A Generalized Approach – Shadow Over Innistrad in Commander

I love talking about Commander, I love reading spoilers, and perhaps most of all, I love talking about spoilers as they relate to Commander.  Who knew?  Enough dillydallying.  Let’s jump right in.

Potential Commanders

It only makes sense to spend a little time at the beginning discussing which legendary creatures might make good commanders in a Commander-focused column such as this.

Hochi mama!  Avacyn is obviously powerful.  It’s no secret that she’s bound to make a big impact on Standard and I’ve even heard a few murmurs about her being Modern playable.  She’s clearly going good enough to see play in Commander as well.

Avacyn has several things going for her.  She’s an angel.  She’s multicolored.  She has multiple powerful triggered abilities.  She can protect your creatures from just about anything and acts as a mini-board wipe.  She’s even sizable enough to act as a real threat if your goal is to win via commander damage.  Frankly, Avacyn would be playable as a Commander at 6 mana, maybe even more.

On top of all that, as far as actual synergies go, I see some good options that encourage “build-around-me” strategies.  You can abuse sacrifice effects to ensure you have control over your board wipe trigger.  You can abuse the indestructibility she grants with effects like Nevinyrral’s Disk or Planar Collapse.  You can even abuse blink effects to do it all over again.  Imagine casting Cloudshift on Avacyn in response to her own “deal three damage to everything” trigger.  It’s a thing of beauty.

All in all, Avacyn is a great Commander card and, surprisingly, has some fun EDH potential as a general.

At the outset, Odric seems awesome.  Concerted Effort was always a card I loved, and this potential general is essentially that enchantment stapled to a 3/3 body.  He isn’t inherently powerful, so whether or not he’ll make a solid commander is largely reliant on how well a player can capitalize on his specific effect.

I’ll be frank: I’m a little annoyed that his ability does not encompass protection.  I realize that WotC has decided to slowly phase out that rules nightmare, but at the end of the day, White has always been the color of “protection from…” and Odric’s refusal to acknowledge that ability seems somewhat out of sorts.  With protection in the mix, cards like Paladin En-Vec or Voice of Reason could have opened up deck building options for folks looking to have Odric at their helm.

As it is, we’re stuck with underwhelming and, might I add, incongruous keywords that Odric shares.  How many white creatures have Deathtouch?  How many have Menace?  Reach?  Trample?  The fact is, the answer is largely zero.  Yes, there are a few, and yes, artifact creatures are always an option but even then those options are few and far between.  Wurmcoil Engine is the only artifact creature with Deathtouch.  Kozilek, the Great Distortion is the only playable creature with Menace.  Ability-granting equipment (e.g. Skeleton Key) offer interesting applications, but that’s a sad consolation prize.

Ultimatley, I’m a little underwhelmed and annoyed at the options here.  Oh well.   It is what it is.

I really like Olivia.  I have a soft spot for tribal decks—my Commander fontanel—and her vampire-specific theme scratches that itch real good.

Her “discard a card” tax actually encourages some interesting themes, and not just Madness specific ones.  Hello Nether Spirit, Bloodghast, and Anger.  Welcome aboard.

I won’t go too deep here though because [SPOILER ALERT] I’ll likely try to write about her in my next deck-themed article.

No offense New Sigarda, but you’re no Old Sigarda.

I find new Sigarda rather uninspiring.  There’s approximately one billion token-making cards across white and green already and nothing about her really screams “Make me your commander please.”  Her themes are actually at odds with one another in my opinion, as she both wants to encourage you to play creature cards (to exile) while at the same time suggesting that the deck ought to play cards that boost tokens.

Additionally, her hexproof ability, while arguably unique, is not particularly incredible.  I’d much rather have a proactive general than a reactive one.

Sigarda does have one thing going for her though: she’s the first potential G/W human-focused Commander that we’ve seen.  If you’re looking to build a G/W human deck, you could do worse.

Finally, everyone’s favorite frog horror.

At the outset, a critique: why is this card legendary?  I admit I haven’t read any of the Shadows story line yet so I’m not sure if The Gitrog Monster is some central plot character, but it seems really weird that some random no-named monster would be a legend.

Minor quibble aside, TGM seems like a great card in a vacuum.  I love value, I love graveyard synergies and Life from the Loam is one of my all-time favorite Magic cards.

My only hesitation is the competition. There are a lot of powerful, interesting and ubiquitous G/B Commanders these days—Meren, Varolz, Glissa—and The Gitrog Monster actually has a significant drawback.  I see this Golgari amphibian being a cool Commander, but one which is built more out of bizarre fascination than for its incredible power.

Thematic cards

Shadows Over Innistrad provided a few powerful additions to a variety of creature types, from Zombies to Human.  I’m not going to talk about these tribal inclusions.  That seems like a task too broad for this little article and I’m trying to touch on less obvious options.  If you’ve got a Zombie deck, play Relentless Dead.  If you’ve got a spirit deck that runs blue, might I suggest Rattlechains?  If you’ve got a G/R Werewolf deck, what are you using for a general?!?

Yeah, skimping on reviews of an entire (not to mention large) subset of cards from Shadows seems like a real cop out.  That said, I’m hoping to touch on more broadly applicable cards in this here article though, especially since I hope to build some Innstrad-inspired tribal decks in the coming weeks.

Non-tribal cards

That’s more like it!

Always Watching doesn’t impact creature tokens which is where Anthem effects historically have shown their true power.  Vigilence is nice, but ultimately if you’ve looking to slightly beef up only a few creatures (and specifically non-token ones at that), then there are probable better cards than this.

In contrast, Angel of Deliverance is an incredible EDH card.  It’s expensive, yes, but eight mana isn’t even that out of the question for most Commander decks.  If you’re able to get it out, look out!  It’s got an awesome power and it doesn’t even come saddled with the usual power-tempering caveats.  You don’t return the card to the battlefield if this dies, you don’t have to hit the opposing player for this to trigger, etc.  The card even gets dirtier with the addition of vigilance and/or first strike.

That said, Angel of Deliverance doesn’t have an immediate impact when cast which is sort of awkward for an 8-drop, but hey, it’s EDH.  Let me play with my imperfect hay makers.

This card already sort of exists in Phyrexian Rebirth.  That card also has the likely upside of being substantially bigger than a mere 4/4.  Heck, Kirtar’s Wrath is one mana cheaper, just as likely to produce board presence and costs maybe 25 cents.  If you’re in the market for a post-wrath creature, Descend works just fine.

Ghostway replacement or Ghsotway #2.

This is probably the first card where you’re like, “Wait, why did he include this?”  I love effects like these.  Let’s be clear: you’re playing Gryff’s Boon in a deck that’s likely trying to win via Commander damage.  From Isamaru to Ruhan to Uril, cheap, reusable, evasion-granting effects are awesome.

If you have a token-themed deck, this card seems like a no-brainer.

Blue

I doubt there’s a clue-themed deck.  Maybe?  Probably not yet.  Hopefully we’ll get some new toys in the next set, but until then, my assessment for all clue-specific cards is basically “meh”

There are plenty of cards similar to Engulf the Shore.  In a blue-only deck, it’s likely a better Evacuation.  In a multi colored deck, it’s likely unplayable.  If you need another Inundate, you could do worse.

One of the first cards I actually like!  It’s got a weird, repeatable effect which, to me, epitomizes Commander as a format.  I’m definitely going to be playing with this… thing.

Sorry Jace, but in EDH you’re likely the worst Jaceincarnation yet.  You don’t protect yourself very well, you don’t provide substantial card draw, and your ultimate is annoying enough that people will try to kill the playneswalker but not so powerful that you’ll actually win the game with it.  Pass.

I don’t love Nagging Thoughts specifically, but I do love that there are more non-black Madness cards in existence.  It provides a deck that wants cards with Madness with a few more redundant effects for a general like Alexi or Jaya Ballard.

I really like this card.  In a spell-heavy deck, it gives you a huge board presence (albeit a tapped one) for a combat-zone route to victory.  In a graveyard, self-mill style deck, it just means a whole lot of 2/2s, which is still good for 6 mana.

Obvious awesome, both card-wise and flavor-wise.

Black

I’m not sure exactly how, but this card seems awesome.  It’s incredibly unique, and while I don’t know where it fits (maybe a curse-themed deck?), I want to find a place somewhere.

If you really want to play this, then go ahead although there are probably better options.  Diabolic Revelation, for instance, does essentially the same thing but is not only scalable, but also doesn’t require you to discard your hand.

At first glance, this seemed awesome and likely still is.  Then again, there might be too many redundant, cheaper effects like Beacon of Unrest or Victimize for this to see play.

I can think of approximately 100 generals that want Mindwrack Demon’s ETB self-mill ability.  I have to imagine this will show up in the likes of Meren, Jarad, Karador and other graveyard filling decks if it doesn’t demand a hefty price tag.

Black removal spells have historically all had some drawback, e.g. “non-black”, “tapped”, etc.  Sinister Concoction does not.  In addition, as an Enchantment, it likely fills a void in such decks that care about those things.

For pure flavor reasons alone…  My guess is that it’s actually probably terrible in practice.  It’s nice to note that, with a bunch of effects like Subversion out, you can effectively cut off a number of different life totals as “safe” due to stacking of triggers in the upkeep.

Red

Meh.  Even with Madness, this effect is merely ok in Commander.  Fireballs are a dime a dozen, and if you really needed this ability you could always just play Rolling Thunder.  That said, it does have Madness, so a deck that wants that (Jaya Ballard, e.g.) would likely love to run this.

f you really have a problem with indestructible generals at your kitchen table, well here you go.  Take that, Old Avacyn.

This rattlesnake card isn’t quite rattlesnake-y enough for me to want to run.  It’s a 4/4 for 6 mana which is decidedly unpowered and a couple of points of damage just seems so underwhelming.  Compare this to, say, Dread, and you’ll see what I mean.

If you want yet another “copy target spell” card in your Izzet deck, look no further.  It’s nice that it doesn’t have to be in your hand, but it’s also more expensive than most Fork effects and can only target your spells.

I love spell-themed creatures like this, so it’s no surprise that I’m excited about Pyre Hound.  It’s no Kiln Fiend, but it’s growth is longer lasting which is nice.

You have to discard a card, pay mana, and can’t hit players.  No thanks.

Green

Any card that says “Put a creature from your hand into play” has to be examined.  If a clue deck takes off, this will obviously be very good.  Even if it doesn’t, it essentially draws a card when blocked or blocking, which isn’t terrible.  I’m not sold, but it’s definitely the best clue-centric card yet.

You gotta really hate your friends’ generals to play such a narrow effect but hey, it does what it does pretty well.

Like all self-milling cards, there is a home for this effect.  Is this card powerful enough though?  Probably.  It buys time with blockers and can trigger off non-milling effect like fetchlands or Dust Bowl.

I’m not exactly sure where Rite is going to go, but my gut tells me that I’m going to learn to fear it when I see it hit play in the future.  Tapping Saporlings or tokens from Awakening Zone or really any token generator seems like it has the potential to create a frightening amount of mana very quickly.

While there are better cards at actually stopping folks from meddling on your turn, drawing a single card in EDH is fairly innocuous and as such you might be able to actually net a few cards off this.  Just ask Rhystic Study.  I wouldn’t expect this card to make waves in Commander, but it’s certainly a card I expect to see played in the near future.

Sage of Ancient Lore is one of the few cards where I’ve seen it and said, “OK, now we’re talking”.  Not only does his flipped side threaten to threaten to kill a player outright in a single swing (just imagine how big he’ll be in a five person game), he draws a card when he comes into play.  He’s a Multani that has trample and vigilance and replaces himself if he’s answered.  That’s what an EDH powerhouse is all about.  He costs five, but he seems like he’s worth every mana.

If you want to recoup cards from the graveyard, look no further.  Season’s Past is not as impactful as, say, Praetor’s Counsel, but it also costs substantially less.  And hey!  Porque no los dos?  I haven’t actually played with the sorcery, and it does limit your ability to get back some specific cards, but in general getting back 4-5 from the ‘yard seems incredible from a card advantage perspective.

If you want the banned-in-Commander Primeval Titan in your deck, you probably want Ulvenwald Hydra.  The ability is obviously weaker, but the power and toughness is almost certainly going to be bigger.

Artifact, Multicolored and Land

This card oozes flavor and it’s powerful enough that it’ll likely be shoved into all of the spell heavy Izzet-themed decks.  I’m assume it’s actually really powerful, but who knows.  Even if it isn’t, I imagine I’ll probably play it in a few decks.

Boo hiss.  This card is terrible.  The only time you’re really excited to draw mana rocks are early in the game which, coincidentally enough, is the point in time when your graveyard is generally empty.  If that wasn’t enough, Wizards had the gall to have this come into play tapped and make it a rare.  Literally any other artifact mana is probably better than this.

Ok, let’s be real.  These planeswalkers are powerful and certainly playable in EDH but, compared to other Commander cards, there are probably better options at any given point on the mana curve.  Play these because you want to play with cool planeswalkers, not because they’re exceedingly powerful.

Clones are historically great in EDH, and “Clone plus” is generally just icing on the cake.  While the additional counters aren’t insane—this card certainly isn’t better than Progenitor Mimic—this card is just pure upside in a deck that can cast it (i.e. a blue-green deck) if you wanted to run a four mana clone.  Altered Ego seems like a great EDH card.

Colorless lands that have an awesome effect are always great additions to the EDH card pool and Wastvale Abbey is no different.  While Ormendahl is easier to dispatch in the world of Commander, a 9/7 hasty lifelinker is nothing to sneeze at.  I just like that he gives my token-centric decks something to do!

Wrap up

Well, that was exhausting.  I tried to go in depth with cards, but felt like my analyses slowly started to peter out.

Commander Guy

Commander Guy

Commander Guy prides himself on building interesting, powerful, or at the very least, original Commander decks on a more or less frequent basis. An otherwise agreeable fellow, his only flaw is his intense and all-consuming hatred for Sol Ring. If you play one, prepare to suffer his wrath.
Commander Guy

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Published:April 3, 2016

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