Zendikar Rising brought us all back to a Zendikar that was less about world-ending monstrosities and more about groups of heroes embarking on adventures and discovering new lands. With that came a high density of Legendary creatures, especially ones that might have what it takes to make a splash as Commanders. While most of them will likely hit the tables for some amount of time after release, there’s a few that I think just stand out among the crowd, and might even be real contenders to stick around for a good while.
First up, the scourge of the Standard tables joins the selective group of 4-Color Commanders, giving another option besides partners and Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis for someone wanting to hit everything but Black mana. Rather than a mishmash of abilities or a group hug deck, Omnath gives you the perfect header for a solid Landfall deck, and by dint of his colors I think will stick around for a while. If you thought it was easy to trigger landfall with the greedy elemental three times in a one turn in Standard, just wait until you see how much of a breeze it is in Commander.
Now, with higher life totals, the effects themselves are a bit less impactful, but the deeper card pool of Commander also means that you can utilize a wide range of effects to not only trigger landfall multiple times but to also reset Omnath. After all, the ability counts how many times the trigger has occurred, not how many lands you’ve played for the turn. That the second trigger dumps four mana into your pool just makes the loops even easier, feeding Eldrazi Displacer or Deadeye Navigator easily. After that, it’s just a matter of finding another engine to keep the lands falling and you can even melt opponents away from any life total.
Tribal decks are a staple of Commander tables, and Zendikar Rising brought a few new options to the table. One of the most impactful as far as offering a new strategy to a tribe is Orah. By tacking a more powerful version of Scrap Trawler’s ability, but narrowed down to only care about Clerics, you end up with a powerful Commander that leans into more graveyard and recursion synergies than the pure lifegain that most Cleric decks trended towards before. The Raging Levine himself put together a sick list here that explores a ton of the potential synergies that an Orah deck can offer.
One of my favorites in the list is how Orah’s ability can be used in conjunction with Whisper, Blood Liturgist to come out up on creatures, rather than down, when using her ability. Whisper’s a pet card of mine, to be sure, and I adore anything that can make her even better. Even if you don’t want to lean into that type of effect, using a core of Clerics with other supporting actors will still allow Orah to shine. Grave Pact effects love a deck that can bin its creatures while keeping a strong board presence. Orah could also helm an aristocrats style deck when paired with the various Blood Artist effects in the format.
GW value strategies are near and dear to my heart, almost as much as shenanigans involving sacrificing creatures for fun and profit. The mossy porker Yasharn plays amazingly well as a leader for the former while utterly demolishing the latter. Solid stats, a passive ability that can muck up your opponents plans while leaving yours almost entirely intact (do be careful, though, it is still symmetrical), and a bit of card advantage come together for a versatile Commander that can helm a value or hatebear strategy very effectively.
Having such a solid baseline sets Yasharn up for those different directions with ease. The static denial of a wide swath of strategies coupled with the bit of card advantage sets Yasharn up nicely to follow Thalia and Archon of Emeria in a semi-competitive hatebear shell, while offering enough beef to help clock your opponents while they’re on the back foot. If angling for pure value is more your style, Yasharn ensures you hit your next couple lands on curve, and brings enough to at least replay them each time they’re knocked out. Couple that with a few bits of landfall shenigans and some Oracle of Mul Daya effects, and you’re one your way to a potent brew.
Where Yasharn is a versatile commander that can lead a bunch of decks by just being a bundle of value, Akiri pretty much does just the one thing. However, in her niche as a Boros commander focused on Equipment, she’s not only fearless but peerless. While she doesn’t solve all the problems and complaints many have for Boros legends (she’s still fundamentally based around combat, after all), she does shore up the weakness of the strategy with a healthy dose of repeatable card advantage, the only cost of which is equipping and swinging. If that wasn’t your plan anyway when you sleeved her up, I’m not sure what you’re doing. On a personal note, it is a touch disappointing that the Warrior of the four Party Tribe legends is the one that doesn’t have any Warrior synergies (though if that tickles your fancy, check out my article here, but that doesn’t mean Akiri isn’t an amazing Commander. I expect to see across the table frequently, much in the way Feather has ever since her release.
Much like Feather incentivizes a specific playstyle revolving not just around slinging spells, but favoring cheap ones, Akiri makes you take a hard look at equip costs and timing restrictions, and ways to circumvent those. Her second ability heavily skews you towards cheap equip costs, and a playstyle that leaves mana open more often than not. Comboing that with the Feather favorite Sunforger could be a good path to go down. The one-two punch of Puresteel Paladin and Leonin Shikari probably also feature heavily in most Akiri lists, allowing insane flexibility in using her protection ability. She might not be demolishing any cEDH pods, but she’ll bring the hammer… and axe… probably a few swords… and much more to any other playgroup just fine.
Like her first iteration, though, Tazri, Beacon of Unity has plenty of opportunity to make a splash in cEDH as well as more casual games of Commander. Playing into the Party mechanic as well as making the homage to Allies from Zendikars past, she offers the same sort of 5-Color goodness that the original Tazri does, but with potentially more flexibility.
The biggest boon to this Tazri compared to the prior is that her ability can be activated with colorless mana, though at a steeper rate. Still, when Basalt Monolith suddenly becomes a viable option to feed your engine alongside Food Chain, it just means that more options are suddenly available to you. The downside of only having access to colorless mana as you go is even fixed by the most innocuous of new cards in the set: Stonework Packbeast. The little guy fits the bill as any member of a party, and then can convert infinite colorless mana into whatever colors you happen to need. Finding the right combination of Warriors, Wizards, Rogues, Clerics, and Allies to end the game on the spot with infinite mana should be pretty easy at that point. Even if my assessment of this Tazri for cEDH is off, I can’t expect that casual players won’t then just leverage that to run a Tazri that doesn’t immediately get them hated out of a casual pod.
We already have Hallar, the Firefletcher as a Kicker Commander, but dropping Red for Blue opens up a whole swath of new options, especially when it comes to protecting your Commander or forcing key spells through. Let’s face it, Simic is strong in Commander, so dipping into the two strongest colors is sure to give the Serpent an edge over the Elf. That said, they do also play a bit differently. Hallar wants you to be playing as many kicked spells as possible in succession to quickly stack up damage on your opponents. Verazol, however, wants you to play fewer, more impactful kicked spells, so that the cost of doubling them gives the biggest bang for your buck.
To that end, some of the best early kicker spells for Verazol are ones that set you up with even more mana down the line. Thanks to the serpent’s templating and cost, I would even happily run it out on turn two or three to prepare for follow up on a kicked Everflowing Chalice or Grow from the Ashes. After all, Verazol going to the bin doesn’t really impact your ability to play it by much, since mana fed to Commander taxes still put counters on it. All of that mana production can then get funneled not only into a gigantic commander, but can power out early haymakers like a kicked Rite of Replication or Inscription of Abundance. That level of acceleration and flexibility, coupled with the inherent card quality of Blue and Green in Commander, leads me to believe Verazol is here to stay and won’t just be a flash in the pan, even more so because Kicker is a mechanic that WotC is going to keep returning to, and each time they do, Verazol just gets better.
Now, if you want to pick up any of these new top contenders or the cards to support them, they’re available in the store here at ChannelFireball. Also, with You Box, We Buy, it’s never been easier to turn old cards into new ones. Just pack up everything you don’t want, ship it in, and you’ll get an offer, with an extra 30% on top if you opt for Store Credit. If you want to tell me why I’m wrong or which of these you’re most excited to build around, you can find me on Twitter @TheLeoRiser. Until next time!