Commander 2019 Impressions and Best Cards

Commander 2019 is on the shelf! I’ve played a few games with each deck – both untouched and modified – and have some first impressions for players looking at picking up a deck and my thoughts on the best card in each color. Keep in mind, commander games are fun because they can be quite random. You’re dealing with a large singleton deck and no two games will ever play the same.

Here are my thoughts from the games we played:

Faceless Menace

This deck was a lot of fun. I was a bit skeptical about it but the free morph card is a pretty real deal – as is the card advantage you get from playing face-down creatures. Some of the creatures in the deck are pretty solid too. The deck has some good morph options it’s pretty straightforward to upgrade. This deck is super interactive. It wants to play the shell game with morphs while also providing you with lots of things to do that interact with your opponents – and that makes for a pretty good and pretty engaging time.

The downside to this deck — and all of the precons — is the man base. You’ll want to upgrade it right away. There’s a lot of land and the ramp and fixing is slow resulting it sometimes slower late-game plays. Still, the deck is full of surprises and can carry its own. The deck’s color identity offers great value too — with options for ramp (green), countermagic (blue) and removal (black) and there are a ton of fun, interactive cards that use these colors.

The alternate commanders don’t work that well with the deck they come in but they are both excellent on their own. You may want to pull them out for some separate brewing but they both look like they can be quite fun.

Mystic Intellect

This one ended up being a personal challenge. I love the idea behind the deck however the precon is packed with flashback spells and enchantments that don’t immediately seem to have a lot of impact — and a lot less if Sevinne has been removed from the board. Turns out board wipes can still be problematic for him.

Still, the deck can be solid and can pull of some pretty impressive things out of the box. At our last Commander game, the Sevinne players had no issue holding their own. If it can get its legs under it, you’ll find plenty of options to work with that can help you deal with any challenge you’re facing. The deck has lots of room to grow. The alternate commanders give you some really interesting options to build brand new decks and yet each still play very well with Sevinne – giving him a bit of gas or a bit of protection. With so many good cards in red, white and blue that fit into this deck, it’s easily tied with Primal Genesis for the most upgrade options.

Primal Genesis

This deck packs more power than I expected out of the box — especially when playing against other precons. Ghired’s populate mechanic can get out of hand quickly, allowing you to get a ton of value fairly fast. It’s also not a very complex deck to work with and ideal for newer players who may have more difficulty working with the mechanics of Morph or Madness.

The biggest downside? The deck has only one Rhino token. Your first swing with Ghired will have you almost immediately wanting two. My first game I had six. A minor gripe. You’ll also need to keep Ghired safe when he attacks. You’ll want to attack opportunistically.

Ghired offers you plenty of options for expansion and growth. There are plenty of token generating and token doubling effects that you can add to the deck and lots of ways to produce tokens and make token copies of existing creatures. There are a TON of options you can use with this deck and the alternate commanders each offer you even more ideas to brew with.

While I feel this is the simplest deck to work with, it also ended up being the deck that has me the exited to play around with.

Merciless Rage

I was the least interested in playing with Merciless Rage and I’m not sure why. Probably because others beat me to the punch and I didn’t want to play the same deck they were. Still, seeing it in action and eventually playing with it myself I came to find the deck to be much more interesting than I expected.

Anje Falkenrath can be a great value engine. The loot mechanic ends up being a great tool for setting up all kinds of crazy and exciting plays — in fact, I’d say Merciless Rage wins out for the deck with the most opportunities for utter crazy nonsense. The deck can be a machine.

Merciless Rage also feels like “death by a thousand paper cuts” to opponents. It’s a lot of small things that add up over time — the generation of zombie tokens, playing a series of small madness cards, growing the board over multiple small plays each turn until you’re an undeniable threat.

The downside? Madness really doesn’t have a lot of support outside of what’s already in the deck – or at least not a lot of good cards. You’re best bet is to focus on cards that want you to be discarding. The alternate commander options very from excellent (Chainer) to less engaging (Greven) but each will give you something to work with.

DECK IMPRESSION SUMMARY

It’s nice to be able to look at the four decks and have a difficult time finding a favorite. I’m most eager to play Primal Genesis. It seems to be the strongest out of the box. I’ve spent the most time working with Mystic Intellect to see how I can grow and improve the deck. Endless Rage is just endlessly engaging and can be the most fun to play as you plot out weird interactions and discard cards. Faceless Menace has that “surprise” appeal that keeps everyone guessing. It’s “shell game” the deck and that can be a lot of fun.

In short — these decks are all great. They play very well together, have a lot of strengths to work with and you can play them out of the box with your friends and not have any trouble. You can also tweak all of them. They each have excessive land you’ll want to cut out. They also each give you clear upgrade paths that, for the most part simply require some fairly inexpensive upgrades — with Primal Genesis leading the charge for custimzation options with Mystic Intellect not far behind. Faceless Menace and Merciless Rage aren’t as flexible but can each still be updated without too much hunting. It won’t take much work for you to make your deck of choice truly your own.

Favorite Cards

Here are some of my personal favorite (so far) cards in each color that are newly printed in Commander 2019. Some of these are favorites due to power and others due to the possible interactions they may have. Some of these may prove to be busts in the long run – possibly to expensive or just replaceable. Others might prove to be better than expected. Regardless, here are some of the cards I’m really going to be watching for.

WHITE

Mandate of Peace

Mandate of Peace is White’s only really big “bang” in this set – and it’s not quite as impressive as Teferi’s Protection. Still, the card has potential. It can cancel out your opponent’s combat when you think it’s too much for you (or a potential ally) to handle. You can play it before declare attackers resolves to prevent combat related triggers from taking effect. You can play it on your own attack phase if your opponents play a spell that could blow you out like Settle the Wreckage or a large pump spell. It’s a versatile save-your-butt kind of spell.

Keep in mind, you don’t have to wait until dudes turn sideways to cast it – nor do you have to play it before damage is dealt. Just remember – combat has five phases. Beginning of combat, declare attackers, declare blockers, combat damage and end combat. Chose wisely and this card can pull you out of an unfavorable situation.

RUNNER UP: Cliffside Rescuer

BLUE

Leadership Vaccuum

Leadership Vaccuum is great, instant-speed removal for troublesome commanders. Since the card doesn’t target the commander itself, it will get around indestructible, hexproof and shroud. It takes care of both creatures and planeswalkers and many blue decks will have ways to retrieve and recast this spell. While it does feel like this card loses out in flexibility (it only hits commanders) you shouldn’t have any issues in finding a target.

You’ll want to resist the urge to hit the first commander you see with this spell. Save it for when a commander starts to get out of control or becomes otherwise difficult to get rid of.

Keep in mind, it affects each commander — so players using partners could see both cards returned to their command zone!

RUNNER UP: Sudden Substitution

BLACK

K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth

Black got spoiled in this set – beat out only by Red for the pure number of bonkers cards it got. I discussed K’rrik in my review of Legendary creatures but it remains to be said that he’s just waiting to be broken. This card can provide insane value if played correctly and needs to be killed on sight if your opponent plays him.

I’ve build a commander deck around him already and he seems to be as good as he looks when played correctly.

RUNNER UP: Bone Miser

RED

Dockside Extortionist

Red got a lot of neat cards but none carry the same impact as Dockside Extortionist. A 1/2 for 2 mana with significant upside. In Commander, by your second turn there are bound to be a few mana rocks on the table under your opponent’s control — more than enough to pay for the 2 mana investment in this goblin. Later in the game however (especially if you are playing against any artifact strategies) this guy can provide you a pile of treasure that will help ramp you considerably. If your deck runs red at all, Dockside Extortionist can be a huge investment. Mono-red needs ramp and multicolored decks need fixing. This goblin can do both.

Because Treasure tokens are artifacts AND tokens and Docside Extortionist is a goblin he plays well with a number of deck strategies. He works well in any deck that prizes tokens or that works with artifact synergies. His creature type slides him into Goblin decks where his mana ramp can help you spew out even more goblins.

At the end of the day, if you had multiples of this guy, you’d want him in every single deck that could run him. What K’rrik has in power, Dockside Extortionist has in flexibility.

As a fun note – the one time I had this guy in my hand, my opponents had zero artifacts in play. I don’t know who felt worse — them for not finding their mana rocks or me for having a doofy gobin in my hand with no treasure to be found.

RUNNER UP: Backdraft Hellkite

GREEN

Orhan Frostfang

While Green didn’t quite get the same big bang that Red and Black did, it certainly found a nice addition in the form of Orhan Frostfang. I can’t overestimate how good this card is in a creature heavy deck! Giving your creatures deathtouch makes combat very difficult for your opponents and failure to block means card draw for you. This works well enough by itself, but any number of creatures on the board will guarantee that this guy will get in some work. I’ve gotten him into play once and quickly filled my hand with cards. He’s just awesome.

RUNNER UP: Apex Altisaur

COLORLESS / LAND

Sanctum of Eternity

There’s not a lot to get excited about among new colorless cards, but Sanctum of Eternity can be a nice tool to have. It can save your commander if you need to board wipe, bounce it if it gets stolen or pinned down with an opponent’s enchantment and allow you to re-trigger enter-the-battlefield effects. It’s a great card in the right decks and should be considered heavily.

RUNNER UP – Empowerd Autogenerator

MULTICOLORED

Gerrard, Weatherlight Hero

There are so many good multicolored cards and this is primarily where the deck’s Commanders and their alternates fall. I’m discounting those — so any foil multicolored cards are not considered here (see my review of those cards for information on each). What I have looked at are the three non-foil multicolored cards. While they are all pretty good, Gerrard stands a bit above the rest by providing you with board-wipe protection.

Not only is Gerrard in interesting Commander build-around, he also offers something unique as one of a deck’s remaining 99. He gives your board some significant protection and that’s no small feat. It’s an uncommon enough of an effect that most decks that can run him will want to.

RUNNER UP – Everything else.

NEW CARD SUMMARY

Red and Black got the best bang for the buck in this set. K’rrik stole the show for most powerful card and Dockside Extortionist wins for just most well rounded and being a card that red just really wants. Those two colors also won out overall in terms of both solid new cards and monetary value. Blue had some fun new toys with Sudden Substitution just barely falling off of the list and white and green made a good showing.

The downside is that the artifacts really aren’t anything to write home about. It did better with reprints of much-needed Commander staples than it did with new cards.

Still, overall there’s a lot to get excited about. The new cards really take into consideration what the format wants to do (multiplayer interaction) and what each color is missing to make it more viable (red’s lack of ramp for instance).

Greg Grondin
Gregory Grondin is a full time Systems Analyst working for Mariner Innovations. He also works as a weight loss consultant for Weight Watchers and is part owner of Heroes' Beacon. You can follow his web comic series at http://www.spacepawdyssey.com

Greg is a fan of gaming and comics in general and an avid collector of Transformers figures.