Custom Commanders - Will it Balance?

Hey peeps! First time poster here. I'm in the need to get some feedback and help on a christmas present I'm looking to get my playgroup.

For the past 3 years, we've been playing Dungeons and Dragons together (stay with me, this is still related to MTG). Same campaign, same characters. To say we're attached to our characters is an understatement. We've created artwork, songs, and I've written almost four full-length novels about our adventures. 

This christmas, I wanted to gift the other four players (and myself) a custom MTG Commander, each with a complete ready-to-play deck. However, I'm hella fresh to the whole custom MTG scene. I need talented (or semi-talented, or anyone for that matter) people who can give me some feedback in terms of balance and playability. Having that said, card flavour is hugely important for the project. One of the cards, for example, has Flanking, which is quite underused in modern MTG, but it's hugely important for playing a Rogue in Dungeons and Dragons. Therefore, the more closely these abilities can be tuned the better.

Should you have some spare amount of time, wishing to help me out, please write a comment or two on what changes you think need to be made to my setup or if there might be some cool interactions with some budgetfriendly (and janky) cards you'd recommend. All feedback and critique is greatly appreciated!

The characters/cards are as follows (sorry for no art, but it's being drawn as we speak :<):

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Shou, Involuntary Paladin

2 U W/B

Legendary Human Warrior, 3/2

Vigilance, First Strike

Whenever Shou, Involuntary Paladin attacks, you may discard a card. If you do, Shou, Involuntary Paladin gains +2/+2 and fear, and you may draw a card.

Partner, with Terry, Primal Wolf

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Terry, Primal Wolf

R G

Legendary Wolf, 2/2

As long as Shou, Involuntary Paladin is on the battlefield, Terry, Primal Wolf is indestructible.

Whenever Shou, Involuntary Paladin leaves the battlefield, if Terry, Primal Wolf is on the battlefield, transform it and place it under its owner’s control.

Partner, with Shou, Involuntary Paladin

Transforms into: Terry, Wolfkin of the Ardswoald

Legendary Planeswalker, 4 Loyalty

+0 Scry 2. Draw a card. If the drawn card was a non-land permanent, you may reveal it to place a loyalty counter onto Terry, Wolfkin of the Ardswoald.

-2 Destroy target artifact or enchantment.

-8 Return all creature cards from the graveyard to the battlefield. You may cast instant and sorceries from your graveyard as if they had flashback without paying their mana cost until end of turn. Put Shou, Involuntary Paladin onto the battlefield from the command zone. Transform Terry, Wolfkin of the Ardswoald.

Comment: 

The deck will center around the Flashback mechanic, allowing one character to discard cards in order to play more aggressively, while the other acts as a shield.

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Lee Ironwood, Noble Thief

W U G

Legendary Human Rogue, 2/2

Skulk, Flanking

Whenever Lee Ironwood, Nimble Thief attacks and is equipped and enchanted, it gains double strike until end of turn.

Comment: 

The deck would focus on enchantments and artifacts focused on empowering both Lee as well as other creatures landing on the battlefield. Balance-wise, this is the deck (and commander) I'm most worried about.

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Akaris Willow, Touched by the Devourer

2 W B G

Legendary Tiefling Cleric, 2/3

Lifelink, Deathtouch

Devour X

Tap: Sacrifice another creature. Return target creature card from your graveyard to your hand with converted mana cost lower than the sacrificed creature’s.

Comment: 

Being in Abzan, her focus would be on casting creatures with death triggers to then Devour and grow, protecting the player by recurring threats from the graveyard while regenerating lifepoints and deterring aggressive attackers.

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Swenje Morningsteel, Three-eyed Monk

2 R W G

Legendary Human Monk, 3/3

Vigilance, Double strike

Whenever you cast an instant or sorcery spell, flip a coin. If heads, reveal the top card of your library. If it is an instant or sorcery, you may cast it without paying its mana cost.

Comment: 

The deck would focus on outvalueing your opponents and deliver sudden knockout-punches out of nowhere. I'm well aware that the final ability causes a potential loop, but that is intended. Being in Naya, there are plenty of spells focusing on buffing and making him stronger, while still allowing him some card draw.

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Thaddeus Rayne, Lawmaster

2 R U B

Legendary Vampire Rogue, 4/4

Whenever Thaddeus Rayne, Lawmaster deals combat damage to a player, place a bounty counter on target permanent.

When a permanent with a bounty counter is destroyed, create an X/X Vampire creature token where X is the converted mana cost of the permanent.

Comment: The semi-BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy) that we pursued for quite a while. Being a crime lord, and his bounty on one of the other characters being one of the adventure hooks, I wanted him to have a bounty counter mechanic. The second triggered ability means he'll be able to protect himself from board wipes, seeing as he could benefit from picking off his own minions from the board in the cases it would suit his needs for the moment. He is a political character, and should have a political tool.

I feel the deck's weakness is playing Vampires while not being in White (Mathas, Fiend Seeker, anyone?), but there are several control aspects I think suits him better, meaning Grixis ends up being a better colour combination. While there are other bounties to be found in green with Ikoria, the green colour-pairing doesn't make any sense for the character.

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Phew, this was a long read, and my sincerest thanks if you're still here. All feedback is welcome, from mana-cost and power/toughness ratio, to ability reworks and cool interactions you can come up with.

Please help me make this Christmas the most Commanderist Christmas ever <3

Comments

  • This is just first draft advice, and mostly won't cover things such as syntax and power/toughness

    on Shou:
    - I think 2WUB or 1WUB would work best, instead of the strange hybrid mana concoction
    - Fear is an outdated mechanic. Is it directly related to the character? if not, I could probably help you come up with something that fits better.
    - Looting with a bonus feels a little good as a thing to do for free. Maybe make it cost 1?
    - I think Knight or Solider would be more accurate creature types

    on Terry (front face)
    - 2 mana for a 2/2 indestructible with a nice transform side seems a little good, but I think 3 mana would be fine.

    on Terry (transformed)
    - first ability should probably read "Scry 2, then reveal the top card of your library. If it's a nonland permanent card, put a loyalty counter on CARDNAME, then put that card into your hand.

    on Lee:
    - WUG tend to be enchantment colors rather than equipment colors, so I'd reccomend maybe cutting green for red

    on Akaris:
    - Devour X doesn't work, as 'Devour N' means sacrifice any number of creatures, then put N +1/+1 counters on the creature for each creature sacrificed that way. The wording you might be looking for can be found on Thromok the Insatiable: https://scryfall.com/card/pca/106/thromok-the-insatiable

    on Swenje:
    - vigilance AND double strike feels a bit over the top, especially on a base 3/3
    - should 100% be either Temur or Jeskai. Naya doesn't really fit here, due to the lack of blue
    - I'd restrict the third ability to strictly instants, as it makes it more flavorful and more balanced.

    on Thaddeus 
    - I hate to say it, but I really think Esper or Mardu colors would work best here, but I can sorta see it being spun for Grixis
    - tbh this card is also really underpowered, but we can get to that later.

    Two things that could be really helpful are 1: Making mockups of these cards in something like cardsmith or mtg.design and 2: If you have discord, I'd recommend joining the official MTGCardsmith discord server. If you want any additional help, feel free to ping me, I have no life and will happily give card advice pretty much whenever

  • Thanks for the pointers!

    As most of these cards are referring to characters with a set of personalities, some of the design choices were meant with those in mind. I'm currently in the process of making mockups of the cards, though they're currently artless.

    On Shou:
    • The looting bit makes sense, and paying 1 meshes well with the spell slot rules in DnD. I'll change it. 
    • Fear was connected to one of his feats that involved making people within range flee in fear if they failed a wisdom check. I had been considering Provoke, serving to reference his brawler role during combat. Could that perhaps mesh better with the buff received through looting, or would the ability not work due to being an attack trigger?
    • The hybrid W/B mana is a reference to the grim individual he used to be (we can't have DnD without a liiiittle bit of grimdark, can we?), contrasting with the individual he is trying to be. Also, he's constantly dealing with two gods, each on either end of the morality spectrum.

    On Terry:
    • Seems reasonable. Could changing it to a 1/2 help motivate the mana cost?
    • Changed the wording on the +2, thanks!

    On Lee: 
    • Yes, red would most like simplify the design process, but the colour doesn't mesh super well with the character's personality. I could fit it in, but this is one of instances where flavour and colour-identity sort of collides in a bad way. Perhaps turning him into a four-colour commander could solve the problem?

    On Akaris:
    • Changed the wording, thanks!

    On Swenje:
    • Perhaps only having Vigilance is a better option here to offset the amount of buff cards available in Naya? Could Reach help as a defensive bonus?
    • This character has the same colour-identity issue as Lee, where blue (the colour of intelligence) doesn't really fit the character. The spells included would spread wide over the CMC spectrum and be fairly random in terms of effect, making it less "reliable", which is why I figured sorceries should be included to help diversify. See more in the design comment below.
     
    On Thaddeus:
    • Indeed, moving away from those archetypes felt bad, but meshes well with an overarching goal to have seperate colour identities for each deck. Since tribal won't be a huge factor of the deck, I think Grixis will be a fun variation.
    • I see. Could something like a card draw ability help balance this character? For example:
    Whenever Thaddeus Rayne, Lawmaster deals combat damage, place a bounty counter on target permanent. If the damage was dealt to a player/creature, draw a card.


    Again, massive thanks for the help! :D 

    Here are some extra design comments that broke the post limit earlier:

    On Shou + Terry:

    Comment: By far the most elaborate design with the most steps. The first character, Shou, died during the adventure, meaning the second character is on a quest to resurrect him. Doing this will involve travelling to a different plane of existence, which is why Terry is a Planeswalker once Shou has left the battlefield. The ultimate ability would require several loops to jump through before activating, allowing it to be strong enough to be a game-ending move.

    Shou as a character was always a jack-of-all-trades, making me want him to have access to all five colours. The inclusion of Terry makes this possible without just making him five colours. The hybrid W/B mana is a reference to the grim individual he used to be (we can't have DnD without a liiiittle bit of grimdark, can we?), contrasting with the individual he is trying to be.


    On Lee Ironwood:

    This character uses stealth and trickery to land high-impact blows with his Sneak Attack (which often requires flanking in DnD) and custom rapier, leading me to try and make the character into a duel-type Voltron character. The combination of Skulk and Flanking (if I understand the keywords correctly) means he'll have an edge against creatures who are just small enough to block him. Without a weapon and an enchantment, however, he's not as useful.


    On Akaris:

    Comment: This character uses a homebrew feat to regain life through, you guessed it, devouring people. One of her signature spells is Inflict Wounds, meaning Deathtouch seemed like a good fit. Finally, the recursion mechanic is meant to mirror her ability to bring people back from the dead. This is one of the mechanics I'm most worried about balance-wise, because I really want it on the card.


    On Swenje: 

    Comment: While our monk isn't a complete blockhead, he likes to think with his fists instead of his brain. Because of this, placing him in the "blue" colour identity seemed off. He attacks twice as much as everyone else, and has the "Observant" feat, meaning he'll never be surprised. Apart from this, he multi-classed into Sorcerer, taking the Wild Magic feat. This means he'll have a chance to trigger a magical effect chosen randomly every time he casts a spell, which might not always be beneficial to what he wanted to do (gambling is fun!).



  • re: Shou
    - maybe when you discard a card you can choose a creature(s) that can't block this turn? maybe one for each opponent?
    - if you're insistent on hybrid mana, I'd just make it 2 W/B W/B or 3 W/B W/B. it's mostly an aesthetic thing, but I think that colored mana symbols next to hybrid mana symbols just look ugly.

    re: Terry
    - Yeah, a 1/2 could work, I suppose, but I feel like making it 3 mana would just be better. Considering it doesnt do anything without Shou and Shou costs more, I don't see why it can't be 3 mana

    re: Lee
    - I think three colors is fine, and I think bant is fine as well, I was just pointing out that there was less equipment support without red. One question, though, is what is the character's personality like? Red in magic is the color of freedom, and rogues seem like just the people to defy authority.

    re: Swenje
    - vigilance and reach is fine
    - I think you could keep this Naya for sure but I'd reccomend trying out some other ways of getting the free card casts, because the top of the library is major blue territory. See Elsha of the Infinite: https://scryfall.com/card/c19/40/elsha-of-the-infinite
    - sorceries would definitely help diversify, yes, but a ton of the huge splashy broken spells in those colors are sorceries, and although there isn't a ton of topdeck manipulation in those colors, sensei's divining top is colorless, and could easily be abused to cast huge splashy spells super early and super fast. Imagine hitting something like Apex of Power: https://scryfall.com/card/m19/129/apex-of-power

    re: Akaris
    - yes, the ability might be a little good. Perhaps adding a mana cost to the ability would be prudent

    re: Thaddues
    - I could see something like "Whenever a creature with a bounty counter on it dies, draw a card, then create an X/X CREATURETYPE token, where X is the number of cards you've drawn this turn
  • Four "novels" is pretty impressive. Well done. 
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