The day is upon us; the day I get to do the 75% set review for a set I’ve been awaiting since they announced the name of it. I would say equal parts eagerly anticipating and equal parts dreading because this set is PERFECT for Commander, and that’s a problem. I could review basically every card in the set in terms of 75% inclusion, or I could pick the cards that you might not think of initially but which embody 75% deck-building principles and focus on those. I am going to try the latter for this set since there are a ton of cards and I’d rather tell you some things you might not know than tell you Muldrotha is a good card. Every website on the net will tell you that. If just looking at 75% cards isn’t enough to whet your appetite for all things Dominaria, Gathering Magic’s other authors are taking a crack at the set and I also coordinated the EDHREC set review articles. There is enough general Commander advice online that I feel comfortable going really deep on the 75% gems in the set and using my column space to talk about why I love those cards so much. Tell me in the comments if you like this approach and I can copy it for future sets. With all of that explanation out of the way, I’m happy to just dive right into it if you are. As I see it, these are the cards that are the hidden 75% gems of the set.
Baird, Steward of Argive
One of my favorite 75% principles is “It’s better to punish people for doing something rather than preventing them from doing anything,” and sometimes I need to clarify that a bit. That doesn’t mean “don’t counter spells” or “don’t slow them down” and in fact, I’m really starting to fall in love with Kismet effects in 75% builds. You can prevent them from doing things, especially if those things would prevent you from executing your strategy. Another 75% guideline is “do what you need to do to protect the execution of your strategy.” The more I build and play and experiment with the parameters of this deck-building ethos, the more I’m thinking it’s better to tax than stax. They CAN attack you, but they’ll need to devote significant resources to it, so, rather than make sure they don’t have the mana to do anything, make sure they only don’t have the mana to do anything if they mess with you. Make them effective combatants against your opponents and not against you and you can effectively steer them and use them against the table. I was an early adopter of Disrupt Decorum (“Wrath of Goad”) and other players are on that train, finally. Having a Ghostly Prison in your Command Zone is a great way to let people know that messing with you will be painful and they should focus their attacks elsewhere. Baird is great in the 99 also as just another Propaganda effect and he can protect Planeswalkers in a Superfriends build as well. He’s versatile, effective, and I wish his tax cost 2 even if that made him a Mythic. His Vigilance lets him attack and play defense as well and lots of cards are beginning to scale off of the number of soldiers you have and he’s one of those as well. Norn's Annex on a stick is very 75% and I’m all about including it. This effect isn’t new, but it is worth discussing in a 75% capacity.
Ever since we stopped being able to tuck cards, spells like this have become very popular. Probably the best of them is Darksteel Mutation, which makes it tough to kill the creature and get it back if it’s their commander, but Imprisoned in the Moon and Song of the Dryads are also very popular spells. These are easy ways to deal with problems, and, while locking down someone’s Commander can prevent them from doing stuff, it shouldn’t prevent them from doing anything. Usable on any creature, this card strips abilities from annoying creatures like Seedborn Muse, Dark Confidant, Platinum Angel, and a host of other utility creatures. Deep Freeze is far from the flashiest card in the set, but it’s the kind of removal 75% decks can get behind.
In Bolas’s Clutches
We like to steal their cards, don’t we? Probably the easiest 75% principle to build around involves using as many of their cards as we can to scale the power level of our deck to that of the most powerful one at the table, ensuring people can handle what we’re dishing out and we can handle what they’re throwing at us. Stealing their permanents is a great way to do that. Six mana is a lot for a Control Magic, but it’s the same as Confiscate which I have played and it has some upside in certain builds now that Dominaria cards are checking based on having Legendary permanents. Karn's Temporal Sundering away knowing you will have a Legendary creature for sure. This also steals any Permanent, not just a creature. All in all, I like this in quite a few of my decks, not the least of which is Maelstrom Wanderer where this likely replaces Take Possession. Again, this isn’t a new effect but it’s worth discussing.
This IS a new effect and I like it quite a bit. I don’t like Sensei's Divining Top that much because I think people have a tendency to waste too much time on other people’s turns with it. This, however, is worth a slot in a deck, especially if you have lots of Instants and Sorceries to play and hit a cap on mana late and don’t want to see more lands. I don’t know if this follows a specific 75% principle per se, but it does do some work in decks where I don’t want to have to run Top. Building with this card in mind will also cause you to include fewer creatures, making you rely on their creatures or other means to win the game, which I like. All in all, this is a fun card and I want to see it get played.
Let’s use this as an opportunity to talk about how we feel about face-down tutors in 2018. I still am sort of “meh” on them but I am finding more and more that may be personal taste and doesn’t necessarily belong codified in the ethos. However, I am finding online that a lot of adherents to 75% deck-building don’t mind the restriction regarding face-down tutors. This, however, is pretty interesting. It’s mana-intensive which is a reason I like Diabolic Tutor a little more than Demonic Tutor. It’s also only partially face-down because one of the cards you tutor for gets put into a known zone and revealed to all players. I like the design of this card. I’m not likely to include it in decklists going forward and it’s a little bit narrow, basically relegated to graveyard decks, but it’s also pretty good when your graveyard is basically a second hand. This is a pretty spicy tutor and I’m glad we got to talk about how I feel about it because my feelings on Black tutors keep evolving as I develop 75% more as a deck-building ethos. This information won’t help the people who read the first article I ever wrote about it (In February of 2014) and go online saying “I read the 75% article, and I’m prepared to tell everyone exactly what the theory is all about and why it’s wrong because you can’t beat my $3,000 Deranged Hermit combo deck 1v1 with your Vorel deck” but I think it’s worth keeping my readers up-to-date on how I feel about cards. Final Parting is interesting, certainly, and it might not be as far outside the realm of possible inclusion in a 75% deck as some might think. I’ll say what I’d like to think I’ve always said — include tutors if you want but be careful. If you’re always tutoring for the exact same card, maybe consider something else in that slot. I like toolbox cards like Birthing Pod, not second copies of combo pieces.
I don’t know if Ripple Rats and associated builds are 75% per se, but it’s hard to imagine a build that isn’t. Even the Shadowborn Apostle decks that tutor for Demons seem pretty 75% built to me. Ripple Rats especially is a very goofy deck and I think I like Rat Colony a little better. Foils of this should be pretty nuts and if you didn’t snag Thrumming Stone when I said to last year, it may be too late, soon. Coolstuff only has one copy left and I’m pretty sure they used to have more. Building around a theme (RATS!) is a great way to limit your card pool slightly by forcing you to build around synergy rather than “goodstuff” and that is a real way to approach 75% deck-building for people who aren’t too familiar with it. This card is a welcome inclusion in the set for sure.
Torgaar, Famine Incarnate
No one has ever asked me how I feel about cards like Sorin Markov, Magister Sphinx, Tree of Perdition, etc in a format where that could potentially mean dealing someone 30 damage. I am super in favor of them. The cards are usually expensive, slow and only target one person meaning you made an enemy of one person and let the rest of the table know you’re crazy and could do it to them. This could be your Commander, which is hilarious. You can even use this to make your own life total 20, which is a good idea when it’s lower than that. I like these sorts of effects a lot and this card is very interesting and very 75%. Big effects can scare people and make you a target so they’re best used as a deterrent and it’s easier to use deterrents people know about. This in your Command Zone is a lot more imposing than “I could have Sorin Markov in this deck! It could even be in my hand! You don’t know!” This is what I’m about.
Whisper, Blood Liturgist
Is this a bad Hell's Caretaker because you have to sac two creatures or a better Hell's Caretaker because you can have it be your commander? I’m really using these cards to talk about other cards a lot, aren’t I? This is turning into a really weird set review. All I know is that more people should play Hell's Caretaker in Commander because it’s great and that means this card is probably worth a look.
Yawgmoth’s Vile Offering
I can tell you why I think this is a great 75% card in literally two words. Here is my two-word, 75% review of this card. Ready? Here it is.
Thank you. That has been my two-word, 75% review.
I want to write about how much I love this card, but I wrote an article called “75% doesn’t mean ‘terrible’” a while back and I want to stick to my guns on that one. We aren’t playing Wild Swing, usually, although I kind of like having chaotic spells in Red in 75% decks. Not knowing what’s going to happen doesn’t exactly help you win but you can sometimes randomly really jam someone up, draw the exact right card, blow up the exact right land, etc. 75% theory does reference playing tight and getting lucky as ways to beat better decks, and maybe this is a way to do it. I certainly love that the last creature is spared and I like that you almost can’t be blamed for how this turns out, although you do pick the targets in the first place. This card is bad and 75% doesn’t mean bad, but I still like it. I’ll have to explore that incongruity later.
Wow. Great Googily Moogily. I have a feeling this card is going to be used to blow up artifacts just because someone can, not because they should. In my playgroup, this means blowing up a Simic Signet that turns a really keepable hand into an awkward one when I realize I don’t actually have a second Blue mana for a million turns and can’t counter the Paradox Engine someone else plays and no one can deal with the Engine because they blew up everyone’s Sol Rings so they could Explore. Nightmare scenarios aside, THIS is a card. I love it.
Kamahl’s Druidic Vow
I kinda do.
Aryel, Knight of Windgrace
For a while, it felt lazy to make a tribal deck and have that be the way I limited my cardpool to make a 75% deck. I think I just did it to avoid thinking up new ways to approach 75% and that’s why I felt lazy, not because it’s a lazy approach; it’s a fine one. I was turned off of tribal but now I’m back and I think a weird tribe like Knights deserves a good commander. Too bad this commander doesn’t have any Green. Still, this will make a fine Knights deck and I welcome it.
These all have or will get their own articles so I will skip them in the review but that’s not to say they’re not great 75% commanders, they are.
Oath of Teferi
Wow. This is obviously kind of narrow since you want a lot of Planeswalkers in the deck where you play this, but man is this card good. Good and narrow? That almost sounds like it’s better based on synergy than raw power! That’s where 75% LIVES, baby.
Primevals’ Glorious Rebirth
I think this is sort of like an Insurrection in that it can break a ground stall. If you’re in a big, protracted board state and someone decides that rather than break through it they’ll just wipe it and start over, you can reset and win the game afterward. This main issue is you’ll need to play a creature before you can play this which is tricky, but it’s worth it. This is Rise of the Dark Realms good in certain situations and that’s worth exploring.
This is a great example of our desire to let them do thing but not too much. We don’t want them locked out of the game with no lands and an empty hand in a 75% game. However, if everyone at the table has basics, you shouldn’t feel too bad reigning in Mr. Gaea's Cradle or Lady Nykthos or the Cabal Coffers player. I didn’t say you can’t cast any spells, but I’m going to make it hard to storm off. This is a great “tax not stax” card and I think, if you’re playing defensively, you’re going to make more friends than enemies with this one if one player gets off to a big lead since you’re disproportionately affecting the player farthest ahead with this. This is perfect for a 75% build.
Helm of the Host
I don’t know what’s 75% about this per se, but it oozes combo potential and I think that it may be a little durdly for more streamlined builds, dumping it right in our wheelhouse. Good. I remember when Blade of Selves presold for $1 because it looked silly. More fun for us, I guess.
There has to be a way to break this. Copying it seems like a good way to do it, but Mechanized Production is kind of slow (though has a satisfying finish) and wasting a whole spell on copying it seems silly. Still, 4 of these tap for 16 mana and that’s a lot of mana. But wouldn’t you rather make 4 copies of Biovisionary? I keep going back and forth on this card. It’s very interesting.
Did I skip your favorite card in the set? It’s probably because it’s very obviously good and appeals broadly to every Commander player and I said at the beginning I wouldn’t belabor the review with cards like that. I focused on cards that I think embodied 75% principles or got me talking about them. I hope it was a valuable read for everyone. If you liked how I did past set reviews more, let me know in the comments. If you liked this one, let me know that, too. This set gave us an embarrassment of commanders and we’ll be brewing decks for months to come from this set. I look forward to that and, until then, thanks for reading. Until next time!