Welcome to the Commander 2018 Black Set Review! There are only a handful of new black cards in this year’s product, but boy, do they pack a punch. Let’s dive right in and check out these awesome new cards.
We begin with Bloodtracker, a card that immediately grabbed my attention and refuses to let go. A mere flying 2/2 for four mana, Bloodtracker doesn’t look like much, but it has a few more tricks up its sleeve. For one black mana and 2 life, you can power it up with a +1/+1 counter. That’s not a stellar rate, but it gets better: when it leaves the battlefield, you draw a card for each +1/+1 counter it had.
That’s right, this is a Greed with legs. Greed is currently played in 5,571 decks, which isn’t a grand amount when compared to Phyrexian Arena’s 40,933 decks. Still, Greed effects have their place. Usually, players enjoy Greed or Erebos, God of the Dead because of their status as enchantments, which makes them difficult to remove. Those decks tend to err on the side of control strategies. Will Bloodtracker have the same fate?
Not exactly. Rather, it slams straight into my Reyhan, Last of the Abzan + Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker deck, which manipulates tons and tons of counters. In that deck, this new Bloodtracker is a second copy of Toothy, Imaginary Friend! Even better, Bloodtracker looks like a total cert in Marchesa, the Black Rose. Not only can it provide its own +1/+1 counters to trigger Marchesa’s ability, but it can also manipulate your life total so you always can Dethrone your opponents! I’d fully expect other decks like Varolz, the Scar-Striped and Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest to take advantage of this new Vampire, too. Remember: you draw cards when Bloodtracker leaves the battlefield, not just when it dies, so you’re guaranteed to get value from those counters!
Hold up. Black has a Miracle card. Watch out, Avacyn Restored! Entreat the Dead is a delightful design, particularly in the way that its mana cost, Miracle cost, and even its name mirror the card Entreat the Angels.
With that said, I’m dubious that this card will make a large impact in EDH. I’m a devout necromancer, with Meren of Clan Nel Toth, The Mimeoplasm, and Lazav, Dimir Mastermind graverobber decks to my name, and to be truthful, I don’t think this will make the cut in any of those lists.
Let’s do some math. To retrieve one creature, without Miracle, you’d have to spend five mana. That’s on par with Rise from the Grave, but it’s much worse than EDH staples like Animate Dead and Necromancy. To revive two creatures, you’d have to pay seven mana, which is a worse rate than Ever After. For a whopping nine mana, you’d return three creatures to play, but for a whopping nine mana, you could also just cast Rise of the Dark Realms.
That’s only when cast naturally, though. What about when this card is cast as a Miracle? Things definitely look a lot better. Three mana would get you one creature, but five would get you three creatures. That’s a nice rate, although it requires you to make sure this spell winds up on the top of your deck. Luckily…
…this card is well-placed in the new Esper Top-of-Deck-Matters precon, helmed by Aminatou, the Fateshifter. When your commander can guarantee which cards will end up on top of your library, things look a whole let better.
I do like this new card, but it requires a specific build. I personally feel that it’s hamstrung not just by its timing – you really need to Miracle this spell for it to be worthwhile – but also by the fact that it only targets creatures in your own graveyard. Still, it’s a fun design, and in a deck like Aminatou, I think it will put in some admirable work.
I have to confess, I think this new cycle of Lieutenants is bonkers cool, and Loyal Subordinate is no exception. Three mana for a 3/1 menacing Zombie isn’t much, but that second ability is no joke: if you control your commander during your combat, each opponent automatically loses three life.
There are a handful of almost-comparisons we can look to when trying to evaluate this card. Palace Siege’s ‘Dragons’ mode is interesting, and the enchantment sees play in 7,916 decks, though I suspect its flexibility as a repeatable Raise Dead is responsible for that. Gray Merchant of Asphodel shows up in no less than 15,941 decks, an astonishing number. However, Gray Merchant scales well to the end of the game, doesn’t require your commander to be in play, and also gains you tons of life, so it’s a tough comparison. Even so, decks that play Gray Merchant do so precisely because they like to get extra value from it, repeatedly returning it to play to drain opponents down to the last drop.
Compared to things like Gray Merchant, Loyal Subordinate probably doesn’t look like much, but in the right deck, it’s a win condition. All you need to do is make sure your commander remains in play.
With an impressive 759 decks to his name, Mogis, God of Slaughter is the king of nickel-and-dime gameplay, whittling enemies down a handful of life points at a time. He simply never goes away, which makes him a prime candidate for Loyal Subordinate’s life-draining ways. Alongside Bloodchief Ascension, Painful Quandary, and Sulfuric Vortex, this deck is much more dangerous than it appears. Erebos, God of the Dead is another indestructible Theros God, with 590 decks. Erebos specializes in mono-black control, which makes a little critter like the Subordinate a perfect fit; stick this little guy into play, destroy any and everything your opponents attempt to play with your instants, and casually sit back and watch as your opponents suffer each turn without requiring any additional effort on your part.
Don’t forget that Loyal Subordinate is also a Zombie! The Scarab God will always reward excellent Zombies, and is incredibly difficult to keep off the battlefield. Like Erebos, you can sit back and relax as your opponents lose oodles of life. Ol’ Scarab here has nearly 1,100 decks under his belt, and I daresay the Subordinate is a shoo-in for a great many of them.
Now this card is tough to evaluate, but the longer I look at it, the more I like it (and the more the art scares me). Night Incarnate can sit politely on the battlefield, waiting to die and shrink the living, or it can be cast with Evoke, automatically granting you that effect if you need it immediately. That’s a good bit of flexibility right there.
We don’t normally see a ton of popularity for minor -X/-X effects like this; Yahenni’s Expertise only shows up in 1,409 decks, for example. Massacre Wurm is more popular, at 6,301 decks, but it doesn’t affect your own board and has an additional lose-life trigger. Scalable -X/-X effects are always more popular, such as Toxic Deluge and Black Sun’s Zenith, at 20,036 decks and 13,640 decks, respectively.
Still, I think this card is more powerful than it looks. A 3/4 with deathtouch stops many oncoming attackers, and the threat of -3/-3 to the board will also cause opponents to give pause when determining whether to attack you. -3/-3 won’t get the big baddies, but it will wipe out utility creatures like Fauna Shaman, Fog Bank, and even a number of smaller commanders like Mizzix of the Izmagnus and Sidisi, Brood Tyrant. If you’re up against a token player, Night Incarnate practically becomes a bargaining chip, ready to detonate if they so much as think of pointing their army your way.
Naturally, the first place I turn is to my necromantically-inclined friends. Muldrotha, the Gravetide and Meren of Clan Nel Toth are each large enough to withstand the Incarnate’s -3/-3, and can make excellent use of a recurrable board wipe. Use Incarnate to wipe the field of the tiny 1/1s and 2/2s, then follow it up with Fleshbag Marauder to force your enemies to lose their larger, more important creatures too.
Oh, and remember: just like Reveillark and Nevermaker and other assorted Evoke creatures, this is a ‘leaves the battlefield’ trigger, not a ‘dies’ trigger. That Esper Aminatou planeswalker will make great use of this card to control the board, as her second ability blinks a permanent! Not only is this a great way to keep your planeswalker commander safe, but you can clear the board of tiny pesky critters anytime, and that’s solid value. Night Incarnate looks to me like a card that players will underrate until they see it across the table from them, and realize was a nightmare it really is.
The new series of “Commander Storm” cards is crazy inventive. This particular spell, Skull Storm, has a hefty mana cost, but the higher the cost, the more likely you are to have cast your commander several times that game. Bonus, if you have any Partner commanders, the Storms count both of them!
With that said, this card looks like a trap to me. Nine mana is a lot. It had better win you the game or something. For nine man you could be casting Rise of the Dark Realms or a supercharged Torment of Hailfire. This spell doesn’t quite approach that level of game-ending power. By definition, it’s a Zeno’s Paradox, only taking your opponents halfway to the destination every time. Plus, if they have any creatures in play – especially an army of tokens – your spell is likely not to impact their life total in any meaningful way.
It’s not all bad, though. There are some neat spaces to explore with Skull Storm. As I mentioned above, Partner commanders have excellent synergy here, so I highly recommend Vial Smasher the Fierce, a commander I’ve seen cast as many as four times a game, but who still puts in a lot of work. Counting her Partner in addition definitely puts you over the edge, and the high mana cost is actually a boon for Vial Smasher, who will randomly chuck nine damage at an opponent when you cast it!
A new favorite of mine, Virtus the Veiled, could also have some fun with this spell. If you have a Wound Reflection or an Archfiend of Despair in play, Skull Storm spells doom for your enemies. Tasigur, the Golden Fang might also make good use of Skull Storm, since he’s regularly castable from the command zone for very cheap, and can potentially even recur your huge spells when he needs to end the game.
For fun, let’s imagine what it would take for this to take out an opponent from 40, assuming they have no creatures. The first copy would take them from 40 to 20. The second takes them from 20 to 10. The third puts them at 5, the fourth at 2, and the 5th at 1. In other words, if you’ve cast your commander five times during the game, and an opponent has no creatures, this spell will auto-delete them.
Of course, if you’re casting your commander five times in a game and your opponent is still at 40, you may need to reexamine the deck a little bit. I definitely think Partner commanders are the way to go here.
Now this is a Commander card. I absolutely adore this design. This is a political, flying, Hydra Omnivore-esque terror of a Demon, and I’m ecstatic about it.
Effects like this demon aren’t often too popular outside of the precons they come in. A comparable card, Bitter Feud, only shows up in 1,051 decks, and it only counts damage that each chosen player deals to each other. With our new Demon buddy, everyone gets to join in on the fun.
What I truly enjoy about Sower of Discord is that it’s still a very solid creature when the game has come down to a one-on-one. Most Commander-original political effects, like Sylvan Offering, Eye of Doom, or Dulcet Sirens, lose their pizazz when the game is left with only two players. The Demon, however, still rewards you against a single enemy, binding your life totals together and entwining your collective fates. As long as you keep your life total higher than theirs – which is often the whole point of this game – your opponent will be unable to launch a successful attack against you without putting themselves in immediate danger.
Kaalia of the Vast has a metric ton of Angels, Demons, and Dragons to sort through, so it’s a tough job to try and force your way into her deck. Even so, I think this demon is right up her alley; one of Kaalia’s biggest strengths is her speed, which means you need to deal as much damage as possible, as soon as you can, before your opponents have a chance to stabilize. Sower of Discord allows you to alpha strike one opponent and still deal damage to another, making it easier to come for them next. Akroma, Angel of Fury currently sees play in 47% of the 2,256 Kaalia decks out there, and I daresay that this Demon will deal more damage that that temper-tantrum-throwing Angel.
Speaking of bouncing damage between players, Saskia, the Unyielding could not be more perfect. You may need to put a couple graphs and charts together when playing this card in a Saskia deck. Just imagine it: Saskia has named player B, but Sower of Discord named players C and D, while Bitter Feud named you and player B, and Stuffy Doll named player C.
Finally, I also think Rakdos, Lord of Riots would make great use of Sower of Discord. True, Rakdos’s greatest strength lies in his ability to reduce the mana costs of your Artisan of Kozileks and your Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hungers, but he’s also the commander who most often runs Heartless Hidetsugu. Tapping the Hidetsugu with the Sower of Discord in play? That’s spicy.
I hope this review has been enlightening – or perhaps, endarkening. The new black cards from Commander 2018 provide several decks with some fantastic new tools, and I’m very interested to see how they play. Will any of these new cards make their way into your decks? Will you summon a Storm of Skulls, or will you be busy Bloodtracking? Will you Entreat the Dead, summon the Night Incarnate, or watch your opponents crumble to your Loyal Subordinate? Let me know your thoughts, and in the meantime, go Sow some Discord.
Til next time!