Dust off those spellbooks and give your unicorn-hair wand a twirl, because we’re heading back to Magic school!
If you’re anything like me, then you grew up on Harry Potter, The Name of the Wind, X-Men, and all manner of other “magic school” stories, so seeing Magic dive into this genre is incredibly exciting!
And speaking of exciting, the first previews from the new set feature a 5-card cycle of enemy-coloured Commands that all look potentially quite powerful for Standard, Pioneer, and Modern.
Commands are notoriously difficult to evaluate, so let’s see if we can break the curse and find these spells homes in the land of 60 cards.
First, A History Lesson
Good news! Professor Binns has been fired for being dead, Master Lorren for being too humourless, and Charles Xavier for being too bald. That means you are all stuck with me for today’s History of Magic lesson.
“Commands” in Magic are modal spells that allow you to choose two of four given options. This means each Command effectively has six different modes to choose from.
Keep this flexibility in mind as we explore these new Commands. On the surface they always seem overcosted. I mean, who wants to pay 1UUU for “counter target spell” and “draw a card”? That’s just Dismiss with more blue mana involved. But, as we all know, it’s the modality of Cryptic Command that makes it so powerful, that ability to choose the effect most needed in the moment.
So, with that in mind, let’s see if we can find a home for Strixhaven’s Command cycle. Wands out, everyone!
Commands with a mana value of two (yes, the age of “converted mana cost” is finally over) have a strong pedigree, with both Atarka’s Command and Dromoka’s Command seeing heavy play in their day. Getting so many options for only two mana is worth a close examination.
In the case of Witherbloom Command, I’m most interested in the second and third modes. Firstly, how often are we going to find a noncreature, nonland permanent with mana value 2 or less to destroy? In Modern, we don’t have to think for very long: Aether Vial, Expedition Map, Wrenn and Six, Amulet of Vigor, Utopia Sprawl, and Hardened Scales all spring to mind. The list gets longer when you consider the variety of “hate cards” that this withers away: Rest in Peace, Damping Sphere, Grafdigger’s Cage, Pithing Needle, and many more.
Secondly, how often will giving a creature -3/-1 be meaningful? In current Modern, fairly often: Arbor Elf, an early Sprite Dragon, Snapcaster Mage, Sakura-Tribe Scout, Thalia, Flickerwisp, Mausoleum Wanderer, Champion of the Parish, and more. And that’s just the straight-up kills; there will be more times where you can use Witherbloom Command to win a combat. How does “attack with my Tarmogoyf, you block with your Tarmogoyf, then I shrink yours and kill your Wrenn and Six in combat” sound? Along similar lines, “Destroy your Aether Vial / Kill your Thalia” sounds pretty nice against Humans and “Destroy your Amulet of Vigor / Kill your Sakura-Tribe Scout” sounds devastating against Amulet Titan.
And what of the other two modes? The first mode will often act as a “failsafe”, much like Cryptic Command’s “draw a card” mode. It won’t be hard to find a good target In a world of fetchlands and Horizon Canopy lands. The last mode will most likely be the least commonly chosen, but it is a nice option to have, especially against a deck like Burn.
So overall, where do we see Witherbloom Command fitting in? Modern Jund and Jund Shadow seem like the most obvious homes, where it can play a role similar to Abrupt Decay or Kolaghan’s Command. The other home I can see is the sideboard of Dredge, where the ability to snipe a graveyard hate piece plus kill a small creature seems very powerful.
Prismari Command is simplest to evaluate because it shares two modes with Kolaghan’s Command. We know how powerful having “two damage to any target” and “destroy target artifact” on the same Command is, and given the proliferation of Edgewall Innkeepers, Luminarch Aspirants, Embercleaves, and Great Henges in current Standard, I don’t see that changing. So how good are the other two modes?
Let’s start with the “Faithless Looting” mode. This is a powerful effect, but one that has traditionally been on cheaper cards. Ultimately, the strength of this mode will depend on the graveyard shenanigans that you can get up to. For example, we have seen Izzet Charm used to fuel Arclight Phoenix in Pioneer, so perhaps Prismari Command can do similar work there? Standard is more limited, but it could be used to fuel big Zenith Flares out of Cycling.
Finally, that brings us to the Treasure token mode. This might look like trinket text, but this treasure is no mere trinket. This effectively reduces the cost of Prismari Command to two, in much the same way that Goldspan Dragon and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria really cost three. So, if we’re thinking about using Prismari Command to set up Arclight Phoenix in Pioneer or Modern, we’ve really got the “Faithless Looting” mode for the same cost as Izzet Charm.
So, where will Prismari Command find a home? In Modern and Pioneer, I would be very keen to try this with Arclight Phoenix (regardless of whether it’s good or not). It’s not going to produce the same explosive early starts as Faithless Looting, but we will be making up for that with the added modality. In Standard, I think this is going to be a powerhouse in any deck that can cast it, including Izzet Tempo (it even combos with Goldspan Dragon!) and Jeskai Cycling (take that, Valkmira!).
Now this card presents quite the quandary. I see Quandrix Command living and dying on the strength of the Annul mode or the +1/+1 counters mode, depending on whether you want to play a control or a tempo game.
In a control deck, we’re particularly interested in the Annul mode. Powerful artifacts and enchantments are ubiquitous in Standard: Showdown of the Skalds, The Great Henge, Embercleave, Maul of the Skyclaves, Binding of the Old Gods, Esika’s Chariot, Doom Foretold, and even Anax, Hardened in the Forge. It’s not hard to find strong combinations with the other modes: “Counter your Great Henge / Return your Lovestruck Beast to your hand” will set your Naya opponent back multiple turns, while “Counter your Anax / Make my Lovestruck Beast a 7/7” may reduce your Mono Red opponent to delicious, salty tears.
The other way to think of Quandrix Command is as a tempo tool in a more assertive deck. Imagine your opponent’s frustration after you Petty Theft their first play, cast Brazen Borrower, then use Quandrix Command to bounce their creature again and turn your Borrower into a 5/3 flyer. Likewise, turning your Lovestruck Beast into a 7/7 and using any of the other modes also sounds like a very promising start to most Standard games.
And that last mode? That is obviously our answer to Uro!
Ok, well, Rogues in Standard often kills via decking, so if you can use Quandrix Command to give yourself three cards in deck after they mill your last, you may just live long enough to kill them.
So, where do we think Quandrix Command will land? While I think it’s likely too expensive for Modern, I think any deck that can cast it in Standard will want a few of these. Temur Adventures seems like the best home, with Sultai Ultimatum and Temur Ramp also possibly in the market depending on the meta.
Silverquill Command seems like the hardest to find a home for. The challenge is that most BW decks are fairly grindy and controlling, but several of the modes here are aggressively slanted.
Any home for Silverquill Command needs to make good use of the reanimation mode. The best deck for Silverquill Command in Standard could look something like the existing Mono-White Aggro decks if they are looking for a high-powered curve topper. Plays like “Give my Seasoned Hallowblade +3/+3 and flying / Reanimate my Luminarch Aspirant” seem rather powerful. However, as exciting as that sounds, this requires a splash in a Faceless Haven deck and such a splash would need to be more powerful than Showdown of the Skalds. Is Silverquill Command potentially stronger than Showdown? Time will tell, but my guess is probably not.
There are, however, a couple of potential homes for Silverquill Command in Pioneer. The first is Orzhov Auras, where the reanimation mode can bring back an engine in Sram, Senior Edificer or a protection piece in Alseid of Life’s Bounty. The other modes could variously punch through for lethal damage, remove a problematic blocker, or just provide a cantrip. There is also Rakdos Pyromancer, which runs Dreadhorde Arcanist and Young Pyromancer as high-value reanimation targets and thrives on the sort of value plays that this Command offers. However, this would require adding another colour to the deck for an effect the deck already has on cheaper spells, so including it there might be a bit of a stretch.
As for Modern, fans of the old Mardu Pyromancer deck never quite accepted the loss of their beloved deck. Is Silverquill Command good enough to get them to resleeve those Lingering Souls? Probably not, but I’m not sure “good enough” has ever been a motivating factor for those players ;)
So, where do we think Silverquill Command will land? In Standard and Modern, the jury is still out. In Pioneer, I think Orzhov Auras is a great home for the card, with Rakdos Pyromancer a distant maybe.
Finally, we have the most powerful and most expensive of the new Commands. Lorehold Command screams aggressive, and this time it’s in a colour pair that can back that up.
I see two potential homes for Lorehold Command in Standard. The first is the Naya Toski deck. In case you are unfamiliar, this is a variant of Naya Adventures that runs Clarion Spirit and Jaspera Sentinel to quickly flood the board with tokens, then capitalise on them with Toski, Bearer of Secrets. This deck looks perfectly primed to take advantage of the mass pump mode of Lorehold Command, while the other modes can add another body to the board, Lightning Helix a blocker out of the way, or just sacrifice a spirit token to draw even more cards. I would definitely be trying Lorehold Commands in the maindeck as soon as the card is legal.
Standard has also seen a Boros aggro deck recently, a variant of Mono-White Aggro that adds red for Showdown of the Skalds. What you lose out in Faceless Haven value in adding red you make up for with the insane power of Showdown of the Skalds and now explosive finishing power in Lorehold Command. If you have just two creatures in play, then the first two modes give you six hasty indestructible damage, while the Lightning Helix mode can swing a race in your favour, and the last mode can sacrifice a useless land to find more gas. Together the power of Showdown plus Lorehold Command might make for an aggro deck that can play a long game as well as the midrange decks in Standard, and that is quite appealing.
As for Modern…I’m kidding, I’m kidding.
One final thing I want to say about all of these Commands is that they may all find a home in the Pioneer and Modern “Niv to Light” decks. Those decks are always on the lookout for powerful, flexible multicolour spells. I would not be surprised to see all of the Commands except Lorehold to see play alongside Niv-Mizzet Reborn.
With that said, I hope you enjoyed our first trip to Magic school. Until next time, keep that Magic wand safe and have fun “choosing two.”
Sam Maher has been playing competitive Magic since 2003. In the last two years he has accumulated multiple Grand Prix day 2 appearances, PTQ top 8s, and MCQ top finishes. He is generally happiest when stealing his opponent’s cards with Thief of Sanity and The Scarab God. You can follow him on his Youtube drafting channel Draft Punks and on Twitter @Calm_Mirror.