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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Dec 07 2021 2:13pm
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CRIMSON VOW: THE COMMANDER DECKS

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 Just like its Double Feature companion Midnight Hunt before itInnistrad: Crimson Vow is accompanied by a couple of Commander decks with all the new cards flavored as denizens of the very same plane. This time the themes of the decks are Spirits and Vampires, and considering the previous pair was Witches and Zombies, it means ultimately no Werewolf-themed deck was created for these Innistrad-based Commander products, likely because the double-faced cards are logistically difficult to accommodate.

 

 Once again, baffingly, eight of the new cards are not in the decks, and instead need to be acquired separately through Set Boosters or Collector Boosters. These include a new cycle that marks the return of the soulbond mechanic from Avacyn Restored; two otherwise extraneous lords for Wolves and Nightmares/Horrors; as well as Olivia and Edgar's Wedding Ring, with which we now can force another player of our choice into marriage.

 Anyway, let's have a look at the new creatures and their tribes. As always, the tribes are presented alphabetically, and you'll find a hypertextual list at the end.

 Infodump

  • Cards: 188
  • New cards: 30
  • New creatures: 24
  • Reprinted cards: 158
  • Reprinted creatures: 52
  • New Legendary creatures: 9
  • New Snow creatures: 0
  • New artifact creatures: 0
  • New enchantment creatures: 0
  • Triple-subtype creatures: 0
  • Creature types affected: 15
  • Tribes with more than one addition: Vampire (+7), Human (+6), Spirit (+6), Soldier (+5), Noble (+3), Wizard (+3), Horror (+2), Rogue (+2)

Angel: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 200, online: 199

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: This is the first of the new soulbonders, meaning creatures that gets paired with another creature when entering the battlefield, regardless of the order of entrance – you can drop the Angel and pair her with a creature that's already around, or wait for a better match that will arrive later. Of course, it's usually better to use the soulbond effect asap, and especially in this case, since it's a very powerful one: the ability to survive death (though, crucially, not exile). What the self-reanimation trigger implies is that Breathkeeper Seraph and her soulmate can only be definitely killed during a narrow window between the time a first removal is used on one of them an their controller's next upkeep. Otherwise they'll just re-bond again. That's particularly effective after a sweeper, which the Seraph's player is encouraged to exploit. And it's easy to envision a soulmate with a strong ETB ability that we sacrifice again and again for value.


Cleric: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 499, online: 472

 Related Tribes: Human

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Making flyers is always impactful, particularly if we get to do it for free, and this Cleric is able to produce several of them right away, if we're in a multiplayer game. The catch mainly comes in the form of the clause that looks at the number of controlled lands, something that we can't easily maintain for long, or we risk harming our board development to an extent than some free Spirits won't easily counterbalance. Still, even managing a couple of those little suckers for three mana is a decent enough deal. Just maybe not run Priest of the Blessed Graf in Selesnya, if you're playing Commander – it would seem like a no-brainer inclusion, given the typical go-wide theme of that color pair, but green decks always have more lands in play than anybody else.


Demon: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 129, online: 124

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: To mitigate the situational nature inherent in all Diabolic Edict effects, which might end up doing next to nothing when the opponent has sacrifice fodder around, a new design emerged recently that ties the forced sacrifice to a characteristic of the victim that makes it always relevant. It could be the highest mana value (Soul Shatter) or the greatest power (Professor Onyx). This Demon went with the latter, even adding some lifegain to the deal, although that's mostly to try and offset the loss of life caused by the madness cost. Is it still worth to pay three mana for a 8/4 that kills something of value but might cost us some life? It almost certainly is, at least in a deck that can easily pitch it to exploit the madness. And in the late game, when it's conceivable we won't have 8 life to offer anymore, we can just hardcast Shadowgrange Archfiend, no harm much foul.


Horror: +2

 

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 New Tribal Total: 232

 Related Tribes: Nightmare, Spider

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: The second of the soulbonders is a big-butted Spider that potentially gives us a ton of cards as a death trigger. That is, if we pair it with a high-powered soulmate, because Doom Weaver alone just draws us one. Which is already something, but probably not worth six mana.

 The other new Horror, which is also a Nightmare, is a flashier one. Umbris, Fear Manifest is a lord of sorts for both of its tribes, making each new drop that carries the subtype into a stepping block towards a milling win condition. In the meanwhile, Umbris will also become larger and larger, which is nice flavor. Granted, this route to winning appears pretty slow, especially in Commander; and it asks us to put a large number of Horrors and Nightmares in our deck, otherwise Umbris won't do much for us. It could still combo with other mass-exiling effects, most notably with any version of Nightmare planeswalker Ashiok, and more directly with Ashiok, Dream Render. But then it'll be just a big vanilla beater for five mana.


Horse: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 39, online: 34

 Related Tribes: Spirit

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: The green soulbonder gives both paired creatures Taurean Mauler's ability. It might be worth the five mana spent for an otherwise meager 3/3, and it's certainly a valuable new addition to the Horse tribe, whose last green member of some releance was Vine Mare.


Human: +6

  

  

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 New Tribal Total: 2747, online: 2559

 Related Tribes: Cleric, Rogue, Soldier, Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: Irrelevant

 Highlights: Will there ever be a Magic product, any Magic product, where Human is not the most represented tribe? Probably not until we return to Lorwyn/Shadowmoor.


Nightmare: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 62

 Related Tribes: Horror

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Given its colors, Umbris looks more relevant as a Nightmare than as a Horror. It's also only the second legendary Nigthmare not flavored as living on Ikoria (the first was Falthis, Shadowcat Familiar out of Commander Legends – and to be honest, I'm not even entirely sure she wasn't from Ikoria as well).


Noble: +3

  

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 New Tribal Total: 52, online: 51

 Related Tribes: Vampire

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Innistrad being Innistrad, these three new Nobles are all Vampires. And they're all "Vampires matter" cards to boot (they come from a Vampire-themed deck, after all), so no real point in discussing them in the Noble entry.


Rogue: +2

 

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 New Tribal Total: 334, online: 317

 Related Tribes: Human, Vampire

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Crimson Vow, at least in its commander corner, regaled us with a new pair of partners. It's unclear if Kamber and Laurine are supposed to be the kind of partner Halana and Alena are, or just work buddies, but regarless, they're cool characters, a "grave-robbing duo" that looks right out of some action movie. The cards aren't incredible, but still playable. Kamber is a big over-costed for a 3/4 lifelinker that just produces Blood tokens once in a while (or, I guess, massively in case of a sweeper, especially in multiplayer). Laurine has better stats as a three-drop 3/3 first striker that can work as a slightly expensive sacrifice outlet in a pinch, while also goading something out of the way whenever that's relevant. They don't even have amazing synergy with each other – when Laurine sacs a creature, Kamber adds a Blood token and a life to the deal, but that's about it – but together they're a functional enough package to occasionally deserve command zone duty.


Soldier: +5

  

 

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 New Tribal Total: 743, online: 683

 Related Tribes: Human, Spirit, Vampire

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: It's immediately clear where each of these new Soldiers comes from, since three are Spirits or partner with a Spirit, one is a Vampire, and one is an out-of-deck soulbonder. Going last to first, the latter, Mirage Phalanx, has an insanely powerful ability that makes token copies of the two soulmates at the beginning of each of our combat phases. The copies only last the combat, but we already know one of them will be an additional 4/4, while the other could be something crazy like a Dragon, or a creature with a strong ETB... or a Dragon with a strong ETB! Just by adding the Phalanx to the Vampire-themed deck from Crimson Vow, we could make copies of Markov Enforcer, which gives Vampires their own Thorn Mammoth. They're both top-end plays, clearly, but that's never an issue in Commander.

 As for the martial Spirits, or friends of Spirits, Drogskol Reinforcements is kind of a weak lord for the tribe, giving fellow Spirits melee (which in most situations is worse than just a straight-up anthem) and immunity to damage-based spells. It's also just an unattractive four-drop 2/2 otherwise. We get a better deal with the designated commander of the Spirit deckMillicent, Restless Revenant. She's a 4/4 flyer that could drop for as little as two mana – although that's never happening in the early turns – and then floods the board with 1/1 flying Spirits, either as a replacement for the death of a nontoken Spirit, or whenever such a creature deals damage to a player. It's crucial to note that the tokens themselves don't generate more tokens, since that would just be nuts, but the proliferation is going to be a serious issue on the board, considering most Spirits are evasive. Millicent's ability obviously puts a target on her controller's back in a multiplayer table, and it encourages overcommitting, which is easily punished in Commander, but overall, she's a valid tribal centerpiece.

 Finally, Rhoda, Geist Avenger is a Human, but he's partnered with Timin, Youthful Geist. They're more synergistic partners than Kamber and Laurine, since Timin taps a creature every combat, and that makes Rhoda grow bigger. Their basic stats are kind of Limited worthy – a 3/3 with vigilance for four, a 3/4 flyer for five – and their interaction isn't super-exciting. But at least they could work in a non-tribal shell. Because, truth be told, as a consequence of both Commander decks being strongly designed around a specific tribal setup, three of these five new Soldiers strictly care for other tribes, and only Mirage Phalanx is really useful in a build that's not necessarily Spirit- or Vampire-centric.


Spider: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 63, online: 62

 Related Tribes: Horror

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Strangely enough, Doom Weaver is only the second monoblack Spider in existence, after Drider from earlier this year, and that was even a product of the extraneous D&D setting of Forgotten Realms. Maybe it's because black isn't supposed to have reach. Anyway, his guy isn't even that good when paired with another Spider, because they typically have more toughness than power.


Spirit: +6

  

  

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 New Tribal Total: 540, online: 533

 Related Tribes: Horse, Soldier, Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: From the Soldier review, we've seen the Spirit Squadron commander, Millicent, Restless Revenant, as well as the mostly unimpressive Drogskol Reinforcements and Timin, Youthful Geist. The soulbonder ghostly Horse Thundering Mightmare is also a Spirit, but it comes in a color Spirits usually don't favor much.

 This leaves us with the okay Etheral Investigator, which, as its name implies, creates some Clue tokens on ETB (just one if we're not in multiplayer), and then some Spirit tokens through a revisited "draw two" mechanic, so it basically functions like a more fragile Improbable Alliance. The Wizard ghost Spectral Arcanist is the tribe's take on Torrential Gearhulk. It costs only four mana, looks into any graveyard, and can target sorceries, too, but it fatally doesn't have flash and requires a large Spirit population to be able to cast something juicier than Opt. So it really doesn't compare with the Gearhulk at all, but it's still a good card to include in the Spirit builds that have the room for it.


Vampire: +7

   

  

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 New Tribal Total: 320, online: 316

 Related Tribes: Noble, Rogue, Soldier

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: Unsurprisingly, the Vampires take center stage in the deck called Vampiric Bloodline, which gets an excellent commander in Strefan, Maurer Progenitor. In Crimson Vow, we have had one legendary creature as a representative for each of the four major Innistrad bloodlines (i.e. Edgar, Charmed Groom for the Markov; Olivia, Crimson Bride for the Voldaren; Anje, Maid of Dishonor for the Falkenrath; Runo Stromkirk for the Stromkirk), plus Henrika Domnathi for the more obscure Domnathi. Even more obscure are the Maurer (though you might remember the cute Twins of Maurer Estate from Shadows over Innistrad), and Strefan is the head of that line, finally getting his own card. And what a card that is! Strefan fits right into any Blood-heavy list, being the ultimate payoff for that mechanic, as he can turn two Blood tokens into a proper Kaalia of the Vast trick for Vampires, with a dash of Winota, Joiner of Forces thrown in the mix, indestructibility-wise. The only downside is that, at two toughness, is pretty easy to get rid of Strefan; but if the opponents can't, the board advantage will come fast and thirsty. He even generates some amount of Blood to fuel his own ability!

 Aside from the freshly vampirized Kamber (who, compared to these other vamps, feels like should have been marked as an uncommon), the other vampiric legend in the deck is a Markov, Timothar, Baron of Bats – Olivia's ex who's still not over her and didn't get invited to the wedding (I feel like there was material for a good rom-com here). He's kind of expensive for a 4/4 without flying, though the ward tax at least makes it so the opponents have to two-for-one themselves in order to target him. His strength resides in his very flavorful ability that lets us turn any dying Vampire into a Bat, and then back into itself when the Bat tastes enemy blood (i.e. connects). Weirdly, it doesn't apply to Timothar himself, and it requires us to have one mana open at the right time, which is not a prohibitive ask.

 Scion of Opulence is another Vampire Noble, the only one from Crimson Vow that's not also legendary. She gives us a Treasure token whenever a nontoken Vampire dies, and then turns a pair of those tokens, or any other artifacts, into impulsive drawing. As a 3/1, she's definitely lacking in toughness, but in the face of a three-mana investment, the potential value makes her playable enough in a Vampire build.

 On the other hand, Markov Enforcer should be always included in a deck with a good amount of Vampires in it, as she performs the function of Thorn Mammoth while also generating Blood. Similarly, Crossway Troublemakers looks like a must-include tribal creature, providing mass deathouth and lifelink to attacking Vampires, and then turning every death into a fresh card. Midnight Arsonist is less appealing as an artifact killer that's not even allowed to hit mana rocks, but he can still have a role to play against problematic permanents, and even combos nicely with the roundabout Bat-flickering from Timothar.


Wizard: +3

  

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 New Tribal Total: 864, online: 845

 Related Tribes: Human, Spirit

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Not counting the quasi-Torrential Gearhulk of Spectral Arcanist, which is strictly a Spirit card, the Wizards get one of the soulbonders, the mill-based Imperious Mindbreaker. Choosing to mill the opponents as a win condition is not ideal in Commander, where decks have 99 cards and the graveyard is almost always a resource, so I'd rate this guy as the weakest of the cycle. 

 This only leaves the legendary Wizard, Donal, Herald of Wings. Donal was an Avacyn loyalist that felt betrayed when the mighty Archangel went mad, and only found peace by communing with the deceased souls of Birds, or something along those lines. In game terms, it means Donal makes a 1/1 copy of any flyer we cast. It's an interesting ability, because usually this kind of deal (cfr. Nightmare Shepherd, Dollhouse of Horrors) is really advantageous only when we copy creatures with an ETB trigger or an ability that doesn't depend on their body size. But flyers tend to concentrate their strengths around the fact that they do, in fact, fly. Granted, making an extra 1/1 flyer every time we cast any other creature in our flyer deck is probably already good enough, if more clearly requiring a specific setup surrounding Donal. It's how he would want it, anyway.


Wolf: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 73, online: 69

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: This is another card that's only found in Crimson Vow Set Boosters and Collector Boosters, but not in the Commander decks, despite being legal only in Vintage, Legacy and Commander. The reason is simple, since neither of the two decks even have green in it, let alone caring for a Wolf lord. And that's exactly what Hollowhenge Overlord is, a way to generate a Wolf token in each of our upkeeps for every Wolf or Werewolf we control. The ability feels awfully "win more", to be honest, and the new Wolves don't even get to attack the turn they're created. The Overlord alone only makes one Wolf, which is a bit underwhelming for a six-mana 4/4. It's also a flash dropper a la Nightpack Ambusher, so at least we get to ambush something, and we don't expose the Overlord to sorcery-speed removal before it gets to create the first batch of tokens. But the comparison with Nightpack Ambusher is not favorable, even if it's clearly a card that one would be hard-pressed not to include in any Commander deck based on Wolves and Werewolves.


SUMMARY

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 Check the Complete Creature Types Reference Table here.


THE SOULBONDERS
(click on any of them to go to their review)

  

 

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KUMA'S TRIBAL EVALUATIONS