Welcome back, readers!
In last week's article I looked at the eternal playability of cards from Rivals of Ixalan and alluded to this week's article being about Commander. While we rarely get any cards that dramatically shift eternal formats (Fatal Push was the latest), I honestly feel that Ixalan block has been mainly catered to Commander players (and/or casuals).
The most glaring example are the double-faced cards that flip into lands. We got a Gaea's Cradle with Growing Rites of Itlimoc // Itlimoc, Cradle of the Sun, a Diamond Valley with Arguel's Blood Fast // Temple of Aclazotz, a Lotus Vale with Dowsing Dagger // Lost Vale, and a Kjeldoran Outpost with Legion's Landing // Adanto, the First Fort. All of the cards these Ixalan ones are based off of are on the Reserved List, and some are exceedingly expensive.
These new options are fantastic budget options. It definitely seems like WotC realized they were a great "outside the box" way to print more of the effects players want without breaking the Reserved List. The flip cards aren't the only clearly Commander-aimed cards from the set but I wanted to simply highlight that the block as a whole is a goldmine for Commander and casual players.
Without further ado, let's look at our new toys.
Arch of Orazca
This card is currently sitting in the bulk rare category for a new set (i.e. cards under $0.50). It's a colorless land that enters the battlefield untapped, taps for mana, and turns into a card advantage engine when you have ascend, which shouldn't be that hard in Commander. Granted, five mana is a lot to pay for the ability, but the fact that it can go into any deck is huge.
Mikokoro, Center of the Sea is another land that allows every player to draw a card (although for the lower cost of two mana), and it's sitting at $15. So the question becomes whether it's worth three mana in Commander to make a Howling Mine effect into actual card advantage. I'd argue that it likely is. I like this card as a medium-term hold, especially since the price can't go much lower. I like trading for these at their current price, though I can see this falling down a bit more (likely to the $0.25 range) in which case I would be tempted to buy a few playsets to sit on.
Last week I mentioned how this card had some potential in eternal formats, which more often than not means it'll be good in Commander too. This is definitely one of those "more often" times. In Commander powerful cards see play even if their mana cost is high, which means costs vary a good bit more than in eternal formats. So flipping Azor's Gateway // Sanctum of the Sun becomes pretty easy.
Azor's Gateway // Sanctum of the Sun provides colorless card filtering which, while not as good as straight-up card draw, is still a useful tool that some color combinations don't have. If you can flip it you get a ridiculously powerful land that taps for any color of mana you need. Mono-red decks finally get a massive mana land that they've been denied for so long (green gets Gaea's Cradle, white gets Serra's Sanctum, blue gets Tolarian Academy, black gets Cabal Coffers, red gets… Shivan Gorge??).
I also love how the amount of mana is tied to your life total, so decks that gain a lot of life can abuse it even more. Big life gain decks are definitely a favorite of casual players, adding to this card's appeal. This card has already dropped $1 in the last week and I imagine it'll continue to do so for awhile. I don't see it finding a home in standard (unless it does so in one of the Approach decks) as it's a bit too slow for standard, especially since more often than not you'd prefer to be exiling excess lands and not spells. I will definitely try to trade for these if/when they hit $3-$4 and I'd buy a playset if it hits $2.50 or less.
Azor, the Lawbringer
First we get his Gateway, then we get Azor himself. Azorius mages have had plenty of good commanders up to this point, but if you enjoy playing UW control style decks in Commander this seems like the new de facto commander of choice. Sphinx's Revelation ended up being a defining card in Standard for basically its entire lifespan, and now one can get it every single turn stapled to their commander.
Since Azor's ability triggers on his attack, if you go full-bore tapout you aren't leaving mana up for counterspells. I imagine the second most played card in any new Azor deck—after Sol Ring, of course—will be Sword of Feast and Famine, which conveniently allows you to untap all that mana you just spent to cast the cards you drew. Card number three on that list is probably the aforementioned Gateway above which plays exceedingly well with the lifegain you get from his ability. This card's demand will be almost exclusively Commander and his current price of $5 is way to high. I'll wait till it hits $2-$3 before picking one up for myself (and unless this guy is your commander I suggest moving any you have now).
Dire Fleet Daredevil
Red actually doesn't have a lot of cool ways to mess with opponents' graveyards, and instants and sorceries that are played in commander tend to be quite powerful, so having the ability to cast them off color can be really cool. The biggest problem I have with this guy is that plenty of commander decks don't play a lot of good instants or sorceries, and he relies completely on what your opponents are playing.
Still, he's a fun new addition for red and I know he'll find a home in plenty of Commander decks. His current price is heavily influenced by potential standard play and while I do think he's good, I don't think his price will stick. I'm a fan of moving these now.
Elenda, the Dusk Rose
Black-white token decks used to be more popular. Throughout Magic's history green has typically been the king of token generation, but black and white have been making solid strides on that front. I imagine Elenda will take the place of many Teysa, Orzhov Scion commanders, as she serves as a strong token generator and her tokens come with lifelink. Though I'd fully expect to see good ol' Teysa finding a home in those decks too. This is a tough one as I imagine some of the current price is tied to standard speculation and she's not a terrible option in standard (at the very least she replaces herself when she dies...assuming she isn't exiled). From a Commander standpoint I think that she will eventually drop though, so unless you are itching to play with her now I suggest holding off.
Etali, Primal Storm
We have our first of the Elder Dinosaurs, and the red one looks incredible. Commander is a format ripe with powerful spells—what's better than casting your opponents best spells for free? I know a lot of players in my area have posted requests for this card, and I imagine that we'll see a lot of new mono-red Commander decks thanks to this one.
If it proves to be popular, look towards cards that offer additional attack phases, similar to what happened with Narset, Enlightened Master. I imagine players will want a similar build as both provide the same kind of incentives. At it's current price of around $2.50 I think it'll drop a good bit. It's not a terrible option in a standard midrange deck, though it's biggest hinderance is that it does nothing the turn you play it (which is typically pretty key) and it fails the Chupacabra test (i.e. it dies to Ravenous Chupacabra at a net loss of mana (since it's 6 and he's 4) and with no gain to the caster)
Ghalta, Primal Hunger
Mono-green gets a commander option that they can power out extremely fast with the right style of build (it's possible to get it out as early as turn four). Ghalta fits nicely into a Selvala, Heart of the Wilds deck as a giant fatty one can cheat into play that then increases how much mana Selvala taps for. It's also important that it has trample, as this is definitely a commander that could kill players via commander damage very quickly. This one is a bit harder to evaluate; as there seems to be some strong standard potential with it, but it still is a regular rare that would only really go in a deck designed to play it quickly (i.e. it's not something you would just throw into any green deck) it's current price seems fine on that aspect, but it's important to keep in mind that there are a TON of them floating out there (thanks to being the special store promo) so the ceiling is pretty low on this card.
This is one of the more disappointing flip lands in my opinion. It's clearly good in a UGx counters deck where you could flip it the turn you play it and even activate the land that same combat. But it feels like it's only good in that style of deck. This feels like the type of card that will bottom down to bulk rare (or bulkish rare). I advocate waiting to pick any up until that happens.
Journey to Eternity
After green-black got shafted with their spell land in Dark Ascension (Grim Backwoods) it's good to see WotC gave them a really good one this time around. GBx decks are often known for graveyard recursion, and a repeatable one on a land that also can tap for mana of any color is awesome.
The first ability seems relatively easy to trigger in Commander thanks to the plethora of sacrifice effects that are often played in these decks. The fact that you can likely play it, flip it, and activate it in the same turn means this is definitely an auto-include in those types of decks. This card has already slipped by $1 since i initially began writing this article. I really do love this card, but being 2 color really limits the number of decks it can go into. However, the power level is there and this honestly feels like one of those cards that could easily create some sort of G/B/x value type of deck in standard/modern. I don't mind it's current price of $4.
Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca
If you wanted to play a Merfolk-themed blue-green deck this seems like a great commander. Tishana, Voice of Thunder is probably best suited for a token or Elfball deck. Kumena, on the other hand, is really only strong with a heavily Merfolk-themed deck, which means that it'll be mainly blue. His abilities are quite strong and he's fantastic at generating advantage when a board stalls.
I will admit I haven't seen as many Merfolk-themed Commander decks, but perhaps this card will change that. After all, drawing cards and/or pumping the team are both powerful abilities. When I started writing this article this card was under $10. Now it's sitting at $16.50 thanks to standard. If you aren't playing it in standard, I'd move it now as we typically don't see many mythics above that range in standard and the ones that do are typically eternally playable like Chandra, Torch of Defiance.
Nezahal, Primal Tide
Nezahal is an interesting new Commander option. It comes with uncounterability, situational card draw, and self-protection, all things that blue mages like. Having a Reliquary Tower ability is definitely not something to sneeze at.
Ironically, Nezahal shines best against a control deck (as one would likely draw a lot of cards and the fact that Nezahal is uncounterable is most relevant). I see this one as a great inclusion in multi-color decks in the supporting role rather than as the commander. Currently this one is sitting at $1 and that seems perfectly reasonable. The biggest issue I see is that he fails the Chupacabra test pretty badly as well.
Path of Discovery
I'll admit I almost continued right on past this card until I realized that in token-style decks it can act like a powerful permanent anthem. If you make a bunch of tokens all at once and your top card is not a land, they basically can all get +1/+1. It can also help get you through land pockets or serve as a pseudo-scry if you need to dig for something specific.
Four mana is a bit much for something that does nothing until something else occurs, but it scales in power if you put a lot of creatures into play so it's worth considering. It's currently $1 and I can see it drifting down towards bulk rare status. Wait on picking any up.
So besides the wombo-combo that this guy plays with Forerunner of the Empire, there are a lot of ways to inflict damage on one's own creatures. Cards like Pyrohemia spiked hard once people realized how stupid that card gets with Polyraptor. I definitely think we'll see players try to build Dinosaur-themed Commander decks. Thanks to the limited number of options this one is definitely going to find a home in them (that, and it can be very powerful). Currently it's sitting in the $4 range which seems reasonable for something that could define a deck...of course it could also be too slow to do anything and drop down to $2-$3, but I don't think it'll ever be a bulk mythic thanks to magic's history of pingers.
I am a bit torn on this card. Commander is definitely a format in which one-for-one removal needs to be very powerful or very cheap. This card serves as repeated targeted creature removal and can turn said creatures against their owners which is pretty cool. My biggest beef is that the mana cost of the ability is high for exiling creatures, and the fact that once you do you can only return the creatures you've exiled. It's current price is around $1.25 and I can see it dropping to $0.75. I suggest waiting on it unless you'll get an extra $0.5 enjoyment out of owning it for a deck immediately.
If you can get a ton of mana to sink into it and exile a lot of creatures (stacking all the abilities at once) you could definitely turn it into a pretty solid engine. I don't like it as much as Journey to Eternity // Atzal, Cave of Eternity, but it's not a bad addition to black-white decks.
As I said earlier, I'm fairly confident we'll see players try to build Dinosaur Commander decks (likely in the Naya shard) and I also assume those decks will find ways to keep triggering enrage. Thanks to damage leaving the creature at end of turn, this could serve as a more powerful Smokestack if you can trigger it during each player's turn. It's near bulk status now...it'll hit bulk status later.
Slaughter the Strong
We got a three-mana wrath with a somewhat limited downside (opponents likely get to keep a creature or two, unless they are playing Fatties.dec). Commander is definitely a format with a lot of wraths, and white has plenty at the four slot that aren't situational (Wrath of God, Day of Judgment). But this is definitely near the top of playable wraths, and it seems phenomenal if you're playing a commander with four or less power that doesn't rely on other creatures. It's sitting around $1 now and that feels pretty fair. We typically don't see wrath effects drop to bulk but this could be a $0.5 card if it doesn't find a standard home.
Storm the Vault
I will be the first to admit that I love this card (the first competitive deck I ever built was Academy) and it's important to remember that Tolarian Academy is banned entirely in Commander. It's that good. Now, we're probably lucky this one is red-blue so it isn't just dumped into all the Esper artifact decks as an auto-include, however, we do have Breya, Etherium Shaper which is already a very powerful combo commander. I could also see this in any/all Grixis artifact decks. This card can be had for under $2 and I'm a big fan...in fact it's the ONLY card from the set that I have already purchased a playset of.
The Immortal Sun
This card seems like it was created solely for Commander players, specifically those who hate playing against decks filled with planeswalkers. The abilities on the card don't really appear to be aimed at any particular deck archetype, though they do all work together in harmony in a small creature-based deck. These types of cards are great long term holds (see Alhammeret's Archive), but drop quickly once supply hits the market. Sell now, and buy back when they are $2 or less.
Taking extra turns is definitely a very powerful thing to do, especially in Commander. I appreciate how ascend makes this less likely to trigger super early in a game. It's also on a creature, and we've seen how powerful and expensive those can be (see Lighthouse Chronologist, which was basically a bulk rare when it first came out). This is a tough one as well. It either finds a standard home and jumps up in value or slowly decays in value down to the $2-$3 range. I'd rather hold off personally, but I wouldn't fault you if you were more optimistic than me.
Most people I've talked to about this card want to play it with clones, which seems like an awesome way to keep looping turns. So I expect we'll see this card show up in a good number of Commander decks with a lot of clones in them.
This is the Dark Confidant variant Commander players have been waiting for. While he's a fantastic card advantage engine, Bob's big disadvantage in a format with a lot of high-CMC spells is that he can kill you pretty quickly. So now for twice as much mana we get to nug our opponents instead of ourselves, and gain life in the process (so I could see playing Bob with this guy side by side). This one does say "each opponent" so it's really powerful in any black commander deck (and Ascend is pretty easy to hit in commander). It's current price is heavily influenced by standard though. I'd prefer to wait to pick up my copy personally.
This is one of those cards that I expect all mono-black decks will want, much like auto-include Phyrexian Arena. Although it is kept in check by the fact that you need the city's blessing before this is anything more than a 2/4 flyer for four mana. (Fun fact: this is the only mono-black 2/4 flyer for four mana.)
Playing extra lands is one of the most powerful abilities in Commander, and this card can come down before Oracle of Mul Daya. It isn't as powerful as Azusa, Lost but Seeking but it does provide a better body for the late game. It seems extremely good for setting up a quick Ghalta, Primal Hunger. This card continues to drop in price, but I actually think it could be one of the dark horses of the set and I"m a big fan if it hits $2.
Zacama, Primal Calamity
Zacama and Gishath will be vying for the commander slot in Naya Dinosaur decks, and I honestly don't know which is better now. Zacama's ETB ability that untaps your lands is extremely powerful, and since it triggers only on cast, it doesn't play that well with Gishath. Current price is almost all driven by commander demand so it'll drop as supply hits the market.
Still, it seems like one could easily abuse just that ability if you can keep casting Zacama over and over and generate infinite mana. The other abilities are cool, if much less broken—though I do like the repeatable Disenchant.
Zetalpa, Primal Dawn
The white Elder Dinosaur comes packed with a ton of white's best abilities. This seems like a really awesome voltron commander, as flying, double strike, and trample mean you can easily one-shot someone with this one. The only major abilities really missing here are lifelink and haste. This one will drop as well.
As it is, I think this is probably one of the best mono-white voltron commanders, though it's likely going to draw a big ol' bullseye on your head the turn you cast it.
So this article was a long one, thanks to WotC's printing of a plethora of great Commander cards in Rivals of Ixalan. I can't wait to add most of these to my decks (and probably make a Naya dino deck too). Do you think I missed anything? Feel free to comment below or reach out to me on Discord or in our forums.