Commanding Magic: Magic 2013 Commander Review
By Julian Marin (Firemane)
Magic 2013 is the fourth in the series of “revamped” core sets starting with Magic 2010 from the summer of 2009. Core sets allow cards from all of Magic’s history to gather together and play nice with each other, which makes them exceptionally great at reprinting cards that might not otherwise find a home in modern Magic sets. This is especially evident in Magic 2013, where a number of Commander-specific reprints were added to the set to facilitate Wizards’ new initiative in pushing Commander as much as possible. Fortunately, this gives us a lot of food for thought when designing new Commander decks or modifying old ones. I won’t go over all of the cards in the set, just the ones that should be best suited for our favorite 100-card format, with an emphasis on new cards over reprints.
Ajani, Caller of the Pride – Ajani has received quite a bit of hype with his release, and I have to say I like him. I generally advise against running much in the way of planeswalkers due to their vulnerability and the big target they paint on your head, but Ajani can work fine. His +1 can be used politically and interacts with all of the counter-dependent creatures you find in the format, such as for reusing Persist creatures, disabling Undying creatures, or buffing Triskelion/Triskelavus. His -3 is useful with a good number of on-hit creatures, and works great with any guy that’s been suited up with equipment. Once I lay my hands on a copy off him he’s going straight into my Ghave deck, where he’ll hopefully live the dream and be cast while Doubling Season is on the battlefield for a metric ton of Cats.
Captain of the Watch – The Captain is a great reprint for any number of white decks that need some bodies. It provides a great buff to a very relevant creature type, and also comes down as nine power for six mana.
Captain’s Call – Captain’s Call might be decent in a mono-white Soldier deck, but otherwise it’s probably not worth playing over Midnight Haunting/Raise the Alarm. If it were an instant it’d be great, but tapping four mana for a few 1/1s isn’t worth it most of the time.
Faith’s Reward –Faith’s Reward has a lot of combo potential, especially in decks that have significant artifact themes. Playing this with Krark-Clan Ironworks and Mycosynth Lattice can generate vast amounts of mana even in an all-white deck, and it can easily go infinite if you bring in Scrivener or Archaeomancer in a white-blue concoction.
Healer of the Pride – This could be decent in a deck that pumps out creature tokens or messes with flicker effects, but I’ll give my vote to Soul Warden, Auriok Champion, or Suture Priest any day.
Intrepid Hero – Another reprint, the Hero is solid, repeatable removal on a three-casting-cost body. Since he doesn’t care whether the creature is attacking or blocking (as much of white’s removal tends to do), he can control a significant amount of the field early in the game for a low investment.
Odric, Master Tactician – Odric is the first of five new legendary creatures in M13. All of these creatures have powerful, interesting effects that scream “build around me!” Odric, as befits a legendary Human Soldier, loves to have company in battle. Being able to Master Warcraft your opponents every turn can quickly turn the tide of a game, if Odric lives that long. Often, you’ll want to blow up your opponent’s utility creatures and get in for a lot of unblocked damage with everyone else. He works great with Serra Avatar, too.
Planar Cleansing – A reprint, it’s terrible in most constructed formats, but improves quite a bit if you’re playing a Commander deck that isn’t too reliant on artifacts or enchantments. Darksteel Plate is your friend with this card, allowing you to keep it and your best creature in a post-Cleanse environment. Austere Command will often just be better, though, as it provides options that Planar Cleansing does not.
Rhox Faithmender – This guy is pretty cool. Boon Reflection is arguably the worst of the Shadowmoor Reflection cycle, where five mana just wasn’t worth the possibility for extra life. This Rhox fixes most of the problems with Boon Reflection: He’s four mana, instead of five, to start with. While his body makes him more vulnerable than the enchantment, he also can guarantee an extra stream of life as a result of his one power and lifelink. I like him a lot, and while he might not be amazing, there’ll be times when he’ll do quite a lot more than you’d expect.
Serra Avatar – As you’re white, you’ll hopefully be at a higher life total than your opponent, so slapping on Whispersilk Cloak or Spirit Mantle can turn this epic-sized reprint into a one-hit K.O. machine. If you’re not able to smash through your opponent’s creatures easily, you can always combine Serra Avatar with Wall of Reverence or any number of lifelink-granting enchantments to double your life total each turn.
Sublime Archangel – It’ll be great in Rafiq of the Many decks, and fine in most other white decks. Short of going in for a finishing blow, a lot of decks aren’t going to be swinging with more than two or three creatures anyways. Making your one creature nigh-unkillable is worth not swinging with another dude most of the time. Plus, she’s still a 4/3 flier for four when you don’t need exalted.
Touch of the Eternal – I don’t know what to think of this card. On the one hand, it’ll keep you alive at a respectable life total late into the game. On the other hand, you’re spending seven mana for a card that’s probably going to keep you at 15 life, if you’re lucky. Because the effect happens during your upkeep you can reinforce your life total over the course of your turn, but its ability to be abused is quite low.
Archaeomancer – Oh, how far we’ve come. The last time Ravnica rolled around we were given Izzet Chronarch, which is like our new friend here, except for two big things. First, it costs five mana instead of four, and more importantly the Chronarch is both blue and red. For Commander, that in the top-right corner of the card limited our ability to use it in blue decks that weren’t also red. With Archaeomancer, we get a super-versatile card for any spell-heavy blue decks, regardless of whatever other colors we play. Don’t be too surprised if you start seeing Time Warps getting returned with this guy in the near future.
Augur of Bolas – He might miss, but even when he misses he isn’t terrible for two mana. If you’re running any effects like Brainstorm, Mystical Tutor, or Future Sight, his value can rise drastically. I’d probably only run him if you have thirty or so instants/sorceries in your deck, or if you can reliably make sure the top of your deck contains one.
Battle of Wits – It’s pretty obvious, but this card is bad for Commander.
Courtly Provocateur – This guy mucks up a lot of combat and can do so each turn. It can also be used for both offensive and defensive purposes, which makes for great utility. He might deserve a slot in any combat-based blue decks, but for a lot of them he shouldn’t see the light of day.
Encrust – This card has a good amount of versatility to it: turning off equipment, shutting down Nevinyrral’s Disk, and stopping any tapped creatures from doing much of anything is solid on a blue spell. If you’re short answers in a mono-blue deck, try giving Encrust a shot.
Jace’s Phantasm – The Phantasm is a solid creature in decks such as the Mimeoplasm, or any other blue decks playing Mesmeric Orb. Serra Ascendant is better for Commander, sure, but this little guy can be a one mana Dragon if things go on for a bit. I’m dreaming of playing a Ranger of Eos late in the game, finding this and a Serra Ascendant, and slamming down two five-plus power fliers for one mana apiece.
Omniscience – Ten mana is a lot, but it’s not unreachable by any means in Commander. Once Omniscience is down, the only time you’ll need to worry about mana is for activated abilities. Even if you can’t do anything with your unspent mana, casting Eldrazi and the like for free is never a bad line of play. Additionally, Future Sight can be coupled with Blue’s tendency to love drawing cards and rearranging the top of its library to potentially draw and play your entire deck in one turn. Just don’t be surprised when your friends start complaining about the omnipotence of your Omniscience.
Spelltwine – You have to exile one of your own spells, plus Spelltwine, but the results will often be worth the cost. You can practically guarantee that one of your opponents will have a powerful instant or sorcery to cast, so there’s little reason to not play Spelltwine, as you know that you’ll have good spells too.
Switcheroo – A Mind Control that can’t be disenchanted is quite powerful, and the fact that you can switch around other player’s creatures allows for a lot of potential fun. However, I’d recommend playing Cultural Exchange if this type of effect interests you, as you aren’t limited to only exchanging one creature apiece.
Talrand, Sky Summoner – Talrand is a powerful general, or at least has the potential to be. I haven’t given him much thought, but you can play a very control-oriented blue deck with few creatures and many instants to make surprise Drakes.
Void Stalker – Void Stalker is going to act much like Spin into Myth does already for blue decks, and it’ll generally serve a single purpose in the course of a game: shuffling away an opposing commander, hopefully making it so it never sees the battlefield for the rest of the game. Shuffling a commander into a library is one of the few ways to make them stay gone for any significant length of time, though I think I’d still take Spin into Myth if I had to use one in a deck. Void Stalker suffers from being a creature, and worse yet, being a creature that needs to wait a turn to be used.
Blood Reckoning – An updated Hissing Miasma, I’d keep this out of most games. This might deal an extra point or two of damage compared to the Miasma, but not even that is a guarantee. I’ll take the one mana discount and go with Hissing Miasma, though even then I’d hardly run that.
Diabolic Revelation – Say hello to super-Diabolic Tutor. With Increasing Ambitions in Dark Ascension and Diabolic Revelation in Magic 2013, black has been getting a lot of very exciting tutors over the past few months. With cards like Black Market and Cabal Coffers being used quite a bit in black decks, using Diabolic Revelation as a triple- or quadruple-tutor isn’t going to be to unheard of, and the reward for it can be game-winning.
Disciple of Bolas – Black now has access to Momentous Fall, and this time it’s on a creature! Considering black’s love for high-powered creatures with low toughness, the Disciple should be able to net you quite a bit in cards and life, while replacing your old creature with a 2/1 that can sacrifice itself for a block when necessary. Sadly, he doesn’t have flash, but that would’ve probably been too much to ask.
Liliana of the Dark Realms – The new Liliana has decent playability in Commander, though I’d limit her to mono-black decks. Her three starting loyalty on a four-mana-cost planeswalker is the main dealbreaker, as it means she’ll be much harder to protect and get to ultimate than many of the other ‘walkers out there. Her +1 can give you a steady stream of Swamps, while her -3 can kill many potential threats late in the game or give your creature an astronomical boost in power. If you can get her to use her ultimate, quadrupling your mana production will make it seem as though you really have no limits to your mana at all. On the whole, I’d love Liliana a lot more if she started with four loyalty or if her second ability was only -2. I really don’t like the thought of casting a planeswalker for four mana only to have it trade with a creature.
Liliana’s Shade – If you can reuse the Swamp-fetching effect it might become okay, but otherwise this is another Shade that shouldn’t be seeing play unless you’re out of playables in a mono-black deck.
Murder – The simplicity of Murder makes it wonderful, but I’ll risk targeting restrictions and play Go for the Throat, Doom Blade, Terror, or any number of other black removal spells that do more than “just” kill a guy for three mana.
Mutilate – Play this if you think you’ll have five Swamps in play reliably by the mid-game. Mutilate is a strong reprint, and is a fine stand-in or companion to Damnation.
Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis – I think Nefarox is a fine guy to play in some controlling black decks. However, he just doesn’t quite have enough potential to be used as a commander. Unlike most exalted cards, which trigger whenever any creature attacks alone, Nefarox only gets rid of a guy when he attacks solo. I’d love him if he could choose what was sacrificed, but instead we’re given a flier that might remove a relevant creature some day. Since he doesn’t have haste, that day probably won’t come often.
Public Execution – The flavor is wonderful on Public Execution, and it seems like it might have a lot going for it until you see the casting cost. The cost just isn’t worth the effect.
Vile Rebirth – I love this card, but as seems to be the case with Magic 2013, there are just better hosers to graveyard decks than this in the format, such as Relic of Progenitus. However, if you’re playing a tribal Zombie commander deck, this card might have a slot for the instant-speed token. Creatures are going to be in graveyards eventually, and turning one into a 3/3, 4/4, or maybe even bigger might make this card a fun and surprising inclusion to some decks.
Xathrid Gorgon – Shutting down whole hosts of creatures is great, and since the Gorgon need not be on the battlefield to keep the creatures down, it’s a great inclusion in many slower black decks. Additionally, turning creatures into artifacts opens them up to a wide range of removal spells that they were vulnerable to before. Pairing this Gorgon up with red might not be a bad idea; a few turns of activations can be followed up by a glorious Shattering Spree, taking out the most threatening creatures on the board for a single apiece. Additionally, the 6-toughness on the Gorgon synergizes well with a mid-game Mutilate, allowing you to take control of the board post-sweep.
Cleaver Riot – This card might be a beating at times, but I’d rather have a Savage Beating any day. Since Savage Beating is almost always better, I’d only recommend Cleaver Riot if you either a) don’t have Savage Beating, or b) REALLY need the consistency.
Fervor – Fervor returns in Magic 2013, and is one of the Commander-centric reprints. It’s simple in its application – namely, turning your guys sideways one turn earlier – which is perfect for a cheap-to-cast enchantment in red. It’s good enough where it should probably be destroyed, though unassuming enough where any targeted removal won’t touch it if there are other viable targets in play.
Firewing Phoenix – Most of the Phoenixes in Magic’s history have had a recursion ability, much like this one. What makes this Phoenix particularly special, however, is that it can be activated at any time, given you have four mana to spend. When games go long, decks often run out of things to do, and Firewing Phoenix lets you have something to do when that does happen. If you play a reactive blue-red deck like Niv-Mizzet or Nin, the Pain Artist, Firewing Phoenix can sit in your graveyard until the opportunity arises for recurring it. As a bonus, given infinite mana the Phoenix can be discarded an unlimited number of times in a turn.
Krenko, Mob Boss – This guy is great as either an addition to a Wort, Boggart Auntie deck or as a commander in his own right. Pairing him with any of the haste-granting goblins is a must, as he paints a bright red target on both his head and yours when he comes out. Following a Goblin Chieftain with Krenko can create six power of attackers on turn four, turning into at least fourteen damage on the fifth turn. We’ve seen this ability before on Marrow-Gnawer, but now we have a card that fits into a deck rather than a card that needs a deck built around it.
Magmaquake – Most of the time, you’re going to hit maybe one or two planeswalkers. Fault Line can do the same, but you don’t have to worry about burning any of your own ‘walkers when you use it. I think that you can really boil Magmaquake down to this: If you want your board sweeper to act as a finisher, go with Fault Line. If you’re concerned you’ll be too low to take a big hit to your face, use Magmaquake. For what it’s worth, Magmaquake does have the special distinction of being the first card that directly damages planeswalkers.
Mindclaw Shaman - When you miss, you miss big-time, getting a 2/2 for five mana. However, most of the time there should be some opponent that has a decently full grip, and more likely than not you’ll be able to snatch an instant or sorcery from your opponent and cast it for free. As the spells in Commander are more swingy than in 60-card formats, a well-timed Shaman can turn the game on its head. Even more than that, as this effect is on a creature, copy effects can be used to grab all sorts of amazing things from your opponents.
Slumbering Dragon – This guy acts as a great deterrent against being attacked by opposing creatures, but he’s pretty miserable late in the game. If you get him out early and your opponents do wake up the dragon, they’re in for a lot of pain. Still, I’d take Dragonmaster Outcast over it if I wanted a cheap source of dragons.
Thundermaw Hellkite – Red’s response to Baneslayer Angel, this guy is terrifying when he comes out. You can almost certainly guarantee that his five damage will go through to your opponent, and if you have any other fliers they are also given free range to attack. Just watch out for your opponents’s counter-attacks, as they might want to swing back at you right after having a chunk taken out of their life totals. He’s a great addition to any Kaalia or Karrthus decks, and there are few red decks that wouldn’t want him.
Worldfire – Ever since Worldfire was spoiled, I’ve seen discussions popping up regarding whether or not this card should be banned. Personally, I don’t see it was ban-worthy, but then again, I can’t think of anyone I know wanting to run this card in their deck. While this card is supposed to feel “epic”, Worldfire only really leaves the game with two potential end states. The first is that your deck is not going to win no matter what you do, so you cast Worldfire and pretty much let the game be left completely up to chance. The other, and more likely, outcome of a Worldfire is that the player who just cast it is sitting on a suspended Greater Gargadon, waiting for the next turn to come around when they can start bashing in the faces of anyone who happened to have drawn a land. Really, neither case is much fun, but Worldfire’s power level is undeniable. This is a great friend to any Jhoira of the Ghitu players out there, as you can just suspend a random creature card while suspending Worldfire and end up with a player-killing machine popping out of exile four turns later.
Boundless Realms – I think that this card can fit greatly into any number of green decks. Landfall effects are completely ridiculous with this card. Lotus Cobra is particularly absurd, as Boundless Realms will not only double your mana, but also refund your mana for casting it. Since land-destruction effects are less common than other forms of removal, and mass removal for lands is even rarer, Boundless Realms can be a very effective way of increasing your resources massively for the rest of the game at the cost of one turn. As a bonus, cards like Mirari’s Wake and similar Mana Flare effects let you double your mana again, allowing you to have an absolutely insane amount of mana post-Realms. I really like this card, if you can do something useful with the mana acceleration.
Elderscale Wurm – This card plays as an interesting alternative to Platinum Emperion. Much of the time, the Emperion will be better, as it allows your life total to stabilize at a number greater than seven. However, if you play the Wurm when you’re nearly dead, you can use life gain to get out of a sticky situation. Additionally, the Wurm doesn’t protect you from loss of life, only damage, meaning that once you get down to seven life, a single point of life loss shuts down the Wurm and makes you vulnerable. Personally, I like the Emperion most of the time.
Fungal Sprouting – As its flavor text would indicate, this card is great in any Ghave, Guru of Spores decks. However, this card is quite one-dimensional, and I’d hold off on running it unless you can either guarantee eight or more tokens every time, or have many good token-related cards in your deck.
Mwonvuli Beast Tracker – The biggest downside on this card is that you don’t actually draw the creature, you put it on top of your deck. That’s a pretty big difference, but consistency is one of the most reliable ways to win a game of Commander. If your deck has a wide range of targets, or a few that are particularly important, it wouldn’t hurt to run this in your deck. Even if all this guy does most games is find you a Primeval Titan, there are certainly worse things that a three-drop can provide.
Predatory Rampage – This card is really useful as a way to win the game, though not necessarily as a way of pushing damage through. Instead, a deck with creatures geared towards abusing Predatory Rampage can easily let you clear the board in a green deck that normally wouldn’t have that ability. A few creatures with deathtouch can wreck your opponents, or you can just use the +3/+3 boost to plow through their defenses and win. Diversity is a great asset in any card, and a deck with Predatory Rampage and a few tricks has a lot of potential.
Ranger’s Path – An updated Skyshroud Claim that puts the lands in tapped, don’t run Ranger’s Path unless you’re already running Claim and need the redundancy in land fetching. However, unless you’re running a lot of partially green dual lands, Explosive Vegetation is just going to be a better option for your deck than this.
Roaring Primadox – Cards with similar upkeep effects have been introduced before, and their success has been varied. What makes the Primadox so helpful is that, unlike the cards before him, he doesn’t care what color the creature he returns is. This allows for powerful combinations, such as Roaring Primadox + Karmic Guide, or more mundane interactions with cards such as Wood Elves. I already have him in one of my decks, and I’ve never been sad to see him come out.
Silklash Spider – This is one of Magic 2013’s Commander-centric reprints, and it’s a fine addition to nearly any green deck. Obviously Doran, the Siege Tower loves this guy, but having a green deck threaten to Hurricane the board at a moment’s notice can heavily alter your opponents’ game plans. If your deck is weak to fliers, play Silklash Spider, and he’ll ease off some of your flight-based problems. Remember, at worst it’s still a 2/7 with reach for only five mana. Most dragons, demons, angels, and all of the Titans aren’t getting past it regardless of if you can pay for its ability at the moment or not.
Thragtusk – Thragtusk is probably one of my favorite cards from the set. The fact that its second ability only cares if Thragtusk leaves the battlefield means that it can tag-team with cards like Deadeye Navigator, Roaring Primadox, or Momentary Blink to gain obscene amounts of life, while also amassing a small token army. Built-in sweeper insurance is also great, as you don’t have to start from zero after everything gets blown up.
Yeva, Nature’s Herald – Before now, green decks had to either play Vedalken Orrery or go into blue for Leyline of Anticipation or Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir to get flash on your creatures. Now, you can use the easily-tutored-for Yeva to start casting your creatures during your opponents’ turns. Instant-speed Acidic Slime can make a great two-for-one, and you can potentially destroy an opponent’s board if you flash in a Hornet Queen onto an attacking army. With green’s love for enters-the-battlefield effects, I would be happy to make Yeva a general for a new deck.
There aren’t any particularly exciting lands in Magic 2013, and Nicol Bolas has been around the block already, so I’m just going to look over the artifacts for this set.
Akroma’s Memorial – The Memorial is a blowout pretty much every time it comes down and doesn’t get blown up instantly. Play this in any deck that plans on winning with more than one or two creatures in play. Akroma, Angel of Wrath was one of the most powerful creatures in Magic for quite some time, and turning all of your creatures into Akroma is absurd.
Gem of Becoming – This is great if you’re running blue, black, and red, but if you’re only running two of the colors then Armillary Sphere is the better option here. Armillary Sphere is a pretty wonderful card for Commander, and while the increased cost on the Gem does make me step back and reconsider if it’s an automatic inclusion for decks containing all three of its colors, I think I’d be happy running this Gem since it can find dual lands as well as basic lands.
Gilded Lotus – Gilded Lotus makes Black Lotus a fair card at five mana, and even then this card is quite powerful. Another of the reprints in this set with Commander in mind, I like Gilded Lotus in any Commander deck that plays a lot of big spells (so most of them). It really gives your deck a jump-start, allowing you to start casting two spells where before you could only cast one.
The Ring Cycle – Of the five Rings in Magic 2013, the only one I care for is Ring of Xathrid. Regeneration is a powerful ability to grant, particularly out of green and black. Tossing the Ring onto a dragon and going to town with it poses difficult questions, ones which your opponents might not be able to readily answer. Otherwise, I find the Ring cycle to be underwhelming when compared to the Swords, Umezawa’s Jitte, or Lightning Greaves / Swiftfoot Boots.
Staff of Nin – The investment is great, but being able to draw another card each turn is a very powerful effect in Commander. Just take a look at how popular Phyrexian Arena is, and then place the Arena into any number of nonblack decks; imagine having your own Phyrexian Arena in a white/green deck. The pinging ability tacked onto it is a nice touch, and if you’re able to take down a couple utility creatures with it you’ve more than made up the initial cost for the Staff.
Trading Post – I really don’t know how well this card is going to play out. You only get one effect per turn, but the amount of utility that this card can bring is really high if you’re playing a decent amount of artifacts. Even the worst-case scenario of paying one mana and a life each turn for a Goat token isn’t terrible. The abilities I’m excited for are the third and fourth ones, as artifacts and creatures are traditionally some of the most-easily abused card types in the game.
Well, that wraps up Magic 2013 and its impact on Commander. I’ve been very pleased with Wizards’ focus on getting Commander staples, such as Silklash Spider and Gilded Lotus, back into a core set to help facilitate the format more. If anything, my biggest problem with Magic 2013 is how much they pushed Commander into the set. There isn’t any subtlety here: they wanted to put as many good Commander cards as they could into the set, and so Magic 2013 became a Magic set with an agenda. Anyways, I hope you liked my take on the Commander potential for this set. If you have any thoughts or comments on what I discussed (or didn’t discuss), please let me know in the comments!