I played in a Khans of Tarkir prerelease this weekend, and I supposed I’m glad for the first opportunity to try Khans, even if it was in an artificial format. While the seeded boosters this time around came a little closer to the true feel of the set’s limited environment, as a Commander player with casual tendencies, I’m not a huge fan of the way the promo is handled this time around.


Sure, it’s not the broadest of cards, but how sweet was it to get a promo planeswalker? I ask because I honestly don’t know, my first promo was Vampire Nocturnus, and it was amazing.

Let’s chart the path of promos. It used to be that you’d get a rare promo card in addition to the six(ish) rares that would be in your pool. Seven rares. When mythic rarity debuted, coincidentally in the last tricolor set, the promo was the mythic planeswalker Ajani Vengeant. Good card, and it meant that you’d leave the event with six(ish) rares and a mythic. This was probably the high water point for Magic promos, not that it’s all that surprising since that was also the era of Player Rewards (something that did incentivize me to play more competitive Magic). I mean, not Alara specifically, since Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and Wurmcoil Engine were both better promos, but I do miss me some reliably mythic promos.


While Modern players will be more familiar with Hero of Bladehold, Glissa, the Traitor, is more likely to be seen at Commander tables.

Mirrodin Beseiged turns out to be another interesting data point when looking back; it was the first set to give out two different promo cards based on your choice. This happened just as they were killing Player Rewards, which was a pretty cool program where you’d get sent packets of full-art cards, some of which were foil, based on how many rounds of competitive Magic you’d played. That’s where the promo Cryptic Command comes from, incidentally, although it’s my full-art Damnation that holds a special place in my heart. The two-promo scheme was supposed to make up for the loss of such a cherished program, and we were also given deck boxes and some other miscellaneous loot with the promise that these quarterly disbursements of loot would make it all better. It did not.


I took ancient Greek in college, and I find this card gloriously incomprehensible.

Magic 2012 contained the last* mythic promo, the unexciting Bloodlord of Vaasgoth. It was a strange choice, since even tribal Commander decks aren’t clamoring to run that guy, and you still couldn’t play the card in the prerelease. In fact, I suspect it might be the least-played promo of the Modern era… if you go back further than that you run into anomalies like Greek Language Questing Phelddagrif, which is about the worst possible card to print in a not-supported language. Who remembers what that card even does?


Its community rating is 3 out of 5.

Of course, what it was really indicating was that the era of useful promos had come to an end. For a while there they seemed to realize what great advertisement for the prerelease system it was when people were playing in tournaments with these sweet foil cards. You would think that would be especially true now that so much of the high-level Magic is streamed, but there have only been two since then, and both were marginal: Mayor of Avabruck / Howlpack Alpha, and Maze’s End, a “mythic” that was both the key thematic card for the set and also not a traditional rarity, given its placement in the land slot. And even they weren’t seeing a ton of play… Mayor saw some play as a backup engine in Standard Delver decks, while Maze’s End spawned a Standard archetype that never managed to have much success outside the hands of key control pilots. Honestly, I suspect the playability of these cards was a mistake.


This has some potential as being another overrun effect for token strategies with big generals. One’s probably going into Prossh, Skyraider of Kher.

I believe it was Return to Ravnica block that brought us the innovation of Prerelease cards you could play. Return to Ravnica also went wide, giving us a total of five different promos based on the guild you chose. This was occasionally frustrating, since it meant every Rakdos player had access to at least one hasty six drop finisher (Carnival Hellsteed), but at least you still ended the event with a guaranteed six rares plus the promo. And the playability of your promo felt a little less oppressive when the promos were two color, and thus required that you stay somewhat close to your starting point. When they replicated this pattern in monocolored sets like Theros block and the Core Sets, things got a whole less pleasant. Playing against Dawnbringer Charioteers every other round really sucked a lot of the fun out of Journey into Nyx’s prerelease.

I actually think this will see play in RW decks with combat commanders and Sunforger packages.


Now they’ve taken a rare from us. The “good” news about the Khans prerelease is that you don’t have to play against the same card every single round. I will admit that was pleasant. The downside of this, though, is twofold. First, it makes collecting the promos harder, and it means that players like me have less incentive to go to those events in search of a sweet promo card to fill out a Commander deck. Sure, this time around you might get something like a sick Sidisi, Brood Tyrant foil, but you might also get a promo Avalanche Tusker that you won’t ever play. Second, the EV of a prerelease has dropped. Whereas in the previous blocks you’d get your promo rare in addition to the six(ish) rares that made up the rest of your pool, this time the promo is taking the place of one of your rares. Now you end up with five(ish) rares and a random promo. This means that unlike in the past, you can go to a prerelease hoping to get something sweet for an EDH deck, and end up with literally nothing of use to you.

As you will see next week, this card is key for any deck that’s focusing on Morph strategies.


And that’s a serious concern with this set! Khans is not a fertile field for Commander cards. The playability of the powerful gold cards is at its low point, simply by nature of it being a wedge-themed set supported by only four or five potential Commanders per wedge, and morph makes a bunch of this set even more limited in its appeal. Let’s use the enemy-pair rares as an example. Orzhov (BW) has Utter End, a solid (if pricey) removal spell that is otherwise a bit bland. It’s the best one. Izzet (UR) has Mindswipe, a counterspell that doesn’t seem to be playable outside Limited. Golgari (GB) has Rakshasa Deathdealer, which is a totally sweet card in Limited (one of the all-stars of my shitty pool) but again, less playable than Nantuko Shade in Commander. Simic (UG) gets Sagu Mauler, a 6/6 with trample, hexproof, and morph… but for an extra mana you can just play Simic Sky-Swallower, for an example of how powerful evasion really is. Finally, we get to Boros (RW). Boros has Deflecting Shield, and it looked vaguely promising! But that was when I thought it could either target creatures or at least different players. It can’t, so it’s really just a cheaper version of the Ravnica: City of Guilds common Boros Fury-Shield. That one mana and ability to target spells is really worth two clicks in the rarity column!


This is a combo finisher for decks that can loop creatures indefinitely, like all the Presence of Gond combos, or the Reveillark / Body Double one.

Those are the gold rares that are easy to play, but the set seems full of cards like this, cards which may be strong in a limited environment, but don’t have the general applicability to be worth stocking up on for Commander. Sure, I’ll want all the charms for Modern, and at least one of each general, but I don’t need two Ankle Shankers, no matter how brutal the card is (and spoiler alert, it’s super brutal). I just don’t play that many wedge decks! And somehow, I doubt I am the only one with this problem.


This card will also be making an appearance next week, although it’s not really playable unless you have a ton of morphs.

That’s it for this week. Tune in next week, when I actually attempt to get off my horror horse and actually attempt to build and play a morph-themed Commander deck.


Jess Stirba believes the exclamation point is the most sarcastic of the punctuation marks.


*As I explain later in the piece, while it is not technically the last prerelease promo printed at mythic rarity, the one that does snag this honor, Maze’s End, is an outlier in several different ways. Bloodlord of Vaasgoth was when they made the decision to stop printing mythic promo cards, even if they broke with that for one set for a mythic that was showing up in the land slot in the first place.

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