Hey Commander enthusiasts! Do you like chaff? I’m a huge fan myself, to a point. Do you know what I’m talking about? Chaff are cards that have been opened in a pack or a draft, and are unwanted, mostly because of rarity. They may have been played in the draft to great success, but a lot of cards are dismissed after that.
Nowadays we live in a more savvy world, where Commander is a thing, and speculation is a thing, and there is demand for cards outside of the classic modes of competition. A bad card now might be expensive in future, making for a great profit. And that ‘bad’ card might be only contextually bad. Pair it with one of the hundreds of Legendary creatures in Magic’s history, and suddenly a lot of ‘bad’ cards look pretty good. And even the genuinely bad cards can see play as part of theme decks and meme decks.
Still, people leave commons and uncommons behind at the LGS on a regular basis. Do they do this at yours? After Commander Challenge, and the glorious prize openings, there are all sorts of little piles of chaff about. I look regularly, because, hey you never know. I’ve pulled fast lands, $5 uncommons, and even a 2/3 Corpse Knight out of chaff. Plus a bunch of cards I actually intend to play.
Theros is a set with a number of commons and uncommons that might be worth a look in Commander. First of all, Magic is an expensive hobby, and getting game mileage out of a free or almost free card is great. So is leveraging the power of a lowly common in a format full of alt-art foil signed mythics (that’s an exaggeration, but people do play show-offy, powerful cards). It’s kind of like when a chef makes you love liver. There’s skill there that cannot be denied.
So what’s worth playing from sub-rare in this new set? Here’s a few gems!
I’m not quite sure Chainweb Arachnir makes the cut for Commander overall, but it probably does for any variety of spider tribal. This thing is loaded up on goodness, including a lot of versatility. In a Commander game, this might eat a small flier or two, chump block a couple of times, and maybe get an attack in. If you’re doing Hardened Scales or something like that, this starts to get really interesting. Love it for Battlebox and cubes.
Escape Velocity is a really interesting take on a repeatable haste enabler. Obviously, the format standard is Lightning Greaves/Swiftfoot Boots, but sometimes the Commander needs all the haste it can get. Also, red is a great colour for Artifact destruction, so maybe this enables some builds that want to sweep all the trinkets away all the time. This also can be ‘stashed’ in the graveyard, or used as part of a self-mill or discard strategy. It is ‘cast’ when Escaping, and the cost is pretty minimal. Adding a point of power is pretty cool, because a primary use for haste in Commander is voltron strategies (ie, loading up one creature with equipment and auras). Finally, this counts as a permanent (for Vaevictis Asmadi, or w/e), targets a creature (for Heroic, etc), and is a thematic boost for anything fast, like Vehicles. All of these are in red. Do I need to sell you on haste? Haste means this turn, as opposed to 3 opponent turns from now. This might be some sweet tech for you, and might as close as red ever gets to Rancor.
Hateful Eidolon is probably more something to flag for the future, as I don’t think a black auras deck exists that’s not all about Curses. Something could slowly emerge around the very few black auras that steal creatures, and adding blue could be cool…. Overall, I like all the parts here (enchantment, spirit, lifelink, carddraw, 1/2 for 1 CMC) and if you can make the card draw aspect reliably pay off, this could be great. Bogles?
Soul-Guide Lantern is probably no secret by now. Cheap cost, exiles all opponent’s yards, and draws a card in a pinch. At face, this is better than standout land Scavenger Grounds, but the land can be included at a much lower opportunity cost.
Like a great many cards in this set, the Lantern is a nice little blink target. Decks that love a lot of artifacts or blink a lot might fit it in.
Daxos, Blessed by the Sun is also not much of a secret, being yet another white creature that gains you life when another creature ETBs for you. That’s possibly big game in Modern or maybe Pioneer or something. In Commander, we have other options, but this makes that deck more consistent, and can even be the Commander of a Soul Sisters lifegain build of his own. This guy can be pretty efficient, and could fit a wide variety of schemes. As with all enchantment creatures, he suffers from vulnerability to removal, and copying him is largely useless. As well, his creature type, the new ‘Demigod,’ can be either an annoying bit of asynergy, or something you possibly tutor for. I expect to see new Daxos in play at some point.
I think Destiny Spinner was identified by the competitive crowd already, too. For Commander I can point out the 2 natively indestructible lands (Darksteel Citadel, Cascading Cataracts), which might be thrown into the many enchantment-based builds this card will go into. It even has better stats than a bear! Why?! Not complaining, because it’s awesome, but maybe the bears should have something to say.
Ilysian Caryatid is a pretty good mana dork. It’s easy to make 2 mana with this guy, and a walking Sol Ring that makes coloured mana sounds great. Especially at common. I’ve seen a major surge in mana dorks this past year, so I won’t be surprised to see this.
Mirror Shield is a big deal. I’ll break it down: cheap to cast, relatively cheap to equip, decent boost to toughness, wacky anti-deathtouch ability that’s new to Magic, and the real big money, one of 3 (!) pieces of Equipment that grant Hexproof unconditionally (Mask of Avacyn, Swiftfoot Boots). Two more, Champion’s Helm and Ring of Evos Isle, are Sometimes-Hexproof. I expect this also looks great in foil. Hexproof is one of the best abilities in Magic, and can be the difference-maker in Commander. As more equipment like this is printed, it becomes more possible to build around hexproof itself. Very cool card.
Nessian Wanderer is interesting for enchantment decks, because the cheap CMC makes sure it can come down early enough for the ability to matter. Really great if the first enchantment the deck plays is Burgeoning or Exploration. The cards also stay in the deck, and the 3 toughness means some actual blocking and living through stuff is possible. Including enchantment-wipes.
I think Omen of the Sea is very strong. While Commander is eternal, and we can play all the OP blue cantrips that are banned in other formats, they don’t leave an enchantment behind with a neat mana sink on them. The mana sink isn’t expensive, and sacs the enchantment, which can be a payoff you can leverage. This thing is also primed to be blinked by Aminatou or Brago. It’s even scry first, then draw. Lots to like here.
Setessan Training is a long shot to ever see play, but it draws a card on entry, and grants trample, which are two useful things. If you can blink this, or replay it from the graveyard reliably, it might be playable.
As much as people have compared this to Wall of Omens, in Commander this card is really all about white ramp. White suffers from a lack of good ways to get mana into play as fast as some other colours, so every little bit of help it gets is very welcome. 2 other triggers, a token that’s a useful type, and interaction with counters make this card pretty interesting.
Thrill of Possibility is a recent reprint, but I want to point something out for those who might not know: copying this usually does not require a discard. A copy is not ‘cast’ unless it says so on the card copying it (pretty rare, but Isochron Scepter is important to note). If you can use the discard, this is tremendous.
Why is Towering-Wave Mystic anything? Well, normally cards like this require a specific kind of damage, like combat damage or to a player. This guy mills on any damage he does. Great fun with Trepanation Blade. Sorcerer’s Wand turns him into a Millstone. Up his power a bit, and cast Chandra’s Ignition on a full table, and you might just kill somebody.
Like many cards on this list, Warbriar Blessing is a spell that leaves a permanent behind, and gives an incidental power or toughness boost. Hmmm. Regardless, fighting isn’t the best removal, but it’s fun and flavourful, and this can be blinked/recurred, etc. for repeat value. Tuvasa the Sunlit might want to look at this. Cheap to cast, too.
There are only 7.5 pieces of equipment that grant flying (half points to Peregrine Mask, which also gives Defender), so Wings of Hubris at 2 CMC to cast and 1 to equip is off to a good start, if that’s what you want. It you’re intent on forcing damage through, you can get one layer more evasive, and pile up a couple of sac triggers too. There just might be a deck that loves this.
Altar of the Pantheon is a fantastic new mana rock option for the very crowded ‘3 CMC rock that makes a mana of any colour’ slot. This plays very well with the gods and demigods, and with powerful cards Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and the new Nyx Lotus. And Gary, of course (Gray Merchant of Asphodel).
Callaphe, Beloved of the Sea looks like a possible voltron Commander. Pile up some blue pips and equips and you’re good to sink ships. Making your stuff harder to target is good but not great. Individual spell removal isn’t so common in Commander, as you can just run sweepers and take care of all the problems at once. Plus the ability doesn’t address abilities. But together, this makes for a strong start to what could be a pretty competitive budget deck. Will I be killed by this on turn 4 in a game this year? Stay tuned!
While this isn’t Phyrexian Arena, or even Outpost Siege, Furious Rise can be the equivalent of drawing an extra card every turn. I like how this lets you play lands, and can keep the card in exile for multiple turns if you need that sort of thing, or lose your power 4 beastie. I like the potential here, and will probably test this one.
Hydra’s Growth is just enough of a confluence of decent CMC, amazing effect, and initial trigger to help that effect that it might see some play. It’s an aura, but a single doubling of +1/+1 counters can be all the bananas. Try and flash this one in on endstep.
Minion’s Return would be cool with Hateful Eidolon above. This is a great way to steal a creature in response to a boardwipe, and while there are similar cards, I don’t think any are playable at instant speed. I like reanimator-theft as a growing archetype, although Thrilling Encore is the one to play if you’re only going to play one.
Relentless Pursuit becomes draw 2 of your top 4 pretty easily. Leveraging the graveyard aspect is easy too. All together this looks decent for 3 CMC. I could see playing this in something like Izoni, Thousand-Eyed.
I’m pretty sure Siona, Captain of the Pyleas goes infinite with Shielded By Faith.
Yup. No problem for Standard, annoying for Commander. I hope this isn’t the basis of a deck of tutors and such that finds this for a turn 3-4 kill every game. Ugh. (Update: As of Jan 23, this is the #1 Commander on EDHRec from the new set, and Shielded by Faith is sold out everywhere….)
On the bright side, we now have another way to stop the on-cast triggers of spells with Cascade, or those on the Eldrazi Titans. Whirlwind Denial is no Summary Dismissal, but it’s cheaper to cast, and helps out the blue mages who are sick of Maelstrom Wanderers and Kozileks getting around their counterspells.
Acolyte of Affliction is nothing new, and actually pretty similar to Golgari Findbroker. But the little bit of self mill can help if there’s no obvious target, or no target at all. Only returning a permanent can be frustrating, but it’s still pretty great. Golgari doesn’t lack for reanimation power, so this can part of a nasty engine.
The beauty of cards like Darksteel Mutation and Oath of Dryads is that they make a problem creature into something that’s hard to interact with through traditional creature channels. One With the Stars falls into that category, and could be a really nasty way to incapacitate a red or black aggro deck that can’t interact with enchantments. Remember enchantments can still tap. Witch’s Mist is an example.
Renata, Called to the Hunt is one of a few recent cards that adds +1/+1 counters to ETBing creatures. That works out pretty well with Persist creatures. Like Callaphe, this could make for quick Commander-damage kills, as green is an easy colour for devotion. This is strong, not subtle.
While we have other creatures that give everything trample, and Nylea’s Forerunner is hardly the best of these, trample is one of the most relevant abilities in Commander. The combo with Deathtouch, the raw power with Commander damage, and the ability to negate chump blockers makes trample the real deal, and cards that give it to the whole team are worth mentioning.
Rise to Glory looks like it should be part of some absurd Modern combo deck with Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Eldrazi Conscription. Probably too slow. But cards like this are the kind of thing that might slowly push auras up a notch or two. This addresses the two-for-one play of your opponent killing your creature with the aura on it, or maybe sets you up with an ideal creature/aura combo. Not too shabby.
Dreamshaper Shaman is clearly a Commander card. Is any 60 card stack ever going to have this in it? Chaos Warp your tokens into Eldrazis or whatever it is. Only 9 mana to get the engine rolling…. Yup, 9. 6 to cast, 3 to use. Super insanely powerful ability, but yeah, 9 mana. And a big opportunity for your opponents to make it a 6 mana nonbo by killing this before the end step.
Klothys’s Design rounds out the chaff. I don’t feel like I need to explain this one much. I feel like this really rides the line between overcosted and undercosted. 6 mana is a lot, but this could easily get you +10/+10 or more. For all your creatures. Craterhoof Behemoth does alpha strikes way better, but this can and will put up big numbers.
I hope this rundown results in you finding a gem or two in your chaff, or in some left by someone else. Thanks for reading, and I hope your auras always stick!