fbpx

Zendikar Rising – Commander Set Review

The entire Zendikar Rising set has been revealed, so it’s time to take a look at the set for Commander! I use a non-numerical rating scale, because given the nature of Commander, a numerical one wouldn’t make much sense. Here are the different categories I use:

Commander: You want this card in the command zone at the start the game. Its best use is to lead the charge as the cornerstone of your deck, but it can probably fit into your 99 as well.

Build-Around: This card can be a huge player in the theme of your deck. It either enables the theme by itself or is something you’re looking to take advantage of over the course of your ideal game. It’s probably worth dedicating other slots in your deck to cards that work with a build-around.

Powerhouse: This card’s not really about synergy, but it’s good all by itself.

Role Player: This card might not be the cornerstone of a deck list, but it’s an important part of the engine or strong enough on its own to merit potential inclusion. This category also covers cards that look good enough to try out but don’t seem like obvious winners.

Tech Card: Counterplay is important, and if a card doesn’t fit into one of the above categories but is good enough at countering other strategies, it’ll be included here.

Niche Inclusion: This card might make your deck if you have a deckbuilding restriction, whether it’s self-imposed based on theme, a power level consideration, or a card availability concern.

 

As a reminder, my focus is on social Commander rather than competitive EDH. That means you’ll be hearing about cards largely from that more relaxed perspective. My goal when playing Commander is for everyone to have fun but also for me to have a good shot at winning the game, so if that’s your mindset as well, these ratings will probably resonate with you. I won’t be reviewing every card, so if I don’t talk about one, that means I probably don’t see it as very valuable in Commander. I also won’t be reviewing reprints, so you can just assume I feel the same way about Negate as I did before we found out it was in this set. When you inevitably disagree with a rating or my omission of a card, please feel free to tweet at @RagingLevine with your thoughts!

White

Angel of Destiny

Angel of Destiny

Build-Around

Life gain has been around as a win condition for a long time – Test of Endurance was the first alt-win based on it back in the days of Judgment, and Felidar Sovereign is its more well-known cousin that cuts 10 life off the goal and caused much consternation regarding Commander when released – in retrospect, the card is totally fair. Angel of Destiny is even more fair, as not only do you have to eclipse 55 life, a number that is explicitly based on your starting life total, you also have to attack people with Angel of Destiny and make them individually lose the game. I think this card is a lot of fun, as there are a lot of ways to interact with the alt-win condition, and it should work fine in a Heliod, Sun-Crowned or Oloro, Ageless Ascetic deck.

Archon of Emeria

Archon of Emeria

Tech Card

If your deck has trouble with your group’s resident Spellslinger, or if you’re looking for a way to slow down multicolor decks, this could be a decent choice, but it will put a target on your head. Perhaps it’s worth playing in a deck where you can Chord it out.

Archpriest of Iona

Archpriest of Iona

Niche Inclusion

If you’re going all in on Party, it’s a decent 1-drop with a moderately useful effect. I’m not convinced the power is there for Party in Commander yet, though I’ll certainly be trying. Once we get to the D&D set next year, though, I expect the stock of Party decks to rise, so start filling out your collection of Warriors, Rogues, Clerics, and Wizards now.

Attended Healer

Attended Healer

Role Player

This only goes in a dedicated Cleric deck, and the tokens it makes aren’t relevant in terms of their type line, but given some of the other Clerics we’ll see later in this review, stacking up this type of trigger off life gain should be fairly profitable. The more the merrier, I suppose.

Canyon Jerboa

Canyon Jerboa

Role Player

If your idea of an alpha strike involves dropping multiple lands into play in the same turn while you’re already going wide, Canyon Jerboa could be the mouse for you. Avenger of Zendikar doesn’t really need the help, but if you’re all in on Rampaging Baloths, Zendikar’s Roil, Sporemound, and other landfall token generators, you might find yourself giving this mouse a cookie, a glass of milk, and anything else it asks for after it wins you the game. We haven’t talked about Felidar Retreat yet, but consider this

Emeria's Call // Emeria, Shattered Skyclave

Emeria’s Call // Emeria, Shattered Skyclave

Role Player

It’s a bit strange that the Angels this card generates don’t gain indestructible, but protecting your team for a full turn cycle is a powerful effect regardless. You’ll need to do some more work to make this deal worth the full seven mana – set up an awesome attack that would otherwise deplete your army, or pop a Nevinyrral’s Disk after resolving this, or similar. The fact that this 7-mana spell is also a land on the other side makes it a lot more palatable.

Farsight Adept

Farsight Adept

Niche Inclusion

The reason to play this isn’t to get a 3-mana 3/3 – it’s to intentionally give another player a card. Usually that’s not the most exciting thing in the world, but some Group Hug decks may be interested.

Felidar Retreat

Felidar Retreat

Build-Around

Zendikar’s Roil is already a card I play in some decks, and somehow white has a card that totally eclipses it. It costs less and does more – obviously it’s a higher rarity, but that’s still remarkable. It has the same mana cost as Retreat to Emeria! This card is also exciting because it encourages you to do math, which I love. What’s better in the long term – another token, or +1/+1 counters? Is that better than getting damage dealt now? What’s the deal with the cat in the foreground? These are all questions you’ll have to answer over the course of games with Felidar Retreat.

Kor Blademaster

Kor Blademaster

Role Player

In a deck helmed by the new Akiri, I could see this being a reasonable option, and by the time this review is released, Lee Livingston’s take on that deck should be available for you to read. If he slots Kor Blademaster into his list, consider it an endorsement.

Kor Celebrant

Kor Celebrant

Niche Inclusion

If you are dedicated to playing every Soul Warden effect on the planet, this card exists. Otherwise, this is just another Horned Turtle+, and we have tons of those.

Luminarch Aspirant

Luminarch Aspirant

Role Player

A counters-focused deck with Hardened Scales and similar effects that scale up counters, or cards that scale with their counters beyond just getting bigger, will appreciate this if it gets on board in the early game and starts doing its work. Since it does its work at beginning of combat, it’s not a blank topdeck in the late game – that’s how it avoided the Niche Inclusion grade.

Maul of the Skyclaves

Maul of the Skyclaves

Powerhouse

I think this card is very strong. From a mana efficiency and tempo standpoint, “snap-on” equipment is incredible, and while the equip cost is clearly higher as a result, I see this card as an absolute win for any equipment-focused deck that wants to push damage and create tension in the early game.

Nahiri's Binding

Nahiri’s Binding

Niche Inclusion

If you need to shut down planeswalkers on a budget, this isn’t a terrible choice, but I’d lean toward finding a way to simply destroy the planeswalker in order to avoid the horrible things that tend to happen when cards like this get disenchanted.

Ondu Inversion // Ondu Skyruins

Ondu Inversion // Ondu Skyruins

Role Player

Eight mana is a hefty cost to pay for “Destroy all nonland permanents” in a world where Hour of Revelation exists, and the gulf between eight and six mana is wide enough that Planar Cleansing looks frugal in comparison. That said, if you’re already playing Hour of Revelation in your deck, consider swapping another one of your expensive wraths out for this one and giving it a shot – those expensive wraths don’t double as lands in the early game, and as many have already discussed, bouncing the land side back to your hand and then casting the spell side is going to be a common play pattern.

Sejiri Shelter // Sejiri Glacier

Sejiri Shelter // Sejiri Glacier

Niche Inclusion

I could see this getting played in Feather or maybe Shu Yun, but beyond that type of deck, I’m skeptical. There are enough Emerge Unscathed effects in the world that the modality of this card may take a back seat to cost concerns.

Skyclave Apparition

Skyclave Apparition

Role Player

Nab a utility creature or other minor permanent with this, and it’ll never be seen again. The downside of an X/X blue Illusion token isn’t that bad, but white has enough ways to exile permanents that I don’t think Skyclave Apparition makes a big splash. Since this isn’t a duration effect like Banisher Priest but instead two separate triggers like Oblivion Ring, blink shenanigans are absolutely possible, so I expect this card’s primary function will be to exile permanents without giving out any tokens.

Squad Commander

Squad Commander

Build-Around

Now this is the kind of card that makes me want to Party! The best case scenario involves paying four mana for seven power and then swinging the same turn (because your team has haste, naturally) with +1/+0 and indestructible for 12 plus however much other power you have. Of course, your opponents will be endeavoring to split your party up, so make sure you have some protective spells in your arsenal.

Tazri, Beacon of Unity

Tazri, Beacon of Unity

Commander

Aside for being a perfect Commander for the famous “Ladies Looking Left” Commander deck, this new version of Tazri is a great Commander for a Party deck, an Ally deck, or a deck that does both! Allies tend to have a lot of creature types – let’s see how many are ready to party. Changelings not included, here are some numbers:

Warrior Ally: 17

Rogue Ally: 4

Cleric Ally: 7

Wizard Ally: 6

Okay, so it’s mostly Warriors, but there are still possibilities here. I’ll have to try out an Ally Party build for Tazri and report back!

Trove Warden

Trove Warden

Build-Around

Hey, it’s our first Zendikar Commander card! This won’t be hitting the Standard tables, but it sure will make an impact in Commander. As long as Trove Warden doesn’t get exiled itself, it’s likely to create chaos by bringing back a pile of small permanents from your graveyard – think Sun Titan, but all at once instead of incremental. Am I the only one thinking about bringing a bunch of Eggs and other cantripping artifacts back from the graveyard? I’m sure I’m not.

Blue

Charix, the Raging Isle

Charix, the Raging Isle

Commander

I have a feeling the social Commander tables are going to see a lot of Charix in the coming months. It’s a 0/17, which is just incredible, it protects itself a little bit, and it can really put in some Commander damage. I can’t wait to send this across the battlefield and activate it after making it unblockable with Crafty Pathmage. Just make sure you don’t control too many Islands – that is vaguely possible, though it shouldn’t come up too often.

Confounding Conundrum

Confounding Conundrum

Tech Card

If your opponents are ramping really hard, this could theoretically slow them down. It could also theoretically help them if they have enough extra land drops to combine with landfall effects. Like the roiling lands of Zendikar itself, this card is perilous and confusing – enter at your own risk.

Coralhelm Chronicler

Coralhelm Chronicler

Build-Around

If you find a way to build a Kicker deck, Coralhelm Chronicler should probably make the list, though it’s not exactly playable in a Hallar deck. Thankfully, the incoming Verazol, the Split Current provides an exciting new shell for this card, and I expect Simic Kicker to be a common sight at social Commnader tables for a little while.

Enigma Thief

Enigma Thief

Role Player

Another Zendikar Commander card, and this one brings back Prowl! Unprowled, It’s pretty underwhelming, but for four mana, a 5/5 flyer that bounces the three most expensive or threatening permanents sounds pretty strong. It’s not just party that’s feast or famine – the Prowl mechanic is the same way.

Glasspool Mimic // Glasspool Shore

Glasspool Mimic // Glasspool Shore

Role Player

A Mirror Image that’s also a Rogue fits right in if you’re playing Rogue Tribal, and having a land on the other side is a fantastic upside. If your board is empty and you just need to make your land drops, playing the land side doesn’t seem like a terrible sacrifice.

Inscription of Insight

Inscription of Insight

Niche Inclusion

At sorcery speed, I’m not terribly impressed, but the litany of effects provided for 5UUU seems like it could be worthwhile. Copying it seems even more exciting, though for the amount of effort that would take I feel like I could be winning the game, so maybe this card requires more insight than I’m willing to provide it.

Jace, Mirror Mage

Jace, Mirror Mage

Role Player

I’d be all in on Jace if he had Multikicker, but obviously that would be ridiculous. That said, in a Proliferate-focused deck, you could certainly set up Dueling Jaces and get a ton of draw power out of the two of them.

Lullmage's Domination

Lullmage’s Domination

Role Player

In a mill-focused deck, this card one-ups Entrancing Melody in almost every way just by costing two fewer mana under proper conditions. Of course, it’s going to be hard to cast in decks that aren’t heavily focused on blue, but most mill decks should be that way regardless.

Maddening Cacophony

Maddening Cacophony

Build-Around

Yes, I am aware of Bruvac the Grandiloquent. Yes, I know what happens when Bruvac and this card get to hang out. Yes, it is powerful. No, I don’t think it’s a ton of fun, and I won’t be doing it myself, but if it’s fun for you and your group, go for it!

Master of Winds

Master of Winds

Niche Inclusion

It’s nice to see the power and toughness setting rather than switching, because it’s a little more intuitive in how it ends up working, but I’m not impressed with this overall. The payoff for the cost just isn’t there even in a dedicated Wizard deck – most of the mana goes to the draw/discard trigger.

Merfolk Windrobber

Merfolk Windrobber

Niche Inclusion

I can see this getting played in Rogue tribal or in an Inniaz, the Gale Force “flying tribal” deck, but other than that, I wouldn’t bother sleeving this one up.

Nimble Trapfinder

Nimble Trapfinder

Build-Around

This could live in a Rogues shell or in a Party deck, but it certainly shines the most if you’re ready to Party on. The Coastal Piracy trigger can really generate a huge advantage and further cements the feast or famine nature of the more powerful Party effects.

Roost of Drakes

Roost of Drakes

Role Player

It’s not the most powerful kicker payoff, hence the “role player” designation, but Roost of Drakes certainly qualifies for inclusion into the Simic Kicker decklist I’m mentally building as we move through this set review. The more tiny bits of extra value you can eke out of each card you cast, the stronger your overall position will be, and I have a feeling the Simic Kicker lists will want to turn a mana advantage into an incremental board and card advantage as their game plan progresses.

Ruin Crab

Ruin Crab

Role Player

Unlike the original Hedron Crab, self-mill decks need not apply – this is for dedicated “mill everyone else” decks only. This card seems a lot more fun than Maddening Cacophony because it doesn’t just kill everyone else immediately with Bruvac, so I’ll be okay with seeing this crab all the time.

Sea Gate Restoration // Sea Gate, Reborn

Sea Gate Restoration // Sea Gate, Reborn

Niche Inclusion

For seven mana, my powerful draw spell had better draw me cards when I don’t have any, not just when I’m already overflowing with options. I don’t even care that this has a land on the other side – this card is bad in a lot of circumstances, and I don’t think the situations where it’s powerful are numerous enough to outweigh that.

Sea Gate Stormcaller

Sea Gate Stormcaller

Role Player

This could be okay in a Spellslinger deck, but a lot of the spells I want to copy cost more than two mana. With that in mind, this probably goes in some very specific, focused decks that care about cheap spells in particular, but I think it’s more applicable in 60-card constructed. I’m thinking about copying Rampant Growth effects with it and not even kicking the Stormcaller, and that sounds okay, but it’s possible I’d rather play a card that works well on its own instead.

Thieving Skydiver

Thieving Skydiver

Powerhouse

Some cards have what I think of as “backwards kicker,” and this is one of them. The primary effect here is not the 2/1 flyer for 1U – it’s the ability to steal an artifact. When the body does become relevant is when you steal an Equipment, as you get that free attach. Obviously it costs more to steal an artifact with Thieving Skydiver than it does with a card like, say, Steal Artifact, but this effect is immune to Disenchant effects and therefore quite a lot more powerful. There will pretty much always be a target for Thieving Skydiver’s kicker, so I recommend slotting this into your blue decks and seeing where it has the greatest impact.

Black

Agadeem's Awakening // Agadeem, the Undercrypt

Agadeem’s Awakening // Agadeem, the Undercrypt

Build-Around

One of the most interesting things about this set is the set of cards that have a spell on one side and a land on the other, allowing you to play either one as you choose. The ones that I find the most interesting are the ones with the most abjectly powerful spells, and Agadeem’s Awakening fits the bill. Somewhat reminiscent of Seasons Past, Agadeem’s Awakening keys off multiple different CMCs, but instead of bringing cards back to your hand, this spell’s output is more like a Nethroi mutate. This card is as powerful as your graveyard, so commanders like the aforementioned Nethroi or The Mimeoplasm want this card – at least, as long as they have enough black mana generation to support it. All that doesn’t even take into account the powerful sequences that involve playing this as a land early, then bouncing it back to hand and casting the spell half. I can’t wait to see this and all the other double-faced cards from this set in action.

Bloodchief's Thirst

Bloodchief’s Thirst

Niche Inclusion

A decent removal option for budget decks, and not much else.

Coveted Prize

Coveted Prize

Role Player

If you’re all in on the Party mechanic, this is a great payoff – for just B, you get a Demonic Tutor and a further discount of up to four more mana on another spell, potentially the one you tutored up. Without a full party, though, this card wavers between well-costed at one short of a full party and downright awful with no cost reduction. I said the Party mechanic was feast or famine earlier, and apparently I was not kidding. I foresee a lot of very frustrating games for Party decks that are not balanced out by the story equity of fun payoffs.

Deadly Alliance

Deadly Alliance

Niche Inclusion

Everything I said above about Coveted Prize in terms of its range of outcomes is true for Deadly Alliance as well, except the card is not nearly as good when it’s good and possibly a little better when it’s bad.

Demon's Disciple

Demon’s Disciple

Role Player

There’s always room in my decks (and my heart) for another Fleshbag Marauder, and this one being a Cleric does not escape my notice. I don’t want to see Zendikar torn to pieces, but if this is the kind of support Taborax has to offer, I might join his legion of despair.

Drana, the Last Bloodchief

Drana, the Last Bloodchief

Commander

This card is all about giving your opponents choices, and the best way to play with cards that hinge on that is to limit those choices to ones you’re okay with. That means working hard during deckbuilding to make sure every creature counts and guarantee that Drana has haste and hopefully some defensive abilities like hexproof or indestructible. It also means a precarious situation during gameplay where you’re going to be one or two Coffin Purges away from disaster at all times. That said, graveyard decks are kind of like that anyway, and if you can’t handle getting blown out by a Bojuka Bog once in a while, Drana may not be the Commander for you.

Feed the Swarm

Feed the Swarm

Tech Card

Pharika’s Libation, move over – Feed the Swarm is here. Sure, it will cost your Xiahou Dun deck seven life on top of two mana and a card to destroy that Zendikar Resurgent, but I can almost guarantee it will be worth it. Moving some painful enchantment removal into Black is an interesting proposition, and I think this design philosophy will have a big impact on mono-colored decks in Commander if it persists. We’ve come a long way from Mire in Misery in such a short time.

Hagra Mauling // Hagra Broodpit

Hagra Mauling // Hagra Broodpit

Role Player

Will the cost reduction condition on Bad Murder be met more than once a lifetime? Probably not, but if you’re asking yourself, “How do I work this?” don’t forget there’s a land on the other side. You may tell yourself that you’ll just end up playing it as Bad Murder most of the time, but you’ll probably play the land side more than you think, and under the rocks and stones of Hagra Broodpit, there’s a removal spell you can use after you return the land to your hand.

Marauding Blight-Priest

Marauding Blight-Priest

Niche Inclusion

Dedicated Cleric decks only need apply.

Nighthawk Scavenger

Nighthawk Scavenger

Role Player

This card should have decent stats as long as anyone has a graveyard at all. Regardless of power level, there tends to be a land in someone else’s graveyard at all times, and that puts this card on par with its namesake, Vampire Nighthawk, right off the bat. All you need is one other type to put this card in “reasonable early game creature” territory.

Scourge of the Skyclaves

Scourge of the Skyclaves

Powerhouse

“Group Slug” style decks will want this for its cast trigger, and I assume the resulting creature gets fired out of a Rite of Consumption-shaped cannon at someone shortly after it hits the battlefield, but maybe it can get in some hasty attacks. Because characteristic-defining abilities (the ability that defines the *s in the power and toughness) work in all zones, this card is also very strange with anything that cares about its power in zones other than the battlefield – in particular, people have noticed that Nethroi, who brings back creatures with a total power of 10 or less from the battlefield, can do some silly things when you get to cheat that restriction by throwing a big negative number in there.

Shadow's Verdict

Shadows’ Verdict

Tech Card

If you’re dealing with someone who is trying to get very aggressive or combo out with tokens or small creatures, this clears away your problems for good. Of course, there are tons of cards that cost more than three mana that you might want to clear away with a 5-mana wrath, so you’ll need a very specific reason in your playgroup to slot this in.

Skyclave Shade

Skyclave Shade

Role Player

It’s no Bloodghast, but if you’re looking for a repeatable threat or something you can sacrifice over and over again, Skyclave Shade is an option. It’s not the first card I’d go to for either of those things, but for just two mana, it certainly makes the list, and with the option to kick it into the five power mode, it’s better than it appears at first blush.

Skyclave Shadowcat

Skyclave Shadowcat

Role Player

It’s only a realistic option for +1/+1 counter focused decks, but if you’re on the Abzan counters strategy, Skyclave Shadowcat can give you a way to recover from wraths or at least get a little card draw when your opponents send spot removal your way.

Soul Shatter

Soul Shatter

Tech Card

I’ve cast Crackling Doom in Commander before, but not in a few years – now I’m more excited as I don’t have to dip into full Mardu to play it. Losing the damage to the dome isn’t a big deal, especially considering what I believe is an upside of also hitting planeswalkers. In fact, I think it’s especially good at countering walkers, but if I nab a huge creature or three when I cast this, I won’t be disappointed.

Taborax, Hope's Demise

Taborax, Hope’s Demise

Build-Around

Taborax is one of the reasons to play a Cleric deck – I wouldn’t go mono-Black Clerics myself, but in the 99 of a Cleric list, Taborax acquits himself quite well. As long as you’re going deep on the appropriate creature type, you’ll get a Midnight Reaper with plenty of upside, and especially given the fact that Cleric decks will have no shortage of ways to gain back the lost life, its downside barely registers.

Thwart the Grave

Thwart the Grave

Role Player

Reanimating two creatures with a single spell is fantastic, but Ever After already exists, and I don’t see that card as much as I feel like I should. There’s definitely some tension between the cost reduction on this card and the idea that you’ll use it to fill your Party out after some of your creatures die, but imagine resolving this for 2BB – it sounds downright incredible.

Whispersteel Dagger

Whispersteel Dagger

Role Player

Our third Zendikar Commander card, this one is decently strong even outside the Rogue shell it ships in. As long as you have something unblockable, you can use your opponents’ resources against them, and that’s a win in my book. It only lets you cast creatures, but theoretically the creatures that are dead were killed for a reason, and as long as there’s something moderately powerful hanging around, this is a solid bit of virtual card draw.

Red

Cleansing Wildfire

Cleansing Wildfire

Tech Card

Destroying utility lands and powerhouse nonbasics like Gaea’s Cradle is a time-honored tradition in Commander, but the job usually gets done by cards like Ghost Quarter that can sit in play and generate resources until they need to be used for destructive purposes. Cleansing Wildfire has to sit in your hand instead, but you get to recoup your card. It all depends on whether you want you value before you destroy the land or a replacement card afterwards – and, of course, whether you want to use a spell slot on a card like this. It’s much easier to stomach using a land slot on something that’s unexciting but necessary, but the colorless mana generation can be a dealbreaker in a 3+ color deck.

Fireblade Charger

Fireblade Charger

Niche Inclusion

Goblin Arsonists+ certainly catches my eye as a lover of Goblins and aggressive cards, but this card needs a specific, aggressive, power-pumping, equipment-focused shell to shine, and while that’s certainly an extant strategy, Fireblade Charger will only impact a small number of decks even within that category.

Geode Rager

Geode Rager

Powerhouse

Drop a few lands in one turn and goad everyone else’s creatures. Then, once everyone is wide open, turn your creatures sideways and unleash serious mayhem. This, of course, is assuming they don’t all find ways to kill each other in the process of turning their boards sideways! Zendikar Commander is giving us a lot of gifts here.

Kargan Intimidator

Kargan Intimidator

Role Player

Kargan Intimidator has everyone’s favorite piece of rules text: Cowards can’t block Warriors. It falls short of build-around territory because of the restriction on its activated ability, but in a Warrior deck, I would still make room for this creature (and not just because I’m scared of it.)

Kazuul's Fury // Kazuul's Cliffs

Kazuul’s Fury // Kazuul’s Cliffs

Niche Inclusion

Decks that want Fling might want an additional copy of Fling, and if they do, this will be attractive – when you don’t want Fling, it’s just dead in your hand, so dropping it as a land instead could be an acceptable outcome. I know this is an incredibly nuanced stance, but Fling is a niche card and the idea of a card that is Fling on one side and an enters tapped land on the other doesn’t really get my deckbuilding gears going.

Leyline Tyrant

Leyline Tyrant

Powerhouse

Is this the best card in the set for Commander? Maybe! It’s certainly going to have a huge impact for any red deck that generates big mana – here I’m thinking Neheb in either mono-red form, but primarily Neheb, the Eternal. Hanging onto a pile of mana to cast a huge X spell and recoup that mana via Neheb sounds great, and if someone is so foolish as to kill Leyline Tyrant, well, they’re probably taking a ridiculous amount of damage to the face.

Magmatic Channeler

Magmatic Channeler

Role Player

This is an interesting take on looting, but I like the idea that you get a choice of one of the top two cards. Turning into a 4/4 as long as you’re slinging enough spells seems like a solid upside, and I’m interested to see what kind of madness/flashback shell wants Magmatic Channeler as a supporting player.

Moraug, Fury of Akoum

Moraug, Fury of Akoum

Build-Around

My combo hopes for this card were dashed when I realized it didn’t give extra main phases, but it’s still possible to generate a pile of extra combats by dropping a whole mess of lands into play all at once. You don’t even need to go full Scapeshift – just a Migration Path should be plenty to get ahead. In mono-Red, you obviously can’t ramp as hard, which is why I see this as more of a player in a Gruul deck than a Commander itself. That said, there’s plenty of ways to drop lands into play via artifacts or other lands, and cards like Cleansing Wildfire can have an interesting impact as well. A mono-Red version packing a variety of fetchlands will certainly crop up in a Commander game near you at some point, but I’m more interested in how it works in a multicolored landfall tokens shell.

Nahiri's Lithoforming

Nahiri’s Lithoforming

Build-Around

Aside from how good this card is with Moraug, it’s ridiculously powerful in decks that can play lands out of graveyards. Crucible of Worlds, Ramunap Excavator, and Ancient Greenwarden all play extremely well with Nahiri’s Lithoforming, and if you have landfall triggers to abuse – which you should – you’re doubling up on value. I don’t normally advocate for casting mass land destruction spells, let alone ones that unilaterally destroy your own land, but this may be the exception to that rule. Actually, what I normally say is “don’t cast mass LD unless you can win the game immediately afterwards” and I think this actually fits well within my stricture.

Relic Robber

Relic Robber

Niche Inclusion

This card’s nickname was apparently “Louisiana Jones” in R&D, and I love that just as much as I love the overall flavor of this card. Flavor is probably the only reason to play this, though, as it’s a bad rate creature that gets blanked if your opponent has a way to sacrifice the Goblin Constructs. The card is so funny that I’m going to find some way to play it, though.

Roiling Vortex

Roiling Vortex

Tech Card

Was this card meant to counter Fires of Invention before it was banned from Standard? Probably. Is it as strong as Sulfuric Vortex in a Group Slug context? Certainly not. If you’re dedicated to stopping players from casting free spells for free, though, Roiling Vortex will take out their life total five at a time. I’m not sure that’s enough of a disincentive, and it’s awkward that turning off life gain is an activation rather than a static ability, but perhaps this card has a home in someone’s playgroup.

Shatterskull Charger

Shatterskull Charger

Niche Inclusion

I don’t usually find Viashino Sandstalker and friends powerful enough for Commander, but this beats the aforementioned old-timey red creature on base rate and has a kicker mode that lets it stick around. I could see Lovisa Coldeyes embracing Zendikar’s resident big man as part of an army of Warriors.

Shatterskull Smashing // Shatterskull, the Hammer Pass

Shatterskull Smashing // Shatterskull, the Hammer Pass

Niche Inclusion

I love X spells, and I love X spells with targeting flexibility or bonuses for big casts even more. Somehow, this card has both, and with all that, it’s still just half of the card – there’s a land on the other side! There’s just one problem, though – you can’t hit players, and that’s a huge problem for me. With that in mind, you’ll need something like Mogg Maniac to leverage this to the fullest, and at that point, there are tons of other cards I’d play before this one.

Spitfire Lagac

Spitfire Lagac

Niche Inclusion

I’m not sure one damage per Landfall has the impact I’m looking for in Commander, but I’m sure there’s an edge case where this card is a positive contributor.

Valakut Awakening // Valakut Stoneforge

Valakut Awakening // Valakut Stoneforge

Role Player

If your deck has a bunch of triggers that key off of you drawing cards, Valakut Awakening is a fantastic card. The Locust God loves this one, as do half of the flavors of Niv-Mizzet. When you’re not ready to reset your hand for value, just play the land half. Even if you don’t bounce it back to your hand and cast it later, it turns out land is good.

Valakut Exploration

Valakut Exploration

Role Player

It’s less consistent than something like Outpost Siege or Vance’s Blasting Cannons, but the highs are much higher. You can trigger this multiple times in a turn, and if you’re doing that, you likely have enough mana to cast the additional cards you’re hitting. If you can play extra lands, you can clear any lands you hit off this out of exile and re-trigger the landfall. If you can manipulate the top of your library and create extra landfall triggers at the same time, you can even set up a turn where you dome opponents for ridiculous amounts of damage.

Green

Ancient Greenwarden

Ancient Greenwarden

Powerhouse

At six mana for a 5/7, this outpaces some of LSV’s favorite draft picks in terms of sheer value for mana. Jokes aside, this card has landfall written all over it. Well, it’s not written in the actual text box, but you get it. Commanders like Lord Windgrace and Titania are already moving lands from the graveyard to the battlefield and vice versa, and Ancient Greenwarden capitalizes on this thriving trade sector by packaging a Crucible of Worlds ability in with what I like to call “Landharmonicon.” Cards like Avenger of Zendikar, Evolution Sage, and Tireless Tracker will provide even more power than usual, and commanders such as Zendikar Rising’s Phylath, World Sculptor, Tatyova, Benthic Druid, and three out of four flavors of Omnath will benefit from having Ancient Greenwarden in the 99.

Ashaya, Soul of the Wild

Ashaya, Soul of the Wild

Commander

It’s possible that Multani, Yavimaya’s Avatar is a better land-based Commander than Ashaya given the inherent trample, but Ashaya’s static ability can pump those power and toughness values so high that I’m interested in giving her a shot. Without quite as much rules baggage as Life and Limb, Ashaya is playable by humans without too much confusion, and I’m interested to see how just how enormous I can make her and what kind of mana shenanigans that results in if I have a pile of tokens that can also generate green mana.

Bala Ged Recovery // Bala Ged Sanctuary

Bala Ged Recovery // Bala Ged Sanctuary

Role Player

If you’re playing Recollect, feel free to shelve it in favor of Bala Ged Recovery, which is the same card. If you draw this in your opener, you’re probably just playing the land half, which is totally fine.

Cragplate Baloth

Cragplate Baloth

Role Player

Seven mana for a 6/6 hexproof haste creature… with no trample. Add three more mana and your big creature gets even more irrelevantly large. It’s basically the Abyss, sure, but if you’re not giving it trample, you’re missing the point.

Gnarlid Colony

Gnarlid Colony

Niche Inclusion

If you’re short on ways to give your team trample in your +1/+1 counter deck, add this alongside Bramblewood Paragon, Crowned Ceratok, Pridemalkin, Trollbred Guardian, Tuskguard Captain, and/or Zegana, Utopian Speaker. Of course, given the length of the list I just generated, you probably have plenty of this effect already, but the modality of it may push it over the top of something like Crowned Ceratok.

Iridescent Hornbeetle

Iridescent Hornbeetle

Build-Around

Decks based around +1/+1 counters don’t always go wide, except when you play Cathars’ Crusade, a card that simply should not be played in paper games. Obviously this card is insane with the aforementioned piece of Spelltable poison, but even without it, it’s a win condition for +1/+1 counter decks or decks full of Hydras, though it might be a little bit of a win-more sometimes.

Khalni Ambush // Khalni Territory

Khalni Ambush // Khalni Territory

Niche Inclusion

If you’re trying to go big on fight effects (probably for theme’s sake) then I’d include this – otherwise, stay away.

Murasa Sproutling

Murasa Sproutling

Role Player

A card with kicker that returns other cards with kicker, huh? Two of these probably get very annoying in Limited, but in Commander it’s more about triggering things that care about Kicker while setting up more value in the future. I’ll give it a shot in the Kicker deck.

Oran-Rief Ooze

Oran-Rief Ooze

Build-Around

In the same way that Kalonian Hydra grows itself to enormous heights, Oran-Rief Ooze asks very little in exchange for growing your team – if you’re a +1/+1 counters deck, and you want to attack and go wide, you’re playing this card. Those are the rules. I really want to activate a Steel Overseer or Mikaeus, the Lunarch and then smash with the team with this in play. Add an Evolution Sage to the mix and things are looking insurmountable already.

Scute Swarm

Scute Swarm

Role Player

It turns out there really are always more scute bugs. A 1/1 for 2G isn’t my idea of an amazing deal, but once you’re at the point of copying Scute Swarm itself, you’re basically demanding a wrath. Of course, a simple Briar Patch or Teferi’s Moat can shut down the whole squad, but everything has a weakness, right?

Tajuru Paragon

Tajuru Paragon

Role Player

This card’s job is simple – it fills out your Party, and if you kick it, it helps a little more with that. As it often is with kicked spells, the rate isn’t amazing, but the flexibility is what you pay for. That said, I think this is relegated to Party decks only.

Tangled Florahedron // Tangled Vale

Tangled Florahedron // Tangled Vale

Role Player

I’ll go out on a limb for this one – I think this card might be playable. If you can play it as a creature on turn 2, it’s an okay accelerant, and in all other circumstances, it’s probably a land. Think of this card as a land first and a creature second, and you probably understand it better than you would the other way around. Of course, the land entering tapped is a pretty big downside, and if anything makes me not like this card at the end of it all, it would be that.

Turntimber Symbiosis // Turntimber, Serpentine Wood

Turntimber Symbiosis // Turntimber, Serpentine Wood

Powerhouse

If you’re going big with green mana, I think this is worth trying out. The actual fail case of hitting no creatures is pretty bad, but if all you get is small utility friends, they still roll up in a midsize sedan made of +1/+1 counters. In your opening hand, this is probably a land, and the ability to pay some life to curve out a little better makes this (and the other members of this cycle) easier to include.

Veteran Adventurer

Veteran Adventurer

Niche Inclusion

I’m not convinced this is the payoff Party decks want, but I’ll be trying it in Tazri.

Vine Gecko

Vine Gecko

Role Player

This friendly lizard can grow a little bit, but the real deal is the cost reduction – cast a kicked spell for two turns with this in play, and your first Gecko’s free. Of course, if you play it on an early turn where you didn’t have any other ways to spend your mana, it was basically free anyway. These cost reducers never look as impactful as they are, and even though this has a once per turn restriction, it’s still likely to be powerful if you can land it early.

Gold

Akiri, Fearless Voyager

Akiri, Fearless Voyager

Commander

As I mentioned earlier, Lee Livingston has already put some work into building this one, but if you’re looking for a headliner for Boros Equipment, consider Akiri, and then stop thinking so hard and just put her in charge and let her attack your opponents. The card draw helps shore up some of the traditional Boros problems, and the protective ability keeps you on the battlefield and making an impact in the midgame.

Anowon, the Ruin Thief

Anowon, the Ruin Thief

Commander

Here’s the Rogue Tribal Commander we’ve been waiting for, courtesy of the Zendikar Commander decks. Anowon is all in on the half-measure mill plan, so you’ll need some ways to take advantage of that – I wrote a whole article about this card and a potential decklist for it, so check that out here.

Cleric of Life's Bond

Cleric of Life’s Bond

Role Player

A little incidental life gain helps a growing Vampire get stronger, and that lifegain helps your other Clerics trigger and do your thing. You are playing a Cleric deck, right? If not, put this card away.

Grakmaw, Skyclave Ravager

Grakmaw, Skyclave Ravager

Commander

Grakmaw is a totally viable Golgari counters commander, and the focus is obviously on making Grakmaw huge. Adding cards like Hardened Scales makes the transfer of counters more profitable, and there are plenty such cards available in that color combination. It results in a different deck than Skullbriar does – whether it’s better or worse remains to be seen, though I expect Skullbriar is likely more powerful.

Kargan Warleader

Kargan Warleader

Role Player

It’s disappointing when a tribal lord just barely outpaces Adaptive Automaton, but here we are. We’ve seen plenty of two-mana 2/2 lords in recent memory for tribes like Knights, Vampires, and Merfolk, so it feels like Warriors are just getting wrecked on this one. I’m not asking for Pack Leader at uncommon, but I would prefer to lose that colorless cost and get a smaller Warleader. That said, I will still play this in Warrior decks – I’ll just complain about it silently to myself.

Kaza, Roil Chaser

Kaza, Roil Chaser

Commander

Kaza produces a different Izzet Wizards deck than Adeliz would, and I think both are interesting. Lee Livingston wrote about this one too, and I’m a big fan of his list – I think he does a great job of using Kaza’s ability to power out some big spells while still including smaller Wizards that help Kaza start that process.

Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate

Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate

Role Player

I’m not sure Linvala has the chops to cut it as a Commander in this form, as I don’t think the full party ability is enough of a payoff, but I’d certainly give her a spot in a Tazri deck. I’m a sucker for giving my whole team hexproof or indestructible, but I think it might have been okay for this card to do both. Maybe that’s ambitious, though.

Murasa Rootgrazer

Murasa Rootgrazer

Niche Inclusion

If you are leaning into some landfall combo shenanigans or doing something strange with Intruder Alarm and Life and Limb (and in that latter case, please stay far away from me) this card does two very interesting things all by itself. I’m sure there are cool fair things to do with this card too.

Nahiri, Heir of the Ancients

Nahiri, Heir of the Ancients

Role Player

In a Boros Equipment deck, this card is fine, as it pops out a steady stream of creatures that you can snap equipment directly onto. That means Nahiri has not just chump blocking defenders, but capable, well-armed defenders that can go directly at other players’ faces and play a very offensive version of defense once you build a large enough army. I’m not sure if I even care about the Warrior synergy – for me, this card’s all about Equipment.

Nissa of Shadowed Boughs

Nissa of Shadowed Boughs

Powerhouse

Yes, that landfall ability says what you think it says. Sure, the +1 can put your land in danger, but it’s optional, and honestly, if you’re activating the -5 to reanimate creatures, you’re probably doing it on the back of the landfall triggers rather than that +1. Sure, you can put something in from your hand, and sometimes you’ll have enough cards in hand for that to be worthwhile, but Nissa’s access to the graveyard seems much more relevant here.

Obuun, Mul Daya Ancestor

Obuun, Mul Daya Ancestor

Commander

I’ll be honest, I haven’t totally figured out how to use this headliner from the other Zendikar Commander deck, but making this big and then using lands to go to battle instead of Obuun sounds fun, and doubling up on that beginning of combat trigger with cards like Strionic Resonator and Lithoform Engine is an interesting proposition. I’ll have to think more about how to best leverage this card, and that probably starts with playing the preconstructed deck at least once as soon as it’s in my hands.

Omnath, Locus of Creation

Omnath, Locus of Creation

Commander

Four-color Landfall, huh? Well, Omnath is making it a realistic choice from my perspective. It’s interesting that past three lands in a single turn, Omnath provides no additional benefit, so dropping lands three at a time seems like the desired outcome. I’m not actually sure if this card is any good as a Commander considering the effects it has barely impact the board, but I’m willing to give it a try, as always.

Orah, Skyclave Hierophant

Orah, Skyclave Hierophant

Commander

I already wrote about this one, but long story short, the recursion this card brings to bear makes it worth your while to play a bunch of Clerics across your whole curve. The fact that they come back to the battlefield is absolute ridiculous nonsense and I can’t wait to take a 15-minute turn with my new best Orzhov friend.

Phylath, World Sculptor

Phylath, World Sculptor

Commander

This is the “go big” to Avenger of Zendikar’s “go wide.” Of course, putting Phylath in the Commander slot doesn’t preclude you from playing Avenger too, and to be honest, you’ll probably be doing both (unless you, like many, are tired of Avenger at this point.) I like the idea of making one huge plant and Flinging it at an opponent or making other creatures fight it, so I’ll be testing out Phylath myself, possibly even in paper.

Ravager's Mace

Ravager’s Mace

Niche Inclusion

In a Party-focused deck, this snaps on for menace and up to +4/+0, but I’m not sure that’s enough for me to invest this mana and a card into.

Soaring Thought-Thief

Soaring Thought-Thief

Role Player

I love that this has Flash – it should make some Rogue attacks a bit bigger. That said, it’s awkward that it mills on attack, because if you want that, you have to play it before combat, but if you want that, you really want to be milling people out the whole way, which this card is not actually good at doing in Commander. I built an Anowon, the Ruin Thief deck that uses cards like this and tries to take advantage of the mill, but it’s really dangerous to fill other players’ graveyards.

Spoils of Adventure

Spoils of Adventure

Niche Inclusion

Sure, casting this for UW seems nuts, but how often is that really going to happen? I do think these cards will get better later in 2021, but I don’t think Party decks are there yet.

Verazol, the Split Current

Verazol, the Split Current

Commander

I’ve spent a lot of this article gushing about Simic Kicker, and this card is a big part of the reason for that. The idea that you get to copy kicked spells even if they’re creatures is awesome, because, as you might hope, the fact that they were kicked is copied as well. Imagine copying a kicked Rite of Replication, or in a more realistic universe, something like a kicked Territorial Allosaurus. That’s an exciting thought.

Yasharn, Implacable Earth

Yasharn, Implacable Earth

Tech Card

It’s nice that you get to put some land in your hand, but this card is focused around saying “no”, which means you’re not advancing your own game plan for a card and four mana, and you’re not even actively stopping something from happening – it’s proactive but passive. I’m not enthused.

Zagras, Thief of Heartbeats

Zagras, Thief of Heartbeats

Role Player

You could make this your Commander, but I’m more interested in playing this in Tazri, as Zagras capitalizes on the Party that Tazri recruits. I did try building around this in my Commander newsletter, though, and while it may not be top tier, it is possible. I do like the deathtouch synergy with Hooded Blightfang, but that’s a very small upside.

Zareth San, the Trickster

Zareth San, the Trickster

Role Player

No Commander Ninjutsu? Well, sorry Zareth San, but you’re stuck in the 99 of a Rogue deck, which, based on my Anowon build, isn’t the worst place in the world to be. Digging up treasures from opponents’ graveyards is a solid payoff and makes up for some of the bad cards you have to play to go full-on Rogue tribal.

Artifacts

Forsaken Monument

Forsaken Monument

Build-Around

Sure, to build around this, you have to go full colorless, but if you get this in play you’re at an enormous advantage for just five mana. Colorless decks need the help, okay? They’re still not terribly powerful, but they’re a lot of fun, and this card makes them a little more palatable.

Lithoform Engine

Lithoform Engine

Powerhouse

This is the kind of card that could go in every deck, but honestly shouldn’t. You need to make sure you can leverage two of the three modes consistently or just straight up win the game with a single mode before you play this card. You’re paying six or more mana before anything actually happens, so keep that in mind as you imagine how powerful this card actually is.

Myriad Construct

Myriad Construct

Tech Card

A lot of work has to be done for this to be a Hangarback Walker clone. First, you have to be up against a pile of nonbasics. Then you have to pay the kicker. Then you have to get someone to target this thing with a spell, and honestly, you probably have to do that yourself. At that point, you get Constructs, not Thopters… I don’t think I see myself playing this one.

Relic Vial

Relic Vial

Role Player

This card is fantastic in a Clerics deck, and only in a Clerics deck. Of the four Relic artifacts, it’s the only one I think is worth talking about – it’s a sac outlet for Orah and a drain effect all in one.

Skyclave Relic

Skyclave Relic

Role Player

Darksteel Ingot just got an upgrade – it’s still a bad late game topdeck, so it’s questionable whether it’s playable over Commander’s Sphere, but if you’re going hard on mana rocks, I’d play this before going all the way to something like Dreamstone Hedron.

Lands

Base Camp

Base Camp

Role Player

In a multicolored deck focused on one of these four types, this is okay, but it really shines in the theoretical Party decks that will reach fruition sometime in the future. I’m making a lot of potentially unfounded assumptions about the D&D set, but hopefully I’m right, or I’m going to have a pile of Party-themed cards that just don’t do what I want them to do.

Riverglide Pathway // Lavaglide PathwayNeedleverge Pathway // Pillarverge PathwayBrightclimb Pathway // Grimclimb Pathway

The Pathway Cycle

Role Player

They always come in untapped, but they’re not really dual lands, as they only make one kind of mana once they’re in play. If you’re looking for flexibility, though, they’re great, and you’re not paying life or forced to abide by weird restrictions to get these in untapped.

Crawling Barrens

Crawling Barrens

Role Player

The idea that you can stack up counters on this card and not even turn it into a creature until the time is right is very entertaining, and in something like an Obuun deck, animating it via other means can really pay off.

Throne of Makindi

Throne of Makindi

Niche Inclusion

This is such a weird card that I’m not even sure it belongs in a kicker deck, but it says kicker on it, so legally I have to try it and find out. The idea that I have to spend two mana now (by paying 1 and tapping it) to make two mana later is not terribly attractive.

 

That’s it! I don’t have anything else to say about these cards, except all the things I’ll have to say in the coming weeks. Send your disagreements to @RagingLevine on Twitter. See you next time!

Discussion

Scroll to Top