Zendikar Rising Commander Deck Review: The Rogues
Earlier in the year, Wizards released the preconstructed Commander decks of the year with Ikoria that were designed as standard Commander sets. With Zendikar Rising, they’ve released two new Commander decks that depart from the traditional design. The main takeaways from this are the price, only one new Legendary creature for the deck, and the number of newly printed cards. For this set, each Commander deck is $25.99 at time of writing and there are only three unique cards that have been printed per deck including the new Commander. These decks are focused on reprints and meant to be upgraded by the cards printed in the set they’re accompanying. But how do these decks hold up on their own?
Today let’s take a look at the first of the two new decks and see how it stacks up in terms of power level, design, value and upgradability. Let’s look over Blue/Black Rogues led by Anowon, the Ruin Thief
Commander: Anowon, the Ruin Thief
Colours: Dimir (Blue/Black)
Core Theme(s): Rogue Tribal/Mill
The deck offers a straightforward and explicit enough plan in the form of making Rogue creature unblockable and then hoping to draw more Rogues through milling your opponents. The core idea of the deck and the Commander are supported relatively well. The graveyard is simply another hand for a large number of decks so the lack of payoffs with their graveyard does leave something to be desired in the base list despite having some readily available options from the new set or just reprinting some classics like Command the Dreadhorde or blowing the value out of the water with Rise of the Dark Realms.
Mana for the deck seems to be relatively consistent with seven mana rocks (Sol Ring, Dimir Signet, Mind Stone) but the curve itself is rather rough. With five spells that sit at the cost of seven mana and one eight, the deck has a high reliance on the high end of the curve despite being a deck that will work best as a lower to the ground list. The design of this deck lies somewhere between a creature-based combat deck and a rather awkward big mana Dimir deck you would expect out of Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow list. At seventeen spells with only four being particularly supportive of the main strategy, this adds some sluggish draws and components to the list. When upgrading the deck, this is likely going to be one of the key areas to upgrade (and decrease the curve in). So many cards in this deck want you to tap out in later turns when they should be more about playing multiple cards a turn, protecting your board and finding more ways to take advantage of the growing graveyards.
The Rest of the Deck
The creature base supports the Commander fairly well but there are a handful of strange inclusions in here with the overall average converted mana cost leaning a bit on the higher side. On the lower converted mana cost side of the deck, you’ll find a high number of Rogues that are simply unblockable making sure that you trigger your Commander’s ability every turn and will quickly become major threats as the game goes on and they’ll get bigger with some equipment. These creatures are very much the backbone of this deck as you continue to fill your board with them, as opposed to some of the bigger mana creatures that have been included here (see Scourge of Fleets). The number of Rogues in the deck that just don’t support the core strategy of the deck particularly well is unfortunately rather high with Ogre Slumlord, Marsh Flitter and Zulaport Cutthroat being rather unfortunate additions to the deck that simply dilute the core strategy (despite Zulaport Cutthroat being a welcome reprint). When going to upgrade the deck, be sure to assess the cards that fail to support the core theme as they are what makes this deck clunkier to play and reduces the power level. As well, leaning heavier into the lower converted mana cost creatures will help this deck go wide and be able to keep churning through both your opponent's libraries and your own.
The only enchantment available in the deck is Military Intelligence. Recurrable card advantage will be crucial to maintaining a threat level with smaller creatures, but the omission of Cunning Evasion in a deck that has a solid number of cards with Prowl or enter the battlefield effects is certainly a disappointing loss. As it currently stands, the deck has little to no cards that protect your creatures in combat or from board wipes so every card like Cunning Evasion or Counterspell will be crucial to not just losing to every random board wipe.
The number of Rogue lords in the list is certainly a let down with the Commander and Obelisk of Urd being the primary growth cards. This deck misses an opportunity to reprint such classics as Metallic Mimic or even Coat of Arms is an unfortunate let down for the list itself but it is nice to see Obelisk of Urd printed for the first time since its original printing in M15. As a result, most of the creatures in the deck are going to struggle to get in too much damage. This will have to be a key component to look at for upgrading the deck.
The Value of the Deck
The value in cards out of the box is also absurdly high for the low asking price. Cards that haven’t been reprinted in quite some time like Sygg, River Cutthroat and Oona, Queen of the Fae are clear standouts covering the majority of the deck’s value to begin with but cards such as Notorious Throng, Obelisk of Urd and the standard combination of Sol Ring plus Arcane Signet all drive this deck’s value through the rough before you include what is likely to be a new favourite Commander for many players supporting a Blue/Black creature-based strategy. The quality of reprints in this deck is incredibly high. If future set Commander decks are printed with this level of quality in their reprints, we can expect an incredible future for both new and old Commander players as more cards become available to them at an affordable price.
The New Cards
The two unique cards aside from the Commander itself also look to be strong additions to the overall format. Both Enigma Thief and Whispersteel Dagger are potentially powerful cards but both require a higher amount of deckbuilding restriction. For Enigma Thief the card doesn’t look to be playable outside of a deck that focuses on Rogue/Sphinx tribal as the card isn’t powerful at its regular cost, as well you wish to be able to bounce the creature to recur the effect. With options like Cunning Evasion available to this archetype there will be at least some possibility for recursion while playing it for an efficient cost but not that many other decks will be able to abuse this card.
As for Whispersteel Dagger, the card requires you to have an unblockable creature, plenty of cards to select from and mana not being spent on other more important threats. With a lower curve Rogue list, this card is easily obtainable and powerful. It is certainly a more control/midrange style value engine that requires a healthy amount of setup that other decks can’t afford but falls in line with the general strategy here.
Upgrading the Deck
With some budget upgrades, this deck could be incredibly powerful. Look no further than Zendikar Rising for some lovely upgrades such as Glasspool Mimic, Nighthawk Scavenger, Thieving Skydiver and Zareth San, the Trickster. If you look slightly further back, there are some incredible budget upgrades: Thieves’ Guild Enforcer, Drown in the Loch, Reconnaissance Mission, Keeper of Keys, Earwig Squad or even Scheming Symmetry. If budget isn’t an issue, the quality of your Rogues increases drastically with such haymakers as True-Name Nemesis and Bitterblossom but this deck will support both lower and high budget builds very effectively.
This has been a pretty critical look at the deck as it currently stands but that’s not the whole story. The fact is with the deck there's a lot to like about it. The theme is a strong and unique one that falls into only two colours allowing for some really great mana. The potential after upgrading the deck is incredibly high but not cEDH level. The Commander comes in a solid converted mana cost of four and will likely impact the board immediately and replace itself in a single attack. There are a lot of powerful finishers available in these colours that heavily support the theme and what the Commander wishes to accomplish. However, the deck out of the box lacks any quality ones outside of perhaps Sepulchral Primordial and Consuming Aberration, both of which could still likely be replaced with better alternatives.
The value here is great, the new cards are great and the general theme is great. However, the deck is held back by a number of questionable inclusions. With some low budget upgrades, you can have this deck more powerful than most prebuilt Commander decks while spending less than the cost of other preconstructed Commander decks. It’s incredibly hard to complain about this deck at $25.99 CAD so I strongly suggest both new and old players give it a shot.
Next time we’ll be visiting the Naya Landfall list and seeing how it holds up by comparison. It has big shoes to fill so let’s hope it manages to hold up!