Commander Legends Set Review – Black

(Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools | Art by Livia Prima)

Paint it Black

Commander Legends is upon us, and we’re pairing some very juicy reprints with some fantastic new cards and bundling them all together in a neat little package that was designed to be drafted, which is a cruel joke in these tumultuous times. Certain aspects of the cards in this set lend themselves to booster drafting, and certain aspects of the cards, themselves, do as well. Remember, you were almost never going to be able to get away with a mono-color deck in a Commander Legends draft, and Wizards made it as easy as they could to add a second, third or even fourth and fifth color. A card called The Prismatic Piper was available to drafters so that they could add additional colors to their draft deck and expand their pool of playable cards.

I bring this up because there are some inherent weaknesses to certain mono-colored cards that could be shored up by adding an additional color to the deck. We need to bear that in mind when we assess the mono-colored rares and mythic rares from the set. Black is a powerful color that nevertheless has some aspects of the game where it struggles, and we’re going to attempt to assess the black cards from the set without holding that against the cards, themselves. They weren’t necessarily designed to be played in a mono-color deck at the drafting table, and you don’t have to play them in a mono-black deck at home.

With that out of the way, I’m sure you’re champing at the bit to discuss the cards already, so let’s go do that thing, then.


Mythics

There are two new mono-black mythic rares in this set, and while Vampiric Tutor will not get a paragraph discussing it because it’s a reprint, I would like to point out that its price in 2016 when it was reprinted in Eternal Masters was a third of what it is now. The reprinting in this set will surely reduce it, and demand will surely raise it again over the next few years. Plan what you do with the card accordingly.


Profane Transfusion

Profane Transfusion is the black entry in a five-card cycle of nine-mana spells that should end the game on the spot if played correctly. The white one dumps your entire graveyard back on the field (well, minus any creatures); the red one has the potential to kill as many creatures and planeswalkers as you have cards in your library; the green one is a better Boundless Realms, allowing you to play out a ton of non-basics and has the potential for an explosive game ending à la Valakut the Molten Pinnacle in a Scapeshift deck; and the blue one can copy the best spell cast so far enough times to end games in a lot of cases.

Profane Transfusion is fairly disappointing given how it stacks up against the other colors’ spells. Don’t get me wrong – this spell is useful, and could even be quite powerful if someone is quite far ahead and someone else is quite far behind. However, you can’t rely on the circumstances of the game to be such that your nine-mana spell isn’t useless, meaning you’d likely relegate this to decks like Selenia, Dark Angel or Vona, Butcher of Magan. This means you affect one opponent and you risk getting blown out by having your spell countered. I’m not sure a big creature token with no evasion is worth the payoff.

If you’re interested, search EDHREC for cards like Axis of Mortality to see the kinds of decks that might play a spell like this. I think this is the worst entry in the cycle, but I think with red getting Comet Storm and Urabrask the Hidden in past reprint sets, perhaps black is due for a stinker. Trade this to your friend with a Selenia deck and watch them run the whole table by casting Hatred on their commander and one-shotting someone, then going back up to 40 life and getting a huge token. That’s cute, but narrow, and you should know both of those things.


Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools

The first thing I want to do is reiterate that you don’t have to play Tevesh Szat as a mono-black deck. Partnering this powerful planeswalker with other colors will allow you to play it onto a board with Doubling Season, for example. Pairing this with a cheap commander like Rograkh, Son of Rohgahh is an option, which will turn Tevesh into a card-drawing machine. I personally like the idea of running green in the deck, though, and you have some exciting options there. Kodama of the East Tree would reward you for reanimating cards from your graveyard, which can help you ramp, but its hefty mana cost makes it a poor target for Szat’s -1 ability. My personal idea was to try Reyhan, Last of the Abzan. You benefit even more from Doubling Season in that deck, Reyhan dying a lot is a good thing, and casting Reyhan for a fourth time is still only nine mana – very manageable if you’re drawing a ton of extra cards.

Taking everyone’s commander’s with Tevesh’s ultimate ability is bound to sow some salt, so watch for that. Merely having Tevesh Szat in your command zone could make you a target. There’s also a concern that activating the ultimate could be tricky on webcam, but since you’re not giving anyone a permanent, using alterable tokens like these means that you can represent all of your new commanders easily. This is a powerful card, to be sure, but its synergy with cards like Divine Visitation and Doubling Season give you a lot of build paths that take full advantage of his insane card-drawing ability and fun-yet-powerful ultimate. I love this card.


Rares


Court of Ambition

The entire Court cycle is very, very good. Introducing the Monarch mechanic to the game encourages players to actually attack, and being prepared to manage the Monarch sub-game when others aren’t gives you a big card advantage. In addition to introducing the Monarch token to the game, this is a brutal, punishing card. This hits your opponents, not you, which is rare for a Bottomless Pit effect.

Pairing this with Painful Quandary squeezes players hard, and it’s not just in Tinybones, Trinket Thief decks where this card will shine. Dust off your old Nath of the Gilt Leaf pile. Build Abzan Enchantress to be able to tutor for the pillow fort that you’ll absolutely need to build. If you can remain the Monarch, you’re going to give opponents fits with this card. Remember, if you empty their hand for them, they’re forced to lose three or six life if they have nothing to discard. This card is brutal and it does two things I really like.


Nightshade Harvester

Wizards has taken some recent steps to address how players feel about ramp, and introducing a Landfall trigger that says “lose a life” is one way to combat how quickly things can get out of hand when an opponent has a deck that allows them to amass a lot of lands quickly. I think this should have been two damage, and there is precedent for that amount with cards like Ankh of Mishra and Zo-Zu the Punisher. However, Nightshade Harvester tries to make up for dealing less damage (merely offsetting the lifegain from Courser of Kruphix or Tatyova, Benthic Druid) by getting swole and attacking for more damage. Ultimately, this won’t be the card that stops the ramp player from running away with the game, but looking at it as a card that gets bigger every turn cycle for no additional mana invested and chips away at life totals shows it has some value. If you’re running a deck that deals with +1/+1 counters (remember how I mentioned Reyhan earlier?) you should consider a card that grows at a decent clip when things are fair and gets enormous when they aren’t.


Opposition Agent

This is a controversial card, but it’s one of my favorites in the set.

First of all, let’s address the elephant in the room: webcam play. This card is very clunky on webcam. If players see it on the mat, they’re less likely to search their deck. However, not only can you play this at instant speed in response to a tutor from them, you can play spells like Scheming Symmetry that force them to search their decks. For these reasons, this card is a little tricky to play on webcam. I think that friction will add to some controversy already associated with this card slotting into extremely boring Maralen of the Mornsong decks.

I like this card, but it’s totally understandable that a lot of people do not. Be cognizant of how clunky it is to play this on webcam, how little people like having a stranger handle their deck in face-to-face games, and how boring and obvious it is to pair this with cards like Maralen. This can be a good card or it can make Magic fairly miserable for the table, and it all comes down to how you use it.


Rakshasa Debaser

As awkward as Opposition Agent may be on webcam, this is the exact opposite and can be even more powerful in some cases. Opponents’ graveyards are known, face-up zones, which means that, if you can use some sort of token to clearly represent the cards you steal from their ‘yards, this can be a fun and silly card to play. Getting cards from your opponents is an excellent way to get advantage because it’s a two-point swing in your favor in the zero-sum game called “having creatures.” Depriving them of a card and going up one card, yourself, is an excellent way to break parity, and being able to do it to every opponent, albeit only once with the Encore ability, can usually give you enough of an advantage to win or get far enough ahead to make the outcome academic. This is expensive, but also, this is Commander, where our curve begins at 6. I vastly prefer cards that take cards from known zones like the graveyard to cards that takes spells from opponents’ decks when I play on webcam, and this does everything I want a card like it to do. Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni and Wrexial, the Risen Deep are especially happy.


There are a few of these rares I’m a bit less keen on, but I think they’re worth discussion, if only to talk about why I think they’re a bit to underpowered or narrow.


Elvish Dreadlord

I actually don’t think this is all that underpowered, but I do think it’s a tad narrow. It’s obviously going to wipe the board if you manage to get its Encore ability off, and an Elf deck should have no trouble coughing up the mana to do that fairly early. There aren’t too many Elf decks in black on EDHREC, but the ones that do exist (namely Nath of the Gilt Leaf) could use a card like this. Again, this is fairly narrow, but it’s fairly useful in the decks that can make room for it and have enough Elves to have a board after Dreadlord is gone.


Necrotic Hex

Situationally, you could see your way clear to including this. It has some advantages over some of the Wrath effects people are playing – you can kill indestructible creatures and you get quite a bit of board presence afterward. However, there are so many Wrath effects in this mana-cost range that have clear advantages over Hex. Decree of Pain will fill your hand back up. In Garruk’s Wake can nuke ‘walkers as well as creatures. Cards like Sigarda, Host of Herons and Tamiyo, Collector of Tales make Hex not work at all against certain players. Getting 12 power on the board and 24 creatures off of the board can be powerful, but with so many token decks running around, sometimes making the player farthest ahead sac six creatures won’t even slow them down, but it could hamper you significantly. In Limited, you run this, but in 100-card Constructed, any card you’d cut to run this is already better 99% of the time.


Plague Reaver

Reaver is a lot of fun in the right deck. You create a bit of a subgame with “hot potato” cards like this, and if your deck deals with making them discard in any way, you can get a lot of value. Either you will keep players pitching cards to pass this around, giving you triggers on cards like Tinybones, Trinket Thief and Waste Not, or you manage to empty their hand, meaning whomever you gift this to loses their board. Pair this with Court of Ambition and you may be able to stay the Monarch a bit longer while everyone else scrambles to get rid of Reaver. If the table can work together, they could get rid of this fairly easily for good, but if they can’t, you can inflict a lot of damage.


Sengir, the Dark Baron

Sengir is fairly powerful but also inflicts a brand new subgame on the game of Magic: the Gathering called “Wait, what was your life total at the start of the turn again?” This is not a fun subgame, and if you’re not careful in how you track it, it could lead to some arguments. If you play Sengir, you need to be responsible for tracking life totals carefully and accurately, and that’s no fun. Six mana is a lot to spend on a commander that’s basically a big, flying dork, although being able to grow him by saccing your own creatures is non-trivial. All in all, I think this card is more flavorful than playable, which is something that has a place in the game, but which doesn’t excite me a ton.


Szat’s Will

I think this is the worst in its respective cycle, but I recognize it would be difficult to make this card a little better without making it a ton better. Removing each opponent’s graveyard from the game is powerful, and getting some sacrificial dorks in the exchange is somewhat appealing, and I am sure there are some decks this is ready to slot into. Leaving your own graveyard intact is some major upside that shouldn’t go unnoticed, and being able to both nuke some ‘yards and get a bunch of tokens even if you don’t manage to keep a commander in play is upside as well. This bears some testing. Decks with Parallel Lives, Divine Visitation, and/or Impact Tremors will probably wreck me with this card, and I’ll wonder how I ever came to underestimate it. I’d love to be proven wrong.


Uncommons & Commons


Demonic Lore

Blim, Comedic Genius has written a really good joke here. It has historically been very difficult for non-blue decks to donate enchantments to other players, probably because black has a tendency to make very pernicious enchantments that grant a player a lot of power but with a large drawback. With Blim able to ship dangerous permanents like Demonic Lore, this is a powerful card that a Blim player could likely take very late in a draft.

In 100-card Constructed, this is still fairly solid. You will have to get creative and find ways to get rid of it, either by saccing it or paying it forward, but three cards for three mana and the potential to ding an opponent makes this worth looking at. Ghen, Arcanum Weaver players may also be tempted by this card, but I’d watch out on whether the restrictions are really worth it there. I’m not convinced I’ll ever sleeve this up, but it’s one of the uncommon cards in the set I’m looking at very closely and trying to break.


Feast of Succession

This kills a lot more creatures in Commander than you might think. Looking at the Top 100 most-played cards in the format per our data from the last two years, the Feast nukes a whopping 83% of them (going by their base toughness; I don’t want to debate the finer points of whether this kills Scavenging Ooze; I understand Ooze can get bigger). If wiping out enough of the format to get a solid B- at most schools isn’t enough for you, you get to strap on your best giant fake eyebrows and practice calling for Dr. Girlfriend because this kingmaker is going to take you straight to value town. Introducing the Monarch subgame is very good, and attaching it to a mini-Damnation is better.

Will this see play? I don’t know. I think if you couple destroying very annoying creatures like Oracle of Mul Daya and Tatyova with the potential for a painless Phyrexian Arena on your side, you have a card that deserves at least some testing.


Nadier’s Nightblade

The good thing about a card like this is that we usually don’t have to compare it to Blood Artist or Zulaport Cutthroat because you’re not cutting either of those cards to include this. This isn’t the splashiest card in the set, but it pairs nicely with all of the Thrull tokens you’re going to get from Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools and/or his associated Will. It’s a smidge more narrow than Blood Artist, but it’s still serviceable. It’s worth nothing that Nightblade doesn’t specifically reference “creature” tokens, making this a fairly hilarious pairing with Smothering Tithe or Revel in Riches. I think this card is going to surprise a lot of people with its additional utility.


The Uncommon Partners

I’m gonna tackle the uncommon mono-black Partner cards in one section, because I think they have a pretty big thing in common with each other: they’re a little too restrictive. You’re not going to pair Miara, Thorn of the Glade with Malcolm, Keen-Eyed Navigator, for example. I appreciate Wizards for this type of restriction, because it’s better to keep a leash on the Partner mechanic than for us to wind up with 40 new Thrasios, Triton Heroes running around. At the same time, I’m skeptical that anyone will pair Miara with anything other than Numa, Joraga Chieftain. And Armix, Filigree Thrasher really seems destined to pair up with Silas Renn, Seeker Adept but may have difficulty pairing with others artifact-based Partners, since those commanders have others to choose from now. Falthis, Shadowcat Familiar also feels destined to wind up in a deck with two commanders, but not to be one of them.

These three are a bit more open-ended; Keskit, the Flesh Sculptor might like Toggo, Goblin Weaponsmith or just to find a home in Aristocrats builds, but its ability is still pretty slow. Nadier, Agent of the Duskenel is more open-ended for tokens strategies like Tana, the Bloodsower or Prava of the Steel Legion, but so much mana that it’s probably tough to justify in the command zone. And Tormod, the Desecrator feels like he’s too excited to hop into the 99 of existing decks like Syr Konrad, the Grim or Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker.

Overall, these are cool to have as cards, and the restrictions on them are good, but it means they’re less likely to show up as commanders than a lot of the other Partner cards in other colors.


Heavy is the Crown

The black cards in this set are a lot of fun. Quite a few can help you break parity by using your opponents’ cards against them, which is always nice. We have several ways to become the Monarch, which is great. Plus, anyone who wanted a ton of black Elf cards for any reason has an embarrassment of riches in this set. I hope you’re looking forward to it just as much as I am.

Jason is one of the hardest working writers in the game; he has a weekly column on Coolstuff Inc. and MTGPrice and is a cast member of the Brainstorm Brewery and Film Hooligans podcasts. All that and he still finds time to manage content on EDHREC and struggle as a comedian. No wonder he's been called the Ryan Seacrest of EDH.