Commander 2018 Set Review - Blue
'Twas the Night Before EDHmas, and All Through the House...
Welcome to the season we call Commander Christmas, where boys and girls and those that are neither or both wake up evil-eyed and squirrel-tailed to see what gifts Gavinclaus left in their backpacks the night before. Will it be a Breya deck, for those that helped little old ladies across the street, brushed and flossed, and changed their underwear at least bi-weekly? Or will it be a Kalemne deck for those that cast Sunder against oncoming lethal damage while repeating something Sheldon said on Big Bang Theory? Only your pod-mates know for sure.
Let's open up that JanSport and see, shall we?
Aminatou's Augury costs eight mana. Eight mana is "this had better win me the game" territory. Expropriate only costs nine, after all. Eight is a lot. Still, by digging eight deep, the card is a little bit idiot-proof. You're almost guaranteed to hit a land, which doesn't come into play tapped and can be a nonbasic. Beyond that, you're going to hit at least a couple cards that have a decent chance of costing you approximately eight mana combined. Yes, on occasion, you'll whiff and see three basic islands, three Counterspell variations and that Cyclonic Rift that you can't Overload this way, but you'll also have games where you hit Cabal Coffers, Consecrated Sphinx, Necropotence, Demonic Tutor and Tamiyo, the Moon Sage.
That said, I'm not sure how often this card is going to be hard-cast. It's gonna be flipped for free off of a Jeleva, Nephalia's Scourge or Narset, Enlightened Master attack trigger, or maybe dropped off an Omniscience, etc. Unfortunately for all you Maelstrom Wanderer players (but fortunately for everyone else), you can't Cascade into it with your commander. Even so, this spell is mainly going to be played by people with no intention of actually casting it for eight mana.
And you know what? Those decks kind of scale with this spell. Decks designed to cheat spells out tend to run grossly powerful cards with high costs, since they're never planning on paying for them. So, odds are that Jeleva deck isn't just gonna cast Aminatou's Augury for free to get some simple value; instead, the deck will cast it for free and use it to cast a combined 62 mana's worth of other busted spells.
That seems pretty good.
Archetype of Imagination
Archetype of Imagination is a reprint, but it's almost always a useful card. It draws you a card off an Enchantress (like Verderun Enchantress), draws you a card whenever it attacks in your Kestia, the Cultivator deck, it gives your guys evasion, and best of all, removes evasion from your opponents. In the right deck, it's well worth the six mana, and even after all these years I still love that sparkly Nyx border. This card is currently in 3,606 decks on EDHREC, even without a dedicated Bant enchantress in the game. Now that we have three new Bant enchantresses, expect the stats on this card to rise like the tide. That is, a tide that doesn't go back out... so it's more like a tide that only rises and stays up. I'm bad a metaphors.
Echo Storm is more free stuff. Maybe you millenials wouldn't need all these free spells if you stopped buying your avocado toast and LaCroix-flavored artisanal ice cream. Plus, what's the deal with y'all bring back mustaches? Anyway, Echo Storm. It makes a copy (an echo, if you will) of target artifact, and you copy this spell for each time you've cast your commander from the command zone this game, kind of similar to the Storm mechanic. Hence, Echo Storm. You're welcome.
What do you know, Myr Battlesphere is in this same deck. That seems like something disgusting to copy three or four times. So does Psychosis Crawler. So does Sol Ring. So does, well, everything, honestly! Making three or four copies of most artifacts is pretty great. It is contingent on you having cast your commander, though, and it gets better the more times you've had to cast said commander. Casting your commander multiple times from the command zone is generally something you wanna avoid doing, though. Still, it scales really nicely with Partner commanders, since they each count as a trigger, so Silas Renn, Seeker Adept and friends are probably the true home for this card.
Estrid's Invocation is like Copy Enchantment, but maybe better. Sure, you can only copy your own things, whereas Copy Enchantment can often copy a Phyrexian Arena just waiting to be mimicked from across the table. Even Copy Artifact can duplicate a rogue Sol Ring. Enchantments are less universal in both their use and purpose, though, so this card is probably most at home in a strictly enchantment-based deck. Odds are good that you're going to have the best targets to copy. Plus, Estrid's Invocation lets you change that copied target during your upkeep, all while effortlessly proccing effects like Constellation. This probably stays in all three variants on the Bant enchantress deck, which means it's a pretty decent card.
Ever-Watching Threshold feels like it doesn't quite get the job done. Three mana is Rhystic Study territory for a draw enchantment, and I'm not sure that drawing a single card is often enough of a deterrent to keep an opponent from attacking you. If you're got an Isperia, Supreme Judge deck based around forcing attacks, then it's I guess one more way to take advantage of that effect, but that feels really specific.
Another problem is that Ever-Watching Threshold feels like a card that Pillowfort decks want, but it also is kind of a non-bo with those decks. Propaganda and Ghostly Prison stack, for example, but if you have those types of cards in play preventing other from attacking you, then the rattlesnake effect of drawing a card on swing becomes moot. You don't even draw for each attacking creature, just one card whenever you're attacked. I'm just not sure I see a home for it in many places.
Loyal Drake should have been a Bird, not a Drake. It's not like Kangee, Aerie Keeper decks couldn't use a few bones thrown their way. I get not wanting to make it a Merfolk or some tribe that's already doing pretty well, but Birds are pretty soft as is. Poor Kangee.
There's some positives here, though. The fact that Loyal Drake triggers at the beginning of combat is great; it lets you reap a reward the turn you cast it in some circumstances, and the fact that it is a fairly cheap-to-cast body with evasion never hurts. For me personally I'm already running cards like Kindred Discovery and Distant Melody in my Talrand, Sky Summoner deck, so having another Drake provides a little synergy as well. I'm mostly just thrilled to see Lieutenant back, and hope we continue to get a cycle of these each year. Doing so will get me to leave Gavinclaus delicious sugar cookies covered in so much icing it stains your teeth red and green.
Octopus Umbra is the flavor win of the set for me. It buffs your creature to an 8/8 and lets you tap a large blocker in the process. Totem Armor as a keyword is also always welcome, and artist extraordinaire Howard Lyon has continued Wizard's attempts at inclusivity by providing a piece clearly designed to welcome the hentai crowd. It's a win all around!
Portent only has one prior modern-border reprint, way back in the Coldsnap Theme Decks. Like Ponder (also reprinted here), it's almost always a useful card. It finds a land drop, sets up the top of your library for tricks, gives you a chance to shuffle if need be, and replaces itself next turn. Also like Ponder, it is a good inclusion in this year's product. Portent is in less than 900 decks on EDHREC vs. Ponder's 26,746, but I can't help but think that's because a whole lot of people don't even know it exists. Hopefully this changes those stats a bit and we see this pop up in more decks.
Primordial Mist is a bit of an odd duck. I'm a huge fan of Manifest, so any new uses of the keyword are exciting, but I'm not 100% sure of the role this card has. lf you're playing some manner of Morph tribal, it's another trick to use, which is useful. I suppose in a deck with top-deck manipulation it lets you hit some land drops, too. Plus there's some added trickery available where you can turn that Pongify or Mana Drain into a 2/2 until you need to use it. It also lets you de-Morph things your Ixidron has flipped over, though that's more of a trivia note than a genuine strategic reason to use the card. I don't know if it has a home beyond niche decks looking for really specific interactions, but that's okay too. Not everything needs to work in every deck, and the ones where this works will be fun.
Saheeli's Artistry is a useful card that never quite gets enough love. It's currently in 3,360 decks, and in an artifact deck, there are way worse things to do with your mana than to make a token copy of the best artifact and the best creature in play. Six mana is probably too much for tightly tuned decks, but this will be a bomb in precon leagues and in slower, more casual metas. Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer is pleased.
Thopter Spy Network
Thopter Spy Network is a bit of a pet card of mine. Who doesn't like free flying tokens (other than every single person who has ever sat across from a Bitterblossom)? Plus you get to draw a card when your evasive artifact creature hits a player? In a deck that wants a ton of artifact creatures? This card is in 4,248 decks on EDHREC and it could honestly be in more. I'm glad to see it back.
Vedalken Humiliator humiliates you because he looks like Lord Voldemort had a baby with Goro from Mortal Kombat. Are you humiliated? You should be. Plus, Metalcraft is back, baby! You can enable Metalcraft by just casting the mana rocks you were gonna cast anyway, and when Vedalken Humiliator attacks he shames your opponents so hard that he Polymorphist's Jest's all their stuff. All in all, that's pretty great, provided that being humiliated is your jam.
Throw in a little Night of Souls' Betrayal action and you got yourself a stew.
Vow of Flight
Vow of Flight isn't a card I really want to talk about other than it gives me a chance to blurb on the design of Vows in general. There's nothing wrong with enchantment-based removal, and since the Vows force creatures from pointing your way, they do qualify as a type of removal. You don't want to entirely rely on enchantment-based removal, though, as there are so many times in the average game where the only thing that will save you is an instant-speed response. Outside cEDH, though, most decks have a little breathing room and can afford at least some answers that you can only cast in one of your main phases.
So what's the problem with the Vows? Well, they feel like a misunderstanding of what people do in actual Commander games. If I'm gonna hit something with a slow removal spell, the vast majority of the time, I want the creature I target to no longer be able to do the things it can do. Sure, in theory, buffing that creature, giving it evasion, and making sure it can't hit you feels like a smart play, but we aren't playing in a format filled with Craw Wurms, we're in a format filled with Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobites and Sun Titans and Azami, Lady of Scrolls. The politics of Vows just aren't worth the payoff. You want those cards gone with an Grasp of Fate-type effect, or rendered impotent with Darksteel Mutation or Imprisoned in the Moon, unable to do their disgusting things that will lose you the game.
...Not a Creature was Stirring, Not Even a Bird for Kangee, Aerie Keeper
That brings to an end the blue portion of our EDHmas review here in the heart of summer. What did Gavinclaus leave you for your decks? A shiny Aminatou's Augury card, or a Manalith? Sound off below and let us know what card you're most excited about and which decks have you read to kick names and take butts once they arrive at your LGS on August 9th!