I was wrong.
From the day Commander Legends was announced, I was terrified of it. Worried that it would break our format open like a preowned pinata. Scared that Wizards of the Coast would, intentionally or otherwise, mortally wound Commander with absurdly overpowered cards and mechanics. Afraid it could drive a lot of players away from this amazing corner of the Magic world we've all come to cherish.
With the benefit of time and reflection - though aware that the set is only formally being released today, and that history will tell the true tale in the years to come - I'm comfortable in the assertion that my deepest fears will not come to pass.
Commander Legends is a good, fun, largely well-designed set that I intend to enjoy and, I hope, that you will as well. Why?
Perhaps my most intense source of concern came when we learned Partner would be returning in this set. I'm long on record as hating Partner. In isolation that opinion has not changed much for me; I do believe Commander would be fine, if not a little better off, had Partner never become a thing in the first place.
But the more I'm getting to know this massive new batch of legendary Partners and see what people are doing with them, the less I'm frightened of these new partners... by and large.
It's still Magic and it's still Wizards (and Hasbro) and so of course there are some problematic Partner cards in this set. I regret to inform you that Commander Legends will not, in fact, be the first perfect set in Magic history.
I won't spend too much time hammering the problem children, but here are the ones I have my eye on as the set makes its way into the wild:
First here, a word about Tevesh Szat.
To be frank, I went overboard in my snap outrage when this card was first previewed. I tweeted something to the effect of, "You can't convince me not to hate this card and everything it stands for." I doubled down in my anger over the ultimate ability being one that is, to me - and, critically, not necessarily anyone else - unfun. More than that, though, I was upset because the cards seemed to be the embodiment of how Wizards intends to influence Commander through the printing of cards that nudge players toward strategies and play styles that don't necessarily mesh with the format's underlying philosophy.
I went too far. I overreacted. I was wrong.
Now, I still don't love this card, and I still don't love what it could - could - represent as a portent of things to come. Speaking of the card itself, the more I look at it the more I find the +1 ability to be potentially the most problematic element of Tevesh Szat - that's quite the lucrative sac outlet for Black decks, and having Partner means he could team up with someone like Kodama of the East Tree to refill your hand and take full advantage of Kodama's ability, to name but one example.
As for the others, Sakashima bears watching just because it contains two incredibly powerful effects for Commander: copying a creature, and disabling the legend rule. Adding Partner to that feels like it's destined to be exploited, and we'll have to wait and see what shapes and forms that takes (no pun intended).
Finally, the two Green Partner legendaries are just two more really, really, really good Green cards. Green always seems to get the very best cards in Commander, and I'm always just a little concerned that we may be heading toward a place where players feel as though they must be in Green in order to hang at a table. More on that another time, maybe.
In summation: I still don't like Partner, but on balance the Commander Legends partners are fun, flavorful and not prohibitively borked... for now. And I owe an apology to Tevesh Szat and the team who designed it.
Putting aside the commanders in Commander Legends for a moment, this set is packed to the brim with some pretty cool stuff, both in the form of brand new cards and much-welcomed reprints. As was true with the legendary creatures, a handful of these give me a bit of anxiety:
Starting with the last one first, Reshape the Earth has the potential to be an absolutely bonkers card in Green, which absolutely does not need the help. Green has been, by and large, the most powerful color in Commander for some time, but it feels as though it's gotten way more busted stuff over the past year or so, starting with Throne of Eldraine. This is just the latest in that series.
Much angst has already been expressed on social media and elsewhere over the other two, though I do believe Rule 0 will help keep Hullbreacher and Opposition Agent in line. They fall pretty squarely into the "I will have fun all by myself on your behalf" category, which is a dangerous place to be in a social format. But I suspect players and playgroups will find ways to regulate cards like these and keep them from rising to a level of concern that would warrant talk of bans.
On the flip side, there are so many great new things in Commander Legends:
Along with a good number of cards long overdue for reprints:
As I expect this set to be opened quite heavily over the holiday season, I hope to see the prices on these and other high-dollar reprints drop and remain low for quite some time. A set like this should allow players to finally get their hands on some cards that might have been out of reach of them in the past, and while we could argue about the dozens of other expensive cards that didn't get reprinted in Commander Legends, I'm happy for the ones we got. I've never owned a copy of any of those four cards, but they're attainable for me now. That's a good thing.
Perhaps you've been wondering what I'd have to say about this little gem:
Oh boy. Get ready. Here comes Davie to...
...tell you this card is fine. Good, perhaps, and even great in particular decks and playgroups, but overall, it is very, very, very just fine.
Jeweled Lotus is not Black Lotus. It's much closer to Mox Amber, another aggressively just OK Commander card. Right now, I believe Nyx Lotus to be a more universally useful Commander card than Jeweled Lotus, and I haven't seen much of Nyx Lotus outside my own decks. I cannot envision Jeweled Lotus being banned anytime soon.
We can all calm down about Jeweled Lotus.
As has been true all throughout spoiler season, I remain most excited by the completion of the "Battlebond land" cycle in Commander Legends.
Since most of us will never own original dual lands, these are the best two-color lands Commander has to offer. The original five reappeared as expeditions in Zendikar Rising - and remain quite affordable - and now the final five are here. If you buy nothing else from Commander Legends, stock up on these lands when they're cheap. As we saw after Battlebond's release, they likely won't stay cheap for too long.
I'm also very, very, very happy to see Command Beacon back. More reprints of Command Beacon, please.
We Can Have Nice Things
I thought about ending this article on a downer note, listing the cards I haven't yet covered that scare me, that feel too powerful or too pushed or too whatever. I'm not gonna do that. If any cards from Commander Legends become that problematic, you can be sure we'll all have plenty to say about them.
Instead, I offer this:
I'm as vocal and unabashed a critic as Wizards of the Coast has right now. I never spare them the full force of my opinions. I've realized, however, that being locked in a centrifuge of outrage isn't healthy for me, it's not terribly relevant to you, and it probably won't affect all that much change at Wizards. I need to do a better job of managing my knee-jerk reactions, taking a breath, letting some time pass and then using my words.
I think that's something many if not most of us could stand to do better.
While we dial back the instant angst, I also need to do a better job of giving credit where it's due, and it's most certainly due here. Commander Legends is not perfect. It has cards that bother me. But the vast majority of this set is quite good, and I do believe history will look back on it favorably.
So, Wizards of the Coast: Well done. And I'm sorry for being a grumpy jerk. (Sometimes.)