Hello again and welcome to the second part of my look into the marquee generals of Commander 2018. Like yesterday, I have chosen to make time for each of the planeswalkers headlining this year’s decks by splitting up my commentary into two articles this week and keep next open to talk about this weekend’s Grand Prix Minneapolis. In my last article, I talked about how Lord Windgrace and Saheeli the Gifted would be building upon established themes in Commander, hopefully fulfilling the goal of giving the greater community different flavors of generals in the process.

Today, I will look at Aminatou, the Fateshifter and Estrid, the Masked, two generals that play into space that hasn’t been carved out very well in the past: top of the library and auras. I am excited by the prospects both bring. Both play on themes I didn’t know I wanted to see built around and are in color combinations I often don’t seriously consider, meaning that my card evaluations will need to shift a little when I ultimately build physical decks for them. But as a Vorthos, I’m possibly more excited because both cards represent characters we’ve yet to see in the story proper, leaving the door open for them to make appearances in the future—like Nahiri the Lithomancer in Commander 2014—in ways we don’t see coming yet.

Aminatou, the Fateshifter

I don’t often like to start my evaluation of a planeswalker with the ultimate, since we rarely see those happen as much as I would personally like. But this ultimate is insane in what it is asking of a deck as a possible build around. You want to have things that have already used up their value by the time you pass them, but will improve if you get to flicker them back to your battlefield. In all honesty, I had to stare at Aminatou, the Fateshifter for a while and let the card brew in my brain before I really understood what I was looking at. Aminatou certainly has the ability to protect itself and gain card advantage. It has group hug themes without being a Phelddagrif or Zedruu the Greathearted deck, just something more sinister. I’m so happy to see an Esper general seeing print that doesn’t ask you to be an artifact deck, instead playing into crazier themes and a more controlling gameplan.

A lot more attention is going to be put on her second and third abilities. The question I’ve had since seeing Aminatou is how her first ability will tie into the rest of the deck’s themes? This is an odd problem to have, since this interaction is playing into the space the deck sells itself on: affect the top of the library. The ability seems really useful, filtering our draws without necessarily getting card advantage. Too look at Aminatou from top to bottom, while a version of this deck running at its most efficient will inevitably want Sensei’s Divining Top or Scroll Rack to help set up its draws, I think this is the perfect scenario for Soothsaying and Descendent of Soramaro to thrive. Both of these cards won’t help once cards reach our hands, but having the ability to manipulate the top of our library as effectively as these cards do makes them a better fit than even my first budget option—Hedron Alignment.

Moving down the card, we’ll want to be looking for some pretty typical effects to make use of her second ability and not let it be symmetrical. This means playing plenty of enter-the-battlefield effects where the body is relatively vanilla. Shriekmaw and Mulldrifter are great utility cards that are not going to be out of place in deck. Being able to ultimate quickly and then use tricks from within the deck to acquire any cards we want back should be our endgame. Copies of The Chain Veil, Oath of Gideon, and Oath of Terferi make our general really maxed out on potential should help.

Of the existing card in Magic, our best options are spells that flicker creatures specifically back to their owner like Long Road Home, Turn to Mist, or Otherworldly Journey; and things that grant persist in response to a board wipe, like Cauldron Haze or Cauldron of Souls. Part of card selection here is that we’re incentivised to not use permanents, because they can be swapped away with the ultimate. So as much as I love Cauldron of Souls, it would also be my easiest card to replace. If we’re willing to pay for the long game and recast creatures, Boomerang effects will also be very helpful. My favorite is the hidden gem, Withdraw, which can get us several creatures back for cheap.

I think all four of these decks are headed up by powerful generals, but it’s possible that Aminatou might get overlooked by being so outside of the norm. From what we’ve seen thus far, the deck might be a hardest to understand, seeing the most acclaim for giving us the ninja general that I and many others have long awaited. This will likely be the deck I’m looking to pick up first, especially in effort to try to crack the code and make her something special for myself. I love the art, I love the strange design, and I can’t wait.

Estrid, the Masked

A lot of people have wanted an enchantress general for some time. I don’t know that this is exactly what I had mind—it’s more of an auramancer general—but I’m pretty exciting by what I behold. The key to this deck is going to be looking for as many cards that can enchant a permanent as we can find and attaching them to anything we can get value out of. With the availability of Estrid’s +1, we could get an extra activation off Spawning Ground or Squirrel Nest, or maybe there is a game where the optimal play includes casting Volition Reins on our own Grim Monolith or Gilded Lotus. As previews rolled out, the promise of more totem armor cards had my expectations really high. To be honest, I was let down there.

Both of today’s decks are going to benefit from Oath of Teferi and The Chain Veil. Estrid should be able to protect at least one other permanent each turn, while untapping lands enchanted with Fertile Ground or enchanted creatures that have attacked to reclaim some blockers. I am also excited by Estrid’s Invocation, the Copy Enchantment variant this deck really wants—resetting to the most valuable enchantment for the turn, copying a Mask token for Estrid in a pinch, or just gaining us some extra advantage by flickering back in as a cantrip like Flight of Fancy.

It looks like this precon is going heavy on the enchantment theme, reprinting a lot of the valuable cards to the strategy from throughout Magic’s history. This means this deck will probably require the least amount of changes to customize. For my personal tastes, I would be scouring my rare binders for copies of Auratouched Mage, Eldrazi Conscription, Gigantiform, and Starfield of Nyx to start swapping out any less than ideal reprints. Aura Gnarlid and its cousin Rabid Wombat are old favorites of mine that haven’t much play, because they couldn’t make an appearance with Zur, the Enchanter. And don’t sleep on Umbra Mystic. In many ways she does a great job imitating Astrid’s middle ability; and if it’s not part of the other 99 already, it ought to be.

I think this general’s best uses are going to be in its first two abilities. While I believe the ultimate is very powerful, I worry that building towards it might be futile, as I have a hard time imagining an entire table is going to just let it happen. With Theros block in the mix, just about every permanent type could be regrown if Estrid is left unchecked, and I know my playgroup won’t passively let that happen.

As stated last time, this weekend is Grand Prix Minneapolis. For all those in town, stop by Light Grey Labs to see the Magic: the Gathering art exhibit open all weekend. If you’re at the event site, be sure to buy art from the artists. With Minneapolis being the home of Vorthos Mike and the entire art-loving cast of the Goblin Lore podcast, there are at least a few Vintage Artist Constructed games going on over the weekend. Stop by, look for my ugly mug sporting a Hipsters of the Coast shirt, and let’s play some Commander, draft a cube, or talk about all the exciting new cards coming down the pipe! See you there.

Ryan Sainio is a Graphic Designer who writes about EDH, the story of Magic and the EDH community in his down time. He has been playing Magic: The Gathering since 7th Edition in 2002 and values flavorful and fun gameplay over competitively optimized decks.
Pet Deck – Shattergang Eldrazi

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