Are The Walking Dead Characters Amazing as MTG Commanders?

Are The Walking Dead Characters Amazing as MTG Commanders?

Over the last year or so, Wizards of the Coast, the company behind Magic: the Gathering, has been releasing direct-to-consumer Secret Lair products that are marketed as collectibles, featuring artwork or reprints that would not normally be seen in a Standard booster.

While reaction has been mixed so far (with the most unhappiness, understandably, coming from brick-and-mortar stores where MTG is traditionally bought and played), most reactions have been mild at best.

It doesn’t damage the secondary market too heavily, and players who are just looking to play Magic – and not collect it – most likely wouldn’t give Secret Lair drops a second look.

They’re often amazing pieces in the art department, though, and for Commander players like me, that’s a huge boon! I’ve gotten my hands on a few of these beauties myself, and I have to say they’re great to pull out and show off.

Cue Secret Lair x The Walking Dead.

Wizards then decided to rock the paper boat, by launching a Secret Lair featuring a crossover with The Walking Dead franchise. Player responses have been bad – and that’s putting it kindly.

Hordes of players are up in arms over this mainly because this crossover is the first to feature black-bordered cards (meaning that they are legal in all Eternal formats, namely Commander, Legacy, and Vintage). They are also from a limited print run, which ensures scarcity and potentially inflated price point on the secondary market.

Wizards has come out to say that they will consider functional reprints of the cards (i.e. same abilities, but with different names) if they are popular enough. Then there’s also the issue of setting a precedent for tie-ins with other brand properties. Today it’s the Walking Dead, and next month it could be Star Wars. Or James Bond. These crossover products are expertly aimed toward parting us from our hard-earned dollars. 

Despite all this unhappiness, the Commander Rules Committee have decided not to ban these cards, and while I could go on until the Ox of Agonas comes home about the pros and cons of this move, I am, as an ardent brewer of decks, more intrigued about the cards and its abilities.

So today I’ll forgo the “Wizards shouldn’t have printed this!” narrative and analyse the playability of the cards from The Walking Dead Secret Lair. How good are they as Commanders? Are they powerful or simply just for kicks?

Michonne, Ruthless Survivor

Just looking at stats alone, Michonne, Ruthless Survivor is pretty amazing. 5 mana for 7/7 worth of power and toughness spread over 3 creatures is a fairly good rate – for comparison, one of the most pushed creatures in recent memory, Questing Beast, is a 4/4 for 4 Mana – albeit with a ton of great and relevant abilities. There are advantages and disadvantages to spreading the stats over three Creatures instead of one, but generally, this is still a great stat line.

Michonne, Ruthless Survivor is a crossover MTG card from The Walking Dead series

Her last ability to gain Indestructible when she attacks with at least 2 or more Zombies coupled with her first ability cements her place at the head of an aggressive Zombie tribal deck in my eyes. This is a great combat ability to have, although her Zombie bodyguards are not afforded the same protection.

The one ability that seems odd to me in terms of gameplay, though, is her Equipment-matters ability that forces the opponent to block her. While it does make sense from a top-down design perspective (since Michonne is indeed a katana-wielding badass in The Walking Dead), it does seem a tad strange – adding an additional, somewhat awkward layer to a card that already has a general idea and focus.

To add on to the weirdness, green and black aren’t where you’d normally find Equipment-matters type cards – normally, they’re found in white and to a lesser extent, red. 

With this in mind, I would probably go for an aggressive Zombie tribal build with a minor focus on Equipment that can buff up her power and give her trample to help her deal damage effectively through blockers. She’s certainly not the best Zombie general available (personally I would never run a Zombie tribal Commander deck without Liliana, Heretical Healer at the helm, but that’s just me), but she’s unique and worth considering for sure!

Rating: 3 / 5

Michonne fills an odd niche among her Zombie general brethren – she is an aggro-centric Zombie general that wants to be in the fray alongside them, yet cannot benefit from tribal boosts. Most zombie generals are either in the tribe, enable some sort of token swarm strategy, or lean in on the reanimator strategy, so it’s certainly odd, but if you’re looking for an aggro deck and don’t want to play Varina, Lich Queen, Michonne, Ruthless Survivor may be the general for you.

Glenn, Voice of Calm

Glenn has relatively low Power/Toughness stats for his mana cost, but that’s mainly because he has a conditional evasive ability keyword called Skulk, which prevents Creatures with more Power from blocking him. On top of that, you get to draw cards when he deals damage to an opponent, so it stands to reason why he has low base power, to enable his Skulk ability.

Glenn, the Voice of Calm, is a crossover MTG card from The Walking Dead series

It’s much easier to parse Glenn as a whole, since he has so much lesser text compared to Michonne, but conversely, the simplicity of his abilities opens up more ways to build around Glenn.

You could keep Glenn as a small 1/3 Creature, slip in under your opponent’s guard with Skulk and draw a card every combat, slowly finding the combo pieces that will be your opponents’ collective demise. To draw more cards per hit, you could even include instant-speed buffs to his power that only last the turn, so you can continue to benefit from skulk.

You could even run minor disruption pieces that slow down your opponents like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, or Rule of Law, as well as defensive “pillow fort” cards like Propaganda and Ghostly Prison – so named because they discourage opponents from attacking you, rather than actually preventing damage – so that you can find your combo pieces in relative peace.

You could also go all in on dealing damage with Glenn, drawing a ton of cards, and trying to win the game that way instead! Auras and Equipments can be used to buff up Glenn’s Power and Toughness, give him essential keywords like Double Strike and Trample while protecting him from removal. This strategy pretty much nullifies Glenn’s Skulk ability though, and the opponent will have the chance to block him.

What are you looking for from hitting your opponent’s so much and drawing so many cards? Extra turn cards like Karn’s Temporal Sundering or Beacon of Tomorrows are probably the best you could go for – chain your beatdowns and knock each player down one by one!

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Of all the cards from this Secret Lair, I think Glenn has the most potential to be competitive. He’s cheap, he’s evasive, he draws cards, and he’s in both blue and white, which has access to great removal, interaction and tutors.

Negan, The Cold-Blooded

When I see Negan, the Cold-blooded, I remember Shattergang Brothers – and not in a fond way.

Negan, the Cold-Blooded is a crossover MTG card from The Walking Dead series

Negan’s 4/3 statline is more skewered towards power, which isn’t surprising considering it’s Negan, and also the fact that he’s in the Mardu (red, white , black) colours, which packs some of the best removal cards in the game.

True to character, Negan’s first ability is a dastardly, cruel one indeed. One of your opponents is guaranteed to lose at least one Creature, and may even lose a second one, depending on how both players choose. There’s some space for mind games with this “secretly choose” ability – will they choose a creature they think is the greater threat in anticipation of your choice? Or will they choose a weaker Creature thinking that you’d automatically pick the biggest threat? It’s perfect for the political game that is Commander!

His abilities very clearly synergize with forcing your opponents to sacrifice Creatures, so building Negan is pretty much a no-brainer. Pack in lots of Fleshbag Marauder clones, add Liliana, Dreadhorde General in somewhere (because its The Walking Dead, there are zombies, I have to mention Lili a few times at least), and you pretty much have your deck.

Your finisher will probably be related to his ability to produce Mana through the Treasure tokens, so it can basically be anything available to the Mardu colours red, white, and black. Obvious ones would be Exsanguinate and Torment of Hailfire, but honestly, if you’re making your opponents sacrifice lots of creatures each turn, you could steer toward any win condition.

Rating: 4 / 5

Negan would definitely tend towards the “group slug” type of deck which clocks everyone at the table at the same time, but using effects like Conjurer’s Closet or Cloudshift to repeatedly fire off his enters-the-battlefield effect could be interesting – it would definitely make him less combo-oriented and more political!

Daryl, Hunter of Walkers

Speaking of political – Daryl, Hunter of Walkers strikes me as yet another politically-inclined general.

Daryl, Hunter of Walkers is a crossover MTG card from The Walking Dead series

I’ll admit parsing Daryl was difficult at first. Why would you want to give your opponents a bunch of zombies to attack you with every turn? I get that he hunts zombies so there needs to be zombies for him to hunt. But he can only take down one zombie at a time with his activated ability, and that only nets you one card. So… what gives?

But that’s when I realised Daryl’s potential as a great political commander. You can make deals with your opponents, giving one of them zombies to help them defend against another player. You can also use cards with the Goad keyword ability, which forces your opponents to attack each other – and when the zombies die to an inevitable attack against a much larger foe, you get to draw cards.

Once they start rounding on you, a quick Kozilek’s Return or Flame Sweep will deal with the zombies and net you a bunch of cards while leaving Daryl with a smidge of Toughness left.

Another card that works beautifully with Daryl is Oath of Druids. Give someone 3 zombies so they won’t benefit from the upkeep trigger, while you and everyone else at the table get to go digging for creatures. For those with deeper pockets, Defense of the Heart can also trigger and resolve on the same turn as Daryl’s ability, netting you a big fat Creature from your deck right away. Ward of Bones is also a great card here that punishes opponents for having more creatures than you, which they are sure to have since you’ve been handing them zombies!

Rating 3.5 / 5

For the sheer amount of fun you can have with Daryl plus his inbuilt removal and card draw ability, I’d say Daryl is a solid general. It’s probably not going to be easy to balance the deck, though; you’re going to have to have some way to beat the last guy standing, since you probably made everyone else fight each other until there’s only one guy left at the table.

Rick, Steadfast Leader

Last but certainly not least, we have Rick, Steadfast Leader. Rick is arguably the main protagonist in The Walking Dead series, and fittingly he has good stats as a Human leader.

Rick, Steadfast Leader is a crossover MTG card from The Walking Dead series

Rick is a powerful, powerful card that’s also crazy flavourful. A Creature lord (buffs others with a shared trait) that can grant not just a stat boost, but also 2 out of 3 powerful Creature attributes and decent Power/Toughness? This is a stellar card, perhaps even powerful enough to find its way into a Legacy format Humans deck.

In the context of Commander though, Rick is obviously great at the head of a mono-white Humans build, or part of the 99 as one of the Lords for an aggro Humans deck.

White is fairly good at the token strategy with cards like Increasing Devotion, Castle Ardenvale and Elspeth, Suns Nemesis, so that’s certainly one way to go about the build. Notice I mentioned repeatable sources of token creation – this will definitely come in handy in a Commander game, with removal spells and board wipes being thrown about willy-nilly (depending on the group, of course!).

Anthems (cards that buff all your creatures) like Intangible Virtue, Coat of Arms, Dictate of Heliod and even Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite would also help you deal massive amounts of damage quickly.

You can also run a gamut of protection spells to ensure your army survives a “board wipe” – Brave the Elements protects them from damage-based wipes from a red sweeper (and can also make your guys unblockable!), and Make a Stand & Unbreakable Formation protects them from common board wipes like Supreme Verdict, Wrath of God, Damnation, or Day of Judgement.

I do believe Rick will shine better inside a Humans deck rather than being its Commander. Being restricted to white is a bit of a shame for a Humans deck, considering the wide range of abilities available to one of the most supported tribes in Magic history. 

Rating: 3.5 (4.5 if part of the 99!) / 5

I think giving yourself a restriction in deck building is probably more interesting, so I’d probably build Rick as a general. As part of a Human tribal deck, though, Rick is truly a force to be reckoned with.

End Step

And there you have it – the five Legendary creatures coming to a Commander table near you in the near future! Personally, I’m itching to build either Negan or Daryl, as they seem to be the most interesting ones to play in a casual group setting, and if I had to pick only one I’d definitely go Daryl!

What about you? Are you picking up a set yourself? Would you build any of these decks any differently from I would? Let us know in the comments!

Matthew bought a pack of Avacyn Restored in 2012 for kicks, but didn't start playing Magic until he was gifted his first general – Kaalia of the Vast – during Shadows Over Innistrad. Since then, he’s dabbled in Standard, Modern, Pioneer, and Legacy formats, where he found his love for convoluted combo decks with strange win conditions.

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