Commander 2018 Set Review - Green
Hi everyone! For those of you who don't know me, I'm Scot, and I write the Knowledge Pool series here on EDHREC. I'm a Temur player at heart and a Timmy in Commander. I like to approach deck building through an analytical lens, leading to decks that win through controlled smashing.
With Commander 2018 on our doorstep, I'm thrilled to bring you a closer look at the cards in this set for my favorite color: green. This year brought us two green decks with themes the Magic community has requested for a long time: "Lands Matter" and "Enchantments." While the mono-green cards alone can't fully encompass these themes, they can give us a taste of how we might approach these strategies as we brew our own decks. However, what gets me most excited about the Commander products each year is the task of finding where I can fit the new cards in my existing decks, and luckily, Commander 2018 offers us eight new green cards that touch on a variety of mechanics. Of these, classic green elements are showcased, including abilities that cheat costs, grow the size of our creatures, and interact with the graveyard. I'm going to focus primarily on the new cards we've gotten, although I will also address some of the more important reprints as well. Without further ado, let's see what the primal side of Magic is up to in this set!
Crash of Rhino Beetles
Let's start things off with some beef, more specifically, a beefy Beetle. On base stats alone, Crash of Rhino Beetles is a fairly good rate, offering us a 5/5 evasive body for 5. Obviously, though, if we're playing this card, it's because we're interested in its second ability.
First, let's start with the cost. Ten lands is a lot in any Magic format, although in Commander it's not hard to imagine hitting ten lands in a lot of games. This being said, some play groups will be too quick for a card like this, but decks in those groups likely aren't interested in a big beater anyway. In many ways, Beetle reminds me of Mossbridge Troll, another green creature that carries a hefty cost in exchange for immense size. I've seen many players include Troll in their decks, and to be fair, Troll ends up as a 25/25 that's very difficult to kill. Troll is arguably harder to activate and requires a significant investment each time, while Beetle comes with natural evasion and a more permanent pump. So is Beetle worth it?
Most decks probably aren't interested in a beater without an ability that interacts with the board. Still, a 15/15 is big even by Commander standards, and there are very few creatures in the format that are going to be able to beat the beef Beetle head to head. Beyond simply smashing into our opponents, a body this size presents us with some interesting options. Cards like Momentous Fall, Rishkar's Expertise, and Greater Good all represent hefty card draw with Beetle on board, while Fling effects threaten to take a massive chunk out of our opponents' life totals. Decks like Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord and Kresh the Bloodbraided both typically value these sorts of effects, and could potentially abuse Beetle to the fullest.
Genesis Storm is another in a line of green cards that lets us cheat the cost of nonland permanents off the top of our deck. The other two that we've received in recent years are See the Unwritten and Selvala's Stampede. Each of these cards has advantages and disadvantages in comparison to its counterparts, and I would personally rank Storm above See the Unwritten but below Stampede for most decks.
I think we can safely assume that in most games, we will cast Genesis Storm and expect only a single copy. If it's later in the game, we may have had to cast our commander more times, so reaching two or three copies isn't out of the question, but for most decks one copy will probably be the maximum value. In comparison to Stampede, this rate seems rather poor. In a four player group, Stampede should cheat 3-4 cards into play for the same cost without any additional setup. Compared with See the Unwritten, Genesis Storm seems a bit more favorable. If we've cast our commander once, Storm will guarantee us two hits, while See the Unwritten has the potential to miss any targets off the top of our deck. The main advantage of See the Unwritten is that it offers us some amount of selection, but often this selection won't amount to much, given that we only get to see eight cards.
So where does this leave us? I personally feel that in a creature-heavy deck, Stampede will probably offer us the most value with the least setup under the majority of situations. If your deck is more diverse with its permanents, or if you are confident in your ability to play your commander many times in the game, Storm is worth considering.
I actually like Loyal Guardian quite a bit. It's not particularly flashy, and it's not the best rate for its size, but the potential to add counters to your entire team each turn is a solid ability. The fact that the Lieutenant trigger happens at the beginning of combat is also really nice, allowing us to play Guardian in our main phase and profit from its counters almost immediately. So many decks in Commander abuse counters (Atraxa, Praetors' Voice, Ghave, Guru of Spores, Marath, Will of the Wild, etc), so Guardian potentially has a lot of homes. Unfortunately, because Guardian costs five mana, a lot of decks will choose cheaper options.
Whether or not you decide to include Guardian, however, likely comes down to your play group and the goals of your deck. It seems to me that counter strategies aiming to go wide will likely make the most out of Guardian, especially in conjunction with cards like Hardened Scales and Doubling Season. It also seems as though Guardian would work well in decks where the commander wants counters itself, although Guardian is fairly slow for decks that are intending to win by pumping their commander.
I think there's a lot of potential here, and I'm curious to see if Guardian's cost ends up being too great a hindrance to warrant its inclusion in a handful of decks.
Wow, Myth Unbound is something really different. For every other new green card, I can think of several analogues that could serve as a reasonable comparison, but Unbound carries an effect that we haven't seen before in this form.
Let's break down what Unbound offers us. Its first ability effectively halves commander tax for the rest of the game. Depending on the commander, and how integral your commander is to your game plan, this effect will be more or less valuable. I personally think it's important to think of this sort of effect in the context of ramp. The majority of Commander decks desire ramp spells, and in some play groups, devoting a significant chunk of your deck to ramp is necessary to keep up. If we think about Unbound's first ability like a ramp spell, it doesn't fare particularly well. To have the potential to net one mana from Unbound, we need to have cast our commander at least once, and at three mana, most similarly-costed rocks and spells will offer a bigger bonus (ex. Worn Powerstone, Somberwald Sage, Cultivate, etc).
It's also important to note that if you've yet to cast your commander, Unbound fails to offer any real ability when it first enters play. If you've cast your commander twice or three times, you're now receiving a cost reduction equivalent to 2-3 mana, which puts it on par with spells like Explosive Vegetation, Thran Dynamo, and Gilded Lotus. Unfortunately, in comparison to these three, and most other similarly-costed options, Unbound requires significantly more setup and only effectively ramps for just one of your spells - your commander - rather than all of them. Fortunately, Unbound has a secondary ability that might give it enough upside to make it worth playing over other ramp options.
Unbound's second ability lets us draw a card every time our commander enters the command zone. If we're playing a commander that's happy to die, we can potentially turn this second ability into a lot of extra cards. For instance, last week I posted an article on Ghalta, Primal Hunger (you can find it here), and one of the primary upsides to Ghalta is that she will almost always cost GG if we've built up a board presence successfully. In this sort of situation, Unbound has the potential to draw us a lot of cards, as Ghalta will likely be dying frequently and cast often. Ironically, however, if we're able to abuse Unbound in this way, it's likely that our commander has some form of cost reduction feature that makes Unbound's first ability somewhat irrelevant.
I don't think Unbound makes the cut in most lists, as green has some of the best ramp and draw options in the format. But like any card in this format, there will be commanders and decks that can abuse this card (perhaps by making copies of it), and in those cases Unbound could be an interesting choice. For me, it boils down to value vs synergy. Unbound will not be the best value you can achieve for the cost, but with the right synergies it could still prove to be a powerful card. By now, I've learned not to underestimate cards that enable abuse of the command zone, so I would be surprised if there's not a home for this card.
Nylea's Colossus returns us to Theros and reintroduces to the Constellation mechanic. For decks playing a lot of enchantments, Colossus brings us one of the most powerful Constellation abilities thus far. Doubling a creature's power and toughness is a fairly strong ability in Commander, as is evidenced by Xenagos, God of Revels, the second most popular Gruul commander on EDHREC, and for some decks it represents a lethal increase in damage output (ex. Ghalta, Primal Hunger and Atarka, World Render).
There are also a handful of cards in Commander that offer this sort of ability, although most of these effects are on instants and sorceries, not stapled to a giant creature. Like most abilities, this one is made better by its attachment to a creature, ensuring that our investment isn't wasted if the creature we pump up is killed before it can deal damage.
The question with this card is whether or not it's worth including in a deck that isn't focused around enchantments. For me, the answer is no, as seven mana is a fairly large investment, and there are a lot of powerful seven-drop options competing for a spot in green decks. If you are playing an enchantment-heavy build, particularly one that intends to win through combat, Colossus might be just the thing your deck needs to push lethal damage through.
Ravenous Slime strikes me as the sort of card that grows out of hand quickly. In a deck focused on killing your opponent's creatures, it seems like Slime is a good option for hating on graveyards, and the fact that it starts as a 1/1 will help it to stay under the radar until it has become a big problem for your opponents. I also like that Slime isn't easily chump-blocked by opposing creatures, making its lack of trample easier to swallow.
In my opinion, the best deck for a card like this is one that abuses sacrifice effects. In combination with cards like Grave Pact, Dictate of Erebos, and Fleshbag Marauder, Slime will be huge in no time. It also benefits from these sorts of effects simply because they clear a path for it to make combative use of its substantial size. Outside of these sorts of decks, there are a lot of potential options for hating on graveyards, and competition becomes stiff. I think I personally prefer Scavenging Ooze for most green decks, since it lets us be selective with our grave hate, while also allowing us to get rid of non-creature spells that have abilities in the graveyard.
The first thing I thought of when I saw Turntimber Sower was an installment of the Underdog's Corner that focused on Sek-Kuar, Deathkeeper (check it out here). Mason's deck attempts to make an army of tokens, often sacrificing his own lands to do so. Sower seems like it would be a perfect fit for a deck like this, making additional tokens as each land dies, and then using some expendable tokens to bring back any important lands.
But perhaps the most obvious place for Sower is in a The Gitrog Monster deck, where lands will be entering the graveyard constantly. In a Gitrog deck, Sower has the potential to make a ton of tokens, while doubling as a ramp spell as you harvest your Plants. Titania, Protector of Argoth also seems like it could be a natural fit for Sower, making additional tokens with each land you sacrifice.
Of the green cards we've received in this set, Sower seems to be the one with the most niche home, with minimal value in a deck without a land theme. I'm guessing this will be one of the cards you'll be interested in keeping in your Lord Windgrace deck as you update your precon.
The last mono-green card in the new Commander set is Whiptongue Hydra. Through the years, green has been known for its ability to hate on flying creatures, and if your meta is full of decks looking to kill you with flyers, Hydra is likely one of your better options for clearing the skies. Several of my decks play Bane of Progress, and Hydra effectively operates on a similar axis, just with a more narrow scope of targets.
Perhaps the best analogue (and competition) for Hydra is Tornado Elemental, and I think Hydra will be the better card in most cases. Hydra's ability to destroy flyers, rather than simply damage them, is potentially very useful with all the Dragon support Wizards of the Coast has printed lately, and in most cases, Hydra will end up just as big if not bigger than Elemental. The fact that Hydra also has reach means that it can still patrol the skies, even after its enter the battlefield trigger is finished. The one area where Elemental has the upper hand is evasion, but finding a way to give Hydra trample shouldn't be a big issue.
For me, Hydra is the sort of card that I only really consider if I know what I'm going up against. If you know you're going to be facing down Sphinxes or Dragons, you might want to make friends with this lizardy beast.
A Word on Reprints
The bulk of the green reprints in Commander 2018 are "staple" cards for the format. If you've yet to own a Reclamation Sage, Yavimaya Elder, Cultivate, or Rampaging Baloths, and you plan to play green, now is a chance to get them for the best value.
Avenger of Zendikar is a quality green finisher, and staple in land base decks. This card always seems to slowly climb back towards $10, so if you plan to play lands, I would pick one up.
Budoka Gardener has not received a printing in a long time, and is a great addition to a lands-focused deck or a deck that intends to abuse bigger tokens.
Hydra Omnivore is a personal favorite of mine, and has the potential to deal loads of damage to our opponents.
We received three "Enchantress" reprints in Herald of the Pantheon, Enchantress's Presence, and Eidolon of Blossoms. If you plan to build enchantments, these are awesome options, and Presence will likely be a low from a price perspective given its lack of printings.
Finally, the reprint I'm most excited for is Bear Umbra. Umbra can go in enchantment-focused decks, but it's also the perfect card to slap on a hexproof creature as you proceed to double your mana with each attack. This card hasn't been printed since Rise of the Eldrazi, so snag one of these while you can.
Thank you all for taking the time to read my thoughts on the new set! I'm curious to hear what you all think of the new cards, and in which decks you intend to play them.
If you like the way I analyzed the cards here, check out my series The Knowledge Pool on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month, and follow me on Twitter @theKnowledgePL.
Until next time, I wish you all the best and happy brewing!