Insider: Commander 2016 – Partner Commanders

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Welcome back, readers! I hope you enjoyed reading my views on the four-color commanders last week. This time we'll be looking at the dual-color commanders, all of which have the new partner mechanic.

While they may not be as exciting as the four-color commanders (to me at least), don't write these off too quickly. The partner mechanic allows for a lot of new deck combinations (both three- and four-color), and players will be looking to explore all of the different options.

Like last week, we'll be focusing on old cards that could get a boost from the new strategies enabled by these commanders. For each one I'll discuss where I see it fitting in, and what cards pair well with it.


This is a pretty interesting commander, another in the "voltron" tradition where you take your commander and just power them up. What I like most about this one is the fact that she only costs two mana, as voltron commanders tend to be strongest in aggressive strategies. The fact that she starts with zero power does force you to play a ton of equipment, but she gets pumped for every artifact you control, so power-boosting equipment will obviously double-dip on your bonus.

This commander reminds me a lot of Jor Kadeen. They're both red-white commanders that incentivize playing a lot of equipment/artifacts. Jor is better in a swarm strategy because his bonus is applied to all creatures, but he also costs five mana. Akiri's creature types of Kor, Soldier, and Ally may be relevant as well, as there's a decent amount of tribal support for all three. Finally, first strike and vigilance means she can hit hard and provide solid protection.

If you're looking to speculate on her, I suggest equipment with good power boosts and low equip costs.

  1. Champion's Helm - This may be the best card for her—unfortunately the buy-in around $8 is difficult to speculate on.
  2. Basilisk Collar - I realize this doesn't actually add additional power, but lifelink and deathtouch on a vigilant first-striker is very powerful. This too has a higher buy-in than I prefer for my speculative purchases.
  3. Konda's Banner - This is an interesting one because while it may not go in a voltron-style deck, it would be fantastic in a swarm token deck with her (given all of her relevant creature types and dual color).
  4. Masterwork of Ingenuity - In an equipment-heavy deck, having a clone for your best one is definitely a good option. Its current buy-in is relatively low (under $1.25) and it has only a single printing in a less desired Commander set.
  5. Quietus Spike - Here's another one that doesn't technically boost the power, but it provides deathtouch and the effect is exactly where you want to be when you're a fully aggressive deck.
  6. Sword of the Animist - Even though this card is from Origins (and thus pretty new), I still love it for Commander, especially an aggressive equipment-themed commander. The ability to mana ramp and/or fix is always highly desirable in Commander. I can see this one being more valuable in the four-color partner-style deck.


I'm honestly not all that impressed with this one. It seems like an aggro-style commander and while the ability to give double strike and lifelink aren't bad, they just don't seem that broken. I could see this guy showing up in a one-vs.-one Commander environment (as the abilities get a lot better when you only have to focus on one opponent). It's also important to remember that neither double strike nor lifelink stack, so the bonus will be redundant in some cases.

With this commander it feels like you want to attack fast, and for large chunks of damage.

  1. Archangel of Tithes - Another Origins mythic, this one helps keep your Bruse Tarl from getting blocked or killed in combat.
  2. Blinding Angel - This one is a bit outside-the-box, but a Blinding Angel with double strike makes your opponent skip the next two combat steps. In multiplayer this will let you turn off several attacks each turn, which is pretty potent. It has a few printings but they are all much older (the last one was 9th Edition).


This is another so-so creature, but it could be fun for casual players. This general can provide a ton of life if your creatures have high toughness. This is the type of general I could see leading a Treefolk-themed deck (despite not being a Treefolk itself).

  1. Timber Protector - Obviously not a good card for the deck if you decide not to go the Treefolk route, but a fantastic option if you do. It provides both a pump and indestructibility.
  2. Unstoppable Ash - Another solid Treefolk, this one provides a really powerful back-end pump ability. However, it only occurs when the creature is blocked and Ikra's ability triggers on damage to an opponent, so it goes best with a way to grant trample.


This could be a pretty powerful commander as it can get very large if left alone. It is a Bird (there are always players trying to build Bird-themed Commander decks) but four-mana for a 1/1 flyer are pretty bad baseline stats. To make this deck work I can see you wanting to give it hexproof or indestructible (or both).

  1. Bastion Protector - This one flew pretty under the radar coming from the last Commander decks, however it pumps Ishai and provides indestructibility.
  2. Darksteel Plate - A pretty obvious inclusion in this type of deck. Unfortunately its buy-in price is already pretty high, but if you want to play this general and don't have one you might as well pick up a copy.
  3. Deathless Angel - This is a solid single-print rare from Rise of the Eldrazi that has additional utility as long as you can leave up {WW}.
  4. Shielded by Faith - Another Commander 2015 card with a low buy-in. If you can curve a one- or two-drop into this, you can cast a turn-four Ishai and protect it immediately.


This is a bit of an odd commander. A 4/4 flyer with haste for five is okay, but its card draw ability seems a bit out of place with an evasive hasty flyer. I feel like he goes better in a U/R Storm deck than as the commander of one. But if you really want to use him as a general, there are a few cards I could see finding a home in that deck.

  1. Helm of Awakening - While only an uncommon, it has just a single printing from Visions. Given the likely print numbers of sets this old, the quantity available is probably similar to a rare, or maybe even a mythic from the modern era. Helm seems like the first auto-include in a deck built around Kraum. It helps your opponents play more spells (thus drawing you more cards), and if you did go the Storm route would make all your spells cheaper.
  2. Urza's Filter - Similar to Helm above but more restricted. A single-printed rare from Invasion. This one is somehow still in the sub-$1 category despite being very good for certain Commander decks.


Wizards has been pretty careful about legendary creatures that tap for multiple mana (given that Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary is banned as a commander). So we definitely want to keep an eye on Kydele. The fact that she can only tap for colorless mana does help mitigate the risk. In order to tap for multiple mana, one must also draw multiple cards in a turn, which to be fair is highly desirable in Commander to begin with.

  1. Font of Mythos - This is a pretty obvious auto-include as it allows you to tap Kydele for three colorless mana per turn at least. It typically sees play in "group hug" style decks as it benefits opponents quite a bit.
  2. Teferi's Puzzle Box - This card already jumped thanks to Nekusar, the Mindrazer, but it does allow you to tap Kydele for at least seven mana a turn.


This is a pretty solid commander. Recurring a creature each turn and providing an anthem effect is definitely worth looking at for new commanders. Unfortunately it is a 2/2 flyer for five mana; thus it comes out slowly and may be difficult to keep alive. That being said, this is the type of commander the really benefits from creatures that die on their own accord (like, say, Martyr of Sands).

  1. Garza's Assassin - Here we have a recurrable kill spell for any non-black targets. There is one major downside, which is that recover isn't optional—so one would have to keep re-using it without actually losing another creature. It is a Coldsnap bulk rare so if it did catch on, it has strong potential.
  2. Lieutenant Kirtar - Here's another recurrable kill spell, this time only hitting attacking creatures, but still not a bad one to keep recurring. It's an Odyssey rare, so there aren't likely a ton floating around.
  3. Stronghold Assassin - Yet another kill spell that incidentally results in dead creatures, but again one limited to non-black targets.
  4. Sustaining Spirit - I'll admit I've never actually seen this card played before, but Worship-style cards can be very powerful if you can find a way to mitigate the downside. Unfortunately, since you must choose a target with Davos before the cumulative upkeep trigger has resolved, you won't be able to recur this every turn. But you can recur it every other turn cycle (or leave it in play several in a row), and you'll always get the first attack in after it dies. Sustaining Spirit is a rare from Alliances (and on the Reserved List) so if it did find a home the price ceiling is pretty high. It can be picked up for near-bulk prices right now.


This is a pretty fun-looking casual commander. It's well known that tons of casual players love the +1/+1 counter-themed decks. There's a reason Corpsejack Menace buylisted for $0.25 even while Return to Ravnica was in print. Magic has a long history of +1/+1 counters, so we can dig pretty deep on this particular commander.

  1. Decree of Savagery - This is what I'm talking about. It's big, it's green, it puts a lot of counters on creatures, it's a single-printed rare, and it's basically a bulk buy-in. For any Reyhan decks looking to go wide (i.e. a swarm strategy) this card is bonkers.
  2. Primeval Bounty - It honestly seems like M14 was forever ago, and while this card hasn't really moved in price since shortly after release, it's important to note that it hasn't dropped either. It's a fantastic Commander card (though you do need to remember a lot of triggers), both creating an army on its own and boosting it to giant proportions. I've been a big fan of this card for a while—if it dodges a reprint I can see it rising steadily.
  3. Spike Weaver - Many newer players may not have seen this card and likely don't remember just how good it was back in the day. This was one of the key creatures that Survival of the Fittest decks would tutor up, essentially locking your opponent out of the game when you were able to keep recurring it. Being able to keep fogging over and over is incredibly powerful. It only has two printings (Exodus and a Battle Royale boxed set) and is currently sitting at around $5.
  4. Strength of the Tajuru - This oddball Worldwake rare has been bulk since its inception, but it scales with the game and can get out of hand quickly in a big mana deck. The instant speed can lead to a lot of unexpected kills as well.
  5. Death's Presence - Another relatively recent rare, this one is at bulk prices and the ability is incredibly powerful. With Reyhan it scales really well (basically every time a creature with a lot of +1/+1 counters dies you get twice as many).
  6. Fungal Behemoth - This card should scale really well with this type of deck. It provides a free +1/+1 counter when suspend counters come off, and in a deck like this will likely be extremely large. It's at near-bulk pricing and is a single printing from Planar Chaos.
  7. Increasing Savagery - This Dark Ascension rare is also at near-bulk price and provides some card advantage thanks to flashback. It puts a lot of counters on a creature, and with Reyhan as your general, you're less all-in on the creature because if it dies you just redistribute.


My first thought on seeing this one was definitely, "Wow, I can't believe they brought back flanking," but the second ability is actually very powerful. The most interesting thing is that normally a token swarm deck (especially in white and green) uses anthem effects to make their tokens into legitimate threats, but Sidar's ability actually discourages that. I can definitely see this card as one that allows you to go wide, though.

  1. Conqueror's Pledge - One of the few white token generators that hasn't been reprinted, it's only been seen in Zendikar and is near bulk status.
  2. Twilight Drover - I feel like this card would have had a lot more potential if it hadn't been printed in a Duel Deck. Either way, this card is still excellent in a token deck, providing a giant threat and a continuous stream of flying Spirits at the same time.


This is definitely an interesting build-around-me general for the Dimir colors. Luckily, blue-black is the best two-color combination with regards to an artifact strategy. His ability can be extremely strong, and recurring the right artifacts can easily take over a game. Wizards tempered him a bit by requiring that you deal combat damage to a player, and as a 2/2 with no evasion he's not too difficult to block profitably.

I imagine a deck built around Silas is going to pack a lot of artifacts, especially those that make him unblockable.

  1. Nim Deathmantle - This single-print rare from Scars of Mirrodin is actually a piece of quite a few infinite combos in Commander, so its current price under $2 actually seems pretty attractive. In a Silas deck it provides a form of evasion in intimidate and helps keep Silas alive (and/or coming back for more). The fact that it's an artifact that he himself can recur (should it get destroyed) is pretty powerful.
  2. Elbrus, the Binding Blade - This card has always been a favorite of the casual players (it has never dropped below $1.50) and the threat you get when you flip it is very impressive. The fact that you can keep recurring it if/when your opponents do manage to get rid of it makes it a solid addition to this type of deck.


This seems like another potential home-run casual favorite. Token generation is always beloved by casuals, and this one can make a good number (assuming you can boost its power). Its creature type of Elf is another casual favorite. Tana has trample built in, so it seems like finding ways to greatly increase damage output is definitely a solid route to take.

  1. Instigator Gang - This card actually shows up in a Legacy deck, if not a high-tier one (Werewolves). You get +1/+0 for attacking creatures no matter what, and if you can flip it you get +3/+0 for all attacking creatures, which is right where you want to be in an aggressive token deck. It's from Innistrad and around bulk price.
  2. Márton Stromgald - I've mentioned this card numerous times, but it's a powerhouse in a token deck with red in it. He allows for some huge swings and is on the Reserved List. You can currently pick up copies under $2.
  3. Hero of Oxid Ridge - Hero provides a small power boost (in the form of battle cry) but more importantly a falter for small creatures that will allow Tana to sneak through for damage. It's a mythic from Mirrodin Beseiged and is really close to bulk price.


Let's see—green and blue (check); draws cards (check); ramps (check); provides deck manipulation (check); relevant creature types (check). If that last sentence doesn't prove I'm a big fan of Thrasios, then I don't know what will. I can see a ton of players building a deck with this one. This is definitely a big mana-type commander where having a lot of mana and this card as a mana sink will quickly take over the game, and it's just good on its own.

  1. Training Grounds - What's better than paying four mana for Thrasios's ability? How about two mana? This is probably the first auto-include in any deck built around this commander. It's currently sitting around $5.50, which might seem high for a casual card. But given its uniqueness and the sheer number of cards it combos with, that price will likely continue to rise. (In fact, it was basically a bulk rare back when I was drafting Rise of the Eldrazi). It's also part of a janky Modern combo deck using Eldrazi Displacer and any creature that creates two or more Eldrazi Scions to go infinite.
  2. Heartstone - Similar to Training Grounds above, this one doesn't reduce the cost as much and benefits everyone, but there aren't many copies out there. It's a Stronghold uncommon and the only other printing is from the Premium: Slivers deck.


This will likely be another big casual favorite. Lifegain-themed decks are a staple of many casual player groups, and trading life for cards has proven to be a very broken ability throughout Magic's history. The only drawback I can see is that its power level is heavily dependent on dealing combat damage to players, and you can only activate it on your turn.

  1. Alhammarret's Archive - This seems like an auto-include in any Tymna deck. Again it's still a relatively new card but it's a mythic and Origins wasn't opened to death (like other newer sets). Archive just plays perfectly with what this type of deck wants to do (gain life and draw cards). At around $3.50, it's not likely to drop any lower without a reprint, and it could see gradual gains as it ages thanks to it fitting so well in casual decks.
  2. Nether Traitor - Recurrable creatures are usually pretty powerful. The fact that this one has shadow is actually very relevant as I can see Tymna decks wanting to sneak in combat damage and shadow is a fantastic way to do so.
  3. Soltari Champion - Another creature with shadow, this one actually pumps your other creatures and is a single-print rare from Stronghold.
  4. Stronghold Overseer - Yet another rare creature with shadow, this is by far the biggest creature with built-in shadow in Magic. It also has the ability to pump your creatures or weaken your opponents' (assuming they aren't also running shadow creatures). It's a rare from Time Spiral and near bulk.


I have a soft-spot for "random" decks in commander. The randomness makes sure games never play out the same and it's hard to complain about getting hit when you know the owner didn't really choose to do it.

Vial Smasher reminds me of a less powerful (but cheaper and less threatening) Kaervek the Merciless, which just so happens to be one of my favorite commanders. Vial Smasher can't hit creatures with his ability, and he rewards you for playing big spells first (rather than baiting stuff out with smaller spells).

  1. Grip of Chaos - I'll start by saying that I've seen this card make more players quit a game than any other card, but it's quite beloved by the truly casual player who loves two-hour-plus games (as well as just plain sadists). This is one of the first cards everyone includes in their "randomness" deck, even if it's often one of the first cuts after the play group registers their complaints.
  2. Tyrant of Discord - This is the type of bulk rare I love. It's actually a very powerful ability, it's random, it can allow red to take care of things it normally can't (i.e. enchantments), and if you do happen to get rid of their lands it's absolutely broken. The fact that it costs seven actually plays well into Smasher's ability (just play it first) and you get to hit someone for seven damage as well.

Partner Up

There you have it: a review and some possible speculation targets for all of the new partner legends in Commander 2016. If you think of any cards I've forgotten, I'd love to hear about them in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “Insider: Commander 2016 – Partner Commanders

  1. Very nice. I haven’t kept up very well with the new Commander cards so this was quite helpful. Also, it is an important update on Commander finance. Tons of ideas here. Thanks!

  2. “it’s hard to complain about getting hit when you know the owner didn’t really choose to do it”

    Until you come across a group smart enough to realize that you deliberately chose to play this Commander. Nobody I’ve played Commander with has ever seen randomness as an excuse that lets you get away with something.

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