Swing your partner round and round....
It's that time of year again. The trees are changing colors, a chill is in the air, coffee houses are featuring Gingerbread Lattes and Wizards of the Coast has released new Commander decks into the world. For EDH players, it is a bit like the holidays coming early, as they pour through the spoilers looking for the expensive reprints they need and the new cards that will make their decks sing. Commander 2016 doesn't disappoint on this front. These decks are packed with value - including amazing reprints like Chromatic Lantern and Daretti, Scrap Savant which have ballooned in price since their original printings due to their demand in our format. As far as "pure value" goes, according to the Command Zone, none of these deck's secondary market value (at the time of release was under $100.00). That's just crazy. More importantly though, Wizards has given new players the tools they need to enter into the format and even solved a problem that has been the thorn in the side of enfranchised players for years - the four color commander. It is a solution that is simple, elegant and flexible beyond all expectations. How did they do it? Let's take a look!
Four color problems.
Making four color cards is tough for Wizards R&D. While a five color spell can flavorfully cross all color pie boundaries and just feel epic, a four color spell must feel like it represents four parts of the color pie without treading into that final slice. It's been so hard to come up with spells that meet this criteria, that previous to the release of Commander 2016 there were only five - that's right five - in the history of Magic. Called the Nephilim, this cycle of five creatures saw their only printing in Guildpact and were not even Legendary - making them unavailable as Commanders. That didn't stop the players, of course. Many have used the Nephilim as their Commander in four color decks and this became so widespread that they were (pretty much) universally accepted in casual settings as unofficial surrogates since there was no other option. That all ends with Commander 2016. There are now official options for the format - and in twist on the traditional rules, more than you might think.
Four color solutions.
So Wizards made good on player desires and shipped five official four color legendary creatures as the "headliners" of their pre-constructed product. What was totally unexpected was the introduction of a new Commander mechanic - Partner. Partner is a mechanic that simply says "You may have two commanders if they both have partner". Each Commander 2016 comes with two legendary creatures with the mechanic - that when paired make up the four color identity of the main four color commander. The ramifications for the format is incredible. By shipping 10 commanders with the partner mechanic, Wizards has given the community an amazing amount of combinations. Check out this list from @mtgkaylesh to get an idea of how flexible this mechanic really is! I hope that Wizards uses this mechanic going forward in regular sets. It does not effect the power level of the card at all in Standard, while giving Commander players more flexibility and choice. I think its one of the best mechanics they have ever come up with. It is thinking outside the box while being dead simple to comprehend - kudos to R&D!
As we mentioned earlier, Commander 2016 is packed to the gills with value - especially for new players. The format leans heavily on cards from the history of the game, so its hard to jump in with both feet if you have a small collection. Probably due to the "four color" theme this year each deck is able to include a wide variety of staples. With these cards and the new mechanic these decks transcend a single-sitting, pre-constructed experience and become a great skeleton for multiple decks. Here are six of the best "returning favorites".
With its last large printing in Magic 2010, six years ago, the Howling Mine has fallen off a lot of player's radar, but it is an incredibly fun multiplayer card that brings political implications to your board state. It also provides valuable card draw to colors without that in their portion of the pie. As we said back in the day "everybody loves the mine"...and I am sure that will still be the case in your group. Spitting Image, with a single printing in Eventide has become pricey, but this reprint gives new players a great copy effect to add to their blue/green Simic builds. Wheel of Fate is a rare card draw spell in red that is mechanically inferior to, but still powerful example of Limited Edition Alpha's Wheel of Fortune. With its single printing in Time Spiral, this will be many players first chance to play with this iconic effect.
Along with the numerous spell reprints, Wizards has packed these pre-constructed decks with reprints of legendary creatures that people have been fighting to get their hands on. Selvala, Explorer Returned is one of the best green/white Selesnya commanders ever printed. Hailing from the first Conspiracy set, she has been a tough card to get for a new deck build. Alesha, Who Smiles at Death is a recent card from Fate Reforged, but her low casting cost and recursion mechanic has made her a very popular choice in Mardu colors. Finally, regular readers know how close Hanna, Ship's Navigator is to my heart. She is my "go-to" Commander and I am so happy that new players will have a chance to build around a copy with Terese Nielsen's beautiful portrait art. I don't even want to tell you how much I paid for my Judge foil.
Of course what is a Commander set without a few new cards? C16 gives us some fun toys that are not printable in standard sets. From power level to multiplayer, these cards break the mold. Primeval Protector is a great top end card for ramping counter decks - I'm looking at you Vorel. Deepglow Skate is a card that has the entire Magic community buzzing... even the Legacy folks. This "Doubling Fish" is going to be amazing in "Super-friends" builds where doubling counters means triggering ultimates. Duelist's Heritage plays with Double Strike, a mechanic that I think a lot of players overlook. This will be a nasty addition to the "Voltron" decks. Faerie Artisans is another one of those blue copy effects that just makes you shake your head as Blue once again gets to play with everyone else's toys. Cruel Entertainment is going to be just that. Switching two other players turns and watching from the sidelines as they take each other apart will be great fun. This will be hysterical playing with friends around the kitchen table, and a huge political stick in more competitive metas. Finally, Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa is far from the best of the new cards, but I'm playing him for sure. He brought an instant smile to my face. I mean, OMG -he has Flanking. 'Nuff said.
Commander 2016 looks like its going to be a blast. I love how Wizards is reacting to the wants of the player and reprinting cards that matter. Pick up a couple of decks - if for no other reason that the partner mechanic gives you so many additional options for your next deck idea.
Until next week, find your perfect partner... and can someone remind me how Banding and Flanking interact?