Warhammer 40k Commander - cEDH Set Review
Marneus Calgar | Illustrated by Slawomir Maniak
In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only
WAR Thassa's Oracle.
Greetings, fellow Imperial citizen, my name is Jake FitzSimons, and I've survived the underhives of the 41st millennium just long enough to bring you a review of all the best cEDH cards from Warhammer 40K Commander. This is the largest Universes Beyond product released so far, with four Commander decks containing a total of 168 new cards. That's smaller than a typical set but there's still enough power here to excite that cross-section of cEDH players and Warhammer 40K fans.
So charge your lasgun, praise the machine spirit, pay tribute to the ruinous powers, or scream WAAAAAAAAGHHHHH! at the top of your lungs, and let's find out what grimdark really means.
Abaddon the Despoiler
Model for reference.
Warmaster of Chaos, leader of 13 Black Crusades, scourge of Cadia, guy who doesn't have any arms1: Abaddon the Despoiler goes by many names. As one of Warhammer 40K's major antagonists, it's exciting to see him get a card, and I love the chaotic flavor of Mark of Chaos Ascendant.
Cascade is a powerful source of both card and mana advantage, and it's not hard to turn a small handful of cards into a win by randomly flipping valuable cards in your deck. It's precisely what's made Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder, an incredibly similar commander, viable for as long as he's existed. Abaddon the Despoiler works a little differently, making it better in some scenarios and worse in others.
For one, Abaddon doesn't need to attack to turn on Cascade, but you do need to deal damage. Short of niche support cards or an overwhelming board presence (a challenge in Grixis), this means that the easiest way to get Abaddon up and running will be to attack, making him almost functionally identical to Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder in most scenarios.
Add the fact that Yidris gives access to an additional color and all the boons that come with it, and it's hard to find a reason to favor the Warmaster over the Maelstrom Wielder. Not all is lost, though! It's hard to go wrong with Grixis. Abaddon is far from the best commander in its color identity, but the core cards in Grixis are so strong that just about anything will work. If you want to play Abaddon the Despoiler as a generic Grixis pile with a lategame value engine, you're still going to win games.
Model for reference.
I love shining a spotlight on cards that are completely and utterly useless in cEDH with the exception of one specific deck that might not immediately spring to mind. In Bloodthirster's case, that's Rionya, Fire Dancer.
Simply begin combat with Rionya and Bloodthirster in play, and unless all three opponents have 6/6 flying blockers, you'll have achieved infinite combat steps. This isn't a combo you'll see in the 99 of existing decks, but Rionya is a respectable commander in her own right. Rionya decks were already looking to achieve infinite combat steps via the Godo + Helm route, and this is a strict upgrade. It requires fewer slots, less tutoring, and has fewer interaction points, so the next time you see a Bloodthirster, expect to see a LOT of them. Blood for the blood god.
Now this is flavor. In 40K, a Chaos Mutation is either a hideous affliction or a sign of great favor. It depends which side of Chaos you're on and how far the mutation goes. If you've put your time in collecting skulls for the skull throne or being stinky enough to catch Nurgle's attention, a Chaos Mutation could be your reward. But if you're an Imperial citizen who saw something they shouldn't have... BLAM!
Fittingly, Chaos Mutation in cEDH will be a boon for you and a bummer for your opponent. Chaos Mutation is what's known as a Polymorph effect, a way to flip a creature (usually your commander) into the only creature you have in your deck (usually Hullbreaker Horror). While Izzet+ decks already have access to Polymorph, Proteus Staff, Reality Scramble, and Transmogrify, Chaos Mutation is unique in its ability to remove problem creatures as you try to assemble your own combo. A vital combo piece that doubles as removal is a powerful card indeed.
Ghyrson Starn, Kelermorph
Model for reference.
What's better than more guns? More arms. Abaddon is jealous.
Ghyrson Starn, Kelermorph is a peculiar commander, bristling with interesting synergies but lacking card advantage, mana advantage, or any game-winning potential. This is usually enough to write off a commander, but Kelermorph has some incredible applications.
The best are the Curiosity effects: Curiosity, Ophidian Eye, and Tandem Lookout. Slap one on Ghyrson and watch the cards roll in as you start blasting left, right, and centre.
To trigger those draws, you're going to need pingers. Cards like Firebrand Archer and Kessig Flamebreather go from barely noticeable chip damage to three-player Lightning Bolts.
Woe betide anyone hoping to keep creatures in play with Ghyrson on the battlefield. Innocuous cards like End the Festivities and Blazing Volley and even Goblin Sharpshooter will clean the board of all but the hardiest creatures.
This is all very cool, and establishing board superiority seems powerful enough; the only problem is winning easily. Izzet does have access to combos, but it struggles to tutor for them, and Ghyrson won't help you dig through your deck until you find the absolutely mandatory Curiosity effects, themselves difficult to tutor for.
Finally, ward 2, while far from hexproof, is still enough to shoo away targeted removal for the first few turns that Ghyrson sits in play.
Imotekh the Stormlord
Model for reference.
A good combo piece, but not much more. Fitting for a Necron, any cEDH deck helmed by Imotekh the Stormlord is bound to be an intricate machine with a lot of moving parts. One of the best tools in any Imotekh deck will be Metalwork Colossus. With Imotekh and a repeatable discard outlet, you can loop the Colossus infinitely. The only problem is that you'll need a payoff.
That payoff can come in the form of the discard outlet itself, like Skirge Familiar for infinite mana (although you'll still need something to spend it on), or a trigger from sacrificing the Necrons, like Disciple of the Vault or a Blood Artist effect. You could even exile every card in every opponent's library with a post-loop Bitter Ordeal.
Granted, these combos require a lot of cards, but black's tutor density helps mitigate that downside. An Imotekh deck will also want to run the usual host of graveyard robots, like Myr Retriever, Scrap Trawler, Salvager of Ruin, and Workshop Assistant for the sake of bringing Necrons into play and assembling combos. No doubt there are plenty of game-winning combinations with cards like Krark-Clan Ironworks and Ashnod's Altar, but a deck like Imotekh's will take a while to find the right lines. I'd encourage any hopeful brewers to look into what Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle decks use for ideas on artifact-centric combos.
If you want to lean into the Necrons themselves, mass token production isn't hard to achieve. With an artifact creature in hand and an artifact creature in the graveyard, Tortured Existence will start returning two Necrons per one mana invested. In a long enough game, that army of twisted metal and gauss weaponry could carry you to victory. Unfortunately, I think Imotekh will prove fringe at best, but thankfully he's not the only Necron on the list!
Model for reference.
Inquisitor Greyfax is an Isochron Scepter outlet, a source of slow card advantage and a respectable if not incredible anthem effect. Once she loses summoning sickness, infinite taps and untaps will allow you to Hunt for Heresy until you have infinite Clues. Providing you have enough rocks in play to also make infinite mana, congratulations, you can draw as many cards as you like. Prior to Warhammer 40K Commander, Esper hasn't had access to an Isochron outlet in the command zone. This would make Inquisitor Greyfax a much more interesting addition if she wasn't totally outclassed by a fellow Imperial loyalist in the same color identity from the same set, but we'll get to him.
As far as card advantage goes, Inquisitor Greyfax is slow. At four mana to play, one to activate her and two to crack the Clue, you can do a lot better if you want to draw cards consistently. If Greyfax can slow the game down to a glacial pace, it will add up and occasionally allow for meaningful combat damage to get through, which means she's probably best suited to helm a stax deck.
Many of the best stax effects in cEDH are stapled to creatures, so boosting their power and providing vigilance will lead to a more aggressive board presence. It seems unlikely a simple +1/+0 will be enough to truly overwhelm opponents, but I can't see this commander succeeding without relying on stax effects, so it's better than nothing.
Inquisitor Greyfax reminds me a lot of Alela, Artful Provocateur in this way. A slow, grindy game is what they need to thrive, and they're at their best when their opponents are groaning under the weight of successive layers of stax. If that's your cup of tea, the Inquisitor at least has access to an additional combo over the Faerie, but the play patterns for each deck have a lot in common.
Magus Lucea Kane
Model for reference.
In a Commander deck filled with truly alien monsters that predate both Slivers and the Zerg, it might seem strange to see a tall bald woman as a key legendary creature. But if you thought Phyrexian sleeper agents were spooky, try reading up on the lore of the Genestealer Cults. The precursor to a fullscale 'Nid invasion, "doom cult" doesn't do it justice. My love of the lore aside, Magus Lucea Kane looks like she'll bring just as much doom to cEDH as she might the poor planet she's prepping for consumption.
The good Magus fits two of my criteria for cEDH viability: mana production and combo potential. While the mana production is very conditional, the combo potential is strong enough to turn specific tutors into one-card wincons. Namely: Finale of Devastation, Chord of Calling, Whir of Invention and Reshape2. Doubling up on to-the-battlefield tutors is even more powerful than it looks.
In the case of Finale and Chord, X need only be three for you to find a game-winning creature combo. You'll need some mana to get things rolling thereafter, but for only needing to find a single tutor, it's not bad at all. One of the easiest is to search out Malcolm, Keen-Eyed Navigator and Glint-Horn Buccaneer. Just go to combat, activate the Minotuar, and you've won.
With the blue artifact tutors, you'll need to get X up to four and have mana to spare, but you can bring out Birthing Pod and Corridor Monitor, activate Pod sacrificing Magus Lucea Kane, and bring out Kiki-Jiki for a very similar victory.
Outside of the combos, there are a few cEDH playables with X in their cost that Magus Lucea Kane can take advantage of, such as March of Swirling Mist and Shatterskull Smashing, but if you want more synergistic pieces, I'd suggest cards like Pull from Tomorrow or even Silver Scrutiny. This might even be the first deck that Ecological Appreciation is genuinely viable in. Getting the worst two of four creatures is usually rubbish, but imagine getting the worst two of four creatures... twice! I'm half joking, but it's an awful lot of value for a modest mana investment. There may even be game-winning piles available.
Obviously the biggest downside with Magus Lucea Kane is that she needs to sit in play for a full turn before she's live, so your opponents will see it a mile off. This means you'll either need to drop her at instant speed (Emergence Zone, Savage Summoning), give her haste (Concordant Crossroads), or wrap her in a protective cocoon (Sylvan Safekeeper, Spellskite).
Oh yeah, and she can give counters to your creatures.
Model for reference.
Lord Defender of Greater Ultramar is an easy choice for the best commander in the set. Double strike may as well be flavor text, but Master Tactician is card advantage, and Chapter Master is a mana outlet that triggers the card advantage, turning it into game-winning combo. These two criteria alone make Marneus Calgar worth a close look, not to mention having Esper for a color identity.
Here it comes, the obligatory Isochron comment! Yep, Marneus Calgar is an easy Isochron Outlet. Make infinite mana, make infinite Astartes, draw infinite cards; win the game however you damn please. Do Ultramar proud. Thankfully, Esper has more than one way to go infinite, and this deck has a lot of options.
Isochron is the most obvious, but looping Lion's Eye Diamond with Auriok Salvagers will get the job done. Grim Monolith and Power Artifact will do it. Even truly weird stuff like Training Grounds and Ashnod's Altar will let Marneus go infinite. Best of all is Abdel Adrian, Gorion's Ward and any enchantment-based reanimation, like Animate Dead or Necromancy. This combo even works without a mana rock, as the token production will trigger Marneus regardless.
Even more exciting are the way value engines like Grim Hireling, Smothering Tithe, and the brand new Black Market Connections work with Marneus in play. Smothering Tithe is already a suffocating value engine, and it becomes doubly so when every failed payment is a card draw as well. Black Market Connections will give you two cards and a Treasure token at the rate of three life per turn. That's not bad for the equivalent of a failed Mana Crypt flip. I've seen some mention of using Bitterblossom, but that just sounds like Dark Confidant with extra steps.
If you want to get really cute with your card draw, look no further than Monastery Mentor. Mix Marneus and the Mentor and you've got your very own Whirlwind of Thought. If you're in the market for more, Sedgemoor Witch and Poppet Stitcher are almost as good. You can even run Nadir Kraken and have a repeatable source of card draws and Tentacles. Add Ashnod's Altar or Phyrexian Altar, and you can do it infinitely!
Esper has seen a lot of growth in last few years with the like of Tivit and Raffine joining Zur and Aminatou in the blue, black, and white club. But I ask you: what rational person chooses a Sphinx over a genetically modified killing machine with fists the size of mini-fridges?
Out of the Tombs
If you're terribly worried about having your Thassa's Oracle countered or milled away and you don't have a way to bring it back, Out of the Tombs can function as a plan B. Resolve Out of the Tombs, then exile your deck with either forbidden tutor (Demonic Consultation or Tainted Pact). The next time you draw a card, you can trigger Tombs and bring Thassa's Oracle into play, winning the game.
Unfortunately, Laboratory Maniac still exists and works a lot better as a backup. He has the same cost, same requirements, but he relegates Out of the Tombs to a Plan C, at which point you're better served including another tutor or counterspell to make your combo more consistent in the first place. It's all too tempting in cEDH to hedge your bets and try to include an out to every situation, but this quickly leads to low card quality. Still, I've got my eye on Out of the Tombs because it feels like a true combo waiting for its second piece to be printed.
Shadow in the Warp
As a cEDH player, my heart breaks whenever I read "this effect triggers once per turn". "The first" is no better, and as much as I want to love Shadow in the Warp, I don't think it will see a lot of play. If the first ability was eternal, it would be a huge boon to creature-focused combos with restrictive costs. If the second effected every spell, it would become a must-remove permanent for anyone looking to combo off with Ad Nauseam. The one place it may have an impact is in Ruric Thar, the Unbowed for the extra chip damage and the smooth curve of a three mana enchantment into what will be a four mana commander. In other decks, it might be a Shadow in the Warp, but it's about as useful as a shadow anywhere else.
Model for reference. Yep, real model, real name.
The "funny cards to name with Demonic Consultation" meta has seen a lot of growth this year with You Are Already Dead printed back in Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, and I can't wait to see what sort of laughs Sloppity Bilepiper will bring to the table.
It's not the linguistic flex of rattling off Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar, and it's not as good as naming Abandon Hope as far as sheer arrogance goes. It's definitely not as clever as naming Weakness and earnestly searching through your deck only to reveal that no, in fact your deck does NOT have a weakness. But Sloppity Bilepiper has a certain visceral quality to it. Sloppity offers you a silliness that you just can't get with other cards, not to mention great rhyming opportunities like "boppity", "floppity", and "toppity". Try it now, say "sloppity" out loud a few times and enjoy yourself.
Back to cEDH.
Model for reference.
I've seen a lot of talk about running The Swarmlord as a Food Chain commander, but regardless of the angle or how hard I squint, I just can't see it. The typical way to win with Food Chain is to resolve it and begin looping Squee, the Immortal, Misthollow Griffin, or Eternal Scourge. With infinite mana and Food Chain to sacrifice creatures to, you can cast and recast your commander until it generates a win: Ukkima, Stalking Shadow, The First Sliver, etc.
Unfortunately, The Swarmlord is not one of those commanders, not by itself. While the big bug can achieve infinite creature mana with Food Chain the same as any other deck, it doesn't have anything to actually spend it on. Sacrificing and replaying The Swarmlord will make an infinitely large Swarmlord, but unless you've got haste and a way to hit all three opponents at once, that's not really worth the trouble of assembling Food Chain. You can always include Greater Good or a simple creature with a traditional sacrifice outlet in which case you will be able to draw your deck, but that's a four-card combo (including The Swarmlord), and Temur has far cleaner options.
Trazyn the Infinite
Model for reference.
Name: Infinite. Trazyn the Infinite. Enjoys: infinite, going infinite. Dislikes: Hive Fleet Behemoth, Collector Ouphe.
Just like Imotekh the Stormlord, Trazyn is a Necron in the command zone dedicated to being a combo piece. Trazyn is just like Necrotic Ooze but for artifacts rather than creatures. Thankfully, artifact creatures are still artifacts, which opens up a lot of wonderful possibilities with Buried Alive, not to mention the usual cabal of straight-to-graveyard tutors, like Unmarked Grave, Vile Entomber and, of course, Entomb.
All Trazyn the Infinite needs to live up to his name is Phyrexian Devourer3 and Walking Ballista in the graveyard. This allows you to exile your entire library to pump Trazyn with +1/+1 counters before removing them all and pinging the table down with Walking Ballista's ability. Bear in mind you'll want to have around 120 mana value's worth of cards left in your deck to execute this combo, give or take.
If you don't have enough cards left in your deck to achieve this or you've lost access to Phyrexian Devourer, you can instead place Pili-Pala and Palladium Myr in the graveyard, but you'll still need Walking Ballista. If you don't have access to Buried Alive and you're building it manually, Sol Ring and Staff of Domination will also work. Just remember that Trazyn will have summoning sickness the turn he enters, so these combos require additional setup.
He's vulnerable to graveyard hate, Collector Ouphe, Cursed Totem, creature removal, artifact removal, he costs six mana, and all he does is steal precious artifacts from throughout the galaxy and go infinite, but if you love graveyard combos or roleplaying as the Necron equivalent of the British Museum, you'll find no finer commander than Trazyn.
Warhammer in cEDH
Warhammer 40K Commander may only have a few cEDH contenders, but they do look like fun, and the popularity of the IP alone will bring them more passionate fans (and detractors) than they would have otherwise. Marneus Calgar is strong, but the actual effects are a little bland for my tastes and yet I'm still excited to play him just because he's a Space Marine and I've been looking at art depicting Calgar and the Ultramarines since I was six years old and first flipped through a White Dwarf in a public library. My only real gripes with the set are the total absence of Orks and the reprintability of cards with trademarked creature types, like Astartes.
That's just me, though. I know I'll feel differently when I don't have such an attachment to the IP, so I can't blame you if Warhammer 40K in Magic rustles your jimmies. But as to the cards themselves, what do you think? Do the horrors of the 41st Millennium have a place in cEDH? How do you feel about seeing Warhammer 40K in Magic? Are there any cards I missed? Let me know in the comments or reach out to me on twitter at @Jake_FitzSimons.
- The original Abaddon model (1996) was made of a white metal alloy. This was fine for most Warhammer models at the time, but Abaddon had uncommonly huge arms that weighed so much they couldn't be superglued in place. It was easier to just play the model without arms attached. He looked like this.
- I'm omitting Green Sun's Zenith for now because, despite my best efforts, I just can't find a same-turn win with two green creatures.
- The Masters Edition II printing of Phyrexian Devourer repeats the static ability at the end of the activated ability, but this is erroneous. Trazyn will not die if his power reaches 7 or more.