Exactly one hundred cards seems like a tall order to fulfill for building a deck. When you start to consider how cards will work together, where they fit into your mana curve, and the lands you need to use them, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. The last thing you want is a deck without good tools to use when things go wrong.
One of the most exciting features of Battle for Zendikar is the sheer number of strange, wonderful, and powerful cards coming out in the set. Mixing the surreal otherworldliness of the Eldrazi with the practical needs and desperate survival of the remaining Zendikari led to a treasure trove of Commander goodies.
These are the new tricks you'll need for Commander.
Biggest Winners: Lands
Every Commander deck needs great lands. For monocolored decks as well as more colorful ones, the lands have the lead in making a deck work well.
The new nonbasic lands with basic subtypes are excellent little additions. Many Commander decks fall prey to using too few basic lands in the pursuit of getting the mana right. Cards like Cinder Glade seem weak early in the game, almost assuredly entering the battlefield tapped, but that's precisely when you want to play your lands tapped anyway in Commander. Later, when you have a handful of basics in play, these new nonbasic lands function just as well as the original dual lands like Tundra, unlike the Ravnica versions like Hallowed Fountain.
While decks that pack three to five colors might find them less exciting, they're still just one of a handful of ways to use a fetch land—such as Polluted Delta—to put access to two different colors onto the battlefield.
There are even more lands that will serve your decks well:
- Shrine of the Forsaken Gods makes any artifact-heavy deck just a little more powerful.
- Blighted Cataract is an easy way to draw cards late in the game without tapping your mana down on your turn.
- Blighted Fen is removal that stays hidden on your land.
- Blighted Woodland—my favorite in the cycle—is an instant-speed Explosive Vegetation. Trading one land in for two, like with Myriad Landscape or Krosan Verge, is already great, but you can use this the turn you play it, too!
There's even a land among the commons that will make a big splash in the format:
@the_stybs Mortuary Mire!— TheMagicManSam (@themagicmansam3) September 23, 2015
Mortuary Mire is the inverse of Worldwake's Bojuka Bog: You get back a great creature from your graveyard instead of exiling someone else's. With so many ways to take advantage of the top of your library—Lurking Predators, card draw, a transformed Nissa, Vastwood Seer—one more way to put what you want on top makes sense.
It's definitely an easy card to throw into any deck filled with utility creatures. Just try it and see for yourself.
Second Prize: Colorless Shenanigans
With the massive Eldrazi rampaging in hunger across Zendikar, it was obvious from the start that Battle for Zendikar would have a collection of oversized awesome to work with. While Void Winnower and Oblivion Sower headline along the obviously intimidating Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, there's more to the story.
Artifact creature decks like those built around Bosh, Iron Golem; Memnarch; or Daretti, Scrap Savant will find Gruesome Slaughter to live up to its name as a one-sided Wrath of God effect. Conduit of Ruin is a reasonable size for six mana, and it finds your next colorless creature while, if it lives, making that creature cheaper. It's great for forcing an opponent you think is holding removal or a Planar Outburst to make a move before they would otherwise want to.
Scour from Existence won't win any efficiency awards, but decks already running Spine of Ish Sah probably appreciate a one-time instant version of colorless removal to surprise opponents. Speaking of removal, Aligned Hedron Network is a great stopgap to either slow down bigger decks or reset your oversized utility creatures. It's a double-edged sword since both your and opponents' Duplicant, Woodfall Primus, and more may get a second shot if the Network goes down.
Among the more innocuous cards for Commander is Hedron Archive. Sisay's Ring and Ur-Golem's Eye were never as flashy as Worn Powerstone or Thran Dynamo. Now there's a real alternative with a powered-up Mind Stone (or powered-down Dreamstone Hedron) that both gives you a mana boost and trades out for more cards when it's no longer needed. It was potent in Battle for Zendikar Limited—at least as I recall from giving it a first go at the Community Cup last weekend—and putting it into a format where the average card is stronger and having more mana is almost always better is just plain smart.
Bronzed Muscle: The Colorful Side of Zendikar
With Battle for Zendikar packed with themes that ask for synergy, it was harder to choose true Commander winners from the rainbow of other choices. While anyone playing an Ally deck or Eldrazi deck will pick up obvious additions, finding the tools and tricks decks want generally was a bit tougher. Here's the breakdown I found:
- Emeria Shepherd: Try Sakura-Tribe Elder.
- Planar Outburst: Don't forget to attack afterward.
- Quarantine Field: Exile your own stuff, then try Akroma's Vengeance.
Blue (and Multicolored):
- Scatter to the Winds: Save it for when you want a blocker soon.
- Sire of Stagnation: It makes the "all ramp, all the time" opponents take pause. That pause is good enough.
- Brutal Expulsion: It's Venser, Shaper Savant that can kill things, too.
Black (and Multicolored):
- Painful Truths: Any three-color deck with black will gladly take a "Draw three" for three mana, Mardu particularly.
- Vampiric Rites: Ways to sacrifice your own creatures often pay off. This method draws you a card along the way!
- Smothering Abomination: See above. It also has flying!
- Grip of Desolation: There are so many powerful utility lands in Commander. Nailing an annoying creature and something like Cabal Coffers or Maze of Ith is worth it.
- Brood Butcher: It says "Sacrifice a creature," not "Sacrifice an Eldrazi Scion" in its rules text. Don't mistake the former for the latter.
Red (and Multicolored):
- Barrage Tyrant: Spray opponents with damage when their Wrath of God finally rolls in.
- Turn Against: Ray of Command is back. You'll find it's incredibly powerful in multiplayer games.
- Herald of Kozilek: Any blue-red deck packed with artifacts won't find a better card.
- Greenwarden of Murasa: Double Eternal Witness, albeit just once? I'm still down for that.
- Natural Connection: The newest Rampant Growth variant should delight players who like to have their mana up for other reasons.
- From Beyond: It will ramp you until you need to find an Eldrazi fatty to play. It's as terrifying as it sounds, and cheap enough to keep in play and leave up the mana to sacrifice it.
Many of you agreed, too:
@the_stybs Omnath, Aligned Hedron Network, Battle Lands, Creature Lands, XX o-ring, Conduit of Ruin, Endless One, Oblivion Sower, Breaker...— Robert Schuster (@RobertJSchuster) September 23, 2015
@the_stybs Kiora over Kiora, CW in Tasigur. Oran-Reef Hydra in Wanderer. Scour from Existence in almost all of them.— Jeremy Noell (@jeremynoell) September 23, 2015
@the_stybs Odric: Emeria Shepherd Shirei: Vampiric Rites? Lady Evangela: Drana's Emissary?? Anywhere: Greenwarden of Murasa— Brandon Isleib (@earthdyedred) September 23, 2015
And just like you, I'm furiously figuring out which cards need to go to make room for the newest things. This week's question should be an easy one: What does your favorite Commander deck look like with Battle for Zendikar added to it?
- Feedback via email in English.
- 300-word limit to share the card(s) and decklist.
- Sample decklist (does not count against word limit).
- Decklists should be formatted with one card per line with just a leading number, such as "3 Mountain"—just a space (no "x" or "-") between the number and the card name, without subtotals by card type. (Submissions that don't follow this rule will be ignored.)
- Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column).
The buildup to Battle for Zendikar has hit its peak. I'm looking to squeeze in a Prerelease this weekend so I can begin swapping in the latest cards, and I hope you all take the time to fight for Zendikar . . . or at least consume it alongside the Eldrazi, you monster.
Join us next week when we truly go big. See you then!