At the time of this writing, they have yet to release the spoiler for Temur’s head guy, the one who’s seen in art punching a bear. It’s a shame, it seems like that’s going to be a neat card, and these commanders psyche people up. I’ve personally been thinking a lot about the deck space these commanders potentially open up, and I’d like to walk you through my take on the ones that have been spoiled, or at least three of the five, since I want to save some company for the bearpuncher once he finally gets spoiled.


What did that poor bear ever do to you?!


Part of understanding these new commanders involves understanding the preexisting wedge generals which they augment. So that’s what we’re doing today; I’m going to run you through the preexisting wedge generals for Mardu, Jeskai, and Abzan, and highlight the way in which these new minibosses open up some needed design space within those… clans?


And it even comes in an easy-to-aquire promo foil form!

Zurgo Helmsmasher – Mardu/Raka/Oros


Prior to the printing of Zurgo Helmsmasher, Mardu only had three other general options. There was Oros, the Avenger, a dragon with a weak wrath effect tied to her when she hit (also, she was kinda racist, only killing nonwhite people). In theory she was a control general, but the entire cycle of dragons from Invasion and Planar Chaos were hampered by a non-inconsiderate mana burden, a need to connect to do anything, and generally somewhat mediocre abilities. I never bothered to run an Oros deck.


Next, there was Kaalia of the Vast. Kaalia was a beat down general, since her entire raison d’être was dropping flying beef into play. The problem with her was two-fold: first, it tied you into Angels, Demons, and Dragons… not the most coherent tribal strategy, and secondly many of the best cards in those tribes have attack or cast triggers, which she shortcuts. This is not to say that she wasn’t powerful, but I pulled my Kaalia deck apart rather quickly and haven’t looked back.


Finally, there was Tariel, Reckoner of Souls. She’s the Mardu jujitsu general, specifically a reanimator, and her major issue is the random element to her power set. Her ability was strong, but it was a pain in the ass to resolve it with more than a few creatures in the graveyard. She was vulnerable to summoning sickness, and thus prompted people to run cards like Lightning Greaves that give players incentive to kill her out from under the equip (since you can’t let that resolve without losing your ability to use targeted kill spells AND giving the Tariel player at least one free rez). She was a solid general, but she was also a seven-drop in the color combination least suited for it. In short, she didn’t exactly play to the Mardu strengths.


But Zurgo Helmsmasher is a game changer for this wedge. Despite not really being relevant to the Khans clan identity (which is half the reason I dislike this new trend of conflating the wedge names and these specific clan names), the Mardu wedge is the home of the board wipe. Up until now there hasn’t been a great general to lead a deck full of Damnation, Wrath of God, and Blaspehmous Act. Zurgo is the commander for this deck, though. “Indestructible on your turn” means you can drop a wrath and swing in unopposed, thus giving a resilient finisher to the deck that so desperately needed one. Zurgo Helmsmasher lets Mardu control have a new life, and I am excited to put that deck together.


Because all great generals lead from the front lines. Especially when they’re 4/4s.

Anafenza, the Foremost – Rock/Junk/Abzan


Due to its loveable blend of colors and the tribal identities within Lorwyn block, Abzan actually had more options for commanders going into this set than any of the other color combinations. Doran, the Siege Tower was a solid aggro general that also let you go in the tribal treefolk direction if that was your thing (and I’ve built that deck, it’s surprisingly fun). Even if you were staying in the forest, as opposed to focusing on trees, Doran was a strong way to punch people in the face, since a turn one Bird of Paradise let you swing for at least 16 on turn three, even if you missed your third land drop (Tower Defense is a crazy card). So Doran, weirdly enough given that ze’s a 0/5, managed to do a pretty good job at keeping the Azban aggro angle covered.


This color combination also had two solid reanimation generals. This makes sense, since these are the colors most interested in recurring permanents in the graveyard, but on a practical level it gave you the option of running Karador, Ghost Chieftan (if you wanted to be able to recur mulldrifters) or Teneb, the Harvester (if you wanted a mana discount on your reanimation). Both have their elements, and both are frankly solid role players. It’s good, as such, that the Abzan Ascendancy didn’t further duplicate this part of the wedge.


Instead, Anafenza cuts into Ghave, Guru of Spores’ territory. Clearly the identity of Abzan in the world of Khans revolves around +1/+1 counters, and for this reason they needed a general that could play on that level. Which is why Anafenza, the Foremost has her first ability, as weak as it is on its own. This is irrelevant for Commander, since there is literally no reason to run her over Ghave if you want to manipulate counters; Ghave does more than Anafenza, even if you can get past tying the ability to an attack trigger, which I personally can’t do.


But what Anafenza does let you do is play a Living Death/Living End/Twilight’s Call deck. Her secondary griefer ability turns off your opponents’ reanimation hijinks, giving you the go-ahead to completely break this corner of the wedge. Sure, she’s super limited compared to her brethren, but perhaps Junk had enough coverage to allow for a card with such a limited niche to thrive.

She can see the hidden dragons.


Narset, Enlightened Master – Jeskai/USA


Leading up to this point, Jeskai was the wedge most screwed for good generals. Its dragon legend, Numot, the Devastator, draws a tremendous amount of aggro because people hate having their manabases attacked. I’m the type of player who will target the person popping other peoples’ lands, so I get the hatred of the effect; playing Commander in particular is about doing things, and it’s hard to do anything when another person is keeping you artificially constrained on mana. The result of all this is that no one really plays Numot, the Devastator. It’s practically a wasted general slot, unless you’re running the deck that’s all Armageddon effects, which some monsters are wont to do.


The original Commander product added in two more generals, and let’s focus on the more interesting of the two first. Zedruu the Greathearted is a great commander, but only for a very specific sort of deck. Or, to be more precise, decks, since there are two prime paths to take a Zedruu deck. The first option is to take her down the “Group Hugs” path. The idea behind Group Hugs is that cool stuff happening in Commander games is cool whether or not you’re the one who is doing it. Thus, these decks play Howling Mine effects and Mana Flare effects, basically serving to turbo-charge the tenor of the game. Sometimes these decks are built to win, but usually they play more of a kingmaker role, particularly through the use of Zedruu’s donate ability. Of course, the other type of Zedruu decks tend to focus on the donation above all else. Even these decks fractal out into multiple forms as you go deeper, though, since you can be donating things like Delusions of Grandeur that actively hurt your opponent, or you can just donate universally applicable permanents (like, say, Mindlock Orb) and then just use Zedruu as a draw engine. Powerful card, Zedruu, but she’s focused on depth not breadth.


Perhaps to balance her out, the final preexisting Jeskai general was Ruhan of the Fomori, a very broad commander without the typical depth I look for in the decks I run. Ruhan can headline almost any type of deck, but it’s because he’s got such a completely generic flavor. A good general gives you choices, and the only choice you ever make with Ruhan is whether or not you play him out at that point in the game. Personally, I find that super boring, and thus I was looking forward to a generally applicable commander for this particular wedge.


Narset, Enlightened Master is not the broad roleplayer I had hoped to see. However, she is a heck of a lot better than I gave her credit for being. For some reason I had initially read her ability as only applying to instants and sorceries, which would put her in line with Talrand, Sky Summoner and Melek, Izzet Paragon, both of which want you to be playing almost all instants and sorceries, a tough bar to meet. But Narset triggers on artifacts and enchantments as well, and I think that makes her the Commander that Jeskai needs. The Jeskai wedge is home to a particular side-breed of the enchantress decks, specifically the Propaganda decks. I tried running that deck with Zedruu and it just wasn’t the same; now that I have Narset to provide some focus, I think there’s really something there.


Of course, there’s still no tribal flier general for this wedge, but in the meantime Narset will have to do.


This brings us to the end of part one of my wedge Commander revue. (Not a typo). Join me next week, by which time the Temur lord should have been revealed, and I can talk about both him and the potential in Sidisi, whilst still looking back at those wedgelords who came before.


Jess Stirba buffaloes Buffalo buffalo.

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