The 600 - Predicting the Popularity of C18 Commanders

Making a Prophecy

I love prophecy. I'm not sure why. I love the prophets and prophetesses of Greek myth. I love when authors foreshadow future events in books. I even love pro football preseason picks (though how accurate are they, really?). All in all, predicting the future is pretty cool.

With this series, I'm going to try my hand at prophecy. I'll guess the popularity of each new commander from the Commander 2018 product by choosing over or under a particular number of decks. That number? 600.

Why 600?

Based on last year's Commander product, 600 looks like the line for a popular commander. (Also, I got approval from EDHREC creator Don Miner himself, so I’m set.) For context, here are a few commanders from last year that surpassed that mark:

A few notes before we commence predicting: I'll give each commander an "Over" or "Under" grade. "Over" means I predict the commander will have over 600 EDHREC decks by August 10, 2019 (one year from release). "Under" means I predict the commander will have under 600. We only care about decks in which the card is the commander, not those in which it appears in the 99. Also of note: We're only looking at brand new commanders, not reprints. Also also of note: To keep things fair, I wrote this article without seeing EDHREC data on these commanders. 

Ready? Let the prophecies commence.

Saheeli, the Gifted

My Prediction: Over

We start off with an easy one. First off, Saheeli, the Gifted is a planeswalker. That fact alone is going to inflate her and the other planeswalker numbers. Players dig them.

Furthermore, we've been awaiting an Izzet artificer commander for a long time. Saheeli seems to be that commander. Hers is one of the better precons straight out of the box, plus many players will still have numerous Kaladesh artifacts to add to her arsenal. And let's not forget the simple fact that she's just very good.

All these factors lead me to believe that Saheeli will end up with over 600 EDHREC decks. Gifted indeed!

Tawnos, Urza's Apprentice

My Prediction: Under

I'm just not seeing it with Tawnos, Urza's Apprentice. Maybe people will see "Urza" in his name and play him because of that?

Tawnos is very similar to an existing commander: Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient. They share a color and have essentially the same ability. I'll admit, the addition of blue with Tawnos should make him much more appealing. However, Kurkesh's ability costs half the mana and can be used multiple times in a turn. Plus, he's got better stats. Despite this, he's still never reached the 600 deck threshold in three years of existence. That makes Tawnos an under.

Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer

My Prediction: Over

This one is difficult. So far as I know, few players campaigned for an Izzet artifact token commander. That said, we got one, and he's really cool.

The hype seems real for Brudiclad thus far. It's powerful, fun, and unique—three ingredients that are essential to making an over-600 commander. I mean, just think of all the tokens in red and blue: thopters, goblins, treasure, clues, elementals, drakes, and dragons. That last one sounds especially nice.

Varchild, Betrayer of Kjeldor

My Prediction: Under

Don't get me wrong—Varchild is a very cool card. It's just that mono-color commanders aren't super popular to begin with. Plus, Varchild has a high setup cost for an effect that's more cool than actually good. A nice flavor win, but not enough to get over 600 decks.

Aminatou, the Fateshifter

My Prediction: Under

While I do believe the planeswalker commanders will be popular, I don't forsee Aminatou, the Fateshifter reaching our mark.

Yes, Aminatou allows you to stack your deck. But that means she only provides card selection—and poor card selection at that. The blinking ability is cute, but it's a minus one ability on a three loyalty planeswalker. Plus, it doesn't interact with her first ability very much. And then there's her ultimate, which is…interesting? I'm not really sure what to make of it, other than that it won't win the game on the spot.

All this leads me to believe that Aminatou, the Fateshifter will end up somewhere in the 400-599 range. A cool commander, but not good enough for widespread play.

Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign

My Prediction: Under

Yennett is simply too weird to catch on. I've heard many players say that they're just going to stack their decks with odd converted mana cost cards, which seems like an odd strategy in and of itself. Plus, I think savvy EDH players tend to avoid commanders that only really do anything when they attack.

Varina, Lich Queen

My Prediction: Over

I like Varina, Lich Queen. For comparison, let's look back at last year's Commander product. Edgar Markov currently stands well above our 600 mark, and I think he's an excellent comparison for Varina. Both are commanders for historically popular tribes that add a third color to those tribes. Also, both commanders belong to tribes appearing in recent standard-legal sets (Vampires in Ixalan and Zombies in Amonkhet). So if Edgar's popularity is any indication, Varina should really take off.

Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow

My Prediction: Under

This might come as a surprise to some, especially considering the constant calls for Ninja commanders we've had over the years. I agree—Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow is an exciting card. It's just not going to take off the way some might think.

For one, Ninjas haven't been a legitimate player in Magic since Kamigawa block. That set came out 14 years ago, y'all. (Do you feel old now? I do.) I'd argue that EDH really only took off as a format in 2009 or 2010, meaning most current commander players probably don't have the Ninjas they need from the Kamigawa block. Commander 2018 doesn't help much—it only includes three more.

Not that there are all that many Ninjas in the game to begin with. In all, there are 10 Ninjas in Magic, not counting Yuriko and Changelings. If your playgroup doesn't mind Unstable cards, that number expands to just 13. Unless they print more Ninjas in the near future, I'm not seeing the critical mass needed to make this commander popular.

Lord Windgrace

My Prediction: Over

A three-color planeswalker commander that enables a strategy players have been asking for for quite a while. I think that about covers Lord Windgrace.

For the record, I don't think this guy is all that good. His plus one asks you to work pretty hard just to come out ahead on cards. His minus three doesn't always work on the turn you cast him. And his ultimate isn't game winning. Nonetheless, people seem pretty excited about this card, so I'm willing to be optimistic.

Gyrus, Waker of Corpses

My Prediction: Under

Great art, but not a good enough card. Several commanders already do what Gyrus does, only they do it better. Plus, based on EDHREC data, the Jund color identity likely isn't a draw for most players.

Thantis, the Warweaver

My Prediction: Under

So far as I know, we've never had a commander with exactly this rules text before. Fumiko the Lowblood is close, though her color identity somewhat limits her applications as a general. Thantis's color identity opens up some interesting possibilities: ramp and fixing from green, plus efficient removal from black.

Still, Thantis isn't getting nearly the kind of hype Lord Windgrace is, nor is it really supported very much by the rest of the precon. As a result, I don't believe Thantis will ever make a big impact on the format.

Xantcha, Sleeper Agent

My Prediction: Under (I think?)

Xantcha, Sleeper Agent is incredibly tricky to evaluate. I can't think of a single card like it, especially not one to compare it to from last year's product. Her effect is so bizarre that I feel like I'm basically guessing more with her than any other commander. Let's break it down.

I think the first question we must ask ourselves is this: Does Xantcha fit better in the 99 or as a commander herself? Her guild, Rakdos, has middling popularity on EDHREC, with only four commanders above the 600 mark. So people aren't necessarily going to play her just for the color identity.

What about the effect, then? I honestly have no idea if it's better inside the command zone or outside it, though my intuition is leaning toward the latter. Xantcha drops off dramatically in the late game, because players will eventually be able to block it. You'll find yourself in situations where Xantcha will die immediately if you cast it.

So maybe it doesn't play its best as a commander. But where else will it find a home? The only 99 I currently see it slotting into is Queen Marchesa, who is indeed a popular commander. But is that enough to keep her under 600 decks as a commander?

All in all, Xantcha might be the hardest commander to evaluate from this new set. I could see players avoiding her as a commander because of her uniqueness. I could see players playing her extensively for the same reason. I'm going with an under, but honestly, I have no idea.

Estrid, the Masked

My Prediction: Under

Yes, I know Estrid, the Masked is a planeswalker. Yes, I know she has cool artwork. And yes, I know that Bant is one of the more popular shards out there. Still, I do not see this card taking off as a commander.

For starters, she just doesn't seem all that good. Auras are risky, so Estrid's plus one ability rewards us for doing something we shouldn't be doing anyway. Her minus one is cute, but it doesn't defend from exile effects, of which there are many in our format. I do like that it protects creatures from most board wipes, but even then Estrid can only mask one permanent per turn. It's also trumped by the format's best board wipe, Toxic DelugeThe minus seven can be powerful, but it's inconsistent and requires a lot of setup to make it game breaking.

All in all, I think Estrid is cool, but just not good enough to reach 600, especially when compared to the other two commanders in her precon. I see her ending up somewhere in the mid to high 500s. Close, but not quite there.

Kestia, the Cultivator

My Prediction: Over

Now this is what I'm talking about. I see Kestia, the Cultivator as one of the more popular commanders from Commander 2018.

First off, many players have already recognized her ability to mitigate one of the main drawbacks of enchanted creatures; since you draw a card when you attack with them, they get you even on cards. Notice too that she mentions enchantment creatures in her text. That means any of the Theros gods, which pretty much all see a lot of EDH play, trigger her ability. Third, we've never had a commander with Bestow before, and Bestow is quite popular. Just ask Mark Rosewater. I think players will latch onto that and play Kestia often.

For all these reasons, I like Kestia's chances of going over.

Tuvasa the Sunlit

My Prediction: Over

Players have been asking for an enchantress commander for a long time now. Tuvasa the Sunlit fits the bill. Plus, it has really wacky artwork.

Seriously though, I believe Tuvasa is the best commander for its precon, and perhaps one of the best in the whole batch. It's efficiently-costed for the effect and can get out of hand in a hurry. The card draw ability is quite obviously good, and it can even be magnified if you play enchantments on opponents' turns.

This is a bigtime player in the format. Love this card. I expect to see it played often.

Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle

My Prediction: Over

Hot take right here. Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle seems like exactly the kind of card players will build around (so long as they can figure out how to pronounce the name).

First off, this thing is totally one of a kind. Like Xantcha, nothing else is quite like yet. Unlike Xantcha, Arixmethes isn't baffling. One can pretty easily build a number of different decks around it without much trouble. Ramp and Sea Serpent tribal come to mind immediately, though I'm sure there are others.

This flexibility seems important in building a popular commander. Just look at some of the format's most popular: Meren of Clan Nel Toth, Oloro, Ageless Ascetic, Derevi, Empyrial Tactician, Queen Marchesa. These cards allow for some flexibility, and therefore allow for creative deck building. I see Arixmethes slotting nicely into this category. (Also, I now dub it "The Big Sleep.")

Make Your Predictions!

Okay, we've finally reached the end. Which cards was I right about? Which was I wrong about? You'll have to join me in a year to find out. See you then!

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 Nahiri, Forged in Fury. Kyle can be found on Twitter @mindofkyleam.