I hope your Mid-May fun times are going well.
Today I want to review cards that were never printed in an Expansion nor in a Commander product, that are really strong for Commander. You may not have even heard of some of these cards, or realized they existed! Some of these were printed in the last 12 months or so, many are older too, and my goal is to help you see just how many strong cards are out there that you may not have had a chance to play.
Let’s take a look!
Honorable Mention - Gravewaker OR Elite Arrester
Most people have recognized that Commander has changed in the last 5ish years or so. The format has grown more and more into a faster, spikier format. More expensive Commander staples from the past just aren’t getting the play they used to. For example, Bennie Smith just built a Mono-White Zombies around five-mana leader God-Eternal Oketra, and and he had just three six-drops make his final decklist. (Other examples abound, from Bruce Richard’s Bird deck to Jason Alt’s Five-Color build).
We know that the format has sped up to the point that cards like Ancient Tomb, Lotus Petal, Dark Ritual, and Mana Crypt, that were formally relegated to very specific needs or overly combo-ish decks, are now heavily played or virtual necessities. When expensive creatures are played, it’s not too hard cast them, but instead to get them into play faster with things like re-animation. (Such as this quote, which is probably partly in jest, from EDHREC.com’s Kya Vess, “Having to pay the mana cost to summon something from my graveyard? Uh, no.”)
I think that this trend toward speeding up the format and pushing it into very Spike territories has bifurcated the format into two. Some playgroups have just decided to dial out of the ongoing rush to Spike everything up. They embrace a slower, grindier, more traditional multiplayer, Commander, sort of game. They run older fan favorites like Selesnya tokens led by Rhys, the Redeemed and similar builds. Now, having pickup games at your local store when everyone has this nasty Commander builds that have more in common with Legacy decks than traditional Commander ones can prove difficult. I experience that myself on many an occasion after walking into a store, and seeing my Diaochan, Artful Beauty deck going some of the nastiest and fastest Spike and combo decks imaginable.
I suspect that the Rules Committee tends to lean more toward the casual side of the format, rather than the Spike-ish side that has really overtaken the format over the last few years and dominated most of its play. But I think that, at some point, two distinct formats should be made and supported, because, right now, folks are playing two different formats, with the same name and rules. And that causes issues, because one side feels that their side is innately more fun for them to play, and in many cases, it’s the only type they want to play. I know old school purists who can’t side the Spike-ier side of the format that has emerged, and I know Spikes who love and revel in it, and can’t imagine why anyone would want to handicap themselves playing something that isn’t fine tuned.
It’s just who we are.
So that’s why I gave you both here! For the old-school, players, Gravewaker is awesome! You can drop it and swing, and then as you have spare mana, bring out mana a dead creature for another run in the veritable sun. I have both won, and lost, games to Gravewaker.
For Spikes? Elite Arrester is awesome! It’s a powerful 1-drop that comes down a lot faster than many tappers out there and it’s 0/3 size can block the aggressive creatures coming your way in the early stages of the game while you tap others. It’s compelling and strong and welcome!
10. Ancestor Dragon
This is one of my favorite cards from the Global Commander Series that introduced Jiang Yanggu and Mu Yanling. This is from Mu’s deck. It’s also pretty good in lots of Commander decks and shells, as a 5/6 flyer, on curve, with a pertinent ability. As a Dragon, it can play into a Five-Color Dragon build, (Or a Boros one) that looks to add some solid bodies to the table. Because you gain life for each attacking dork as you swing, you can gain a huge amount of life in decks seeking to go wide, and that’s interesting synergy for tokens and other builds. Don’t make the mistake of not including some life gain cards here and there, just because you are at 40 life. Finally, it also works strongly in Oloro and similar life-gain matters shells where the life gain will trigger some cool effects while you punch people’s face. Enjoy it!
9. Rot Hulk
Rot Hulk has an obvious home - any Commander Zombie deck. Bringing back a number of free Zombies favors to the party on arrival is going to have a strong impact on the game, and your likelihood to win. I love it in decks like Gisa and Geralf that are designed to have fat graveyards with Zombies in them. Rot Hulk is also an ideal target for a reanimation build that has a number of Zombies. Target and recur the Rot Hulk with something like Beacon of Unrest, and then you can get some more dorks for free as well. Zombie on!
8. Nissa, Nature’s Artisan
The Nature’s Artisan version of Nissa has made many an appearance in my decks, including my Commander Cube, and was desired and powerful. Just like I talked about with Ancestor Dragon, gaining life in a 40-life format may not be as sexy as in a 20 life one, but there is stil value in it. You can also use her second ability to draw two cards. If any of those were lands, you put them onto the battlefield and don’t even take up your land drop - that’s one of the best 2ndabilities you’ll find in Commander. That’s puts her on the map in a major way. Welcome, Oh Nissa, My Nissa.
7. Ajani, Valiant Protector
How about another six-mana ‘walker with some strong value? Where Ajani truly shines is his +1. You are going to get one free creature every turn. Unlike many other reveal effects like this one, you’ll never miss. If you reveal a few lands and artifacts, sorceries, etc, no worries. You will keep digging, until you unearth your first creature, and then you put that into your hand without drawing it. And this strong creature-assemblage comes without losing loyalty. Almost every deck needs creatures to win, so you are going to be happy to double your card-drawing fun times with guaranteed business cards rather than fluffy lands or anything. Oh, and you can layer out some counters or go really, really big in Commander with his ultimate. Enjoy!
6. Liliana, the Necromancer
Hello Liliana! I hope your day is going well. You can be a Raise Dead, a life-loss cannon, or an ultimate card advantage death-fog machine that pushes the table hard towards yourself. You know it. You want to run Liliana, the Necromancer! I have. I have killed with her +1.
5. Skalla Wolf
Want to know a secret? I’ve already put this thing into three separate decklists for you, including featuring it in one of my most recent Budget Commander builds. We are Commander players We like our enters-the-battlefield triggers. Any Mono-Green deck is going to love this. Any deck with enough Green cards to have this reliably choose from a few options is going to love this. Any deck that cares about Wolves or Spirits is going to love this. Welcome to the battlefield!
4. Jace’s Projection
I don’t know if you noticed this amazing thing in the noise of all the War of the Spark spoilers. But it’s very, very strong in Commander. It’s also relatively unique. There are only a small number of useful “whenever you draw a card” triggers out there, and this one gets bigger. After two turns of card drawing fun times, or one bigger spell, this is easily an 8/8 or 11/11 that can punch face with the best of them. It’s also very useful as a way to toss counters onto Jaces. And considering how many Jaces there are, and how likely you are to be running them in this sort of deck? That’s not nothing either.
3. Angelic Guardian
Angelic Guardian was given to us in the 2019 Gift Pack. What makes her incredibly strong is that she will give your entire team indestructible when they swing, and it lasts until the end of the turn. You can cast her and then swing in combat; she doesn’t have to join the party to give them indestructible. She’s a lot better than Iroas. The best mass-removal trick you could pull with Iroas was to cast an instant damage-based sweeping spell after you attacked, but before blockers were declared - like Magmaquake or Starstorm. Those will still work, alongside other sweepers, such as Rout. You can also just attack with impunity, secure in the fact that your stuff won’t die. And then, if you want, after combat you can cast a sorcery speed removal, like Day of Judgment. Angelic Guardian is very good in many shells. Enjoy!
2. Inspired Sphinx
At the end the day, Commander players care about one simple thing. Drawing cards. Bigger effects like Consecrated Sphinx, Sphinx of Uthuun, or Sphinx of Magosi are running around that get heavy play as strong-flyers with the ability to keep the card drawing going. In a four-way game, this is drawing you three cards on arrival, and it can make 1/1 flying tokens as you desire. It’s a powerful card I’ve used to win games in multiple contexts. Enjoy!
1. Riddlemaster Sphinx
This is, by far, my favorite card released in a Planeswalker pack ever. I adore it. I have at least four Commander builds running it, as well as Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy, my Type Four stack, and many more! This card is just so strong! Tethering an enters-the-battlefield bounce effect to a 5/5 flying body on curve is just incredible. It works in many-a-shell, and it swings over many-a-foe. Just last month, I bounced a flying Eternal token, and then began punching face for five damage. Now, it does have the modern template of only working on a foe’s dork, so you cannot self-bounce to remove things like Pacifism variants and such. But I’ve used a Man-o'-War or similar able on my foes’ stuff instead of my own at least 19 times out of 20. Don’t get caught up on that; just bounce and punch, and bounce again.
There we are! Have you run any of these in your builds? Anything in here that captures your imagination, or that you never even knew existed? Anything I missed? Just let me know; thanks for your time!