This week we’re finishing out our review of Crimson Vow by taking a look at the two Commander decks Wizards is releasing for the set – whether they’re worth it, and how you can expand them.
Wizards offers two new commander decks with Crimson Vow: Commander. They’ve said that the set seems to have been pushed out of order and some evidence of that is that we’ve recently seen both of these color pairings in preconstructed decks. Prosper, Tome-Bound was released in the forgotten realms set, “Planar Portal” and that was Rakdos, and Kaldheim had Phantom Premonition and that was Azorius.
Now there’s only 10 two color combinations, so seeing 2 again recently isn’t that strange; if Wizards is mostly going to stick to two-color decks then it’s not that shocking we’d see them in the same colors again so soon, given the pace of new releases. What is kind of strange is that Phantom Premonition was also a Blue and White spirit-themed commander precon.
So we find ourselves returning to a Blue and White spirit-themed commander precon with Spirit Squadron. WotC may’ve been boxed in somewhat because of the lore regarding Innistrad and the fact that disturb either turns dead creatures into spirits or spirits into enchantments.
Before we get to the cards, let’s level set: This deck is just not very good. The mana rock situation is okay, but definitely missing the relevant talisman, and with a commander who costs 7 before reduction you’d be running multiple 2 cost colorless rocks as well. Diamonds are ok. The land base is mediocre to okay, running some bad dual and lacking fetches, perennial bad card Temple of the False God. Sorcerers are big expensive… kind of garbage things in this deck. Some have potential but this deck can’t leverage them. It’s really just kind of a wet fart of a deck. Some of the glimmerings of what it ought to do are in there but the pieces don’t align, the interaction suite is bad to terrible, the ramp is insufficient; the deck will take a lot of work.
The New Cards in Spirit Squadron
Occult Epiphany seems like a completely legit draw/discard, generating your some tokens, it’s instant speed, and there’s a number of ways to recover cards you’ve discarded or benefit from discarding cards.
This is actually really really strong in my opinion, one of the standout cards of the set. There are so many strong plays you can make as a result of this, and generating x artifacts is no joke under any circumstances, especially when those artifacts can be used to draw cards. You can use this to destroy tokens, to generate etbs, to effectively counterspell auras, to de-transform transformed creatures, to remove equipment, though it’ll be re-equipped, to buy time vs powerful commanders. And it’s at instant speed. And you can do it to creatures controlled by all of your opponents at once, and even your own creatures as a value generator. Also you can do gross stuff like use voidslime to counter the trigger or Sundial of the Infinite end the turn (once the trigger is on the stack) to cause the creatures not to return to the battlefield at all. This is actually a really punishing thing to do in commander since your opponents likely won’t see it coming; you can permanently exile people’s commanders this way.
This is a weird card, there are times when you can generate a lot of mana off casting a spell, and if you can net mana this way and no-one has a creature on top, you could essentially make infinite mana this way. There’s also the ability to use this when you know what’s on top of your opponent’s libraries due to tutors, but the most likely use would be to tutor something yourself or use top manipulation to make a copy of something expensive with powerful activated abilities or triggered abilities that you don’t want to pay for, say something like Tidespout Tyrant or the new Hullbreaker Horror especially.
I like that white keeps getting these effects, where you get something if people have more than you, and there are definitely ways to exploit it. I’m not sure that generating 3 spirits at best, if you have less land than everyone, on a 1/2 for 3 mana is good enough, but it’s another tool in the box that’s nice to see.
This is nice for spirit decks. I’m not sure there’s a lot more to do with it than some minor control, there are ways you could potentially abuse this, like Pili-Pala.
On the one hand this seems a bit weak, but if your deck is full of powerful etbs or triggered abilities, it could go a long way. Copying Dockside Extortionist or Academy Manufactor would be huge, for example. This is a long term value card, though it’s “once per turn” limitation becomes less limiting if you can cast card with flash, or say spirits with flash, which there are obviously now many ways to do.
This is a damn strong card for spirit decks. Full stop. Melee and preventing all noncombat damage is huge. It’s a bit pricy at 4 for a 2/2 but it can potentially give all your creatures +3/+3 each turn when attacking (or even more with additional combats) and spirit decks tend to have tokens they can feed into the gaping maw of blockers if necessary.
This seems fine. Not great, but fine. It’s etb, so you can flicker it or brago it. Generates theoretically 3 clues, you can sac the clues when you have another draw to get spirits. All pretty fine. Could start to really build up with other copy and spirit-clone type effects.
This is neat. Powerful synergies with some other tapping type things like Verity Circle. Very swingy, kind of scary, will go huge vs decks full of mana dorks and other times not do much unless you have ways to tap down yourself (have you heard of um Opposition) in those instances will make your commander huge very fast and very scary and a huge target.
Uh this guy kind of sucks. I mean I see the synergy with Rhoda, Geist Avenger, but shouldn’t it be like “tap up to one target creature for each spirit you control” or “each spirit that entered the battlefield this turn” or “left the battlefield this turn” or both.. since that would be very spirit themed.
So this could let you free cast huge spells like extra turns and Seagate Restoration, which is powerful, but it’s so hard to manage that I think it’s a bit questionable. Granted if you’re running Brago it could certainly get really gross, letting you do things like cast spells with Rebound over and over and over (like twice on each of your turns). Also the thing you’re rebounding could be Ephemerate, or just to take even more extra turns. So for an extra turns Brago Deck, incredibly powerful card.
This is potentially a real strong card. It can be used for card draw, returning garbage permanents to your opponents, or it can just be used to return things you’ve just had blown up to the battlefield. Cards like this typically have a way to break them, but just getting to recreate a bunch of etbs or value cards, or just a flat out egg deck make this pretty viable.
This is a hell of a way to recover from a Wrath of God and it can also potentially generate a ludicrous number of etbs for you if you have ways to blow up your own creatures.
More on this later, but I think this is an okay commander, not great, and okay in spirit tribal decks.
The Unstable Mutation: Spirit Swarm
Since there was recently another commander precon in U/W that was sprit-themed, it seemed best to really lean into it here, combining the mechanics of disturb and foretell, and just build up a huge board of spirits that can overwhelm opponents.
Flying 1/1s arent that threatening but, if you run cards like Vanquisher’s Banner and especially Coat of Arms as well as the unique spirit anthem creatures, you can quickly get some pretty beefy spirits rolling through.
In terms of commanders, Millicent, Restless Revenant is okay, but not really very good. If you get really lucky and get a 1-drop turn 1 spirit like Spectral Sailor that is great. Turn 2 dropping a spirit is pretty reasonable. Turn 3 is the sweet spot for spirits.
But I think it’s fair to say that we can reasonably only expect to get 2 spirits out by turn 4, and that means not dropping Millicent until turn 5, at which point you’d have 3 spirits, and probably generate 2 more that turn off combat. Then from then on you’d generate 3-4 spirits per turn just off attacks. That could actually be a compelling way to build a deck, but then you have to be really focused on dropping a spirit every turn, and then protecting Millicent once she comes out, which generally will mean holding up 2-3 mana for interaction, making much further board development other than spirit tokens, pretty difficult. If Millicent, Restless Revenant had an ability like Najeela, this would be pretty scary, as Najeela makes more warriors off even warrior tokens, and does so upfront, rather than at the end of combat. But since Millicent only makes tokens off non-tokens spirits, we’re talking simple addition here instead of geometric growth.
To achieve that turn 4-5 drop consistently you’d want to run 7+ 1 drops and 7+ 2 drops and 7+ 3 drops. This is doing to force you to degrade your spirit quality of cards, and it also means you have to drop creatures and can’t really drop mana rocks, further degrading mid-game board state potential. What you really really want in a scenario like that is Reconnaissance Mission or one of it’s clones, so you start drawing 3, 6, 9 cards per turn. But where will you find the mana to cast it? You won’t be able to, so you’ll have to either go spirit, rock, mission, spirit, and hope for a perfect on-curve play in a singleton format, or else delay Millicent, meaning your deck really does not come online until turn 6 or 7, which is really really slow.
Enter Brago, King Eternal. He’s a flying 2/4 spirit who effectively generates ramp with mana rocks because he generates non-land ETBs over and over again via his triggered combat ability, and only costs 4, meaning if you turn 2 rock you can drop him on 3.
He also has a built-in combo with all etbs as well as Ranar the Ever-Watchful who will generate sprits for you when you exile permanents, meaning you’ll tick up spirits each turn. Ranar’s ability is sadly one or more, so you’re only getting 1 spirit a turn there, but all our removal can be of the exile variety, meaning when we swords to plowshares someone’s pesky commander, we get a spirit too.
Brago has much the same gameplan as Millicent, but doesn’t require perfect draws or perfect on-curve drops, comes out generally faster, but maximum definitely faster, and ramps you pretty decently himself, letting you keep dropping creatures, since his ability effectively untaps mana rocks (this is why I cut both diamonds from the precon, they etb tapped which is a non-bo for Brago.)
There’s a number of neat little interactions for this deck, for example, Brago can let you exile and return your disturbed spirits, and you can sacrifice or get them killed again, and then recast them from your graveyard to generate card draw off Vega, the Watcher I think this is most relevant for Malevolent Hermit where you’d want the ability to counter spells with him back on the board most likely. Though Dennick, Pious Apprentice can also be used to shut down graveyard recursion decks, and Katilda, Dawnhart Martyr is a hell of a beater potentially.
Note the switch to snow lands is purely to power Ascendant Spirit and it’s noteworthy that Ascendant spirit’s abilities, particularly the 3rd one, can be used over and over again, getting bigger and bigger and drawing more and more cards each turn.
I think this spirit tribal kind of slots in at the gap between “mid” and “high” it’ll aggressively pressure opponents and runs plenty of board removal but not hard counters and it doesn’t combo off so opponents have time to see the end coming and do something about it.
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