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The Early Commander Hits from Midnight Hunt

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Innistrad: Midnight Hunt is here and in full swing, and will be on display this weekend at the Magic World Championship with DRAFT(!), where I'll be doing coverage. Having draft at the biggest event of the year is awesome for the Pro Tour veterans among us, and Midnight Hunt will be the focus in both Limited and Standard.

With that said, we're also seeing how Midnight Hunt and its associated 100-card release are fitting into Commander! Today I'm highlighting some of the early insights we have into how players are actually using the cards in Midnight Hunt, not just what's generated online hype.

Let's dig in, starting with the most popular commanders!

The Commanders

  1. Tovolar, Dire Overlord // Tovolar, the Midnight Scourge
  2. Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver
  3. Lynde, Cheerful Tormentor
  4. Vadrik, Astral Archmage
  5. Old Stickfingers

Tovolar, Dire Overlord // Tovolar, the Midnight Scourge

It's not a surprise to see Tovolar at the top! People have been howling for a good Werewolf commander ever since the tribe was introduced, and we finally got a reasonable one in Tovolar, Dire Overlord // Tovolar, the Midnight Scourge. I don't think the legend is exciting enough to draw anyone to the deck who wasn't already planning on building a Werewolf deck, but everyone who already wanted to got what they wanted.

More or less. Ragavan's Paw and all that - you get a "better" Werewolf mechanic in Day/Night, but it comes at the cost of not working with most of your older Werewolves and there's not enough new ones to exclusively fill out a Commander deck. So somehow, once again, Werewolf fans find a way to get hosed - at least until Crimson Vow arrives in a couple months.

Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver

Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver is interesting to see here, because while we all kind of knew there would be Zombies on Innistrad, many of us were expecting a heavy-Werewolf set followed by a heavy-Vampire set. Instead, Zombies are kind of stealing the show in Midnight Hunt, and I have to say that I adore Champion of the Perished as both a card design and a cool throwback. Midnight Hunt essentially feels like Innistrad Remastered, and I'm here for it.

But we've seen Zombies making a push over the past two weeks, and Wilhelt is the biggest reason why. Zombies certainly suffer no shortage of leaders in Commander, and I would have expected players to find new Zombies to add to the 99 rather than change out their commander or build a new deck.

But I guess I should never underestimate either player churn over the course of a few pandemic-filled years, or the explosion in popularity for Commander. I guess when music superstar Post Malone at the height of his career is taking so much time to push Magic across the internet, there's plenty of new Zombie Commander players out there - or Zombie fanatics looking to add another.

Anyway, Wilhelt is an interesting value engine in itself, something that Blue-Black has always had access to but not necessarily in this particular undead form. Zombies, of course, is going to have no problem sacrificing Gravecrawler or Wilhelt's own Zombo tokens, so it's a fairly reliable draw engine that also happens to spit out a Zombie token on every one of your turns.

There's a big dropoff from there to the rest of the possible new commanders, but Curse Tribal with Lynde, Cheerful Tormentor is just a very certain kind of fun, at the cost of not being able to play Overwhelming Splendor in your Curses deck. It's a fun archetype for Commander so long as it's not oppressive, and I really like that Lynde features something you almost never see on a card these days: a drawback.

Lynde, Cheerful Tormentor

Yes, your Curses will all come back should your opponents remove them, but it comes at the cost of those Curses coming back attached to you. That means there's very possibly going to be a few turns where your opponents will be able to attack you and you're going to be crippled, by quite a bit depending on the particular boardwipe and how much you had. That actually provides a fun tension that I think makes Lynde pretty cool. And if you do make it through the struggle, you're rewarded with moving a Curse and drawing extra cards!

The Standouts in the 99

Lands typically lead the way, and Midnight Hunt is no exception. The top cards are technically Gruul-flavored Werewolf cards (Kessig Naturalist // Lord of the Ulvenwald and Arlinn, the Pack's Hope // Arlinn, the Moon's Fury), but I think the real top card from the set is this:

Augur of Autumn

The first time I read this, as I worked my way through the lines of text on Augur of Autumn I went from "oh, that's a cool variant on Courser of Kruphix!" to "wait what the heck does this just go in every Green deck?"

Am I wrong, or is Augur of Autumn just that good? Playing lands off the top of your library is already a powerful effect that has proven itself playable in Constructed and Commander again and again, even when it only comes attached to a marginal upside like gaining a life. Similarly, cards like Realmwalker are nice inclusions in Commander and provide tribal value off the top of your deck, and Vizier of the Menagerie also provides the ability along with a few newer planeswalkers.

Augur of Autumn combines all those cards into one, provided you have a few creatures in play with differing powers! Not trivial, but not particularly difficult in a Green Commander deck. So much of the time, Augur of Autumn is going to function like a Green Future Sight, which is just wildly powerful.

Vanquish the Horde

Almost as popular as Augur is actually Vanquish the Horde, which is a nice Blasphemous Act take in White. Granted Red doesn't have traditional Wraths so you don't have many alternatives, but Blasphemous Act is a staple and an all-star much of the time.

Now White gets its version, and I think it's good enough to start playing. If you want to cast a Wrath of God effect, odds are there are at least three creatures on the battlefield and very likely four, so I think it's fair to consider the baseline for this a Wrath of God. That said, it's very rarely going to cost more than a Wrath and quite often will cost just two or three total mana, which allows you to very effectively double-spell a turn in the midgame when the first or second boardwipe is typically played.

Unnatural Growth

I think I may already be getting sick of this card. I've run into it in Standard a few times, but I've also had the distinct displeasure of being overrun by Unnatural Growth in Limited. It's... rough.

Anyway, this is another standout from the set in my opinion. Not just Constructed - though certainly there too - but also Commander. Doubling is a very powerful effect in Magic and most cards that double counters or something along those lines tend to be worth money. Unnatural Growth does that for all of your creatures, and this thing both attacks and protects.

Liesa, Forgotten Archangel

Graveyards have longed played a central role in Magic, and in recent years Wizards has also been exploring with the exile zone being so much more than the "removed from game" zone. They began experimenting in the space, and Battle for Zendikar and its processors was a big step forward. That continued to evolve, and eventually we got the really wacky Learn/Lesson mechanic in Strixhaven, which is currently all making Standard more of a Mascot Exhibition than a college football commercial.

All of this is to say, obviously, that Liesa, Forgotten Archangel is very good. It puts the understanding that that's how the game is played today at the forefront of its design, and it's a one-sided Leyline of the Void for opposing creatures. That shuts down all kinds of value and Eternal Witness shenanigans, but also can save the game against a combo deck.

Which is a nice ability, but not one that would make a card itself in 2021. But add in lifelink to the expected flying and a neverending stream of your other creatures to your hand, enabling your own hijinks, and the five-mana 4/5 will actually find its way into a lot of decks. A good thing too, since The Meathook Massacre is the next unconventional Wrath in the top ten cards.

Unnatural Moonrise

This isn't hugely popular (though it does place in the Top 15), but I feel compelled to point out that Immerwolf is selling for more than $5 right now, and I promise that was a very available uncommon for many, many years.

Similarly, we've seen Werewolf-adjacent cards go up in price like Howlpack Resurgence, and when it comes to powering up the new crop of Werewolves, Unnatural Moonrise gets its done by turning day to night and turning a trampling Wolf into a card advantage engine. Plus it flashes back! Definitely set aside this future Breaking Bulk pick on Brainstorm Brewery.

That's what stands out to me from the set's standout cards so far, and I think Augur of Autumn could very well become a staple of the format, since "Green creature deck" describes so much of the format.

Thanks for reading,

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler

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