MTG: Five Commanders That Deserve Better

Transcript below the fold.

Let’s not kid ourselves, Commander is the place slightly crap cards end up. It used to be the joke was ‘it has its place in Vintage,’ and now, ‘it has a place in commander.’ Commander is a format designed to be played casually, in large groups, and with a high variance, so it’s entirely possible to put cards in your decks that you know are complete carries, or have niche application and for it all to work out.

Part of what Commander does for legendary creatures, then, is create a space where even the dodgiest creature can be viewed in terms of its colour identity and the kinds of decks you can make if you guarantee you’ll draw it every time.

Problem is, there are a lot of cards that probably only have a home in Commander that don’t… really… work in Commander, despite having some reason you might want them to. Wizards are known to produce second or third versions of legendary creatures to bring old story characters forwards into new design space – hi Teysa, hi Obzedat (or is it just the Orzhov?), but a lot of this list are languishing back behind either old ideas or near-misses.

Here then is an arbitary list of five Magic: The Gathering Legendary creatures who as much as we may love them, probably deserve a second card.

Brothers Yamazaki

We’ll start with an easy one here. The Brothers Yamazaki were actually pretty cool in standard in their time, until we all realised there was Gifts Ungiven to be played and Heartbeat of Spring combo, but the Brothers Yamazaki are one of those cards with a real cool Beta version of a possible mechanic.

The Brothers Yamazaki are very cool, but you need two copies – and only two – for them to work. In Commander, a highlander format, that’s just straight up not going to happen. Your reward for assembling these two components is a pair of 4/3 bushido 1s with Haste for 6 mana, which isn’t likely to set the world on fire in a land of Dragons and Board Wipes.

Still, the flavour of having a pair of brothers fighting back to back on the battlefield is pretty dang cool and unlike the other cards with the mechanic, there’s a precedent for this pair of bros to have Partner. Maybe we could see two base-red legends in a commander product that expand on our Yamazakian siblings? Heck, maybe there could be a whole family Yamazaki and Partnerthat play with this idea so you can pick your poisons?

Kentaro, The Smiling Cat

I swear we’re not just going to live in Kamigawa for this video (though we could).

Kentaro, The Smiling Cat is one of the sad reminders that Kamigawa didn’t just come out of a set that was trying to stabilise power levels after Mirrodin and Darksteel but was also a set designed when World Design had simply less resources than they do now. Filling a set with legendary cards meant every single card suggested a story, suggested an Important Story.

I read the novels and don’t remember Kentaro here, which is a bit sad because there seems to be something going on.

Kentaro is a Samurai ‘lord,’ sorta. He lets a white deck run Samurai of any colour without polluting the mana base, which is neat if he didn’t come out in Kamigawa, the period where there was some truly dizzying mana fixing cards in other colours, and if the samurai colours he wanted to represent weren’t ‘everything but blue’ (which is weird in its own way, but we’ll get there). Fact is, in Commander, Kentaro can’t smooth over your Samurai casting because he’s white and doesn’t reference any other colours in his text box, meaning he can’t Command a deck with anything in it but white creatures –

There is a way to handle this – look at Gonti, Lord of Luxury’s Template for an example – but it would technically be power level errata. If you want to make a white-base commander who enables an entire deck of Samurai that can work under Commander’s oddball rules, you’re going to need to take a second parse at this.

I’m just saying, return to Kamigawa wouldn’t be a good idea for a standard set but you might have some cool stuff for a Conspiracy or Commander set here, eh? Eh, eh?

Anax and Cymede

A red card, a red and white card! Anax and Cymede are just a little bit of a bummer on the flavour stakes. They’re a perfectly fine card for what you want a red-white swarm deck to do, but they’re also the most Therosy leaders and if you were trying to make a Heroic deck, they’re kind of one of your only options for Commanders in colours that get a bunch of Heroic. Naturally, not every commander has to hit every good theme, but the way the game is set up right now, if you start on a mechanic, and find a legendary creature in that mechanic’s space, it’s usually pretty decent as a commander – like Sidisi, for example.

Anax and Cymede are pretty reasonable as your only Heroic cards in the deck, but the boost they give is temporary and they themselves are so fragile, and they don’t *enable* Heroic, they just *benefit* from it. Worse, because Commander target numbers like life total and board state are so much larger, it’s pretty typical that +1/+1 and trample just isn’t good enough unless you’re also giving out Infect.

There simply isn’t room on a type line to make a Bestow commander – that’s why all the Gods had the creature type ‘God’, because the line was so crunched – so it’s not like that’s a good option – but it is a little sad that this king and queen of Akros are best served avoiding their subjects in a deck. Maybe they could get a nice new card sometime?

Agrus Kos, Wojek Veteran

And another red-white card. One of the longstanding complaints in Commander –

aside from ‘red doesn’t get enchantment destruction,’ which is false because they do, they just don’t want to pay the higher mana cost for spells that let them push the edges of the colour pie, fight me

– about red-white commanders whenever they’re spoiled is they primarily just creatures that attack and block. While I have my own concerns on that front, I at least respect that most of the white-red commanders that attack and block, like Tajic of the Legion and Kalemne, Disciple of Iroas (now THERE’S a Theros commander for attack decks) attack and block well and that’s the primary thing they do as *creatures*.

Agrus here is stuck between two rocks and hard places. First, he was made back in Ravnica 1, a period where our standards for creatures that attacked and blocked were generally lower. Remember, they printed Dredge in this set. He’s a 3/3 for 5 who at best is a 5/5 for 5, and that’s only when he attacks. Dying to Bolt with a trigger on the stack is no way to go through life, son. But so what? Tibor and Lumia suck too, it’s not like every crap Ravnica guild-lord deserves a second look (yes they do).

The thing is, Agrus Kos is in the books. We have an idea of his personality. we know what he’s like, what he does, and while he may be a fighter, he’s also a detective. A real hard-boiled gumshoe who can also bring to bear Boros legion fighting stock. We even have a mechanic for a character searching for clues, now – Investigate!

Agrus deserves more than he got and we should revisit him now we’ve got a handle on better ways to handle characters like this.

Haakon, Stromgald Scourge


which I m told is pronounced hoken

is one of the best worst options for this. Haakon is a really interesting commander who holds up some of the Commandery ideals of giving you direction to build with, he has a drawback to keep the game from being too static, and he’s also a decent body for his cost (though by no means a game ender in Commander).

But that casting restriction!

If you’re curious, you *can* cast Haakon in Commander, but you need to interact with cards that let you put him in your hand: Death Wish, Mastermind’s Acquisition, and Command Beacon, and then discard him. That’s not a big list, and if you want to search those up, you probably want to go search up *any* card, and if that’s the case, you could (just saying speculatively) play Sidisi as your commander, and use her Exploit to search up Haakon himself!

Personally, I’d suggest that the thing you need for Haakon isn’t so much a second printing or a re-try of the effect as much as maybe printing a support commander for him, some basic knight that lets you tutor Haakon into the graveyard that’s only useful for commander, but maybe I’m full of huckleberries.

What about you? What are some characters on cards you’d like to see revisted and made into commanders that are, y’know, good?

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