Tribal Update Report: Commander Legends


The Tentacled One
This report will be running a bit late, but you’ll live. Now, Commander Legends is a set themed around the Commander format. The set is going to make waves in that format, but what does this mean for Tribal formats? While cards that have mechanics specific to Commander don’t necessarily do anything for us, the set presents some interesting considerations.

Compared to other recent sets, this one has more throwback-style cards, including several overt references to classic cards. This potentially means more representation for some disused tribes. Also, a side effect of the Commander focus in this set is a significant multiplayer focus. Since the CPA Tribal games have traditionally been multiplayer games, this could give the set heightened interest for our purposes. Finally, as part of this set’s themes, it’s chock-full of legendary creatures. Tribal formats don’t explicitly care about legendary creatures, but there’s a notable trend of legendary creatures for other formats being pushed a bit because they’re bad in multiples. For “Lowland” or other deckbuilding restrictions that enforce singleton usage of cards, the legend rule isn’t much of a drawback.

Personally, I’m torn in my reaction to this set. Some aspects of it would make it one of my favorite sets in a long time. Other aspects, mostly specific to the Commander format, I find frustrating. Since this is an analysis of the set’s potential for Tribal formats, we don’t need to focus on that other stuff. And since we’re not focusing on that stuff, the net impact of this set appears to be respectable.

New tribes

New additions to existing tribes
Angel: Four new cards. They’re expensive and not especially good.

Archer: One new card. As a “Partner” legend, its primary intended use has no role in Tribal formats. But it’s a reasonably efficient creature in a struggling tribe, so it probably helps a little.

Archon: One new card. It doesn’t address the core flaws of this tribe, but actually might play into the strengths of Archon Tribal, so it’s a possible inclusion.

Artificer: Six new cards. All are legendary and all do different things. There’s something I’m not spotting that might boost a deck I’ve never thought of, but nothing of substance for the sort of Artificer Tribal shell I’ve tested myself. Probably no real impact here.

Assassin: One new card. It’s expensive and the payoff is weaker than what some existing members of the tribe can easily pull off.

Avatar: Two new cards. At first, I was inclined to dismiss them as more expensive draft chaff, but those abilities would have been remarkably strong in our old Tribal games here at the CPA and both of them, to some extent, hold up under scrutiny. That blue one could really take over games. So maybe?

Beast: Two new cards. One of them is a dud for our purposes. The other is cool and unique, but too far afield from what Beast Tribal would ordinarily be doing.

Bird: Three new cards. Two of them are pretty good in an offensively inclined Bird Tribal strategy.

Cat: Four new cards. We’re lacking tribal synergies here and a couple of these cards might be better fits in their other tribes. They’re not bad, but I’m just not sure that they’re right for Cat Tribal.

Chimera: Two new cards. We’re approaching a point at which Chimera Tribal can dispense with weird utility stuff as filler for a deficient tribe and transition into a role as a somewhat awkward slow-rolling big mana engine deck, with multiple powerful options that wouldn’t normally fit together. Although I’m sure it’s by accident, this disjointed power is a perfect thematic fit for the creature type.

Construct: One new card. I probably wouldn’t run it, but if a tribe can take advantage of an overcosted Monarch-based creature and just run with it for the card advantage, Construct Tribal is your best bet. I’d imagine that it’s difficult to hold onto the Monarch against Tier 1 competition, though.

Demon: One new card. The issue with Demon Tribal has always been that it has some of the most potent late-game creatures of any tribe, but mediocre options for a cohesive ramp to navigate toward that powerful late game while staying alive. This would dominate the lower tiers, but the consistency of almost any Tier 2 tribe should pose a serious problem and, since I started these reports, none of the new toys for Demon Tribal have ever really addressed this flaw. That’s still true! I think I accidentally made it seem like I was leading into something revolutionary. Nah. The new demon is another slow card, not what the tribe really needs. However, we’ve seen the mechanic of stealing creatures from other people’s graveyards before, and the ceiling on this effect is high. Like, really, really high. Even if opponents kill this demon, it can come back one last time and do its thing again, once for each opponent. If you have enough juicy targets in graveyards, this is an excellent card.

Dinosaur: One new card. I don’t think it makes the cut.

Djinn: Two new cards. One is draft chaff and the other is red. Ouch.

Dragon: Two new cards. They don’t work for our purposes, unfortunately. They’ll be fun in EDH, though.

Druid: Four new cards. A couple of them have this weird “cast stuff that costs 6 or more” theme going on, which I don’t think Druid Tribal wants to lean on. One is an eight-drop itself, and the last card is the worst new card I can remember seeing in years.

Dwarf: One new card. The inexorable march toward a good white/red Dwarf Tribal deck continues. In fact, I think we’re just about there.

Elemental: Three new cards. None are good fits for Elemental Tribal.

Elephant: One new card. It looks very cool and I’d love to try it out, but unfortunately Elephant Tribal is probably poorly suited to using with the newest elephant.

Elf: Fifteen new cards. A few are duds and most of the rest probably don’t make the cut, but a couple of these could push Elf Tribal back toward a pretty dominant position as one of the very strongest Tier 1 creature types. If we weren’t already at a point where green/black was stronger than mono-green, I think we’re there now.

Elk: One new card. Well, this is easily the biggest elk ever, so there’s that. I don’t know.

Faerie: One new card. I’m kind of confused on this one. I don’t really understand what role this card is supposed to have or what kind of deck is supposed to use it. Even in Limited, it just seems like you don’t want this card to be in your gameplan. It’s not even bad. It’s just weird and I can’t think of anything that really goes with it. What?


The Tentacled One
Giant: One new card. I’m going to say probably not, but I won’t rule it out. The card is also a pirate, and seems a better fit for that tribe.

Goblin: Four new cards. Tribal synergies are for other tribes in this set. The cards are fine, but Goblin Tribal doesn’t need them.

Golem: Three new cards. Depending on how one builds Golem Tribal, there are strong tools here.

Griffin: One new card. It’s weird and I don’t think that Griffin Tribal can do much with it.

Horror: Two new cards. One is very much an Elf Tribal card and the other, although interesting, probably just doesn’t do enough to find a niche here.

Horse: One new card. Useless for our purposes.

Human: Twenty-eight new cards. Maybe the biggest and most diverse tribe in existence has a use for one of these new creatures, but I can’t be bothered to formulate a proper analysis on that.

Hydra: Two new cards that aren’t good fits for the tribe, at least not outside of EDH.

Imp: One new card. I actually forgot that this tribe existed, which doesn’t bode well for it. This card does its own thing and evaluating it in the context of a bad tribe is a bit tricky. One could try to make it work, but I don’t think the power level or consistency will be appreciable.

Kithkin: One new card. I thought of it as Limited fodder at first, but it’s actually somewhat potent and I might run it in an aggressive EDH deck myself. Prospective Kithkin Tribal players should take note of this one. The real point of interest is that while this card is meant to help flesh the set out for Limited formats and the use of the set’s “Encore” mechanic, someone at WotC took enough interest to code this card as a kithkin. Unless that was a one-off callback by someone looking to add more nostalgia to the set (which is possible), it might be a sign that the tribe has some love within WotC and could get more support in future sets.

Knight: Three new cards. Two of them don’t seem viable for Tribal formats, but one of them really emphasizes the equipment theme for a Knight Tribal deck. I think I’d run it.

Kobold: One new card. Wow. This is the first new kobold since 1994 and the first kobold printed at all since the Time Spiral reprinting of Kobold Taskmaster in 2006. This just might be the best card in the tribe, too.

Kor: One new card. Possible applications here, but it’s no Stoneforge Mystic

Kraken: Two new cards. I do not like them and do not think that they’re good for Kraken Tribal.

Merfolk: Two new cards. One doesn’t really work with what Merfolk Tribal is trying to do. But the other is probably one of the most stupidly overpowered cards we’ve seen all year. It’s not even especially synergistic for the tribe, but its effect is so potent that this doesn’t matter. Merfolk Tribal got a boost with this set.

Monk: Two new cards. They’re both “Partner” legends, so you could use them together as commanders if you wanted to, although I can’t imagine why. The blue one is bad. The white one is nice in the right deck, but the right deck is one with a bunch of creatures that automatically enter the battlefield with +1/+1 counters, and Monk Tribal probably isn’t that deck.

Naga: One new card. Technically, this does cascade into most other nagas, although you miss out on four of them, including what’s probably the best one. The other ability is strange and I don’t think that Naga Tribal can find a way to abuse it, unfortunately.

Nightmare: One new card. It’s meant for EDH. To us, it’s a Scathe Zombies (in a worse tribe). So it’s useless.

Noble: One new card. It’s cute, but probably not that great. The weird upside here is that even though this card is a vampire and would be more powerful there, it would almost certainly not make the cut in Vampire Tribal. So maybe there is some hope here.

Ogre: One new card. I noted the poor early defensive coverage of this tribe in my initial report. This doesn’t correct that at all, but if you do build an Ogre Tribal deck that can keep your creatures punching opponents in the face, then this card does reward you for that. Seems like the kind of card that sort of person who would play Ogre Tribal in the first place would want to use.

Ooze: Two new cards. One has a tribal synergy and the other has a +1/+1 counter synergy. Both waste some of their abilities on commander-specific stuff, so I’m apprehensive.

Orc: Five new cards. The tribal synergies here are for pirates, so Orc Tribal doesn’t catch a break even when a new set actually gives it multiple new cards.

Phoenix: One new card. It has a synergy with the Cascade mechanic, and there’s no way that’s the thing Phoenix Tribal wants to be doing, so this card is a poor fit.

Pirate: Twenty new cards. This tribe looks to be the biggest winner in the set. I didn’t even think of that when I started this report, but Pirate Tribal wins big here. It just gets a bunch of good stuff.

Rabbit: One new card. This is the fifth rabbit in the game. So by default according to the rules I established for the lower tiers, Rabbit Tribal gets promoted. It’s still utterly worthless and you’d have to hate yourself a little bit to try it, but hey, some of us have more than enough self-loathing to go for it. Seriously though, don’t do it.

Rogue: Three new cards. Two of them are absolutely amazing and should 100% go in a Rogue Tribal deck if you want to win games. This would be excellent news for the tribe in any report that didn’t feature Pirate Tribal somehow coming out with even better toys.

Salamander: Two new cards. This set is weird with regard to what was already a weird (and extremely weak) tribe.

Scout: Five new cards. They’re pretty strange and I don’t think they fit with what Scout Tribal would normally do. All of these are legendary, so it’s possible that a Scout Tribal deck might want to try singleton copies of one or two of them for some reason, maybe.

Serpent: One new card. This totally makes it into Serpent Tribal. I just need to figure out what that even means. The new serpents that have been coming out in the past couple of years have been so much better than the old creatures that traditionally made up the ranks of this tribe, but that doesn’t actually make the tribe itself good.

Shaman: Seven new cards. This is one of those tribes with hundreds of members and lots of good cards, but nothing so great, so definitive, that I have a firm idea of how the best tribal deck starts. What does a Shaman Tribal deck look like? Can it use these new guys? Maybe. There’s real potential here, but if the good Shaman Tribal decks are all built around some engine that works better with old shamans from Lorwyn or something, maybe none of the new cards even matter. It’s hard to tell.

Shapeshifter: Two new cards. One is irrelevant, but the other seems extremely good, depending on what your opponents are playing. For obvious reasons, Shapeshifter Tribal can be good at piggybacking off strong opponents. We have a new card here with the potential to take this to the extreme. Flash it in on a turn when the strongest opponent has played the strongest creature, then get your own copy and a big Cascade trigger.

Siren: One new card. It has a Pirate Tribal synergy. Once again, Pirate Tribal plunders the glory from other tribes in this set.

Soldier: Five new cards. A couple of them are very good and worth testing in Soldier Tribal.

Sphinx: Two new cards. Both are big, expensive cards. They do not shore up the deficiencies of the tribe.

Spider: One new card. It’s interesting, but I don’t think that it has a strong role in Spider Tribal.

Spirit: Three new cards. No impact.

Treefolk: One new card. Its use is dependent on Treefolk Tribal going multicolored or at least splashing enough white to make the tricolored cost on this thing reasonable. At this point, I think that’s a good bet, though. So yeah, I’d probably throw one copy of this new legendary treefolk into a deck.

Turtle: One new card. It’s no exaggeration for me to say with utter confidence that this new card is the strongest member of the tribe and redefines what Turtle Tribal should be all about. Although it’s legendary, this is a build-around card and Turtle Tribal decks will probably want at least three copies of this guy. We should seriously be thinking about a tier promotion here. Turtle Tribal went from being a mediocre defensively-focused tribe with no real payoff to being a tribe of mediocre defensive creatures with a decent curve and a capstone four-drop that combos perfectly with all of the best prison-based cards in its colors. A Lowlander deckbuilding constraint might hold this back, and the overall deficiency of the tribe is still pronounced. But it’s something to think about.

Unicorn: One new card. In my previous report, I endorsed the promotion of Unicorn Tribal to Tier 4. The tribe was pretty bad, and the potency of Emiel the Blessed gave it something far beyond what it had before. Although not as much of a gamechanger as Emiel, the new legendary unicorn gives the tribe even more to work with, and solidifies the potential of Unicorn Tribal to compete with other Tier 4 options. It’s not hitting Tier 3 just yet, but if this tribe ever gets a strong non-legendary creature, we just might be looking at that.

Vampire: One new card. It’s gimmicky and I don’t think it makes the cut, although the ceiling on the card in multiplayer settings is appreciable.

Viashino: Adding colors to a legendary creature is an easy way to make it a strong commander in EDH, but it also makes for an awkward dilemma in Tribal gameplay. Viashino lean almost entirely toward red, with a minor green splash. There are already some individual viashino with either white or black mana pips in the bunch, and even some with blue, but they’re not great. This new legendary creature would require Viashino Tribal to commit to black, and what you get in return is a bit strange. I do not think that it’s viable for a Viashino Tribal deck that attempts to compete with stronger tribes, but if you are a casual player hankering to get your mana burn fix eleven years after WotC took mana burn out of the rules, then maybe? Actually, you’re still better off going Shaman Tribal in that case, but whatever.

Warrior: Eleven new cards. Plenty of good cards here, if you want to use them. As usual, I find myself with little to say about this tribe. They get tons of new cards with every set and not a lot of good tribal synergies. It’s possible that the best Warrior Tribal deck is just a goodstuff assortment of cheap creatures that scale well into late-game scenarios, and maybe some of the ones here fit that. I don’t know.

Wizard: Ten new cards. Scrutinizing the options here, almost none of these actually make sense for Wizard Tribal. I mean, the tribe was already pretty strong and it shouldn’t be surprising if there are no new inclusions. That’s not what I find strange. It’s just a bit weird how many of these otherwise good cards have no reasonable application for Wizard Tribal. I do see two that are distant “maybe” options. But probably not.

Wolf: One new card. It’s bad.

Zombie: Five new cards. A couple of them are possible considerations, but mostly long shots. OK, that’s a lie: four of them are highly unlikely to fit into a Zombie Tribal deck for various reasons, and one of them is excellent. The new Tormod legendary zombie is ripe for Gravecrawler loop shenanigans. Good enough for Tier 1 competition? Maybe. I suspect that it is.

New tribal synergy cards to look out for
Gor Muldrak, Amphinologist: There’s a kind of Salamander Tribal synergy going on here, although I don’t think trying to take advantage of it is practical. Somewhat interestingly, the card is pretty good, especially in multiplayer. If you like a deckbuilding challenge, this card is pretty interesting.

Ich-Tekik, Salvage Splicer: Golem synergies on non-golem creatures have been around for a while, and this sure is one of them. It strikes me as too expensive, but maybe it could work.

Overall set analysis
With an emphasis on legendary creatures and effects specific to commanders, casting commanders, having commanders, partners, etc., this set is somewhat lacking in tribal themes and synergies. It’s a reasonably powerful set, but some of that power is tempered by the commander-specific nature of the set. Also, some of the strongest cards are reprints, which is great, but means less new impact on Tribal formats. None of that is bad or ruins the set, but it makes it a bit more like a Conspiracy product or like Battlebondthan like a Standard set.

If the focus on commander-stuff and on reprints just made this set seemingly weaker from a Tribal perspective and that was it, it would be fine and the set would just be a bit of a dud from our perspective. That’s not the whole story: there are other factors balancing it in the other direction. Firstly, this is a multiplayer-focused set. That’s unsurprising, since Commander is normally played in pods of four. Since our Tribal games have generally also been multiplayer affairs, some of the cards in this set might matter more to Tribal gameplay than they would duel-only formats. Foremost among these are the “Crowd lands.” We saw the first set of these in Battlebond and Commander Legends completes that cycle. For multiplayer enthusiasts, these are some of the best lands you can get. Really anything in the set that emphasizes multiplayer without being specific to commanders or the command zone is probably of interest to Tribal deckbuilding. The other major factor at work is that this set explores creature types that have been underserved for many years. A new set that introduces some elves and goblins might not be very interesting, just because those tribes already have so much to work with, and a card has to be extraordinary to stand a chance in those tribes. In contrast, the first new kobold in 26 years is a big deal for that tribe.

We’ve had a lot of high-impact sets in the past couple of years, and while this isn’t the most important one for most tribes, it has its haymakers.

Winners and losers for this set? Tier adjustments?
Most of the tribes that got new cards either got enough to be winners here or got unlucky and only got commander-themed stuff. The most notable gains are probably for…
  • Avatars
  • Birds
  • Chimeras
  • Elves
  • Knights
  • Kobolds
  • Merfolk
  • Pirates
  • Rogues
  • Serpents
  • Soldiers
  • Turtles
  • Unicorns
  • Warriors
  • Zombies

Losers in this case would be any of the obscure, older tribes that didn’t get anything to help them out here. Commander Legends is, along with last year’s Modern Horizons, almost akin to a retro-themed set. Old stuff that didn’t get any support this time around might not get any for a long time, if ever. Some examples are Atogs, Basilisks, Homarids, Incarnations, Kavu, Licids, Mercenaries, Rebels, Spellshapers, Thrulls, Trolls, Wombats, and Wraiths. That’s not an exhaustive list, but you get the idea.

Rabbit Tribal automatically moves up to Tier 6, where they’ll probably stay.

Ban list update recommendations
None at this time.

A bunch of mean stuff I have to say about how Wizards of the Coast is ruining the Commander format. But that’s not what we’re for and I’ll spare you the rant. This is mostly a pretty good set. Opposition Agent and Hullbreacher are both going to be annoying in every format, but they’re very strong and will see play, pretty much automatically boosting their respective tribes.