Commander 2021’s New Legends

Kristen GregoryCommander

Strixhaven previews started last week, and we’ve already seen some super exciting cards. The main takeaway for me so far is just how fresh some of these designs feel — not just for their colors, but also for multiplayer. Let’s look at what has me hyped about the new commanders from Commander 2021

Commander 2021: Strixhaven

It looks to me like Wizards has already moved past the insular design of the Ikoria face commanders from last year. These new legendary creature cards work well with the set mechanics, but are more open-ended and way more exciting to brew with, for Strixhaven and beyond. 

Before we get into the cards themselves, I’d just like to point out how much of a benefit having more open-ended cards is as a design decision. This is a benefit in both directions, too. For Wizards, it means more people are likely to want to pick up the new decks and brew with the commanders. While a lot of the most popular preconstructed commanders on EDHREC are tribal ones — which live or die by how popular the tribe is — some of the others are a lot more versatile. 

Cards like Alela or Meren, for example — they give a general idea of what you should be doing, but don’t give you a linear path or hold your hand too much. 

There’s a reason the more flexible commanders tend to be more popular. Looking at the rankings of the more popular commanders, you can see legends like Aminatou or Syr Gwyn ahead of decks like Gavi, Nest Warden. Though Aminatou likes to play flicker cards, and Syr Gwyn Equipment, you have a lot of choices in how you build those decks. What do you want to gain value off with your enter-the-battlefield effects in Aminatou? What Equipment will you run in Syr Gwyn? Will you run Knight tribal, or include cards like Akiri, Fearless Voyager?

On the flipside, the quantity of cycling cards that are worth playing in Gavi is much lower, and you’re mostly playing a predetermined strategy with cards like Astral Slide. When you look at a deck like Otrimi? The card pool is even narrower, and it doesn’t feel particularly exciting when you have fewer ways to play.

When it comes to Commander 2021, Strixhaven instead brings us ideas of what we can do, and then asks us to do the homework. Quandrix cares about tokens; Silverquill about attacking, and maybe +1/+1 counters; Lorehold about artifacts and the graveyard; Witherbloom about gaining and losing life; and Prismari about casting and copying spells. How you go about brewing with these is completely up to you, and I’m betting there’ll be plenty of quirky and fun brews beyond the de facto “solved” combos.

With all that said, let’s look at the faces of these five new decks.

Lorehold Legacies: Osgir, the Reconstructor

It wouldn’t be an article from me if I didn’t cover new Boros Lorehold cards, and honestly? Osgir seems really cool! At four mana, it’s reasonable to cast him a number of times per game. In fact, all of the new commanders cost just three or four mana, making them highly attractive for strategies that revolve around them.

Whether you want to build a spellslinger-style build with access to some dirty combos — like sticking Angel’s Grace and Final Fortune under two Isochron Scepters — or you’re pairing him with the likes of Goblin Welder and Feldon of the Third Path, Osgir seems like a great leader for a deck that likes to spin its wheels. 

Osgir’s first ability will largely be used to put artifacts into the graveyard in the first place, but don’t ignore the potential for using those buffs. A card like Inspiring Statuary or Goldspan Dragon can help you turn Treasure into serious gains!

When you consider that there’s plenty of ways to make artifact tokens in white and red, you could be going pretty big indeed. 

Of course, copying artifacts is where it’s at for this commander, and so the usual suspects make their way into a reanimator-style build that gets extra value from the graveyard. The beauty of Osgir is in how open-ended it is to build him. You could even go an Equipment route, doling out swords to the whole crew. 

Quantum Quandrix: Adrix and Nev, Twincasters

I think it’s safe to say it folks — we might have moved on from draw-a-card-play-a-land as the default blue-green commander strategy. Sadly, we might have to wait to move on from the busted power levels we’re continuing to see on these cards, though, as Adrix and Nev bring their A-game to the table.

Putting Parallel Lives onto a commander was something we all knew would happen eventually, but I’d bet most would have thought they’d see it on a Selesnya card instead. Well, turns out the Quandrix are pretty great at copying things, too. 

The obvious way to break this commander is by having more than one copy, and so some familiar faces will probably crop up in your deckbuilding quest. This goes exponential real quick, and, well… math is for blockers, but I know it’s a lot. 

Blue brings a lot to the table when it comes to tokens, and though creating double hasn’t ever really been blue’s thing, it can actually do so in installments quite regularly. 

Don’t forget that Adrix and Nev will duplicate all token production, so whether that’s Treasure from Spell Swindle, Drakes from Talrand or your opponent granting you an Illusion from their Skyclave Apparition, it’s all fair game. I guess you can jam your Koma in here, too, if you feel it’s a little strong to helm a deck.

Before we move on, one last thing — ward is really interesting as a mechanic, and I like it a lot. It’s conditional hexproof, in a way, and for such a high-priority target, I like a layer of protection that feels surmountable. 

Silverquill Statement: Breena, the Demagogue

I have to say I made a similar face to Breena when I saw her for the first time, and I think she has a lot of hidden depth that people aren’t giving her enough credit for. While Tymna the Weaver is undoubtedly more straightforward, Breena is a lot more political, and has both upside and downsides. The commander really feels designed for a different kind of player — the one who enjoys the spectacle of the game. 

Though Tymna is the more straightforward option, she does require you to deal combat damage, where Breena does not. Also of note: you can trigger Breena twice in a turn if you attack the right players (those with more life than another of your opponents), which is nice.

I see Breena as a way to influence the game politically and incentivize attacking in a group-slug manner, similar to Liesa from Commander Legends. Load Curses onto targets, play evasive flyers and stack +1/+1 counters on them, and then swing while casting Akroma’s Will

For once in Orzhov, you’ll want to be on lower life rather than gaining it, so be sure to take the spells that reduce your own life total as part of their casting cost. From removal to card draw, keep low enough that you won’t be seen as a threat, but high enough to discourage swings. Keep some life gain in your back pocket and some high end like Noxious Gearhulk, and you should be off to the races.

While a lot of the fun of Breena will come with interaction and ways to politic through the game, you can’t deny that there’s a good Orzhov +1/+1 counters deck hiding in there, too. One of my favorite things to do with this strategy is use Retribution of the Ancients as repeatable removal.

Between all of the ways to put counters into play in white, and the ability to use Vish Kal, you can really cash in those chips for value. This deck could go any number of directions, from aggro to pillowfort, and Breena seems flexible enough to offer support to whatever deck you want to carve out.

Witherbloom Witchcraft: Willowdusk, Essence Seer

Druids are always a fun tribe to mess around with, and that’s certainly one option you can take with Willowdusk. There are enough synergistic Druids to build with, but really, that ability could go either way.

Really, though, the deck’s more open-ended. The likes of Marwyn and Selvala can tap for a bunch in a Willowdusk deck, and I can see the potential for porting over numerous strategies that are at home in decks from Meren of Clan Nel Toth to just plain Elf tribal.

Taking advantage of big mana is a good place to start, given green and black have excellent payoffs for having a lot of mana. Whether you want to end the game or just do big dumb stuff, being able to make your creatures larger at will is pretty sweet.

The obvious enablers for this strategy are cards that want you to lose life in decent chunks. Think Bolas’s Citadel or Doom Whisperer. Then, drop the counters onto a creature with lifelink to reap the rewards.

There are some spicy payoffs with this kind of strategy — not least, of course, are poison counters. Infect is already pretty good in black and green, and having a nice easy way of converting life loss or life gain into power on infect creatures can get things moving pretty quickly. Rite of Consumption is a favorite of mine, though, and one I’d be really interested to cast in a build like this. 

This is the deck I’m most intrigued to see more cards from, and from Witherbloom in the main set, as I feel it’s the least distinct of the ones on offer so far.

Prismari Performance: Zaffai, Thunder Conductor

And now for the culmination of our show, the headlining act: Prismari Performance!

Zaffai is probably the sweetest Izzet spellslinger commander I’ve seen since Mizzix of the Izmagnus. If Jorn, God of Winter and Zaxara, the Exemplary were the most recent Sultai commanders for playing big dumb spells, then Zaffai is definitely the Izzet one.

Zaffai’s ability scales with the game, so it’s almost never bad. What’s more, Izzet already has a wealth of great ways to capitalize on this. Magecraft itself as an ability is also really sweet, and one that speaks to a certain kind of Magic player. Sure, we can build Wizards, but there’s something about magecraft that’s satisfying on a primal level.

To get up to those higher levels of mana reliably, you’ll want to pack plenty of ramp. I really love Burnished Hart and Skyclave Relic in a build like this, as getting lands into play reliably and having indestructible rocks goes a long way toward keeping yourself primed to go off.

Of course, as we’re spellslinging in red, we also have access to plenty of rituals. You can probably push the deck to the limit with the smaller ones, but I generally prefer the chonkers at the more casual level I play at. Mana Geyser and Jeska’s Will are both incredible, and Apex of Power is a card I don’t see nearly enough.

As we’re in Izzet, it’s generally a lot to ask when it comes to an “encore.” Izzet doesn’t bounce back as well as other big mana spell decks, so you’ll want to put on a nice buildup to the main event, and hold counterspell backup to make sure it goes off without a hitch. Packing effects like Bonus Round is highly recommended if you want to chain those rituals.

In Closing

I remarked recently that the Strixhaven Commander decks were going to be more important than people think, and so far, at least one of my predictions has come true: we’re getting some really sweet legendary creatures to brew around. 

I, for one, am hyped with how open-ended they are, and I can’t wait to see what combos and synergies people come up with. Let me know on Twitter which deck you’re going to pick up, and how you’ll be upgrading it — and stay tuned for some upgrade guides for these decks soon.