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Forgotten Realms Commander Review – Black and Red

Welcome to the Forgotten Realms Commander Review! Am I just going to write a set review every month from now on? Well, at least if the sets keep delivering the goods, like Adventures in the Forgotten Realms has, I won’t have much to complain about. As far as ratings go, I don’t use numbers or grades – instead, I use this more subjective set of categories (though what really matters is what I write about the card, as I suspect most reviewers will tell you.)

 

White & Blue / Black & Red / Green, Gold, etc / Commander Set

 

 

Header - Ratings Scale

  • 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 or flavor, 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 reprints, so you can just assume I feel the same way about Bag of Holding as I did before we found out it was in this set. I also don’t review every card – if I feel they’re not worth mentioning, I don’t give them a write-up, but we all know there’s a deck out there for every card. When you inevitably disagree with a rating or omitted card, please feel free to tweet at @RagingLevine with your thoughts!

Oh, and one more thing – if I don’t mention a card that has one of the set’s core mechanics, in this case venture/Dungeons or rolling a d20, then consider my rating of that card “Niche Inclusion” for a deck that is focused on that particular mechanic.

 

Header - Black

Acererak the Archlich

Rating: Commander/Build-Around
Aside from its Aluren combo potential, Acererak fits well into any venture deck as an engine card that turns into a payoff. If you just want to keep the ability to venture for 2B, you can just avoid completing the Tomb of Annihilation, but this lich is strong enough to make a huge difference on the board. I’d be interested in this as a commander on its own, but you could easily just play it in a multicolor venture deck.

Asmodeus the Archfiend

Rating: Commander?
Locking all of your draws behind Asmodeus’s contract is a bit scary, but BBB: draw seven has a certain undeniable ring to it. You could activate the ability and sacrifice Asmodeus in response, but that might be more work than keeping him around and offsetting the life loss with cards like Venser’s Journal or Sword of War and Peace. I haven’t played Ivory Tower in a while, but this card might change that. There’s an interesting interaction here with Lich’s Mastery – you get the cards before you lose the life, so you can exile cards you got from Asmodeus to the trigger effect.

Baleful Beholder

Rating: Tech Card
I love the Antimagic Cone mode, because there usually aren’t too many enchantments on the board, but the Fear Ray mode isn’t bad either if you’re looking to alpha strike. That said, this card is clearly more geared for Limited and won’t show up much in Commander.

The Book of Vile Darkness

Rating: Build-Around
Well, clearly you want to get this together with the Eye and Hand of Vecna to create your 8/8 indestructible Zombie God. Once you do, you’re looking to protect Vecna while you lose life to make Zombies and draw cards before applying that +X/+X and attacking. The three cards are a package deal, and that can be a little tough in a 100-card singleton format, so make sure you commit to the bit. Vecna is vulnerable to exile-based removal, bounce spells, and control effects, so bring your Swiftfoot Boots/Lightning Greaves.

Deadly Dispute

Rating: Role Player
It’s no Village Rites, but it beats Costly Plunder, a card I’ve been known to play from time to time. At instant speed, I can see this making the lists of some sacrifice decks.

Death-Priest of Myrkul

Rating: Role Player
If you’re in need of another Zombie or Vampire lord, you could do worse, especially since this one makes 2/2s some of the time. I think we might also be getting closer to Skeletons as a semi-viable bad tribal deck, and since I almost built Skeletons for the CommandFest Mystery Budget Tribal Showcase, that prospect interests me. 

Ebondeath, Dracolich

Rating: Powerhouse
Creatures die all the time, and five power is a lot. Add in a very affordable casting cost and what you get is an impressive recursive threat. I would be pretty excited to sleeve this up alongside Bladewing the Risen or just in your average grindy black-based list that can sacrifice things for value. 

Feign Death

Rating: Role Player
If you’re looking to get more of this type of effect, you could certainly do worse than this – after all, Supernatural Stamina doesn’t leave behind a counter like this does. I’ll be putting it in my Juri deck to see if the increased density of these effects helps me combo off.

Forsworn Paladin

Rating: Role Player
Anything that can reliably generate Treasure tokens turn after turn will find a home in some deck, even if the type line here isn’t great for a Pirate deck. The second ability would play well in an Admiral Beckett Brass list, as it disincentives blocking, so perhaps this Knight will be sailing the high seas after all.

Lolth, Spider Queen

Rating: Role Player
The goal with Lolth is simple: build a foundation of creatures to sacrifice, cast Lolth, then ratchet her loyalty up to eight as quickly as possible. Once you’ve done that, you can fire off her ultimate, which… is just okay? At its best, it deals seven at a time, and if you’re just hitting with an unblockable 1/1, you’re looking at a five turn clock. Stacking the emblems doesn’t even provide value. Lolth mostly looks like she’ll be used for its first two abilities, which I admit are decent, and since she’ll be hard to remove, you’ll accrue value with them for a long time. 

Power Word Kill

Rating: Niche Inclusion
There’s better point removal than this, but if you’re on a budget restriction, Power Word Kill is part of the Cast Down family of products that you’ll mostly not be unhappy with. When it’s bad though, it really hurts.

Skullport Merchant

Rating: Role Player
This is effectively the same deal as Ruthless Knave gives you for Treasures to cards, but it allows you to be more flexible and actually use mana from other sources. Plus, it also lets you sacrifice other creatures! Any deck with a focus on Treasure tokens will be interested.

Sphere of Annihilation

Rating: Role Player
You couldn’t ask for a weirder, slower Pernicious Deed. This feels like Scourglass, but better since it lets you clear away things at or below a certain mana value, meaning if you have the biggest thing on the board, you’re left with something after the dust settles. Of course, if your opponents have ramped past you, this card won’t help you. Plus, it makes you wait an entire turn, which can be a little tough.

Thieves’ Tools

Rating: Role Player
If you’re looking to sneak some small creatures with “whenever this deals combat damage to a player” triggers through, and you’re in black, you might slot this in alongside Whispersilk Cloak and Trailblazer’s Boots. You can also equip it to a Shade and then pump it after blocks are declared. The Treasure token mail-in rebate is nice too!

Vorpal Sword

Rating: Build-Around
I gave Vorpal Sword this rating because, really, who are we kidding? If you’re playing this card, your goal is for this thing to go snicker-snack and leave your opponent dead, and you’ll be trying to find ways to sneak the equipped creature through to make it happen. You just need a Changeling Outcast or other unblockable creature… and 5BBB. You won’t be galumphing back with a foe’s head too many times, but when you manage to get this off, it’s going to be brillig. 

Warlock Class

Rating: Role Player
This turns into a Wound Reflection after a while, albeit a worse one. If you’re looking for that effect, though, you may well be willing to pay 7BBB in installments for it – and if you’ve got both in play, you’re really making something happen. Well, actually, you aren’t until you actually make someone lose life, but that’s not too hard given the first ability.

Westgate Regent

Rating: Role Player
This is just a solid five-mana threat that grows larger and larger for Vampire decks to enjoy. The ward cost is significant, though look out for opponents who might enjoy discarding cards to cast them with madness or do something else nefarious. A hellbent opponent won’t be able to dodge the Ward!

Zombie Ogre

Rating: Role Player
Ways to venture repeatedly are much more exciting than one-shots, and it’s not too hard to find a sacrificial Skeleton or two for this Ogre to use as delve fuel. This only triggers on your end step, though, so no benefiting from other players’ combats.

 

Header - Red

Barbarian Class

Rating: Role Player
I’m mainly in for the Krark’s Thumb ability on die rolls, but Fervor is rarely disappointing, so I’m excited to see that as the level three payoff The level two ability isn’t that exciting in this format, but I’ll take it as a fun bonus.

Battle Cry Goblin

Rating: Role Player
This is sweet in any go-wide Goblins list, which is to say, any Goblins list. It’s ridiculously easy to meet the pack tactics requirement with a single activation of the first ability, but you should expect opponents to block and kill this at any opportunity they have. 

Brazen Dwarf

Rating: Niche Inclusion
One damage is not very much, and it’s a lot harder to roll dice than it is to cast an instant or sorcery, if we want to compare this to similar creatures.

Delina, Wild Mage

Rating: Powerhouse
If you need another Flamerush Rider that might just devolve into unbounded Mirror March Madness, Delina is a solid call. Flamerush Rider’s dash ability makes it a better card overall, but the ceiling on Delina is much higher. The fact that Delina also copies legendary creatures keeps things a little interesting as well and will likely lead to some serious shenanigans.

Dueling Rapier

Rating: Role Player
Cheap snap-on Equipment is always likely to find a home in Boros-based Equipment decks that want to put lots of weapons and armor on one thing and really go to town. 

Flameskull

Rating: Powerhouse
Flameskull keeps coming back until you find something you really need to cast more urgently, which is not likely to happen quickly. It’s also a great card to use if you’re already playing Squee, the Immortal for sacrifice shenanigans, as it presents a bit of a stronger threat. 

Hobgoblin Bandit Lord

Rating: Build-Around
This card is amazing. In a Krenko deck, it’s trivial to deal huge amounts of damage with this, and even if Krenko’s not around, Goblins are well known for just making tons of themselves. Goblin Warrens starts to look like a really attractive option with this in play!

Inferno of the Star Mounts

Rating: Commander
This creature is all about that firebreathing ability. If you’re using +X/+X Equipment like Bonehoard, you have to make sure not to go over 20, because if you want to deal 20 damage, you have to hit that level exactly. A Big Red deck that generates tons of mana is the order of the day here, with something like Unleash Fury in the wings to speed up the process. Chandra’s Ignition also seems like an easy call.

Minion of the Mighty

Rating: Role Player
If you already have one Dragon in play and you’re looking to cheat out more, Minion of the Mighty could help with that, but unless you’ve got an opponent with one or fewer creatures available, this card will go the way of most minions and die a dismal death. This is best used with Ball Lightning-style cards or powerful dash creatures like Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury that can trigger this creature earlier than normal.

Orb of Dragonkind

Rating: Role Player
A mana accelerant for Dragons that turns into another Dragon in hand (usually) when you don’t need it anymore? This is the kind of smoothing effect that top-heavy decks need in quantity, so don’t be afraid to slot this in as long as you’ve got enough red mana to cast it consistently.

Unexpected Windfall

Rating: Niche Inclusion
Seize the Spoils, though it’s a sorcery, does most of this for less mana. That said, if the quantity of Treasure is really important to you, or if you’re already playing other Thrill of Possibility effects and want more for madness synergies or something similar, give this a shot.

Xorn

Rating: Build-Around
If you’re going deep on Treasure tokens, the Xorn is your new best friend. It plays very well with Academy Manufactor, so make sure you unite those two under the banner of whatever Pirate (or Pirates) you inevitably go with as your commander. I’m thinking Malcolm and Dargo, since you’ll be well supplied with tokens for Dargo’s cost reduction.

You Find Some Prisoners

Rating: Role Player
Sure, Abrade is cool, but have you considered that a more fun default mode for Shatter+ might be mini-Gonti? I’ll be trying this out in most red-based decks, just for fun, and I have a feeling it’ll perform well most of the time as a weird draw spell.

Zalto, Fire Giant Duke

Rating: Commander
I’m more interested in the 7/3 trampler as a commander than I am in the rest of the text, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to venture into the Dungeon. Indeed, I’m happy to Lava Dart Zalto once in a while, especially if I can make him indestructible with Darksteel Plate or beefier with Commander’s Plate. There are enough effects like Rile that I think using Zalto to complete Dungeons quickly will be a fun and exciting puzzle to solve.

Zariel, Archduke of Avernus

Rating: Role Player
Zariel knows the best defense is a good offense, or maybe a 1/1 Devil. Or both. Either way, if you want to make it to the ultimate ability and get a Seize the Day emblem, you’ll have to put in some work defending this archduke. That emblem is powerful if and only if you can attack in a reasonable manner, so the juice may not be worth the squeeze here.

 

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