Core Set 2019 Review -- Gold
A GOLDEN Set Review!
Hello everyone! Your ridiculous, friendly, neighborhood Jank-Crafter is here to once again provide a set review! I am so excited to talk about the Elder Dragons from another incredible set. I’ve been having a blast writing this article and coming up with deck ideas for each of them!
However, before we start talking about them, let’s give the two-color uncommon cycle a look. We only have one reprint in this cycle, which is Enigma Drake, so I will not cover him. After that, we have three that are decently playable or useful in Commander, three that are not super useful in Commander but are still interesting, and three that just are completely irrelevant to the format. Lets dive in!
It Began with Ten Gold Cards
Satyr Enchanter is a GREAT gold uncommon. Headed straight into enchantress decks, specifically into Karametra, God of Harvests, this Satyr provides the ever-so-wanted card draw that white and green tend to have difficulty with. Getting to draw a card for every enchantment you play is something we’ve seen on the likes of Mesa Enchantress, but another creature with this ability will be very much appreciated.
Next up is Poison-Tip Archer. A 2/3 with reach and deathtouch for four mana is certainly nothing to laugh at, especially when tagged with this ability. This guy is going to be well at home in any BGx deck that likes to regularly sacrifice creatures, and will be an auto-include into most Slimefoot, the Stowaway decks, as he essentially duplicates Slimefoot's damage ability.
Regal Bloodlord is going to be great in Elenda, the Dusk Rose and might find a place in Edgar Markov Vampire decks and Oloro, Ageless Ascetic decks, but won’t really see play outside of that. Even further to the point, it would be much more beneficial if he created Vampires that could get a tribal boost, but unfortunately he only creates Bats. Still, they do fly! Outside of these decks however, Regal Bloodlord is unlikely to make the 99.
Skyrider Patrol is an interesting case. Any blue and green deck loves evasion, but generally, there are much more efficient ways to do so. Kaseto, Orochi Archmage, Herald of Secret Streams, and even Helium Squirter seem like better options than Skyrider Patrol. It may be a good budget option, or a backup if you need repeat effects, but it just seems like there are better choices.
I like Psychic Symbiont. It would be SO much better if it read “each player” instead of “target player.” This guy just doesn’t seem very good in Commander unless you are 100% sure you are going to get some serious mileage with that ability by flickering the creature. Similar to Skyrider Patrol, I feel like there are simply other creatures that do this job better.
Draconic Disciple is a three-cost mana dork that can turn into a 5/5 Dragon at the cost of seven mana. To put that into perspective, once you have six lands, you can get one of those dragons EVERY UPKEEP with Dragonmaster Outcast for just one mana. For this guy, I can’t ever really imagine using him as anything other than a mana dork, as virtually anything else that creates a 5/5 dragon will be more efficient at it. Even then, he’s a bad mana dork.
At this point we have three left. Heroic reinforcements, Aerial Engineer, and Brawl-Bash Ogre. All of these are pretty useless in commander. Four mana to give your creatures haste and create two tokens in Boros is pretty weak compared to your absurd combat options in those colors. A conditional +2/+0 on a 2/4 in Azorius is pretty meaningless in Commander. Lastly, I can’t think of a single instance where I would rather give Brawl-Bash Ogre the power boost than keep my other creatures. All of these are simply irrelevant in Commander, though their performance in formats such as Limited may be vastly different! Now, Enough about these uncommons. Of course, what we’re really here to talk about are... THE ELDER DRAGONS.
And Then There Were Five
Commander started as Elder Dragon Highlander, with the original five Elder Dragons as the ORIGINAL commanders of the format. Now, after all of these years, these monumental characters have been recreated on this momentous occasion for some absolutely monstrous new creatures. I will even be writing a separate article discussing these commanders at further length than I do here, but for now, let's begin with the simplest dragon.
Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner
A simple design for a Dragon, Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner represents the epitome of the Naya shard. She is a big creature with three classic keywords, and has an interesting iteration of conditional hexproof. Palladia-Mors has hexproof only as long as she has not dealt damage. Note, this does mean damage to creatures, planeswalkers, and players, and does not wear off at the end of your turn. Once she has dealt damage, its a complete and permanent loss of that ability until she leaves and re-enters the battlefield.
Palladia-Mors is perfect for the 99 of any Dragon deck, but is going to have trouble finding a unique spot as a Naya Commander. My initial reaction is to put her in a Voltron build and just keep her on the defense with hexproof while you pack tons of enchantments and equipments on her for one big blowout. However, if I truly wanted to do that in Naya colors, I feel like I would rather use Uril, the Miststalker. He simply does the job more effectively. In any event, I'm sure Timmy/Tammy players will appreciate Palladia-Mors regardless.
Arcades, the Strategist
There's really only one way to perceive Arcades, the Strategist. He's a flying, Bant Doran, the Siege Tower who received a text transfusion from Assault Formation. He has card draw built in to his body, enabling defender creatures to act as cantrips, and makes your defending walls into powerhouses. As a Doran player myself, I feel personally attacked, but will put my feelings aside for the purposes of this article.
As I said, you can't really do anything else with this guy. He caused Shield Sphere and Wall of Kelp to skyrocket in price overnight because people know exactly what is needed to build him! He is a devoted Wall tribal commander, which we have only seen before in Doran, though even he couldn't provide defenders with a means of attacking. While this may be biased, I think the black that Doran provides in a Wall deck is really important. My own list uses black for crucial pieces of removal, which I think the blue in Arcades is lacking. However, blue of course adds counterspells and card draw, which Doran certainly lacks. Unfortunately, while Arcades is great in this deck concept, I don't see him being successful outside of these strategies, due to his narrow abilities, and I don't expect to see much diversity in decklists.
Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire
I'll tell you what's dire, my need to get my HANDS ON THIS DRAGON. Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire is a NEAT DUDE. Chaos Warp is in pretty much every single one of my red decks, not just because it's an amazing piece of removal, but overall because it's a hilarious card to play; you never know what you are going to get! Now you're telling me we have a commander who does this EVERY TIME HE ATTACKS? TO EVERY PLAYER? This guy is going to be wild, and I hope to see him helming several chaos decks in the future.
On a more serious evaluation of this new Elder Dragon, Vaevictis has certainly given Jund a refreshing new taste of a sacrifice-focused deck. He is both incredibly unique and very broadly designed, opening the door for many deck-building possibilities. I've heard brewing ideas of a lands-focused deck combining the best parts of The Gitrog Monster and Omnath, Locus of Rage, where you sacrifice your lands for the Chaos Warp effect. (For those of you who have read my Scrambleverse article on Yidris Landfall, you can absolutely bet on him being included.) I even know one person who is building a deck focused on top-deck manipulation of his own library, so that he always knows what Vaevictis's ability will throw on the field. I'm really excited to see all the diverse ways this guy is built, and can't wait to brew up some ideas myself!
Chromium, the Mutable
After being introduced to Magic, my friend Tripp gave me a card that would influence the way I played the game for years to come. The first casual 60-card deck I built was an aura-based unblockable deck, focused around the card he gave me, Invisible Stalker. The fact that this massive, 7/7, flashy flying Dragon can essentially become an Invisible Stalker just makes me so excited and nostalgic to my first days of Magic. Chromium, the Mutable is, like Vaevictis, going to be a very diverse commander with several ways to build him.
Esper provides a lot of options for commander. There are several people who may choose to build him as a Voltron, and just turn him into Invisible Stalker mode to win with unblockable and hexproof commander damage. Some may choose more of an Esper 'goodstuff' deck, and use him as a finisher or simply a big dude with evasion. He is reminiscent of the new Elder Dinosaur, Nezahal, Primal Tide. While Chromium adds the diversity of three colors to the deck, Nezahal is able to avoid boardwipes, which Chromium cannot do. Personally, I've wondered if there's any way to combine the Voltron and commander damage shell into something that can capitalize on the ability to discard a lot of cards. In any event, he's going to be a really cool commander, and I hope to see some brews of him at my LGS.
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, and Nicol Bolas, the Arisen
We've been asking for it ever since Magic Origins, and we finally got it. The origin story and the flip-walker card for the Legendary Elder Dragon, and the mastermind of all the evil machinations in the multiverse, IT'S NICOL BOLAS!
We've seen four iterations of this Elder Dragon, but none have ever been as cheap as Nicol Bolas, the Ravager. This is the first time we've had Nicol Bolas cost only four mana, and it's looking good! A 4/4 for four mana with flying is great, and on top of that his enter-the-battlefield ability is a net loss for all of your opponents as well! But of course, we all know why we really like him: his other personality, Nicol Bolas, the Arisen. I really appreciate this version of Bolas because he truly embodies each of his colors within his abilities. Blue is represented in his +2 (drawing cards), his -3 is phenomenal and clearly shows the red side of his character (dealing damage), and it wouldn't be Bolas without black, his most sinister -4 ability (reanimating a creature or planeswalker). Last but not least, there's a bit of flavor of each color in his ultimate ability that just screams Grixis by exiling all but the last card of your opponent's entire library (or yours, if you want).
It's important to note that, while he costs four mana initially, his transition is sorcery speed only and costs seven additional mana, for a total of eleven. That is a massive investment, and for something I'm pouring that much mana into, I'm usually hoping it has a bigger board presence than what we have here. As a commander, I don't see him becoming competitive or having a particular theme about him. He's a bit all over the place, and seems like simply another Grixis control or goodstuff deck. Grixis is my favorite color scheme and I am currently developing a deck around Bolas (which you will all see soon!), but I'm having difficulty figuring out exactly what road I want to go down. I have seen people discussing a discard focus, similar to a Neheb, the Worthy deck minus the Minotaurs, or going with Specter tribal for hardcore discarding. One friend suggested "Legion of Doom" and basically just shoving as many Nicol Bolas cards and story references as possible along with the other planeswalkers who work with him (sorry Vraska!). Definitely sounds fun!
And Then There Were None
Thanks for reading everyone! It was a big review, and a lot of fun to write, and I hope you are excited for all of these new cards as I am! Do you have any other weird brews for the Elder Dragons? Do you think I misevaluated any of them or any of the gold cards? Do you think these dragons evoke the same gravitas that the originals did back in their day? I'll be writing a follow-up article to discuss some decklists of the Dragons with some more in-depth details about them, so stay tuned and let me know your thoughts!