Insider: Commander 2016 Four-Color Commanders

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Welcome back, readers! I hope you enjoyed last week's article covering the reprints we're seeing in Commander 2016. Now to the fun stuff: the new cards (but more specifically the commanders). We've seen that when Wizards introduces new legendary creatures that look like a lot of fun, or encourage specific shells to be built around them, we often see some older cards spike in response.

If you're like me you got super excited when this guy got spoiled:

There were quite a few cards that jumped up in value thanks to so many players wanting to build an Omnath, Locus of Rage deck.

The takeaway here is that while the commander isn't actually worth a whole lot (because it's a new card with a lot of supply) a lot of older cards with much smaller print runs suddenly jumped in value because they play so well together. So the real money to be made on these new commander decks is in figuring out which one will be the most desirable (either powerful or fun to play), and then finding the cards, ideally older ones, that go well with them.

Wizards gave us a whole lot of new commander options (including those with the partner mechanic), but for now we'll focus on the four-color generals.

Saskia the Unyielding


Chaz did a solid initial write-up on this one, found here. However, let's delve a bit deeper. Clearly this is an aggro general, which is great because it's in very aggressive colors. As Chaz mentioned, this is a one-sided Furnace of Wrath effect, which tend to be extremely powerful as well as popular.

I could definitely see some players swapping out their current Jund, Naya, or Abzan commanders for this one and adding the fourth color, but I see it as more of a build-around general. It's important to remember that the more double damage abilities one has active, the damage grows exponentially. So if you have this, Dictate of the Twin Gods, and Furnace of Rath out, you're essentially doing eight times the damage.

Given that, here are my breakout picks for this general:

  • Wound Reflection - A Shadowmoor rare with a single printing. Because it says "each opponent" it too is a one-sided version of this effect.
  • Night Dealings - While this card doesn't actually double damage, it greatly benefits from doubled damage. I'm honestly amazed that this card (also with a single printing, from Kamigawa block) is near bulk. It's a re-useable tutor, which is pretty popular in Commander and thanks to this general's ability it's likely to get a lot of counters on it.
  • Gisela, Blade of Goldnight - I agree with Chaz on this one. Some of you may not remember, but this was a $13 card up until it showed up in the Commander 2015 product. It's just odd enough that I don't see it returning to Standard (especially since we've already moved on from the Innistrad plane) and it's currently sitting at a lowly $4-$4.50.
  • Rage Reflection - This one has been printed twice—in Shadowmoor and a Duel Deck. I don't think either of these printings means there are a ton of them floating around, and this one again has the benefit that it only affects your creatures.

Breya, Etherium Shaper


Chaz thinks very highly of Breya—I actually disagree. Esper Commander decks do tend to run a lot of infinite combos (and there are quite a few with artifacts) but the fact that you have to pay two mana and sacrifice two artifacts to activate any of her abilities honestly just says to me that she's more of a support card. I could see her acting as the third piece of a few different combos though.

  • Sword of the Meek - We saw this card jump in price when it was unbanned in Modern, but the Thopter Foundry/ Sword of the Meek combo has never really proven to be powerful enough in Modern (and I promise you I've tried). However, since we're getting another printing of the Foundry in this deck, there will be new players looking for the Sword to combo with it.
  • Time Sieve - There are few things combo Commander decks love more than extra turns. This card also spiked with Sword of the Meek being unbanned in Modern and has been on a downward trend ever since. I think that this commander could breath new life into the card, though. Alara Reborn was not a heavily-opened set (as it was the third set in the Alara block and thus drafted less). It doesn't hurt that casting this commander accounts for three-fifths of the artifacts needed for the extra turn.
  • Ashnod's Altar - If it weren't for the Eternal Masters printing of this card, it would likely be at $5. It's already a key piece in a good number of combos, and it conveniently provides the two colorless needed to activate Breya's ability. So any combo that can spit out an infinite, or near-infinite, number of artifact creature tokens can use this to win immediately (and outside the combat step).

Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder


Ryan did the Commander review of this card, and I tend to agree with his analysis. Cascade has proven to be a very powerful mechanic, especially in normal (i.e. 60-card) formats. In Commander the mechanic has been a bit less abused, partly because of the one-of restriction, and partly because most decks run mana ramp spells that are mediocre hits off of cascade.

What I like about this card is it has the potential to enable many cascades in a single turn, if you can go real big on mana and cast lots of spells at once. When I think of how I'd build this deck, I'd definitely try to "go off" after hitting a player once.

  • Sword of Feast and Famine - This card proved itself in Standard as the best Sword of X and Y to fetch and cheat in with Stoneforge Mystic (which we don't get access to with this commander). Untapping all your lands is huge, especially when you want to cast big spells after combat—making an opponent discard is just gravy.
  • Bear Umbra - Same as the Sword above. I could easily see using something to give Yidris protection, unblockability, or some other evasion, and then getting to re-spend all your mana post combat.
  • Rude Awakening - Another "untap all your lands" card, except unlike the first two this one is basically bulk. It has actually only seen four total printings (Fifth Dawn, Modern Masters, Duel Decks: Garruk vs. Liliana, and the Duel Decks: Anthology). The last three were pretty small print runs and the first was 12 years ago. This one is also a fantastic card to cascade into, because you can tap any remaining lands to float mana with it still on the stack.
  • Nature's Will - Yet another untap effect, this one also taps your opponent out so you're free to go nuts without them intervening. Since it triggers for each creature that deals damage, if you played a lot of instants, you could get an insane amount of cascading (by floating mana in response to each trigger and then casting the instants before combat ends).

Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis


Again I have to agree with Ryan on this one. This seems like another "group hug" general that just so happens to give you access to red as well. For those who have never built a group hug deck, this style tends to play lots of cards that benefit everyone and thus encourage players not to kill you, lest they lose said benefits.

Now that isn't terrible, but if you wanted to make the ultimate group hug deck you'd probably want something like Zedruu the Greathearted to give other players everything (which is interesting because typically Zedruu decks only give out bad things or things where ownership doesn't really matter). What really sucks is that Kynaios and Tiro triggers on your end step, so all of your opponents will benefit from their extra land drops or extra cards before you do.

There will likely be some Phelddagrif players who trade in the happy hippo for access to red. If enough do, we might see some movement on cards like the following:

  • Swans of Bryn Argoll - I realize this is an odd first choice, but it fits in the spirit of group hug decks. They are typically not super competitive (and I've tried to make mine as competitive as it can be), but they are fun to play. One of the cool things about Swans is that it happens to combo with Seismic Assault, which one never had access to in a typical Bant group hug deck. So the red addition is actually crucial if you want to go down that route. That and the effect is not a may, so if someone swings at you with a huge creature you can block with the Swans and deck them (which is a pretty funny way to end the game). It's important to note that this card is another Shadowmoor card whose only other printing was Modern Masters 2015 (another limited-print-run set) and it's currently sitting near bulk status.
  • Walking Archive - Here we have a typical group hug card with a single printing (Dissension) that's around $1. It's a creature that can be pumped at instant speed right before one's turn begins, to maximize your benefit.
  • Well of Ideas - Here's a Commander 2014 card that is near bulk, but it's hard not to love a Howling Mine effect that immediately cantrips for two and gives the owner a larger benefit. This seems like an obvious inclusion for group hug decks in general, so if they gain in popularity thanks to this general I can see this going up some.

Atraxa, Praetors' Voice


While I'm less confident than Chaz that Atraxa will be a voltron-style general (simply because we have a good number of them and they tend to pump themselves in some way), I do think this one will be a popular pick. Atraxa is the only commander with built-in proliferate, which is a fun and powerful mechanic.

I feel like she'll really shine in a Stax deck (one of the options Chaz mentioned) because of how many artifacts in Magic's history have counters associated with them. I can definitely see her becoming the de-facto general of a lot of Esper players who are thrilled to add green ramp to their decks (to speed up their combos).

Her other abilities aren't too shabby either. Being able to account for an eight-point life swing each turn while sitting back on defense (with deathtouch no less) is nothing to sneeze at. But again I feel the most fun will be with proliferate. Cards to watch:

  • Contagion Engine - This card was quickly brought up in the forums as one that could gain a lot from Atraxa, and it's hard to argue. It's a mini board wipe that also provides continual proliferation. With Atraxa out this will immediately kill off any two-toughness creatures controlled by an opponent, and double proliferate is extremely powerful.
  • Altar of Shadows - This might seem a bit deep, but this is a repeatable, colorless kill spell. The seven mana is a bit much, but once you get a shadow counter on it you can proliferate it a few times and soon enough it can pay for itself. It's also near bulk and only from Mirrodin.
  • Arcbound Reclaimer - I alluded to this card a while back in my Long Shots #2 article. This seems like the perfect type of commander for this card, allowing you to slowly re-buy powerful artifacts over and over, especially since every turn with your commander out means another counter on this guy.
  • Bloodletter Quill - I imagine a lot of you have never seen this card (I hadn't either before doing my research for this article). Repeated card draw is always big in Commander, and trading life for cards is a trade most Commander players are happy to make (hence why Griselbrand is sitting on the banned list). The beauty of this card is that it draws you cards, can be proliferated, and pairs especially well with a lifelink commander like Atraxa. Not to mention that it doesn't cost that much to remove a counter.
  • Clearwater Goblet - While not as spicy as our option above, this is less likely to draw a lot of hate towards you and the fact that you can keep proliferating counters on it means you could be gaining a pretty substantial amount of life in no time. Sunburst hasn't typically been a big mechanic in Commander (thanks to one typically wanting to run two to three colors), but with the new four-color commanders it could see a comeback. This is also near bulk and has just a single printing in the original Fifth Dawn.
  • Darksteel Reactor - A single-print rare from Darksteel, this card plays really well with a heavy proliferate mechanic (and has the words "You win the game" on it, which casual players are pretty partial to).
  • Hangarback Walker - Here's another card that adores the proliferate mechanic. Origins is by no means an old set, and this guy was included in an event deck too. That said, it's a powerful card at any stage of the game, and can get out of hand quickly with proliferate.
  • Lotus Blossom - This one might be a stretch, but it's a rare from Urza's Saga that can make a ton of mana (albeit just once and of only one color). Being this old, if it caught on it would jump considerably.
  • Lux Cannon - While Scars of Mirrodin isn't an old set (by any means), this is a mythic rare in the earlier days of mythic rares. And being able to destroy any permanent is always extremely useful in Commander.
  • Magistrate's Scepter - This is an artifact that gives you extra turns. This card, Contagion Engine, and Atraxa together mean that if you can afford seven mana (or get it past three charge counters) you can take infinite turns. It's from Mercadian Masques, an unpopular set after the awesomeness that was Urza's block. Of all the cards on this list, I can see this one being the biggest breakout star.

4 thoughts on “Insider: Commander 2016 Four-Color Commanders

    1. It could…but it’s really new and Dragons was a pretty well received set…so a lot were opened. I did look at it while doing my research, but I ultimately decided it’s potential was severely limited due to so much supply.

  1. David! Awesome article as always, thanks for including my thoughts from the Commander 2016 spoiler articles.

    Much appreciated. 🙂

    I also wanted to add some cards Tarkan and I discussed when we recorded QS Cast (coming out tomorrow). This is more of a broad take on 4-color and less specific.

    Joiner Adept


    Coalition Relic (most are talking about this)

    Mana Confluence

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