The feature of every Commander product are the commanders. Everyone wants to know what the commanders are, how good the cards are and what they do. I'm no exception to this. I was excited to see each of them as they came out and I came up with a handful of deck ideas for each of them, or thought about how they would work in other decks. The joy of new legendary creatures or planeswalkers that can be commanders and truly bog down games (we'll save that for another article) is to imagine all new decks where they can star.
However, we've had two weeks to do that. I did that a couple of weeks ago with Brudiclad. My thanks to those of you who made great recommendations for the deck! What I want to look at this week are the Others. Those brand new cards that aren't commander options. These are the cards that we tend to look at to see if they fit into any of our current decks or are simply impressive cards that make us stop for a moment.
These are the cards that made me sit a little straighter and read the card again, just to be sure that I was reading it right.
"It does what?"
"Wow, that's going to be extremely useful in a lot of decks!"
All right? Let's get started!
Loyal Unicorn. Every once in a while, an uncommon card jumps out at you as an impressive card, and Loyal Unicorn was the card for me in this set. Vigilance on a creature in a multiplayer game is such a great option. When you realize that a creature can only attack once or block as often as you get attacked, the attack is going to have to be truly impressive for you to tap a creature. Vigilance dramatically changes the math. Controlling your commander is a downside, but we're playing Commander; it is likely going to be out there when you are ready to swing big. Getting all of this on an uncommon is very rare.
Loyal Guardian. Every once in a while, an uncommon card jumps out at you as an impressive card, and Loyal Guardian was the card for me in this set. Adding a +1/+1 counter to every creature you control at the start of every turn is so good for so many decks! Token decks love it, creatures that can do things with +1/+1 counters love it, persist creatures love it! The list just goes on and on! Controlling your commander is a downside, but we're playing Commander; it is likely going to be out there when you are ready to swing big. Getting all of this on an uncommon is very rare.
Loyal Subordinate. Every once in a while… You see where this is going.
Loyal Drake. Every once in a while… This gag is starting to get stale.
Loyal Apprentice. Every once in a… a Thopter? That's it? Well, this cycle of uncommons are almost all good.
Bloodtracker. A 2/2 flyer for four mana isn't all that awesome, but its ability practically makes it unblockable. With a +1/+1 counter on it you'll draw a card and suddenly taking damage may prove more palatable to your opponents than blocking. On top of that, your opponents are looking at the card deciding if they really want to lose a big flying creature, knowing that you could just pay two life and make the Bloodtracker bigger and possibly draw even more cards.
This card being black makes it even better. Everyone at the table knows you probably have a way to kill it whenever you want, so the card draw isn't really happening when your opponent wants it to happen, but when you want it to happen. Everyone also knows that if you're in black, that Bloodtracker probably won't be in the graveyard very long, so killing it is only delaying the damage to them, not actually solving the problem the Bloodtracker presents.
I also like it when the Bloodtracker is in a deck that has many other ways to provide +1/+1 counters. Golgari decks regularly throw those counters around, and Orzhov builds can make the Bloodtracker into a large finisher that will draw you a lot of cards if opponents are determined not to take the damage. I look forward to adding this into my Marchesa, the Black Rose deck. I can pay life to make sure I'm not sitting on the throne, then attack with impunity, knowing I'll draw cards and see the Bloodtracker back on the battlefield shortly.
Estrid's Invocation. For three mana you get a copy of your best enchantment. And if you decide to play a better one, just shift this over on your next upkeep and get an extra copy of it! It is easy to see this as a way to double your best enchantment and nothing else. Picturing it as a second copy of Doubling Season is just frightening. Estrid's Invocation and Doubling Season would even make the Loyal Apprentice look good when four thopters hit the field on every upkeep.
The beautiful part of it being able to change targets is the mana cost. For only three mana, quite often you are going to be able to play it before you get the big enchantments that you really want to target. This means that you can play it early and have a second Propaganda or Arrest.
While all this sounds great, remember that you can exile Estrid's Invocation at the beginning of each of your upkeeps. This means that it can enter the battlefield every turn. You can copy Abundant Growth and draw an extra card every upkeep. You can copy your choice of constellation enchantment and get double the effect. Draw two cards as an Eidolon of Blossoms. Give all your opponents' creatures -2/-2 until the end of the turn. Estrid's Invocation is a powerhouse.
Entreat the Dead. I do love a good miracle card and this one will be truly handy. Watching your carefully crafted battlefield get tossed into the graveyard because of a single mass removal spell is painful. When they watch all their work get undone during your draw step is just delightful!
With even a minimal amount of library manipulation, you can even set up Entreat the Dead to deal with your own mass removal spell, setting you up to make things ugly for your opponents almost immediately.
Nesting Dragon. In most decks this is just a 5/4 Dragon, so keep that in mind. However, I'm excited about the landfall ability. If you can get even two eggs on the battlefield, you can Wrath the entire board, knowing you'll have two Firebreathing flyers there to attack with impunity on your next turn. Enough Dragon Egg tokens can even act as a deterrent to others who are considering a mass removal spell. They can live with your 5/4 flying creature and a few 0/2 defenders or make the situation even worse with a group of dragons.
Sower of Discord. The immediate thought is to choose the weakest and strongest players. This way you can attack the weaker player and try to take them out of the game, all the while whittling down the strongest player. Even the opponent who isn't involved can see the benefit, knowing that attacking you lets them deal damage, but attacking either of the players chosen lets them do double damage. The players who love value are going to swing at them every time!
Something to keep in mind is how the two players chosen are going to react. There is a good chance they won't attack each other, since they'll only be doing damage to themselves. This means they are going to attack elsewhere, and you'll seem like a solid target since it is your Sower of Discord that is encouraging everyone else to attack them. As you play the Demon, know that the Bargains a Demon offers regularly come back to bite you and this one is no different.
Another option is to choose yourself and an opponent. That opponent is incentivized to not only not attack you, but try and discourage others from attacking you. Of course, the other players still love the value of hitting one of you to hit both of you, so you are playing a dangerous game there.
Finally, when it is down to just you and one opponent, be sure you are ahead on life totals before playing the Sower. Since every point of damage dealt to either of you is dealt to both of you, life totals will fall fast and evenly. Being ahead on life will be key!
Emissary of Grudges. As someone who really loved the Conspiracy sets, it should come as no surprise that I really like Emissary of Grudges! Secretly choosing an opponent is an idea that I love and am looking forward to seeing in more sets coming out. I don't think this is going to be nearly as surprising as Wizards of the Coast hoped it would be when they created the card. You are going to always choose the opponent most likely to target you or a creature you control. I would expect most of your opponents will understand this and behave accordingly. Given this, I see a few options happening with Emissary in play:
1. Forgetfulness. Someone is going to forget the Emissary is out there and target you with a key card. This is the ideal situation. Trust me though, this won't happen often.
2. Mass removal. Wiping the board doesn't target anything and gets rid of the Emissary, solving any question of who or what a targeted spell hits.
3. Someone will target you or Emissary, knowing you will redirect it at another ugly situation they wanted gone. You will incur the wrath of that player and they will be free to target you after that.
4. They will be forced to waste a removal spell targeting Emissary, knowing it may mean that they lose a spell and a creature.
I suspect option four to be the most common result, so know that your 6/5 flying haste creature has a pseudo-hexproof. And if your particular board state make the secret choice truly a question, then you can try to leverage it the best way you can! These sorts of options make games truly fun for me!
I encourage everyone to get in a few games with whichever Commander 2018 deck you choose before pulling it apart. However, many of these cards are going to be stars in your other decks, so if you are anything like me, all these great cards won't last long outside my favorite decks!