Commander 2016 saw the debut of a brand new mechanic, Partner, which changed the way we could build decks by allowing us to have two commanders instead of just one. What it meant was that we could get a bit more creative with colour identities which made sense for Commander 2016 since the five preconstructed decks were each designed around a four-colour commander, something that was also brand new to that set. Each of the five decks came with three partners – one in an allied colour and two in enemy colours.
The next time we saw the partner mechanic, it was in Battlebond were the mechanic was expanded to include another specific card to Partner with. We were given five new legendary enemy-coloured creature partner pairs that could be commanders along with the planeswalker pair of Will Kenrith and Rowan Kenrith. The set also featured an additional five non-legendary enemy-coloured creature partner pairs that have seen some play in decks but can’t be used as commanders.
This year’s commander set features five different decks based on the three-colour wedges (a colour and its enemy allied pair) with each of those decks featuring a new partner pair similar to those that were featured in Battlebond. This time the partners are a combination of a mono-coloured human creature and that colour’s enemy colours as an allied coloured monster. The decks and their partner pairs are as follows:
- Ruthless Regiment – Human Tribal Theme – White, Black & Red – Savai (Mardu) – Trynn, Champion of Freedom & Silvar, Devourer of the Free
- Arcane Maelstrom – Instants Matter Theme – Blue, Red & Green – Ketria (Temur) – Haldan, Avid Arcanist & Pako, Arcane Retriever
- Symbiotic Swarm – Counters Theme – Black, Green & White – Indatha (Abzan) – Nikara, Lair Scavenger & Yannik, Scavenging Sentinel
- Timeless Wisdom – Cycling Theme – Red, White & Blue – Raugrin (Jeskai) – Brallin, Skyshark Rider & Shabraz, the Skyshark
- Enhanced Evolution – Mutate Theme – Green, Blue & Black – Zagoth (Sultai) – Cazur, Ruthless Stalker & Ukkima, Stalking Shadow
The Bonder-Monster Pairs
This article will focus on these bonder-monster pairs that have formed their eludha to see what options they provide for creative dekbuilding. The eludha is a deeply mystical bond between a human and one of Ikoria’s monsters. The result is great for the bonders themselves, but they are then shunned by civilised humans and treated as traitors as they’ve partnered with monsters that threaten Ikoria’s human cities and dwellings. But enough about that. Let’s jump into the review.
Trynn, Champion of Freedom & Silvar, Devourer of the Free
On her own, Trynn, Champion of Freedom is a Hill Giant with a four mana 3/3 body which is actually a good start for a human. Her ability is typical of white and its “go wide” strategy which rewards having lots of smaller creatures on the battlefield, while her “raid” ability rewards you for attacking but doesn’t trigger until the end step which may be problematic should she not survive. She does, however, help grow your army of human soldiers by summoning another one to her cause; which is why she fits best into a soldier themed deck and other go-wide deck archetypes better than she would in a human themed deck since those tend to look for value humans with enter the battlefield abilities.
Trynn could be run as a commander on her own leading a monowhite build or as part of the 99 in a different human/soldier based deck assuming that she isn’t being played with her partner.
Speaking of which, her partner, Silvar, Devourer of the Free is a whole other discussion. As a five mana 4/2 with menace in Rakdos colours, Silvar’s colour pair is one of the stronger ones in Commander with a lot of removal at your disposal but that isn’t what Silvar is all about. Silvar is a perfect “aristocrat” creature.
Aristocrat decks focus on gaining value from sacrificing smaller creatures to sac outlets for profit. This profit usually comes in the form of life gain, life loss, life drain, card draw, card advantage, or to force opponents to sacrifice their own creatures. The aristocrat archetype is already strongly rooted in the Rakdos colour pairing along with the many Mardu coloured varieties, and it is a perfect fit for Silvar. Silvar has an activated ability that allows you to sacrifice a human (which would have been better if it read any creature) to make it larger and indestructible until end of turn. That, along with menace, means that Silvar will be doing larger and larger incremental amounts of damage eventually resulting in lethal commander damage. A definite contender as the leader of an aristocrat style deck or just one of the 99.
As a partner pair, Trynn provides a steady stream of human soldier tokens ready for Silvar’s next big attack. Together, they make a good commander pair for all existing aristocrat decks and, if you already have one, these two would be a perfect fit without the need of any major modifications.
Haldan, Avid Arcanist & Pako, Arcane Retriever
Unlike the other five partner pairs, Haldan, Avid Arcanist is the only monocoloured one that does nothing without his partner. As a three mana 1/4 wizard with an ability that only works with his partner, Haldan will never see play on its own in any deck without Pako, his faithful retriever. He’ll also never see play as a commander on his own, and his inclusion in the 99 may also sometimes be in contention, even if Pako is also there. Unfortunately, there’s not much else to say about him. He is inarguably the worst out of the 20 new commanders.
Pako, Arcane Retriever, on the other hand, showcases some exemplary design space for a Gruul coloured creature. We have had Gruul creatures care about noncreature cards and spells in different ways in the past such as Ruric Thar, the Unbowed punishing opponents or Nikya of the Old Ways forcing a different style of build for your deck.
As a five mana hasty 3/3, Pako comes out swinging and starts exiling the top cards of all players’ decks, getting bigger in the process. This goodboi will attract a lot of kill spells the first turn he comes out because once that attack trigger resolves, he may end up being a lot bigger than any blockers. On his own, Pako will start doing lethal commander damage very quickly depending on the decks you’re playing against. He’ll punish noncreature-based control decks quite quickly as a brilliant alternative to existing Gruul commanders and may inspire whole new deck builds or just happily slot into existing builds.
As a partner pair, Haldan and Pako scream card advantage. Pako’s fetched cards become fodder for Haldan to allow you to cast them whenever he is on the battlefield. With no colour restrictions, you can happily keep fetching your opponents’ noncreature cards and casting them for your own gain. This partner pair is a refreshingly new way to play Temur spell copying that isn’t Riku of Two Reflections or Kalamax, the Stormsire.
Nikara, Lair Scavenger & Yannik, Scavenging Sentinel
The black human cleric, Nikara, Lair Scavenger, is perhaps the most aggressively costed with a very versatile ability to boast. As a Gray Ogre three mana 2/2 with menace, she comes out early and can do damage on her own while other players are busy getting set up, but her ability is what really makes the difference, converting counters on your creatures into card advantage. Best of all, her ability isn’t a death trigger as one would normally expect from a black effect. Instead, it is a leaves-the-battlefield trigger which opens up room for more interaction with blink effects from the likes of Karmic Guide, Reveillark, and friends.
She is a solid Commander in her own right; however, mono-black decks rarely have the counter manipulation one would want so she is better off being one of the 99. Hard to fit alone into an existing archetype or to build around without her partner.
Yannik, Scavenging Sentinel is our first hyena since Hyena Pack in Amonkhet and one of only four black-bordered hyenas in the whole game. This beast (and yes, it is also a beast) is a solid 3/3 for four mana with vigilance that works extremely well for its Selesnya colour pair. Yannik exiles another of your creatures and converts that into +1/+1 counters to distribute on other creatures. It works well in decks with existing counter themes such as Ghave, Guru of Spores or decks that share abilities based on those counters such as Daghatar the Adamant and other similar Abzan commanders. A worthy commander in its own right, a Yannik build would be different than current Selesnya builds but it could easily slot in nicely into any of the aforementioned decks.
The partnering of Nikara and Yannik is one that begs to be built around. Take advantage of white blink effects to net card advantage with Nikara while peppering the board with +1/+1 counters. This commander pair can helm all your existing Abzan counters decks or happily support in the 99 themselves.
Brallin, Skyshark Rider & Shabraz, the Skyshark
Brallin, Skyshark Rider should have also been a Pirate rather than a Shaman but considering what she rides, we’ll assume that some shamanistic ritual is required to tame a skyshark. On her own, she boasts Hill Giant stats with a powerful discard trigger that makes her bigger while damaging opponents. As a mono-red build, she can easily be the leader for a deck full of wheel effects and ways to abuse them. When she’s wheeling, she’ll be able to become large and will kill quickly with commander damage or her trigger’s damage. She is wheely the best wheel tribal commander. Oh, and yes, she can give a shark trample but that won’t factor in when you’re playing her in a mono-red build. As part of the 99, she fits well into a multitude of Izzet decks that aim to wheel for card advantage such as Niv-Mizzet, Parun and Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind.
Shabraz, the Skyshark… Where does one start with a flying shark bird? This card fits amazingly well into aggressive Oloro, Ageless Ascetic builds and life gain decks along with any Azorius deck that tries to draw cards, which is all of them! Flying at the lead of such a deck is highly possible for this powerful creature. As with Brallin, Shabraz can get big enough to deal lethal commander damage in a few turns, but unlike Brallin, Shabraz has a legitimately viable activated ability to give a human flying and there are many of those that would want evasion to some positive effect. Shabraz may look innocuous for now but expect this card to become a huge part of your metagame going forwards. Always play it in Azorius… Always.
Now for the human plus shark bird partnership… With the Jeskai colour combination, the wheel effects that were helping Brallin do damage and grow larger will now also help Shabraz. What’s better than hitting hard with one commander? Why, hitting with two! You’ll quickly swing the life totals in your favour with one wheel and knock out two other players at your table in one or two turns. And you can finally use Brallin’s ability should someone try to block the big flying shark bird.
Cazur, Ruthless Stalker & Ukkima, Stalking Shadow
Cazur, Ruthless Stalker is yet another Hill Giant with a triggered ability, but this time it is a combat damage related one, as one would expect from the creature dominant colour. He rewards you for dealing damage in a very simple and linear manner. At the helm of a mono-green deck, you just make big creatures and smash repeatedly until your opponents go down, but he could just as well be good support in the 99 of any green based deck that likes counters. In fact, Cazur would work surprisingly well within the Nikara & Yannik partnership deck.
Ukkima, Stalking Shadow – the whale wolf. Something very strange is going on in Ikoria when you get those creature types together on a Dimir card. As a small 2/2 unblockable creature, Ukkima can sneak in and do incremental amounts of damage in a sneaky rogue style deck such as Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow or Vela the Night-Clad but as the commander for the deck, you would want to create a Voltron-style build that would aim to increase Ukkima’s power and go for lethal commander damage. Add in a way to sacrifice Ukkima when necessary and you’ll quickly bring down your opponents.
The synergy between Cazur and Ukkima is one that will need a lot of building around as you’ll want to make sure they both stay on the battlefield long enough for the Stalking Shadow to hit with decent power. Such a build would need to focus on ways to protect them as well as to augment and sacrifice Ukkima when ready. Expect to build a whole new deck style when using these as your Commanders. As part of the 99, the pair doesn’t naturally fit within any existing Sultai archetype since many of those use graveyard based control shenanigans rather than doing actual Commander damage.
So we’ve now covered all 20 of the new commanders from this year’s Commander 2020 set. Next time we’ll begin our look at some of the 51 exclusive cards new to this set and what decks they are likely to go into.
Remember to pick up your copy of the decks in question from the online shop or in-store.