A Critical Review of Commander 2019
- Robert Giel
It's that time of the year again. After a busy week of spoilers and the public reaction to the new products, everything we ever wanted to know about Commander 2019 is here. So, let's take a closer look at this year's entry, and how it competes against its predecessors.
Buy Singles if You Want a Thespian's Stage
When reviewing products such as this, a lot of (mostly American) sources look at the value of a product. For us Europeans, this is pretty irrelevant. We have the luxury that we don't have to buy our bulk commons at premium pricing at one of the big three stores available to us. We have Cardmarket to keep prices in check. A card like Ghostly Prison might be worth $5 according to these American sources, but at Cardmarket you can pick up this card for as little as 1,50 €. The more "bulk" these cards get, the more accurate this theory becomes.
Why do I bring this up? Well, I would like to point out is that there's no reason for me to review the financial value of these products in the way that other popular American sources do. I will say this though, for those concerned about value. You will never make a profit with singles from these products. As soon as you've opened your Commander PreCon deck to sell the contents, you will be heavily disappointed by the actual value of most cards.
What Really Matters
But this is okay. It's not about EV for these products. If we wanted valuable cards like fetches and Snapcaster Mages, we would crack Masters boosters. The Commander products are here to do three things.
- Provide an entry for newer players to the format or even MTG itself by having an interesting and functional deck. Preferably a deck that players want to keep and upgrade.
- Provide new, exciting, and playable cards for existing players in the format. Due to the large card pool of Commander, these cards need to be of a certain power-level not to become obsolete.
- Provide (somewhat) desired reprints. I've come to peace that we will never get high-end constructed reprints in a Commander product. With that said, there are plenty of expensive cards that only see play in Commander, and these decks would be the perfect place for them.
The question "Is it worth it?" still applies, albeit in a different meaning. Is it worth it to buy this deck and make a profit on the contents? Absolutely not. Is it worth it to buy these decks for the above reasons? Well, that's what this article looks to answer.
Single Mechanics in Commander
Right off the bat, I have very mixed feelings on this year's choice of building decks around a specific mechanic. Yes, mechanics such as Morph are fun and may need some love in Commander, so it's great that players who like to play around these mechanics get what they've been wanting for so long. On the other hand, a big issue with revolving a deck around a single mechanic is that both the options available and deckbuilding more generally are incredibly restricted. You can count on the fact that if two people with a Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer deck sit at the same table, at least 50% of the cards they play are the same. This is, in a way, disappointing.
Commander is a format that really rewards deckbuilding, delving deep into the search engines to find that one card that perfectly fits your deck. When you build a deck around a mechanic such as madness, you will have to include the roughly five madness cards that are reasonably good and pick the rest from the other 40 or so that are just plain garbage. (Or do you think Fiery Temper is a playable card in Commander?). And so will all the other people playing a "madness" deck.
As an entry level deck, I think Faceless Menace does an excellent job of getting people introduced into the format. The deck has some threats, some removal, and a built-in card advantage engine. It all points to a recipe for a great commander deck. I was also pleasantly surprised by the mana base they included in this deck. Usually, manabases in Commander precons are an assortment of 15 guildgates and a bunch of basics, but this year we get Darkwater Catacombs, Llanowar Wastes, Exotic Orchard, Thespian's Stage, Sunken Hollow and Yavimaya Coast all in the same deck. Not bad!
With that said, there's a lot of things that go beyond my understanding. Why is Exotic Orchard still in these decks while Reflecting Pool is a strictly better card that is randomly expensive. Giving each of these decks a Reflecting Pool would increase the viability of the mana base, while keeping Reflecting Pool's price in check.
Ignore the above paragraph and the deck seems solid to play out of the box and has a decent manabase, but what about the other two points? Volrath, the Shapestealer and Rayami, First of the Fallen are two new Commanders that have nothing to do with the Morph mechanic, and for the better. Volrath is one of the infamous villains in the olden days of Magic and he is an interesting card that reminds me of Experiment Kraj, Mairsil, the Pretender and Lazav, the Multifarious combined. Rayami, First of the Fallen is a card that could potentially become the first Voltron-Control style Sultai commander, with an ability that reminds me a bit of Soulflayer, albeit with an atrocious artwork. Both card allow interesting new decks that I'm sure more experienced players will enjoy.
As for the valuable reprints, in this deck it's a bit mixed. Since the mechanic is very narrow, there isn't a lot of room for high-value reprints within the deck's archetype. With that said, there's some questionable choices that we've come to known from Wizards over the years. Ixidor, Reality Sculptor is a card that seems like an auto-include for any morph deck and has recently had a massive spike up to 7€. Being from an older-set, Wizards could've known this card has a lower supply and including it in the precon could've helped to keep the price in check. It also seems like the absolute perfect product to reprint an older card like this (unless we have morph returning to Standard soon).
As for the generic staple reprints; Seedborn Muse is a nice inclusion that makes sense for this archetype, leaving mana open to turn your Morph Creatures face up is powerful and synergetic. Notable other reprints are Thran Dynamo, the lands and Vraska the Unseen. Personally, I don't really know why a card like Vraska was included in the deck as it comes across as a very lazy way to increase the decks value. But people like planeswalkers, and Wizards knows this.
My favorite new card: Kadena's Silencer
Best reprint: Seedborn Muse
Upsides: Powerful and well-made for out-of-the box play, the best manabase from all precons.
Downsides: Incredibly narrow mechanic that restricts deckbuilding with the face-card.
This deck (together with Primal Genesis) suffers the least from the problem of having a narrow mechanic and allows for more different directions with deckbuilding. The face-card Sevinne, the Chronoclasm is a bit boring, but it does the trick while not being completely broken. I like the fact that Jeskai has received some love lately, as blue-red-white lovers had to choose between the absurdly powerful (and sometimes broken) Narset, Enlightened Master or a meme commander like Zedruu the Greathearted.
It's very weird that this deck's manabase is not nearly as powerful as that of Faceless Menace, but I can see the argument that this deck's value is in other cards (or is it?). The deck has some cool new cards that, as I mentioned earlier, aren't necessarily restricted to a single archetype. Elsha of the Infinite is a very cool Commander that allows for a wide variety of build such as storm, superfriends, hard-control, and spell slinging. Backdraft Hellkite is a card with an incredibly high ceiling that has "Commander" written all over it. Finally, my personal favorite card in the set, Dockside Extortionist is an amazingly designed card that helps Red solve problems that it experiences often in Commander.
As for valuable reprints, the deck seems to be a bit lackluster. Ral Zarek is a fun, but not a card that really needed a reprint. After that, the most notable reprints are Sun Titan, River Kelpie, and Ghostly Prison which isn't anything to write home about. Now I'm not saying that they should've put a certain two mana blue wizard that synergizes very well with Flashback in the deck, but there are plenty of other commander staples that deserve reprints. I want to leave a final note on the fact that it's very weird to me that a card like Zetalpa, Primal Dawn is included in the deck. I get that it serves as a bomb-finisher for a control deck, but I haven't found many ways for the other decks to properly answer this card, which can cause for some very swingy games. Wouldn't Niv-Mizzet, Parun, Pearl Lake Ancient, or Nezahal, Primal Tide (even from the same set as Zetalpa) have been much better here?
My favorite new cards: Dockside Extortionist, Elsha of the Infinite
Best reprint: Sun Titan or Ral Zarek
Upsides: Great starting point for anyone who wants to build a commander in Jeskai.
Downsides: Underwhelming reprints and Zetpala, Primal Dawn seems like a random inclusion.
This deck is a mechanic done right. Populate can be powerful and is right at home in Commander. While Populate used to be a Selesnya mechanic, Red has enough interactions with tokens for this deck to work in Naya. Ghired, Conclave Exile is also a bit uncreative, but generic enough to create fun decks with, I just wish they gave him at least one keyword. Vigilance, for example, would've worked great with his high-toughness and need to attack ability.
Highlights of the new cards include Selesnya Eulogist as a very strong way of interacting with your opponent's graveyard, I could see this replacing Scavenging Ooze in token-based decks. Ohran Frostfang is a great new must-include for any go-wide green deck such as Elves. Honorable mentions go to Full Flowering, Idol of Oblivion and Song of the Worldsoul as cool new cards for token decks.
This reprints in this deck are not amazing, but they make sense for a token deck. Wingmate Roc, Giant Adephage, Trostani, Selesnya's Voice and Garruk, Primal Hunter aren't the most expensive cards, but still a welcome addition to both this deck and the secondary market.
My favorite new cards: Selesnya Eulogist, Ohran Frostfang
Best reprint: Garruk, Primal Hunter
Upsides: Has a lot of power in both new cards and reprints that synergize well with the deck.
Downsides: Underwhelming manabase.
Immediately, this deck presents a massive issue. Where the three other decks are all three colors, Merciless Rage is stuck in Black-Red. While there's not necessarily anything wrong with having a two-color deck, Black-Red is, in my opinion, one of the more unforgiving color combinations for new players. This is particularly problematic when all three other decks have access to either Blue, Green, or both, meaning the Merciless Rage player will have to be fast and aggressive early on, but will most likely eventually end up steamrolled by the other colors who have access to the more resilient colors in the other decks.
The second issue is something I mentioned earlier. Madness, albeit a fun mechanic, is not at home in Commander. There are far too many underwhelming Madness cards to make a dedicated Madness deck, so it would always have to be a sub-theme.
The decklist represents this in the most obvious way, having a sub-theme of mediocre Madness cards, while also including a bunch of clunky, random, bulk-rares such as Champion of Stray Souls, Warstorm Surge, and Hedonist's Trove. This is, in my opinion, just a very poorly designed deck. Yes, Dark Withering is cute if you can discard it, but when you can't, it's just vastly inferior than the other deck's removal spells in cards like Putrefy and Beast Within.
The only redeeming factor of this deck is that Anje, Falkenrath herself is a card that has a lot of potential, while new commanders such as Chainer, Nightmare Adept and Greven, Predator Captain are a welcome addition to the black-red arsenal. I can only imagine all three of these commanders will become popular with new and experienced players alike. Then we have K'rrik, Son of Yawgmoth as the absolute powerhouse that I can only imagine serves as the main reason people would purchase this deck.
My favorite new cards: K'rrik, Son of Yawgmoth, Anje Falkenrath
Best reprint: Geth, Lord of the Vault
Upsides: High density of cool new legendary creatures.
Downsides: Everything else, including the fact Aeon Engine exists as a card.
Only a Year Until the Next Commander Decks
I do think that (three of) these decks do a very good job of being playable out of the box. Their narrow archetypes allow for more synergistic play. This results in a better experience for newer players who are getting into the format. I'm a bit disappointed with the lack of cards that desperately needed reprints (Oracle of Mul Daya, Rings of Brighthearth, and Exploration to name a few), but I guess Wizards will find a time and place for those.
Which deck are you most excited about? Have you already decided to play them out of the box with your friends? Thanks for reading, and until next time!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.
Check out our Commander 2019 page if you're interested in picking up any of these new cards!