Praetor not Predator

Posted in Command Tower on May 7, 2015

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

Commander has no shortage of powerful cards to choose and use. In fact, it's an exception (to me, at least) when something powerful isn't included in a deck when I expect it to be there.

Elesh Norn, Grand CenobiteArt by Igor Kieryluk

Cards like Sol Ring are plentiful and useful enough; the powerful cards I mean are an order higher. Sol Ring can pull in tempo and ramp you quick if it's your first- or second-turn play, but its power off the top of your deck when you have a battlefield covered in lands is pretty poor.

Haymakers—big, game-changing cards—are the reverse: You won't often be able to use them early, but drawing one late in a game means opponents will stand up and take notice. One of my favorite examples of this is returning in Modern Masters 2015 Edition: Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite.

Rise and Fall

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and I have a long history in Commander. Her abilities are potent, unique, and often define how a game plays out until she's removed from the battlefield—if opponents find the time to make that happen. Her three abilities work in concert to make this happen:

  • Vigilance on a 4/7 body is great: Hard to kill on either the attack or block.
  • Other creatures you control get +2/+2, letting you press attacks and pumping an entire army at once.
  • Creatures your opponents control get -2/-2, killing and sealing away tons of utility creatures while making your attacks even harder to stop.

She's entirely asymmetrical, and opponents notice that quickly. The best haymakers are often these asymmetrical cards, and it's why my Rhys the Redeemed Commander deck is one I consider my most powerful:

Stybs's Rhys the Redeemed

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Rhys the Redeemed
99 Cards

This deck doesn't curb its power or avoid hitting opponents with one-sided haymakers. There are plenty to go around:

  • Seedborn Muse and Avacyn, Angel of Hope—both create unfair situations and, in play together, the power of the deck breaks the game.
  • Craterhoof Behemoth; Jazal Goldmane; and Kamahl, Fist of Krosa—each turn a handful of tokens into huge damage out of nowhere. They're inevitability if left unchecked.
  • Mirari's Wake and Caged Sun—tilt mana production and creature size just my way.
  • Privileged Position—turns off tons of tricks opponents bring to battle.
  • Akroma's Memorial, Cathars' Crusade, Doubling Season, and Parallel Lives—turn any token production into dangerous threats.
  • Aura Shards, Martyr's Cause, and Skullclamp—generate significant value from all of the tokens we're making.
  • Martial Coup, Hour of Reckoning, and Martyr's Bond—mean our tokens will be plentiful even if we clear away opponents' creatures.
  • Defense of the Heart—among the most asymmetrical cards in Magic history. Getting any two creatures into play—say Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite or Craterhoof Behemoth and Hornet Queen—from this deck usually means opponents are put under immediate pressure.

These effects and cards benefit us—and us alone—or punish opponents, or both. These are the haymakers and power available in Commander; and why Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite is feared as a creature. (Actually, all of the New Phyrexia Praetors are fearsome creatures with powerful, one-sided effects.)

Managing the power level of a deck means keeping an eye these effects. While it's tempting to go deep with these effects, they carry a risk of drawing too much ire from everyone else. Looking back at legendary creatures we play in decks—but not as the commander—reveals why:

I could say that I would never use Avacyn, Angel of Hope as a commander, she would draw a lot of hate from other players. Honestly though, it is Ruric Thar that is a legendary I love to have in a deck but not as a commander. He's good, often dazzling but far too limiting for my taste, especially since he doesn't care much who he hits for 6 damage. He can dramatically effect every other players options but depending on the politics at the table; he can get protected by some other players while Avacyn is generally always hated by everyone else.

Jeremiah's Mayael the Anima

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Mayael the Anima
99 Cards

Jeremiah points out the risk of running something like Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite or Avacyn, Angel of Hope as the commander: You broadcast a powerful, one-sided way to wreck opponents' plans before they even get started.

Putting these powerful cards into the main deck, hidden away and selectively used for surprise, makes them more effective and lets you balance the number better. I don't use my Rhys the Redeemed deck often, but when I do I know it's going to tip the scales of power in my favor. It's easy to build a Commander deck filled with cards that dominate your side of the battlefield, but balancing it against the decks and play experiences of everyone else matters just as much.

With great power comes great responsibility.

Packed Power

Finding great cards and building Commander decks is exciting with new cards. It's why I've loved digging through Fate Reforged and Dragons of Tarkir in close succession. While Modern Masters 2015 Edition doesn't bring "new" cards to the forefront, it is full of the same types of exciting returns that make the annual release of Commander decks in the fall just as thrilling. This week's question speaks to exactly that: What's your favorite card in Commander that's been reprinted in recent years?

  • Feedback via email, in English
  • 300 word limit to explain the card and why you never use it as the commander
  • 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)

Making what's old new again is exactly what Magic Online sets like Tempest Remastered do, and bringing that new-to-me discovery with releases like Modern Master 2015 Edition can light up any Commander player's desire to build. I'm looking forward to what has excited you recently.

Join us next week when we find even more mastery. See you then!

Latest Command Tower Articles


January 7, 2016

Doubling Down by, Adam Styborski

Making mana is a fundamental part of Magic. While we've come a long way from the first booster packs running an Island in the rare slot (lands really are that important!), it hasn't been ...

Learn More


December 31, 2015

Allied Command(er) by, Adam Styborski

War never changes, but Magic does. There's always something new around the corner, like the wonderful wave of awesome incoming with Oath of the Gatewatch. As a Commander aficionado, I'm c...

Learn More



Command Tower Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All