Commander Legends Set Review - Wedge and Shard Legends
(Obeka, Brute Chronologist | Art by Jesper Ejsing)
A Showdown of Showdowns
It's time for this showdown of Commander Legends, the set review for the three-colored legendary creatures! There is one for each color combination, and almost every single one has taken a completely unique approach that hasn't been seen in other legends if the same colors. For each commander, I've done my best to find pre-existing commanders whose EDHREC pages you can use to draw inspiration from, followed by a dive into some core strategies both at the helm of a deck or in the 99. For some, I've even included some helpful links to pages on the newly formed EDHWiki for some unique strategies! Without further ado, let's jump right in!
Amareth, the Lustrous
Amareth is essentially a more reasonable version of Chulane, Teller of Tales. Amareth incentivizes a strategy focused around one or two permanent types for incremental card advantage in the long game. She is probably the most "open" of the three-colored commander options here, and she lets you build in a variety of strategies depending on what tickles your fancy. Overall, regardless of which strategy you choose, a healthy package of cards that make enter-the-battlefield abilities more effective, such as Panharmonicon or Deadeye Navigator, and some top-of-library manipulation, like Scroll Rack, will add a bit more "oomph" to this deck. For the sake of this set review, we will focus on three main permanent types.
- The enchantment theme: Bant is by far the most heavily used tri-colored combination used for enchantment-based decks. Commanders like Tuvasa the Sunlit and Estrid, the Masked are both great places to start. This build is going to rely heavily on enchantments, and the more heavily you dive into a single permanent type as your theme, the more you will squeeze out of Amareth's ability. In the case of enchantments, she will simply act as another enchantress effect, but could also support an enchantment deck in the 99.
- The lands theme: With enough lands and top-deck manipulation, she will act very similarly to a Bant Tatyova, Benthic Druid deck. With the addition of white, you get effects like Felidar Retreat, Knight of the Reliquary, and many excellent Angels with Landfall abilities. If you are thinking of heading down this strategy, another great EDHREC page to look for inspiration would be the new Omnath, Locus of Creation.
- The artifact theme: Bant doesn't normally deal with artifacts, but the phrasing of Amareth's ability lends itself to be an option for this archetype. With enough artifacts, the deck can behave very similarly to Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain. In addition, something like Smothering Tithe is going to put in a LOT of work, as each Treasure triggers Amareth to possibly net you card advantage. You can overwhelm your opponents with incremental value with each artifact played, focusing heavily on blue artifact synergies.
You can also try to mix and match two themes together so you're running, say, the easiest, being enchantment creatures like Archetype of Endurance. This way, you can trigger Amareth's ability regardless if the top card is a creature or an enchantment, though you could also do this with artifact creatures. Personally, this is one of my favorite commanders from the set due to its high flexibility and the opportunity to build one of many different strategies all in a single commander, and I think it will likely find a home in the 99 of many decks that run Bant (or more) while on a single card type theme.
Archelos, Lagoon Mystic
Archelos is our first legendary Turtle, "Lagoon Mystic" is an awesome title, and he does something that Sultai as a color combination hasn't truly claimed in the format or on a commander. With the exception of Leovold, Emissary of Trest (who is banned!), Sultai has never really explored the realm of making the game harder for your opponents to play. At the same time, he still does what Sultai likes to do, which is gain value and ramp. Archelos effectively behaves as a Blind Obedience and an Amulet of Vigor at the same time, depending on whether he is tapped or not. So this is exactly how we are going to break down the commander.
On the Amulet of Vigor side of the street, your Rampant Growth effects all have lands enter untapped, your tap lands can come in untapped, and more, while your opponents struggle to keep up. If you are looking to dive headfirst into the lands effects, some great places to start would be other Sultai commanders that support lands decks, including Yarok, the Desecrated and Muldrotha the Gravetide. However, since this effects all permanents, you may also consider taking a more niche strategy like Zombie tribal. Many Zombies and cards that create Zombie tokens enter the battlefield tapped. Not anymore! It may not be the strategy you think of first, but it could definitely be a fun one!
On the other, more sinister side of the commander, is making the game harder for other players. Archelos takes a less drastic approach than Leovold, simply pushing every plan the opponent has back a turn, while you aren't hindered at all. Making lands, ramp, artifacts, and creatures all enter tapped in strategies that are aggressive or like to ramp heavily can be really difficult to overcome. For those who may not know, this strategy of making the game harder for your opponents is often called "Stax", and you can find some great inspiration for this particular tapping and untapping method of Stax from commanders like Derevi, Empyrial Tactician. For a more comprehensive look into what strategies Stax decks use, you can check out the EDHWiki page here.
You can effectively combine both of these strategies to make sure that while your opponents are hindered, you are not only unhindered, but catapulting over them in value. One of the key parts of this deck is going to be running effects like Pemmin's Aura that allow you to tap and untap Archelos as needed to best benefit you and hinder your opponents. You can even use this politically to give one opponent some leniency against a common threat! Overall, I think that Archelos is cool, and there are many players who like these types of strategies and will like Archelos, but be careful because your playgroup may not appreciate the deck as much as you do!
Averna, the Chaos Bloom
Averna is potentially one of the most, if not the most, straightforward commanders in this set, and therefore there's not much to say for her. As a commander, there isn't really any other way to build this deck other than going all in with the available Cascade spells in Temur, of which there are only... 19.... There is also Flamekin Herald, who will give Averna Cascade, but she will not get the land onto the battlefield with her ability. Other than that, you can include some cards that provide a Landfall package, or you can try to bank on getting Imoti, Celebrant of Bounty while including some heavy-hitting spells. Most likely, though, Averna will be a lot more fun and effective as a support card in Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder or Maelstrom Wanderer decks where Averna can support their Cascade abilities a lot more efficiently and reliably. I would unfortunately expect that most Averna decks that are built around her ability are going to look extremely similar due to the low variety of choices and core necessity of building around Cascade.
Colfenor, the Last Yew
At first glance, Colfenor, the Last Yew falls somewhere between the "toughness matters" strategies of Doran, the Siege Tower and the regular graveyard recursion of Karador, Ghost Chieftain. While he doesn't bring creatures back to the battlefield, being able to return multiple creatures to your hand after a board wipe can be an awesome way to recover. Because of this, I think Colfenor is going to see a lot of play in the 99 of several Abzan commander decks.
However, Colfenor as a commander does lend itself to a very combo-oriented strategy. There are a number of cards that create tokens when they die that are stronger than themselves, including Brindle Shoat and Doomed Dissenter. With a proper sac outlet like Ashnod's Altar to gain mana and a way to convert that to colored mana, like Chromatic Orrery you can keep replaying them repeatedly! If you have a Blood Artist on the field, this can turn into a solid win condition! You can also run anthems like Intangible Virtue to give tokens higher toughness, thus making something like the Eldrazi Scions from Blisterpod bigger than Blisterpod, again able to bring back the original creature!
Whether it's combo synergies, Treefolk tribal commander, or even something like Walls or toughness matters, Colfenor is a great option for a variety of players who like different types of playstyles.
Ghen, Arcanum Weaver
Ghen, Arcanum Weaver is the first Mardu commander to exclusively focus on enchantments, and one of very few to not be combat-oriented. Immediate parallels can be drawn between him and another commander that cares about enchantments and shares two colors with him: Zur, the Enchanter. Zur's forte is searching his library for enchantments, and relying on black and white to recur enchantments that are lost using spells like Open the Vaults, while Ghen is able to reuse enchantments that are lost. However, there are two other themes that come to mind specifically with Ghen: Auras and Curses.
- Auras: Tiana, Ship's Caretaker is a commander who is able to use enchantments over and over again, and is a great commander for Auras. When a creature with an Aura dies, it can feel a lot worse because most Auras you can't replay. With Ghen, you can put your Auras back onto the battlefield attached to new creatures! Another option is to heavily go into the Pacifism route, reusing pacifism Auras once the pacified creatures have died! I wrote an article on how to use this strategy effectively with Tiana many years ago if you want to see more!
- Curses: The Curse theme is, in my opinion, the most interesting build for Ghen, and is currently most played with another Mardu commander, Mathas, Fiend Seeker. Curses are very political cards, but one of the big drawbacks is that you can't move them from one player to another if they are no longer doing much. For example, a player who has no cards in hand and is drawing only one card per turn isn't being affected by your Curse of Exhaustion anymore, and it may be worth it to move it onto the spellslinging opponent casting multiple spells per turn!
Similar to many commanders in this review, Ghen has many ways you can approach building him, and I see him being extremely effective as a fun commander with a restriction.
Gnostro, Voice of the Crags
In a set filled with three-color legends unique to their own color combinations, it is somewhat disappointing that this commander seems to be a single effect from each of its colors rather than a cohesive concept. However, there has never been a commander more suited to pilot a deck around Jeskai Ascendancy and the "Pingers" Theme, with his closest comparison being Nin, the Pain Artist. The Pingers theme revolves around multiple creatures like Prodigal Sorcerer who tap to deal 1 or 2 damage, followed by a suite of support cards that regularly untap your creatures or increase that damage dealt. Examples of ways to untap your creatures repeatedly include Jeskai Ascendancy or Intruder Alarm, while you can use cards like Furnace of Rath to increase damage.
Gnostro sadly isn't creating particularly new design space, as we now have several Jeskai commanders that all fall under the spellslinging category of deckbuilding. The difference is that this commander's build is going to be most effective with lots of very cheaply costed instants and sorceries rather than big spells in order to rack up the number of spells that you're casting (otherwise known as the "Storm Count") to make Gnostro as powerful as possible. You will also run many creatures with tap abilities that you can all synchronously use together and then untap them all. You could even add some Storm elements to the deck in case you are able to combo off! Like the other Jeskai commanders who are great spellslingers, all of them likely fit in well into the 99 of each other's decks as additional support.
Jared Carthalion, True Heir
Jared is one of the first Magic: the Gathering characters, and it's awesome to see him come to life as this Naya commander. Jared brings the Monarch to the command zone, something only Queen Marchesa has done before (long may she reign). There are a number of different "packages" of cards revolving around different mechanics that are going to be crucial for this commander to work, which is how we will break Jared down.
- Evasion. In order to take the Monarch back, you need to deal combat damage with one of your creatures to that opponent. This is often going to require you to use some evasion tactics, such as giving Jared (or another creature) flying, protection, unblockable, or trample. Some great choices are Whispersilk Cloak, Sword of Vengeance, or Prowler's Helm. Evasion becomes even more important when Jared gains a ton of power from his secondary ability.
- Monarch. It's one thing to be able to steal the Monarchy, but it's also nice to be able to give it to yourself immediately if you can't deal damage. Some great choices include the new court enchantments, like Court of Bounty, Regal Behemoth, or Protector of the Crown, who even helps you keep the Monarchy.
- Mass damage. Once you have the Monarchy, mass damage outlets become obscene as creatures your opponents control die from damage, while Jared just gets huge. With a single Blasphemous Act or Star of Extinction, you can give Jared 13 or 20 +1/+1 counters, respectively. That's an enormous boost of power!
I originally wasn't too keen on Jared, but have really come around to liking him. I think he is a Voltron commander that requires a unique type of support that no other has needed before. Being able to turn damage-dealing board wipes into power is unique, and introducing the Monarchy to Commander adds a political element to the game that completely changes the way players interact with each other. Add in something like Pariah, and he becomes a lot more difficult for your opponents to deal with! I think he's going to be very cool, but probably will not see much play in the 99, as he doesn't really support many existing Naya commander strategies.
Nevinyrral, Urborg Tyrant
I don't really have many comparisons to give for Nevinyrral, and he is a very difficult legend to evaluate. His ability to create huge Zombie armies very quickly is reminiscent of Josu Vess, Lich Knight and Varina, Lich Queen, while his essentially "board wipe in the command zone" characteristic is similar to Child of Alara. However, to me, he is most similar to another heavily played Esper commander, Oloro, Ageless Ascetic, and for a very specific reason.
Nevinyrral is a commander that is going to spend 99% of his time in the command zone, meaning he is going to have effects that are hard to interact with. Nevinyrral is designed in a way that you're never really going to want to have him sitting in play, and you're going to feel like you're playing him wrong if you do. His ETB requires you to spend a bunch of mana/resources killing a bunch of stuff first or casting a board wipe to THEN create a Zombie army, meaning that he doesn't do enough when he is just on the field. Most of the time, you are going to cast Nevinyrral, hold priority with his ETB on the stack, and then sacrifice him in response with something like Ashnod's Altar. This will destroy everything on the board, and then make Zombies equal to the number of creatures that died. Focusing on this strategy, and being able to strengthen your Zombie army, is the most effective strategy to take for this commander. Some people are really going to like Nevinyrral as a way to shut down opponents' strategies, while some will include him in the 99 of decks as a super-powered Nevinyrral's Disk. The biggest thing to consider with a commander like this is how your opponents are going to react knowing that you have this at all times. If you show up to the table with this commander, don't be surprised if you are the primary target!
Obeka, Brute Chronologist
Out of all of the commanders on this list, Obeka is probably the one that turned the most heads and made the most people go "huh?!" Having a Sundial of the Infinite in the command zone is as good as it sounds, and there are so many insane ways you can go about using Obeka's ability to the fullest.
One of the immediate comparisons would be Sedris the Traitor King. Sedris is able to give all creatures Unearth, allowing them to come into play until end of turn, at which point they are exiled. With Obeka in play, those creatures now stay permanently if you activate her ability in response to the end of turn trigger.
With a good knowledge of timing and a mere tap, Obeka can transform negative effects into sudden advantages. There are also a few cards in Grixis that are extremely powerful, but cause you to lose the game at a certain point, such as Lich's Mastery, Glorious End, or Last Chance. With Obeka, as long as that happens on your turn, you can end the turn in response to prevent yourself from losing the game!
Obeka is very open-ended, and taking a look at the cards most highly played with Sundial of the Infinite is a great place to start. There will also be opportunities where you can use Obeka as a political tool against other opponents. For example, you and another player are teaming up against someone who is in a potentially winning position, and they cast an overloaded Cyclonic Rift on your "teammate's" turn. You can tap Obeka and that player can voluntarily end the turn in order to avoid the Rift!
Regardless of how you build her, she is likely to be fun and enjoyable, and the decks she will see play in the 99 of are most likely those where she will act simply as another Sundial of the Infinite in Grixis colors, especially with Sedris.
Yurlok of Scorch Thrash
Last, but certainly not least, we have the Jund commander, Yurlok. Yurlok effectively brings the mechanic of "mana burn" back to the game, which was removed in the big rules update of 2010. This ability is great for punishing players who overextend their resources without using all of them. If an opponent taps a Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx or Cabal Coffers for a ton of mana without being able to use it all, they will lose a lot of life. While no deck previously has specialized in creating mana burn, inspiration can be drawn from other commanders that deal incremental damage universally to the table over time. This strategy is known as the "Group Slug" theme, with the most common commanders being Mogis, God of Slaughter and Torbran, Thane of Red Fell. Both of these commanders, like Yurlok, specialize in incrementally lowering life totals over time. For a more comprehensive look into Group Slug, you can check out the EDHWiki page here.
(Editor's Note: This section has been updated to remove a confusion regarding Yurlok's ability, which causes loss of life, not damage.)
Untapping effects, like Umbral Mantle are also going to help step up this deck by making a ton of mana all at once for your opponents! Just make sure that you are able to use as much of the mana as possible on your turns so that you don't lose any life! I think that lots of people are going to be intrigued by this commander, but that, similar to Archelos, the new Sultai Stax legend, it may be somewhat groan-inducing to playgroups after a few games.
And the Winner Is...
You! Everyone is a winner when it comes to Commander Legends. There are so many awesome new legends, especially Partners, that we are nearly doubling our available list of commanders for the format. Regarding these legends specifically, I personally am most excited by Amareth, Ghen, Jared, Obeka, and Yurlok, though the other five are also unique and interesting, and I'm sure many people are going to be interested in each legend! Which were your favorites? Were there any evaluations that you disagreed with or different strategies you would use for a commander that I didn't mention? Let us know in the comments below! And since this is a draft set, may your pulls be sweet, and may you topdeck the card you need, every time in the upcoming release!