Commander Legends – Early Reactions

pink waterlily flower in full bloom

Hey Commander players. The Internet screams pretty loud about things, and gets really bent out of shape about trivial matters in the grand scheme of life. This time, it’s one of two words that inspires frenzy among Magic players when they appear in card names. One of them, Mox, has evolved, adapted, mutated and even suspended itself over the years.

But the other, the word synonymous with Magic’s greatest treasure, Lotus, is back in the spotlight again with the crowd going wild. We all know Black Lotus by now, hopefully. It’s one of the original Alpha cards, on the Reserved List, and worth insane amounts of money. I have some personal history with the Black Lotus myself. When I played in the 90s as a kid, I traded a bunch of moderately expensive cards for what turned out to be a fake one. It was a Collector’s Edition cardface cleverly glued onto a regular card back. It was a little thick, but I was excited to get my hands on it. Most of my friends didn’t care if I played with it or not, but it felt kinda wrong, and I felt pretty hooked, so it disappeared into a box somewhere.

I later owned an honest-to-goodness Unlimited Black Lotus which I got from the display counter of the LGS in the town I grew up in. I heard later that it wasn’t supposed to be for sale, and maybe got someone fired, but I got it for $300 worth of cash and trade, mostly trade in form of the big Tempest singles of the day. I played with it a little, but I was in the late stages of my first go-round with Magic, and it was the centrepiece of my collection when I sold it to help pay for some stuff in University. I’m not in any ways wistful about any loss, or financial shortcoming as a result. Keeping that Black Lotus all this time would be less lucrative than me having a couple of crappy temp jobs here and there over the years. I don’t even know what I’d do with it now.

Which brings me to the first of the spoilers I’m going to look at today. I’m not jazzed about the set so far, but that could change. I feel like it’s trying a little hard, and, making the same FIRE mistakes as with Standard, but without any reasonable metric of format toxicity or balance to make games enjoyable for players. And so far, there are four cards that put my face firmly in my palm.

Jewelled Lotus is already the talk of the internet, and worth hundreds of theoretical dollars. I follow Vintage play sometimes, and I’ve seen how busted modern Magic games with a Black Lotus in hand can be. It is as busted in Commander, even this restricted? I think it is.

For starters, cards like Lurrus of the Dream-Den as your Commander can form nasty loops pretty easily. Does the Jewelled Lotus say from Command Zone only? Nope. So if you can bounce your Lurrus to hand, then recast it with Lotus mana, recast your Lotus, bounce your Lurrus, etc. You’ve got a simple loop. Combine that with an obnoxious ETB trigger like Altar of the Brood and you can win right then and there, barring Eldrazi or something.

We already have a ‘busted start’ Commander in K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth and the new Lotus helps him get out even faster. Helpfully, Commander also gives you two full seven-card London Mulligans to find your combo pieces. And the Lotus is the perfect thing for upping that storm count, too. Awesome.

Hey how about this? Kruphix, God of Horizons turns unspent mana into colourless, regardless of how restrictive the usage is. Maybe not broken, but feel free to dig deeper. We got another new artifact in Horizon Stone that can do that, too. Omnath, Locus of Mana doesn’t care about what the mana has to be spent on, either, just that it’s green. And because no Magic article these days is complete without a salty Omnath reference. Kudos to Wizards for giving us an additional subdivision of mana to keep track of, over multiple turns with green Omnath.

Jewelled Lotus also empowers hard-to-get-rid-of Commanders like Purphoros, God of the Forge (turn 1!) and the other gods, and is going to really give the mono-coloured partner pairs a huge shot in the arm, especially the ones that are 3 CMC or less. I’m barely scratching the surface with this thing. There are so many Commanders that want an early edge, or an extra sacrifice outlet, or 0-mana artifact, and this is pretty much all upside, considering the name of the game, literally, is Commander. In cEDH, I’m sure that not playing your CMC 4 or less Commander on turn 1 is going to feel like a loss. I feel like this is an extremely unhealthy card for the format, and is going to create serious financial unhealthiness, too. The Rules Committee is apparently ‘watching’ the card, but will reserve judgment at least until a lot of people have spent cash on these. If you can help it, just don’t. Take a pass. But since every deck I’ve ever played would salivate over this card, it’s going to be really tough.

Let’s talk about another 0-mana card that I think will be a problem. Rograkh, Son of Rohgahh is a 0-cost Commander, which isn’t too threatening if you just look at the card by itself. But of course it has partner, which means it can team up with some of the multi-coloured partners and give that player really easy access to the free cost of cards like Fierce Guardianship and Flawless Maneuver. You get to play Deflecting Swat no matter what, and since Wizards is clearly down with free spells, expect more of the same. Not to mention there’s some modular spells like Jeska’s Will that little Rograkh can make an insane, above the curve play.

Again, scratching the surface, storm count, bouncing to hand, etc. I’ll move on.

Kodama of the East Tree…. You have got to be kidding me with this thing. And it can be your Commander? I can play Ornithopter and then a free land? How could that be any indication of something bad. The only consolation with a card like this is that it joins a pantheon of similar 5-7 CMC green win-more juggernauts like Craterhoof Behemoth and Nyxbloom Ancient that can hardly get any more powerful in a way that matters. But from the Command Zone? With partner? Ugh.

Finally we have what I thought would be the answer to my prayers. Opposition Agent seemed too good to be true… and it is. I hate tutors, because I think they reduce skill in both gameplay and deckbuilding, especially when it comes to a supposedly singleton format like Commander. This rogue was supposed to be in the answer suite. Instead, it makes a few cards into really oppressive hosers, like Scheming Symmetry, and one card into a filthy lock piece.

Watch out for Maralen of the Mornsong who can now lock you out of the game. You just have to get the two cards together, which is stupid easy because one’s a tutor card, and happens to be in your Command Zone. Oh, and it’s a black card, which means all the Dark Rituals and other tutors are in play, and why not the Jewelled Lotus, too? Fits right in. I don’t want to know how easy it is to do all this. This is not what the format is about.

One of the major reasons I got into Commander was because the format wasn’t heavily designed for. There were releases to be sure, but the bulk of your cards came through the lens of Standard, or had to be discovered in the archives. Finding and adapting cards to form strategies in a larger, slower format that emphasized casual play was everything I wanted. A unified kitchen table format, essentially, that gave us a language to share with other players of similar minds, so that we sat down at the same kitchen table, or LGS table, or bar table, or whatever, we could play a game within parameters we all enjoyed. (I tried finding a card with a name including ‘Language’ or ‘Communication’ for the picture below. No dice.)

Now it seems like it’s getting to be like everything we wanted to avoid. Power creep, chase cards, irresponsible design, and the growing necessity to have to either assume a high power level, or preface every game by finding out if people brought appropriate decks for you to play against. Or you have to just sit and watch, regardless of whether you have a life total or not. Like those games with Paradox Engine before it was banned.

There’s no more ‘sit down at the game table and play Commander’ because it’s not really one game anymore. It’s a bunch of tiers of the same game, that cross over all the time in the worst way. The only thing holding the language together is rule 0, where Commander players are invited to use house rules. There’s only so much rule 0 before it’s a new format entirely. Maybe that’s the answer. I for one would be really interested in a new format that was everything Commander was: casual, friendly, and unified behind the interests of the players playing it, not the corporation selling the cards.

I guess my early reactions to Commander Legends aren’t great. Want to be a casual with regards to this set? See if your LGS has a deal where they will sell all of the commons and uncommons as a package. Mine does stuff like that. Get all the partners you can. Consider putting together a Commander Cube, or Commander Battlebox. Try not to feed the hype and the creep and the internet frenzies. Play modest mana acceleration in your meta. The future of the format might depend on a clearer divide between casual and competitive, and your future format might not include the Jewelled Lotuses of the world anyway. Thanks for reading!

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