We need to talk about the Commands. We have five new commands in Standard, and I’ve heard all sorts of reactions to them, mostly polarized into “this card is insane” and “this card is useless”.

The problem is, [casthaven]Cryptic Command[/casthaven] is insane. This bends our perception of Commands. Commands are awesome because they are both flexible and powerful: all the flexibility of a Charm, plus the power of doing two things at once!

Frankly, that description makes them sound overpowered. The balancing factor, here, is that you have to do both of those things at the same time. That usually means that only one of them is really timed perfectly, and timing is important in Magic.

Take [casthaven]Cryptic Command[/casthaven], for example. What do you think is the most used mode on [casthaven]Cryptic Command[/casthaven]?

It’s “Draw a card”, of course. This is arguably the least powerful ability on the card, but it is almost always useful! Unlike, for example, “Tap all creatures an opponent controls”: a great ability that is much less useful at the end of your own turn, say, or when your opponent controls no untapped creatures. Or “Counter target spell”: useless at any phase of the game where your opponent doesn’t have a spell on the stack.

For this reason, the most important factor in rating a Command is not how powerful all of its abilities are: it’s how good the default mode is.

This brings us to Silumgar’s Command. This is a card with three very powerful abilities, each capable of trading for a very good card of your opponent’s. It also has one very flexible ability: “Return target permanent to its owner’s hand”. As [casthaven]Cryptic Command[/casthaven] has shown, this is a great ability to have on a Command! However, it is not an ability that is always worth a card. If you have a non-creature spell to counter, or a Planeswalker to kill, you are going to end up bouncing a superfluous land more often than you want to. Silumgar’s Command‘s other abilities are not time flexible. You can’t wait around for your opponent to cast a non-creature spell while they activate a Planeswalker! Nor can you wait around for a Planeswalker to target while they attack you with a [casthaven]Goblin Rabblemaster[/casthaven] creature.

So, what about our other new Commands? What are they doing for us when one of their modes is desperately needed, and the other three have nothing special going on? Let’s grade our default abilities.

Ojutai’s Command — This one is easy: draw a card! If the life-gain is useful, you’ll know it. Draw a Card is the real gravy here, as [casthaven]Cryptic Command[/casthaven] has been demonstrating for years. A

Kolaghan’s Command — This one is interesting because it has a lot of abilities that will often be usable: [casthaven]Raise Dead[/casthaven] and “discard a card” will be the most oft-used extra abilities here, and when those fail we can usually [casthaven]Shock[/casthaven] our opponent. Of course, the [casthaven]Shock[/casthaven] ability is often going to be the primary ability, as it is the most proactive, meaning one of the other two will need to be live. B for flexibility, even in the defaults.

Silumgar’s Command — Clearly, the default ability is [casthaven]Boomerang[/casthaven]. While [casthaven]Boomerang[/casthaven] can be a great effect against tokens, a reanimated creature, or other corner cases, it’s usually pretty unexciting for five mana. D+

Atarka’s Command — This card is full of interesting abilities that are very situational. The ability that isn’t, of course, is dealing three damage to a player. Anybody playing this card in their deck will be happy to have this ability, but it’s no “draw a card”. C+

Dromoka’s Command — An early candidate for “best new Command” does not look very good on this test. If your opponent isn’t dealing damage with a spell or playing enchantments, this card does literally nothing unless you control a creature. The easiest condition to fulfill, since you control the cards in your own deck, is having a creature to put a +1/+1 counter on. You can actually do this if you are desperate for a counter and there are no legal spells or creatures to fight by using the “sacrifice an enchantment” ability. Wow, that’s stretching. F

I suspect Dromoka’s Command may yet become the most influential command simply because of how well placed it is against so many decks in standard, but in the abstract, and as time passes, the default mode is what gives these cards staying power: as [casthaven]Cryptic Command[/casthaven] has shown. My vote is for Ojutai’s Command to be the best of these in the long run.

Gabe Carleton-Barnes has been playing Magic for over 20 years, mostly as a PTQ grinder and intermittently as a Pro Tour competitor. Currently based in Portland, Oregon, where he is an Open Source web developer by day, Gabe lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for three years. While there, he failed to make a documentary about competitive Magic but succeeded in deepening his obsession with the game. Gabe is now a ringleader and community-builder for the competitive Magic scene in Portland, wielding old-timey slang and tired cliches to motivate kids half his age to drive with him to tournaments.

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