A Quick Look at Oath of the Gatewatch Commanders

First, breaking news from the Rules Committee.

There are a few changes to the rules. First, they’re adopting the “Vancouver” Mulligan but suggests that in your playgroup you can do what you want. I’ve always liked Partial Paris, but this is an okay move.

Second, Prophet of Kruphix is banned. Either you love it or hate it, but it’s getting the axe.

Third, decks can now produce any color of mana. Before, if you had something like City of Brass, you could only produce colors that your Commander was. Now, it can produce any of the five colors (Colorless is not a color). You can’t stick a Mystic Monastery in your Brion Stoutarm deck since it has the Blue mana symbol; this rule doesn’t change. It’s for only fringe cases that this mattered.

Now, onto the Commander review. I’m going to be taking a look at the seven new Legendary Creatures in Oath of the Gatewatch. Not every Legendary Creature is worthy of piloting their own 99 card deck. Some of these creatures will form their own decks and be seen on tables all over the multiverse. Others, well, they’ll sit in trade binders collecting dust waiting for that one player who wants to do something different.

Let’s go in collector’s number order.

Kozilek, the Great DisortionKozilek, the Great Distortion – 8CC
Legendary Creature – Eldrazi
When you cast ~this~, if you have fewer than seven cards in hand, draw cards equal to the difference.
Meanace
Discard a card with converted mana cost X: Counter target spell with converted mana cost X.
12/12

It’s only fitting that the headlining card in the set starts us off. Kozilek has the fancy new Colorless mana symbol in its casting cost. Confused about what it is? I’ll let human giant Matt Tabak explain. Kozilek joins a select few number of true legal colorless Commanders (Karn, Silver Golem; Kozilek, Butcher of Truth; Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre).

Since we can only use colorless cards in our decks, this lowers the number of available cards by quite a bit. Most artifacts and lands are colorless (as long as they don’t have colored man symbols like the Khans of Tarkir Banners) so they can fit in here. There are very few sorceries and instants that are colorless, so most of the cards have to be played during your turn. Kozilek here changes all of that. Now, after filling your hand after casting him, you can hope to guard your board with protection you never had before. Plus all the new toys in Oath of the Gatewatch can really open up a playstyle other than lockdown the board.

I had a Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger that I built after Battle for Zendikar, but him as a Commander never really felt right. Swinging with him does change games but I wasn’t satisfied with him leading my team. I feel as if I can switch in Kozilek into the deck and it makes it that much better. Kozilek can act as a tempo card (12/12 menace for 10) or a control card (countering spells) which makes it just that much easier to shift your strategy around depending on the game.

Verdict: Commander worthy
Cute combo: Mindless Automaton a turn before he’s cast.

General TazriGeneral Tazri – 4W
Legendary Creature – Human Ally
When ~this~ enters the battlefield, you may search your library for an Ally creature card, reveal it, put it into your hand, then shuffle your library.
WUBRG: Ally creatures you control get +X/+X until end of turn, where X is the number of colors among those creatures.
3/4

This was the Ally Commander that most were hoping for. Thanks to the color identity rule (a card’s color identity is what color mana symbols appear on the card including the text box), this is a five color Commander. Any Allies that you have can now be shoved into this deck and you can go crazy. In fact, that’s how the last ability works. If you have an Ally creature of each color (not color identity), then for WUBRG you can have them all get +5/+5.

Besides the pumping ability (reminder, you can use it the first turn General Tazri enters the battlefield AND multiple times a turn since it doesn’t require him to tap), the other key ability is his enters the battlefield trigger. Suddenly the Ally Commander deck is a toolbox style deck instead of just an army swarm one. Currently there are 93 Allies in Magic and that doesn’t include the Changelings or other shenanigans that you can get into like Conspiracy (the card not the set). In fact, if you name Ally with Conspiracy and search up Turntimber Ranger, you can have an “extremely large number” of 2/2 Wolf/Ally tokens and an equally large Turntimber Ranger.

The real key to the enters the battlefield trigger is that it’s not a cast trigger like Kozilek, meaning if you had a way to exile it and bring it back onto the battlefield (blinking) multiple times, you can tutor for Allies multiple times. Once you get a chain going, you’ll be pretty hard to stop.

Verdict: Commander worthy
Cute Combo: Mistmeadow Witch (Since I already said Conspiracy)

Linvala, the PreserverLinvala, the Preserver – 4WW
Legendary Creature – Angel
Flying
When ~this~ enters the battlefield, if an opponent has more life than you, you gain 5 life.
When ~this~ enters the battlefield, if an opponent controls more creatures than you, put a 3/3 white Angel token with flying onto the battlefield.
5/5

Linvala gets another card this time around and it’s certainly much less oppressive than before. She costs more (4WW to 2WW) but is larger (5/5 instead of 3/4).  However, I feel like this version is much less suited to the Commander format.

Five life when you start out with 40 isn’t much; if you started out at 20 life it would be like you’re gaining 2.5 life, a really small amount of your life total. There are so many big creatures in the format that to be down in life when this is enters the battlefield isn’t going to save you much of the time. The other trigger isn’t as bad but a 3/3 flying Angel isn’t going to do much either. If you’re looking to combine it for the fuller effect, you’re going to have to be down in life and down in creatures, something that Linvala isn’t going to help much with as a Commander.

The key here is that both of these are enters the battlefield triggers; if you were to blink her, much like the General you can cheat both of those benefits to make it seem better. Overall, she’s a White Thragtusk, but you can only get those awesome abilities with the Green Beast all the time instead of waiting to cast her because a 5/5 Angel for 6 is nothing. I would rather shove Thragtusk into a deck instead of trying to make her my main focus. In an Angel themed deck, there’s no harm in using her. In a mono-White control deck, I’d find another Commander. I’m sure she’s good in other formats, just not Commander.

Verdict: Support card, maybe?
Cute Combo: Cradle of Vitality

Kalitas, Traitor of GhetKalitas, Traitor of Ghet – 2BB
Legendary Creature – Vampire Warrior
Lifelink
If a nontoken creature an opponent controls would die, instead exile that card and put a 2/2 black Zombie creature token onto the battlefield.
2B, Sacrifice another Vampire or Zombie: Put two +1/+1 counters on ~this~.
3/4

Our second returning character, this time cheaper (2BB to 5BB) and smaller (3/4 to 5/5) which is the exact opposite of Linvala. Clearly more of a Vampire/Zombie focused deck than last time, Kalitas shows that maybe not all headcrabs are bad.

Lifelink works here in the early game and is always a viable keyword (I have a feeling you’re going to gain more life with Kalitas than with Linvala). Instead, let’s focus on his second ability. The more creatures you kill of your opponents, the more 2/2 Zombies you get (If you cast a Damnation with Kalitas on the battlefield, yes you do get those 2/2 Zombies). Black has always been good at killing things but you want cards that stay in play to continually kill things, not just one shots spells like Terror or Doom Blade. May I suggest Horobi, Death’s Wail. All you have to do is target other creatures, they would get destroyed, but instead get exiled and you get 2/2 Zombies. Sure, it might backfire on you but that’s a chance you’re going to have to take on such a cool combo (Sacrificing the creatures to Kalitas doesn’t target so it won’t kill him).

Of course, using Grave Pact and sacrificing the 2/2 Zombie tokens get opponent’s creatures into the graveyard works just as well, but that’s way less style points. You might need Grave Pact and No Mercy on the table because you’ll get enemy number one once you’re the only one with creatures. If you haven’t found a Legendary Vampire to lead your Vampire/Zombie deck yet, then this one is good enough for it.

Verdict: Commander Worthy
Cute Combo: Gravecrawler (2BB for Grave Pact triggers and +2/+2 for Kalitas).

Ayli, Eternal PilgrimAyli, Eternal Pilgrim – WB
Deathtouch
1, Sacrifice another creature: You gain life equal to the sacrificed creature’s toughness.
1WB, Sacrifice another creature: Exile target nonland permanent. Activate this ability only if you have at least 10 life more than your starting total.
2/3

The first White/Black Legendary Cleric, it’s easy to turn this into a tribal deck and call it a day (we’ll get to that in a second).

White and Black have been working together lately to produce a bunch of draining life cards (Drana’s Emissary, Death Grasp, Debt to the Deathless), so this is a great Commander for that shell. In White, there are so many ways to make tokens to sacrifice (for both abilities), and for gaining life (good for the second ability). Having an repeatable Utter End on legs is very powerful. Ayli wants to settle in for the long game and let you win the war of attrition. White/Black can do just that.

Onslaught Block had a bunch of Clerics (that was White/Black’s main creature type) so you can dig around in there for ideas for the long game. You can’t toolbox as easily as General Tazri, so you have to be pretty synergistic with the cards you use. Evangel of Heliod makes the 1/1 tokens for you to sacrifice while being a Cleric. Skirsdag High Priest gets  you a 5/5 if you sacrifice a creature that turn.

Is a Cleric only deck going to be powerful enough? I don’t know. It doesn’t have the speed of an Elf deck nor does it have big creatures like a Dragon deck. Ayli can be powerful if you build the deck around her, or you can mess around with her because how many times are you going to get to put Cabal Archon in a Commander deck?

Verdict: Commander worthy
Cute Combo: Ancestor’s Prophet

Jori En, Ruin DiverJori En, Ruin Diver – 1UR
Legendary Creature – Merfolk Wizard
Whenever you cast your second spell each turn, draw a card.
2/3

One of my favorite Commander decks is a cheap two color Merfolk that requires me to jump through hoops to draw a card. Yes Sygg, River Cutthroat is one that can kind of be compared to this card. But not really.

Jori En works well with one of the set’s mechanics: Surge. That makes sense because there’s usually a Legendary Creature or two per a set that works with the set mechanics (Kozilek with the Colorless mana fits into this category as well) Jori En can work well with buyback. It can work well with decks wanting to cast two, and only two spells a turn. I don’t know how many decks out there are that want to do that.

Other than sounding like a Superman character, there’s not much notable with Jori En. Every other Legendary Merfolk is better than Jori En, so you’re not using her for a Merfolk deck unless you really want that Blue/Red Merfolk deck (which that color cycle is now complete).

Verdict: Commander Dud
Cute Combo: Mystic Speculation

Mina and Denn, WildbornMina and Denn, Wildborn – 2RG
Legendary Creature – Elf Ally
You may play an additional land on each of your turns.
RG, return a land you control to its owner’s hand: Target creature gains trample until end of turn.
4/4

One of the larger Elves with a Power/Toughness of 4/4, Mina and Denn does two things we’ve seen before. Playing an additional land is always good, especially when you can return said land to give a creature trample. Both of these abilities, playing an extra land and trample, will always be relevant in Commander.

The most important word on this entire card might be “Elf”. That’s one of the most explosive creature types in Commander. Giving this creature type another land drop a turn can give a ton of gas. However, when you’re at 4 mana, however, you’re reaching the top of the mana curve for an Elf deck. At that point you’re looking to pump out big creatures (which might like the trample). Or anything that triggers Landfall.

Rampaging Baloth gives you another 4/4 while Omnath, Locus of Rage will give you a 5/5. Both of these seem like a great ability that you want Landfall to trigger over again (and you’ll be sure to do it with now that you can return that land to your hand). The question is that if you’re looking to do a dedicated Red/Green Landfall deck, is this the Commander you want? I see this as a great supporter card (I’m putting it in my Borborygmos Enraged deck), and it can can squeak out a possible Commander on its own if you’re looking for a budget build or want a Red elf deck.

Verdict: Commander passable, barely
Cute Combo: Eternity Vessel

And those are my quick thoughts. My order below is how I think they are as Commanders, not how powerful and Spikey they are (that’s a different order). Obviously the best way to determine if the cards are good is to play with them.

Order:

7. Jori En, Ruin Diver
6. Linvala, the Preserver
5. Mina and Denn, Wildborn
4. Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
3. Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
2. General Tazri
1. Kozilek, the Great Distortion

So open your packs and build. Show me I’m wrong.

If you think I’m wrong, let me know down below or on Twitter (@mtgcolorpie).

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