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Commander Superlatives: Zendikar Rising


Ah, high school. A time when we learn so much about ourselves, about our passions and our fears, our dreams and nightmares. If you're like me, high school was (or is) a nightmare unto itself, filled with trauma and abject nonsense that haunts us forever. Sometimes when I visit home I'll clamber up to the attic and dig out my high school yearbook and remind myself just how happy I am that high school is now many, many years behind me.

Turns out Commander can feel a lot like high school, for better and for worse. We judge cards and sets and mechanics harshly with little regard for their feelings; sorry Lutri, the Spellchaser, you can't sit with us. Each minor affront in a game can have repercussions five turns later, and making a political approach to another player can feel like our own quirky version of a promposal.

So, I've decided to look at the upcoming Zendikar Rising expansion through the lens of a classic high school cliche: Superlatives.

Most Likely to Get Windmill Slammed into (Too?) Many Decks: Lithoform Engine

Lithoform Engine

I absolutely love this card. It might be my favorite from the whole set. It can do a TON of work a lot of different decks, and the fact that it doesn't required colored mana to pay any of its costs makes it an enticing choice for a mid-to-late game mana sink. I have a Riku of Two Reflections deck and I've joked that Lithoform Engine is Riku.artifact, but there's some truth there. It will absolutely go into that deck.


Almost immediately after Lithoform Engine was spoiled I began to see tweets and videos and articles asking breathlessly whether this was the new Commander staple, or outright declaring it to be. I don't believe that to be true.

It's a good card - a very good card. It can fit into and be valuable in many if not most decks; however, that can be and has been said about a lot of cards in the past few years (and beyond). As I've discussed in the past, Magic players (and Commander players in particular) have a nasty habit of making these kinds of bold declarations during spoiler seasons and, more often than not, they don't pan out.

Lithoform Engine could very well prove to be "the next staple" but there's ample reason to believe it won't reach that level of ubiquity. For starters it costs four mana to cast and then at least two more to activate one of its abilities, so unless you're playing a mana rock heavy deck or are ramping like crazy, don't expect this to be very useful in the early game. I likened it to Trading Post in the sense that it feels like the kind of card that will be in the giant pile of potential cards for any given deck only to end up getting cut from the final list in favor of something else that synergizes better with the rest of the deck. And, not for nothing, it'll be a prime target for removal and absolutely should be.

I expect to see a lot of this card in the next few months. Let's revisit it in a year or so and see where it stands.

Most Popular Legend: Omnath, Locus of Creation

Omnath, Locus of Creation

We knew this was coming, and from the moment it was spoiled players were salivating over the chance to break a new Omnath with access to White. And, not for nothing, it's a new four-color commander, something we don't get every day without having to dip into partners.

Yeah, I foresee a lot of Omnath, Locus of Creation decks in the coming months. And why not? It's a hella fun card! Each color is represented beautifully - card draw for Blue, life gain for White, ramp for Green and damage for Red - and we obviously have many ways to get extra lands into play each turn in Commander.

I also think Omnath as a character is just so delightful. It started its journey all Green, then touched some lava and picked up Red, stepped in a puddle and got Blue and now it's roaming the plains and wielding White. I can't wait to see what happens when it finally wanders into a swamp.

Most Exciting Legend: Akiri, Fearless Voyager

Akiri, Fearless Voyager

Omnath will probably be the belle of the ball, but in the long run Akiri, Fearless Voyager may prove to be the most impactful legend in Zendikar Rising. Boros can always use a bit of spice for Commander and this Akiri is spicy indeed.

I know a great many players have wanted a proper "equipment matters" commander for quite some time; obviously, when I say "equipment matters" I'm not talking about Voltron. Indeed, this Akiri is the anti-Voltron commander because she wants us to have multiple equipped creatures; send one equipped creature at each opponent each combat and you're drawing three extra cards every turn. In Boros.

Don't sleep on Akiri's activated ability, either. Depending on the equipment you use - like, say, Embercleave, or perhaps a Helm of the Host, or a Sword of Feast and Famine - your opponents are going to do their best to make your creatures go away. At the cost of a single White mana you can keep those creatures alive, even if you may have to give up the equipment in the process. Too bad there are absolutely positively no ways at all not even one nope to get artifacts back from your graveyard in Commander.

Let's be honest. Winota, Joiner of Forces is an immensely powerful card and unquestionably one of the strongest, if not the strongest Boros commander ever. But Winota is, regrettably, supremely unfun to play against and quite often not all that fun to pilot. It's too good. Akiri doesn't feel unfun or unfair. And with the vast armory of equipment available to us in Commander, I can't wait to see what players do with it.

Most Unpredictable New Toy: Double-Sided Lands/Spell Lands

I just... I don't know, y'all.

I see players drooling over these things, and I see players who think nothing of them, and I see players in between. And oddly enough I think I'm all of those players.

Let's start at the top. The mythic cycle of spells with lands on the back is (mostly) very good.

Sea Gate Restoration
Agadeem's Awakening
Shatterskull Smashing
Turntimber Symbiosis

I say "mostly" because the White card in this cycle, Emeria's Call, doesn't do a lot for me. Even in Hot Daxos. It's just too much mana for too little benefit compared to what the others do. Sea Gate Restoration, Shatterskull Smashing, and Agadeem's Awakening can be legitimate game-enders.

But as we go down the rarity scale, the appeal of these double-faced cards starts to dry up very quickly for me. The rare cycle of a basic on each side seems somewhat useful and absolutely an upgrade over, say, a dual land that enters tapped. Versatility is always nice, especially when you're in three or more colors. But at the same time these aren't fetchable either as basic lands or typed lands, and unlike the spell lands they're just as much of a dead draw on turn 10 as a regular old basic is.

While those COULD be a thing, the uncommon cycle of spell lands feels like one I'm likely to never, ever use. The spell sides don't do nearly enough for the cost and the land sides enter tapped. Outside of a "build a deck out of only what you got in this one booster box" type of thing, I can't imagine a scenario where these would ever make the cut in a deck for me.

Despite the unevenness I do appreciate the innovation here. Wizards of the Coast has tried a lot of things like this in the past few years, and while some have flopped, most of the Aftermath cards in Amonkhet block, others have shined, like the enchantments that transform into legendary lands from Ixalan block. Even when they fail, I applaud these efforts to explore new things. Time will tell how these fare.

Most Overdue Tribal Legend: Charix, the Raging Isle

Charix, the Raging Isle

L E G E N D A R Y C R A B. It's about damn time.

Most Improved Deck in Davie's Arsenal: Riku of Two Reflections

This deck is due for a bit of a shakeup, and Zendikar Rising is giving me plenty of new toys. Here's hoping your decks get lots of new love, too!

Riku of Two Reflections | Commander | Dave Kosin

Dave is a Commander player currently residing in Reno, NV. When he's not badly misplaying his decks, he works as a personal trainer. You can bother him on Twitter and check out his Twitch channel.

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