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Raging Levine – Theros Commander Set Review, Part 1

Hey folks! The Theros Card Image Gallery on DailyMTG.com is all filled up for our perusal, so I thought I’d get a quick start on my set review. I know there are lots of awesome cards in Theros for Commander, and I’m really excited to talk about them. As usual, I won’t be rating or ranking the cards in any particular manner. I just want to discuss them and how they fit into the overall Commander landscape. Whether they bring us new decks or fit well into the ones we already have, the new cards should be an exciting way to stir up an already fantastic format. This week I’ll cover white, blue, and black, and next week I’ll take care of the rest of the set. What are we waiting for? Let’s go!

Celestial Archon

celestial archon

Bestow is a mechanic I can get behind! Commanders like [card]Bruna, Flight of Alabaster[/card], [card]Uril, the Miststalker[/card], and similar are always looking for auras to add to their repertoire without losing too much value if a removal spell comes their way. Bestow gives them that, albeit at a high cost. Even if Bruna gets tagged with an untimely [card]Doom Blade[/card] or [card]Renounce the Guilds[/card], the Archon stays behind and can still crash in. I’ll step out of my color restrictions for a minute and mention the other creatures with bestow that I think will be valuable to these and other decks:

Thassa’s Emissary
Nighthowler
Boon Satyr
Nylea’s Emissary

When I say “valuable,” I mean that these are all okay cards. I don’t think they’re particularly fantastic as creatures, but as auras that become creatures they provide value against wraths. I can also see Erebos’s Emissary being reasonable in some weird Reanimator deck as a discard outlet, but I don’t think it’s particularly fantastic. Boon Satyr is my actual favorite because of flash and its reasonable cost.

Chained to the Rocks

Chained to the Rocks

The first thing I noticed is that this won’t let us exile our own creatures. We can’t do any tricky stuff with this one, so we have to evaluate it as a simple removal spell. If you’re going to play this, I recommend [card]Path to Exile[/card] and [card]Swords to Plowshares[/card] instead. If you really feel like you need this, I think you might be doing something wrong. Of course, if you want to run this for awesome thematic power, then you’re doing it right!

Elspeth, Sun’s Champion

Elspeth, Sun’s Champion

Planeswalkers are always a little worse in multiplayer because people know how strong they are (or, often, they overestimate them) and consequently they get ganged up on. Elspeth can protect herself with her +1 ability and build up to her ultimate, which in Commander is an actual possibility. Behind a shield of tokens, she looks like a huge threat that will focus the table on you, but if you can power out enough blockers, you can really let fly after you use the -7 ability.

The -3 is a great buffer for a token deck that wants to semi-Wrath. [card]Retribution of the Meek[/card] is an underappreciated effect for token decks and the like. [card trostani, selesnya’s voice]Trostani[/card] is often more about slamming Wurms, but [card ghave, guru of spores]Ghave[/card] or [card]Rhys the Redeemed[/card] are probably good shells for this one. [card]Hazezon Tamar[/card] is another good call, as the legion of Sand Warriors can likely benefit from the emblem and drop multiple players in one go.

Evangel of Heliod

evangel of heliod

Wouldn’t it be nice if tokens counted toward devotion? Well, they don’t. A focused token deck will therefore have some trouble getting value out of this one unless you are playing a crapload of Anthems. I’m not too high on this one.

Gift of Immortality

Gift of Immortality

This reminds me of [card]False Demise[/card] and [card]Iridescent Drake[/card] all rolled into one. You get the same creature over and over again, but the timing restriction prevents the shenanigans that are possible with the above cards and something like [card]Altar of Dementia[/card]. (Can you tell I used to run this as a casual combo?) While you can’t go quite as crazy as the above, you can really get value out of something with a nice sacrifice ability. [card]Greater Good[/card] seems like a strong possibility for abuse with this. At least you get it at every end step and not just your own, so you can continue to pop your creature and get it back for value. Bonus points if it’s a creature with an ETB trigger. Other great sacrifice outlets:

[card]Attrition[/card] [card]Birthing Pod[/card] [card]Cabal Patriarch[/card] [card]Ertai, the Corrupted[/card] [card]Garruk, the Veil-Cursed[/card] [card]Hell’s Caretaker[/card] [card]Perilous Forays[/card] [card]Phyrexian Plaguelord[/card] [card]Undercity Informer[/card] [card]Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter[/card]

Heliod, God of the Sun

Heliod, God of the Sun

Wasn’t I just saying something about tokens and devotion? Anyway, if you are going to be really devoted to white, Heliod is certainly a decent commander. A 5/6 indestructible creature is strong in terms of getting damage through for the win, and you can create an army of vigilant tokens to defend and attack. It’s a great way to spend excess mana! Not a lot of players are currently running enchantment removal that exiles the enchantment, although that may change soon if these Gods alter the landscape of Commander.

Hundred-Handed One

hundred-handed one

Flavor ahoy! It’s a bit bizarre that his extra arms are all disconnected from his body, but you get what you pay for, I guess. (Assuming he starts with two arms and gets the other 98 when he’s monstrous, you’re getting a little over 16 arms for every point of mana you pay when he becomes monstrous.) Although, if he starts with two, why can’t he block two creatures to begin with? Why do 98 more arms allow him to block 99 more creatures? How does this whole… oh, forget it. This guy’s okay. A role player, certainly.

Spear of Heliod

Spear of Heliod

I’m not too high on Anthems in Commander, but I think this one has its place. Being a more limited [card]No Mercy[/card] is still fine for this price, and it’s an effect white doesn’t get much of in the form of repeatable abilities on permanents. Holding up mana is a little ugly, though.

Artisan of Forms

Artisan of Forms

Normally I love Clones! I’m all about Clones. [card]Phantasmal Image[/card] is, well, fantastic. This card, however, is less than brilliant. Artisan of Forms requires a lot of work, and I don’t feel like I want to bother to target it. I’d rather just hope that someone else not target my Image if I want to pay only 1U for a Clone.

Bident of Thassa

Bident of Thassa

You may already be playing [card]Coastal Piracy[/card]! If so, here’s another one that makes your opponents attack. Maybe they’ll attack you, maybe they won’t. If you don’t have much of a board, they probably will. It’s cool that it’s a bident, though. Tridents are so déclassé.

Curse of the Swine

Curse of the Swine

LSV covered this in a fantastic article, but this card is definitely Commander-worthy. Angels? Demons? Dragons? Giants? Zombies? Pigs, all of them. In Commander, a 2/2 Boar is usually substantially worse than the creature you’re exiling, and since it’s multiplayer, you’re not giving them all to one player. This is going to be cast often at tables, and when it does it’s going to have quite the effect. It’s probably also going to going to draw some ire, so be prepared.

Master of Waves

Master of Waves

[card]Avenger of Zendikar[/card] this ain’t. Plus, when the Master dies, so die the little wavelets. I wish I could say I liked this, but I’d wave this one off if I were you.

Meletis Charlatan

Meletis Charlatan

Aside from scoring basically no points in Zork, this guy is fantastic. I like that he can copy spells that belong to your opponents because it can give you a lot of political power. Of course, the one time somebody Wraths, it’s not that exciting, and having control of the spells yourself is usually better, but it allows you to manipulate the game (and people) in your favor.

Prognostic Sphinx

Prognostic Sphinx

This is a resilient threat if you’re not feeling like jamming [card]Aetherling[/card]. I think I’d rather have [card]Sphinx of Jwar Isle[/card] because it’s a little better on defense, but I can see wanting to scry a lot. I would love to throw this in with some other Sphinxes, notably [card]Enigma Sphinx[/card]—cascade and scry are pals, and I also think being able to bring Enigma Sphinx back from third from the top is a good move.

Shipbreaker Kraken

shipbreaker kraken

[card lorthos, the tidemaker]Lorthos[/card] has a new friend! Seriously, though, I think this is a fantastic card. It locks down four creatures all by itself, all while being a 10/10 in the bargain! 6UU seems like a fair price to pay for this effect, and I’m not even kidding. As long as you can keep it alive, you’ll be breaking the board wide open. This should flat-out destroy cards like [card]Pirate Ship[/card], [card]Skeleton Ship[/card], and so on. I would say [card]Dandan[/card] as well, but I found out a while ago that Dandan isn’t just the boats. (Look close!)

Swan Song

swan song

YOUR SPELL IS BIRDS! Seriously, I think Ron Swansong here is at least playable if not fantastic. Most of the time I’d rather just have [card]Negate[/card], but if you need your opponent to have a creature for some reason ([card]Defense of the Heart[/card]?) then this is reasonable. Mostly it’s just funny.

Thassa, God of the Sea

Thassa, God of the Sea

I like Thassa a lot. Sure, a bad [card]Think Tank[/card] doesn’t sound amazing, and the “can’t be blocked” ability isn’t fantastic, but once your blue permanents clap their hands and believe in Thassa enough you can get her through with her own ability and start clocking your opponent! I think Thassa is a strong Commander, but she might be stronger in a deck with a Commander that has lots of blue mana symbols in its cost like Lorthos.

Triton Tactics

Triton Tactics

I just want to say that, while I was reading this card, my corneas deteriorated from utter confusion. That is all.

Abhorrent Overlord

Abhorrent Overlord

You get some Harpies and a crappy Lord of the Pit. Honestly I’m more interested in the army of Harpies. Hopefully you have a lot of black permanents with BBBBBBBB in their costs to make this worth your while. Otherwise I think this fellow is lackluster.

Erebos, God of the Dead

Erebos, God of the Dead

Weird disconnected abilities aside, this is a strong one. I know cards that keep players from gaining life are definite hate magnets, but at the same time, the [card]Greed[/card] ability is good for black decks, and a 5/7 indestructible won’t be hard to summon up when you’re playing cards like [card]Phyrexian Obliterator[/card].

Gray Merchant of Asphodel

Gray Merchant of Asphodel

Boom boom! At minimum this is [card]Syphon Life[/card] on wheels, and if you’re playing it you should be getting a lot more than that. Plus, it’s blinkable, or it’s reusable with a card I’ll be talking about later. Is mono-black going to be rocking our tables? Will [card korlash, heir to blackblade]Korlash[/card] and [card]Xiahuo Dun[/card] be ruining everything for everyone?

Hero’s Downfall

hero's downfall

[card]Dreadbore[/card] at instant speed in mono-B. I’m just saying that’s cool.

Hythonia the Cruel

hythonia the cruel

What other Gorgons should we be playing? [card]Visara the Dreadful[/card] is great, for one. [card]Damia, Sage of Stone[/card] is a Gorgon, and that could be your Commander! Or Hythonia could be your Commander. [card]Sisters of Stone Death[/card] and [card]Xathrid Gorgon[/card] would both be playable in the Damia deck, and there are more Gorgons in the set too. If only there were more we could go full Gorgon tribal.

Rescue from the Underworld

Rescue from the Underworld

And here’s how we rebuy our Gray Merchant of Asphodel! Anything with an ETB ability is what you want to be sacrificing to this. Imagine sacrificing a Gray Merchant and returning something like [card]Xiahuo Dun[/card], for example. Then you sacrifice [card]Xiahuo Dun[/card] and get back Rescue from the Underworld…

Whip of Erebos

Whip of Erebos

Speaking of rebuying creatures, this is the way to do it. It’s like [card]Sneak Attack[/card] from the graveyard! You can mill yourself a bunch, spew creatures out with this, gain a bunch of life, and stay alive while you get beat up by all the players who hate your strategy because you’re playing out of the graveyard. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Okay, that’s all I have for this week. We’ll have red, green, and the rest next week!

-Eric Levine
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@RagingLevine on Twitter
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