The 600 - A Review of Zendikar Rising Commanders

(Lotus Cobra | Art by Bastien Grivet)

Oh, the Landfall Will Bring it Down

Party on, Wayne. We're heading back to Zendikar, 600 style!

In September 2021, I predicted the popularity of every commander from Zendikar Rising. Now it's time to check my work.

As the name implies, our line is 600. An "Over" grade means I predicted the commander would lead over 600 EDHREC decks by September 25, 2021, and "Under" means under 600. I also have one Can't-Miss Pick each set, which is sort of like a called shot. You can find last year's article here, but no worries if you prefer not to re-read: I'll be referencing it throughout. Onward!

The Easy Unders

Every set has its scrubs. Let's begin with a few of the most obvious.

Last year’s predictions: Unders for all three

Final deck counts: 110, 111, and 120, respectively. (All deck counts drawn at the 1-year mark.)

Drana's problem was abundantly clear, as I mentioned in last year's article:

"With a whopping 4,115 decks, Edgar Markov stands alone as lord of the Vampires. That’s going to impact any Vampire commander’s popularity, even one as lightly tribal-based as Drana. One might try reanimator shenanigans with her instead, but options are limited among nonlegendary mono-black targets."

Though we received some impressive reanimator targets in Kaldheim's Burning-Rune Demon and Modern Horizons 2's Archon of Cruelty, they weren't enough to push Drana out of obscurity. At least her blood transfusion business is booming.

Grakmaw, Skyclave Ravager is our next commander, and it was probably an even easier Under than Drana.

"It’s challenging to stack those counters, and you can’t rely on the death trigger since Swords to Plowshares, Cyclonic Rift, and Counterspell are three of EDH’s six most-played cards."

Look, we've all seen Hercules. Hydras are supposed to be hard to kill. This dude just isn't.

Next, let's talk about the set's headliner mechanic, Party. Party is to Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate as nougat is to Three Musketeers. If you don't like the main ingredient, you won't like the product. Party never took off in Commander, or Standard, or Modern, or Draft, or really anywhere, so it's no wonder Linvala underperformed.

Alright, now for some more schlubs.

Last year’s predictions: Unders for all three

Final deck counts: 130, 139, and 191, respectively

Poor Zareth San was flawed from the start...

"His quasi-Ninjutsu ability doesn’t function from the command zone, which effectively erases what might be the card’s coolest trait. Also, anyone interested in Rogue tribal will likely buy the precon, meaning they’ll play Anowon, the Ruin Thief over Zareth."

And indeed they did... but we'll get to Anowan in due time.

Next up, a Demon I affectionately nicknamed "Tabby": Taborax, Hope’s Demise. I had a lot to say about Tabby, so here are the CliffsNotes: it's a great Shadowborn Apostle commander, but Shadowborn Apostle is too pricey to earn much interest. The common was $5.99 last year, and it's $6.99 this year. I rest my case.

I'll spare you a quote from last year's evaluation of Moraug, Fury of Akoum since it's an excerpt from his memoir (which plummeted in sales and is no longer in print, as I understand it). Suffice it to say that I predicted he'd find a better home in the 99 of other decks than as the leader of his own, and that proved true. In fact, Moraug appears with 18 different commanders.

Now, for our last trio of Easy Unders:

Last year’s predictions: Unders for all three

Final deck counts: 200, 358, and 362, respectively

Here's the most exciting Zagras synergy I mentioned last year:

"...Try Goblin Sharpshootering everyone else’s creatures, since your Sharpshooter has free deathtouch."

I didn't know how right I was. 11 of his 15 High-Synergy cards are pingers! However, only about half of them are Party members, which hints at the card's biggest issue. As we saw with Linvala, Party was a flop. It's too finicky, too fragile, and ultimately, it's a party not worth attending.

Then there's Yasharn, Implacable Earth, a card which became a weirdly relevant hoser in Standard and Historic (don't ask me how I know this). I'll include the entirety of last year's evaluation because it's so brief:

"This pig looks useful for producing spiky green bacon, but not much else. Tutoring two lands helps with Landfall, but both must be basic, meaning no shock lands. The second ability shuts down fetch lands and Phyrexian mana, but that seems more likely to annoy your friends than bring you happiness."

Commanders are usually most successful when they're synergistic. Yasharn is anything but that. Its decks are Selesnya goodstuff's greatest hits with some Hatebears sprinkled in, but that's not especially fun for anyone, and it shows in the numbers. I technically gave this card an "oink," but I'm crediting myself with the Under, and no one can stop me.

Of these easy picks, Charix, the Raging Isle was closest to 600. Not surprising, considering its initial hype. It's even an early prototype for Ward, which is neat to see in hindsight. However, last year's prediction rang all too true:

"Charix slots too well into decks featuring High Alert, Towering Titan, and Assault Formation—none of which work with Charix as the King Crab."

It even slots well into two brand new commander decks: Geralf, Visionary Stitcher and Runo Stromkirk. A Crab meant to follow, but never to lead.

Alright, enough negativity. Let's look on the brighter side of Zendikar.

The Easy Overs

Let's begin with these three:

Last year’s predictions: Overs for all three

Final deck counts: 833, 866, and 3,487, respectively

Orah, Skyclave Hierophant was an easy choice because it revived an old classic, kind of like Taylor Swift's version of Red. After all, many players enjoyed the black-white Clerics tribal decks of Onslaught block, there was just never a great option at commander... until now.

Nothing fancy here. Orah decks are mostly on-color Clerics, especially those that thrive on sacrifice and rebirth. I earmarked Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, Priest of Forgotten Gods, and Tymna the Weaver in last year's article, and they all appear in droves in today's Orah decks.

Next we have Akiri, who's... a Boros commander? That went Over? Am I seeing this right?

Hey, Boros deserves some respect of late. With Osgir, the Reconstructor, Winota, Joiner of Forces, and Wyleth, Soul of Steel, we've had some solid commanders, not to mention Akiri. Here's what I said about her last year:

"This isn’t the clunky, sorta-card draw Boros used to get. It’s conditional, yes, but it’s effective, especially when attacking multiple opponents. Plus, if you chump attack just for the card, you can use Akiri’s second ability to save your creature."

Indeed, today's Akiri decks play a straight-up offensive Equipment game, along with some extra board wipes, since your creatures are often indestructible.

Our final commander from this trio is the most popular in the entire set: Omnath, Locus of Creation. In fact, this dude was my Can't-Miss Pick (I went for the low-hanging fruit since missing on the Can't-Miss is embarrassing). Here's last year's evaluation:

"Omnath is the Magic equivalent of the iPhone: a new model arrives every few years, prompting a buyer’s frenzy."

There's more to the review, but I thought I'd start there. When the five-color Omnath appears in next year's Unfinity set (probably called "iNath, Locus of Arms"), don't say I didn't warn you.

Oh yeah, there was more, though.

"Though the first Landfall trigger is unimpressive (since lifegain means less in a format with commander damage), the second trigger is far better: four free mana to pay for your next ramp spell, which triggers the third, final, and best Landfall ability.

Players probably won’t get that third Landfall trigger as often as they think. Even so, Omnath is an iPhone, and people love iPhones."

And so we did. I myself made an Omnath deck, complete with all the usual suspects, including Tatyova, Benthic Druid, Dryad of the Ilysian Grove, and Risen Reef. It's a fun commander, and I can see why it became so beloved (in EDH, at least).

Before we proceed from this section, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention our two Commander product commanders from this set:

Last year’s predictions: Overs for both

Final deck counts: 2,852 and 1,122, respectively

In high school, one of my best friends had an Anowon, the Ruin Sage in his Vampire deck. When you play big dumb green creatures, that dude can be a problem. I'd always end up saccing several creatures to it, then subsequently rage quitting.

I say this to give you the historical context on my relationship to the character Anowon, and how hard it was for me to give the guy an Over. However, I care more about assisting you, dear reader, than any personal vendetta. As such, I was charitable to my old enemy. Effusive, even! See for yourself:

"Anowon has plentiful Rogue support, he’s the face card on one of the precon decks, and he appears to be quite the accomplished hiker. All points in his favor."

The compliments bore out in the results. Now let me never speak of Anowon again.

Though I began Obuun, Mul Daya Ancestor's evaluation by comparing him to a "Scooby-Doo villain," I soon warmed up to the guy.

"When combined with EDH staples like Oracle of Mul Daya and Harrow, +1/+1 counters will be plentiful. That’s good, but bringing lands to life is better, especially with haste and trample. When animating Darksteel Citadel or Inkmoth Nexus, one can see why this guy became such a renowned ancestor."

A solid card, and a pretty easy pick overall.

I promise we'll get to the part where I mess some of these up. Just a few more successes to report!

The Close Under

Yes, there was only one in this set, and it was a shocker:

Last year's prediction: Under

Final deck count: 517

Kaza surprised me with just how many decks she earned. Truth be told, I thought she'd be one of the least popular commanders of the set. Can you tell from my snarky tone?

"[Kaza] asks you to go wide for best effect, and Wizards aren’t a tribe that does so particularly well (aside from perhaps Docent of Perfection). Plus, we already have stronger options for Wizard tribal in Inalla, Archmage Ritualist (1,760 decks), Azami, Lady of Scrolls (744 decks), and Adeliz, the Cinder Wind (584 decks).

For me, that all means a naza for Kaza."

I believe Kaza's biggest boon was Strixhaven, a set that provided potent Wizard pals, like Archmage Emeritus, along with big spells, like Crackle with Power. Even Modern Horizons 2 tossed in some random Wizard payoffs, such as Harmonic Prodigy and Step Through. It wasn't enough to eclipse 600, but Kaza definitely made things interesting.

The Close Overs

Just two for this section:

Last year’s predictions: Overs for both

Final deck counts: 654 and 645, respectively

Ashaya is just too unique not to be an Over, as I noted last year:

"...Ashaya has enough backdoor synergies that I’m willing to buy it. And anything even remotely related to Troll 2 gets the benefit of the doubt from me."

Get it? Because, to quote the great Grandpa Seth, Ashaya turns your creatures into "half-man, half-plant." Just look at all the wacky things you can do with such an effect:

You get the idea. No wonder it went Over!

Then there's Tazri, who surprised me by just how few decks she earned. Can you tell how bullish I was on this card?

"We’re talking about a five-color commander that costs as low as one white mana and draws up to two cards per activation. One might go pure tribal with Warriors, Wizards, Rogues, Clerics, or Allies, or you can invite them all to the Party. Easy pick here."

Yet she only cleared the bar by 45 decks. Again, I think the blandness of Party was to blame. There are tons of relevant creatures of these four types in Magic, plus some recent Changelings from Kaldheim, yet as we've already discussed, the mechanic still didn't land.

Alright, now for the moment we've all been waiting for: my lousiest picks! There weren't too many this time around and, spoiler alert, there were no Egregious Unders. So, without further ado....

The Egregious Overs

Last year’s predictions: Overs for both

Final deck counts: 491 and 528, respectively

I began by comparing Phylath, World Sculptor to Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy (the Showcase version, not so much the regular one). Then I got down to business.

"Many have compared [Phylath] to a nerfed Avenger of Zendikar, and it's true, you only get Plants for basics, but those Plants will grow faster than Petey Piranha once you get some Landfall triggers.

Speaking of which, many want to try 'Plant tribal' with Phylath. I’ve never felt much affinity for Plants (aside from the four-year-old cactus in my office), but I suppose that shouldn’t preclude me from giving this card the grade it deserves."

(By the way, pour one out for my four-year old cactus. It recently died.)

All that analysis sounded so good at the time—and still does, honestly. Phylath even gained some new tools with AFR'sDruid Class and MH2'sTireless Provisioner. I think the issues were twofold: first, Omnath, Locus of Creation was a far more exciting Landfall commander, so deckbuilders probably chose it over Phylath; second, Phylath is on the same corner as another Omnath: Omnath, Locus of Rage. Tough to compete with a glowing ball of ectoplasm, you know?

Finally, we'll conclude with what I see as the biggest surprise of the set. Why didn't Verazol perform better? Here's what I wrote last year:

"Verazol’s direct competitor is Hallar, the Firefletcher, and I think Verazol’s far better. It grants access to insane blue Kicker spells, like Rite of Replication and Jace, Mirror Mage. In addition, Verazol’s casting cost is worded such that it gets counters from command tax payments. Finally, it’s in Simic, which is arguably the format’s strongest color pair."

All this is true, yet still Verazol didn't make it. I have a couple theories. First, I think many Kicker spells are designed for Limited, which means they're underpowered for EDH. Yet Verazol requires a critical mass of such cards, meaning you're compelled to play stinkers like Cunning Geysermage and Krosan Druid.

Second, though Kicker appears in many sets, it isn't evergreen. That means new releases rarely provide direct support, unless it's a random Kicker card in MH2, such as Tide Shaper (another stinker).

Overall, I'm a little bitter this guy didn't do better, but at least now I understand a bit more.


Correct Picks (17)

Incorrect Picks (2)

My Zendikar Rising Correct Prediction Percentage: 89% (tied for my career high!)

My Overall Correct Prediction Percentage: 74%

Here's a handy graph to track my progress. I was going to change the background for every set, but I like how the cats are all staring at the line, so I think it'll keep it.

Look, I don't mean to brag or anything, but among random writers who predict whether new commanders will earn under or over 600 commander decks after one year, I just might be the best. Then again, as a wise man once said, twice the pride, double the fall. Until next time!

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 Titania, Gaea Incarnate. Kyle can be found on Twitter @mindofkyleam.