During the spoiler season for Strixhaven, the command cycle was a major source of interest for the Gladiator community; singleton formats without sideboards tend towards valuing flexibility more so than other constructed formats, and commands are by their modal nature highly flexible. However, while Prismari Command ended up being a staple for any deck running blue and red, the other commands in the set ended up seeing less play. Of these, the most often overlooked and underrepresented one is Witherbloom Command.
For my analysis, I will look at the individual modes of the card, and then discuss their interactions when combined. To conclude, I will discuss the remainder of the card, analyzing its mana cost and other miscellaneous factors.
Mode One: Mill and Land Recursion
This mode is probably the most niche of the modes, in that you’re only using this mode either because you’re in need of a land drop, or you’re a deck that would want to fill your graveyard. Green and black are the colors that most appreciate this kind of effect, and the card sees play in graveyard-based land decks running those colors for this reason. Escape as a mechanic has several impressive cards in these colors, such as Woe Strider or Polukranos, Unchained, and this card fuels these effects.
The edge case of milling your opponent is going to come up very rarely, but is fine as a use case as long as you’re milling something that your opponent put on top of their deck deliberately, such as with Moon-Blessed Cleric.
However, I think that even in the worst use case, where you’re simply looking for a land, this card does a reasonable job. It’s not guaranteed, especially cast early in the game, but as long as you’re not playing a Combo deck, the self-mill isn’t particularly harmful, and sometimes you just need the land drop while using one of the other effects to impact the board or hurt your opponent.
The most noteworthy interaction this effect has in our format is likely lands that either get cycled or have sacrifice effects; the Triomes see broad amounts of play in the format, and the ability to turn Witherbloom Command into further card advantage is certainly there. There is also potential to recycle manlands with this mode, effectively getting to regrow (this references the card Regrowth which allows you to return a card from your graveyard to your hand) a threat. There are two powerful man lands available to Golgari decks with the release of Adventures in the Forgotten Realms: Lair of the Hydra, and Hive of the Eye Tyrant. These additions further improve the power of the mode. Still, this is certainly the least applicable mode in most use cases.
Mode Two: Destroying Cheap Noncreature Nonland Permanents
This mode has the greatest potential power. While the format doesn’t have as many two mana or cheaper noncreature nonland permanents that see regular play, the mode does hit a lot of decks that make up the current meta. Against Aggro, this mode hits Equipment regularly; cards like Bonesplitter and Shadowspear have been around in the format for a bit, but with the release of Adventures in the Forgotten Realms (AFR), there’s suddenly even more Equipment to keep in mind such as Dancing Sword. Dancing Sword is especially relevant, as unlike most Equipment, removing the creature the Sword is attached to will still leave a threat.
Aside from Equipment, there are several enchantments and artifacts that Witherbloom Command answers. Control decks that run enchantment based removal such as Baffling End or Seal Away will run into problems with this mode, and the blue based ones tend to run Search for Azcanta. These decks also tend to run artifact based ramp like Mind Stone and Coldsteel Heart; denying them that mana can be a major swing in tempo. Land enchanting ramp such as Wolfwillow Haven can also be hit by this card.
The recently released Portable Hole is also a potential target; that card is still finding its place, but it will likely see play as a cheap way to deal with multiple types of permanents, and this card helps deal with it cleanly. The mode also hits a lot of the new Classes, especially Ranger Class and Paladin Class; while it doesn’t get rid of the Wolf token, it still answers levels two and three.
Finally, Goblin Tribal has recently shown tournament results, and with the new cards from AFR is looking to only grow in power. Given that, this card’s ability to hit Pyre of Heroes is relevant, stopping the deck from tutoring out their Muxus, Goblin Grandee.
As the format progresses, I think that this mode will only ever get better, as mana curves lower more and more.
Mode Three: Situational Creature Removal
This mode is a very unwieldy form of removal. The reduction in power would be very relevant and powerful…if the card was an instant. As is, the reduction in power only has niche usage in specific cards that care about power, or in pushing damage by making a block unprofitable.
However, I think that this mode still has its uses. A lot of threats that Aggro plays, especially red and white Aggro, are creatures with one toughness. It’s less relevant against red, but the ability to kill an Adanto Vanguard or Seasoned Hallowblade due to toughness reduction circumventing indestructible cannot be overstated. In decks running these colors, threats that can gain conditional indestructible are usually a major pain, and this card kills them while doing one of the other modes at the same time.
For Control decks, Toski, Bearer of Secrets is a major issue, and this card allows for removal of that threat as long as the opponent has not increased the cards toughness. Even outside of Aggro, the card kills mana dorks such as Llanowar Elves or Paradise Druid, further slowing down an opponent’s tempo.
Mode Four: Draining Two
While this mode doesn’t impact the board, it serves as a solid “I only want to do one of the other modes and have no target for the other modes” option. Tagging two life gain and two damage onto any of the other effects makes for a pretty powerful boost; a four life swing is a major deal in a damage race, and the card can serve as reach that Golgari doesn’t usually have access to. In addition, green and black have their fair share of life gain synergy effects that this card can interact with, such as Deathless Knight, and it can help stabilize against Aggro decks alongside clearing out a threat.
Mode Combinations and Interactions
In the event that the board is completely empty, this card has effectively one play; mill three cards, return a land from your graveyard to your hand, and drain your opponent for two life. This is the floor for the card, in my opinion, and in that case it is a perfectly fine card; it’s card advantage if you have any real graveyard synergies, and it has a unique interaction with Deathless Knight; while it’s hardly something to plan for, you can self-mill the Knight into the graveyard, and then have the life gain return it to your hand. At six mana this represents a six damage swing on top of any other cards you have that might benefit from the graveyard being filled.
Alternatively, the inherent two for one mode (Destroying permanents and giving a creature -3/-1) has some bonuses of its own. It allows you to clear an Equipment or Aura and kill the underlying creature as long as that creature has a base toughness of one. Given the number of Auras and Equipments that grant a bonus point of toughness, this is going to come up surprisingly often.
The Whole Package
The card is, despite all of these benefits, a sorcery. That leaves several of the effects much more underwhelming, especially the creature removal one. However, the cheap cost of one black and one green mana makes it easy to double spell alongside it. The card’s cost also lines up well on the play against an opponent’s turn one mana dork, or an early value artifact or enchantment like Mazemind Tome or Search for Azcanta while either filling your graveyard or doing some damage. It’s a card that’s stronger in the early game but remains relevant as the game progresses, losing its primary removal niche in favor of a bit of reach and fueling your plays. I don’t think the card is ever truly dead in hand, unlike many removal spells vs certain decks, and that flexibility is highly valuable in a format such as this one.
The question remains: Is Witherbloom Command the right card for your deck? Well, if you have graveyard synergies, the answer is yes. But if you don’t, the answer is a bit more nebulous. Depending on the meta, the card will wax and wane in power, but the nature of the card’s modes guarantee that it will only get better as more cards get printed and people play cheaper permanents.
At the moment, I would put the card as a meta card; with the current meta of Control and Aggro, this card is worth it, but if things shift to Midrange, the card will suddenly lose a lot of its relevance. That said, I know it’s a card I’m currently playing in my Green-Black Aggro list, the deck tech for which you can find here, and should see rotating play in Midrange decks as a flexible option; the power to gain life and destroy x/1’s is valuable in the Aggro matchup, and the card removes some of the problematic ramp cards that Control plays to speed ahead of your deck.
Writer and Editor for the Gladiator Blog and perpetual Green-Black Aggro player. He has a tendency to get distracted by random digressions about food, especially pizza. Don’t get him started on why you should be playing Witherbloom Command.