Commander spoilers start officially on July 23rd, but we’ve seen a bit of teaser information from Wizards of the Coast. That includes some superb art, like Seb McKinnon’s amazing “mothgoth” piece, and the (very) basic themes of the decks: U/R artifacts, R/B/G lands, W/U/G enchantments, and W/U/B top-of-library manipulation. No doubt we’ll see Future Sight, and probably The Gitrog Monster, Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain, and a high-value lands reprint—possibly Azusa again, or Oracle of Mul Daya.

Regardless, I’m excited: the Commander decks are tied with the Challenger decks in my esteem—the perfect introductory product for newer players that also cleanses the palates of more established players. They are the ideal pop-in-your-bag item to take to a bar or keep in a drawer without worrying about double-sleeving and updating for metagame shifts. I tend to play cards in Commander that are a) terrible and b) obnoxious, so it’s nice to have a premade deck that throttles back on the less salubrious parts of my personality.

Commander decks are great spaces to print oddball cards—sometimes problematically so, as with True-Name Nemesis, but often with great results. Think of Scavenging Ooze or Containment Priest or, depending on your definition of “problematic,” Flusterstorm. Unconstrained by having to pass through the chokepoint of Standard balance, these cards can be role players (Arachnogenesis), create new archetypes, or tell oddball stories in their own right (Hungry Lynx, Feldon of the Third Path). I’m not a huge fan of the haymaker-style cards that Wizards includes (Trench Gorger, Price of Knowledge), as I’m more of a fan of close-to-the-ground or Stax commander decks, but there’s always been a place in the format for eight mana absurdity.

The format offers us fertile creative territory and superb reprint possibilities. We can revisit planes that perhaps lack adequate narrative to justify a full return (although I expect this to change in the new single-set era) like Alara with Yidris or Kamigawa with Kaseto, Orochi Archmage. We can reprint desirable cards, like Chromatic Lantern, Wurmcoil Engine, or Grave Pact without having to force them into a specific plane. We can even reprint undesirable cards, like Endless Cockroaches, without taking up valuable space in a Core Set. In theory, these would be an ideal place for fetchlands, but Wizards appears to be gun-shy of printing those in a supplementary product. Prove me wrong, Wizards—prove me wrong!

They’re also a windfall from a financial standpoint—not only do new commanders buoy forgotten cards, but picking up $2 Partner commanders in 2016 was, as it turns out, a great way to work up to a Grim Monolith or a playset of Cryptic Commands. Back in 2015, you could have bought a stack of Primal Vigors at $4.99 a piece; they’re now $20 (“If it doubles tokens, it doubles prices” is generally a good rule of thumb)

Above all, Wizards knows this is a worthy product—they don’t just release a set each year, but launch catch-up sets in the Commander Anthology series—and seem dedicated to continuing the series. Read the design document from last year’s iteration—which I’d argue is the most successful set we’ve seen since they launched the product line—and see how much care goes into developing new mechanics that are attractive enough to play without warping the format. By my count, they’ve erred on the side of caution in their mechanics, with only one mild misstep in the experience counter mechanic. It’s essentially a fine mechanic, but if I never play against an Ezuri or Meren deck again, it’ll still be too soon.

The world of Commander is all of Magic’s worlds, and that’s part of its charm. The supplemental sets (Battlebond, Conspiracy) are great for the same reasons the Commander decks are great, but they still have to adhere to consistent design choices. (Fioran goblins look like this, we need a cycle of Assist creatures for balance purpose, etc.) There’s freedom in Commander—both the format and the product series—and I can’t wait to see what off-beat and powerful cards thrive along that frontier in this year’s decks, and in next year’s.

As we wait for the spoilers to roll out, I leave you with two fun lists.

Appendix A. Most Fun Commander Exclusives You’re (Probably) Not Playing Enough:

  1. Manifold Insights—It is to Fact or Fiction what Lim-Dul’s Vault is to Demonic Tutor: way less advantage, way more full to watch unfold.
  2. Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath—Although he’s a fine Commander, I’m talking about the maindeck. The emblem is so powerful, but reads so smoothly, that people don’t prioritize taking him out—until after the first time he comes down, and then he becomes everyone’s focus. Teach them that lesson.
  3. Titania, Protector of Argoth—She was hot for a minute when Commander 2015 dropped. She still sees Legacy play, but I see her less and less these days in the 99. In a world where Azusa, Crucible, and Scapeshift are all under twenty bucks and a new Lands preconstructed deck is about to bolster interest, it’s time to pick her back up and map out a route to Valuetown.
  4. Runehorn Hellkite—Instant-speed Wheel of Fortune for only twice the price! Really, though, this is a potent card, because either the threat of it going off at your leisure will adjust the way people play or, more ideally, folks forget it’s in your graveyard. The player running Reliquary Tower and Blue Sun’s Zenith will get a shock.
  5. Wave of Reckoning—In a world where Arcades and Doran are valid Commanders, this is a situationally powerful spell. In those situations, it’s incredibly destructive. Note that it triggers any “whenever this creature deals damage to a creature” effects and gets around protection. It’s also excellent with lifelink. Subtly an extremely white spell.

Appendix B. Least Fun Exclusive Commander Legendary Cards, Ranked

  1. Ezuri, Claw of Progress
  2. Derevi, Empyrial Tactician
  3. Meren of Clan Nel Toth
  4. Nekusar, the Mindrazer
  5. Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice

What do I take away from this list? Wow do I hate experience counters.

A lifelong resident of the Carolinas and a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Rob has played Magic since he picked a Darkling Stalker up off the soccer field at summer camp. He works for nonprofits as an educational strategies developer and, in his off-hours, enjoys writing fiction, playing games, and exploring new beers.

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