Commander 2019 Set Review - Primal Genesis

(Ghired, Conclave Exile | Art by Yongjae Choi)

Hello From the Naya Side

Hello, everyone! Welcome to EDHREC's Commander 2019 review of the cards from the Primal Genesis deck. I've seen mixed reactions regarding Populate's place as one of the set mechanics, but as a true believer in green-white (along with fellow Selesnya advocate Matt Morgan), I couldn't be more excited. If you love tokens, attacking, or Protean Hulk's flavor text, stop reading this introduction and join me as we look at some awesome new cards!

Ghired, Conclave Exile

Among the face commanders of Commander 2019, Ghired is the one that I'm most excited for. Why else would I be writing this review? First, he's a Vorthos gem. He's taken the lessons he's learned from the Selesnya Conclave into the Gruul Clans, and we can see both guilds' influence in his choice of attire. Second, I love token decks, and over half of my decks currently have some form of token sub-theme.

Ghired has three main selling points for me. The first is that he comes into play with his own token. Populate requires us to have a token in play, and our commander being able to fulfill that prerequisite is a blessing. Also, a 4/4 Rhino with trample shouldn't be underestimated. Some decks can't handle being pressured continuously by large creatures.

The second selling point is his attack trigger. While I've seen the most criticism of Ghired in this realm, I love the ability. Yes, he'd be better if he could do it without putting himself in harm's way, but these types of concessions are what I love about the format. Not only does it allow us to include cards like Reconnaissance to protect Ghired and the token, but we can also lean into extra combat steps. However, the main reason I love this ability is that it's mana-less. One of my current pet decks is Emmara, Soul of the Accord, and I briefly talk about this mana-less concept in the article I wrote about her. Being able to create value without spending mana has been a massive boon in that deck, and I see that same potential in Ghired. The mana we save be used to bolster our forces rather than being monopolized by an ability.

The last selling point is his color identity; red adds a unique dynamic to a token deck as it allows us to make token copies. The Primal Genesis precon includes some cards that use this mechanic like Feldon of the Third Path and Flamerush Rider. While the tokens created by those cards' effects will disappear, if we Populate the token, we get to keep the second copy! This also applies to other copiers, like Blade of Selves and Mimic Vat. Not only that, but red gives us access to Dragon tokens, which become deadly once you have a Valor.

Ghired does a little bit of everything, and I think he has enough tricks to make him both an interesting build-around commander and a very powerful aggressor.

Atla Palani, Nest Tender

Atla Palani, Nest Tender is a commander whose power level is going wildly fluctuate depending on your meta; I've already seen discussion of several infinite combos that revolve around Thornbite Staff or Mirror Entity. The very nature of Polymorph effects like Palani's generally pushes you towards building your deck with a low number of highly powerful targets in the 99. You can also play a lower-powered version that just spins the wheel for a creature each turn, or you can be a theme purist and include her in Gishath, Sun's Avatar. There's a multitude of directions that you can go, but that itself worries me. I think the general shell she'll require and gameplay loops that she introduces are incredibly cool, but - call me a cynic - I can imagine myself not wanting to see her stick around because I know an Eldrazi is coming. Remember, too, that Atla has to be in play when the Eggs die for the ability to trigger, which makes her a huge removal magnet.

Get ready to see a lot of her, though. She currently holds a commanding lead as the most-built commander from Commander 2019 on EDHREC. If we glance at her fledgling page, we can see a mix of themes already: over 30% of decks appear to be going heavy on Dinosaurs, 20% appear to have a hard focus on Changelings, and 30% include powerhouses such as Avacyn, Angel of Hope and Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre.

Regardless of your direction, here are a few fun (and sometimes powerful) options for an Atla Palani deck:

  • Attach Skullclamp to your 0/1 Egg to not only hatch it, but also draw two cards. You get to choose the order in which they resolve!
  • Mirror Entity, as referenced above, can activate its ability for X = 0 for an over-easy Mass Polymorph for your board.
  • You can cook your your eggs sunny-side up with Pyrohemia.
  • Gruul Ragebeast can scramble your eggs by just throwing them at whoever is in range.

Marisi, Breaker of the Coil

I once read a discussion with the prompt, "Why do you play your favorite color?" One particular answer stuck with me, and I think Marisi encapsulates it perfectly:

"I play red to provide the game with forward motion."

Goad does just that by forcing players into combat while preventing you from being on the receiving end. Many games of EDH end up being stalemates as boards accumulate resources, and if we're able to connect with any creature while Marisi is on the battlefield, we get to break that stalemate. Since we do need to deal combat damage, evasion becomes critical. Not only that, but we can borrow some concepts from Commander 2018's Thantis, the Warweaver, like Goblin Diplomats. With access to white, however, we can include effects like Blind Obedience to remove the potential of blocking at all.

While mass Goad is definitely the selling point for playing Marisi, don't forget his first line of text: "Your opponents can’t cast spells during combat." Why yes, I would love to have access to a strictly better version of Basandra, Battle Seraph's static ability! This opens the door to play powerful combat tricks like Berserk without fear of removal or counterspells. While that's a plan that is particularly synergistic with combat, more often I think it'll be best used to make our own removal uncounterable. We can also use Vivien, Champion of the Wilds to flash our creatures into play with a guarantee that they will make it to the ground.

With the continued discussion of the overall effectiveness of combat in Commander, I think Marisi is an excellent design to really ramp up aggression. Costing only four mana and having a massive 5/4 body helps to apply pressure early and often, and it also helps to alleviate issues of losing steam once you've (inevitably) been Wrathed once or twice. The colors are also excellent as Marisi blends white's protective and controlling elements with red and green's aggressive tendencies. I think a specific card that will be invaluable to Marisi is Rhythm of the Wilds. If the blue player can't counter spells during combat, they may feel more inclined to counter Marisi himself. Not only does Rhythm prevent that, but we also have the choice between swinging into a player immediately or making Marisi a larger terror in combat.

Tahngarth, First Mate

If you thought Xantcha, Sleeper Agent was a burden to deal with in combat, then I have some bad news for you. Tahngarth knows nothing but violence, and his abilities all tie into being an absolute animal in combat. His second ability can't even trigger unless he's tapped! How's that going to happen most? Attacking. Before we consider any buffs, a 5/5 that can only be blocked by a single creature is already hard enough to deal with. What about every single turn? Can the player with the smallest creatures deal with this each turn? We'll see.

This is making assumptions that the players in a given pod will be attacking each turn. While that is definitely not always the case, especially when the board stalls, we have a lot of tools to engineer those situtations. Rite of the Raging Storm gives our opponents an attacker that can swing freely at anyone; you can now hand out two attackers to pressure the player with the up-ticking planeswalker or the one who's trying to set up their defenses. Tahngarth cares not for them, and he will Goad them into combat if need be.

While I don't think I will ever build Tahngarth, I'm excited to see what kinda of decks do crop up. Any pod with him will certainly be forced into a dramatically different dynamic than players are used to.

Commander's Insignia

At first glance, we get an enchantment that does nothing until we've cast our commander from the command zone; that's an easy ask. As we cast our commander more, the buff stacks up and it can begin comparing to Dictate of Heliod and then Collective Blessing! While that's a lot of upside, I'm still not a fan of this card for most decks. Casting your commander repeatedly certainly happens in most games, but the tension this card introduces isn't what I'm looking for.

However, I would be remiss to not mention where this card does shine. Low cost commanders such as Rhys, the Redeemed, Emmara, Soul of the Accord, or Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun get extra mileage from these effects, as casting them multiple times in a game is likely to happen. Partner combinations are especially good with this card as it will count the number of times you've cast either. Combinations that include Tana, the Bloodsower will be especially potent as it will be an incredible force multiplier for her.

Doomed Artisan

I love cards that tell a story. It reminds me of The Sculptor from Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice who is stuck in a perpetual loop of creating statues of Buddha. While the characters arcs are much different, the mechanics of Doomed Artisan really resonate with me in that way. Each turn, the Artisan creates a Sculpture of himself on each end step, including the turn you play him. While that token may only be a 1/1 to start, each turn we create a new Sculpture, exactly the same as the first. Those tokens then grow in power together. Once the Artisan passes away, the Sculptures get to make their creator's legacy known.

While I love the mechanical flavor of the card and its very strong interaction with Populate, I think the usefulness of this card will come down to the speed of your meta. In slow metas, you'll be able accumulate tokens and overrun an opponent. If you're playing Assemble the Legion and find it powerful, you'll love to have this card around as a companion.

Additionally, to get the most use out of the Sculptures, the Doomed Artisan needs to die at a specified time; Wraths utterly ruin that plan. We can do this through sacrifice, or we can bait an opponent into blocking. His work comes alive to avenge him after throwing him into combat.

Full Flowering

This might be one of the simplest effects ever printed in a commander product. "Populate X times." For three mana, we Populate once; for five mana, we Populate twice; etc. You get out what you put in. We get the same mana efficiency as using Trostani, Selesnya's Voice or Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage. We do get a slight discount as we scale the value of X, but it's definitely an investment to cast. I think it'll most often be cast for five mana, since paying three doesn't feel that strong and paying seven starts to feel expensive for the written effect. While Trostani and Ghired are obvious homes for this card, I think an unlikely home we might see is Rosheen Meanderer, especially with the recent release of Unbound Flourishing. There might be a large tokens build out there for the wandering Giant.

Ghired's Belligerence

Another X spell that Populates! I'm looking at this spell as a way to Populate with the upside of being removal. That reads a little backwards, I know. Most spot removal that I cast is used to remove problematic permanents. This, however, is most often going to be used to clear chaff and utility creatures off the board. Since the creature needs to die, we don't necessarily want to point it at an opposing commander, either (although we can). We're going to want to maximize the number of Populate triggers, as the number can scale incredibly quick. Most red-based token commanders get a lot out of this effect, but I think the new Atla Palani, Nest Tender has the quirkiest use of the spell. We can cast it targeting all but one of our Egg tokens, get that many creatures cheated into play, and then end with the same number of Eggs that we started with!

Idol of Oblivion

There's an article by Mark Rosewater that talks about how players tend to evaluate cards. It discusses how players often get stuck on a card's ability while ignoring the other elements of the card that make it good. We know a three-mana 3/3 is good, but we'll say a three-mana 3/3 with "Pay nine mana: Gain 1 life" is bad, even though it technically has the same elements as the vanilla creature we praised.

That is something I'm definitely suffering from as I read this card. I read the second line of text, and that's what I focus on. A two-mana artifact that costs me eight mana to eventually make a token? Way too much effort, right? I continuously gloss over the first ability, which is absolutely incredible. With this two-mana artifact (two mana!), we can draw a card on any turn where we've made a token. Token decks are likely never going to go more than two turns without creating something, giving us plenty of chances to draw. While Populate can only create creature tokens, don't misread this card. It cares about any token you create! This makes it incredible with Smothering Tithe or other passive effects like Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer. While this is an immensely helpful tool for Selesnya-based token decks, I think artifact decks are likely to get the most mileage from this. Combine this with an Unwinding Clock, and you can possibly draw four or more cards each round with the proper setup.

PS: For all the Vorthoses out there, we've now seen idols to Ula (the above Idol of Oblivion) and Cosi (Ancient Stone Idol). I'm eagerly awaiting whatever creates a 13/13 token with flying.

Ohran Frostfang

Meet Ohran Viper's more successful cousin! Coming in as a hefty 2/6, Ohran Frostfang will likely draw you a card or take down several creatures while trying. However, we're not paying five mana for an oversized danger noodle, we're paying five mana for a Bow of Nylea-meets-Bident of Thassa. Combined with a legend like Marisi, Breaker of the Coil we are very likely to outpace our opponents while also applying massive pressure. The Snake will also likely find a home in Doran, the Siege Tower with its high toughness, or in Snake tribal decks like Kaseto, Orochi Archmage, along with decks that enjoy having access to more Coastal Piracy effects like Edric Spymaster of Trest. Combine with trample for maximum effectiveness.

Selesnya Eulogist

I love this card so much. Scavenging Ooze is already underplayed as it is, even while being in over 10,000 decks. While the Eulogist can't be thrown in every deck like Scooze, it should certainly be considered for nearly any token deck. Populating any token for three mana is a great rate, and sometimes all you really need or want is the graveyard hate.

Let's talk about the cost of Populating for three mana. The cheapest activated abilities to make tokens belong to both Ant Queen and Sacred Mesa, but most effects are going to be three mana to create just a 1/1. The cheapest effect that creates a 2/2 belongs to Wren's Run Packmaster at three mana, but most are much more expensive. For that same mana expenditure and the "cost" of hating out someone's graveyard (or even yours in a pinch), we're likely to create tokens that far exceed their size-to-cost ratio. With someone like Ghired or Trostani, we're not populating a 2/2 or even a vanilla 3/3, but rather 4/4 or 5/5 tramplers.

This card is phenomenal, and I'm going to need several for my own decks.

Song of the Worldsoul

I had to pick my jaw off the floor the first time I read this card. I expected there to be a rider that limited the ability somewhere in the text, but no. Every time you cast a spell, you Populate. You know what players do nearly every turn, sometimes multiple times? Cast spells. While it doesn't quite have the ceiling and impact as something like Thousand Year Storm, it still sits comfortably in that power bracket. As splashy as this card is, I think think it's actually fair, and won't be game-warping. You'll still need to answer it or be trampled over, but consider that the main answer to this card is the same as any other creature deck: board wipes.

This card is reliant on having tokens in play, and if you set a token deck back, it will need time to rebound. While it will rebound hard, your opponent has to cast multiple spells to go beyond parity with it. Get ready to see this as a finisher in Trostani, Selesnya's Voice, God-Eternal Oketra, and basically any other token deck that has white in it.

Tectonic Hellion

That's one way to answer ramp strategies! First, let's ignore the irony that this is included in the deck that is likely to have the most lands in a pod of precons. An 8/5 with Haste is decently beefy for seven mana, and the Hellion will slowly chip down the ramp player. While I really like this card's design, I'm skeptical of how useful it will end up being. Seven mana is a lot for an effect that doesn't ask players to answer it. Expensive cards tend to be game-changing and warp the game around themselves, but I don't think the Hellion does that; it's very fair. On top of this, if we're playing the Hellion in a deck that's behind on lands, we're either casting it fairly late in the game or cheating it out. In the late game, this is likely just a band-aid to answer the ramp player who has probably been benefiting from a mana advantage for several turns. The other options are reanimation or Sneak Attack shenanigans, but at that point it becomes more of a stax piece than a ramp answer. I'm incredibly curious to see how this card performs, and I expect it to pull its weight more often than not.

A Token of Appreciation

That's all of the new cards! I'm unreasonably excited to get to play not only the cards from this deck, but so many from this set. I love the collection of legends from this year's set, and I'm torn on how many of the commanders to build. What cards are you most excited about? What commander (if any) are you already building from this year's set? Thank you for reading and make sure to check out all of our other reviews as well!

Mason is an EDH player from Georgia, who is a self-proclaimed Johnny and Vorthos. His MTG career started with a casual lifegain deck with only a single win-condition. When not consuming MTG, he spends his time being a full-time student, an avid sports fan, and a dabbling musician. Mason can be found on twitter @K_Mason64