Commander 2018 Set Review - White
July 30, 2018 by Brody Mikel
Welcome to the Commander 2018 White Review. The team here thought it was a good idea to trust the new guy with a review article, so let's dive in and see just how big of a mistake that was!
Before we take a look at the new cards, I want to start off with my favorite reprints.
Winds of Rath
Akroma's Vengeance / Martial Coup / Phyrexian Rebirth / Terminus
Speaking of board wipes with utility, we got some good ones reprinted in Commander 2018. Akroma's Vengeance doesn't just destroy creatures, it also takes care of artifacts and enchantments. The option to Cycle it for a new card is always a nice perk. Board wipes that still leave you with a board state are great in our format, and Martial Coup is a card that token and Soldier tribal decks absolutely love. Phyrexian Rebirth is another one of the Wraths that leave you in an advantageous position. The Horror token it leaves behind can be absolutely huge sometimes. Terminus is pretty good at six, because it gets around indestructible, and it's just great when you can Miracle it for just a single mana!
Entreat the Angels
It does not surprise me that Entreat the Angels got reprinted in the Esper top-of-the-deck-matters precon, but it does surprise me that this card was over $5. While white did not get any high-value reprints, it is nice to see a card with lot of appeal get a reprint to prevent its price from creeping even higher.
Return to Dust
Exiling problem cards is very important in EDH, and Return to Dust gives you the capability of exiling two artifacts or enchantments if you're willing to cast it at sorcery speed. While four mana to exile one card at instant speed is a hefty price, it is nice to have that option as well.
A 2/1 flyer for three is not something that an EDH player would normally want. However, we play all sorts of poorly-statted minions in this format if they come with a strong enough ability. In my opinion, this ability is certainly strong enough to play.
Now, I am certainly a green mage at heart, and I love ramp spells like Cultivate. However, in a format like ours, where most metas frown upon mass land destruction, green ramp is an absolutely huge advantage. The other colors just cannot keep up, and have to find another way to maintain even footing. For example, blue makes up for this by simply drawing more cards.
White does not have that option or, let's be honest, any other good way to keep up with green's (or black's or even blue's) ramping capabilities. Heck, even red gets some good one-shot ritual effects like Mana Geyser. For the most part, white has to rely on artifacts for ramping, and all of the colors already have access to those as well.
Boreas Charger is one of those types of cards. Whenever this Pegasus leaves the battlefield, you choose an opponent who has more lands than you. You search for your library for a number of Plains cards, put one into play tapped, and the rest in your hand. There are two parts of that text that make this card much better. The first is actually the fact that a word is missing: "Basic." If you are in multiple colors, you can use this ability to go fetch any dual lands with the Plains type from your deck, like Hallowed Fountain. Heck, it can grab Mistveil Plains if you're mono-white. Granted, a lot of the other cards in this category also do not specify "Basic," but it's a good feature to note. The really strong part of this card is that you actually get to put one of the lands into play. This is actual ramp. In White. This ability is also stapled on a creature, and white has more than their fair share of quality flicker effects such as Eldrazi Displacer or Eerie Interlude.
Land Tax is in the top 25 of most played white cards, in 9%percent of decks that can play it. This is a percentage that I know would be higher if Land Tax was not a $20 card. That's saying a lot, because it already shows up in a whopping 10,371 decks. Oreskos Explorer (which I feel is an underplayed budget card) appears in only 2449 decks. Gift of Estates sees a similar amount of play, showing up in 2716 decks. That's a very large gap between Land Tax and the others, but it makes sense to me. Land Tax is repeatable card advantage while the other two basically just say "draw a few lands." I personally feel that people underestimate that ability, but I agree that it looks unexciting.
However, I feel that Boreas Charger will end up much closer to Land Tax in the amount it is played. The fact that it actually puts a land into play would make this card a staple all by itself. It is even more appealing because the ability appears on a creature, so any flicker (or maybe even sacrifice) deck running white will play this, especially since it can grab any Plains card. Plus, the designers hit all of the right numbers on this card; 3 CMC for Sun Titan, 2 power for Mentor of the Meek and Recruiter of the Guard... This is just an extremely well-designed, powerful card. I can see this getting a ton of play in Boros and mono-white decks and a decent amount of play in any other non-green combination.
This new cycle of "Commander Storm" cards have been hard for me to evaluate. Each of them multiplies based on the number of times you have cast your commander from the command zone. Luckily, I feel that Empyrial Storm is actually one of the easier ones to wrap your head around.
Entreat the Angels is played in 3499 decks. For Empyrial Storm to equal a Miracle'd Entreat (and honestly, how often is that card hardcast?) you need to cast your commander from the command zone three times. After that, the scaling goes in Empyrial Storm's favor, but casting your commander four or more times is a big ask. Decree of Justice is played in 3116 decks and this new card actually has it beat in efficiency. However, Decree of Justice is usually cast for the cycling cost, so it is not the best comparison.
There are a few factors will lead to this card seeing play, even if it is only niche. The first is that Angel Tribal is certainly a real thing, it being the 8th most-played tribe with 1657 decks. In addition, this is a good top-end token generator to run in a control meta, as any control players will need a Counterspell for the initial cast and any copies. Finally, it has been confirmed that these new "Commander Storm" cards interact favorably with Partner commanders and counts both Partners when determining how many copies to make. On top of all that, tokens and token generating cards are always popular, so this may see more play than I expect.
I have to admit, I got really excited for this card when it got spoiled. A 3/6 double striker for six mana may not be the best rate, but it is certainly a Commander-playable body. When you add in the fact that you may attach to it any number of Auras and Equipment you control, that double strike looks really nice. I would have been excited by this card already, but the last bit of text is really cool too. Pumping the rest of your team +1/+1 for each Aura or Equipment attached to Heavenly Blademaster really makes it feel like a great plan B in any Equipment- or Aura-based aggro or Voltron deck.
Looking at comparable cards shows that Armory Automaton is played in 1535 decks, which I actually thought seemed a bit low. I think Heavenly Blademasterhas an edge over the Automaton, despite costing double, since it comes with evasion and double strike already on the body.
The pump effect is a little harder to evaulate. The first similar card that sprang to mind was Myr Adapter, but it only pumps itself, it has a much weaker body, and it is only concerned with Equipment. Unsurprisingly, it is only played in 85 decks. Other potential comparisons aren't creatures, but Ethereal Armor is in 4983 decks and Helm of the Gods is in 2283. Once again, though, those only pump one creature.
The most relevant, scaling buff on a creature I could find to compare with Heavenly Blademaster was Jazal Goldmane. He is played in 3071 decks, and his ability requires an activation cost. I do think Jazal's pump is better, as it is a +X/+X pump for all of your attacking creatures based on how many are attackin. Still, the fact that Heavenly Blademaster has no activation cost and is more of a singular threat makes me think it stacks up well when compared to Ajani's older brother.
Six mana is quite a bit, and when we're spending that kind of mana, the cards we cast should not ask too much of us. Heavenly Blademaster asks us to have a wide board and some Equipment or Auras on the board. While there are not a ton of go-wide Voltron strategies, Kemba, Kha Regent and Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist certainly could make room for the Blademaster in the 99. I do not think she will see much play in Aura-based decks, because if there are Auras on board, you typically do not want to move them around, but I could be wrong there. I certainly see any Equipment-based creature deck wanting the Blademaster as a top-end finisher. Plus, with the double strike , she hits awfully hard. So despite having some specific asks, I still see this card ending up as one of the more-heavily played white creatures.
Lieutenant is one of my favorite keywords in Commander (and not just because I'm a green mage and Thunderfoot Baloth was clearly the strongest of the first cycle). This is a format based on building a deck based around one creature, so it is nice to have design space that rewards people for casting their Commander (especially with things like Eminence in the game).
This year's white Lieutenant, Loyal Unicorn, does not just show loyalty to your commander but to your whole team as well. One of the biggest issues with combat-based deck in Commander is that you always have to worry about the crackback attack. Plus, you don't want to lose a bunch of creatures during combat, because it leaves you that much weaker against your remaining foes. This Unicorn fixes all of that by giving you a completely free swing. At the beginning of combat on your turn, if you have your commander, all of your creatures gain vigilance and all combat damage done to them is prevented.
Dolmen Gate is played in 1596 decks, which is actually a bit more than I expected. Always Watching, a good vigilance enchantment, is played in 3302 decks, and while it pumps, it only hits nontoken creatures. Oathsworn Giant gives vigilance to all of your other creatures but only pumps toughness. Loyal Unicorn is a unique combination of all these on a decent body and at a good cost.
Both of the abilities granted by Loyal Unicorn are useful for different decks and different reasons. While any aggro creature deck would love to attack with impunity, I actually feel that Hatebear decks like that impunity even more. Often, you do not want to attack with one of your bears like Hushwing Gryff or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben because you want to keep their effect on the battlefield, so you lose out on slow-and-steady damage that could really end up mattering later. Loyal Unicorn helps a lot on that front.
Giving your team vigilance has more uses than just keeping your protected on the crackback, too. The first thing that springs to mind is that you can attack with a creature like Intrepid Hero and still hold up its activated ability. While that will be the main utility use, some keywords also benefit from the vigilance. The one that really interests me is Convoke, because you can still swing in with your whole team and fire off a Hour of Reckoning or hold up the surprise Devouring Light while still using your mana in your main phases.
I think that Loyal Unicorn has a lot going for it, and will see some play in the format in aggro decks, token decks, and any deck that can abuse vigilance. While it does require having your commander out, this card helps aggressive strategies in Commander and for that reason, I could see this card being a sleeper hit from this set.
Magus of the Balance
The Magus cycle are certainly Commander favorites, and this one stirred up a lot of discussion. Mainly because its namesake card, Balance, is strong (or annoying) enough to be banned in our format.
When I talked about Boreas Charger above, I talked about white's "Catch-Up" mechanic and how they need that to keep up with the other colors. Well, Magus of the Balance embodies the flip side of that coin by pulling everyone back to your level instead of trying to catch up to theirs. This format needs more ways to punish green's ramp (even though it really hurts me to say it) and this card is a great example of how to do exactly that. It also punishes other colors for drawing more cards than you or pumping out more creatures than you. Leveling the battlefield is something that white desperately needs.
It is hard to compare statistics with Magus of the Balance, since Balance is banned. While that right there could be an indication of how strong this effect it is, it is always nice to have numbers. So we will have to look at another card that attempted to make Balance less broken: Restore Balance. Unfortunately, thanks to the fact that the only way to cast this (other than Cascade shenanigans or Sram's Expertise) is to suspend it for six turns, it is only played in 163 decks. Looking elsewhere, we find Balancing Act, which lumps all permanents together and is only played in 117 decks.
So, the statistics show that maybe this card will not see all that much play and perhaps Balance effects are more annoying than they are strong. I certainly can understand that. This card is not always guaranteed to help you the most, and sometimes the activation may accomplish nothing for you. Plus, Commander games are already plenty long, and people may not want to get set back to the same board state as the guy who mulliganed to four, stumbled on mana, and never really got anything going on the battlefield. On top of that, while Magus of the Balanace only costs two to cast, the activation costing five is a fairly significant cost.
I still think some decks will certainly find use for this new Magus. Hard control decks that are mono-white or at least heavy in white certainly wouldn't mind having a way to rein in anyone who is ramping too much, drawing too much, or establishing too strong of a board. Where this card could really shine is in a reanimator build. Not only can you recur Magus of the Balance, but you can also use the ability to dump other cards into your graveyard. Alesha, Who Smiles at Death could probably do some "fun" stuff with this card.
I personally feel that Magus of the Balance is a very cool, splashy card, but that it will not see a ton of play in this format. There are certainly decks that want it, but the stats show that other Balance-type effects are not that popular. However, this type of ability is hard to evaluate, especially when stapled to a creature. I am more than happy to be proven wrong on this card, so please, someone go out and break this card in half. I have a suggestion for you: activate Magus's ability, cast Teferi's Protection, and then watch as your laughter from completely nuking everyone else's board turns to tears as you lose all of your friends.
That will wrap up the review of all of the new white cards in Commander 2018. White admittedly needs some help catching up to and keeping up with the other colors, and I feel like they got some good pieces this year. I am personally most excited for Boreas Charger. Ramp effects specific to white are hard to come by, and Charger offers that and more. Heavenly Blademaster and Loyal Unicorn are good cards that will make it into the 99 of their fair share of decks. I think that Empyrial Storm is the weakest of the new cards and I really want to be proven wrong on thinking that Magus of the Balance is a card that will not have much impact on the format.
I am excited for this year's Commander product. Will any of these new cards make their way into your decks? Sound off in the comments and let me know what you agree or disagree with the review of these new cards and your thoughts overall about Commander 2018!