Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Commander 2016 Set Review: The Legends

Well, folks, this one’s going to be tricky to figure out. We have 20 new legendary creatures to review today, but there’s a bit of a wrinkle. As you probably are already well aware, since you’re reading this blog, there’s this thing called “Partner” making its debut in Commander 2016. What this means is, we’ve got 15 new legends that are printed as individual cards, but can be (and should be) paired up with a partner. So why is that a problem? Well, for starters, to account for players having access to TWO commanders instead of one, these Partner legends are just a bit weaker and in some cases less interesting than the typical legendary creatures you’d see. So these new legends are simply not meant to be evaluated individually, in a vacuum, as you would any other single card, but to give them a fair and balances assessment, one must consider them in conjunction with a partner. Simply put, if you just play one of the partner commanders solo, it will be weaker. But you’re not MEANT to play them that way, and so it’d be unfair to evaluate them that way!

However, the only restriction on “Partner” is that you can only pair up two commanders who BOTH have partner. Seems reasonable. But someone else, not me, did the math, and there are apparently 105 combinations available just with the 15 new Partners commanders. So, I can’t evaluate them fairly one-by-one, since they inherently MUST have a partner to achieve their true potential… but since each one has 14 possible partners to choose to take to prom, it’s also not really feasible for me to evaluate all possible pairings.

So what is the solution? I don’t know! I’m just going to plow on ahead and start with the actual 4-color commanders, and hope that by the time I get to the partners, I figure things out. LOL.

Breya, Etherium Shaper
I’m more excited by the deck Breya enables than I am by Breya herself. I mean, she’s kinda cool and all, don’t get me wrong, but she is also a bit underwhelming, at least superficially. She does useful things, but they aren’t exciting things. But I like the idea of what is essentially an Esper artifact deck that splashes for Goblin Welder and Daretti. But it’s fine to have a commander that isn’t a big, splashy centerpiece of a deck. We can’t all be Maelstrom Wanderer or Prossh. Sometimes the commander is just the glue that quietly holds it all together. I’m just not sure at this point if Breya’s the sleeper hit of the set, or if she’s just the cool-but-mediocre card she appears to be on the surface. But for now, in my opinion she’s near the bottom of the pack.

Ydris, Malestrom Wanderer
Unlike Breya, I think I’m more excited about Ydris than I ultimately should be. I have starry-eyed dreams of this deck being essentially a Maelstrom Wanderer deck that can play Black cards. I also have sordid fantasies of giving Ydris double strike and giving all my spells Cascade x2. If you’ve been following my blog for long you undoubtedly know by know what a value-lover I am. I love to grind out incremental value in long control matches, but I also love to just spam absurd amounts of it a la MW or Narset. Cascade is one of my favorite keywords of all time. So, yeah, I’m super hyped about Ydris.
But I must confess, I don’t actually know what the heck a Ydris deck wants to do. I mean, obviously it wants to cast stuff and cascade into more stuff. But what stuff? What do my spells do, besides get me value? What is the actual end goal here? I have no clue. I don’t even rightfully know if Ydris is any good or not. I mean, I’m pretty sure he is, but I am also clearly blinded by hype and excitement over his uppermost potential… so if I try to evaluate on what he’s LIKELY to do rather than the Magical Christmasland heights of what he COULD do, where does he land?

Basically, this is where I have to stop and throw out a disclaimer – for those of us who haven’t been house-ruling the Nephilim for years (most of us, I assume), this four-color shit is unprecendented. Uncharted territory. Frankly its territory I had little interest in exploring. Until now. But I guess what I’m trying to say is, I feel a lot less shaky in my theorycraft for these guys than I usually do. Evaluating 4-color legends with such unique and odd effects is just really tough. Card evaluation is often based on comparison and extrapolation. But what am I comparing these legends too? What previous data do I have to extrapolate from? Long story short, I’m going to be hedging a bit more than I’d like, so to avoid repeating these caveats and uncertainties ad nauseum, I’ll just say it once, definitively: I’m fully in the realm of guesswork here and everything should be taken with a grain of “let’s see how they play first”. Kay? Good!

So, back to Ydris. I’m really hyped for him, but the deck itself is themed around “chaos”. I’m generally not a big fan of this archetype, and I dislike some of the cards in the precon deck, but it’s not as offensive as it could be. I’m eager to find out of Ydris will make for a good “real” deck, i.e. one with actual, executable strategies that lead toward victory. I think he probably can, and is probably very powerful… I just haven’t figured out for sure HOW to harness his chaotic energy toward a stable path to victory.

Saskia the Unyielding
Not a lot of love for Saskia from what I’ve seen online, but I’m mildly impressed with her. She’s probably the least flashy and “odd” of all the 4-color legends, with a fairly straightforward “attacking gets better” kind of ability. A lot of people seem ready to lump her in with the typical Boros “Punch things  more gooder” commanders we’ve been getting drowned in lately, but I see her as a sort of “Punch things with a political angle”, which is slightly more interesting. What I like is how she gets around pillow forts and stuff like that. If you fear your opponent is holding up an Aetherize or an Angel of the Dire Hour, but you really need to kick them in the teeth… well just kick someone else so hard that person feels it! I feel like Saskia is subtly a lot more interesting than she looks on paper – she’s a Boros commander for the creative, Johnny-ish deckbuilders. She has some very obvious, straightforward uses, but I think if you really try, you can find some interesting applications for her that are much less obvious and punch-y.

Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis
As much as I’m not a fan of Chaos, I infinitely prefer it over Group Hug. But I’m going to give these fabulous kings some credit and say they’ve probably got more potential than just as standard group hug fodder. Like Ydris, I’m not sure how to turn their default strategy into something a little less lulzy, but I’ll figure something out. One of my main issues is, if you’re straight up group hug with no real path to victory, you’re just king-making which is really unsporting to anyone else who is actually trying to win the game legitimately. If you’re group hug with some actual win-cons, then you are basically trying to trick people into leaving you alone long enough to win out of nowhere. If you play in a regular group, though, no one is going to fall for that more than once.

Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice
Atraxa is probably as exciting to me as Ydris is, maybe even moreseo, because I actually know what I want to do with the Angel Horror. Atraxa is one of those cool build-around-me’s that is nonetheless open-ended. Having Proliferate tends to steer one toward counters as a theme, but there are SO many types of counters in Magic that it’s still pretty wide open. Probably the most common type of counter Atraxa is likely to be proliferating in EDH is the Loyalty counters – “Superfriends” decks of the Bant-splashing-black and Esper-splashing-Green variety will abound for months to come, I’m sure. Infect is another option that seems to be getting a lot of buzz online. But I’m a man of simple tastes. I prefer to just take an Abzan +1/+1 Counters deck and mash it up with a Simic +1/+1 counters deck. I also think Atraxa is likely the most powerful of the new commanders, in a vacuum (let’s not forget that impressive spread of keywords on a 4/4 body).

And now we come to those Partner commanders and guess what? I still haven’t figured out how I’m supposed to handle this portion. I really thought I’d just go through each individual two-color Legend, but try to evaluate them, not as if they were a solitary commander, but also not with a specific partner. Just assume that they would have a buddy to help them out, but not try to focus on what, specifically, that buddy would do.

Turns out, evaluating half a Magic card while just trying to guess what the other have might do but with no concrete idea is a terrible way to analyze a commander. So I’m going to do something I kinda hate to do, but have no other alternative, that I can see – I’m just going to defer this conversation to some later date. I’m not even going to promise I will get around to it, but I’ll at least try. For now, let’s just let it suffice to say that all 15 of the partner commanders are to some extent underpowered on their own, and some will get much better with a helper, while others will still kinda suck. Quite a few of them have good potential as just a part of the 99. But ultimately most of them are just kinda “meh” to me, so I’m not particularly motivated to spend thousands of words talking about them right now. So the partners will just have to be a topic for a later date, after I see how Partner plays out. 

The good news is that frees us up to talk about other stuff! Like, the other new cards in the set, for instance. So I’m just going to wrap this up right here, and we’ll pick things up in the next installment with some new white and blue stuff.


  1. Don't forget that the 15 partner commanders can be used alone. I would review them as if they commanded their own deck and then adding in my favorite commanders to play along side them.

    If instead you divide them by colors you can make one post on the 15 4 color options, 5 2 color options, 85 3 color options (hmm that doesn't break it down much. shard options are 40 wedge options are 45 (if my math is correct). One post for each 3 color combo? That's a lot of evaluating...

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  2. My initial numbers were off:
    1 option for each enemy color pair. (5)
    5 options for each shard (25)
    8 options for each wedge (40)
    7 options for each 4 color (35)