By Steven Mace
Hello and welcome to my very first Commander set review! I’m Steven, and I hope to guide you on this journey through what looks to be an amazing set so far. For those who care, I’ve been playing Magic since 2012 - which is fortuitous, as that’s when Return to Ravnica released. So I have a special connection to this plane.
Whilst reading this review, keep in mind that I am only human and so have my biases. I try to do my best to set them aside but will sometimes fail. I am what R&D at Wizards calls a “Johnny,” a player who plays magic as a puzzle-solving exercise. I delight in deckbuilding and finding wild interactions that cause strange situations and push the rules of the game to its limits.
I’m also a filthy casual; I am not interested in ending the game on turn two; in fact, I particularly enjoy long games. These are my biases, so keep them in mind while reading what I have to say. With the introductions out of the way, let’s talk about these sweet cards!
You also won’t see Limited fodder taking up space here or lower-rarity things that I don’t think make the cut in Commander, with the exception of planeswalkers.
Now we can get to the cards.
Karn, the Great Creator
Calm down, Karn. Calm down. His static ability is a one-sided Null Rod. We could stop there, and he’d probably be good enough, but that’s not all he does! His +1 is fine if you’re being fair. But Voltaic Construct plus any mana rock that makes more than 2 mana makes infinite mana. Oh, and don’t forget to kill your opponents artifact lands (no, don’t do that, that’s rude)!
His -2, however, is stupid. If your group has wishboard rules, it may be time to rethink them, since you can wish up Mycosynth Lattice, which combines with Karn’s static ability to lock opponents out of the game. Other busted ways to abuse it include looping Ugin’s Nexus (given a way to keep Karn’s loyalty up) for infinite turns.
Ugin, the Ineffable
What is it with colorless planeswalkers? It seems like they can’t be bad. All your colorless spells costing 2 mana less with no minimum, protection and card advantage on a +1 ability and removal for a minus. A very powerful card.
Finale of Glory
Probably the easiest of the Finales to evaluate. For X equal to 1 or 2, you’re not especially happy with this. Once you get in the 5 to 9 range, you’re doing great. And as with all the Finales, once you get to X equal to 10 or more, the card is dumb. This is also one that you want to just dump all of your mana into. Once you’re at 10 or more, you get 6 power for every mana you put into X, which is absurdly efficient. Great card for token decks and ramp-heavy white-based decks.
The static ability is just Gideon doing Gideon things. The best thing about Gideon is he is dirt cheap, but I don’t think he’s great for us. His removal is slow, and his support ability is lacking. On the plus side, you can equip The Blackblade Reforged to him for an immediate flavor win. He’s not amazing, but he’ll do. Being able to be a creature while also being able to use his abilities is a convenience that may make him stronger than all the other Gideons.
What a bomb addition for zombie decks, and honestly, just white decks in general. Tacking an extra 4/4 vigilance onto every creature you cast seems pretty strong. And it comes with a 3/6 double striker for 5. Just a rock-solid card.
Thrumming Bird is not an unreasonable card, and I’m sure there are decks that don’t have access to Thrumming Bird or other good proliferate options that would like this. Decent card.
Ignite the Beacon
This is a solid card for “Superfriends” builds, allowing you to tutor for two walkers at instant speed. These sort of decks can find themselves in a position where the things they’re doing every turn don’t use their mana, so having things to hold up and threaten counterspells with can be very strong.
So for you heathens that play Superfriends, pick this one up. Buckle up, by the by - you’re going to see the word “Superfriends” a lot in this article.
Martyr for the Cause
In the sort of deck that can reuse and abuse this, it could be amazing. Make your dudes big with +1/+1 counters, boost your planeswalkers up, etc. Probably one of the more abusable proliferate effects. It’s no Evolution Sage (patience, friends), but it’s not bad.
What even is this?! Wow. For those that don’t know, the first Parhelion was the residence of many of the Boros angels, and during the events of Ravnica: City of Guilds block, it crashed into the spires of Prahv, killing the co-villain of the block, Grand Arbiter Augustin IV. Now the Boros unveil its successor in what may be Ravnica’s hour of greatest need. Later, we’ll see that this thing is basically the Death Star.
As for the actual card, it’s…wow. The cost is massive. Eight mana and four power worth of crewing. That’s no small feat. And if it dies before it’s declared as an attacker, you’re going to feel terrible. However, if you get to swing with this thing, it’s great. The first attack is 13 (yes, technically it’s 9 because of the 4 it cost you to start it up, but in a practical sense it’s 13), and from there on it’s self-crewing because it’s producing 4/4s. And its power grows each turn.
And last but not least, everything has vigilance, and the angels don’t come in tapped and attacking, so you’ve got a great defense as well. I’m certainly going to try this in Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice, and I think it will be fine. Overall a card with an abysmal floor but a game-ending ceiling.
Ravnica at War
This is seriously meta-dependent. Could be game-ending, could be a blank piece of paper. Play this one with caution, friends.
Now here’s an interesting board wipe. It’s not quite Cataclysm, but I think we can let that go, as there are very few planeswalker board wipes out there. If your meta is heavy on the Superfriends (which after this set it probably will be, at least for a little while) you’ll definitely want to pick this up. But even if you don’t see too many ‘walkers around, this is a fine card against most creature decks.
Teyo, the Shieldmage
Arcades, the Strategist rejoices! Three mana to make two 3/3s, draw a card over two turns and be hexproof the whole time. At least until someone decides to take out Teyo, which is just profit. So it’s a good card in Arcades…
But bad elsewhere, which is my major criticism. He’s literally only good in a single deck.
Leave this one to Limited. White has some of the best creature removal in the game; you don’t need to limit yourself to sorcery-speed destroy effects that only hit a subset of creatures. The static ability is niche as well, as the most common source of non-combat damage to your creatures will be Blasphemous Act.
You may occasionally run into other sources from particular decks. Another meta call maybe?
Two relevant creature types and a decent enters-the-battlefield ability. Good to see it in a reprint with some cool FNM promo art. I play neither Fish (Merfolk) nor Wizards, so I don’t know if Augur makes the cut or not, but it certainly could if you have enough instants and sorceries.
Commence the Endgame
What an aggressively mediocre card. At worst, it’s a 6-mana draw two and make a 2/2 - for sure not worth it. The fact that the draw portion doesn’t get any better really holds it back, and as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t think one-off amass cards will be very good in commander, even though this one could make a pretty big dude. If you want a good draw spell out of this set, I recommend waiting for the Finale.
Yet another Zombie keyword lord, this time for flying. But this actually may be too expensive to be worth it; 5 mana is a lot, and it’s limited to tokens. I would rather just play Wonder or even Archetype of Imagination.
Fblthp, the Lost
Imagine Elvish Visionary. Now take away the relevant creature type. It’s still a good card, right? Probably. Now, throw in a goofy side-case scenario where it’s better. Even better, play mono-blue creature-less Storm, play Proteus Staff, and profit.
Is that good? Probably not. But it’s probably fun. And that’s what this format is for!
Finale of Revelation
Now this is an interesting card. I’m not sure that, at sorcery speed, the base form of this is good enough. However, the 10-mana-plus version is pretty ridiculous. So, the question is; is it worth it to have the low-X version in the early game when you don’t really want it so that you can have the high-X version later on? I’m going to lean on the positive side of that. At the very least, you can use it early to draw a couple cards when you wouldn’t be doing anything anyway. It's just unfortunate that the exile clause is tacked on regardless of how much you cast it for.
Oh, the good cards are back! Superfriends and +1/+1 counter decks are hyped for this card. It’s not quite Inexorable Tide, but that’s also 5 mana, while this one is 3. Proliferate is a very strong mechanic, and it’s great to see it back again.
Man, the gods are on-point this set! With Kefnet, you get all the miracles! But before we get to that, let’s be clear that a 4/5 flier for 4 is a fantastic rate. That effect is where the juice is though. It applies to the first card you draw every turn (every turn) - that means your opponent’s turns too! And it’s technically card advantage, since you cast a copy of the spell, and you still have the actual card in hand to use as well.
Kefnet is super-solid both in the driver’s seat and in the 99. Great card, and dang if Kefnet isn’t hard to get rid of. This ability that this round of gods have may be the best so far. Even though you don’t get them back immediately like the Hour of Devastation gods, this makes them exile-proof. The only way to stop these guys is transforming enchantments like Kasmina’s Mutation, killing them and then using instant-speed graveyard hate or letting them go back into the deck and then milling that player.
Jace, Wielder of Mysteries
Jace Beleren: Living Guildpact, pirate, interplanar man of mystery, and now Laboratory Maniac. Triple blue is rough, but he can dig you three deep every turn and has two separate win conditions built into him. You probably shouldn’t play him until your library is pretty low, otherwise people are liable to kill him before you can win with him. Solid card, less vulnerable than Lab Man in a way and more utility.
Kasmina, Enigmatic Mentor
This card is interesting. It gives a Frost Titan-style protection to your creatures and planeswalkers, which could be great. Increasing the cost of dealing with your things could put your opponent’s off of dealing with your stuff for just long enough to do what you need to do - or even better, lead them to use their removal on other players’ threats. Another interesting thing is that she protects herself, which is usually not a thing.
Kasmina’s activated ability is one of the most versatile of the uncommon walkers. Making a dude and providing card draw is something you would normally see spread across two abilities on a mythic ‘walker in any other set, but by the gods, this is War of the Spark!
Not many of the “signature spells” are good enough to show up in this review, but this one follows a pattern of other good cards that makes it strong. That pattern is in the vein of cards like Song of the Dryads, Darksteel Mutation and Imprisoned in the Moon: transforming things while leaving them in play rather than killing them. This sort of thing is especially good against decks that rely on their commander. It is weaker than the aforementioned cards, as it allows the transformed creature to attack, block and die, but if that’s not something you care about, then this will be strong. Best in a mono-blue deck, probably, but still strong.
Not the most impressive card but worth mentioning in my opinion. Usually, giving hexproof to your entire team won’t matter, but in that case cards like Mizzium Skin are better. But this importantly covers all your permanents and you, which isn’t nothing.
Narset, Parter of Veils
Terrible name for a decent card. Gotta be careful with that static ability before we get too close to Leovold, Emissary of Trest territory. The activated ability should have been -1 in my less-than-humble opinion, but she’s a mere 3 mana, so I can’t complain too much that she’s digging eight deep and drawing me two cards. Still, I fear that, outside of rude Stax decks, she will fall into the 100-105 slot: just barely out of the deck.
Let’s not forget that Narset is a karate master so skilled that she can bend magic with it. This card is great: Remand a card and get your own copy of it. The thing I look forward to most is getting someone’s Cultivate or Explosive Vegetation, especially if I’m not playing green.
Vehicles all over the place now, even under water! Unfortunately, Magic’s first submarine is pretty meh. The draw-a-card trigger is fine, and the fact that it triggers off of planeswalkers is a nice bonus, but it’s just a 2/3 with no evasion that costs you power on board to get attacking.
Sub-optimal…eh? Eh? No? Fine.
Teferi’s Time Twist
Not a bad blink effect, getting any permanent is pretty major. Blink decks may want this, but some may be a bit over-optimized to want it and not have the space. Worth noting that it’s a 2-mana way to reset low-loyalty planeswalkers or even get an extra activation out of one. Also, getting any permanent allows you to fizzle removal on non-creature permanents in a way we haven’t had before. This is a solid utility spell.
Not quite Clever Impersonator, but almost a strictly better Clone (that can’t copy your opponent’s things). And it comes with an extra +1/+1 counter or an extra loyalty counter just because it likes you. Great card. If you would play Clone, there’s very little reason not to play this instead.
This card is dumb. We all know that, yeah? Shadowborn Apostles and Demon’s Horn? Sure. Sensei’s Divining Top and Aetherflux Reservior? Let’s go. Card is dumb. Duuumb. Oh, and that’s not even all it does! It comes with its own built-in win-con! Fortunately, this part is limited: tap and sacrifice 10 permanents. That’s not an insubstantial cost, but with the first part of the card and sufficient building around, this shouldn’t be difficult to achieve. Dumb card.
Command the Dreadhorde
Now this is a juicy card - specifically, a juiced-up Reanimate, both in the fact that it can get multiple cards and that it can target planeswalkers. Oh, and it can hit your opponents’ graveyards too! In a format where we have a ton of life and a ton of reliable life gain, this will be a strong card. Yet another reason I wish I could play black in Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice.
Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage
It’s a shame that this is the first card for such a cool character. For those who don’t know, this is Davriel Cane, star of the Brandon Sanderson novella, Children of the Nameless. He’s a bit of a dandy that has wandered the multiverse for a little while but has recently settled down in a remote part of Innistrad. He’s a kind of mind mage that steals spells from the minds of his victims, as well as a demonologist.
But the card is far from as cool as he is. The static ability is a little bit like The Rack, punishing players with low hand sizes and encouraging a discard theme. His -1 ability is pretty basic: target player discards a card. Unfortunate that it targets, but then again, he is only three mana. Try it out in Nath of the Gilt-Leaf.
Deliver unto Evil
Interesting card - choose four cards in your graveyard and get the worst two from among them probably isn’t that bad. And bonus points if you have a Bolas planeswalker: you just get all four. Probably not an unreasonable card, but definitely great if you’re playing Nicol Bolas, the Ravager and thus can readily have a Bolas around. Also, can we just stop and appreciate that it seems like Seb McKinnon can do no wrong? What a phenomenal artist.
This is no Bitterblossom, but it could be worse. Zombie decks will probably like it. Honestly, it’s a bit odd. I think you want to be constantly feeding them into something, because having the body is better than making a body a little bit bigger. And by that token, I’m not sure if the lifelink part is actually important, other than these army tokens zombie tokens don’t usually get very large. I think it’s definitely worth a shot in the Zombie decks, but it may not end up being able to make the cut.
Do you have planeswalker problems? Do you have one planeswalker you really want to ult? Well then try Elderspell™, brought to you by Bolascorp.
But for real, I think this card probably won’t be good enough unless your meta is full of Superfriends decks. If you can use wish cards, then this is a fine card to include in your wishboard. Otherwise, it’s just too narrow.
Finale of Eternity
This is, in my opinion, the most questionable of the Finales. The low-X version can be pretty bad. I mean, if you can kill three 1-toughness dudes for 3 mana, that’s fine, but once you start going up, it becomes harder to justify the cost, especially at sorcery speed, which appears to be a common theme for these cards. Once you get to 10, though, you get your quarter of a Rise of the Dark Realms. Obviously, this is also worse than Rise since it costs you 12 mana to do and doesn’t get the sweet things your opponents may have played. However, Rise is always Rise and is 9 mana every time. Finale has uses outside of that, which helps in the flexibility department.
Being an eternal looks really good on these gods. This is just a sweet card for the raw value. It’ll go great in black token decks like zombies and will draw you all the cards you could ask for. Blink for the sac-and-draw trigger and reanimate for even more value. But if you want the real value from sacrificing Bontu, may I point you to Barren Glory? With a sac outlet, Barren Glory and Mindslicer in play, cast Bontu. With her ETB trigger on the stack, sacrifice her off. Then sac every permanent you have except Barren Glory. Mindslicer will trigger and cause each player to discard their hand. Now your opponents have a single draw step to find a way to get rid of Barren Glory, and if they don’t get there, you win. And all that on a solid, evasive body to boot!