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Commander Review: Dominaria Part 1 (White, Blue, Black)


Dominaria has been fully spoiled so it's time again for a full Commander set review! This set has a ridiculous amount of goodies for us Commander players so the review will be longer than usual, but if you're looking just for my top favorite cards then stay tuned for the top 10 Dominaria Commander cards that Seth and I will be releasing soon after this article goes up!

Before we dive into the cards, I want to go over the set's new mechanics and how they fit in the Commander format.

Historic

Historic is a new game mechanic which refers to any card that has the type "legendary," "artifact," or "saga." I don't know why a Trusty Machete has the same historical significance as Danitha Capashen, Paragon and Fall of the Thran, but it makes the mechanic less narrow so I guess I'll take it?

There are a handful of historic support cards, such as Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain. They all want to be in decks with very high concentrations of historic cards. Your average Commander deck will have some amount of historic cards but most won't have enough to make these historic support cards consistently good. However, there are at least three particular archetypes that will gladly run relevant historic support cards: Artifacts (Breya, Etherium Shaper), Legendary Tribal (Captain Sisay), and Superfriends (Atraxa, Praetors' Voice). If there's any home for historic support cards, it's definitely in those decks.

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Legendary Creatures/Planeswalkers Matter

Dominaria may support artifacts and sagas, but legendary creatures and planeswalkers are definitely the main focus of the set: not only do we have legendary creature support (Arvad the Cursed) and planeswalker support (Oath of Teferi) but we even got a brand new type of sorcery, the legendary sorcery (Primevals' Glorious Rebirth), which require you to have either legendary creatures or planeswalkers.

Many of these new legendary creature/planeswalker support cards are fantastic and will be finding homes in their respective archetypes, Superfriends (Atraxa, Praetors' Voice) and Legendary Tribal (Captain Sisay). All decks that end up having 15+ cards of the supported type may be interested as well.

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Sagas

Sagas are a new type of enchantment. They enter the battlefield with a lore counter and you add a lore counter at the beginning of your precombat main phase. Adding a lore counter triggers a corresponding chapter ability. You sacrifice the enchantment once the third lore counter is added. Sagas are basically like simplified planeswalkers where you use their +1 ability for two turns and then use their ultimate, which makes sense since they were designed off early planeswalker mechanics.

Like planeswalkers, sagas are great mana efficient investments if you're allowed to take advantage of all three triggered abilities over the next three turns. And again like planeswalkers, they come with an unwritten downside: your opponents know exactly what your saga will be doing each turn and can adjust their strategies accordingly. People will know not to play extra creatures into the second chapter of Phyrexian Scriptures and Graveyard decks will have two turns to figure out a way to protect their yard until chapter three's trigger happens. Giving your opponents the ability to play around your saga does hurt their overall power level.

Most of the sagas are pretty good on paper, with some being worse (Fall of the Thran) and some being better (Song of Freyalise). The vast majority of sagas fit in a specific archetype with very little overlap. The Mirari Conjecture wants to be used in Spellslinger, while Rite of Belzenlok is made for Sacrifice, so you can't lump them together to form a Saga Tribal deck. Well, I mean you could, but it would be bad. Instead we have to look at each saga individually, identify what archetype it was made for, and if that archetype wants it.

Continuing with the planeswalker similarities, sagas have a few ways to optimize them, such as:

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With the new mechanics covered, let's start talking about individual cards!

 

WHITE

Baird, Steward of Argive

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Baird, Steward of Argive is an alright Ghostly Prison card that can protect your planeswalkers as well, like an easier to cast Archangel of Tithes. It's a fine inclusion in any Pillow Fort or Superfriends deck.

 

Benalish Marshal

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Benalish Marshal is Glorious Anthem on a creature, which is fine even if it's boring. Knight Tribal is a thing Dominaria is making the effort to support, so being a decent card with that subtype makes it an auto-include in the archetype due to the small card pool to work with. White Devotion decks will probably enjoy Benalish Marshal the most as it works so well with key cards like Evangel of Heliod.

 

Danitha Capashen, Paragon

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Danitha Capashen, Paragon is about to be BFFs with Sram, Senior Edificer. I generally don't like situational ramp on sticks (Dragonlord's Servant) because creatures die more often than other safer sources of ramp (Rampant Growth), but Danitha is at least a good candidate to wear those Auras/Equipments. I wouldn't run her as a commander -- Sram is simply the better choice if you were going for Mono White Aura/Equipments -- but she's pretty good as part of the 99. She's also a good Knight which makes her an auto-include in Knight Tribal.

 

Daring Archaeologist

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I don't think I've ever seen Treasure Hunter in any Commander game I've played in. Will a beefier version in Daring Archaeologist prove more popular? Probably not; it's not a bad card but not exciting either.

 

Dauntless Bodyguard

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Dauntless Bodyguard is the cheaper Mono White version of Dauntless Escort, a card I quite like. It provides a cheap deterrent against killing your most important creature. It won't lead to crazy blowouts like casting Rootborn Defenses in response to an opponent's Wrath of God, but I think Dauntless Escort has a lot of potential as a 1 cmc creature with a strong sacrifice ability. There might be decks running cards like Proclamation of Rebirth and Return to the Ranks that might love it.

 

Evra, Halcyon Witness

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Evra, Halcyon Witness can be used a variety of ways. The first way is to use it like you would Serra Avatar: swap its power with your life total, then swing/Fling for lethal damage. Serra Avatar is still cheaper at this and less risky.

The second way to use Evra, Halcyon Witness is in a deck that wants to lower your own life total and then win with cards like Near-Death Experience or swapping life totals with Repay in Kind. Evra isn't the best at this since we have more mana-efficient ways to drop our life totals like Selenia, Dark Angel and Wall of Blood. By the way, if you're interested in that sort of deck you can check out my Budget Selenia article.

Finally there's a third way: increasing your life total to swapping it with Evra's power. Not sure what decks will actually want to do this, but the option is there.

I like that Evra, Halcyon Witness is flexible on how you use it, and the fact that it has multiple functions - even if it's not the best at any of them - makes it an interesting inclusion in multiple decks. I'll definitely be trying it out!

 

Fall of the Thran

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On its own, Fall of the Thran is a "fixed" version of Armageddon: it's a weaker card that costs more and returns four lands. It punishes land ramp strategies in particular, as those decks will end up losing the most lands to this effect. Land ramp hate like Keldon Firebombers is something we don't have a lot of options for in Magic and I'd love to see more of. Fall of the Thran does a decent job, and I appreciate Wizards made an attempt to explore this style of land destruction.

If you're a soulless monster looking to grief your playgroup, Fall of the Thran is the perfect card to build around due to its potential to repeatedly destroy all lands every turn: just slap down a Chisei, Heart of Oceans alongside this saga and drink the tears of your former friends.

 

History of Benalia

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Knights have little support in Magic but Dominaria is showing the tribe some love for the first time in a while. History of Benalia is passable support; it's not a great card, but Knight Tribal decks have such slim pickings that it's basically an auto-include.

 

Kwende, Pride of Femeref

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Kwende, Pride of Femeref's conditional anthem is probably going to be worth running if you have ~15 cards with first strike in your deck, especially if those decks include cards like Akroma's Memorial. The trouble will be finding a deck that matches that criteria, but there are a couple candidates like Odric, Lunarch Marshal.

I think Kwende's best shot at proving useful will be in Knight Tribal, since most of the better Knights have first strike (Knight Exemplar), Knights have an equipment subtheme (Danitha Capashen, Paragon), and most of the best Equipment have combat triggers that you can double dip with double strike (Sword of Fire and Ice).

 

Lyra Dawnbringer

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Angel Tribal doesn't have enough support cards to make the archetype a real thing. We got a couple choices from Avacyn Restored (Herald of War), a good commander in Kaalia of the Vast, and that's it. Lyra Dawnbringer is a solid card and another step forward into making Angel Tribal a reality. Hopefully she is a signal of more support to come, even if we're not quite there yet.

 

Shalai, Voice of Plenty

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Shalai, Voice of Plenty is pretty much an upgraded version of Sigarda, Heron's Grace, performing the most important functions of Sigarda but better and cheaper; you're not even stuck with Humans! Even Shalai's activated ability is more powerful than Sigarda's, offering a mana-intensive finisher for Go Wide strategies to close out the game. Equip a Swiftfoot Boots or Lightning Greaves on her and your board state is golden.

Any creature-heavy deck looking for protection from targeted removal should consider trying out Shalai. She's best suited for Go Wide strategies that will get the most out of her activated ability, and Superfriends, especially planeswalkers that create a lot of creatures (Elspeth, Sun's Champion).

 

Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle

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Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle's function is similar to Bishop of Rebirth and Sun Titan in that all of them can return creatures of cmc 3 or less. Instead of that function triggered by attacking or entering the battlefield, Teshar's trigger happens whenever you cast a historic spell, which means his power level can be lower (if you have no historic spells to cast) or higher (if you can cast a lot of historic spells) each turn compared to the other two options.

In a deck with lots of historic cards and small creatures, Teshar is a no-brainer inclusion: Captain Sisay is an excellent candidate for this card, but Teshar may possibly be an all-star in other decks as well, such as a historic-heavy Alesha, Who Smiles at Death deck, or even a Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim Sacrifice/Cleric list running a high number of historic cards.

 

Urza's Ruinous Blast

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Urza's Ruinous Blast is my pick for most powerful / popular / impactful White card from Dominaria. It's an absolute must-have in any Legendary Tribal / Superfriends list: for one mana more than Wrath of God, you get rid of nearly all your opponents' permanents, exiling them so they can never be brought back with recursion. Meanwhile most of your board state will be intact. This is backbreaking especially against any Graveyard deck and a game-changer pretty much any time you cast it. Any Legendary Tribal / Superfriends deck should be figuring what card to cut for Urza's Ruinous Blast now.

 

BLUE

Blink of an Eye

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Into the Roil is a fine card that shows up now and then in Commander decks; flexible bounce is great. I don't know how many decks will want two copies of Into the Roil, but having the option to do so is nice.

 

Karn's Temporal Sundering

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Karn's Temporal Sundering is a tad better than Part the Waterveil but that's not saying much. It will certainly find a home in Extra Turns.dec aka Narset, Enlightened Master since she's not picky about silly things like cmc. It may also be worthwhile to run in Superfriend lists since an extra turn means another planeswalker activation towards ultimating.

 

Naban, Dean of Iteration

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Naban, Dean of Iteration is an easy inclusion in Inalla, Archmage Ritualist decks, since they both like Wizards that come with ETB triggers. 

 

Naru Meha, Master Wizard

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Naru Meha, Master Wizard is like a Blue Dualcaster Mage that costs more and can only Fork your own spells, but she pumps your other Wizards a wee bit so that's ... nah, that's not great. It's okay and certainly worth a slot in lower power Wizard Tribal lists but it's not something I'm scrambling to make room for.

 

Precognition Field

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Is an easier to cast Future Sight that can only cast instants/sorceries a good card? No. No, it's not.

 

Slinn Voda, the Rising Deep

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I would've been thrilled with this card if the triggered ability didn't require paying for a kicker so I could cheat it into play for the effect without having to pay 10 whopping mana for a Whelming Wave attached to an 8/8. But Sea Monster Tribal has always been an overcosted jank tribe - I daresay it's part of the tribe's charm at this point - so this card's design is unsurprising.

Despite not being incredibly powerful, Slinn Voda, the Rising Deep is still one of the better cards in the Sea Monsters deck, and if you choose to build it as Mono Blue then Slinn is your best commander option.

 

Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive

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Hold up: what brilliant writer managed to sneak in a Choice of Damnations quote into the flavor text? That's amazing! I want to give that person a high five!

The card itself is surprisingly good; it took me a second reading to comprehend that its creatures with power or toughness 1 or less, not just power, which makes it even better than I initially thought.

I think Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive will shine as part of the 99 of Weenie decks that want her evasion. Edric, Spymaster of Trest is a no-brainer inclusion, since it allows your mana dorks to get in there and draw cards. I can even see her as the commander of her own evasive weenie deck with similar payoff cards like Coastal Piracy.

 

The Antiquities War

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The Antiquities War is what you get when you mix the +1 ability of Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas with the ultimate of Tezzeret the Seeker. While the planeswalkers are better in a vacuum since you get to choose what abilities you want to use each turn and they don't automatically get sacrificed on the third turn, they also have a nasty habit of being killed prematurely by opposing creatures, which the saga doesn't worry about.

Tezzeret the Seeker is still my favorite of the three because all three abilities are so darn useful, but all these cards are solid inclusions in any Artifact deck.

 

The Mirari Conjecture

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The Mirari Conjecture is an excellent inclusion in any Spellslinger deck: it refills your hand similar to Archaeomancer and then lets you get double the value out of recasting them like Swarm Intelligence, except for one turn. 5 cmc seems like the perfect mana cost for this effect and I'm eager to play around with it.

 

Time of Ice

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Time of Ice is another saga where you just have so much grief potential if you pair it up with a way to remove lore counter like Hex Parasite. If you have a repeatable way to trigger its first/second chapter, you can eventually lock down all your opponents' creatures until somebody finds a Disenchant. This can be obnoxiously effective in the right deck. I probably wouldn't play Time of Ice if I didn't have a way to remove counters, however.

 

Unwind

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We get a Negate that ends up being "free" if we can hold up an additional mana? Not bad! I can imagine counter-heavy decks like Talrand, Sky Summoner will be eager to run Unwind. In decks that mostly tap out each turn and are just looking for a couple counters to increase deck interaction though, I'd go with cheaper counters like Swan Song since it's easier to hold up 1 mana than 3 unless your deck is built around doing that.

 

Wizard's Retort

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Wizard Tribal just got a second copy of Counterspell sort of! Worst case it's a Cancel which isn't terrible, so overall I will be quite pleased adding this to my Inalla, Archmage Ritualist deck.

 

BLACK

Cast Down

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When considering what Doom Blade variants to run in Commander, the one that can't kill legendaries is probably not the best choice. However, Cast Down is still another alright option, and in specific playgroups where Doom Blade / Go For the Throat aren't good options, Cast Down might end up being the correct choice.

 

Chainer's Torment

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Chainer's Torment is an alright card. I've never been impressed by draining 2 each turn with Palace Siege and the third ability just doesn't seem that strong to me, especially when you're giving your opponents two turns to prepare for a big vanilla creature token that cuts your life total in half. Thankfully you can build around the third chapter ability, such as mitigating the damage dealt to yourself with cards like Whip of Erebos, and big creatures work well with Disciple of Bolas or even Fling, but overall this is one of the weaker sagas in my opinion. It's not terrible but not something I'm jumping to include in future decks.

 

Dark Bargain

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Dark Bargain is Bitter Revelation except it trades one less card seen for instant speed. Neither card is bad in a vacuum, but in Commander they compete for space with Ancient Craving and Ambition's Cost, which are simply better options at 4 cmc even if your deck has a heavy Graveyard theme.

Dark Bargain is a welcome addition to one specific deck, however: Toshiro Umezawa. Being an instant makes all the difference here.

 

Demonlord Belzenlok

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We were off to a slow start with the Black cards, but this certainly makes up for it! Demonlord Belzenlok is a powerful card even in a vacuum, entering as a 6/6 flying trampler and drawing at least one card in the process. This makes him an alright inclusion in any Black deck, but things get real fun once we find ways to stack the top of our library with 4+ cmc cards: Scroll Rack, Sylvan Library, Lim-Dul's Vault, and others can help you draw as many cards as possible.

The best deck off the top of my head for Demonlord Belzenlok to fit in would be Rakdos, Lord of Riots, which naturally runs a higher than average cmc due to Rakdos' insane cost reduction. 

 

Final Parting

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I've always felt that Jarad's Orders is criminally underplayed: being able to Diabolic Tutor (creatures only) and Entomb together in the same card, for just 4 mana, is a bonkers good deal for any Creature Graveyard deck.

Now we've got Final Parting, which is literally merging Diabolic Tutor and Entomb together into one card, even including the combined mana cost. Yes, 5 cmc is a lot for a tutor, and no it won't replace Entomb or Demonic Tutor, but for more budget decks, Final Parting is amazing and will be super affordable. Pretty much all my budget Black decks run Diabolic Tutor and now any deck I build with a Graveyard theme will be running Final Parting as well.

 

Josu Vess, Lich Knight

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When I first saw Josu Vess, Lich Knight, I immediately started thinking about how he'd fit in a Zombie Tribal deck: his kicker does a worse imitation of Army of the Damned but it's still quite good. Unfortunately kicker doesn't play well with Zombie Tribal's main strengths, which is cheating them into play from the graveyard (Zombie Apocalypse) or casting them for free with Rooftop Storm. For this reason his best use in Zombie Tribal would be in a Gisa and Geralf deck since they can kick Josu even from the graveyard.

However, I think Josu will shine brighter in an archetype that isn't Zombie Tribal at all! You see, I was focusing on the lich part, not the knight part: yes, Josu is also a Knight, and the eight tokens he creates are Knights too! This makes him possibly the best Knight token producer ever printed. I can see Josu being a key card in Knight Tribal under Aryel, Knight of Windgrace.

 

Lich's Mastery

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Lich's Mastery is a sweet callback to the oldschool Lich except tweaked to modern sensibilities. I absolutely love these type of cards; weird, open-ended, and will end up killing you as often as it will help you.

What's the best way to use Lich's Mastery? I don't know. This is the type of card that needs a deep dive into Magic's ever-growing pile of obscure jank. One suggestion I found was pairing it with Words of Worship to draw a ton of cards. There's probably more sweet things this card can do which will be discovered in time!

 

Phyrexian Scriptures

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Phyrexian Scriptures has very powerful triggers that basically any deck will be interested in. Every deck wants board wipes in case things aren't going your way, and this wipe even spares one or more of your own creatures in the process. Finally the saga ends with exiling your opponents' graveyards, something still underappreciated considering how much graveyard recursion you'll come across in the average playgroup. Wiping the board of creatures and then denying your opponents the ability to reanimate them is a powerful two-hit combo.

The biggest downside to this saga, of course, is that your opponents are given ample time to play around Phyrexian Scriptures' chapter abilities; giving your opponent a warning that a board wipe will be happening next turn means it won't be as effective as a surprise Damnation. Still, the saga is still quite powerful even if played around, especially at just 4cmc.

Phyrexian Scriptures is a fine inclusion in any deck but it will be most effective in Artifact decks (Breya, Etherium Shaper) that can treat it like a one-sided board wipe. It's also a great candidate in decks that can add more counters to remove your opponents' window to play around it: I'm getting tired of mentioning Atraxa, Praetors' Voice, but unsurprisingly she's incredibly good with Scriptures, letting you cast Scripture turning her into an artifact and immediately wiping the board while keeping her around.

 

Rite of Belzenlok

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For 4 cmc over the course three turns you get four sacrificial Cleric tokens and a Lord of the Pit? That's ... alright. Rite of Belzenlok wants to be in a Sacrifice deck, but that archetype is already crowded with sweet sacrifice fodder like Pawn of Ulamog, Sengir Autocrat, Endrak Sahr, Master Breeder, and many more, and they're creatures which have more synergies than enchantments in Black.

Is Rite of Belzenlok a bad card? No, but it's not great. It's okay. Maybe if Cleric Tribal is desperate for playable cards then this saga might make the cut there.

 

Settle the Score

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I always wanted to run Spread the Sickness in my Superfriends list but I could never justify its high mana cost. Now we've got a better version in Settle the Score, which is better in almost every way for Superfriends. 

Settle the Score looks like a solid inclusion in Superfriends. Black does have a ton of amazing single target removal, notably cheap instant answers like Snuff Out / Affliciton / Doom Blade, but Settle the Score brings enough unique value to the archetype that it deserves playtesting at the very least.

 

The Eldest Reborn

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I've been warming up to The Eldest Reborn since my initial lukewarm opinion. Each chapter trigger is strong and unlike some other sagas the sequencing is hard to play around, so odds are you're getting full value out of it even though your opponents know what's coming. You're basically guaranteed good value for each turn at a fair cost of 5 cmc.

The Eldest Reborn is a fine inclusion in any Black deck. It will shine brightest in Enchantress (Daxos the Returned) and any deck that can remove lore counters to keep the triggers rolling (Hex Parasite).

 

Torgaar, Famine Incarnate

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Nobody likes being on the receiving end of Sorin Markov. The planeswalker was designed before Commander was an official format and therefore transitions awkwardly into a 40 life format, where its ultimate ends up being way better than it was intended to be. The same issue can be seen with Serra Ascendant: back then 20 life was always the starting life total and card text didn't account for alternative starting totals.

Well, times change: Commander is a thing now and new cards are designed with that in mind. We've now got a fixed version of Sorin Markov in Torgaar, Famine Incarnate. The main function of the new card is the same as the old one - drop your opponent's life total down to something manageable. It's a great answer to Life Gain decks whose life totals can quickly spiral out of control. Torgaar brings that total back down to 20, which it can help bring down to 0 after thanks to its respectable 7 power.

There's also that business of sacrificing creatures for a mana discount: Torgaar can be cast for as low as BB if you sacrifice three creatures, which isn't hard in a dedicated Sacrifice deck, or even a Go Wide deck. So if you have a deck with plenty of nomnom fodder and your playgroup has pesky Life Gain decks, Torgaar is a great inclusion.

 

Urgoros, the Empty One

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Urgoros, the Empty One is terrible in Commander: I never see Hypnotic Specter played, so the chances of seeing a bad overcosted version of it played are slim to none. I get that it's an uncommon and they didn't want it to be too strong in 1v1 for Limited reasons, but come on, this had potential! What about just making its trigger scale in multiplayer so that when it deals combat damage then all opponents have to discard a card and you draw for each opponent that can't? That would make Urgoros literally unchanged in 1v1 yet much more interesting for Commander.

But nope, we didn't get that. Instead, Urgoros, the Empty One will remain a wasted opportunity that Richard will play a single time at the head of a terrible Specter Tribal deck, somehow win the game with it, and we'll never see Urgoros again.

 

Whisper, Bloood Liturgist

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Hell's Caretaker is a fine card in Sacrifice decks. What about a Caretaker that can activate its ability any time, but you need to sacrifice an additional creature? I'm not sure. I think Whisper, Blood Liturgist is still a solid card, but overall a bit weaker than Caretaker.

 

Yawgmoth's Vile Offering

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Yawgmoth's Vile Offering looks pretty good in theory: take Hero's Downfall and Animate Dead, merge them together, and you get this sorcery (pretty much). Sounds sweet, right? Well, you also need a legendary creature or planeswalker on the battlefield first, so it's less consistent in some decks, working best in Legendary Tribal or Superfriends -- yes, I know every deck has a legendary creature in their command zone, but not every deck can count on their commander to be on the battlefield when you want to cast this. Next is the card's sequencing: you reanimate first before killing something, so you can't reanimate the thing you just killed.

My final issue with this card is its cmc: yes, Yawgmoth's Vile Offering is fairly costed, but I don't really want its effect at 5 cmc. I wouldn't run this in Superfriends, for example, because most of the best planeswalkers are around that cmc range, along with the very best archetype support cards like Doubling Season. So my 5 cmc is already crowded in that archetype. I still want creature removal and reanimation in any deck, but I also want a nice cmc curve, and that's why cards like Animate Dead and Hero's Downfall fit better in most decks: they offer the same function, are more consistent, and help balance out the curve. Also in general, 4-5cmc is where all the good options for creature board wipes are, so that's more removal competing for those slots, while excellent targeted removal can be found at cheaper cmcs.

So is Yawgmoth's Vile Offering a bad card? No, it's a fair cost for what you get. But I think it will be harder to find a proper home for it than you'd think at first glance. I'm sure there are decks out there that will love it, but it's not something I'd recommend jamming into any generic Black deck, and it's certainly not something you take out Animate Dead / Snuff Out for thinking it's a strict upgrade or similar nonsense.

 

Next Up: Part 2! (Red, Green, Colorless, Multi-Color, Lands)

Hope you enjoyed Part 1 of the Dominaria Commander Review! Let me know what cards you're most hyped for and any cards or interactions you think I missed in the comments section below. Part 2 is coming out soon, so stay tuned!


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