Commander products have always had an impact on eternal formats. Cards like True-Name Nemesis, Containment Priest, and Flusterstorm have been format-defining effects, while cards like Vial Smasher the Fierce, Nahiri, the Lithomancer, and Titania, Protector of Argoth have provided players with fun effects to spice up their deckbuilding. Let’s take a look at Commander Legends and see how it stands up.
I saw a lot of buzz generated around this card almost immediately, and I think people are putting way too much stock into this card’s ability to impact a game. At three mana, my concern is that this card won’t hit the table within the window needed to effectively impede the most important search effects in the format. Cards like Green Sun’s Zenith, Natural Order, Entomb, Stoneforge Mystic, etc. are all likely to be cast before you can get Agent down. A number of the aforementioned search effects are also impeded by Containment Priest, which, at two mana, is still sometimes too slow to impact the game in a relevant manner.
Another concern I have regarding Agent is its lack of evasion. Aven Mindcensor, a similar effect, has seen periodic play in Legacy Death & Taxes. While its search limiting text wasn’t always relevant, being an evasive creature that could carry a Jitte pushed it into the realm of “just good enough to see play”.
Legacy is a format of three mana Griselbrands, so if you’re going to spend three mana on a creature or any spell in general, it needs to be able to determinicalistically win the game if left unchecked. We’ve had cards like True-Name Nemesis and Knight of the Reliquary do this via combat, while Leovold and Plague Engineer do so by locking the opponent out of options. While search effects are prevalent in Legacy, I think the majority of them will not be of relevance once Agent begins to impact the board. As a general rule of thumb, when evaluating cards for Legacy play the cards that have the strongest impact are those that are undercosted for the effect they’re having on the game. If Agent were a 2 mana spell, I think it could potentially be format-defining, but at 3 mana it simply just hits the bar of “playable”.
This strikes me as a card that will only have any effect when played in a deck that can impede it’s opponent until the point where tutors are relevant in the mid to late game. I think the relevance of Agent will not be the turn 3 on the play blowout where you get to 3 mana Stifle a fetchland, but as a stabilizing agent against combo shells so that you don’t lose to a topdecked tutor. If you’re able to get to turn 4+ against TES, ANT, Doomsday, and certain Elves draws this could be a solid way to not die to a tutor off the top.
I think this card will largely see its home as a 1-2 of in Humans, as well as midrange and control strategies. Often decks such as Snowko, Aggro Loam, and even UBx Delver shells are able to impede shells like Storm and Doomsday for a fairly decent period of the game, but there’s often a point where a topdecked tutor can lead to a loss. Agent provides a hard lock piece for these scenarios.
I like this card a lot more in Vintage than I do Legacy. Cards like Mana Crypt, Black Lotus, and Moxen help offset the downside of this card being a 3 drop and thus allow you to cast it within the first couple of turns, where it will be backbreaking. There are a bevy of powerful tutors in Vintage and I can see Agenting your opponents Merchant Scroll to net yourself an Ancestral Recall, Force of Will, or some piece of disruption being a common play pattern. Within the current Vintage metagame, Doomsday, Paradoxical Outcome, and Golos Stax all stand out as decks that are likely to have a bit of trouble fighting through this effect. Even when looking at some of the fairer deck shells, it’s not uncommon to see Demonic Tutor, Merchant Scroll, and sometimes Vampiric / Mystical Tutors.
Additionally, this card’s Human creature type is relevant in terms of the anti-meta hatebear shells that exist. The ability to cast it through countermagic via Cavern of Souls is a huge upside.
Hullbreacher absolutely has an eternal-playable effect, but how much impact it will have on Eternal formats is a bit up in the air. It benefits from similar costing to Opposition Agent, but it has a much wider range of relevance. Compared to search effects, card draw is not only more prevalent in eternal formats, but it’s much more relevant. Historically, cards like Narset and Leovold have had periods of dominance within both Legacy and Vintage, and even Notion Thief has seen play. Compared to the cards just mentioned, Hullbreacher’s flash ability and a less-restrictive casting cost make it a pretty enticing sideboard option in Legacy and a potential main deck haymaker in Vintage.
Hullbreacher’s production of Treasure tokens will be of varying relevance. For most decks it will be a fine upside, but not much of a factor in how this card is evaluated. However, for a deck such as the Urza Echo shell that sometimes has issues getting to double blue, this could be a nice gamechanger. Also, even just the synergy of having an artifact producer that creates “moxen” for use with Urza is non negligible. In speaking with Jarvis Yu, he mentioned that this could lead to a new way of constructing the Urza shell that leans in heavier on Defense Grid to ensure that Narset/Hullbreacher resolve. There’s also a possibility that these shells begin to adopt Time Spiral if they choose to lean in much more on the wheel gameplan. Not to mention, the potential to turn a faster clock with Urza or Karn constructs should you assemble Hullbreacher + a wheel effect. Another notable aspect of Hullbreacher is that it has the same templating as Chains of Mephistopheles, meaning that it stops the ETB effect of Ice-Fang Coatl and prevents the instant speed Paradoxical Outcome for 1 whereas those plays are available when facing a Leovold or Narset. I’m curious to see how powerful this card will be in Vintage. The last time something like this was introduced into the format in the form of Narset, decks like Paradoxical Outcome lost a lot of equity and it even led to Narset’s restriction.
Somewhere in the DnT Facebook group, there’s probably a 300 comment thread where players are arguing about how playable this card is. The end result is going to be everyone still playing Gideon Ally of Zendikar, Palace Jailer or Cataclysm instead.
The Court Cycle
I’m going to go into specific thoughts regarding each card in this cycle but before that I’m going to rant about the monarch mechanic. Within the lens of EDH, I think it’s great. It promotes interactive gameplay and creates a dynamic where multiple players can become “public enemy number one.” As such, you get more of a round robin effect in gameplay. However, that isn’t quite the same in Legacy. I think the intended effect in 1 v 1 games was to create a dynamic where players are rewarded for figuring out how to break through board stalls by creating a high reward payoff. The issue with this mechanic in 1 v 1 games is that answering the mechanic often comes down to one of two play patterns.
The first play pattern is abusing evasive threats. Legacy players will remember the games where True-Name Nemesis into Palace Jailer created a pseudo Moat effect on the game, where the defending player couldn’t profitably attack, while the player with the monarch had no reason to ever attack. Simply maintaining a board stall was too advantageous for them.
The second play pattern is simply playing your own monarch effect to flip the table, as it were. From a gameplay standpoint, this dynamic is fairly miserable. It promotes deckbuilding in which players are incentivised to skew their would-be interactive decks to play as many cards that the opponent can’t interact with as a way to mitigate their ability to steal the monarch.
It seems that the intended goal of the monarch mechanic in 1 v 1 play is to promote deckbuilding centered around playing a critical mass of creatures. However, the introduction of the mechanic into legacy led to a resurgence of the True-Name Nemesis + Umezawa’s Jitte metagame. Ultimately, I’d be much happier with the existence of the monarch mechanic if there was a more reliable way to answer emblems. Perhaps something simple like the following:[card name] 1 G/W
- Destroy target artifact
- Destroy target enchantment
- Destroy target emblem
But without any way to interact with emblems, we’re forced to lean into the aforementioned play patterns in order to control the monarchy. It’s somewhat disheartening to have a mechanic where the best answer for it is to simply play cards of your own that include the keyword, leading to deck building becoming homogenous.
At 3 mana I think Court of Cunning would have been playable if its only text was “You become the monarch”. Having the additional upside of being a secondary win condition is just free upside. I fully expect to see this effect in the main decks of the various control shells within the format. For example, the Snowko shell has access to Ice-Fang Coatl, Oko, and Uro to maintain a board presence that will make maintaining your status as the monarch via the combat step a much more viable gameplan. One thing that strikes me as interesting is that you can target any number of players with Court’s mill ability. It’s not outside of the realm of possibility that in some matchups you’ll play a turn 3 Court, mill both yourself and your opponent which can assist in finding a threat like Uro while also potentially enabling a turn 4 escape. Also, the UW Replenish shell can utilize this card to fuel its own graveyard to make its namesake card that more potent. Additionally, in a bind, you can use this card to clear the top of your deck if you’re Brainstorm locked.
There are a few potential downsides to Court of Cunning though. In terms of deck building space, this card is fighting both Klothys and Sylvan Library for the role of being a grindy matchup trump card. My concern here is that Court is a 3 cmc effect that can be mitigated by Pyroblast. In these matchups,the green threats sidestep this dynamic so there’s definitely an opportunity cost if you choose to be more blue threat heavy. Also, it can’t be understated that when comparing Court to Sylvan Library, the difference between two and three mana is huge, especially when considering play/draw dynamics. Additionally, with a lot of the fair decks utilizing their graveyards in some beneficial way via Dreadhorde Arcanist, Uro, Mystic Sanctuary etc., I think there will be a growing need for cards like Nihil Spellbomb, Soul-Guide Lantern, and Relic of Progenitus in fair mirrors to mitigate the risk of accidentally milling your opponent into one of their graveyard-focused threats.
Outside of the control shells this seems like an excellent sideboard option for both Delver and Infect shells as a sideboard option to gain an edge in card advantage centered matchups.
Much like Court of Cunning, I see Court of Grace potentially being a go-to card for players that are looking to to find an edge in control mirrors. Additionally, I see a potential for it to be a sideboard option for Death & Taxes. My general concern with this card is that it’s likely a worse white monarch enabler than Palace Jailer. What I like about Court of Cunning is that at 3 mana you’re fine with it not having an immediate impact on the board, and it’s also cheap enough that you don’t particularly care if the enchantment itself gets answered because 3 mana “Become the monarch” is good enough. However, at 4 mana you want there to be a much more immediate impact on the gamestate. If your opponent has an answer for Court of Grace, you aren’t particularly happy with that exchange. The tokens having flying is nice because it allows you to better manage getting the monarch back, however, I’m not sure that’s really good enough for legacy play. I think it’s easy to look at this card as a middle ground between Bitterblossom and Entreat the Angels. However, a better one -to-one comparison for this card is Gideon, Ally of Zendikar with suspend 1 on its first activation. Will this be good enough? Potentially with the right support, but I’m not wholly optimistic that this will see widespread play. Realistically, there is the possibility that a dedicated shell built around these monarch cards could work, and Court of Grace would find a suitable home, but I question if it’s possible for it to be played in a bevy of shells.
This is sadly not playable. My first thought when I saw it was “Maybe Blood Moon Stompy could use this?” but that deck isn’t actually good at maintaining the monarch mechanic, and at 5 mana, this is slightly higher in the curve than the deck wants. As a one-to-one comparison: Chandra, Torch of Defiance serves a similar function at a better rate. I don’t think the stompy shells are looking for 5 mana spells, and if they are, it’s imperative that they have a high impact on the game on the turn they hit the table. Court of Ire does not do that.
I’m interested to see the long term effects of the Court cycle in Legacy. I think it’s possible that we see shells dedicated to abusing these effects. Moat stands out as a card that could potentially see an increase in play because it invalidates True-Name Nemesis, Oko, Uro, and other commonly played threats that could be used to manipulate control of the monarchy. Additionally, there may be value in exploring Noble Hierarch shells like Bant Stoneblade or Noble BUG to try and maximize your potential to cast a turn 2 Court of Cunning. If/when these sort of dedicated monarchy shells arise, I could see an increase in flash threats such as Snapcaster Mage being utilized to punish opponents for tapping out too hastily. Subsequently, creature-dense strategies such as Humans or Esper Vial seem appealing as potential ways to punish inbreeding.
Timeline wise, I’d expect something like this to happen as a result of the court cards seeing play:
- Weeks 1-4: People jam Court effects into their decks to get an edge on the field.
- Weeks 5-8: Blue fair shells become more creature-centric in order to better steal & maintain the monarchy.
- Week 9+: TES pops up and steals everyones lunch money, punishing the players who opted to participate in the blue soup arms race.
P.S. The remaining court cards aren’t really playable and aren’t really worth discussing. Sometimes it be like that.
Ultimately, from an eternal lens, I think Commander Legends is slated to make the type of impact I like from a set. Outside of the monarch cards, most of the playable effects aren’t slated to have a format-warping impact, but they do a good thing by adding some new angles to existing shells. There’s even a small handful of cards that are potentially fringe playable that I didn’t touch on here because they’re just barely under the threshold of playability. If future commander products are similar to this one, I look forward to what gets produced.