It’s New Year’s Eve, and I plan to see some fireworks tonight. I love fireworks, but as I’ve grown older some of the joy has gone out of it all. When I was young, fireworks seemed so big, so earth-shaking. As I grew up, the fireworks stayed the same. Alas, it is unlikely that I’ll ever be able to maintain the childlike sense of wonder when watching colorful explosions rock the heavens above me.


But not everything is fireworks; some things have scaled well over time. The newest Star Wars, for example, managed to trigger that childhood sense of wonder, even as it updated the mythos and characterization, giving me one of my favorite characters in all of the canon: Finn, renegade Stormtrooper. Perhaps I identify with a person turning their back on the faceless government they were memed into serving.


Magic, too, has been scaling up rather well as time has gone on. Considering the sense of wonder I felt when cracking my first pack of the Dark, a set with almost nothing of modern worth in it, it’s been a relatively steady climb… but even with that assumed, it’s been a rather magical year. Last week I went over just a fraction of the wonderful cards printed in 2015, that fraction being one half, and this week I’m going to finish out the top ten. As always, this, like all “year in review” lists, is purely my opinion.


“Yadda yadda yadda,” she said, dating herself immediately with that reference.


Let’s begin!


I like the art on both this and the promo foil version. Well done.


  1. Pia and Kiran Naalar


Chandra has parents, and apparently their story goes a bit of a way towards explaining why a lady with a name and background indicative of her being a woman of color is commonly portrayed as looking like Stefani Germanotta. While that’s an apprecited touch, there were plenty of ways to accomplish that without making a card with a badass woman of color on it. They averted those paths, though, even giving Pia top billing on her combined card.


(Although, like the endeavor to get a woman on the $20 bill, it is fascinating that she wasn’t given her own card, but instead shares a less valuable card with a man. Alas.)


Still, even beyond the socio-political aspects of its printing, Pia and Kiran Nalaar is a sweet card. I’ve seen her pop up in all sorts of red Commander decks. It compares best to Siege-Gang Commander, in that it’s removal that helps stabilize your board. Thing is, most Commander decks don’t play Goblins… but it’s the rare deck with no artifacts in it. Being able to cash in a mana rock is occasionally super relevant in a complicated board state, and two flying Thopters do a decent job keeping you from being overrun in the sky. It would be a good card even without the flavor; with both, it’s definitely in the top ten cards of 2015.


Sometimes I feel like a Locus of Rage.


  1. Omnath, Locus of Rage


Zendikar is pissed. Five years ago some well-meaning fools unlocked its prisoners, who rose up and started to consume the world. Now, we have returned, and so too have a variety of familiar faces. Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet, who had not yet been granted a card (because yes, it’s coming in 2016), is as relevant as he was last time around, while Drana, Bloodchief of Malakir is no longer antisocial, leading a resistance movement against their otherworldly foes.


But the best of the evolutions is Omnath, Locus of Mana turning into Omnath, Locus of Rage. Original Omnath has been a top-tier Commander since it burst on the scene back in the day, providing mono green with a commander that’s simultaneously a beater and a ramp engine, depending on the needs of the moment. Omnath 2.0 lacks that versatility, but it more than makes up for it by being a key commander for an under-served archetype: the lands deck.


There are a ton of good lands in Commander, and an even greater number of excellent ramp options to use to grab them. For years I’ve wanted a Commander deck that was heavy on the lands. I’m not talking full-on “Ashling the Pilgrim plus 99 Mountains” land decks, but definitely something that was inching towards 50%, or more.


It’s hard, because when you’ve got all of Magic to choose from, it’s a vexing enough challenge to cut a deck down to 62 nonland cards. In a 50-land deck, you have 49 to choose from. As such, I still only managed to hit 45 lands, leaving me with 54 slots for action. But Omnath, Locus of Rage loved it. The deck is brutal, with multiple avenues of attack, and all sorts of interesting interactions. Because Omnath gives you a board presence even if you flood out, it’s the perfect commander for one of these landfall decks. Only the new year will tell whether or not it’s better than Mina and Denn, Wildborn… but I’m betting the answer is a resounding yes.


This card makes me wonder if we’ll ever see Daretti again.


  1. Mizzix of the Izmagnus


I ran a little Commander party before the holidays, and compiled some data that I will eventually write up in the new year. That having been said, Mizzix of the Izmagnus wiped the floor with its pod. It turns out, so long as Mizzix stays in play, the potential for big, splashy plays is nigh-limitless. And being able to respond at instant speed with a free copy of Scour From Existence is powerful enough to be notable.


Of course, Mizzix’s cost reduction ability doesn’t similarly discount a spell’s Replicate cost… good news for all the opponents who were facing down a Djinn Illuminatus with over seven experience points on Mizzix. Had that interaction worked, it would have been a one-sided Decree of Annihilation, and that’s no fun for anyone.


Now in a sweet nonfoil promotional version! Taste that flavor!


  1. Mastery of the Unseen


This card made Standard miserable for a period of time. It was entertaining to watch those board states, which reminded me of Standard of days past, in which Soul Sisters was a relevant deck with Elspeth, Knight Errant, creating these colossal board states that were unable to close the game out.


But in Commander, it makes for an interesting addition to the format. Often, the argument against running Baneslayer Angel-style cards is that you’re putting yourself at card disadvantage, since that body could have come attached to an effect worth a card. Mastery of the Unseen inverts that math. Unless you’re heavy on the morph effects, which is rare given the relative weakness of morph as a Commander mechanic, Mastery of the Unseen is going to turn off your Mulldrifter-style cards. But, when combined with some high-quality threats, Mastery of the Unseen can complicate combat incredibly for the unprepared opponent. All this, while it spits out swathes of sneaky pseudo-creatures, and occasionally gains you massive chunks of life.


It’s a good card that supports a waning facet of the format. That’s definitely top ten material.


Dana bought one of these, and she has less than no idea what to do with it.


  1. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon


When Karn Liberated first was spoiled, I assumed it would show up in every Commander deck ever. Luckily, Modern players had a similar thought, and his role as a four-of in Tron decks kept his price too high for omnipresence. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, has a similar universal playability, providing Lightning Bolt, Pernicious Deed, and Caring Ultimatum for any decks otherwise missing those abilities.


Now, he’s currently more expensive than Karn Liberated, because he plays a significant role in the Standard meta… but will he maintain that lofty price point? He’s a two-of in the Tron lists I’ve seen, and I don’t think he’s playable outside of Urzatron’s big-mana machine. How much value he loses after rotation is going to be a major factor in how often you see him played, because if he’s cheap, he’s strong enough to show up everywhere.


If Gatherer was better, I’d be able to link a copy of my sweet black foil Nissa, Vastwood Seer. As is, imagine this in black!


  1. Nissa, Vastwood Seer


Some people, people interested in formats like Standard and Modern and Legacy, would put a different one of the flip-walkers in the lead here. They’re Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy people, and they are correct in that, in a one-on-one 60 card format, he is the bee’s knees. He’s a particularly tempting pickup in Cube, because he provides utility at several different points in the game, and because it’s nice having a Merfolk Looter with enough upside to make him a completely reasonable first pick.


But… Commander isn’t Cube, as much as they observe similar power levels and singularity drawbacks. In Commander, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is slow, and he has fewer decent modes (since -2/-0 is a lot more relevant when you’re not talking about 7/7s and 10/10s). Liliana, Heretic Healer does better, although her discard plus ability engenders some agro, and she has no other way to make continued use of her reanimator effect. And the less said about Chandra and Kytheon, the better.


But Nissa, Vastwood Seer hits the Commander sweet spot. She’s solid as a commander or as a utility player, she is a Mulldrifter who is fairly easy to flip, she protects herself with a 4/4, she draws cards a la Coiling Oracle, one of the best Mulldrifters around, and she has a powerful ultimate that isn’t so threatening as to make her a must-kill threat. She is wonderful, and I eagerly anticipate her post-Standard slump.


I still think “color from another world” themes don’t translate properly into visual form. Still, some bright colors save what is otherwise a rather drab palette.


  1. Oblivion Sower


This turned out to be a well-chosen Duel Deck preview card, something which Wizards has struggled with in the past. For example, Mindbreaker Demon, the spoiled promo from Shadows over Innistrad, seems like a terrible card for most Commander decks. It’s neat how it implies the opening for a Tarmogoyf reprint, but the card itself is just a 4/5 trampler for four mana, with a minor enters-the-battlefield effect. How boring!


Anyway, back to the Sower of Oblivion. It’s a brew-worthy card that does well in Commander, where graveyard exiling effects have become plentiful, and where ramp is at its strongest. It has relevant stats, and a cast trigger that proves difficult to disrupt. It’s true colorless, as opposed to its not-universally-playable devoid kin, and it’s a six-drop, which most decks can hit. I’ve seen some cool plays built around this card, including a theoretical pairing of Oblivion Sower and Realm Razer (which, yikes), and I’m excited to see more of what it can do.


Seriously, this card feels like chocolate wrapped in an oil spill. 


  1. Mystic Confluence


The Confluences are super-commands, and that’s awesome. They’re not all of equal power, the Righteous Confluence in particular being weakened by its sorcerous speed, but they’re obviously some of the most powerful Commander cards printed in 2015. And the best part is they’re not really Legacy playable, meaning they should maintain a reasonable price tag for at least the next year.


But even amongst these powerhouses, Mystic Confluence stands out. It stands out because of its most powerful mode: “Counter target spell, draw a card, return Archaeomancer (or any Eternal Witness substitute) to my hand.” That’s a repeatable loop that gets you ahead every time you run through it, and that’s the type of shit that Commander players love.


Let me tell you… it feels gross, in the most fantastic of ways.


She is my desktop at work, and I always feel a little more powerful when I catch a glimpse of her up there.


  1. Alesha, Who Smiles at Death


Holy shit, a badass trans character in Magic who basically reflects a medieval version of my gender presentation! I have written some words about how much this meant to me, but it doesn’t hurt that she’s also a very interesting Commander. I just wish I could play her in Tymaret, the Murder King, and other Rakdos or Boros decks. I’d play her in everything where her abilities made sense, if I could. As is, I have to settle for Mardu.


I think the flavor text is the plot of Assassin’s Creed.


  1. Vampiric Rites

If you’re surprised to see an uncommon so high on my list, don’t be! It’s in no small part due to the rarity of this card that it places so high. Uncommon sacrifice to draw card engines are not new. Phyrexian Vault traces back to Mirage, Carnage Altar comes from the last time we hit Zendikar, and the gold standard of these cards is Skullclamp, from the old Darksteel days. Draw engines are the fuel that Commander decks thrive upon, and a draw engine that also functions as a sacrifice engine is pretty good.


And the reduced rarity, as compared with cards like Underworld Connections, Greed, and Phyrexian Arena, help ensures this card will remain accessible for a while.


But I wouldn’t have included Carnage Altar on this list; what makes Vampiric Rites different? Well, it’s two things. First, we’re talking about a one drop that repeatedly activates for two mana. This means it’s cheaper than Carnage Altar and can be used multiple times in quick succession, unlike Phyrexian Vault, which is an important way to get value out of a Wrath of God situation. Two mana is basically the sweet spot for that. Second, it’s added value. One life might not be super relevant, but it cuts against the tax required by many other black draw engines, and it provides you with potentially useful lifegain triggers. You can bet I slotted this card into Karlov of the Ghost Council lickety split.


Finally, though, this card just made me happy when it was spoiled (not unlike Smothering Abomination). That counts for a lot in my list. Vampiric Rites left me with a surplus of unadulterated glee when I first saw it, and that memory brought me back to that first pack of the Dark, oh so many years ago.


The Future


And with that, I post my last article of 2015. What’s in store for the future? I’ll probably do an article discussing the new Commanders from Oath of the Gatewatch, for one… that Mina and Denn, Wildborn in particular looks spicy, if not necessarily good. I’ll go over some of the results of my Commander party, in which a bunch of my unplayed decks were smashed against each other by my friends. And this year I’ve been the recipient of an interesting writing challenge, which I look forward to sharing with y’all when the time is right. 2016 looks to be a good year, in many ways. To the future, my friends!


Jess Stirba is a Friend.


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