Commander Legends Set Review — Precons

(Aesi, Tyrant of Gyre Strait & Wyleth, Soul of Steel | Art by Viktor Titov & Tyler Jacobson)

Commander Legends: Precons

Welcome to another installment of the mega-set review for Commander Legends! In this article, we'll be taking a peek at the two preconstructed decks that are released in tandem with the set, itself.

Similar to the Zendikar Rising preconstructed decks Sneak Attack and Land's Wraththere are two preconstructed decks that accompany Commander Legends. According to the lead designer for the set, Gavin Verhey, these were designed to a) help replace the planeswalker decks of yore, and b) provide a more accessible means of getting newer players to get into the Commander format. Each of the 100-card decks will contain:

  • 97 reprints
  • Three new cards, including:
    • One foil 'face' Commander
    • Two non-foil cards at 'rare'
  • A cardboard rotary life-counter
  • A cardboard deck box
  • An assortment of deck-themed tokens

So what are our two decks? We have Arm for Battle, a Boros deck centered around Equipment and Auras, and Reap the Tides, a Simic deck themed around big creatures. Let's suit up and dive in to take a closer look!

Arm for Battle

Without further ado, let's begin with the decklist for Arm for Battle:

Equipment cards have long found themselves a home in the Boros Legion (e.g. Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer, Akiri Line-Slinger), and Wizards is showing no signs of stopping this trend. Looking at this list, one notices something right off the bat: there are 14 Equipment, but 22 instants (40 lands also seems a tad high). It looks like a Feather, the Redeemed deck more than an Equipment deck, despite what the commander would have you think.

We can see the design team seems to have leaned heavily into Sunforger as the glue (if not the entire basis) of the deck, which is curious since instants and Sunforger packages can be difficult to navigate without detailed knowledge of the deck, particularly for new players. My guess is the deck wants you to: 1) suit up Wyleth, Soul of Steel with Auras and/or Equipment, 2) attack and draw cards, 3) use the grip of cards you acquired to interact with threats at instant speed, 4) rinse, repeat. Let's take a peek at the new cards and see what direction they point us.

New Cards:

Wyleth, Soul of Steel

In a similar vein to Akiri, Fearless Voyager (a.k.a Akiri 2.0), Wyleth, Soul of Steel rewards you with actual card draw for leaning into Equipment and Auras. While Akiri 2.0 and Wyleth, Soul of Steel both grant card draw in a color combination typically not associated with retaining a large hand size, their differences are noteworthy.

The way that Akiri, Fearless Voyager is worded means that her ceiling for card draw is based on 1) the number of creatures you control that are Equipped and able to attack, and 2) the number of opponents that you have. Wyleth, Soul of Steel's ceiling, however, is as high as... well, the armory. In a four-player game, Akiri can draw you a maximum of three cards, and that's if you attack all three opponents with Equipped creatures, whereas Wyleth can you draw you the same if you attack only one opponent with the same number of Equipment, and more for each Equipment or Aura after that.

Akiri lends much-needed protection with her second ability, but Wyleth also helps to mitigate some of the downsides of Voltron — notably, putting all of your eggs in one basket, only to have your basket go tumbling and eggs go all Humpty-Dumpty after a Tragic Slip — so long as you get to attack. Wyleth lets you replace all those resources you've invested into him with more cards, and the trample is another nice inclusion, as Equipped creatures tend to get big, fast. Cards like Conqueror's Flail and Grand Abolisher will be key to keeping Wyleth safe so that you can move to combat and start drawing cards.

Both Akiri, Fearless Voyager and Wyleth, Soul of Steel synergize well with low-cost Equipment or ones that skirt the Equip cost (e.g. Embercleave or Maul of the Skyclaves), and Wyleth only brings more versatility in expanding his card advantage to Auras as well. Cards like Shuko also can help to replace themselves quickly, which, when paired with Sram, Senior Edificer or the recently reprinted Puresteel Paladin, means you can churn through your deck quite quickly. Cards like Bloodforged Battle-Axe can begin to net you even more cards, while Bludgeon Brawl seems just nutty enough to consider. Even though Treasure and/or Gold tokens won't give him a power boost, they are free to Equip (since their CMC is 0), which allows you to draw cards equal to the number of Treasures you control. Heck, you can make your own pseudo-Psychic Possession in Boros by having Bludgeon Brawl, Puresteel Paladin, and Smothering Tithe out!

I also want to make a note of extra combat effects for Wyleth, Soul of Steel. The deck includes one Relentless Assault, likely because his draw ability triggers on attack, which means each successive combat will allow you to draw cards equal to his suit of armor and Auras. We've seen how powerful even just a few of these effects can be with commanders like Etali, Primal Storm, or Moraug, Fury of Akoum, and their inclusion in a deck like this one might be able to reliably refill its hand with each successive combat.

Timely Ward

As for Timely Ward, an Aura that grants a creature indestructible at instant speed seems decent, even if it does only target a commander. I think outside of this deck it might well find a home in Voltron-centric strategies or even some 'enchantress' builds like Tuvasa the Sunlit who, thanks to the templating, can even draw you a card! That's a nice Beast Within, but I think I'll protect my commander, draw a card, and give her +1/+1 in response, thanks.

Blazing Sunsteel

Finally, Blazing Sunsteel is really interesting, if a bit wonky. While 1R is an efficient cost for a scalable power boost, the Equip cost is not cheap, and the power boost actively gets worse as the game goes on and as more opponents are removed — something Voltron and Equipment strategies tend to have to resort to by sequentially removing opponents. The second ability also doesn't synergize all that well with a lot of other Equipment that grant first strike or double strike (e.g. Grappling Hook, Embercleave), since the Equipped creature won't typically be receiving damage, just dealing it. The second ability is far more interesting in a Brash Taunter or even an Enrage-themed deck, where you can redirect damage or benefit off of pinging your creatures.

Notable Reprints

While the stock deck may be laden with instants, some like Swords to Plowshares, Generous Gift, and Boros Charm are nice inclusions to help with interaction and keep their price down, even if they are reprinted in the main set as well.

Additionally, Sigarda's Aid is a welcome card to any Equipment or Aura strategy, coming in at a low cost in colors that tend to need it, shirking additional costs, and allowing for instant-speed levels of play. The notable Sunforger, itself, got a reprint, though was also just reprinted in Double Masters. Finally, many have championed Sram, Senior Edificer as their mono-white cantripping cavalier for some time, and his reprint is a delightful one as his price had been steadily climbing up.

Reap the Tides

With the Boros deck out of the way, we're moving on to the Simic deck, Reap the Tides. Like Kevin Costner's deep-dive into the mile-high city of submerged Denver, CO, let's dive head first into this sea-centric deck:

A mix of sea-creatures and Landfall, these deck seems to do exactly what it wants: ramp, play big creatures, and continue to accrue value through more ramp-based Landfall triggers. While simple in design, the execution will likely be effective, with each successive land inching you towards another big threat, granting you tokens, growing your creatures with +1+1 counters, and drawing you cards. Here, 44 lands are welcome to help keep the engines going and consistently hitting land drops.

New Cards:

Aesi, Tyrant of Gyre Strait

Let's start with the elephant Serpent in the room: the commander and face card, Aesi, Tyrant of Gyre Strait. Seasoned players will note that this creature hardly differs from the uncommon all-star from Dominaria that currently sits as the third-most popular commander from the set: Tatyova, Benthic Druid. Playing Aesi will cost you literally the same, mana-wise, as casting Tatyova, Benthic Druid and Exploration, while granting you the same effect, and an additional +2/+2 power and toughness. Notably, you do lose out on the life gain, which can be particularly potent with Glacial Chasm, or even a win condition in its own right with Aetherflux Reservoir. Frankly, both are good commanders, and one can always be slotted into the 99 of the other's for redundancy.

Okay, so the commander may have a slightly generic design, but I think that's just fine for a precon like this. The set, itself, has new interesting Simic commanders (e.g. Gor Muldrak, Amphinologist), and I think Aesi, Tyrant of Gyre Strait helps to lend additional support to those who are always looking to improve their 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea decks. More importantly, it's likely to get some people interested in Commander, as I think the art of Aesi certainly imposes a sense of unfathomable scale. You know, like Gyrados. Aesi and Tatyova's decks will end up nearly identical, and their overall popularity may do the same.

Trench Behemoth

Wow, is this card cool. With Trench Behemoth, we get a 7/7 Kraken for a total of seven mana, with an interesting set of abilities. The first allows us to return a land to our hand at instant speed to give our big cephalopod hexproof and untap it. The 'cost' of returning a land is hardly a cost at all: there's a reason that Mina and Denn, Wildborn (10,488 decks), Storm Cauldron (1,413 decks), Trade Routes (1,911 decks), and Ghost Town (1,863 decks) all see play in over 1,400 decks each. Bouncing a land can be a boon to 'lands matter' engine-based decks, similar to how 'enchantress' decks enjoy Flickering Ward (1,573 decks) to be able to restart the draw triggers when you just can't seem to draw any more enchantments.

Granting it hexproof at instant speed means it's likely to be sticky once it hits the field. Frankly, the untap just puts it over the top, as now your opponents always have to consider whether your tapped squid that just smacked them last turn is going to suddenly become a viable blocker for the 'cost' of bouncing a land to start the Landfall shenaniganry all over again next turn.

As if this wasn't enough, the card even has its own Landfall payoff, by allowing you to semi-Goad an opponent's creature in blue, similar to the mold of Bident of Thassa, Dulcet Sirens, or Alluring Siren.

Stumpsquall Hydra

Stumpsquall Hydra covers the other classic Simic strategy of +1+1 counters. Its enter-the-battlefield ability allows you to modularly decide if you want to grow your commander, provided you have the mana to sink into it. Since Stumpsquall Hydra has a base power and toughness of 1/1, this means you can sink mana into its casting cost, place all the +1+1 counters on your commander, then bounce the Hydra to do it again as it won't actually die from entering with zero counters, unlike many other Hydras that have X in their casting cost and an accompanying base power and toughness 0/0.

While not entirely exciting with Aesi, Tyrant of Gyre Strait, we're sure to see this in Hydra-centric decks like Zaxara, the Exemplary and Gargos, Vicious Watcher, as well as other +1+1 commanders like Verazol, the Split Current, Animar Soul of Elements, or maybe Pir, Imaginative Rascal and his hyperdontia-ridden side-kick spawned from a nightmarish trip to the dentist Tooth Collector: Toothy, Imaginary Friend.

Notable Reprints

Simic is known as the color-combination for 'value', and this deck is continuing said trope in regards to reprints. Ramunap Excavator hasn't seen a reprint since — well, ever. This is its first reprint since its release in Hour of Devastation, which is most welcome given its a Crucible of Worlds on a snek-like body and the popularity of Landfall decks have driven it to high demand.

Nezahal, Primal Tide also hasn't seen a reprint since its debut. While the Plesiosaur might not boast as much popularity (leads 191 decks, in 10,342) as its Tyrannosaurus (leads 655 decks, in 9,238) or Spinosaurus (leads 498, in 16,120) Elder counterparts, the latter two have already seen reprints, and I'm excited Nezzy got the same treatment. Once it hits the board, it's particularly annoying to try and remove.

Finally, there are a few other notable cards like Avenger of Zendikar, Eternal Witness, Beast Within, and Murkfiend Liege. Additional staples like Kodama's Reach, alongside neat cards like the enigmatic Meloku the Clouded Mirror, also play into the deck's Landfall and big-creature sub-themes.

Conclusion: Pros and (Pre)cons

As far as the precons are concerned, Simic appears to be 'doing Simic things' once again, emphasizing ramp, lands, card advantage, and +1+1 counters, yet I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, especially considering that these are decks aimed at getting new players interested in Commander, as well as giving us some new toys and some needed reprints. Sea creatures may not be the most popular theme, but that doesn't take away from people's fun experience with them or their potency in a game for that matter. My significant other's sea-themed deck literally drowns me in value weekly, and the top-end potential paired with the unique synergies of sea creatures (e.g. Serpent of Yawning Depths making Charix, the Raging Isle nigh-unblockable) can more than compensate for their mana investments.

While Boros does continue to lean into its combat roots, I think WotC has done interesting work in expanding the color combination's potential for staying power and card advantage. I'm really pleased with the versatility of Boros Equipment and Aura support we've gotten of late. Feeling more aggressive? Maybe Rograkh, Son of Rohgahh and Ardenn, Intrepid Archaeologist (cliffside excavations? #lifegoals). Want to be more resilient and reactive? Maybe Akiri, Fearless Voyager this game. Or maybe 'more smash = more cash'? Wyleth, Soul of Steel can provide some of the Voltron feel while also snowballing into more card advantage. Plus, all of these cards synergize well together in the 99, smoothing out Equip costs, adding resiliency, and granting card advantage in colors that have historically struggled with them in a four-player free-for-all.

But what do you all think? Do you prefer the power of the seas or of steel? I'd love to hear your votes and comments below!

Trent has been playing Magic since the early 2000s, when instead of exercising in a summer sports camp, he was trying to resolve a Krosan Skyscraper on the sidewalk (it always ate a removal). He saved up his allowance to buy an Akroma Angel of Wrath on eBay, only to find out it was a fraudulent post, forever dashing his hopes of ever getting a big creature to stick. He’s since “grown up” and, when he’s not working on his dissertation in Archaeology, spends too much time thinking how to put Cipher in every one of his decks and digging for obscure cards (see photo).

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