seemed unfair to the other cards. You certainly can’t go wrong choosing any one of them. In 3-2-1 order, I’d likely choose Be’lakor, the Dark Master; The Swarmlord; and Abaddon the Despoiler. Cascade gets me right in the feels. Multicolored also gets an Honorable Mention because it has nearly as many cards as black. Actually, there are a bunch of them that could qualify for both Honorable Mention or the Top 3, so it gets two. In fact, we could have done this piece with only the multicolored cards and still had lots to talk about.
Honorable Mention #1: Assault Intercessor
Honorable Mention #2: Malanthrope
Graveyard control isn’t something we’re used to seeing in Simic colors, although green itself has some quality stuff in cards like Scavenging Ooze and the underappreciated Night Soil. Malanthrope being about to eat a whole graveyard means that it’s a significant mid- to late-game play which is bound to have us end up with a pretty big flying creature.
3. Commissar Severina Raine
Okay, before we get to the mechanics of the card, we need to talk about the elephant in this room, notably the fascist imagery floating around the set. It’s most obvious on this card, but certainly present on Commissar Severina Raine. I understand that many folks read the inclusion of fascist ideology in the Warhammer 40,000 universe as an indictment of said ideology. I support this notion. That said, they could have demonstrated a more deft hand in the iconography of the set. I think subtlety would have been a much better direction. Putting the imagery on cards that are also powerful creates a pretty awkward situation.
Mechanically, I want to play this card. It has two very strong abilities, one of which can certainly be a game-ender. The attack trigger could kill someone before blockers are ever declared (which means that’s the right direction to send the Commissar). We’ll use the activated ability when someone targets one of our other creatures with removal, replacing it and gaining a little life at the same time. Still, I have mixed feelings about playing the card in its current form. Like I’m planning with the original Sylvan Library, I might just have them altered before dropping them onto a battlefield.
2. The First Tyrannic War
This card is just silly. We’re playing it in +1/+1 counters matter decks, so there are plenty of cards, from Apocalypse Hydra to Voracious Hydra (why haven’t I seen the latter get more play?), that will benefit from the first chapter of The First Tyrannic War. Doubling the counters on a creature is just going to make people dead. This is a build-around card that needs a particular commander, like this set’s Magus Lucea Kane, The Swarmlord, or just an old classic like Animar, Soul of Elements. I’m running with it.
1. Neyam Shai Murad
In the tradition of great political cards from Orzhov/Silverquill, Neyam Shai Murad will create situations in which we can bargain for high-quality deals. “Are you willing to take three?” is a question that I’ll be asking. Of course, we can also use a little force by making her unblockable with Rogue’s Passage and whatnot. Even though I didn’t end up choosing Neyam Shai Murad as one of the things I would build (mostly because I already have a Silverquill deck that I play a fair amount), she’s in the running if I decide to build a third Warhammer 40,000 deck. She’ll certainly find a home in the 99 somewhere.
Artifact and Land
3. Reaver Titan
I’m not normally high on Vehicles, but Reaver Titan hits me in the right spots. It’s a 10/10. If we stopped there, I would have picked something else (probably Scepter of Eternal Glory). Then it has protection from mana value three or less, which of course applies whether or not it’s a creature. No Swords to Plowshares, no Path to Exile for Reaver Titan. That might be enough, but then it also deals five damage to each opponent when it attacks. Spreading around this kind of damage is really what got me.
2. Canoptek Scarab Swarm
Has graveyard removal gotten so good that we can think about unbanning Recurring Nightmare? That’s not the issue, but graveyard removal is indeed getting spicy. The complement to Malanthrope, Canoptek Scarab Swarm gets a 1/1 Insect for each artifact or land card exiled from the target player’s graveyard. That will normally net less than Malanthrope and creatures, but it’s still done the job, namely eating the graveyard. Being colorless, it’s graveyard control that can go into any deck.
1. Resurrection Orb
The name says it all, and the card accurately reflects the name. I imagine that Resurrection Orb will become quite popular, even with its slightly higher equip cost. It’s worth every mana spent, bringing back the creature at the beginning of the next end step. Having given the creature lifelink is almost an afterthought.
With decks playable unmodified and singles that people will scramble to get, Warhammer 40,000 Commander will go down as one of the most impactful sets we’ve seen in a very long time. We might have to go back to Commander Legends to see this kind of significance in the format. The flavor concerns aside (which to be fair is a Warhammer 40,000 issue more than a Magic one) and not a deal-breaker, it’s a mechanically compelling set that will have considerable influence for years.
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