Dance of the Almeh by Jean-Leon Gerome (1863). Vraska the Unseen by Igor Kieryluk.
Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match.
Find me a find. Catch me a catch.
Night after night in the dark I'm alone.
So find me a match, of my own.
We are soon going to be up to our earlobes in new Legendary creatures and I am again presented with a quandary. How do I write about all the new cards coming out in an engaging manner without just making a huge list? In the past I've made "sidekick" lists, where I picked a support creature for each new legendary and at times I've even added a support enchantment or artifact they work really well with. For my first column looking at Commander Legends I'm going to play the role of matchmaker.
This set gives us the return of the partner keyword. A legendary creature or planeswalker with partner can share the command zone with another legendary creature or planeswalker with partner. The exception to this rule are cards with "partner with" which can only partner with a single specified card. When they printed the original 15 partners, they did a pretty good job covering a lot of different strategies and mechanics. If they did as good a job with the partners in Commander Legends, it stands to reason that they'll again try to cover a wide range of strategies and mechanics with these new partners.
Today I'm going to do an experiment where I take each partner from Commander 2016 and pair it up with one of the new Commander Legends partners. I should note that I'm writing this with previews still coming out, so I can only work with the partners that have been previewed.
Can I successfully play matchmaker and identify some of the next great partner commander pairing? I'm going to just go through the original partners in alphabetical order and explain what new partner I'd try to pair up with it. I might even throw in an extra suggestion that works well with the pair. Let's get started!
Akiri, Line-Slinger gets +1/+0 for each artifact we control. Toggo, Goblin Weaponsmith lets you make a rock every time a land hits the field under your control. Those rocks don't do much on their own, but you can equip them to Akiri and remove them to deal 2 damage to any target. I'd be more excited about Toggo in a Valduk, Keeper of the Flame deck, but this pair is in red and white so you can run an equipment theme and include the aura All That Glitters to really pump Akiri up.
If you leave the rocks lying around, they'll act like a permanent boost that Akiri will always have waiting for her. Nobody's going to bother to blow them up individually so short of a Vandalblast or an Austere Command your pile of rocks should be safe.
Bruise Tarl will give target creature you control double strike and lifelink until end of turn when he enters the battlefield or attacks. Jeska, Thrice Reborn will let you triple Bruse Tarl's combat damage each turn. If you give Bruse Tarl just one point of power through an anthem, equipment, an aura or just a simple +1/+1 counter, he'll hit for 4 x 2 x 3 = 24 damage if he connects.
For the pump, you might think a card like Spirit Mantle would work well, but if Bruse Tarl gets protection from creatures it would mean he couldn't target himself to give himself double-strike. I would probably lean towards something like Glorious Anthem. If it isn't removed, it'll just sit there waiting for Bruse Tarl to be able to swing with double strike and triple damage.
Ikra Shidiqi lets your creatures deal damage and you have a weird kind of lifelink where you gain damage equal to your creature's toughness. Prava of the Steel Legion not only gives your creature tokens +1/+4. I think an Ikra Shidiqi / Prava deck would want to have a regular token generation strategy and a lot of synergy with lifegain.
A card like Divine Visitation might seem like overkill. Being able to use Prava to make a 1/1 white Soldier and see it become a 4/4 flying vigilant Angel who is really a 5-power, 8-toughness Angel who will gain you 8 life when it does combat damage sounds pretty darn good to me. Throw in an Aetherflux Reservoir since you might find it easy to get above 50 life, and go have some fun!
Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker can get scary big as it gets a +1/+1 counter every time an opponent casts a spell. It's not uncommon to have a table where one of your opponents doesn't have a flying or reach blocker, so your challenge will be to keep Ishai protected and then keep Kediss on the field so you can swing in on one opponent and whittle down the rest.
While a piece of equipment like Grafted Exoskeleton might let Kediss make short work of whoever you didn't swing Ishai at, I think a Strionic Resonator is more likely to not get instantly removed. You can use it to copy your Kediss trigger so if Ishai swings at someone for 5 damage, you can make your other opponents take 10 instead of just 5. Since that extra damage won't count as commander damage, being able to double it makes a lot of sense.
Kraum, Ludevic's Opus was a challenge, in part because he just isn't that impactful. For this pairing, we'll just be happy that he has flying. Radiant, Serra Archangel lets us tap another untapped creature I control with flying and give Radiant protection from the color of my choice until end of turn. We'll basically be turning Kraum into a Mother of Runes, but we should also get some card draw from him when our opponents cast more than one spell in a turn.
The glaring problem with Radiant, Serra Archangel is that it costs 7 mana. In Jeskai colors, we are unlikely to be able to ramp enough to get Radiant on the field in today's EDH before someone has won the game. I pretty much have to go with Jeweled Lotus for this deck's synergistic trinket. The new Commander Lotus will let you get Radiant onto the field earlier, but I'm still not in love with either of these cards.
Kydele, Chosen of Kruphix might not seem really powerful, but being able to run additional draw spells to try to set yourself up to be able to tap Kydele, make some extra mana, and then cast the 8-CMC Brinelin makes sense to me. From there, you'll want to combine card draw with 6-CMC spells to bounce any pesky planeswalkers, commanders or other nonland permanents that just have to be removed.
You might not have access to red wheels in this partner pairing, but Windfall should put in some real work in a deck like this. Again, this is a partner pairing that I'm not particularly excited about but I think these two make sense and have some synergy. I hate that Wizards printed any partner commanders over 6 CMC at all. I'm not a fan of the constant power creep we've been seeing, but in today's Commander it feels ridiculous that they're putting one out that costs eight.
Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist is another 2016 partner commander who didn't get a ton of love. He encourages players to swing at someone other than you, but the card basically helps your opponents draw cards and doesn't keep them from swinging everything but a 1/1 token at you and still reaping the benefit of Ludevic's card draw ability. I'm pairing Lud the Dud with Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools, but I'll be the first to admit it's a bit of a stretch.
Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools wants to be left alone so you can get to his -10 "limit break" ability and gain control of all commanders in the game, whether they're on the field or not. Pairing Tevesh Szat with Ludevic gives you access to black, which means all the best tutors. You can play Tevesh Szat, talk your way out of getting beat up early, play a Propaganda to discourage aggression, tutor up Deepglow Skate and then ult Tevesh Szat long before your opponents thought they had anything to worry about. It's not the worst plan, to be honest, but I'm still not bullish on either of these creatures.
Finally, we're getting to some of the old partners I'm really fond of. Ravos, Soultender will pull a creature from my graveyard to my hand at the beginning of my upkeep. Keskit, the Flesh Sculptor will let me sacrifice three artifacts and/or creatures to look at the top 3 cards of my library, put two in my hand and the third in my graveyard.
I think I'll want to play creatures that create additional bodies when they hit the table like Sling-Gang Lieutenant. It'll be a grindy deck but with an enchantment like Black Market on the field I should be able to set myself up for some big turns eventually. I could see building this deck with a Nim Deathmantle combo since we'll be playing a lot of the kinds of cards that would work with it. Thornbite Staff might also work well, as it would let me untap when a creature dies. I wouldn't be surprised if there's a game winning combo in this deck, but it probably doesn't involve Ravos, who provides recursion and access to White, but not a lot else.
Reyhan, Last of the Abzan loves playing in a deck with lots of creatures that get and use +1/+1 counters. When a creature I control dies or goes to the command zone, if it has +1/+1 counters, I get to move them to another creature. Whenever a commander I control attacks, Keleth, Sunmane Familiar gets a +1/+1 counter. That's not much, but it's not nothing. If I swing with both Keleth and Reyhan, Keleth will get two +1/+1 counters.
These two commanders both lack evasion. I have to assume they'll die every now and then, and if I've got The Ozolith on the field, those counters won't be lost. This deck would run the usual counters-matter cards like Corpsejack Menace, Hardened Scales and Doubling Season. I'll also run Blade of Selves because of its great interaction with Reyhan - though it doesn't have any real synergy with Keleth.
Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa is a card I used to pair up with Tana, the Bloodsower, but for today's project I'm pairing the old with the new so I'm going to match our brave knight with Malcolm, Keen-Eyed Navigator. Malcolm will see us run a Pirate tribal deck. There are a ton of pirates with 1 or 2 power, so Sidar Kondo will let them be unblockable by our opponents unless they have flying or reach creatures.
I love playing combat tricks with Sidar Kondo, but you want to be able to pump your creatures after blocks so you need them to be instant speed. We're in great colors, but not for instant speed pump. Mirror Entity is probably my best suggestion as a way to set yourself up to be able to swing with a bunch of one and 2-power Pirates, hopefully get them in "under the door" against an opponent without flying/reach blockers and then you use Mirror Entity to make them as large as possible before applying damage. You'll knock some people out for sure, but this would probably just be a fun casual deck rather than a high-powered or even cEDH build.
Silas Renn, Seeker Adept, and owner of one of the best smirks in Magic, really wants to be able to do combat damage to your opponents so you can recast an artifact from your graveyard. Rebbec, Architect of Ascension is just the right pairing to help with that because Silas Renn is an artifact creature. Rebbec will give him protection from each converted mana cost among artifacts you control.
There are a lot of artifacts I might have picked as possible targets for Silas Renn, but why not choose a card that will make all of your permanents into artifacts? Rebbec could use some protection and it shouldn't be too hard to get an assortment of mana rocks and equipment out to cover most low-CMC slots. I don't know that this combination has a high top-end in terms of power or has good combo potential, but I think these two would work really well together.
It's worth mentioning that Tormod, the Desecrator would also make for a nice pairing with Silas Renn. Bringing artifacts back with Tormod on the field will give you a tapped 2/2 black Zombie creature token. That's not nothing, but it's also not that abusable since Silas Renn will at best be able to do it twice in a turn assuming he has double strike and can get past blockers.
Tana, the Bloodsower has become a slight sensation in recent years with the advent of the Tana Blood Pod cEDH deck, but I was always a big fan of playing her with Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa. A friend in our EDH league built a deck with just Tana and was able to demonstrate that she's more than capable of winning games all on her own. Numa, Joraga Chieftain adds the ability to pump her up so she can deal more damage and make even more Saprolings.
There are a lot of neat things you can do with all the Saproling creature tokens Tana will be making if she's able to hit a player. The simplest option might be to just use Ashnod's Altar to turn them back into mana, use Numa to turn that mana into +1/+1 counters, and then to swing Tana again to make yet more saprolings. Tana will grow each turn, you'll get a bigger Saproling army each turn and eventually your opponents will simply have to find an answer for her.
Thrasios, Triton Hero is an all-star in cEDH that needs no introduction. It's hard to think there would be a card in Commander Legends that could make Thrasios more powerful. My pick to pair with this heavyweight is Eligeth, Crossroads Augur. Eligeth will let us turn a scry into a draw, which is actually incredibly powerful. It turns Thrasios' ability into pay 4, draw 2. That does mean you won't put lands on the field so one could argue that it makes Thrasios weaker. Those lands on the field actually do matter.
Looking through Gatherer for all of the cards that have scry, it's clear that if you were able to get both of these out, a deck with a heavy scry strategy (scrytegy?) could draw a ridiculous number of cards. Augury Owl becomes a 2-mana 1/1 flying blocker that draws three cards when it enters the battlefield. There are lots of other strong cards that scry and draw that would go into a list like this. Any Thrasios list wants infinite mana combos but with Eligeth out you'll no longer put all your lands onto the battlefield, so this partner combo feels like a way to make a Thrasios deck that is still strong but probably not quite a cEDH deck.
Tymna the Weaver is the other half of the notorious Thrasios & Tymna cEDH pairing. Ghost of Ramirez DiPietro can't be blocked by creatures with toughness 3 or greater, which isn't fantastic, but it's something. When he deals combat damage to a player you can get a card put into anyone's graveyard that was discarded or put there from a library this turn and put it into its owner's hand.
While I was originally thinking a card like Aqueous Form might be sweet, as it would make your Ramirez unblockable, give you scry and then let you draw from Tymna, it doesn't help put cards into your graveyard. Doom Whisperer, on the other hand, is great at putting cards into your graveyard. You can pay 2 life to surveil 2. Tymna can draw you a card and Ramirez can take one of the cards you put into your graveyard and put it back into your hand. You'd just better give up any hope of running an Ad Nauseam strategy if you're setting yourself up to be paying life this often.
Our last pairing is going to be a deck that wants to cast big spells. Vial Smasher the Fierce will push out damage to a random opponent based upon the CMC of the first spell we cast each turn. While Rakdos isn't usually thought of as a great "big mana" colors, we know we're going to be focusing on big spells. If our big spells happen to be big creatures, Alena, Kessig Trapper will be happy to turn that into some decent mana.
If we're looking to have our first spell each turn be big, and we're also looking to have a big creature enter the battlefield and turn that creature generate mana through Alena, Purphoros, Bronze Blooded is a natural fit. If we can drop a Breaker of Armies onto the field with Purphoros' Sneak Attack ability, Alena will let us turn that into mana so we can play an Eldrazi Titan or some other giant creature. If that big boy was our first spell in the turn, we'd also be able to ding an opponent for some pretty serious damage.
When I started writing this column it felt like we had seen a ton of legendary creatures previewed and that it was probably safe to put together a column like this. I have to say that I've been pleasantly shocked to see the legendary creatures with partner keep showing up day after day. That means that I've surely missed some fantastic pairings, but I still think this "mix of old and new" approach was worth doing. My weekly online Tabletop Simulator EDH group has occasional "theme nights" where we build around a planned theme. We're going to be doing this very theme in a few weeks, though I have no idea which partner pairing I'm going to run.
If you had to pair an old 2016 partner with one of the new partners, which pairing would you build? Did I miss an obvious but amazing combination? Leave a comment below with your thoughts!
That's all I've got for today. I will be writing more about Commander Legends next week. If there's a legendary creature you'd like me to tackle, please let me know. I live to serve and I'd be happy to build a list around one of the new creatures if you'd got one you'd like me to write about.
Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!