A River Landscape at Sunset by Aert Van Der Neer (17th c.).
Spawn of Mayhem by Adame Minguez
In past years when a set came along that had a wealth of great legendary creatures, I've enjoyed treating them like superheroes. I like to give each of them a “sidekick”. With Dominaria, I had to pick a Robin for dozens of would-be Batmans. With the coming release of Modern Horizons, or "Commander Masters" as some like to call it, I decided it was time to circle back to this admittedly odd method of reviewing a set.
These “sidekicks” are nothing more than creatures who pair uniquely well with a given legendary creature. They don’t get to sit in the command zone and in many games they might not even see the battlefield, but if they do they should synergize with our commander and make them more powerful or effective than they are on their own.
We're going to be picking a Robin for each Batman (or Batwoman) in Modern Horizons. If you aren't a fan of DC comics, we can call it a Groot for each Rocket or we can simply pick a cheese to go with each fine wine we come across.
For each of these commanders I am going to throw in an extra trinket or spell also pairs really well with them. After all, what would Batman be without his utility belt? OK - he’d still be Batman, but you get my point. Batarangs would probably be a lot of fun to throw around and if I had some I assure you there would probably be divots in every wall of my house.
Let’s give each of these prospective commanders a closer look.
Ayula, Queen Among Bears
If you’ve been waiting for the next great Bear legendary, you have no further to look than Modern Horizons. Ayula, Queen Among Bears takes a page from Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves and will let us fight our Bears to help us remove our opponents’ creatures.
Ayula is a 2/2 Legendary Bear who costs a paltry two mana () to cast. Her superpower is that whenever another Bear enters the battlefield under your control, you can choose to put two +1/+1 counters on target bear or you can have target bear you control fight target creature you don’t control.
While Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves allowed us to fight each Wolf as it entered the battlefield, Ayula lets us fight any of our bears that we feel like fighting. Unfortunately, Bears are often just 2/2 creatures. Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma is only a 4/3 creature, so while it’s a tempting sidekick it isn’t a great candidate for fighting our opponents’ creatures. A creature that does fit well is Nightshade Peddler. Being able to soulbond a Bear with Nightshade Peddler will give it deathtouch and will give us a much more powerful removal threat able to take down any creature that doesn’t have hexproof or shroud and isn’t indestructible. We can always load up our favorite bear with +1/+1 counters so that it won’t die when we fight it, but having a way to deal with something huge like a 30/30 hydra is really important.
Ayula’s trinket might come as a surprise, but I’m choosing to give her a Runed Stalactite. This little piece of equipment will give the equipped creature all creature types. While you might think the only way to build Ayula is to run all the Bears and not much else, the ability to turn another creature into a Bear and fight it opens up all kinds of possibilities. You could give Runed Stalactite to your Acidic Slime, to God-Eternal Rhonas, or if you really want to have fun just give it to Stuffy Doll. Who says your Stuffy Doll can’t be a teddy bear?
Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis
Our next legendary is a huge Avatar with some unique casting restrictions and a slight resemblance to Lord Wolnir from Dark Souls 3.
Hogaak costs seven mana, including two hybrid Golgari mana, each of which can be either Black or Green, but you can’t actually spend mana to cast him. Hogaak’s superpower is that he lets you tap creatures or exile cards from your graveyard to pay his casting cost. He can be cast from your graveyard and he is an 8/8 with Trample, so he can present a serious threat on the battlefield.
My choice for Hogaak’s sidekick would be a Legendary Human Wizard - Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder. If we play a bunch of early 1- and 2-drop mana dorks to get Endrek Sahr out early and then start creating 1/1 black Thrull creature tokens, we should be able to cast Hogaak more quickly than you might think.
If I had to pick a noncreature spell to pair with Hogaak, I think I would choose something with Dredge. Life from the Loam will let us return up to three target lands from our graveyard to our hand. Even if we have no lands in our graveyard, we’ll want to cast this so that we can use its Dredge 3 ability to put three cards from our library into our graveyard. That will help to set us up to be able to exile cards from our graveyard to be able to cast Hogaak.
Kess, Dissident Mage
Our next legendary creature is a more familiar face. Kess, Dissident Mage is a reprint, but she isn’t new to Modern. This powerful Human Wizard is probably being included in Modern Horizons so that Modern players can get their hands on a non-foil version of the card. I know that sounds weird, but my understanding is that Kess was only available in foil and the natural curling of foil cards was causing headaches in competitive play.
Kess is a Human Wizard with Flying who costs and lets us cast an instant or sorcery card from our graveyard once per turn. Any card cast that way gets exiled, so Kess is like a limited Past in Flames on a stick.
I’m sure I’m showing my casual side with this pick, but instead of pairing Kess with an outright wincon like Laboratory Maniac, I’m choosing Goblin Electromancer. Cutting the casting cost of your instants and sorcery spells is going to help us a lot, especially if we keep our average mana cost as low as possible.
We’d do well to build Kess as a storm deck, so Thousand-Year Storm is a natural fit. If we can get this to resolve and we can protect it, we should be able to set up some pretty powerful turns. Thousand-Year Storm will copy each instant and sorcery spell for each instant and sorcery we’ve cast before it that turn. Cutting our costs with Goblin Electromancer and getting all those extra copies with Thousand-Year Storm will work beautifully together. We just have to run enough card draw and generate enough mana to successfully launch into a game-winning turn. There are plenty of articles and primers out there to introduce you to the wonderful world of Kess Storm but that’s outside the scope of today’s column.
Morophon, the Boundless
Last week the Commander writers at CoolStuffInc.com devoted an entire week to writing about Morophon, the Boundless, so it’s hard to imagine I’m going to be able to truly break new ground here, but let’s give this Changeling Lord the “sidekick” treatment.
Morophon, the Boundless is a seven-mana 6/6 whose superpower is that he will reduce the spells of a chosen creature type by . Creatures of the chosen tribe get +1/+1. Morophon is the ultimate tribal commander unless you’re running a tribe that is often colorless, like Myr, Scarecrows, Golems, Constructs or Eldrazi.
Jodah, Archmage Eternal and Fist of Suns both allow you to cast your spells for instead of the normal spell’s casting cost. That means that both your Robin and your Batarang will make spells from your chosen tribe completely free. It’s hard to argue with that kind of logic.
I will freely admit that choosing Helm of the Host and having your sidekick be Progenitus is pretty tempting. If you had two Morophons you could cast Progenitus for free. That’s a bucket-list level shenanigan but I’m not sure that’s really something I need or want to add to my personal bucket list. It’s neat and it’s silly but I think Jodah and Fist of Suns are better, more sober choices for Morophon.
Our next legendary creature is more likely to find his way into the 99 of a more serious goblin deck, but today’s challenge is about imaging them in the command zone and pairing them with a creature and a noncreature spell. Pashalik Mons has some pretty neat abilities so we should be able to find some sweet pairings for him.
Pashalik Mons is a 2/2 legendary Goblin Warrior who costs. His superpower is that whenever he or another Goblin we control dies, he does 1 damage to any target. If we can gather together four-mana, at least one of which must be Red, and we can sacrifice a Goblin, we get to create two 1/1 Red Goblin creature tokens.
I’ve dabbled in Goblin deck-building but I’m far from an expert. Rather than call upon old favorites like Krenko, Mob Boss, I’m choosing to pair Pashalik Mons with Skirk Prospector. This little 1/1 Goblin gives us a free sacrifice outlet for our Goblins and will allow us to turn our Goblins into mana. The rate of return isn’t so good that we’ll be able to combo with Skirk Prospector alone, but it’s still great to be able to turn goblins into mana and into direct damage at instant speed without having any mana available. If we need to ping a creature with a low toughness or knock a Planeswalker down a peg to stave off a limit break, Skirk Prospector and Pashalik Mons will work really well together to let us do that.
If Skirk Prospector isn’t a combo piece, Mana Echoes most assuredly is. When a creature enters the battlefield under your control, you will get a colorless mana for every creature you control that shares a creature type with it. With all three of the cards shown above on the field, it won’t take much to combo off and kill the table.
Sisay, Weatherlight Captain
At one point in time General Tazri was arguably the best choice for a consistent, fast cEDH deck. I’m far from an expert on Competitive EDH but I’m pretty sure Food Chain Tazri leaned on that incredibly powerful enchantment and a few other key cards to combo off. When Niv-Mizzet Reborn came out, I saw discussion about Niv becoming a better choice for a top-tier Food Chain deck. When Sisay, Weatherlight Captain was spoiled there was suddenly talk of her taking on the mantle of best Food Chain general. The “correct” choice for Sisay is probably Food Chain and a creature who will let her combo off and kill the table.
I’m not that interested in ending games before they even get rolling. I am, in my heart of hearts, a filthy casual EDH player. I like my games long, interesting and full of surprises, so my choices for a Robin and a Utility Belt for Sisay, Weatherlight Captain’s Batman are going to lean toward more casual play.
Sisay, Weatherlight Captain is a 2/2 Human Soldier who gets+1/+1 for each color among other legendary permanents you control. For mana you can search your library for a legendary permanent card with a converted mana cost less than Sisay’s power and put that card onto the battlefield. While Planeswalkers are legendary and Sisay could lead a really powerful Superfriends deck, I’m going to be true to today’s theme and pick a sidekick who hasn’t gotten their spark yet.
Poor Arvad the Cursed, or “Aardvark, the Cursed” as I like to call him, will probably never get called up to the big leagues and turned into a planeswalker, but that doesn’t mean he’s useless. He’s almost useless, but when paired with Sisay he actually provides some real value. He gives other legendary creatures +2/+2 and he’s got two colors in his color identity. By himself he will boost Sisay up to six power, giving her a wide range of legendary permanents she can tutor up. Chances are good you’ll have something else on the field beside Sisay and Aardvark so you’ll probably be in a position to grab something powerful enough to threaten a win.
If Sisay is truly one of the best new legendary creatures to be released in this set, we might as well give her a podium to stand on. Heroes' Podium will give each legendary creature we control +1/+1 for each other legendary creature we control. It is also legendary, but it is colorless so it won’t boost Sisay because of colors in its casting cost. With Sisay, Aardvark and Heroes' Podium out we’ll probably be looking at cheating in really big stuff like Sheoldred, Whispering One or Avacyn, Angel of Hope.
The First Sliver
When I saw The First Sliver spoiled, my initial reaction was that it was the last thing we needed. Sliver decks can already feel somewhat tiresome and hard to deal with in a casual meta, yet they aren’t powerful enough to keep up with a truly competitive meta. The First Sliver seems positioned to make Slivers even more powerful and tiresome in casual circles, yet not really make them fast or strong enough to play cEDH. Can you tell that I don’t own a Slivers deck? I’m quite sure that if I did, I would be singing the praises of The First Sliver and would have already pre-ordered a foil copy. It’s very good.
The First Sliver costs and is a 7/7. It doesn’t have trample, double-strike, flying or any other built-in buffs, but it doesn’t need any. That’s what other slivers are for. How you get those slivers out can be a problem, but The First Sliver helps to solve that by having Cascade and giving your other Sliver spells Cascade.
Rather than pick another legendary Sliver, I chose Hibernation Sliver as The First Sliver’s little buddy. If you can pay 2 life and return a Sliver to your hand, you should never be lacking in Slivers to cast. If you get a free cascade with every casting of a Sliver, it’s easy to see how this could power you into some truly ridiculous boardstates. Of course, if you’ve played against enough Sliver decks you know exactly what I’m talking about. Slivers and ridiculous boardstates are, as they like to say, two great tastes that taste great together.
The trinket I’m choosing for The First Sliver is Maelstrom Nexus. This enchantment might cost to cast but it will give your first spell each turn cascade. The only thing better than one cascade is two cascades - just ask Maelstrom Wanderer.
The thing I really like, and could even wind up loving about The First Sliver is that you don’t have any real control over what you cascade into. I like the unexpected in my Commander games. I’d rather have a few more losses when playing with a deck if it also means I’ll have a few more surprises along the way. For me it’s just more fun, so if The First Sliver is too inconsistent to become the most powerful Sliver commander ever printed, that would be a good thing and might even make me want to build around it.
Urza, Lord High Artificer
Urza is poised to jump directly into the ranks of top cEDH commanders. I run a weekly Commander League and I’m already dreading the try-hard spikes seeing how often they can end a game on or before turn five with Urza. Most of us want longer games, but we don’t restrict deck-building so we do get the occasional competitive deck in our meta. I expect Urza to show his face and I expect those games to be short and not a lot of fun for anyone but the Urza player. Thank goodness we’re only playing for fun and bragging rights.
If there was ever a card that was going to get people talking about banning not one, but two already powerful and somewhat controversial cards, it would be Urza, Lord High Artificer. When soulbonded with Deadeye Navigator, you can pay two mana to get another enter-the-battlefield trigger from Urza. If you have Panharmonicon on the field, you create not one but two colorless Construct artifact creature tokens. You can tap them both to make two mana to pay for another Deadeye Navigator activation and create an infinitely large army of infinitely big Constructs.
If that sounds impractical because you can’t swing with them that turn and you’d prefer to just win, you’re probably much less of a casual player than I am. I’d point you in the direction of Paradox Engine if you’re looking for even more brutally effective ways to combo off with Urza. You won’t untap your permanents with a Deadeye Navigator activation, but it’s pretty easy to find ways to play cheap artifacts to combo off and Urza will be happy to help you out with that. It’s also worth mentioning that any Urza deck worth its salt will be running infinite mana combos. With infinite mana you just win the game if you’ve built your deck right. Of course, if you’re a competitive player you probably knew all of this weeks ago so I’m probably beating a dead horse.
Yawgmoth, Thran Physician
If beating a dead horse sounds like a pretty bad way to practice medicine, you haven’t met Yawgmoth, Thran Physician.
Our last legendary creature from Modern Horizons is a healer who probably kills more of his patients than he actually helps. While Yawgmoth might not quite reach the heights of ridiculousness that Urza has climbed to, I think I know a few players who love building Black decks who will jump on the Yawgmoth train and make some pretty strong decks with him in the Command Zone. I’m looking at you, Chief Durdles-Then-Wins.
This legendary Human Cleric is a 2/4 for mana with Protection from Humans. That isn’t the most relevant ability ever printed, but it will occasionally come in handy. Yawgmoth also lets you pay 1 life, sacrifice another creature and put a -1/-1 counter on up to one target creature. For all that, Doctor Kevorkian will let you draw a card. He’ll also let you pay and discard a card to proliferate.
I’ve never been that threatened by decks that deal in giving out -1/-1 counters, at least not until they start to combo off. I have a Narset deck and hexproof is a pretty good way to fight that strategy. When looking for someone to pair with Yawgmoth, I first thought of Mikaeus, the Unhallowed. Giving one of your own creatures a -1/-1 counter isn’t what you would normally do, but if you’re actually digging for combo pieces you might avoid some aggro if you keep your bad medicine within your own ranks. Creatures with Undying will return to the battlefield when they die and will get a +1/+1 counter on them. A creature like Butcher Ghoul can be used again and again as sacrifice fodder and as a target for -1/-1 counters to draw you cards without drawing unnecessary aggro. When you give a creature with a +1/+1 counter a -1/-1 counter they cancel each other out and are removed from the card allowing a creature with undying to be used more than once.
You can still use Yawgmoth’s ability to keep your opponents from getting out of control, but only if you have creatures to sacrifice and those threats aren’t too big. Yawgmoth’s Batarang comes in the form of the enchantment Nest of Scarabs. Nest will give you a 1/1 Black Insect creature token which you can then sacrifice for your next Yawgmoth activation.
I’m not a fan of discarding cards if you can possibly avoid it, so using Yawgmoth to empty your hand just to proliferate seems like the sort of thing you’d want to do as a last resort. It’s also worth noting that Yawgmoth will pair beautifully with staples like Mikaeus, the Unhallowed and Sheoldred, Whispering One, but I usually try to pick sidekicks that aren’t less powerful than the commander.
While I did my best to pair each of these fine wines with a cheese that will bring out the subtler flavors and aromas found within each bottle, you may well think I’ve simply been loading up my grocery cart with spray cheese, velveeta, and cheesy puffs. If there are better sidekicks for the superheroes I’ve included in today’s column I would love to hear your suggestions.
I do my best to avoid too many deck techs in advance of writing these columns. I want to avoid stealing other deck-builders’ brilliant ideas as much as possible and as a result I’m well aware that I will miss the occasional perfect card for a deck or a commander. I hope you value my candor and please know that I always value your feedback. Please tell me about what I get wrong, what I get right and what you got out of this column.
I’ve got a fun experiment lined up for this weekend which I will be writing about in next week’s column. One of my favorite things about Commander is that we get to build deck using cards from the entire history of Magic: the Gathering. This weekend I’ll be getting my hands on a box of Modern Horizons and I am going to try to build at least one Commander deck using only cards from that box. I’ll play the deck or decks at least once on our “casual” night and I’ll share the deck and how it did in next week’s column. While I’m genuinely skeptical that I’ll wind up with anything good, I’m also really curious as to how it will turn out.
That’s all I’ve got for you today. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next week!