Commander Legends Set Review - Artifacts and Lands
(Jeweled Lotus | Art by Alayna Danner)
Commander Legends doesn't have nearly as many colorless cards as we see in most sets, despite being much larger than you would see in a normal Standard set. However, the limited number of cards that did make the colorless cut are still quite impressive, from the mythics all the way down to the Guildless Commons. While there are some draft-only options, like The Prismatic Piper, out there as well, there is a lot more stuff that finds a specific niche and holds onto it tight, especially when it comes to mono- and dual-colored and colorless decks.
Oh, and there's this card called Jeweled Lotus, maybe you heard about it?
So without further ado, let's dig into the colorless options from Commander Legends!
One of the really fun things that Commander Legends is playing around with is trying to find ways to give mono-color and colorless decks more powerful effects to keep up with the inherent power of having access to more colors. Commander's Plate is a prime example of those effects, making mono-colored commanders nigh untouchable, along with making them bigger and very difficult to block. While a good old Wrath of God will still get your commander off the board, most spot removal will be a non-issue with the pseudo-shroud that protection grants, as will any damage-based effects that don't share a color (identity) with your commander. Combine all that, and this thing is a necessity in any Voltron build that's one or fewer colors, even at the fairly steep Equip cost of three. It's also pretty darn good in Equipment decks, even if those might stray into two colors.
Where I really like Commander's Plate, however, is in decks with a cheap commander that will be swinging through early. Being able to drop your commander on turn one or two, plop down Plate, and then Equip and swing in for five or more commander damage on turn three is fast. That kind of speed makes folks dying to commander damage a real possibility with the added protection and evasion.
There's not much to be said about Jeweled Lotus that hasn't already been said. The day it was spoiled, Gavin Verhey succinctly described it as "Black Lotus for your Commander. Need I say more?" From there, the entire Magic community more or less freaked out in one direction or another, calling Jeweled Lotus everything from a broken auto-include staple on the level of Sol Ring to a niche card that probably wouldn't ever be seen at their local tables between the assumed price and the limited usability.
Personally, I come down somewhere in the middle. I wouldn't count on Jeweled Lotus ever being cheap, but I think it's fairly safe to say that its current preorder price of $120 is a ludicrous knee-jerk reaction as well. While I do think that Jeweled Lotus will end up being a Competitive EDH staple, outside of that hyper-fast environment it gets much less good. For instance, if you're in black and not already playing Dark Ritual, then is the version that's one mana cheaper while only being able to be spent on your commander really going to help that much? No, in my opinion if your commander isn't very good when coming out on turn one or doesn't have an existing synergy with cheap artifacts, then Jeweled Lotus will probably sit on the sidelines in all but the quickest metas. That said, there are a lot of commanders that are very good on turn one, have an existing synergy, or typically live in quick metas. For instance, Urza, Lord High Artificer fits all three of those descriptions.
Purphoros, God of the Forge can come down on turn one as an indestructible enchantment and be very difficult to remove, dealing damage to the whole table for turn after turn until someone finds just the right answer. Eggs commanders like Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain and Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle may not want to come down on turn one or two necessarily, but can be absolutely devastating to come down with a bit of extra mana that can immediately be used, and they're never unhappy to see a zero-cost artifact, even if it doesn't technically do anything at the moment. Finally, if you have a commander that is going to be reliably targeted as "kill-on-sight", then Jeweled Lotus is worth some consideration as it will be good throughout the game (as it more than pays for your commander tax).
What I did, personally, when the hype was at maximum levels for this card was go through all of my decks and seriously consider whether finding a spot in them was worth it for that specific commander. While this may not be the same for everyone, for myself, out of my 15 existing Commander decks, I would only seriously consider including this in two of them: Will Kenrith/Rowan Kenrith Superspells, since Will Kenrith with extra mana is often an automatic game-win, and Samut, Voice of Dissent Pingers, since Samut is a kill-on-sight commander that is very good early. All of my other commanders were either too cheap, not important enough, or were more than two colors and therefore difficult to cast with Jeweled Lotus's ability. Combine that with the tendency of many Commander players to aggressively stick to theme, and I honestly do believe that this card will not see nearly as much play as has often been asserted, especially if the price tag stays even half as ludicrous as it currently is.
Phyrexian Triniform was never considered to be even a quarter as flexible as Jeweled Lotus by anyone, but it nonetheless will have a few niches. First of all, Commander Legends has brought us all sorts of new toys for Golem Tribal, meaning that this extremely niche tribe will probably start getting a lot more love here in the coming months.
The tribe is a sort of "Sliver-lite", only with an emphasis on the 3/3 tokens that Phyrexian Triniform provides in spades. Even with all of that synergy, however, nine mana is quite a lot for a creature that comes down and doesn't necessarily do anything on its own. With a death trigger that huge, however, along with the crazy possibilities with the Encore ability, I think where you will most often see Phyrexian Triniform is outside of Golems and inside of Tokens and Aristocrats strategies.
In Aristocrats, specifically, there is often a subtheme of creature recursion with the likes of Whisper, Blood Liturgist or Living Death effects, which allows you to get Phyrexian Triniform onto the battlefield fairly easily to then go nuts sacrificing it and its various tokens to the Ashnod's Altars of the world (which will then pay for your Encore costs to do it again, all while racking up trigger after trigger). Things are a bit more pricey for token decks, but given that they're often utilizing their tokens to make mana or are in green and don't particularly need to worry about large mana costs, Phyrexian Triniform is exactly the kind of late-game effect that can be crushing even before you realize that the Encore copies are tokens themselves, that can be copied or Populated!
Bladegriff Prototype immediately makes you think of long-time staple Meteor Golem, but is honestly quite a different effect in just about every way. First off, it's very possible that, for your two-mana discount, you'll get a creature that is destroyed before it ever has a chance to do anything, unlike Meteor Golem's instantaneous enter-the-battlefield effect. Secondly, you don't actually get to choose the problem permanent that is destroyed, the attacked opponent does. Still, in my mind, all that does is push Bladegriff Prototype to a different kind of deck, rather than making it unplayable. Your typical Blink or Recursion strategy might have a lot of fun bringing Meteor Golem in and out of play repeatedly, but you can do the same kind of thing in attack-based decks, while actually feeling good about casting Bladegriff Prototype in normal fashion.
Giving Bladegriff Prototype double strike is fairly easy with any number of Equipment or spells, but is probably best done with a commander like Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest or the raw might that is Embercleave. In similar fashion, you can get double or more of this Griffin's triggers through extra combat steps with the likes of Aurelia, the Warleader or Breath of Fury, although the really spicy Boros thing to do would be to do both at the same time! That said, if you're not in this strategy already, I'm not sure that anyone should be trying to force these kind of magical Christmas-land scenarios.
Put simply, Horizon Stone is the colorless version of Kruphix, God of Horizons, who was itself a shout-out to the old "mana burn avoidance" enchantment Upwelling from back in the days of Scourge.
While mana burn is no longer a thing (or is it?), the ability to keep your mana around throughout both you and your opponents' turns can result in you building up quite the excess of X spell fodder, or just let you plop down ultra-expensive colorless cards like the aforementioned Phyrexian Triniform, ultra-powerful Eldrazi like It That Betrays, or even just an old pet card like Aladdin's Lamp. Whatever you use it on, however, Horizon Stone will let you build up your unspent mana on turn after turn, a powerful ability even before you get into other cards like Doubling Cube or Chromatic Orrery that will let you push things into overdrive.
Uncommons & Commons
Ingenuity Engine/Maelstrom Colossus
As is all too often the case as we drop in rarity, Ingenuity Engine and Maelstrom Colossus aren't going to blast off anyone's socks through sheer power. That said, a seven- or eight-mana artifact with Cascade can be inherently abusable on its own.
While these powerful "cast without paying its mana cost" effects are usually expensive in themselves and inherently a bit chaotic, they can get into quite the loops with effects like Cascade, especially in the case of Ingenuity Engine, which can instantly return itself to your hand by sacrificing another artifact. Combine that with either card's ability to get nutty when they Cascade into these various effects, and there are definitely a few avenues here to have some real chaotic fun without even needing to get into the usual high converted mana cost split cards and the like.
Enemy Bond Lands
It's been just over two years, but the wait is finally over! The premier more-or-less budget replacements for the Alpha-Beta-Unlimited-Revised dual lands are finally a full cycle of both ally and enemy color pairings. The original cycle was printed back in Battlebond, and while they can't be searched for by basic land type like the original duals and the Shock Lands can be, they've fast become one of the most popular options in EDH with their ability to come into play untapped in almost every game of Commander. It turns out, mana-fixing with essentially no downside is fairly powerful! Who knew?
In the same vein as Commander's Plate, War Room is an attempt to help mono-colored and colorless decks keep up with the Johnsons. In function, however, I wouldn't be surprised to see this land make the cut in a lot of Boros decks in addition to the non-blue mono-color decks out there. It's easier to activate than Arch of Orazca, Sea Gate Wreckage, or Bonders' Enclave, is multiple use, unlike Cryptic Caves, and doesn't help opponents, like Mikokoro, Center of the Sea or Geier Reach Sanitarium.
In other words, War Room is now going to be the first option of most mono-color and colorless decks when it comes to being able to draw with your utility land slot. There is still an efficiency argument to be made with Cryptic Caves, but the lack of hoops to jump through overall in comparison with the other options out there makes War Room the clear front-runner.
Believe it or not, however, Guildless Commons might well see as much play or more than War Room despite its narrow nature. Arch of Orazca, the current headliner for "you draw a card" lands, is currently in 10,824 decks. That is absolutely dwarfed by even the least played of the original Ravnica Bounce Lands, Gruul Turf, which comes in at 20,505 inclusions.
While I wouldn't expect Guildless Commons to see play at that level, I do expect it to come in with more play overall than the original Karoo Lands they were based off of, which come in at an average of 1,505 inclusions. Given that Commons still allows the lands you return to your hand to be tapped, and any land type, it's a lot more flexible than its Visions ancestors. Combine that with the fact that these various Bounce lands have recently gotten a lot better with the rising-in-popularity Multimode Dual-Facing Cards (MDFCs) from Zendikar Rising, and there are actually quite a lot of reasons that you may want Guildless Commons in your one- to two-color decks.
In addition to getting you your spell options from the MDFC cards, Bounce Lands can also return Cycling lands to your hand and turn on white's Land Tax effects, all while giving you an extra land drop without actually taking up another card. That extra land drop also works well with Landfall effects, which makes Guildless Commons a real option for mono- or dual-color Lands Matter decks, as well. In other words, while I wouldn't expect anyone to be blown away by this colorless option, it does have more than a few niches that it can fill, and will be far more than just a Limited card.
Color(less) Me Impressed
The completion of the Commander Duals from Battlebond alone would have made me beyond excited for Commander Legends, but the attention to detail put forth by the designers of this set to make cards that fit into specific strategies rather than just being more good stuff has me vibrating in my seat. While there are still some "auto-inclusions" that the community, at large, has already weighed in on, along with a couple "strictly better" new replacements of old favorites (that aren't actually strictly better, but I digress), overall the timbre of the set has been "we hear you". I, for one, appreciate that, and would encourage you to reach out to the designers of Commander Legends if you feel similarly, including the father of the format, Sheldon Menery, who actually did a stint over in Wizards R&D to aid in the design of the set.
And if you don't feel the same way, that's okay, too. Just try to remember that these are human beings making these cards, and none of us have actually gotten to hold them in our hands yet, much less playtest with them!