Commander Staples from Lost Caverns of Ixalan

21 Nov
by Steve Heisler

Tunnel Vision

Welcome back for another History, Restapled, a Commander-focused column that attempts to validate a newer card’s status as a staple by looking at how cards that are similar, synergistic, or competing have fared in the past financially.

Get out your reading glasses, because The Lost Caverns of Ixalan has arrived and includes some of the most dense reminder text I’ve seen in some time. The cards aren’t bad either, and if you can keep your details straight (”Descend” represents a static number but “Descended” is to have contributed to that total…?), you’ll discover a trove of strong contenders as new Commander staples. Let’s dig in.

Tarrian's Soulcleaver

Blade of the Bloodchief has always been a favorite of mine, though I overlooked it for a while because I’d read the word “Vampire” and assumed it was more of a typal card than one with a wider range of uses. It wasn’t until I was building my Grismold, the Dreadsower deck recently when I took another look. One mana to cast, one more to Equip, a counter for every creature that dies no matter whose board it was, including tokens? The Vampire part might as well be flavor text, because this is an Aristrocrats staple if I’ve ever seen one. (No surprise that many other cards in the archetype are Vampires, too.)

Coincidentally, Blade of the Bloodchief, previously at $4, is enjoying a bit of a price dip with its reprint in a Lost Caverns of Ixalan precon, and I expect the price to fall even more because the main set contains a far superior version of what Blade offers, even in a deck teeming with Vamps.

A mere $2 gets you Tarrian’s Soulcleaver, another indication that Wizards continues to push busted colorless Equipment cards. The differences between Soulcleaver and Blade are minimal and, with the exception of the higher Equip cost, skew in Soulcleaver’s favor. 

Vigilance is already one of the most underrated abilities in Commander - it protects you for three combat cycles, not just the one - and having the second ability trigger off artifacts, as well as creatures, means every Treasure and Clue grows the beast as a chumpy token creature would. Sure, an equipped Vampire won’t enjoy a Teysa Karlov-type effect, but I bet a single Dockside Extortionist, played by anyone, will make up for that fact. In the right deck, this card goes off with minimal effort; in the right meta, it can take over a game.

STATUS: Voltron near-staple

Tarrian's Soulcleaver
Tarrian's Soulcleaver (Extended Art)

The Indomitable

Blue card-draw staples tend to be either broken AF or, frankly, kinda lame. For every Rhystic Study, Consecrated Sphinx, and Teferi's Ageless Insight, there’s some variation of Coastal Piracy putzing around the precons.

Thankfully, Lost Caverns of Ixalan introduced the best combat-based card draw option blue has ever seen: The Indomitable. Ignore its last line of text for a minute, and the card is already Coastal Piracy with upside - none of the others can turn sideways and draw off themselves, not to mention the ease at which trample enables The Indomitable to do just that. None of the others can recur themselves, either, even if the conditions for said recursion are difficult to meet for most players. 

Pirate typal decks will love The Indomitable, but even non-Pirate decks with a few value Vehicles, perhaps Smuggler's Copter or Unlicensed Hearse, can meet the conditions for returning The Indomitable to the battlefield at some point in the game. Chances may be slim, but what’s important is that there’s a non-zero chance, which is already more than Bident of Thassa.

The Indomitable only just released at $4, meaning the price will likely drop as folks pick up the precons for the new set. But, even now, it’s up there with worse options. The aforementioned Coastal Piracy is also $4 (maybe it’s the art?) while Curiosity Crafter is impressively both a $7.50 card and bad. Only Reconnaissance Mission, a $0.50 uncommon, comes close to The Indomitable in that it can at least replace itself; in a few weeks, expect The Indomitable to dip more in that budgetary direction, making it very worth a pickup. Hell, I’ll definitely be slotting this into plenty of decks, as I hate Rhystic Study with a passion from all sides of the table.

STATUS: Budget mono-blue staple, situational staple outside budget

The Indomitable
The Indomitable (Extended Art)

Brass's Tunnel-Grinder

Valakut Awakening ($6) is already a super staple and, far and away, one of the better MDFC lands available. Barring some bizarre corner-case deck building scenario, any deck running red would benefit from its inclusion. Brass’s Tunnel-Grinder ($1.50) offers sorcery speed redundancy for the Valakut effect at 1/4th the price, plus it triggers any artifact or ETB synergies a deck may already contain. That’s the floor. Three turns later, when you start casting things for free, the ceiling shows itself. 

Hell, even tapping for red a few times is more than enough upside atop the already solid Valakut. This is a staple at bargain basement prices - see for yourself before everyone else does, too.

STATUS: Red staple

Brass's Tunnel-Grinder
Brass's Tunnel-Grinder (Extended Art)
Valakut Awakening

Ix Amore

I’ll cover more Lost Caverns of Ixalan in a few weeks, but it’ll be time to sift through the archives to see if any new staples have emerged. Hope everyone has a happy and healthy Thanksgiving break!

Check out these other articles:

New Horizons - The Lost Caverns of Ixalan and Jurassic World

Powerful Rats for Your Commander Deck

Hidden Gems from Fallen Empires

Steve Heisler
Steve Heisler

Steve Heisler is a writer and pop culture journalist covering comedy, games, television, film and the tech industry. His work has been published in Rolling Stone, GQ, Variety, The AV Club, Fast Company and the Chicago Sun-Times. He began collecting Magic cards during Fourth Edition and plays Commander and Modern primarily. He also enjoys tennis, the Dark Souls family of video games and supporting live comedy. He lives in Chicago with his cat, Rosie.

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