Commander (2017 Edition) is here, and it's a doozy. While the previous years' releases have had five decks centered around the color pie, 2017 switches up the formula. Rather than being based on the color pie, we're instead getting four decks based around a theme. 2017's theme is tribes, with Dragons, Vampires, Wizards, and Cats rounding out the line-up. Let's take a look.
Edgar Markov! The progenitor of all vampires on Innistrad lives up to his name as the face card of the Vampire tribal deck. His eminence ability nets you a Vampire token every time you cast a Vampire, while the rest of his card encourages and aggressive strategy. What might not be obvious here is that Edgar is particularly suited for a stax-oriented strategy as well. Tribal cards like Voldaren Pariah, Indulgent Aristocrat, Kheru Bloodsucker, Butcher of Malakir, Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter, and Yahenni, Undying Partisan will allow you to clear the battlefield of opposing creatures while giving your creatures a liberal sprinkling of +1/+1 counters. Vampires also possess a number of powerful anthem effects, including Bloodlord of Vaasgoth, Captivating Vampire, Lord of Lineage, Rakish Heir, and Edgar himself once he hits the board, making these 1/1 tokens extremely threatening extremely quickly. Cathars' Crusade is unflavorful but a must. Remember that Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is tempting but a non-bo with anything requiring death triggers, so take a hard pass if you're going for that strategy.
Licia, Sanguine Tribune is going to be the sleeper hit of Commander (2017 Edition). Cost reduction for handling that pesky commander tax is always powerful, and it's not hard to gain life in Commander. It'll be interesting to see what people come up with to support her, but those tired of Oloro, Ageless Ascetic may consider a switch to a more aggressive lifegain deck. With lifelink, she can easily pay for her final ability. Five life isn't all that much in Commander, and gaining three power every turn means that it won't take much to push through for that commander damage win. Whether you're going for a lifegain or another Voltron commander, Licia will be a fun choice.
Mathas, Fiend Seeker is that odd-but-interesting commander that is sure to have a bunch of unique decks built around him. Along with the new Curse cycle (more on them later), he's got the potential to be an awesome political commander. It's important to note that the bounty counters are effective with or without Mathas on the field. Also notable is that Bounty Hunter can be used to directly destroy the creatures you've marked and claim the rewards - just note that his ability that puts bounty counters on things won't carry Mathas's reward. Make certain that you mark the bounty counters differently if you are utilizing both.
Kheru Mind-Eater only goes in the Vampire deck because of its creature type, but could otherwise be slotted into any deck with black. Now, New Blood is just a great tribal vampire addition, the fact that it changes all instances of a creature type with vampire has some interesting possibilities. Krenko, Mob Boss as a vampire can get out of control quickly. And then we have Patron of the Vein, who both assassinates a creature, disrupts opposing graveyard strategies, and pumps your own Vampires. It's a good inclusion even in decks without a large Vampire theme.
Bloodsword Steward is this set's Bastion Protector. A lot of Commanders would greatly benefit from haste and the stat boost, so expect this to show up fairly frequently. Crimson Honor Guard is another interesting card, but how effective it's likely to be is going to be heavily meta-dependent. Bloodline Necromancer, however, is some useful recursion in both decks it appears in.
Arahbo, Roar of the World is the cat version of The Ur-Dragon according to its product page blurb. It's certainly the Cat tribal lord you've been looking for (if you've been looking for a Cat tribal lord), and while its eminence ability is useful, its attack trigger is where the money is. If you're playing with the deck's Equipment theme, it won't be hard to push through a beefy kitty every turn with a souped-up Berserk. May I recommend using those abilities on Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist, who functions as a one-sided Dueling Grounds? Even better if she's equipped.
The true kitty Equipment theme of the deck, however, is shown with Nazahn, Revered Bladesmith. Nazahn tutors for an Equipment, functioning as a color-shifted Godo, Bandit Warlord. The first tutor with Nazahn should always be for his personal equipment, the Hammer of Nazahn. You put the Hammer directly on to the battlefield, make your commander indestructible, and every other Equipment you play acts more like an Aura, equipping the moment it hits the battlefield. Nazahn then encourages a go-wide strategy with Equipment, allowing you to tap down your opponents' creatures for every equipped creature you attack with.
Balan, Wandering Knight will be a solid pick as the commander of a mono-white Equipment Voltron deck or in the 99 supporting someone like Nazahn. Leading a deck, it won't be hard to get to that magic twenty-one commander damage with the right combination of Equipment and Balan's double strike clause. The fact that she can just self-equip everything in play ensures that every time she's cast from the command zone you won't have to waste time and mana re-equipping her. In the 99 of a go-wide deck like Nazahn's (and some hasty equipment) she can make a bunch of smaller threats become one huge threat out of seemingly nowhere.
Alms Collector makes you wonder why hatebear is the term instead of hatecat. This card shuts down some of those more explosive card draw combos while netting you extra cards when they try. Stalking Leonin plays an interesting political game. Were you the opponent I secretly picked? Did you let my last attack through as a feint or because I wasn't the one picked? Do you want to risk swinging with your best creature when this is on the field? Hungry Lynx is just an incredibly flavorful card, letting you set up some politics by giving an opponent some deathtouch defenses while boosting all your Cats when those Cats inevitably die. Qasali Slingers is a Cat-tribal version of Aura Shards that frankly can't be passed up, as worst case scenario it functions as a Conclave Naturalists. Add a couple of other kitties to the party and decimate your opponents' boards.
The Dragon deck really packs a punch, both flavorfully and in terms of interesting commanders. The Ur-Dragon's cost reduction makes it a powerful commander, but not as broken or explosive as its protege, Scion of the Ur-Dragon. If you can cast and protect the Ur-Dragon, you can draw a bunch of cards every attack step and get a free permanent from your hand every time. Stack triggers with the Fate Reforged Dragon legends and you'll accumulate some crazy amount of tribal synergy. Ramos, Dragon Engine doesn't need to head a dragon tribal deck, but it is an auto-include in the 99 of any five-color deck. As the Commander of a deck, he grows quickly as you cast spells. His activated ability will fuel an insane number of spells; swing for nine, then add two mana of each color to your mana pool to cast basically whatever you want. The nice part is, as a colorless artifact with a five-color identity, you can build your deck however you want around him. O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami is more limiting, a card that may not even make the cut in the 99 of a five-color deck. Although, he is the five-color Spirit commander some players have been looking for. For players looking for a Dragon (or Spirit) to head a five color deck that draws less immediate attention than the Ur-Dragon or his Scion, O-Kagachi provides a solid political option.
Wasitora, Nekoru Queen and Taigam, Ojutai Master aren't able to head a five-color Dragon deck, but they're powerful commanders in their own right. Wasitora's evasion makes it easy for her to deal combat damage, netting you a Cat Dragon token or dead enemy creature every turn. Her weird typing allows you to take advantage of tribal synergy for both. Taigam making instants and sorceries uncounterable is powerful enough. His real strength is his rebound ability, enabling all sorts of combat tricks and just generally being awesome support in any deck running his colors. Spikier players will enjoy using him to chain Time Warp effects, turning every one into a Time Stretch, and Time Stretch itself into a marathon of turns. He also slots nicely into a Dragon tribal deck; making Dragons uncounterable will definitely be helpful when you're trying cast a late game The Ur-Dragon.
Dragons have some of the strongest tribal support in Commander (2017 Edition). Scalelord Reckoner is a Karmic Justice for Dragons, making opponents think twice about targeting your precious brood. Boneyard Scourge gives you cheap recursion whenever a Dragon dies (If you're running this deck, you're a target and it'll happen a lot.) Territorial Hellkite is less inspiring given his random-attack drawback; there are better options and I doubt we'll see it show up much outside of largely unmodified precons.
Inalla, Archmage Ritualist brings all the fun of Riku of Two Reflections's creature copying at half the cost, without having to worry about protecting your Commander. While restricting it to Wizards does rule out some of the more absurd combos, there are still dozens of Wizards with enter-the-battlefield or tap effects that Inalla would love to copy. Combined with the fact you don't ever need to cast your commander to take advantage, it'll be far more reliable than Riku. It's also going to be way easier to pay all those "Tap an untapped Wizard" costs out there when you're doubling the number of Wizards you're playing. I wouldn't expect to see Inalla hit the battlefield unless some kind of Intruder Alarm shenanigans have been set up for a kill. In essence, if Inalla hits the board, you're already dead. Even when Inalla is sitting in the command zone, however, she can threaten some devastating combos. Venser, Shaper Savant can function as a cheaper Capsize, with each cast bouncing the original Venser and a permanent or spell of your choice. Wanderwine Prophets can abuse Inalla's copy ability to circumvent champion and go easily infinite - copy in response to the champion trigger and champion the original with the token, attack immediately, and sacrifice the token to take an extra turn. The original Prophets will reenter the battlefield to be copied and championed by the new token. At your end step, the token will be exiled and the original Prophets will enter the battlefield yet again. Clone it a third time, as the third token won't be exiled until the end step of your extra turn. It's never going to make it that far, however, as it's what you'll attack with and sacrifice on your extra turn to take another extra turn. Rinse and repeat.
Mairsil, the Pretender is a major flavor win. His card emulates his imprisonment of Ith in Barl's Cage back during The Gathering Dark. There are all sorts of routes you could take with him, and I'm sure more and more combos will come to light as he starts to see play. Aetherling is a MUST, but throw in Staff of Domination and things start to get silly. Focus on anything with two or more activated abilities to maximize his utility, as each individual ability is limited to once per turn.
Kess, Dissident Mage isn't as flashy or exciting as the other two commanders in this deck, but she shouldn't be ignored either. Whenever Entomb becomes as effective as a regular tutor, you know you have something special. There are tons of spells that dump cards into your graveyard, so Fact or Fiction away. Getting to flashback once per turn is a pretty huge advantage, the kind of thing storm decks would kill for. Dralnu, Lich Lord is very outclassed in comparison, with Kess picking up an extra color, a cheaper mana cost, an extra point of toughness, flying, no drawback, and the ability to flashback a spell immediately.
I'm not sure anyone was clamoring for expensive blue bounce like Galecaster Colossus, but it's a Disperse every turn on a solid body at the very least. Throwing a few other Wizards to tap to his ability can dominate a board. Magus of the Mind brings us Mind's Desire on a stick, to the joy of storm decks everywhere. This Magus promises ridiculous plays, as the original gets copied with Inalla's eminence ability to be used immediately. If the copy hits a haste enabler like Lightning Greaves with its activation, it allows the original to activate too. Then if one of the two hits a Reanimate or similar, it can bring back the original and making another Inalla copy. A few activations later and the entire deck is in the exile zone or the battlefield. Portal Mage is a single-target Master Warcraft for blue, something I can't believe hasn't been done before. Being able to control where an attacker goes can drastically change the course of a Commander game, getting vulnerable commanders killed or diverting nasty damage triggers to a different player. Bloodline Necromancer reappears here as Wizard tribal recursion on a solid body (something Inalla will love). Vindictive Lich will probably see more play in Zombie decks than Wizard decks, but modal abilities are always welcome in Commander. Meanwhile, Izzet Chemister gives red (and tribal Goblins) some additional spell recursion in the vein of Goblin Dark-Dwellers and Mizzix's Mastery, assuming you can keep it alive long enough to exile a few spells.
Generic Tribal Support
The Kindred cards are strong additions to any deck tribal deck. Kindred Boon's tribal indestructibility will definitely see play, but the bonus being tied to the enchantment makes it fragile. However, the combo potential with the Kamigawa Myojins is what makes this card particularly exciting. Kindred Discovery seems like a card that will see a lot of play. Card draw on ETB rather than cast means token decks can take full advantage (I recommend it in The Locust God, naming Insects for an infinite combo? Just add a win-con like Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind or Laboratory Maniac, otherwise the loop of mandatory actions will cause you to lose from decking.) Kindred Summons is going to be a fan favorite in any green tribal deck. Kindred Dominance is a no-brainer as a choose-your-own Crux of Fate. Kindred Charge copies every creature of the tribe for a turn, which can set up some ludicrous combinations with Magus of the Mind and Archaeomancer, or just enters the battlefield abilities in general.
Path of Ancestry is the new auto-include Commander land, right after Command Tower. We will probably have to see it reprinted a few times before it becomes something everyone can afford for their decks. Psst, your commander shares a creature type with your commander, it doesn't have to be a tribal deck. Heirloom Blade is a decent way to Polymorph for specific tribal creatures. It's not as easy to abuse as something like Skullclamp, however, and I doubt it'll see play outside of specific archetypes like the Cat Equipment deck. Herald's Horn will likely see play in any tribal deck. Cost reduction plus card advantage is a potent combination. Mirror of the Forebears seems like a straight downgrade to the recent Mirage Mirror, but it'll still do some work supplementing its sibling in certain decks.
The new Curses are gorgeous political cards of varying power. Curse of Vitality probably won't see much play outside of decks dedicated to lifegain, but Curse of Verbosity will definitely paint a target on the back of whoever you give it to. Curse of Disturbance and Curse of Opulence both net you tokens, but while Disturbance might be most valuable to decks that care about those tokens, gold is gold. Opulance gives you both an artifact that can turn on metalcraft or be tapped by improvise, but it's also mono-red ramp, which is huge. Curse of Bounty might be the one most often cast on yourself, as untapping all your non-land creatures whenever you're attacked seems like a pretty nice bonus (and deterrent).
Finally we get to the stragglers. These cards aren't straight tribal or fancy cycles, but are worth looking at nonetheless. Fortunate Few feels like a Divine Reckoning that adds a huge political component, as everyone is forced to pick someone else's permanent. Teferi's Protection is just straight up bonkers, protecting you and your entire board while allowing other shenanigans go on. I see this cast more in concert with or in defense from the various sweepers popular in Commander. Bonus points if you yell, "Screw you, Urza!" as you cast it.
Disrupt Decorum is the mass goad effect red wants, clearing your opponents' boards and opening them up for a killing blow on your next turn. Shifting Shadow is one of those quirky cards that I'm sure will be abused in some decks. I recommend casting it on something indestructible so it's all upside. Traverse the Outlands is the go-big ramp to Harvest Season's go-wide ramp, and it's sure to find a home in stompy decks. Fractured Identity is a nice "none for you" card, but it's most abusable as a win-con in Zedruu the Greathearted decks. I recommend using in conjuction with Aggressive Mining, but there are way more win-cons if you play it with black. Last but not least, Bloodforged Battle-axe is bonkers. Whether you're going big in a Voltron deck or supporting a go-wide strategy with Equipment, you'll probably want to create a whole bunch of Battle-Axe tokens to bring with you. With Hammer of Nazahn or Sigarda's Aid, you don't even have to equip them.
Commander 2017 also comes with several juicy reprints across its decks. Chief among these is Mirari's Wake in the Cat deck, a card that is worth a decent amount and is frequently sought after by commander and casual players alike. Other choice reprints in the Cat deck include Leonin Arbiter, Leonin Shikari, Raksha Golden Cub, Lightning Greaves, Sword of the Animist, Skullclamp, Quietus Spike, and Myriad Landscape. Vampires include several older tribal gems like Captivating Vampire, Anowon, the Ruin Sage, Blood Baron of Vizkopa, and Bloodlord of Vaasgoth, along with some gems like Black Market, Sanguine Bond, Door of Destinies, Blade of the Bloodchief, Skullclamp, and Well of Lost Dreams. Dragons has Dragonspeaker Shaman, Scion of the Ur-Dragon, Scourge of Valkas, Intet, the Dreamer, Bladewing the Risen, Lightning Greaves, and Dragon Tempest. Finally, Wizards has Apprentice Necromancer, Nin, the Pain Artist, Marchesa, the Black Rose, Havengul Lich, Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind, Vela the Night-Clad, Go for the Throat, Chaos Warp, Memory Plunder, Decree of Pain, and Mystifying Maze. All of the decks also pack the traditional Sol Ring and Command Tower.