I want to clear the air. I am really enjoying the new precon decks. At the time of writing this I’m planning more precon games with my friends and I’m debating which ones to take apart, which to rebuild from scratch, and which ones to upgrade from the base model. That being said, I think the choices of tribes were really bland and remarkably unexciting.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room, the dragon deck is overly redundant at this point. Some of the dragon legends are cool, but the Khans of Tarkir block was about dragons for the second and third set. We even got (crappy) elder dragons. Did we really need more legendary dragons? Plus there are oodles of dragons and cards to support dragons. This is the lowest hanging fruit for commander.
Vampires are in a similar vein (I’m hilarious). There are multiple sets with excellent vampire support. Many of the vampire lords are still affordable and the next set is furthering Vampire support. Wizards as a chosen tribe also irk me. There are 614 wizards printed according to Magiccards.info, filtering that to just Grixis still leaves 404 wizard cards. Legendary wizards, in case you wonder, have 81 options! This is a long standing and powerful tribe that does not need more support when tribes like Kithkin exist and are starving for cards.
I will admit that I don’t have complaints about the cat deck. I particularly like that Arahbo, Roar of the World is cat focused. Other cat legends may make some kitties, but they don’t help the kitties. But even this is deck is an issue because once again white is all about equipment.Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist is super cool, but not at all about cats and Nazahn, Revered Blacksmith is just a generic equipment focused commander.
There are many, many, many possible tribes WotC could have picked. I’m going to cover the four tribes that need more love. These aren’t necessarily my top choices, but the choices I think that would have been best for the community and the cards.
I’m starting with possibly the greatest disappointment in the decks. We are still lacking ninjas! There are only 10 printed ninja creatures. 10! This includes multiple legendary creatures, but no blue and black ninja to herald the deck. Vela the Night-Clad and Wrexial, the Risen Deep are among the better ninja commanders. But Wrexial is not a sneaky creature and Vela is certainly not a ninja.
Ninja commanders can give ninja evasion, recruit ninja (tutor to hand for ninjutsu), or provide hefty bonuses for using the ninjutsu ability.
Adding some new ninjas with combat damage triggers is the best start. But that design space will shrink quickly, so there is room for ninja support. Afterall, a ninja was much more likely to pretend to be a carpenter or a cook to infiltrate somewhere. Why couldn’t these creatures have been mechanically linked with the skulk ability and then a cost reduction for ninjutsu effects. BOOM! I really want to have the fat chef skulk around and turn out to be a sleek ninja with a bag of rice tied around their belly.
A Panharmonicon effect for creatures that trigger on combat damage would have be perfect for this deck! It could have been a spell (Sensei’s Advice), an enchantment (Two Strike Technique), an equipment (Poisoned Blade), or a regular artifact (Map of the Stronghold). This is another missed opportunity for an enchantment to further aid the ninja which allows a creature to be the returned creature for two different ninjutsu triggers.
The next missed tribe is werewolves. Players have been calling for a legendary werewolf since Innistrad, we finally got one in Shadows over Innistrad except Ulrich of the Krallenhorde is a disappointing commander. There is no love of werewolves in his design. Mayor of Avabruck is a better commander than Ulrich.
Werewolves have a pretty big challenge in multiplayer. There is almost always an opponent who can, and will, cast two spells to turn werewolves into overcosted humans. The werewolf deck doesn’t need too much, but the things it needs are important. Werewolf decks need ways to stay werewolves. Turning human is a big weakness for the werewolf creature. Perhaps a solar eclipse card that transforms the werewolves and prevents them from turning human. Any good werewolf legend. Pump them in combat, make tokens, almost anything that interacts with wereolves will be an improvement over Ulrich.
The last thing that werewolves need to be great is some keywords. They lack many abilities because the werewolf mechanic is so wordy. One easy solution is to print werewolves that don’t transform. But to preserve some “werewolfiness” (definitely a real word) the ability could be keyworded to add room for additional text. The reminder text would be super long, but it would be in the included pamphlet and not on the cards. The werewolf deck having some effects for dealing direct damage to opponents. Perhaps some cards that enable werewolves to have super trample like Thorn Elemental, or a spin off of Burn at the Stake to deal oodles of damage from the werewolves.
We’re rolling back to the past with this tribe. Clerics are a strong fantasy element. Dungeons and Dragons included clerics from the very beginning and Magic had a cleric as far back as Alpha. Clerics have a strong presences in white and black, and having clerics as a tribe allows for something beyond an attrition strategy. Clerics can have many enter the battlefield triggers, sacrifice (for demons), reanimation, and other strategies without falling into the classic cleric trap.
The classic cleric trap is a big defensive deck that clogs up the ground. However this deck accomplishes very little. Creating some more dynamic clerics (like Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim) propels the games forward. Lifegain is popular among newer players, so having the big life gain deck can work here, but black provides options for cards like Promise of Power to keep that life total from spiraling out of control.
Cleric support with amazing cards like Edgewalker are not nearly as common. A deck with more Frontline Medic, Grand Abolisher, Goldnight Commander showcase how much clerics protect and support. Keeping you and you creatures safe while buffing them is a fantastic feeling. Clerics taking to war can snowball into an army of armor and hammers. We need more of this.
The cleric deck also allows from more big spells that Commander player love. Clerics tend to be on the small side. The various angel and demon summoning could be woven into the deck without relative ease (particularly with tokens) can allow for big splashy plays while still holding to cleric flavor.
The final tribe that could have been are merfolk. I know that this tribe already has some love. However, the legendary merrow are rather lacking. Sygg, River Cutthroat is a generic blue black commander. Sygg, River Guide is a really strong commander for the merfolk but doesn’t offer anything for build direction. There are eleven legendary merfolk, but only Sygg, River Guide can actually support the merrow. This is a sad state for this fathom focused tribe.
The commander product would allow some bigger merfolk to take the helm of a deck. It could be as simple as turning lands into Islands in addition to their type as merfolk creatures are cast and can do something based on the number of islands in play.
The real reason for more merfolk focus is the big expensive lords. The merrow have plenty of lord creatures, except their prices are not friendly for new players at all. Merfolk also have a problem similar to goblins where there are very few top end cards to support the strategy in EDH. Goblins cheat with Krenko, Mob Boss and Purphy to make oodles of tokens and profit from them. Merfolk lack such strong game enders. Also, this commander set would have been perfect to showcase some bant merfolk and tie together the white and blue merfolk with the blue and green merfolk. Bant is seriously lacking in fun commanders and the merfolk had a great way to avoid the call of the goodstuff.
What are Your Tribes?
These are the tribes I think would have been best for Commander 2017. My personal tribes would differ a little, I’d have elephant tribal in the mix for sure.
What creatures do you wish had been printed in the Commander 2017 set? Did WotC nail it this time or do you think the inclusion of vampires, dragons, and wizards added to tribes already filled with options?