Two Jesses Present— Commander 2016 Flavor Rankings

Jesse T: Welcome, one and all, to the Commander 2016 Flavor Rankings! They’re like power rankings, but for flavor. This year’s Commander set is really shaking up the flavor metagame with a whole spate of esoteric legends, and we’re here to let you know which are better than the others, and by how much, in strict descending order.

Jesse K: You’re probably thinking that flavor is unquantifiable, but that’s where you’d be wrong. We used a complicated scoring algorithm aggregation system to scientifically determine the good-flavor-ness of these cards. Think of us as FiveThirtyEight, except not always wrong.

The Factors

Realness of Character: Is this a character we’ve heard of? That we wanted to see printed on a card? If it’s not someone we’ve heard of, are we at least familiar with elements of their backstory? Is this character interesting and coherent? Basically, it’s a measure of how much we buy this as a legendary creature.

Flavor of Card: Is the card doing something that makes sense for this character to do? How’s the art/flavor text?

Fun Factor: Do I have any interest in playing this card? Are the mechanics doing something interesting or novel?

The Colors, Duke! The Colors!

T: Of the 20 new legends in Commander 2016, five of them are the long-awaited quad-color commanders. Nephilim? I barely even know ‘em! The most difficult part about designing cards like this is distinguishing them from WUBRG cards. They say if you mix all the colors together, you get brown. Let’s see if Magic can prove your kindergarten art teacher wrong!

#1: Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis

Image

Realness of Character: 5
Flavor of Card: 3
Fun Factor: 5
13/15

K: The crowning jewel of Commander 2016 is, appropriately, the two kings of old Meletis. The flavor and abilities are completely on point from what we know about the characters, who ruled through cooperation and unity, as referenced on Guardians of Meletis. The art is filled with Theros references, from their monument in the background, to the framing being similar to Anax and Cymede, who would one day rule another Therosian city as a duo.

T: Kynaios and Tiro are Magic‘s first gay interracial power couple. It’s great that Wizards isn’t afraid to put diversity at the forefront of their obscure supplemental products. There are lots of fun Easter Eggs hidden in the artwork. In the background, you can see scaffolding around the half-constructed Guardians of Meletis. If you look even more closely, you can see them suggestively touching swords. Finally, barely visible in the lower right-hand corner, you can find Kynaios’ hand on Tiro’s butt.

#2: Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder

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Realness of Character: 2
Flavor of Card: 2
Fun Factor: 5
9/15

K: I remember nothing about ogres having any major part in the plot of Alara block and I’m not sure why being chased into the maelstrom granted Yidris incredible Marvel-esque super powers. He’s got no flavor text to his name to help tell his story, but I don’t think he’d have much to say anyway. In Yidris’ favor is how super fun the cascade ability is. The choice of not-white’s theme as chaos is a good one and I think he’ll helm a lot of interesting decks. I’m ready to say yes to Yidris.

T: Did you know 3/5 of the new commanders have 4 arms? It’s true! Yidris is an entropic being whose mutations were stabilized by the unpredictable energy of Alara’s Maelstrom. His backstory brings all the excitement of a high school science textbook to Magic, and the card itself is mostly reminder text. There were a few Incurable Ogres on Grixis, but I don’t think anyone was clamoring for their return. Perhaps the greatest strike against this character is that he looks nothing like Yidris Yelba. If it weren’t an ogre, I’d think they were trolling us.

#3: Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice

Image-2

Realness of Character: 2
Flavor of Card: 2
Fun Factor: 4
8/15

K: While I’m not sure if this character existed before this product, the backstory they’ve provided (an angel compleated by Elesh Norn and the other non-red praetors) is interesting and makes sense, especially since we know that Urabrask was sort of the black sheep of that family. It’s a minor gesture towards flavor, but I’m glad they gave her a single piece of flavor text in this set (on Grip of Phyresis). The ability is fun and unique, and the not-red identity of caring about counters is well chosen. This card is fine, even if it is a bit of a mish-mash of abilities.

T: In Phyrexia, angels have deathtouch and proliferate. Given that proliferate is as flavorless as a hipster’s quinoa, slapping it on a French Vanilla 4/4 doesn’t really make a clear statement to me about this character. Those weird Phyrexian angels with exoskeletons are still pretty haunting and cool-looking, and I’d be terrified of encountering Atraxa as a boss in the Devil May Cry series. All of the other legends serving under her are from Tarkir, and the flavor meta is in for some big changes if Phyrexia ever invades.

#4: Breya, Etherium Shaper

Image-3

Realness of Character: 3
Flavor of Card: 2
Fun Factor: 2
7/15

K: Breya is from Esper and represents a character who has discovered the missing ingredient in creating etherium, namely red mana from the other shards. So the story makes sense, but she’s another no-flavor-text, non-plot character. While it’s true that this color combo is the right one for ‘cares about artifacts’, there are so many good artifacts-matter commanders already across a variety of colors. I just don’t see this card as particularly interesting, nor does it seem to be inviting us to do anything novel.

T: I like the artwork on this card. It’s too bad her abilities are as cold and mechanical as her sweet etherium chassis. The numerals 1-5 appear in the text box in order, so they’re clearly paying attention to detail, but none of it has any coherent meaning. How do thopters gain you life? They’re not nourishing. You can’t eat them. I don’t care how flavorful they claim to be! I predict Breya will have the biggest impact on Kaladesh, Mirrodin, and other planes with plenty of artifacts to sacrifice.

#5: Saskia the Unyielding

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Realness of Character: 1
Flavor of Card: 2
Fun Factor: 2
5/15

K: Saskia seems to be among the least real of the not-real characters. She doesn’t have an identified plane associated with her, nor does she imply any future interesting plane. Maybe Braveheartopia, but I don’t see that having a lot of mileage. Furthermore, the card is pretty boring and does the opposite of what more commander players want (drag the game out indefinitely). The not-blue color combo could do a lot of interesting things (tokens come to mind, as do hatebear-type cards), but they went with ‘attacking’. I don’t see this leading many decks into battle, but let’s be real, if you’re not running blue, it’s purely out of spite.

T: Saskia comes from a nameless plane of fierce warriors, despite her creature type being soldier. It really seems like they’re not even trying here, so I’m not going to either.

K: So how did the flavor of the centerpiece cards of the product fare? Let me put it to you this way:

whatflavor

With the notable exception of Kynaios and Tiro, none of these are real characters. They did a pretty good job of coming up with the mechanical space that each 4-color combo lives in (with the exception of not-blue), but why weren’t these identities assigned to popular characters from Magic’s past. Couldn’t the artifact commander been an Urza card? Let’s see if the myriad 2-color legends fare any better.

Howdy, Partners

T: The 4-color commanders aren’t the only legends to come out of this set. There’s also a fearsome 15-some of legendary creatures with the ‘partner’ ability. It’s completely meaningless from a flavor perspective, but it seems unfair to compare the overseasoned casseroles of the quad commanders with the raw ingredients of the partners. Let’s take a look!

#1: Vial Smasher the Fierce

Image-5

Realness of Character: 4
Flavor of Card: 4
Fun Factor: 4
12/15

K: I don’t really know why, but I actually knew who this character was before I read the bio. Maybe I was reading a little bit more of Magic story than usual during Back to the Future (But with Dragons) block. Either way, she stuck in my head, and that’s worth a bonus point or two in my book. The ability is fun and chaotic and could take you in some interesting deck-building directions. More importantly, it feels right for the character.

T: The card and ability are both really fun, but I think I would like it even better if it had something to do with destroying, or at least casting, artifacts. Her name is Vial Smasher, so she should smash some vials! If you think mastering dragonfire is hard, try saying “she should smash some seashells” 10 times fast. She used to be called Ankle Shanker, and I think I’m thankful she ain’t an ankle shanker anymore.

#2: Ravos, Soultender

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Realness of Character: 4
Flavor of Card: 3.5
Fun Factor: 4
11.5/15

K: If I had to guess, this guy’s also going to be a role player in Theros 2: The Quest for Elsepth. While they did touch on the Rescue from the Underworld mythological trope, they didn’t have an Orpheus or Charon legendary, so this is new enough territory for me to enjoy it. One of the few partner commanders that I’m tempted to put into a deck all by itself, the abilities are sweet and surprisingly novel for this color combo.

T: Ravos is a rogue psychopomp who brings your creatures back from the graveyard. The woman he loves is trapped in the underworld by the god of the dead, or at least that’s what he tells his parents whenever they ask passive-aggressive questions about the skirt and glitter. The card is also a flying Glorious Anthem for some reason, making it a very clean, elegant design as long as you ignore 75% of the rules text.

#3: Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa

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Realness of Character: 5
Flavor of Card: 4.1
Fun Factor: 2.37
11.47/15

K: Now we’re talking! Sidar Kondo is a legit character and a welcome shout-out to long time flavor nerds. So what if new players have never heard of him or even Mirage Block as a whole? I have. He’s a featured player in Magic’s earliest attempts at storytelling (he’s Gerrard’s adoptive dad) and way more deserving of a card than Thalia’s Barber or Pia’s Friend’s Cousin. I’m disappointed that there weren’t more attempts at older characters. We still don’t have a legendary Urza, the Weatherlight is unrepresented, and there’s not even room for a single kami. A full quarter of the legends in this set are from Theros. Sadly, while Kondo’s abilities are flavorful and make sense, there’s almost no non-flavor reason to put him in a deck.

T: Sidar Kondo is an expert horseman who ruled a village in the trees. Once they change “can’t be blocked except by creatures with flying” to the keyword “climbing”, this card ought to really come together. Seeing a minor character from the mid-90s dug up and paraded around makes an antediluvian curmudgeon like me almost as excited as the return of damage on the stack would. I assume Sidar Kondo will be viable in Legacy for flavor reasons, since Gerrard is the heir to Urza’s Legacy.

#4: Tana, the Bloodsower

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Realness of Character: 2.1
Flavor of Card: 5
Fun Factor: 4
11.1/15

K: Tana seems like she might be from either Jund or Ravnica’s Gruul clan, but is actually not from any named plane, so she loses some points there. That being said, something just tickles me about the concept of ‘raised by saprolings’ that makes up her backstory. She seems fun to play with and is one of the cards I’m most interested in actually putting in decks, which has to count for something.

T: Born of elves, but raised by fungi, Tana is a hero trapped between worlds. Tana feeds her own mushroom children with the blood of her enemies, helping them grow into big strong saproling tokens. The card delivers on everything the character’s backstory promises. I’ve never seen or heard of Tana before, but I’d definitely like to see more of her.

#5: Thrasios, Triton Hero

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Realness of Character: 4
Flavor of Card: 4
Fun Factor: 3
11/15

K: Thrasios stands slightly above the other Theros non-entities by virtue of what his bio implies. He’s an explorer who claims to have found the lost city of Atlantis, oops, I mean Olantin. The Atlantis myth is a significant area of untapped potential for the looming return to Theros. I feel like his presence in that eventual story is almost as guaranteed as the return of Zombie Elspeth. As for these abilities, they’re fine and make sense within the world that he’s from. Weird that he’s a hero that doesn’t have the heroic ability, but we had to leave room for that wonderful and meaningful partner reminder text.

T: Thrasios is an explorer who helps you look through your deck until you find a land. I love it! I’m not sure why he needs that glowing metronome to see when he’s obviously right beneath the surface of some pretty shallow water, but maybe it’s more than just a flashlight, like some smartphones. When we return to Theros, I hope we get to see more of not only this lost Atlantic City, but all of the other fabled sights of the Jersey Shore as well.

#6: Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper

Image-10

Realness of Character: 3
Flavor of Card: 3.7
Fun Factor: 4.06
10.76/15

K: Ikra is the real median case for a character in this set. As far as I can tell, she hasn’t played much story role prior to now, and hasn’t appeared on any flavor text. However, they’ve given her an interesting role in a story we already know with enough detail to make her at least somewhat interesting. The card is salvaged by its unique and flavorful abilities. It’d almost be enough to make me want to make a partner deck, but none of the partners actually have any synergy with each other.

T: Considering she became Silumgar’s dragonspeaker by murdering the old one, having no partner synergy is actually kind of a win in the flavor column. I remember there being a toughness-matters theme in Sultai, which I believe reflected how much a skeletal crocodile enjoyed eating a particular creature. Freaky Shidiqi delivers on all of that great Khans nostalgia, in case anyone else wishes that it were still 2014.

#7: Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder

Image-11

Realness of Character: 5
Flavor of Card: 2.5
Fun Factor: 3
10.5/15

K: Did I ask for a Bruse Tarl card? No, but I’ll take it! Many of the legends in this set have a similar amount of history, appearing on a few pieces of flavor text here and there. What separates Bruse is that his flavor text was memorable and conveyed something about the character. You know, as opposed to exposition NPCs like Thrasios and Ishai. Of all the good things about this art, my favorite is the pillarfield ox giving him side-eye. Everyone knows this guy is a major dingus, even his oxen. The ability makes sense for a herder, and if you squint you can even find the tiniest hint of interesting mechanical space. Graded on the red/white legend curve, this is a solid B+ for me.

T: I always wondered what Wario would look like topless. You could snag an antler in all that body hair! Apparently between now and the last time we visited Zendikar, Bruse Tarl became the umpteenth Boros card to feature this specific combination of abilities. Personally, I’m a little disappointed that the mustachioed strongman who hurls insults at his livestock is just some generic red-white combat dude. Where’s the flavor text? If anyone figures out a way to care less about his backstory fighting the Eldrazi, let me know.

#8: Kydele, Chosen of Kruphix

Image-12

Realness of Character: 3
Flavor of Card: 4
Fun Factor: π
~10.14/15

K: Kydele appears on one flavor text and does so in a not particularly compelling way (Horizon Chimera). That being said, she seems to do Kruphix-y things and is one of the few partner commanders to invite building a certain type of deck. I guess her interest to you is dependent on whether or not you find making immense amounts of mana and drawing all the cards fun. Personally, it’s a little straightforward for my taste. Also good for your ‘chair’ deck.

T: Kydele turns knowledge into power. I could think of worse ways to convey that on a Magic card, plus the art is great. Are those her eyes, or little LEDs on her fingernails? I don’t know, but throw in a jug and an old bed sheet, and you’ve got yourself a great option for cosplay on a budget. Kydele has seen truths that would drive mere mortals insane, so address all questions about Yidris’ backstory directly to her.

#9: Silas Renn, Seeker Adept

Image-13

Realness of Character: 3
Flavor of Card: 4.5
Fun Factor: 2
9.5/15

K: I get a real smarmy, annoying rich kid vibe for Silas, like the villain of a teen skiing movie. He’s got no real story associated with him, but his abilities make sense for the ‘random guy from Esper’ concept. Aside from the partner mechanic, there seems to be no compelling reason to have him lead your recursive artifact deck over Hannah or Sharuum.

T: It’s Iron Man! He’s a smug rich jerk with a glowing mechanical heart. He knows the true nature of etherium, which is represented as returning artifacts from the graveyard. For anyone who remembers Esper’s aether-liches, this is 100% consistent with canon. As much as I like the card’s design, I absolutely hate the character, which I guess means he’s a good villain.

#10: Reyhan, Last of the Abzan

Image-14

Realness of Character: 3
Flavor of Card: 3
Fun Factor: 3
9/15

K: So there’re two ways to look at Reyhan’s character. The more traditional reading is that she’s a made up Tarkir character with decently flavorful story significance and text. However, the other possibility is that she’s a plane-hopping former Samite Alchemist quoted on Homelands classics like Eron the Relentless and Leeches. I mean, how common can that name be, right? I know which one I’d rather believe. A good commander for your Homelands-themed deck.

T: Reyhan was faced with a decision that we’ve all thought about, but very few of us have actually had to face. Would you kneel to a dragon? She didn’t. Now she’s dead. Speaking of which, I’d like to apologize to God Emperor Trump, for our ill-timed hit piece against him a few weeks ago. We throw ourselves upon your mercy, O Great Dragon, in the cullings yet to come. We ask that our deaths be no more humiliating than necessary, and that our +1/+1 counters be given to our loved ones.

#11: Tymna, the Weaver

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Realness of Character: π
Flavor of Card: e
Fun Factor: 3
~8.858/15

K: The story of the three fates in Greek myth is an interesting and compelling one. Too bad they already made that card (and it was bad, but very flavorful). Tymna occupies the same story space, but makes much less sense mechanically. The flavor gurus over at the mothership say she “mastered the magic of the fates” which is a fancy way of saying, “Oops we used the same myth twice.” The best thing I can say about this card is that the art is very good.

T: I’m just weaving a giant spider web you guys, no big deal. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using the same myth multiple times, as long as they actually use it. According to her backstory, Tymna was a great general on Theros who lost her sight in a tragic chariot accident before learning the ways of fate-o-mancy. What does lifelink or paying life for cards have to do with any of that? She can see the future, but I can’t use her ability until after combat? This could be any generic Orzhov vampire ghost and have the exact same rules text.

#12: Akiri, Line-Slinger

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Realness of Character: 4
Flavor of Card: 3
Fun Factor: 1
8/15

K: While Akiri is a character well established in the flavor text of BFZ, she might as well have been named ‘boring exposition lady’ for all that she contributed. The flavor of her ability makes sense (at least she’s an ally!), but she’s fallen victim to the Boros Curse of being a super-boring card that I don’t care about playing with at all.

T: Kor love equipment! I’m sure someone is excited about making a tribal kor equipment deck. A Magic player could theoretically be excited about anything. For example, those 0/3 stats, or the keyword abilities which may or may not be different from the ones on Bruse Tarl. Akiri is fine, if a little dull, but if you ever get bored during your opponents’ turns, you can always try to solve the maze tattooed on her face.

#13: Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker

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Realness of Character: 3.5
Flavor of Card: 2
Fun Factor: 2
7.5/15

K: This set has an awful lot of “Hey, remember this popular story character? Well, now here’s one of their associates!” Ishai gets a small (very small) bonus for having appeared in actual flavor text once. Her abilities are not particularly reminiscent of Ojutai’s clan, which was more about casting non-creatures than waiting for your opponents to do so.

T: I already had it out for Ishai after she butchered my favorite piece of flavor text of all time, and this card isn’t doing anything to change my mind. Ishai’s word is the word of Dragonlord Ojutai, and apparently the Dragonlord says you’re going to be paying 6 mana for a 1/1 with flying pretty soon. This Bird Monk delivers on none of that great Khans nostalgia, in case anyone else wishes that it were still the present year and date.

#14: Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist

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Realness of Character: 5
Flavor of Card: 1
Fun Factor: 1
7/15

K: If we were giving an additional award for ‘biggest disappointment,’ this card would take it without breaking a sweat. Ludevic is an interesting and beloved character whose qualities come through in the flavor text. People have been hoping for a Ludevic card since we left original Innistrad. Well, now we have one, and it’s got absolutely none of the qualities that people have come to associate with Ludevic. Consider how insane it is that this card doesn’t do anything with graveyards, creating creatures, or scientific experiments. In fact, the ability seems to be completely devoid of flavor. This is like if they revealed Avacyn for the first time in card form and she was a 4/2 goblin with flavor text that says “We messed up.” The only reason this card can’t be dead last is that it is in fact a card people wanted to see. To quote the Internet, “Not like this.”

T: This is awful. I thought they stopped printing cards with the wrong mana symbols after Serendib Efreet in Revised. Is this what you imagine when you think of Dr. Frankenstein as a Magic card? It’s a shame to see perfectly good flavor text wasted like that. This card makes me sad, and I’m done talking about it.

#15: Kraum, Ludevic’s Opus

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Realness of Character: 2
Flavor of Card: 1
Fun Factor: 2
5/15

K: This has got to be the worst, right? It’s just a thing Ludevic made. And you know what, Ludevic made lots of things, most of them more interesting than this. But the disappointment doesn’t end there. Why is a spooky two-headed monster drawing me cards? Why on the second spell they cast? What do any of these things have to do with Innistrad or zombies or even the red/blue color pair? I’m going mad! Mad! Oh wait, now I see how the flavor works.

T: Ludevic has certainly made a lot of creatures, and for some reason he thinks this is his crowning achievement. Now I understand why he’s shunned by the people of Havengul. I can’t think of a skaab I dislike more. This thing is completely unstable, one of its heads has the eyes in the wrong place, and I’m pretty sure those are chicken feet. If the card is supposed to be evocative of Frankenstein’s monster somehow, they’re really expecting a lot of heavy lifting from that flavor text.

Thanks for reading, folks. We hope you’ve gained some insight into the flavor behind these new commanders, and how to use it. Remember that these rankings are just a guide. As the multiverse changes and the metagame shifts, some of these evaluations will go up, down, or even disappear completely! No matter how you evaluate these cards, the important thing to remember is that Ludevic and Kraum are huge disappointments, and nothing like them should ever happen again.

You can find Two Jesses on Twitter @TwoJesses.

 

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