Hey Commander enthusiasts! We haven’t seen all of the new Zendikar yet, but the Commander decks have been revealed. Are they a good pickup? I think so! In fact, I think they might be one of the best pieces of product design Wizards has put together in a while.
I’m going to start with a disclaimer: I’m not planning to purchase these products, even though I think they’re great. Why? I have almost all of the cards already. I’m lucky enough to have a large collection accumulated over years. I don’t want to go into a lot of detail, but I’ve been very successful in building my collection by buying cheap singles that I wanted to play with, and taking advantage of things like ‘unplayable in constructed,’ ‘rotating,’ ‘just reprinted,’ and ‘bulk.’ Turns out that cards I wanted to play with generally rose in value because other people wanted to play with them too. I think that’s called demand. I also got lucky because I played in the old days as a kid, and knew about a lot of old cards that were ignored at the time as kitchen table chaff.
My collection has a lot of play value, regardless of what its dollar value would be. I can build new decks easily. I have a lot of Staple cards, something I write about here on the site. I focus on lands and artifacts, because they can be played across a wide variety of decks. I’m not a speculator, so I also tend to get one copy of most cards. Getting the cheapest copy still gets you the flavour text, and you can sometimes find a fun promo version or something that’s blingy but is also the cheapest copy due to supply.
What I don’t think the new Zendicommandar decks are is valuable, from a money perspective. The decks are not stuffed to the ears with rares and mythics, and they are almost entirely reprints. Many of these reprints are also commons and uncommons. But the decks themselves remind me of my decks, and my collection overall. I have most of these cards, don’t I?
While they are not expensive cards, and they add an ton of supply to any of those cards that were expensive due to scarcity (Sygg, River Cutthroat), these cards have a ton of play value. I’m actually really impressed with the lists here.
I think what’s probably most appealing overall is the price point. These are available at my LGS for $25 or so. For a Magic product, especially one where you know what you’re getting, that feels affordable. In the Magic world, a $25 deck is ‘budget’ but to the outside world, that probably seems pretty insane. However, it’s not unreasonable as an entry product price, especially if the entry product is good. In the past, a new Commander player might spend $50+ on a precon, then discover that it needed significant upgrades to be playable at all. You still got 100 cool cards, but you didn’t always get a decent deck. That’s a mixed message.
The new decks are extremely friendly to the new, or less-experienced Commander player. They look pretty cohesive out of the box. They look playable. Fun, even. The boardwipes aren’t optimized, but each deck has multiple options. They both have good mana ramp. The Dimir deck has 7 mana rocks and 38 lands! While flooding out can be a thing, it’s a million times better than mana screw, and is partially mitigated by things like Commander tax. A flooded board is often only a topdeck away.
Now you may not be an entry level player, but that doesn’t mean these decks aren’t for you, either. I really like the card choices here. Rarity is one of those things that’s kind of nebulous anyway. If a Common is only ever printed as a one-of in a precon, it ends up being as rare as the one-of Mythic in the same box. No Common printed in any Commander precon is as commonly printed in the format as Sol Ring. Which is an Uncommon.
The decks are full of great cards that are mostly cheap due to their rarity, lack of application in competitive formats, and having been printed multiple times. Many of them fit the Staple mold. I’ve written about Sol Ring and Harmonize, and Arcane Signet is still a bit of a chase card. Cards like Crush Contraband, Return of the Wildspeaker, Sylvan Reclamation, Acidic Slime, Sun Titan, The Mending of Dominaria, Kodama’s Reach (all in the Land’s Wrath deck), and Gonti, Lord of Luxury, Notion Thief, Consuming Aberration, Syr Konrad the Grim, Sepulchral Primordial, Necromantic Selection, Heirloom Blade and In Garruk’s Wake (from the Sneak Attack deck) all have a lot to offer and might even be worth getting if you already have a copy. Just to provide a few examples. Cards like Together Forever and Obelisk of Urd are great, not-so-well-known cards that deserve some play.
Some players might be tempted to buy the decks based on the bigger name cards available. Omnath, Locus of Rage is definitely powerful, and while expensive now, stands to drop a bit from this printing. Sygg and Oona, Queen of the Fae are also likely to take a bit of a price hit. These are still great cards, and very playable. Between them and the other Legends in the deck, I think Wizards did an excellent job of providing relevant, fun Commander options. Especially because they fit well with what the new Zendikar Rising set is doing, and don’t step on its toes.
There’s very little overlap between these decks and what’s in new Zendikar, which I think is a really good thing. Sure it ‘forces you to buy the set’ or something, but if you went to a prerelease and really liked Landfall and wanted to get into Commander with some of your new cards, the precon you get won’t be 30% or more stuff you just opened. The decks give you some of Landfall’s history, and the same with Rogues.
You also get 3 new cards per deck. Here they are!
Obuun, Mul Daya Ancestor isn’t the most threatening character out there, though he did die shirtless wearing a crown. As far as Landfall goes, he’s okay. If you want to clobber your opponents with Landfall, one of the Omnaths or Lord Windgrace is probably better as a Commander. Personally, I’d lean heavy into making large indestructible land creatures, and maybe even this guy’s Spirit type. I love the potential of some of the green Spirits. I actually want to build around this. Seems fun and unique. I expect if you buy this deck, however, you’ll find yourself winning with Rampaging Baloths a lot more than this guy.
Geode Rager is hilarious. I love it. Goad is awesome, and what could be better than instant-speed, on demand Goad for their whole team? Evolving Wilds is all you need. This is a pretty fragile body for 6 mana, despite the First Strike, and is ‘only’ an Elemental, but this is probably going to see play all over the place. While a Landfall deck maximizes the triggers, I doubt you’ll need that many. And your opponents will probably nuke this thing from space pretty quick.
Trove Warden is okay. The problem is exile. Not yours, theirs. You can’t count on creatures dying in the traditional way in Commander. I have entire decks where all the removal is exile. Death triggers are a thing, and unless you’ve got an instant speed way to sacrifice the Cat here, a lot of decks are waiting to exile it before you get yours. While it can’t double up on its death trigger, it’s a pretty strong one that brings your fetches and Terramorphic Expanses back, among other things, and a White/Black Commander like Teysa Karlov might like this a lot. What is good about this card and others like it, is that a lot of decks don’t use their graveyards at all. This precon has a little recursion, but not much. What a card like this allows is a completely different angle of attack/resource use that was previously untapped. This offers the same to Cat tribal as well as Landfall. Cats play lands too.
Anowon, the Ruin Thief is interesting, but I feel like he’s spreading the Rogue tribe a little thin across too many strategies. I’m not sure what Rogues really do as a group yet. Sure, they get in for small amounts of combat damage, and they mill. This guy gives them the all-important card-draw payoff, but the question is where do we go from there beyond black/blue goodstuff? Theft/reanimation/copy is cool but that’s still black/blue goodstuff. I think this guy meets the criteria of a unifier, and can be a really good Rogue-tribal Commander, but there needs to be some more cohesion within the 99. Rogue will get a lot of support in coming sets, so that cohesion is likely coming soon.
Enigma Thief is a Sphinx Rogue, which means the answer to the classic riddle becomes ‘antihero.’ I like how it gets cheaper from Rogues and Sphinxes on the prowl. Meowcaw! If you can pull off the Prowl cost, this is a pretty good deal, and the ability being on ETB, not cast, makes it even better. It’s a stretch, but this might even work in Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow Ninjitsu decks. A fair amount of their attackers are Rogues or Changelings, and the high CMC plus low-cost option on an evasive body with ETB upside for bouncing could get there.
Last but not least is Whispersteel Dagger. This is unique and weird and very promising. I think the equip cost is high, and the CMC+equip+reanimation cost is a high price for entry. Plus you need to get a hit on an opponent for the trigger. But past that, you get to cast their creature spell. Casting is a big deal, as it’s an extra layer of strategic potential over just putting the thing in play. I like this a lot, and if you can mitigate the cast or equip cost in any way, and get this on a double-striker, it’ll be fun times for you.
If there’s a downside to these decks, it’s the same one that’s been trending across Commander precons for years now, and that’s low value among the lands. I think, all things considered, these provide adequate value from the lands, though they could have added bounce or cycle lands for Landfall, and some of the creaturelands would have helped in Rogues. Good places to start if you buy the decks and want to upgrade them.
I hope I’m able to get cheap copies of Obuun, Anowon, the Geode Rager and the Whispersteel Dagger. I could take or leave the Cat and the Sphinx. I’ll see the rest of these cards when I look through my collection, and go through my various decks. If you’re a new player and you don’t have a lot of these cards, give these products a serious look. If you’re an established player and you see the price point and ‘only’ 3 new cards plus reprints as indicative of a ‘new players only’ product, look again. There’s good stuff here, and even if you have all the cards already, you can appreciate the design, and how it might be indicative of better precons overall in future.
Zendikar will be fully spoiled soon, and I have some thoughts on the modal landspells. Spoiler alert: they might be gamechangers. Thanks as always for reading. I appreciate you taking the time. You and your life matter! Black Lives Matter!