Battlebond is arriving soon, and I think I speak for everyone when I say that the set looks fantastic. Full to the brim with amazing reprints and jam-packed with cards that work not only in Two-Headed Giant but also in Commander, Battlebond is shaping up to be a total smash.
We’ll look today at some of the black cards in the set that stand out for us Commander players. Of note, this review won’t go into too much detail about the new legendary Partner pairs that include black commanders. You can check out Nate Burgess’s Battlebond Partner Review for a more detailed review of the Partner pairs in the set. For the purposes of this review, we’re looking at how the new black cards will work in the 99, so any discussion about Virtus the Veiled or Krav, the Unredeemed will stay within that context.
Enough chatter about minute details—let’s get to the review!
We start off with a mythic Demon with a nasty ability. First, it prevents your opponents from gaining life, so it sucks to be Oloro, Ageless Ascetic. Second, and more importantly, this demon is a Wound Reflection that can attack and block! If this thing lands a hit, it’s not just dealing 6 damage, it’s dealing 12. Eight mana feels like a lot to me, though, so my favorite place to run this bad boy is easily Kaalia of the Vast. In that deck, this can function like a second copy of your Gisela, Blade of Goldnight, picking off opponents before they have a chance to scramble their defenses. If you manage to get both this and Gisela out at the same time, that’s just game over.
This creature also joins the long line of Demons that can be summoned by Shadowborn Apostles, although I’m not sure whether this quite makes the cut in those decks. The Apostles take up so many slots that you don’t have room for too many demons, and it’s hard to beat the gold standard of Rune-Scarred Demon or Razaketh, the Foulblooded. Still, it’s a nice way to push extra damage through to close out a game. In fact, I actually really like this demon for Saskia the Unyielding decks. Those decks love doubling damage, whether with a Gisela, with Rage Reflection, or Gratuitous Violence, and this could happily join the fray as another way to turn a single point of damage into much, much more.
Our next mythic is an instant that literally lets you cling to the game by the tips of your fingers. Instead of dying, you can turn your potential demise into a spectacular recovery, staying at 1 life and drawing seven brand new cards.
This is an exciting reward, but as a method of actual survival, I’m a little dubious. Being at 1 life is a state of near-complete vulnerability. There are lots of games that don’t end via combat, but end because of a Goblin Bombardment or a Blood Artist. Even if you do survive, other players have lots of opportunities to remove you from the game again in the very same turn. This is why Angel’s Grace only shows up in a total of 1,482 decks on EDHREC. This spell is dead in your hand for most of the game, and even at its best, it still puts you in a precarious position.
I’m more excited to see how players will abuse this card for its ability to draw you so many cards. Folks could run this alongside cards like Pact of Negation or Phage the Untouchable to turn dangerous “lose the game” triggers into card advantage instead. I personally like it best in Selenia, Dark Angel decks, which are famous for eviscerating their own life total and then using Axis of Mortality to give that low life total away. Not only does this spell keep your tank full, it puts you right on target for a Near-Death Experience win condition. A niche spell, perhaps, but a cool one for sure.
Have you ever asked the question, “What if Faith’s Reward was better?” Well, now it is. This is probably my favorite new spell from the set. Not only can this be used to save all of your stuff, but you’ll get everyone else’s too! If the whole table agrees that Player A’s board has gotten out of control, and Player B decides to Wrath of God, you get to happily sweep up the rewards. I love love love the enchantment Grave Betrayal, but people can see that one coming too easily, and rarely let it stick. This, however, is a total surprise, which makes it much more ideal. Just when your opponents thought they’d earned a reprieve, you’ll come right back at them with a real problem.
Frankly, you don’t even need to steal a ton of creatures for this spell to be worth it. I’ve seen a Fool’s Demise and an Unhallowed Pact do some great work before. Stealing a single Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger is backbreaking. Heck, you can sacrifice all your creatures in your Meren of Clan Nel Toth deck and bring them all right back for more enters-the-battlefield effects! I strongly advocate running this card, whether you’re in an aggressive creature-heavy deck that wants to keep its creatures alive and kicking, or you’re piloting a destructive deck that likes to turn every death into an advantage.
As I mentioned before, we have a separate review for the Partners, so I’ll only discuss them in the context of the 99, rather than as commanders themselves. In this case, Krav, the Unredeemed takes that “turn every death to your advantage” philosophy and runs with it! A 3/3 for five mana isn’t great, but one that allows you to sacrifice creatures to draw cards, gain life, and get bigger? That’s some bonkers stuff right there. I can hear Ghoulcaller Gisa players squealing with glee at this new card advantage engine, especially because they can sacrifice Krav to Gisa’s ability after he’s buffed himself up to get a ton of new Zombies.
In fact, there are tons of commanders that would love another sacrifice engine. Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest love the sacrifice, Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder is more than happy to offer up his Thrull tokens, and Ghave, Guru of Spores welcomes anyone that cares about both tokens and +1/+1 counters. Krav has a high cost, but if it’s a cost you can afford to pay, he’ll give you some of the best rewards you could possibly ask for.
We’ve seen Quietus Spike, Scytheclaw and even Raving Dead, but we’ve never seen the life-chopping effect on a body this efficient. Virtus the Veiled is very exciting. His deathtouch makes him tough to block and tougher to attack into, and his ability to put opponents at 19 life after a single swing is tantalizing. Virtus is a Zeno’s Paradox card, always approaching zero but not quite getting there. He isn’t here to close out the game, he’s here to get the ball rolling.
Because we’re magic players and we love thought experiments: Let’s imagine Virtus is wearing Quietus Spike and a Scytheclaw and lands a blow on an opponent at 40 life. That attack takes the opponent to 38 life, and triggers all three cards. The first cut puts your enemy at 19. The second takes them to 9. The final trigger takes them to 4. Talk about a fall from grace.
Pro tip: it’s fun to think about Virtus wearing a Quietus Spike, but the better equipment for him is actually Fireshrieker. He’ll kill anything he touches before they can attack him back, and if he isn’t blocked, he’ll still get multiple triggers. Pro tip #2: put Archfiend of Despair and Wound Reflection in your Virtus decks.
Battlebond has also introduced a set of “Friend or Foe” cards that can help you and your allies while hurting your enemies, such as Pir’s Whim. The black card in this cycle is Virtus’s Maneuver, and if I’m being honest, it’s probably the least thrilling of the bunch. By no means is this a bad card! It just doesn’t have the same ‘oomph’ factor as others in its class, such as Vona’s Hunger. Still, I enjoy the design, and I love the political options Friend or Foe cards open up. One of my favorite cards from the original Commander 2011 product was Death by Dragons, so it’s fun to see new cards that can be used to shape the political landscape of the game.
The Warrior tribe has at long last gotten some love, especially from the new five-color commander Najeela, the Blade-Blossom. However, Najeela is nothing without her support system, and Mindblade Render, alongside Raiders’ Spoils, is here to keep her hand chock full of goodies. Aside from warrior tribal, though, you won’t need this creature elsewhere. It can attack and draw you cards on its own, but that ability on a fragile creature is a little touch-and-go. I suppose you could pair this with Conspiracy to make your entire team Warriors, but that seems like a lot of work to get a worse Bident of Thassa. Overall, this is a great tribal card, and it signals that most of the Najeela decks we’ll see will probably be weighted toward Red and Black.
Battlebond has some stellar new reprints among all the exciting new cards, so let’s take a quick moment to address them here:
Mono-black players everywhere rejoiced as Crypt Ghast’s best friend came back out to play! If you have a deck that likes its Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, this is right on the money. Sensibly, the Revenant mostly only appears in mono-black decks according to her EDHREC page, but we also see that she’s played most in Olivia Voldaren decks, since she gives your commander more mana to steal creatures. I expect to see an increase in the number of mono-black decks being built after the printing not only of this card, but also the recent Cabal Stronghold.
This card is criminally underplayed. How does it only appear in 23% of Ghoulcaller Gisa decks? Why do only 2 out of every 5 The Scarab God players run this creature? How can only half of Gisa and Geralf players think this is good enough to include? For six mana, you’ll get five tokens almost immediately, and all on a body that is super easy to recur from your graveyard over and over and over.
Yes, Demonic Tutor is a strictly better card than this, but no, that doesn’t mean that this is a bad card. This is an amazing card. As we saw with Krav, the Unredeemed commanders everywhere are always hungry to take advantage of death triggers. Be very prepared for this spell to show up more and more in Meren of Clan Nel Toth decks, or Prossh, Skyraider of Kher decks, or Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest… the list goes on. Death can be just as much of a resource as your mana, so use it wisely.
No ifs, ands, or buts about it, Battlebond looks bonkers. I’m beyond excited for this set to release, but more importantly, I’m excited about what this set signals to us players. Wizards has its eyes on Commander more and more with every new set. Just look at the care they took to make sure that these cards work not only in a Two-Headed Giant draft environment, but also in multiplayer free-for-all. Battlebond gets a standing ovation from me, and I hope we get to return to the plane of Kylem in the future for a Thrilling Encore performance.
Til next time!