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Partner with Commander

Partner with Commander

It isn’t often I get excited about a draft-first set. Limited has never been my cup of tea, mostly because I prefer to have total control over what gets included in my decks. Granted, this doesn’t stop me from trying each Limited format at least once just to say I did, and every now and then I find myself pleasantly surprised. For example, Dominaria has an excellent variety of supported archetypes, and a bevy of tricks to keep you on your toes. With Battlebond releasing next week and the full spoiler out, I’m already psyched to crack some packs. From the Two-Headed Giant theme to the return of Partners, the set looks like a blast to play.

However, one thing really sticks out in my mind about the set, and it lies squarely in the number of Commander staples being reprinted in the set. Doubling Season, Mycosynth Lattice, and even Nirkana Revenant getting reprints are huge for easing the barrier for building certain Commander decks, and as the spoiler week went on, I found myself brewing more and more decks to abuse the new potential Commanders. Every time they would spoil a new legendary creature I found myself hitting the Gatherer database looking for combos, and with the way they’ve adapted the Partner mechanic, certain archetypes have received a massive boost, and there are pairs that even create archetypes of their own. So without further ado, let’s break down these new Commanders!

               

Pir, Imaginative Rascal and Toothy, Imaginary Friend were two of the first cards in the set to be spoiled, and with good reason. These two answer the age old question “What if I could have a better Hardened Scales and Chasm Skulker as my Commander?” These two are vastly superior to their predecessors, as Pir’s ability adds counters to any permanent type, including planeswalkers and artifacts, instead of Hardened Scales’ only affecting creatures. This lets you “ramp” your planeswalkers so you can fire off their ultimates that much faster. Toothy, on the other hand, draws you cards regardless of how it left play, unlike Chasm Skulker which only triggers when it dies. While you don’t get the army of Squid tokens, drawing even more cards when it leaves play can cause some serious shenanigans when you blink it. Since blinking it will trigger the leaves play ability, if it’s an immediate blink like Ghostly Flicker, Toothy will be back in play in time for the ability to resolve. This means it will see you drawing those cards and will grow even larger! Overall, I see these two falling into a similar playstyle as Vorel of the Hull Clade with the counter theme, but because of the added card draw from Toothy I can see a lot of people getting mauled by a massive imaginary friend.

               

One of the most interesting pairs they’ve spoiled is Regna, the Redeemer and Krav, the Unredeemed. Token decks have gotten a major boost in popularity recently thanks to Slimefoot, the Stowaway, but there’s nothing quite like good old Black/White Tokens. For years the archetype lacked a real Commander to take advantage of the powerful token producers these colours have, instead tending to get cannibalized by Abzan Commanders like Ghave, Guru of Spores. Regna and Krav offer the archetype a truly powerful pairing, as each one’s ability feeds the other. Regna provides a steady stream of tokens as long as you gain life while Krav can sacrifice creatures to grow large, gain life, and draw cards. This falls into a similar vein as Pir and Toothy in that one partner is more obviously the beatdown card, but Regna actually has solid stats on her own, so regardless of what order they get played this pair will be a beating.

               

Years ago, if I told you coin flip tribal was going to be a deck, you’d laugh at me, but Zndrsplt, Eye of Wisdom and Okaun, Eye of Chaos are powerful enough to make it work. Coin flip cards are few and far between in Magic, but due to their chaotic nature, the payoffs are often better. Zndrsplt and Okaun each let you flip coins until you lose a flip, and they each have payoffs that scale based on the number of flips you’ve won. Zndrsplt draws you cards, while Okaun doubles his power and toughness. If you get lucky things get really out of control, as Okaun can easily swing for lethal Commander damage off of four correct flips. As well, each of their abilities are tied to whenever a player wins a coin flip, not just when they trigger at the beginning of combat. This means that Krark’s Thumb can double your triggers, and you can even use Frenetic Efreet to effectively flip infinite coins by activating it, then responding to the activation by activating it again infinite times. This way you can deck yourself for a Laboratory Maniac kill with Zndrsplt, or just infinitely smash a player into the ground with Okaun. You can even run Chance Encounter to just win the game on the spot! This is one of the pairs I’m most excited to build around, and I eagerly look forward to dumping a pillow case full of nickels on the table to show people I mean business.

               

Next we have yet another Blue/Red pairing, Will Kenrith and Rowan Kenrith. Not only are these planeswalkers capable of being your Commander, they’re also the first planeswalkers in Magic’s history to use the partner mechanic. While costing a combined twelve mana is fairly steep by partner standards, this pair offers tremendous flexibility in their applications, from blanking your opponent’s two best creatures to drawing cards and making your spells cost less, and that’s just Will. Rowan can force your opponent’s creatures to attack as well as deal three damage to each tapped creature they control, so you can use Will to set their creatures to 0/3s, then blast them each for three damage with Rowan. Their emblems also work incredibly well together, allowing you to double up your instants and sorceries or your activated abilities depending on which of them you ultimate. While Blue/Red isn’t a traditional control deck in Commander, the overwhelming versatility of Will and Rowan Kenrith may very well make it a thing.

Next up we have Sylvia Brightspear and Khorvath Brightflame, a take on the classic “dragon mount” archetype popularized in fiction such as Skyrim and How to Train Your Dragon. These two are unique in that they pretty much do nothing until you have them both in play, since they are very much two halves of a much larger monster. I honestly don’t see this pair doing a lot as Commanders due to how blunt their deck restrictions are. You pretty much just run tribal Knights and Dragons and see where that gets you, but as part of the 99 they form a deadly duo in even the most mundane dragon tribal decks. Granting double strike to your dragons makes Sylvia a must answer threat, as anyone who’s stared down Atarka, World Render will tell you, and even if Khorvath is relegated to just tutoring up Sylvia it still makes it a worthy inclusion.

                         

Finally, we have one of the least talked about pairings in Virtus the Veiled and Gorm the Great. Oddly enough, because of Virtus’s ability this pair is actually one of the most threatening once they are both in play, as Gorm can effectively pull blockers away so Virtus can connect and cut an opponent’s life total in half. Furthermore, with Quietus Spike you can get a second trigger to take away an additional half of their remaining life, turning a poke from a 1/1 into 30 life lost! Loading up Gorm with regeneration, indestructible, and lure effects can seriously mess with your opponent’s combat math, and the relatively low casting cost on this pair can means they can start swinging well before most players are ready to deal with.

               

The last two Commanders I want to discuss actually have no partners to speak of, but are so powerful in their own right that they don’t need them. Najeela, the Blade-Blossom is the latest in a long line of five-colour tribal Commanders like General Tazri and Sliver Overlord. Warriors have typically been pretty under represented as far as tribes go, and while they received a boost in synergies in Khans of Tarkir, there still wasn’t a Commander that actually cared about tribal. Narjeela more than makes up for the years of neglect with a pair of truly broken abilities. Her first ability when used with the various token doubling effects in Commander can churn out an army in no time, and her second ability can give you plenty of combat steps to trigger the first ability over and over. In fact, if you have a Druid’s Repository and five warriors in play, you can attack, put five charge counters on the Repository, make five tokens, and then remove those counters to get the additional combat step. Rinse and repeat until everyone at the table has been overrun by tokens.

               

One of my favourite things about Battlebond is that it has finally given us a legendary creature for one of Magic’s oldest tribes: Wurms! Grothama, All-Devouring poses an interesting puzzle for players trying to win the game by attacking. As a 10/8 it isn’t difficult for Grothama to win a game in a few swings, so it’s balanced out by giving other creatures the ability to fight it when they attack. Its sheer size will win most fights, but when it leaves play each player gets to draw cards equal to the damage dealt to Grothama from sources they control. Do I fight their Commander, lose my creatures, but draw a ton of cards in the process? Do I let it sit there and punch in every turn? This is the dilemma posed by Grothama every turn. A Grothama deck should be packing as many instant-speed indestructible and regeneration effects so that if the opponent opts to fight your Commander, you can protect it and wipe their board. As a fan of all things big, dumb, and Green, Grothama, All-Devouring is definitely a Commander on my to build list.

Despite the fact that Battlebond was designed with Two-Headed Giant in mind, the set has been nicknamed “Commander Masters” due to the number of staple reprints, and the amount of unique and powerful legendary creatures in the set makes it a brewer’s dream. Opening up the partner mechanic like this has created some wonderfully flavourful tag teams, and the various synergies each pair’s abilities have with each other offers fantastic support to a variety of archetypes. Battlebond offers so much to Commander players, and I for one can’t wait to get my hands on these cards and start building!

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