Hello again, everyone.
So, I’m in a bit of a pickle with this one. As I wrote last time, I had planned for this article to talk about how you might start to improve at the fundamentals of Commander- how to choose a Commander, what goes into a functioning Commander deck, and so on and so forth.
Then this happened.
Christ, Wizards. I love you but when you goof, you goof big.
With an influx of information this big, I’ve decided to change my plans somewhat. Today I’m going to set about the mammoth task of discussing all the Commander-relevant cards we currently know from Dominaria. Part I will cover the lands, artefacts and planeswalkers, while Part II will come after we know the full set spoiler and cover the rest of the pieces.
However, if you’re anything like me a simple set review will probably make your eyes glaze over before long. So to make things more interesting, I’m going to turn this into a teaching opportunity and talk about these cards in the context of what you might want from each of the different card types in a Commander game. After all, what’s the point of me gushing about Dominaria’s planeswalkers if you don’t really know what a planeswalker is supposed to do for you in EDH in the first place? It’s not enough for me to tell you what cards I think are good- I also want you to know why they’re good at what they do, so when you need a card for a certain task you can assess those in Dominaria (or any other set) and be well-equipped to know what fits best.
Notably, I won’t be doing any sort of rating scheme here. They’re impressively arbitrary at the best of times and any score I give would have to be adjusted (significantly) to fit your local metagame anyway. Remember that EDH is not played in a vacuum, and there is no universal way of summing up a card’s quality without context.
Got all that? Good. Let’s go.
Surprised we’re starting here? Don’t be. Commander is a format that is both more and less forgiving of mana screw than “regular” Magic. More, because games last a lot longer and you won’t generally be picked on early if people see you’re struggling. Less, because you can only run one of each kind of dual land and not being able to cast your spells at the right time is one of the quickest ways to lose in the mid-to-late game.
There’s also the fact that Commander games can snowball very quickly. We’ve all seen what happens when somebody chains a turn-one Sol Ring into a turn-two Explosive Vegetation or Solemn Simulacrum, and sitting across from that knowing you’re colour screwed is a miserable experience. Invest in real estate, my friends- much like the real world, it won’t be cheap but it’s totally worth it. This also applies to the number of lands you include in your deck: I advise 38 as a baseline, with a solid core of basics, and often play more if my deck cares about lands in some way.
Dominaria brings us the return of the “enemy checklands”- Isolated Chapel, Sulfur Falls, Woodland Cemetery, Clifftop Retreat, and Hinterland Harbor. First printed in Innistrad, these are fantastic- almost always coming in untapped with no drawbacks- and should now be easily affordable. There are very few manabases that are not improved by including these lands, or their “allied” counterparts from Ixalan like Glacial Fortress. Even if you’re trying to trim the number of nonbasics so you can run Blood Moon or something, it’s rarely correct to cut these. If you don’t yet own a set of these, I absolutely recommend picking a couple up- perhaps in multiples if there’s a particular colour combination you favour.
On the subject of “utility” lands, Zhalfirin Void is a fine inclusion almost anywhere but I have a feeling that there often just won’t be room for it. Competition for colourless slots is fierce, and I suggest prioritising it only if you can get extra value from the scry trigger (via the Ravnica bouncelands, say). The Memorial cycle also offer a variety of small effects that probably won’t be staples, even in our mono-coloured lists, but I’m a big fan of getting value out of my land slot and all of them will be able to find a home somewhere.
The role of the planeswalker in Commander generally falls into one of two categories: a utility role-player that might win the game for you occasionally if the stars align, or a brute-force win condition that usually demands an immediate answer. Sorin, Lord of Innistrad is a great example of the former, whilst Ugin, the Spirit Dragon or Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker clean up in the latter role. Planeswalkers in multiplayer are inherently fragile and can’t be expected to last for several turns with dedicated support, but this doesn’t make them worthless. Think of them as oiling the wheels of your strategy rather than the lynchpin of it, and you’ll do fine.
Dominaria’s three planeswalkers each fall into the first of these two categories, but in subtly different ways. Karn, Scion of Urza has an obvious home in artefact-based decks with his -2 and his other abilities make him a powerful source of colourless card advantage. For certain colour combinations, primarily those lacking blue and/or black, anything that draws you extra cards with no strings attached is a godsend. Refreshingly, Jaya Ballard is no mere Chandra clone: half-Desperate Ritual, half-Cathartic Reunion, any Izzet or URx spellslinging deck should adore her even ignoring her powerful ultimate. Personally, I’m looking forward to using her to repeatedly load the graveyard in my reanimator decks…
Then there’s Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Re-empowered and finally in his proper colour combination, Teferi is a veritable Swiss-army knife. What really distinguishes Teferi for me is his ability to untap lands- card advantage and universal removal are par for the course in Azorius, but being able to tap out for a threat and hold up countermagic to protect it is surprisingly powerful. The most straightforward and powerful of the three, I expect Teferi to feature in most UW decks going forward.
In Commander, artefacts serve as the glue that holds a deck together. The colour identity rules mean that you usually won’t have access to every type of effect you might want, but there are certain fundamental things that any Commander deck will need. To fill these gaps, most decks employ artefacts. Normally these options are weaker or more inefficient than their coloured alternatives, but are far easier to cast and available to any Commander that needs the help. In certain cases, artefacts may also be the most effective option available- Sol Ring and Mana Crypt for early game ramp, Solemn Simulacrum for colour fixing, Skullclamp for card draw and so on.
The other common group of artefacts are Equipment, usually employed for the purposes of defending and powering up your Commander. If your general gives you any form of persistent advantage, your opponents will do their best to kill it, and Lightning Greaves and Swiftfoot Boots make that much more difficult. If your aim is to kill with Commander damage, the power boosts provided by something like Batterskull will be essential. Not surprisingly the best Equipment play both roles, as in the Swords of X and Y.
Dominaria offers powerful Equipment for the connoisseur of armaments. Helm of the Host isn’t cheap but it’s staggeringly good with the vast majority of creatures that see play in this format, from doubling up on Stoneforge Mystics and Coiling Oracles to burying your opponents in a stack of Sheoldred triggers. For those who prefer to simply get their opponents dead the Blackblade Reforged will turn almost any Commander into a lethal threat in the lategame, although beware of the high Equip cost on normal creatures. Forebear’s Blade also serves a mini-version of this effect if you’re worried about the Blackblade being stranded without a target, and is great in “go wide” strategies regardless.
As far as regular artefacts go, there is a clear standout: the Weatherlight is finally back, and apart from teaching us how broken Smuggler’s Copter really was it serves as the best possible salute to Magic’s history. Vorthoses (Vorthosi?) everywhere should be drooling over this thing, and you can and should play it in any deck that cares about “historic” cards. A close second is the gorgeous reprint of Gilded Lotus, a favourite of mine since M13 and a staple of Commander decks of all flavours.
We’re also being gifted a variety of useful trinkets that slot comfortably into your builds. None of these are obvious staples, but they don’t have to be- you’ll know immediately if you have a deck that wants them, or what strategy they’re intended to combat. Case in point? Damping Sphere, which will put a bullet in mana doublers, Storm decks and blue decks that want to draw all the cards in general- it doesn’t take those cards away, but it will force them to play at a sedentary pace. Heavy on artefacts, planeswalkers or other legends? Guardians of Koilos and Urza’s Tome have your back, and Navigator’s Compass is a cheap and painless way of fixing your mana, particularly for budget players or those with four or five colour manabases.
There is so much of Dominaria still to explore, but I have covered all I can for now. Next time, we’ll turn our attention to the real meat of the set and discuss the enchantments, instants and sorceries, and creatures- including, of course, the huge list of amazing legendaries that I haven’t even begun to dig through.
Until then, may you always be the one in command.