B-Sides and Hidden Tracks
Welcome back to the unwrapping of our awesome seasonal treats. Last time, I talked about experience counters and the Commanders that used them. Today, we’re going to be taking a look at the B-listers from C15 and what they bring to the Commander table.
Typically, the second-string Commanders from the pre-cons see less play than their first-rung counterparts. Gahiji will never be Marath; Tariel will never outshine Kaalia. However, there are exceptions – Animar and Gisa spring most readily to mind.
It is too early to tell which of the side-two Commanders from the new set will be the breakout hits of the summer, but I’m gonna give them a run-down and place my bets:
Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest
Mazirek is an excellent team player. He works wonderfully with so many other black/green Commanders. Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord; Savra, Queen of the Golgari; Prossh, Skyraider of Kher; Ghave, Guru of Spores; and the list goes on.
As you might expect from someone who works so well with other Commanders, he is less likely to see play at the head of his own deck than he is to appear amongst another Commander’s squad. I have trouble getting excited about a Commander designed so well to be another master’s toy.
When he does appear at the head of his own deck, odds are pretty good that a Mazirek list will not look much different from one headed by Jarad, Savra, or even Skullbriar; you’ll probably find sacrifice outlets, creatures with ETB triggers, and +1/+1 counter synergies.
I love Mazirek’s art, and I can always get behind a legendary Insect, but I kinda wish we would have had something mechanically new from the black/green camp.
The coolest part about how Mazirek works is the way his ability triggers when you sacrifice anything, so there are some super-sweet cards you can experiment with:
Arjun, the Shifting Flame
Arjun is, again, a spot that could have gone to the much-needed blue/red artifact Commander. Maybe something that works with attacking artifact creatures and arcbond? Making artifacts an aggressive strategy would make it feel less blue and more red… Okay, I need to stop pining.
Arjun is another cool spell-slinger Commander. While Mizzix hits you over the head with the possibilities, Arjun opens the same doors in a more subtle way. There is always a look of dawning realization on people’s faces when they first hear the phrase “you can respond to the trigger”.
My favourite part about Arjun is that he really rewards practicing with him. If you decide to build an Arjun deck, you will probably find yourself getting noticeably better over time as you learn to properly use his ability. But that learning curve is going to be a steep one, and those first few games will probably have some rough moments.
Arjun’s greatest advantage is that he allows you to see an unprecedented number of cards in your deck. Once you get used to having access to so many things, you can decide what you want to use those things for. Arjun can be a Combo monster, or he can be a Control machine, or he can play politics – the possibilities are as varied as the cards you’re going to be drawing.
Here are five cards I would probably want to see if I were playing Arjun:
Kaseto, Orochi Archmage
Kaseto – at long last – truly enables the tribe we have all been rooting for. Snakes are finally able to reach their full potential in Commander. Yes, he’s probably a great infect Commander, and I am sure that jamming as many Ophidian Eye effects is probably also a solid foundation for a deck – but we all know that snakes is life.
Kaseto is aggressively costed, unassuming, and enables Snake tribal. All three of these are solid upsides. There isn’t really much else to say about him. The only reason I enjoy him so much is because he is cementing a popular casual archetype as something worth playing.
Karlov of the Ghost Council
Karlov is sitting at this point on my list because he is another Commander that cements a strategy that has wanted cementing for a long time. Life gain – of the Soul Sisters variety – finally has its one true leader.
Karlov is incredibly well-costed, and if he is not dealt with early and often, he can take over a game. People look at him and see his “exile target creature” text – which is awesome – but seem to underestimate the fact that he also beats down very well, very fast. Two +1/+1 counters at a time is nothing to scoff at.
Black and white both have a ton of cards that play with life. Before now, the life-gain text on those cards could be treated almost like trinket text. If you’re running Karlov, those incremental smidgens of life suddenly matter. While life gain is not a strategy that has ever interested me, Karlov makes a whole swathe of mediocre cards viable – and that is an admirable achievement from any Commander.
My prime cuts for Karlov would include:
Anya, Merciless Angel
I have always had a soft spot for slept-on Commanders, and (trust me, I did my EDHRec research) Anya is the least represented of the new bunch. I think it’s a crying shame that she is getting shade, as I think she is an awesome design.
Yes, she encourages an aggressive red/white strategy – the thing that I harped on Kalemne for doing – but Anya doesn’t force you into attacking with creatures. Anya also encourages you to leverage the amount of damage done in order to make the most of her.
Magic players are used to treating mana, creatures, and their own life totals as resources. Anya suddenly transforms damage output into a new resource. I mentioned in my last article that I like “games within games”, playing Anya means that you’re playing the game of killing everyone – but not too fast. Usually, playing red/white is an exercise in turning your brain off, I love that they made a Commander that encourages the opposite.
Of the new Commanders, Anya was the one that sparked my imagination the most readily. I liked the idea of merging politics with aggression, a strategy that only a Commander deck would be able to capitalize on.
In fact, I decided I would love to capitalize on it myself:
Paingel’s Grace – Jackson
This is a very preliminary build of Anya, and it is probably going to undergo a ton of revisions. As it is now, there are no “shields” that can be employed when things get too hot – and they get hot quick when you are lashing out the way this deck does. However, it is a really fun deck to pilot and it’s perfect for when you suggest “a quick game of Commander” and want to mean what you say.
The B Team
The only Commanders from the #2 slot that I could see overtaking their experience counterparts would be Arjun, the Shifting Flame and Karlov of the Ghost Council. That said, I think the designs of the five alternates are very cool. They aren’t particularly flashy, but they are very functional, which is what the niches they were designed to fill needed – solid choices to make decks viable.
I am hoping that Anya and Kaseto end up putting in better showings than my initial predictions make me suspect, but not every underdog ends up getting its day.
With the new Commanders out of the way, I’m going to spend one last column talking about the new cards from the 99s of the C15 decks. So, tune in next time for more of Jackson’s opinions.