15 New Magic: the Gathering Un-Commanders and How to Build Around Them
So, recently the whole casual community is abuzz with news that until January next year and the advent of the new B&R announcement, silver-bordered cards are now legal in Commander according to the Commander Rules Committee to celebrate the release of the third Un-set, Unstable on Friday 8th December.
Naturally, many people were incredibly excited. A lot of people I know used certain silver-bordered cards in Commander already; I myself have indulged in a Cheatyface or a Water Gun Balloon Game from time to time. This, however, brings a whole new scope to the idea of silver-bordered Commander and allows for some whole new decks and wacky combos to come to the fore.
Many people have mentioned Gleemax combo, or the hilarity of Nerfwar, but not many have talked about the exciting new Un-Commanders that are now available to us!
This newfound freedom won’t last, so while it’s around let’s make the most of it! Here is a full list of all the new Un-Commanders and key cards that you could think about building around in their decks!
Bear in mind that some of the cards I will be mentioning are on the ‘advised not to play if you want to retain your friendships’ list. Remember that these new rules are guidelines, and whatever is fine with the others in your playgroup is good at the kitchen table!
The Legendary Trio: Timmy, Johnny and Spike
Named for the classic three types of MTG player – a Timmy, who loves to make big creatures and swing with huge boardstates; a Johnny, who is a deckbuilder at heart and will walk away happy if his crazy 8-card combo works one in twenty times; and a Spike, the competitor, the netdecker, the one who simply has to win at all costs – these three cards completely encompass their respective personalities. I fully believe these will be some of the most popular commanders, as people identify with these personas and will be in full ‘Johnny’ mode trying to create a deck which they feel encompasses their identity.
1. Let’s start with the oldest of the trio, Timmy, Power Gamer, who was printed in Unglued:
This card is clearly made for those who just love to play green, though you’ll be sad to note that Primeval Titan is, indeed, still banned! There are many other cards that can work very well with Timmy, though – basically any large creature which you don’t feel like paying the mana cost for. He is a quintessential green commander and just synergises with any large game-ending creatures. Since you don’t have to tap him, you can do it as many times in a turn as you’d like, so it’s very easy to ramp up early and end the game with Avenger of Zendikar, Craterhoof Behemoth, Hornet Queen, Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger, Old Fogey, Brushwagg, Uktabi Kong or indeed whatever large, tramply or otherwise obnoxious card takes your fancy.
If you’d prefer not to use him as a commander but as one of your 99 because you want access to more colours, he works very well with Ach! Hans, Run! in a green-red deck; simply tutor him up early on and then you have access to all the disgusting or otherwise game-ending red creatures as well!
2. Next, we have everyone’s favourite innovator, Johnny, Combo Player:
Obviously, as implied in the name, this card is great for combo decks. The mono-blue is limiting as a commander, though, and you can’t play anything like Splinter Twin or Earthcraft, so it’s going to be difficult to find two cards that- oh, wait, no, Show and Tell/ Omniscience. Never mind, carry on.
In all seriousness, and completely in the spirit of the card, this is going to be one of the more common Un-Commanders. People love the chance to build a spicy combo deck, and there’s a good chance that this, at the very least, goes into the 99 of almost every blue deck there is going. It’s just too insanely good not to.
3. Last, but most certainly not least, we have the newest addition to the trio, Spike, Tournament Grinder:
In the hilarious spirit of taking the mickey out of themselves, Wizards have made this card cost Phyrexian mana, a mechanic almost everyone agrees was a horrendous mistake, or at the very least, one of the most overpowered mechanics ever to be printed. As a consequence, though, it means that with a Sol Ring (which is somehow still legal in this format) you can power her out on turn one and promptly pay 8 life to fetch a Necropotence or a Griselbrand and make your playgroup completely miserable. Lucky for those who happen to own any power, I’d say – you can pay 16 to get Lotus and Time Walk to have a real fun time.
This card is just, in every sense of the word, broken, but it was obviously intended to be. The only real limitations you have here, especially considering the extensive Vintage restricted list, is the cards you actually physically own and the coloured mana you will need to use to cast them. (Unless you can make a house rule where you can fetch anything, even if you don’t own one, and see how long that takes to get veto’d.)
Have fun out there, Spikes, but don’t be surprised if you’re not invited to the next hangout.
4. Jalum Grifter
This card isn’t what you’d call particularly ‘good’, especially in the context of the other Un-Commanders mentioned here. However, what he is is unique, and in a mono-red deck there are plenty of ways to make the game completely weird and chaotic, so if that’s your jam then you can just make it your life’s work to confuse, bamboozle and discombobulate all your friends all night long.
This commander works great in a chaos deck, particularly if you roll a dice to choose whose permanents get destroyed at the resolution of his effect, if you really don’t want to take it seriously. Combine him with Scrambleverse, Warp World, Timesifter, Pandemonium, Possibility Storm, Confusion in the Ranks, even a new combo with Split Screen and Yet Another Aether Vortex (this little duo also combos with Timesifter, BTW) – you name it and red has it. Make it your mission to mess up the game as much as you can!
5. Frankie Peanuts:
What was meant as a way to cleverly force your opponents to tell you if they have counterspells in hand or whether they’re going to use a combat trick this turn, and weed out instant speed plays, but usually ends up validating questions which really belong in a game of Never Have I Ever, Frankie Peanuts is a classic and hilarious addition to any Commander gathering.
This is one of the cards which was commonly just allowed at the table anyway, as most people will get a kick out of forcing others to admit embarrassing secrets at the beginning of their turn. It’s not particularly powerful, nor does it have any ‘combos’ with other cards in the sets, since its triggered ability is very specific; however, if you use the card’s ability seriously, it can allow you to safely play creatures into open mana (or not, as the case may be, if they tell you they’ll counter it!) or play safely around board wipes in a strong white weenie list.
New and Shiny Commanders:
Wizards has spoilt us with a wealth of riches in the newest set, and Unstable is bringing us no less than 8 new legendary creatures to play with, not counting Spike – as well as The Grand Calcutron, which although it’s an artifact, has been granted honorary Commander status by MaRo himself.
I’ll go through them one by one:
6. Baron Von Count
This card is ridiculous. The concept of it as a commander is brilliant, because it’s a win condition all on its own without even doing anything else, and it’s very easy to chain a bunch of spells together using tutors (hello, you’re playing black) and kill someone off very fast. However, in practice, this is going to die the second it hits the table (if your playgroup even lets you resolve it) and then you are going to have painted a MASSIVE target on your face. Without blue for countermagic, this seems like a very difficult card to actually be able to pull off. The one time it works, though – boy, is that going to be sweet.
This card is a combo with literally anything that has any numbers less than 5 written almost anywhere on it. Go nuts, you’re going to have a lot of fun finding the best ones!
7. Dr. Julius Jumblemorph
Now, while this card at first glance appears to only work as a commander for a host/augment deck (which is a lot of fun in itself, hello Half-Kitten Half-Kitten) it can actually have other applications besides this, thanks to its pseudo-Changeling ability. Many of the Changelings in Lorwyn block were white, and this could become a new two-coloured commander for some sort of fun Changeling tribal list which runs some fun ways to buff it.
It’s definitely not on the same sort of power level as some of the other commanders that have been printed, and will be at its best when used in a silver-bordered augment list that goes crazy and starts tutoring out everything in the world a little like the classic Momir Vig decks. Unless you’re up for some crazy brewing, though, or you reeeaaalllly want to run white, you’re probably better off sticking with Vig in this case – he’s tried, tested, and still very bloody good.
8. Grusilda, Monster Masher
Now, this card has some build-arounds. Reanimator strategies are already very popular in Commander, especially since there are usually multiple graveyards for you to take your pick from. If you can run an early Entomb for some huge monsters like Emrakul, the Promised End or, say, Inferno Titan, and then get them back into play – not only combined into a huge, hideous, terrifying mutant with a million P/T, but also with menace – you can make some incredibly powerful plays. Let’s not forget that killing your opponent’s good creatures – surprisingly easy in black/red – allows you to pick up those goodies as well and build a huge army of grotesquely melded zombie creatures which will eat your opponents up.
9. Mary O’Kill
This beautifully worded pun of a card is a simple yet elegant design. It’s got super-ninjutsu. Clearly, the ninjas on Kamigawa didn’t know what they were doing, because Mary’s showing them all how it’s done. Another card in Rakdos colours, she simply swaps from your hand to the battlefield over and over again, keeping her safe from harm – and as long as you have mana up, you can prevent any of your creatures ever dying to removal by simply swapping her around with them to counter the kill spell.
There is one slight – tiny – eensy weensy – little issue in that she doesn’t start the game in your hand, though. This could be an excellent build-around card in the same innovative way that Phage the Untouchable is, but it will definitely need some work to make it good.
10. Ol’ Buzzbark
Nonsense. Absolute nonsense. Old school and early 90’s players rejoice, as your years of training spent flipping Chaos Orbs may yet pay off for you. This card can be very powerful, but the key is knowing your limits. Don’t go all-out and try for X=20 if you’re not prepared to spend at least an hour with your hand behind the sofa trying to retrieve your dice. If you are successfully able to find the balance between realistically landing the dice roughly where you want them to be and actually getting a decent amount of value off them, this could be a really fun card. Counter strategies are great in green and with the instant speed tricks like Temur Battle Rage that are available in red, this could be an excellent voltron deck. If you spend enough time practicing.
11. Phoebe, Head of S.N.E.A.K
This card is particularly unfun. As far as not letting your opponents play the game goes, blue/black is already most of the way there, and before it had Lazav, Dimir Mastermind as the chosen instrument of tilt. Now, however, there’s a new kid on the block. If you can play Phoebe and keep her alive, your opponents don’t get to do basically anything. Not only do you remove their creatures’ abilities but you actually steal them! What!?
Fancy running a Baron Von Count in a blue deck? Now you can! Archetype of Endurance? A-OK. What’s that you say? You want a Gideon Jura? Coming right up. Anything you want her to be, she can be – and all at the same time! Have fun playing all your opponents’ decks at once, and countering everything that tries to kill her!
12. The Big Idea
This is another of the ‘mono red chaotic neutral’ decks which can be hilarious and friendship-ending. The card itself isn’t actually that good, but when you combine it with Krark’s Thumb, Krark’s Other Thumb and a host of cards that care about die rolls (conveniently, there are plenty of them in Unstable!) you can have some really busted turns. It needs a lot of setup and the right conditions, and just gets murdered by boardwipes, which is obviously a huge weak spot, but because of its flaws, this card could be like a more fun Krenko, Mob Boss with the right supporting cards. A deck for the aggressive red player in all of us, but for when you don’t want to be ‘that guy’.
Also, thanks to its ability, it’s got a Rakdos colour identity, so yay for Demonic Tutor into the Thumbs!
This is one of the more interesting cards that has been printed, as it’s nothing like anything we’ve seen before. The concept of putting a ‘spy’ into your opponent’s hand so you can monitor it at all times is enticing, and I think this will be a very popular commander. Since it’s so cheap, it’s easy to cast quickly, and in addition it can’t actually be cast out of the opponent’s hand, so it’s relatively much safer there than it might be on the battlefield.
Since you can activate its ability at instant speed, if an opponent is about to discard you can even move it to someone else’s hand to save it, and if you’re feeling really spicy you can steal others’ counterspells – or any spells, really! Why play your own deck when it’s much more fun to play everyone else’s?
With this card involved, no two games will ever be the same, and I think this is certainly going to be very fun to build around.
14. The Grand Calcutron
Last but not least, we have the artifact itself, the great machine, the Grand Calcutron. This was originally not allowed to be a commander, but immediately erratad by MaRo when spoiled because of community feedback – which was, ‘this card’s awesome!’
This leads to very weird and wonderful games of Magic, which are going to play out with a lot of pre-planning and then be thrown off by sudden topdecks on both sides. Also, the fact that you both draw up to seven at all times means that you’ll never run out of gas, so games lost to land screw or flood are probably not going to happen, and this will always result in interesting Magic.
Hooray for exciting new abilities and I’ll be interested to see what this brings to the table!
I couldn’t finish the article without him. I know that, technically, he’s still banned. However, the commander banlist is, I will reiterate, only a guideline, and so if you want to allow people to play the cards on it then you absolutely can, as long as it’s in your playgroup.
Personally, I have already vouched for and successfully secured the ability to play him myself. Perhaps you could try to do the same? Unless you’re using Google, he’s really not even as good as Johnny, Combo Player – at least, for most of us!
15. Richard Garfield, PhD
The Garfather. Our Lord and Saviour. The man himself. The One True Light.
If you are a fan of the Magic variant ‘Mental Magic‘, then you will love this card. It’s basically that game but on a card. Although I will admit that this card is incredibly overpowered, it’s only that way if you a) build your deck properly for the best possible mana costs, b) have a secondary plan and cards that can still win even if he’s not in play, and c) actually know enough cards to name with him when put on the spot. This is harder than it sounds, and some cards from Constructed which you name and think are amazing are actually not so good when taken out of the context of their original decks!
Only after playing game after game of Mental Magic can you actually become an aficionado with this card and play it to its fullest ability – bearing in mind that if he’s your commander, you can only ever use blue or artifact cards, as well – and I really don’t think that in most cases, many people will be able to do so. I certainly can’t, which is why my friends don’t mind me using him!
Bear in mind that he probably won’t even be in play until turn three or four, so in Commander, by then even Black Lotus isn’t game-breaking; and if you’re running Tormod’s Crypt or Darksteel Relic just for the purpose of casting Moxen or Lotuses if your commander happens to be in play, you’re really not building your deck to win. It’s actually much tougher than you might realise!
He is by far my favourite of all these mentioned and I can’t wait to use him!
Oh, and if you fancy looking for some other wacky un-combos or want to get brewing with some silver bordered good stuff, check out my colleague Paul Palmer’s article on the top ten new awesome additions to Commander!
What Commanders are you looking forward to using? Have you had any special rules in your playgroups set up for banned cards? Have you got other ideas or maybe even already started brewing some decks around these guys?
Let us know in the comments!
Thanks for reading,