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Gratitude

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Readers,

If you were hoping to find a list of all of the cards that were mistakes and ruined Magic in 2019, you're in the wrong place. I'm sure you can find that article, lots of other people wrote it. As a player of 100-card Magic, I'm perhaps a little bit insulated from how it felt to have multiple decks banned out from under me, multiple decks made obsolete by new and powerful cards and to have to grapple with how Pioneer was going to edge out other formats that are rapidly becoming less popular. I get that 2019 was a tumultuous year for Magic, but I think it's also worth looking at the good that sets like Modern Horizons and Throne of Eldraine did for the game.

You don't need me to tell you that Smothering Tithe is a good card or that Arcane Signet is worth including in decks of 3 colors or more every time, but it might surprise you to learn that the 10-most-played cards in Commander 2019 are all creatures or that the Top 8 in Ravnica Allegiance are non-creatures. 75% decks specifically got a lot of potent new tools this year and some cards fundamentally changed the way Magic is played. EDH Players can handle Oko, aren't scared of Wrenn and Six, and some people even want to thank Urza for precipitating the ban of Paradox Engine. We weren't shaken by what happened this year and a lot of us are grateful to have powerful new toys to play with. Let's look back at 2019 and talk about a few of the cards that I'm grateful to see printed and how they impacted the way we play EDH.

Rhythm of the Wild

Rhythm of the Wild

Smothering Tithe was the all star card from 2019's first set, Ravnica Allegiance and it wasn't close. A lot of people aren't happy with how much Tithe swings the game and makes everyone participate in a sub-game where they have to manage the Tithe player's resources before they slam a Revel in Riches or Armageddon everyone and live off of their savings account. Whether or not they're right to be upset, Tithe did overshadow a fantastic card from the set. A Fires of Yavimaya that also makes your creatures uncounterable is a real swing in your favor against permission decks. Giving a wave of new creature tokens haste the turn they hit the board or putting counters on creatures ranging from Incubation Druid to Hangarback Walker, this card does a lot of work. This fundamentally changed how I approached a lot of my Gruul-containing builds.

One deck of mine that benefitted a ton from the addition of this card was my Omnath, Locus of the Roil deck. I often win with a bunch of tokens given haste with Cavalier of Flame and having a second haste-granting card smoothed things out immeasurably, not to mention slamming creatures with impunity around Blue decks wins games. Craterhoof is back on the menu!

Simic Ascendency

Simic Ascendancy

Also from Ravnica Allegiance, Simic Ascendancy was a godsend. Not the card Godsend, it was a thing I needed. Playing lots of Simic decks, I know that the problem is almost always a question of how to initially get counters on creatures that don't do it natively. This does just that and also wins the game eventually, which are two things I like a lot. My Pir and Toothy deck slammed this but so did just about all of my other Simic decks, and most of them left it in. Before, getting counters on some creatures was very difficult and this is a solution to that AND an alt win-con. What a 75% card!

Ilharg, the Raze-Boar

Ilharg, the Raze-Boar

War of the Spark didn't have any real consensus best cards. The set is full of monster cards, good planeswalkers and top-tier removal. Even the Planeswalkers designed to be fairly middling are broken - Kiora, Jianng Yanggu, Saheeli, Ashiok, Narset and Ob Nixils all see more play in Commander than Karn. However, when I think of what I want to do in a Red deck, Ilharg is among the best ways to break parity in those colors and Ilharg has become the second commander (What Steve Zissou would call "B Team Leader") of my Etali, Primal Storm deck. Only 4 commanders are built more than Ilharg in the set and its place at the top of the heap is well-deserved. I'm toying with an Ilharg deck but there is too much coming out to build one now, so the extra copy I bought went in the Mayael deck I sold to a friend. With more and more ways to cheat on mana, I am warming up to the idea of cards like Ruination, cards like Impending Disaster and maybe even Armageddon, provided you are ending the game very soon after. Ruination is a very good 75% spell because it punishes the people who have the more expensive mana base and leaves the decks more closely-resembling the precons relatively unscathed.

Casualties of War

Casualties of War

I polled Twitter about 2019 cards and while this wasn't on anyone's list but mine, I'm glad they finally solved the Decimate problem. Without the right number and types of legal targets you either couldn't cast Decimate or you have to target one of your own permanents to get 2 of theirs. It wasn't ideal. Casualties is what you want a Death Cloud type card to do and I'm glad they found a way to make it always be a good play. This is in every deck with Golgari creatures I have, but it's especially good in Korvold because I can loop Eternal Witness and keep decimating people's boards. I love this card.

Sling-Gang Lieutenant

Sling-Gang Lieutenant

Modern Horizons is chock-full of ridiculous commander goodies and the whole set was a huge win for us as a format. Twitter tells me they love everything from Urza to Yagmoth to the Forces to the Horizon Canopy cycle. However, more than one person responded that they loved a card that I had assumed I was going to bust out on my list and catch people by surprise. Slingy is a beast of a card in the right build, and my new Chainer deck is the right build. Any Goblin deck wants this right away, but it is also good in decks where you modify the creature types of your deck like Morophon, decks where you can loop a dead creature and decks like Korvold. You have a lot of excellent Goblins to play with that you might play anyway in Black decks that may or may not run red and this lets me run Moggcatcher, a very 75% tutor. This card was buried in a set with a ton of good cards but a lot of people discovered it and I'm very grateful for this card.

Kethis, the Hidden Hand

Kethis, the Hidden Hand

This deck is very, very tricky to play with but this made a ton of cards fashionable once again. There was a brief spike in interest around cards like Honor-Worn Shaku when Planeswalkers were announced as Legendary permanents, but for the most part, cards like that were relegated to the occasional Reki, the History of Kamigawa deck. Kethis changed all of that and suddenly, people were finding excuses to play with a lot of cards that might have better non-Legendary counterparts but which fit better in a Kethis deck. Cards like God-Pharaoh's Statue, Bow of Nylea, Djeru, with Eyes Open, and Thran Temporal Gateway were seeing more play. Kethis made people care about a lot of misfit toys that were outclassed by other non-Legendary cards and that's a great thing for the game. Legendary-matters cards have a lot of design space left to explore and I hope they build on the success of Kethis, a card that also made a ridiculous combo deck in Standard but that required Blue and couldn't be replicated in Commander. I never did a Kethis deck in this series, but I will at the end of this article.

Risen Reef

Risen Reef

I play Coiling Oracle in every Simic deck. I snagged a bunch of the Japanese Arena foils for cheap back in the day and I'm running out. Seeing Risen Reef come along and outclass Oracle was a good thing in my view. I'm not cutting Oracle, I just have two now. I prefer when a creature can handle something people normally have a spell do because it's a better topdeck late in the game, easier to loop and can chump block in a pinch. I have triggered Reef dozens of times in a single turn and it's made me include Elementals in some situations where I might not have.

Elvish Reclaimer

Elvish Reclaimer

Knight of the Reliquary is one of my favorite cards and now my non-White decks have a sort of Weathered Wayfarer in Green makes me happy. Tutoring for a specific land is very powerful and as far as 1-drops go, you can do a lot worse than this. This is one of the better core sets in years.

Mystic Forge

Mystic Forge

This is so good it even impacted Vintage. I like that this can strip a land off the top if you want to keep digging, and I like that the more artifacts you run, the better this gets. I saw how powerful Experimental Frenzy was in Modern Affinity and couldn't believe we got a card this good.

Agent of Treachery

Agent of Treachery

We're spending a lot of time on the Core set but this is such a good 75% card. If you can ramp this out early and blink it, you're going to cause a lot of pain and misery. Try using Tooth and Nail to get this and Deadeye Navigator like I do in my Maelstrom Wanderer deck when I can no longer or don't want to get my Kiki-Jiki combo.

Pramikon, Sky Rampart

Pramikon, Sky Rampart

People have tried to make a Walls deck for a long time and Arcades made it viable to be defensive until you get everything in place then go offensive. That was the model Doran decks were built on and Arcades made it much more potent. Pramikon gave Walls decks a new axis - protect yourself by making them attack each other. Suddenly you could weaponize their creatures, goading them, using Varchild and Goblin Spymaster to give them something to beat each other with and making sure you couldn't be touched. Pramikon is insanely fun and making people beat each other rather than you is even more fun than laboriously stealing all of their creatures and doing it yourself.

Sudden Substitution

Sudden Substitution

The reason spells like Juxtapose were never as popular as cards like Control Magic is that you have to have the exact thing you wanted so there was parity. Even if you could just give them a bad creature, you have to play with bad creatures or reliably generate tokens for the turns where you didn't have Juxtapose. Sudden Substitution is brilliant in its design because it trades two different kinds of card, and you don't have to have the creature that gets traded. There are endless ways to use this card and they all boil down to spoiling at least one player's plans, possibly two. How 75% is that?

Syr Konrad, the Grim

Syr Konrad, the Grim

This might not belong on the list because this isn't really a new approach to building or execution of a plan but this is one of the best Uncommons in a long time. In the 99 or the command zone, this is going to wreak a ton of havoc. It makes mill a viable option because you only have to mill 40 cards rather than a whole deck to kill someone and it even triggers when you mill yourself to give yourself access to a bunch of reanimator targets. Someone doesn't like you having a second hand with way more cards in it? Well, let them Bog you - they take damage when that happens, too. For even more fun, try pairing with Necropotence.

Faeburrow Elder

Faeburrow Elder

This is just a good card, but I like that it encourages people to play with lots of different colors without having to spend a ton of money on their mana base. Bloom Tender solved mana base problems but at a very high financial cost and Elder and Arcane Signet both make it a little easier to go nuts and build that Kenrith or Sisay or Morophon deck. When players can safely add more colors without having to buy 10 shocks and 10 fetches, everyone wins.

2019 was a year that gave us all, 75% deck-builders especially, a ton of unique, new tools to play the game. As much as some of the more powerful Planeswalkers and Legendary creatures made things less diverse and fun in other formats, 100 card decks have never been more exciting and fun. We have a lot to be happy about as 2019 draws to a close and I want to thank everyone for hanging in there with me another year. In February, this column turns 6 and I owe it all to your continued support. As promised, let's close it out with a Kethis list I am toying with and call it a year. See you all in 2020!

Kethis, the Hidden Hand | Commander | Jason Alt


The goal of the deck is to try and combo off with either a Saffi Eriksdotter loop with Karmic Guide or loop Bolas's Citadel and Sensei's Divining Top. Syr Konrad does a ton of work in this deck because he can put cards in your graveyard and also trigger a loss of life every time you sac Saffi. Greater Good is an excellent sac outlet in this deck because you don't mind if you don't net cards, you just want your bin full. This needs some tweaking but it's a preliminary list. I'm just glad I got around to brewing with Kethis because I didn't see a way to make the deck good at first. It took me half a year but I'm finally toying with building this and I can't wait to see if I can find room for Bontu's Monument, Vivien's Arkbow, or Teneb, the Harvester.

That does it for me, everyone. Until next year!

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