We’re back to creating a Commander Cube! Last time, we talked about some of the core tenets of the Cube I intend to build over the course of this series. Let’s summarize them as follows:
- 720 total cards
- Players draft four packs of 15 cards each, two picks per pack
- 100 total commanders
- 20 monocolor, 60 two-color, 20 three-color
- No partner/background
- Each player starts with two copies of The Prismatic Piper
Today, we’re going to put down the foundation of the Cube with the most important cards in the list: the commanders themselves. These cards will help us set theme and power level expectations across the Cube, and we’ll reinforce those expectations with the other 620 cards. Before we get started with the specifics, let’s talk about those expectations
I’d like to keep the themes broad and sweeping enough that they can work in unexpected ways, deal in both micro and macro-synergies, and not feel too restrictive. I want cards to be able to speak for themselves and be playable across multiple decks rather than simply being linear. With that in mind, I’m trying to avoid themes that require too many “unitasker”-style cards. Cards should do more than one thing, or to put it more clearly, they should be useful in multiple places, and our themes should allow for that.
With that in mind, I’m skipping tribal themes. While that may be disappointing to fans of Elves, Goblins, Slivers and so on, I think it’s for the best. I find these themes make for a linear draft experience in Cubes, which is the opposite of my stated goal. Additionally, I’ve been told by other Cube curators that they’re difficult to balance power-wise, and while that might not be quite as true in Commander Cube, it’s something I’m a bit wary of when starting out on this journey.
Let’s talk more about power level. With a Cube, I’m looking to hit above the power level of the two Commander Legends draft formats. I’m not looking to hit the power level of a cEDH game or even the “nitro casual” games that I tend to play most of the time. I want this to feel like a mid-power social game, and I’ll be choosing commanders and individual cards that fit that description – or at least, I’ll be trying to. I want games to be about combat to a large degree, so we’ll be staying away from two-card combos that end the game, but more convoluted combos that can be disrupted easily are on the table.
I want to support multiple themes per color pair. In an attempt to keep power levels in line, I’ve decided to try three themes per pair – that way, no one theme gets too much of the attention, and micro-synergies and subthemes can make their way into decks. If things end up too spread out, I’ll cut down to two themes per pair after a few drafts.
I think the best place to start is with the two-color commanders. Last time, we decided those would be the focus of the Cube, with three-color decks taking a back seat and monocolor commanders serving largely to support the multicolor decks. Come meet the themes and commanders I’ve chosen to set the tone!
|Oji, the Exquisite Blade|
|Yorion, Sky Nomad|
|Brago, King Eternal|
|Inniaz, the Gale Force|
|Kangee, Sky Warden|
|Raff Capashen, Ship’s Mage|
Blink is one of the most popular themes in the Azorius color pair, and I’ve chosen three of my favorite blink commanders to get things started. I’m slightly concerned about the power level of Brago, but you do have to attack and get through for damage, so we’ll see just how obnoxious he ends up being. Oji and Yorion are a little more muted here, which is fine.
Inniaz and Kangee are here to support a skies theme. I think combining these with token generators like Emeria Angel, Migratory Route and Battle Screech will lead to a solid combat-forward theme. Finally, Raff Capashen hints at a historic theme which I intend to base largely around artifacts. This theme only has one commander in the pair, but it’ll have overlap with some other color pairs.
|Gyruda, Doom of Depths|
|Lazav, the Multifarious|
|Araumi of the Dead Tide|
|Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker|
|Oona, Queen of the Fae|
|Tasha, the Witch Queen|
The main theme for Dimir is reanimation. None of these commanders are particularly powerful reanimation engines, but they all do a good job of setting your colors and pushing you toward a theme. Araumi and Lazav are more directly tied to self-mill, which is an option, while Gyruda can reach into other players’ graveyards for some chaotic fun. Reanimator will naturally have some overlap with ramp strategies, so we’ll be able to grab some of the high-cost colorless creatures available in the cube.
When milling yourself isn’t the answer, milling others can be fun. Mirko Vosk takes a more attacking-focused direction, whereas Oona is a mana sink that can mill one player out while taking out other players with a swarm of tokens. Even at only 60 cards, mill can be a tough proposition, so we’ll have to make sure to include permanents that mill players turn after turn as well as some of the more powerful instants and sorceries.
Finally, we have Tasha, the Witch Queen, who can support a theft-focused theme or just act as a decent commander for a control deck. Theft-style cards are a lot of fun in a draft format like this, or at least, I think so.
|Greven, Predator Captain|
|Anje, Maid of Dishonor|
|Judith, the Scourge Diva|
|Chainer, Nightmare Adept|
|Olivia, Crimson Bride|
Sacrifice is the name of the game here. Greven wants to deal massive commander damage, while Anje and Judith take a longer view of things. As I mentioned, there won’t be tribal themes in this Cube, so you won’t be playing a strictly Vampire-focused Anje deck, but there will be some incidental Vampires available.
We see our first crossover theme here – reanimator is a thing in Rakdos as well as Dimir. Chainer and Olivia are both pretty sweet, and the overlap between the two color pairs means we’ve got a three-color commander option coming.
Finally, Prosper is here supporting a “cast from exile” theme, which we’ll see in a few more color pairs. Prosper is also a solid escape clause Rakdos commander if you just have a bunch of good cards but lack a cohesive theme (are you seeing some commonalities across these one-offs in each color pair? Yeah, that’s on purpose).
|Omnath, Locus of Rage|
|Radha, Heart of Keld|
|Mina and Denn, Wildborn|
|Minsc & Boo, Timeless Heroes|
|Chishiro, the Shattered Blade|
|Grand Warlord Radha|
Where would we be without a ramp archetype? This theme lives somewhere between landfall and generic ramp, with Omnath focused strictly on the former. Radha, Heart of Keld, along with Mina and Denn, are a bit more vague on exactly what they want you to do, but putting lands on the battlefield is the name of the game regardless.
Taking things in a much different direction, we have Chishiro explicitly supporting “modified” while Minsc & Boo are all about +1/+1 counters. I’ll be focusing on the latter and rolling these two into a single theme, though Auras and Equipment will be available to a degree. Grand Warlord Radha rounds out the team to support a go-wide attacking strategy and, again, just to be a solid catchall commander. That said, most of these can lead a generic good-stuff Gruul deck.
|Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice|
|Rhys the Redeemed|
|Maja, Bretagard Protector|
|Hamza, Guardian of Arashin|
|Shalai, Voice of Plenty|
|Lathiel, the Bounteous Dawn|
Whether you want to go big or go wide with tokens, Selesnya has the commander for you. Trostani is here to support your Rhinos and Wurms while the other two are much stronger with large numbers of 1/1 tokens.
Hamza and Shalai overlap with Gruul for more +1/+1 counter theming. I’ve tried to stay away from commanders that have hexproof, and I think Shalai will be enough of a lightning rod that the hexproof provided to the rest of your team won’t be too terribly obnoxious. Finally, Lathiel is here to help out with a life gain theme but also lean across into +1/+1 counter territory. With life gain also appearing in Orzhov, there should be enough goodies in white to make this theme work out.
|Karlov of the Ghost Council|
|Vona, Butcher of Magan|
|Astarion, the Decadent|
|Thalisse, Reverent Medium|
|Elenda, the Dusk Rose|
Like I said, life gain is an Orzhov theme, and it’s our biggest one! Karlov and Astarion explicitly care about you gaining life, while Vona just wants to help you spend that life on destruction. We’ll have some effects that gain you life while causing opponents to lose life, which will help both options on Astarion feel relevant.
The last three form one murky theme pile between tokens and sacrifice, with Thalisse being purely token-focused on its face while providing a ton of great sacrifice fodder. Elenda and Teysa are a little less directly aimed at one theme, but either can play a role as a token commander, a sacrifice commander or a combination of the two.
|Melek, Izzet Paragon|
|Rootha, Mercurial Artist|
|Mizzix of the Izmagnus|
|Saheeli, the Gifted|
|Tawnos, Urza’s Apprentice|
|Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind|
To the surprise of absolutely no one, Izzet has a spellslinger theme going. I didn’t want to put in something like Niv-Mizzet, Parun since I’m a little concerned about power level there, so our three options are Melek, Rootha and Mizzix. The first two are more focused on copying spells, with Mizzix enabling multi-spell turns explicitly.
Next up, we have artifact-themed commander. Saheeli is token-focused, which might clue you in to the fact that I almost put Brudiclad in this spot but decided against it. Tawnos is kind of a reach, but I’m hoping to find ways to enable fun with copying abilities. If Tawnos doesn’t pan out, there are plenty of replacement options.
It turns out there aren’t a ton of fun/cool/awesome themes in Izzet that feel Cube-friendly, so I just decided on “card drawing” and threw in original flavor Niv-Mizzet. I assume he’ll end up being the commander for all kinds of Izzet decks.
|Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord|
|Meren of Clan Nel Toth|
|Dina, Soul Steeper|
|Gyome, Master Chef|
|Skullbriar, the Walking Grave|
Jarad, Izoni and Meren all support a generic “graveyard” theme. Are we reanimating? Just self-milling for value with cards like these and the Spider Spawnings of the world? It could go either way, and that makes the broad nature of the theme a little more fun.
Dina and Gyome cross the life gain theme stream further between Golgari, Orzhov and Selesnya. Gyome, not to be outdone by Dina’s more direct contribution to the theme, gets weird and wild with Food tokens. Last, but definitely not least, +1/+1 counters return with Skullbriar, a card too fun not to include.
|Koll, the Forgemaster|
|Reyav, Master Smith|
|Osgir, the Reconstructor|
|Alibou, Ancient Witness|
|Bell Borca, Spectral Sergeant|
Equipment, and to a lesser degree Auras, are the biggest focus here. Bruenor is focused directly on Equipment theming, giving you cost savings on equip costs, while Koll and Reyav just want your creature to have something attached to it. Crossovers with Chishiro? Well, there wasn’t a great Naya commander choice for that, so the crossover will have to remain mostly focused on shared red cards.
Osgir and Alibou can take some of the Equipment from the above and use them in artifact themes. Alibou has more of a need for Servos and Thopters, whereas Osgir will do serious work with noncreature artifacts.
Bell Borca is our last entrant, and I figured some of the red cards from the Rakdos exile theme could cross over here. Plus, I think Bell Borca is really cool.
|Roalesk, Apex Hybrid|
|Vorel of the Hull Clade|
|Esix, Fractal Bloom|
|Adrix and Nev, Twincasters|
|Aesi, Tyrant of Gyre Strait|
Our last color pair is Simic, and we’ve got three familiar themes going on here. First is counters – Tanazir is all about the +1/+1s, whereas Roalesk and Vorel can do some work with other types of counters too, where applicable.
Last, but definitely not least, is Aesi. This slot was almost Tatyova until I realized I just wanted Aesi to provide mostly the same effect plus a little more. Why? Well, Aesi costs more and is therefore less likely to be oppressive. Landfall/ramp theming is a nice place for our catchall commander to be.
That’s all the color pairs – let’s check in on the trios.
|Aminatou, the Fateshifter|
|Sefris of the Hidden Ways|
Aminatou supports the blink theme and crosses over with some of the value-focused reanimator deck’s targets, while Sefris gets into some reanimator/graveyard/sacrifice shenanigans. There won’t be a ton of explicit dungeoneering support, but there will be a few cards that will make Sefris very happy.
|Falco Spara, Pactweaver|
|Roon of the Hidden Realm|
Falco Spara is a potentially dangerous counters-focused commander that might get downgraded to Jenara if things go bad. Roon of the Hidden Realm is a much more relaxed blink commander that allows you to fit in some rad green cards for ramp purposes or token generation.
|Anhelo, the Painter|
|Sedris, the Traitor King|
Anhelo blends the spellslinger and sacrifice themes into one efficient (and really fun) package. Meanwhile, Sedris brings some old-school Alara flavor while making some fun reanimation possible. And yes, calling Alara “old-school” makes my back hurt and my nonexistent hair turn gray.
|Gyrus, Waker of Corpses|
Gyrus? Haven’t seen you in a while, but you seem like a fun reanimator option. Plus, you can sacrifice the token for extra value. Lord Windgrace is a cool catchall that ends up helping out with some landfall/ramp shenanigans while including black to potentially cast reanimator targets the “fair” way.
|Ghired, Conclave Exile|
|Kitt Kanto, Mayhem Diva|
Two sizes of token themes are here in the Naya zone. Ghired supports the bigger tokens, while Kitt Kanto, whose name sounds like one of the Cantrosians in the Star Wars universe escaped onto Capenna, brings some Cat Bard Druid talents to the smaller token decks and adds some goading to the Cube. I love goading!
|Kykar, Wind’s Fury|
|Elsha of the Infinite|
Kykar and Elsha both take on the spellslinging theme from different angles. Kykar gives you tokens and/or mana, while Elsha just lets you keep casting cards from the top of your library. You can use Elsha for any theme based on noncreature spells, so artifacts could be fair game too.
|Sidisi, Brood Tyrant|
The Mimeoplasm is a really fun reanimator option that combines the size of big green creatures, the cool abilities of Dimir creatures, and enough self-mill to glue all of that together. Sidisi is more directly focused on the whole self-mill aspect of life and embodies the generic “graveyard” theme, all with a little token goodness mixed in.
|Extus, Oriq Overlord|
|Jan Jansen, Chaos Crafter|
Extus is all about sacrificing things. Well, more accurately, Awaken the Blood Avatar is all about sacrificing things, and Extus is just here to hang out too. Tokens are often part of that strategy too, and if you like tokens (specifically artifact ones) you’ll love Jan Jansen. I’m excited to see how he plays out in the Cube – while Treasure is not an explicit “theme”, there will be some Treasure generation.
|Kalamax, the Stormsire|
|Riku of Two Reflections|
It may look like we have two spellslinging commanders here, and that’s true to an extent, but both can work in other ways. +1/+1 counters and Kalamax are at least passing acquaintances if not best buddies, and Riku plays with token strategies, big creatures and just general thing-doing.
|Myrkul, Lord of Bones|
|Teneb, the Harvester|
Myrkul may look like a weird reanimation commander, but that’s not the actual plan – this god can turn small, vulnerable engine creatures into less vulnerable engine enchantments. I imagine him as a solid life gain commander with cards like Soul Warden, Essence Warden and Blood Artist becoming a big harder to remove. Teneb is a blunter instrument and focused directly on reanimation.
Now that we’ve gone through the trios, let’s check in on our single-color commanders that are focused more on supporting these pairs and trios than being commanders themselves. That said, the hope is that these can all function as commanders if a player is determined to go with just one color.
|Sephara, Sky’s Blade|
|Danitha Capashen, Paragon|
|Adeline, Resplendent Cathar|
|Daxos, Blessed by the Sun|
|Emry, Lurker of the Loch|
|Lier, Disciple of the Drowned|
|Talrand, Sky Summoner|
|Sai, Master Thopterist|
|Egon, God of Death|
|Whisper, Blood Liturgist|
|Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder|
|Syr Konrad, the Grim|
|Etali, Primal Storm|
|Daretti, Scrap Savant|
|Pia and Kiran Nalaar|
|Feldon of the Third Path|
|Rishkar, Peema Renegade|
|Varis, Silverymoon Ranger|
|Renata, Called to the Hunt|
|Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse|
Each of these commanders (fairly) explicitly supports one of our existing themes, making them solid role players within decks as well as possible commanders in their own right.
I had hoped to get into some individual card choices this week, but we’re running long, so we’ll have to wait for next time. Don’t worry, I won’t be going over every individual card, but by next week we should have a full Cube list going. After that comes out, I’ll do some test drafts with friends online and try to do some serious iteration before building a physical copy. If you’ve got suggestions for individual cards to include or even cycles or packages of cards, let me know in the comments or at @RagingLevine on Twitter. See you next time!