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I may just be a small, furry animal with a human heart. And my friend may be made of wood… and we may not be Annihilator-class supertypes… But we’ve got Star-Lord’s legacy to live up to, Lylla. The legacy of the Guardians of the Galaxy! I am Groot! And I’m Rocket Raccoon, and together, we’re going to save the universe! Whether it wants to be saved or not!

Japanisch ist eine brutal schwere Sprache, auch wenn Shinjis Dolmetscher Jumpei Yamamori tatsächlich behauptet, man könne das in ein, zwei Monaten lernen. Tut mir leid, Shinji: Du bist ein Supertyp, ich mag die Menschen in deiner Heimat sehr, aber das mit der Sprache, das lassen wir besser.
—  Marco im “Kicker”

Japanese is a very difficult language, although Shinji’s translator Jumpei Yamamori says that one can learn it in one or two months. I’m sorry, Shinji: You are a great guy, I like the people in your home country, but: We better drop that with the language. 
Command Zone: Job Interview

You open up the spoiler list for the new set, glancing at every creature with the legendary supertype. You have one hundred sleeves to fill, but no leader has stepped forward to take command. “Nope. Maybe. Nope. Probably,” you mutter to yourself as you pass over card after card.

If you play Commander, this routine plays out with every new Magic expansion (and many supplemental products too). Figuring out that next deck to build is always a challenge, as this game has hundreds and hundreds of potential commanders to choose from. Deciding on one is difficult, and today’s article is going to go over five key questions to ask yourself when trying to evaluate a new (or old) legendary creature for the format.

What Potential Does This Commander Have?

Horde of Notions

Potential here is a vague term, so let me clarify a bit. I don’t mean to think about how well designed a card is or guess how many people will use it or anything remotely near a power-level guess. Here, I mean to think about what a deck with this card as a commander might look like. Don’t identify the limits of the card or complain about the things it’s not. Focus on what the card can do in Commander, unique or not. Investigate options. Find pathways to fun.

If you read any of my articles about new potential commanders, this is the kind of thinking I entertain the most. I’m not writing about new cards just to tell people not to play with them; I want players to be inspired.

Most importantly, figuring out what a legendary creature can do for you often helps answer the following questions. Having an idea of what your deck might look like informs decisions about power, strategy, usefulness, and so on. Knowing what it would take to make a certain commander succeed sometimes ends the discussion outright too if it ends up being something you’re unwilling to commit to.

Can This Commander Stand on Its Own?

Avacyn, Angel of Hope

Unsurprisingly, the commander you choose will have tremendous impact on how you build your deck. This goes far beyond things like color identity and can be broken into two major types: solo commanders and synergy commanders.

Figuring out the potential of a given legendary creature can help you identify which camp that creature falls into. Solo commanders are generally high-impact cards with high converted mana costs that can dominate a game with very little help. These are the Gisela, Blade of Goldnights of the format, commanders that are powerful no matter what cards appear in the 99.

I find building around solo commanders more difficult than synergy commanders. Because their power rests in being a powerful card and not playing a powerful deck, solo commanders offer a wide-open opportunity to build almost any deck you want. This usually pushes people to build Good Stuff decks that just cram a bunch of powerful cards together and hope for the best. That isn’t to say that a solo commander can’t lead a deck with a more honed strategy, just that it’s much more difficult to focus a deck that has no implied structure.

The biggest benefit here is flexibility. If you find a solo commander that you like, you can probably build a deck around that creature that is totally different from a friend’s deck that uses the same commander.

Does This Commander Lead to a Synergistic Deck?

Melek, Izzet Paragon

On the flip side, some commanders require you to support them with the 99. Often called build-around-me commanders, these creatures tend to not do much if they sit on the battlefield by themselves. A good example of this kind of creature would be Vorel of the Hull Clade, who is just a ¼ for three mana if you don’t give him counters to double.

These decks tend to have a tight mechanical focus, which means that you’ll need a specific subset of cards in order to build the deck. Unless you have a large collection already, these commanders aren’t the kind you just pick up and throw a deck together with. They reward careful planning and push you towards a certain style of play.

What synergy commanders tend to lack is flexibility and uniqueness. Most Thelon of Havenwood decks use the same core of cards. Of course, part of the thrill of synergy commanders is trying to push them in new directions that haven’t been well-explored yet.

Most flavorful Vorthos commander decks also fall into this category. Instead of a mechanical theme, they have a flavorful theme. Flavor is so wide open, however, that even solo commanders can be turned into synergy commanders when filtered through a flavor theme. My Thassa, God of the Sea deck from last week is a good example of this. While Thassa herself doesn’t push a deck in any direction, I used a self-imposed restriction to turn the deck into a sea monster deck.

Sorting legendary creatures into the solo and synergy categories makes it easier to evaluate how much success you’ll have with a given commander. You’ll be able to better choose a leader that fits your play style, your deck building strengths (and weaknesses!), and your willingness to acquire new cards.

How Much Hate Will This Commander Draw?

Kaalia of the Vast

Commander isn’t all about you though. It’s largely played as a multiplayer format, and that means considering how other players will react and feel about your deck choice. If you’re playing a subtle commander, the other players are more inclined to leave you alone. Some may even be excited if you’re playing a commander that few people use. As soon as they see you pull out Rafiq of the Many, however, they’re probably going to all attack you first and get bitter if you win anyway.

A common impetus for building a new commander deck is a consistent reaction of “my deck is too strong” or “my deck is too weak.” If you play lots of Commander with lots of people you don’t know, I recommend keeping a few decks at a few varying power levels handy. This way you’ll be able to scale your multiplayer presence with your audience.

Gauging hate levels while choosing a new commander is easy if you’re looking through cards that have been around the block. You just need to tap into a part of the Commander community and find out what players think.

Judging hate when new cards are released is obviously much more difficult. You’ll have no hard data to look at, but you can use some benchmarks. If a new legendary creature does something similar to an older legendary creature, you can guess that players might react to it in the same way. Likewise, there are some common effects that just irk Magic players anyway. Effects that prevent people from playing the game, like land destruction or Gaddock Teeg, are going to cause a ruckus more often than not.

Does This Commander Fit a Strategy I Want to Play?

Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger

The bottom line, however, is that you have to find the commander that fits you. If you’re looking for a mono-Black commander, then obviously looking at commanders that aren’t mono-Black isn’t something you should be doing. Most players with even an inkling of what they’re looking for will have some sort of criteria that makes them go, “Meh,” at some cards.

Usually, these are the things that players thing about first when evaluating cards. Why is it last on this list? Commander, and Magic as a whole, is largely about discovery. You know a good way to not discover things? Shut out possibilities. To tie back into the first question, I want to encourage people to be open-minded about new cards and how they might impact the format. Sure, it will work out that many cards are bad, but novelty is at the heart of the format. I will always promote the process of thinking big before narrowing down your options.

New Commander Blood

Commander is what’s known as an eternal format, which means that its card pool never rotates and is always expanding. New potential commanders enter the format every few months, and figuring out which ones to build new decks around is always a challenge. Even when looking through existing legendary creatures, identifying the baggage those creature carry with them is a useful skill.

Until next time, planeswalkers, may your search for friends bring your Commander communities closer together.

Command Zone: No Business Like Snow Business

Living in the northeastern United States, Christmas and snow go together like a sitcom romance: sometimes they love each other too much and other times they want nothing to do with each other. It’s about a 50/50 shot whether we get snow. Not at all a romanticized White Christmas finale that saves our ski lodge and Bing Crosby gets the girl. What does this have to do with Magic? I don’t snow!

Originally, the snow-covered lands were the only snow permanents in the game, debuting in Ice Age. More than a decade later, in Coldsnap, the snow supertype finally got placed on artifacts, creatures, and enchantments. Today I’m going to talk about my favorite snow permanents for Commander. I’ll go color by color, also including categories of multicolored/artifacts and lands. Hold onto your hats, folks; I’m about to snow you away.

Angels in the Icefield

Adarkar Valkyrie

For White, the choice is easy. Adarkar Valkyrie is an immaculate card, saving any of your creatures from certain doom. Rather than letting them chill in the graveyard, she makes sure they keep chilling on the battlefield. But wait, there’s more! Adarkar Valkyrie doesn’t just target your creatures. If an opponent’s creature is staring Death in the face, this Angel can rescue it and bring it back to your side of the battlefield. How about that for a recruiting strategy?

And Then There’s Owl

Rimefeather Owl

Blue has a bunch of big fat fatties to beat with in Commander, but the neatest ones can grow their own size. Rimefeather Owl is a champion of this, having a variable power/toughness that grows with its activated ability to snowify other permanents. It’s also a neat ability to turn your nonsnow creatures into snow creatures so that they can get benefits from your pro-snow spells. Pretty much nobody runs anti-snow cards, so it’s all upside there.

Rime Schemes

Rime Transfusion

It generally takes a lot of oomph for an Aura to make an impact in Commander. Rime Transfusion takes advantage of the lack of snow creatures by essentially making a creature unblockable. In mono-Black. Fear and intimidate do most of that work, but the abundance of artifact creatures in Commander give Rime Transfusion a sneaky edge. The +2/+1 isn’t negligible either, potentially pushing your commander to a point where it can kill opponents earlier with commander damage.

Put ‘Em on Ice

Rimescale Dragon

No removal? Snow problem! In one of the weirdest color pie violation of Coldsnap, Rimescale Dragon lets you permanently tap down creatures for only 2S. That’s cray cray. Having a 5/5 body isn’t too shabby either, easily smashing damage into your opponents’ faces when their blockers all get frozoned. This is a great card for Red decks that have trouble dealing with big creatures.

Frostbite

Ohran Viper

I was tempted to put Future Sight’s Centaur Omenreader here, except it’s pretty difficult to make it useful in a format where it’s so bad at attacking. Instead, I picked Ohran Viper, who will happily kill any creature in combat. And if that doesn’t happen, it’s perfectly fine drawing a card for me. It’s that tension that I love about it. No matter if your opponent blocks or not, they can’t make a right choice. Having 3 toughness also means that Ohran Viper will rarely be trading even if they block with a token or utility creature.

Snow is Crystals Because Of Hydrogen Bonds

Diamond Faerie

With only two multicolored cards and a handful of artifacts, I just chose one card from these two groups. And if we’re talking snow creatures, which we are, because this is an article about snow things, Diamond Faerie is champion of the world. It’s the snow creature lord, pumping up your entire frosty force to crazy levels. The big downside is that it’s three colors, but it’s a double-edged downside. Being forced to play more colors gives you a bigger pool of snow creatures to use in your deck!

This Subtitle Has Snow Puns

Dark Depths

Last, and certainly least as far as converted mana cost is concerned, is Dark Depths. This card has a very specific flavor. The eldritch sorceress Marit Lage was buried beneath a thick layer of ice during Dominaria’s ice age. This is because Marit Lage is so freaking powerful and frightening. She can travel between planes without being a planeswalker. You have to be hella hardcore to be able to do that. Unfortunately, the World Spell melted this icy prison and released the terrible sorceress monstrosity. What does Marit Lage look like? See below:

Marit Lage token

Holy $#@%. Christmas jokes over, people. Winter puns are no more. Just run. As fast as you can. Get out, now. Go. Go. Go.

There’s Snow Place Like Home

OK, seriously, last pun. Marit Lage is indestructible. I know you think that snow permanents have some pretty cool designs, and I do too. We talked about that already. We need to get the hell out of here.

If you can’t keep up, planeswalkers, I’m leaving you behind. Sacrificing yourself to give me a one-second advantage over Marit Lage would be the most wonderful Christmas present, thank you.

NOW RUN.