Hey guys, Z Brews here. After the full reveal of the Commander 2018 decks last week, I got together with co-writers Paul of Clan Nel Toth and halfcyborg to answer a set of questions about the set.
Q1: What were you looking for out of Commander 2018? Did the set live up to your expectations?
Paul of Clan Nel Toth: The decks seemed to be built around well-supported archetypes, but now with Planeswalker commanders and new colors. I was expecting the design team to use new, interesting designs for the themes, and I was hoping for some high-value reprints. The set fell short on every count. The reprints in the decks were decent at best, and just puzzling at worst. Most of the new Legendary creatures are bland, aside from a few gems. The face ccommanders are dull, none of them do much different, largely they’re okay, but they don’t provide new directions to brew decks in. Most of the new cards are fine, although many aren’t interesting.
halfcyborg: I was mostly hoping for new, powerful Planeswalker commanders. Much of what I build is cEDH, and we currently only have one cEDH viable Planeswalker commander, so I was definitely hoping that this set would give us another. Barring anything competitive playable, I was hoping for decks that look fun to play with and seem reasonably powerful. I don’t need anything up to the level of Flash-Hulk, but a few solid synergies or combos would be nice. The set mostly lives up to my expectations. While I, like most, am disappointed that the Lands deck turned out to mostly be Jund Goodstuff, it looks like it has some decent synergies and could be a fairly powerful Lands deck with some good upgrades (Life from the Loam, Scapeshift, etc.). I’m really excited for Aminatou, Z and I are working on a really fun, if not particulatly powerful deck that one of us will likely talk about in a future post. While many of the backup Legendary creatures are disappointing, Tawnos looks eminently breakable, and Varina looks like an awesome Zombie Tribal commander. I love having a Bestow commander in Kestia, and Arixmethes looks like he’s going to be the next big meme. While the set didn’t turn out how I’d hoped, I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Z-Brews: If we’re being totally honest, I wanted a Jund Lands commander. That was about all I was excited for, and all that I was looking forward to throughout spoiler week. Fortunately for me, Lord Windgrace delivered in that regard. He is almost exactly what I wanted out of Commander 2018 as a more value-oriented Lands commander. Now, most years I’m generally excited for several of the decks that are getting released, but I believe that I was spared from much of the heartache of others by focusing on the one thing I actually wanted.
Q2: What’s your favorite new card from Commander 2018, and why?
Paul of Clan Nel Toth: My favorite new card is easily Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle. I may be in the minority here, but for those Commander Versus folks, I am on Team Green. The idea of casting a land from my Command Zone and turning it into a 12/12 beater seems really fun. I’m torn between either building Sea Monster tribal and hoping to win with Whelming Wave, or running a ramp deck that animates its lands to win. The design of the card is so cool, and it is so flavorful that I can’t help but want to brew with it.
halfcyborg: I’m a big fan of Estrid. While I’d bet against her seeing cEDH play, she gets access to white and green while still being capable of going infinite with The Chain Veil, which could be an interesting version of the traditional deck. Since the backup plan for Teferi Chain Veil is to go for stax, having access to both green and white give several additional options. Additionally, comboing out with Estrid does not require repeatedly casting her, which makes recovering from a failed combo much easier. Finally, green gives you access to better ramp, which can make the whole deck a bit faster.
Z-Brews: My favorite new card is Xantcha, Sleeper Agent. The very first card I picked when playing with Unstable was X, both for the flavor and for how he would play, his odd, sneaky patterns and weird benefits. Xantcha doesn’t seem particularly strong for her owner, but she accelerates the game significantly due to both her Power and Toughness, and her ability which lets everybody draw a card. You’re not the threat if Xantcha is your commander, even though you will be dealing commander damage every round. Someone else is doing it for you, and that’s exactly the type of minor political ability I enjoy out of my weird, open-ended commanders.
Q3: What would you improve about the decks, if you could?
Paul of Clan Nel Toth: I would make the Jund deck more focused on Lands and synergies with that, like perhaps bringing back more cards with Landfall or Retrace. I would also make a second commander that cares about lands, but is a creature for people who aren’t enthralled about Lord Windgrace. The artifact deck seems relatively good, each of the commanders pushes brewers toward building some neat new builds. I do think Saheeli could be more interesting, but Tawnos and Brudiclad make up for that. The Enchantment deck is easily the best one of them all. I would change the deck to be less aura focused, and include more general value such as Oblivion Ring and similar effects. The Top-Deck Matters deck needs more payoffs for manipulating the top of the deck. I think a few more cards with Miracle or ways of knowing what cards are on the top of your deck. Aminatou is also a bit unfocused. As an aside, though, Yennet is one of the coolest designs I’ve seen in a while, and I’m excited that Esper Zombies finally have a commander. Overall, the set seems unfocused, and I’m concerned about how a new player will feel playing one of these decks out of the box.
halfcyborg: Much like Paul, I would streamline the decks more. Saheeli seems to do random things with artifacts, which is nice, but can make it difficult to teach good deck building techniques to newer players. Since these decks are meant to introduce new players to Commander, there isn’t much that I would change. I would, however, point to the Atraxa deck from 2016 as an example of a good pre-constructed deck. While it did a lot of different things, most of the deck focused on Proliferate and its relation to +1/+1 counters. Lord Windgrace seems much more sreamlined as a “ramp into powerful cards” commander, but he takes several turns before he does much of anything, unless you already have lands in your graveyard to return with his -3 ability. Estrid actually does seem reasonably focused. Aminatou is less focused, but generically strong with the exemption of the Miracle cards. Overall, if I had to improve the decks, I’d ensure that they were more focused.
Z-Brews: The one thing I would change about the Commander 2018 decks is how the value is oriented within them. For all of the decks aside from Saheeli, the majority of the value will be in the newly-printed cards. This is not problematic at the beginning of the print cycle, as the decks will be readily available, but when some time has passed and the set is no longer being printed, any playable cards that are exclusive to this set will shoot up in price drastically. This will make the decks much harder to find later, and just increases the viability of scalpers grabbing all of the decks and sitting on them until they have appreciated, thereby reducing the amount available to new players.
Aside from that, there isn’t much that I would change. The Lands archetype that most people were looking forward to, revolving around combos of lands is clearly vastly different from the Lands Matters archetype that Wizards of the Coast was going for. That’s totally fine, and the deck looks like it will run smoothly out of the box, even if it is not the most synergistic of decks. Saheeli actually looks fairly powerful, and may be the sleeping giant of the set. Aminatou just looks ridiculously out of the box and fun to try and build around, and Estrid seems to fulfill the goals the design team set for themselves with her.
Q4: Do you have plans to get any of the decks? If you are, what are you going to do with it?
Paul of Clan Nel Toth: I’m going to be passing on this set of decks. I will likely pick up a copy of Arixmethes and build a fun deck around him.
halfcyborg: I will be grabbing the Aminatou deck, and will be making an interesting build that will be on this site at some point.
Z-Brews: I’ve already preordered Lord Windgrace as a single card, but I’m also going to be buying the Saheeli pre-constructed deck. it seems like excellent value, and has decent – if not exciting – reprints. It also seems like it’ll be a blast to play, right out of the box.