Fishing Boat between two rocks on the beach of the Baltic Sea by Caspar David Friedrich (1830).
Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion by Igor Kieryluk.
With each new set of Magic cards, Commander players are given a new set of legendary creatures to build around. I've grown fond of looking at these new cards in an odd way. I imagine them as superheroes and try to give each one a "sidekick". They each get a Robin to their Batman (or Batwoman) and I also pick a noncreature permanent that serve as a Batarang or utility belt to pair with them.
I'm always happy to hear from my readers, and when Su Chen suggested that I include a discussion on what each creature's "rival" might be, I quickly and quite inappropriately decided I would also include a mention of what their "Kryptonite" would be. Yes, yes... I know. It's Superman who has an issue with Kryptonite, so maybe we should look for a Joker instead.
It's a weird way to look at cards, but I'm getting into this approach and find it more entertaining than just churning out yet another top 10 (or 15) list.
Our first hero is a legendary Sphinx with an alternative wincon stapled onto it. To be honest, I don't like to call something that reads "target opponent loses the game" a wincon because we play multiplayer and killing one opponent is only a wincon if there's only one opponent left. I'm not sure "killcon" is a viable replacement but it's better than "elimcon", "elimina-con" or anything else I can think of right now.
If you can get Atemsis, All-Seeing to do damage to an opponent, you may reveal your hand. If you have cards with at least six different converted mana costs, the player you dealt damage to loses the game. We're going to want a lot of card draw to try to maximize the chances that we will have those six cards, so Consecrated Sphinx will make for a heck of a sidekick. Arcanis the Omnipotent was another card that came to mind but I generally try to pair my superheroes with non-legendary creatures as that seems more fitting to the role of sidekick.
While I would love to find a way to turn Atemsis, All-Seeing into a Blue Thermo-Alchemist or Nettle Drone, I was able to find a Batarang in Surestrike Trident. Atemsis doesn't require you to do combat damage so pinging someone is a decent way to get around flying and reach blockers.
It goes without saying that we might want to avoid having to discard. There are lots of ways to do that. We can run Thought Vessel, Reliquary Tower, Graceful Adept, Venser's Journal, Spellbook, Anvil of Bogardan, and Nezahal, Primal Tide. Enter the Infinite is a way to set ourselves up for a winning turn if we build the deck right and can find a way to play or cheat in such an expensive spell.
If we wanted to find a villain for this hero's story it would probably be Sire of Insanity. This demon will force every player to discard their hand at the beginning of each end step. Sure, it's not legendary, but good luck crafting a hand of six distinctly different CMC cards with him on the field.
Drakuseth, Maw of Flames
Our next legendary creature is a 7/7 red Dragon who costs seven mana. Drakuseth, Maw of Flames isn't an Elder Dragon but it's got a powerful ability stapled onto it.
Drakuseth has an attack trigger that allows it to do four damage to one target and three damage to up to two other targets. Our sidekick is going to be the cost-reducing Dragonspeaker Shaman. Getting Drakuseth out early is going to be important if this Commander is going to be able to compete at tables with lower-costed generals.
Spreading out damage to two or three targets might let you clear the skies of potential blockers. Strionic Resonator would help us pump out twice as much damage, but Grafted Exoskeleton should let us just start killing off our opponents. At 7 power all we need to do is direct one of Drakuseth's attack triggers to the opponent we're attacking and our combat damage will do the rest.
The villain in Drakuseth's story would probably be Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund. He's another 7/7 legendary Dragon who costs seven mana. When he enters the battlefield, Drakuseth will go under the control of the Karrthus player. Playing a Dragon deck against a Karrthus player is always rough sledding, but if nothing else they will probably kill you last.
Gargos, Vicious Watcher
When I think about Hydras, I generally expect to be able to pay X or somehow have X involved in the casting cost and I also expect to see +1/+1 counters. Gargos, Vicious Watcher has neither, but still seems like a strong candidate to be the new best choice to lead a Hydra deck.
Gargos, Vicious Watcher is a Hydra in the style of Hydra Omnivore rather than Primordial Hydra in that you pay a set casting cost and you get a fixed power and toughness for your mana. What Gargos does in addition to swinging with vigilance for 8 damage is drop the cost of your Hydra spells by a whopping four mana. In addition, whenever a creature you control becomes the target of a spell, Gargos fights up to one target creature you don't control. That's not a bad party trick, all things considered.
If Gargos could fight your own creatures I would have you run Stuffy Doll and have target Gargos with pump spells but we have to work with how the card is written, not how I wish it was written. I do love combat tricks though, so my suggestion for Gargos' sidekick is Stonehoof Chieftain. It will give him trample and indestructible when he attacks. On its own, that's fantastic but now you can target your commander with pump spells and get an extra fight trigger while he's indestructible. As an 8 power, 7 toughness Hydra, he'll be able to kill lots of creatures when he fights but he'll take damage in the process so being indestructible should help with that.
I would normally suggest running Nightshade Peddler but Gargos is big enough to take down most targets without having to resort to deathtouch. What I would suggest is that you run Strionic Resonator. This handy little artifact will let you copy a fight trigger so you can remove two smaller creatures so long as you make sure he doesn't take more than 6 damage in the process. Making Gargos indestructible with Stonehoof Chieftain, Shield of Kaldra, or Darksteel Plate will keep you from having to worry about losing him to combined fight and combat damage.
If Gargos has an archenemy, I imagine it would be a creature like Archetype of Endurance. You want to target your opponents' creatures and with Archetype on the field that's not going to be easy without the help of something like Glaring Spotlight or Arcane Lighthouse, both of which should be in your list.
Golos, Tireless Pilgrim
If you've ever wanted a 5-color legendary creature who can tutor for any nonbasic land, this is the sad robot for you. He not only tutors for any land, he also has a powerful second ability that can help you cheat casting costs.
What you probably want to do with Golos, Tireless Pilgrim is tutor up ridiculous lands and get up to all sorts of shenanigans with them. Deadeye Navigator is a perfect sidekick as he'll let you pay and get an additional enter-the-battlefield trigger. With Deadeye on the field, if you have the mana available you can flicker Golos twice to get Thespian's Stage and Dark Depths and on your next turn attack someone with a 20/20 Marit Lage. You can also just use Golos as the ultimate utility land toolbox and get whatever you need for the situation at hand. Homeward Path, Glacial Chasm, Arcane Lighthouse, Maze of Ith and any other land in your deck is just a Golos ETB away.
While it might seem like Panharmonicon would be the best pick for a trinket to hang on Golos' utility belt, I'm going to point you toward the woefully underplayed Amulet of Vigor. Golos brings lands onto the battlefield tapped, but Amulet of Vigor will untap them. With Golos, Deadeye and Amulet of Vigor on the field, you could pay two mana to get Simic Growth Chamber, then use that to go get Azorius Chancery, use that to get Dimir Aqueduct, and then use that to get Izzet Boilerworks. You'd have to return a land to your hand when each of those "bounce" lands enters the battlefield, but that's still a crazy amount of ramp for an initial investment of two mana.
Topdeck manipulation and big spells to cheat into play are both worth looking at if you want to make the most of Golos, Tireless Pilgrim. If you're going to run lots of nonbasics, you might consider running zero basic lands and the Hermit Druid combo.
If Golos, Tireless Pilgrim had a tireless enemy constantly trying to thwart his every move, it would probably be Hushwing Gryff. Any deck built to rely upon enter-the-battlefield triggers will struggle with this Torpor Orb on a stick around.
Kaalia, Zenith Seeker
Kaalia, Zenith Seeker has a much more powerful predecessor - Kaalia of the Vast. Old Kaalia was a real headache as she could cheat an Angel, Demon or Dragon into play and attacking every time she attacked. New Kaalia isn't nearly as powerful as Old Kaalia, but she's still worth taking a look at.
Rules are made for breaking, right? I'm certainly not going to pair Kaalia, Zenith Seeker with Kaalia of the Vast, though the two go together like peanut butter and jelly. I am going to suggest that Grenzo, Dungeon Warden would be a fine sidekick for New Kaalia even though he is a legendary creature. Kaalia will enter the battlefield and have you look at the top six cards of your library. You can put an Angel, a Demon and/or a Dragon from among them into your hand and the rest on the bottom of your library in any order. Grenzo, Dungeon Warden is a specialist in cheating creatures from the bottom of your library onto the battlefield so I think the two should work well together.
Since Kaalia, Zenith Seeker doesn't help you to put creatures into play, her Utility Belt is going to have a Quicksilver Amulet hanging off of it. For four mana, you can tap this artifact and put one of those high CMC Angels, Demons or Dragons onto the battlefield at instant speed. Do it on the end step of the player to your right and it's almost as good as giving it haste.
Since we're going to be putting our Angels, Demons, and Dragons into our hand and we're probably going to be casting them, I think the natural enemy of a Kaalia, Zenith Seeker deck would be someone like Baral, Chief of Compliance. He's got extra reasons to want to counter your spells and to some extent he'll know what creatures to save his counterspells for. Mardu generally struggles against heavy Blue control, so I think a Baral or Talrand counterspell tribal deck would be a real problem.
Kethis, the Hidden Hand
If I'm trying not to choose legendary creatures as my "sidekicks" I probably should have let Kethis, the Hidden Hand be the exception to the rule, not Kaalia. This Elf Advisor's deck will be filled to the brim with interesting and powerful legendary creatures like no other Commander in today's list.
With Kethis on the field, Legendary spells we cast will cost one less mana. That's all well and good, but his party trick is where he really shines. He'll let us exile two legendary cards from our graveyard and get a sort of Past in Flames effect for all our legendary cards. That means we'll be able to cast them from the graveyard.
For Kethis' sidekick I was tempted to choose Thalia's Lancers, as they'll let us tutor up legendary cards but it struck me that a way to bring cards back from exile might be even more valuable. Riftsweeper is an Elf Shaman who will let us shuffle one of our exiled cards back into our library. We'll still need to go get Riftsweeper, but I think he could wind up being an essential part of whatever engine we might try to create around Kethis, the Hidden Hand. I'm leaning toward an elf deck but any combo list will probably lean away from rather than toward tribal strategies.
My choice for a noncreature card to pair with Kethis isn't going to fit onto a utility belt because it's a full blown altar. Ashnod's Altar will let us send two legendary creatures to the graveyard, give us four mana and set us up to be able to return another legendary creature to our hand and have an additional four mana available to cast it again. That's half the cost of an Avacyn, Angel of Hope before we add in the one mana cost reduction we'll get from Kethis.
As for the Green Goblin to Kethis' Spiderman, or if you prefer, the Joker to Kethis' Batman, I think you can look no further than Anafenza, the Foremost. A Kethis deck is probably going to want to interact with the graveyard and Anafenza puts a real damper on that particular strategy.
Kykar, Wind's Fury
If you've ever wanted to build a storm deck in Jeskai () colors, our next legendary creature might be just what you've been waiting for. Kykar, Wind's Fury is like Young Pyromancer or Talrand, Sky Summoner crossed with a Skirk Prospector and with an extra color thrown in for good measure.
Kykar will give you a 1/1 White Spirit creature token every time you cast a noncreature spell, and will also let you sacrifice a Spirit to make one Red mana. While I would normally get distracted by building this creature in a tribal direction, I think the right choice for a sidekick has to be the Jeskai creature everyone wishes was legendary in her own right - Soulfire Grand Master. If you're going to be playing lots of instant and sorcery spells this Human Monk will give them lifelink and can even put them back into your hand. Those spirits you'll be creating can also be used to help pay for that extra recursion.
While I'm tempted to suggest Anointed Procession as the Batarang to hang off of Kykar's utility belt, I think Thousand-Year Storm is probably a better choice. We'll be trying to cast lots of instants and sorceries and this admittedly ridiculous enchantment will turbo-charge whatever we're trying to do. Most likely we'll be trying to dig to a combo but even if we're just trying to flood the board with instants and sorceries that generate Goblins, Gremlins, Drakes and other creature tokens, we'll do it much faster with Thousand-Year Storm on the field.
While I'd love to pick a supervillain nemesis for Kykar that was a legendary version of Archetype of Imagination, Spirit of the Labyrinth, or Eidolon of Rhetoric, I think a more fitting villain might be Grand Arbiter Augustin IV. You're going to want to cast lots of small instants and sorceries so while you might not be bothered by a Gaddock Teeg on the field, GAAIV will quickly become the kind of headache you'll want to rid yourself of... or steal with a Mind Control enchantment.
Omnath, Locus of the Roil
While I'm inclined to devote a whole column to exploring what the inevitable four or five color Omnath will look like, the challenge at hand is to focus on Omnath, Locus of the Roil. This three-color Legendary Elemental combines direct damage, tribal +1/+1 counter buffs and card draw and is sure to become a very popular tribal general.
While there are dozens of Elementals who might do good work standing next to Omnath, my choice for his sidekick is the always dependable Fertilid. This little dude will be happy to lose a +1/+1 counter to go get you a land and will be even happier to take a +1/+1 counter from Omnath for having done so. I'm think there's a combo that will put all your lands onto the battlefield involving these two, Amulet of Vigor and Illusionist's Bracers, even if you just "play fair" you'll still be getting a ton of value out of him.
I was tempted to put Blade of Selves onto Omnath's utility belt, but I don't like the idea of having to send our little 3/3 Commander into combat. There will be lots of times where that would get him killed and Conjurer's Closet will let him leave and return to the battlefield at the end of your turn. That might not sound like a big deal, but any Omnath deck worth its salt will be able to churn out Elementals at a fast enough rate that in the mid or late game this should let you do a decent chunk of damage. We'll be running Angry Omnath (Omnath, Locus of Rage) and other token generators so Conjurer's Closet should do work.
I'm struggling to think of a natural enemy to this Omnath, as he doesn't lean on any specific ability, but he does want to put a ton of lands onto the battlefield. This might not be the most powerful of villains, but Zo-Zu the Punisher will definitely make you think twice about putting a ton of lands onto the field at once. Zo-Zu will do 2 damage to Omnath's controller for each land you play and that could really add up.
Rienne, Angel of Rebirth
If Game of Thrones inspired Brienne of Tarth alters weren't already a thing in Magic, this next legendary creature should make them a thing. Rienne, Angel of Rebirth is an Angel who really cares about multicolored creatures. She is also the first ever Naya (WRG) Angel.
Rienne gives your multicolored creatures +1/+0 and when another multicolored creature you control dies, you return it to its owner's hand at the beginning of the next end step. For her sidekick it seems appropriate to choose a creature who can sacrifice itself for a good effect. Dauntless Escort will give your creatures indestructible until end of turn and you can cast it again after it returns to your hand. You'll have to wait until your turn to cast it... unless you have Rienne's Batarang on the field. Vedalken Orrery is my choice for her secret weapon because it will let you re-cast and re-sacrifice your Dauntless Escort or other multicolored sacrifice dorks on each opponent's turn until your turn comes around again.
For Rienne's nemesis I think we have to look again to Anafenza, the Foremost. She will shut down any strategy that relies upon the graveyard and Rienne does want to take advantage of her creatures dying and being able to come back again. That might seem like too easy a pick, but Anafenza is a real pain for lots of decks to have to deal with and both Rienne and Kethis fall into that list.
Sephara, Sky's Blade
If Avacyn, Angel of Hope represents the level of power you can expect to get for eight mana in a Mono-White creature, Sephara is apparently the answer to the question of what Wizards would give you for one less mana. This Angel costs seven mana, has one lower power and toughness and only makes your other creatures indestructible, and only if they have flying.
Sephara doesn't really cost seven mana, though. She costs one mana. You simply have to tap four untapped creatures you control with flying and pay to cast her. What that means is that we'll want to run lots of cheap creatures with flying, but Aven Skirmisher, Goldenglow Moth and Healer's Hawk wouldn't make for particularly exciting sidekicks. Twilight Drover might not be able to fly, but with the right build we could bounce our opponents' creature tokens and set ourselves up to make four 1/1 flying White Spirit creature tokens pretty quickly. We'd also be running our own flying creature token generators so that we're not reliant upon our tablemates making tokens.
Since Sephara doesn't make herself indestructible, her noncreature spell probably should. Indestructibility is perfectly serviceable but Gift of Immortality costs one mana less and is a little more interesting. Either one will set us up to be able to wrath the board and leave our flyers intact so we'll probably want to run both along with additional enchantments and equipment that can protect our general.
Sephara's nemesis might be Archetype of Imagination, as you'd lose all of your flyers. Not only does that remove your team's evasion and protection - it exposes the weakness that goes with having to run a decent number of low-cost flyers. You might have a few Angels, Griffins or bigger flyers in your list but chances are good you'll get stuck with a bunch of flightless dodo birds.
Vilis, Broker of Blood
Your life points are just another resource and sometimes you have to spend even your most precious resource to nail down a win. Griselbrand found its way onto the banlist for being just a little too efficient at letting you turn your life points into card draw. Vilis, Broker of Blood costs one more mana and seems to be every bit as powerful as Griselbrand. That doesn't mean it's destined to be put onto the Commander rules committee's banlist, but it's something to keep in mind before you fall too deeply in love with this legendary creature.
If Vilis will let us draw cards whenever we lose life, the optimal plan for a Vilis deck is probably to run game-ending combos and to try to draw into the win before we hit zero life. We can use Vilis to draw cards, but he'll require us to pay a Black mana to do so. Fortunately, there are ways to just freely pour all those precious life points away. Pestilent Souleater is my choice for Vilis' sidekick because it will let you pay as much life as you have, in 2 point increments, to give it infect again and again and again. The effect lasts until end of turn, but what you're really trying to do is dig to your wincon. You're in Black so you should be running enough tutors and enough different combos that you should be able to hit something useful in the first twenty or thirty cards.
I'd love to slot Psychosis Crawler into the "Batarang" slot but it's a creature and while it might be an auto-include in a Vilis deck, it's not going to fit onto a utility belt. Since we're hoping to draw a ridiculous number of cards, Venser's Journal will fit right in. Like Thought Vessel, it will give us no maximum hand size, but it will also let us gain 1 life for each card in our hand. That means the life we spend to turn into card draw turn back into life again on our upkeep. That's a pretty nice exchange if we can keep them both around long enough to get away with those kinds of shenanigans.
To choose Vilis' nemesis I have to look at the fact that Mono-Black has pitifully few ways to deal with enchantments. One of the best toolbox commanders I can think of who can tutor up enchantments to stop a Vilis deck in its tracks is probably Zur the Enchanter. Zur may not have access to Lignify or Song of the Dryads, but he can go get Imprisoned in the Moon, Darksteel Mutation, or any number of other auras that will shut off Vilis' abilities. Black has plenty of sacrifice outlets but if it comes down to trying to remove an aura so you can get your commander back you don't have a lot of options in Black.
Yarok, the Desecrated
Our last legendary in Core Set 2020 is a Sultai () Elemental Horror who is basically Panharmonicon with legs and with deathtouch and lifelink added in for good measure.
Yarok, the Desecrated could pair up nicely with any number of creatures that have great enter-the-battlefield effects and would happily join forces with Deadeye Navigator or Temur Sabertooth to squeeze as much value out of your creatures as possible. My pick for Yarok's sidekick is the relatively unassuming Gray Merchant of Asphodel. If you lean a little toward Black when building your deck you should be able to reliably have at least a devotion of five when "Gary" has hit the battlefield. With Yarok out you'd do 10 damage to each opponent and you would gain that much life.
Yarok's "Batarang" would be the card he is basically a copy of - Panharmonicon. Let's say your devotion to Black is at five before casting Gray Merchant of Asphodel. When Gary hits the field it will be at seven. Yarok would copy that ETB trigger, and Panharmonicon would also copy it. If you had three opponents, they would each lose 21 life and you would gain 63 life. That might not guarantee a win, but one or two Deadeye Navigator flickers should finish the table off pretty well at that point.
Yarok's real nemesis would probably be Hushwing Gryff. You're again going to be depending upon enter-the-battlefield triggers so anything that shuts down that particular strategy is going to be an issue. Fortunately you've got access to Black so it should be easy enough to kill.
Running through each of these new Commanders always helps me to get a better idea of which of them I'm most interested in building around. At this point I'm leaning towardsreworking my Maze's End deck to have Golos leading it instead of O-Kagachi. Beyond that I'm not sure which of them I'm going to be building around but we're probably only weeks away from the first Commander precon spoilers, so it's possible I won't invest serious time into any of them.
I've been playing my Niv Mizzet Reborn and my Morophon, the Boundless decks fairly regularly and have been considering writing a column about one or even both of them in the coming weeks. If you have any feelings at all on what commanders I write about in the weeks to come, please let me know.
If my rundown of heroes, sidekicks, utility belts and villains left you thinking that I missed the mark in some of my choices, please let me know what I got wrong in the comments below.
That's all I've got for you today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week.