Review: Commander 2017 Brings Innovation and Tribal Power to Casual MtG

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Released on August 25, 2017, the Commander 2017 pre-constructed decks are a departure from the format’s norm, and they are poised to be the best Commander-format decks yet.

Wizards of the Coast has released five cycles of Commander pre-constructed decks before this one, and until now, the decks in every cycle had the same number of colors of mana, and the same theme, such as two enemy colors or a “shard” combination of three (one color and its two allies). The decks’ strategies would often derive from their colors, such as red-white aggro  (Wade into Battle) or green-blue-black, emphasizing flying creatures and graveyard synergy (The Mimeoplasm). Now, in Commander 2017, the pattern is broken, with four decks instead of five, and an emphasis on tribal support rather than color-based strategies. In fact, the four decks do not even have the same number of colors as each other.

Each deck has several alternate commanders for more flexibility in deck design, such as the mana-generating Ramos, Dragon Engine.

Tribal strategies, those that focus on creature types, have existed in Magic: the Gathering since the 1990s. Tribal strategies were often limited to 60-card decks in Standard, Modern, and Legacy decks, with limited use in Commander. For this Commander pre-con cycle, Wizards of the Coast chose four tribes to push in this casual format: Vampires, Wizards, Dragons, and Cats. The first two of those tribes have enjoyed support from Magic: the Gathering expansions before, such as the Innistrad and Lorwyn blocks, and Dragons have appeared in nearly every set since Alpha. More recently, Cat tribal has been on the rise, from such sets as Theros and Amonkhet, and Commander 2017 has finally made the Cat deck fully legitimate. Dragons, while supported sporadically throughout the game, have an unprecedented focus in this Commander deck cycle.

Classic Magic the Gathering characters such as Mairsil, the Pretender return to lead tribal decks to victory.

All this focus on tribes shapes the nature of the four Commander 2017 decks. Each main commander: Edgar Markov, The Ur-Dragon, Inalla, Archmage Ritualist, and Arahbo, Roar of the World mark the return of the Eminence ability word, which allows each commander to grant bonuses to creatures of its type, whether that commander is on the battlefield or in the command zone. Edgar Markov, for example, allows players to create 1/1 black Vampire creature tokens whenever that player casts a Vampire spell.  The four main commanders grant even more power to their tribes with conventional abilities while they are on the battlefield. The Ur-Dragon grants its controller extra cards whenever fellow dragons attack, and Inalla can drain players for seven life at a time by tapping other wizards. Other cards in the decks sharpen this tribal focus, such as Herald’s Horn, Dragon Tempest, Blood Tribute and Kindred Dominance. These tribe-based cards, and many more, appear in many card types, from instants and sorceries to artifacts and enchantments.

Commander 2017 also represents a solid financial investment for many players. The decks’ MSRP, $35, is well below the combined value of each deck’s cards, especially when new, powerful cards such as Teferi’s Protection appear. Classics such as Sol Ring reappear to satisfy endless demand, and new cards such as Kindred Discovery, Kess, Dissident Mage, Mirari’s Wake and Ramos, Dragon Engine are all valuable cards, among others, that make the four decks worth their cost and more. However, this can sometimes affect some decks’ prices more than others, something that happened in the Commander 2016 deck Breed Lethality.

Overall, Commander 2017 promises to be an inventive, powerful, creative and, most of all, highly enjoyable product that will appeal to Commander players of all kinds, and many of its cards may find their way into other formats as well.

Score: 9/10

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