Sometimes, a game becomes so popular that it reaches a critical mass, suddenly becoming bigger than itself. For Wizards of the Coast’s Magic: The Gathering franchise, this mass went critical decades ago. Fans grew the trading card game in hobby shops and at kitchen tables, their fervor for card-based foes creating whole formats unto themselves, separate from anything officially sanctioned. One of these formats is called “Commander,” and it too went critical—Wizards officially supported the fan creation with a set of decks back in 2011. Since then the fans have been consistently asking for one thing, and with MTG‘s latest set, we absolutely got it.
The Commander 2016 Edition released early this November, and continues the now yearly tradition of officially supporting the format. (In Commander, each player has one legendary creature to serve as their commander. This creature is supposed to integrate with and elevate a deck of 99 different cards.) It finally gives players what they’ve been asking for from the beginning: four-color Commanders.
In MTG there are five colors. Each has a distinct look, feel, and play-style. The more colors your Commander has, the more cards you have available to build a deck with. Wizards has so far created one, two, three, and five-color creatures, leaving an agonizing gap.
In the 23-year history of MTG, out of 16,000 cards, there hasn’t been a single Commander-playable four-color creature. The wait has been worth it, however, because the 2016 edition feels like a set made for Commander players, rather than a set to encourage people to play Commander.
The wait for the final color combination wasn’t the result of nerdy negligence. Wizards of the Coast designers have long acknowledged that finding a lore and game play-based reason to create these legendary creatures eluded them until now. Thankfully, all of the new Commanders are powerful, fun to play, and for the first time in years make me want to rip apart old decks and build specifically around them. However arduous the design process was, it worked.
I tested each of the five new decks with my decently competitive play group, jumping into the fray straight from the box. “Breed Lethality,” with its lead Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice, was an immediate standout. The evil angel is instantly threatening when she hits the board, and she adequately supports the counter-heavy build. Expect many “super friends” and infects decks with Atraxa at the helm.
“Entropic Uprising” and Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder was another favorite. Though not as daunting as Maelstrom Wanderer or as powerful as Narset, Enlightened Master, the Commander has serious potential as a deck leader. Here the access to four colors exponentially increases the options available to a Yidris build. It won’t be long before Commander players break this card.
The remaining three decks, “Open Hostility,” “Stalwart Unity,” and “Invent Superiority,” are not as playable out of the box but they feature interesting Commanders with genuinely interesting themes. Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis offers so-called “pillow fort” players a new pilot, and Breya, Etherium Shaper is forcing me to rethink my tried-and-true Esper artifact deck completely. I didn’t have much time with Saskia the Unyielding, but I’m sure this new Commander will be alluring for aggro players, certainly in large play groups.
Along with the five new four-color Commanders come “partner” options: legendary creatures and potential Commanders that can be used in tandem, creating another four-color deck in the process. As long as two legendary creatures say “partner” on them, you can team up two at once. There are three partner-able Commanders per deck, meaning that if you buy all of the decks, you have 105 possible new builds. Partner is a refreshingly new mechanic for Commander (having planeswalkers as Commanders wasn’t as thrilling as I expected), and the partner options themselves are powerful—cards that have legitimate build-value beyond the gimmick.
Wizards made Commander 2016 Edition an actual Commander player’s set not only by filling the four-color gap, but by stacking each deck with high-value and format staple cards for veterans. Rare dual lands are in the decks—a necessity for a good four-color build but not necessary for Wizards to include in pre-made products—as are essential cards like Lightning Greaves, Chromatic Lantern, and even previous and powerful Commanders like Ghave, Guru of Spores. This set makes it feel like Wizards really gets Commander and the people who play it.
The feeling of “hey, they understand us!” is bolstered by 56 new cards. Mechanics like “undaunted” encourage larger multiplayer games to enable big, fun spells and creatures like Deepglow Skate, which has the potential to simply break games wide open by dropping onto the board (the best kind of play in a long Commander game). And for the first time, all the new Commander creatures come as foils. When you really love a deck, you want to pimp it out, especially the Commander. By selling the cards as foils already, it shows that Wizards understands the meta of Commander—again, a player’s set.
The latest Commander decks from Magic: The Gathering show that not only does Wizards of the Coast support Commander, they want to make sure its players are still as involved in the game as pro-tour players are. Some of the decks like “Breed Lethality” will jump out of the box for you, but each of the new four-color Commanders and their partners will make you want to rip apart decks you’ve had for years just to try them out.
Commander 2016 Edition is available now, and retails at $34.99 each.
Images: Wizards of the Coast
Editor’s note: Wizards of the Coast provided a review set of Commander decks to Nerdist.com.
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