I don't know how I've made it this far without playing Dungeons and Dragons at some point, just due to the game's proximity to Magic. And yet, as we enter the Forgotten Realms for, well, adventures, I've never played a game of DnD. Hopefully I can change that with the release of the next set.
We've just begun to see the first previews for the set, and Wizards just announced where to find all the previews for the set, so today I want to take a look back at the heavy DnD-themed mechanic back from Zendikar Rising: Party.
A Look Back at the Party
I loved Zendikar Rising. From the setting, the plane, the themes, and especially the Limited environment. The original Zendikar was kind of famous for being an extremely enjoyable draft. While I think the set was more or less in line with most modern sets, it was really ahead of its time and stands as one of the most popular Limited formats ever.
Battle for Zendikar disappointed, but they returned to the excellent Zendikar-feeling format with Zendikar Rising, and I drafted this set more on Magic Arena than probably any other. And on top of all of that, the set contained one of the coolest things that ever appears in a Magic set: a plant! Not the 0/1 kind, but the kind that sure looks like a call-ahead to an upcoming set. I don't know if Adventures in the Forgotten Realms will bring back the party mechanic, but I'm sure that we'll see more cards that care about the creature types of clerics, rogues, warriors and wizards.
Any article discussing party has to start with the best commander for the bunch: Tazri, Beacon of Unity. Fellow CSI writer Stephen Johnson covered that kind of deck perfectly here, and it's a great starting point for building any kind of DnD/Adventures themed deck in Commander, whether you're going to go deep on the party mechanic or not.
Tazri was built to be the do-it-all five-color party/Ally commander, and it does a great job at that. It can get heavily discounted as you build up your party, and I suspect Adventures in the Forgotten Realms will give plenty of new cards for any Tazri deck, starting with Bruenor Battlehammer. Sure, it's another equipment-themed Boros card and is basically a more expensive Puresteel Paladin, but on the other hand it's another Puresteel Paladin!
Tazri also functions as a win condition. If you can generate arbitrarily large amounts of mana - and there are plenty of ways to do that in a five-color deck - then you can find any of the appropriately-typed creatures from your deck. Along with something like Arcane Adaptation, and you can actually grab any creature from your deck.
And when you're not using Tazri to win, it's actually pretty strong when played fairly. The pay-mana-to-dig ability may look innocuous on first glance, but it actually awards you two cards from the top six, so it will dig you out of the card advantage very quickly with just a few activations.
Tazri will headline most DnD decks, but these Zendikar Rising leaders work very well too. Zagras comes with the same party-discount mechanic as Tazri, and it also comes along with the benefit of being a Vampire, which is a popular tribe and has plenty of its own support in Commander. Zagras is the most expensive of the bunch at six base mana, but for that cost you get a flying, hasty deathtouching creature that will immediately pressure your opponents or their planeswalkers.
But it goes further than that, giving every creature you have deathtouch. That's when things get really spicy, as every Prodigal Sorcerer you can throw into a deck (and there are plenty in Rakdos) now can tap to shoot down any non-indestructible creature on the board. Add on "commander-deathtouch" and you've got a viable build path if you don't want to go the five-color Tazri route.
Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate is also a pet card of mine. It starts out cheap at three mana and provides a repeatable indestructible effect for your entire team. There's a lot of meat on the bone there, as you can build your deck to combo around board wipe and indestructible effects (Flawless Maneuver et al) alongside Linvala. And if you happen to fill your party, you get to detain an opponent's permanent on your every turn. And as a 3/3 for three, Linvala holds down the board early.
Varragoth goes back to the combo side of things, but dang is it powerful. Tutoring Liliana Vess style is already extremely strong, and doing so repeatedly is an effect that exists on very few cards. I like that you can also play this card politically, since it actually allows you to target any player, but realistically this just represents another powerful combo option.
Throwing the Party
I love these support-level party cards. They all have effects that are at least decent, but the range from Spoils of Adventure at six mana to Spoils of Adventure at two or three mana is massive, and Squad Commander and friends like Nimble Trapfinder and Archpriest of Iona give you creatures that can fill up the curve admirably while discounting your other party spells or commanders.
For filling out the rest of a party/DnD deck, here are the creatures in the EDHREC Top 100 over the last 2 years that fit the bill:
- Notion Thief (#19)
- Zulaport Cutthroat (#24)
- Viscera Seer (#30)
- Goblin Electromancer (#34)
- Ramunap Excavator (#36)
- Thassa's Oracle (#40)
- Niv-Mizzet, Parun (#42)
- Aven MIndcensor (#45)
- Grand Abolisher (#52)
- Laboratory Maniac (#55)
- Mother of Runes (#63)
- Archaeomancer (#64)
- Magus of the Wheel (#75)
- Jodah, Archmage Eternal (#82)
- Spellseeker (#90)
- Drannith Magistrate (#92)
- Fleshbag Marauder (#95)
- Grim Haruspex (#97)
As you can see, most of those have some very specific uses that may or may not work in a particular deck. Thassa's Oracle and Labman are obvious combo cards, but there are some great staples there as well that will fill out your party. In particular, Notion Thief, Aven Mindcensor and Ramunap Excavator stand out to me as key creatures. Each fulfil one part of the party, and Excavator is especially good as there just aren't all that many cleric options. But each of those three has a staple effect for Commander and should be at the heart of any party deck.
The coolest part about the party mechanic is that it continues to build on itself as Magic expands, and that's exactly what Adventures in the Forgotten Realms will add to any continuously evolving deck. That's also where this trio comes in. Any party deck that was put together with Zendikar Rising has continued to get upgrades as more sets have come out, and these three in particular are extremely powerful Commander cards that also happen to fit into the Dungeons and Dragons requirements perfectly.
I can't speak for any other playgroup, but Opposition Agent has actually felt very healthy in mine - it's mainly been used to stop people from winning the game, which I think is a pretty fair use of the card. And Mangara perfectly toes the line between must-kill and ignore-able, which usually means people will be greedy and you'll get to draw extra cards.
And, of course, any discussion of party must include shapeshifters. Kaldheim gave some great additions here, with Realmwalker and Maskwood Nexus providing some clear power while cards like Masked Vandal provide flexibility and removal.
All in all, whether you take your Dungeons and Dragons deck in a party direction or stuff it full of Adventures cards or just putting a Sword of Dungeons and Dragons into a deck, I'm excited for this crossover and it's been awesome to explore more of the DnD universe through Commander. What are you hoping to see from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms?
Thanks for reading,