A Village Revel by Jan Steen (1673). Polukranos by Karl Kopinski.
Today I'm going to share my thoughts with you on the 10 most interesting non-partner commanders coming out of Commander Legends. The partner commanders from this set are interesting because they represent the near endless possibilities of combining and recombining these unique legendary creatures in different ways to create unique and interesting decks. We're also getting a pretty long list of non-partner commanders in Commander Legends. Rather than trot out another decklist and do a deep dive on one of these new cards, I'm going to look at some of the ones that I think will make for some great deck-building challenges.
Any well-designed commander should have both upsides and downsides and I'm more inclined to want to build around a card that doesn't just "build itself" with an obvious strategy that anyone could see from a thousand yards away. I'll go through the 10 non-partner commanders I'm most intrigued by in alphabetical order. I'll also include a support card or two for each one that I think would make for a good addition to their deck.
I love this card. I love the art. I love the fact that it doesn't just give you an obvious strategy to build around. Archelos, Lagoon Mystic singlehandedly turns every land you have slowly been taking out of your commander decks because it enters tapped and makes it as good as an original dual land. Tri lands, bounce lands, scry lands and even the lowly Thornwood Falls wind up better than a high-priced dual. Sure, you must have Archelos on the field in order to see this benefit, but I still really love having an Amulet of Vigor in the command zone. This commander even makes Mistvein Borderpost somewhat playable. One of my favorite plans - to self-mill and cast Splendid Reclamation - just got much better.
You'll want ways to tap Archelos because he isn't exactly a solid voltron commander. You could just make him unblockable with a card like Aqueous Form and assume nobody's going to care too much about getting hit by our good turtle. A vehicle like Cultivator's Caravan or Smuggler's Copter are solid includes as well. Just tap Archelos to crew one of them and you don't have to throw him into combat and risk him dying. Having your opponents' permanents enter the battlefield tapped is a great way to slow down fast aggro decks and with a card like Borrowing 100,000 Arrows you can take advantage of that to draw lots of cards. Any Archelos deck would have a focus on taking advantage of permanents being tapped. I think that sounds like a fun puzzle to solve.
The best thing about Archelos is that there's no obvious game plan, at least not that I'm seeing so far. That means this could easily be a "hidden commander" deck or a more value-based deck that isn't really focused on its commander. I build way too many decks that hinge on the commander being out, and I don't think this would end up falling into that trap. If someone removes Archelos you might no longer have your tap-lands feel as good as dual lands, but it's unlikely to derail your overall plan. Whatever you're trying to accomplish probably doesn't hinge on Archelos and that means you can pretty much do whatever you like. You're in the best colors for tutors, big creatures, landfall, stack interaction, card draw and graveyard recursion so the world is your oyster. You just have to be willing to have your main plan not be sitting there in your command zone for all the world to see.
This legendary Zombie Elf is one of those cards that a lot of players lean away from. Belbe encourages your opponents to attack anyone other than you, as they'll gain mana in their second main phase for causing your opponents to lose life. I rarely lean on an effect like that to actually win games, but it may help you get through the early and midgame with a little less damage. It won't save you from an alpha strike or a combo and you'll be helping your opponents get their board to the point where they can close out the game by potentially giving them access to more mana.
What I like about Belbe is that most decks aren't going into the game poised to take advantage of her ability. You, however, should be more than ready to play cards that can damage all of your opponents. A creature like Crypt Rats can let you push out one point of damage and in your second main phase you'll get some mana for your efforts. At a four-player table that means 6 mana. If you've got a Strionic Resonator and two free mana, you can copy that trigger and with 12 mana you're setting yourself up to start putting Eldrazi Titans or a Colossus onto the field.
I'm going to start sounding like a broken record, but again I love that Belbe doesn't necessarily play into any one strategy over another. Sure, you could play a Blightsteel Colossus, but you could also pour that mana into a Helix Pinnacle, a Genesis Wave or a Torment of Hailfire. So long as you've got a way to deal with the fact that you're just getting colorless mana out of Belbe's ability, you're free to do whatever you like with it. Three different players could build around Belbe and come out with three very different decks.
I had a Zedruu the Greathearted deck for a long time. It was fun, but the way it won games always felt like I was surviving until there were just two players left and then pulling some ridiculous trick on my opponent to steal a win. It was a pillowfort deck that would try to pull a rabbit out of its hat at some point in the game, famously winning once with an Aura Thief / Enchanted Evening play followed up a turn later with Leveler (with no Stifle) and Fractured Identity. It was a lot of fun, and there's every reason to think that Blim could be an equally weird and enjoyable commander.
The options for building Blim aren't quite as limitless, but there's still some flexibility here. You could build a deck full of swampwalk creatures and then have your plan be to give a Swamp to anyone you want to start murdering. I hate to give away lands, but it's a plan you could try to make work. Harmless Offering feels like it would be a good fit in Blim, but the secret sauce of any donation deck is the fun stuff you're going to hand over to your opponents. I can see weird old cards like Lich's Tomb making for an interesting Blim staple, but I don't know how common those types of cards are in colorless, black and red.
Goldnight Castigator is the perfect gift if you're planning to swing in at someone with a wide field of attackers. Both it and its controller will have damage to them doubled, so if you were to swing with one big dude, they'd just block and let the troublesome Angel die, but against a wide field of smaller creatures chances are good they'll be stuck with the Angel for a while. Demonic Pact is an even better gift, provided you're able to get rid of it before it kills you. I haven't dug too deep into the world of interesting cards to donate to an opponent in black and red so it's possible there's less here than I think there is, but I'm hopeful that Blim can make for a darker, more dangerous take on what Zedruu has given us as deck-builders for many years.
I was excited to read Colfenor, the Last Yew. It doesn't take a deck-building genius to see that any card with immediate recursion could be turned into a combo engine. My ideas when brainstorming combos often start out way too convoluted to actually be competitive. I was imagining having a Memnite and an Ornithopter, both of which can be cast for free, a sacrifice outlet like Viscera Seer and an anthem effect like Glorious Anthem on the field. Chief of the Foundry would do in a pinch, though he only pumps up your artifact creatures.
If you can get your Ornithopter into the graveyard, you can sacrifice the Memnite as a 2/2 and you can return the 1/1 Ornithopter and play it for zero mana. Then you sacrifice the Ornithopter, bring back the Memnite, and so on as many times as you like. With an artifact cost reducer on the field you could play 1-drop creatures as part of this combo as well. A Viscera Seer would allow you to scry through your whole deck. An Ashnod's Altar would give you infinite colorless mana. Phyrexian Altar would let you gain infinite mana of any color. Other Altars or sacrifice outlets could just win you the game, mill out your opponents, draw your deck, and so on.
While this commander does seem to lead you down a path to a combo build, I'm drawn to it because it feels like a puzzle to solve. I'm very confident that other writers and content creators have found a more elegant, streamlined solution to winning with Colfenor than my quick take provides, so if you are keen to build the most competitive Colfenor deck possible, I'm sure this puzzle has already been solved. I like my initial ideas, but I'm also sure there are better, more compact ways to win than I've described here.
I've grown hesitant to leap into suggesting combo builds, not because there's anything wrong with them, but because I constantly seem to be drawn to those solutions. Gnostro, Voice of the Crags can tap to let you scry, deal damage or gain life. The problem is that Gnostro's abilities all revolve around "X" where "X" is the number of spells you've cast this turn.
A casual deck-builder might think about building a deck with a low mana curve, designed to draw cards and set you up to play lots of spells and have a respectable number for your "X" when you want to use your Chimera's ability. My mind starts thinking about building around the Dramatic Reversal / Isochron Scepter combo, possibly throwing in Mana Geyser / Reiterate for good measure. Just yesterday I threw together a Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest build that wants to play out a bunch of monks with prowess and go infinite. Combo can be fun, and it wins games, but I'm always left feeling a little guilty because not everyone enjoys playing against that kind of deck.
My first suggestion is very much a "win more" card, but I love it anyways. Thousand-Year Storm can generate crazy advantage if left on the field. With the Dramatic Scepter combo you'd be casting Dramatic Reversal every time you activate your Isochron Scepter so you can set yourself up for some crazy game-winning spells. Just don't accidentally deck yourself with infinite Brainstorms. Freed from the Real and Pemmin's Aura can let you pay 1 mana to untap Gnostro so you can tap him multiple times in a single turn. A non-combo deck would do well to play lots of ways to untag Gnostro so you can squeeze even more advantage out of his very flexible ability.
There are few new legendary creatures more dripping with flavor than Hans Eriksson, made famous by the flavor text on Lhurgoyf. If you're not familiar with Hans, you should read up on him, but my interest in this jovial Human Scout is in finding the best way to keep him alive. You see, when he attacks you reveal the top card of your library and if it's a creature card it goes onto the battlefield tapped and attacking whoever Hans had been attacking. That might not sound so bad for dear Hans, but the new creature will fight him as soon as it enters the battlefield. Basically, whatever monster you reveal runs up his back dances on Hans' head, and then leaps into battle - killing him in the process if it has a power of four or greater.
My biggest interest is in keeping Hans alive, so a card like Magebane Armor, which will prevent noncombat damage, or Darksteel Plate, which will simply make him indestructible, are high on my list of auto-includes. You'll want to run cards that let you manipulate the top of your library for a deck like Hans Eriksson, so Scroll Rack, Sensei's Divining Top and cards with scry will fit right in. Worldly Tutor will let you put a creature card on top of your library, so if you've got opponents without any blockers and a Blightsteel Colossus in your deck, you should be able to start murdering opponents pretty quickly.
I'm not usually a fan of decks that have a game plan that involves sending your commander back to the command zone, and it's likely that will happen a lot with Hans. The creature Hans cheats into play will stay. You're not going to have to sacrifice it, exile it or return it to your hand at end of turn. You could run ways to get value out of Hans before he dies if you're not able to make him indestructible, but I'm not really seeing an obviously high powered build here. I think Hans will be fun and may draw you a few cards before he dies.
Monarch is a game-changing mechanic that incentivizes players to attack whoever is the current Monarch. I think Monarch can add an extra reason to attack in a game where players often build up their boardstate and just hang back and do nothing. I like that Monarch incentivizes combat, but I don't like getting attacked so I will often just hang back and let everyone else battle over who gets to be Monarch. Drawing one card at the end of your turn isn't nothing, but it always feels like the players squabbling over that card draw lose so much life that it might not have been worth the trouble.
Jared Carthalion, True Heir is a Human Warrior with a claim to the crown. According to his card, he's the "true heir" but when he enters the battlefield you have to make target opponent the Monarch and you can't steal that title on the turn Jared enters play. I don't usually want to be Monarch that much anyways, but if I am able to steal the crown, Jared becomes a fantastic blocker. If he would take damage, that damage is prevented and he gets +1/+1 counters equal to the damage that was prevented. If all that sounds great, keep in mind that he's just one guy and he doesn't have reach, flying or hexproof. Your buddy with the Saprolings deck just has to send two of those little guys at you and if you don't have other blockers, one of them will get through, they'll become monarch and you won't be drawing that precious card at the end of the turn.
Echo Circlet or Vanguard's Shield will let Jared block an additional creature each combat. That might not seem like a big deal, but that incoming damage turns into +1/+1 counters so it could make a real difference. You'll still want ways to get flying or reach and vigilances so I could see a real advantage to having a strong equipment theme in a Jared deck. I can also see real value in running Fogs. Not only is it incredibly fun to bluff that you have a Fog in a deck where eventually you might actually have one in hand - it's also a reasonable way to try to protect the crown. If you prevent combat damage, Jared might not get any +1/+1 counters, but they also won't become the next Monarch. A card like Pariah's Shield will redirect incoming damage to the equipped creature, so if you can become Monarch you'll be sitting pretty until he gets exiled or destroyed.
I'm not one to play group hug decks, but this legendary Rabbit Wizard has bunny hugs written all over him. He taps to allow each player to draw a card and anyone that draws also gains 1 life. The problem with the "group hug" archetype for me is that we're ostensibly playing a game in which you're trying to win. Hug decks are often built around the premise that seeing people get to do crazy things in the game is more important than winning the game yourself. I think it would do me some good to actually build Kwain, Itinerant Meddler and have a deck to play where my goal, for once, isn't to try to win the game. I don't know if I'd play kingmaker or try to just see how many wincons I could stop before someone finally breaks through, but it does sound like a different kind of fun.
The problem with trying to build a combo around Kwain is that the card draw isn't mandatory. You can't force your opponents to draw out and lose the game. I could see a weird Kwain voltron build being a fun experiment but if I played a deck like that I'd be falling into the trap of playing Kwain like any other commander and feeling bad if it never actually won. I suspect adding cards like Horn of Greed and other ways to help your opponents out would be the way to go. Spectral Searchlight is a card I often wish I had on the field, and in Kwain, it would actually let me help out whoever is the furthest behind. The goal would be to let everyone get to do something fun before the game is over, and sometimes that extra 1 mana is what a player needs to get their deck rolling.
My second suggestion is that any deck designed to pump everyone up and keep the game rolling should at least have ways to stop from dying. It's not fun to pump up everyone else's army and then get murdered a half hour into a two-hour game. That means I'll want to run propaganda effects, Cyclonic Rift, Aetherspouts and plenty of counterspells. I'm likely to have my commander on the field, so Fierce Guardianship will let me tap out to do other things and then stop a table-killing spell without having to pay its casting cost. Other counterspells will belong in this deck too, of course. The goal wouldn't be stop aggro decks but let combo decks win the game instead. The fun would be in seeing how much I can pump up my tablemates while still keeping anyone from actually ending the game. "Winning" would be measured in how crazy and memorable the game actually was, and I think that makes Kwain really interesting.
I'm not well versed in building decks around cards like Sundial of the Infinite, but Obeka, Brute Chronologist is begging to lead just such a deck. The ability to end the turn can be very powerful. It is a "may" ability so you can't just force an opponent to end their turn, but you can build lots of interesting ways to abuse her ability during your own turn.
My first thought is that running lots of Act of Treason effects makes a lot of sense. They are generally cheaper than Mind Control spells in blue because you give the stolen creature back at the end of the turn. With Obeka, you skip that end step and keep the creature indefinitely. You won't make many friends with this strategy, but it should prove very effective. Cards like Insurrection and Mob Rule will be more backbreaking than they already were, especially if you're smart about who you choose to attack and make sure to not lose too much of your army by killing off the wrong player.
There are lots of ways to cheat creatures onto the battlefield in red but a lot of them require you to sacrifice or exile the creature at the end of the turn. Sneak Attack, Purphoros, Bronze-Blooded and Feldon of the Third Path all got much more interesting in an Obeka, Brute Chronologist deck. If that isn't spicy enough, a card like Final Fortune will give you an extra turn for just 2 mana. The trick is that you lose the game at the end of that turn, but if you can tap Obeka to skip that end step you'll also skip that "lose the game" trigger. Putting Final Fortune on an Isochron Scepter while playing Obeka might seem too good to be true, but infinite turns seems like a pretty good wincon. Just make sure your Obeka doesn't get turned into a Frog Lizard, an Ape, an Elk, a Forest, or simply exiled or you'll probably lose the game if you can't replay her with haste so you can tap her.
My last pick is one of the most interesting legendary creatures I've seen in a long time. Yurlok of Scorch Thrash is a Viashino Shaman who wants to party like it's 1999, or at least like it's some time before 2009 - when mana burn was removed from the game. Not only will players lose life for any unspent mana in their mana pools, he's also got an activated ability that will let him give everyone 3 mana.
Lots of decks don't run ways to use large amounts of extra mana, so my first thought is that Yurlok wants to run cards like Illusionist's Bracers and Mana Reflection to double your mana output, and then Seeker of Skybreak and Magewright's Stone to get in some extra untaps. Seedborn Muse will also help to let you do your thing on everyone's turn rather than just once per turn cycle. Loading up your opponents' with extra mana during an end step, in the middle of combat, or just at a time when they're least likely to be able to use it will increase the chance that they'll end up losing life. Three life points doesn't seem like much, but if you can double or triple it and then do it on every turn, you're looking at a world of hurt for your opponents.
You'll want to run infinite mana outlets so you always have a place to spend the mana you get when activating Yurlok. Walking Ballista, Sensei's Divining Top, and even storage lands might make sense in this deck. I'm sure there are lots of good options to find once you dig into this strategy. Exquisite Blood will work nicely, giving you life equal to what your opponents lose. You might well end up helping some of your opponents, but unless an opponent knows they're going to need an outlet for lots of mana I think this is a pretty safe strategy that won't backfire on you that often. It's worth noting that you can go infinite with cards like Sword of the Paruns and Umbral Mantle but you have to have that mana doubler out or you won't be making enough mana to combo. You'll also want an mana outlet, or you'll die to your own Yurlok mana burn life loss.
This set marks the first time I will ever have ordered not one but two boxes. I plan to open one directly but I may save the second box for draft - or possibly for playing Sealed so we're not passing cards around. The COVID-19 pandemic is raging across America and I'm not sure it makes sense to draft at a time like this. Playing is even a bit of a risk, though wearing a mask is a very good preventative measure and I've been playing regularly at the LGS I call home.
I'm already working on taking apart decks to free up sleeves for the various deck-building projects I expect to leap into once I get these cards in my hands. I haven't set my heart on any commander, and plan to see what I open before I figure out what decks I'm going to build.
That's all I've got for you today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!