Eldritch Moon For Duel Commander Review
Following on from my recent article giving an introduction to the Duel Commander format, I have decided to review some of the newly released cards from Eldritch Moon in terms of their playability in this most wonderful of formats.
Let’s kick things off with the the new legendary creatures. I will review these firstly as potential Commanders, and then secondly as possible inclusions in the 99. We’ll look at the playability of the colour combination, the casting cost and the creature’s stats and abilities.
While Thalia, Guardian of Thraben has shown us that mono-white is indeed a viable strategy, we clearly have a big difference in casting cost here with Bruna. There are very few 7+ mana Commanders that have shown up in the Duel Commander metagame, Thraximundar, Griselbrand and Maelstrom Wanderer being three obvious examples. What these decks have in common is that they are, for obvious reasons, generally built around mana ramp. White is not a colour that specialises in this department. It is not out of the realms of possibility however as, much like in mono-black Griselbrand, artifact ‘rocks’ can help us get there.
Bruna’s ‘stats’ of being a 5/7 vigilant flyer are certainly not worth the 7 mana investment in Duel Commander, but what about her ‘when you cast’ trigger? It is crucial to note that this is a ‘when you cast’ trigger, not an ‘enters the battlefield’ trigger. What does this mean? It means that in order to get the trigger, we are always going to have to cast her. The trigger itself – returning an Angel or Human from our graveyard to play – is strong in isolation, but not worth the initial 7 mana investment. What’s the best we can do with this trigger in our mono-white deck? As we do not have the looting of Blue and Red, or the graveyard synergies of Black and Green, we are having to play fair with this reanimation. We lack the ability to intentionally dump some useful creature into the yard to reanimate. Instead, the best we can do is to reanimate one of our creatures that has already been killed.
I think the possibility of Bruna being playable as a Commander is fading fast.
Is Bruna playable as just another card in our 99? Unfortunately for our heroine, it is again the ‘when you cast’ aspect of her trigger that I believe rules her out for playability. Had this been an ‘enters the battlefield’ trigger, I could definitely have seen her seeing play in Kaalia of the Vast. Sadly there is no light at the end of the tunnel here.
As our Commander – No
In our 99 – No
We have had plenty of strong colourless creatures available to us in the past and there has yet to have been a successful colourless deck in the format. I believe that in order to play a colourless deck, it would have to be a Stax based prison deck which, at least thematically, this new Emrakul fits in. However, this potential deck would be far better placed being able to utilise coloured spells. As such, Daretti, Scrap Savant, Braids, Cabal Minion, Griselbrand and Azusa, Lost but Seeking jump to mind as more likely candidates to lead the archetype.
While decks such as Griselbrand and Maelstrom Wanderer have shown that it is possible to ‘ramp’ up to more expensive Commanders, 13 is a lot. In a colourless deck, we are also going to have a hard time benefiting from this Emrakul’s cost reducing ability.
I’m sure you’ll agree that we can end our discussion on this Emrakul applying for the vacant Commander position.
However, is this new Emrakul playable as one of our 99? Yes. No longer confined to a colourless deck, the stats and abilities on the card begin to be relevant. Ramp decks in the format are capable of casting their 6-8 drop Commanders and it is not too difficult to imagine being able to put at least 4 different card-types into our graveyard. A 9 mana creature in a ramp deck? We’re getting closer.
As for the ‘when you cast’ trigger, this is where the sauce is. Like Bruna above, we are not able to get any value out of this if we try reanimating or sneaking this Emrakul into play. We’re going to have to cast her. However, as anybody who has been Mindslavered will attest to, it is downright brutal and can end the game. The fact that the player gets an additional turn does make it much harder to loop this affect than Mindslaver, however hopefully, if we’ve player our cards right, that shouldn’t matter.
What sort of decks will want this? As I’ve described, any dedicated ramp deck can consider including this Emrakul in the 99. Animar, Soul of Elements is probably the most likely home for this due to it’s additional cost reducing ability. I doubt this card would have seen print had it been costed at 4-6 mana!
As our Commander – No
In our 99 – Maybe. Shows potential in Animar.
Wydwen, the Biting Gale, Oona, Queen of the Fae and Sygg, River Cutthroat all see play to varying degrees of success, showing that Blue Black is a viable colour combination in Duel Commander. Wydwen, the Biting Gale has the exact same 2UB mana cost and it was worth noting that a converted mana cost of 4 is also historically a very sweet spot for Commanders. Sidisi, Brood Tyrant, Grand Arbiter Augustin IV, Daretti, Scrap Savant, Olivia Voldaren, Meren of Clan Nel Toth, Kaalia of the Vast and so on…
So, let’s look at the card specifically. A 4/4 for 4. Nothing great. The ‘enter the battlefield’ trigger begins to make the card more interesting however. Self-mill is a strategy that has seen play in the format. With a similar, albeit more powerful ability, Sidisi, Brood Tyrant is a very playable Commander. Gisa and Geralf also allows us to cast a Zombie creature card from our graveyard on each of our turns. This ability is very similar to the one on Karador, Ghost Chieftain, so we know it has seen play in the format. Wort, Boggart Auntie also has a similar, tribal ability. I don’t know if the Zombie tribe has enough strength and depth to cut it in Duel Commander though. There may not be enough brains to go around. Time will tell.
I think Gisa and Geralf is a playable Commander but there are likely to be better options available.
How about as a card in our 99? It would seem to make a lot of sense to include Gisa and Geralf in a Sidisi, Brood Tyrant deck. I have played Sidisi for a while now and, though the synergies seem to be there with the self-milling, the deck does not run enough Zombies to take advantage of G&G’s recursion ability. I can definitely see the reasons for including Gisa and Geralf in such a deck, and would not chastise anybody for doing so. However, much like as a potential Commander, I feel that while the card is playable, there are better options available to us.
As our Commander – Unlikely.
In our 99 – Possible, although there may well be better options.
As per our analysis of Bruna, we have already agreed that mono-white is playable in Duel Commander. There is also evidence of 2WW being a playable casting cost in the format as Hokori, Dust Drinker has seen play from time to time. It is also evident from our discussion on Gisa and Geralf that Commanders with a converted mana cost of 4 are all over the format.
Let’s look at the her stats. While not broken, a 4 mana 4/3 flyer with First Strike and Lifelink does put a smile on my face. Gisela’s got game. We’re talking a mini Baneslayer Angel here people, and that card was some good. What’s not to like? Well, for starters, her 3 toughness can be a a little bit of a liability. Facing a red mage? Well, they probably have a grip of burn spells that deal with your bae over here. Assuming you are not playing against a red deck however, then Gisela has the potential to turn the tide of the game in your favour. But do we want Gisela as our Commander? Unfortunately, I do not think so. The best Commanders either immediately impact the board with ‘when you cast’ or ‘enters the battlefield’ triggers, or disrupt the opponent. Unfortunately, unless the game is all about racing, Gisela does not help us out the turn she comes into play. For this reason, I do not think she is worth considering as a Commander.
As a card in our 99 however? Yes please. Where do I sign. Good card is good etc etc.
I haven’t touched on the new Meld mechanic. While Brisela, Voice of Nightmares is clearly game ending, I feel that the hoops we have to jump through in order to get her into play are too difficult to trigger in a game of Duel Commander. We also would need to play Bruna, the Fading Light in our deck, a card I have already decided is not playable.
As our Commander – Unlikely
In our 99 – Maybe. Shows potential.
Firstly, before we begin our analysis, it is worth confirming that Ishkanah’s colour identity is Green Black (due to her activated ability specifying a black mana symbol).
Meren of Clan Nel Toth and The Gitrog Monster both currently fly the flag for Green Black decks in the format. Regarding the 4G casting cost, Titania, Protector of Argoth, with a similar casting cost of 3GG, is the premier mono-Green deck of the moment.
Would we want to play Ishkanah? A 3/5 Reach for 5 mana isn’t the best, however assuming we have met the Delirium requirements, we are getting a 3/5 Reach, and 3 1/2 Reach creatures. For those counting at home, that is a combined 6 power, over 4 different creatures. We also have the spider tribal ping ability to give us a little more sauce. I think the card could be considered fringe playable as a Commander, but again, like Gisa and Geralf, there are far better options available to us in Duel Commander.
Ishkanah does become more playable as a card in our 99. But does it do enough? Sidisi, Brood Tyrant, Meren of Clan Nel Toth and Karador, Ghost Chieftain are all potential shells for this card. But I remain underwhelmed.
As our Commander – Unlikely.
In our 99 – Possible, although unlikely.
We have already covered that mono-White is a playable deck in Duel Commander, with Thalia’s younger self often running the show. While there are no other 2W Commanders that see play, there are a huge number of Commanders with a converted mana cost of 3, so we know casting this new Thalia should not be an issue.
Much like her younger self, Thalia, Heretic Cathar has First Strike. Over the last few years she has been working out in the gym, and now boasts an improved 3 power and 2 toughness. Experience of most limited formats tell us that a 3 power, first striker is not to be sneezed at, and this Thalia will be able to grapple with may of the formats other creatures. Let’s not even begin to think about suiting her up with a Jitte.
How does her static ability match up? Forcing your opponents creatures and non-basic lands to enter the battlefield tapped is huge game. While not as objectively powerful as making all non-creature spells cost 1 more, it is worth stressing that Thalia’s new ability is not symmetrical and only affects our opponent. Much like her younger self, Thalia, Heretic Cathar would most likely lead an aggro deck with disruptive/prison elements. Arguably better against the 2-3 colour midrange decks, but worse against control. I think this new Thalia is most definitely a playable Commander and perhaps a metagame call vs Thalia, Guardian of Thraben depending on what you expect to play against.
As covered above, Thalia, Heretic Cathar is a very strong disruptive card while also being an aggressive beater. Any aggro/control deck would certainly consider including her in the 99. She would slot in to all the obvious aggro decks, as well as those more midrange options. Some examples of where she could turn up are Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Jenara, Asura of War, Anafenza, the Foremost, Gaddock Teeg and Alesha, Who Smiles at Death.
As our Commander – Yes, shows potential.
In our 99 – Undoubtedly, format staple.
Red Green is a viable colour combination in Duel Commander. Radha, Heir to Keld for instance is a decent aggro/midrange deck. While there are no 3GR Commanders that see play, a Commander with converted mana cost of 5 is definitely playable. Titania, Protector of Argoth, The Gitrog Monster, Surrak, Dragonclaw have all appeared at the top tables of Duel Commander events.
But is Ulrich worth playing? As a 4/4 for 5, Ulrich leaves a bad taste in the mouth, even if he does cause a Titanic Growth when he enters the battlefield. The transform trigger, and subsequent ‘fight’ ability, do provide an element of board control however, it is frustrating that we don’t have enough control over this. Do we really want to take a turn off from casting threats to trigger this? And our opponent can play around the ability accordingly. I don’t believe Ulrich is a viable Commander.
Is Ulrich playable in our 99? No, I don’t think so. Yes, he could potentially find a spot in a Red Green beats deck, but again, I believe there will be better options available to us.
As our Commander – No.
In our 99 – Unlikely.
Phew! That’s all the new legendary creatures from Eldritch Moon. We’ve got a new format staple in Thalia, Heretic Cathar and a couple of others to keep an eye on. Now on to the other cards in Eldritch Moon that will be making waves in Duel Commander.
A strong card for any aggro deck. This little guy shows great spirit by selflessly sacrificing itself to protect the rest of your team from a Wrath effect. Alesha, Who Smiles at Death and Karador, Ghost Chieftain can even bring him back to do it all over again.
Verdict: Very playable
This curious dude could be a shot in the arm for Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound and Nin, the Pain Artist style decks. An acceleratant that turns into a Prowess beater and further cost reducer for instants and sorceries is potentially going to see some play.
Verdict: Playable, shows potential.
Potentially playable in Animar, Soul of Elements where the cost can be drastically reduced, this neo-Mistbind Clique can help the deck play a tempo game if the full-on combo mode is not coming together.
Verdict: Fringe playable, shows potential in Animar.
Much like Song of the Dryads did for mono-Green, mono-Blue archetypes now have a way to deal with troublesome permanents in addition to bounce. I hope I am not imprisoned for suggesting that Blue Red archetypes such as Nin, the Pain Artist and Keranos, God of Storms may also find a spot for this card.
Verdict: Playable, shows potential.
I could certainly see this spirited little guy wandering into Geist of Saint Traft decks, acting as another beater and disruptive element.
Verdict: Fringe playable, shows potential in Geist.
I generally don’t think this card is playable in the format as there are far better options available to the Blue mage. The only place this could potentially show up is in Maelstrom Wanderer where it offers the substantial benefit of being a counterspell in the early game yet is far less likely to be a blank if cascaded into.
Verdict: Unlikely, but may see play in Maelstrom Wanderer.
Looters are playable in Duel Commander, as are reanimation and graveyard strategies. As such, I could definitely see this skulking into some decklists. Marchesa, the Black Rose is a Grixis aggro deck that may want this.
Verdict: Fringe playable, shows potential in Marchesa.
This Swiss army knife of a card does almost everything. Discarding a card isn’t always a bad thing either. My scenario: I’m playing The Gitrog Monster and cast this choosing to discard a card from my opponent’s hand and, by discarding a land, also giving their Deathrite Shaman -2/-2. Gitrog trigger? Don’t mind if I do! Brutal.
Not playable at 8 mana, so we’re all in on the Emerge cost. Decks such as Meren of Clan Nel Toth, Karador, Ghost Chieftain and Sidisi, Brood Tyrant that love to sacrifice creatures will surely make good use of this card.
Unfortunately, this new Lili will always fair badly in the comparison with her older Liliana of the Veil version. Her last hope may well be in Sidisi, Brood Tyrant style decks. Her plus ability kills mana dorks for fun and the minus ability is card advantage while also being capable of providing more Zombie tokens.
Verdict: Unlikely. May see play in Sidisi, Brood Tyrant.
A card that wants to jump right into aggressive, spell-based Blue Red decks such as Jori En, Ruin Diver. A potential 3/4 Prowess for RR? That can draw me 3 fresh cards? That’s the sort of value I revel in.
Verdict: Fringe playable in aggressive Blue Red decks.
Do you guys remember Hero of Bladehold? That card was a beating. Well this is her second cousin, twice removed. For only 2R were getting a 2/3 that gives us 2 more 1/1’s each time he attacks. Also similar to Goblin Rabblemaster. Very playable in all aggro decks. It also worth discussing Hanweir Battlements here. The payoff is huge, as expected from the Meld mechanic, but what is the cost? Can we find room for a colourless land that can enable haste? Maybe, it’s certainly not the worst. 3 colour aggro decks such as Alesha, Who Smiles at Death may struggle to incorporate another colourless land into the list though.
Verdict: Very playable.
Verdict: Fringe playable, shows potential in Zurgo.
Sorry if I’m boar-ing you but, again like the other Emerge creatures, the 10 mana cost here is unlikely, unless of course we are playing Animar, Soul of Elements. However, if we had used Fierce Empath to find this guy, and then choose to sac the Empath to help pay for the Emerge cost, 6 mana is a lot more palatable. As a mini-Craterhoof Behemoth we know this card is powerful and I expect it to show up in Titania, Protector of Argoth, Prossh, Skyraider of Kher and other similar elf-ball decks.
There has already been a lot said about this card so I don’t want to go on about it. Suffice to say, for obvious reasons, this is one of the best cards in the set and a new format staple for Duel Commander.
Verdict: Format Staple.
Titania, Protector of Argoth and The Gitrog Monster players rejoice, your lands are coming back again for even more silly things to happen. As it is not symmetrical and is just your graveyard, this is also a splendid way to follow up an Armageddon.
Verdict: Playable. Especially in Titania and Gitrog.
Assuming we have Delirium, a 4/4 Trample for BG is pretty nuts. The fact that he is also a potential Sensei’s Divining Top / Grindstone mashup makes things looking very grim for our opponents. Soon to be finding a spot in a Sidisi, Brood Tyrant or Karador, Ghost Chieftain deck near you.
Another great tempo card for those Geist of Saint Traft decks. Particularly strong at fighting counterspells.
3 colour Planeswalkers do not come along every day. Big Daddy Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker sees play in the occasional Child of Alara control deck while Sarkhan Unbroken has yet to make his mark on the format. After a little research, I believe Tamiyo will slot into basically any and all Bant decks in Duel Commander, with Jenara, Asura of War being a prime example.
Verdict: Fringe playable. Shows potential in Daretti.
Overall, I feel Eldritch Moon is a strong set for Duel Commander with a few new format staples and a number of very playable cards. No new ‘build around me’ Commanders, but we cannot have everything. I hope you all enjoyed this review and maybe even found some of it useful!
Until next time,