Welcome back! Last week, I covered the Kaiju creatures from Ikoria, and today it's part 2 as we look at Commander 2020.
Commander 2020 was meant to be a year with a big focus on Commander, so it should come as no surprise that Wizards of the Coast would want to bring back some popular abilities. Partner is one of the most popular keywords ever printed, but since the initial printing of partner commanders in 2016, they've only printed "partner with" commanders. I suspect they don't trust themselves to not accidentally break our format. This year's Commander precons come with a cycle of new partner commanders, each of which has a Human and a non-Human partner.
Whether they come with a steed or just a little buddy to keep them company, they were all designed to play uniquely well with each other.
These two seem fairly straightforward. You make a bunch of Humans, use them to pump your kitty, and play boardwipes which Silvar should now be able to survive. A pair of Vorrac Battlehorns might come in handy, as creatures with menace can't be blocked except by two or more creatures. Vorrac Battlehorns make the equipped creature so that it can't be blocked by more than one creature. Your Silvar will now be unblockable, though you might just as well play Trailblazer's Boots, Whispersilk Cloak, Prowler's Helm or other answers as well, but none of them will make you feel quite as clever.
There are some nasty things you can do with Brallin, Skyshark Rider involving drawing a ton of cards and discarding to kill the table, but that should come as no surprise. These cards also lend themselves to a delightfully goofy Shark tribal theme with new cards like Sharkna... no... Shark Typhoon! Sharks, sharks everywhere, and you know the Ian Ziering alters of Brallin will be all the rage for the better part of 2020.
Being unblockable is a powerful ability, but I wasn't able to see anything more dangerous than trying to make it arbitrarily large or using some trick like Fate Transfer to steal some Hydra's counters before you do combat damage with Ukkima. A way to infinitely flicker Ukkima would also let you polish off a table pretty nicely, so Deadeye Navigator combo might be a nice fit here if you're into combo wincons.
The quiet little irony of these partners is that Pako is the one that tosses up the spells and Haldan goes and gets them. Pako is playing fetch with Haldan, not the other way around. This feels more like duck hunting, but however you look at it, you'll want to give Haldan some evasion and possibly use a tool like Strionic Resonator to double his triggers. Making a lot of mana is also going to be helpful, but you're in green so you ought to be able to ramp.
Nikara, Lair Scavenger and her pet Hyena Beast, Yannik, Scavenging Sentinel were designed to pilot a deck built around bouncing and flickering your creatures. I expect the way to go with Nikara and Yannik is probably to build a deck with ways to flicker Yannik. If you choose a creature like Worldspine Wurm when you do, you'll be able to put 15 +1/+1 counters on your creatures. May I suggest giving those counters to Nikara? Eldrazi Displacer might not be quite as good as Deadeye Navigator, but it will let you flicker Yannik to load Nikara up so you can swing for the win. You could also use several spells to use Nikara's power to draw cards equal to a creature's power like Soul's Majesty or Return of the Wildspeaker. You'll be losing 1 life each time you flicker Yannik,,so you might want to run Soul Warden or another way to offset that life loss.
It's hard to imagine a Magic plane full of giant monsters without any humans for them to terrorize so let's take a look at some of the more notable folks who populate Ikoria.
Chevill, Bane of Monsters
I hate to start this section by throwing shade on a potential commander, but Chevill doesn't impress me much. You might use Strionic Resonator to put an extra bounty counter out, and you'll certainly want to load up a Chevill deck with repeatable removal like Assassin's Trophy and Royal Assassin. Sure, we should all be running more removal and Chevill is a card that will encourage you to do just that, but we should also be running better commanders than Chevill.
Gavi, Nest Warden
There are some fantastic cards with cycling, so there's every reason to think Gavi could make for an interesting deck. I'm not sure why they went with Dinosaur Cat tokens, but I think a cycling tribal deck might be fun. You'd probably do well just to pick up the Timeless Wisdom 2020 precon deck and start there. She's the "face card" for that deck, so it's well-stocked with cycling cards. I might suggest adding in Decree of Silence and Complicate, but you'll have a good time with that deck right out of the box.
General Kudro of Drannith
If you're interested in building a Human tribal deck, General Kudro of Drannith might be worth a look. I definitely think an Orzhov Humans list with General Kudro could work. He comes with some built-in removal, which is always a big plus. A little research into Orzhov Aristocrats decks showed some Humans, but lots of Vampires and Angels as well, so I'm not sure that's a way to go. I do think a focus on death triggers makes sense, so maybe Teysa Karlov and some Humans that replace themselves like Doomed Traveler, Hunted Witness and Imperious Oligarch could help you make a decent General Kudro deck.
General Kudro has a daughter named Jirina Kudro who is also a Human Soldier and who adds red to her dad's black and white color identity. While her father seemed to be a good fit for an Aristocrats deck, Jirina feels like she might be better for an aggro deck with a dash of flicker thrown in. Swinging her with Blade of Selves attached would give you a nice source of soldiers, especially if Jirina was on her second or third tour of duty. Helm of the Host would not only give you soldiers but would also let you get more of an anthem effect, as those copies of Jirina wouldn't be legendary so they'd actually stick around.
Kelsien, the Plague
They've brought back mechanics from old Commander decks and Kelsien, the Plague is a legendary Human Assassin who cares about experience counters. You might consider running Kalemne, Disciple of Iroas, as she's the only other legendary creature that cares about experience counters and can also be run. Kalemne gets+1/+1 for every experience counter you have and also has double strike and vigilance. For Kelsien you'd want ways to give her deathtouch with Basilisk Collar or a few other ways and then equip Thornbite Staff. She could then machine-gun the table. You'd be killing every creature that doesn't have indestructible or hexproof (or shroud), and then you'd probably have a free swing at someone.
Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy
This legendary Human Druid will stand alongside that tribe's all-stars - rivalling even Chulane, Teller of Tales and Marwyn, the Nurturer - as a powerhouse of a Commander in casual and semi-competitive circles. With an infinite mana build, you basically get to play out all the non-Human creatures from your deck onto your library in the order of your choosing. You can run the tried-and-true Deadeye Navigator combo where you flicker Palinchron, Peregrine Drake, or even Great Whale to untap your lands again and again. Then you get out Avenger of Zendikar, flicker that a bunch of times, then play Craterhoof Behemoth and swing for the win. An opponent might Fog but you can just use Kinnan to cheat in Glen Elendra Archmage to counter the spell. I've heard folks describe playing Simic as playing "on easy mode" and just writing about a deck like this makes you see why. I don't know if it'll be a true cEDH deck or not, but it sure has potential.
Rielle, the Everwise
This feels like it would be a better support card than a commander, but I'm also not that fond of looting (draw, then discard) and rummaging (discard, then draw) effects. This might be the deck to build if I wanted to force myself to start using those types of cards more often. I'm not even sure how you'd wind up trying to win with a deck like this - maybe with Psychosis Crawler or a Niv-Mizzet on the field. Being able use Drake Haven to make a 2/2 flying Drake every time you discard for the low price of 1 mana might not seem like much. Do this over a few turns and then play a Trumpet Blast and you can really do some damage to somebody.
Winota, Joiner of Forces
This isn't exactly cheap, but she sure can join your Humans and non-Humans together on your battlefield. Since you'll be cheating costs, you probably want a Winota deck to be loaded up with low-mana evasive non-Humans, high-mana Humans and as much draw as you can possibly get. Ways to make sure your creatures can get through unblocked, like Odric, Master Tactician and then ways to pump your damage output, like Angrath's Marauders, will go a long way towards winning on the battlefield with Winota, Joiner of Forces.
Arguably the most unnecessary addition to Commander is the new Companion mechanic. These new cards get to be played outside of your 100-card deck in your sideboard in formats that allow the use of sideboards. The commander rules committee has basically decided that our format now has a one-card sideboard, but we can only put cards with Companion in it.
Each companion comes with a restriction on how your deck must be constructed. I'm not keen on deck checks in commander, so that basically means we'll be applying the honor system to these guys and then hoping we notice if an opponent has cards in their deck that don't work with their companion. We're a casual format anyways, so that isn't a big stretch.
I'm not sure why the rules committee didn't just decide that the command zone and the role of commander is a worthwhile stand-in for the companion mechanic, but the two do work differently. You can only cast your companion once and after you cast it, there's no way to put it back in the "companion zone" - which to me sounds way better than the "friend zone." If nothing else we now have an excuse to queue up Marc Cohn's 1991 wedding classic, "True Companion" at the start of every game.
Please remember that all these legendary creatures can be run as your commander. Their deck-building restriction only applies if you're making this the 101st card in your 100-card singleton deck by running it as your companion.
Gyruda, Doom of Depths
Not all companions are adorable and our first just happens to be a legendary Demon Kraken. Being locked into even-CMC cards is quite a restriction. You won't be using Scheming Symmetry to trick an opponent into putting a juicy card on top of their library and you certainly won't be cheating Sheoldred, Whispering One, Sepulchral Primordial or Void Winnower into play with Gyruda. There are even-CMC ways to cheat additional creatures into play, but you'll need to do some digging to find them. Geth, Lord of the Vault won't cheat mana costs, but will let you grab some of the odd-CMC creatures you couldn't get with Gyruda. Ashen Powder will also do the trick, but it'll be worth doing deck checks on Gyruda deck because it's easy to forget that odd CMC cards can't be anywhere in your deck, including the command zone.
I should note that Gyruda was the rake I nearly walked into cartoon-style, with the handle flipping up and hitting me in the face.
I had a great plan to run an even CMC sacrifice outlet and was all geared up to play Gyruda, sacrifice it in response to the ETB trigger going on the stack, and then cheat Gyruda back into play with its own ability. It was a beautiful plan, but I failed to adequately RTFC (read the freakin' card). Gyruda can ONLY recur creatures that its ETB trigger put into the graveyard. A repeatable way to put Gyruda onto the top of your library might serve that goal, but I need to move on to our next companion. If you have a solution to make this little combo work, leave a note in the comments below. I'll be surprised and impressed if it both exists and works here.
Jegantha, the Wellspring
My first thought for how to abuse a mana dork like Jegantha, the Wellspring would be to run ways to untap her that will allow you to go infinite, but those generally all involve paying generic mana costs. What you can use Jegantha for is shenanigans like going infinite with Najeela, the Blade-Blossom or paying the colored portion of any of a number of five-color commanders. Building a proper five-color mana base that can reliably cast a creature like The First Sliver early in the game isn't always easy, so a little help in making those colors can really come in handy sometimes.
Kaheera, the Orphanguard
I feel like Kaheera should have had all five creature types or just been a changeling and thereby been given every creature type, but they didn't ask me. All I know is that Kaheera is going to be an auto-include in the companion zone for every Selesnya Cat tribal deck and probably every Naya Dinosaur deck. That means Arahbo, Roar of the World, Nazahn, Revered Bladesmith and Mirri, Weatherlight Captain might get a new toy. It also means a deck like my old Marath, Will of the Wild deck, which was built around pinging Dinosaurs with the enrage keyword, could use Kaheera.
I wish they'd have forced you to pick a single tribe, but all in all Kaheera seems like a strong addition to a popular assortment of tribal EDH builds. It's hard not to like the idea of forcing these decks to go all-in on a limited number of tribes if you want to run Kaheera as a companion. Most "tribal" decks wind up running a handful of extra support creatures just to be able to keep up with non-tribal decks.
Keruga, the Macrosage
It's hard to imagine the upside of building a deck with no one or two-CMC cards, but if that's your jam I think it makes sense to add Keruga as your companion. I think you'd need to run a lot more lands than usual to make sure you don't miss early land drops and can hit the ground running on turn three. What you do on turn three isn't likely to win you the game, but I expect you'll want to load up on that particular slot pretty heavily. There are good card draw and mana-creating creatures at 3 mana, and where you go from there is up to you. You can run Keruga in a Simic deck or in any three, four or five-color deck that includes green and blue.
The real question for Keruga, the Macrosage is a simple one. How much do you really hate that everyone runs Sol Ring, Signets, and cheap staples like Rampant Growth and Farseek? Can you live without them? If you can't, just put Keruga in the Command Zone and use this big Dinosaur Hippo for some sweet card draw. If you want to go the extra mile, run Keruga as a companion and see how well you do with your mana curve pushed up just a bit.
Lurrus of the Dream-Den
There seems to be an awful lot of weird Cat hybrids in Ikoria. When paired up with Nihil Spellbomb, you get recurring graveyard hate and you can pay to draw a card. Origin, Necrogen and Sunbeam Spellbombs are also worth looking at, as repeatable card draw for 2 mana isn't bad. Low-cost creatures that sacrifice themselves for great value aren't incredibly easy to come by, but we'll be looking for creatures like Selfless Spirit and other low-cost cards that care about death triggers. Stitcher's Supplier, Blood Artist and Cruel Celebrant would all make sense.
The funny thing about Lurrus is that if it's your companion, your commander must also have a CMC of two or less. That means we're basically stuck with this card ONLY able to be a companion to an Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim deck or a Karlov of the Ghost Council deck. It'll bring some great value to a regular Commander deck, but it seems increasingly clear that companion wasn't really meant for Commander.
Obosh, the Preypiercer
Our next companion is a legendary Hellion Horror with the most metal art and creature type and the LEAST metal card name imaginable.
Obosh won't be able to double Purphoros, Impact Tremors, Pandemonium or Warstorm Surge, but it will double the five damage that Where Ancients Tread dishes out. A fun odd-CMC creature who should be an auto-include in an Obosh companion deck is Stuffy Doll. With Obosh out, that's two damage, which becomes four when it hits your opponent. Stuffy Doll is a great way to push damage over the walls of a pillow fort, and you can work with an opponent and have them send their biggest creature that doesn't have trample or evasion at you to send a little pain to the player you named.
Umori, the Collector
Running Umori as a companion puts a ridiculous restriction on a 100-card singleton deck. You have to pick creature or enchantment and if you pick enchantment I think you basically have to run Pharika, God of Affliction as your commander. That means there's really only one viable choice: creatures.
Having all your nonland cards be creatures isn't the greatest plan, but if you're into weird decks and you're in green and black, I can see this being a fun, janky, casual project and maybe a good deck for players just starting to learn.
Zirda, the Dawnwaker
This is the last viable companion in the set. As fun as a deck full of only creatures might sound, a deck full of cards with activated abilities sounds even more fun - until Cursed Totem or Collector Ouphe hits the field. If you're going to run with Zirda as your companion, you'll be packing Illusionist's Bracers to double up on activations and you might as well run the King of infinite mana combos, Kenrith, the Returned King. A self-mill strategy with Necrotic Ooze might be worth looking at. I've never built around Necrotic Ooze, but I'm pretty sure infinite mana combos aren't that hard to find. Pili-Pala and Grand Architect combine on their own or from the graveyard with Necrotic Ooze to go infinite if you're into that sort of thing. None of that directly involves Zirda, but I feel like it's the direction you'll find yourself in if you build a deck with only permanents that have activated abilities.
Yorion, Sky Nomad
The second to last companion I've got for you today is a legendary flying Bird Serpent who can't even be your companion if you're playing Commander, where the only legal deck is 100 cards. When Yorian enters the battlefield, you exile any number of other nonland permanents you own and control, and you return them at the beginning of the next end step.
Any deck built with Yorion in the command zone could easily have a focus on enter-the-battlefield effects, so a deck like Brago, King Eternal might be happy to have another way to generate ETB value. Another way to look at Yorion is to dodge wraths. You build up an impressive board, play Yorion, exile all your nonland permanents, crack your Nevinyrral's Disk or play a wrath of some sort and you should be set up to be able to swing out on your next turn. Boardwipe tribal might not be fun for anyone else, but you'll probably find that it's pretty effective.
Lutri, the Spellchaser (BANNED)
The last companion on our list has already been banned by the Commander Rules Committee. Allowing Lutri would mean that every player who ever runs a deck with blue and red in it would want to have a copy of Lutri with them to use as a companion. There's zero downside and Izzet doesn't exactly need a permanent boost in order to be competitive.
If you were going to allow Lutri, the Spellchaser as a commander, I think you could squeeze a lot of value out of this clever little Otter. I expect you'd probably want to copy mana producers like Mana Geyser or High Tide to have a really big turn. You might also want to copy something fun like Epic Experiment. I can see this going in a storm direction and using flicker effects to get a few additional Lutri ETB triggers.
The Case Against Companion in Commander
At this point, I think the companion role should just be banned and if you want one of these guys to be a focal part of your deck you should just run it as the commander.
Many of these companions impose deck-building restrictions that are not going to result in Commander players building better, more fun, more playable decks. They are something of a trap and while I could see trying it out, you're not going to find a lot of success outside of the most casual of metas.
Half of them are nearly dead on arrival. Lutri is banned. Yorion would have you build an illegal Commander deck. Lurrus requires you to be playing Ayli or Karlov as your commander. Jegantha requires a five-color commander. Umori doesn't actually provide you with any real choic - you have to name Creatures or you're restricted to Pharika as your commander and enchantments as your card type.
My sense is that people REALLY want to be able to play Lutri and not feel like they're breaking the rules of Commander. Sure, we can house-rule anything, but players want this Otter in their lives and at the head of their Commander decks.
Given that there are so many problems with incorporating companion into our format, and given that we already have a command zone and all of these card would be fine in the command zone, I think the best course of action would be for the Rules Committee to ban companion and to unban Lutri. Lutri isn't overpowered enough to deserve a ban on its own.
Companion is so flawed and so unnecessary to our format that it would be better to just ban it.
I think the R.C. might give folks a little time to come to the realization that I've come to. The tribal decks that lean on Kaheera, the Kenrith Zirda decks, and the crazy folks who experiment with the other companions might be upset, but it's not like we'd be losing 10, 9 or even 8 amazing companions. You want a companion? Put it in the command zone.
There's no reason you should get a 101st card when lots of other deck types or strategies don't just because you're building around Cats, Activated Abilities or some other goofy theme.
Companion can be how other formats try to be as cool as Commander. We don't need it.
Of course, I'm not on the Rules Committee and have no reason to think they'll come around to my way of thinking, but I'm hoping they'll see the light.
I do my best to not screw anything up too badly in my columns, but here and there I am as prone as anyone else to getting stuff wrong. I've touched upon 40 different legendary creatures that we'll soon be able to build decks around, but if I've gotten anything terribly, terribly wrong, please comment and let me know.
I'm not sure yet which of these cards I'll be building around first, but I've got a funny feeling that I won't be able to resist throwing together a four or five-color Cat list with all of the new Cats Wizards has given us. If nothing else, it will be a nice excuse to dust off a Rakshasa Vizier and Rakshasa Deathdealer. They might not be great, but I love the art and flavor of those Cat Demons and a crazy Cats deck chock full of Nightmare Cats, Beast Cats, Dinosaur Cats and even Cat Demons sounds like a lot of fun. It'll be a casual built to be sure, but I'll still enjoy it.
I've been working on learning how to play Commander on Tabletop Simulator, so I may have a column for you next week about how I was able to get up to speed on how to do that. Our EDH League hasn't been playing for weeks, but I'm working hard to get our guys back into playing Commander even if we're doing it online and not bothering to track league points.
That's all I've got for you today. Thanks for reading, and if you made it all the way to the end, thanks for your patience! This week's column was a big one, so if you're still reading i want you to know that I really appreciate those of you who follow my work and find something useful in the ideas, opinions and decklists I put up here every week.
See you next Monday!