A Commanding Grasp of Ixalan
- Legends Warehouse News
- 22 Sep, 2017
With Ixalan on the horizon, we are on the verge of a new era of Magic teeming with wild and exciting creatures. Dinosaurs and pirates are on everyone’s minds as they hit the drawing boards, and the rest of the set is chock full of the kind of big, splashy mythics Commander players salivate over. Commander is a format where you can reliably play your 7+ mana bombs, and the sheer amounts of insane plays you can make over the course of the game only increases as you play bigger and crazier cards. But how do we best use these new Ixalan powerhouses? Fortunately, I have been poring over the setlist and cultivating a list of the most exciting cards for Commander players.
First and foremost, when we look at a new set for Commander cards, we always have to evaluate the legendary creatures that we could potentially use as Commanders. Naturally, the one that stands out in my mind as the most powerful is Gishath, Sun’s Avatar because OH MY GOD IT’S A LEGENDARY DINOSAUR. This card could be a vanilla 7/7 for ten mana and I would still build a deck around it, but the fact that Gishath does so much just cements him as the de facto Ixalan Commander. For 5WRG we get a 7/6 with trample, haste, and vigilance, which is already on par with Naya Commanders like Rith, the Awakener and Samut, Voice of Dissent. However, the fun doesn’t stop there, since whenever Gishath deals combat damage to an opponent you get to reveal cards off the top of your deck equal to the damage and put any dinosaurs you find directly into play. At seven power, this means Gishath gets to do a potentially even scarier Mayael, the Anima impression in addition to dealing a third of the necessary Commander damage to kill an opponent. This ability, of course, hinges on how many dinosaurs you can fit into a deck, and at just over fifty different dinosaur creatures, there are plenty of chances to hit. Couple that with cards like Aggravated Assault and Strionic Resonator and you can cause some serious damage.
The second most exciting Commander in my mind is actually Tishana, Voice of Thunder. As any Commander veteran will tell you, Simic Commanders are considerably more powerful due to Green and Blue being the best colours in the format. From Momir Vig to Experiment Kraj to Ezuri, Claw of Progress, Simic decks have historically had an advantage because ramp and card draw are two of the most important aspects of Commander. Tishana is able to use both since she can turn an abundance of small creatures like elves or tokens and turn them into massive amounts of cards. Elfball is already a tried and true Commander archetype, typically with Ezuri, Renegade Leader or Edric, Spymaster of Trest at the helm, but Tishana has one major advantage over each of these creatures. By drawing the cards immediately, she can keep an Elfball combo turn going as your vomit your hand onto the table over and over again. There’s no waiting around like you would with Edric, and with Blue flicker effects like Deadeye Navigator you and quickly draw through your entire deck to find whatever cards you need. Elfball traditionally runs Regal Force for this exact reason, and a Regal Force that you always have access to from your command zone that comes with a Spellbook attached is pure upside, so I see no reason why Tishana, Voice of Thunder wouldn’t be a natural evolution for the deck.
Admiral Beckett Brass is a rare Grixis aggro Commander, the likes of which haven’t been seen since Marchesa, the Black Rose. These aren’t colours you typically see going aggressive in Commander, but somehow with Brass it just works. In addition to being a Pirate lord, Admiral Beckett Brass allows you to steal a nonland permanent from a player dealt combat damage by three or more pirates at the beginning of your end step. With all the unblockable, intimidate/fear, and Falter effects Grixis has access to, it becomes fairly easy to get these pirates to connect, and from there you simply take whatever their most threatening card is. The nature of this style of deck lends itself to running all of the Control Magic and Threaten effects you can get, and with cards like Conspiracy you can even turn the creatures you steal into pirates themselves, thus furthering your game plan with an ever-growing fleet of pirates. It’s worth mentioning that while Captain Lannery Storm is also a possible Commander, I feel that because of her more limited reach and lack of flexibility, she’ll end up playing first mate to Admiral Beckett Brass in the majority of decks.
Finally, the two legendary vampires we get, Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle and Vona, Butcher of Magan, are somewhat disappointing in comparison to the rest of the legends in the set. We just received some powerful legendary vampires in Commander 2017, and each of these feel too close to the Mardu vampires in that deck to really stand out on their own. Mavren Fein feels like a worse Edgar Markov since you actually have to have your Commander in play and then have a nontoken vampire attack to get value from him. Meanwhile, Vona plays heavily into the lifegain themes of Licia, Sanguine Tribune, and I feel like Vona would be best used as a support card in the deck since it gives you a sink for all the extra life you gain with Licia. Ultimately these two are most likely destined to be supporter cards for the Commander 2017 vampires, but even that isn’t so bad considering how pushed those Commanders were.
White cards are typically the least exciting for Commander because there are, more often than not, fair. There’s nothing too crazy or tricksy about most White cards. What you see is what you get, but fortunately Ixalan gives White decks two very powerful cards in Axis of Mortality and Settle the Wreckage. Axis of Mortality is an incredibly swingy card, capable to being used to save oneself from death by trading life totals with an opponent, or even going the more political route by exchanging two other players to save an ally. It gives you a lot of pull, and with life paying effects like Necropotence can even be used as a soft win condition by dropping your life total then swapping it with an opponent preceding a lethal attack. This will, naturally paint a huge target on your head, but if used properly it can take over a game with ease.
Settle the Wreckage is what happens when a designer takes Path to Exile and Wrath of God and smashes them together. An instant-speed board wipe is difficult to play around, but one that also gets around indestructible effects is something to be wary of. While this does have the downside of ramping the opponent considerably, Settle the Wreckage can save you from some game-ending threats, making it more than worthwhile. As well, this is another card that can be used politically since you can cast it even if you aren’t the one being attacked.
Blue received some unusually good support in Ixalan through cards that help open up what it can do as a colour. For example, Arcane Adaptation is a boon to all of the new tribal decks to come out of Commander 2017 since it can turn every creature you have and will have into that type. This is great because it allows you to use tutor cards that specify creature types like Vedalken Aethermage, Seahunter, or Sarkhan’s Triumph to find creatures that aren’t of that type. This means you can grab that Deadeye Navigator to complete a combo in an Inalla, Archmage Ritualist deck, or a Spellbreaker Behemoth so your dragon creatures won’t get countered, giving tribal decks the flexibility to include cards of other creature types that support their tribe while not being of the tribe themselves.
Blue is also well known for its ability to tutor up artifacts. Cards like Fabricate and Trinket Mage are Commander staples so it stands to reason that Deadeye Quartermaster, while not as broad in its applications, will see plenty of Commander play as well. Finding any vehicle or equipment is perfect for Voltron style decks, and when you get to blink it over and over with Brago, King Eternal or Roon of the Hidden Realm it just oozes value.
Fleet Swallower follows the tradition of giant Blue monsters that can end the game in no time. Mill decks are surprisingly popular in Commander despite having even more cards to mill than in regular Constructed, and a Traumatize attached to a 6/6 beatstick that can be cheated into play much earlier than turn 7. You can even combine it with spells that let you take additional turns or additional combat phases to speed up the mill clock immensely.
River’s Rebuke is the final Blue card I’d like to discuss, and while it isn’t a hate card in the classical sense like Choke or Pyroblast, it’s a hate card on a more deep and personal level. Inundate and Cyclonic Rift are Blue staples for clearing the board, but River’s Rebuke bounces all the nonland permanents a single player controls. This is a card that can undo countless turns of work for a single player, and is far more egregious and insulting than someone overloading a Cyclonic Rift. Rather than hit everyone, you’ve chosen to single out this one poor player, and I feel like River’s Rebuke will be the cause of many an argument at Commander tables worldwide.
Black received a massive boost in Ixalan with powerful, game-ending threats in Dire Fleet Ravager, Revel in Riches, and even the tribal vampire deck got two useful additions in Bishop of the Bloodstained and Sanctum Seeker. Dire Fleet Ravager is the card that stood out the most to me as an Inalla player because for some inexplicable reason this thing is a wizard. This means Inalla can make a token of it when it enters the battlefield. This means a player at 40 life will get dropped to 26 life, and then 17 life after that. This means people will die very, very quickly. Even in non-Inalla decks, Rakdos, Lord of Riots welcomes this card with open arms, and even reanimator decks like Marchesa, the Black Rose would love to bring this back over and over. This card gives aggressive Black decks a helpful tool for shredding opposing life totals, and when coupled with Wound Reflection can even act as a win condition in its own right.
Speaking of new win conditions, Revel in Riches is the first new card I’ve been both simultaneously enamoured with and terrified of in quite some time. While there aren’t a ton of ways to make treasure tokens at the moment, triggering off of opposing creatures dying can rack up tokens lightning fast. Black is no slouch in the sweeper department, and all it takes is a well-timed Damnation or Decree of Pain and you’ll have enough tokens to win the following turn. This is a card that demands an answer immediately, and unlike similar cards like Mortal Combat there aren’t nearly as many hoops to jump through before winning on the spot.
Bishop of the Bloodstained and Sanctum Seeker are the latest creatures to get tossed into the ever-growing pantheon of Commander vampires. While unimpressive on their own, these two are a natural fit in Edgar Markov decks since they thrive in decks that can generate a bunch of vampires quickly. Bishop acts as redundancy to Malakir Bloodwitch, and while it doesn’t drain like its predecessor it can still take a sizable chunk out of an opponent’s life total before going in for a lethal swing. Sanctum Seeker is essentially tribal Hellrider, but rather than just pinging the opponent when a vampire attacks, it drains instead. This allows you to boost your own life total to protect against other attacking players while whittling down their life totals. Most importantly, Sanctum Seeker hits each opponent, so this can put a quick clock that has to be dealt with.
Ixalan gave Red some seriously beefy threats, taking existing mechanics and ramping them up to eleven. Angrath’s Marauders are pretty much just Dictate of the Twin Gods on a 4/4, but the fact that this can attack gives decks like Saskia, the Unyielding and Ruric Thar, the Unbowed a huge boost since they want as many attackers as they can get. As well, because it’s a creature, Angrath’s Marauders can be reanimated to keep the effect around longer, or even cloned to stack the effect and obliterate an opponent’s life total.
Sunbird’s Invocation is the classic big, weird Red multiplayer spell in the vein of Scrambleverse and Goblin Game. Unlike those two, however, this card is actually incredibly strong since it plays similarly to Maelstrom Nexus and the cascade mechanic, only occasionally more broken. Rather than casting the first spell you cascade into that costs less, Sunbird’s Invocation lets you look at the top cards equal to the casting cost of your spell and cast something that costs the same or less. While this doesn’t clear away clumps of land the way cascade does, giving you the choice of what you cast is ludicrously strong. I see this card being a staple of big mana decks as it gives you value on every card you cast from your hand, and cascade-heavy decks like Maelstrom Wanderer and Ramos, Dragon Engine can even use this in conjunction with other cascade cards to cast even more free spells!
Finally, we have Star of Extinction, which is basically a crazier Hour of Devastation. Dealing 20 damage to each creature and planeswalker is such a big effect that I actually forgot it also destroys a land as well, proving that there’s no kill quite like overkill. Any deck packing Stuffy Doll, Boros Reckoner, or Spitemare loves this card, and when combined with Angrath’s Marauders you can turn Star of Extinction into a thermonuclear device. If this is a return to the splashy mythics of Shards of Alara, I welcome this design change because this card is just nuts.
I’m actually not that excited for Ixalan’s Green cards in Commander. While dinosaurs like Carnage Tyrant and Ripjaw Raptor will definitely see play in Gishath and even monsters decks like Ruric Thar and Selvala, Heart of the Wild, Green didn’t get nearly as much love this set as it has in recent years. However, one card really stood out as the best Green card for Commander: Growing Rites of Itlimoc. Growing Rites of Itlimoc on its own isn’t impressive, acting as a more expensive Commune with Nature. But the real value is flipping it into Itlimoc, Cradle of the Sun, which is a fairly easy task for Green decks since having several creatures in play is kind of Green’s entire deal. Flipping off of a single Deranged Hermit or Brood Monitor nets you what is basically a better Gaea’s Cradle, and that’s something I never expected to see. This gives you a massive mana generator in a colour naturally ready to abuse it. Start pumping your mana into Jade Mage or Ant Queen and you can make more tokens to make even more mana next turn, creating a cycle of token and mana production that will be difficult to stop.
One of the best things about a tribal set is all of the colourless support that can go into every tribal Commander deck. Pillar of Origins, Unclaimed Territory, and Vanquisher’s Banner are the perfect additions to any tribal deck, with the first two fixing our mana and ramping out our creatures, and the third pumping up our threats and drawing us cards whenever we cast a creature of that type. With the emphasis on tribes as an archetype this year, it’s no surprise that Ixalan would have something of this caliber to bolster the wave of tribal decks being built.
The last card from Ixalan I’d like to talk about is Primal Amulet. This is a card that has immense value on both sides, and in any Storm deck like Baral, Chief of Compliance or Mizzix of the Izmagnus this makes it so much easier to get your combos going. The other side has the bonus of tapping for a mana, and when that mana is used to cast an instant or sorcery you get to copy it. This can turn big mana X spells like Genesis Wave or Earthquake into game-ending threats, so Primal Amulet will also see a lot of play in decks like Neheb, the Eternal and Wort, the Raidmother. It’s a very flexible card that fuels spell-centred decks, which is a nice change of pace from all the creature support.
Commander players everywhere should be thrilled about Ixalan. There are plenty of cards to fit into existing archetypes, and the legendary creatures themselves can spawn new and exciting decks of their own, and I for one revel in the possibilities of all the decks that I get to build. I eagerly look forward to seeing all the innovations people will have with their existing decks, and I hope you all have the same enthusiasm over what I believe is a truly great Commander set.