In the previous Commander Reviews of Khans of Tarkir we went over White and Blue in Part One and Black, Red, and Green in Part Two. So now we get to the Multicolored cards of Khans of Tarkir. There is a lot to discover with the set featuring new Legendary Creatures, Wedge support (Enemy Pivoted Three colored cards), and a good bit of utility. So let’s dive in.
Anafenza, the Foremost
The most aggressive Legend in the set, Anafenza, the Foremost gives Doran, the Siege Tower a run for its money. A 4/4 for 3 mana is pretty aggressive, but those stats are not what’s most relevant. Neither is the ability to dump counters. The biggest strength of Anafenza is the graveyard hate aspect. So the real question is whether the unique aspect of Doran’s combat modification is stronger than the two abilities of Anafenza. Doran also has synergy with effects that play on its low attack like Meekstone and Retribution of the Meek. So while I’m excited to see strategies Anafenza will bring to the format, I’m not sure that she will be able to eclipse Doran in the aggressive department.
While the enters the battlefield ability of Azban Ascendancy is a nice tack on, but the real strength of the card is the death trigger. The problem becomes how to best utilize such a trigger. Creatures like Sakura-Tribe Elder and Yavimaya Elder are already skilled at dying on command. Evoke creatures like Shriekmaw also make quick corpses. The question becomes how many tokens does it take to make it worth the card, mana, and conditions. While I’m sure the Azban Ascendancy will be solid, it’s not going to shake up Commander much. When it comes to assembling gobs of damage cards like Cathar’s Crusade or Kamahl, Fist of Krosa just do it better. When it comes to getting value from the dead, Living Death is also just better. So while I like the feel of it, I just don’t expect to see it making a large impact.
Charms are usually a collection of disparate abilities. Azban Charm is no exception. The removal aspect is strong enough for consideration, but there are better options(Swords to Plowshares, Go for the Throat) for easier mana costs. Drawing 2 cards is fine, but Commander offers many more powerful draw effects (Phyrexian Arena, Night’s Whisper). The +1/+1 counters are borderline irrelevant as has been proven by Jund Charm. The wrinkle is that WBG has a real lack of options for utility spells. While cards like Mortify, Putrefy, and Utter End will fight for the space, I think Azban Charm has a chance for some play because of the draw effect being tacked onto a solid removal spell.
Ankle Shanker is an intriguing card. Granting all your attacking creatures both first strike and deathtouch is quite formidable. The problem is whether having a 5 mana 2/2 worth it. Most creatures that are large enough to be swinging away are usually capable of fighting well enough on their own (think of Kaalia of the Vast’s staples like Rune-Scarred Demon, Hellkite Tyrant, and Akroma, Angel of Wrath) and the extra combat abilities are underwhelming. Zurgo Helmsmasher, this sets new BWR legend, is also without a need for Ankle Shanker’s ability. Sadly, the effect is intriguing but without a real home in the current environment of Commander.
It’s hard not to love elephants, but this one is pretty much dead on arrival. A refurbished version of Provoke does not excite the heart and neither do the stats. This set has much better options for RUG decks.
Butcher of the Horde
Butcher of the Horde is a strong card. It’s just not really built for Commander. Kaalia of the Vast decks would rather have something larger or with more innate power like Balefire Dragon or Iona, Shield of Emeria. The more options for sacrificing you pack into your deck the fewer slots you have for either giant monsters or utility spells. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Butcher taking names in other formats, but it will be just another solid four mana 5/4.
This is a very tricky card. The 2 damage is small enough that it won’t be more than an annoyance most of the time, but it can ding Planeswalkers or delay Luminarch Ascension. The main reason is the ridiculous upgrade on Tariff. It doesn’t hurt that most of the time the biggest creature is the best so hitting two or three of your biggest worries is quite nifty. I’m just not sure if it will be better than sneakier removal like Slaughter Pact and Snuff Out or cheaper exile effects like Swords to Plowshares. Heck, it may even have a challenge at replacing the versatile Hero’s Downfall.
So this remix of Boros Fury-Shield certainly has some merits. Like its predecessor it doesn’t deflect back damage, instead creating its own damage. This is important as it won’t deal damage to opponents in the form of Commander Damage or Infect damage regardless of how the source would deal damage. While it can’t influence combat as much, Deflecting Palm works on direct damage and that can really add up. Most relevant, to me anyway, is that Deflecting Palm works well with Sunforger. For people attempting the mythical “Judo” decks (they exist, but they aren’t always that great) this will be a welcome addition.
Seven mana board wipes are usually the opposite of where I want to be. Even if you get left with the last creature, it doesn’t remove indestructible threats from the board or even regenerators, so that’s little help. Compared to something like All Is Dust, Duneblast is found wanting.
Flying Crane Technique
I really like this card. I’m sure it’s going to get played and I’m sure it’s to be a surprise blow out a few times. It just won’t be played by highly competitive people. And that’s a shame because this card’s concept is so damn cool.
Ivory Tusk Fortress
I guess this is interesting, but only because of the lengths people go for anything resembling Seedborn Muse. I know that it has synergy with Anafenza, the Foremost and Ghave, Guru of Spores, but I’m not sure it’s worthwhile as there are too many hoops to jump through. The 5/7 body is pretty durable, but I’m not sure it’s quick enough even for the more casual Commander tables.
After thinking hard about it, I’m sure there is some combo application to Jeskai Ascendancy. I’m just not sure it will be strong enough. For example, Jeskai Ascendancy + Serra’s Sanctum + Mishra’s Groundbreaker + Flickering Ward can enable infinite mana and filtering by using Mishra’s Groundbreaker to turn Sanctum into a creature. Then using Sanctum to generate mana, cast the Flickering Ward, untap the Sanctum, generate more mana, and then return Flickering Ward to start it over again. It’s a nutty convoluted combo, but that’s the type of card Jeskai Ascendancy is. It’s a lot like Intruder Alarm. I just don’t know if there is a home for it in UWR or if it is better than all of the other combos out there for Five Color decks.
These effects are all quite solid, but nothing hints at having enough power for Commander. It takes an awfully powerful or versatile card to justify this type of mana cost and Jeskai Charm isn’t quite there. Compare this to Bant Charm or Dromar’s Charm from previous Charm cycles and it’s easy to see why I’m sour on it. The 4 damage is fine, but Boros Charm does that too. Lifelink and a pump is fine, but how often do URW decks flood the board. Putting a creature on the top of the library is occasionally powerful, but usually just granting an opponent another opportunity for casting their huge guy with an enters the battlefield ability; the ability is better with more fetching around so hopefully cheaper fetches would make this ability better. Jeskai Charm is diverse, but not practical. It’s outshined by Boros Charm, a card not so commonly played and much easier to cast, so I doubt it makes much of an impact for Commander.
Kheru Lich Lord
It’s like a worse version of Sedris, the Traitor King. Sure you can give the creature flying and trample in addition to haste, but you can only do it once per turn, during your upkeep, and at random. That does not seem like a good deal. I’d rather play stuff like Dawn of the Dead, Whip of Erobos, or Sheoldred, Whispering One for comparable effects in this wedge. Don’t fall into the trap of Kheru Lich Lord.
You can easily make some large tokens in Commander with this. There are plenty of quick 5+ toughness creatures (Doran, the Siege Tower and Skinshifter comes to mind) to make a decent token. The problem is that how good are vanilla beaters? It has no additional upside while being linked to your already having a solid board state. That said, it is one of the few Clone-like effects (size only) offered to Green and Black so it’s worth a gander.
It’s a cool card and upgrade on the classic of Lightning Angel. But 3/3’s with neither infect nor legendary status are not great when it comes to aggression in this format. It takes creatures with great utility or bigger combat stats to have an impact on this format. If there is anything that Mantis Rider can hang its hat on is that the abilities are both very evocative and work well with troll effects like Stasis.
The problem that Mardu Ascendancy faces is that it is a sweet looking card without a home in the current style of RBW Commanders. Kaalia of the Vast decks already have enough of an army and the toughness boost isn’t that useful. Zurgo Helmsmasher is probably a one man band. Tariel, Reckoner of Souls and Oros, the Avenger are both pretty slow for such an aggressive minded card. That doesn’t mean that Mardu Ascendancy can’t someday shine in Commander, just that the day is not today. It could be intriguing in Five Color brews, but I’m not sure there are any aggressive enough to warrant it.
Mardu Charm has some issues. The damage ability is essentially a poor creature removal spell that doesn’t stand up to the likes of Mortify. The token ability is fairly mediocre in Commander where the stats are higher but there are enough effects like Diabolic Edict that it can insulate your bigger threats. The discard ability, especially at instant speed, is where it starts to become interesting. It can let you dictate your opponents play by taking away their board wipe that they may have top decked. It can even stop Miracles by having your opponent discard them before the Miracle ability resolves!
The coolest implication for Mardu Charm, to me, involves Sunforger + Mistveil Plains. Despite hating on the token ability, it’s relevant here as it can turn on Mistveil Plains. When you can use Mistveil Plains to put in your Charm back into your library, you can then use Sunforger to cast it at least once per turn cycle (there are funky things you can do involving cards like Deserted Temple and Leonin Shikari, but I digress). So while I don’t think the Mardu Charm is going to set the world on fire, it does have some nifty and niche applications and may end up doing good work.
Master the Way
Master the Way is not all that special. It’s Spiraling Embers with “Draw a card” attached to it. I’m not sure there are any real applications for it, but it’s an interesting and uncommon enough effect to deserve a mention.
I’m sure there are players who are going to like this meld of a burn spell and a counter spell. It scales up okay, but it’s just not that great. When you start pumping in enough mana to make either effect particularly powerful then there should be better options. Counterflux is able to stop multiple spells while being uncounterable. Electrolyze and Prophetic Bolt are just better burn spells. Mindswipe is a clever meld of two effects, but I don’t think the execution is there. When you spend 4 mana on a counterspell, you want something better. When you spend 6 mana on a counter, you want something better. It just doesn’t get enough value unless you have so much mana that anything would be absurd.
Narset, Enlightened Master
Of all the Legendary Creatures in Khans of Tarkir, Narset has the most hype surrounding it. Anytime you get to play spells for free, especially from zones outside of your hand, there is some potential for abuse. Narset, Enlightened Master is no exception as you can actually sculpt the top of your library before the ability resolves so that you can have a desired outcome. So Mystical Tutor, Personal Tutor, Brainstorm, and other effects are going to enable a good bit of shenanigans.
There are two main schools of thought regarding Narset and how to build the deck. One build is to jam as many Extra turns (Time Warp), Extra Attacks (Savage Beating), and pumps (Sword of Feast and Famine, Steel of the Godhead) that Narset can kill your opponents via Commander Damage in as few turns as possible. This strategy is fine, but it fills your deck with a bunch of fluff except when Narset is going full steam. The other main strategy, one that I am developing as well, is to load up Narset with some of the most powerful spells that she can flip and end the game in short order. So stuff like Enter the Infinite and Omniscience lead the way for a quick combo of the builder’s choice. I feel that Narset gives brewers a lot of new space to work with and my belief is that she will be the newest Legend to join that heavyweight champion class of Commander occupied by Maelstrom Wanderer and Prossh, Skyraider of Kher.
The Deathdealer is a pretty sweet looking card. The pump effects means that maybe there is a deck idea looking for it as you could grow it larger later in the game. Regeneration is also nice. The biggest problem facing Rakshash Deathdealier is that there isn’t any deck that is searching for this type of effects. Sometimes great aggressive cards for Standard just don’t fit into the format of Commander.
So this guy can get huge thanks to delve. Rakshasa Vizier does have a “combo” with False Memroies, but it hardly seems like anything to write home about. What the Vizier offers is a way to punish your opponents for hating on your graveyard, but it costs too much to do that effectively. The card is sweet in principle but most likely disappointing in execution.
On one hand, I’m not a fan of removal spells that only hit blocking creatures. On the other hand, I can see how decks based on Commander damage would be interested in a way to get around defensive strategies.
That is a lot of sweet activated ability action going on. While I would normally just instantly dismiss aggressive creature that aren’t absurd in Commander, this one has enough juice to be more like a finisher than just another Leatherback Baloth. That said, Savage Knuckleblade’s biggest concern is not really fitting in with the current crop of RUG commanders. Maybe Surrak Dragonclaw decks will end up being enough of a creature fest for the Knuckleblade to be a savage inclusion, but I think this is just another card without a great home in Commander.
There are enough kooky morph cards around that you could definitely have some fun with them. Secret Plans joins the likes of Ixidor, Reality Sculptor and Dream Chisel as support for this goofy mechanical order. The only issue is that without enough further support, Morph based decks will always be also-rans to other casual favorite strategies. That said, Secret Plans is one hell of a support card and will definitely enable some sweet Morph shenanigans with things like Master of the Veil, Weaver of Lies, Vesuvan Shapeshifter, and Wall of Deceit.
Sidisi, Brood Tyrant
The self-mill ability is pretty intriguing. Triggers like Sun Titan and Grave Titan have proven themselves to trigger often enough to create massive value so the real question is whether 3 cards is enough of an impact for Commander. The big upside is that Sidisi, Brood Tyrant only costs 4 and can be your Commander. The token making ability is also intriguing but less applicable than it looks. If you mill yourself for 3 with Sidisi and put 3 creatures into your graveyard you still only get 1 token. So while there is potential for some combos, Sidisi may not be all that great for Commander as it doesn’t scale all that well.
Some people think that Siege Rhino is going to be great in Commander. There a few knocks on it, the biggest of which being 4 mana for a so-so body. The drain ability, while not irrelevant, is not large enough to make an impact in most Commander games. The real problem is that on turn 4, aggressive strategies would rather be casting nuts equipment (Doran, the Siege Tower loves Slagwurm Armor) or mass land destruction like Cataclysm or Armageddon. The Rhino certainly has some solid stats, but it just doesn’t stack up.
This seems like a good place for a pause. Join me next time as I finish up this review of the more notable cards for Commander from Khans of Tarkir.
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