As far back as I could remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.
Welcome all you criminals, crooks, and hoodlums! The latest Magic set, Streets of New Capenna, is about to be released, so it’s time for us to swipe the best loot from it. We’re gonna ransack this set for everything it’s got for the Commander format. Capiche?
The flavor of the set is 1920s New York gangsters meets art deco meets demons and angels. There are five families ruling the streets and vying for supremacy. Fragile alliances, already being stressed from the shortage of the magical substance Halo, are torn apart as Ob Nixilis shows up to take control.
Each of the five families has their own flair and style, and each one is led by a legendary demon boss. So let’s start our review there.
The Riveteers family (black/red/green) is all about attacking and sacrificing creatures. Leading them is
Ziatora, the Incinerator. This 6/6 Flying dragon lets you sacrifice a creature at your end step to deal some damage and make some money. Not the most powerful of the bunch, but still fun if you’re running enough sacrifice fodder. You’re also in the right colors to give Ziatora Deathtouch, so the amount of power won’t matter if you’re looking to kill a creature. With the Treasure token theme, you can run cards like
Disciple of the Vault and
Revel in Riches.
Heading up the Obscura family (white/blue/black) is the sphinx
Raffine, Scheming Seer. This one also likes to attack, but the outcome is card advantage instead of pain and money. When Raffine attacks, you Connive X, where X is the number of attacking creatures. This sphinx is looking to go wide to get the most out of the Connive effect, so go for a lot of evasive creatures, potentially tokens.
Drake Haven, or
Court of Grace would be great fits for this deck. Then to benefit off the card draw, go for
Psychic Corrosion or
Psychosis Crawler. To profit off the discard, add
Archfiend of Ifnir to keep the boards cleared, or
Faith of the Devoted to drain some life totals.
Running the Cabaretti gang (white/red/green) is
Jetmir, Nexus of Revels. This cat demon wants you to go wide as fast as possible, and then swing in with terrifyingly large creatures.
Proud Wildbonder and
Quartzwood Crasher are a beautiful combo for this deck, making sure you hit home and make more creatures in the process.
Dolmen Gate will protect all your attackers so you can keep swinging in.
Adeline, Resplendent Cathar and
Silverwing Squadron fill your board while attacking. And use effects like
Intangible Virtue and
Ohran Frostfang to really power up your army.
Overseeing the Brokers (white/blue/green) is
Falco Spara, Pactweaver. The Brokers are all about using many different types of counters, including the new Shield counter, to buff up your gang. Falco uses these counters to give you some card advantage by letting you play your top card at the cost of one counter from a creature you control. So to get the most out of that you’re going to need to ramp hard. Then make sure you’ve got plenty of counters going on your creatures. Running
Cathars’ Crusade can be a lot of bookkeeping, but really worth the extra effort here.
Master Biomancer and
Renata, Called to the Hunt are great as well. Then add
Vega, the Watcher for a little extra card advantage.
And last we have
Lord Xander, the Collector running the Maestros family (blue/black/red). My last article was a deck tech for this guy, so I’ll send you there to see what to do with him.
Now let’s line up the rest of the rogue’s gallery worth considering for your Commander decks.
Jinnie Fay, Jetmir’s Second, is one of the coolest token-making commanders we’ve seen in a while. For every token you’d create, you instead make a cat or dog. Meaning all of your treasures, clues, food, and other noncreature tokens will now come in as a creature instead. Obviously we’ll want to fill the deck with impact damage, like
Purphoros, God of the Forge and
Impact Tremors. If you focus on just one of the creature tokens, say dog, then you can lean on cards like
Roar of the Crowd, and
Shared Animosity for maximum effect.
Also from the Cabaretti gang is
Rocco, Cabaretti Caterer. This guy fetches a creature out of your deck whenever you cast him. The more you pay for him, the higher value creature you get. So you’ll need a lot of mana in this deck to make sure you can keep casting him and fetching out your best creatures. You’ll also want ways to recast him that don't require him to go back to the command zone, as the commander tax will become exorbitant if your plan is to just sacrifice him over and over.
Command Beacon will be great for getting him back out of the zone. For getting him back to your hand, go with cheap cards like
Getaway Car, and
Light the Way.
Sanctum of Eternity is great, too. Or if you decide to go the sacrifice route, use cards like
Rienne, Angel of Rebirth or
Squee’s Embrace to get Rocco back to your hand if he dies.
Temur Sabertooth is also a great addition for bouncing Rocco over and over. And use
Panharmonicon to double those triggers.
Giada, Font of Hope may look like just an Angel tribal commander on its surface. But it’s so much more. Where people are really excited about this card is in the 99 of the “tribal tribal” decks, which have a lot of cards that care about a specific creature type and then make all your creatures every type. In that kind of deck, Giada is going to make your creatures massive. The mana she gives you is just icing.
Errant, Street Artist is probably also going to be a hit for the 99 in decks that like to copy spells.
Kalamax, the Stormsire,
Krark, the Thumbless,
Melek, Izzet Paragon,
Naru Meha, Master Wizard,
Volo, Guide to Monsters, and more. Or really for any spellslinger deck that likes to copy or Storm.
If you’re up for some blinking shenanigans, then
Evelyn, the Covetous is your commander. Not a great webcam commander, but a lot of fun for in-person games where you can easily play your opponents’ cards. You can run a bunch of vampires, or have Evelyn flicker every turn with
Conjurer’s Closet or
Prosper, Tome-Bound is an easy add here for some extra mana creation.
Back with the Obscura family, we’ve got two legends who love to keep the cards flowing.
Toluz, Clever Conductor showcases the Connive ability and gives you access to cards you discard when she dies. Great for people looking to “wheel” without red, with cards like
Jace’s Archivist. Then there’s
Queza, Augur of Agonies, who just wants to drain your opponents when you draw.
Windfall’s great, but you need more.
Teferi’s Puzzle Box will give you a lot of new cards.
Archmage Emeritus is perfect if you're heavy on instants and sorceries. And you can drain them faster with
Last we’ll look at another mono-colored legend with a lot of potential,
Jaxis, the Troublemaker. This one’s going to be great fun for making copies of powerful creatures, like
Inferno Titan and
Terror of the Peaks, or creatures that love to be sacrificed, like
Triplicate Titan or
Solemn Simulacrum. You can go artifact-themed and include
Goblin Engineer as well. And for a bit of redundancy,
Feldon of the Third Path is a nice addition for copying those creatures that end up in the graveyard.
Let’s take a gander at the planeswalkers that hopped into New Capenna to shake things up. First, the power-hungry
Ob Nixilis, the Adversary. This guy can copy himself using the Casualty mechanic. While two is always better than one, I don’t think this planeswalker has a home in Commander. In a 40-life format, losing 2 life is insignificant, even if you’re able to make the copy and do it twice. Making 1/1 devil won’t stop anyone’s plans. And hitting that ultimate is just not going to happen.
The newest Vivien, on the other hand, is much more up to speed with our format.
Vivien on the Hunt has a +2 ability that does a really good impression of
Birthing Pod. Pod decks are common enough that having this redundancy will be significant. Even if you’re not running a dedicated pod deck, getting to fetch out a better creature every turn is significant. But Vivien doesn’t stop there. Her +1 ability is also great for Golgari (black/green) self-mill decks that want to drop a lot of fat creatures into the graveyard. And, strangely, instead of having an ultimate ability, Vivien also has a -1 that makes a 4/4 rhino. Making that big of a body for such a small cost is great, especially if you need to fend off an attacker. I’ll also add that not having an ultimate can actually be a good thing on a planeswalker. I’ve been in enough games where “kill it before it ultimates” was on everyone’s mind, so I appreciate not having to deal with that.
And last, returning to her home plane, is
Elspeth Resplendent. For +1 she buffs a creature with a +1+1 counter and a keyword counter (Flying, Lifelink, First Strike, or Vigilance). This might not seem like much at first, but think about how many games you’ve had where an unblocked flyer spelled your doom. Or a game where one of your beaters gaining you life could’ve given you that extra turn you needed to go off. Or how an enemy creature with Deathtouch was ruining your day and you could’ve really used First Strike. These abilities are all really potent, and can make a huge difference. Her -3 gets you a cheap creature from your top 7 cards. I’m not a huge fan of that ability, as it’s not likely to make a difference unless you’ve manipulated your top deck with a tutor. But her ultimate, a -7, gives you 5 flying 3/3 angels. As always, don’t judge a planeswalker based on their ultimate, because you rarely get to do it. But this one’s really good.
Now it’s time for the low-level, no-name, gangsters trying to work their way up. We’ll start with one of the best card advantage effects we’ve seen in white (and it’s on an uncommon!).
Rumor Gatherer lets you Scry 1 whenever a creature enters your field, or draw 1 for the second creature entering each turn. This is the new Alliance mechanic, which is triggered whenever your creatures enter the battlefield. White loves popping out tokens, especially as a support color to green, so I imagine this seeing a lot of play. I know I’m gonna play it.
Also showing off the Alliance ability is
Devilish Valet. This devil’s power gets doubled every time another creature enters your field. It starts small, sure, but gets big really fast. Especially if you’re popping out tons of tokens. Think
Scute Swarm, and you’ll see where I’m going with this. Normally I wouldn’t be too excited about this ability, but it also has Trample and Haste, so you’ve got a creature that can really threaten life totals.
Gala Greeters is the box topper for Streets of New Capenna booster boxes, and it has different art for each region. This is cool for collectors, bad for on-line card sellers. It’s also very playable! Once again with Alliance, for two mana this little elf does a lot. Sadly it’s capped at three triggers per turn, but still worth looking at, especially in elf decks. Want even more conditional card advantage? Check out
Sanguine Spy, or
Professional Face-Breaker, aside from being a really cool card name, is also a really powerful piece of card advantage. Even if you’re not making Treasures with it through combat, Treasure decks like
Prosper, Tome-Bound and
Galazeth Prismari are going to be running this just for the impulse draw effect.
Inspiring Overseer is one of the best commons in the set, and it’s going to be a staple in blink decks. Its simpler casting cost will make it an attractive replacement for
And if you didn’t get enough of the Alliance mechanic, I’ve got one more for you.
Witty Roastmaster is
Impact Tremors on a creature. And you’re going to see it a lot.
Titan of Industry. It slices, it dices, etc., etc.
Now for the artifacts. Let’s start with one of my favorite cards in the set, Halo Fountain. This card is beautifully designed. Untapping creatures isn’t something we see often, but with Halo Fountain, as one of the modes, you can have two creatures untap to block and draw a card. The alternate win-con is there too, and has been added to my bucket list.
Evolving Door isn’t a great card on its own. But if you combine it with per-turn token makers like
Awakening Zone, it can accomplish quite a bit.
Bootleggers’ Stash wins the set award for “groan-worthy powerful green card.” This card is so inelegant, and unnecessary. And immensely powerful.
For equipment we’ve got
Arc Spitter, a superb mana sink that can assure nothing can stand in your creature’s way. Then there’s
Luxior, Giada’s Gift. This card made some waves for its ability to turn planeswalkers into creatures. The Oathbreaker community was practically salivating over it, but Commander players are gonna love it, too.
And there’s a couple of strong vehicles in this set as well, with
Unlicensed Hearse as a solid piece of grave hate, and
Mysterious Limousine for some decent removal.
I’m not a fan of the Hideaway lands (
Mosswort Bridge, for example). I think they’re a trap that often do nothing. But New Capenna took that ability and put it on enchantments, much more innocuous than a land that comes in tapped and only gives you one color. Does this make Hideaway better? Nope! But some of the cards are still good anyway.
Widespread Thieving, for example, is a fantastic mana-producer for 5-color decks.
The set has some really strong auras, such as
Sticky Fingers, one of the most powerful 1-mana auras ever printed at common, and
Public Enemy, a fun way to pin the target on someone’s back while you set yourself up.
Each of the families has an Ascendency card, harkening back to Tarkir block. And honestly, they’re all good, except for
Arcane Bombardment has a high cost, and loses more of its luster the later in the game you play it, but can be an absolute bomb if you can get it out early for spellslinger decks. Especially if you manage to nab an extra turn spell with it.
Permanents aren’t the only fun cards in this set.
An Offer You Can’t Refuse is an efficiently-costed counterspell. Sure, they get two treasures, but you only had to hold up one mana to counter their spell. It’s not
Swan Song, but it’s nearly as good.
We’ve got some excellent card advantage spells, with
Cut of the Profits and
Tainted Indulgence. And
Even the Score, in addition to the underappreciated
Commander’s Insight from last year, has made
Blue Sun’s Zenith basically obsolete.
Of course there are some great removal spells.
Depopulate costs the same as
Wrath of God, but the card draw could take away a bit of the sting of resetting boards.
Slip Out the Back can be used on one of your creatures protectively, or defensively to stop a threat from coming at you for a turn.
Structural Assault takes
Vandalblast to the next level by clearing out artifacts and potentially all the creatures.
Corpse Explosion does a lot for just 3 mana, if you’ve got a creature in your graveyard you don’t mind losing. And there’s
Endless Detour and
Void Rend giving us some solid removal versatility.
And you all know how much I love modal spells, so I’m happy to see all of the families got their own Charm spell. And they’re all solid.
Not all mechanics are built for Commander. And I keep reminding myself that that is okay. The Blitz mechanic, for instance, is much more in line with 60 card competitive formats. But the other mechanics in the set, Connive, Casualty, and especially Alliance, are all very strong for our multi-player format. Not to mention the new Shield counter, which gives a creature one-time protection from damage or destruction. None of these abilities are breaking any molds like Mutate and MDFCs did. But they’re still welcome additions to an ever-expanding format.
I’m really happy to see the Triome cycle completed, even if they aren’t called Triomes this time around. The tri-color lands (
Jetmir’s Garden, etc.) are very welcome additions to the format. While not popular with “must enter untapped” purists and competitive-minded players, the Triomes are great for the casual players looking to mana fix with fetchable lands.
Overall, this set is a success. The flavor is unlike anything we’ve seen in Magic, and I think they nailed the gangster aesthetic. Some of the card names like
Sleep with the Fishes are a bit too on-the-nose, but amusing nonetheless. And the art! The showcase variants are breathtaking. Kudos to Wizards and their art direction.
This set’s biggest claim to success is that it is a fulfilled promise. Gavin Verhey and Wizards have been promising us white card draw for years, and each year it’s felt more and more like they were pulling our leg,
Esper Sentinel being the major exception. In New Capenna we’re getting
Sanctuary Warden, and more. And the best part is that, even with the card draw, these cards still feel like white cards. No color pie broken. A promise finally kept. And, as we’ve seen in the previews for the New Capenna Commander decks, there is more coming.
I’m very excited to play with these new cards and brew some new 3-color Commander decks.
Make sure to check back in two weeks, where I’ll do a deep dive (with the fishes) into the New Capenna Commander decks. Until then, take care. And play lots of games!