Core sets are back! While they have a reputation of being a bit more bland and open ended Magic 2019 looks like it packs a serious punch with plenty of spicy options both as commanders and lieutenants in the 99. Welcome to my overview of the legendary creatures from M19!I will conduct this review by considering how they will perform as the lead singer and how they will sound singing backup.
I’ll start with the cycle of mono colored legends, in WUBRG order that puts Lena, Selfless Champion first in line.
As a Commander
There is nothing I can say about mono-white that has not been said ad-nauseum. The pitfalls of this color are well documented. If anyone is insistent about build Lena there are a couple ways I could see being playable in a casual meta. The first of which is mono white token swarm. In this deck I would run every single anthem effect I can find and beat in with an army of soldiers. Lena serves the purpose of being an insurance policy when the deck has a board full of tokens and need to save them from a board wipe. I would also shove in a Vedalken Orrey since giving Lena flash gives the deck more options. The issues being that Lena costs six mana and the deck is mono white the table has six turns to plan for the commander entering the battlefield, that’s a ton of time in this format. Which brings me to my next point, if the main insurance policy of the deck is sitting in the command zone it for all to see nullifies the effectiveness. A Voltron approach seems unlikely since Lena seems to want to go wide rather than tall. The second build is tad more interesting, mono white simply does not have the card advantage or ramp that other colors boast. Therefore, the main objective is to nullify the advantages that other colors have with the extensive selection of hate bears. For those that are unfamiliar hate bears are small creatures that have prohibitive effects. These are cards like Aven Mindsensor or Thalia, Guard of Thraben.
If it is not possible to speed up the remaining option is to slow any cocky green players down. Since the fast majority of creature based hate pieces are less than three power Lena will be able protect them. Then once the board is locked down the deck would likely win with Lumenarch Ascension or by simply slapping down an Avacyn, Angel of Hope or some such. I will be honest I am not that well versed in brewing this kind of deck I will leave the finer details to the collective knowledge of my fellow players. I could see this kind of deck being successful in the right meta when built right.
In the 99
Lena wants to go wide I think she could find a spot in any token deck running white. Trostani in particular will welcome her with open arms. As will Ghave, Rhys the Redeemed, and Marath. All of these decks love having tons of tokens Lena comes with three bodies as well as built in protection for an army. When the protection is not sitting in the command zone for all to see it is a tad more effective. Additionally, all of these decks have green so the six mana price tag is not as prohibitive. The double white might be a problem if a deck is particularly symbol hungry.
Sai, Master Thopterist
In my opinion this is one of the more exciting legends to come out of this set. We do not have a shortage of mono blue artifact commanders but Sai seems to lean into a different build than the available options.
As a Commander
Sai to me feels like a bona fide eggs build. The kind of deck that wants multiple artifacts that give either mana or cards when they die. They can be fed to Sai’s activated ability which double dips on card advantage. My first thought when he was spoiled was simply and eggs deck with an explosive amounts of value that wins via either an infinite mana combo or a swarm of Thopters in the air.All the while having counterspells locked and loaded. Cards like Aether Spellbomb and Ichor Wellspring seem like all stars with Sai.
I have heard some bemoaning the fact that Sai is not Izzet colors while I agree that having red would make him even better he is perfectly good as is and he is as good as can be expected with Wizards needing to complete the cycle. Bottom line Sai is a whole new addition to the artifact matters legends that lends himself to either a Cherios or eggs build. He wants to be surrounded by lots of cheap artifacts and then start turning those artifacts or thopters into cards. Pair him with a Krack Clan Ironworks and a Paradox Engine and go to town! As I have said previously a value engine without a win condition is like a boat without a rudder. Whether the finisher is an infinite mana combo into a mana sink like Memnarch or simply an aerial swarm of thopters Sai will be a welcome addition for the artifact enthusiasts.
Isareth the Awakener
I’m going to be blunt in my assessment, when Isareth was spoiled I was quite disappointed ,and I still am. As someone who quite enjoys playing black as a color and loves reanimator shenanigans she seems lackluster both as a general and in the 99. I will state my reasons for being disappointed later. I will at least attempt to discern what strategy fits her abilities best.
As a Commander
Isareth seems to want to reanimate creatures from the graveyard. She does have to attack but her having deathtouch will make opponents unwilling to block so her dying in combat is not too much of a concern. What is a concern however is the fact that she requires pay the mana cost to be paid for the creatures we bring back. This is my biggest concern ,and the reason I was disappointed when she was spoiled. The reason reanimator is strong is because of the ability to get big threats on the field ahead of time ,and the ability to receive powerful ETB effects repeatedly. Isareth cannot head up a deck with that kind of game plan simply due to how the card is designed; since any creatures recurred with her become exiled if they leave play. Thus, where she would sound best as the lead act would in a “big black” type of deck. The kind of deck that runs every black mana doubler that exists dump it all into Isareth and reanimate big threats. The issue being is that, she does not dump creatures into the graveyard she only reanimates them and does not do it well. Furthermore, I find it strange how her effect does not interact with the corpse counters at all. It is almost as if they are simply there to remind players that Isareth brought them back which seems a hollow use. I do not see the reason for the counters existing there easily could have been a line of text dictating that the creatures vanish into the aether of they leave play. An additional issue I find with Isareth as a “big black” general is that there is plenty of stiff competition in that arena all of which can follow the same idea and do it better. Razaketh and Sidisi both are tutors in the command zone, Yahenni is a sacrifice outlet and benefits off of black’s selection of creature boardwipes, Mikeaus is Mikeaus, Liliana both reanimates and discards threats into the bin, and Chainer reanimates any creature at instant speed ,and benefits from having a bunch of mana since having mana means more activations. All of these put creatures in the graveyard or, reanimate or tutor for any of numerous black reanimation spells ,or reanimate with more flexibility. All of these generals simply do whatever Isareth is trying to do and more. Bottom line Isareth has a ton of competition ,and frankly I do not think that she holds a candle to any of the aforementioned options.
I know I said I was done griping but I wasn’t, thanks to readers for indulging in both my rant and my greed. I was hoping my Meren would receive more toys Isareth does not deliver.
In the 99
I am not even going to bother, maybe Sedris the Traitor King or something? A deck that does not care if the reanimation targets become exiled if they leave?
Lathliss, Dragon Queen
Ok, cool card we got here into every Ur-Dragon deck she goes, NEXT!
As a Commander
Ok ,ok the above comment was a joke ,however it is based in truth there really is not that much to talk about here. Lathliss is a dragon that makes more dragons. As a general she might pack a bit more than meets the eye. A 6/6 flying commander for 6 is a good rate and she makes a dragon deck snowball more quickly than they do now. I mean she falls into the pitfalls of mono red, lack of card advantage and being overly focus on aggro. However with a haste enabler and enough ramp this could be a fun deck for mono red loving dragon enthusists. She does seem to be one of those cards that is better in the 99 since if she is helping the Ur- Dragon, or his Scion ,or even Atarka, World Render. Since in all of those cases the deck would have access to more dragons and more options in general. This is not dissasuade anyone if something about Lathliss pulls at the heart strings then by all means build her. She would require a whole bunch of haste enablers and hasty dragons. Helkite Charger seems like an all star in this kind of strategy. As does Hammer of Purporous, Fervor and other mono red haste enablers.
In the 99
A dragon that makes more dragons now serves the Ur Dragon, pretty cut and dry. For all the dragon-loving Timmys out there, this one is dedicated to you: go nuts!
Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma
Here is some good old fashioned mono green stompy goodness! Also we got a legendary bear! Which does not synergize with 2/2s… It’s fine! The card seems sweet anyway, I do not recall having cost reduction that checks the power if the creature that is being cast which is a simple yet unique design. Overall if I was a mono green stompy player I would make an unbearable deck for my opponents, pun intended. Anyways enough quips lets take a look at what we can do with this big bad bear.
As a Commander
The game plan here seems pretty straightforward. A deck helmed by Goreclaw wants to play high power creatures. The fact that the card gives everything that a mono green punchfest could want is fantastic. A cost reduction on all the big beaters ,and a trigger that gives trample. With Goreclaw on the field opponents need to find a board wipe quickly since chump blockers are rendered ineffective. There is also that mono green card draw tends to care about the power of the biggest creature cards like Riskar’s Expertise and Greater Good are good examples.
This gives a Goreclaw deck the ability to easily refuel so that if the board gets wiped the deck can refil its board at a moment’s notice, with that kind of card draw backup Goreclaw can snowball quickly. Additionally, the deck is green and green has ramp for days if Goreclaw dies a couple times in most cases replaying him is not an issue. In most games Goreclaw will likely come down a turn early which brings me to my next point; he only costs 4 mana. With that cost reduction if Goreclaw lands on turn 3 a 7 mana creature can come down on turn 4. Sadly, Goreclaw does not synergize with bears that are 2/2s however he is a fanastic mono green commander that does what green loves doing which is ramp and play big trampling monsters. That cost reduction plus the ramp that green already has is a perfect kind of redundancy. If one wants to be rude and ruthless throw some Eldrazi and a Vorinclex in there and go to town!
In the 99
Goreclaw is not strictly a build-around legend. I could easily see him being a fantastic lieutenant in any big creature based strategy. The first thought that popped into my head when he was spoiled was how amazing he would be in a Xenagos, God of Revels deck. Xenagos gives haste Goreclaw discounts all of the big nasties and gives them trample! What’s not to love? Also, he would go great in Omnath Locus of Rage, some Ruric Thar builds, Vorinclex, and the aforementioned God of Revels. I can only list so many here so this is by no means the only places that Goreclaw can help out. He is the perfect fit for any deck that wants to play big nasties and clobber opponents with them. Overall a well designed card that pairs well with many big bad green decks out there ,and is a good commander in his own right.
Here there be dragons!
Now we are playing some classic EDH! The elder dragons from days past have returned and have got some spicy abilities. Most of them are pretty open ended so much that I am unsure where to start with some of them. If I miss an archetype that whoever is reading this is thinking of building then by no means is it less “good” than whatever I mention. There is much to unpack here so lets get cracking!
Arcades, the Strategist
I sincerely hope whoever builds him takes the opportunity to a Baby got Back reference.
In all seriousness if anyone who builds him does not name their deck with some reference to that old Sir Mixalot hit then I simply do not understand the thought process. There is neither a better time nor place for a throwback hip-hop reference in Magic right?
Now that that’s out of the way lets talk turkey.
As a Commander
Arcades the Strategist is the new premier “big butts”(high toughness) commander, Doran used to command that spot and he had the cool treefolk tribal theme ,but he simply does not do as much as Arcades. This elder dragon allows any walls that are on his side of battlefield to attack as though they did not have defender ,and he draws you cards for defenders entering play on his side. There are so many cards that are terrible elsewhere that will shine with Arcades and he is in bant a color pairing with good control tools and green for ramp. Wall of Denial comes to mind as a top notch include. It is essentially and 8/8 with flying, shroud, that cantrips when it enters play. The game plan is pretty obvious the deck plays creatures that have lots of toughness Archades keeps the big butts coming by drawing cards for every creature with defender that comes into play. Once the board is big and established counter spells can hold the fort while opponents get bashed over the head with walls. Also, an Archades can play cards like the Meekstone which ensures that opponents attackers and blockers stay tapped but Achades gang of walls uptap as normal. This is what really puts Arcades over the top is cards like, Meekstone, Moat, and Ensaring Bridge and the like keeps our opponents creatures inert while our forces are in perfect shape. Archades gives us a consistent game due to the card draw he provides and just in case one of our adversaries cast a board wipe into the aether we are in blue and will likely have an answer. Arcades is definitely a unique addition to the commander scene. Doran is simply not as good since Arcades does everything Doran does plus Assault Formation ,and draws cards.
In the 99
I’ll be honest, Archades is one of those cards that screams “build around me” since he is so unique there is really no other spot that he fits. There is the possibility of wall tribal with Kynaios and Tiro at the helm but even then that’s janky at best. He is clearly meant to lead, but if anyone wishes to run him in the 99 then go for it let me know how that works out!
Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner
At first glance there again does not seem very much to discuss when it comes to Palldia-Mors. My first thought was that she is a bad Voltron commander. She has all of those keywords but as soon as she hits someone she opens up to removal which is counter intuitive for a card that wants to deal combat damage. Additionally, hexproof does not guaentee that she will be safe, edict effects(sacrifice) and board clears circumvent hexproof. However there is some interesting tech to be done, since she has white she can play all kinds of Cloudshift type effects.
Palladia can smash some for a bunch of commander damage and then flicker her(exile her and have her reenter on our side) so that she has hexproof once again. Furthermore, if Paladia is about to eat a removal spell she can get flickered in response then, she has hexproof again. Once it is our turn again then we can swing freely once again. As a typical Voltron commander she would be lackluster but add a instant speed flicker package ,and she becomes a Voltron commander with a twist. However building this Elder Dragon as pure Voltron will not yield profitable results. The best case scenario in a Voltron build is that we knock out one player and then get a beat down at the hands of the other players at the table. I think that Voltron with a cool flicker strategy coupled with things like Sigarda’s Aid could be a halfway decent deck for a casual meta. Since we are in the buissiness of flickering our general auras are likely not the best idea and an ample ramp package would be needed to offset those equip costs however it is doable and potentially enjoyable.
In the 99
The best place for Paladia-Mors in the 99 that I think of would be as a potential target for Mayel the Anima’s activated ability. She is a decent flying beater in the air that would be a decent chunk of life. Additionally I could see her doing work in either a Saskia the Unyielding deck that wants evasive attackers or a Samut Voice of Dissent build that is focused around keyword soup or simply Naya goodstuff. Samut giving Paladia haste for a quick smack for six could be decent. Again all of these places would be tad lackluster for her and then any strategy she would head up is not amazing either. The card design overall is quite counterintuitive. Sadly they can’t all be five star generals can they?
Chromium, the Mutable
There is a laundry list of features to unpack with Chromium. This dragon’s first card from way back when was real bad but now he has received quite the facelift. I will attempt to cover most of the ways one could go about building this elder dragon I will likely miss a few builds because the brewers simply because I only have so long and there is a ton going on here.
As a Commander
Chromium is quite open ended, this is not a commander that inherently gives the builder a direction. I have heard chatter about a Voltron build since Chromium is a big seven power flyer that can be cast at instant speed and is uncounterable. Additionally, he has built-in protection to spot removal ,and when he becomes a human he gains unblockable. This gives a Voltron deck which usually is not very flexible the ability to protect its general at a moment’s notice. This makes deck building easier since there is no need to devote slots to equipments or auras that give hexproof. Furthermore, the deck has got white the best color to support a Voltron strategy. Other than Zur there are not any Esper commanders that lend themselves to a Voltron build ,and Zur is incredibly powerful for his own reasons however he does not come with built in protection. The point is that having protection already on the card is more key if the deck is attempting to execute a Voltron strategy which Chromium lends himself to more so than Zur. However there might be more we can explore here. Chromium is a free discard outlet which might give way to some kind of madness/cycling build. I could see Chromium leading an Astral Slide build with the win condition being simply beating in with Chromium he is a three turn clock after all.
There are a few decent madness cards in Esper colors namely Big Game Hunter. Which essentially reads kill a threat for one black mana at instant speed. Overall, Chromium looks like a fun card to mess around with. There are absolutely ways to build him that I did not cover. What sells the card for myself is that Chromium has protection on board and from being countered. Whatever way the brewers in the community go about building him they can usually depend on their commander being on the field. That kind of security gives some license when deckbuilding to be just a tad greedy. I cannot wait to see Chromium at an LGS because every person will build a completely different deck.
In the 99
I have said this before but some legends do not play well as the right hand man or, dragon rather. Chromium’s abilities say “build around me” . They do not tell a potential deckbuilder what to brew but they seem like the kind of abilities that one would need to devote cards specifically to synergize with them. The first place that Chromium might fit is as another Scion of the Ur Dragon target for the sake of protection. In that case discarding a card to make Scion hexproof is not a downside as most Scion decks will run recursion in any case. However, barring helping out Scion, Chromium is a build around in my book.
Vaevictus Asmadi, the Dire
We got another cool card design over here the ability is not quite like any other that is available. The bottom line is when Vaevictus Asmadi attacks he chaos warps every player except nobody shuffles. There are a few directions one can go if one is fully committed to chaos just swing with a 6 power flyer and see what happens leave the chances of victory up to fate. Or, one could get a tad more spiky and include a bunch of card designed to manipulate the top deck of all players like Lantern of Insight. Also it may be worth including ways of recurring the lantern.
Oppoents will turn over lands or mana rocks at best while you are turning over an eldrazi or a similar monster. This more spiky route might lend itself to a stax(resource denial) build with the classic Smokestack type of effects.
The idea being force opponents to sacrifice permanents then bring Vaevictus out and turn over a bomb like Avenge of Zenikar which gives you more permanents to sacrifice as a way of breaking parity. Or alternatively Vaevictus seems like a good commander for a Primal Surge deck, in which the only card that is not a permanent is Primal Surge thus ensuring that you always hit something off of Vaevictus. It is also worth noting that one could run a Protean Hulk combo since Vaevictus does say sacrifice so Hulk will trigger. In these colors the combo is simply the classic Mikeaus+ Walking Ballista though for this to work a sacrifice outlet would need to be present. I have discussed this Hulk combo in my Meren deck tech if the reader would like more details. Overall seems like an enjoyable commander regardless of which build gets brewed.
In the 99
Again Vaeictus reads as a card that is meant to be built around the ability is unique to the point that without being built around may do more harm then good. Perhaps he could be found helping out Prossh, Skyraider of Kher, or maybe a fun include for a partner pairing that wants to sacrifice its own permanents. I am unsure seems like a “build around me card”.
I present the new card for our lord and savoir our Lord Nicol Bolas! This is the one I am most excited about and one of the big hype trains for the set ,and I am on board completely. I was expecting a core set to be bland but this adds a whole new zing to the set for Bolas enthusiasts. I am absolutely building this deck and there are a few ways one could go. I have not built Bolas yet despite being a humble servant of his for a while due how unwieldy the previous creature version is to cast. This is not the case as we can drop Bolas as a creature early on and wait for the opportune time to flip him. There is much to talk about so lets get to it!
As a Commander
The way I am building Bolas is as a grixis control deck with a Bolas theme. I will be running every Nicol Bolas planswalker, and the creature in the 99. The basic idea is that I will run a ton of cheap removal, counterspells, and boardwipes of all kinds. These will be designed to keep my precious Bolas planeswalkers clean. Any of them with possibile exception of the Deceiver is prone to take over a game by themselves. I will want to wrath the board often then drop either Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh or my commander transformed and keep the board under control as their abilites carry me to victory. I will likely be playing some kind of a theft subtheme stealing my opponents best permanents and using them to my advantage like Lord Bolas has demonstrated. I will run some mass land destruction spells to seal up a game once I have one of the Bolas walkers on the field. The ideal game plan would be to drop one of the Bolas planeswalkers then cast Obliterate or a similar spell.
At that point I can win the game with the sheer power of the most powerful forces in the multiverse. There are other ways to build Bolas I have heard of Bolas Voltron even, he is a 4 power flyer I personally do not believe it will work well ,but to each their own. The more shrewd build that I have heard of through the grapevine is taking advantage of his ETB trigger which forces opponents to discard a card. The deck obviously has blue which has a few blink or unsummon effects which enable Lord Bolas to eat away at the minds of our enemies. His ETB even if it is not the focus makes his fail case fantastic. He automatically is a 3 for 1 if he resolves which is quite good. The win condition in this case would be perhaps eventually flipping him once opponents are hellbent and using his abilities to lead his army to victory. Alternatively, one could go all in on the mind control theme and use the planeswalker side of the Ravager as the finisher once opponents are depleted of resources. There are many directions to build the newest incarnation of the biggest baddie of the multiverse. Either way whoever is the Bolas player better give an evil cackle when all of the plans and pawns come together just right. It would be a flavor fail otherwise.
In the 99
If for some Bolas forsaken reason one does not wish to have him lead he can fit well in other strategies. Namely he is a good reanimation target for Marchesa the Black Rose having him enter play and hand hate opponents is quite good. Other than that perhaps a decent creature for Ydris to cascade into, and obviously he should find a home in 5 color superfriends decks and the like.
I was quite impressed by M19 as a whole the reprints combined with unique and interesting abilities sold the set for me. I was beyond hyped when I received an excuse to build the Bolas deck that I have always wanted to without having to use a less than optimal commander. We got many awesome legends and while I will not build all of them I cannot wait to see some in action. I absolutely missed some uses for these so if any reader finds a way to use any of the above mentioned legends please let me know!
I do not own any of these images these images and art all belong to Wizards of the Coast. I obtained the images from http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Default.aspx
Thanks for reading!
-Paul of Clan Nel Toth