Since many of you are fresh of Aether Revolt prereleases, and now we have the benefit of a few months’ of wisdom, let’s take a look at Commander 2016. With every new product Wizards releases, we need to take a deep and critical look at the cards and ideas within the set as a community. You probably know that the set hosts two separate sets of commanders, the four-color Legends and the partner sets that are themselves a new mechanic. Let’s dive in and start taking a look at what is and what could have been.
The Partner mechanic was debuted as a way to build four-color decks using two-color creatures, and thus not break the color pie. Mark Rosewater said the problem with creating four-color commanders is they end up more about the color missing than the colors present, so this is an interesting approach for sure. But the question is, do two-color commanders that can be combined lead to good Commander decks, or even a good play experience? I honestly think that partners could be a good mechanic, but I don’t think the direction Wizards went was the right one. My second question is, “Will it be a mechanic like experience counters or the planeswalker commanders that get made and then seemingly will never be supported again?”
Theme is in my opinion the biggest fail to the Partner mechanic as implemented. Let’s take a look at a few of random pairs. First, Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder and Tana, the Bloodsower – what theme could these two have together? What do they do to complement each other? How much cooler would it have been to get a whole storyline, like the Weatherlight crew, instead of just random figures throughout the lore? Or what if one of the pairs could be Stitcher Geralf and Ghoulcaller Gisa[/card}, how much of a flavor win would that be? The Partner mechanic has so much design space. Maybe if we ever see it again, the fine people at Wizards will see fit to push themes…or will we they miss this opportunity again?
Function Vs. Toolbox
You can find plenty of debates about the good and bad of Wizards designers pushing into the Commander space with “made-for” cards being so tailored for the format they become a must to play. See, for example, [card]Command Tower These Partner commanders are less about the function of a new commander that brings a new angle to the game, and more about commanders that are a toolbox. Need card draw? Great. Play Kraum, Ludevic’s Opus. Need recursion? Then play Ravos, Soultender. The generals seem to me to not be exploring new ground, but more just will make it easier for the format to homogenize. Maybe Wizards thinks there’s no new ground to explore in EDH?
Let’s take a look at the four-color generals, as I feel like these hit the mark a little better than the partners.
Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice is the most popular of generals so far. She has skyrocketed to the top of sites like www.edhrec.com. Why wouldn’t she, as she has a lot going for her? 4/4 body for 4 CMC, flying, vigilance, deathtouch and lifelink. Not to mention she is an Angel, one of the most prolific of tribes, with some kick-ass art. With Proliferate at the end of every turn, she is a general that can be pretty linear but still has the ability to helm different types of decks.
In fact, I have her at the head of an Angel tribal deck that also plays with ways to hand out +1/+1 counters. The only complaint I have with her is I really don’t see the green influence. Yes, some of the abilities can be found in green, but they are more primary in her other colors. Many have been complaining that she is broken, and it’s true she can take counter themes and infect over the top very quickly, but I don’t see a broken commander, just an efficient one within her wheelhouse. I give her a solid B but nothing higher.
Breya, Etherium Shaper, oh how I hate thee! In a lot of ways this is the thopter queen everyone wanted. She creates thopters, can sac for profit, and create more thopters. The artwork is amazing (I should know, because I have it hanging on my wall). The card also hits each of its four colors better than Atraxa does, and has relevant abilities. So why do I hate it, you ask? Because it will always lead to broken artifact decks. No matter how you build them, you will look down and realize you can go infinite, even without meaning to (right Dave?). I have seen many builds and every one of them, even though many try to do something different, always function the same way. Will Aether Revolt add enough thopters so this deck can be a sweet tribal? Probably, but you won’t see those decks. You will only get the broken ones. I give her a D as I think she becomes this year’s Nekusar, the Mindrazer.
Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis is built to be a group hug card that helps games along and it does that effectively; however, this is a card that I also don’t care for at all. First, I am not a group hug player, so symmetrical effect cards are never high on my list. You can build your deck to take “better” advantage of it, until another deck takes just enough advantage of it with better quality cards to beat you. Secondly, these two dudes don’t represent their colors well? Where is the white or red influence in the design? There is nothing that says red to me, or white except Solider. Let’s be honest, that is weak indeed. The card does have amazing art but overall I grade the card as a C.
Saskia the Unyielding, hits on a lot of cylinders here. It has a relevant creature type in Human Soldier (much like Kynaios), very good damage output, and is built in way to affect politics at the table. Just imagine, “Hey. Let me hit you for 3 to kill off the threat at the table.” The effects seem to match the game plan of attacking and dealing damage, and even though the target is selected on cast, it can be reset as the game develops. Again, Saskia lacks identity in one of her colors. Where is the influence from black? I give a C+, mainly for not hitting all four colors. In fact, many of these generals feel like three-color commanders rather than four. This could be the result of fearing of making them too strong, so instead they held back a little.
Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder lives by one powerful ability, cascade. Cheating mana cost is always a strong play in Magic, and being able to do it with every spell on a given turn after doing combat damage can be huge. Since Yidris functions based on combat damage plus cascade, the card isn’t linear and can helm many different decks. That being said, stopping combat really stops this commander. Again, it doesn’t reflect all its colors well and has the feel of a three-color commander stretched to four colors. Like Atraxa, I give Yidris a B.
For years, we as a community have been asking for four-color commanders, and Wizards listened and provided them this year. The reason it took so long was Wizards was trying to get it right. The question is did they hit it and give us the toys we have been wanting all along? Yes, we have some decent four-color commanders now, although I would argue they are more like three-color than four. But they do have four colors in their casting cost. Yes, we have a great mechanic that can be expanded in partners. Though the execution this time around was weak, they have a lot they can build on in the future. Though these commanders quality is mixed, Wizards is developing decks that are more out-of-the-package playable, and this year’s have an ability to play a good game.
You also can’t overlook the fact that Wizards is listening, even if they still haven’t reprinted my damn Damnation!
Until next time, keep your head down, this is EDH.Ghost out!