The 600 - Predicting the Popularity of Commander 2021 & Strixhaven Commanders

(Prismari Command | Art by Taylor Ingvarsson)

School's In for Strixhaven

Never thought I'd be excited to head back to school, but if my professors are Bears, Orcs, and Elder Dragons, take my tuition money, please.

Welcome to another semester of The 600the article series where I predict how popular new EDH commanders will become one year after graduation (a.k.a. release). Our line is 600, so an "Over" grade means I think it'll earn over 600 decks, while "Under" means under 600. You'll also see one "Can't Miss Pick," which is sort of like a called shot in Horse.

Alright, class. Get ready for a lengthy lecture.

Losheel, Clockwork Scholar

Any mono-white commander with the words "draw" and "card" is intriguing. Losheel is no exception... until we realize there's a hard cap on how many cards you'll actually draw. The damage prevention clause is nice, but it's too narrow to attract even the most diehard aggro deckbuilders. Time for this pachyderm to pack it in.

My prediction: Under

Mavinda, Students' Advocate

A friendly guidance counselor who happens to be a giant owl. Only in Strixhaven.

Mavinda works best with combat tricks and blink spells. Unfortunately, Feather, the Redeemed owns the former and decks are already plentiful in the latter, so I'm not seeing much space in the metagame. And no, I'm not paying 12 mana to Flashback my Wrath of God.

My prediction: Under

Nils, Discipline Enforcer

Nils (played by John Malkovich in a wig) is more intriguing than the standard mono-white fare. Taxing attackers is a time-honored EDH tradition, right up there with drawing cards and ramping. Speaking of which, Nils does neither of those last two things, meaning he still has the same fundamental problems of most mono-white commanders. Not to say he isn't cool; I just doubt over 600 players will want him.

My prediction: Under

Deekah, Fractal Theorist

Want my theory on this Theorist? Players will like him—but not as a commander. Most discussion I've seen centers around his synergy with Ink-Treader Nephilim, which is indeed sweet. Deekah by himself, not so much.

My prediction: Under

Octavia, Living Thesis

I have no idea what's going on with the art here, but I like it. I also like the card itself.

Eight instants and sorceries in the 'yard is a lot, but blue's access to one-mana cantrips, looters, and self-mill effects mitigate the challenge. Plus, the payoff for getting there is a sticky threat with a big body that boosts its teammates' stats.

All that said, I'm not hearing or reading much buzz around Octavia. Unless the Octopus contingent is bigger than I realize, I think this pick is close but clear.

My prediction: Under

Fain, the Broker

At first glance, Fain looked super familiar to me, yet I couldn't place where I knew him. Fortunately, r/EDH gave me the answer: he's a dead ringer for Loki. Thanks, that was really bugging me.

Resemblances aside, this card checks all the boxes. Aristocrats, counters, artifacts, tokens... Fain brokers them all, plus goes infinite several ways. I used to be skeptical of mono-black commanders competing with K'rrik, Son of Yawgmoth, but with Syr Konrad, the Grim, Ayara, First of Locthwain, and Tergrid, God of Fright going Over (Tergrid is a lock at this point), I've changed my stance.

My prediction: Over

Tivash, Gloom Summoner

Okay, am I missing something here? We have another doppelganger. As Erin Campbell noted on Twitter, Tivash is clearly Jacobim Mugatu from Zoolander.

But unless I'm taking crazy pills, I don't see popularity in this fellow's future. I mean, people are talking more about his resemblance to a Will Ferrell character than his actual rules text. That can't be a good sign.

My prediction: Under

Laelia, the Blade Reforged

We've seen temporary card draw from mono-red commanders numerous times, yet it rarely leads to popularity. Laelia's second ability, though novel, isn't enough to forge (or reforge) 600 decks.

My prediction: Under

Rionya, Fire Dancer

Dancing with or near fire seems risky, but Rionya's skilled enough to make it work. Imagine casting Seething Song-style cards into Inferno Titan, Dockside Extortionist, or Bogardan Hellkite.

Problem is, both the mana and the tokens are temporary. You might enjoy some fiery turns with Rionya, but I suspect most players will opt for a more permanent dancing partner.

My prediction: Under

Ruxa, Patient Professor

Hey, I found Ruxa on Rate My Professor. Check the top comments:

"Great prof! I'm just a vanilla 4/4 scrub, but Ruxa pumped me up and kept me coming back to class, even when I died!"

"Such a good guy, especially with graveyard-fillers like Greater Good and Survival of the Fittest."

"Turns Grizzled Outriders into Rhoxs (minus the regeneration). Thanks, Ruxa!"

You get the idea. And though the Rate My Professor chili pepper "hotness" rating is now defunct, we all know Ruxa would score super well.

My prediction: Over

Yedora, Grave Gardener

Pros: If you're making a Troll 2 tribal deck, this is the perfect commander. To quote the immortal Grandpa Seth, Yedora turns your creatures into "half-man, half-plant—the goblins' favorite food." It also fuels Landfall triggers, goes infinite with Altar of Dementia plus Life and Limb, and inspires infinite questions about how it interacts with Morph.

Cons: Many mono-green commanders already support Landfall, everything goes infinite with Altar of Dementia, and the answers to the Morph questions require a degree to decipher. I'm off it.

My prediction: Under

Breena, the Demagogue

Breena's rules text feels like a final exam, and I don't think I'm passing.

...

Alright. After some careful studying, I think I understand. This card reminds me of Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist, a commander which earned 955 decks mostly because he's a Partner. Breena is not, and she's too elitist to inspire much love from the general populace.

My prediction: Under

Felisa, Fang of Silverquill

Sometimes Orzhov feels like a sitcom: the same thing over and over with slight variations. That worked for Cheers, but I, for one, was getting sick of black-white lifegain and enchantment stuff every set. Fortunately, Felisa offers something different.

A horde of 2/1 flyers is surprisingly threatening, especially since Felisa can Mentor them. Her preferred variety of counter is +1/+1, but any kind will trigger her final ability. That means you could overload your own creatures with -1/-1 counters, thereby making a swarm of Inklings. Or if you're feeling really frisky, try some fungus spore counters.

My prediction: Over

Killian, Ink Duelist

If you ever find yourself in a duel, I would not recommend bringing ink as your weapon. But hey, it works for Killian.

I was initially underwhelmed by this guy, but with more time to think (and pilfer ideas from the internet), I've changed my mind. His cost reduction should prove busted, especially with Auras, targeted removal, and Heroic creatures.

My prediction: Over

Shadrix Silverquill

I've read short stories with less text than Shadrix ("Rad Shad" to his friends), which bodes well for his popularity. I mean, the versatility here is off the charts. With two abilities and two players to select each combat, the possibilities are endless. Plus, he's already a 2/5 with flying and double strike. No wonder they call him rad.

My prediction: Over

Shaile, Dean of Radiance // Embrose, Dean of Shadow

I appreciate the pep talk from Shaile's flavor text. Otherwise, I detest both sides of this card. Not excited about giving +1/+1 counters to new arrivals, and I'm even less excited to kill an X/1 to draw a card. Dean Martin would make a better Dean than these two goofs.

My prediction: Under

Galazeth Prismari

This card's name takes one's tongue for a ride, which I appreciate. Better yet, it offers an unusual spin on Izzet spells.

Turning your artifacts into Birds of Paradise for instants and sorceries is best with X spells, but one could go control or general spellslinger instead. There's actually more overlap between artifacts and spells than you might think, as demonstrated by Metallurgic Summonings, Primal Amulet // Primal Wellspring, and Sentinel Tower.

True, Galazeth is a worse spellslinger commander than Niv-Mizzet, Parun and a worse artifact commander than Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain, but combining the two archetypes gives me hope for its popularity.

My prediction: Over

Rootha, Mercurial Artist

Rootha's best for Limited, not EDH. Plus, she lifted her flavor text from French poet and essayist, Paul Valéry.

My prediction: Under

Uvilda, Dean of Perfection // Nassari, Dean of Expression

Both these cards have tons of text, though little of it is appealing. Uvilda offers weird Suspend, and Nassari does its best impression of Etali, Primal Storm, a commander that was never that popular to begin with. Let this be the perfect expression of my indifference.

My prediction: Under

Veyran, Voice of Duality

Veyran doubles your pings from Guttersnipe, your Drakes from Talrand, Sky Summoner, and the pumps from Adeliz, the Cinder Wind, just to name a few applications. It's the newest entry in a long line of Izzet spellslinger commanders, but the archetype has proven eternally popular, no matter how many variations we get.

My prediction: Over

Zaffai, Thunder Conductor

Speaking of which, here's another Izzet spells commander. Zaffai is the perfect intersection of fun, flavor, and raw power. The Magecraft ability scales with the game, plus it pays you off for casting hefty X spells. It's a little winmoreish, I'll admit, but when has that ever stopped us EDH players from doing anything?

My prediction: Over

Beledros Witherbloom

Seven mana is prohibitive—but not when you get it back immediately!

Alright, yes, it's true, doing so costs 10 life. But this is EDH, the land of the greedy and the home of the ambitious. With friends like Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper, Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose, Essence Warden, and more, we can offset a measly 25% of our starting life total. Beledros even spots us a free Pest on each upkeep.

Simply put, I love this card. I think over 600 deckbuilders will love it, too.

My prediction: Over

Blex, Vexing Pest // Search for Blex

Speaking of love, EDH players love strange tribal commanders, and it doesn't get any stranger than Pests, Bats, Insects, Snakes, and Spiders. So does that make Blex an Over?

I'm leaning toward no. Remember Ikoria's Kaheera, the Orphanguard? It too boosts a bunch of weirdos, costs three mana, and is partially green, yet it leads only 45 decks. (That's partially due to it being a Companion, but it's not particularly popular in that capacity, either.)

Though the sorcery on Blex's backside is nice, it won't save this Pest from obscurity.

My prediction: Under

Dina, Soul Steeper

Dina has some relevant text, but she's underpowered compared to the field. On the plus side, she appears to be drinking steamed lemon-lime Gatorade—a fine choice for any athlete.

My prediction: Under

Gyome, Master Chef

I try to avoid heavy-handed puns, but there's no other way to say this: Gyome has delectable flavor. He cooks a hearty meal for every guest, thereby giving them the fortitude to withstand death. Just don't ask what's going in the pot, because it sure as Witherbloom isn't FDA-approved....

Is Gyome actually good? I don't think so, but that doesn't matter much. Like Ruxa, Patient Professor, its whimsy will earn 600 decks and beyond.

My prediction: Over

Valentin, Dean of the Vein // Lisette, Dean of the Root

Turning opposing creatures into Pests implies they weren't already Pests before they died, which feels inaccurate to me. I love free exiling, sure, but creating 1/1s for two mana sounds like a poor exchange, especially on a body as fragile as Valentin's.

Lisette is more impressive, especially for Timmys & Tammies. Gaining life isn't too difficult in Golgari, and counters for the whole team plus evasion could produce some big swings.

Ultimately, however, players don't seem excited about this one. Neither am I.

My prediction: Under

Willowdusk, Essence Seer

This is an oddball, and not just because it appears to hail from Shadowmoor rather than Strixhaven. I don't think I've ever seen a card that rewards both life gain and loss.

The life loss thing inspires comparison with a format staple of Modern: Death's Shadow. For those unfamiliar, Death's Shadow gets larger the less life you have, so its decks intentionally pay life via Fetch Lands, Shock Lands, Phyrexian Mana, Street Wraith, and more. Willowdusk ports the same strategy into EDH, which should be enough to hit the mark.

My prediction: Over

Alibou, Ancient Witness

It's fun to say "Alibou." That's the nicest thing I have to say about this card.

I mean, sure, it does stuff... just not stuff most players want to be doing. Boros commanders that rely solely on attacking rarely fare well. This guy's Alibou just isn't checking out.

My prediction: Under

Hofri Ghostforge

Hofri is clearly a fan of Ghostbusters (but honestly, who isn't?). He turns any creature into a ghost—sorry, Spirit—and gives them a nice boost, too.

A solid ability, but I've heard little fanfare about this guy. He's also debuting at just around a $3 value, despite being a mythic rare, which can't be a good sign for his popularity.

Who ya gonna call? Not Hofri.

My prediction: Under

Mila, Crafty Companion // Lukka, Wayward Bonder

Just a boy and his dog... and a conflicted double-faced card. Seriously, did R&D Krazy Glue two previously unrelated cards together?

Don't get me wrong: I like both sides. Mila's a legit security blanket for Superfriends decks, both by recouping loyalty counters and offering free cards when your permanents get targeted. And then there's Lukka, who introduces Boros reanimator, a strategy that was heretofore unexplored.

Deckbuilders might simply build around only one side, but that seems like a waste of a double-faced commander. Plus it's Boros, and we all know what that means.

My prediction: Under

Osgir, the Reconstructor

Now I know what I just said about Boros... er, sorry, Lorehold. But this card still seems impressive to me.

Osgir's last ability is, in the parlance of kids these days, lit. Imagine getting two Wurmcoil Engines that both die into two more Wurm tokens. Or try creating two Solemn Simulacrums, two Steel Overseers, or, my personal favorite, two Myr Battlespheres.

This card seems extraordinarily powerful to me, and it'll only get better as more artifacts are released in future sets.

My prediction: Over

Plargg, Dean of Chaos // Augusta, Dean of Order

This Dean cycle has been disappointing. Plargg has a great name, but a Rummaging Goblin that casts random tiny spells for minimum two extra mana is terrible. I'm already out on this card, and I've only seen one side.

The back half only makes things worse. Augusta does stuff with tapped and untapped creatures, which is about as appealing as an early morning lecture. And it's in Boros? Thank you, next.

My prediction: Under

Quintorius, Field Historian

The name "Quintorius" sounds familiar to me, for some reason. Was that a character in Gladiator? 

I ask because there's not much else to say about this card. I like its synergy with FlashbackEscape, and all the new Lorehold cards, but 4/2 tokens aren't the payoff we're looking for in a format as powerful as EDH. Pumping those standard 1/1 flying Spirits is better, but still not good enough.

My prediction: Under

Velomachus Lorehold

Not sure how this Elder Dragon found itself in academia, but no matter. Velomachus Lorehold is sweet.

We've got a nice body with three relevant keywords, plus a shot at a free spell off the top. That's especially cool since we don't see much spellslinger stuff in Boros outside Feather, the Redeemed and Firesong and Sunspeaker (worth noting that those are two of Boros's top five most popular).

Yes, seven mana is a ton, especially for two colors with woeful ramp options. But Mr. Lorehold has massive board impact the turn you cast it, and it's just too sweet to ignore.

My prediction: Over

Adrix and Nev, Twincasters

In the grand pantheon of fictional twins, I'm ranking these two somewhere between Sherri & Terri and Cersei & Jaime. In other words, I like this card. It's Simic, it's one of the face cards for this year's Commander product, and it's Parallel Lives on a stick.

My prediction: Over

Esix, Fractal Bloom

This card has tremendous upside, but if we assume Adrix and Nev dominate the Simic tokens space, Esix would likely appear more often in the 99 than as a commander. Also, Esix kinda looks like a doily with eyes, which makes me feel unsettled.

My prediction: Under

Jadzi, Oracle of Arcavios // Journey to the Oracle

I keep reading "Arcavios" as "Avocados," which makes me hungry. But then I read the rest of this card and forget all about it.

This thing's kinda absurd. Let's start with the back half first. Though some players may read Journey to the Oracle and daydream of dropping seven lands, we have to be realistic about these things: we're more likely getting two or three. Even so, that's an opportunity for multiple Landfall triggers. And assuming we have eight or more lands, we get our card back with, conveniently, enough to cast the Oracle of Avocados.

I don't think Jadzi needs much more analysis; it's obviously powerful. Cue the gripes about Simic always getting the best toys.

My prediction: Over

Kianne, Dean of Substance // Imbraham, Dean of Theory

Both halves of this card are solid. However, there are numerous pre-existing commanders in Simic that basically do the same thing. I've also not seen much buzz for this card at all, which leads me to believe it's destined for obscurity.

My prediction: Under

Tanazir Quandrix

Any time the word "double" appears on a card, I become the meme of the guy leaning forward in his chair. With Fractal tokens, Kalonian Hydra, Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider, and more, Tanazir's doubling gets out of hand fast. And it becomes plain silly with blue's many blink options: Ghostly Flicker, Thassa, Deep-Dwelling, and Deadeye Navigator, just to name a few. If this guy's your commander, bring your d20s.

My prediction: Over

Zimone, Quandrix Prodigy

This card seems fine in the 99 but underpowered as a commander. Placing lands from hand is a generally overrated ability with severe diminishing returns in the late game. Also, paying four mana to draw one or eventually two cards is inefficient.

I'm sure Zimone's SAT scores are quite impressive. Her 600 score? Less so.

My prediction: Under

Extus, Oriq Overlord // Awaken the Blood Avatar

This card is a surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one. I didn't think we'd get a wedge commander in this set!

Let's start with the back side first. That cost reduction clause pays for commander tax, offering nice flexibility in late-game casting. It's also an excellent enabler for aristocrats, one of EDH's classic archetypes. But that's not all. We edict our opponents and get a surprisingly nasty creature token. Love it.

The front side is less exciting, but still playable. You'll probably use it to recoup some of the creatures you sacrificed, thereby enabling future blood avatars.

My only criticism: I have no idea how this card connects to the academic setting. Is Extus a teacher? An emo student student? A janitor? A lunch lady? The Vorthoses will have to fill me in. In the meantime, I'm going Over.

My prediction: Over

Codie, Vociferous Codex

This card looks like the annoying sidekick in a Saturday morning cartoon show, probably voiced by Andy Samberg or something. If you can get past that, you get a sweet five-color spellslinger commander.

Codie not only fixes your mana, it adds one, then gives you a free spell. The word "vociferous" should appeal to grammophiles everywhere, so that's another point in its favor. Finally, it's a five-color commander, and those always go Over. No, really—I've been doing this series for nearly three years, and we've never had a WUBRG commander go Under.

My prediction: Over (Can't-Miss Pick!)

Recap

Over

Under

Can't Miss Pick

Well, I made it through this entire article without making a joke about the 2019 college admissions scandal. Probably a good thing. 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 Bennie Bracks, Zoologist. Kyle can be found on Twitter @mindofkyleam.