With Shadows on the horizon, we are on the cusp of having a new set to play with. It’s a blessing and a curse, Magic’s unceasing march into the future. There’s always something new and interesting coming up, but the river of time carries all sorts of good cards into premature obscurity. Commanders are particularly susceptible to this; I remember being super excited about Karlov of the Ghost Council before they spoiled Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim a month later. Now I have two decks that split the pool of Orzhov lifegain, one dedicated to a Tribal strategy, the other some sort of Soul Sisters configuration, and neither of them is super exciting.

That is the danger of putting a million legendary creatures into any given set: the design space is more finite than it might seem, and some really interesting cards get caught in the churn, printed at the wrong time for maximum impact. For example, I bet there are far more Anafenza, the Foremost decks than there are Daghatar the Adamant. They do similar things, in that they both have some slow +1/+1 counter synergies—but that’s all that Daghatar does, while Anafenza has a broader range of abilities. Daghatar may have found a niche were he printed at another time; stealing counters is actually kinda cool, if the ability is expensive.

But he wasn’t printed another time. He was printed in Fate Reforged, a set after Anafenza showed up in Khans of Tarkir. He’s lost in the roil.

Some of the Shadows of Innistrad commanders seem destined to fall victim to a similar trap. Four of the five are new versions of old creatures, and half of them do not meaningfully improve on the original. That still leaves three solid, potentially eternal Commanders. So let’s look at them, and I’ll tell you what I think about the possibilities for each.


Olivia, Mobilized for War
Olivia Volkswagon rides again, still in her ridiculous floaty positioning, though this time more appropriately girded for conflict. I started out somewhat skeptical of her powers, but over time I have come to appreciate the value in what she does. Olivia, Mobilized for War gives the Rakdos color identity another commander for madness strategies. Right now the best enabler is probably Malfegor, and the absence of choice that Malfegor offers its pilot, combined with a hefty mana cost, makes that commander unreliable, if incredibly powerful when everything goes right.

But Olivia is the other type of commander. Her effect is far more minor, but she comes down at three and then doesn’t draw a tremendous amount of removal. While black and red aren’t known for their flash creatures, one of the things I love about her ability is that it triggers on tokens as well. This means that you can still use her for instant speed madness discounts, provided you have something like Phyrexian Processor on the board.

You can never have too much processing—she says, well aware that is not a factually accurate statement.

This mitigates the drawback of commanders like this, whose reliance on creatures often make the deck play out at sorcery speed. Olivia’s willingness to trigger on anyone, independent of their cardboard backing, gives you a lot of ways to leverage the true benefit of madness: the ability to cast cards at times you would be otherwise unable to do so. If your deck wants to be instant speed, Malfegor’s sorcerous slowness is definitely a worse champion of the Rakdos madness archetype.

archangelavacyn avacynthepurifier

Archangel Avacyn / Avacyn, the Purifier
As I have likely mentioned before, and at length, Avacyn, Angel of Hope is not a particularly fun card. Playing against it, as a commander, paints a target on a player’s back back; it’s the equivalent of sitting down to a game and then announcing “if you don’t kill my board before I hit eight mana, you lose the opportunity to do so.”

I mean, that creates a rather straightforward incentive, and that’s assuming the Avacyn, Angel of Hope player is nice and trying to win through a traditional midrange strategy. If they’re not, you’re going to be facing down a lot of very one-sided mass removal spells. Austere Command gets way better when you don’t have to worry about your stuff surviving it as well.

Avacyn’s lore is vaguely interesting, and limited indestructibility can be quite useful. So Archangel Avacyn is a home run as far as I’m concerned. She could just be her front face and I’d be more interested in running her than Avacyn, Angel of Hope or Avacyn, Guardian Angel. Flash! Indestructibility that leaves you with a counterspell for most avenues of destruction! A body like a Serra Angel! It’s a good mix of abilities.

But she’s not just her front face. She’s also Avacyn, the Purifier, and that means two things. First, not only does she grant indestructibility, but with a sac engine on board you can play her, sacrifice a creature (or token), and then Slagstorm the board without risk of injury to your team. Strong! There are a lot of irritating utility creatures with toughness three or less, and this is a commander that gives you an out to them.

Finally, though, I really do appreciate the way in which Archangel Avacyn pushes the deck to be sacrificial Boros. Despite the flavor of the most militant color combination sacrificing its soldiers for the common cause, there hasn’t been a particular legend worth building around. If you think one of these would be a good fit for that archetype, please let me know; I have yet to crack that particular egg. Luckily, now I don’t have to! Avacyn, the Purifier gives the deck a Boros color identity, and the sacrifice trigger begs for a deck that can do it reliably at instant speed.

That’s a recipe for greatness.


Odric, Lunarch Marshal
Oh, Odric. I do not have high hopes for your future. Odric, Master Tactician was basically the best combat commander a white weenie deck could want, functionally casting a copy of Master Warcraft whenever his psuedo-battalion ability was engaged. It’s busted, and yet he’s still not a must-play commander for that archetype. It turns out that the decks he’s good for have other options: Jazal Goldmane to burst through the ranks of blockers, Kemba, Kha Regent if you’re going deeper into the equipment theme, Brimaz, King of Oreskos if you have a bunch of anthems—and they’re just the cats. And not even all of them! White is not struggling to lay hands on a commander whose ability is triggered through combat.

Odric, Lunarch Marshal at least plays defense acceptably. New Odric is a combination between a more-broadly triggering Concerted Effort and a more broadly useful Angelic Skirmisher. The latter is a strong card, in and out of Commander; the former, less so. The fundamental problem is that Odric, Lunarch Marshal has no native abilities. This commander relies on you having multiple creatures on the board, each of which have a different subset of abilities. That makes you vulnerable to precombat spot removal, and in general requires things be going right for you to get full benefit.

Or, to put it another way, Odric won’t save you on an empty board.

The best use of Odric I can think of would be as part of an equipment deck, where he universalizes some of those equipable abilities. Basilisk Collar gives your whole team deathtouch and lifelink now, Loxodon Warhammer gives lifelink and trample, and so on and so forth. Even here, though, I question why one wouldn’t just play Nahiri, the Lithomancer or Kemba, Kha Regent as the commander, and include Odric, Lunarch Marshal as one of the 99. Those cards can dig you out of holes. Odric can’t. So, like his better incarnation, I suspect Odric, Lunarch Marshal is destined for the bulk bin.


Sigarda, Heron’s Grace
Do you know what card remains an overpowered commander to this day? Sigarda, Host of Herons. It’s unbelievable, I know, but it turns out that making an opponent sacrifice a creature is an important tool when trying to deal with an untargetable commander. And the fact that she shuts down not just creatures, but sacrifices to get rid of other permanent types as well, means that you suddenly are immune to All Is Dust and a host of similar cards (Shattergang Brothers, Wildfire, and Tribute to the Wild come to mind).

She’s strong, very strong, and her relative dearth of specific identity beyond “good” means she can helm all sorts of strategies. Voltron is an obvious choice, but I’ve seen my lovely partner Dana wreck house with Sigarda leading her enchantress deck, and there are plenty of other directions to go from her solid foundation.

Sigarda, Heron’s Grace does not have the same breadth of appeal. She has been weakened in every sense, from her reduced power, to how she offers hexproof to everyone but herself, to how she now costs resources instead of just having a killer static effect. It’s kinda sad to see.

That having been said, as a Selesnya commander for tribal humans, she does fill a bit of a hole. But is it a hole that needed filling? You already have the option of Saffi Eriksdotter or Captain Sisay if you want a human in that role, and Karametra, God of Harvests is a strong commander for decks that rely on casting creatures. She fills a hole without meeting a need, and that’s a little weird.

I do not anticipate seeing much of her in the future, at least outside of the 99. I will definitely try to test my reticence, though; I’m all about tribal strategies and my human tribal white deck kinda drifted off theme.


The Gitrog Monster


Golgari has an interesting set of commanders, with a different set of issues than most color combinations. Golgari in many ways as the most deeply established color identity. And Golgari’s identity is death, either through sacrifice or graveyard manipulation.

It’s a pretty swell theme, and there are plenty of ways to support it. But up until now these had all been about the sacrifice or reanimation of creature; a failing, given how good Life from the Loam is in most Golgari strategies. There are Loam decks, and commanders who do well heading them (like Borborygmos Enraged), but there wasn’t a good Golgari Loam commander. Until now.

And it’s really good.

I mean, maybe I am over-enthusiastic about the card. It’s possible. But I think it would have been a playable Loam commander without the final line. “Whenever one or more land cards are put into your graveyard from anywhere, draw a card.” It’s a thing of beauty. It plays well with Titania, Protector of Argoth, it triggers on a Life from the Loam dredge, and it keeps you drawing more lands to feed the monster. And because you get an extra land drop, you can actually catch back up if you miss a land drop.

It is a synergistic thing of beauty, and then they were like “do you know what this five-drop engine needs? A huge body and a relevant combat ability!” And that’s how we end up with a 6/6 for 3BG that additionally has deathtouch. Just in case it couldn’t kill you regularly.

I am so excited for this thing. I think you’re going to keep seeing this thing around the Commander tables for years to come.



Jess Stirba is on a social media holiday.

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