What's in a Commander?

Posted in Card Preview on October 24, 2016

By Quinn Murphy

Quinn has been fascinated with Magic ever since Revised Edition. When he is not spending time with his lovely wife and amazing son, he's constantly brewing decks for, playing, and writing about Magic.

If you're just starting out with Commander, it can be a little confusing to take in all that your choice of a leader represents. The format's design means that a commander contributes on several levels. Some of these contributions are obvious, some are more nuanced, but all are worth thinking about when you are picking one of your first commanders.

While there are many different legendary creatures you can use for commanders with many different abilities, here are the loose categorizations I use when evaluating commanders for a deck:

Color Identity—This is the most obvious thing your commander provides; it defines the colors you can play with. A no-brainer, but if you dig deeper, you see that the colors you get access to then determine the spells you get to play. If I use Kambal, Consul of Allocation, I'm not getting access to counterspells, burn spells, or mana ramp. Your commander's color determines the pool of effects you ultimately get to put in your deck, which is very impactful. Think about what spells you want to be able to cast when choosing your commander!

Tribal Support—It wouldn't be Commander without the power of tribes. Zombies, Goblins, Dwarves, Vampires, Eldrazi, Slivers—Magic has a lot of creature types (affectionately referred to as "tribes") that need support. Does your commander provide mechanical or thematic support to any of Magic's tribes? Mechanical support would be providing a direct bonus to a creature type, like "+1/+1 to all Goblins." Thematic support is having a story or appearance that fits in with a creature type or an effect that indirectly supports something that the creature type is known for. A "flinging" effect (sacrificing creatures to deal damage to other creatures or players) thematically supports Goblins, as they have regrettably established a reputation for getting tossed around throughout the Multiverse.

Attack Power—Some commanders can easily generate so much power on their own that they can take down opponents in one or two swings, exploiting the lesser amount of damage that commanders need to deal to defeat an opponent. Generals who can raise their power easily or protect themselves lend themselves to the creation of decks where the deck supports the commander as they show their opponents who's the boss.

Synergies—Other commanders are better for supporting what the deck is already doing. Bringing these leaders in from the command zone supports what your deck is doing, enhances the effects of the spells you are using, creates deadly chains of interactions, or simply grinds the game to a halt so you can set up your ultimate win. The most powerful commanders can win games within a turn or two of being in the field with the combinations that they create!

Etherium Dreams

Now that we've thought about what a commander can do, let's take these categories out for a test spin.

I'd like you to meet Breya, Etherium Shaper:

Looking at her through these etherium-colored lenses, we have:

Color-Identity—She's a four-color commander! Not only that, she embodies all four colors in her effects, creating Thopters, controlling creatures, healing, and dealing damage, all at once. Breya gives you access to a wide range of spells and abilities to choose from.

Tribal Support—While she doesn't have many direct mechanical bonuses for any one tribe, Breya is really exciting thematically. As an artifact Human who sacrifices other artifacts for power, Breya plugs into many different themes. The first obvious theme is Thopters:


More specifically though, I like Breya with a group of "makers"—Artificers and Rogues who bring their own Thopter minions with them when they arrive on the field:


While there is nothing that directly speaks to a bonus for Thopters and Thopter creators, it's clear that Thopters are what Breya most expects to remake at her whim.

It doesn't end there, though! Breya's colors and abilities push her to play heavily with the metalcraft and affinity mechanics.

Attack Power—While Breya doesn't have the abilities to make you want to swing into the red zone for commander damage, she does have one ability that lets her repeatedly do 3 damage to a player. It seems worth the effort to focus there if we want Breya to take out rival commanders quickly.

Synergies—Breya really shines here. She requires you to create a steady stream of artifacts while also making a quite a bit of mana. You don't have access to green for mana ramp, but thankfully, artifacts are pretty good at making mana.

Creating lots of artifacts with plentiful mana then creates a stage for Breya to take over the stage. She can heal you, kill your opponents, kill your opponent's creatures... she is well worth the payout of running a heavy artifact theme!

But how do we get all those artifacts? We can look for generators of all sorts to help us out:

If you want to use more instants and sorceries, Metallurgic Summonings and Trail of Evidence let you turn your spells into artifacts as well.

Once you've built up a steady stream of artifacts to break—err, shape—you can use Breya as a sacrifice outlet with artifact creatures and Blood Artist effects.

Conversely, you can focus on Breya's life gain as a winning condition on its own. Gain life furiously, then play Aetherflux Reservoir and start hitting your opponents with your life total!

The Shape of Things to Come

Breya is a really exciting commander. Besides giving us a new color combination, she opens up a wide range of decks and play experiences. I can't wait to see Breya's full Commander (2016 Edition) decklist as well as what fantastic new decks we can build with her!

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