Earlier this week, we looked at the best cards from Strixhaven, the latest Magic expansion releasing on April 23. Well, the fun doesn’t stop there. Commander 2021 also releases that weekend, and it’s packed full of powerful and fun new cards to brew around. Let’s take a look at some of them, shall we?
Alternate Pre-Con Commanders
I love everything about Felisa, Fang of Silverquill. I love her fierce pose, I love the artwork, I love how she looks in foil… and most of all, I love how good she is in an Edgar Markov deck — because yes, she’s a Vampire. Felisa also fits very well in +1/+1 counter decks or decks that have plenty of recursion.
At the helm, she can oversee a strategy involving token shenanigans. Whether you enjoy durdling with Divine Visitation or using persist creatures to combo off, there’s something for you here. Be sure to enjoy Black Sun’s Zenith as a board wipe with upside while Felisa is around.
More than the Prismari face commander — which we covered in our article about the new decks — I think Veyran offers something tempting to those who like to brew with more niche subsets of cards. While Panharmonicon works for doubling up on enters-the-battlefield effects, Veyran instead cashes in on cast triggers.
Metallurgic Summonings and Aria of Flame are perhaps the first payoffs that come to mind, but I think I’m more excited about the prospect of doubling up on Inexorable Tide in a Planeswalker-Storm-style deck, with the likes of Ral, Storm Conduit and Chandra, the Firebrand. That or playing Veyran in the 99 of Adeliz, the Cinder Wind.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times — haste really is that good. Alibou, Ancient Witness is an exciting commander for red-white decks purely for offering haste in the Command Zone, but it gets better. Getting repeatable creature removal and card selection every combat is very good, and even if it’s only scrying — and not drawing cards — it’s still a lot more than we’ve ever had in Boros colors.
Like the face commander Osgir, Alibou offers a home for the likes of Feldon of the Third Path and Rebbec, Architect of Ascension. Whether I prefer Alibou at the head of an artifact creature-based combat deck or in a deck led by Rebbec and another partner is still TBD, but what I know I want it in my brew, either way.
White Got Hooked Up
I’ll be moving through the rest of what’s on offer in WUBRG order, but honestly? White’s upgrades deserve to be talked about first, as they’re really quite groundbreaking.
Archaeomancer’s Map is probably the most important white card to see print in a very long time — more important than Mangara the Diplomat, if you ask me. While you can always grab Plains with Armillary Sphere or Gift of Estates, you can’t put a catch-up effect into play at the same time.
The Map makes Verge Rangers look increasingly below rate, and when combined with Land Tax, it offers a way to use those extra lands without Scroll Rack or rummage-based draw. It’s not quite Burgeoning, but it didn’t need to be. The Map will do more than enough, and will likely be the Teferi’s Protection of C21 — so pick extra copies up while you can.
Next up, we have two more ways white can make moves to generate more mana. Scholarship Sponsor is a really sweet rendition of Oath of Lieges that can help the rest of the table catch up to the ramp player. I like that it’s repeatable with flicker effects, and I like that the effect exists, as it’s a good sign of things to come. It won’t work in all white decks, but it’ll offer something to a lot of them.
Monologue Tax, on the other hand, seems very playgroup-dependent. I’ve seen a lot of divisiveness over rating this card, and whenever that happens with Commander cards, I’ll always first inspect the group-meta of those espousing opinions. This card can sometimes be a waste of mana, sure, but it has the potential to be a slam dunk. It really depends on how you like to play Magic with your friends. If nothing else, it’s confirmation white has options, and confirmation we’ll see more new designs.
The same group of people that said Monologue Tax is bad were, by and large, saying Tempting Contract is good. It’s a fundamental split in how the player base plays, and I’d go as far as to say that playing in a meta where this card is good suggests that players might be a little too selfish to achieve the kind of interactive and engaging play that I associate with Commander. If you can play Smothering Tithe, you’re probably going to pick that first, but I think I’d hedge on Monologue Tax over Tempting Contract. On average, it’ll do more for you — and requires less time spent asking questions every turn!
It’s been a little while since we saw an inventive new board wipe, and Promise of Loyalty offers something unique and interesting. Indestructible effects are widespread enough that forced edicts are pretty playable, and getting an extra guarantee that the creature your opponent keeps won’t be attacking you is an upside I can get behind.
Angel of the Ruins is a card I can really get behind. Modern Magic is all about creatures that have an impact straight away, and exiling problem permanents is always a welcome ability. The fact it comes on a reanimation target that can be cycled to the bin is gravy.
Guardian Archon, meanwhile, offers another effect along the lines of Stalking Leonin. Protection from a chosen player is an underrated effect, given it doesn’t risk losing vital Auras or Equipment from a creature like protection from a color might. With a few more blink spells, white flicker decks outside of Brago, King Eternal Stax locks might be a viable strategy.
Finally, some actual card draw on Losheel, and another synergy piece for artifact creature decks. While it might be disappointing to see a limiter of once per turn on the card draw ability, it’s for a reason: it’s incredibly easy to go infinite with an ability like this. It’s annoying to admit, but cards like Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain often expose problem areas for R&D to avoid in the future.
Anything You Can Do, Blue Can Do Better
After Sakashima, Mystic Reflection and Double Major, it’s plain to see that Clone effects are a staple. Theoretical Duplication is the latest flavor of this effect, and it’s quite strong. It can copy everything in a turn, not just the next creature.
Replication Technique is perhaps stronger still. At worst, it’s ramp in blue, and it can copy anything from a land to a mana rock. At best? It can help you set up for game-winning combos by giving redundancy to combo pieces and unlocking some previously untraveled paths to victory.
Goad has been strong for a while now, especially with games being shorter. Sly Instigator improves on Dulcet Sirens by adding unblockable, but putting the choice back in the opponent’s hands. For this reason, it seems different, rather than outright better — but it’s still a card to get excited about. Point that Voltron somewhere else, please.
Curiosity Crafter is the card I’m most excited about. It rolls two powerful effects into one card, and provides a pretty decent blocker at the same time. Thopter Spy Network and Bident of Thassa have long been powerful cards — and having another effect to choose from at four is tough — but this little Bird Wizard has plenty of homes.
Back in Black
Where’d you put the lifegain payoffs? Why, back in black, of course. Black and green have both (begrudgingly) received some of the treatment we were all expecting to go to white, but how do the cards stack up?
Well, Essence Pulse is an effect I’ll always be happy with in a deck that can enable it. -X/-X is a lot more useful than a destroy effect these days, and it’s well costed at four. Marshland Bloodcaster, meanwhile, is a powerful mana dork that rewards gaining life in a decidedly black way. Veinwitch Coven is the strongest card in my mind, though. Triggering it will be very easy, and what a reward it is.
Elsewhere, Stinging Study is the kind of hand refill a lot of decks need. I don’t know about anyone else, but Orzhov decks to me always feel like they can fail to string together much of a game if they don’t hit their card draw spells, leaving them in a worse place than a Boros deck with access to Wheels. Any deck with a five or higher mana value commander wants this card, and I’m excited to try it in Edgar Markov and Liesa, Shroud of Dusk.
Cunning Rhetoric is better than it looks, chiefly because players hate having their cards exiled from their library. While a card like Gonti leaves you no choice, you absolutely will have a choice about whether to attack the player with this enchantment in play — and people are cowards.
Graveyard hate is something all decks should pack, but justifying a slot for an otherwise unimpressive game piece can be difficult. I run Remorseful Cleric happily enough in a Voltron deck, as it holds swords well, but playing a Soul-Guide Lantern always feels less synergistic. Author of Shadows gives you a reason to be hating on graveyards, offering their best nonland card exiled in this way. I’m here for it.
You Can’t Spell Red without R&D
I put it best recently when I said red was Strixhaven’s Secret Sauce, and it turns out this isn’t limited to the main set. Red is in something of a renaissance right now, and the cards in Commander 2021 show no sign of it ending.
If you want Illusionist’s Bracers, you’ll want this card, too. Battlemage’s Bracers is a fantastic piece of Equipment, and I’ve argued for years that what non-green decks want most is redundancy. Adding haste makes this even better, and a card I’m more than happy to play.
But you want something spicier, right? Well, Cursed Mirror may be up your alley. A one-turn Clone effect that turns into a mana rock afterwards is the kind of card advantage that really excites me, and it’s yet another example of exciting design space in red. It feels fresh, not too powerful, and definitely very red.
As someone that enjoys combat, Rionya fills me with fire. Viewing this card through a “storm” lens is going to stop you seeing the forest for the trees: Rionya gives you a second copy of your best creature in play for the turn, ETB and attack triggers included.
Seeing more cheap and accessible Wheel effects in red has done a lot to make it a viable color in a format where decks are large and card draw is so important. Ruin Grinder pairs perfectly with Feldon of the Third Path (seriously, what is with the love for Feldon this set?), and slots into a lot of decks. Giving the opponent the choice of whether to Wheel is better than you might think, too — it’ll tell you who you need to watch.
Whoever is designing these cards is indeed passing “Go” and collecting $200. Surge to Victory is the jewel in the crown when it comes to the flashy, powerful and inventive new ways to play red this year. Decks that love extra combats are the immediate thing that comes to mind, but there’s so much you can do with this card beyond that.
The Grass Is Always Greener
As I touched on in black, green is still doing its best to remind us it’s king of the hill when it comes to powerful card design. The green lifegain payoffs are, predictably, pretty great. Trostani is going to love Blossoming Bogbeast, and Ezzaroot Channeler is basically Rakdos, Lord of Riots without even having to go to combat.
Guardian Augmenter is the latest in the pseudo-lieutenant cycle that includes powerhouses like Bastion Protector and Bloodsworn Steward. Except this one has flash, too, because it’s green. Of course it does.
The important thing to know about Yedora is that, yes, if you can somehow reset your face-down creatures, you get to have them back.
If you’re playing Yedora in a morphs deck, that means you’ll be able to flip your morphs back face side up. If Yedora’s at the head of the deck, jam in those green morphs. And if you can flicker lands? You’re in luck, as that works, too.
Last But Not Least
Rounding out the offerings, there’s a couple more gold cards worth a look. Inkshield might seem pricey at five mana for a Fog, but that’s until you realize it’s a game-winning blowout. It doesn’t take that many 2/1 flyers to represent lethal, and Inkshield delivers on both power and fun factor.
Getting an exile Wrath in Simic colors is pretty monumental. I see no reason why this won’t become a staple in decks that can play it and not spring for white and black removal. The tokens created with this will always be better for you if you’re playing properly, anyway.
Revival Experiment might look like it costs a lot of life, but remember that what it actually does is bring back your game-winning combo for a second chance. You don’t have to get every permanent type, just the ones that help you win the game. It’s hyper-efficient and a card I’d be excited to run in decks that want to set up a fragile, multi-piece combo.
Triplicate Titan might not be Wurmcoil Engine, but few things are. Instead, you’re looking at a much more aggressive card. Flying, vigilance and trample are very aggro keywords, and when you look at the support this card receives in C21, you can start to see the bigger picture. It also brings Golem tribal one step closer to being relevant.
Whew! Picking out the best of what Commander 2021 has to offer is a gargantuan task; the expansion is filled to the brim with neat designs, powerful cards and long-needed solutions. I’m really happy to see where white card design is headed, and red continues to impress me, too.
Let me know on Twitter what I missed, as I undoubtedly did so — there’s just so much to get excited about. And if you’re looking to pick up a Commander deck, why not grab one from Card Kingdom?