With the imminent release of the new D&D: Forgotten Realms set, we’re meeting in a grimy tavern for some ale and to review the set’s new cards. In this article we’ll examine one of the companion Commander decks released with the set, talk about the unique new cards in it, and recommend some ways it can be upgraded and improved. Let’s take a look at the demon-touched warlock at the helm of Planar Portal, the Red and Black Commander Preconstructed deck from the set.
I like the design of this deck for new players, if you’re getting into Commander because your friends introduce you or you hear about the format and you don’t have a long-time connection, getting into the game can be quite expensive. There are a lot of decent cards in Planar Portal, core cards that are going to get re-used, even if the person who purchases the deck ends up just gutting it for cards. The lands are decent, the artifacts are decent, the interaction is decent. Yes, there are some huge swingy spells, but for a new player, they can use this as the basis for a deck, and keep tinkering and improving on it.
There are a lot of core cards that show up in decks over and over that are fairly pricy. Arid Mesa is a $20 land, and by default, it should go in every deck that contains white and red. Getting a decent mana base together, even lacking the ABUR duals, which each run to hundreds of dollars, you’re looking at a set of shocklands, each $10-$20, a set of fetchlands, each $10-$20, a set of talismans, a set of signets, a set of the “good” other 2 cost rocks (okay it’s Arcane Signet, Fellwar Stone, Mind Stone, and Thought Vessel).
Wizards pre-cons frequently come, out the gate, with a garbage mana base, and a garbage interaction suite, a bunch of clunky overcosted creatures, enchantments, and artifacts, and a bunch of swingy, 5+cost sorceries as “interaction”. Then they’ll have a few absolutely core cards that you need and will go up in price rapidly. Fierce Guardianship and Deflecting Swat are total must-have cards. Free, instant speed interaction is golden.
Prosper has a neat card advantage type ability, and a second value ability tied to that. Getting essentially a free draw each turn is just good, and getting a Treasure each time you play a card from exile (not cast) is really nice. They are both value abilities, and at some tables having a value commander is a good way to go, since Prosper isn’t really a combo piece, people won’t necessarily just blow him up or counterspell him. On the other hand, he is a value engine, generating Treasure each time you play from exile, which in turn can lead you to cast spells from exile using those Treasures, generating more Treasure. Some players may feel it’s worth just killing him out of the box. C’est La Vie. I think he’s totally a fun card, a playable Commander, and potentially a good value source in a Rakdos or Mardu deck focused on getting card draw via exile.
Nearly unconditional of Artifacts, Creatures, and Planeswalkers is pretty nice. But it costs 5 mana, and you lose a land to do it, which is a huge downside, and it’s exile, not sacrifice or destroy, both of which would have much stronger implications for the card. This carefully doesn’t remove Enchantments, which is a big problem for Red and Black traditionally. Some might argue this is a big upgrade to Mouth of Ronom but in Commander it just doesn’t seem that viable to lose a land and spend 5 mana to bury a creature. Probably its most powerful feature is that you can use it on a Commander, if they don’t want to uptick their Commander tax they can actually lose track of their Commander this way. There are just so many good utility lands in that this seems like it would rarely be worth the slot unless you maybe have some way to control a player and then use it, I guess with Mindslaver or something, but that seems like really a dick move – but also not that strong.
I like this card a lot, a neat 1 drop that lets you sacrifice creatures for draw and then get them back out of exile by sacrificing it. If you’re generating value off of ETB effects and dies effects and then getting the creatures back into your hand, that is a hot value piece. Just a really really solid card.
There’s a lot of argument about whether there are ways to get your own purse back, Aminatou, the Fateshifter can do it, and has hilarious upside potential with stuff like Blim, Comedic Genius and Zedruu the Greathearted. If you can use treasures better than your opponents for some reason or gaining a couple of treasure, average 2.5 treasures, will really do it for you, I think this is a potentially utilitarian value piece, but will mostly fit into fringe decks.
This is a playable man-artifact, ETB tapped is not really ever good, but on a 2-CMV rock that can give a potential hitter flying it may well be occasionally worth the downside.
I like that this card exists, there are some really fun things you can do with it. They are kind of abstruse things, though the obvious is putting it on a Stuffy Doll or something like that. There are also things like making the creature indestructible and using something like Gideon’s Sacrifice can be potentially quite horrific if you are the source of the damage as well. It’s a lot of pieces, but put a Fiend Lash on an indestructible Thrashing Wumpus, that’s really quite unpleasant. Since it’s damage equal to its power that’s actually quite a bit of upside, and it’s each instance of damage. Pyrohemia exists as does Pestilence and other sources of 1 damage repeatedly.
This is a really weird and potentially dangerous enchantment since it creates a pool of cards that a player can play one of on their turn. If you have a proper way to leverage things sitting in exile, I think it’s worth the risk. It’s also kind of nice if your deck slots more into the group slug/ value/ no infinite combo deck category, where you aren’t trying to resolve a specific combination of cards to end the game. If someone relies on an Induced Amnesia to win the game and that ends up getting exiled, they are really in trouble. If you just want to grind people down, removing people’s win cons to exile is a fun way to go. It may also cause players to hold up resources to counter someone if they see a win-con just hanging out in the exile zone.
I love this card. A way to really punish people for attacking you is really hilarious to me. And being forced to sac all your creatures and lose 2 life for each is actually really huge. It’s a great value card, only punishes someone for hurting you, and potentially has enormous upside if your deck is focused on death and sacrifice triggers.
Creating treasures this way is great, a reward for actually hitting someone is really nice to have, especially at some durdley tables, players get offended when you chop down their life total for no reason. This sort of excuses that, but really it’s about the 2 treasures. In combination with red this is a way get lots of attacks or just keep doing things. It’s also really nice that it has a bit of built-in creature control and a really nice interaction with Pitiless Plunderer, which was part of what made Chatterfang so exciting.
I love, love love this card. Probably the most common target will be Dockside Extortionist, but exiling is awesome, and then getting to cast it yourself, also awesome, just really cool card. Could wish it would be cheaper but with that much value upside it’s worth it. Tech hint – you can certainly just exile your own Dockside Extortionist with it to get a ton of value, especially in response to a Phantasmal Image that’s obviously going to target your Extortionist anyway.
Totally boss fun way to get cascade, thus getting you another spell for free. Slots in really well with Prosper, Tome-Bound as a commander. Fun card for red, red’s pseudo-draw is getting stronger with each set, which I like to see. It’s nice that blue’s deal isn’t “the absolute best card draw in the business, in addition to being good at virtually everything else”.
This is very much a playable board control piece. You’ll get your creature back at a minimum if that’s the best option, opponents may uptick commander tax which is a useful stax-y type effect in response, and you may get something really great with it. Combines really well with red’s sidelines in temporary creature control and Sneak Attack effects. Sneak out a massive dragon, attack, Dance Macabre, get your dragon back. Awesome.
This triggered ability is potentially really good, creating tons of creatures is powerful in response to deaths, in combination with something like Attrition and Tombstone Stairwell this has the potential to get really gross, really quickly. The self reanimation piece really makes it a nice card that you can cycle in various ways, like with red’s discard cost for draw effects and then get it back later. Also at instant speed, so you can hold up and use mana in a long game.
I guess this is the backup commander for the deck, and it’s a bit disappointing in my opinion. At 7 mana it’s just too much. In a really slow environment the ability to force players to attach each other is really nice, and getting card draw out of it is really nice also. But really very much a battlecruiser type card that a lot of players will find unpalatable if they are into building huge pillow fort board states.
Well, this is a crazy effect, nabbing enemy creatures. It’s carefully worded to make it hard to really abuse, because the obvious combo would be to be gaining enough life off the creatures to keep reanimating, and then using something like Conspiracy to remove all creature types. If you manage to drop Lorcan and Conspiracy and then have say a Zulaport Cutthroat and a couple other life gain triggers, that’s pretty much that.
I like this dual effect thing, but 7 mana to hopefully board clear and get 6.5 treasures is a big hurdle to get over. Granted it will probably pay for itself almost, but it’s only really worth it if you yourself aren’t running many creatures, or your creatures are really big or something like that. Even so, in some decks, say Aegar, the Freezing Flame this could net you a huge amount of card draw and treasure to cast them.
Well, the effect is potentially huge, potentially even game-winning, but it’s also potentially nothing. Unless you have a way to control your opponent’s decks or shuffles or see the tops of their libraries, and even then you have to generate 8 mana to get there. That is quite a bit. The effect doesn’t seem worth the cost, even if you have something with synergy, like Prosper, Tome-Bound.
Improving the deck
What Planar Portal is trying to do out of the box is a bit clunky, and unfocused. There’s a “play cards from exile” theme built into the commander, and this is used to generate value, and then there is a weird sacrifice/rate subtheme. There are no death triggers, not a lot of card draw, though there is the exile pseudo-draw off your commander. There’s a bit of control, but more is probably necessary. The artifacts and land base are solid, and should let you cast your spells more or less on time, the enchantments add some value. But then the average mana value is 3.62 without lands. Missing land drops or just stalling out are huge risks, with so many big swingy cards, and playing them will almost certainly force you to tap out, not allowing you to hold up much for interaction. Thankfully you have the treasure generation, so that may help ease the burden.
To focus the deck, I looked at discarding the rat subtheme and all the huge cards. What does Prosper, Tome-Bound do? The pseudo-draw is nice, but the real value is the trigger whenever you play a card from exile, creature a treasure token. Okay, we can get a lot of draw this way, and a lot of ramp. The ramp can pay for more drawing and casting. But ramping into ramp is kind of bleah, and trying to just use it to cast some huge sorcery that might get countered and likely won’t win the game anyway isn’t worth it. Rather we can turn this into an attrition style deck. We want to hurt our opponents when we create and lose treasures. This way, even if we sort of just cycle through the deck, exiling, casting, sacrificing those treasures to exile and cast more, we are killing our opponents off. Our real win conditions then are:
The main game plan is to rush out Prosper and to just keep slamming through the deck. Cast spells from exile, use the treasures to cast spells that exile more, and off-handedly whittle your opponents down. If your creatures get blown up, then reanimate them, especially those 4 core win condition creatures. Use cards like Mayhem Devil or Grim Hireling to kill enemy utility creatures and Pitiless Plunderer to get treasures for doing so. Don’t hesitate to deal damage to enemy players if you have the ability to via simple attacks. There’s no specific infinite combo in the deck, but the damaging triggers you have should rapidly get players low.
Here’s an Unstably Mutated version of Planar Portal, that I call Planar Pain:
That wraps up our look at the new Planar Portal deck. Next time we’ll take a look at the Draconic Rage deck, another Forgotten Realms precon. In the meantime, if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.