Last week, I looked at some of the most reviled and Be-Hated Commanders out there. Ones where, when revealed, they elicit groans and mean glares.
My goal today is to unearth some great Commanders that you can use that often have the opposite effect. They are ones that get nods of approval, and smiles.
In order to make my list, I want to have Commanders have the following qualifications:
1. They are good. Someone might be okay with a Commander that’s easy to beat and weak, like a Riven Turnbull. “I got this,” they think to themselves, so they are fine with it. But that’s not something that’s beloved, that player just looks like an easy target. I want to look at creatures that have the ability to win the game. They are good.
2. They have an obvious way to use them. There are a number of potential leaders that are good. But they don’t have an obvious path to suggest, and nothing to hang your hat on. Rorix Bladewing is a good example of such a leader, that may be good, but not really suggesting a path for later exploration with flying, haste, or it being a Dragon is nothing that’s that iconic.
3. Have a strong casual cachet. For my top choices, I don’t just want leaders that are underutilized or forgotten to modern audiences, but instead ones I have run into, or used myself, to great effect. An example of a someone with a strong casual cachet is Akroma, Angel of Wrath. She has been played in and reprinted and re-loved in many a set and format, and is a strong casual favorite.
Consider Spirit of the Night as a counter-Akroma narrative. Spirit of the Night was fun for a couple of years, but no one really plays or knows Spirit of the Night that much today. Spirit of the Night is no Akroma, even though they have similar play styles and board presences.
While I have tried to bring some principles to the conversation, at the end of the day, any such list will be subjective. That’s just how it is.
Please note that in any Commander metagame, there may be players out there who have broken a given leader. While it might be loved elsewhere, it will still be groan city at your table. And there are others where they may have a reviled leader built fairly and it’s loved. That’s how it goes, every experience is different.
With this in mind, what are my choices for the most Be-Loved Commanders?
Honorable Mention #1 - Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons
Take a look at one of the most common Golgari leaders right now - Hapatra! She’s fun, right? If she slips through, she’ll toss a single -1/-1 counter on something. Then you get a 1/1 deathtouch dork too. And that’s fine. -1/-1 won’t kill too much at the kitchen table, you’ll need to get some more counters on there, but she’s fine. She also plays with a number of -1/-1 counter theme in her colors such as proliferate and cards like Flourishing Defenses. She’s fun because she’s basically the opposite of the many +1/+1 themes you’ll find running around, many of which do the same thing. They’ll give you triggers when you put +1/+1 counters on something, such as Simic Ascendency, as well as doubling and increasing the counters.
Now Hapatra is easier to stop than a lot of legendary leaders that will just tap and kill a dork, like Visara the Dreadful or my own Diaochan, Artful Beauty deck, which will take out a lot of dorks faster than Hapatra. Plus, she is answerable with effects like +1/+1 counters, hexproof, shroud, and stuff like Melira, Sylvok Outcast, in addition to the normal slate of Commander answers that work on everyone like Darksteel Mutation or Song of the Dryad. Hapatra can tend to be a little too slow for many decks that can drop bigger stuff early off effects like ramp or reanimation as well. She is my Honorable Mention though because, of my tops, she’s probably the least fun of the 11 folks here on my list. She kills stuff slower, but she’s less “All right Let’s Do It!” than my #10,
Speaking of which…
10. Sol’Kanar the Swamp King
Sol’Kanar was one of the most respected Commanders from the first set Legends, and was one of the best cards from that era as a 5/5 for five mana, that had two pertinent abilities. He was reprinted twice more and is Modern legal. He has an obvious use with the life-gaining Black spell trigger as well as a strong casual cachet and is still regularly seen at the kitchen table. I have a Sol’Kanar deck myself, and he gets smiles and votes of approval when I flip him. Sol’Kanar for the Win’Kanar!
9. Tatyova, Benthic Druid
Despite the fact that she was released pretty recently, Tatyova is getting a lot of play in EDH, and I think she was miscast as an uncommon - she’s that good. Landfall twinned with card drawing and life gaining are strong together, and she inspires a Simic landfall, ramp, strategy that’s still fun. Because she’s already five mana, and doesn’t accelerate your mana herself, she’ll help to ramp out things like beaters and such around the 5, 6, and 7 spot like Simic Sky Swallower! Come on now; that’s just fun! She’s not nearly as nasty a game-winning landfall leader like some others out there. Her cost and lack of size, but card advantage, make her more of a strong mid-range leader than anything else. Welcome to the game!
8. Gisa and Geralf
Zombies are fun! Unlike many other leaders running around, G & G don’t have any other plans. They don’t have menace or first strike or flying or anything. They are merely a 4/4 vanilla body with nothing else going on. But they can mill four of your cards on arrival to the battlefield, and they’ll let you cast a free Zombie from your graveyard each of your turns. You still must spend the mana, and other costs (if any). Also, note that you cannot cast non-creature Zombies from your graveyard, so you can’t even run a Nameless Inversion style removal suite. It’s all natural.
It’s fun! Did your foes kill your Lord of the Accursed? So sorry! Cast it again! How about your Gravedigger? Want to bring it back and then get another to your hand? Want to recur a strong Fleshbag Marauder, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, or Grave Titan? Sure thing! For Zombies, the graveyard is fluid. It’s just a meat locker. This is a theme on our list today, but if G&G are getting out of hand, and you need to stop them? Then lock down their graveyard so nothing will come back out via removal. You can only exile creatures to remove them from returning. You have options, and the G&G player will still try to win the normal way via creature damage in the red zone. This is a tribal deck, and like many a Commander deck, they will do so in a way that gives them an additional stickiness beyond mere creatures that can be wiped out via a mass removal effect. So they are very, very, very Commander-y .Which is now a word!
7. Depala, Pilot Exemplar
When you see Depala get flipped as someone’s Commander, you just know that you are going to have fun, right? We all know the direction that Depala will be taking us. Vehicles? Check! Dwarves? Check! And that’s it. She’s on curve, and she wants to bring your Dwarves and Vehicles together with her “became tapped” ability! She is going to toss out Dwarves like Aerial Responder, Veteran Motorist, and Duergar Hedge-Mage. In come a ton of vehicles like Skysovereign, Consul Flagship and Weatherlight. You’ll also see cards that are on theme like Start Your Engines, Caught in the Brights, and Siege Modification. You know, that you are going to have fun! And fun is what this game is supposed to be about, am I right?
6. The Gitrog Monster
Ever since The Gitrog Monster was printed recently, it’s been a fond fun-time of Golgari-land matters. The Gitrog Monster wants to turn your lands dying into cards, and then let you drop another land. So, you get the two lands per turn, one sacrificed, and then the card draw. He is used to sacrifice lands for cards and then use a small number of cards like Splendid Reclamation or Crucible of Worlds to get them back out so you won’t hurt your mana development overly much.
All The Gitrog Monster does is play into themes Golgari has regularly had and used. It’s used to running cards that sacrifice things for effects, like creatures, and then turn those sacrifices into benefits like drawing cards, making token creatures for more sacrifice fuel, or effects like Grave Pact. The Gitrog Monster just uses lands and land cards like landfall triggers and such rather than creatures. For that reason, it’s more easily disrupted. A traditional Golgari machine runs a big number of sacrifice triggers, effects, machines, and dorks to sacrifice but these decks tend to have a smaller number of machines. There’s only one Crucible of Worlds and Ramunap Excavator in print, so you can stop those and you stop its easy recursive ability, and such. It’s fun, plays into Golgari’s strengths, but does so more weakly than the normal Golgari Life into Death into Life deck. (Also, like other leaders on this list, you can stop it at the graveyard). Enjoy it!
5. Arcades, the Strategist
You know what? No one is going to ever have an issue with you playing a Wall Commander. Note that Arcades’s abilities only work with defenders, so he won’t let your non-defenders smash for their defensive stat. He’s no Doran, the Siege Tower; nor does Arcades hurt your foes by screwing up their combat math as Doran does. But you have fun cards like Glacial Wall or Teyo, the Shieldmage to run out that will give you a strong range. Draw cards, swing with defenders. It’s fun. Now, like any heavy creature-based deck, it’s easy to disrupt, and there are not a lot of other cards to push the theme. Stop Arcades, and you shut down all of the cards that come (should you care too). Arcades’s Stresses are easy to Wrath of God away. But it’s fun! Shields up!
4. Rhys the Redeemed
There was a time when Rhys was one of the most commonly encountered Commanders in print! Instead of naming their column after Azami, Lady of Scrolls, the team over at StarCityGames could have easily named it “Dear Rhys.” He has a lot of the things you want - cheap to drop with the hybrid cost, and can both make tokens as well as double your tokens later. He’s not something that can dominate a table though. It takes multiple turns to use his abilities. If you cast him on one turn, then the next turn you can tap three mana and him to make a single 1/1 dork, and then the next turn, another three mana tap for another, and then on the next turn, six mana, tap, for double that into four dorks, and then double to eight. So it’s a full five turns and 18 mana and a tapped leader before you have a threat at the kitchen table - so he’s easier to answer. That makes him something that you are fine playing against - he uses the red zone with a larger number of tokens. Commanders that want to play normally and attack in the red zone tend to be ones that are loved.
3. Alesha, Who Smiles at Death
Congratulations! If you are playing Alesha, then you are playing Commander correctly! As a reminder, in order for Alesha to work, this has to happen:
- A 3/2 First strike dork has to swing
- Two mana has to be spent
- A Dork has to arrive on the battlefield from the graveyard
- It’s has to be small on the front end
- It has to be attacking too.
That’s a lot of fun! Who cares about stuff like Solemn Simulacrum, Murderous Redcap, or Gravedigger punching face again? This deck uses many cheap bodies with enters-the-battlefield triggers and then loads them up over time - which is pretty much the heart of Commander! Alesha is also very easy to stop if she begins to take over a game or battlefield. You can cut off the graveyard, stop her from activating, shut down combat, force her to swing into something that will kill her, destroy anything that lets her sneak through, exile her recursive fun friends to prevent reloading them, and more! Alesha does Commander right!
How could Phelddagrif not be on my list? Would you respect this list if our good Purple Hippo was somehow missing? When I thought of this idea, I had him as my clear-cut #1. Now, after pulling my list, there’s someone who I think is a little more be-loved, but Phel-die is always going to have a space on any list like this. Always. The Purple Hippo gives love in three different ways. You can give opponents life, cards, or 1/1 Hippo token. All three are good, and they work to help make friends and keep people away from you as they want your sweet Hippo-esque gifts. Phelddagrif is arguably the most iconic Group Hug leader ever minted. He’s not my favorite (That’s Xantcha, Sleeper Agent), but the Hippo of Purple Love is going to always net smiles and giggles. Enjoy it!
1.Mayael, The Anima
Naya is a nice color combination. Other than Uril, the Miststalker, all of the Naya are nice, have a strong footprint, and let their opponents actually pay the game. This is the color identity of cards like Samut, Voice of Dissent and Rith, the Awakener. It’s just so much fun! And Mayael plays into that as well. Here she is, with a quick little 2/3 body. Then you can spend six mana and tap her. Look at some cards, chose a big creature dork, and toss it onto the battlefield with aplomb. Mayael appeals to the same inner Tammy/Timmy as cards like Quicksilver Amulet or Tooth and Nail. Get a big, fat, creature for free!
Of course, you don’t know what’ll be, and you spend six mana to grab it, and it has to be of a certain size. You can’t grab something you might prefer, like Solemn Simulacrum or Eternal Witness or Acidic Slime which is needed. But that’s okay! It’s big! And it’s free! And it’s fun! This is what the game should be about. It’s also super easy to disrupt, or plan against. Any EDH deck can handle a big, large, trampling body like Pelakka Wurm, as one example. It’s designed to do so. And with the life bump, the threat of a Mayael is halved. It’s a fun card that’s easy to enjoy!
And there we are! What did you think of my list? Anything in here I missed? Just let me know!