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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Aug 23 2021 1:00pm
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FORGOTTEN REALMS: THE COMMANDER DECKS

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 Following the model established by Zendikar Rising and Kaldheim, the release of Adventures in the Forgotten Realms was also accompanied by a set of pre-constructed Commander decks. This time around, though, the magnitude of the new cards contained is much higher. If Zendikar Rising only had 6 new cards across two precon decks, and Kaldheim raised that amount to 16 new cards, the D&D-flavored Commander product is composed of four different decks, including a grand total of 62 cards that had never been seen before. Hence this separate evaluation, instead of just incorporating the new cards in the main set's evaluation.

 These new printings are, as usual, only legal in Vintage, Legacy and Commander, and styled as coming from the Forgotten Realms (which, is worth reminding, aren't part of the regular Magic Multiverse), whereas all the reprints are cards from any existing plane. They're not available on Magic Online as of yet, but hopefully they will be added to the Treasure Chests soon.

 As expected, the four decks have each a theme embodied by their designated commander. Aura of Corage is a Bant "Aura and Equipment matter" deck led by the dark Elf Knight Galea, Kindler of Hope. Dungeons of Death is about venturing and its commander is the Esper-colored Human Wizard Sefris of the Hidden Ways. Draconic Rage represents the second "D" in D&D, it's Gruul-colored, and the commander is the Dragonborn Barbarian Vrondiss, Rage of Ancients. Finally, the Rakdos deck called Planar Portal is the most peculiar of the lot, as it's concerned with casting cards from the exile; it's headed by the Tiefling Warlock Prosper, Tome-Bound. These four have been created expressly for this product, they didn't reference characters that were previously part of the source material.

   

 Anyway, let's have a look at the new creatures and their tribes. As always, the main focus is on all the Constructed applications (though Limited is occasionally touched upon), the tribes are presented alphabetically, and you'll find a hypertextual list at the end.

 Infodump

  • Cards: 331
  • New cards: 62
  • New creatures: 25
  • Reprinted cards: 269
  • Reprinted creatures: 69
  • New Legendary creatures: 12
  • New Snow creatures: 0
  • New artifact creatures: 1
  • New enchantment creatures: 0
  • Triple-subtype creatures: 0
  • Creature types affected: 27
  • Tribes with more than one addition: Dragon (+5), Human (+5), Wizard (+3), Barbarian (+2), Beholder (+2), Tiefling (+2)

Angel: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 193, online: 192

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Venture into the dungeon was devised as a Standard mechanic, possibly only appearing in one set. In the end, it didn't impact Standard almost at all. In order to make even a minuscule dent in a vast format like Commander, the venturers of these precons need to step up their game, tenfold. Unfortunately, it's not what Radiant Solar does. Its stats are lacking for a six-drop, the ability is more or less the same as Varys, Silverymoon Ranger, and the pseudo-cycling is sketchy, since a single instance of venturing is pretty far from being a replacement to drawing a card. In a Commander format, we even have just one Solar to "cycle", so it's not even a case where we can pitch multiples to quickly complete a dungeon.


Archer: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 84, online: 80

 Related Tribes: Human

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: "Equipment matter" creatures usually get their additional benefits from being equipped right away. Catti-brie (now, that's some name) has to wait to be succesfully declared as an attacker, instead. It's not a big deal, but it definitely orients her as an offensive beater, despite reach telling a different story. At least the counters she obtains can be weaponized at any time, to potentially kill or finish off an attacker or blocker. It sucks that she has to lose all the counters at once, but it's something we can play around easily, for instance by using the ability before triggering the creation of new counters. All in all, an interesting way for Selesnya to get repeatable removal, and a solid new two-drop for the Archer tribe.


Barbarian: +2

 

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 New Tribal Total: 36, online: 32

 Related Tribes: Dragon, Human

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: Vrondiss is the designated commander for the Draconic Rage deck. It's of course Dragon-themed, so our big boy gets to create Dragon tokens using both enrage and dice-rolling (which auto-triggers its enrage). The tokens are one-shot, disappearing after they deal damage, but a constant stream of five-powered flyers, even as temporary hits, adds up quickly. Just pair Vrondiss with pingers and fight spells, like it was an old-school Dinosaur from Ixalan, and we'll be golden. And, sure, dice-rolling cards do the trick, too. Those need to be vetted more carefully, since most of those from Forgotten Realms wouldn't pass a Constructed test.

 The other new Barbarian, Wulfgar, is also a red-green beater. He introduces us to the new mechanic melee, a multiplayer-only keyword that encourages to attack more than one opponent per combat phase. When Wulfgar does so, the melee trigger doubles its effectiveness, since that's what his most important ability does: it makes attack-based triggered abilities trigger one additional time. This means, for instance, double Treasure with Goldspan Dragon; double lifegain, Beast or card with Elder Gargaroth; double free drop with Ilharg, the Raze-Boar; and double doubling with Kalonian Hydra! And that's just to name a few, and not to mention the more obvious attack triggers of all: the Titans' (both those from Magic 2011 and Theros Beyond Death).


Beholder: +2

 

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 New Tribal Total: 4

 Related Tribes: Skeleton

 Impact of the New Additions: Severe

 Highlights: The newly created Beholder tribe doubles its ranks. In Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, they had a functional but mild member in Baleful Beholder, and a powerful, if slightly overrated legendary in Xanathar, Guild Kingpin (as back-breaking as his effect can be, there are still several things that can go wrong with Xanathar).

 The new pair is similar to the original one, but Death Tyrant is much more effective than the monoblack Beholder from the main set. Just keeping it around on the battlefield means any combat can result in a number of 2/2 tokens popping up on our side for free. And it's a 4/6 with menace that can be re-cast from the graveyard at will.

 Karazikar, the Eye Tyrant (which is, I guess, the main resident of Hive of the Eye Tyrant) is mostly a political card for multiplayer. When it attacks a player, it can clear a path by tapping a creature, while at the same time making sure that creature will attack someone else next. What's more interesting, though, is its ability to encourage your opponents to attack one another, which is a very manipulative and chaotic thing to do. Everyone will draw cards as long as they keep leaving us alone. After a while, they're bound to realize you're the real villain of the piece, though.


Devil: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 34, online: 33

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: Famously and weirdly, Devils in Dungeons & Dragons are akin to what Demons are in Magic (big, scary, commanding monsters, rather than smaller, mischievous humanoids), and vice versa. The D&D setting offers a chance for the Devil tribe to add off-kilter, individually powerful members, like this one. Lorcan really is a "Warlock Collector", because he wanna catch 'em all, post-mortem. To be more precise, they become Warlocks after they hit the graveyard, which feels a bit strange; but the bottom line is that dropping this seven-mana finisher ensures a stream of free creatures, stolen from the opponent's side. The trick only works once per creature, as they'll get exiled if they move to the graveyard a second time (otherwise they'll be virtually immortal when not exiled from the battlefield), but the part that's easy to overlook is that discarding them or milling them do the job, too. It looks like a nice centerpiece of its own monoblack Commander deck.


Dragon: +5

  

 

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 New Tribal Total: 242, online: 240

 Related Tribes: Barbarian, Spirit, Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Dragons are one of the two "Ds" in D&D, so these Commander decks also give them a special attention. They're divided into actual Dragons and humanoid Dragonborn, like Vrondiss, Rage of Ancients, the already discussed Barbarian commander of the Dragon-themed deck, as well as his pal Dragonborn Champion, which feels a bit win-more (if you're dealing multiple chunks of five damage, you're doing just fine), but still can draw a couple of cards before drawing cards off massive amounts of damage has become altogether irrelevant.

 Vengeful Ancestor is also a Dragonborn, but since it's in Spirit form, it gets to fly – something the Dragonborn usually aren't able to do. Its main appeal is goading a creature per turn, including the turn it drops on the battlefield. It's an ability that can range from highly tactical to not particularly useful. But the rest of its stats are reasonable for its mana value.

 Moving onto the "real" Dragons, the small-ish Chaos Dragon is probably too inconsistent to matter, although it's a repeatable free source of dice-rolling, which can lead to some synergy. Klauth, Unrivaled Ancient is the real big caliber here, a seven-drop that will immediately give its invested mana back; or at least, it's very likely to, although on its own, it only generates four mana. All in all, it's probably less effective than Goldspan Dragon in most situations, but it has the potential of going over the top.


Druid: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 229, online: 225

 Related Tribes: Human

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: Political-leaning mass removal of problematic artifacts or enchantments in a multiplayer battlefield. It notably doesn't affect the Druid's player. It seems like a fine new card to run in most green decks, though it's clearly at its best in the late game.


Elf: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 464, online: 451

 Related Tribes: Knight

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Galea is the proposed commander of the precon deck called Aura of Courage. She's a perfect fit for an Aura and Equipment theme, as she gives access to all the right colors (although maybe red would be better than blue for Equipment), finds the two permanent types off the top of the library, and auto-equips while doing so. And she also provides a solid vigilant body for her cost. She's perhaps a bit dull overall, in that she doesn't do anything unexpected; but she does everything well. As an Elf, or even as a non-Commander card, really, she's probably not going to matter a whole lot.


Elk: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 24, online: 23

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: The Shapers' Sanctuary ability is what counts here. Granting a positive combat ability to another creature during an attack is, more often than not, the kind of trigger that Limited cards enjoy, but Constructed cards don't care for too much, since it relies on the right state on both sides of the battlefield (we need an eligible partner, and nothing opposite us that will risk endangering the original attacker trying to help a friend). This said, Elk have certainly seen worse.


Giant: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 189, online: 183

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Here's another attacker that galvanizes one of its comrades in arms, by giving them a very large body base. This time, everybody also gets ward 3, which is not hexproof, and especially not in Commander after a seven-mana card has been played, but it's still something. The most intriguing ability of this Bant-colored Giant is perhaps potentially messing up with the opponent's blocking choices. Storvald is de facto removing their best or biggest creature from the equation. It could translate into fun combat phases; and, why not, a fun casual commander altogether: expensive, but not the easiest of kills.


Gnome: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 12, online: 11

 Related Tribes: Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: Severe

 Highlights: More flesh & bone Gnomes! This one revisits Throne of Eldraine's "draw two" mechanic and doubles as an Illusion lord. Minn's abilities are actually self-sustaining, but in an Illusion deck, those tokens are bound to become threatening very fast, and you can even sacrifice and suicide them to cheat something expensive onto the battlefield. Weird but neat design, and a great, cheap monoblue commander with a strong thematic flavor.


Golem: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 130

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: All right, pairing dice-rolling with monstrosity is... well, something. But six additional mana and risk to land on monstrosity 1 or 2, that's not a good investment. Sure, you get to destroy a permanent in the process, but you can do that with Meteor Golem without spending ten mana, and with the extra value of being more flicker-friendly. It's not a bad card, but it's not very good either. Bonus points for checking clay, one of the classic materials for Golems in D&D (the main set had Iron Golem, instead), and for randomly employing a d8.


Horror: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 212

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: This Mind Flayer is a nasty bugger for real. Drop it on turn five, tap it alongside a few other creatures, and we'll end up stealing a small army's worth of the opponent's board presence. Of course it's even better in the late game, when we'll have bigger fish to tap and pilfer, which is why it also makes for a great, fearsome commander. And of course in one-on-one it's actually worse than the monoblue version from the main Forgotten Realms set (harder to cast and more conditional). But in multiplayer, it's bound to be a nightmare. The lifedrain ability is also going to add up. Frightening design.


Horse: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 37, online: 32

 Related Tribes: Illusion

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: Whoa, Mimic Vat on legs, and without a mana cost to activate? Additionally, this illusionary Horse also works as a way to rescue one of our creatures that's about to eat removal. Although I can easily imagine just exiling an impactful threat in the opponent's end step, in order to retrigger its ETB ability. Some have inherent synergy with the Phantom Steed, offsetting the issue of having to expose it to the dangers of the red zone. For instance, we could exile a Ravenous Chupacabra, which will clear the path every turn for the Steed to keep doing its thing. And when they eventually get rid of our Mimic Horsey, the real Chupacabra comes back and triggers again!


Human: +5

   

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 New Tribal Total: 2600, online: 2415

 Related Tribes: Archer, Barbarian, Druid, Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: Irrelevant

 Highlights: Sheesh, Human must be the largest tribe even in a supplementary set of preconstructed decks?


Hydra: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 55

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: The basic stats from this Hydra are good for a beater. If we can make its body big, it'll be automatically supplied with the always very crucial trample, plus a protection that's not exactly hexproof, but it's close enough. How big can we make Neverwinter Hydra, though? Let's do some math. Bottom case, for 4 mana, it'll be between a 1/1 and a 6/6. It's safe to say we don't want to try our luck with such a gap. By rolling 2d6 for still reasonable six mana, we can land, worst case scenario on a 2/2, best case on a 12/12, average being a 7/7. Is a 7/7 trampler with quasi-hexproof worth six mana? Maybe it is, but not when we're not sure if we're actually getting it.

 Clearly the Hydra works better, and with that I mean it ensures fewer catastrophic failures, the more mana we sink into it. If we have 14 mana to spend, we can get a 6d6 Hydra, which means a 21/21 in average. That could win games if ward 4 is enough to safeguard it (and nobody wipes the board, of course). But what if we do that and we land on the still catastrophic 6/6 case? Which cost us more than twice the mana it would probably require if it was printed with those stats?

 Overall, a fun implementation of dice-rolling, but not a creature we should ever play if we already get often angry at Magic's built-in RNG.


Illusion: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 90, online: 85

 Related Tribes: Horse

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Phantom Steed's shtick has some issues with Illusions, since some of their best members die when targeted by both spells and abilities, preventing the equine imprinting from ever happening. Among the good partners, there are Riftwing Cloudskate and especially Palinchron, though that one's a big over-the-top at seven mana. Spark Double creates a strange loop with the Steed; it could be worth exploring.

 The unreal fella also get Minn, Wily Illusionist as an off-tribe lord. It leads to a deck filled with card-drawing, so we can trigger Minn's token-making and, at the same time, always have fresh Illusions to drop for free when one of them dies.


Knight: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 326, online: 313

 Related Tribes: Elf

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Knights have inherent synergy with Equipment, so Galea is probably more useful in a Knight build than she is in an Elf build. At least theoretically, since blue and green are far from being colors Knights care about. She's probably better off as a non-tribal commander, the way she was intended.


Orc: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 70, online: 69

 Related Tribes: Shaman

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: This guy's ability looks very straightforward, but has a lot of fascinating implications that open new design space, especially where impulsing drawing is concerned. Wild-Magic Sorcerer comes out of the precon deck led by Prosper, Tome-Bound, the quirkiest of the four lists, and it synergizes well with its commander, which enables regular impulsing drawing off the top of our library and generates a Treasure token in the process. The Sorcerer grafts cascade on top of that, but that's true of oh-so-many other mechanical situations. We're casting an adventure creature? Cascade. A suspended spell? Cascade. A card we cascaded-into? More cascade! (That's why the rule text makes sure to apply the effect to only the first instance of casting from exile in a given turn, otherwise it would create a never-ending cascade).

 It's a neat trick, even if it doesn't directly interact with too many members of the Orc tribe – in fact, only Ire Shaman would trigger it, and that's not a particularly high pick in an Orc tribal deck.


Rogue: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 322, online: 306

 Related Tribes: Tiefling

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: A solid addition to the "Treasures matter" archetype that was the most intriguing innovation of Forgotten Realms, although it had already its seeds in Kaldheim. It's possible decks abusing Magda, Brazen Outlaw don't even need this guy, but it doesn't hurt, especially since we're talking mostly of a Commander environment (it's doubtful Legacy and Vintage will ever care about this strategy). Too bad Grim Hireling won't be able to serve under Magda's command. But both him and Magda can work under Kalain, Reclusive Painter.


Shaman: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 433, online: 428

 Related Tribes: Orc

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: This card is even more impactful for Shamans than it is for Orcs, because the former have many more members that are capable of impulsive drawing, like Dark-Dweller Oracle, Conspiracy Theorist or Chaos Channeler.


Skeleton: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 59, online: 57

 Related Tribes: Beholder

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: For some reason, this is not a living and breathing Beholder, but the bony remains of one. Too bad the token-making ability creates Zombies, not Skeletons. I guess they're too fresh to be the latter.


Spirit: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 504, online: 497

 Related Tribes: Dragon

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Red Spirits make for a larger group than one might think, mostly due to Kamigawa. Most of them are abysmal stuff like Oni of Wild Places, but it's possible to build a semi-decent midrange red Spirit build, where goading matters more than for the more common Azorius variety.


Tiefling: +2

 

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 New Tribal Total: 8

 Related Tribes: Rogue, Warlock

 Impact of the New Additions: Severe

 Highlights: The Tieflings are one of the three characteristic humanoid races from the Forgotten Realms without a previous Magic incarnation that debuted in the premier set. The other two, Gnoll and Halfling, weren't expanded in these Commander decks, but the devilmen did. In fact, they got one of the four designated commanders, Prosper, Tome-Bound, who guides the mysterious Planar Portal deck. The list is all about casting cards from exile, and that's what Prosper does. It's a very straightforward, yet very powerful design: every turn, you get one impulsive drawing for free, and if you exploit it (which includes playing the land for the turn), there's also a bonus Treasure to help casting the next one. All in a four-mana Rakdos package (the combination Forgotten Realms repurposed as caring for Treasures the most), with deathtouch as a little bonus – even if we probably don't want to trade our precious card-advantage engine, it can still be useful to scare away three-powered attacker that would get pinched to deat by Prosper's single point of power.

 The purple book-reader also plays well with the other new Tiefling, which can turn his additional Treasures into removal (that also synergizes with Hoard Robber from the main set).


Warlock: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 45

 Related Tribes: Tiefling

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: Prosper is, appropriately a Warlock. So that's two new or new-ish tribes (amazing to think it's been almost two years since Throne of Eldraine already!) in one probably influential card. Impulsive drawing and Treasure-making aren't also too old as mechanics. Are Tieflings the new face of Magic? Probably not, since chances are they won't even exist outside of Forgotten Realms.


Warrior: +1

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 New Tribal Total: 818, online: 799

 Related Tribes: Dragon

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: The "deal five" guy is a Warrior. Which is probably much more relevant than being a (flghtless) Dragon, even if Dragons are probably better at dealing five damage per turn.


Wizard: +3

  

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 New Tribal Total: 840, online: 822

 Related Tribes: Gnome, Human

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: The "draw two"-based, Illusion lord Gnone Minn is not the only Wizard in the set. For one, the tribe gets the last of the four precon commanders, Sefris of the Hidden Ways. I'm not sure what the "hidden ways" of this Esper mage are, but they have to do with venturing into the dungeon, which is what the whole Dungeons of Death deck does, as the name implies. To be fair, the name also gives away Sefris's favorite method of venturing, which involves sacrificing her companions. Honestly, it's a less efficient trigger than those of both Varis, Silverymoon Ranger and especially Wandering Troubadour. Sefris also offers a payoff for all the venturing, though, which tries and offsets all that sacrifice with one bout of reanimation. Of course it could target any monstruous thing, not just the dorks we sacrificed to get there, so that's one strong dungeon payoff if we ever had one.

 The last Wizard is another Human, Midnight Pathlighter. It's from the same deck as Sefris, as one could also deduce from the shared haircut and general fashion sense. It's a good way to make everyone in our team semi-unblockable (it reads more or less as "unblockable except by commanders"), while adding to the dungeon progression. To tell the truth, if the cards from this specific deck managed to make dungeoneering more Constructed-playable than it is in the main set, it'll be a huge accomplishment.


SUMMARY

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 Check the Complete Creature Types Reference Table here.


KUMA'S TRIBAL EVALUATIONS