The new 2019 Commanders have been spoiled and they are are some pretty focussed commanders. We’ve had some fairly focussed commanders before — commanders who want you to play a certain tribe or push you into spells, enchantments or creatures — but these commanders are each looking at one specific keyword. This makes them a lot less flexible than other commanders have been but that lack of flexibility also makes them stand out. They have one job and they want to do it well.
There are multiple solid reprint Legendary creature sin this set but I won’t be talking about them. Many of them are either already known or exist in the decks for their unique effect as one of the deck’s 99 but don’t exactly work well as commanders by themselves.
The Morph Commander
Kedena, Slinking Sorcerer
Morph is an interesting and somewhat complex mechanic. Play your cards face-down as 2/2 creatures and then flip them later to possibly reveal larger creature or trigger special abilities. It’s a fun mechanic and one that can make for some very interactive gameplay. Kadena’s Faceless Menace deck uses Green, Blue and Black — Sultai colors — and as a result gives you access to some powerful card draw, ramp and removal. It will be interesting to see what new morph cards the set adds to the mix.
Kedena allows you to basically play your first Morph card each turn for free. You can also draw a card for each and every face-down creature that enters the battlefield under your control. This combination can give you some pretty significant card advantage and shouldn’t be overlooked. With cards like Vedalken Orrery, you can play your morphs on your opponents turns — getting both the benefit of the free creature and the card draw.
Kedena isn’t the first commander that played well with Morph. Animar, Soul of Elements was a great option for these deck types as his creature discount mechanic allowed you to very quickly play morphs for free. This discount also applied to non-morph creatures and, in particular, Eldrazi, giving you some powerful high-end plays. There’s also the upcoming Chulane, Teller of Tales. He draws you a card similar to Kedana but also allows you to ramp and bounce your creatures after you have morphed them — allowing for more uses of their abilities. What Kedana gives you, however, is a little bit of both worlds. You get Animar’s discount — if only once per turn. You get Chulane’s card draw. The biggest benefit, however, is Kedena’s access to black — one of the most impactful colors in Commander. Black gives you access to multiple tutors and board wipe options that can deal with indestructible creatures (in the form of -1/-1 effects).
Morph itself can be a very mana-intensive mechanic and you’ll want to leave some mana open to keep your opponent’s guessing. 2/2’s aren’t exactly prime blockers either but at times a manifested land or trivial spell makes for a good throw-away blocker. Still, the potential for fun and unexpected plays is pretty high and in a casual game this could be a lot of fun. This deck just looks like it could be very engaging — both for the player and opponents.
As an example of Morph we get Kadena’s Silence. A 2/1 Naga Wizard for 1U may not seem like much but you’d never want to play her that way. You would rather play her out as a morph (for 3 or for free with Kedena’s ability) ato keep your opponent guessing. At just the right time, you would pay her Megamorph cost (1U) at which point she flip, gets a +1/+1 counter and counters all abilities your opponents control. It has the potential to be a devastating surprize — especially if someone managed to use a Planeswalker ultimate or if they are trying to use an ability to combo off.
The Flashback Commander
Sevinne, the Chronoclasm
Flashback (and similar abilities like Retrace, Jump-Start and Aftermath) give you an interesting bit of card advantage by allowing you to cast spells from your graveyard and that’s the overall theme of the Mystic Intellect deck. This gives you a nice form of card advantage and gives you a few more options to play around with. Sevienne doubles that benefit by copying spells cast from your graveyard. Flashback is one of the most well-known mechanic that allows you to recasts cards from your graveyard. Don’t forget cards like Finale of Promise, Snapcaster Mage or Mission Briefing that also allow you to cast cards from your graveyard.
On a positive note, Sevinne is a survivor — all damage that would be dealt to them is prevented. There’s a two-fold benefit to this. It makes them a great blocker and gives them some resilience. It also allows you to play damaged-based sweepers to clear the board. Cards like Blasphemous Act can easily wipe out most of the biggest threats on the board while leaving Sevinne alive.
The downside with Sevinne is that you’ll need a graveyard to work with. An empty graveyard or an inaccessible one can be a huge problem so you’ll want to be wary of cards like Bajuka Bog and Tormod’s Crypt. While the deck isn’t completely paralyzed by these effects, they will slow you down. Ray of Distortion is this deck’s only shot at dealing with artifacts or enchantments that hate on graveyards so use it wisely.
Flashback can be a great mechanic. It gives you something to play early game and then it gives you value and more to do late game when you have more mana and Sevinne’s ability gives those late game plays even more bang for the buck. I’m still leery about the deck though. You’ll need to be very proactive in disrupting plays that could lock you out of being able to access your graveyard and a way to deal with large “go wide” strategies that Sevienne alone won’t be able to block. On top of that, you’ll need win conditions and offhand, I don’t know what win cons the mechanic by itself provides.
Sevienne’s reclamation allows you to bring back a permanent from your graveyard that costs three or less… or at least, it does at first. You can cast it again from your graveyard for it’s flashback cost (4W) to bring back two permanents. If Sevienne is on the battlefield you’re copying that spell again and brigning back four. It’s a lot of value and can help give you a notable advantage.
The Madness Commander
Madness is an odd mechanic and one that could be difficult to build around in Commander — but Anje Falkenrath wishes to do just that. If a card with Madness is discarded you can typically cast that card instead for a discounted rate. This allows you to penalize players who force you to discard or better yet, it allows you to discard your own cards to rummage or loot effects and gain a benefit.
In fact, that is exactly what you will be doing with Anje Falkenrath. Her ability allows you to rummage — to discard a card and draw a card. You can do this to ditch an unneeded card in hopes of drawing something better or you can do it to cast a spell with madness for its discounted cost. Better yet, if the discarded card has madness on it, Anje Falkenrath untaps and allows you to repeat the process. It has potential and could certainly be a lot of fun.
My only concern is the volume of Madness cards availablbe and their overall power level. The ability to rummage is nice though — you can filter through your deck for the cards you want quite nicely. Rakdos (Red/Black) is always an odd color pair for Commander that wants you to be aggressive and chaotic and this does play nicely to that theme.
As an example of Madness we have Anje’s Ravager. It’s a 3/3 for 2R that, on attack (and it has to attack) you have to discard your hand and you draw three cards. This can be beneficial if you need some good card draw and it can be even more beneficial with a handful of madness cards. If you discard Anje’s Ravager, you can cast him for his Madness cost of 1R and get him into the battlefield for even less mana.
The Populate Commander
Ghired, Conclave Exile
Populate was an odd mechanic. It basically allows you to create a copy of any token you control. Spells that use this ability typically have an effect and then the added bonus of “populate”. With one or two large tokens, you can find yourself in a position to build an army very efficiently — especially if you have any cards like Doubling Season you can further increas the number of tokens produced.
When Ghired enters the battlefield you get not only a 2/5 commander but also a 4/4 Rhino. When he attacks, he populates and the newly created token enters the battlefield attacking. this means that if you attack with Ghired and his Rhino, you can find yourself attacking with your 2/5 commander and TWO 4/4 Rhinos – provided you don’t have a doubling effect in play or haven’t found another way to populate in the mean time.
I’ve always struggled a bit with Populate though. It can be a fun mechanic and combined with other token doubling effects it can snowball really quickly and be a pretty efficient means of filling up you board. That said, it requires targets and Commander can be full of board wipes. You may need to have some additional plans (like Unbreakable Formation) to keep your army on the table. Still, token strategies can work to build wide, mana-efficient armadas with plenty of ways to grow and build your deck.
As an example of a spell with populate we have Ghired’s Belligerence – an XRR Sorcery spell that deals X damage devided as you chose. The bonus though is that for every creature the dies the turn it was dealt damage with Ghired’s Belligerence you get to populate. Maybe you want to hit a few of your opponent’s 1/1s to get a lot of populate triggers. Maybe you want to hit a bunch of their bigger creatures to make combat decisions a bit more tricky. You could technically even do it to your own creatures. It’s an interesting and flexible spell that can generate significant value as long as you have at least one token to copy.
K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth
Oh boy! Where to start with K’rrik? I love this card and he brings some explosive potential to black. K’rrik’s casting cost uses phyrexian Black mana – meaning you can pay 2 life instead of black mana for each black mana in his casting cost. This means you can easily drop him on the table for only 4 mana and 6 life. He also has lifelink to help you regain some of that cost and grows with each black spell you cast. Better yet, he allows you to spend 2 life instead of black mana for each other black in a cost. This is amazing. It basically turns your life total into a pool of black mana.
It’s a risk, of course, as you could easily put yourself at risk by reducing your life total too far but black has multiple means of regaining that loss of life. Cards like Gray Merchant and Exanguinate can keep your life total high. You’ll want to look for cards with lots of black mana symbols in their casting costs and activated abilities. These will allow you to “cheat” them out very quickly or use their abilities repeatedly using only your life total.
Rayami, First of the Fallen
It’s strange to see a vampire in green but here we go. Rayami is one of the alternative Sultai (Black/Green/Blue) commander options. He does nothing for the Morph theme but instead does something fairly unique. When a nontoken creature dies, it instead gets exiled with a blood counter on it. Rayami gains abilities of creatures exiled with blood counters — including flying, first strike, double stsrike, deathtouch, haste, hexproof, indestructible, lifelink, menace, protection, reach, trample and vigilance. Ideally, Rayami will continue to get better and better as the game progresses.
The appeal here is two-fold. First, Rayami is just going to keep getting better and better as things die. If you can manage to kill a creature with indestructible, protection or hexproof he can become exceedingly difficult for your opponents to deal with. Throwing in evasion or double strike and he becomes a significant threat by himself. Secondly, creatures that would die get exiled. This tactic punishes decks that rely on recurring creatures from their graveyard. It messes with your opponents’ plans and allows your opponents to fall into yours if you can kill off creatures of theirs that would serve to buff Rayami. You can easily stuff your deck full of creatures that would serve to buff your commander but it’s so much more engaging to murder your opponent’s creatures when at all possible. It’s a play pattern that reminds me very much of The Mimeoplasm.
Volrath, the Shapestealer
Ah, I have fond memories of The Weatherlight Saga so I’m happy to see Volrath get another card — and it’s a pretty fun looking card to boot. At the beginning of combat, you can put a -1/-1 counter on a creature. You can also pay a mana to make Volrath a copy of any creature on the board with a counter (doesn’t have to be your -1/-1 counter!) except that it’s a 7/5. It’s very reminiscent of Scion of the Ur-Dragon but relies on what’s on the board and what creatures have counters. It’s both more and less flexible as a result. Scion can be very good but the deck itself can be top heavy — with a lot of large, mana-intensive dragons filling your deck. Volrath, on the other hand, isn’t limited to a particular creature type, can use your opponent’s creatures and allows you to work with a much more comfortable curve of creatures. You still some interesting options to work with. Maybe you want to copy some unblockable creature? Maybe you need to make Volrath indestructible? It has the potential to be quite powerful but better yet, it’s a card that plays well with the whole table. It’s interactive and engaging and exactly what I like in a good, solid Commander for multiplayer fun.
Grismold, the Dreadsower
A golgari (blue/green) commander option, Grismold ditches the blue. He’s a commander that hands out 1/1 Plant creature tokens to everyone but also benefits when tokens of any kind die. This plays very well with this color pair’s desire to sacrifice things. You’ll want a deck that creates tokens and sacrifices them for cards, mana or whatever else while also buffing up Grismold. There’s potential for him to get big very quickly and his trample ability will hopefully allow him to force damage through. Keep in mind though that even though Grismold looks to be in the Morph deck, Morph and manifested creatures are not tokens!
If you’re feeling really greedy, you can pack your deck with spells and effects that give creatures -1/-1. This will kill your opponent’s tokens while continuously buffing Grismold. Toss in Primal Vigor or similar effects to give Grismold even more tokens and counters.
Grismold could get out of control very quickly — in fact, a single turn may be enough to see him gain enough counters to swing for considerable damage and the trample could see a lot of that damage getting through.
Pramikon, Sky Rampart
UPDATE: Well this is embarrassing – Pramikon’s ability happens AS it enters and not WHEN it enters so it is not an ETB that can be copied with effects like Panharmonicon. Helm of the Host, Spark Double and the like will still work.
This is a very odd creature — a legendary wall that allows you to chose the direction of combat such that players can only attack opponents to the left or right (your choice). Pramikon’s big benefit is allowing you to better protect yourself and serves pillow fort strategies really well. It messes with the overall flow of the game and with your opponent’s strategies. It allows you to more safely sit and sling your spells while worrying a bit less about ground-based attackers. Better yet, if you add in a Mystic Barrier, Spark Double, Strionic Resonator, Panharmonicon or Helm of the Host you can copy the ability and chose the opposite direction. Doing this prevents players from attacking anyone who isn’t seated to their left AND their right — meaning they cannot attack unless they only have one opponent remaining.
The Mystic Intellect Commander Deck that Pramikon is found it wants to do a lot of spell slinging from a very defensible position and Pramikon works well to that end. Keep in mind though that cards like this require caution. They can help you out by making sure only one player can attack you and preferably only your weakest neighbor. This also means that one of your opponents can take advantage of this ability. There are times when you want the entire table to be able to put pressure on a runaway player and with Pramikon, you may throw a wrench into that. This could allow a player that isn’t YOU to run away with the game. Keep in mind that he’s a wall and can’t deal commander damage which can make it hard to challenge explosive lifegain decks. He’s also not going to do much to stop bigger creatures but ideally you should be in a position to protect yourself from players with larger creature threats.
Pramikon doens’t limit you to just tossing about spells either. You could set up combo plays without as much fear from opponents. Pramikon also works well with planeswalker “super friends” decks as it allows you to better defend your planeswalkers. You can also set up blink strategies that not only allow you to re-trigger enter the battlefield effects for your various cards but also allows you to switch directions on Pramikon if needed.
In the end Pramikon is inexpensive to cast and if you’re looking to play defensively while setting up big plays — Pramikon should keep you safe.
Elsha of the Infinite
Elsha is similar to both Narset, Enlightened Master and Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest. Like Narset, Elsha can help you cast more spells by allowing you to look at the top card of your library and cast it if it is a noncreature, nonland card — and do it at instant speed. This can give you some significant card advantage — especially if you can manage to filter through those top cards. Sure, you don’t get them for free like you would with Narset, nor does Elsha have hexproof but it does make her feel a bit more fair. The prowess keyword is important to note. While you toss out spells, you buff up Elsha considerably. You can play her in a style similar to Feather — throwing out instant speed buffs to power her through your opponent’s defenses or provide surprise bursts of power on defense. If anyone has played against a Shu Yun Commander deck you would know that a prowess commander and a deck of inexpensive spells and cantrips can absolutely tear things up.
If you’re looking to play Elsha and really get things going, you’ll want to add some ways to manipulate the top card of your deck or even add a Sunforger. This artifact gives Elsha +4/+0 which makes her hit even harder. You can unequip it to search for a red or white instant spell with converted mana cost 4 or less and casting them for free — getting you the tools you need to deal with threats on the board while also triggering Elsha’s prowess.
Tahngarth, First Mate
Another Weatherlight crew member, Tangarth is a Gruul (Green, Red) commander option that excludes the white from the deck he will be printed in. Tahngarth is interesting in that he can’t be blocked by more than one creature AND you get tho pass him around the table. If an opponent attacks with a creature and Tahngarth is tapped you can give them Tahngarth until end of combat and you get ot chose which player or planeswalker Tahngarth attacks. This can make for a lot of Commander damage being thrown around. If you can provide Tahngarth with additional evasion or buffs, he becomes even more terryfing. He’s a bit like Xantcha, Sleeper Agent minus the card draw and with the bonus that you get to chose the target Tahngarth attacks.
Atla Palani, Nest Tender
I find Atla Palani to be just bonkers. You may want some hast enablers to get you that 0/1 egg but once you do, Atla can get scary. If the egg dies you get to reveal cards until you reveal a creature and then put that creature onto the battlefield. For a 2 mana investment in the original egg, you could get something huge. In fact, if you stuff your deck with high powered creatures (Eldrazi for example) then your opponents may find it in their best interest to protect that egg (or find a way to exile or bounce it). If you want to get more clever, you can toss in Dragon Egg, Nesting Dragon or Rukh Egg into your deck… or better yet, toss in some Changelings. That said, you’ll also want to pack a couple of sacrifice outlets to make sure those eggs get cracked!
Marisi, Breaker of the Coil
Marisi is a fun commander idea and gaud is a pretty entertaining mechanic. The goal is to slip creatures past your opponent’s defenses to deal damage through evasion or sheer volume. After that, your opponent’s creatures must attack on their next turn and must attack a player other than you. This helps open even more opportunities for you to goad. It keeps the heat off of you while creating havoc for everyone else. It’s glorious in action — which I got to see with a Grenzo, Havoc Raiser deck. It also makes combat a bit more predictable since no one can play combat tricks. The goad effect feels like it should be a Rakdos (Black/Red) ability but with green and white you can create a lot of chaos by simply going wide.
Chainer, Nightmare Adept
Chainer works well with the Madness mechanic. Depending on your play style (for example, if you lean more heavily on creatures and aggressive plays) she can be just as good, if not better than Anje. You can discard a madness card, cast it for its madness cost and cast a creature from your graveyard. What’s interesting is that she gives creatures that are not cast from your hand haste. This includes not only the creature she allowed you to cast but also your Commander and any creatures cast with Madness (as you exile the card then cast it from exile). This can make for some unpredictable and punishing plays. You might also want to try a reanimate strategy in which you toss out larger creatures and then reanimate them for a heavily discounted cost if you can’t simply cast them right away.
Greven, Predator Captain
Another character from the Weatherlight Saga, Greven is all about punishing yourself to great benefit. By himself, he’s a pretty beefy 5/5 with menace — making him hard to block. He can also gain a buff if you’ve lost life this turn. There’s no shortage of cards that allow you to pay life in black or that damage all players. This allows you to pump Greven considerably. If you can do this after blockers are declared through a pestilence effect or something similar you can get in some impressive damage. You can also sacrifice creatures for cards (taking damage and buffing Greven in the process). You’ll need to be careful managing resources with Greven, however and you’ll need to find ways to keep your life total from dipping too deeply into the red (or find ways to benefit even more from doing so). You can swap life totals with Magus of the Mirror or use Gray Merchant or Exanguinate to replenish your life total while damaging everyone else.
Gerard, Weatherlight Hero
Finally, we have Gerrard – the captain of the Weatherlight. He’s included in the Mystic Intellect deck though he is an odd inclusion. The way his effect is worded, his ability is triggered even if you put him into the command zone (he must die first though).
This ability gives you significant protection from wrath effects. If someone plays a board wipe while Gerrard is on the field you very quickly bounce back. Better yet, this allows you to re-trigger enter the battlefield effects. Not only is your board a little safer — allowing you to commit everything and apply a lot of pressure to your opponents — but it also allows you to set up scenarios where you can wipe the field at your leisure (with cards like Nevinrral’s Disk or Oblivion Stone).