Upgrading Commander 2019: Primal Genesis

Robby Rothe Commander

One of the best aspects of any new Commander product release is taking the new Commanders and building a new deck for them. Naya received three new Commanders, but I want to focus on the one on the front of the box: Ghired, Conclave Exile. Let’s examine how he works and talk about some cards that you can use to make the deck your own.

First, let’s take a look at the two main components of Ghired: the populate ability and the attacking ability. We’ll start with populate!

Population Control

The populate mechanic allows you to work with tokens and creatures in a unique way. There are two main ways to use populate: to create huge tokens or to get multiple uses out of a creature’s abilities.

With populate, you don’t want to adopt a “Go-Wide” strategy, but a “Bigger is Better” one. The 4/4 Rhino token with trample that Ghired makes is fine, but it isn’t threatening in Commander all by itself. Luckily, the deck already has four cards that want you to go big: Desolation Twin, Giant Adephage, Idol of Oblivion, and Phyrexian Rebirth. Digging into Magic’s history, we can come up with several other cards that can create large creature tokens to populate.


A creature that can make an 8/8 token every turn? Plus it’s an 8/8 itself? Yes, please!

Grove of the Guardian

First printed in Return to Ravnica, Grove of the Guardian is the best land with a populate target. You’ll lose the land when you create the token, but other players are unlikely to see Grove as a threat, so you can lay low until you need to use it.

Phyrexian Processor

Now we come to the real threat. With Phyrexian Processor, you can pay X life to make an X/X token – and, in Commander, that’s pretty huge. If you’re concerned about reducing your life total too much, let me (re)introduce you to a card that’s already in the precon…

Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice

Thanks to Trostani, you can gain back the life you paid to create a token with Phyrexian Processor. The fact that you can populate at any time (say, after you cast and activate the Phyrexian Processor), makes this a nice trick, especially when you need a blocker.

Specialized Focus

Now that we have some large token generators, let’s take a look at the other main use of populate: copying other creatures. The premade deck already has cards that are perfect for the job: Angel of Sanctions, Feldon of the Third Path, Hate Mirage, Heart-Piercer Manticore, and Mimic Vat.

I’d also look at a few other options: Flameshadow Conjuring, Kiki-Jiki, Minion Reflector, Splinter Twin, and Twinflame. These cards all fall under the “create a temporary token” category: they give you a creature token, but only for the turn. If you populate one of these tokens, the populated token doesn’t go away at the end of the turn, which is a huge advantage.

Here are a few other useful spells that can create token copies of creatures:

God-Pharaoh’s Gift

This Hour of Devastation all-star can give you a creature token to attack with and populate with Ghired. Ideally, you want to use this with a creature that has useful abilities rather than just something with high power and toughness.

Helm of the Host

This seems like an auto-include in any Ghired deck. Because you can equip Helm of the Host to a legendary creature, such as Ghired himself, you can get two populate triggers with Ghired and his token attack.

Not a Personal Attack

The other thing to understand about Ghired is that he has to attack to populate. Attacking with your commander can be useful (because of commander damage), but it can leave you vulnerable to attacks from other players. Here are some tools that will help dissuade (or even stop) your opponents from coming back your way.

Dueling Grounds/Silent Arbiter

Here’s the hot tech with this: Ghired’s ability doesn’t trigger until he’s declared as an attacker. This means you bypass the “no more than one creature may attack” restriction that Dueling Grounds and Silent Arbiter enforce. You don’t get to choose how your opponents block, so it’s wise to give Ghired unblockable and repeat this strategy. I’d suggest equipping him with Whispersilk Cloak.

Gruul War Chant

If you happen to have this on the battlefield along with either of the two previous cards, it can make all your creatures “unblockable.” (If they can’t be blocked by a single creature, and they also can’t be blocked by more than one, then they can’t be blocked at all.) Even if this doesn’t happen all of the time, it still forces your opponents to make bad blocks when they see a 10/10 Eldrazi.

Ghostly Prison/Windborn Muse

If you want to be aggressive, Ghostly Prison and Windborn Muse make sure that people won’t swing back your way as easily. The benefit of having Windborn Muse out is that you can copy it and eventually populate the tokens. Paying mana to attack with each creature can, and should, slow down your opponents.

Glare of Subdual

If your opponents aren’t attacking, then they’ll probably have plenty of creatures to defend themselves. With Glare of Subdual, you can take all your tokens and use them to tap your opponents’ creatures. This is a great enchantment for creature-based decks, and your opponents will have to deal with it if they want to survive.

Many Voices Speaking as One

Ghired is a fascinating Commander in a color grouping full of them. There are certainly plenty of ways you can modify this deck based on your personal preferences; there are many good creatures you can copy and populate. The key with this deck is to take your time and plan before you attack all out. There are many ways to make this deck work besides just attacking, so keep that in mind when you take this for a whirl.

I hope you enjoy making tokens, and may you make the biggest ones possible. Until next time!