Battle for Zendikar Commander Highlights

Hey folks! I spent some quality time with Battle for Zendikar this weekend at the prerelease. I love prereleases, but this one was a bit more difficult considering I can’t read Japanese yet. That being said, I had a great time, and I’ve already started thinking and talking about what will be fun to play in Commander. (I’m lucky enough to have some awesome friends here who have a lot of the same philosophies about Commander that I have). Let’s do a rundown of some of the best cards in the set—the ones you’ll be seeing across the table, or if you’re lucky, on your side of the battlefield!

One quick note: I’m skipping reprints. Yeah, Dragonmaster Outcast is pretty sweet, but we knew that, right?

Emeria Shepherd

I’d be surprised if this one wasn’t already on your list. This has drawn a lot of comparisons to Emeria, the Sky Ruin (which shouldn’t surprise anyone based on the name) but unlike our favorite Plains-matter land, Emeria Shepherd can reanimate something more than once a turn. Occasionally. Oh, and it can also reanimate any nonland permanent instead of just a creature—no big deal, right? The price for that wider lens is a loss of consistency—you need to keep playing land to keep Emeria Shepherd going, and you have to protect a creature, which is much harder than protecting a land.

Hero of Goma Fada

This Ally is a great team player regardless of how many other Allies you’re packing. The most obvious application of Hero of Goma Fada is pre-Wrath effect—see Dauntless Escort for another great example—but without flash, this Hero can really only save your creatures from your own wrath. The combat applications are important as well, as you can force opponents into life-saving blocks that cost them lots of creatures but leave your army unscathed.

Planar Outburst

This is a pretty unexciting 5-mana Wrath variant most of the time, and having an awakened 4/4 land doesn’t look so good when you consider cards like Phyrexian Rebirth. That being said, this is notable if you are all-in on land creatures somehow, and Commander is the place for shenanigans of that nature.

Quarantine Field

Now here’s the good stuff! A scaling Oblivion Ring is just what Commander players are looking for—spot removal without the pesky feeling of having to go 1-for-1. At 4 mana for one permanent, the deal doesn’t look great, but when you get X up to 3, things start looking much better. If your group hasn’t started packing ample enchantment removal, they will when you start casting this.

Prism Array

I’m not sure this card is that good, but I feel kind of bad for it, and honestly, Commander is the only place I can imagine this being played. WUBRG to scry 3 is a cute deal, but I’d rather play Soothsaying, Crystal Ball, or almost anything else.

Ugin’s Insight

Just for the record, as far as the flavor text is telling us, Ugin’s big idea here is “Hey, Jace, nice work with the whole Ulamog thing, but remember Kozilek and Emrakul? They’re bad too!” Real smart, that Ugin. Flavor gripes aside, this card reminds me of Rush of Knowledge. You don’t draw as many cards, but if you lose your biggest permanent in response, you still draw three cards regardless.

Defiant Bloodlord

It’s Sanguine Bond on a stick! If you’re in full-on Oloro mode or you’re comboing with Exquisite Blood, a second copy of Sanguine Bond that doubles as a 4/5 flying beatstick should be welcome—otherwise, stay away.

Drana, Liberator of Malakir

This could headline an aggressive mono-black deck or play a role in a multicolor deck that has ways to use +1/+1 counters, but either way, her potential uses in Standard will likely keep the price quite high for a while. If you’re one of the many Commander players that avoids Standard staples until the value drops, I’d suggest skipping this one, especially since Drana doesn’t stack up well against a lot of other creatures in the format on her first attack.

Grip of Desolation

A 2-for-1 in the style of Ashes to Ashes, I expect to get good value out of this quite often. There’s usually a Cabal Coffers or Academy Ruins I’m looking to exile anyway.

Ob Nixilis Reignited

I lament the fact that Mr. Remix To Ignition here can’t be used as a Commander, and as with many planeswalkers, I don’t have high hopes for this version of Ob Nixilis in Commander since he can’t defend himself from a table of creatures terribly well, but if your group is more cavalier about letting ‘walkers stomp around the battlefield, this could be a decent role-player.

Smothering Abomination

Now here’s an engine card! There has been some buzz online about this card and Endrek Sahr, and I think that buzz is well deserved. Combine with something like Greater Good or Carnage Altar and reap the benefits of your sacrifices. See also Grim Haruspex, although that requires nontoken creatures to die.

Akoum Hellkite

Valakut would like to have some words with this Dragon, as would Scapeshift, Prismatic Omen, and other cards in that vein. This adds a little extra value if you’re all in on Mountains and can be explosive if you’re willing to go the red/green route.

Zada, Hedron Grinder

I’m working on a deck list for Zada, but I think it’s safe to say that there are some combotastic possibilities with this card. A Radiate that’s more limited in scope can’t blow up the board quite as hard, but it can give your creatures a hilarious assortment of powers and +X/+X effects.

From Beyond

Remember Awakening Zone? I still love that card, and this one makes 1/1s instead of 0/1s! If you’re into huge Eldrazi that conquer the battlefield, From Beyond makes a good tutor as well, but I expect the 1/1s that juice up your mana to be useful for quite a while even if you’re not ready to go get a horrible monster from another dimension.

Greenwarden of Murasa

Say hello to Deadwood Treefolk 2.0! Sure, you have to exile it at the end, but you can regrow any card rather than just creature cards. Of course I’d expect both this and Deadwood Treefolk to be playable, but I think the flexibility this affords will be very valuable in many decks.

Nissa’s Renewal

For any deck going hard on landfall, this card will be quite useful. Three lands in one card—it’s no Boundless Realms or Animist’s Awakening, but I doubt you’ll be disappointed if you’re on, say, the Avenger of Zendikar plan.

Undergrowth Champion

If you are working the +1/+1 counter angle, Undergrowth Champion does a really good impression of the Phantom creatures from Odyssey block. It won’t die in combat very often, and if you can make sure to keep getting land on the battlefield, you can keep laying the beats down. That being said, I don’t expect this to grow too fast without some extra help in the +1/+1 counter department, but if you’re in Experiment Kraj mode, that might be easy enough.

Bring to Light

For anyone who subscribes to the “tutors are great” philosophy in Commander, this is fantastic, especially because you get to cast the card for “free” (but really, for the amount you spent on Bring to Light). I don’t run too many tutors because I like to play lots of games that feel different, but this card is definitely strong.

Munda, Ambush Leader

If RW Allies is going to be a thing, Munda is going to be the Kor in charge. With that in mind, this is no Goblin Ringleader—the cards stay on top of your library instead of going to your hand. Honestly, I’m not too excited about building an Ally deck with this—or anything else—at the helm.

Omnath, Locus of Rage

I wrote a whole article about this one!

Sire of Stagnation

This reminds me a lot of Consecrated Sphinx—it’s a card-drawing machine that the rest of the table will be scrambling to deal with. On the one hand, this card puts a target on your head, but on the other hand, it might slow down that pesky mono-green player. I know I’m going to run it in as many decks as I can.

Conduit of Ruin

Tutoring for a huge monster is awesome, and so is the cost reduction this card provides. Keep this around for three turns and you can make back the mana you spent on it—that is, if the enormous beast you search up doesn’t win the game first!

Desolation Twin

Warstorm Surge, anyone? Two 10/10s is a pretty decent deal for 10 mana, but the lack of any kind of evasion or protective abilities gives me pause. If you’re not getting any kind of extra juice when this enters the battlefield, you might want to consider playing something that will have a bigger impact.

Scour from Existence

Costing 7 mana isn’t as much of a drawback in Commander as it is in other formats, so I’d expect to see this in tons of decks. It’s kind of a boring card, but being able to exile any permanent while still playing some mono-blue deck is a value proposition many of us—myself included—won’t be able to ignore.

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

Exile two permanents when you cast this, you say? That’s a good deal already, notwithstanding the fact that you don’t get the trigger if you cheat this into play. Regardless, 20 cards is still a significant portion of a library even in Commander, and the fact that they get exiled instead of being put into the graveyard makes this a force to reckon with. It won’t be the next Emrakul, but I think we’ll see this around a lot. If you get a foil, hold onto it.

Void Winnower

This card is too adorable not to run, and the havoc it will wreak is actually pretty significant. Someone will forget about this effect every other turn or so, realize they can’t cast their spell (or be reminded), and have all their plans ruined. Check the rulings on Gatherer for some goofs.

The Blighted lands

It’s always nice to have lands that have effects that make them good topdecks in the late game. Not all of these lands fit the bill, though. I’d be happy to run Blighted Cataract and Blighted Woodland in many decks, and Blighted Fen could have applications against Commanders like Uril or Bruna. Blighted Steppe might see play in a token-based deck, but Blighted Gorge is… well, it’s about as good as a hole in the ground. Maybe a mudhole.

The Slowlands

They’re fetchable. They’re good. Next question.

Mortuary Mire

You’ll notice I didn’t mention the whole cycle. That’s because this is the only one that generates any kind of value that is worth playing a one-color land that enters the battlefield tapped. Everyone loves to rebuy on a strong creature, and while this isn’t card advantage, it’s still something that could go in a deck or two.

Okay—that’s the rundown! I’m sure there are lots of other cards that you could play, but these are the ones I felt were worth highlighting. Which of my opinions do you disagree with? Do you think I missed the new hot Commander tech? Do you have a deck list that highlights a new card, especially as a Commander? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter—I’m @RagingLevine. See you next week!

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