The 600 - A Review of AFR Commanders

Adult Gold Dragon | Art by Chris Rahn

Don't You Forget About the Realms

It's been over a year since Adventures in the Forgotten Realms released, so you know what that means. It's time to check our work.

Welcome back to The 600the series where we try to guess how popular commanders will become one year from release. Last year, for every commander in AFR, I predicted whether they'd end with over or under 600 commander decks. Today we'll see how wrong I was.

You can read last year's article as a refresher, or you can proceed, since I'll be quoting excerpts along the way. Here we go!


The Easy Overs

I always like to begin these reviews on a high note, so here were a few of the set's easiest picks.

Last year's prediction: Overs for all three

Final deck counts: 8434, 4130, and 3917, respectively

All three of these commanders came from the Commander precons, and as is usually the case, all three scored tremendous numbers. Prosper especially became a hit, unseating Anje Falkenrath as the format's most popular Rakdos commander and earning eighth place overall. Here's what I wrote about him last year:

"Prosper reminds me of a studious Hellboy, which means he should be prosperous indeed."

Not the most incisive commentary, but I was right in the end. Shoutout to Ron Perlman.

Next up, some more successes.

Last year's prediction: Overs for all three

Final deck counts: 4023, 2977, and 1381, respectively

Perhaps the only surprise amongst our first three entries was Volo taking the set's top spot over Tiamat. Here's what I wrote about him last year:

"I love that Volo deviates from the ol' ramp-and-draw antics of Simic. He also presents a unique deckbuilding challenge for players, which will lead to increased deck diversity; since all creature types must be different, no two Volo decks should look quite the same."

And now for my Tiamat take...

"I expect the best from Tiamat, especially considering its typeline, stats, ETB ability, and importance in D&D lore."

Based on that analysis, you'd expect the Dragon God to earn bigger numbers. However, I think the problem was twofold: first, D&D lore didn't matter nearly as much to this set as I thought it would. Second, it's hard to draw deckbuilders away from The Ur-Dragon, the format's most popular five-color commander and fourth most popular commander overall. Good try, Tiamat (although you still didn't do half-bad).

Now for some more Easy Overs!

Last year's prediction: Overs both

Final deck counts: 2079 and 1708, respectively

I'll be honest, I forgot about Minn while evaluating Alandra, Sky Dreamer for Jumpstart 2022. Turns out the whole draw-two thing might be viable after all (draw five remains to be seen).

Or wait. Maybe the following is why Minn became popular?

"Minn adds some interesting wrinkles, most notably pseudo-ramp. Whenever your Illusions die, you may put a permanent onto the battlefield. That could help drop more lands, or even cheat mana costs! That's pretty sweet, and it only gets sweeter the more Illusions she accumulates."

Good call, former self. My dream of an Under for Alandra, Sky Dreamer remains intact.

And now for our final round of Easy Overs...

Last year's prediction: Overs for both

Final deck counts: 1178 and 1107, respectively

I think my evaluation of Klauth can be best summarized by this sentence:

"Some cards provide too much mana to ignore."

Preach, former self.

As for Minsc, the only beloved ranger in my life is Aragorn, Son of Arathorn. Still, this guy has some upside, as I noted last year:

"I don't have the personal fortitude to play this card, but I'm almost certain other players will. It's simply too wacky not to go Over."

Hmm. That's actually not the most glowing review. Still, it seems wackiness was enough for this one.

Alright, that's enough with the positivity. Time to make fun of some fools.


The Easy Unders

Here are some of the set's most obvious duds.

Last year's prediction: Unders for all three

Final deck counts: 36, 106, and 107, respectively

Kind of a design fail to have three mythic dragons in the Dungeons and Dragons set earn such paltry numbers, especially in the game's most popular format, yet these three stooges managed to do just that, to the surprise of no one—not even me. Here's what I wrote about Icingdeath:

"We begin with a dud."

We did indeed. Things didn't improve for the others; I called Ebondeath "more likely to play a supporting role than the lead" (a nice way of putting things), and Iymrith "doomed to be an Under" (sad but true).

Now for some more Easy Unders.

Last year's prediction: Unders for all three

Final deck counts: 119, 121, and 163, respectively

Speaking of disappointing designs for the D&D set, the dungeons didn't really hit, either. Zalto's poor performance was all too predictable, but Varis is the sort of card that should really pop if the mechanic works. Alas, it didn't, and so we see it go way, way Undurr.

Whoops, I mean Under. But speaking of Undurrs...

Last year's prediction: Unders for all three

Final deck counts: 163, 175, and 183, respectively

None of these three scrubs had a chance, least of all Lorcan, who I described last year as "prohibitively expensive." I stand by that evaluation. Not much else to say about the other two: the uncommon legends are usually designed for draft, not EDH, giving me some easy picks.

Speaking of which, here are some more easy picks.

Last year's prediction: Unders for all three

Final deck counts: 224, 231, and 239, respectively

I was sorely tempted to give Hama Pashar an Over. In fact, if I remember correctly, I actually did mark it Over in an early draft of my article.

Fortunately, reason prevailed. Here's what I wrote in the final draft:

"It's hard to go Over on a card devoted to a mechanic that's so polarizing. In fact, since Hama is so entwined with dungeons, I feel like this is an Over/Under prediction on the mechanic itself."

I'd say Venture went Under overall. They even tried to create a modified version in Commander Legends: Baldur's Gate, to the agony of Pauper players everywhere.

Last year's prediction: Unders for all three

Final deck counts: 196, 246, and 263, respectively

I know I gave it an Under, but I'm still kinda surprised Old Gnawbone performed so poorly. There's a long tradition of successful mono-green commanders, dating back to the days when there was just one Omnath, and this one is especially nasty. After all, with the dearth of big dudes in green, one can create absurd amounts of mana at no cost.

However, I noted Gnawbone's biggest issue last year:

"I seem to be a lot higher on this old fella than others. To be fair, most players like the card... they just like it in Scion of the Ur-Dragon decks better."

Indeed, Gnawbone appears in Scion decks 36% of the time. I'm relieved I called that—and the Under—correctly.

Alright, time for our last round of Easy Unders.

Last year's prediction: Unders for all three

Final deck counts: 278, 329, and 380, respectively

Sorry, Grazilaxx, but when the best I can say about you is that your name sounds like a "store-brand laxative," that's not a good sign. I didn't have much nice to say about Nadaar or Krydle, either, though at least the latter put up some relatively respectable numbers. That's surprising, especially considering last year's evaluation:

"If the best adjective to describe your commander is 'pesky,' you're in trouble. That's all Krydle is: pesky."

Ouch. At least it's not a laxative, I suppose.


The Just-Barely Over

I've only got one for this category:

Last year's prediction: Over

Final deck count: 709

"I might just have to build this deck myself."

I usually write such compliments to punctuate just how popular I think new commanders will become. Yet with just 109 decks over the mark, I wonder if Treasure fatigue has set in with EDH players. After all, it seems the answer to every design question these days is this: create a Treasure.

Are players over it? I'll have to conduct a focus-group survey. Check back in another year for the results.


The Just-Barely Unders

A few more winners in this category, such as the following:

Last year's prediction: Unders for both

Final deck counts: 412 and 411, respectively

Here's how I began my evaluation of Acererak:

"Never trust a dude who invites you into a place called 'Tomb of Annihilation.'"

Words to live by. And here's what I thought of Gretchen:

"Gretchen is pretty much Thrasios, Triton Hero without Partner. I suppose players might run Gretchen as a budget alternative, but with Thrasios's reprint in Commander Legends supplementary products, he isn't prohibitively expensive any longer."

Here's what I failed to mention: Gretchen is a Halfling, so I could've made a joke about taking the hobbits to Isengard. Missed opportunity there.

Alas, I joke to lighten the mood. Here's what's coming next, reader: my incorrect picks! If you enjoy laughing at other people's misfortune, you're going to love this.


The Egregious Overs

These are the picks where I boldly predicted an Over, yet came up short of the mark. Only two for this category, and they are...

Last year's prediction: Overs for both

Final deck counts: 469 and 588, respectively

Look, I understand Inferno of the Star Mounts going Under. I even acknowledged this might happen last year:

"I'm enticed, yet I've seen little online buzz about it, save some dismissive 'meme card' labels. Perhaps it is a meme card, but I'm still in love with this thing. I'm giving it an Over just to show my solidarity."

Pour one out for solidarity.

Drizzt Do'Urden is the one I'm baffled by. Even a year later, this analysis sounds totally reasonable to me:

"7/4 worth of stats across two bodies for five mana is impressive, and both creatures carry relevant keywords. Drizzt boasts the added bonus of growing when anything bigger (yours or your opponents') dies. That has scary implications on a double strike commander."

Also, isn't this the guy who has several novels written about him? Isn't he basically the Jace of D&D? Am I missing something here? I know his name needs more vowels (and his cat's name, too), but still, what happened here?

I may never know. If you have any ideas, please let me know in the comments. I won't read them, but at least someone might be edified.


The Unquestionably Awful Unders

Sadly for me, there were quite a few of these. We'll start with the least awful of them.

Last year's prediction: Under

Final deck count: 610

Storvald appears to be a budget-friendly goodstuff commander in Bant, which had honestly never occurred to me. Last year I described the card as "small-ball," and that weirdly fits its applications. If only I'd guessed the deck count correctly.

The next two make sense to tackle together.

Last year's prediction: Unders for both

Final deck count: 613 and 972, respectively

In last year's evaluation, I compared Delina to Rionya, Fire Dancer from Commander 2021, who was, at that time, halfway to 600. After calling Rionya "better option of the two," I reasoned that "the dice-rolling mechanic has been polarizing at best" and assigned Delina an Under.

Turns out dice-rolling wasn't so polarizing. Both these commanders eclipsed 600, despite turning our beloved Magic into Yahtzee. I don't think I'll ever understand it—but maybe I'm just a purist.

Next up, we've got a Gimli cosplayer.

Last year's prediction: Under

Final deck count: 878

Here's last year's take on this card in its entirety:

"I appreciate Bruenor's attempt to revitalize Hammer Time, but it's not gonna work. This is just another Boros equipment commander, and an inferior one at that."

Here's the problem with my logic: EDH players love Boros Equipment commanders. Wyleth, Soul of Steel, Akiri, Fearless Voyager... even Koll, the Forgemaster came dangerously close to going Over. Maybe it's the battlecruiser appeal, or the Yertle-esque joy of stacking Equipment cards on one's creatures. Whatever it is, I'll have to remember this for next time.

Moving on!

Last year's prediction: Under

Final deck count: 1178

Let's refer back to my rationale for this pick:

"Oswald seems fun, but it reminds me too much of Prime Speaker Vannifar, a card I had high hopes for—until they were squashed like the Red Viper's head.... Why would a narrower, mono-white narrower version of the same card fare any better in the command zone?"

Nice Song of Ice and Fire reference there, former self. And here's the answer to my question: competition.

That's my theory, anyway. Since Prime Speaker is Simic and everybody seems to have a Simic deck, I'm guessing a mono-white commander offered less overlap in most player's collections, not to mention a more fun deckbuilding challenge. And can we rule out the allure of a legendary Gnome? I think not.

Our penultimate awful Under is...

Last year's prediction: Under

Final deck count: 1918

The numbers on Commander product commanders are always jacked, so I suppose I can't be too surprised by this one. I called Vrondiss's pseudo-Enrage trigger "fairly narrow," despite the oodles of red damage effects one can point his way. Also, you can once again see my bias against dice-rolling (e.g., when I wrote "the dice-rolling trigger doesn't impress"). Not one of my finer moments.

I think I understand this last one even less than Drizzt.

Last year's prediction: Under

Final deck count: 1333

Though Trelasarra didn't earn as many decks as Vrondiss, it still earned a heck of a lot, especially for a card that looks like a bulk uncommon. Last year I offered the following feedback:

"[Trelasarra is] nifty, but it's uncommon, and it certainly reads like it. One counter and one scry per life gain doesn't jive with a format as powerful as EDH."

Apparently, former self, it does. I could list all the incremental lifegain effects packed into these decks (the classic Soul Sisters and Essence Warden are listed as the top High-Synergy Cards, for instance), but what would be the point? I'm still not understanding this. Even if you stack the triggers, Trelasarra needs evasion to become a threat. Plus, scrying 1 multiple times is way less useful than it sounds.

Yes, even upon reflection, this card's popularity remains the biggest surprise of the set for me. Let's hope there aren't more picks like this in my future.


Recap

Correct Picks (33)

Incorrect Picks (9)

My AFR Correct Prediction Percentage: 79%

My Overall Correct Prediction Percentage: 75%

Slightly higher than average, but still in line with my usual percentage. To all the deckbuilders who vaulted Trelasarra over the 600 mark, I'll never forgive you. To everyone else, thanks for reading!

Kyle A. Massa is a writer and avid Magic player living somewhere in upstate New York with his wife, their daughter, and three wild animals. His current favorite card is Xolatoyac, the Smiling Flood. Kyle can be found on Twitter @mindofkyleam.

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