C17: Day one

As I’m writing this, spoilers for Commander just started. It’s the first time the product’s been divorced from color cycles and I’m really excited to see where they can go with a little more freedom and a cohesive mechanical identity. As such I’ll be reviewing the new cards previewed as they come out, both new commanders and nonlegendary cards.

The Ur-Dragon

Oh, what a way to start off. The eminence ability is exactly what an expensive tribe like Dragons needs, and means you can start playing out your flying death lizards on turn three or four with only a single piece of ramp. That takes a dragon tribal deck from being way too top-heavy to being frighteningly consistent and actually being able to curve out.

Its stats are just about perfect, as a 10/10 perfectly evokes the feel of the Dragon to end all Dragons and will get people dead in a hurry. I kind of wish it had trample, but that’s just being greedy.

As for the attack trigger, while it seems a bit win-more it’s actually not. Putting card advantage on your commander frees up a huge amount of deckbuilding space and The Ur-Dragon makes sure that you’ll never run out of gas. (note that it doesn’t need to attack to draw you cards, just any Dragon you control.) cheating any permanent into play is a nice bonus, and one that will keep your hand from getting clogged up even if you draw multiple 10+ mana cards.

O-Kagiachi, Vengeful Kami

I’m of two minds about this card. On the one hand, it’s fine. Utterly unremarkable and nearly impossible to abuse, it’s going to be reasonable and sometimes great in lower-powered playgroups, which is fine. On the other hand, printing O-Kagiachi in the same set as the Ur-Dragon was a mistake. Both are supposed to be figures of world-ending awe, monsters to end all monsters. They are both supposed to be unsurpassable threats that encompass entire worlds. No matter what cards were designed for them, with The Ur-Dragon and O-Kagiachi headlining the same deck side-by-side, one of them was going to feel underwhelming, and it’s definitely O-Kagiachi.

Ramos, Dragon Engine

Ramos has received the most hype of any of the new commanders, but I’ll admit he doesn’t really click for me. He might be the first enabler of a real five-colored storm deck to provide a crucial boost of mana on combo turns, which is nice. Other than that an evasive commander that never stops growing is nice, but not something that I would gravitate towards.

Wasitori, Nekoru Queen

If you aren’t going full five-colored or mono-red, Jund is the color combo you want for a dragons deck. Wasitora clocks in as a nice midrange threat, not particularly huge for commander but respectable nonetheless. The fact that she edicts any opponent she hits makes her deceptively strong, particularly against voltron decks, and the fact that you get tokens if there are no creatures to kill.

Taigam, Ojutai Master

Taigam is decent in a Dragons deck, but I think where he’ll really shine is as the helm of U/W control. The can’t be countered clause is nice, but the real prize is going to be making sure he survives combat so that you can rebound all of your card draw spells. His interactions with wraths is actually quite powerful, as it’ll ensure that all creatures die again at the start of your next turn, basically forcing your opponents to wait a full turn cycle before they even think about playing threats, and ensuring that you get to play creatures out first.

Arahbo, Roar of the World

Cat Tribal! I spoke a bit about the eminence mechanic when talking about The Ur-Dragon, but it really shines on Arahbo. The fact that this mechanic is active from turn 1 changes the way the game plays out, and basically guarantees that you’ll have the biggest creature in any given combat until at least turn five. Giant Growth is a bad commander card, but free Giant Growth every turn, without costing you a card? That’s kind of insane. There are absurd curves involving Concordant Crossroads and Lost Leonin that will have people dead on turn 3, but even without that Arahbo lets you convert early creatures into huge damage, and can hopefully let you snowball that early advantage into unstoppable pressure as your army grows and lords start coming down.

Arahbo’s whole shtick is keeping early creatures relevant well into the lategame, and he does it perfectly.

Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist

Holy crap. I’ve played Dueling Grounds and Silent Arbiter in decks for years. Now imagine that effect, but completely one-sided. That is insanely strong, and I think the new Mirri will be able to enable true agro decks in a way that can only be compared to Iroas or the original Odric. That’s insane.

Nazahn, Revered Bladesmith

So, Stoneforege Mystic is a commander now. Well, again if we’re counting Nahiri, the Lithomancer. Being able to fetch any equipment is huge and builds a toolbox element into the deck that’s very nice to have. The fact that every equipped attacker gets to tap any creature makes blocking a nightmare for your opponents and can potentially let you plow through almost any defense. One thought I can’t quite let go of is playing Nazahn with Conjurer’s Closet. That just feels awesome.

At 5/4 Nazahn’s stats are respectable before any buffs from equipment. He is expensive at six mana, but that’s understandable for the role he plays in the deck as a utility toolbox and finisher for pushing damage through.

It is impossible to truly evaluate Nazahn without talking about Hammer of Nazahn, the one equipment that he cheats into play if he finds it. The hammer grants indestructible, which is nice, but what it really does is eliminate equipment costs. I’ve run equipment decks before (mostly Kemba, Kha Regent) and the single biggest weakness they have is the huge amount of mana you have to invest to play creatures, play equipment, and attach them repeatedly. Getting a free equip when you weapons enter the battlefield is huge, and does a huge amount to streamline your gameplan.

Balan, Wandering Knight

Our second option to lead the equipment deck, while Nazahn fall into the toolbox realm Balan is leans heavily towards Voltron-style. With the ‘base’ of a 3/3 double-striker, he can easily output damage at an astounding pace, he interacts fantastically with all the swords of X and Y and any other damage trigger equipment you can find. I don’t know if he’ll replace Kemba as the mono-white equipment general of choice, but it’s a strong possibility and I think Balan can actually close out games faster due to not having to dump mana into equip costs, although the tradeoff is a much weaker defense.

Overall I’m impressed by the legends we’ve gotten so far. Only O-Kagiachi and Wasitora are disappointing, and they’ve managed to make not just one but two strong commanders for aggressive decks. I guess it should’ve been expected given this year’s tribal theme, but I’m still blown away by the possibilities of what they’ve made here.

Traverse the Outlands

I have a Molimo, Maro-Sorcerer deck. That is all

Alms Collector

I love hate cards like this, because there needs to be reasons for people to be wary of card draw. The way it interacts with Consecrated Sphinx is a bit unfortunate, but everything about Consecrated Sphinx is unfortunate.

Stalking Leonin

Stalking Leonin introduces a weird middle ground between public and hidden information. I’m fascinated to see if any other cards will be using this mechanic and how, although this seems more like a simple introductory card for a broader theme. I suspect it will play beautifully though.

Hungry Lynx

This card gets a mention for making me laugh when I read it the first time. It comes from the “Cowards can’t block Warriors” school of hilarity, but it’s also a very strong card, although spot removal can lead to some attacks failing very embarrassingly.

Bloodforged Battle-Axe

Equipped creature gets +2/+0.

Whenever equipped creature deals combat damage to a player, create a token that’s a copy of Bloodforged Battle-Axe.

Equip 2

Speaking of impressive equipment, Bloodforged Battle-Axe starts out as a fair Bonesplitter variant that’s the kind of early play an equipment deck wants, but it can quickly snowball out of control. Fantastic with Balan, even better with Hammer of Nazahn, this card is worth keeping an eye on whenever it shows up.

I’ll be discussing commander spoilers for the next few weeks, but if you want me to look at a list built around any of the new legends send me an email, I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone comes up with.

If you want your deck to be featured in a future Dear Azami, send the decklist to [email protected], along with a brief description of what issues the deck is having and what budget you want me to work with.

Levi Byrne has been with the game since Worldwake and has a rabid love for fantasy writing that goes back decades. Despite some forays into Legacy he plays Commander almost exclusively, and has a love for the crazy plays and huge games that make Magic what it is. He was the go-to advisor of his playgroup on deck construction for more than five years before joining Dear Azami.

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