Commander Arsenal Update: Neon-Lit Edition

Dan GreenMarch 25, 2022
mtg arsenal update NEO

Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty has already been with us for over a month, can you believe it? As one of the most popular sets in modern MTG, I’m sure many people have really been digging it for a variety of formats, but what I’m loving the most is the impact it’s had on my Commander decks. From the powerful new legendary lands that are easy to slot in any deck, to the resurgence of Shrines, to powerful individual cards like Farewell and cycles like the Marches, there’s a lot to love even if you aren’t building a new deck – and some amazing new commanders for building new decks around!

Much like our first article of this series, I’m here to provide you with how the newest MTG set has impacted all of my decks. Perhaps you’ll find a nugget of wisdom or a cool idea in here for your own decks – so let’s jump in and take a look!

Brisela, Voice of Nightmares - Mono-White Snow Self-mill, Human/Angel Tribal

As discussed last time, my Brisela deck is a curious concoction that rarely takes many new cards as it’s such an eclectic mix of subthemes (self mill, snow, equipment, life gain, tribal, etc!). The themes of Kamigawa in general didn’t lean strongly towards the very specific niches that this deck tries to fill, That said, there are two new additions in Kamigawa – not necessarily cards that are well suited to the particular themes of the deck, but cards that are generically useful and fairly easy to include and are at worst reasonable enough compared to what they are replacing.

Adding: March of Otherworldly Light
Replaces: Solemn Simulacrum

Of all the deck changes in this edition, this one I would peg as potentially the most controversial. March of Otherworldly Light itself is an obviously solid card – but one that I was initially a little lower on until I got to play with it in the prerelease and experience the strength of its raw flexibility. While Swords to Plowshares can always remove a Blightsteel Colossus for one mana and March would cost an arm and a leg to do so, the cost of needing to input either mana or cards is offset by its ability to flex to exile any problematic enchantment or non-creature artifact in addition to any creature. I hugely value flexibility in commander in particular, where it can be very hard to predict how any opponent may try to take advantage of a particular game state to snowball to victory, and in addition to having that flexibility, you get both the bonus of exiling the threat rather than destroying it, as well as the opportunity to still cast it for a low rate in the most dire situation. March will definitely be a clutch card in many games going forward.

So why is that controversial? Well, I removed Solemn Simulacrum for it. In a mono white deck. I fully recognize that many will see this as blasphemy, because Solemn is just raw advantage in a color that struggles to find it, but at least hear out my reasoning:

As the deck developed into it’s little nest of synergies, it picked up some tricks to maximize the impact of cards like Land Tax, Archaeomancer’s Map, and Keeper of the Accord, notably using a variety of cards that can set its land count back without reducing its total mana pool, like Lotus Field, Urza’s Saga, Extraplanar Lens and Guildless Commons. Solemn’s ramp actually works against those cards slightly while in play, to the point of even making the ramp effect zero impact (for example, if Keeper of the Accord is out as well, Solemn could “steal” a ramp trigger that it would have gotten anyway, but now won’t because your land count increased). While this doesn’t always happen, the deck has a number of ways to tutor or reanimate various pieces of those combos, to the point where it’s probably consistent enough that Solemn will not always feel like a value piece it’s meant to.

That alone would not necessarily be cause for removal, but the last straw is that he is neither an Angel nor a Human, so our sad robot Construct just doesn’t quite fit in with the Tribal subtheme, and for me, that was the final nail. I’m happy to replace him with some flexible removal that will perhaps buy me the turn I need to assemble an Avacyn, Angel of Hope-backed Brisela, Voice of Nightmares to gain control of the game, or to finally see the second Approach of the Second Sun.

The second change to this deck should be much more clear cut: I don’t think I’ll have too much explaining to do about any of the new lands.

Adding: Eiganjo, Seat of the EmpireReplaces: Drownyard Temple

It’s like a Plains, but it can also be a removal spell! Of course I’m running this. While 4 damage isn’t always enough to destroy some bigger threats, blocking still happens in Commander, and actually there will be plenty of times where it’s all you needed. Not much to say beyond that. It’s good!

To fit it in, rather than remove a Snow-Covered Plains – which I like to have plenty of for both Extraplanar Lens and Emeria, the Sky Ruin – I pulled out Drownyard Temple, which is one of those cards that does way more in theory than it ever does in practice. Plus, like Solemn above, it kind of works against the “stay behind to get value” gameplan. Easy swap!

Missed the Cut - Farewell

I feel I have to put this in here for anyone who won’t read on later – Outside of lands and a few very specific cards (like Swords to Plowshares and Sol Ring), I tend to avoid duplicating cards across my Commander deck to keep things a little more varied. Farewell is probably the best sweeper for Commander that we’ve had since Austere Command, but it doesn’t do cute life gain things like Fumigate does, and I can’t make it one-sided with Avacyn, Angel of Hope or Sephara, Sky’s Blade, so it just doesn’t really work in here as well as it does in the Shadrix deck below!

Delina, Wild Mage - Mono-Red ETB/Damage Trigger Duplication

Much like Brisela, Delina, Wild Mage, which really enjoys abusing “enters the battlefield” and “deals combat damage” abilities only had some spells to add, with no creatures quite fitting the mold the deck is looking for. I’ve also had the benefit of playing the deck a good amount in the interim to feel out a few cards that make sense to remove because they just don’t quite pull the weight I’d expect, so those comprise the cards that are getting pulled for the cool new stuff.

Adding: Collision of Realms
Replaces: Wildfire Devils

I’ve been seeing absolutely nobody talking about Collision of Realms and I think that’s a shame. It’s expensive to cast for sure, but this super-controlled version of Warp World gets to more consistently act like a board wipe that doesn’t just randomly rocket somebody ahead in the game, while still having a fun chaos element attached to it. In a deck where I prioritize “enters the battlefield” effects, I’m posed to often get some solid value off of a cast of it, and unlike basically any other red mass removal in the game, this can wipe the board clear of indestructible and pro-red creatures. I foresee this being the turning point in future games where an imposing player gets taken down, but still everybody gets to have a little fun getting a random creature out, and I’m totally about that.

really wanted to love the chaos of Wildfire Devils, but things never lined up well for it to do anything super crazy. As it turns out, many people play decks full of cards that support their strategy, and that doesn’t always line up well with what you want to do. The biggest flaw of the card, in my estimation, is “choose a player at random”. I’d have situations where one or two players wouldn’t even have any spells in their discard pile (due to playing creature focused decks, or having a graveyard exiled, etc), and I always found more fun and profitable things to do than playing these devils.

Adding: March of Reckless Joy
Mizzix’s Mastery

Sometimes you just need to see deep into your deck. In most cases, this will act as a mono-red “draw two cards” – with something resembling a bunch of scry attached – letting you at worst dig deep on an end step for a land to play and something to cast. I think a card like this is absolutely perfectly reasonable to play – and something that red decks can use more of in Commander. And when there is just one specific card you need to find to win the game? You can tap completely out and discard your hand to dig really, really deep. I think this is a solid card to play, and if I had a deck with even more discard synergies (other than just trying to extract value from Ox of Agonas), I’d be playing it in there for sure.

The case of Mizzix’s Mastery is simple – the graveyard just wasn’t filling up with enough spells to make it consistently useful, similar to Wildfire Devils above. While there were some pretty sweet combos of cards that could be assembled – like Jeska’s Will and Rousing Refrain, the deck just had no way to make that a consistent situation to see so the card felt fairly dead most of the time. I’d much rather play the March that helps me find the cards I need than the Mastery that lets me try to cast spells I’ve already been able to find and cast again to some marginal benefit. In a deck more suited to it, it would be game-winning – but it’s not great here.

Adding: Sokenzan, Crucible of DefianceReplaces: Mountain

Is it the worst of the cycle in Commander for most decks? Yes. Is making two chump blockers with a difficult to counter ability from a card that would otherwise be an untapped land drop still good enough to play in Commander? Absolutely. Synergy be damned, I’m playing Sokenzan still unless it would require me to take out a really cool thematic basic land in a tribal deck (foreshadowing!).

I removed a Mountain. The only case where this isn’t better is when I have Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle in play. I’ll let you know when that causes me to lose a game, because it probably will!

Missed the Cut - Mirage Phalanx
Shadrix Silverquill - Tokens, Counters, and Board Control

Shadrix Silverquill likes to make tokens, place counters, and control the game, and Neon Dynasty has a pile of cards to help him do that more than ever before. I even got to show some off in our recent Spelltable Commander gameplay vid  – check that out here to see it in action!

Adding: Myojin of Blooming Dawn
Replaces: Myriad Construct

The new Myojins are all awesome. Yep, even the green one. Myojin of Blooming Dawn is a particularly scary new threat in this deck – notably, the amount of tokens you create counts all permanents, so at minimum we should generally be able to make 9 (8 lands and the Myojin), but you can end up with dozens of them if you have other tokens already in play as well! And, it can make them at instant speed, allowing you to build an army that can’t be wrathed at the end step of the player before you. Then it’s as easy as casting Shadrix and choosing to put a +1/+1 counter on everything to have a sudden lethal threat in the late game – and that’s not to mention the Cathars’ Crusade nonsense that can occur. The counter can even be proliferated with Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, Contagion Engine, or Karn’s Bastion to allow additional activations of the ability (that exponentiate the amount of tokens!!).

There’s one other cool feature about our new Myojins – instead of having a meaningless Divinity counter like the old cycle, these ones use Ikoria-tech to have an Indestructible counter – and if I were to, say, have The Ozolith in play, I could use a sacrifice effect to actually get that counter placed on The Ozolith to be moved around to new creatures as I see fit!

Myriad Construct isn’t a bad card in Commander, but it’s basically just not Myojin of Blooming Dawn. It’s really cool that it used both +1/+1 counters and made tokens, but Myojin also uses a special kind of counter and makes tokens, but for one more mana you get to keep the body and make a crazy amount of tokens at a controlled time (rather than having to find a way to pop the Myriad Construct). Myriad Construct is very weak to mass removal, which the deck plays a lot of – Myojin of Blooming Dawn can actually stay in play as I cast Damnation, allowing me to make the tokens on a much clearer board.

Adding: Release to Memory
Replaces: Profane Tutor

Another all-star from the new Commander decks in my own estimation – Release to Memory is one part graveyard interaction, and one part token generation. I really enjoy having instant speed yard removal as it not only can drop the power of a deck that’s getting out of control with reanimation, but can do so in response to the reanimation effect to counter it as well. See, white can counter spells too!

In a worst case, it can exile a random person’s yard to make a couple of tokens at instant speed. That’s not an incredible effect, but it isn’t nothing either. But the best case involves making a whole lot of tokens against a big self-mill/reanimator deck (like perhaps a Kethis, the Hidden Hand or Sidisi, Brood Tyrant) while simultaneosly blocking their ability to effectively keep up with you. Seems like a very worthwhile card to me, and I always love getting to play more instant speed interaction.

Profane Tutor gets the axe because I continue to try to trim down on Tutors. I’m probably a set or two away from cutting Demonic Tutor as well – I value variety of gameplay and finding winning lines from new situations, so tutors tend to be somewhat antithetical to that unless they are more specific in what they can find. I usually would rather play a new puzzle piece than something that lets me find the same card I always play. Easy cut!

Adding: The Wandering Emperor
Replaces: The Celestus

Makes tokens? Check. Puts counters on creatures? Check. Instant speed control card? Check. In a planeswalker that already fits in with my Proliferate package? Can this card be real? It’s perfect for this deck. I’m ecstatic that my favorite planeswalker from the new set actually fits so well in here! While ‘walkers can sometimes be lower value in Commander (as they are more vulnerable), decks that are keen to keep the board controlled – and those that can make a lot of blockers to interact – tend to get some strong mileage out of them, so I have no issues playing another one in here, considering how well The Wandering Emperor plays with the rest of the deck.

To fit her in, I removed The Celestus – mostly because tracking day and night in a 4 player game is annoying! I still think The Celestus is a totally reasonable mana rock that can give you a lot of value over a long game, but I just didn’t want to be bothered tracking day and night anymore. Your mileage may vary!

Adding: Farewell
Replaces: Akroma’s Will

As mentioned earlier, Farewell is probably the best board wipe for Commander that we’ve seen in a long time. Incredibly flexible with incredible permanence – able to dig you out of most bad situations and even put you in a stronger one than your opponents (for example, keeping Planeswalkers when you are the only one with them in play). It’s unfortunate that it doesn’t trigger things like Liliana, Dreadhorde General but much like with March of Otherworldly Light, the flexibility and permanence of exile wins out in the end for me.

To make room for such an all-star card, I cut Akroma’s Will, realizing that without the creatures being particularly big on their own, the abilities granted by it lost a lot of relevance. It seemed like a card with some cute interactions (such as casting it before Damnation) but not one that would practically play out to be extremely beneficial to me. I hope to play it in a deck at some point, because I love stacking keywords, but this just wasn’t the right place.

Adding: Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire
Takenuma, Abandoned Mire

Replaces: Plains
Replaces: Swamp

More basics heading out for new Legendary lands. This deck has an extremely low creature count, so Takenuma will probably only be used when there’s already something good to hit already in the graveyard, but with some strong finishers like the aforementioned Myojin or Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, it seems worthwhile to have for the late game in the same way that Agadeem’s Awakening // Agadeem, the Undercrypt can still be worthwhile to have.

Once again, two basics were harmed to make this deck change. Pour one out for them.

Rayami, First of the Fallen - Keywords and Kill Spells

My only three color deck right now, Rayami, First of the Fallen, plays strictly creatures with keywords and lots of ways to cheaply activate or free-cast sacrifice and kill spells to either stack my own keywords or make it easier to swipe opposing creatures’ keywords the turn I cast Rayami. Generally, we are looking for cards who don’t get value from creatures dying, as Rayami shuts that down with his replacement effect (though we make exceptions, like with last set’s Cemetery Desecrator, when other circumstances justify it). And, like last set, aside from the obligatory new lands, we are making a bit of an exception with the only non-land card being added to the deck!

Adding: Eater of Virtue
Replaces: Unnatural Growth

Unnatural Growth actually never got a fair chance to be played, and I still like the concept for the deck, considering how scary creatures with stacked keywords get when they grow in power. However, the 1GGGG casting cost was likely to be burdensome in a three color deck, even with Filter lands like Twilight Mire to fix it sometimes, and it only applied on the turn you attack – meaning it generates huge aggro existing on the board, but doesn’t actively protect your creatures (and thus, yourself) from the incoming hate you’ll get.

The reason I prioritize some power boosting effects in the deck is actually to try to hit certain breakpoints with Rayami’s power – with 5 power naturally, any boost of +2 power turns a 5-turn Commander Damage clock into 3 turns, but it doesn’t reduce to two turns until +6 power. That’s both another hit against Unnatural Growth, which, absent other effects, only +5s Rayami, where he’s still on a 3-swing clock on any player, and a plus for the new card that replaces it – Eater of Virtue. It’s important to note that Eater’s effect competes with (and loses to) Rayami’s when they are both in play – Rayami’s exile is a replacement effect, meaning there will be no dies trigger at all for Eater to see. However, it provides the crucial +2 power that Rayami needs to take out opponents in 3 turns. The reason it makes it in, though, is because when Rayami isn’t in play, Eater provides another way to stack most of those very same abilities Rayami is looking to stack. Effectively, this means that we can actually build up some of those abilities in the early game before even dropping Rayami. This is an increase in our efficiency of achieving our goal (creating a keyword monster that clocks opponents) in some games, and a redundancy plan in others, and the fact that it can allow some of our other cards to become massive threats on their own (like Phyrexian Crusader!) makes it feel worth the slot despite seeming counter-intuitive on first glance.

Adding: Boseiju, Who Endures
Adding: Otawara, Soaring City
Adding: Takenuma, Abandoned Mire
Replaces: Forest
Replaces: Island
Replaces: Swamp

Of course these lands will get to make it in too – while I feel that 5-color decks can be a little too tight to always have room for these, I have no issues at all slipping them into a three-color deck, especially when we get some of the most impactful ones in our Sultai combination. It’s especially nice to have Boseiju, Who Endures as another out to the devastating Maze of Ith which can single-handedly stop any of my Rayami shenanigans until I can get specifically Hexproof onto him.

Missed the Cut - Junji, the MIdnight Sky

So, fair note in case it shows up in an upcoming video – I just don’t want to buy a Phyrexian Crusader right now, as I’m anticipating a reprint in some form at some point (possibly Double Masters 2022?), so currently Junji actually is physically in my Rayami deckbox, keeping the spot warm for our protection-filled friend!!

But for the long term, I thought hard about including Junji, the Midnight Sky, because he does have two nice keywords and is a decent body. I don’t think he’d be bad to play at all, but I simply feel that he’ll actively make me not want to put Rayami into play because of how strong his “dies” triggers are, and that’s fairly antithetical to how I want the deck to play. I also feel his reanimation effect will, if things are going my way, have very few targets as Rayami tries to keep creatures out of graveyards. Unlike last month’s Cemetery Desecrator, he doesn’t also do his effect when entering the battlefield, and he doesn’t also kill creatures to get them under Rayami, so he just feels a little out of place in the deck. Once I get my hands on a super cool Phyrexian Crusader (or just stop being cheap and buy a regular one), he’ll be headed out the door.

Tazri, Beacon of Unity - Party Mechanic, "Stronger Together" Effects

In our plane full of Ninjas, Samurai, Pilots, and Spirits, there just weren’t quite enough Warriors, Wizards, Clerics, and Rogues to find any new allies to adventure with Tazri. However, I have high hopes for the upcoming Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate to deliver us a new friend or two who fit the more traditional fantasy party composition!

That said, there was one spell that I felt like made a lot of sense to play in here.

Adding: March of Swirling Mist
Replaces: Grixis Charm

Tazri is all about building a board of multiple creatures with party-boosting effects to multiply the power of my forces. It also has a subtheme of Instant-speed effects (such as Tazri, Beacon of Unity‘s activated ability, Opposition Agent, Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, etc). As such, I can often keep some mana open and have a board to protect. Likewise, I can often have a devastating attack to perform if my opponents are unable to block it. Enter a new card that slices, dices, and does all of the above, too – March of Swirling Mist.

The third March making it into one of my decks, March of Swirling Mists, is a very versatile card that I think over time people will come around on even more. It can play both offense and defense, either phasing out opposing blockers for a lethal swing, fogging an opponent’s lethal swing at you (or another player!), or rescuing your creatures from literally any board wiping effect, and having them be available to attack on your very next turn. While it can’t also stop you from, y’know, dying like Teferi’s Protection can, you have free reign to pick and choose any creatures that get phased out, meaning you can instead sometimes use this as political leverage or to remove blockers for an opponent instead. Imagine being able to use this to save an opponent’s Angel of Serenity that is keeping your most threatening opponent’s board locked away – as well as keeping your board safe from a Wrath of God. And while that could cost some mana to perform, a lot of our creatures are multicolor and it’s not too hard to find a blue card or two to reduce the cost, especially if you’ve been able to stock your hand a couple of times with Tazri. I’m looking forward to seeing how much work this March puts in!

The card it replaces is Grixis Charm, which isn’t a bad card at all, but serves a similar purpose – a multifaceted spell that can be used to defend or attack, but, in my opinion, without as much impact potential as March of Swirling Mists can have. I have to keep my creature slots fairly rigid due to my self-imposed restraints on deckbuilding, so this seemed like a sensible non-creature swap for the shiny new card.

Sisay, Weatherlight Captain with Jegantha, the Wellspring - Shrine Enchantress, Legendary Permanents

Previously based around Sisay, Weatherlight Captain, this deck is now helmed by the new Go-Shintai of Life’s Origin, an absolute monster of a creature that makes the whole deck work on a new level. This is easily my most threatening deck now – and it already felt like it was before. Before we jump into the changes, if you want to actually see this deck in action, you can check out our first Spelltable Commander gameplay video where you can see it operating at full effect (even though we had a few rules stumbles in the game – but who doesn’t from time to time!).

Adding: Go-Shintai of Life’s Origin
Replaces: Sisay, Weatherlight Captain

After first seeing Go-Shintai of Life’s Origin, the only question I had was weather or not I should keep Sisay in the main deck. This was clearly going to be the new commander for the deck, bringing the host of new Creature Shrines in tow. And ultimately, I cut Sisay entirely. While I did activate her a handful of times in the past, usually she was only cast when there was nothing better to do, and I felt like most of the cards in my deck more actively did things I wanted them to do. Go-Shintai is absurd, making all shrines massively more impactful, and allowing you to get not only Shrines, but any enchantment back out of the yard to rebuild from a board wipe or targeted removal. The biggest issue is how much aggro Go-Shintai will now generate – play will have to be even more cautious to not generate too much threat too early, so I don’t intend to just rush him out every game unless the situation looks relatively clear (such as there’s already a more threatening player, or several players have already exhausted some of their answers).

Adding: Go-Shintai of Shared Purpose
Adding: Go-Shintai of Lost Wisdom
Adding: Go-Shintai of Hidden Cruelty
Adding: Go-Shintai of Ancient Wars
Adding: Go-Shintai of Boundless Vigor
Replaces: Niambi, Esteemed Speaker
Replaces: Omnath, Locus of Creation
Replaces: Garth One-Eye
Replaces: Maelstrom Wanderer
Replaces: Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder

This felt like an absolute bloodbath – essentially, this was a “cutting the fat” moment, removing a pile of fun cards or generic advantage-engines to fit in all of the new shrines. Ultimately, none of these creatures really tied into the themes or did anything especially necessary for the deck, so it made sense to cut all of them as our Shrine stack got thicker. With the new commander, the deck was already going to have more immediate threat and presence, and this is a case of “you need to know your deck’s identity”. As much as I wanted to just play fun and silly cards that I enjoyed, if I didn’t match my list to the threat my commander created, I wasn’t going to be able to defend myself with the power level I would need to fend off other players going after me from the start. The new set of Go-Shintai Creature Shrines pair well with the Life’s Origin to ensure we’ve got blockers when we need them as well as stacking bigger and bigger numbers with the original Hondens and Sanctums.

Adding: Weaver of Harmony
Replaces: Ghen, Arcanum Weaver

Weaver of Harmony is in some ways an honorary Shrine – while it doesn’t stack numbers with the others, it can duplicate any trigger or activation of any other Shrine at a cheap cost. He’s strictly a combo player, but, again, as the deck moves more towards representing that on the table, if we can’t back it up in our gameplay, we’ll suffer from unfortunate losses when opponents are forced to work with the only knowledge they have about the deck. Aside from Shrines, he can copy a smattering of other powerful effects – such as Doomwake Giant‘s Constellation trigger or Sterling Grove‘s activation. And finally, as a bonus, he also improves the stats slightly of our Commander, the tokens it makes, and all of the new Shrines, as well as a smattering of other creatures in the deck.

He replaces poor Ghen, Arcanum Weaver, who never really had the chance to use his ability. I found Ghen fairly clunky to use, needing to have the right cards on board, in the yard, he had to last a turn, and you had to spend the mana to activate him. He was a cool idea, and is a cool Commander for his own deck, but here he just kind of felt like he was far too niche to ever really do anything impactful. Plus, Go-Shintai puts him out of a job fairly handily with its own activated ability.

Anje, Maid of Dishonor - Vampire Tribal Madness

The only change to our newest list, Anje, Maid of Dishonor, which is a Vampire tribal deck with a Madness theme, is the addition of one of the two new Legendary lands.

Adding: Takenuma, Abandoned Mire

Replaces: Swamp

It’s fairly obvious why I’d include this in the deck, especially when the deck has a focus on getting cards in the graveyard, so the more interesting question is probably: Why not Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance as well? And the reason is:

It doesn’t make Vampires, and I paid good money for these Dracula basic land Secret Lairs!

If that’s not a good enough reason to not include a card for you, then we are definitely on two different wavelengths when it comes to building Commander decks. But feel free to join my train of thought any time you’d like – we have cool looking lands!

PHEW! This set had even more goodies than Crimson Vow did. I hope it will continue to be uncommon that I have to completely change a commander out of a deck and pile in a full cycle of cards on top of it. As always, I hope you found it somewhat enlightening to see another player’s thought processes on deck updating, and if you didn’t, I hope you at least found it “mildly interesting”. We’re not shooting for the moon here, people – let’s leave that to the moonfolk.

We’ll be back more frequently with this series in the coming months, with Streets of New Capenna, Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate, and eventually Unfinity as well taking up our summer. Hope to see you back again!

Until next time – keep on shuffling, and play more games!

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