The yearly Commander product has hit the shelves, giving us a good excuse to revisit the Commander Battle Box and do some maintenance work.
I will also do a card-by-card set review, with a specific focus on the Commander Box project. If a card has applications in other Battle Boxes, I’ll make a seperate note about that. Commander 2015 is not a huge set, but in general the Commander products are packed with high impact cards, so I expect to find some goodies we can use.
Experience Counters and Myriad
The flagship theme this year is the introduction of experience counters to the game. In a nutshell, some cards (only legendary creatures for now) allow you to gain experience counters. These experience counters are then checked by certain cards (either the same card or others) to provide you with some sort of benefit depending on how many you have accumulated. Much like poison counters (only far less annoying), experience counters are associated with a player, not specific cards. So, if you gain an experience counter it will stay with you, no matter what happens to the card that gave it to you. It also means your experience counters can be proliferated, which should open up some nice deck design space. I think the experience counter system is a great idea and will really impact the games of Commander where they play a role. My only regret is that only the five primary Commanders really use the mechanic. It seems obvious that so much more could be gotten from the mechanic that it almost seems that Wizards of the Coast was scared that experience counters would turn out to be too strong if used on more cards. I really hope next year’s Commander product will add considerably to the depth of experience counter design, even if that would mean there would not be a new flagship mechanic in 2016. We’ll have to wait and see.
The second new mechanic is myriad. Basically, if a creature with myriad attacks one opponent, it creates copies that attack all your other opponents. The new myriad creatures do not have any ETB abilities, but there is a blade that allows you to go nuts with those regardless. Just equip an Eternal Witness or an Avenger of Zendikar for much hilarity. I like myriad as an ability, because it helps multiplayer games reach a conclusion more quickly, which is very relevant for most multiplayer formats and certainly the Commander format. All in all, I think Wizards has done an excellent job on Commander 2015 and many of the new cards will find their way into one of my many Commander decks. But that is not why we’re here. We’re here to see what the new set has to offer our Battle Box, so let’s dive into the individual cards. To save on article space, I will not discuss cards that are too reliant on synergy (e.g. Daxos the Returned) or not relevant (e.g. Oreskos Explorer) for the Battle Box format.
The New Commanders
Anya, Merciless Angel
Basically, Anya becomes great when your opponents are down on their knees. Although that smells of a win-more card, I think in multiplayer it actually has a lot of merit. In fact, she actively incentivizes you to go after the opponents with the most life first because that will make her even stronger. I personally think that with commander damage she might kill a little too quickly, so I’m including her as part of the communal deck for now.
Arjun, the Shifting Flame
A Mindmoil attached to a Commander with serious stats is certainly interesting. The only real downside to this card for the Battle Box format is that you go through the communal deck very quickly (remember to put the cards you cycle on the bottom of the communal deck, not the bottom of your personal library). There are no principal objections to that, except that you will probably need to shuffle your entire communal deck after every game because you will have cycled through most if it.
Ezuri, Claw of Progress
A card that needs a very specific Commander deck built around it. Other than tokens, not many creatures with 2 power are in the Commander Box, so Ezuri will miss more often than he will hit. The Forgotten Ancient ability is certainly relevant but I’m just afraid he won’t have a chance to acquire enough experience counters. I’m contemplating building a token / proliferate Commander deck around him, because he seems cool enough.
Kalemne, Disciple of Iroas
There are plenty of creatures with power 5 or greater in the Commander Box. Also, double strike means that a few +1/+1 (experience) counters can go a long way to killing someone with commander damage. I’m not a huge fan of vigilance as it generally slows games down, but Kalemne is still a solid Commander option. She can probably stand up to Rafiq as a Voltron Commander.
Kaseto, Orochi Archmage
Obviously, there will not be enough snakes in the Battle Box, so her value should come from making creatures unblockable. If Thassa wasn’t a more desirable option, she might have had a chance, but as it is, I’ll pass.
Meren of Clan Nel Toth
Finally, a way to get experience counters that will come up consistently and often in Battle Box. I think this card will work well, but the high casting costs that are omnipresent in the Commander Box do mean you will have to acquire a decent number of experience counters before Meren will get a chance to shine.
Mizzix of the Izmagnus
Typically, a Battle Box will have about 25% instants or sorceries. It means Mizzix will not get a huge hit rate, but I think he is certainly worth considering. The experience counters accumulate, and I can see some nice synergy if your Battle Box contains some proliferate cards. Not the best Commander, but not being perceived as a big threat also has its perks.
A six mana 5/5 flyer is decent if not overwhelming. Getting a creature from your graveyard every turn by making one of your opponents happy with a creature of their own makes this a political card as well as a nice fatty. In the Box it goes.
Grasp of Fate
An Oblivion Ring that hits each of your opponents. The double white mana is relevant, but this will still be a great card in almost every imaginable situation, so it’s an easy inclusion.
Herald of the Host
I’m a little mystified why they gave the Herald vigilance, as the copies enter the battlefield tapped and are exiled at the end of turn. First strike or lifelink would seem to be more relevant. In any case, because flying allows you to hit at least one opponent without losing the Herald most of the time, I like this as an army-in-a-can.
Shielded by Faith
An interesting card, that bears some resemblance to Darksteel Plate. It’s perhaps not as powerful as Darksteel Plate, but it’s more interesting for Battle Box because indestructible effects should have ways to work around them. However, at the moment I don’t think the Box needs another aura, so I’m leaving it out for now.
An update on Spelljack that allows you to steal Commanders as well as spells with X in their casting costs. Unfortunately, the 6 mana counterspell slot is already heavily populated with Overwhelming Intellect, Draining Whelk and Counterlash. I’ll be replacing Counterlash, because I think playing a card from your own hand is less desirable than taking an opponent’s card, especially since mana availability is hardly ever a problem in the Commander Box.
A nice little card advantage engine. Sure, you need to make it unblockable or find an opponent who can’t block, but you’ll be drawing at least one card and probably more every time you attack.
A clone with some upside. I’m not sure the extra ability will ever be useful because of how much mana it costs, but we’ll have to see.
Five mana is a lot to leave open for this to be a surprise effect. That said, I think even if you play it as a deterrent to keep other players from attacking you, it could be quite effective. I think it is a bit underpowered for the Commander Box, but I have given it a spot in my regular Battle Box.
The only card this year to get considerable buzz in other formats, and certainly one of the strongest Confluences. As mentioned before, the expensive blue instant slots are already crowded, so I’m replacing Overwhelming Intellect with this. It is a little more versatile and probably won’t draw as many cards, which is a good thing in Battle Box.
Another interesting card. Use it to save your creatures from a board wipe, or upgrade a bunch of tokens to something more substantial. Six mana is not cheap, but I think this card is versatile and fun enough to be included.
A bit situational, but potentially powerful. I couldn’t find room for it in the Commander Box, so I have included one in the regular Battle Box. I’m keeping an eye on it because it does have the potential to draw too many cards.
A nice board sweep, depending on how many creatures everyone has. But because the upside is entirely random in the Commander Box and it already has enough board wipes, I’ll pass.
Scourge of Nel Toth
I think the average quality of creatures in the Commander Box is a bit too high (and the number of token makers a bit too low) to make sacrificing two creatures an enticing alternate cost. Certainly not a bad card, though.
Thief of Blood
There are a few planeswalkers in the Commander Box that now have something to worry about. I don’t think it will ever be a huge blowout, but it will not often be a terrible play either.
I think players already have enough options available without temporarily generating many more. This will increase decision times considerably, so I’ll pass.
Magus of the Wheel
A great card with a lot of potential in many decks. I don’t think it’s too powerful to be played in the Commander Box, but I don’t see the need to include “everyone draws 7” effects. All it does is increase everyone’s options, which means more time thinking and less time playing. In multiplayer games in general this is a serious issue, and I don’t want to make it worse by including these types of effects.
A difficult one. I think the standard version is fine, allowing you to recast a serious spell from your graveyard, but it is perhaps not good enough on its own. The overloaded version is obviously a blowout in the right deck, but with ~25% instants and sorceries in the Commander Box, I doubt if it will ever be worth the 8 mana required. I’ll pass for now.
The Thrinax has a nice enough effect, but I think it’s a bit too vulnerable. The risk is you devour a few of your creatures and then before you get to play another creature the Thrinax is destroyed leaving you down multiple cards.
Caller of the Pack
The big stats make this a scary creature to hit the table, but its high mana cost combined with its vulnerability (which all myriad creatures have, to be fair) do mean it could be underwhelming. I’ll give it a shot, but with some reservations.
This little goat packs quite a punch. It does rely on your other creatures to be good, but I think it is worth including because of the scary potential it has.
Blade of Selves
The coolest card in the set by a mile, this combines with so many creatures to great effect. I expect some creative shenanigans and epic stories to come from this card. Auto-include.
I like that this creates a tension at the table. Be sure to have a blocker, or else! It has inspired me to have another look at Quietus Spike, and if I’m honest I think the tension created by giving the creature deathtouch as well is even more interesting. So I’m going to include the Spike in the Box; sorry, Scytheclaw.
Changes to the Commander Box
In summary, I think Commander 2015 is an excellent set, and the number of cards that is going straight into my Commander Box is a testament to that. Before I leave you with the change log for the Commander Box, there’s one more thing I need to address. Playing with the Box a lot, it became more and more apparent that the Commander Pool was too shallow, if you’ll pardon the pun. Players kept choosing the same Commanders, leading to a more repetitive play pattern than I was looking for. To solve this, I increased the size of the Commander Pool to 25 Commanders and I also changed the rules for selecting a Commander at the start of a game. Instead of allowing players to choose their Commanders, from now on every player will just get dealt one Commander and that’s it. The elimination of choice will allow the game to start more quickly, and it will also ensure that games have more variety. With this change, it becomes even more important to make sure that every Commander in the pool is allowing its player to have a fun game, so I’ll be monitoring the Commander Pool very closely.
Commander Pool – Cards Out:
Commander Pool – Cards In:
Communal Deck – Cards Out:
Champion of Lambholt
Decree of Justice
Diaochan, Artful Beauty
Magister of Worth
Sight of the Scalelords
Tempt with Reflections
Communal Deck – Cards In:
Anya, Merciless Angel
Blade of Selves
Caller of the Pack
Grasp of Fate
Herald of the Host
Thief of Blood