Retrospective Reviews: Commander 2014

Ciel Collins • March 16, 2023

Retrospective Reviews: Commander 2014

Welcome back to Retrospective Reviews! In this series, I'm digging deep into the history of Commander preconstructed decks. I hope to determine the clear arcs and goals of each year's release in order to figure out how they have changed over the years. Commander (2011) was designed as a new product for a relatively small format, while Commander 2013 wanted to shift the product a little into becoming an on-ramp for new players by offering them a deckbuilding challenge. Each line of Commander decks in these early years was very experimental, trying out wild, new things each time.

Commander 2014 Overview

In Magic, there are eight nine card types: artifact, the yet-to-be-printed battle, creature, enchantment, land, instant, planeswalker, sorcery, and tribal. Some of these clump together in natural pairs: instants and sorceries both represent a spell being cast and only differ on one mechanical aspect, while artifacts and enchantments are almost mechanically identical and are only separated by flavor and color interactions. Another easy pair of card types are creatures and planeswalkers, due to the flavor reasoning that they both represent a character. Given this extensive flavor overlap, it's no surprise that players have pondered the following: could we have planeswalkers as commanders?

Ethan Fleischer decided to try out the possibility in Commander 2014 by including the controversial rules text "~ can be your commander" on five brand-new planeswalkers, each of which were designed differently from their premiere set colleagues. The rules of the command zone were being toyed with once again, but unlike its predecessor, I believe that this experiment was far more successful. The other thing to note about these decks was the specific, purposeful choice to make them mono-colored. After helping out all the tri-colored combinations, Wizards of the Coast had received feedback that mono-colored commanders were struggling in the format. This makes sense: each additional color gives you an additional way to advance your gameplan and interact with the board.

One notable new card that was dropped into every deck was Myriad Landscape, a neat little card that let you go dig up two basics to put onto the battlefield. It's continued to be a mainstay for one- and two-color decks. Ramp that doesn't take up a card slot? Colorless? Oh, yes.

So, there are two clear goals here: help mono-color decks and provide a bold, new category of commander in the planeswalker variant. How successful would these experiments prove? Let's dig in!

Forged in Stone

The nature of designing Magic design is that relying on old standbys, especially as you experiment, is an important tool in the drawer. To that end, sticking it out with mono-white aggro is a great move even as they bulked it out with a new theme: Equipment! New players might think of Equipment decks as a regular part of an overarching playgroup, but they were sparse back in the day. Oh, sure, you had your Voltron commanders holding three different Swords of X & Y, but decks that wanted Argentum Armor were rare. I wanted Argentum Armor, though, since it was one of the few rares I opened from Scars of Mirrodin... Fond memories!

The deck's front-face commander is Nahiri, the Lithomancer, an epic Vorthos reveal and a card I jammed in the 99 for at least two decks when I got a copy. There's a tension between having a planeswalker for such a creature-based strategy, but she makes tokens to help bridge the gap here. Her back-up is Jazal Goldmane, Ajani's brother and a sweet overrun commander for white!

So how did the whole package turn out? Let's break it down.

Is there a coherent deck theme?

Turns out, Equipment and tokens have a lot of overlap! There are 39 nonland, noncommander cards that work within or alongside Equipment strategies and 41 that go with tokens (heavy overlap here!). If I'm cutting for value-based reasons, I'm probably hewing away all but 27 cards for the Equipment deck or 29 for the tokens version.

There's a natural synergy tokens and Equipment, and the deck does a good job enforcing that. Cohesive!

How desirable are the cards?

Value Cards:

  1. Nahiri, the Lithomancer
  2. Grand Abolisher
  3. Angelic Field Marshal
  4. Comeuppance
  5. Skullclamp
  6. Pearl Medallion
  7. Cathars' Crusade
  8. True Conviction
  9. Arcane Lighthouse
  10. Emeria, the Sky Ruin
  11. Brave the Elements

The mono-white deck has 11 total valuable cards, weighing in at around $135. Only four of the cards would actually ask anything, and three of those are asking you to run a lot of creatures. Huge hoop, I know, but I'm sure the average player might have one deck like that.

High Utility, Low Price

  1. Containment Priest
  2. Mentor of the Meek
  3. Sun Titan
  4. Condemn
  5. Return to Dust
  6. Marble Diamond
  7. Swiftfoot Boots
  8. Flickerwisp
  9. Martial Coup
  10. Myriad Landscape

This is a great boost for a collection in the form of 22 cards that could easily be played in just about any other white deck. Cards like Condemn and Martial Coup may be outmoded or whatever, but they're still honestly fine cards for most decks.

What kind of legacy does it have?

It's strange to think about now, but Equipment decks had two options before Nahiri, the Lithomancer. Now, there are ten mono-white commanders that care about Equipment (31 total!), and it's a ball that the 2014 deck really got rolling. Neither of the new commanders here made a long-term splash in the format, both under 600 decks on EDHrec (which is WEIRD to me), but I think the deck as a whole pushed towards better, long-terms changes.

Peer Through Time

Before Teferi's planeswalker incarnations would go on to become a menace in Standard and Pioneer, he came into Commander in the form of Teferi, Temporal Archmage and played some havoc. Full disclosure: this was the one deck from the set that didn't end up in my regular playgroup, but I did find some videos of it played online and some reviews. Untapping four permanents for the low, low cost of one loyalty means this commander can effectively cost two mana, and that's without good mana rocks.

The back-up commander here is Stitcher Geralf, a nutty little mill/Zombie commander. The reprint commander is Lorthos, the Tidemaker, a big old beater who can always get in a hit if you have eight mana to spare.

Is there a coherent deck theme?

Back in 2013, the Bant deck had a twiddling primary theme that didn't really come together; this one does a much better job of it by congealing into a Big Blue sort of deck. Play out ramp artifacts, untap them to net mana, lay down some sea monsters! Geralf's mill theme distracts a little from this theme but at least goes along with the Big Blue plan. In 2014, a mono-blue Zombie deck didn't have much in the way of support, and Geralf doesn't actually point that way at any rate.

Out of all the decks, these two themes are furthest apart. Teferi's untap-ramp plan has about 47 nonland cards that align with it, 32 of which could be reasonably included. Anyone picking Geralf will need to go shopping, as the deck only has about 30 nonlands (22 playable) that work towards that mill plan with a side of Zombies.

How desirable are the cards?

Value Cards:

  1. Teferi, Temporal Archmage
  2. Stormsurge Kraken
  3. Breaching Leviathan
  4. Cyclonic Rift
  5. Rite of Replication
  6. Intellectual Offering
  7. Sapphire Medallion
  8. Crown of Doom
  9. Thran Dynamo

Well, 22-year-old me is feeling very smug about feeling like the lieutenant cards were good pick-ups. Stormsurge Kraken is generically solid, but it's mostly for sea monster decks. Breaching Leviathan is pretty high mana value, and Crown of Doom is cute, while the rest can slot in comfortably to most decks! Altogether, they bring about $103 to the table.

POV: I'm about to wreck the table.

High Utility, Low Price

  1. Mulldrifter
  2. Frost Titan
  3. Steel Hellkite
  4. Compulsive Research
  5. Call to Mind
  6. Aether Gale
  7. Mind Stone
  8. Nevinyrral's Disk
  9. Worn Powerstone
  10. Dreamstone Hedron
  11. Well of Ideas
  12. Myriad Landscape

Including the faithful standby of Command Tower and Sol Ring, this deck offers a total of 20 cards that go into the next deck once the player grows tired of draw-go. Right after they get tired of breathing, I suppose.

What kind of legacy does it have?

This deck definitely helped maintain blue's image as a draw-go, but it did help really lay the groundwork for Sea Monsters being a possible way to take the deck instead.

As for the commanders, only Teferi, Temporal Archmage is currently over 600  but he's in the cEDH leagues, having put up top8s in the last year thanks to The Chain Veil, a powerful interaction that would come to haunt playgroups around the world.

Sworn to Darkness

Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath really represented a great moment in Magic story, in that his associated short story got redesigned to give backstory on the popular character and set up for his eventual re-sparking only a year later. As for the deck itself, it's a solid mono-black shell that includes the back-up commander Ghoulcaller Gisa, the other Cecani twin whose card would prove more popular than her brother's. I'm sure she'd never let him live it down.

Is there a coherent deck theme?

Black is the only color that can make a deck that's themed around its color identity, thanks to Cabal Coffers, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and cards like Phyrexian Obliterator. Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath is pushing the deck towards lifedrain, while Ghoulcaller Gisa has a sacrifice edge. There's a definite looseness to the theme that helps them congeal but can make it harder for newer players picking up the deck to actually grok what to do.

How many cards help the theme?

As for the primary Mono-Black Control, there are 54 cards that fall in line, with 38 being solid choices. The sacrifice-oriented variant hits on 51 cards in line and 36 playables. The heavy overlap here can be partially attributed to a mostly shared theme.

How desirable are the cards?

Value Cards:

  1. Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath
  2. Crypt Ghast
  3. Bloodgift Demon
  4. Demon of Wailing Agonies
  5. Ghoulcaller Gisa
  6. Magus of the Coffers
  7. Grave Titan
  8. Black Sun's Zenith
  9. Malicious Affliction
  10. Wake the Dead
  11. Jet Medallion
  12. Arcane Lighthouse
  13. Crypt of Agadeem

The cards here weigh in a collective $103 and offer a great deal to a new player, even if you're not going for a mono-black behemoth. Nine of these can find homes outside of the theme.

High Utility, Low Price:

  1. Burnished Hart
  2. Disciple of Bolas
  3. Nekrataal
  4. Gray Merchant of Asphodel
  5. Shriekmaw
  6. Overseer of the Damned
  7. Sign in Blood
  8. Read the Bones
  9. Victimize
  10. Dread Return
  11. Mutilate
  12. Charcoal Diamond
  13. Mind Stone
  14. Swiftfoot Boots
  15. Worn Powerstone
  16. Myriad Landscape

A whopping 27 cards here are playable pieces that could make it into most decks containing black, with only a small, few choices to really consider about their inclusion. Sure, Ravenous Chupacabra is now a better version of Nekrataal, and other cards may have similarly clean upgrades, but I'd still play these not-quite optimized ilk.

What kind of legacy does it have?

Ghoulcaller Gisa was the break-out star here, at #16 for mono-black commanders at 1400 decks. The face commander himself is currently under 300 decks, an unfortunate showing. The mono-black deck would continue growing in popularity, though I can't say this did much to help or hinder that.

Built From Scratch

The year 2014 would signal a real shift in red's color pie, one of the early attempts to help overhaul the color and give it longer staying power. This came in the form of Daretti, Scrap Savant, a looting planeswalker that could reanimate big artifacts. This cackling Goblin's counterpart came in the form of the sad Human, Feldon of the Third Path, an incredibly exciting reanimator that would really define red's "temporary big value" design space. The reprint commander here is Bosh, Iron Golem.

Is there a coherent deck theme?

No matter how you play it, this is a red graveyard deck. Right out of the box, the specific artifact theme is loud at 48 nonland cards in line with Daretti, Scrap Savant, 38 of which I would be hard-pressed to cut. Feldon of the Third Path opens the deck up while still working with it, and has 46 nonland cards that stick to the plan, 34 worth keeping in early builds.

How desirable are the cards?

Value Cards:

  1. Goblin Welder
  2. Junk Diver
  3. Wurmcoil Engine
  4. Scrap Mastery
  5. Volcanic Offering
  6. Blasphemous Act
  7. Ruby Medallion
  8. Caged Sun
  9. Arcane Lighthouse
  10. Flamekin Village
  11. Great Furnace
  12. Reliquary Tower

Five of these show out best in an artifact deck or a mono-color theme deck, but the other seven are solid choices. Total value: $95, mostly thanks to three premium picks. Still strange to me how the Medallions were only around $5 on release. This cycle could stand a reprint; maybe in Commander Masters?

High Utility, Low Price

  1. Myr Retriever
  2. Dualcaster Mage
  3. Feldon of the Third Path
  4. Solemn Simulacrum
  5. Steel Hellkite
  6. Myr Battlesphere
  7. Tyrant's Familiar
  8. Faithless Looting
  9. Chaos Warp
  10. Wayfarer's Bauble
  11. Fire Diamond
  12. Swiftfoot Boots
  13. Dreamstone Hedron

Ahhh, Dualcaster Mage, the creature that goes infinite with any kind of "copy target creature" spells. Altogether, an exciting list! Tyrant's Familiar would be one of the two original lieutenants to see regular reprintings, and for good reason.

So, if you get sick of Mindslaver locking your friends, you have about 22 cards you can make good use of for other decks.

What kind of legacy does it have?

I'll go ahead and reveal here that I feel this deck effectively "won the set" by virtue of doing something so interesting and needed in boosting an underloved color. Daretti, Scrap Savant would go on to be reprinted in two Commander decks and still hangs in at the #8 spot for red commanders. It was an incredible swing for the fences that paid off with a cool, well-adjusted deck archetype.

Guided By Nature

In this precon, we've got something old and something new (scroll up for something blue): Elfball and Lands! Heading this deck would be Freyalise, Llanowar's Fury, with the back-up commander being Titania, Protector of Argoth. Elf theme decks have been around since the dawn of Magic, while this would be the precon to make an actual land theme begin to take off.

Is there a coherent deck theme?

I mentioned earlier that the blue precon is the most disparate in terms of themes, and that remains true but worth noting alongside the green counterpart. This deck is the runner-up for least overlap. The Elf and land themes have natural synergy, as the typical end goal for a lands deck is ramp. Even with the themes not quite aligning, they play well together.

As for the actual break-down, it goes as follows. Freyalise, Llanowar's Fury has 57 nonland cards in line with the primary elfball theme, 41 of which would make it into an early re-build with little problem. The gap in synergy shows as Titania, Protector of Argoth only has about 38 nonland cards that really go with the land plan, 28 of which are solid pieces of it.

How desirable are the cards?

Value Cards:

  1. Freyalise, Llanowar's Fury
  2. Essence Warden
  3. Joraga Warcaller
  4. Sylvan Safekeeper
  5. Priest of Titania
  6. Ezuri, Renegade Leader
  7. Lifeblood Hydra
  8. Overwhelming Stampede
  9. Praetor's Counsel
  10. Skullclamp
  11. Emerald Medallion
  12. Beastmaster Ascension
  13. Song of the Dryads
  14. Crystal Vein

The green deck actually has the highest number of cards worth $2 or more, but is actually nearly tied for least valuable overall with red at $96. A fair few of these cards are primed for lifegain or elfball, but 9 of them can slip into just about any other deck with little problem.

High Utility, Low Price

  1. Elvish Mystic
  2. Llanowar Elves
  3. Elvish Visionary
  4. Reclamation Sage
  5. Wood Elves
  6. Titania, Protector of Argoth
  7. Soul of the Harvest
  8. Rampaging Baloths
  9. Thunderfoot Baloth
  10. Harrow
  11. Moss Diamond
  12. Swiftfoot Boots
  13. Primordial Sage

There's a solid creature package here that can easily make its way into another deck, as well as plenty of cards that would pull their weight just fine. Including our usual pair, the green deck offers 24 cards for a commander player's larger collection.

What kind of legacy does it have?

Azusa, Lost but Seeking and Borborygmos Enraged would likely be the earliest examples of land-themed Commander decks, but Titania, Protector of Argoth really revved up the interactions available for players. It wouldn't be long before Omnath, Locus of Rage and The Gitrog Monster would come along and really diversify the possibilities, but it was the monogreen Elemental who really kick-started the archetype in my opinion. She remains the number 9 most popular mono-green commander for a reason.

Freyalise, Llanowar's Fury didn't fare quite as well and is currently at the number 23 spot. Ultimately, her downfall proved to be her attempt at cracking into elf themes-- two other elf commanders better serve the tribe in Marwyn, the Nurturer and the reprinted Ezuri, Renegade Leader.


I do want to basically sidestep the argument over whether or not all planeswalkers should be commanders: Myth Realized is doing a good job getting into what the format could be like with them involved. I do think these decks in particular made a good showing that Wizards of the Coast was very capable of making planeswalker commanders that would be fun and balanced. Since then, 15 more planeswalker commanders (that don't start as creatures) have been printed. (I'm personally hoping for a Naya planeswalker commander in the near future.)

Beyond the face commanders, the decks helped inject some new, fresh options as a whole, none of which feel over-tired these days. The top two cards from the set were Myriad Landscape and Commander's Sphere, after all. For black, blue, and green, these decks didn't break the mold but they did help bolster, solidify, and make accessible really classic archetypes. White got a a nice spin on an underutilized strength in Equipment, while red really got to kick up its heels with artifacts.

All in all, this proved to be a successful experiment and a net positive for the format.

Join me next time where I talk about my experience with Commander 2015!

Ciel got into Magic as a way to flirt with a girl in college and into Commander at their bachelor party. They’re a Vorthos and Timmy who is still waiting for an official Theros Beyond Death story release. In the meantime, Ciel obsesses over Commander precons, deck biomes, and deckbuilding practices. Naya forever.