Unstable Commanders

Aaron DurbinCommander

Dreaming of commanders that aren’t legal is a thought experiment as old as the format itself. We’ve speculated about “shoulda-been-legends” like Preacher or Uncle Istvan, and many of us tried out four-color decks in the pre-Commander 2016 world with the Guildpact Nephilim.

The release of Unstable will once again beg us to ask what kinds of cards we should allow in Commander, and whether or not we should break the black-bordered bonds of unsanctioned format legality to do so. Unlike its comical predecessors, Unstable rides a finer line between the novel and the notable, and it’s up to us to decide if these silly, fun cards create or constrain healthy competition. Today, we’re going to examine a handful of the legends we’re likely to be asked about, in an attempt to determine what may or may not be cool moving forward.



Although I chuckled and mused about Crow Storm and Contraptions, it was Grusilda that demanded I take Unstable spoilers seriously. The monster mashing, graveyard smashing villain is actually a mix of Stitcher Geralf and The Mimeoplasm, and she might just be the best of the three. Lovers of Voltron plans will also enjoy getting serious value with Lightning Greaves and Swiftfoot Boots, adding evasion to a laundry list of reasons these cards play well together.

That said, should we allow an opponent to play Grusilda? My answer is yes. Despite the fact that she creates her own creatures and rules, the precedent for melding is already there. Her activation is a massive mana sink, which means that our graveyard synergies and creature choices are going to have to be pretty significant investments if we hope to create game-breaking value. Even so, I feel that there is enough balance for Grusilda decks to make exciting games. The cross-graveyard interaction makes it easy for Grusilda players to adjust their power level to match their opponents’, while the influx of Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation cards have made getting rid of graveyards the easiest it’s ever been.



As one of the hardest cards to understand in Unstable, X best represents the kind of Commander I wouldn’t expect to be allowed to play. Ask anyone who’s played Telepathy, and they’ll tell you that suspense is a vital component of Commander games. Compounding this with a Spelljack can turn X’s fun intentions into a Sen Triplets-style lock if put in the wrong hands. Because there are only a handful of people that I trust not to break the social contract, I wouldn’t simply be able to say “okay” if some person I didn’t know showed up to my game store with this Commander.



Aside from its silver border, the only compelling reason I can find for not letting Ol’ Buzzbark play Commander is that it’s going to be too much fun. Normally, I’m not a fan of rolling a lot of dice, and I’m pretty sure half the dice you roll when you cast this creature will just fall off the table.

I’m not saying Ol’ Buzzbark is an exception to any rule, but I really think that the flexibility of its X value is what makes it a winner, particularly for goblin aggressiveness or support. While Kiki-Jiki and Krenko are likely to continue reigning supreme over the Goblin tribe, Ol’ Buzzbark is a more flexible upgrade from Wort, the Raidmother, who just might enjoy extra value once removed from the limelight. I foresee some compromises if Ol’ Buzzbark ever gets cast for more than ten (potentially two tosses of five dice from five inches high?), and it might behoove you to set some ground rules before the game even starts.



Although X is probably the hardest for me to personally approve in my playgroup, Baron Von Count isn’t much further behind. At its most broken, the Baron Von Count deck is probably an Ad Nauseam Storm combo deck a la Maralen of the Mornsong, where one player will die as a result of the Count’s ability, and the rest will fall to Grapeshot or Tendrils of Agony (none of which is particularly problematic for me, by the way).

What discourages me are more long-term concerns, mostly about keeping together a deck that is so linear with too much at stake. Whereas Maralen’s ability keeps the deck consistently a threat to combo off, Baron will have to rely more on tutors and crafting more clever lines of play. When it’s good, potentially that “one time,” it will be great. When it faces heavy disruption, I don’t see how the pieces the deck needs to win will help it recover.



Had the good doctor but ONE more color, I would’ve loved to see him at the helm of a focused Augment deck. Instead, it’s far more likely he’ll be at the mercy of General Tazri, commanding unofficially from the 99.

As far as allowing Dr. J passage to the kitchen table, I’ve actually changed my tune. Originally, my opinion was going to be a no. I wanted to save my opponent from what appeared to be the seemingly frustrating endeavor of playing a deck with several strategies and not enough cards to consistently piece them together. Because Augment and host cards are not plentiful, I could see this as just a bad deck, and not the cool, Selesnya Mistform Ultimus that comes with it. Having played against Mistform Ultimus and other “Creature Types Matter” decks, I know there are plenty of tricks for Ol’ Doc Jumbles, and am now looking forward to how seeing Knight Exemplar and Mirror Entity’s new pal fares on the battlefield.


Do you have any Unstable Commander decks you’re looking to build? Be sure to share them with us on Twitter at @Card_Kingdom!