The decks have landed, and it’s a happy day for those enthusiasts of the most social format. Which is Commander. Because it’s awesome. Over the last week, the question of “which one of these decks should a casual player buy” came up, and I had this to say regarding them for the Commander novice:

Well, I think it depends a lot on your play style. The obvious choice would be the Grixis one, which has True-Name Nemesis in it and Baleful Strix. Jeleva, Nephalia’s Scourge is a pretty good commander, but Nekusar, the Mindrazer is a griefer general and I think in the long run he might be the better general for the deck. It’s a control-ish deck, and the creatures are largely mulldrifters, but I don’t know how exciting it’s going to be to play. The Esper deck also seems pretty good, although a little less value to mine for singles… still, it contains a lot of relevant artifacts in the format, like Nevinyrral’s Disk, Crawlspace, and the usual Sol Ring. It also has Toxic Deluge, the new wrath that’s a single to watch out for, since I think it’s going to be seeing some play this weekend at Eternal Weekend [and I am pretty sure it did]. The most notable thing about the Esper deck is that it’s the one most easily split into two decks; it has the best new Commander (Oloro, Ageless Ascetic), which has a whole lifegain angle, but it also contains two artifact commanders (Sydri, Galvanic Genius and Sharuum the Hegemon), who are powerful but whose decks play out a bit differently. So if you ever get bored, you could tweak it to go one way or the other, or even split the pools and have double the decks to play.

Finally, if you would prefer a creature deck, it’s probably Jund (although I could see Naya). Jund has the most actual creatures in it, although the number’s still fairly low at 30, and it’s the most potentially broken of all the generals if you are interested in combos. Prossh, Skyraider of Kher‘s whole thing makes Ashnod’s Altar and Food Chain go infinite, which is cool I guess, and the deck as it comes is full of sac effects, which are super useful in Commander. It’s definitely the stompy-ist of the decks, and I’d definitely choose it over Bant. Naya’s not terrible, but it leans on that one general (Marath, Will of the Wild) pretty hard, as it’s a creature deck with 27 creatures in it. Not a huge fan.

What I’ll say about Bant is that the deck seems the least appealing of all of them, but between Azami, Lady of Scrolls, the P3k general, and Rubina Soulsinger, it has the best reprint legendary creatures… but I don’t think that’s a particularly great reason to go all in on that one. Still, I am sure it would be fun to play. The good news is that they’re all really solid, and I don’t think you’ll be particularly unhappy with any choice you make, but that with the non-Grixis ones you might have a better time losing. And that’s part of the game.

So that’s my basic feeling about the decks. I haven’t gotten a chance to really play around with them yet, although I’ve goldfished them a few times, and they’re a little on the slow side. I think they’ll need some real tuning to play in most playgroups, but I don’t think said tuning would necessarily be expensive or require certain cards. They’re all basically a loose affiliation of several ideas per deck, and as a result it’s not all that hard to take a scalpel to them and focus the decks in on a specific theme. Most of them could use more ramp and more draw, and I think they all could use more creatures (unless you commit to Jeleva, Nephalia’s Scourge, in which case that deck needs fewer creatures). But they’re cool, and I am once again glad they’ve made these.

Anyway, here’s part two of my review of the new and notable cards included in these decks, starting with Red.

Red

Blood Rites

A minor Kamigawa block card, the new art makes it unrecognizable, and for a hot second I thought this was a new printing. Still, it’s a strong sac outlet, and while two damage isn’t a ton, the more fodder you have the bigger the threat and/or opponent you’ll be able to take down.

From the Ashes

When you’re playing Commander, there is a temptation to go all in on the non-basics since it means you’re less likely to ever get color-screwed. In my opinion, this is a mistake. You’re only getting a few percentage points added to your chance of victory, and in return you’re opening yourself up to cards like this. What I like about it is that it’s a land destruction spell most EDH decks could reasonably run; it shuts down the brutal non-basics like Cabal Coffers without drawing too much aggro. And should you happen to be playing against Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre or a similar no-basics general, you’ll actually have a relevant edge (although those decks are usually more dead to Shatterstorm than Armageddon, so they still might beat you). Anyway, I am a fan!

Goblin Bombardment

Strong reprint, sees occasional play in Sam Black’s Legacy BR Zombies build. It’s a fun deck, and this is a rare-power reprint that’s not taking up a rare slot, so I am doubly a fan.

Goblin Sharpshooter

This tends to be an important card in the Goblins Legacy Deck, and it’s still very useful in Commander (and now more accessible than ever). The thing to remember about this guy is that when there are a bunch of death triggers happening at once (say, due to a Whirlwind), the Sharpshooter can ping things as many times as there are creatures dying. This lets you take out tougher threats, and is particularly useful in tandem with sacrifice effects.

Starstorm

The problem with wraths is occasionally you’re ahead on board and need a different card. Something like Starstorm (or its sister card, Akroma’s Vengeance) cycles away when a wrath effect is not what you need. This one trades the ability to hit players for the ability to hit fliers, and on the whole that’s a better decision for the EDH field. People get irrationally annoyed when you hit them.

Sudden Demise

It’s a slower Starstorm, only without cycling and with the ability to miss things. Sure, it won’t get everything on the table, but in a mono-colored deck you can usually cast it to make sure it doesn’t hit your board position either.

Tooth and Claw

It’s a reprint that I’ve never played with, but it looks like it has the potential to be fun. It’s a little annoying that it’s always going to net you fewer creatures, but you’re potentially getting a toughness boost, and it works well with cards like Parallel Lives.

Widespread Panic

It’s such a griefer card! This would be my guess for underappreciated card that does weird things to the Legacy format in a couple of months. It reminds me a lot of Chains of Mephistopheles, only instead of messing with card draw it sticks a needle in a lot of decks that run fetchlands. Downside? It hits you too. Still, the mana cost is appropriate, and it seems like the effect is powerful enough to deserve a closer look.

Witch Hunt

There’s not much to say about this card. Obviously it works well with Furnace of Rath or Curse of Bloodletting, because four damage alone isn’t too backbreaking in EDH. The “players can’t gain life” redundancy is nice, because until now red only had Leyline of Punishment, and that doesn’t even do anything. I’d play it in Zedruu, the Greathearted, but not a lot of other decks.

Green

Bane of Progress

If I could get ten copies of this card to play in all my green EDH decks, I would make the switch immediately. It’s a super useful effect tied to a large enough body to give you some breathing room to reset your own shields, and it adds much-needed mass permanent removal into a for that’s likely to see play. It’s one of the strongest of the new cards when it comes to EDH, perhaps coming in second to Tempt with Discovery.

Foster

I hadn’t even known this was a card until I saw it was a reprint, and it seems pretty bonkers. Holding up one mana isn’t anything, and it helps ensure you keep being able to play creatures to stay in the game. One obvious thought: it seems like it would be good as a way to mill out an entire non-creature library, although to what end I know not.

Hua Tuo, Honored Physician

Hey, it’s yet another card with a strange wording due to Portal’s refusal to teach people about the second main phase. All of them have that wording, and many on abilities you wouldn’t want to restrict to such a ridiculously specific phase of the turn cycle. The ability itself isn’t bad, per se, but it’s also not really that good. It’s cool he’s now an affordable card for EDH, but I don’t know that I would want to run him in a lot of decks.

Naya Soulbeast

The only saving grace for this card is that it checks the top of your library as well, and it’s fairly easy to manipulate the top of your own library. Still, to make him worthwhile you’d need him to be at least a 6/6, and revealing you have a big spell coming to your opponents seems less than ideal. Plus, every once in a while you’re going to have to roll the dice and be underwhelmed, and in an even rarer wild this is going to come into play as a 0/0 and die a sudden and horrible death.

Primal Vigor

Yes please to more versions of Doubling Season! Some people are complaining that this is a symmetrical effect, but I feel like that’s shortsighted. It’s still a super powerful ability, even if it does trigger for your opponent as well, and the way to get around that theoretical limitation is just to build your deck such that you’re getting the lion’s share of the benefit. It’s not that hard. Anyway, I am obviously a fan.

Reincarnation

I love how cute this card is. Functionally, it seems a little underwhelming, and I am unclear as to whether or not it can bring itself back from the dead, but it’s still amusing to see this effect in Green. As a suddenly affordable Legends card, though, it seems pretty awesome.

Restore

This might see some play in Legacy, since it can snag back either your or your opponents’ fetchlands. Either way, it’s a powerful ability so long as your deck is built with ways to maximize it in mind. Also, it might be a way for a 3-color deck running Maze’s End to snag a rare mazerunner victory, although that would take a lot of effort and a lucky slice of decks at the table.

Tempt with Discovery

It’s the best Tempting Offer and maybe even the best card period. EDH decks love ramp. Magus of the Vineyard usually sticks around far longer than it should since people love early ramp, and this is usually going to just be a “put X lands on the battlefield, where X is the number of players” since no one is going to say no to the offer. Also, it doesn’t say “basic land,” so even if no one takes you up on your offer you still get the most powerful land in your deck on the battlefield for a relatively reasonable four mana. And the best part? These lands come into play untapped, so you can even play something else if you drop this on curve. It’s an awesome card, and I want all of them.

Gold

Baleful Strix

Good to see you back! The only thing that would make that better is if we got Shardless Agent in these decks as well, but it was not to be.

Lim-Dul’s Vault

I love the new art on this one! It’s a strong card, and I am excited that more people will be able to play with it.

Savage Twister

Again, the new art on this version of the card pops. I was surprised to not see it when we returned to Ravnica, but at least its inclusion here should mean it stays a relatively accessible sweeper for those colors.

Spinal Embrace

The only way to make Slave of Bolas better is to make it an instant, and then give you life when you sacrifice it. The cool thing about this card is you can cast it on the entering combat step to have an attacker to swing with, or you can do it before declaring blockers so you can throw someone else’s creature in front of a particularly monstrous swing. Being nasty on offense and defense is the mark of a truly great EDH card.

Artifacts

Basalt Monolith

A lot of people know this card as part of an infinite mana loop with Power Artifact. It’s also just a super-solid mana rock, and again I am glad newer players will have access to this old-school card.

Crawlspace

While it mixes poorly with Illusionist’s Gambit, there aren’t many more situations where a player is disadvantaged by limiting the number of attackers they have to face.

Eye of Doom

If you don’t like what your opponents choose, you don’t have to pop it. And if you can take counters off your permanents, it gets even better. Neat design, if not overly powerful.

Nevinyrral’s Disk

Shockingly, a colorless wrath effect that gives red and black means of interacting with their problem permanent types serves to be an effective Commander card. Who could have guessed? It’s an all-star, and not everyone has access to some of its older printings.

Surveyor’s Scope

What’s interesting about this card is it’s a ramp card that doesn’t go well in ramp decks. So long as at least one opponent is ahead of you, it’s value for the card, since it puts the card into play untapped for a mere two mana, but it really shines when you’re well behind in a game with four or more players.

Lands

Command Tower

It was good when they first printed it, and I am super glad they printed it again. They didn’t have to include it, but I like that these decks all come with another Command Tower and Sol Ring to help new players with their mana.

Homeward Path

Again, a card that was great in the original Commander sets and is better for its inclusion again this time around. Blue decks are often very thieving in nature, and this gives decks a way to deal with that that might not otherwise be available in some of the more limited color identities.

Opal Palace

Initially I was skeptical of the utility of this land, but I’ve come around on it. Basically, so long as you can pay the single extra mana, your commander comes in with extra toughness (and power, but that matters less usually). Now there have been plenty of times where recasting my commander has left me with little else to do during a turn; Opal Palace turns those annoying occurances into a slightly better situation, and it doesn’t even waste a land slot to do so. Plus, you can just use it as a normal fixing land in a pinch, like Shimmering Grotto.

So that’s the end of my card reviews for Commander 2013. All in all, I’m impressed with this round of product. Next week I should have had a chance to smash them all into each other, so I’ll report in on my impressions playing with the decks, and in what directions I plan to take them when I modify them in the future.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.