Now that Ixalan cards are being revealed, we get a chance to talk about the new cards, and I can't wait! Recent sets have seen a lot of impressive cards for casual play and especially casual multiplayer games. Between Kaladesh and Amonkhet, we have seen a glut of delightful cards that make crazy decks and improve on all sorts of decks that were already out there.
So far though, the legends in this set have been… different. Wizards seemed to have decided to give us legends that look rather weak as commanders of their own decks. The legends each seem to have a drawback that make them poor choices as commanders. However, their value when considered as part of the 99 shoots right up! I thought we could look at the commanders revealed so far and look at how each struggles as a commander but shines as a lieutenant!
Okay, right off, why is this a legendary creature? In regular gameplay, having two of these out would mean that if one nontoken vampire attacked you would get two 1/1 lifelink Vampires. If two Vampires attacked, you still only get two 1/1 lifelink Vampires. Are two l/1 tokens a threat? I play plenty of 60-card casual games and this card looks like fun, but not particularly broken if more than one copy was in play at once.
The real issue is with Commander. A Vampire lord that is only white? So I'm supposed to build a Vampire deck using only white Vampires? This is a white commander that essentially reads, "whenever Mavren Fein attacks, get a 1/1 token with lifelink." Solid, but nothing all that exciting. While this will undoubtedly be better once this set and the next set in the block are released, this as a commander is weak.
I do love what this card is trying to do and it really works in a white-black commander deck. It slots in well with the vampire-themed deck from Commander 2017. It encourages you to attack with at least one of your creatures, leaving you with a replacement creature that can block. If you stack the triggers correctly, the white Vampire Token this creates gets a +1/+1 counter when Edgar Markov attacks. Having lifelink on the Vampire Token makes Licia, Sanguine Tribune a little cheaper to cast if you attack and gain a life from it. The synergy is there. Just wish they had included it in the Commander deck in the first place. A nice card for Commander, just not as your commander.
So the Captain gives you one mana of any color when the Captain attacks. This is going to be a mono-red Commander deck and your commander gives you a single mana when attacking. The fact that it is colored mana is almost irrelevant in a mono-red build. Once the game gets to five or six lands per player, Captain Storm is going to be way outmatched and you'll be losing it again and again just to get an artifact that gives you one mana. When you see Neheb, the Eternal was in the last set and provides tons of mana with far less risk, you'll realize that the Captain is not a commander.
The Captain can really shine is in the 99 of another deck. Creating a couple of early artifact tokens lets you ramp out a creature early, especially in a deck with a multicolored commander. I can see adding this to several Boros builds to get a nice mana boost many of those decks desperately needs
Remember Depala? The dwarf and vehicle lord from Kaladesh who everyone knew wasn't so great now, but just wait until the rest of the Dwarves and awesome vehicles hit? Yeah, I forgot about Depala too.
I want Admiral Brass to be good. I love the idea of pirates in Magic , I really do. But Brass is going to need a lot of good, evasive pirates and I'm not sure that will happen, even by the end of Ixalan block. I know, I said these legendary creatures were good in the 99, but Admiral Brass is going to need to sit on the sidelines for a good long while before making the cut in a deck's 99.
So when Gishath, Sun's Avatar does seven damage to an opponent and you show the next seven cards in your deck. Since there are practically no Dinosaurs in the set, you'll find nothing and those cards will go to the bottom of your library. At best, in a deck with dinosaurs, I expect Gishath is going to find a Dinosaur once. This makes most of this Dinosaur's text extinct of value.
I would love to see Dinosaurs worth adding to the deck hit the battlefield. Even adding changelings doesn't really make this a viable Dinosaur deck. Perhaps some time in the future when Dinosaurs have run rampant through a couple of sets, Gishath will be a star. Perhaps this might work in a deck that is interested in the cards at the bottom of your library, but right now, that is pretty much just Grenzo, and Gishath is in the wrong colors.
Without the Dinosaur option though, what this really asks is, "do you want a 7/6 with trample, vigilance, and haste that costs eight as your Naya commander?" Eight mana is a tough sell for any commander and Marath, Mayael, Gahiji, Johan, and Rith all offer better options.
As one of the 99? I like this card. Eight mana is still a lot, but trample and vigilance means that it can swing and block in the same round and six toughness demands a removal spell most won't want to use. This is a creature that would love to get +1/+1 counters from Marath. It is perfect for a Mayael deck, hitting the battlefield for six mana.
Just what does Tishana, Voice of Thunder want from a deck? It is as big as the number of cards you have in hand, and you have no maximum hand size, so clearly you are running a control deck and Tishana is a finisher in the deck. However, when Tishana enters the battlefield you draw a card for each creature you control, so Tishana must want to Replenish your hand after playing a bunch of creatures.
Tishana as a finisher is going to need some help, since it has no protection or evasion. Now add in the seven mana cost and Tishana continues to be an awkward card to play. Not impossible, but awkward.
Now, there are ways around these issues. Talrand is just one example of a legend that does a great job of playing creatures while filling its hand just by playing card drawing spells. Tishana can be made to work.
Here again though, I think I'd prefer Tishana as one of the 99. Vorel would love Tishana in the deck as a way to draw cards. Between Parallel Lives and Doubling Season, there are usually five or more creatures on the battlefield for a Vorel deck. Adding five cards to hand and having a commander that can quickly pile +1/+1 counters on Tishana, one small piece of evasion can make this merfolk shaman amazing! Any green-blue deck that accumulates creatures on the board can probably find a home for Tishana in the 99.
This is the only legendary creature from Ixalan (so far) that is playable as your commander. There are plenty of good Merfolk. There is a Modern Merfolk list that sees regular play! A quick perusal of the internet will find plenty of interesting Merfolk Commander decks. Kopala's ability to protect your Merfolk will let the deck do what it wants to do and make it that much harder to stop. The downside lies with the all-blue aspect. Plenty of interesting Merfolk are multicolored, so they will be left out of this deck. I like Sygg, River Guide, but you are going to have to dig a little deeper. Although, with a creature type like Merfolk, there is plenty to choose!
A few of the new cards fit really well in this deck. Both Jace planeswalkers make good sense, with card drawing and ways to untap creatures. I like Vanquisher's Banner a lot. It can be a straight-up replacement in old creature theme decks with Coat of Arms or act as an addition. Many theme decks have trouble drawing extra cards and the Banner solves that problem almost on its own. This card is going to be an easy wayto see if a creature-themed decklist you see online has been updated since Ixalan. This card is just that good! I also looked at Heirloom's Blade, but with this list I'm not sure if it is worth it. There are plenty of Merfolk and they are already fairly inexpensive so the benefit of this card gets reduced a bit. I just wasn't sure what I would remove to add it in. After some testing, expect to see the weakest Merfolk dropped for the Blade.
The question becomes whether you want to make Kopala, Warden of Waves your commander or one of the 99. I really like the Wizard's ability to protect Merfolk and think if you are trying to run a Merfolk-themed deck this is a way to go. Other Merfolk might be better, but those Merfolk aren't necessarily best at the helm of a Merfolk deck. I like Vorel, Talrand, and Empress Galina, but none of them are particularly stars if you are looking at a Merfolk creature-themed deck. However, Kopala acts as excellent protection for any Merfolk commander, no matter how small the theme is after that. It is up to you to decide if Kopala in the 99 wrecks what the deck is doing so much that it doesn't make sense, but if you are already running Lightning Greaves and/or Swiftfoot Boots, Kopala could be a viable alternative.
There are so many perspectives to view new Magic cards as they come out, even when just looking at the cards from the Commander side of things. Part of the joy of Magic is finding a place for a card where othersdiscard it. I hope to see some of these cards showing up in playgroups once Ixalan hits the shelves!