Top 10 Mechanics of 2021!
Day of Judgment | Art By Anato Finnstark
Let's Close this Thing Down
2021 has come to a close, and one thing that I have been thinking a lot about is how mechanics can shape Commander. From the onset of "multiplayer-minded" design around the Return to Ravnica block, there have been design choices that have drastically changed the landscape. Today, we're going to look at each of the new mechanics introduced this year and give them a completely objective, expert ranking for how they stack up in EDH.
Without further adieu, here is the Ultimate TOP 10 NEW Mechanics EDH Power Ranking for 2021 (patent pending, or something like that)!
#10 - Venture into the Dungeon
When I saw the spoilers for Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, I was really hopeful that exploring dungeons would be a really cool, immersive mechanic that allowed for a lot of powerful decisions. I was half right. Even with a full precon designed to support Venturing into dungeons, it really fell flat for power level reasons. I honestly loved a lot of the gameplay, and some of the legends for Venture are super cool, like Zalto, Fire Giant Duke, which is on my short list of new decks to build in 2022. My hope is that, with another D&D set on the horizon and lessons learned about Venture, that WotC pushes some of the designs and perhaps (fingers crossed) puts out a few more dungeons as well.
#9 - Blood
Blood tokens were pretty underrated with the release of Crimson Vow, and that's just not correct. A friend remarked that Blood tokens give the worst card in your hand cycling 1, which is honestly no joke. Now, you have to go out of your way to produce a lot of them by playing some questionable cards, but I have Blood tokens ranked so highly because they give red even more card velocity. In particular, everyone's favorite Nessian Courser (Odric, Blood-Cursed) gives Boros an incredible amount of velocity while not asking you to do much different than you otherwise would in a Boros deck. While not card advantage, the flexibility of giving all your situationally loose cards cycling is no joke. I'm hoping we see more Blood tokens, and maybe more in white too!
#8 - Coven
I'm no Selesnya mage, but I know potential when I see it. Coven has a lot going for it: it's unique, seems like it has a lot of design space, and can exist on multiple card types. I like that kind of range. Leinore, Autumn Sovereign is an awesome commander, and you have some really powerful card advantage with her and Augur of Autumn. What this mechanic is really lacking right now is sheer density, and I think that means that it will have a lot of potential to shape the format as we get new toys with coven.
#7 - Dice Rolling
Dice are about as engrained in the gaming zeitgeist as anything else, and their introduction to black-bordered Magic with AFR really felt like a coming home. While it was met with skepticism from some enfranchised players and monsters who hate variance, this mechanic has made a splash in a super fun way: making memories. All it takes is one high-stakes roll of the dice at a critical juncture (D&D, anyone?) to cause havoc or make a game-saving play, and the tactile nature of rolling dice just... it just feels right, okay! I really want to see this space explored more, hopefully in 2022, and I want to see it expanded to even more splashy, game-changing effects like The Deck of Many Things and Wizard's Spellbook.
#6 - Day/Night
Werewolves are one of the most beloved and, ultimately, one of the most chronically underpowered tribes in EDH. With the printing of Midnight Hunt, we actually got a really playable Werewolf commander in Tovolar, Dire Overlord // Tovolar, the Midnight Scourge, but more than that we received a new way to transform Werewolves in Day/Night. While I don't like the extra tracking, and it is certainly going to be a thing that is often forgotten, Day/Night presents really powerful and interesting design space that seems really deep. On top of some juicy cards, like Tovolar's Huntmaster // Tovolar's Packleader and Suspicious Stowaway // Seafaring Werewolf, we also got some cool niche designs that care about it, like Olivia's Midnight Ambush. I'm excited to see more cards that care about Day/Night, even if I really, really don't want to track it.
#5 - Foretell
Foretell is limited in that, often, the cost of the card is only fine - the upside is spreading the cost over multiple turns. However, with the printing of the Ranar the Ever-Watchful precon, there was a lot of fuel thrown on the fire.
Outside of some absolute bangers, like Spectral Deluge and Cosmic Intervention, most of the cards with the Foretell keyword are role-players. Cards like Ravenform and Crush the Weak are really powerful, especially with the cost spread out over multiple turns, allowing you to double and triple spell with ease and filling in some important effects decks lack historically due to cost. The fact that a number of cards exist all across the color pie really is what brings this to the upper echelon for me, and that this design space has the potential to do some nutty things down the road isn't nothing.
#4 - Ward
Ward is just a much, much better mechanic than hexproof, and that alone is worthy of inclusion on the list. Like, this mechanic isn't all that interesting (other than some variability in costs associated with it), but it is significantly more interesting to play against a Storvald, Frost Giant Jarl than it is to face down Uril, the Miststalker, and it isn't close. Creating a real cost for interaction without actually barring the ability to interact is a big get for Commander, and I honestly hope that WotC carries ward forward as an evergreen replacement for hexproof (and this is coming from someone who played the heck out of Invisible Stalker in every format).
#3 - Magecraft
Really, we've always had something like this, at least for as long as I can remember, but keywording Magecraft and having it range across all colors is big game. Casting instants and sorceries is something that, for the most part, all decks do to one level or another, and the decks that really care about casting instants and sorceries also care about copying them. Like, the Venn diagram would be nothing more than a straight-up circle. This is an incredibly modular effect with a lot of room to grow, and they already pushed it enough to see cards like Veyran, Voice of Duality and Professor Onyx show up at tables often. My personal favorite, and a card right at home in my Kykar Tokens list, is Octavia, Living Thesis, which has been impressive. And that's the beauty: tacking on extra value for a low cost is always impressive.
#2 - Disturb
Graveyard value is a big deal, arguably, in every deck because it is crucial to squeeze value out of every resource you can, even ones that you have already expended. Disturb (in both its Midnight Hunt and Crimson Vow iterations) allows you to reuse cards that are more-or-less useful on the front side as a way to maximize mana efficiency, while also giving you some effects that are straight gasoline. Need a Curiosity effect but don't have a slot for it because you need max creatures? Mischievous Catgeist // Catlike Curiosity can fill the gap. Need an alt-win condition in your Boros deck that doesn't involve combat? Why not use the backside of Faithbound Judge // Sinner's Judgment to seal the deal? All told, this was in contention for me for the #1 spot, but couldn't quite match the versatility of...
#1 - Cleave
Cleave is a powerful keyword that allows you to really stretch every slot in your deck, even if it does so in a clunky way. This way of designing cards is expansive and can mean a lot of new and interesting niche cards that can go in a lot of decks. Dig Up alone is a great card on rate because it's so darn flexible. I wrote about the multicolor cycle of Cleave cards here, and they have only grown on me. I know, I know - Wash Away is going to be the EDH boogeyman that destroyed our beloved format but - *checks the internet* - it hasn't bested us yet. I'm really hopeful to see more designs here because modular cards are a net positive for the format, and I want to see this format thrive!
That's a Wrap
That's all for this mechanical countdown of 2021. Which mechanic was your favorite from 2021? Which was your least favorite? Did my analysis make any glaring omissions or mis-evaluations? Do you think training should be #1? We'd love to hear from you in the comments!