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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Sep 12 2017 11:00am
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I love this game. I love writing about it. Compiling lists about it. Evaluating it. Sometimes, I even play it. I'm an Accidental Player.

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 Commander 2017 marks the 5th straight year we get an annual release of a Commander product featuring new cards (it's the sixth of these products overall, considering the five-deck pack that was marketed in 2011 simply as "Commander"). It's also the first time the release is composed by four 100-card decks rather than five, officially to better match the (arguably) best Commander game experience, the 4-player one, but also because C17 chose to abandon a rigorous division across the mana wheel, which is not equally represented throughout the decks anymore: there's one Selesnya, one Mardu, one Grixis, and one 5-colored (so blue and green end up under-represented).

 In exchange, the four decks have a specific Tribal identity, boosted by the new eminence mechanic: Cat, Vampire, Wizard, and Dragon (with an associated strategy: equipment, lifegain, graveyard and ramp, respectively). It doesn't come as a surprise, then, that those are the four most represented tribes in the set.

 The tribal theme is also heightened by noncreature cards like these:

   

   

 Fun fact: Kindred Boon features the first use of divinity counters on an actual card since Kamigawa block (previously, they had reappeared on the Bant plane card).

 As for the planes involved, Dominaria is prominently featured (with even a Weatherlight reference popping up. Remember the Weatherlight?), but we also get cards hailing from Alara, Kamigawa, Ravnica, and Tarkir.

 So far there's no word on when and how these cards will be released online, but we know they will eventually, probably by including them in prize packs or Treasure Chests the way it happened for the two previous Commander products.

 Anyway, let's have a look at the new creatures and their tribes. As always, the focus is on all the Constructed applications, the tribes are listed alphabetically, and you'll find a hypertextual list at the end.

 Infodump

  • Cards: 299 (including 5 basic lands, which come in 3 versions each)
  • New cards: 56
  • New creatures: 33
  • Reprinted cards: 243
  • Reprinted creatures: 83
  • Creature types affected: 18
  • Tribes with more than 5 additions: Wizard (+10), Cat (+9), Vampire (+8), Dragon (+7), Human (+7)

Archer: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 71, online: 66

 Related Tribes: Cat

 Impact of the New Additions: Extreme

 Highlights: I'm calling it now: this guy is going to feature a lot in Legacy, maybe even in Vintage, because he's just that good. Unlike similar 3-mana white creatures that double as removal, there's no coming back from the exiling Stalking Leonin brings to the table: that creature is just gone. The drawback is that the offender you want to target needs to be attacking, which isn't the case for annoying presences like Deathrite Shaman or Fauna Shaman or even Steel Overseer. But please realize this guy outright kills Emrakul, any Emrakul, on the spot. Take a moment to let that sink in. The fact that you don't have to target a creature that's already on the battlefield is also crucial, because this Leonin has a serious body to throw into combat while he waits for the bad guys to show up (and of course at that point they won't show up as long as he's around, which is just as good). The same can't be said for his colleagues Fiend Hunter and especially Banisher Priest. And man, the exile effect not allowing a comeback means you can reset him via flickering or bouncing or phasing, and do it again, or even do it more than once during the same combat phase.

 The only reason why Stalking Leonin won't instantly become the most played creature in Tribal Wars (beside the uncertain availability) is that he comes bearing the insignia of two tribes, one of which, Archer, is very minor (albeit it just got what's easily its best member ever), and the other is still not called Human.


Artificer: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 100, online: 95

 Related Tribes: Cat

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: Okay, this one is expensive to cast, probably too much, but boy if he doesn't give value back. He plays like a beefy Stoneforge Mystic, but if you take his hint and fetch his namesake hammer, i.e. this thing...

 ...then for 6 mana you end up with a 7/4 indestructible beater that pretty much eliminates all equip costs, provided you already know where to put those equipments, and you leave them there; your 7/4 indestructible attacker looks like a good option. And oh, he also taps blockers when he and his equipped playmates turn sideways, just because they felt like he needed some more pizzazz, you know? Things like this really show that these cards are designed NOT to be legal in anything smaller than Legacy. Come to think of it, the multiplayer product lines (Commander and Conspiracy) are the only places left where they can safely release cards of this power level.


Avatar: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 63, online: 59

 Related Tribes: Cat

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Weirdly, the first three tribes affected by Commander 2017 are also Cats (more on that below). This one is their Avatar, strictly meant for Cat tribal builds, and in particular for Commander Cat Tribal builds, because it's the designated commander of one of the four C17 decks. It gifts its team with a free Giant Growth per turn (or better, a Giant Growth-like boost, since they'll see it coming), and it'll do that in perpetuity, just because you're playing it as your commander: such is the power of the eminence mechanic. In addition, it gives you the chance to cast a 3-mana, non-self-destructive Berserk on each of your attacking Cats. So yeah, it makes for a scary aggro plan. It might not be the absolute strongest of the four commanders, but it's right there with the best of them.


Cat: +9

  

  

  

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 New Tribal Total: 162, online: 147

 Related Tribes: Archer, Artificer, Avatar, Cleric, Dragon, Knight, Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: I talked about Stalking Leonin's exceptional power level, and there's indeed a chance that he alone could manage to arouse a renewed interest in the Cat tribe in Tribal Wars, especially since he doesn't require more than one white mana, so he's perfectly at home in a two- or three-color deck. And he's almost certainly going to be featured in Maverick/Death & Taxes builds in Legacy.

 But Cat is a major tribe in Commander 2017, so all felines thrive here, starting of course from their tribal commander, Arahbo, which is going to make Commander Cat Tribal a thing, but is good enough even outside of the Commander format, as a 5/5 for 5 that provides the means to give a giant, possibly crucial boost to your team. Similarly, in the right deck, which in his case is equipment aggro, Nazahn is a playable finisher, if not exactly a must-include. In such a build, I might actually like Balan, Wandering Knight better, as she's able to turn into a double striking monstrosity that similarly doesn't care for equip costs. She's a bit too narrow in her applications, though, requiring a definite setup (i.e. a bunch of equipments) to have a meaningful impact.

 The Cat legend compartment is crowded around here, including even a new Mirri (the third iteration of the character, including that time she was a vampire from an alternate universe). She's better than the original forestwalking one, but doesn't compare favorably with the black flying one, as this latest Mirri is essentially a frail Silent Arbiter that only works upon attacking.

 The Cat tribe established a presence within the Dragon deck somehow, because Wasitora is one of those unlikely hybrids R&D is so fond of, namely a Cat Dragon, whatever that's supposed to be (apparently she came from Jamuraa then became friends with Tetsuo Umezawa. Remember him?). She's a solid threat for her cost, but the forced sacrifice depends on connection, so it's nowhere near the power level of, say, Sheoldred.

 All in all, I think the most interesting new additions are the least flashy ones. Alms Collector is an impressive hard counter to mass card-drawing spells, and even steals one of those for you! And Qasali Slingers give a Reclamation Sage's trigger (or a reverse Qasali Pridemage's, to remain in the family) to every single Cat that follows them, which is nothing to sneeze at. And they come with a reach-capable big butt, too. Midrange as hell, but they can deliver.

 Finally, Hungry Lynx is not a good card at all, but its rat-catcher flavor is beyond amazing. Of course all those deathtouch rats are going to come back to bite the Lynx's master, eventually. And quite literally.


Cleric: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 341, online: 316

 Related Tribes: Cat

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: Look, I know you're not going to have four mana available at any given time, especially if you're playing versus a draw-go build. But I still think it's nice that you get the chance to nullify their big card draw, and even add insult to injury with that extra card you get out of the deal. Well, provided they don't just counter your Collector, of course. Anyway, that dream scenario aside, this remains a 4-mana flash beater with a relevant body. So maybe it'll be played by those draw-go builds themselves.


Dragon: +7

   

  

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 New Tribal Total: 172, online: 165

 Related Tribes: AvatarCat, SpiritZombie

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: Man, no sooner I update the Dragonpedia than a new, massive batch of Dragons get added to the game. More than half of these C17 Dragons are legendary, starting with the poster child for the Dragon deck, The Ur-Dragon itself. Remember its Scion? Well, now we get to play with the actual thing, not just its Avatar, and it's... a bit underwhelming? I mean, sure, every time one of your Dragons attacks while Ur-daddy is on the battlefield, you basically dig for other Dragons then drop them directly onto the board. Is it me or that feel awfully like a win-more thing, though? I mean, you're already attacking for 10 in the air at this point. Inevitability seems close by. And then there's the eminence ability, which I don't think is that relevant in multiplayer Commander, where mana flows a bit more freely and wildly, so getting to cast a 5-drop on turn 4 is not going to change much anyway. It's true of 1v1 Commander, though, which seems to me like the format they want to push right now. After all, not a lot of these new cards need a multiplayer environment to excel.

 Moving on, both Wasitora (she of the Cat hybridation) and O-Kagachi ask you to help them deal some damage to the opponent, and then reward you with some juicy removal effect. O-Kagachi's trigger is the most valuable because it can affect any nonland permanent, and you get to choose which one; but O-Kagachi's also a 5-colored creature, so it doesn't exactly come cheap; plus, the clause that requires the opponent's attack is a real deal-breaker.

 Apparently all these Dragons have either unusual colors (only one of them is monored) or all of them. Or none, like the fourth draconic legend here, Ramos, which is a mechanical Dragon that accumulates +1/+1 counters when you cast colored spells, then releases them in the form of mana. More importantly, the ratio is 2 for 1, meaning that if you cast a 5-color spell in Ramos's presence, it'll be able to immediately give you back double that amount (after swinging for 9, if you like), which suggests further casting of 5 color spells regaining further counters. You can't keep chaining spells this way in the same turn, but it's still a very powerful routine which makes Ramos an auto-include in any 5-color build for Commander. Other formats might not support these high-end shenanigans, but you can try. It's very build-around-me, but in a cool way.

 Meanwhile, the monowhite Dragon (the 10th ever printed), Scalelord Reckoner, basically provides your Dragon team with some degree of hexproof through blackmail. It's not bad, yet not essential either. Still better than the monoblack Dragon, Boneyard Scourge, which is a smaller, faster drop that just lies waiting in the graveyard for a chance to come back when another Dragon dies; it would be more appealing if you didn't have to pay mana to bring it back. Both these monocolored Dragons only work within a Dragon tribal build, which makes them even narrower, mostly just ways to give the Ur-Dragon deck a more cohesive feel (you know which Dragon commander had a very cohesive feel, though? Scion of the Ur-Dragon!)

 Alas, the monored Dragon is the worst of the lot: Territorial Dragon is too random in multiplayer, while in 1v1 it turns into a Glorybringer that's forced to exert at every attack and gets nothing out of it. So a very sad Glorybringer.


Giant: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 135, online: 128

 Related Tribes: Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: This guy does nothing for the Giant tribe, unfortunately, as the rule text specifically calls for other Wizards. Well, you could just tap himself, but that'd be a waste of an expensive 5-powered dude. In the correct tribe, this discounted Tradewind Rider effect is definitely game-breaking, though, even if it can't touch the opponent's lands.


Goblin: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 300, online: 286

 Related Tribes: Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Let's be real here, Izzet Chemister has the potential to launch some powerful combo, but he's too Johnny for his own good. The presence of haste is appreciated, because it at least means for the Chemister to start setting up shop immediately (if not exactly early on, because he'll still require a total of 4 mana to get going the turn he hits the table). But it is a painfully slow affair, entirely predicated on a previous fetching of the right pieces directly into the graveyard. Whereas just as a surrogate Snapcaster Mage the Chemister seems too clunky to even consider.


Human: +7

   

  

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 New Tribal Total: 1964, online: 1776

 Related Tribes: Monk, Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: Irrelevant

 Highlights: The Human type is usually found all over the other tribes, but in C17, it's mostly Wizards. Except that one Monk. Who's also a Wizard. On a different card. Weird.


Knight: +4

   

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 New Tribal Total: 202, online: 185

 Related Tribes: Cat, Vampire

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Nothing here really speaks of the Knight tribe. Balan is solid in equipment decks, yet not necessary. Edgar Markov is probably the best one of the four commanders, but he's a Vampire that wants, nay needs to be in the company of his species. The monored ones are Vampires as well (old Innistrad nobility really values knighthood), with a focus on the commander's presence, or lack thereof, that make them playable only in one format. Bloodsworn Steward is about helping your commander, not as much by giving him or her a little boost (although, it's welcome) as by providing haste, which in most case feels crucial, either because the commander sports some activated ability that requires tapping, or just because you'd like to bash faces with him or her as soon as possible. Plus, the Steward is a 4/4 flyer for 4, which is honest.

 At the opposite end, Crimson Honor Guard punishes players, including yourself, that don't have their commander on the battlefield. It's a strange, yet interesting clause, although it seems hard to exploit it meaningfully.


Monk: +1

 

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 New Tribal Total: 83, online: 79

 Related Tribes: Human

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: Ah, I get it now: Taigam is from Tarkir, so he has a version from the original timeline and a different one from the timeline created by Sarkhan's little time trip. The white-blue Monk is the alternate one (judging from his storyline, he should still have some black in there, because he's really mean to Narset), and is a heck of a spell-enhancing system: he both doubles your instants and sorceries via rebound, which is already huge, and makes them uncounterable to boot (there's a little thing about Dragons, too, but it's mostly to justify his presence in the Ur-Dragon list, he's far from being a Dragon tribal exclusive). Of course to achieve all that you have to keep attacking with him, which puts him at risk of being killed in combat, but 4 toughness is butt enough to let him be brazen without worrying too much.

 While we're at it, the blue-black Wizard version is not as exciting. I mean, sure, he lets you select your draw out of the top three cards, and helps filling your graveyard, then uses it as a resource for removal purposes. But doing that, he calls for a specific strategy (graveyard matters), and he's too midrange to really fits into that strategy; plus his removal requires tapping AND mana, which is always lame.


Shaman: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 333, online: 327

 Related Tribes: Vampire

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: C17 Vampires (here barely disguised in the form of Shaman) are very into sharing strength and helping their community. We'll see Edgar Markov also pulls the trick of putting +1/+1 counters on each and every Vampire; Patron of the Vein does the same each time an enemy dies, and he gets the ball rolling on that by killing one himself with a neat, nonconditional ETB trigger. He also hoses persist, undying, Bloodghast and zombie-like recursion, and whatnot. This said, 6 mana are probably a couple too many for this guy to see any play. For 6 mana, you may feel entitled to demand a more disruptive trigger and/or board impact.


Soldier: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 581, online: 521

 Related Tribes: Vampire

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: This is actually fascinating: Licia, Sanguine Tribune has a cool interplay between gaining life and using life as a resource. Granted, she's not exactly Griselbrand, and her casting cost is too high to even consider hardcasting her with no discount, which puts a pretty heavy clause to her battlefield presence. And then she deals damage, you get life, then invest that life back into her so she'll deal more damage. And yeah, I know there are creatures that just grow bigger on their own without the need to all this drama. So, well, she's fascinating, not necessarily effective. Plus she doesn't have much to do with neither Soldier nor Vampire (if not, in the latter case, as flavor: she's asking for blood!)


Spirit: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 428, online: 423

 Related Tribes: Dragon

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: This exiler-in-retaliation-only guy, which looks like discarded art for Progenitus, is also a Spirit. Not sure Spirits are better than Dragons at dealing with five-colored casting costs (probably not, considering this is the very first five-colored Spirit). It feels like they won't care much about this thing, anyway.


Vampire: +8

   

   

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 New Tribal Total: 164, online: 154

 Related Tribes: Knight, Shaman, Soldier, Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: So let's talk about Edgar Markov. Edgar Markov is one scary fella. He's Sorin's grandfather, and the first Innistrad Vampire (he basically created vampirism himself, through alchemy). And when he's around, each Vampire you cast creates another little Vampire. Then Edgar attacks, and all these Vampires grow bigger and bigger. He's the ultimate Tribal commander, with haste and a decent body to make him even better. And he's necessarily tribal, of course (he won't do much by himself), possibly too high on the curve to be effective in Tribal Wars, but still worth a try even just as a way to alpha strike for lethal damage, out of nowhere.

 The rest of the Vampire brigade has the two commander-obsessed red Knights, the life-dealing Soldier Licia, and the killer Shaman. None of these are particularly memorable. The remaining legend, Mathas, Fiend Seeker, features a flavorful mechanic that in the end feels a bit convoluted: he "brands" creatures, then when they die, you get one card and 2 life. But even not counting that, he's a very solid 3/3 with menace for 3 mana, although 3-colored.

 Another menacer is Kheru Mind-Eeater, a take on Specters with an "exile, not discard" upgrade, and the off-chance of being able to play the exiled cards; half of which will be probably lands, anyway. It's not a bad disruption dude, and menace is almost as evasive as flying, even if that 1/3 body feels like it'll go down the very first time the opponent has two creatures available.

 All in all, my favorite new Vamp might be Bloodline Necromancer. And if it seems like 5 mana are too many for those stats, just consider that he reanimates one Vampire (or Wizard! But that's probably going to be less relevant), which means you can Entomb some huge finisher, then have it on the battlefield while you also get a bonus 3-powered lifelinker. After all, 5 mana is what Karmic Guide costs, and she has echo. As always, a creature's ETB trigger is an easily exploitable recursion, and having one in-tribe, especially within a tribe with a lot of great reanimation targets, seems pretty important.

 Vampires also get this sorcery:

 It's nonconditional creature-stealing for old Control Magic mana, but with no return policy. Plus, look at the last sentence and think what will happen if you manage to grab something like Goblin Chieftain or Lord of Atlantis. And the flavor is great: the tapped vampire (Olivia Voldaren herself in the art) has just sired a new vampire. And yes, if a vampire bites Ulamog, he will turn into a vampire, what would you know?


Warrior: +2

 

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 New Tribal Total: 596, online: 577

 Related Tribes: Cat

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: These two Cat Warriors are not in very Warrior-friendly colors. Mirri the Third remains a good not great beater, Qasali Slingers remain solid anti-artifacts & enchantments, midrange warfare.


Wizard: +10

   

  

  

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 New Tribal Total: 612, online: 589

 Related Tribes: Giant, Goblin, Human, Vampire, Zombie

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: For some reason, Wizard is the tribe with more additions in Commander 2017. Most of them are Human, including Inalla, Archmage Ritualist, the commander of the Tribal Wizard deck. Her eminence ability is similar to Edgar Markov's, although better in that it doesn't require casting and creates clones, not just 1/1s; but ultimately worse, because the clones only last one turn, and especially because you need to pay mana for them. Still, some applications might end up being impressive, since every ETB trigger generated by your Wizards (say, Aether Adept's or Sea Gate Oracle's) gets doubled, a la Panharmonicon. Inalla's second ability is a bit flat, though: you'd expect something more creative than just tapping Wizards for damage. It would be more useful if she created 1/1s like Edgar, then.

 Inalla's main lieutenant is the amazing Kess, Dissident Mage, who simply gives you a free Snapcaster Mage activation each and every turn (I don't know how it'll work on MTGO, since it's not triggered and it's not linked to an activated ability on the card, it's just an option you get to call until the end of turn). And if that's not enough, she's also a flyer with Linvala, Keeper of Silence's stats and CMC!

 Inalla's other lieutenant, Mairsil, the Pretender, is definitely Johnny-esque, and more of a mixed bag. I'm sure there are activated abilities of creature or artifacts that Mairsil can have fun with, but a) you need to exile those cards; b) you can't activate them more than once per turn, which vastly reduces the chance of powerful shenanigans; and c) to have more than one at once you'll necessarily need to use Mairsil as a commander.

 Also underwhelming, as we've seen, is Taigam, Sidisi's Hand, the original Tarkir timeline version of the same character. So, old Taigam was in Sidisi's employ originally. And not even the stronger Sidisi!

 Vindictive Lich looks fun: he's damaging enough that your opponent will try to block him, and this will inevitably kill him, activating his death triggers. Too bad in 1v1 you only get to choose one.

 Portal Mage is the rare C17 creature that works almost exclusively in multiplayer, as she's almost meaningless in 1v1 (you can save your planeswalkers, I guess).

 Magus of the Mind is the latest member of the Magi Megacycle (now counting an impressive 18 members), which is devoted to turn classic noncreature cards into creature form. In particular, since Commander 2015, the Commander products have always featured one Magus that translates a classic sorcery: the first one was Wheel of Fortune, then Yawgmoth's Will, now it's the turn of Mind's Desire.


Zombie: +2

 

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 New Tribal Total: 396, online: 388

 Related Tribes: Dragon, Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Bad news, Zombie lovers: C17 doesn't give you much of anything. Boneyard Scourge is strictly for Dragon decks (and also not very good), while Vindictive Lich is cute at most.


SUMMARY

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 Check the Complete Creature Types Reference Table here.


BEST IN SHOW
(click on them to go to their main tribe)

   

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THE EMINENT COMMANDERS
(click on them to go to their main tribe)

    

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KUMA'S TRIBAL EVALUATIONS

 

3 Comments

Shouldn't the Ur-Dragon also by AJ_Impy at Fri, 09/15/2017 - 00:29
AJ_Impy's picture
5

Shouldn't the Ur-Dragon also be under Avatar?

Ah, it should! I blame typing by Kumagoro42 at Fri, 09/15/2017 - 06:43
Kumagoro42's picture

Ah, it should! I blame typing it down by hand rather than copy-pasting from Gatherer (due to the too many reprints in between).

If you use Scryfall there's by Cheater Hater at Mon, 09/18/2017 - 18:40
Cheater Hater's picture

If you use Scryfall there's an option to exclude reprints, which is very nice (I've been using it a lot when developing my Masters 25 design)