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Commander Highlights from 2021

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It was originally 2020 that Wizards labeled the "year of Commander," and they were certainly right about that. With the pandemic and all, that's pretty much all we could play - webcam games became huge and Commander officially took over as The Most Important Format to WOTC.

Of course, 2021 turned out to be the Year of Commander 2.0(21). And 2022 is going to be more of the same. As fellow CSI writer Jason Alt says, every set comes with 15 new legendary creatures and an associated Commander series release with another 15 legendary creatures. With that said, I wanted to look at some highlights from 2021 Commander that I hope we see more of this year!

Secret Lairs

It pains me to write this, because I don't like the impact Secret Lairs have had on the LGS, but it's clear that we're in an age of increased monetization of Magic and if they're going to sell products directly to customers like this, at least they're doing it with what mostly amounts to "cosmetics." It's an example of giving more without taking anything away, and that's the kind of trend I'd sure like to see more of in Magic, since I think we all agree it could desperately use some more customer-friendly practices.

https://twitter.com/SaffronOlive/status/1478777079185481733

Dungeons and Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms

You Come to a River
You're Ambushed on the Road

This set was groundbreaking for Magic in a few ways. Yes, of course it was a historic crossover with another massively popular IP, one in this case owned by Wizards of the coast but undoubtedly one of many, many more to come, both with outside properties like Lord of the Rings or The Walking Dead, but also with the myriad of other franchises Hasbro owns (think Transformers).

Anyway, whether you consider that a good or a bad thing, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms marks the full-on entry of that not just into Magic, but into Standard play even (personally I'm all for it so long as it's handled in an acceptably player-friendly way).

But there's other reasons I liked the DND set so much, and I think the design of this one is going to hold up very well over time.

Ranger Class
Cleric Class

I think that this take on Saga-type cards turns out very successful. These are fun little minigames in themselves that feel both attainable and fairly powered. They were a blast in Limited (for the most part), and a number have settled in Commander nicely.

Another design achievement is turning a drawback into a strength. Here's what I mean: ability words, as I believe they're called, were always called "flavor text" derisively, because they didn't typically convey al that much information about what the card would do, and cards with the same ability words would have very different effects when it resolved, essentially saving you no time by putting a special word on it at all.

So what if... these ability words actually were used as flavor text? Enter You Find the Villains' Lair. This was a home run in terms of flavor, and each card tells its own little story. Is any of that any "weirder" than anything else in this game? I'm just having fun with it as we go.

More Toxrill, the Corrosive (and less Cultivator Colossus)

Toxrill, the Corrosive

One of the most popular commanders of 2021 by EDHREC.com data was Toxrill, the Corrosive. It's easy to see why - the Slug Horror does some really unique stuff while touching on Slug tribal if you want to build on those synergies.

But it also costs seven mana, making it a real investment, something your deck can't rely on spamming out on turn 3 or 4 - or more accurately from the worst offenders, on turn 3 and turn 4 and turn 5... the format has been overrun with low-cost value engines in recent years that don't necessarily encourage any kind of deckbuilding thread other than "good stuff." Not that there's anything wrong with that for players who want to build those decks, but the popularity of cards like Toxrill shows that players are also looking for "weird EDH cards" to jam from time to time.

On the flip side, I don't want to see Cultivator Colossus type cards. No Nyxbloom Ancients or Jeweled Lotus. These cards are very powerful, and they're very powerful in the most boring way possible. To put it another way, more Arcane Signets don't make Commander a better format.

A Treasured Find

Academy Manufactor
Storm-Kiln Artist

It still amazes me that nearly 30 years into Magic's existence, the game still is pushing forward its design in such impactful ways.

There's been a lot of examples of this over the past 5 years or so, from reimagining what colors could do ("reckless draw" in Red), to the reinvention of Red-White as Lorehold instead of Boros. But none have been more impactful to Commander than the huge rise in Treasure-making cards. Helping along by Modern Horizons 2, Treasure tokens are now a huge part of the game, from competitive formats all the way to Commander.

I'm a fan. Treasure is probably the "best" form of mana ramp available - it's a one-shot that can be interacted with in some ways (Stony Silence, plus I've made plenty of artifacts come into play tapped). That's much better than printing a bunch of powered-up Rampant Growth effects that lead to the counterplay of land destruction. As a design approach for the format as a whole, Treasure has been great for Commander.

Reprints!

Vandalblast
Ghostly Prison
Swiftfoot Boots

2021 saw more reprints than ever before. It's easy to say that Wizards doesn't care about prices on the secondary market when we look at how expensive cards are - and they're more expensive than ever in any context - but at the same time it's factually true we're getting far more reprints of cards than we got even three years ago, much less five or eight or ten years ago.

There's no such thing as too much when it comes to reprints, in my opinion, which also applies to fancy alternate alt special-release versions of basic Plains or Relentless Rats or whatever else. Bring on even more reprints in 2022, please!

It's been a while since I've built a new Commander deck in paper, but I'm working right now to rectify that and will share the result here when I'm done. Until then, what are you looking for from Commander in 2022?

Thanks for reading,

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler

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