First Take: Ikoria Commanders

Elizabeth Rice • April 3, 2020

Early this year, Wizards announced that 2020 would be jam packed with all-new Commander focused products, including five new pre-constructed commander decks with the release of Ikoria. This is a drastic change from the past years of waiting until August for the traditional commander pre-cons. Since then, the community has been debating what they would like and how they would change the most popular MTG format. Well now they're here, and they're making some monster sized waves (ok ok that was corny, I admit it)! Each commander represents one of the wedges that were introduced to us back in Khans of Tarkir. While the decklists won't be available until next Monday April 6th, we can still discuss the commanders themselves. Since they were only just released today, I don't have full lists, but here are  few cards that should definitely go into each deck!

Kalamax, the Stormsire: Arcane Maelstrom

Very reminiscent of Riku of Two Reflections, Kalamax allows you to copy the first instant spell each turn. Now key point here is that it is not just on your turn, but everyone else's as well. The more you take advantage of his triggered ability, the bigger he gets.

Rashmi, Eternities Crafter was one of the first creatures I thought should be included as she synergizes well with Kalamax and gives you extra value off your instants with her psuedo-cascade ability. Since you are (hopefully) going to be casting plenty of spells, you are going to want a way to refill your hand, which she does well.

If Wilderness Reclamation is not in the deck already, it certainly should be. This deck can't cast instants without untapped lands. That being said, you are going to want as many of these types of effects as possible, including cards Seedborn Muse , Murkfiend Liege if you are playing a build with lots of mana dorks, and of course Prophet of Krup- oh wait... scratch that last part.

Nexus of Fate should absolutely be in this deck. I know I may have just tanked your opinion of me, but listen: I have a good reason. Nexus is the only instant take an extra turn card and it slides in perfectly to this deck, especially if you take my advice with the other includes. Kalamax being able to copy it, and it shuffling back into your library is pretty important. The larger library will be a restriction, but two extra turns is sometimes all you need to do significant damage to your opponents or take over the game.

Jirina Kudro: Ruthless Regiment

Definitely the aggro strategy of the bunch, Jirina is one of the few Human commanders that include black in their color identity. This deck isn't going to just be about Humans though, but also token generation, so you are going to want to include cards like Hero of Bladehold, which makes tokens and pumps your team in order to make a truly formidable regiment.

Since this wedge struggles in particular with both card draw and ramp, Vanquisher's Banner is a must include. You need the card draw if you're going to keep pace with what everyone else is doing. There are other anthems that should of course go in, but this would be my top option.

Alesha, Who Smiles at Death  and Adriana, Captain of the Guard should both also be included. Most humans have a lower CMC so can be picked back up out of the graveyard by Alesha. If you have Adriana on the field, sending that newly tapped and attacking creature towards another opponent will also be to your benefit.

Hopefully, Teferi's Protection sees a reprint in this deck, but if not, there's always Repel the Abominable to protect your squad from wraths that deal damage, such as Blasphemous Act. Anything you can do to keep your army resilient is going to be key.

Gavi, Nest Warden: Timeless Wisdom

This commander is definitely one of the most... unique creatures I have ever seen. According to Gavin Verhey, it is the "GaviNest" card ever made, and I'm inclined to agree. Featuring not only the brand new creature type of Dinosaur Cat, Gavi also brings cycling back to the forefront.  

I'm not really a fan of New Perspectives, but it is sure to fill in where Gavi can't. Six mana to draw three cards isn't a good rate and you do have to meet the necessary condition to get the cycling cost reduction, but if you do, being able to pay nothing for all of your cycling spells for as long as it is in play is a good thing.

Abandoned Sarcophagus is almost certainly a shoe in as well. Being able to flash back spells you cycled away earlier in the game is a big upside. Especially if we're talking about value cards like Decree of Justice that build up your board.

Last but not least, is Astral Drift. This is one of the first cards I thought of when I saw Gavi, and I am glad that such a weird card is going to be able to see play. Make sure to stock your Gavi deck with creatures with useful ETBs to get maximum value. I really think Wizards did a great job making this commander, as it gives people an opportunity to explore a particular niche mechanic and put cards that wouldn't be seen anywhere else to use. And that's got to be one of the best things about Commander.

Otrimi, the Ever-Playful: Enhanced Evolution

The Sultai deck is unsurprisingly, but still happily, doing fun things with the graveyard. Featuring Ikoria's newest mechanic (and perhaps most adorably scary commander), mutate, Otrimi seems to want to jam a good session with his fellow mutant friends. Cute, right?

While this deck will largely be using new mutant creatures from Ikoria, like Brokkos, Apex of Forever, there are always cards that can improve it.

Tutors like Jarad's Orders and Buried Alive will fetch up your mutant creatures and put them into the graveyard. I like Jarad's Orders in particular here because there are certainly going to be creatures that give you an extra benefit once they're mutated, such as Zagoth Mamba, albeit more powerful. Gravebreaker Lamia is also an excellent tutor for this deck, as it puts a creature into your graveyard and its ability reduces the mutate cost you have to pay.

Whispersilk Cloak and other cards that make Otrimi unblockable will also benefit the greater strategy. Why care about your opponent's battlefield if you don't have to? Otrimi clearly wants to play with its friends, not your opponent's.

Kathril, Aspect Warper: Symbiotic Swarm

Perhaps my favorite of the new commanders, Kathril is word soup on a terrifying bug. Much like Jirina, it definitely demands you build a suitable swarm that it will then be able to pump up with special abilities.

Much like Abzan commanders in the past, Kathril also really cares about what is going on in your graveyard. In fact, the more you have going on in your graveyard, the better. And what better way to get a graveyard party than some dredge cards? Golgari Grave-Troll, Grave-Shell Scarab and Life from the Loam are all useful additions that get the engine running.

Of course, word soup creatures are a must. Definitely don't be upset to see a Zetalpa, Primal Dawn or Avacyn, Angel of Hope be put into a graveyard. If you aren't the Kathril player, I would advise you to find a Bojuka Bog quickly if you want to survive. Odric, Lunarch Marshal also allows for you to then take these new found abilities Kathril has bestowed and give them to your whole army.  

Keep in mind that Kathril's ability is an enter the battlefield trigger, so triggering it multiple times is unlikely... unless you play cards like Conjurer's Closet, Restoration Angel or Eldrazi Displacer that is.


Those are my suggestions for each Ikoria pre-constructed commander. All of them look pretty exciting to me, and I'm having a hard time picking which one to purchase. Looks like Wizards has once again found a way back into my wallet, and I can't wait to see what the full lists come Monday.