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Magic the Gathering: Commander 2016

Magic the Gathering: Commander 2016

It’s November folks, and you know what that means! Magic: The Gathering is releasing its annual Commander supplemental set!

Given that this is not a standard Magic set release like Kaladesh (previously reviewed by Jacob), I will be giving each of these pre-constructed decks a rating out of 5 based on how I perceive them in terms of how they’ll be useful and which might be the most popular among people who play the format on a regular basis.

Commander is a casual multiplayer format of Magic and is designed for four-player groups, though there is a two-player variant of Commander called Commander Duels, or French Commander.

The rules for Commander decks are simple.

  • Each deck is comprised of 100 cards in the color identity of the legendary creature that you choose as a commander.
    • Your Commander + 99 other cards
      • There can only be one of any specifically named card in the deck, aside from basic lands cards.

This year’s Commander set focuses on something that players of the format have been asking for for as long as I have been playing the game: Four-Colored legendary creatures. These new creatures are unique in that they are currently the first and only ones of their kind to exist. Though there are other four-colored creatures in Magic’s past: The Nephilim. Oddly enough, only one of the five decks includes one of the Nephilim.

In addition to the long awaited four-colored legends of Commander 2016, we’re also being introduced to a brand new mechanic: Partner. Partner is a game mechanic that allows players to have not one, but TWO commanders for their decks, so long as both creatures have Partner. All of the new legendary creatures with Partner only have two colors in their identity though, which limits the decks to those four colors.

Example of Legendary Creatures with the new "Partner" mechanic.

All of the featured legendary creatures in the set are brand new and getting cards for the very first time. They take players on a journey through the Multiverse of Magic: The Gathering to planes such as Dominaria, New Phyrexia, Theros, Innistrad, Tarkir, Zendikar, and the Reborn Alara as well as new and unnamed planes!

Each of the four color commanders have their own unique goals in gameplay:

Saskia, The Unyielding of the “Open Hostility” deck is very clear in her purpose. She wants to make people hurt, and bad. The deck is entirely constructed around combat, as she allows you to deal damage to a player that you didn’t directly deal combat damage to when you attack another player. This deck earns a 4/5.

Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice of the “Breed Lethality” deck is a "counters matter" commander. From what I’ve seen of her deck, she wants to make big creatures out of small creatures, and every single card included in the deck is going to help you get there. This deck earns a 4/5.

Breya, Etherium Shaper of the “Invent Superiority” deck is a commander that cares about artifacts and she will use them to control the game to her favor. The deck is packed full of "artifacts matter" cards, including Hellkite Tyrant, a creature that wins you the game if you control twenty or more artifacts. They’ve also included the red planeswalker Daretti, Scrap Savant in the deck, who was the face card of the red deck from Commander 2014 in addition to a massive slew of other legendary creatures that are all "artifacts matter." This deck earns a 5/5.

Yldris, Maelstrom Wanderer of the “Entropic Uprising” deck seems to take an interesting take on the usual cascade decks that commander players normally see led by the legendary creature Maelstrom Wanderer. The deck feels to me like it’s going in a million directions and I personally can’t get a grasp of what it wants to do natively. This deck earns a 3/5.

Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis of the “Stalwart Unity” deck have a simple message: “Let’s be friends!” This deck has a simple plan and that’s to play hugs. When you’re playing this deck, you want the other three players at the table to think you’re their friend and does everything it can to avoid having them attack you with cards like Ghostly Prison and Propaganda before you unleash a devastating attack against them and win the game. This deck earns a 4/5.

Personally, I elected to purchase the “Open Hostility” deck. It fits my personal style of play in commander very well, and from the moment I saw the face card of the deck, Saskia, The Unyielding, I was in love. I’m currently working on building a custom decklist based on having her as the commander and will be shifting my current commander deck to her.

In the meantime, though, I played the deck in a few rounds of exhibition at my local gaming store, Cardboard Castle Games, here in Augusta. By exhibition, I don’t mean that I was playing just for fun (though I definitely was, commander is considered a “casual” format of Magic), I mean that the games I played were at tables with other players who were playing the new decks straight out of the box.

In the first game that I played, there were two players using the “Invent Superiority” deck. One of them elected to use the new partner mechanic to have two commanders, and the third player was using the “Breed Lethality” deck. I came out of the gate hard in that game, hitting my opponents with creatures, fast and powerful, knocking them down to low life before my creatures were wiped from the board and I had to go back to square one. I never recovered and just kept getting dead draws, primarily lands. The “Breed Lethality” deck eventually ended up winning the game thanks to a Fathom Mage giving the player the draw power necessary to get what they wanted and needed to turn the game in their favor.

In the second game that I played, there were two of the “Stalwart Unity” decks in play and one “Breed Lethality.” I played much smarter and more reserved in this game, waiting until the moment was right to make big plays. The players using “Stalwart Unity” let the table get extra draws (the highest we had at one point was 4 extra draws per turn), with the ability to play 3 lands per turn. I slowly built up a good field, then exploded onto the scene! I played one of the partner cards in the deck - Ravos, Soultender - and used him to give all of my creatures a power-up, making my 1/1 saproling creatures into 2/2’s, and with an army of about fifteen of them that’s a little scary. Finally, I made my big play and cast my commander Saskia, The Unyielding. She burst onto the scene and allowed me to take out two opponents immediately! Unfortunately though, during the next player’s turn, they used a spell that allowed them to swap our life totals, and attacked me with flying creatures that I couldn’t block, and I lost the game.

Overall though, my experience with Commander 2016 was amazing. The only deck that I didn’t get to play against was the “Entropic Uprising” deck, which might be why I still don’t understand what the deck wants to do. These decks are fun out of the box as they are, but I can’t wait to see what people are going to do with them to personalize them. Commander is a fun and exciting format and I highly recommend getting a few friends together, picking up a few of these decks, and duking it out!

All card images are property of Wizards of the Coast, LLC.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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