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Commander 2019: Ranking the Decks


We got the full spoiler and complete deck lists for Commander 2019 last week, and the lists are overflowing with sweet new cards and spicy legends to use in the command zone. While this year's edition seems to be better received than last year's, some players still seem to have lingering doubts about whether or not the decks contain enough reprint value, mostly based on the lack of high-end cards. Whether expecting high-end reprints in Commander decks is reasonable is a conversation for another day because today, rather than trying to place Commander 2019 into the context of past Commander releases, our goal today is simple: to figure out which Commander 2019 deck is best.

While everyone could just buy every Commander 2019 deck in Magical Christmas Land, considering that the decks are selling for $40 to $45, not everyone has the extra money laying around to spend on cardboard, no matter how sweet they may be. If you only have $40 in your Magic budget, which deck should you buy? For this, we'll try to be as objective as possible—while the madness deck is my personal favorite since it has some really interesting legends and draws a lot of cards in a weirdly synergistic way, thanks to the madness mechanic and the various payoffs for discarding cards, drawing a lot of cards isn't a very good criterion for ranking the decks. Instead, we'll turn to 10 categories and rank each Commander 2019 deck from first to worst. A first-place ranking gives a deck four points, with second in a category being worth three, third two, and last just a single point. Then, after going through all 10 categories, we can tally up the scores and see which Commander 2019 deck really is the best! Oh yeah, one last thing: for the rest of the article, rather than calling the decks by their proper names, we'll be going with their themes and color combinations, which are shorter and easier to type (as a refresher, Sultai Morph is Faceless Menace, headed by Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer; Jeskai Flashback is Mystic Intellect, with Sevinne, the Chronoclasm as the face commander; Naya Populate is Primal Genesis, led by Ghired, Conclave Exile; and Rakdos Madness refers to the Merciless Rage deck, with Anje Falkenrath out front). Take a gander at the decklists, and then we'll jump into the rankings!

 

 

 

#10: Most Value

C19—Most Value
Rank Deck Value
#4 Rakdos Madness $120.05
#3 Naya Populate $126.06
#2 Sultai Morph $151.29
#1 Jeskai Flashback $152.51

A couple of important notes: first, since we're still in the preorder period for Commander 2019, prices for many of the cards in the set are inflated. Prices should drop across the board by the time the decks are actually released, so don't assume that you can buy one of the Commander 2019 decks for $40 and immediately resell it for over $100. In reality, that plan is unlikely to work. Second, despite some complaints from the community, the value of Commander 2019 is actually quite solid. While our main goal today is to compare Commander 2019 to itself, it is worth mentioning that the least valuable deck in Commander 2019 is worth more than the most valuable Commander 2018 deck was a few days after it was spoiled last year.

Back to the decks, they basically break down into two tiers, with the Rakdos and Naya decks being the lower-value decks (although again, still more valuable than any decks we had last year and still worth their $40-ish price tag), while Sultai and Jeskai are the high-value decks. At first, I thought this might have something to do with the order that the decks were previewed (in theory, decks that are previewed first will have more time for their cards to decrease in price), but considering Sultai Morph was the first decklist released, this doesn't seem to be the case. 

Basically, this leaves us with a scenario where all of the decks are worth their price tag, but two decks stand out above the rest. So if you don't care about anything except value, Jeskai and Sultai are the two clear winners.

#9: Best Face Commanders

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C19—Best Planeswalker Commanders
Rank Card Deck Number of Decks Containing
#4 Sevinne, the Chronoclasm Jeskai Flashback 68
#3 Ghired, Conclave Exile Naya Populate 116
#2 Anje Falkenrath Rakdos Madness 130
#1 Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer Sultai Morph 137

How can we figure out which commanders are best? Here, it's basically a popularity contest. The numbers you see above are how many Commander decks users have submitted to the site over the last two weeks featuring each of the face commanders from Commander 2019. By far the biggest outlier is Sevinne, the Chronoclasm, who is apparently pretty unpopular. This makes some amount of sense because subjectively, it feels like the least powerful of the bunch, mostly because it doesn't do anything immediately (unless you have extra mana floating around to cast something from your graveyard), while all of the other face commanders offer immediate value the turn they come into play. Meanwhile, on the other end of the scale is Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer, which just edges out Anje Falkenrath for most popular Commander 2019 commander. Apparently, players love their morphs!

#8: Best Land Value

C19—Land Value
Rank Deck Value
#4 Jeskai Flashback $8.85
#3 Naya Populate $10.22
#2 Rakdos Madness $11.29
#1 Sultai Morph $17.39

Not all Commander cards are created equal. When it comes to building a Commander collection, lands and colorless cards are especially important because you'll use these cards in multiple decks. Perhaps the biggest failing of Commander 2018 (last year's decks) was that the decks contained basically zero good lands. In fact, there was only a single rare land between all the decks, and it was the fine but not that exciting Mosswort Bridge

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The good news is that Commander 2019 seems to have gone out of its way to fix this issue. While you aren't getting fetch lands and shock lands, there are actually a lot of playable (and even rare) lands in the set. As a baseline, every deck gets not just Command Tower (one of the best dual lands in the Commander format) but Ash Barrens and Myriad Landscape as well, which means each deck starts with $5.96 in land value based on these three staples alone (to put this in perspective, the Bant deck from Commander 2018 had a total land value of $4.07!). Throw in a handful of dual lands and some playable utility lands like Bojuka Bog and Geier Reach Sanitarium, and counting only rare lands and other lands worth over $1, and the average value of the land slot in Commander 2019 has roughly doubled since last year, with the Sultai Morph deck clearly leading the way thanks to the Battle for Zendikar dual lands and the Jeskai Flashback deck lagging behind with a surprisingly lackluster mana base (especially considering it's a three-color deck).

#7: Best Backup (New) Commanders

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C19—Best Backup Commanders
Rank Deck Cards Number of Decks Containing
#4 Sultai Morph Volrath, the Shapestealer, Rayami, First of the Fallen, Grismold, the Dreadsower 218
#3 Jeskai Flashback Gerrard, Weatherlight Hero, Elsha of the Infinite, Pramikon, Sky Rampart 318
#2 Naya Populate Atla Palani, Nest Tender, Tahngarth, First Mate, Marisi, Breaker of the Coil 346
#1 Rakdos Madness K'rrik, Son of Yawgmoth, Greven, Predator Captain, Chainer, Nightmare Adept 366

Each Commander 2019 deck features four new legendary creatures to be used as commanders. We've already talked about the "face commanders" that work with the primary theme of the deck, which means it's now time to talk about the other three commanders in each deck. Here, we use the same strategy as before, by looking at the number of user-submitted Commander decks featuring these cards. The biggest takeaway is that while people are excited for Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer (it was the most popular of the face commanders), they don't seem to be as hyped for the rest of the legends in the Sultai Morph deck, putting the deck at the bottom of our list by a significant margin. Meanwhile, the Rakdos Madness deck scores well. This is mostly because K'rrik, Son of Yawgmoth is the single most popular new legend from Commander 2019, but Chainer, Nightmare Adept is also fairly popular. 

So, which commanders are most popular (and least popular) overall? If you mash together all the numbers we've been talking about, the average number of decks featuring a new legend from Commander 2019 is 106. This means legends that show up in more than 106 decks are more popular than the average, while legends that show up in less than 106 decks are less popular than the typical Commander 2019 legend. Here's a full list of Commander 2019 legends along with their popularity.

Commander Deck Popularity Score
Greven, Predator Captain Rakdos Madness 63
Grismold, the Dreadsower Sultai Morphs 63
Tahngarth, First Mate Naya Populate 63
Sevinne, the Chronoclasm Jeskai Flashback 68
Rayami, First of the Fallen Sultai Morphs 73
Gerrard, Weatherlight Hero Jeskai Flashback 78
Volrath, the Shapestealer Sultai Morphs 79
Pramikon, Sky Rampart Jeskai Flashback 94
Marisi, Breaker of the Coil Naya Populate 94
Chainer, Nightmare Adept Rakdos Madness 105
Ghired, Conclave Exile Naya Populate 116
Anje Falkenrath Rakdos Madness 130
Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer Sultai Morphs 136
Elsha of the Infinite Jeskai Flashback 146
Atla Palani, Nest Tender Naya Populate 189
K'rrir, Son of Yawgmoth Rakdos Madness 198

 

#6: Best Artifact Cards

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C19—Best Artifact Cards
Rank Deck Cards
#4 Jeskai Flashback Sol Ring, Burnished Hart, Commander's Sphere, Bloodthirsty Blade
#3 Sultai Morph Sol Ring, Thran Dynamo, Strionic Resonator, Scroll of Fate
#2 Naya Populate Sol Ring, Lightning Greaves, Mimic Vat, Soul Foundry, Idol of Oblivion
#1 Rakdos Madness Sol Ring, Solemn Simulacrum, Bloodthirsty Blade, Grimoire of the Dead, Aeon Engine

Colorless cards are like lands—they fit into so many Commander decks that they form the backbone of a good Commander collection. Also similar to lands, one of the big reasons that Commander 2018 was so poorly received is that the decks were severely lacking in good colorless cards (in fact, for half of the 2018 decks, the only colorless card worth mentioning was Sol Ring, which has been in every Commander deck since the start of the series). The good news is that (again, like the lands), Wizards seems to have tried to fix this issue with Commander 2019, with each deck having at least one or two additional good artifacts on top of Sol Ring, even though this year does not feature an artifact-themed deck.

As far as which Commander 2019 deck has the best colorless cards, it's somewhat subjective. Each deck gets at least one staple outside of Sol Ring, although Jeskai Flashback comes in at the bottom thanks to the fact that its staple is the relatively inexpensive Burnished Hart while the rest of the decks get rare staples. Rakdos Madness comes in first thanks to a good staple (in Solemn Simulacrum) along with a couple of interesting new cards. Meanwhile, Naya Populate and Sultai Morphs are more or less grouped together in the middle, and which one is better mostly depends on if you need Lightning Greaves or Thran Dynamo more for your collection. Both are cross-deck staples that see heavy play in the Commander format, but for our rankings, Naya Populate sneaks ahead and into second place since it has five good colorless cards to Sultai Morphs' four.

#5: Best New Non-Legendary Cards

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C19—New Non-Legendary Cards
Rank Deck Cards Total Value
#4 Sultai Morphs Kadena's Silencer ($2.40), Scroll of Fate ($2.99) $5.39
#3 Rakdos Madness Bone Miser ($3.99), Aeon Engine ($3.04), Anje's Ravager ($2.45), Sanctum of Eternity ($2.99) $12.47
#2 Naya Populate Selesnya Eulogist ($2.47), Ohran Frostfang ($2.49), Full Flowering ($2.93), Song of the Worldsoul ($2.45), Ghired's Belligerence ($2.57) $12.97
#1 Jeskai Flashback Dockside Extortionist ($15.49), Thalia's Geistcaller ($2.10), Sevinne's Reclamation ($2.99), Empowered Autogenerator ($4.03) $24.61

Ranking the best non-legendary new cards is pretty simple: we just count up the value and figure out which deck has the most value. While this isn't an exact science (since expensive reprints will limit the price of new cards, which might be hurting the Bant deck a bit because it has the highest-value reprints), this system works pretty well in general. The cutoff for counting in our sample is $2, which might have unintentionally punished Sultai Morphs, which has an oddly high number of cards just under $2, although if a card is less than $2 today, there's a good bet it will trend toward bulk as Commander 2019 is opened and supply hits the market. In the end, we again have one clear winner (in this case, Jeskai Flashback, mostly thanks to Dockside Extortionist, which is—by far—the most valuable non-legendary new card in all of Commander 2019), one clear loser (Sultai Morphs), and two decks basically tied in the middle of the pack, with some solid offerings but nothing on the level of Dockside Extortionist.

#4: Best Reprint Commanders

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C19—Best Reprint Commanders
Rank Deck Cards
#4 Sultai Morphs None
#3 Rakdos Madness Geth, Lord of the Vault
#2 Jeskai Flashback Zetalpa, Primal Dawn, Talrand, Sky Summoner
#1 Naya Populate Emmara Tandris, Trostani, Selesnya's Voice

While building around new legends is great, one of the upsides of buying a Commander precon is that you (hopefully) get some old legends to build around as your commander as well. This year, every deck except Sultai Morphs gets at least one reprinted legend, with both Jeskai Flashback and Naya Populate getting two legendary reprints. Which deck has the better returning legends? It's pretty much a toss-up. Jeskai Flashback has one fairly unpopular commander in Zetalpa, Primal Dawn and one popular commander in Talrand, Sky Summoner, while Naya Populate gets the same, with Emmara Tandris being fairly unpopular and Trostani, Selesnya's Voice being fairly popular. The tie-breaker is that Trostani, Selesnya's Voice gets sweet new art, which pushes Naya Populate ahead of Jeskai Flashback and into first place on our list.


#3: Best Reprints

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C19—Best Reprints
Rank Deck Cards Value
#4 Rakdos Madness Sol Ring, Solemn Simulacrum, Geth, Lord of the Vault, Chaos Warp $14.20
#3 Naya Populate Garruk, Primal Hunter, [[Momentous Fall], Trostani, Selesnya's Voice, Cinder Glade, Lightning Greaves $22.12
#2 Jeskai Flashback Sol Ring, Increasing Vengeance, Sun Titan, Ral Zarek, River Kelpie, Clever Impersonator $26.87
#1 Sultai Morphs Seedborn Muse, Tempt with Discovery, Sol Ring, Reliquary Tower, Thran Dynamo $27.72

Last year, the reprints (and the lack thereof) were one of the biggest complaints about Commander 2018. Thankfully, things have improved (at least, to some extent) with Commander 2019. Counting only the valuable reprints, last year's decks had an average reprint value of $16, while the average jumps to $25.20 this year—an increase of nearly $10 per deck. On the other hand, if we zoom back to Commander 2017, the average reprint value was $33.83, so it's hard to consider the reprints of Commander 2019 great (or even good) by historic standards, even though they look good in comparison to last year's debacle. 

In general, the reprint value is distributed evenly throughout the decks, with the exception of Rakdos Madness, which seems to have drawn the short straw in the reprint department. Technically, Sultai Morphs comes in first, thanks in large part to Seedborn Muse and Tempt with Discovery—two of the most valuable reprints in the entirety of Commander 2019, although Jeskai Flashback isn't far behind, making up for the lack of high-end reprints with a bunch of cards in the $3 range. 

#2: Best Out-of-the-Box Deck

C19—Best Out-of-the-Box Deck
Rank Deck
#4 Jeskai Flashback
#3 Rakdos Madness
#2 Sultai Morphs
#1 Naya Populate

This category is basically "when we do Commander Clash featuring Commander 2019 decks, which deck do I think will win?" This is one of the most subjective categories on our list, and it's very possible that you'll disagree. Regardless, here's a brief justification of my rankings.

Jeskai Flashback: If you're playing the Commander 2019 decks straight out of the box, it means that Sevinne, the Chronoclasm is your commander, and I (as well as the community at large, based on our preview rankings) think it's the worst of the face commanders in Commander 2019 by a pretty significant margin. Even beyond the commander, Jeskai Flashback is slow, but it doesn't have many wraths to stabilize the board. In a world of upgraded Commander 2019 decks, I'd be looking to overload on sweepers, with the goal being to take over with Sevinne, the Chronoclasm value in the late game, but the precon seems like it will likely just get run over by faster decks while Sevinne, the Chronoclasm repeatedly dies before doing much of anything.

Rakdos Madness: My worry here is that madness cards just aren't that powerful, and the Rakdos Madness deck has a bunch of them. Fiery Temper and friends just isn't where it is at in a format like Commander that's driven by really big, powerful haymakers. While Rakdos Madness is the precon I'm most excited to play with because I like a lot of the non-madness cards in the deck, I fully expect to lose when I do.

Sultai Morphs: I think you can make a pretty strong argument that Sultai Morphs could be #1 on our list. While the deck doesn't have that much raw power, it does have a ton of card advantage thanks to Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer. In an all-preconstructed deck metagame, everyone is playing less than optimal decks with some less-than-powerful cards. One of the best ways to win in that meta is to simply draw more less-than-powerful cards than your opponents and trust that simply having more stuff (even if it isn't great stuff) will carry your to victory.

Naya Populate: I believe that Naya Populate is the deck that benefits most from the all-precon metagame we're discussing. In the broader Commander meta, I'd expect to get my board wrathed a few times and end up not doing much of anything, but with Commander precons being relatively light on wraths, simply making big tokens and copying them a bunch of times seems like a pretty easy pathway to winning. 

#1: Most Upgradable

C19—Most Upgradable
Rank Deck
#4 Rakdos Madness
#3 Jeskai Flashback
#2 Sultai Morphs
#1 Naya Populate

Finally, our last category is most upgradable. As we've talked about before, you don't just buy a Commander deck to play it out of the box; you want to be able to use those cards to make other decks as well. As far as being upgradable, here are my basic thoughts on the decks.

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Rakdos Madness: Rakdos Madness is weird. It might be the best of the Commander 2019 decks if you want to pull the new legends out of the deck and build around them since both Anje Falkenrath and K'rrik, Son of Yawgmoth have the potential to be extremely powerful when leading the right deck. On the other hand, if your goal is to build the best madness deck possible, you'll probably be disappointed. Madness cards in general just aren't all that good in Commander, instead being focused on and costed for formats like Standard and Modern. This limits the overall power level of the madness archetype in Commander, no matter how much you upgrade—the card pool is just fairly weak in a vacuum. If you do want to stick with the madness theme, considering heading toward Vampires, playing Falkenrath Gorger, and trying to loot your graveyard full of tribe members to reanimate with something like Living Death.

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Jeskai Flashback: Jeskai Flashback seems like it can be upgraded into a reasonable control deck, although it comes with a lot of risk: if your opponents play graveyard hate (and most experienced Commander players have learned that you should try to fit at least some into every deck), you could get locked out of the game altogether. Still, adding in sweepers (especially cards like Earthquake and Star of Extinction that take advantage of Sevinne, the Chronoclasm's damage-prevention ability) can greatly improve the deck, and there are some interesting ways to cast cards from our graveyard, like Snapcaster Mage, Mission Briefing and Torrential Gearhulk. There's also a reasonable number of "cast from your graveyard" mechanics at this point, including flashback, jump-start, and aftermath, so there are plenty of options available, although there aren't too many Commander staples that use a "cast from your graveyard" mechanic, so your power level might end up fairly low. Basically, Jeskai Flashback has the potential to end up as a powerful but somewhat risky (thanks to the reliance on the graveyard) control deck when fully upgraded.

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Sultai Morphs: Sultai Morphs comes in at number two our our list, mostly because it is one of the easier decks to upgrade. You basically toss in cards like Leyline of Anticipation and Vivien, Champion of the Wilds to give your creatures flash, add in some more morphs (although many of the best ones are already in the precon), and you're good to go. While the fully upgraded list probably isn't ultra-competitive, it should be pretty decent, based mostly on the power of Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer as a commander and a play style that lets you take advantage of powerful (and cheap) instants like Counterspell by leaving up mana each turn. 

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Naya Populate: Naya Populate comes in first in our upgrade rankings simply because tokens are such an evergreen theme in Magic. If you look at the other decks, their themes have only been featured in a couple of sets. Meanwhile, tokens have been a part of Magic since the beginning, which means you have 26 years worth of sets to draw from for upgrading your deck. The sheer number of cards that work with the populate / token theme makes Naya Populate the clear choice for best Commander 2019 deck for upgrading.

Final Score

#4 (tie): Rakdos Madness (22 points). Firsts: Backup commanders, artifacts. Worsts: Value, reprints, upgradability.

#4 (tie): Jeskai Flashback: (22 points): Firsts: Value, non-legendary new cards. Worsts: Face commander, land value, artifacts, out-of-the-box.

#2: Sultai Morphs (26 points): Firsts: Face commander, land value, reprints. Worsts: Backup commanders, non-legendary new cards, reprint commanders.

#1: Naya Populate (31 points): Firsts: Reprint commanders, out-of-the-box, upgradability. Worsts: None.

So, there you have it. According to our rankings, the Naya Populate deck is the best of Commander 2019, mostly by avoiding coming in at the bottom in any one of our categories. Meanwhile, Rakdos Madness and Jeskai Flashback come in at the bottom of our list, with Rakdos Madness especially struggling with categories related to value, while Jeskai Flashback suffers from having Sevinne, the Chronoclasm as its face commander, not only giving it low scores in the face commander category but bringing down its upgrade score as well. That said, neither Rakdos Madness or Jeskai Flashback is a truly bad Commander deck. Last year, the Jund deck headed by Lord Windgrace scored a 17, making it the all-time worst Commander deck since we started the "ranking the decks" series a few years ago, and it looks like Lord Windgrace's record will stand for at least another year. 

All in all, Commander 2019 does represent a big improvement in value over last year, which is a relief, although it still lags behind older editions of Commander in terms of reprints and value, so maybe being better than what is widely considered to be the worst-ever Commander offering (Commander 2018) isn't really much of a victory. The good news is that all of the Commander 2019 decks look playable out of the box, and while Naya Populate might be the best of the bunch, each deck has some claim to fame by coming in first in at least some categories. As such, you really can't go wrong with any of the Commander 2019 decks. While not the strongest offerings in the Commander series, they are an improvement over last year and have a lot of interesting build-around commanders and fun new cards, so in some sense, you should probably go with whichever deck fits your play style best, if you have to choose just one. On the other hand, if you're having a hard time choosing between a couple of the decks, hopefully this ranking will at least give you something to think about and might even be a good tie-breaker if you can't make up your mind.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. Which Commander 2019 deck are you most excited for? Which new card are you mostly looking to play or build around? Let me know in the comments! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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