commander 2015 header

Another year and anoth­er batch of Commander Decks for Magic the Gathering comes along. To old­er play­ers, the nov­el­ty of Wizards actu­al­ly still sup­port­ing the for­mat offi­cial­ly has worn off, and we’ve firm­ly moved into an era where the­se prod­ucts are plen­ti­ful after the lim­it­ed print­ing of Commander’s Arsenal and the hoard­ing and price goug­ing that marked the release of Commander 2013; sets of prod­ucts that end­ed up being sold the next year below or at MSRP/RRP. It’s clear the­se are now a fix­ture in the release cal­en­dar and not going away, so we can and should eval­u­ate them like we eval­u­ate any oth­er unlim­it­ed print-run pre-built pro­duct. This year we have five ene­my coloured Commander decks to look at.

What’s New Here?

There are 56 new cards spread over the 5 decks in Commander 2015. In gen­er­al terms, we have two new cycles of Commanders includ­ing the new expe­ri­ence coun­ter the­me which is a new cycle of com­mand style cards all end­ing in Confluence, a cycle of cards that tie in with the new Commanders in each deck, and a cycle of uncom­mon cards with the new mechan­ic Myriad on them. Overall, the­se cycles make up almost half of new cards in Commander 2015.

commander 2015 insert 0

Karlov of the Ghost Council, Art by Volkan Baga

Myriad is an inter­est­ing mechan­ic for mul­ti­play­er since it scales with the size of the game. This essen­tial­ly allows you to attack all oppo­nents at once and is a “may” abil­i­ty which is nice since it allows you to play some pol­i­tics. Don’t get con­fused by the for­mat­ting; you can’t throw every token at the same play­er because that would be a tad bro­ken, and negate the rea­son it scales with num­ber of oppo­nents so well. As for expe­ri­ence coun­ters, they func­tion like quest coun­ters or any oth­er “build x coun­ters up, do a thing” mechan­ic in Magic the Gathering his­to­ry. It’s nov­el but not strict­ly that new a con­cept.

Standout cards in this cycle are the Conflunces — with Mystic Confluence mak­ing the biggest splash. I think my per­son­al stand­out isScytheclaw. I love liv­ing weapons and this thing is no joke, and will wreck someone’s day if they are on a life-gain path.

Dread Summons seems like it will be fea­tured in zom­bie decks until the end of time, with it allow­ing you to put stuff in your own grave­yard for rean­i­ma­tion and oth­er shenani­gans. Rite of the Raging Storm just has great design, and seems like a ton of fun if you run a Red deck focused on cre­at­ing chaos. Thought Vessel is a new auto-include in many decks as it’s a two cost mana rock that fits in any deck and makes more com­bo fun pos­si­ble. It’s an effect we like on a cheap, colour­less, util­i­ty card that we’re used to see­ing on more niche cards.

Let’s take a quick look at each of this year’s decks. Full deck-lists can be found here.

Swell the Host

commander 2015 insert 1With its default Commander Ezuri, Claw of Progress, this func­tions as a +1/+1 coun­ter deck focused on beef­ing up low-power crea­tures. It has an evolve sub-theme, which is pret­ty neat since I’ve always been quite fond of that mechan­ic. The price of this deck seems promis­ing, but in prac­tice there aren’t too many ways beyond things like Prime Speaker Zegana — a pos­si­ble alter­nate Commander — to take advan­tage of and abuse +1/+1 coun­ters. This is a deck that is beg­ging for a Doubling Season type effect, or may­be just some­thing like a Renegade Krasis.

With its major focus on crea­tures 22 or below to max­imise its Commander, this deck feels like it should be going more all in on the coun­ters plan, but sans swing­ing big beefers at your oppo­nent.

The deck is also sup­posed to func­tion as a snake themed deck. I like this idea; we need more viable themed decks in Commander, but I don’t think the crit­i­cal mass of snakes is here for this to work. Again, on their own the Commanders are neat cards, but they require far dif­fer­ent decks than they have been placed in.

The deck also has a lot of inci­den­tal mana accel­er­a­tion with­out too many ways to take advan­tage of it. I would advise tun­ing this deck to serve a par­tic­u­lar strat­e­gy: go all in on the +1/+1 coun­ters plan or the snake plan. As it stands, it feels like it is try­ing to serve too many mas­ters and ends up serv­ing none.

Call the Spirits

commander 2015 insert 2This one does what it says on the tin: makes a load of spir­its. At least that’s the the­o­ry. In prac­tice this is actu­al­ly a Theros inspired enchant­ment deck. This deck feels like it should also func­tion as a black/white spir­its deck but it doesn’t in real­i­ty. The prob­lem being, as a black/white enchant­ment deck it isn’t very good. The deck is packed full of bulk enchant­ment crea­ture rares that do lit­tle else but pad out the enchant­ment type. Celestial Archon and friends don’t have the lev­el of pow­er or syn­er­gy you need in this strat­e­gy. It’s just there to fit the the­me. Karlov of the Ghost Council is a life-gain Commander for some rea­son, and in this shell he is hope­less­ly unvi­able.

I feel Teysa, Orzhov Scion might have been a bet­ter choice for the alter­nate Commander. New Tessa is cute, but she is reliant on you get­ting swung at and not dying. Commander is a for­mat of big turns, and orig­i­nal Tessa gives you much more util­i­ty, she’s just per­fect. But this would require strip­ping the enchant­ment side of the deck out since it does not syn­er­gize with either Tessa as Commander. So with any oth­er Commander than Daxos The Returned “Call the spir­its” is a fail­ure. Why even give us alter­nate Commanders for strate­gies this deck doesn’t con­tain?

Seize Control

commander 2015 insert 3This feels more like a Commander deck one would actu­al­ly play. Red/Blue can be a very unfair colour com­bi­na­tion, and this is just solid rather than being bro­ken. I think it’s active­ly dif­fi­cult to make poor card choic­es in this colour com­bi­na­tion since there is so much cool and pow­er­ful stuff out there.

The premise of Mizzix of the Izmagnus is sim­ple. Cast spells until your mas­sive spells, or spells that scale with invest­ed mana, cost a bunch less or can do a bunch more. With card draw you can find your­self drop­ping the mas­sive spell of your choice, or sur­pris­ing an oppo­nent with a coun­ter spell if they for­get to fac­tor in your mana dis­count. This deck also takes the best advan­tage of Thought Vessel. The alter­nate Commander Arjun, the Shifting Flame, could also cre­ate hilar­i­ous sit­u­a­tions where you are draw­ing a new hand almost the size of your deck each turn.

This deck is cer­tain­ly less ane­mic than some of the oth­er offer­ings, but again I think that’s more of a func­tion of it being real­ly dif­fi­cult to mess up a red/blue Commander deck than any supe­ri­or­i­ty of deck-building or finan­cial val­ue. It’s also the only deck of the five that, in my mind, func­tions with each of its alter­nate Commanders. I like this deck, and it has a lot of mas­sive cost or x cost cards that take advan­tage of its Commander and allows you to play with the big, fun spells that Commander was made for. Cards like Meteor Blastseem like…. well, a blast to play in this deck. Nothing like hit­ting every­thing you don’t own and all your oppo­nents for four dam­age.

Plunder the Graves

commander 2015 insert 4The crea­ture rean­i­ma­tion strat­e­gy in this deck is almost entire­ly reliant on its Commander, Meren of Clan Nel Toth’s, abil­i­ty. Plunder the Graves con­tin­ues the the­me of not real­ly being able to uti­lize its alter­nate Commanders that well whilst also not being laser-focused enough to max­imise any sin­gle one of them. I know it seems picky to either call the decks unfo­cused or unable to use their oth­er Commanders well, but that is the down side of hav­ing Commanders that try to do vast­ly dif­fer­ent things in the same pre-built deck. It’s a prob­lem with many Commander prod­ucts, not just this one.

Aside from that, it’s a ser­vice­able rean­i­ma­tion deck. Dread Summons feels made to part­ner with Empty the Pits, and I wish more effects like that were here. Although we did get Spider Spawning, so Wizards did notice some syn­ergies. When I build this type of deck I tend to go a more token based route, but straight crea­ture rean­i­ma­tion is a valid direc­tion. You have a heavy num­ber of crea­tures and a low­er num­ber of crea­ture gen­er­a­tors, but both the alter­nate Commanders syn­er­gize bet­ter with token strate­gies.

Whilst it has some sac­ri­fice out­lets, and ways to discard/mill your own cards, Plunder the Graves seem in des­per­ate need of more ways to kill a large num­ber of crea­tures at once. Gee, if only we had a black wrath spell that was in des­per­ate need of reprint­ing.

Wade into Battle

commander 2015 insert 5

This is an aggro Commander deck. If you play aggro in Commander you’re doing it wrong. Everyone is going to gang up on you ear­ly in every game because they want to cast their bombs. Commanded dam­age is a rule made because aggro decks are gen­er­al­ly so out­classed in the for­mat.

Okay, okay I’m only jok­ing. Well… half jok­ing any­way. Aggro decks aren’t always bad, and this isn’t a tra­di­tion­al aggro deck. It focus­es instead on high drops.

In Red and White you bet­ter draw that Basalt Monolith or Worn Powerstone. This deck has accel­er­a­tion, but it’s doesn’t have enough reli­able accel­er­a­tion in my mind. Anya, Merciless Angel seems to imply you would want to get your oppo­nent down ear­ly, yet the deck is full of high drops. You’re also almost entire­ly with­out card-draw in the­se colours, so you are going to run out of gas if you’re rely­ing on your White con­trol based cards. This one I real­ly don’t get. Just buy a Gisela, Blade of Goldnight and build a more tra­di­tion­al Red/White burn deck. This deck is the most half-baked of the bunch. If you’re going to make a big-mana Red/White deck then you’re going to need to go all-in on your accel­er­a­tion suite. Some excit­ing cards and re-prints exist here, but this is my least favorite of the bunch in terms of com­plete deck.

How Good is the Commander 2015 Selection Taken as a Whole?

There is the def­i­nite whiff of filler here. I’m not sure who runs Seal of Doom in their Commander deck even if it is an “enchant­ment mat­ters” deck. A large por­tion of the deck­lists have me scratch­ing my head since it seems to be an excuse to give us more of cards we already have and already weren’t play­ing. Cluestones? Guildgates? These decks fea­ture use­less card­board you are sim­ply going to replace with cheap, objec­tive­ly bet­ter alter­na­tives. You always expect some filler in any Magic the Gathering pro­duct, but with­out headline-grabbing stand­outs or re-prints it’s much hard­er to ignore the amount of filler here.

Who are the­se decks for? If you’re an exist­ing col­lec­tor the­se are prob­a­bly going to bypass the bulk box, and go straight in the bin. If you’re a new play­er, and the­se are sup­posed to be an instant Commander deck to play again­st your friends, then you are being given a pro­duct that requires an exten­sive upgrade to even come close to being com­pet­i­tive. These are cards you only put in your deck if you real­ly don’t own any alter­na­tives. Acts of des­per­a­tion when you strug­gle to assem­ble basic fix­ing.

I under­stand that the­se decks are designed to be played again­st each oth­er, but the raw pow­er lev­el for out of the box decks this year seem sig­nif­i­cant­ly low­er than before. If you’re going to take the­se into your shop as-is to play again­st even mod­er­ate­ly powered-up Commander decks then you’re going to have a mis­er­able time. There is also a cycle of re-print Commanders from Return to Ravnicablock here which is a lit­tle odd since many of the­se cards were already one to two dol­lar rares. You have the whole of Magic his­to­ry to pick from, why just the­se recent cards?

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A card we all sore­ly wish was in this set

Cards like Urza’s Incubator, Phyrexian Arenaand Black Market are the kinds of cards I would love to see more of in Commander prod­ucts; cards print­ed only once or twice a good while ago but have heavy util­i­ty in the for­mat. Many of the­se cards have no hope of being re-printed in a Standard envi­ron­ment, so a print­ing in a pre-built Commander deck is one of the only chances we have to see them again.

Me, and every oth­er Magic the Gathering play­er, is going to keep ask­ing you Wizards: where in Urza’s beard is our Damnation re-print? It’s a $60 board-wipe as of pub­li­ca­tion of this arti­cle and an auto-include in most non-budget Black Commander decks. Magic the Gathering Commander 2014 proved we can have nice things and not have prices run out of con­trol. They gave us Wurmcoil Engine again this time last year in a real­ly cool Red arte­fact deck. “You get a Wurmcoil! You get a Wurmcoil! Everyone gets a Wurncoil!” When the nicest thing you can say about a set of prod­ucts in “Well they’re keep­ing Skullclamp in print” you’ve encoun­tered an issue.

Bottom Line

Whilst there are some inter­est­ing cards in Commander 2015, and some fun strate­gies, you would do bet­ter to order the sin­gles you need for the strat­e­gy of your choice, and fit it into a bet­ter shell than the­se slight­ly stringy decks provide. The cycle of Confluences stand head and shoul­ders above the rest as the most inter­est­ing new cards present here.

You should have a look through the cat­a­logue of still read­i­ly avail­able Commander 2013 and 2014 decks for one you think is a good base for the strat­e­gy you want to play, and work from there. If you are set on buy­ing a 2015 deck then I would advise going with Seize Control for fun or may­be Plunder the Graves for some of the neat Black reprints.

In terms of val­ue Commander 2015 is com­pa­ra­ble, but a lit­tle low­er, than pre­vi­ous years if you look at TCG play­er prices. No one deck stands out in my mind in terms of raw val­ue. They are still bet­ter val­ue than an intro pack, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t con­tain val­ue equal to or above their tick­et price like some of the recent event decks or Clash Packs did on release. Look at the­se for their play val­ue, not their finan­cial val­ue. Because on that front I’m not entire­ly con­vinced with the­se decks. Like has hap­pened with the 2013 and 2014 prod­ucts, expect to find the­se in six months to a year being sold below their MSRP/RRP.

The Commander 2015 decks still serve as a viable and easy way for new play­ers to get the basics for Commander, but they are far from opti­mal. Last year’s Planeswalker Commanders and their sur­round­ing decks were a lot more inter­est­ing, and had a lot more solid cards in my opin­ion. Whilst the two new cycles of Commanders add wel­come new strate­gies designed direct­ly for Commander for­mat, you can pick all of them up for under $50 right now. It feels more like “here is a bunch of cool new cards to play with in Commander” rather than five well-built Commander decks in their own right.

I like that Wizards of the Coast keeps mak­ing unlim­it­ed print Magic the Gathering Commander prod­ucts, I real­ly do. But please, you need to do bet­ter than throw­ing a pile of cards togeth­er and call­ing it a deck. There are dozens of bud­get Commander brews out there far bet­ter than the­se. I know they are only £25 or so, but most of what you are get­ting is filler. They are, in my mind, sim­ply not worth buy­ing this year. SweeneyTrading Card GamesTraditional GamesCommander,Magic The Gathering,ReviewAnother year and anoth­er batch of Commander Decks for Magic the Gathering comes along. To old­er play­ers, the nov­el­ty of Wizards actu­al­ly still sup­port­ing the for­mat offi­cial­ly has worn off, and we’ve firm­ly moved into an era where the­se prod­ucts are plen­ti­ful after the lim­it­ed print­ing of Commander’s Arsenal and…
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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in engi­neer­ing. He writes long-form edi­to­ri­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games media and inter­net cul­ture. He also does the occa­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly column about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our inter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven media and sus­pi­cious of unac­cou­table author­i­ty but always hope­ful for change.