Hello friends! I hope you’re all doing well. This is an exciting time of year for us Commander players, because the new Commander decks have been released. It’s time to dive into these decks and talk about the new cards that I think will see play and have an impact on the format.
Commander 2021 is tied thematically to the new Strixhaven set, which we looked at in depth last time. So all 5 decks are based around one of the colleges of Strixhaven, with Witherbloom (black/green), Silverquill (white/black), Quandrix (green/blue), Prismari (red/blue), and Lorehold (red/white) all having a deck each.
Each deck has two new legendary creatures that can lead it straight out of the box, and two new mono-colored legends that can’t. The face card (the card shown on the box) for Witherbloom is
Willowdusk, Essence Seer. Willowdusk combines two of the deck’s themes, with +1/+1 counters and lifegain coming together to make another creature bigger whenever you activate Willodusk’s ability. You’re going to want untap effects in your deck, like
Seedborn Muse, if you really want to capitalize on their ability. Or ability doubling effects, like
Illusionist’s Bracers. Counters and life gain are usually two different strategies, so building a deck around Willowdusk will create a challenge with how much of each effect you want to include for a strong, functional deck. Thankfully several of the new supporting cards in the deck can help with that.
Gyome, Master Chef the goal is to drop a ton of creatures and make lots of food tokens. Sadly, the best way to make a ton of creatures is tokens, but Gyome doesn’t count those. Some great cards for Gyome will be
Underhanded Designs, which will let you drain your opponents for each Food you make, and
Inspiring Statuary, which will turn all of your Food into colorless mana rocks. You’ll want a lot of card draw with Gyome, and since you’ll be playing a ton of creatures,
Beast Whisperer and
Guardian Project will be perfect. I also like
Fangren Marauder as a way to increase the life you gain from your Food.
Tivash, Gloom Summoner gives you an x/x demon token at the end of your turn, where x is the life you gained that turn. Making one token per turn, assuming you can gain life on each of your turns, isn’t particularly exciting. I would only play this in the 99 of a Golgari or Orzhov life gain deck.
Yedora, Grave Gardener is a bit of a head scratcher, but in a really good way. So when our creatures die, they come back face down as forests. I can’t help but wish that this commander also had black its color identity, but we work with what we’ve got. The fun thing you can do with Yedora is cast spells to animate all of your lands to be creatures. So when your land creatures die, they’ll still come back as forests. Cards like
Life and Limb, and
Timber Protector will all get the job done. And here’s an important weird ruling with this card, you can still flip your Morph cards if they’ve been turned into forests. So cards like
Den Protector will also be good choices.
Now let’s look at the new supporting cards in the Witherbloom deck that I think will be great for Commander. First up we have
Marshland Bloodcaster, which allows you to cast any spell for just two mana. This is a really nice card if you have a commander that gets hated off the board frequently. You’ll still have to pay the mana for the commander tax, but getting that cost reduction can be crucial for decks that really rely on their leader. It’s also great if you’re in a deck with a lot of untapping tools.
Blossoming Bogbeast is a useful tool for green stompy decks. You’re pumping your creatures and giving them trample for the cost of just declaring an attack. Not to mention that you can easily find ways to gain other life before combat.
Trudge Garden will make some Selesnya life gain decks happy, as it never hurts to have more beaters (or blockers).
Revival Experiment is a bit expensive, but in some instances will probably be powerful enough to be worth it. Especially if you’re playing Golgari self-mill and have a nice, chunky graveyard.
Witch’s Clinic might actually be my favorite card from this deck. The fact that it can literally go into any Commander deck means that it’s likely to see a lot of play, because there are a lot of decks that can use it. I think a lot of Voltron decks, in particular, will be looking at this one. Also keep in mind that
Tainted Remedy is a thing, so you can target someone else’s commander with Lifelink if they threaten to come at you.
The face commander for Silverquill is looking to play the politics game.
Breena, the Demagogue entices your opponents to attack the opponent with the highest life total. Breena is reminiscent of
Edric, Spymaster of Trest, in that you’re giving your opponents benefits for attacking someone besides you. The problem Breena presents is how we keep the opponent with the highest life total off of our back. One of the other new legends in the deck,
Nils, Discipline Enforcer, will help out with this, as it makes your opponents’ creatures bigger, while also making it more difficult for them to attack.
Felisa, Fang of Silverquill is looking to go aggro with a tokens/aristocrats theme. I think a lot of recursion and sacrifice outlets will be important to this deck, as we’re going to want to get creatures cycling back and forth from the graveyard as much as possible to capitalize on the token generation. Creatures that come with their own +1/+1 counters will be best, as Felisa’s Mentor ability isn’t nearly enough to get the job done. Both versions of Athreos will be fantastic in this deck (
Athreos, God of Passage and
Cathars' Crusade and
Felidar Retreat will help with adding more counters.
Nikara, Lair Scavenger will give you card draw, and
The Ozolith will make sure your counters stay in play when your creatures die. You can also beef up your token game with
Anointed Procession and
Then we have
Fain, the Broker, who has 4 different activated abilities, all of which feed off of each other. The 4 mana untap ability on Fain looks great, but it doesn’t leave us much mana left over to cast spells, so if we want to run Fain as the leader, we’ll want other untap effects, like
Thousand-Year Elixir and
Magewright’s Stone. It’s tempting to run
Revel in Riches and go for the alternate win, but if you’re in mono-black you won’t have many ways of protecting the enchantment, aside from
Imp’s Mischief. I like Fain, but I think he’ll do better in the 99 of a more powerful aristocrats leader, like Felisa.
The Silverquill deck has some truly great new supporting cards.
Tempting Contract is one of those cards that has the potential to be great in games where you have opponents who are having mana problems. It also has the potential to fall flat if no one is hungry for mana. Along those same lines, we have
Keen Duelist, which can really burn you if you pick the wrong opponent. But if you can manipulate your top card, it can be really powerful.
Stinging Study is a really strong card for anyone who’s playing an expensive commander in black. In fact, it probably doesn’t have to be that expensive. I’d say this is good enough with a 4 mana value leader. For commanders like
K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth or
Kaervek the Merciless, this card is a must-have.
If you’re looking for even more card advantage, or perhaps a way to deter your opponents from attacking you,
Cunning Rhetoric can do both. It’s also a great way to get more lands.
Scholarship Sponsor shows us that WOTC is definitely making an effort to give white some ramp that doesn’t completely ignore the color pie. While we don’t like to ramp our opponents as well, you can really gain some good will from players if you help them out. If you’re in a pod with a landfall or mass ramp deck,
Scholarship Sponsor will be as good as gold.
Promise of Loyalty is potentially one of the best board wipes that Voltron decks have ever seen. It allows you to swing in with your very large creature without fear of the crack back.
And my favorite card in the Silverquill deck is
Inkshield. I love surprise cards.
Inkshield can save you from an alpha strike, while also giving you a huge number of tokens. You can use those tokens as blockers or to swing. Five mana is a lot to hold up for this, but if you can see the onslaught coming, this is a beautiful way to get yourself ahead in the game.
Let’s see what the math mages of Quandrix are calculating. The face commander for the deck is
Adrix and Nev, Twincasters. They have Ward 2 and double the number of tokens you make. Powerful? Hell yes. Interesting? Eh… not so much. But as a very powerful effect to have in the command zone, I expect to see this one have some popularity.
So let’s talk about something a bit more exciting. We have our first legendary geometric figure,
Esix, Fractal Bloom. With Esix, the first time you make tokens on each of your turns, you can have the tokens enter as a copy of a creature you control. Yeah, it’s bonkers with
Avenger of Zendikar. I’d definitely run
Awakening Zone with Esix to turn your Eldrazi spawn into something more interesting.
Mycoloth is amazing here if you’re able to get a bunch of +1/+1 counters on it.
Deekah, Fractal Theorist has a Magecraft ability that lets you make an x/x token each time you cast or copy an instant or sorcery, with x equal to the spell’s mana value. And you can pay 4 mana to make a token unblockable. Deekah is great for spell slinging, but I’d rather have it in the 99 of a deck with more colors, like
Riku of Two Reflections.
Ruxa, Patient Professor wants us to play creatures with no abilities. We generally don’t do this in Commander, so I’ll be interested to see how many people build the bear (see what I did there?) Making all of your creatures basically unblockable is a pretty solid ability. But in order to give your creatures any kind of protection, like with
Heroic Intervention, you have to take away their unblockable status. So I would definitely run
Asceticism in this deck, since it doesn’t bestow any abilities on your creatures. And don’t forget your
Onto the non-legends.
Theoretical Duplication is a wonderful “gotcha” card. Just hang onto it for when someone plays a really great creature, and then you’ll get a copy of it. For just 3 mana, this is a real winner.
Commander’s Insight is an improvement on
Blue Sun’s Zenith, and will be especially strong in partner commander decks, or with commanders that have to be recast frequently.
Oversimplify is an incredibly potent board wipe in colors that don’t often see this type of effect. I recommend doing this when you have a way to bounce creatures immediately after.
Run Away Together would be a solid choice. And speaking of bouncing,
Perplexing Test adds a bit of complexity to the classic
Evacuation. Most likely you’re going to play this in a token heavy deck, otherwise you’re banking on other people playing tokens. Which isn’t a huge gamble these days, especially after this set.
Guardian Augmenter makes our commanders bigger and untargetable. Always a plus.
Whether you’re conducting your thunder or collecting it, the musical mages of Prismari college are offering up some spell slinging goodies. The face commander is
Zaffai, Thunder Conductor. And the bigger the spell you cast or copy, the greater the benefit. I gotta say, that 10 mana value effect isn’t all that tempting. Ten damage dealt to one opponent at random? How many 10 MV spells are you likely to cast in one game? Not enough to make that the focus of your strategy. The Scry ability is nice, and the tokens are good too. Where this commander will excel the most is in spell copying.
Double Vision and
Ral, Storm Conduit will get the job done. And if you can Storm off with a
Ignite Memories, you’re gonna be pretty well set. And you can run
Eligeth, Crossroads Augur to turn all those Scrys into draws instead.
But maybe you’d prefer to have all of your Magecraft abilities trigger twice? That’s what you get with
Veyran, Voice of Duality. And then some. If any permanent’s ability you control would be triggered by you casting or copying and instant or sorcery, that ability is triggered twice. So not just Magecraft.
Young Pyromancer and
Talrand, Sky Summoner are going to give you twice as many tokens.
Thousand-Year Storm will give you twice as many copies.
Krark, the Thumbless will get an extra coin flip.
Birgi, God of Storytelling // Harnfel, Horn of Bounty will give you extra mana for instants and sorceries cast.
Double Vision and
Swarm Intelligence will give you two copies. And so on. Veyran is basically a Panharmonicon for spell slingers, and it’s crazy good.
I know what you’re thinking about
Rionya, Fire Dancer. “I could make so many
Dockside Extortionists.” Yes, reader. But what else do we want to copy with Rionya?
Fanatic of Mogis.
Terror of the Peaks. Plenty of great options for targets. The trick with Rionya will be achieving a balance in your deck between creatures and instant/sorceries. You’ll also want several ways to get your instant and sorcery cards back from the graveyard, or ways to cast them from the yard, like
Past in Flames.
Helm of the Host will be really spicy in this deck as well.
Octavia, Living Thesis might not look thrilling at first glance. An 8/8 for 10 mana? No evasion? But we can get it at a discount if our graveyard has 8 or more instant or sorcery cards. That’s pretty decent then, and not hard to accomplish. And being able to turn our dinkiest creatures into 8/8s for a turn just by casting or copying a spell? All right, I’m in. We’ll want to make sure the deck is full of instants and sorceries, but we also want creatures.
Talrand, Sky Summoner will be an all-star here, as will
Murmuring Mystic and
If you’re looking to cast a spell and fill your hand, look no further than
Muse Vortex. Cards like these have high potential to be great, or to be a dud. Maybe that’s not something highly optimized decks are looking for, but players looking for those crazy plays in games, like me, will want this one.
Elementalist’s Palette looks to be a new staple for decks with X spells. I expect to see this with
Rosheen Meanderer and
Zaxara, the Exemplary decks.
Reinterpret gives us a powerful new counterspell. You’re obviously going to save it for the mid to late game to stop the big haymaker spells and get a nice treat for yourself. But you’ll occasionally run into the feel-bads of not having great spells to cast for free off of it.
Surge to Victory has me really excited. There’s so much potential here. How about you get a
Searing Wind into your graveyard? Have a ton of tokens out, cast
Surge to Victory targeting
Searing Wind, swing, game over. I like this in
The Locust God or
Kykar, Wind’s Fury where you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a ton of evasive creatures ready to swing in. Or pretty much any go-wide commander with red.
And the last card I want to talk about from Prismari is
Sly Instigator. Reader, this is such a me card. I absolutely love threat diversion in Commander. This is why
Wrong Turn was one of my favorite cards from last year. Throw a
Freed from the Real on this thing, make a ton of blue mana, and watch the puppets dance!
I’ve saved the best for last with the Lorehold deck. Let’s start with what is easily the coolest face commander from all 5 decks.
Osgir, the Reconstructor lets you pay 1 mana to sacrifice an artifact and pump a creature. Wait, there’s more. Then you can pay x and tap him to exile an x mana value artifact from your graveyard and make two token copies of it. So here’s an example. You need Osgir,
Sol Ring, and
Karn, the Great Creator. Tap the Sol Ring for 2 mana, use 1 to sacrifice the Sol Ring with Osgir, and 1 to tap Osgir to exile the Sol Ring to make two Sol Rings. Then use Karn’s minus 2 to bring Sol Ring back to your hand. I’m so thrilled with Osgir, and I can’t wait to get my copy.
Alibou, Ancient Witness doesn't lessen my excitement one bit. Alibou is definitely more in line with the attacking triggers that we’re used to seeing with red/white commanders, but getting to deal x damage and Scry x equal to the number of your tapped artifacts is so fun. I know I want to build a Lorehold commander, but with as awesome as Osgir, Alibou, and
Hofri Ghostforge are, I’m having a hard time making up my mind. The designers really hit a home run with the red/white legends in these sets and I want to build all of them!
All right, enough gushing about Lorehold. Let’s look at our mono-colored legends, starting with
Laelia, the Blade Reforged. I’m liking the impulse draw on attacks, and you’ll want to fill the deck with lots of other impulse draw cards, like
Underworld Breach will also be fantastic.
Losheel, Clockwork Scholar might be my favorite mono-white commander to come out in quite a long while. I know there have been some really good ones, but my artificer’s heart just loves this elephant. Letting your artifact creatures attack without worry, and giving you card draw when they enter the battlefield, are all things I want to do with mono-white.
Tempered Steel is a no-brainer for this one.
Mono-white doesn’t have a ton of ways to put extra lands on the battlefield, so
Archaeomancer’s Map is a breath of fresh air for people who have been asking for white ramp for years. WOTC has made it clear with Strixhaven/Commander 2021 that they’re finally making a big effort to improve white ramp and card draw in commander, and this is proof of their efforts.
Speaking of ramp, this deck also gives us
Monologue Tax, which makes us a treasure every time an opponent casts their second spell in a turn. The obvious comparison is
Smothering Tithe, due to it making treasures and depicting someone barfing coins in the art. Is this as good as Smothering Tithe? No, not even close. Is it still good? Yes. And there’s no nagging “you gonna pay the 2?” every time it’s triggered. (By the way, I love Smothering Tithe and I’m not ashamed.)
We’ve got some great removal options in this deck with
Excavation Technique (the only card with Demonstrate in the set that I’m excited about) and
Angel of the Ruins.
Excavation Technique interests me because of its political potential, and its ability to deal with people holding up mana for counterspells. They can counter one copy, but two? And
Angel of the Ruins gives you
Return to Dust on top of a 5/7 flyer. That seems like some pretty decent value, especially if you’re doing copy or blink shenanigans.
Wake the Past brings all of our artifacts from the graveyard to the battlefield and gives them Haste. This is a great late-game play if most of your army has been taken out or if you’re doing a lot of sacrificing.
Cursed Mirror does so much. It’s ramp, but it also gives you a copy of the best creature on the battlefield for a single turn. It’s not as strong as
Mirage Mirror, but where it beats the Mirror is if you want to copy a creature with an enter the battlefield effect.
And the last card we’ll look at from Commander 2021 is
Bronze Guardian. For just 5 mana this thing is a powerhouse that can not only swing in for a ton of damage, it also protects all of your artifacts. It’s my hero.
The End Step
So what’s my overall opinion on Commander 2021? There are definitely some powerful and fun new cards. Lorehold, in particular, knocked it out of the park and gave us some tools that white has desperately needed and warms this artificer’s cold little heart. Each deck is very finely tuned and looks like it will function very well straight out of the box, while keeping the tradition for each deck to have a focus on more than one strategy to encourage deck upgrading. There’s nothing overpowered like what we’ve gotten in previous years, but everything feels just right as far as giving us tools that won’t break the game. I could complain about the cheap mana bases, but we know that won’t get us anywhere. Regardless, I’m excited to play with these new cards!
I’m sure I overlooked some cards that you all love in this set, so hit me up on Twitter at @AndyZupke and let me know how wrong I am. You can catch me streaming with Scrap Trawlers every Sunday at 7:30PM CST for budget EDH at twitch.tv/scraptrawlers, or check out our videos on Youtube. I’ll see you all again in two weeks. Take care, everybody. And play lots of games!