Commander Anthology

Posted in Feature on May 29, 2017

By Nicholas Wolfram

Nicholas Wolfram fell promptly in love with tabletop and video games when he was only two years old, and he has been writing about them since he figured out how words worked. Now he puts together words about Magic, which he started playing way back in 2000.

It seems wild to me that just about six years have already passed since the original five Commander decks hit the shelves, but I double-checked. It's definitely true. Over the past six years, we've seen a lot of thought-provoking new commanders roll out through the Commander set series (my personal favorite is Atraxa, Praetors' Voice . . . I'm a sucker for proliferate), and Commander Anthology gathers four such commanders together along with their original decks into one all-inclusive package.

Inside the box, you'll find four 100-point spinning life counters and four classic Commander decks, one from each of the first four years we released them. Each deck comes packed with a foil commander card and all the tokens you'll be needing:

If you aren't familiar with the decks, read on; these are some spicy brews, and there's plenty to get excited about rolling around here. If you're already well-versed on what these commanders have to offer but still want to know how these all match up in the end, I got you. Well, as much as I can; no two Commander games will ever play out the same. Click here to jump ahead.

Heavenly Inferno

Kaalia is kind of a legend. I mean, yes, she's literally "legendary," but her status as a commander is kind of next-level. This fan-favorite Cleric was an immediate hit among Commander players because of her somewhat insane ability to bring any Angel, Demon, or Dragon (three of the most powerful creature types in all of Magic) from your hand onto the battlefield for free every time she attacks. And with flying, she can often find someone to attack safely every turn.

At this point, most people would wonder what the drawback is, which is reasonable since there doesn't seem to be one on the card itself. However, while you're admiring your amazing new commander, you probably failed to notice the giant red target on your back that all your opponents are staring it. People are going to be coming at you. Hard. Your opponents have no idea what kind of terrifying threats may be lying idly in your hand, so as far as they're concerned, one Kaalia trigger is one too many. Luckily, Kaalia expected this and brought a few tricks to make sure she gets that one trigger she needs to swing the game in her favor.

Between consistent life gain from permanent triggers, variable color protection, and the powerful point and mass removal that comes with Mardu, Kaalia has many ways to insulate herself long enough to start sending out her powerful brood every turn. Once Kaalia begins unleashing her terrifying onslaught, her opponents have little time to stop her before they will be overwhelmed unless they bring some swift responses and removal. "Heavenly Inferno" is brimming with splashy Angels, Demons, and Dragons, and it is a real power trip to be piloting the deck each time one hits the battlefield.

Evasive Maneuvers

Every crew of Magic players needs a control player. A player ready and willing to stress-test your decks and plans, willing to lock down your board to keep you from firing off your amazing combo without earning it, and willing to make sure you ask for permission before you do . . . well, anything. While Derevi does not indulge in the extremes of some control decks (though she does seem to love control magic), as the only blue commander in the set, she is more than sufficient to fulfill the role of "control commander" for Commander Anthology.

With Derevi's ability, a little evasion can go a long way, but Derevi packs a lot more than a little. With an army of fliers, a couple of trampler, and even one creature with horsemanship, there will be no shortage of creatures gliding through enemy defenses to untap your creatures (and tap down your opponents' resources as necessary). And backed by an army of creatures with tap abilities, you'll never find yourself with a shortage of diverse strategic choices to act upon. Whether you are seeking card advantage, creature advantage, or control advantage, Derevi's constituents have the abilities you need.

However, despite the variety of tactical advantage that a bevy of tap abilities can provide, "Evasive Maneuvers" still packs more possibilities. Enter-the-battlefield abilities have long been a favorite of players everywhere (even before the magical modern age of Panharmonicon), and there is no shortage of creatures who come with enter-the-battlefield advantages riding in on the tailwinds of Derevi. You will also have plenty of opportunities to repeat these abilities thanks to the flicker powers of Mistmeadow Witch, Roon of the Hidden Realm, and Flickerform. Between all of these capabilities, Derevi is truly the commander of choice for players looking for lots of mechanics to fiddle with.

Guided by Nature

Freyalise is a character long-term Magic players will recognize from card titles and flavor text as far back as Ice Age. She is well known as the Planeswalker defender and leader of the elves of Dominaria, especially those of Fyndhorn and Llanowar. In 2014, she was finally (and posthumously) manifested in card form as one of the five planeswalkers who could serve as commanders from Commander 2014 Edition. As a planeswalker, Freyalise represents many of the aspects that define green's section of the color pie: numerous creatures (especially Elfs) that can produce mana, the rejection of the unnatural, and creature-based card advantage. To enhance her ability to create Elf tokens, her deck thrives on cards that provide advantages for Elvish tribalism.

Freyalise expands her Elvish army on one of green's classic accelerated mana curves. Early on, Freyalise has access to many small but potent creatures and non-land mana sources. In addition, landfall and other lands-matter abilities provide the player additional benefits from playing lands. As the available mana grows, more potent threats like Terastodon and Siege Behemoth make it easy to punch through your opponents' defenses while team players like Joraga Warcaller continue to bolster your earlier forces. Simultaneously, Tornado Elemental and other anti-air cards help insulate your deck from one of green's most consistent threats: fliers.

In many ways, "Guided by Nature" is the quintessential green deck. Between small creatures that grow bigger, mana acceleration, anti-flying cards, lands-matter cards, and even graveyard recursion, the deck features almost everything that green does well and is known for. From turn one onward, you'll be developing consistently growing forces that are sure to leave your opponents sweating, and Freyalise herself offers the versatility you'll need to fill in the strategic gaps as you develop your offenses. With the right pilot, this deck has no trouble trampling over whatever your opposition drops onto the battlefield.

Plunder the Graves

When black and green join forces, the graveyard is never the final resting place for a creature. If your opponents want to rid the board of your threats, exile is the only place that will truly keep them safe. Meren of Clan Nel Toth is a commander that specializes in ensuring that the more creatures that go to your graveyard, the fewer remain there. And with many potent sacrifice outlets, self-milling cards, and death triggers, you should have no worries about filling your graveyard with plenty of intimidating threats to recur. When you finally recur those threats and don't want to sacrifice them, you should have plenty of tokens to sacrifice in their stead thanks to ample token generation.

Meren is a commander strongly focused on synergy, and her accompanying deck packs plenty of it. Meren flies under the radar with a steady series of creatures that often seem unassuming at first. However, as the game progresses and your minions grow in strength and refuse to stay dead, you'll see your opponents scrambling to keep up with creatures entering the battlefield from both your hand and your graveyard. In fact, death will often only bolster your offense.

With "Plunder the Graves," death becomes your most valuable resource. It is a resource that can empower your forces, sap away your opponents' life, or create more creatures under your command. And when you set up your board correctly, your opponents will often suffer from the deaths of your creatures even more than you're benefitting.

A First-time Matchup

While these decks may be familiar to many of you individually, it is unlikely that you have seen all four enter the same battlefield. It is common for Commander decks released as part of the same set to hit the table and face one another, but having four decks from four different years of Commander sets in one game is a very uncommon occurrence. So how do these four decks match up in the end? As it turns out, it can be quite the wild clash.

Right out of the gate, Freyalise and Kaalia begin building threats and gaining life, not that they need any help to make themselves targets. Meanwhile, Meren pushes out an unassuming series of creatures that will gradually grow in power as Derevi juggles tempering the forces of Freyalise and Kaalia before they get out of control. However, it really doesn't take much time for both Meren and Derevi to build their own impressive engines that will soon require interference before they end the game swiftly. Derevi also has no problem injecting a little chaos into the mix as she tinkers with the distribution of creature control on the board. Of course, as this happens, it only takes one Kaalia trigger to send the game into true chaos . . .

But as it goes with Commander, no two games are ever remotely similar, even when the same four decks face down. While this may have been how my games started, I'm sure that yours will head in a very different direction. I can't be sure what that direction will be, but Commander Anthology is sure to send your games on a path that will end with another fantastic Commander experience.

Heavenly Inferno

COMMANDER: Kaalia of the Vast

Evasive Maneuvers

COMMANDER: Derevi, Empyrial Tactician
99 Cards

Guided by Nature

COMMANDER: Freyalise, Llanowar's Fury

Plunder the Graves

COMMANDER: Meren of Clan Nel Toth

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