Monday, November 14, 2016

Commander 2016 First Impressions

As expected I got to play around with some of the new Commander 2016 decks this past weekend. Actually, I ran the gamut from 1v1 to 3-way FFA to a full 4-player game as well.

Friday night kicked things off with some 1v1, unmodified decks, of course. I played just about everything but the group hug deck, as that is a terrible archetype in 1v1 games, and I’d say that even if I weren’t fairly anti-hug. So, after I can’t remember how many games, here’s my quick and dirty first impressions:

Breya was a pleasant surprise. She’s still not my favorite new commander by any stretch, but her utility abilities were more relevant and useful than I expected, though still not particularly exciting. If only she drew cards as well… still, the deck and commander performed admirably, though I can’t even remember for sure if I won any games with her or not.

Ydris was disappointing, but I think that was largely due to the wonky nature of the deck, not the commander himself. And probably variance as well, as I would later discover (well get to that in a bit). He’s still a very cool and powerful commander with tons of potential, I just think the decklist put together for him has some serious issues.

Saskia is a HOUSE is 1v1. And remember, when I say 1v1 I don’t mean the French competitive 1v1 format, I just mean casual, normal EDH rules played with only two people. But yeah, she was pretty brutal and I felt like I was getting terrible draws with that deck. The mana was fine, but I just didn’t have gas, like, ever. Fortunately Saskia doesn’t need much.

Atraxa was, surprisingly, a bit disappointing. This is at least somewhat due to the fact that she was, on appearances, easily the strongest of the batch of new commanders, and the decklist built around her appeared to be the most coherent and well-designed. However she merely performed so-so that first night, and even worse on Saturday. I definitely got the feeling that this was, at least partially due to variance though. The deck tended to have awkward draws and I kept having games where I couldn’t manage to get a single counter on a single permanent, so she was just sitting in play for turns not proliferating. My buddy played her a few times though and at one point had a 12/12 Festercreep, so obviously the deck could work with a bit of luck.

All in all, I got the impression that I’d misjudged all the decks (though not necessarily the commanders, just the rest of the 99) – those that seemed really solid performed below expectation, and those that seemed a bit haphazard and janky exceeded expectations. The exception being Ydris, who I thought had a terrible-looking list supporting him and both me and my friend had poor experiences with the list to reinforce that initial evaluation… or so we thought.

Fast forward to Saturday evening, and I am settling down to play a couple of 3-player matches. I’m rocking Atraxa both games, and my opponents are on Kynaios and Tiro, and Ydris.

Long story short, Ydris moved into Magical Christmasland and set up shop as Emperor for life. Ydris steamrolled the both of us in the most demoralizingly effortless victories I’ve seen in a long time. It was some real Battle of Themopile shit. Made me want to quit Magic forever.

Me and my buddy from Friday night had been ragging on the Ydris deck pretty hard after our games with it the night before, but this other friend of mine just comes in like “y’all ain’t playing it right” and proceeds to do the most random, crazy crap I’ve ever seen a precon do. I’m pretty sure I saw a T3 Army of the Damned. But both games were over so quickly and decisively I barely was conscious they took place. Obviously, after getting trounced that badly I was even more disappointed in Atraxa.

Fortunately, things leveled off a bit on Sunday.

Sunday was our big 4-player battle. I was still on Atraxa, determined to make her work, and had started to make some modest adjustments to the list. Nothing too crazy, just more card draw and more +1/+1 counter support, as I was still constantly having a hard time actually drawing anything that worked with Proliferate. My opponents were on Breya (unmodified), Ydris (unmodified) and a Surrak Dragonclaw werewolf tribal deck.

The werewolf player wasn’t present at the previous night’s games but he heard the horror stories. When his wolf pack got off to an aggro start, he mostly focused on the Ydris player as a preemptive strike. No one else was doing much early on, so Ydris drew most of the hate from all of us. I think Breya killed him once or twice with her -4/-4 ability, but he was ramping just enough to stay in the game, though badly weakened after a while.

With Ydris seemingly neutralized for the time being, I was starting to emerge as the threat. I had a modest board state, but with Atraxa out, even a modest board can become a real threat in just a few turns. Meanwhile Breya and the werewolf player were starting to assemble some pretty respectable boards as well. I wouldn’t have worried much about either of them on their own, but if they teamed up, they would have me outgunned. I wasn’t quite ready to become archenemy just yet. I needed to take some of the heat off me for a few more turns, so I did what any sane person would do. I let Ydris hit me. I kinda felt sorry for him anyway despite his utter dismantling of us the night before, as we did shut him down pretty hard in this game. So I figured I’d let him have a bit of fun and get back in the game, while hopefully shifting perception of threat away from me.

It was a risky move and it almost didn’t pay off. Even though the Ydris player only had two or three cards in hand, and not much on the table besides Ydris himself, his post-combat main phase featured more magic being played in that one half-turn than some entire games. By the end of it, I sorta regretted allowing Ydris to connect. I had succeeded in putting Ydris back in the spotlight a little too well, and now I was going to have to spend my own resources cleaning up the mess I had helped make. Fortunately I was sitting on a sweet hand with some removal. On my turned I crashed Atraxa into Ydris to gain some life, and then Toxic Deluge cleaned up all the little guys. There was still a very large Consuming Aberration that had just milled all of us quite a bit, but I had spot removal for that.

This would have left me with Atraxa and a Juniper Order Ranger in play on my side, and Ydris with just an Academy Elite on his side. But I forgot about Breya and she just pitched her artifact creatures that were about to die anyway to shrink my guys enough that my Deluge would wipe me out as well. Suck! After this setback I played defensively and conservatively for a few turns. Despite drawing a few cards off Academy Elite, Ydris appeared to be mostly out of gas again, and both Breya and the Surrak deck rebuilt slowly.

But eventually, after all the back and forth it started to look like it was going to come down to me versus the Ydris deck anyway. Breya and Surrak were clearly starting to run out of steam and made some sort of desperate-looking plays to try and fight back, mostly against me. While I took the brunt of this, Ydris took that opportunity to put himself back in the game in a big way. He how had a Whispersilk Cloak making Ydris very difficult to interact with or stop, and after one more pretty good turn of cascading things, I was pretty much forced into killing him with Atraxa, hitting him for the exact amount I needed to bring him to 21 commander damage.

With Ydris out of the game, I was now pretty solidly the big threat, but neither of my remaining opponents had much fight left in them. Breya scooped after a couple of turns not finding any answers, but Surrak held firm a bit longer, mounting a sizeable army of wolves, but no way to defend himself against flying threats. I eventually got to strive a Solidarity of Heroes to double my counters on Atraxa, Orzhov Advokist and Fathom Mage, drawing me 8 cards at the end of Surrak’s turn. I untapped, then played Deepglow Skate doubling them again, and that was that. Surrak fogged for a turn, but with the extra draw step he was still unable to find any answers and scooped to a more-than-lethal Atraxa.

I definitely like the deck better after fixing a few of its issues, and I am looking forward to fixing up the other 4 decks as well. Still haven’t gotten to play the Kynaios and Tiro deck, but that’s okay. I’ll get around to it soon enough. 

How did the new decks perform for you? Any sleeper hits or underachievers?


  1. I found these decks to be pretty fun out of the box. I grabbed 4 of them (not breya as I preordered it) and we played a 4 player game with them. I ran the non blue deck, but used some partners.

    The hug deck gave us all of our basic lands around turn 8 or so, after which explosive turns were common. Yidris threatened an extremely potent turn having yidris and dragon mage out. She went for the attack and I used spot removal on yidris. She cast a few spells, but with no cascade it wasn't all that exciting. With my full hand I drew beastmaster ascension and mirror entity. With Tana on the field already, among a few others, I was able to attack one player with leathal and another with tana giving me 20 tokens (6/6 from the enchantment). The remaining player, playing the hug deck, passed turn looking displeased.

    I turned my team sideways and she played Selfless Squire. I was attacking with 30 6/6 or bigger guys, so needless to say it was big. Luckily I had a couple chump blockers in my hand, so down they came. She couldn't get the damage through and lost on my next attack step.

    Goblin Spymaster controlled a large portion of the early game.
    Frenzied Fugue made me want enchantment removal most of the game.
    waste not was always a factor as well.
    I felt I needed more removal most of the game.
    Cant wait to get the last deck.

    1. Yeah I was surprised how relevant Waste Not actually wound up being in the Ydris deck.