I finally got my mitts on the new Commander 2013 decks, and put them through a typical four-player game of Magic (and a few one on ones, to get a sense of the decks I couldn’t play in the group game). Shockingly, they’re all pretty decent out of the box, although there’s going to be a power level disparity if you play an unmodified version against a deck that’s been personalized. For the most part my assumptions about the decks bore out, with a few notable exceptions. Here’s my read on the decks out of the box, and next week I’ll start talking about the changes I made to each deck. In the meantime, deck reviews and ratings!


Derevi, Empyrial Tactician // Roon of the Hidden Realm (Bant)


This deck surprised me. To warm up we played a three-player game with Derevi and Marath facing off against a modified Oloro. Oloro pulled ahead almost immediately, but after drawing out my opponent’s removal with some threatening cannon fodder, I proceeded to just go off with Derevi. Skyward Eye Prophets turned every trigger into a ramp or draw, Murkfiend Liege let me keep doing this during each one of my opponent’s turns, and Roon of the Hidden Realm kept my opponents from being able to attack me (do it during the end step to be particularly effective). I took control of a nasty board position, and rode it to victory. Like all the decks, it needs some tuning, and you can take it more than one direction. It was very fiddly, though, and it gave me some complex decision trees that might not be the most user-friendly for a new player.


User-Friendliness – 2 – Many decision trees and not immediately intuitive synergies
Power – 4 – One of the most brutal decks when you begin to go off
Malleability – 3 – Can go activated ability or Mulldrifter routes
Loot – 5 – Unexpectedly Absent, Restore, Karmic Guide, Bane of Progress, Angel of Finality


Oloro, Ageless Ascetic // Sydri, Galvanic Genius (Esper)


I underestimated just how powerful a regular stream of uncounterable lifegain could be. Oloro starts the game at 42 life, which is amusingly nerdy, and then just inexorably keeps ticking the meter up. Since most decks have difficulty starting their aggression to any significant degree before the third or fourth turn, it’s not uncommon for you to basically be beginning the game at about 50 life, and when you add in the many things that trigger off this lifegain (like cards from Well of Lost Dreams or power from Cradle of Vitality), the deck just plays out like it’s bonkers powerful. Of course, the Sydri “artifacts matter” subtheme does not feel at home in the deck; she might make some sense to keep around given her ability to give some creatures lifelink, but the limitation to artifacts really hinders her viability. In the long run, I plan to switch her out for Vault of the Archangel, while perhaps splitting her off to explore in her own deck space. Oloro is just so powerful, and opens up so much new ground for Esper in the Commander meta, that he makes Sydri pale in comparison.


User-Friendliness – 5 – Lifegain makes it a forgiving deck and synergy is obvious
Power – 5 – Lifegain starts immediately and never stops, making it tough to kill
Malleability – 3 – Can go “life matters” or “artifacts matter” but not much else
Loot – 4 – Toxic Deluge, Sharuum the Hegemon, Greed, Tempt with Immortality, Act of Authority


Marath, Will of the Wild // Gahiji, Honored One (Naya)


Marath is another commander I underestimated going into testing. She seemed ridiculously linear, and Gahiji’s relative uselessness made me think that this deck was going to be the most straightforward of the bunch. What I neglected to realize is that Gahiji didn’t need to be an innovative use of the design space, because Marath does absolutely everything. It’s the only one of the scaling commanders that includes an auto-termination ability (Prossh can’t sac to himself and Jeleva relies on your opponents to kill her), which makes the ability more powerful than it seems. She’s removal, token generation, and power boost all on a single card, and that means you can take her into a lot of different directions, in the box or on the board. Plus, she can do some filthy things when combined with cards like Warstorm Surge or Where Ancients Tread, both of which are included in the base deck. Casting Marath for five and doing ten points of damage off the two enchantments is a powerful feeling. And Marath’s “counters matter” and “cast me a bunch” abilities combo the best with Opal Palace, a card that seems less purposeful in other decks.


User-Friendliness – 4 – Many powerful lines of play, but sequencing isn’t important
Power – 3 – Plenty of power, but a little straightforward and disruptable
Malleability – 5 – Marath alone can go tokens, burn, beef (power 5+), or ramp
Loot – 2 – Homeward Path, Restore, Tempt with Discovery, Wrath of God, From the Ashes


Prossh, Skyraider of Kher // Shattergang Brothers (Jund)


Prossh suffers from a single word on his card: “another.” As in “sacrifice another creature.” With the scaling generals, you really want the freedom to get them off the board as needed, and Prossh doesn’t eat his own tail. Now, as built the deck has a bunch of other sacrifice outlets to fill this hole, as well as for their general power level, but it’s still a minimization of his power, probably for flavor reasons. I don’t get how a Viscera Seer can tell you the future from its own death but Prossh can’t take a nibble off his own tail, but flavor is fickle in the Magic world. Shattergang Brothers prove to be a relevant and useful card for the deck, although I would never graduate them to commander status given the power of Prossh. And sticking an early Fecundity or Foster is a power play, since both let you draw a ton of cards. What I like about Prossh is that beyond just being the first true Jund tokens general (Warp World’s back, baby!), he’s also a combat general, a steal-and-sac general, and a dragon general as well. He has a range, and it’s a good thing,


User-Friendliness – 3 – Sacrifice shenanigans are powerful, but make you think ahead
Power – 3 – Much of the damage you do comes in one or two point increments
Malleability – 5 – Tokens, dragons, steal-and-sac, pure sacrifice… a lot of directions
Loot – 2 – Restore, Hua Tuo, Honored Physician, Goblin Sharpshooter, Reincarnation, Goblin Bombardment


Jeleva, Nephalia’s Scourge // Nekusar, the Mindrazer (Grixis)


Shockingly, I think the Grixis deck might be the least powerful one out of the box. That’s not to say it isn’t powerful, since it absolutely is, but the things that Jeleva and Nekusar are trying to do lack sufficient synergy once you get past the theoretical relationship between mass-mill and mass-draw. A prime example of this is in Skyscribing and Prosperity. Both cards are great with Nekusar on the table, and both cards are absolutely useless when exiled off the top to your Jeleva trigger. Jeleva needs to not have X spells in the deck, since they’re all whiffs when she hits them (in a situation like this, Jeleva can only cast X as zero), and this deck has four. That’s more than the ramp decks have. Similarly, having Arcane Melee in the deck is weird when there are only 20 spells in the deck whose cost it can reduce. And putting timing specific spells like Wild Ricochet into the deck doesn’t work well when your general is going to be spitting them out as a triggered ability in a very specific phase (declare attackers). It’s weird, since they seem so close to each other, but the “spells matter” general (Jeleva) really only exiles as a side effect, and the “choke on it” general (Nekusar) doesn’t really need the incidental mill. Plus, of all the decks this one is stuffed with the most random flourishes. Baleful Strix is a great card, but it does not relate to the rest of the deck (it would, however, have been a great inclusion in the Esper deck). The same goes for Vampire Nighthawk, True-Name Nemesis, Terra Ravager, Hooded Horror, Diviner Spirit, Baleful Force, Armillary Sphere, all three Curses, Eye of Doom, Molten Disaster, Starstorm, and, worst of all, Tempt with Reflections. This deck literally has the fewest creatures of all the five decks, so it makes almost no sense to give it a clone spell that only works on your own creatures.


User-Friendliness – 1 – Too split between strategies and whiffing with Jeleva sucks
Power – 2 – It’s still a powerful deck, but it needs tweaking badly to play well
Malleability – 2 – It’s a Frankenstein’s Monster of two excellent decks
Loot – 5 – True-Name Nemesis, Nekusar, the Mindrazer, Decree of Pain, Baleful Strix, Price of Knowledge


So that’s my take on the unaltered decks. Card placement seems weird on a lot of things, and if you get more than one of them you can make some easy changes between the decks to get them working a little better. If I had to advise a new player to pick a single deck, it’d probably be Oloro, Ageless Ascetic; I know Grixis is a popular choice because of the weird EV, but unless you’re an active Legacy player, a really good trader, or are itching to make a deck your own, I’d pass on it. It needs too much work. Also relevant, Derevi was the first deck I modified once getting the green light to proceed taking them apart; it spoke the most to me, and next week I’ll walk you through some of the changes I made to the deck I’ve rechristened “Twiddling my Thumbs.”

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