Last week, I did a set review of Murders at Karlov Manor for Commander. If you haven’t read it yet, you can check it out below.
This week, I’m popping the hood on the new cards from the Commander precon decks, and which ones I think are the coolest and most fun. I won’t review the new legendary creatures from the decks because each one could be the subject of an entire article. They all do a great job of leading decks built around themes from the new set: disguise, cloak, surveil, investigate, and suspect, plus a few others. And if you want to build around these themes, these precon decks are great ways to jump right in. But if you’d rather just pick up the singles, here are the ones I think offer the most fun for your collection.
Let’s dig in!
What a cool multiplayer design! White has been dabbling more and more with reanimation lately, and Immortal Obligation takes it in a new direction by reanimating an opponent’s creature, but they get to keep control of it. As an instant for just two mana, it makes for a really cool combat trick, and can be used in a political way. The duty counter means the creature shouldn’t be able to harm you, barring blinking it or some other way of removing counters.
Merchant of Truth
I’ve long been a fan of Sublime Archangel as a way to “go tall” when you’re also going wide, and Merchant of Truth gives me some of that same vibe. This obviously will be a sweet card if your deck is generating a bunch of Clue tokens, but even if that’s not a main theme, at a minimum it offers you cards – eventually – in the face of your nontoken creatures dying. If you’re playing sacrifice shenanigans, this card alone can generate some sweet value. The Merchant’s flying makes it a great candidate to attack alone and smash an opponent’s life total each turn.
Redemption Arc is a sweet marriage of card name and card design. Put this on a creature your opponent (a villain in your story) controls, and suddenly it becomes an indestructible problem for your other opponents (the other villains in your story). It’s got a great escape hatch in case your other opponents are out of the game; you can simply pay two mana and exile it. With enough mana and enchantment recursion, Redemption Arc can slowly just pick off the most threatening creatures on your opponents’ battlefields. If your opponents don’t happen to have a creature worth putting the Arc on, you can always just slap it on your more aggressive creature and enjoy the indestructibility.
I’ve always thought noncreature cards with morph were pretty neat, and True Identity follows in those footsteps. I love that the disguise cost is so cheap, letting you chump block with it and then flip it into an enchantment to let you scry and draw a card. If you’re playing a white deck that turns face-down creatures face-up, this should definitely have a home in your 99.
Unexplained Absence is an incredibly powerful spell in the tradition of Generous Gift and Stroke of Midnight, but taken to a whole new level. You can target each player in the game, including yourself, so if something of yours is being exiled or destroyed, you can respond with Unexplained Absence to get some extra value for yourself. Also, this is an exile effect, so it gets around indestructible or graveyard recursion. Any nonland permanent can be targeted, so it can take out three of the biggest nonland threats on the battlefield, no matter what type of permanents they are. Plus, it’s an instant! Very much worth the four mana, and I see this slotting into many, many Commander decks.
I tend to find cards like Vedalken Orrery and Leyline of Anticipation tiresome to play against in Commander, but Final-Word Phantom is a much better “fixed” version of the effect. During combat, you don’t have to worry about a huge creature flashing in, or an instant-speed Wrath of God. And since this is a creature itself, you’re much less likely to face a battlefield sweeper removal spell during your end steps playing against Final-Word Phantom.
Follow the Bodies
Seventeen years after Bitter Ordeal from Future Sight, gravestorm is back! That alone makes Follow the Bodies cool, but the effect? I have no idea what crazy stuff people will do with arbitrarily large engines that put permanents in the graveyard, and then use this to make an arbitrarily large number of Clue tokens, but I’m here for it. If I had to guess, I’d put my money on some sort of magecraft card, like Storm-Kiln Artist, or Professor Onyx. Dazzle me and give me an epic story to tell!
Tangletrove Kelp is expensive, but what a cool curve-topper for your Clue decks! This weirdo card makes all your Clues into 6/6 Plant creatures, which can potentially create a terrifying army out of nowhere. With cards like Agent’s Toolkit, Candy Trail, Five Hundred Year Diary, Candlestick, and Scene of the Crime, there are a ton of Clue cards in addition to Clue tokens you can mobilize into a walking mob of Plants. Bonus points if you worked Follow the Bodies into the mix.
Eye of Duskmantle
Way back in Legends there was Evil Eye of Orms-by-Gore, a bizarre creature that originally said “none of your creatures can attack except for Evil Eyes.” The promise of more Evil Eyes (later to be retyped as just “Eye”) languished over the years until Time Spiral brought us Evil Eye of Urborg. More recently, we’ve seen more Eyes popping up, from Eyetwitch and the backside of Concealing Curtains (Revealing Eye) to a white Eye from Doctor Who Commander, Atraxi Warden. Now we’ve got Eye of Duskmantle, another expensive card but one certainly worth playing in your surveil-heavy Commander deck, since it lets you cheat the mana costs by playing cards you’ve surveilled into the graveyard by paying life instead of mana. It’s a little like Bolas’s Citadel attached to a 3/8 flying creature with lifelink.
The mini-game Foreboding Steamboat creates is really cool. Each player, including the one who casts it, has to choose two nontoken, non-Vehicle creatures they control and exile them with Foreboding Steamboat until it leaves the battlefield. Each time the Steamboat attacks, you get to choose a card exiled with it and put it in its owner’s graveyard, and if you do, investigate. In a typical four-person pod, it’ll take eight combat steps to dump all creatures exiled by Foreboding Steamboat into the graveyards, so how do you choose which creatures get dumped overboard first? Do you save the most threatening creature for last and politic your other opponents to leave the card alone? Do you tuck your own threatening creature under the boat to discourage your opponents from killing it? The game is afoot!
Okay, the idea of a Zombie Detective is hilarious, especially since you can sacrifice a Clue to bring it back from the graveyard. I love that you get the surveil trigger right away when Unshakable Tail enters the battlefield, and again during your upkeep, and if you put one or more creatures into your graveyard from the library, you get to investigate too. And with the Clue, you can bring back Unshakable Tail and start things all over again. Self-milling is a great way to stock your graveyard for a reanimation strategy, and you’ll be investigating plenty of times along the way.
“It’s always Willbender.” gets some competition with its red counterpart, Boltbender! The rarity upshift means you get an upgrade too, with a whopping four power and the ability to choose new targets for any number of spells and abilities. Like Willbender, this is definitely playable outside of a face-down creatures matter deck. You just want to have a handful of other potential face-down creatures to keep your opponents guessing!
Yikes, the mob secret council is harsh! The pre-vote discussion is bound to be hilarious, especially if anyone is particularly devious. You could have everyone agree to vote for you and then you’ll draw four cards for four mana, which is awesome. This could be tough if one particular player doesn’t have any creatures on the battlefield, but how often does that happen? And do they really want to take six damage? If your deck has Neheb, the Eternal in it, or some way to increase damage like Torbran, Thane of Red Fell, the ceiling on Mob Verdict gets much higher.
The prisoner’s dilemma from game theory comes to life on a Magic card, but instead of just two prisoners making a choice, all of your opponents must choose. Again, a lot will ride on the pre-choice discussion and just how devious some of your opponents are, though the fact that Prisoner’s Dilemma has flashback and the potential to circle back again will likely weigh into the considerations.
On its floor, Showstopping Surprise is another copy of Chandra’s Ignition if you’re in the market for that effect, though being an instant is a significant upgrade. Plus, if you’re playing face-down creatures, you get the “turn face up” trigger as a free effect.
Innocuous Researcher is a strange card that I think will play better than it looks in the right deck. Its end step trigger lets you untap all lands you control, but then prohibits you from casting spells until your next turn. This reminds me a little bit of Fires of Invention, and people would use that open mana for activated abilities. The parley ability gives the card a group hug vibe, which will incentivize opponents to keep it around a while. Keep in mind you can choose not to use that end step trigger and keep your options open if it’s a crucial turn you need to interact.
I’m not a huge fan of the most efficient counterspells in Commander, but I do like ones that have some extra effect attached, and Counterpoint is instantly one of the best if you have access to Dimir colors. There are so many options here, where you get to cast an instant or sorcery spell – and how nice that it doesn’t exile it – or you can cast a previously deceased creature or planeswalker. All at instant speed, so long as the mana value is less than or equal to the mana value of the countered spell. And as Gavin Verhey points out on Twitter, you gotta shout “OBJECTION!” when you cast this spell; it’s in the rules.
Take the Bait
Four mana is a lot to hold up, but wow, what an amazingly powerful effect for multiplayer! Obviously, the best thing is to cast Take the Bait in response to someone trying to take you out with an alpha strike, forcing a do-over but with everything goaded and having to attack your other opponents. But even if you’re only being attacked by one or two creatures and they’re attacking other players too, it’s pretty sweet to give an opponent that extra attack step goaded. This is the sort of “epic play” card you love to tell stories about.
Panoptic Projektor is extremely narrow, so there’s not too much to say about it, but wow, will it be awesome in any deck with many face-down creatures.
I’m a huge sucker for cheap artifacts that have modal effects, and Ransom Note instantly rockets to the top of my list of cool ways to round out the one-mana slot in my Commander decks. For one mana, you get to instantly surveil 1, which could inform whether you want to sacrifice to cloak the top card of your library. Even if you don’t use it in that way, cloaking the top card gives you an emergency blocker if you need one. We all know goading is strong, and of course you can just cash it in to draw a card instead. I used to play Salvaging Station to grind value in my earliest EDH decks, but so many cool one-mana artifacts have been made in recent years, I may have to dust Salvaging Station off to put in a few decks again.
Oh, and I love that there are four different arts for Ransom Note, one from each of the different Commander precons.
Which new cards from Murders at Karlov Manor Commander are you most excited about playing in your Commander decks?
Talk to Me
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And lastly, I just want to say: let us love each other and stay healthy and happy.
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