By the power I invested in me, I declare 2018 The Year of Commander!
Yes, even before we get to see anything awesome from Commander 2018, I think it’s safe to say that Wizards has decided to shower Commander fans the world over with lots and lots of goodies this year. 2018 will go down in history as the year that Wizards sent us all a clear message saying, “We see you, Commander fans. We hear you. We love you the most.”
Okay, I may have added that last part myself, but hey, I’m on a roll here.
First, we had Dominaria, and we saw it was good: tons and tons of legendary creatures and generally cool and flavorful cards that happen to play great in Commander.
Then, we had Battlebond, and we saw it was good: ostensibly for Two-Headed Giant, the set was chock-full of multiplayer and legendary goodness that left Commander fans salivating all over again, right after they’d cleaned off their faces and changed their shirts.
Now… now there’s Core Set 2019, and we saw it was good: digging way back to the roots of the Commander format, when it was called Elder Dragon Highlander and people played decks based off the original cycle of Elder Dragons from Legends, we get reboots of all five of those original legendary creatures, who, let’s face it, are a little bit behind the power curve, given the state of legendary creatures these days.
The new takes are powerful, flavorful, and exciting to build around. To take that up a notch, they even rebooted the multiverse’s archiest of archvillains as a double-faced card, transforming from creature to planeswalker.
What more could we ask for? Nothing more, of course. I already feel like I’m getting away with too much and half-waiting for the fun police to show up at my house and reclaim all the new Commander goodies I’ve been stuffing into my decks! But Wizards isn’t willing to take yes, hell yes, or even “Oh my God, yes” for an answer—they want “pass out from tears of joy” yes and will apparently not settle for anything less.
Some sweet reprints sprinkled in amongst all the amazing new cards on top of the Elder Dragons, and you’ve got a waterfall worth of joyful weeping.
Yes. Yes. Yes! Yes! Yes!!!
Since I’m at risk of getting sensory overload, I need to step back and focus. Focus on just one tidbit of joyful amazingness. Just one of the Elder Dragons. But which one? They are all so cool.
There is one, though, one that is just downright weird, and weirdness is my Magical catnip.
Chromium, the Mutable! Here we have a 7/7 behemoth with flying and flash. It can’t be countered. As if that weren’t enough for seven mana, you can discard a card to transform this monster… into a 1/1 Human until the end of the turn.
To be fair, that’s selling our little disguised Elder Dragon “Human” short—it’s not just a 1/1 Human, it’s a 1/1 Human with hexproof and it can’t be blocked.
Yes, at the cost of a card in hand, we can turn our 7/7 Elder Dragon into an Invisible Stalker. Yes, we can. But why?
Ah, the “why”—Magic catnip, activated!
At the starting level, that ability is a nice way to protect your commander. If my friend and fellow Virginian Shaheen Soorani played Commander, I could see him building a deck stuffed to the gills with blue, black, and white control cards to satisfy his icy grip, and Chromium as the finisher. With seven power, it can kill someone with Commander damage in three hits. Its activated ability turns any card in hand into a counterspell for pinpoint removal.
The next level deep is making use of the discard ability to fuel a reanimator strategy, madness cards, or maybe both. I’m a little dubious about using a seven-mana creature as a way to enable reanimator—at that level of mana, you could just start hard-casting the giant creatures.
Let’s go back and flesh out the protection ability. What sort of spells love a hexproof creature? Auras! Maybe we want to go the Voltron route here, loading Chromium up with sweet Auras to boost the size and add all sorts of cool abilities.
What’s neat here is that the hexproof ability is virtually always on so long as you have a few cards in hand, without actually needing to use it. In Commander people play lots of sweepers, but usually play relatively few pinpoint removal spells. They’re good to have for emergencies—dire situations that call for action without destroying the battlefield in the process. If you’ve got a precious Swords to Plowshares or Go for the Throat or Terminate in hand, are you going to throw it at Chromium at the risk of it suddenly becoming hexproof and countering your spell?
Maybe you will… if times are desperate and you need to effectively shrink Chromium by -6/-6 to live another turn. Or maybe you’ve blocked Chromium with a creature that can’t kill the Dragon form but could kill the Human form.
Okay, let’s get brewing!
Let’s start by loading up with some sweet Auras! Hyena Umbra and its ilk provide a nice added layer of protection from sweepers that might otherwise ruin your Voltron plans. So does just giving Chromium Indestructibility! There are some fun combat damage effects you can take advantage of even as a 1/1 Human, like Celestial Mantle and Helm of the Ghastlord.
Creatures with bestow are awesome since they both increase the number of Auras in your deck and also increase the number of creatures you can enchant. I’m not going to just sit and wait for Chromium to show up before I cast any Auras, so having some early creatures I can gear up and start reaping the benefits from is nice.
Since we’re going in deep on Auras, I started looking for cards that like Auras specifically or enchantments generally, and not surprisingly, there are a bunch of them in the Esper color scheme. Creatures that can wield the Auras are great and there are some good ones to choose from. I like that Kor Spiritdancer and Sram, Senior Edificer replace each Aura you cast with a fresh new card to keep the gas flowing and mitigate any card disadvantage exposure. Hero of Iroas and Danitha Capashen, Paragon make the more expensive Auras cheaper to cast. Zur the Enchanter and Sovereigns of Lost Alara are great ways of searching out specific Auras to solve problems or leverage an advantage.
Let’s expand our list of enchantments to check off some removal boxes like Seal of Cleansing and Imprisoned by the Moon. Agent of Erebos and Doomwake Giant will do a lot of heavy lifting, given how often we’ll be triggering constellation.
Seven mana for our Commander isn’t a small thing, and even with the discard ability protecting Chromium from pinpoint removal, there are going to be some sweepers that destroy our potential Voltron and increase the Commander Tax. I want to play 39 lands and a fair amount of ramp spells to keep the mana flowing.
If there’s one thing we want to ensure, it’s that we have plenty of extra cards in hand we can pitch to protect our Chromium. Luckily for us, there is no shortage of such cards in Esper. Sphinx’s Revelation in particular is a powerhouse card that’s nice to have access to.
I’m not entirely sure Alms Collector is the right call… it’s nice to buckeye someone else’s card draw, but I could see someone cloning it and sticking my own card draw plans in the eye. What do you think?
Putting on the Esper-lord Shaheen Soorani’s Icy Grip hat, we’ll want to have a fair number of control spells in the deck. For one thing we’ll want to counter sweepers when we can, so Swan Song, Arcane Denial, and Dream Fracture help patch that hole. We’ll also want some pinpoint removal like Swords to Plowshares and Go for the Throat to take care of problems as they arise. And then sometimes we’ll want to sweep the battlefield of clutter with spells like Supreme Verdict.
Sweet deck! But wait… there are too many cards! Let’s figure out where to make our cuts.
Let’s start by taking a look at our mana curve:
Converted Mana Cost
6 plus Commander
80 total cards, plus 39 lands, equals nineteen cards over the line! Let’s take a look at the top of the mana curve for some possible cuts.
We probably don’t need all four of these. They’re not going to be all that great early in the game, so I think we can get away with just two. Sphinx’s Revelation is a keeper, and of the remaining three, I think I’ll keep Blue Sun’s Zenith, since it’ll shuffle back into the library for future drawing. I’m a little leery of the triple blue mana in the cost, but I think the blue mana won’t be an issue by the time I’m ready to cast it. What do you think?
Sweepers are awesome in Commander and we’ve got three high-quality ones here. We could even toss Damnation into the mix if we wanted to. But given that I’m playing an Aura deck, I probably don’t want to play too many battlefield sweepers that will kill my own creatures. Winds of Rath works great in keeping our creatures alive while killing most others, and I like that Supreme Verdict can’t be countered, so Wrath of God hits the showers.
Since I’m at the four-mana slots, I think I’m going to cut these two as well. I’m concerned about Alms Collector getting Cloned and turned against me, so let’s just not even put it in the deck. Helm of the Ghastlord is a good card in terms of value, yet is kind of a jerk card, so I think I’ll cut that too.
I like this card, but I’m still a bit crowded at five mana and I’m not sure I’d rather cut anything else there. What do you think?
Hanna is a powerful draw engine but she’s mana intensive. For an Aura-centric deck it’s hard to beat Nomad Mythmaker’s rate, so I think I’ll cut Hanna here, though I’ll probably miss being able to get back enchantment creatures.
Okay, that makes eight easy cuts, but we still have eleven more to go. Let’s roll up my sleeves and make some tough cuts.
These are all great cards in the deck, but I think they’re either redundant or a little worse than other options at the mana cost.
Here’s how the deck ended up after the cuts:
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Nomad Mythmaker
- 1 Zur the Enchanter
- 1 Mulldrifter
- 1 Scuttlemutt
- 1 Evershrike
- 1 Kor Spiritdancer
- 1 Umbra Mystic
- 1 Bruna, Light of Alabaster
- 1 Nighthowler
- 1 Battlewise Hoplite
- 1 Hopeful Eidolon
- 1 Silent Sentinel
- 1 Hero of Iroas
- 1 Eidolon of Countless Battles
- 1 Ghostblade Eidolon
- 1 Doomwake Giant
- 1 Agent of Erebos
- 1 Ironclad Slayer
- 1 Sram, Senior Edificer
- 1 Azor, the Lawbringer
- 1 Danitha Capashen, Paragon
- 1 Strip Mine
- 3 Plains
- 1 Reflecting Pool
- 3 Swamp
- 6 Island
- 1 Minamo, School at Water's Edge
- 1 Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
- 1 Miren, the Moaning Well
- 1 Watery Grave
- 1 Godless Shrine
- 1 Hallowed Fountain
- 1 Arcane Sanctum
- 1 Bant Panorama
- 1 Esper Panorama
- 1 Grixis Panorama
- 1 Exotic Orchard
- 1 Drowned Catacomb
- 1 Glacial Fortress
- 1 Tectonic Edge
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Isolated Chapel
- 1 Temple of Deceit
- 1 Temple of Silence
- 1 Temple of Enlightenment
- 1 Myriad Landscape
- 1 Haven of the Spirit Dragon
- 1 Command Beacon
- 1 Irrigated Farmland
- 1 Fetid Pools
- 1 Path of Ancestry
- 1 Swords to Plowshares
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Winds of Rath
- 1 Remove Enchantments
- 1 Seal of Cleansing
- 1 Arcane Denial
- 1 Dismantling Blow
- 1 Dimir Signet
- 1 Orzhov Signet
- 1 Azorius Signet
- 1 Return to Dust
- 1 Spirit Loop
- 1 Pongify
- 1 Retether
- 1 Battle Mastery
- 1 Steel of the Godhead
- 1 Dream Fracture
- 1 Sigil of the Empty Throne
- 1 Indestructibility
- 1 Celestial Mantle
- 1 Hyena Umbra
- 1 Blue Sun's Zenith
- 1 Go for the Throat
- 1 Tragic Slip
- 1 Felidar Umbra
- 1 Supreme Verdict
- 1 Sphinx's Revelation
- 1 Ethereal Armor
- 1 Swan Song
- 1 Darksteel Mutation
- 1 Spectra Ward
- 1 Sage's Reverie
- 1 Starfield of Nyx
- 1 Thought Vessel
- 1 Shielded by Faith
- 1 Sigarda's Aid
- 1 Commit
- 1 Fumble
What do you think? Do you agree with the cuts, or would you have gone another way? Are there any great cards I overlooked?
New to Commander?
If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:
Commander Primer Part 1
(Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
Commander Primer Part 2
(Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
Commander Primer Part 3
(Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
Commander Starter Kits 1
(kick start your allied two-color decks for $25)
Commander Starter Kits 2
(kick start your enemy two-color decks for $25)
Commander Starter Kits 3
(kick start your shard three-color decks for $25)
Commander write-ups I’ve done
(and links to decklists):
• Zurgo Bellstriker (Bellstriking Like a Boss)
• Dragonlord Ojutai (Troll Shroud)
• Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund (Dragons, Megamorphs, and Dragons)
• Dromoka, the Eternal (One Flying Bolster Basket)
• Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest (Tempests and Teapots)
• Tasigur, the Golden Fang (Hatching Evil Sultai Plots)
• Scion of the Ur-Dragon (Dragon Triggers for Everyone)
• Nahiri, The Lithomancer (Lithomancing for Fun and Profit)
• Titania, Protector of Argoth (Titania’s Land and Elemental Exchange)
• Reaper King (All About VILLAINOUS WEALTH)
• Feldon of the Third Path (She Will Come Back to Me)
• Sidisi, Brood Tyrant (Calling Up Ghouls with Sidisi)
• Zurgo Helmsmasher (Two Times the Smashing)
• Anafenza, the Foremost (Anafenza and Your Restless Dead)
• Narset, Enlightened Master (The New Voltron Overlord)
• Surrak Dragonclaw (The Art of Punching Bears)
• Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient (Ghost in the Machines)
• Jalira, Master Polymorphist (JaliraPOW!)
• Yisan, the Wanderer Bard (All-in Yisan)
• Selvala, Explorer Returned (Everyone Draws Lots!)
• Grenzo, Dungeon Warden (Cleaning Out the Cellar)
• Karona, False God (God Pack)
• Karador, Ghost Chieftain (Shadowborn Apostles & Demons)
• Roon of the Hidden Realm (Mean Roon)
• Vorel of the Hull Clade (Never Trust the Simic)
• Borborygmos Enraged (69 land deck)
• Derevi, Empyrial Tactician (Tribal Birds)
• Gahiji, Honored One (Enchantment Ga-hijinks)
• Nicol Bolas (Kicking it Old School)
• Oloro, Ageless Ascetic (Life Gain)
• Polukranos, World Eater (Monstrous!)
• Reaper King (Taking Advantage of the new Legend Rules)
• Roon of the Hidden Realm ( Strolling Through Value Town)
• Shattergang Brothers (Breaking Boards)
• Sliver Overlord (Featuring the new M14 Slivers!)
• Varolz, the Scar-Striped (scavenging goodness)