Legendary Status #6
Hello all! I know it’s been awhile since I’ve posted, but I have been really busy with work and life stuff (I moved over the summer, and I’ve been dealing with a broken computer and am actually compilimg this on my phone). Now, however, I’m back, and what better time to talk EDH than with discussing theories for the impending Commander 2016 set spoilers?
Disclaimer: Many people have already spoken about their theories regarding the commander set, but this article will focus on my own. (Please note, there is nothing confirmed at the time I write this, so this is entirely conjecture).
Before I get into my specific theories, let’s first talk about the set itself. As always, the commander set will be comprised of five 100-card decks, with 56 NEW cards for the format! The decks will be released on November 11, 2016, with spoilers starting tomorrow (or today, probably, based on when you’re reading this).
Each year, these decks have a different colour focus for the decks and gimmick to draw in both new and old players of the game and the format. Last year’s enemy-coloured commanders with experience counters have become immensely popular, with Mizzix of the Iz-Magnus re-defining izzet control and Meren of Clan Nel Toth unseating previous commander set golden boy, Oloro, Ageless Ascetic as most popular of all time!
To Meren’s credit, that seat does look comfy.
So, what does this mean for this year? Well, for the first time in Magic’s history, we are getting Four-Coloured Legendary Creatures. This means that players can now splash a colour without having to resort to a pentacolour commander to get their splash. It means that weirdo completionists (like myself) can finally have a Commander deck for every possible colour combination, without having to rely on houserule errata. And it means that we can perhaps see a return of specific colour hate, as MaRo has often said that 4 colour commanders are more about the colour they lack than the abilities of the ones they are. Moreover, this set is doing something thus far unprecendented. Theybare giving us four commanders per deck! (Hehe, four colours, four commanders…I see what you did there, Wizards). This means that they will get a chance to play with a lot of different methods for making the admittedly difficult manabase work, and we will get to see a variety of different deck archetypes develop for each combination.
With that in mind, let me enumerate my theories:
1. The Nephilims in the Room
There is no way to discuss the quad cut of the colour pie without first mentioning the Nephilim. Primordial (sand? wurm?) beings from original Ravnica and missing upon our return, they were designed for players who might not enjoy the dual-coloured guilds of the plane (spoilers: everyone loved the guilds).
Although why no one liked these guys I could never figure out – just look at that cute little baby head!
Each Nephilim had cool, build-around me, splashy abilities, the perfect fodder for a commander deck. But the fact that MaRo wanted the Nephilim to be played in multiples for those who did not want to be constrained by guild meant that they could never be legendary and do what they needed. Of course, hindsight would prove to him that he was wrong. (He has since lamented this decision).
I think illustrious youtuber TheMagicManSam says it best when he calls them “Magic’s awkward giants.” However, that is not to say that they are not powerful in their own right. I myself run a 5 colour commander deck with Child of Alara that exists solely because I wanted to run a deck with every nephilim, and win (mostly) with Maze’s End. Another friend of mine got Mark Rosewater to personally alter the supertype of his cards, and sign them to boot, making it “official” for him to play them. Their abilities have even made it onto other cards – Zada is seen by many as a fixed Ink Treader, and Alesha makes a wonderful impersonation of Yore Tiller, for example.
And the power these ladies bring to their decks is certainly nothing to scoff at!…Seriously, I wouldn’t cross them, if I were you.
The interesting thing that each of these cards provide is design precedence. By the nature of these five cards existing, each colour combination’s design is now, in part, defined by the abilities of the corresponding nephilim. Additionally, as these cards are the only four-colour cards in the game, there is a reasonable expectation to see them reprinted in the decks.
Each commander deck has an overarching archetype, or strategy, defined by its headlining commander. Prossh makes tokens while Mayael gets fatties. Daxos loves enchantments, and Daretti loves artifacts. Yet, each commander deck has a sub-strategy that can be also built around (Karlov, in Daxos’s deck was all about lifegain, while Prossh’s friends, The Shattergang brothers, liked the sacrifice theme).
The gang’s all here!…oh…maybe not…
This gives the deck room for the player to adapt and customize to their own playstyle without feeling constrained. Thus, I think that it can be reasonably assumed that the core strategy of each of the five decks will correspond to the strategy of the five nephilim – Yore-Tiller will reanimate, while Ink-Treader is a spell-casting control deck. Witch-Maw will be a voltron style and/or “counters matter” deck, and Glint-Eye will be curiosity effects.draw, leaving the Dune-Brood with the traditional token slot. This will ensure cohesion for the deck mainly because these cards are so build-around it’s hard to justify adding them in ‘just because’ (I know, trust me. My Child deck needs help).
1.a. Making Nephilim Legends
This beings me to my next point. As the only truly four-colour cards in the game, and ones that should’ve been legendary to start, I think it’s a high possibility that we will see these guys again as legends. Not the originals, mind you (MaRo has emphatically stated that they can’t functionally errata them that way), but make new nephilim cards that are legendary, with related abilities. In fact, I feel supremely confident in this assumption.
We all know four colours is hard to cast naturally, and I very much doubt that they woukd make an intro product with all four commanders that difficult to cast (more on this in a minute). I personally think that only 1 of the 4 of each deck’s commanders will be “truly four colour” in their mana cost. It would be a perfect lore fit to have the nephilim maintain their rightful place in this regard. And, of course, from a Vorthos perapective, we have no idea what happened to them while we were away from Ravniva. This gives us the perfect chance to check in on our favourite awkward overlords.
2. Rapid Hybridization
We all know that Wizards R&D have numerous tricks up their proverbial sleeves to make casting our spells easier. One of the obvious of these is hybrid. Hybrid is a wonderful mechanic in that allows players to play their spell even when they are missing one of their colour sources. From the t1 Rhys, the Redeemed elfball strat, to the Fate Reforged linchpin legends, hybrid costs and abilities allow EDH players access to their colour identity of choice without really committing to it in their commander.
Your cunning shall be rewarded…with bananas.
As such, it is my opinion that one of the other three commanders will utilize hybrid technology in some way, to make it easier for a player to play this commander on curve.
3. By My Colours, Activate!
As an extension of #2, we have seen use of the text box as a way of denoting colour identity, again without needing to tax a player for it in the hard casting cost.
Shu Yun disapproves of your terrible memory!
Activated and triggered abilities with different colour costs open up a lot of interesting design space for Wizards to explore different ability pairings, while overall making the card feel cohesive. Additionally, they can be combined with hybrid technology (as with Shu Yun here) to add more colours to the palette while not overtaxing the card’s ability space. It is my personal opinion that we will see this be the most likely way for several of the commanders to be made, as it is easier to parse hybrid costs in this way than in the mana cost.
4. Transformers! Magic cards in Disguise!
Another way to ease the colour requirement is with transform and morph creatures. I lump these two categories together for the same reason, they provide an easy-to cast ‘initial’ play that can be upgraded or changed for the full benefit of the card and, of course, it’s colour identity. However, though we saw this method used effectively in Khans of Tarkir, I don’t expect morph to really be a thing in this set; mostly because casting a morph from the command zone takes away the largest benefit of morph – the element of surprise – while leaving one’s commander immensely vulnerable.
However, transform is a different story. Cards like Garruk Relentless of the more recent Archangel Avacyn demonstrate the power it has for cultivating colour identity. Transforming creatures have the benefit of having one side feel very much in one colour set and the back side in another, while having the whole card still feel cohesive and connected. The one downside to this, of course, are the printing issues involved with printing a single transform card (they have to be printed on separate sheets). I would not expect transform in the commander product unless it took up a broader theme of the decks themselves (something I doubt will happen).
5. Spell it Out
When pictures fail you, when iconography confuses you, sometimes you’ve just gotta say it. This strategy is by far the least likely of the methods to be utilized, by it is worth mentioning. Last year, Wizards introduced the ‘mechabic’ devoid, which served as basically just reminder text that the creature was colourless, despite havjng a coloured casting cost. This technology, derived from ghostflame in future sight, meant that wizards could use colour to keep colourlessness from running rampant.
Conceivably, they could do the reverse, having an all-generic casting cost, but use the text box to define colour. In fact, they’ve already done this (thanks again, Ravnica!) Unfortunately, it woukd be most likely too unwieldy to specify each of the four colours in the text box, but it us an intriguing idea nonetheless
6. Making Mana Bread
Thus far, I have discussed different ways of making the commanders, and making them easy to cast. However, our commanders are but one (well, four I guess, in these decks) of our 100-card decks. We still need to make sure we have to cast the rest of our spells. Many players assume that we will get brand-new, four colour specific lands and mana rocks for these decks. Now, I’m not saying it’s impossible, but an ETB tapped land that taps for one of the 4 colours is not going to happen. Sorry.
Mana rocks are a possibility. I could very easily see something like a 3-mana rock that operates as a double signet, for example:
“Yore-Tiller’s Hilarious Baby Head” 3
T: Add C to your mana pool.
1, T: Add WU to your mana pool
1, T: Add RB to your mana pool.
Like, that would be imminently playable. It ramps, and fixes if need be. It would also free up some space in five-colour decks currently running a pile of signets to get their colours right, though honestly I have no idea who does that.
On a more practical note, though, I doubt that our 56 new cards are going to be spent on delicious new mana rocks. We already know that 20 of them are going to be new commanders. They also like having a cycle of cards that does a commander-specific thing with a special new keyword, so that’s another 5. We’ll also probably get a new special utility land, and a cycle of rares and mythics that relate specifically to the core theme of the deck (for another ten). That’s already 36 cards.
Nah, I think that this set is going to be marked by reprints of classic commander manabase staples. Expect reprints of solemn simulacrum, darksteel ingot, commander sphere (hopefully, that thing’s creeping up in price, weirdly), chrimatic lantern (wouldn’t that be awesome?), and fellwar stone.
Sad robot is sad by my brutal honesty.
As for lands, we can all assume that we will have our favourite land in Command Tower. Outside of that, I’m assuming that we will see reprints of things like Reflecting pool, the vivid lands, transguild promenade, rupture spire, and exotic orchard. We may also get the relevant tri-lands for each deck as well, as they have done with guildgates and the gainlands. That said, expect the decks to be clunky out of the box. The mana will NOT (I repeat) NOT be ideal, though hopefully the manabases will be consistent enough to not fold to a more tuned deck.
With that, i bid you all adieu. I wish you all a wonderful night, and an exciting spoiler season! Mark Rosewater’s article comes out fairly early tomorrow, so be sure to keep an eye on the website! Additionally, I know that the commanderin’ podcast has two spoilers they get to reveal tomorrow morning as well, and the Command Zone podcast has three on Tuesday! Look out for all of them and, as always, Welcome…to Legendary Status!