Starting in 2011, Wizards of the Coast began producing special Commander sets. The project was certainly ambitious, and the intention from the beginning was to make each collection of decks thematically diverse. More than a decade later, I began revisiting the yearly Commander releases to consider their historical and contemporary performance. Check out my previous examinations: Revisiting Commander 2011, Revisiting Commander 2013, Revisiting Commander 2014, Revisiting Commander 2015, Revisiting Commander 2016, Revisiting Commander 2017, and Revisiting Commander 2018.

There was a degree of excitement around the Commander 2019 product. It was the second time that Wizards had chosen to build Commander decks around looser themes, in this case choosing to highlight specific mechanics, siloed into each deck. In this case highlighting Morph, Flashback, Populate, and Madness. It can be a little hard to precisely gauge the legacy of this product. It had its time just before the world fell into crisis and we no longer were able to do in-person Commander. As such I believe we have a product which has a lot of meaningfully relevant Commanders, and quite a few that may have been lost to history. 

Today, I will be taking a look at the commanders coming out of Commander 2019 and determine what impact they had on the format. I will be basing my analysis on the reception these generals received at the time, how they created or supported an archetype, and answer if they maintained any sustained usage. As always, I will be grouping each of the new commanders into the decks they premiered in.

Faceless Menace

Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer was supposed to be the promised one. Okay, so that may have been an overstatement, but the promise of a morph commander was very welcome at the time. Due to the nature of color identity, we had not seen a viable option for a morph deck outside of Ixidor, Reality Sculptor, with Animar, Soul of Elements serving as the most practical option at the time. Into this power vacuum came Kadena. Like each of the marquee commanders of this set, Kadena was future-proofed enough that she didn’t strictly support morph, but left room for manifest to thrive. Three and half years later, Kadena sits as the sixth most popular Sultai commander, which seems fitting. She is niche with an established deck that likely isn’t changing anytime soon, but the best at what they do.

I have a bias for Volrath, the Shapestealer, who is in the running for my favorite commander from the set. Not only did I see him as a viable commander, including my revisions featured in my last article, but I saw enough versatility that I built three articles around him as: a clone deck, a poison deck,  and a sliver deck back in the fall of 2019. I ultimately believe my enthusiasm for the character was not shared by many people, as he currently resides as the fifteenth most popular Sultai general.

Rayami, First of the Fallen, aka Soulflayer as a commander, is a card that I don’t know that I fully understood the first time I read it. I think it functions as a fairly interesting commander to build once, but likely won’t stick around as a reserve deck on hand. I don’t know that I ever saw hype for Rayami and that’s a little unfortunate, we finally had a place for Gurmag Swiftwing and Cerulean Drake in Commander. Regardless, less than a year later Kathril, Aspect Warper was printed, which not only benefited from keyword counters, but didn’t have the same timing restrictions to complicate your play sequencing. Today, Rayami resides as the eighteenth in their color identity.

Lastly for the deck, we have Grismold, the Dreadsower, who always felt like a poor imitation of Slimefoot, the Stowaway. The commanders included in these products without the ability to lead are always a little hard to judge, because they are brought into the format in a position that is easy to overlook. And due to the popularity of the aforementioned Slimefoot as a budget commander, Grismold was overshadowed. I still stand by my original assertion that Illness in the Ranks and Plague Engineer could do a lot of funny things in a Grismold deck, but at twenty-seventh place in Golgari,I would only expect them to show up in a Dollar General meet-up night.

Mystic Intellect

I remember Sevinne, the Chronoclasm getting so much attention when he was first being previewed. I think it mostly had to do with the fact that the design definitely pushed you in the direction of caring about flashback. But like many of the other commanders the premiere in this set, was open-ended enough that it left a lot of possibilities for combos to be uncovered. Surprisingly, Sevinne has fallen into a bit of obscurity, now ranking 14th among Jeskai commanders, with Dockside Extortionist and Sevinne’s Reclamation being the precon’s true claim to fame within the format. This seems to be due to the realization that Sevinne was not some kind of combo enabler but more as a niche card that certainly has its merits, but not the upper limits that we originally believed it might have had.

If memory serves, Elsha of the Infinite got figured out pretty quickly as the choice commander from the Mystic Intellect deck. As a Future Sight with prowess, it should be no surprise that it has made it all the way up to third in its color identity. I have been lucky enough to dodge the Elsha deck until more recently, but I can say that it is a powerful and consistent deck if the deck builder intends for it to be. If you are into spellslinger or prowess decks, Elsha has likely been on your radar for sometime and it looks fun as all get out to pilot.

It’s actually rather heartwarming to see that Pramikon, Sky Rampart has been able to make enough of a mark on the format to currently sit as the 7th most popular general in the color identity. Upon seeing the highly requested first legendary wall, I will freely admit that I did not necessarily know how to properly assess the card at first viewing. After some thought and analysis, I believe it was a success as a political card that players seem to love.

I saw Gerrard, Weatherlight Hero as the Boros Commander we had been waiting for. A general who offered reasonable mitigation against board wipes and allowing for something other than combat to build around. A commander so impactful on me, I wrote about him once and returned with an update a year later. Gerrard, Weatherlight Hero currently sits at 50th amongst his color identity. While not completely to blame, Osgir, the Reconstructor and Alibou, Ancient Witness in the Strixhaven-linked Commander 2021 helped to redefine what Boros could do with artifacts, meaning that this new direction forged by Gerrard was successful, but he was ultimately outclassed.

Primal Genesis

The Naya identity deck from Commander 2019, Primal Genesis, is admittedly my blindspot. There were certainly tools to enable this at the time, with Ghired, Conclave Exile to allow them to be more powerful and fun. If memory serves, he didn’t create the same amount of hype the other commanders from this set did, though “brings populate to Red” was bound to make an impact. In the last few years we’ve seen a continual growth in the amount of token copies, such as Scute Swarm, Jaxis, the Troublemaker, and Delina, Wild Mage that it’s understandable why Ghired maintains a position as seventh amongst the Naya color identity.

Marisi, Breaker of the Coil certainly feels like a bit of a diamond in the rough. While I happen to love goad as a mechanic, I had forgotten that Wizards had built us a commander specifically around it. On the surface Marisi is an open-ended commander, they restrict the ability for your opponents to do any kind of combat tricks, and it pushes the game along by forcing combat on a pretty regular basis. After jogging my memory of this card’s existence, I can recall a certain amount of interest in this card that I think reasonably blossomed into something. This general currently sits as the ninth most popular within the color identity and a high-ranking member in the forced combat archetype.

It was not hard to see that Atla Palani, Nest Tender could do one of the most powerful things to be done in Magic: cheat on mana costs. Echoing a lot of what old school players had seen in Mayael the Anima, Atla Palani seemed destined for big things and they lived up to the hype, proving to be the real winner within this deck and currently sitting at second among all Naya commanders. Highlighting cards like Fanatical Devotion, Nesting Dragon, and Mirror Entity, the average deck is looking to cheat out a lot of large creatures, including the on-theme dinosaurs like Apex Altisaur, Etali, Primal Storm, and Trapjaw Tyrant. Truly a commander after my own heart, I love the general bulk rare feel of this all-star creature.

Tahngarth, First Mate feels like he never got a fair shake and was possibly just created at the wrong time. He has such a cool design, hopping around the table like a more political Karona, False God, but just never got the following he might have gotten just a few years prior. It seemed so simple, grab a Darksteel Plate, Hammer of Nazahn, or Shield of Kaldra and start the political mind games. Ultimately, Tahngarth currently ranks as the 39th most popular Gruul commander, a disappointing placement for a general that I think has a lot of potential. 

Merciless Rage

Anje Falkenrath I’d like to think that Wizards really got things right this time, as Anje ranks as the second most popular Rakdos commander and the face of the madness archetype. In fact, I would say this entire deck was a sleeper hit, even if Anje and another commander – K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth – were pretty well-identified during preview season. Looking through the average Anje deck, it really hasn’t changed much from the deck that was established at the time. Being able to upgrade the deck with Terminal Agony and Necrogoyf in the last few years is notable for sure, but I think a lot of Anje’s appeal could definitely be rooted in the comfort players can take in having a deck with a clear purpose and not a lot of required attention as new sets roll out. Next we have two of the generals who I proposed in 2019 were in the running for ‘Most improved over prior designs.’ And I think Greven, Predator Captain and Chainer, Nightmare Adept may have been my two personal favorites from this entire set. Chainer took his place as a reanimator deck pretty quickly and by all accounts, has maintained a strong following in the archetype, while being fifth in his color identity overall. Creatures like Gravebreaker Lamia and Flayer of the Hatebound see a lot of play in the deck, and I have to imagine the unearth cards coming out of Brothers’ War have also been a boon for the deck.

Greven, Predator Captain hasn’t necessarily fared extremely well as a commander, currently ranking nineteenth within the color Identity, but I have personally found them to be an extremely potent card to include in the 99 of combat focused decks. With enough haste enablers, I think that Greven could easily see a resurgence, especially with Staff of Completion now in the format and the hope that the Phyrexians will continue to provide us with cards that treat life as a resource.

K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth is the most popular mono black commander by a considerable margin. While the community definitely knew that this was a powerful card, I wasn’t prepared for just how powerful he proved to be. I half-jokingly stated that it could potentially be broken in the “greatness at any cost” kind of way. Even that feels like an understatement to some degree. Maybe the best design in the set, maybe a mistake, saved only by the fact that it’s never been in the discussion for banning, as far as I know. His design is fun, using life as a resource and has personally acted as a secret general in the Phage the Untouchable deck I created nearly two years ago

As I sat down to start writing this article, I had this feeling that Commander 2019 was a very impactful set even if it wasn’t one that had gotten a lot of acclaim after the fact. Legendary creatures coming out of this set were the topic of my articles eleven times since their release, and several have existed on countless shortlists of consideration. But the proof is right in front of us as well. Nine of the sixteen commanders coming out of this product are currently in the top ten most popular commanders in their respective color identities, three of which came out of the Primal Genesis deck alone. Even as an advocate for the set, I am pleasantly surprised to say it stood the test of time really well. Thanks for reading.

Ryan Sainio (he/him) is a Graphic Designer exploring the Commander format and Magic history on a regular basis. Notable decks that value flavorful and fun gameplay over competitively optimized decks include Shattergang Eldrazi, Doran Soul Sisters, and Chatterfang ProsBloom.

MTG Content Creator Awards 2022 nominee: Format Specialty Writing & Excellence in Writing Overall

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