What were the heavy hitters of Commander in 2022?
2022 was an exciting year for Commander, and if things keep up the way they have, 2023 is going to stay interesting. Let’s take a quick look back through the year and see how each set impacted Commander; that’s actual new set releases, mind you, not full reprint sets. After that, we’ll peer ahead into the tenebrous future to see what’s coming next. We’ll do this all through the lens of my favorite non-commander and commander from that release (and yes, I’ll be combining regular set releases with their Commander-specific counterparts).
Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty
Boseiju, Who Endures
Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty | Rare
Market Price: $28.58
With our first major set release of the year, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, we got something I’d been wanting for a long time: a fresh look at a plane that first appeared at a formative time
in my life. The original Kamigawa block came out when I was in college, and while not everything was going wonderfully for me at the time, I met some friends then that I love spending time with to this day, and the folks that stuck around were some of the ones that were drafting those sets with me in the hallway of our dorm suite.
While I loved drafting the original Kamigawa sets through Saviors, I loved drafting and playing with Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. I think it had a fantastic effect on Commander as well, especially through some of the lands that were introduced. The cycle of lands with channel, featuring star player Boseiju, Who Endures, are great additions to Commander mana bases. Lands need to be cool too! The cycle of legendary Dragons is a great addition to decks as well, and in some cases they’re even more exciting than the originals (Atsushi is my favorite, personally). The other thing I find most remarkable in this set is the modified mechanic. I love mechanics that have some room to work within them, and even if modified can sometimes feel like a grouping of three previously existing mechanics, being able to mix and match without getting punished is pretty sweet.
Isshin, Two Heavens as One
Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty | Rare
As far as actual commanders, my favorite has to be Isshin, Two Heavens as One. This theme got its first swing with Wulfgar of Icewind Dale, but Isshin is so much more interesting to me thanks to its broader applications and its color identity. I understand why Gruul was interesting for this, but a Mardu identity hits all of my favorites in the genre.
Streets of New Capenna
Streets Of New Capenna | Rare
Market Price: $8.06
Overall, Streets of New Capenna added some more tri-color cards to the Commander landscape, and I think that’s always great; it’s nice to have more support for different themes in multicolor decks. For me, the Commander all-stars of this set are once again lands. The Triomes were a great start to a cycle, and finishing that cycle, even without the original shared name, is a great feeling for decks that got left out the first time. Personally, I also loved the continued focus on treasure tokens, but I know not everyone is on the same page as me there.
Giada, Font of Hope
Streets Of New Capenna | Rare
Giada, Font of Hope is my favorite commander from the set. As type-focused commanders go, Giada looks innocuous at first glance, but if you’re playing enough Angels, things start to get out of hand. Mono-White Angels decks already existed, of course, but they were due for something like this.
Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate
Commander Legends: Battle For Baldur’s Gate | Rare
Market Price: $12.73
I had a lot of fun drafting the first Commander Legends set, and this one was a great time as well. I saw plenty of folks having fun with it at CommandFest Richmond as well, and while I don’t have any hard data, the draft format seemed like a hit to me.
As far as constructed Commander impact, this set was composed largely of cool reprints and interesting bit players, with a few all-stars like Displacer Kitten rounding out the roster. Displacer Kitten is an incredibly powerful tool for blink decks that carries plenty of infinite combo potential, and if that’s what your group is excited about, it’s a great fit at the right power level.
Faldorn, Dread Wolf Herald
Commander Legends: Battle For Baldur’s Gate | Mythic
I liked Backgrounds as a partner variant. I think they’re interesting enough to merit a further shot in a microset or something like that down the road (did you hear about microsets yet?). That said, Faldorn is easily my favorite commander from this set. There are plenty of awesome ways to get value for playing cards from exile, but the fact that Faldorn can fuel its own trigger and get you access to more cards makes it more exciting to me.
Relic of Legends
Dominaria United | Uncommon
Before Commander (or even EDH) was something I’d even heard of, I had an 86-card casual multiplayer deck that was themed on legendary creatures. And, in its own weird 86-card casual multiplayer way, it was good. More importantly, it was fun to play. Cards that support the overall legends theme, including Relic of Legends and the equally-important Plaza of Heroes, are the ones that really hit for me in this set. I drafted Jodah in the Early Access event and loved it, so this shouldn’t be a huge surprise.
Dihada, Binder of Wills
Commander: Dominaria United | Mythic
If that surprised you, well, you’re clued in now, because the legendary theme continues to be my favorite as we move into the commanders. I think Dihada is an excellent example of a fun and interesting planeswalker commander, as its focus is on the power other cards can generate. I will admit this was nearly a tie between Dihada and Shanid.
Saw in Half
Unfinity | Rare
Unfinity promised silliness, and that’s what we got. As a result, a lot of the cards are focused on themes that are somewhat internal to the set. A few fun role players have emerged, and players who want to play with Attractions and stickers have that option now, but unless you’re dipping into acorn cards and the rest of Un-land, the best card we saw was, in my opinion, one of the first that got previewed. Saw in Half isn’t just remarkable for its combo potential with Dualcaster Mage; it’s an interesting card for enters the battlefield strategies and other decks that can take advantage of the tokens and so on.
Magar of the Magic Strings
Unfinity | Mythic
With all that in mind, my favorite commander from the set is easily Magar. Instead of focusing on Attractions, die rolling or stickers, Magar brings your instants and sorceries back from the graveyard face down to let you attack with them and then recast them. I’m sure pumping them to 3/3 was a balance choice, but unfortunately, it’s at the cost of consistency with morph and manifest. Heck, even Illusionary Mask makes 2/2s these days. Aside from that sticking point that I’m clearly not over, the effect is sweet.
Warhammer 40,000 Commander Decks
Universes Beyond: Warhammer 40,000 | Rare
I’m not super well versed in the world of 40K, but I’m becoming deeply familiar with the cards because they seem largely fantastic. I had trouble picking just one card to feature here, as I love all the themes inherent in the decks, but in the end, I think the Necrons’ artifact theme brought us the most interesting non-Commander cards. In particular, Biotransference is a delightful card alongside lots of cards from The Brothers’ War and other artifact sets
Abaddon the Despoiler
Universes Beyond: Warhammer 40,000 | Mythic
I know there are tons of great commanders from this set, but I’ll always remember how much fun I had building around Abaddon. I get to play personal favorites like Geyadrone Dihada and Cryptborn Horror in that list; how can it be bad?
The Brothers’ War
The Brothers’ War | Mythic
Market Price: $21.63
Taking me back to my youth once again, eh? Make no mistake, I had no siblings; I’m talking about the classic Urza vs. Mishra story. No matter who wins, we lose. Well, except for the fact that we got this sweet set, so I’ll actually call it a victory. I love seeing the world of Huge Things shaken up every once in a while, and The Brothers’ War accomplishes that with cards like Cityscape Leveler. A cast trigger, an attack trigger and a “one more!” with unearth? Sign me up. I’ll buy the whole boat.
Urza, Lord Protector
The Brothers’ War | Mythic
Meld was a hit for me this time around, as both Urza and Mishra’s melded forms impress me. Both have reasonable component cards as well, and while the Phyrexian Dragon Engine might be the best of the four, Urza, Planeswalker sneaks ahead for me by virtue of the flexibility inherent in double activation. I still haven’t pulled off either meld, and I fear the draft format will get past me before I manage it there, so I’ll just have to build around one or both.
Starscream, Power Hungry
Universes Beyond: Transformers | Mythic
I’m converting (get it?) over to just one card for this section because they’re all legendary. The good news is that we’ve got a really creative set of 15 cards on our hands here, and the bad news is that I did have to choose a single option. In the end, I went with one of my favorite multiplayer mechanics, monarch, and chose Starscream as the kind of commander I’d love to play. I always want to be the archenemy, and if that’s you, check out Starscream. Otherwise, I’m sure there’s another Transformer you’ll love. They’re all over the place thematically, and that’s great! For me, second place would have gone to Soundwave. I can’t wait to create a Laserbeak token.
Jumpstart 2022 | Uncommon
I haven’t gotten a chance to touch this set yet. I know, I know. I’ve been surprisingly busy! That said, I’ve seen the cards, and I love Planar Atlas. I know it enters tapped, and I know it puts the card on top of your library, but casting this on turn two in medium-power games seems amazing. I’m not sure how far into the “nitro casual” world this one reaches, but you can bet I’ll find out. Honorable mention goes to Pirated Copy for allowing me to say “Don’t copy that floppy” before inevitably having to tell someone in the game store what a floppy disk is.
Isu the Abominable
Jumpstart 2022 | Mythic
I think I finally found my favorite new snow commander. I know this set didn’t add any other new snow cards, but I think the ability to cast most (or all) of my deck from the top with Isu makes up for it. It was really hard to choose here once again, and if you ask me tomorrow, I might pick Preston.
Looking Ahead to Phyrexia: All Will Be One
Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines
Phyrexia: All Will Be One | Mythic
Market Price: $22.12
I know we’ve seen other cards, but I bet you just want to talk about Elesh Norn, so let’s skip the pretense. I agree with folks that think the card is too generically good, but I don’t think we have a Primeval Titan on our hands. I’m not yet sold on it being an auto-include as a five-mana card that doesn’t impact the board immediately. Could it be? Sure, but on the face of it, this looks like a problem that’s solvable by talking to your playgroup. There are enough broadly powerful cards that you might be annoyed to see in untrusted games already. So does that matter? Does that mean it actually should matter?
But wait, am I really thinking about this correctly? Let’s take a look at an excerpt from the Format Philosophy document on the Commander RC site:
“The goal of the ban list is similar; it does not seek to regulate competitive play or power level, which are decisions best left to individual play groups. The ban list seeks to demonstrate which cards threaten the positive player experience at the core of the format or prevent players from reasonable self-expression. The primary focus of the list is on cards which are problematic because of their extreme consistency, ubiquity, and/or ability to restrict others’ opportunities.”
I’m starting to see it coming into greater focus as I reread this. That said, I’m still not sure I agree. I don’t plan to play with this card early on, but I want to play against it. Friends, this is your invitation: cast this on me so I can find out. Maybe Sheldon is right and we just need to see it to believe it. I still think this is a problem for Rule 0 conversations and yet another incentive for folks to build a long-term playgroup, but I’ll try to keep an open mind.
What’s my 2023 retrospective going to look like? Well, it’s not going to be an article. After a long and strange 2022, I’ve accepted a job at Wizards of the Coast working as a Game Rules Specialist. That’s going to come with a lot of changes in my life, and one of them is this: you’ve just read my last article, at least for now. You won’t hear as much from me, but I’ll be working hard behind the scenes to make Magic more awesome so you can have a great time playing. And really, that’s what I’ve always wanted. I can’t thank the folks at TCGplayer and ChannelFireball for giving me a great platform for my writing over the years.