If there’s one thing I didn’t expect for this retrospective on the best Commander cards from each expansion set, it’s just how many older sets were about beings on Dominaria fighting against the Phyrexians. With zero commentary on the most recent iteration of Phyrexians and the end of their decades-long placement in Magic: The Gathering’s rogues’ gallery, today we’re discussing Invasion, the 21st expansion set. It was the first in the aptly-titled Invasion block. Welcome back to the Commander Corner.

Although I joke about the subject matter of the set, it’s worth noting that Invasion was widely regarded as a popular set that saw commercial success. Released in late 2000, it featured some recycled elements from a scrapped set called Spectral Chaos, which is deserving of its very own discussion another time. Of note, the multicolor nature of the set was where the influences are most visible.

Speaking of multicolor, Invasion saw the introduction of gradient multicolor text boxes on dual lands such as Coastal Tower, which still persist today. Just as well, Invasion featured the first and, as far as I can manage to find, only cards to be printed in Latin, as Latin promos of Raging Kavu were handed out during the prerelease. But enough about novelty, let’s get into the sweet cards this set has to offer Commander!

Phyrexian Altar has been enabling combos for ages now, and it’s one of those cards which will probably only ever get better. A sacrifice outlet that gives you mana, especially mana of any color, is always valuable. This certified staple has a price tag to match.

Despite having quite a few cards printed that try to emulate this effect, Fact or Fiction is still extremely popular. While I think on average you’ll do better just casting a card like Chart a Course or Memory Deluge, it’s pretty cool that it’s still seeing play.

Another classic that hasn’t yet lost to the hands of time and power creep, Phyrexian Delver is great in most creature-based strategies as a way to buy back threats and combo pieces. While you do lose some life in the process, it’s negligible and rarely more than an afterthought. This staple still shines as a budget Reanimate, and I am far from embarrassed to play it.

Few enchantments inspire as much fear from stax players as Aura Shards does. For the low price of three mana you guarantee that nobody’s getting away with recklessly tossing cards like Smothering Tithe or Rhystic Study onto the battlefield without a care. I’ve played many decks where this was a must-counter unless I wanted to lose almost everything I had.

While it might look like an ordinary cantrip, Opt is actually good at going the extra mile. There’s a number of cards and commanders that care about drawing cards or casting spells when it isn’t your turn, and this satisfies both of those far better than Serum Visions or Preordain ever could. Plus, getting extra-cheap card selection is good in most decks.

Alongside Crosis, the Purger, Dromar, the Banisher, Treva, the Renewer, and Darigaaz, the Igniter, Rith, the Awakener completes a cycle of three-color legendary dragons notably lacking the elder subtype. While some are pretty timid by the standards of today, I still see a couple every now and then, especially alongside the omnipresent The Ur-Dragon.

They really hammered down on a subtheme of artifacts and enchantments in this set, and Sterling Grove acting as a sort of enchantment “lord” that also doubles as a tutor really proves it. As a bonus, you get to sacrifice this from underneath removal when your opponents get tired of not being able to target your other enchantments.

Few cards exemplify the “go big or go home” side of Commander as much as Reya Dawnbringer. At nine mana, you’re usually trying to sneak this into play, but it still needs to stick around to get real value. I am quite confused on how this is just a 4/6, but I love this card, and I’ve definitely seen it accompanying Kaalia of the Vast on more than one occasion.

Alongside Aura Mutation, Artifact Mutation is another powerful way to interact with problematic cards while also getting paid off for it. I’ve seen the resulting tokens turned into an army with Craterhoof Behemoth, sacrificed to Phyrexian Altar, and more.

Alongside Irrigation Ditch, Ancient Spring, Geothermal Crevice, and Tinder Farm, Sulfur Vent completes a cycle of lands that give you a one-time boost to your mana production in certain decks. While this cycle isn’t especially popular, I think it needs a lot more spotlight as few lands have even vaguely similar effects.

If you thought Old Man of the Sea was something to write home about, Empress Galina really goes a step further. With more and more legendary permanents being printed every year I think it’s only a matter of time before this card starts creeping into casual games as a must-destroy threat. Sure it’s five mana, but the effect lasts indefinitely.

A Reanimate effect stapled to a Flash effect, few cards really do what Cauldron Dance does. If you have a stocked graveyard and gigantic creatures rotting in your hand, this can do some pretty cool stuff. I think this is criminally underplayed.

Some cards only ever get better, and a repeatable tutor for an ever-growing pool of cards definitely counts. Captain Sisay is a powerful card, and it has a price tag to match.

While there’s a lot of comparable effects, few have the popularity and staying power of Fires of Yavimaya. Perhaps it’s the low price, or even the activated ability being good in a pinch to win combat, but it’s very popular. I still see this one pop up at casual tables surprisingly often.

That’s all, folks. While there’s a whole lot of cool cards in the set, I can only fit so many in here before it’s just a gallery of card images. I really dig Invasion, and if this set is any indication of how fun the rest of the block is going to be, I can’t wait for the next chapter. I’ve been Luka “Robot” Sharaska, and this has been the Commander Corner.

[Luka V. Sharaska (they/them) earned the nickname “Robot” by having a monotone voice, a talent for calculating odds, and a perfect poker face. Robot has been playing Magic for more than a decade, starting during the days of New Phyrexia in 2011.]

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