Loyal Retainers – Portal Three Kingdoms
Date Reviewed: August 10, 2023
Commander [EDH]: 4.25
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is bad. 3 is average. 5 is great.
The (sometimes heated) discussions about Universes Beyond sets feel a little bit different when we stop and remember that Portal: Three Kingdoms is literally the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. You’ll note that Loyal Retainers is not “branded”, so to speak, for any of the main contenders to the imperial throne, and that’s fitting in that anyone with such ambitions needs loyal retainers. That’s true in Magic’s broader multiverse as well, where they enable a very narrow reanimator deck and provide a little extra insurance to anyone with a high proportion of legendary creatures in their lineup. The timing is a little fiddly, but the mana cost is good, and if nothing else, many decks will have to take out the Retainers before they start dealing with the heavy hitters.
Limited: 3.5 (Commander Masters is the first time they’ve been in a conventionally draftable set, as Three Kingdoms had ten-card boosters and wasn’t really made for this format. It’s a good format for them to start in)
Commander [EDH]: 4
Where do I stand on the whole what-is-real-Magic thing? I believe you can be commercial (as in wide in appeal) and still be good, if you’re careful about it – Shakespeare, after all, was lowbrow popular fiction in his day. And having Standard’s range run from Streets of New Capenna to Lost Caverns of Ixalan (or whatever else) shouldn’t feel weird in the age of Epic Rap Battles of History.
Loyal Retainers is, functionally, a three-mana reanimation spell for legendary creatures. That’s not the entire story, but it is the main crux of how it works: cast it, bring back someone you want to bring back. Its stats are marginal, but they do play well with white’s fondness for smaller creatures and effects that care about low power, and that helps it to do a good job of supporting the rest of its deck. You do have to activate this before your first combat step on your turn, but this is not technically a sorcery-speed effect, so there is that. It’s never quite gotten there in Legacy, as the preferred reanimation spells are cheaper and more versatile…but in Commander, where white doesn’t have as many options to reanimate, this is quite a potent trick to have at one’s disposal.
Limited: 3.75 (far better here than its other Limited outing, in Amonkhet as part of the Invocations, but still reliant on opening cards worth bringing back)
Commander [EDH]: 4.5
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