Commanding an Allegiance

With each new Magic set comes an opportunity to find and explore new cards that can be used in your Commander decks! There are new Legendary creatures to build around as commanders and new cards to add to your existing decks. Below are some of the new Legendary Creature cards that players may want to build around and my thoughts on each.

Rakdos, The Showstopper

Rakdos gonna Rakdos. This chaotic demon gives players the opportunity to cause some havoc with a potentially one-sided effect. Fill your board with imps, demons and devils and then drop him on the table in hopes of chipping down your opponent’s board.

The downside to Rakdos, The Showstopper is that Black/Red already has some pretty great options for commanders and while there may be potential to wipe your opponent’s board the coin flip mechanic gives you no guarantees and you could easily miss out on some of the better targets. If you can bounce him using Conjurer’s Closet or some other means you may get more bang for your buck but his color combination limits your options. You can also use Krark’s Thumb – an artifact from Mirrodin – to flip two coins and keep the preferred result and increasing the impact he has on the board. On his own he still a 6/6 flyer with trample which opens up the opportunity to simply kill your opponents with your commander. He carries some weight and his effect is unpredictable — the way Rakdos likes it.

Prime Speaker Vannifar

Prime Speaker Vannifar really likes enter the battlefield triggers! Her ability acts like Birthing Pod and allows you to swap creatures on the battlefield for even bigger creatures. This allows you to tutor up the creatures and effects that are best suited for the board state you are facing. It’s a powerful effect.  For example, if you have a two mana creature you don’t need you can upgrade it for something better. Need an enchantment gone? Get a Reclamation Sage. Need an artifact? Get a Trophy Mage. Want to get some cards from your graveyard? Get an Eternal Witness. If the creature you’re sacrificing has a death trigger, even better. You want to build a deck with great toolbox creatures with a good mana curve to allow you to continuously upgrade your board and apply pressure to your opponents. There are also multiple ways to improve on her ability — allowing you to use it multiple times or by enabling enter the battlefield triggers to trigger more than once.

Vannifar’s ability is also not one easily replicated and it forces some deep consideration into the kinds of creatures you put into your deck. She promises to be a fun creature to build around.

Teysa Karlov

Teysa is definitly a commander option that will see play. Giving your token army vigilance and lifelink is pretty great but her major ability allows your creature’s death triggers to trigger an additional time. There are plenty of creatures in black and white that either generate potent effects when they or another creature hits the graveyard. You can ramp up that effect with Teysa. Dictate of Erebos and similar cards can help you lock down the board while token generating effects like Afterlife can keep your board full of creatures — which Teysa empowers with lifelink and vigilance. Separately her effects can be strong but crafty players can easily find a way to abuse both — allowing them to field a token army, keep their life totals high and put pressure on their opponents with sacrifice effects and death triggers.

Lavinia, Azorius Renegade

Lavinia offers a unique ability that  prevents your opponents from “cheating” cards into play with free casting costs. She can cripple the strategies some decks want to use, forcing them to casts their spells the hard way. She also breaks the symmetry on effects like Dream Halls that would typically allow all players to cast spells for free. This can also allow you to end the game quickly by preventing your opponents from playing anything at all. She’s a fascinating commander — but be warned she will also tempt players into playing some broken card combinations that can lock opponents out of the game. If you see someone playing Lavinia, you’ll want to do everything you can to remove her from play or you may find her preventing you from playing anything at all.  If you play her, expect a lot of heat and attention and if you do try to lock your opponents out of casting spells, you can expect retribution from the entire table. If your board state isn’t up to snuff, you could find yourself under siege.

Judith, the Scourge Diva

Judith comes to the table with card art that would rival even some of Liliana’s best. Her effects are not very powerful on the surface. A small pump to your creatures’ power and an on-death effect that deals damage to any target. The non-token clause on her second ability prevents you from sacrificing armies of tokens to finish off your foes but there are still strategies you may be able to play towards. Giving Judith deathtouch, for instance, could allow you to quickly chew away at the board with little effort. Damage doublers like Dictate of the Twin Gods and Furnace of Wrath ramp up the damage Judith can dole out. Judith is likely outclassed by the bulk of cards that Rakdos has to offer as commander options but she may still be interesting to work around. Her low casting cost make her appealing as well.

At the end of the day though, there are other cards in her colors that are much easier to build around.

 

Nykya of the Old Ways

Another legendary creature that has to try to share the spotlight with many better creatures in her colors, Nikya of the Old Ways carries a mana-doubling effect that Gruul decks are hungry for. She wants you to play big creatures and her effect is fairly unique. Being unable to cast noncreature spells may be a bit problematic though and can limit your options considerably. That said, Nikya reproduces an effect that can already be found on other cards and Green/Red decks already have access to many, many ways to get huge amounts of mana. Still, if Nykya isn’t your commander she makes a great addition to any deck that wants to go big with their creatures. If you do use her as your commander you can rest easy knowing you will almost always have access to her mama-doubling effect.

Zegana, Utopian Speaker

Zegana plays well with any deck using +1/+1 counters and also happens to be a merfolk in colors merfolk want to play. Her effects can give you a little card draw, it can give some of your creatures trample and she can adapt to an 8/8 trample creature herself. Blue/Green simic decks tend to really want to invest in +1/+1 counters which will make it easy for you to get some benefits and allow you to get damage in when you might otherwise not be able to. She does take a little work and while she is a Merfolk her ability doesn’t specifically benefit other Merfolk directly. She’s also outclassed by other Simic commanders making her even less appealing. She’s not a bad commander, but she’s not the best for her colors, for Merfolk or even for a +1/+1 counter strategy.

Ranked:
7 – Nikya of the Old Ways
6 – Judith, the Scourge Diva
5 – Zegana, Utopian Speaker
4 – Rakdos, the Showstopper
3 – Lavinia, Axorius Renegade
2 – Prime Speaker Vannifar
1 – Tesya Karlov

Other Great Commander Cards:

Captive Audience

This card is pretty easy to play in Commander and the effects are that much more crippling. I’ve already had it played on me once and it was a lot of fun to try to think around while desperately searching for an answer to it. A good commander card is one you can get a laugh out of no matter which end of the spell you happen to be on.

Hydroid Krasis

In a format that loves big mana, the big Jellyfish Hydra Beast can refill your hand pretty easily, top off your life and leave you with a giant flyer with trample.  The fact that the card draw and life gain are both triggered on cast, it also means that you will get a good chunk of benefit from him even if he is countered. He’s a big bomb in Standard right now though, so expect to pay top dollar for one if you don’t find him in a pack.

Smothering Tithe

White has issues with mana ramp and this allows players to get around that weakness in a color that already likes to tax opponents. What seems like inconsequential mana gain at first can easily allow you to ramp into spells you might not have been able to otherwise and grant you artifact tokens that may have synergy with other strategies. The only draw back is repeatedly asking your opponent if they want to “pay 2” every time they draw a card.

Simic Ascendancy

In colors that already love +1/+1 counters, Simic Ascendancy demands removal. It can win you games on it’s own if your opponent’s aren’t careful and it acts like a great late-game mana sink — allowing you to pump up your board and possibly tip the scales in your favor during combat. Slide this into your Ezuri deck and watch the table lose it’s cool.

There are plenty of new toys in Ravnica Allegiance to boost your decks in any format and Commander players have certainly not been left out! Crack some packs and see what you can build or buff with your new cards!

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.