With Kaladesh being fully spoiled I think it is time to look at the new commander candidates from the set. And, oh boy, there are some sweet ones… and not so sweet ones. As you will notice I like to compare new cards to existing options with a similar effect because that lets me get a rough idea of a) the thought process behind the design and b) the power level and gameplan in actual play since I’ve played or at least seen played almost every commander that is played frequently. So let’s get right at it:

Pia Nalaar

Legendary Score: 1/10

There aren’t many commander options worse than that. Three mana for three power and two pretty irrelevant abilities. It’s debatable whether Tobias Andrion is better simply because he provides your deck with a second color since you probably won’t want to cast either of them. If you want a “Thopter-Commander” you should just go with Pia and Kiran Nalaar which aren’t busted either but at least they are a happy couple.

Padeem, Consul of Innovation

Legendary Score: 4/10

Alright now we’re getting into “playable-territory”. Interestingly enough he even solves one issue a dedicated artifact deck can run into by providing Hexproof for your artifacts. Additionally that even synergizes with the second ability:

“At the beginning of your upkeep, if you control the artifact with the highest converted mana cost or tied for the highest converted mana cost, draw a card.”

It’s still pretty innocent - I have to admit that - but look at it this way: artifact based decks are running two types of artifacts, mana rocks and utility things like Mind Stone or Trading Post and big “pay-off” (synergy-)artifacts like Darksteel Forge or Myr Battlesphere. Now a lot of the time you’ll get there with just these CMC 4-5 utility cards but both those and the big cards are the ones that’ll get hit by spot removal like Into the Core, Return to Dust or Reclamation Sage and then someone with a Gilded Lotus turns off your card draw. The other scenario is “Bane of Progress hurrdurr”, but since your commander provides you with additional card-draw you might be able to recover from that easier than usual while simultaneously protecting your best card anti-boardwipe-card (hint).

And this is essentially your gameplan. Protect Padeem with Lightning Greaves and/or Darksteel Plate so he can protect your artifacts and generate value. Then you turtle the rest of the game while assembling the typical artifact-deck engines like Myr Battlesphere + Trading Post or Precursor Golem + Krark-Clan Ironworks + Nim Deathmantle. To ensure you don’t get beaten too badly in the early game I’d run Propaganda, maybe even Crown of Doom, along with more conventional cards like Cyclonic Rift, AEtherspouts, tutors like Fabricate and of course a ton of mana rocks.

Still it feels somewhat trolly that Wizards has yet again denied the Blue-Red artifact commander that people have been yelling for, but he’s at least a step in the right direction right?

Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter

Legendary Score: 4/10

Oh well, Rhys the Redeemed all over again. I understand that Rhys is a pretty popular commander so you might be thinking “Maybe Oviya Pashiri will be as well?” But the answer is no. Aside from the fact that Rhys is also a pretty low tier commander himself, Oviya Pashiri lacks a second color and on-color support, while her high-cost ability doesn’t really synergize with the gameplan of a deck built to maximize the “payout;” so even if you get her to stick for a while, you’ll be running a subpar strategy. Let’s look at that in detail…

“{2}{G},{T}: Create a 1/1 colorless Servo artifact creature token.”

If it had been a “Servo Elf”, “Servo Saproling” or anything along those lines it would’ve been ok. But like this you’re running a mono-green deck that has to try and synergize with artifact creatures… oh god help! Of course you can still run Eldrazi Monument, Gaea’s Anthem and Craterhoof Behemoth to go with the tokens theme but cards like Priest of Titania, Elvish Archdruid or Joraga Warcaller are the ones that push the Rhys-decks over the top of Mt. Meh into Playable Valley. Skullclamp and Shamanic Revelation are still runnable but Regal Force and Freyalise are kind of sad.

Now if the high-cost ability was really good it still wouldn’t be too insane, since the servo producing ability would be the bread and butter of the deck. But it isn’t.

“{4}{G},{T}: Create an X/X colorless Construct artifact creature token, where X is the number of creatures you control.”

So basically you’ll be running all these cards that go well with going wide or go wide themselves to maximize this second ability and all you’ll get when the stars align is a dumb durdle. Again, there is no inherent synergy with green whatsoever aside from the fact that Pathbreaker Ibex is getting a bit better in comparison to the Rhys-deck. But that’s it, a token that gets stopped by any 1/1 colorless Servo token the Ovi-… weird decks these days will put in front of it. On the bright side Greater Good, Momentous Fall or Soul’s Majesty will gain a spot in the deck but you’ll still run the risk of getting insanely shutdown by any well timed mass-removal while your recovery mechanisms aren’t as good as they should be in a deck like this.

So all in all 4 out of 10 points. I like low cost commanders since they enable you to use them from the get-go and it doesn’t hurt that badly when they get handled the first few times. Also there are of course possibilities to build a somewhat cohesive deck and given the right meta you can definitely have some fun. But why not play Rhys the Redeemed instead?

Gonti, Lord of Luxury

Legendary Score: 7/10

Naturally I’ve kept the best card for last! Oh boy do I love this design as it fixes the one issue I had with Daxos of Meletis: you can “control” what you get for free. In the past I’ve spent my fair time trying to build decks around Daxos trying to maximize the value from him by manipulating the top cards of my opponents.

With Gonti not only do you get to choose from 4 cards as opposed to relying on a bit of luck to hit the right card, but the ability is also an ETB-trigger meaning that you’ll a) always get your value and b) you can choose any opponent and not only the ones that you can deal damage to. Of course the “downside” is that you can’t get more than one card out of every cast (except when you blink/etc.) but to be honest that gets negated by the fact that you’ll hit lands/useless cards with Daxos ~50% of the time.

So how to build “Gonti.dec”?

There’s really not much you can do wrong with this guy. As always the mono-black deck should run some amount of mana-rocks paired with those ridiculous ramp cards we all know and love: Caged Sun, Gauntlet of Power and Cabal Coffers + Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. Just so you can ensure you’ll always have mana to cast Gonti.

For good measure you can also throw in Erratic Portal and Conjurer’s Closet because they’ll also go well with Grave Titan or Shriekmaw and basically act as additional Phyrexian Arenas. And of course the “staple-to-be” Panharmonicon that got printed right alongside Gonti.

5 Color Combo Store

Kambal, Consul of Allocation

Legendary Score: 6/10

I’m known to be playing around with politics a lot in Commander, be it a “generic” grouphug style of deck or even “Will of the Council”-Tribal. What I’ve always missed was a way to combine the groupslug element of a Mogis, God of Slaughter deck and the superior political elements you have at your disposal in white. Seems like Wizards delivered!

Of course decks like Mogis, God of Slaughter or Nekusar, the Mindrazer will still put out a lot more damage, but they often lack the tools to defend themselves politically. What I mean by that is they obviously can play Blasphemous Act, etc. to clear the board, but that doesn’t take the target off of their faces so once the board gets filled again the creatures will still come their way resulting in an inability to capitalize on their damage advantage.

Kambal solves these problems by trading red for white and having a little tweak to his ability: While it sometimes will burst someone for 6 or even 8 damage in one turn it won’t feel the same as a Sulfuric Vortex-style effect thus people won’t be as mad at you. Additionally you also gain the life someone lost, making it easier to take some hits to the face. But most importantly, Kambal does not punish the creature heavy decks that would feel threatened by a Mogis build. Generally speaking, the decks that are most affected by Kambal’s ability are the least able to threaten your life total..

Let’s go through a quick sketch of what a Kambal-deck like that could look like:

Howling Mine, Seizan, Perverter of Truth and the likes act as both way to trigger Kambal and fuel for your hand. If your opponents draw 2-3 cards a turn, they’re likely to not miss land drops and have lots of things to do, so they are more likely to take 2-4 damage from your general than they would be if they’re sitting on 4 mana and debating whether to play the creature or the non-creature spell. Also if people draw a lot of cards they usually get to do their unfair things, making them a lot more threatening than the BW guy who’s not trying to make a splash. This usually leads to people playing into your commander even more by flinging removal and disruption at each other to keep the others from winning the game, so both attacks and removal won’t be directed at you or your cards.

Two fancy commander-synergy cards for the deck would be Cease-Fire and Feroz’s Ban which unfortunately are the only two I’ve thought of at this point since tax effects usually work the other way around e.g. Vryn Wingmare or Thorn of Amethyst. Helm of Awakening could work as well but that card is a tad bit too dangerous for me when combined with continuous draw.

While they’re not as important to this deck than to other group slug decks it’s still important to play some board wipes. Deadly Tempest is a card I got to love in that particular archetype since it synergizes so well with the insanely huge boards you usually get in game where a Howling Mine or even a Font of Mythos is active for a while. The recently printed Fumigate is another very synergistic tool for the same reasons. Just make sure that you cast them in timely manner since the longer you can keep Kambal on the board the more value he will generate obviously and if the deck is functioning properly you shouldn’t need to fear a huge board necessarily.

All those things enable Kambal to allocate 6/10** points. He’s cheap to play at a cmc of 3 and the body is ok. He has a pretty neat little effect, which I like, since if it were to splashy you couldn’t divert the attention as easily. Sadly he offers no protection to himself or anything else (e.g.: Hexproof would be pretty nice and fit the flavor) which makes him a prime removal target in order to preserve life total from your opponent’s perspective. Also he doesn’t provide a way to win the game but makes doing so simply a bit easier… acceptable but not optimal. All of that adds up to 6/10** points or a secret 6+ because of personal enjoyment.

Rashmi, Eternities Crafter

Legendary Score: 8/10

Of all the good commander options we got with Kaladesh, this one is the card that should see the most play both in the 99 and in the command-zone.

It’s an instant staple in Momir Vig because of lines like:

  1. Cast Greenwarden of Murasa to trigger both Momir and Rashmi
    1. Momir-trigger tutors Mulldrifter on top
    2. Rashmi trigger casts Mulldrifter for free
      1. That triggers Momir again for a potential creature
      2. then draws two cards off of the Mulldrifter
  2. Greenwarden of Murasa resolves and puts his trigger on the stack.

Just broken… Oh and when you cast Rashmi, Eternities Crafter you can tutor for a creature of choice to start such a chain. And while she is ridiculous in Momir decks, she is going to be at least good in any other UGx commander deck as well.

When building the deck with her in the command zone there are a few things to keep in mind but other than that you can pretty much do what you want; her ability doesn’t have to be “enabled” to be good. Rashmi just doesn’t care whether you cast creatures, sorceries or even artifacts, as long as you use and abuse two types of mechanics:

  1. Instant-speed: Instants and cards with flash allow you to trigger her outside of your own turn since it says “your first spell each turn” and not “your first spell during your turn”. Hint: Leyline of Anticipation and Vedalken Orrery.
  2. The more obvious synergy is library manipulation of any sort: Brainstorm, Scroll Rack, Sensei’s Divining Top and Sylvan Library are cards that excel at manipulating the top of your library to maximize the effect of Rashmi’s ability. Just keep in mind that a Ponder will also trigger her, so Sorcery-speed spells will be rather slow in setting up whereas Sylvan Library for example doesn’t trigger her at all or a Brainstorm can be cast at end of turn, before you untap.

And that’s basically it, just play whatever you want in the colors and add some library manipulation and instant-speed to the deck and you’re golden.

Depala, Pilot Exemplar

Legendary Score: 5?/10

Depala, Pilot Exemplar huh? With Aether Revolt still to be spoiled, it’s hard to predict her actual playability in the long run since we may or may not see a considerable amount of dwarves and/or vehicles printed. But even so, she’s definitely a commander you could pick up and have fun with in a casual setting.

As some of you might know I am a big fan of aggressive decks in EDH for a few reasons. First of all putting pressure on unfair decks is both a lot of fun and can slow them down considerably since they have to dedicate resources to fighting your board, while they usually would use those to further their own game plan. Additionally it speeds up the games so you can even play 2 or 3 games on one evening with different decks instead of one big grindfest where the one with the most coffee wins. Depala, Pilot Exemplar might just be such a deck, with Vehicles bringing a lot of resiliency to the table (mass removal is the most frequent form of removal in EDH after all) while they also give your creatures pseudo-haste plus a considerable boost in power most of the time. She herself provides a very needed source of card advantage to a color combination that usually struggles to refill its hand after deploying the first wave.

Let’s first take a look at all the available vehicles:

  • Aradara Express: In my honest opinion it’s one of the worse ones for the deck, but I would still play it. With your commander in play you’re going to need only one additional point of power to crew it and a 9/7 with menace is almost guaranteed to either kill two chump blockers or trade 1:2 in your favor. And dealing 9 damage is 22,5% of their starting life total, a.k.a. “tons of damage”.
  • Ballista Charger: That’s more like it. Crewable with Depala or any 2-power dwarf + a servo or something, it adds 3-4 power to the attack while also having the ability to ping potential chump blockers out of the way or if there’s no need to do that, you can just go face with the ping. Not the best but right in the middle of the pack.
  • Bomat Bazaar Barge: Whatever it’s stats, it’s right on curve with Depala and replaces itself so I’ll take it. The only thing preventing it from being insane is that it doesn’t have haste… which is probably good in regards to Limited.
  • Cultivator’s Caravan: Outside of Sydri and Karn decks, people don’t get attacked by mana rocks too often. That might change soon as I’ll definitely give that card a try in more decks than this one.
  • Demolition Stomper: Another big one. Depala + a random Dwarf are enough to crew it, and in order to block it your opponents have to invest at least a medium quality creature or take 11 damage (27,5% of their starting life total). At 6 mana that’s pretty acceptable.
  • Fleetwheel Cruiser: Turn 3 Depala into Turn 4 Fleetwheel Cruiser, swing for 9. And after that you only have a single creature on the board that would get hit by a Damnation or similar… Welcome to Aggro in EDH!
  • Ovalchase Dragster: This one attacks “only” for 7 on turn 4 if you didn’t play any dwarves on turn 1 or 2 and brings a measly 1 - 2 toughness to the table. But having Haste on your Vehicles is a pretty darn good and since this is multiplayer there’s often at least one player out there that won’t be able to block it profitably. Deal!
  • Renegade Freighter: Have you played against that card in limited? It hits hard, costs basically nothing and is easy to crew. If you have it in your opener you can even cast this on turn 3 and Depala a turn later, immediately crewing it and potentially having an extra mana to activate her for one… all while casually attacking for 6.
  • Sky Skiff: If I were to cut a Vehicle this would be the one. Two mana ⅔ Flying just isn’t enough in EDH.
  • Skysovereign, Consul Flagship: If you can get your hands on one you should obviously play one. Even though you’ll probably need at least 2 creatures to crew it, it removes blockers and grants evasion to your dwarves. Nothing spectacular but very workable.
  • Smuggler’s Copter: Definitely one of the better ones for this deck. You can drop it early and immediately crew it with Depala all while getting that sweet, sweet loot value. Even later in the game this is a very strong vehicle to have around due to it having flying and the ability to loot away unwanted cards.

Alright so the vehicles are generally pretty decent simply due to the nature of the mechanic. But how about the dwarves? They’re a pretty underrepresented tribe but with Kaladesh and a few pretty old sets I think there’s a reasonable amount of playable ones.

For example Duergar Hedge-Mage is one that definitely should get played. 2/2 body should be able to crew a lot of vehicles with the help of your commander and killing both an artifact and an enchantment when coming down is pretty strong if you ask me. One of the funniest dwarves for a vehicle deck is his buddy Duergar Mine-Captain that casually could crew multiple vehicles at once and even give each +1/+0 if you have the mana to untap him again after declaring attacks. Dwarven Patrol is pretty similar in that regard and with four power should be able to crew any Vehicle you want it to. The new dwarves obviously got designed with vehicles in mind so no surprise that there are a few pretty good ones for the deck. Gearshift Ace for example is a very playble card in my opinion… just think about crewing an Aradara Express with it. Veteran Motorist is another dwarf that is a must-play in my opinion. Also don’t forget Changelings and Adaptive Automaton/Brass Herald as replacement dwarves.

And last but not least Dwarven Recruiter, probably the strongest dwarf for the deck. Not only does he ensure that you’re drawing more dwarves but he combos insanely well with Depala essentially drawing you as many cards as you have mana left or dwarves in the deck… whatever number is smaller.

Now to give the deck it’s finishing touch add some recursion like Refurbish, Treasure Hunter or Trading Post to get back Vehicles that miraculously hit the graveyard somehow, Sun Titan is also a very good choice since all those dwarves fit his cmc requirements pretty well and some answers to your opponents card should be missing aswell: Chaos Warp, Orim’s Thunder and Darksteel Mutation, just to name a few staples.

Conclusion

With the amount of new legends and the vehicle mechanic Kaladesh will definitely make a lasting impression on the format. I like how we got some very durdly, yet playable commander options added to the pool and even one very strong competitive commander in Rashmi, Eternities Crafter. And of course the Inventions are another thing that will probably make a little splash in those decks that are (about to be) pimped out to the max. The left set nothing to be desired if you ask me and definitely got me excited for AEther Revolt, so let’s hope Wizards keeps up the good work.

See y’all ‘round!

A photo of Tobias Zehetner Tobias Zehetner

Tobias 'SibirianPns' Zehetner is an austrian software deveolper/student and a former competitive Legacy and Standard player who found his way into EDH several years ago. He enjoys vegan food, playing video games and his EDH matches as crazy as possible. The aspect of politics in EDH is what he enjoys the most about the format.