View of Deventer Seen from the North-West by Salomon van Ruisdael (1657).
Sun-Crested Pterodon by Lars Grant-West.
With much of Dominaria being spoiled, the EDH community has been abuzz with excitement. Everyone wants to be the first to figure out how to break the new commanders in the cleverest way possible. I’m no exception, and today, rather than try to review and analyze each of the new Dominaria legendary creatures, I’m going to give each one a sidekick.
Everyone needs a friend, and these new legendary creatures are no exception. I’m going to pair each of our new commanders with a creature specifically chosen to bring out the best in them. Some of these new legendaries might have non-creature spells that would make for incredibly powerful synergy, but today we’re picking sidekicks, so we’ll only be looking at creatures.
I’m not suggesting that we apply the "partner" mechanic to any of these cards, nor do I think that all of these cards would be great picks to lead their own decks. Many of them will actually do better as support cards for other commanders. Some will definitely have strong decks built around them, but not all.
I’ll freely admit that this article is also an exercise in familiarizing myself with the wealth of options Dominaria is going to be adding to our format. We'd be excited to get a dozen new legendary creatures, but this set is giving us nearly three dozen so far — thirty-four to be exact. That's a lot of potential new commanders, so picking a sidekick for each of these guys seemed like a good way to start getting familiar with them.
I'll give you pictures of the sidekicks since the art for the new legendary creatures isn't available at the time of this writing. I’ll list the new commanders’ names in bold and I’ll include all their pertinent stats and abilities so if you haven’t immersed yourself in Dominaria spoilers you’ll have some idea what I’m talking about.
Also note that for many of these cards, the pronouns I am using are guesses. If I misgender any of them it’s because I have very little to go on for properly gendering these characters.
I chose Melek, Izzet Paragon as the sidekick for Adeliz, the Cinder Wind. Adeliz costs and is a 2/2 human wizard with flying and haste. Whenever you cast an instant or sorcery spell, Wizards you control get +1/+1 until end of turn. Melek will let you cast instants and sorceries off the top of your library, so the idea of possibly chaining together a bunch of castings without losing cards from your hand seems pretty good.
Thalia's Lancers is my pick to hang out with Arvad the Cursed. Arvad is a 3/3 vampire knight with deathtouch and lifelink. He costs and will give other legendary creatures +2/+2. Since we’re going to want to pump up a legendary creature, we might as well let Thalia's Lancers give us the chance to tutor up any one we like. We’re in Orzhov () colors, so we’ll be able to run Cloudshift, Flickerwisp and lots of other White flicker spells and creatures to churn out whatever combos we want to run in the deck.
Knight Exemplar is going to pair up with Aryel, Knight of Windgrace. Aryel is a 4/4 human knight with vigilance. She costs and she has two abilities. For she can tap and create a 2/2 White knight token with vigilance. For one Black mana you can tap her and tap X untapped knights you control to destroy target creature with power X or less. Knight Exemplar will give Aryel +1/+1 and make her and all your other knights indestructible.
Windborn Muse and Baird, Steward of Argive share a common purpose. They both love a good pillowfort. Baird costs and is a 2/4 human soldier with vigilance. He requires opponents to pay mana extra for each creature attacking you. Windborn Muse may be twice as effective, but if you’re aiming to avoid getting attacked, it’s not uncommon to double or even triple-up on propaganda effects.
Atarka, World Render is an easy include for any dragon commander and Darigaaz Reincarnated is no exception. I almost chose Orochi Eggwatcher for Darigaaz’s sidekick, but Atarka is a better and more serious choice. Darigaaz is a 7/7 dragon with flying, trample and haste. He costs and, if he would die, he instead gets exiled with 3 egg counters. On each upkeep you remove an egg counter until the last is removed and then he returns to the battlefield. It seems like a long time to wait in between having your commander on the field, hence the temptation to play Orochi Eggwatcher. I suspect you’ll be watching those egg counters a lot.
This next pick is a bit of a guess, but I’m picking Necrotic Ooze as the sidekick for Demonlord Belzenlok. Belzenlok costs and is a 6/6 Elder (yes, Elder!) Demon with flying and trample. When he enters the battlefield, you exile cards from the top of your library until you exile a nonland and then you put that card into your hand. If the card put into your hand is 4 CMC or greater, you do it again and he does 1 damage to you for each card put into your hand this way. While I don’t know the exact combo, I’m pretty sure someone is going to find a way to win the game with a deck that has no cards less than 4 CMC and I’m guessing Necrotic Ooze will be involved somehow.
When you’re gaining life, it’s much better to gain twice as much life. Rhox Faithmender will do that for you, and is a natural fit for Evra, Halcyon Witness. Evra costs and is a 4/4 Avatar with lifelink. For the low, low cost of 4 mana, you can exchange your life total with Evra’s power. You’d better pray your opponent doesn’t have instant-speed burn or you may be dead before you can swing with your 40/40 and go from 4 life to 44 life, or 84 life if Rhox Faithmender is on the field.
Our next pick is a sidekick for the answer to everyone who wished Soulfire Grand Master was legendary. Firesong and Sunspeaker looks to a 4/6 pair of minotaur clerics that cost . They will give Red instants and sorcery spells you control lifelink, and when a White instant or sorcery causes you to gain life they will do 3 damage to target creature or player. That may not seem like much, but with a wide board of creatures (goblins? soldiers?) and Zada, Hedron Grinder on the field, a White spell that targets Zada will get copied and will target each of those creatures. A small amount of life gain can turn into a world of hurt for your opponents and a mountain of life gain for yourself. Moment of Triumph on an Isochron Scepter will feel awfully good if your board gets wide enough and these guys are on the field.
Kokusho, the Evening Star is a great card for any deck that wants to recur creatures. Garna, the Bloodflame is a 3/3 human warrior with Flash who costs . When Garna enters the battlefield, you return to your hand all creatures in your graveyard that were put there from anywhere this turn. While self-mill is a tempting way to go, that generally works best in Blue, so my suggestion is to see how many times you can play, sacrifice, recur, replay and re-sacrifice Kokusho. You’ll hit each opponent for 5 life and you’ll gain a bunch each time you pull that off, though it may not be the fastest or most effective way to try to win games.
Moonveil Dragon gives your entire team a kind of group firebreathing. Grand Warlord Radha is a 3/4 elf warrior with haste who costs . Whenever one or more creatures you control attack, you add that much mana in any combination of Red and or Green. You don’t lose this mana as steps and phases end, but if your board is wide enough you can do worse than to pump it all into Moonveil Dragon’s ability. She doesn’t even need to attack, so you can surprise an opponent and turn an unimpressive board of weenies into an alpha strike on the same turn Moonveil Dragon hits the field.
The next sidekick is Nantuko Mentor. He’s going to get along really well with Grunn, the Lonely King. Grunn is a 5/5 ape warrior who costs and has a kicker ability. If you pay an additional mana when you cast Grunn he enters the battlefield with 5 +1/+1 counters. When he attacks alone you double his power and toughness, so he’ll go from 10 power to 20 power. Nantuko Mentor’s tap ability will let you double target creature’s power and toughness again, so you’ll be hitting as a 40/40. You may not be able to get damage past a blocker, but a Rogue's Passage will solve that problem and a trample enabler will probably let you get lethal damage through just as easily. Just don’t forget to hit him with Soul's Majesty before your turn is over.
Any deck that’s dealing in +1/+1 counters is going to want to run Forgotten Ancient, and Hallar, the Firefletcher is no exception. Hallar is a 3/3 elf archer with trample who has a low casting cost of . Whenever you cast a spell, if the spell was kicked you get to put a +1/+1 counter on Hallar and then he deals damage equal to the number of +1/+1 counter on him to each opponent. Like Purphoros, God of the Forge and Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord, Hallar deals damage to all opponents at once, making him an effective and apolitical commander. Forgotten Ancient will let you move counters over to another creature (Hallar) on your upkeep, and when these two are played with spells like Increasing Savagery, damage doublers and a well-timed kicker, you could find yourself clearing tables in no time.
Calling Kozilek, Butcher of Truth a “sidekick” might seem a little strange. Let’s think of him more as a big brother to Jodah, Archmage Eternal. Jodah costs and is a 4/3 human wizard with flying who lets you pay instead of the normal casting cost for spells you play. Playing Kozi for 5 mana just as you’re moving out of the early game is pretty strong. Any of the other Eldrazi titans, Progenitus, or Blightsteel Colossus would probably also be pretty strong picks. Jodah is no Jhoira of the Ghitu, but I definitely expect he will lead some janky five-color “big creature” decks.
Speaking of Jhoira, we have a new Jhoira in Dominaria — Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain. The new Jhoira isn’t cheating in giant creatures. She is a 3/3 human artificer for and she is going to give you card draw every time you cast a “historic” spell. Historic spells are artifact spells, legendary spells, and the new “saga” type spells. I’m going to suggest she pair up with Trinket Mage because I know there are clever combos that involve bouncing zero-cost artifacts back to your hand and re-casting them as many times as you like. Adding card draw to all of those castings seems pretty good.
My pick for Kazarov, Sengir Pureblood’s sidekick is the lowly Crypt Rats. Kazarov is a 4/4 flying vampire. He costs , which seems like a lot, but he has a very interesting ability. Whenever a creature an opponent controls is dealt damage, you can put a +1/+1 counter on him. You can also pay and he will deal 2 damage to target creature. While that might seem like bad value, Crypt Rats will let you ping every creature on the table (including itself) and every player for 1 damage. If you have a way to make Crypt Rats indestructible or not take noncombat damage, once that first ping has resolved you can wipe the board and probably have lethal on someone.
Archetype of Courage will give your creatures first strike. Kwende, Pride of Femeref is a 2/2 human knight with double strike. Kwende costs and his party trick is that he’ll make creatures you control with first strike instead have double strike. While there are probably other more exciting creatures with first strike that you can play with Kwende, it’s hard to pass up such great synergy.
Our next pairing involves angels. Herald of War will get a +1/+1 counter when it attacks and will reduce the cost of angel and human spells you cast by the number of counters on it. Lyra Dawnbringer is a 5/5 angel for with flying, first strike and lifelink. All Lyra does is give other angels you control +1/+1 and lifelink, but since she’s begging to lead a tribal angels deck it makes sense to use Herald of War to cut costs on all of our angels.
Moving from one tribal commander to another, Lys Alana Huntmaster is going to be a great sidekick in an elf deck led by Marwyn, the Nurturer. Lys Alana Huntmaster will put an elf onto the battlefield every time we play an elf spell. Marwyn will get a +1/+1 counter every time another elf enters the battlefield and will tap to add Green mana to our mana pool equal to her power. Add some more counter generators like Increasing Savagery and we’re looking at some great mana production.
Sidisi, Brood Tyrant is my pick for a sidekick for Muldrotha, the Gravetide, a 6/6 Elemental Avatar. Muldrotha costs and lets you play up to one permanent of each permanent type from your graveyard during each of your turns. Muldrotha wants stuff in your graveyard so you can basically use it as an extension of your hand. Sidisi will help to push cards into the yard, helping to give you more options for cards to cast each turn. You’ll also want some sac outlets and lots of cards like Sakura-Tribe Elder and Expedition Map that you’ll want to recur. It should be mentioned that if you want to try to build a really competitive build, you might want to go with Hermit Druid. Running zero basic lands and the usual Laboratory Maniac wincon should work pretty well with Muldrotha, but not everyone is interested in playing 10 minute Commander games.
Last week I wrote about Multani, Maro-Sorcerer, but today we’re looking for a creature to help out the new Multani. Multani, Yavimaya’s Avatar is a 0/0 elemental avatar with reach and trample. New Multani costs and gets +1/+1 for each land you control and each land card in your graveyard. If he is in the graveyard, for he will let you return two lands you control to their owner’s hand so you can return him to your hand. The sidekick for new Multani, Splinterfright, will help you to push two cards into the graveyard on each of your upkeeps. Just be careful to have a creature in there before you cast Splinterfright or he won’t be spending much time on the battlefield.
Aven Fogbringer is my pick for the creature to hang out with with Naban, Dean of Iteration. Naban is a 2/1 human wizard with a low casting cost of . If a wizard entering the battlefield under your control causes a triggered ability of a permanent you control to trigger, that ability will trigger an additional time. Naban was born to be played in Inalla’s wizard tribal deck, but we’re looking at creatures we want to put into a Naban deck. Aven Fogbringer will let you bounce a land to its owner’s hand, and with Naban out you will get to bounce two lands. If you can run bounce effects or pair him up with Deadeye Navigator, you can put a serious dent into an opponent’s mana base. The best part is that you can always point out that you’re not actually engaging in land destruction — you’re just putting them back in players’ hands.
The aforementioned Deadeye Navigator might be great in a Naban deck, but it’s going to be our next commander’s designated sidekick. NaruMeha, Master Wizard is a 3/3 human wizard with flash. He’s basically a color-shifted Dualcaster Mage with a tribal anthem affect. He costs , and when he enters the battlefield you get to copy target instant or sorcery spell you control. You may choose new targets for the copy. He also gives your wizards +1/+1. If you soulbond Naru Meha with Deadeye Navigator you get to flicker him for every time you cast an instant or sorcery spell that you want to copy.
Our next sidekick is Mirror-Mad Phantasm. He’s going to pair up with Rona, Disciple of Gix. Rona is a 2/2 Human Artificer who costs . She lets you exile target historic card (artifact / legendary / saga) from your graveyard when she enters the battlefield. You may cast nonland cards exiled with Rona, and for the cost of mana she can tap and let you exile the top card of your library. Any Rona build is going to want ways to load up your graveyard with juicy artifacts for you to exile and then re-cast. If you're going to be doing that, Mirror-Mad Phantasm is going to help you load up your graveyard. For , this flying spirit will shuffle into your library and then you mill yourself until you find him again. You'll still want to run ways to flicker Rona, but having a nice, big graveyard will give her lots of options for cards to exile.
Craterhoof Behemoth is another “sidekick” that is more of a wincon than anything else. We’ll be pairing it up with Shanna, Sisay’s Legacy. Shanna is a 0/0 human warrior with the low casting cost of. She has hexproof and gets +1/+1 for each creature you control, so any Shanna build is going to be going wide. Few creatures in Magic like to go wide quite as much as Craterhoof Behemoth, though one could argue that Shanna would be almost as excited to see Avenger of Zendikar. If you really want to close out the game, just cast Tooth and Nail entwined to get and cast both of them.
Our next sidekick is going to have to care a lot about saprolings. Slimefoot, the Stowaway is a 2/3 fungus that costs. Whenever a Saproling you control dies, Slimefoot deals 1 damage to each opponent and you gain 1 life. For the cost of mana, Slimefoot will let you create a 1/1 Green saproling creature token, but you’re likely going to lean on other creatures and spells to create saprolings in a Slimefoot deck. What we want is a creature that will let us sacrifice saprolings for decent value. Psychotrope Thallid gives us the ability to pay 1 mana, “sac a sap” and draw a card. If we build this right, we’ll have oodles of saprolings and lots of sac outlets, but having one that draws us cards is powerful enough to earn Psychotrope Thallid the spot as Slimefoot’s best friend.
I am a huge fan of Squee, Goblin Nabob — so much so that I even have a playmat with Greg Staples’ wonderful artwork on it. When I saw Squee, the Immortal was going to be in Dominaria, I was excited but also nervous. I can’t imagine a new Squee having art as good as Greg Staples’ Squee, but as a nod to his brilliant work I’m going to pair new Squee up with another Greg Staples card, Ogre Battledriver. Squee, the Immortal is a 2/1 goblin who costs and can be cast from the command zone, your hand, your graveyard, or from exile. Ogre Battledriver will give Squee or any other creature you control +2/+0 and haste on the turn he enters the battlefield. That means you can throw a 4/1 Squee at your opponents on every turn if Ogre Battledriver is on the field.
Aviary Mechanic is our next sidekick and I’m pairing it up with Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle. Teshar is a 2/2 bird cleric with flying who costs and lets you return target creature card with CMC 3 or less from your graveyard to the battlefield whenever you cast a “historic” spell (artifact / legendary / saga). Aviary Mechanic costs and will let you return another permanent to your hand when he enters the battlefeld. If you cast a 0-cost artifact like Spellbook, Mana Crypt, or Darksteel Relic, you use Teshar to return bring Aviary Mechanic back to the battlefield, you bounce your artifact, sac Aviary Mechanic and re-cast your artifact you’ve got an infinite combo. What you do with this combo is up to you, and up to the choices you make for the artifact and the sac outlet involved, but I think Teshar and Aviary Mechanic should be able to get up to no good together pretty easily.
Our next sidekick will be for Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive. Tetsuko is a 1/3 human rogue with a low casting cost of . He makes creatures you control with power or toughness 1 or less unblockable. My choice for Tetsuko is Chasm Skulker. Every time you draw a card, Chasm Skulker will get a +1/+1 counter, and Blue is a pretty good color for card draw. When Skulker dies you put X 1/1 Blue squid creature tokens with islandwalk onto the battlefield. If Tetsuko is on the field, they won’t even need that islandwalk because they’ll be unblockable.
Umbra Mystic is the next creature we’ll be pairing up with one of our new Dominaria commanders. Umbra Mystic will give all of our auras totem armor, meaning that if the enchanted creature would be destroyed instead an aura drops off and the creature survives. Tiana, Ship’s Caretaker is a 3/3 angel artificer with flying and first strike. She costs and whenever an aura or equipment you control is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, you may return that card to its owner’s hand at the beginning of the next end step. Tiana is probably going to be wearing lots of auras, and between her and Umbra Mystic those auras are going to just keep coming back again and again.
My pick for a creature to pair with the 7/6 legndary avatar Torgaar, Famine Incarnate is a deathtouch zombie that shares Torgaar’s worldview. Torgaar costs , but costs less for each creature you sacrifice as part of casting him. When Torgaar enters the battlefield, up to one target player’s life total becomes half their starting life total, rounded down. While equipment like Quietus Spike and Scytheclaw belong in any Torgaar deck, Raving Dead is the creature pairing him with. Raving Dead attacks a random opponent each turn and if it does combat damage that player loses half of his life, rounded down. It’s like they were made for each other.
Our next Dominaria commander wants our opponents to have empty hands. If he was in Rakdos () colors, I’d be suggesting Sire of Insanity but we’re in Mono-Black so our pick has to be Herald of Anguish. The commander is Urgoros, the Empty One and he is a 4/3 specter with flying. Urgoros costs and whenever he deals combat damage to a player, that player discards a card at random. If they can’t, you draw a card. Herald of Anguish will force our opponents to discard a card at the beginning of our end step. We’ll want to run more than just him, but he seems like a pretty good place to start, and who wants to try to be best friends with Ravenous Rats?
Purphoros, God of the Forge is our next “sidekick” and as you can probably guess, he’s going to be paired with a commander that will be producing lots of creature tokens. Valduk, Keeper of the Flame is a 3/2 human shaman who costs . Valduk really likes auras and equipment. At the beginning of combat on your turn, for each aura and equipment attached to Valduk, you get to create a 3/1 Red Elemental creature token with trample and haste. While those tokens will be exiled at the beginning of the next end step, Purphoros will gladly do 2 damage to each of your opponents when each of those tokens enters the battlefield. It goes without saying that Bloodforged Battle-Axe is going to be one of our favorite pieces of equipment. Brass Squire will also probably be in the mix, and might even have been a good choice for Valduk’s sidekick.
Our second-to-last Dominaria legendary is Verix Bladewing. He is a 4/4 dragon with flying and if you pay his mana kicker cost when you cast him, you get to create Karox Bladewing. Karox is also a 4/4 Red dragon creature token with flying. With all these dragons entering the battlefield, Scourge of Valkas is a natural pick to pair up with Verix, though Dragonlord's Servant might feel like more of a “sidekick” for this deck. Scourge will do a little work with just two dragons on the field, but if you build this as dragon tribal he’s probably going to deal out significant damage.
Our last legendary creature is a 2/2 human cleric named Whisper, Blood Liturgist. Whisper costs and will let you tap, sacrifice two creatures and return target creature card from your graveyard to the battlefield. His “little buddy” will be Corpse Connoisseur. There are few better creatures to help drop bodies from your library to your graveyard and if you want to do it again he can be cast from the graveyard for his unearth cost. I don’t know what nasty surprises you’ll be cheating onto the battlefield, but these two will definitely make any creature-based combo wincon just a little bit easier to realize
If you feel like you’ve been reading forever, I don’t blame you. As I wrap up, I am more convinced now that we’re going to see some really interesting commander decks come out of Dominaria. There will be a lot of legendary creatures that slot right into existing Commander decks and I expect to see over a dozen legendary creatures that are powerful enough to lead their own decks. I wouldn’t be that surprised if there’s a “cEDH” commander mixed in there somewhere. My money is on Muldrotha, the Gravetide running Hermit Druid and self-mill, but the mana cost might be a little too high for her to be a Tier 1 deck.
If it seems like I was overly brief in dealing with each legendary creature, that was only because there were so many of them to talk about. If I’ve managed to spark your interest in any of these cards, whether or not you agree with my choice of “sidekick”, I’ll consider this article a success. I know I’m already planning on pulling apart a number of old decks so that I can build up some new ones when Dominaria drops.
If you’d like to keep up with how I’m doing in my casual and Commander League games, feel free to visit http://dantesdad.wixsite.com/commanderruminations. This month I’m playing Red goodstuff, led by Ashling the Pilgrim. I share my league and casual games on that site. I’m in a bit of a rut overall, but I happen to be in the top spot in our league’s rankings thanks to a couple of strong showings in losses last weekend. League point systems can be quirky, and my current deck is designed to be able to earn points even if I don’t win every game.
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next Monday!