Commander 2016 is the most enjoyable Commander set ever released. This is a bold statement, especially since at the time of my writing this, the set hasn’t even been released. But the fact remains that after analyzing the decklists and breaking down the power level of the cards versus the fun level, they knocked it out of the park. The uniqueness of each deck lends to all different sorts of play styles, from Saskia the Unyielding for the beatdown players to Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis for the group huggers. Breya, Etherium Shaper is perfect for those who have dreamed of jamming Muzzio, Daretti, and Sharuum in the same deck, and even Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder throws a bone for the crowd that’s all about making hilariously chaotic board states.
However, for me, there is no more interesting Commander than Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice. I’m a huge fan of praetors and the New Phyrexia story line, and to see a new evolution to that tale put a smile on my face. Even canonically excusing the lack of Red in the casting cost as Urabrask not wanting to participate in her compleation was a nice touch. What really cements her in my mind as the most interesting of the new Commanders is that there’s just so much flexibility to how you can build with her. There’s just so much going on with her that you can really just build in a way that suits you. You aren’t getting steered in a specific direction like you do the others.
For example, one of the first avenues I explored was just a good old fashioned Commander beatdown deck. Atraxa has four keyword abilities, and all of them are ones that most Voltron-style decks have to use other cards to grant their Commanders. Flying, vigilance, lifelink, and deathtouch are fantastic abilities on an aggressive Commander, and when coupled with cards like Blessing of the Nephilim and the auras from Shadowmoor/Eventide, Atraxa becomes an incredibly powerful and aggressive creature.
However, that proved to be a little too boring for me, so I looked into exploring the aspect of her proliferate ability. Proliferate is one of those mechanics that can be incredibly broken when properly executed. My first foray into the proliferation deck was naturally an Infect deck, which used cards like Ichor Rats and Virulent Wound to put poison counters on my opponents and slowly grind them out of the game. What made this so powerful is that unlike life totals, the required poison counters to win in Commander doesn’t scale up. You only need to deal 10 poison counters to win, much like in regular Constructed. Unfortunately, this became far too linear, and it put a massive target on my head whenever I would attempt it with my proxied test deck. Once you start putting poison counters down, everyone tries to kill you before you can finish the job, which unfortunately made it unviable. As well, I’m of the belief that there is only one true Infect deck, and that’s Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon, and he should only be employed for 1-on-1 games.
My next build tried to abuse +1/+1 counters through cards like Ghave, Guru of Spores and the Arcbound creatures from Darksteel. What’s particularly nice about this route is that the pre-constructed deck for Atraxa already sets you up for this style pretty easily. I really only had to swap out about twelve cards, and those were mostly personal preferences and pet cards. This had more the feeling of a traditional Ghave deck with a little boost from Blue proliferate cards like Inexorible Tide and Thrummingbird. What also made this version so strong is that it forces your opponents to act immediately or be buried by your rapidly growing army. One thing I’ve noticed about Commander players over the years is that if they have a decent enough board state, they’re reluctant to blow it up with a sweeper, even if it destroys far more of your creatures. This gives you a lot of play in that you can both build up a few creatures into giant threats to force the sweep, then make several tokens into moderately sized attackers to go around whatever they do post-Wrath of God. If this is more your style, you’ll be very pleased by what you get right out of the box.
After all that testing, it dawned on me that there was still a way of building that I hadn’t tried out yet. One of the more powerful playstyles in Commander that has yet to really have a truly abusive shell: Superfriends.
COMMANDER: ATRAXA, PRAETOR’S VOICE
Atraxa feels almost tailor-made for a Superfriends deck, which focuses on using multiple planeswalker abilities each turn to gain control of the game. With the sheer amount of proliferation in this list, the potential to fire off multiple ultimate abilities in the same turn can be utterly devastating. Can you imagine a turn where you can tell one opponent Jace, the Mind Sculptor is exiling their deck, another that Ob Nixilis Reignited is dinging them for 2 life every time someone draws a card, and another that Sorin, Lord of Innistrad is stealing three of their best creatures? I’ve designed the deck in such a way that you can amass emblems to the point where your opponents are locked out of the game, and you’re the only one capable of winning.
The deck hinges on both the proliferation theme and the fact that Doubling Season and Deepglow Skate can double the loyalty counters on your planeswalkers, since neither cares about what kind of counters get doubled, nor what permanents said counters are on. This lets you potentially ultimate planeswalkers the same turn you play them, springing backbreaking abilities well before your opponents can react. As well, since planeswalkers are a fairly new card type as far as removal goes, there really aren’t that many ways of dealing with them once they’re in play save for attacking them. Thus coupling the deck with the proper board wipes vastly prolongs the lifespans of your planeswalkers while your board is relatively unscathed.
What’s even scarier is just how many of the planeswalker ultimate abilities combo together. For example, with Doubling Season in play, you can play and ultimate Tamiyo, the Moon Sage so whenever a card goes to your graveyard, you get it back to your hand. Then, you can ultimate Tamiyo, Field Researcher to play your spells for free. Finally, you can then use Jace, Architect of Thought’s ultimate to continuously ultimate over and over, for free mind you, to cast every spell from everyone’s deck. While not nearly as savage, even something simple like combining the ultimates of Nissa, Vital Force and Nissa, Worldwaker to draw a card for every basic land left in your deck while simultaneously making an army of 4/4s is still pretty damn fun. Couple that with Garruk, Apex Predator to turn those 4/4s into 9/9s whenever they attack the player unfortunate enough to get his emblem.
Thanks to Oath of the Gatewatch and Eldritch Moon, going planeswalker “tribal” has never been easier. The Oath cycle of enchantments allows us to colour fix with Oath of Nissa, manipulate our draws with Oath of Jace, make blockers with Oath of Liliana, and even jumpstart our loyalty counters with Oath of Gideon. Furthermore, Call the Gatewatch lets us tutor out whatever planeswalker we want, and Deploy the Gatewatch does its best See the Unwritten impression by putting any two planeswalkers from our top seven cards directly into play. This is fantastic for speeding up the process because planeswalkers can be a bit costly to cast in the early stages of the game.
Finally, because we’re four colours and Green based, we have access to a plethora of mana fixing and ramp. Beyond the usual Ravnica signets, we have Cultivate, Kodama’s Reach, Explosive Vegetation, and even Farseek to get us to the mana we need to actually cast our planeswalkers. As well, these spells help fix our colours, which given how many of our spells are double coloured is absolutely necessary. I’ve also included several lands capable to producing multiple colours, and even Chromatic Lantern, which turns all of your lands into rainbow lands for only three mana.
I’m incredibly excited about this Commander set, and I feel like Atraxa might just be the most flexible Commander we’ve seen in quite some time. There are guidelines to building, but nothing nearly as strict as previous Commander releases. Where before you would have Kaalia of the “jam as many dragons, demons, and angels as you can” or Nahiri, the Equipment-monger, Atraxa feels far more open to interpretation. There are enough ways to build her without feeling stale, and that’s the mark of a great Commander product. If you’re thinking of dipping your toe into the Commander format, you won’t go wrong listening to Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice.