Sam Waters is back and ready to take on the previews to come, today he is looking at what we could be getting in Commander 2018;
It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I must apologise for my long absence. Life abruptly decided that I would need to take a break from all things Magic in order to focus on pesky things like my health, and making sure I had a roof over my head, and so on and so forth.
We’ve had two major releases since my last article and both Battlebond and M19 have provided a dizzying number of additions to the Commander format. Battlebond offered a cool new multiplayer mechanic, a new series of Partners (including a pair of planeswalkers) and saw the long-overdue return of some old favourites- Seedborn Muse! Mystic Confluence! Doubling Season! Our newest Core set, meanwhile, opted to go back to the beginning with some shocking reprints and an impressive update to the original Elder Dragons (I’m very partial to Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire, but more on that in a future article).
However, as good as those sets were, I am not here to talk about either of them today. For we have now received some juicy information about a far more interesting product, and it would be remiss of me not to commentate on it as soon as possible. I am talking, of course, about Commander 2018.
Last week, the themes and colour combinations of the four decks were announced on Weekly MTG. I say “themes” because unlike previous Commander sets where the decks have followed a cycle of colour identities like wedges, shards or enemy-colour pairs, or last year’s tribal focus, each deck this time appears to have a distinct identity of its own. For those not in the know, they are:
“Subjective Reality”, a blue-black-white deck focused on manipulating the top of your library.
“Exquisite Artifacts”, a blue-red deck unsurprisingly centred on artefacts.
“Nature’s Vengeance”, a black-red-green deck revolving around lands.
“Adaptive Enchantment”, a white-blue-green deck dedicated to enchantments.
As well as this, the first official artwork from the set was unveiled, which can be seen here. Before I offer some thoughts on these reveals, though, I should tell you the other major piece of information we know about this year’s releases. Based on Wizards’ official product description, it appears that C18 will also feature the return of planeswalker commanders!
In hindsight, this should not be particularly surprising. Not only are several of the official artworks drawn in the signature style reserved for planeswalkers, the original series of Planeswalker Commanders were almost all hits (little can be said to defend Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath). What’s more, Wizards has long implied that it would prefer all planeswalkers to be legal as Commanders by default. From the Magic Origins cycle of “flipwalkers” to the legalisation of planeswalkers as Commanders in Brawl- Wizards’ Commander-lite format for Standard enthusiasts- and the recent printings of Nicol Bolas, the Arisen and Rowan Kenrith & Will Kenrith, WotC have been increasingly pushing planeswalkers to the forefront of Commander. Whatever we may think of this decision, returning to “explicit” planeswalker commanders is simply the next logical step in that process.
Whilst the officially released artwork does not feature any planeswalkers we are familiar with, speculation about who may make an appearance here is rife. This is due to some other recent artwork that hints at the return of some old friends: as seen here, the official Dominaria artbook shows off new artwork of the long-dead planeswalker Lord Windgrace, who will certainly not be appearing in any Standard-legal product. Given Commander 2014’s inclusion of the similarly deceased Freyalise, where better for him to make his debut in card form than here?
The main reason for the speculation, however, is a recent poster highlighting the return of several long-neglected members of Magic’s cast. The artwork can be seen here and here What potentially ties this to Commander 2018 is that we already know we’re going to Ravnica for the entire next year of Standard, and many of these artworks are clearly not set on our favourite city-plane. Barring an unannounced, multiverse-hopping supplemental set, therefore, odds seem good that at least some of these characters will appear in C18 in some form. Might we see a BW Elspeth as part of the Esper deck, for instance, or Saheeli and Daretti working with UR Artefacts?
But enough guessing games. Let’s return to what we know absolutely, and talk about the core themes of these four decks. What should we make of them?
Well, I have to begin with “Nature’s Vengeance.” After seven years of Commander products, we finally have a lands-focused deck, and it’s even been cunningly paired with M19’s reprint of Crucible of Worlds to ensure players can get their hands on that critical piece. I could not be happier with this, as I’ve been tinkering with a steadily-growing pile of land-based effects for about three months now and there was never really a general that sang to me. But as it happens, I am also a BIG Spider fan. I built the full Spider tribal deck back when Ishkanah, Grafwidow came out, and though that deck is no longer with me I still play her, Arachnogenesis and Spider Spawning everywhere I can get away with it. I was therefore positively delighted to see the big Jundian monstrosity jumping out of the official artwork, and I’m positively itching (hehe) to put the fear of God into the arachnophobes among my audience.
I find myself less enthused, by contrast, with the announcement that we will be receiving another artifact-themed deck. It seems we are due one of these products every two years like clockwork- first Daretti, then Breya, and now this. Whilst I understand the desire to make up for the longstanding and conspicuous absence of an Izzet artificer Commander after Kaladesh block, that desire was (in my opinion) met perfectly by the printing of Jhoira in Dominaria. I have nothing against artifact-heavy decks, but three in six years seems like overkill when there are so many other potential themes that these products could be used to explore- and that’s ignoring the amazing support these decks have received elsewhere like the recent Tezzeret, Artifice Master and Sai, Master Thopterist. I’m sure everyone who just built a Jhoira deck will be over the moon with this announcement, but it leaves me a little cold.
Speaking of using these decks to explore new themes, I’m intrigued and excited by the decision to branch out into more obscure territory like “top of your library matters.” Though some may question why this deck isn’t in green, considering that colour’s history of effects like Sylvan Library, Courser of Kruphix and more recently the Explore mechanic, I can understand wanting a less-creature oriented approach to this type of strategy. The decklist almost builds itself: Vampiric Tutor, Mystical Tutor and Enlightened Tutor, the obligatory Miracles package, Future Sight, Scroll Rack… (Scroll Rack! Please reprint it, Wizards. You have one job!) Personally, with so many Esper legends leaning heavily toward control and/or combo I’ll just find it refreshing to have some new options that don’t automatically signal “I’ll be the only one playing Magic today.” Commander is a social format, after all, and I’m looking forward to playing a deck in this colour combination that isn’t just off in the corner doing its own thing.
That leaves us with our Bant Enchantress deck, and here I find myself torn. On the one hand, an enchantment-oriented precon has been on Commander players’ wishlists ever since Theros block, and the chosen colours are easily the best combination for this type of strategy (outside of possibly five-colour, but that carries its own unique challenges). The artwork we’ve seen so far is gorgeous, and for those interested in the potential reprints the options here are mouth-watering: any number of Enchantresses (hopefully Argothian), up to six Theros gods, Greater Auramancy, and Privileged Position just off the top of my head.
On the other hand, I have spoken before about what I call the Edgar Markov Problem: when a commander is printed that effectively obsoletes all other options for that strategy or tribe, the end result is that decks are homogenised and diversity suffers because there is no longer a reason to play anything else. We do not know that this will be the case here, of course, and can’t until we see the cards for ourselves. But it’s hard to imagine that whatever generals are in this product won’t be the clear best option for this kind of deck in general, given the dearth of other enchantment-focused legends, the great colour combination for the archetype and the general power level of the preconstructed Commanders historically. It’s a fine line for R&D to walk- on the one hand, nobody wants these new commanders to be too weak to see play, and yet we don’t want every deck of its type to be led by the same general, either.
So, what did you make of last week’s announcement? Are you hyped for Commander 2018, or are you waiting until spoilers start before passing judgement? Do let us know in the comments, and until then- may you always be the one in command!