A New Challenger Approaches!

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So the commander preconstructed decks were released the other weekend, and I spent a great day playing with the Devour for Power deck at a local gamestore. It was a ton of fun to play with these preconstructed decks, not only because I got to bash face with a new, shiny, oversized dinosaur arm, but also because it's sort of a return to basics; to a time where we were playing Commander decks built out of bulk rares and cards we had lying around. That said, The Mimeoplasm stared down some pretty competitive lists, devoured some souls, and was generally awesome!

All in all, I'm pretty happy with the product. We certainly saw a number of players who were new to the format, and they thought it was an awesome introduction. The games were a lot of fun, and I hope that the ease of entry will keep those new players in the format.

However, the thing that excites me the most about new sets are the one or two new legendary creatures in any new set. This printing is unique in that it gives us fifteen new commanders to work with, and I'm excited to take a look at them and build some skeleton lists for the ones I'm most interested in! Let's start with the guys available in the deck that I played: Devour for Power.

Skullbriar, the Walking Grave

Absolutely no one was excited about this guy in the preconstructed decks at my Release. However, he seems like a fairly unique card to build around. You can take some tricks from the infect decks in legacy, pauper, and standard, and run goodies like Invigorate, Vines of Vastwood, and other efficient pump spells, to get people out of nowhere.

Skullbriar's weakness is twofold. Firstly, he's pretty abysmal against efficient spot removal, but that can be said for any general. The trick with Skullbriar is to be careful about who you're attacking, and when you do it, so that he can grow to a threatening size and leverage his haste in the late game. His second weakness is that he just dies to any removal based on -1/-1 counters. Forever. This makes having sacrifice outlets incredibly important, so that you can Command Zone him to safety.

Damia, Sage of Stone

Damia is downright unfair in games with other preconstructed decks, where not many people have card advantage engines. I drew upwards of 20 cards with her in several games on the day, and won many of them solely because of Damia.

However, the difference between Precons and constructed Commander decks is efficiency and utility. In "real" games, Damia never made it around the table: either drawing removal, or attacks that forced her to block.

The most interesting thing I can think to do with Damia is to set up a turn where you dredge most of your deck, and then play out of your graveyard for the rest of the game. The problem is always going to be finding a way to untap with her, but I can certainly see building a goodstuff deck that backs her with countermagic being very sucessful. The key to building with Damia is not to rely on her too much, and to make sure you can protect her.

The Mimeoplasm

Anyone who's spoken to me since The Mimeoplasm was spoiled knows that I was incredibly hyped for this card. Let me tell you: he never disappointed. The Mimeoplasm has a ton of utility in the midgame, rebuying creatures like Eternal Witness and Acidic Slime, hating on graveyards, or just threatening General Damage. If (when) the game goes long, you get to do stupid things like being a copy of Necrotic Ooze or take a Lord of Extinction's power.

The Mimeoplasm is incredibly well positioned to take advantage of the things that the BUG color combination does best: gigantic creatures, utility creatures, and recursion, and it ties all of those together in an aggressively costed creature that doubles as a utility guy and a win condition. Long story short? Respect the Dino-Arm, or it'll eat your face.

Next, let's take a look at the deck most people seemed interested in at my Launch Party, the red-blue-green Mirror Mastery deck. Sadly, none of these commanders impressed me much in preconstructed fights, but they seem very exciting to build around!

Animar, Soul of Elements

Sadly, the only time Animar did anything at my release was when I copied him with The Mimeoplasm, and proceeded to play my creatures at a huge discount. That was fair.

Still, even though he didn't do much, Animar is incredibly exciting to build around. He's really aggressively costed, grows over time, and enables all kinds of "enters the battlefield" shenanigans, something that these colors are traditionally good at.

Here's what I'm looking at to start with Animar: all the best enters-the-battlefield creatures to generate card advantage, turn Animar into a gigantic threat, or just threaten to go infinite.

[deckbox did="a96" size="small" width="560"]

Edric, Spymaster of Trest

Going into this, I thought Edric was massively overhyped, and to be fair he was pretty abysmal in precon games. However, I did face down a deck built around Edric in one of my pods, and that deck was brutal. He used Edric and low casting cost elves to draw cards, make tokens, and draw more cards, then used that to fuel Forbid with buyback to lock multiple players down.

In the end I still don't think Edric lived up to his hype, but he definitely makes for some interesting decisions, and is certainly very powerful. The problem, in my mind, is that Edric is incredibly symmetrical and is a huge threat. The more creature-oriented decks are going to get at least as many cards off of him as you do, and the more controlling decks will kill him on sight.

I have to say though, my favorite thing about Edric is that he does something subtle that leads to more intersting games: he encourages people to attack and progress the game along.

Riku of Two Reflections

Riku is interesting, in that he's very similar to Animar in functionality. In my opinion, his creature-based ability is slightly less powerful, but the ability to double-up both creatures and spells is incredible in a format where card advantage is king. It also makes it much less disappointing to see ramp spells in the late game, since they're always going to do something.

Honestly, I'm just waiting until I see a deck with this guy, Time Warps, and Izzet Chronarch/Mnemonic Wall to buy back Time Warps. In short, Riku is very generically powerful. You can't really build around him, but he'll be good in any deck that plays creatures, instants, or sorceries.

Next we'll take a look at the Counter Punch deck. I assumed this would be one of the most popular decks after the hype around Karador, host Chieftain months ago; did it live up to the hype?

Karador, Ghost Chieftain

I misread this card so badly when I first saw it. I had thought you got to cast a creature for free every turn. Just being able to cast one is very different. Still, the ability to replay a Deranged Hermit or a Shriekmaw every turn is nothing to scoff at. What's interesting is that you never have to overextend your graveyard into a Tormod's Crypt; with enough sacrifice outlets, you can just keep replaying the same utility guy every turn and force people to deal with that one before you find a new creature.

I'm working on a turbo-dredge build of this that just dumps its deck into its graveyard, and Dread Returns into a Reveillark or Necrotic Ooze combo. Karador significantly lessens not only your reliance on Hermit Druid to mill your deck, but also on a combo win.

[deckbox did="a99" size="small" width="560"]

Ghave, Guru of Spores

Let me say this up front: Ghave plus tokens makes combat math a huge headache. I really like that Ghave has a built in sacrifice outlet to protect itself, and to enable the recursion of token generators.

Besides the obvious token theme, I'd be looking at Morningtide cards like Oona's Blackguard and some of the Spike Weaver-style creatures, since they make your token army more awesome and make combat even more complicated.

I'm sure there are some pretty absurd things that you can do with Ghave, but I think I need some more time to think about it before I find something more interesting than Oona's Blackguard.

Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter

As usual, I really like that this creature has a built-in sacrifice outlet to protect it from tuck and such. However, that's where my interest in Vish Kal ends. Honestly, it seems like it's just a bigger copy of Teysa, Orzhov Scion, and efficiency is more important to me than being a big creature. I honestly don't see this guy as being very distinct from the other white-black commanders, since they all involve sacrificing creatures for various effects.

That said, if you take the "stock" white-blacck lists with lots of recursion, add Vish Kal and some ways to give him haste, I can definitely see one-shotting people with him. And who doesn't love doing that?

Ruhan of the Fomori

Ruhan is the card that I was the most disappointed in before playing with him. After seeing a deck built around Ruhan in action, I'm still not sure I'm convinced. He seems an awful lot like [card Uril, the Miststalker]Uril[/card], in that you just want to Voltron him up and kill everyone, but paying an extra mana for trollshroud and being in the right colors for Runes of the Deus seems pretty huge.

That said, Ruhan seems to be a very polarizing card. Some people like whole "Don't blame me, the dice did it!" concept, while some people absolutely can't stand it. Personally, I feel like you're more likely to lose because you can't attack the right person than you are to win because Ruhan is a 7/7 for four.

Nin, the Pain Artist

Nin never hit play during my release event, so I can't say that I've seen her in action. However, I can't think of many interesting things to do with Nin outside of the obvious Stuffy Doll, Coalhauler Swine, and Repercussion.

Besides that, Nin has a ton of interesting political applications. You can kill your own creatures, help people draw into answers, and do other cool tricks. Even more exciting, Nin can shoot herself to avoid tuck effects!

Nin is certainly incredibly powerful, and has a ton of political implications. I just haven't thought of anything to do with her that I find particularly interesting.

Zedruu the Greathearted

Zedruu is probably the most fun general out of the entire product for me. There are all kinds of things to donate to people, but the more interesting part of playing Zedruu isn't donating Howling Mine, but deciding when you can donate lands and other real resources, and who you can donate them to.

I've definitely heard a lot of exciting ideas about what you can donate to people, and I've had a few of my own. Here's what I'm working with so far:

[deckbox did="a97" size="small" width="560"]

Kaalia of the Vast

So, over on Commandercast we all got pretty hyped about Kaalia before the release event. It was very, very well deserved. Kaalia is actually a lot like Zur the Enchanter; both are very aggressive , but Kaalia is aggressive in a fair and exciting way. You can certainly do some pretty absurd things with her ability, but it's hard to be upset with a general that has to attack and "only" drops dragons, as opposed to one who gets a Diplomatic Immunity or a Necropotence.

Kaalia seems like a very fun commander to build around, and I'm really excited to cheat some of these into play:

[deckbox did="a98" size="small" width="560"]

Basandra, Battle Seraph

Basandra is in an awkward position as a general. Red White is one of the most aggressive color combinations, and some of its biggest strengths is in messing up combat, and Basandra forces you to play fair.

Not only that, but you can't force people to attack into your awesome blockers, because opponent's can choose to attack other players. All you can really do is use the ability to clear the way for your creatures, and hope that yours are bigger.

Unfortunately, I really don't think that Basandra is very exciting, which is really disappointing since she has awesome art! If you've got a sweet deck or idea for Basandra, I'd be excited to see it, since I'm really looking for an excuse to get one altered! [Editor's Note: Carlos clearly dislikes me, so I'll link to my own scrappy Basandra-based article.]

Tariel, Reckoner of Souls

Apparently, I'm one of very few people who was really excited about Tariel. Unfortunately, he's not nearly as aggressively costed as some of the other legends in this product, but to me, he seems really interesting as a foil to other graveyard based strategies.

Tariel subtly encourages you to play a ton of graveyard hate to reduce the randomness of his effect (and to protect yourself from someone Disentombing Phage the Untouchable in response). But, ignoring that, isn't it fun to play the lottery sometimes? The ability is always going to be upside, but the times you get an Eldrazi are going to be the kind of epic stories this format is about.

And those are my impressions of the new commanders after a week of playing with them. You can bet I'm going to be looking into these and other approaches, and I'm interested in hearing what your impressions or ideas with these new commanders are. I'd be thrilled to see some of your stories and ideas in the comments, on Twitter or by email.

Next week we'll see more of a return to proper deckbuilding form, talking about an issue that's affecting my local playgroup, and an attitude which seems to be coloring the opinions of both the online and local communities: the 5 color stigma.

Carlos Gutierrez

3 thoughts on “A New Challenger Approaches!

  1. I have been playing with Damia in a as competitive deck as I can get it *like yea I don’t have all the portal time walks but oh well* but Damia has been a house she allows me to fall back on her if I need some last minute card draw, that’s not to say I do not run tons of card draw anyway, just now I don’t have to worry about actually having it in my hand. One of my all time favorite cards for the deck has been Trench Gorger, since one it goes well with the Char Belcher in the deck, and two, the Mana Severance ability makes it so that ALL of my draws with damia will be things I can cast, leaving my hand empty to draw another seven. But on a scale from 1-10 for competitive EDH I say my group is around a 7 for competitive, and even so I don’t lose Damia that much, I’ll get targeted for sure, but I’m not losing her much to targeted removal, just wraths. But man I love my Damia list it’s a lot of fun.

    I haven’t tried Riku yet and he will be next, but my friend has been playing with Zedruu and it’s a really exciting match, the one card I hate for him to have *unless I have Damia* is Pyromancers Swath lol, Donating that card to someone is absolutely dumb, they don’t get the advantage of the card and at the end of their turn they discard their hand. ugh is that gross!.

    Good article, I agree with most of your thoughts on these new legends.

  2. Wow! Totally whiffed on Zedruu plus Pyromancer’s Ascension! It’s even an enchantment deck! That’ll be a sweet one when I get to Zedruu!

    I’ve actually heard a ton of positive things about Damia since I wrote the article; generally it seems like people are protecting her with Greaves/General’s Kabuto or Forbid and other countermagic, and she’s just the dumbest draw engine this side of Jin-Gitaxias.

    I’ve been working on a Riku deck with some twitter-folk, and that deck is STUPID. Wild Pair is insane, and Palinchron and Woldgorger dragon are both effectively one-card infinite combos with your general.

  3. Anyone who’s spoken to me since The Mimeoplasm was spoiled knows that I was incredibly hyped for this card. Let me tell you: he never disappointed. The Mimeoplasm has a ton of utility in the midgame, rebuying creatures like Eternal Witness and Acidic Slime, hating on graveyards, or just threatening General Damage. If (when) the game goes long, you get to do stupid things like being a copy of Necrotic Ooze or take a Lord of Extinction‘s power.

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