I need to preface this article with a caveat. I wrote most of this two days before the full set was spoiled, before something came up that bumped my slot. As such, there are several speculative references which have since received a solid answer. I considered completely rewriting the article, but I think it’s valuable to see how I assess these commanders in the absence of information. Being able to evaluate a commander effectively is a good skill, because it helps guide you towards the natural quirks and synergies of building around a particular legend.

With most of the commanders spoiled as of this writing, I can honestly say I am super jazzed for this round of Commander preconstructed decks. Let’s go through the base five commanders and see which of them are going to be breakout stars, and which ones are going to end up in the dustbin of history (like Gahiji, Honored One).


So let’s begin with the experience counters. First off, it will be nice to know how specifically they work. My main question has to do with proliferation, because you can proliferate poison counters on players. If you can proliferate experience counters as well, that may mean a reprint of Contagion Engine, or that a return to New Phyrexia isn’t too far down the line (though Shadows of Innistrad would seem to cut against that). What I like about three of the five of these new-fangled dudes is that they’re cast triggers; no way for an opponent to cheat you out of a counter by preventing your spells from resolving.


Daxos the Returned

My main criticism of the art for this piece is it could better reference Daxos of Meletis visually, but it'll look cool in giant foil.

My main criticism of the art for this piece is it could better reference Daxos of Meletis visually, but it’ll look cool in giant foil.

Daxos the Returned is one of the commanders I expect we’ll see a lot more of. The Orzhov guild has long lacked decent commander options, particularly ones with relevant gameplay mechanics. Orzhov Tokens has Teysa, Orzhov Scion, but it breaks down from there. Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts is basically just a Baneslayer Angel with a Dread clause, Ghost Council of Orzhova and Obzedat, Ghost Council are both lifedrain cards which scale poorly to Commander, and Selenia, Dark Angel could be reprinted as an uncommon. Triad of Fates is interesting, but so slow that the only real reason to run it would be to break it, and the reward for breaking it seems minimal. Basically, Athreos, God of Passage is the only commander with general functionality in the Orzhov guild, and it’s not particularly strong when compared to, say, Thassa, God of the Sea.


Daxos does two things that are awesome. First, I just love his flavor. Daxos of Meletis was a character from Theros with some name recognition, and seeing the undead version creates a bond with the commander that has been missing from the first two sets of Commander precons. This is building off the strength of the commanders from the last cycle, and I like it.


Second, and more importantly, Daxos the Returned has enchantment synergies. When you think of Orzhov draw engines in Commander, the cards you tend to think of are powerhouses like Land Tax, Greed, and Phyrexian Arena. These are all enchantments, and there has yet to be a specifically enchantment themed commander to support their power. Daxos the Returned meets that need. Sure, it’s a little weird that they’re Spirits without flying, and if they back off the inclusion of token-sets with these Commanders I’m going to be irked, but all in all he’s a fine addition to the team.


Ezuri, Claw of Progress

Like Daxos the Returned, Ezuri, Claw of Progress gains a lot from his association with Ezuri, Renegade Leader. Reminiscent of Glissa the Traitor, Ezuri, Claw of Progress represents a compleated version of a previously known character. Unlike Daxos the Returned, however, this experienced Ezuri is actually a bit worse than his predecessor. Given the power of the Legacy-playable Ezuri, Renegade Leader, this is perhaps not surprising. New Ezuri trades away granting trample, regeneration, and an elven restriction, and he gains pump permanence and the chance to pump any of your (targetable) creatures. It’s not a terrible trade, and it might even have some interesting synergies with the Simic guild, but he suffers from being outclassed by almost all the other Simic commanders.


If you’re going wide, or plan on sticking with an elven theme, past Commander precons have already set you up with one of the best potential commanders: Edric, Spymaster of Trest. Considering how well it works with Ezuri, Claw of Progress and Kaseto, Orochi Archmage (to be discussed next week with the rest of the secondaries), one might even expect to see Edric reprinted in this very product. But having access to a way to pump your elves is nowhere near as powerful as ready access to a way to draw cards, so Ezuri can’t cut it in that scenario.


Similarly, if you want to focus on counters and counter manipulation, there are already two solid commanders who do so: Vorel of the Hull Clade and Experiment Kraj. Vorel can match Ezuri for magnitude, Kraj can beat Ezuri when it comes to versatility, and while they’re both slightly slower, you can at least get a benefit from Vorel on turn four. Ezuri not only needs to land, but he needs to have a specific type of creature enter the battlefield while he’s in play, that creature being size-restricted in a way that means he’s going to be your primary source of pump.


That all seems less than ideal. He’s got great flavor, but in the long run I think we’ll see him fall out of the meta.


Mizzix of the Izmagnus

I bet that goblin is so happy, riding the back of a spell-powered mechanical spider. I would be too, kid!

I bet that goblin is so happy, riding the back of a spell-powered mechanical spider. I would be too, kid!

Goblin Wizards are always cool. Mizzix of the Izmagnus doesn’t really tread any new ground in the Izzet color identity, and there are still serious issues with Commander decks built around the “spells matter” theme, but I think the true power of this card is subtler: it makes X spells better. In the past, X spells have suffered for their relative mana inefficiency. Even a card like Comet Storm, which basically can do an exponential amount of damage, tends to pale next to the raw power of a Blasphemous Act. The same goes for Blue Sun’s Zenith and ilk… by the time the spells get good, you’re investing too much mana in them to do anything else that turn.


Mizzix changes that. Unless I am mistaken, the CMC of an X spell on the stack is the full price you’ve theoretically paid for the spell. If a Fireball has an X = 6, that spell’s CMC is 7. What this means is that, given the cost reduction ability on Mizzix, any time you play an X spell you’re going to get an experience counter. Even if you’re casting Comet Storm for RR.


This is an awesome ability, and far better than “occasionally fork a spell” or “situational Future Sight.” Considering this is an archetype they’ve been trying to nail for years (most recently with Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper, though we’ll see how well he lands), this is a home run.


And given the relative wealth of other Izzet options in the Niv-Mizzets and Nin, the Pain Artist, refining this archetype beyond Tibor and Lumia was exactly what they needed. I look forward to making a deck for this dude.


Kalemne, Disciple of Iroas

I just really find the fact her feet are off the ground to be distracting. You're a giant, do you really need to sacrifice sure footing so that your attack stomps slightly harder? That's why you need experience, Kalemne!

I just really find the fact her feet are off the ground to be distracting. You’re a giant, do you really need to sacrifice sure footing so that your attack stomps slightly harder? That’s why you need experience, Kalemne!

Kalemne, Disciple of Iroas is a dumb card. I don’t mean that it’s a bad card or anything, but for all the complexity of the text box this card doesn’t do all that much to change the way your deck plays. If you feed her she grows, sure, but you’re still left with a Baneslayer Angel who threatens to kill with commander damage and yet has no evasion and can be chumped. The double strike makes her stronger than most at this, and the vigilance adds in a defensive component, but it’s not an engine, now, is it?


Turns out, it didn’t need to be an engine to succeed. See, what Kalemne does is she serves as the commander that Boros Tribal Giants has been wanting for years. Brion Stoutarm just wasn’t cutting it, because all he could do was Fling dudes in your enemy’s face. When he’s throwing 8/8s, that ability is strong, but it’s not an engine either… and Kalemne both improves over the course of the game and rewards you for something you already wanted to do. Boros, despite having one of the deepest rosters of potential commanders, just did not have a suitable commander for their essential tribe, and this was the perfect opportunity to fix that oversight.


And if you think the essential tribe of Boros is Angels, you’re wrong. You have a fair bit of legendary evidence to support your theory, of course, but most color pairings (including Boros) never broke free of Lorwyn’s tribal designations. Not that we see a ton of Treefolk these days…


Meren of Clan Nel Toth


The art’s cool, and it gets across the whole Jund connection with the dead dragon (I totally missed what happened to Jund when Grixis showed up), but a fire skull, just to drive in the necromancy? Gauche.

Now, this is an engine! Savra, Queen of the Golgari and Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord both took swings at helming the Golgari sacrifice deck, and they both failed to a degree. Jarad is weak for the same reason that Brion Stoutarm was weak: His only purpose is to kill you. He doesn’t provide card advantage or mana or life, like the better sacrifice outlets do, and he costs a lot, relative to what you get. He has extra text, sure, but he’s a bad attacker, can’t sacrifice himself, and the cost to return him from your graveyard to your hand is more than the Commander Tax. Savra, on the other hand, offers up all the power of Grave Pact, only with weird color restrictions and puny stats. A Grave Pact that dies to Pyroclasm is a Grave Pact not long for the battlefield. And it seems like Wizards realized that: Meren is a 3/4 for the same mana cost as Savra.


What Meren also gets right is an ability to work well in several different types of strategies. She’s solid as a recursion engine for self-mill decks, but she’s also solid as a value commander for a Junk deck, or a reanimation engine for a flock of Mulldrifters. Sure, she’s only relevant if your deck contains creatures and a graveyard… but shockingly, most decks do.


Whereas Glissa the Traitor, the other compleated legend who fell to New Phyrexia, had significantly less versatility than it initially appeared, Meren of Clan Nel Toth seems like a card that would be strong in any random 99 that could support her color identity. That’s what Golgari needed, and that’s what Golgari got.




While the initial assessment of the experience counter phenomenon put off some people, on the whole I think it both makes sense given broader trends and works well for these specific commanders. Poison counters were introduced incredibly early, and then their ability to be proliferated was another evolution of the personal counter thing. Meanwhile, we’ve come to accept planeswalker emblems, which are basically permanent buffs and debuffs, not unlike these experience counters. I get why people are a little irked by them, but at the same time I think this was a significantly more defensible decision than the commander/planeswalkers from last year. These feel like commanders; the experience point system is just like a persistent level, only without the three stages of text.


I am excited to see if anyone makes the Rainbow Experience deck. Considering these commanders presumably don’t care which card gave you the experience counters, just how many you have (worth remembering if you ever steal one), it seems like it might be a sweet five-card package for some of the five-color decks.


Tune in later this week, and I’ll discuss the final five, plus probably some of the other awesome spoilers. All in all, this product is looking to be a solid addition to the series, and I for one am enthusiastic about talking about it some more!


Jess Stirba is experienced in an eclectic variety of ways.

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