With another slate of Commander Preconstructed decks hitting the shelves in Commander 2018, and people getting a chance to play with them in real life for a bit, now is the best time for me to ask this simple question: which Commander Precons are the best?
Which are the top? Which play the best? Have the best value? Have the coolest synergy?
I own them all. I have played all of them and played against them, so I feel like I have logged in enough games that I can have some degree of qualifications when I discuss the best. Like always, my choices for the list are subjective. Something I love you may loathe, and vice versa. You might enjoy playing a deck but hate playing against it.
For me, the best decks score highly on the following axes:
- They added something new to the game, and just weren't another deck that played similar to many before and since.
- They had strong value at the time of their printing in secondary cards.
- They had a number of cards that played well together. Synergy
- For decks that score well in the previous three, my personal tie breaker is how much they may have brought older cards to the format, reprinted key cards from older sets and such.
Also note that while some decks may have introduced powerful players onto the scene, like Evasive Maneuvers' Derevi, Empyrean Tactician, the deck is weak. It's an inconsistent mess with a weak theme that doesn't work at all and many cards that make no sense in that deck. For example, it's supposed to have a Bant "Tap and Untap" theme, right? So why was Tidal Force, a Blue card printed in that set for the first time, missing from this deck? Why print it in Eternal Bargain? With a weak theme easily answered by cards in Commander, it needed to push the theme's support more and not get lost in junk like Leafdrake Roost.
So what decks are great decks? Let's see!
Here are my picks for the Top Ten Commander Precon decks of all time!
Honorable Mention - Plunder the Graves
Some of these series didn't do much innovatively. Take Commander 2015 as a good example. The five decks included Izzet spells matters, Simic +1/+1 counters, Golgari reanimation, an off-putting Boros aggro-midrange deck that was wildly inconsistent, and Orzhov enchantments. The first four did nothing new. We had legendary critters and archetypes already running around for those. At least Call the Spirits tries to be new-ish with its theme, but the theme isn't particularly well done, with tons of cards that are neither enchantments, nor play well with them. It's not a strong deck. The one good deck in the series is Plunder the Graves, though it gave us little in the way of anything fresh and innovative and is old hat. But it's consistent, and the cards work together. The cards that should be in here, like Sakura-Tribe Elder, are, in fact, in here. Viridian Zealot? Yeah. Powerful cards like Eternal Witness and Skullclamp? Absolutely. Skriekmaw? This is a deck that has way more synergy than the other decks in the Commander 2015 series.
10. Power Hungry
Power Hungry does a lot of things right and you have to respect it. It has a strong Jund theme of sacrificing triggers, sacrifice effects, and more. What puts Power Hungry on my list is just how powerful and consistent and deep it is. It brought cards up to the stage like Foster, as well as dipping into the vast array of obvious triggers and engines, from Goblin Bombardment to Fecundity. It fully embraced the theme. You won't find a lot of junk here, even cards that, at first, look like they may not belong really do. Capricious Efreet? Target two of their valuable cards (preferably not dorks) and one of your creatures. Did it target yours? Nope? Ah well! Now I trigger Fecundity and draw a card! From Tooth and Claw to Viscera Seer, this is a deck that understands what it is trying to do and does so very nicely. It also reprinted a card that was worth more than $40 or $50 on the secondary market that was the on theme, Huo Toa, Honored Physician. What keeps it from going higher? Great question! This was not this great, revelatory theme for Commander and these colors. So, I give it a high score for synergy and value, but low on something new to the game, and that cracks my top ten, but not highly.
9. Feline Ferocity
Three of the four Tribal decks that came out in 2017 last year certainly didn't do anything new. We already had a five color Dragons deck for example, with Scion of the Ur-Dragon. While the Vampires and Wizards added a color in them for Commander that hadn't existed before, they weren't brand new directions for the tribes, just bringing together synergies that were already there. It would be like printing a Samurai deck. Those couldn't be combined at the minute with a leader, but it's not creating something that isn't already in those colors. But Feline Ferocity essentially took a Tribe, Cats, without a major identity, and gave us a strong one. The addition of a Cat tribe with a few cool new Cats for Commander was pretty good. We had some strong synergies as well as many Cat enablers that cared about equipment, both new and old. Now, this clocks in at nine because there weren't many expensive reprints, nor where there any major cards from old forgotten times, and there were some on-theme cards that weren't here either when they would have made the deck a lot stronger. For example, the equipment theme didn't bring back any expensive, high quality equipment, just more of the same Loxodon Warhammer style stuff. So, the deck was good, made a new archetype and pushed a tribe into respectability, but the card selection was a little uneven and lacked value. We'll take a look at some decks in a few minutes that scored higher, but Feline Ferocity is still a strong addition to the stable of Commander.
8. Mind Seize
The goal of Mind Seize was to have strong, Grixis disruption and card advantage engine that exiled spells you could rock later as you get your swing on with Jeleva. She's a solid Wizard Vampire. The deck she is in is strong, with loads of control, tempo and power. She also is, arguably, the strongest deck for financial value with powerful reprints (for that time) of stuff like Baleful Strix alongside the powerhouse of True-Name Nemesis. Mind Seize has a lot going for it, as well as arguably a sub-Commander who's more popular than Jeleva in Nekusar, the Mindrazer who made a new archetype of Commander. What's not to enjoy about this deck? The frequent amount of wins you grab with it? The groans your foes elicit when you reveal it? Mind Seize On!
7. Entropic Uprising
Every set of Commander decks since it debuted in 2011 and continuing through today has created new archetypes, giving Commander players more tools, and such. To my mind, the best was the first set in 2011, as it gave the wedges their various identities. The 2nd most iconic, to my mind, is the set from 2016, a few years ago. The introduction of partner allowing to mix and match two Commanders and thus create any two, three, or four-color combination was amazing. It also gave you a distinct deck around all five four-color options. Now I'd argue that the Group Hug of Stalwart Unity or the aggro of Open Hostility aren't particularly interesting or new. It's not like Aggro in the Aggro colors was a new theme that united those colors. The pro-artifact of Everything but Green certainly was mechanical, and now linked together with Breya. Yidris's deck here is compelling as a strong addition to these decks, and that year of power additions to the game. For example, this deck gave us compelling reprints of expensive cards like Chromatic Lantern and gave new life to powerful cards from old like Guiltfeeder. It's a synergetic cascade and smash deck with lots of smaller effects to cascade into for value, like Wall of Blossoms and Satyr Wayfinder that should always be good. It's the sort of deck that you want to enjoy!
6. Devour for Power
For a moment I want you to set aside the first Sultai build of all time here and do something else instead. Think about the powerful and expensive reprints this deck had - even for its time - such as Grave Pact and Oblivion Stone. Virtually every quality card you need to make this work, such as Eternal Witness, Fact or Fiction, Solemn Simulacrum, Avatar of Woe, and many more. It was a powerful slate of cards that played well together. This deck had value. This deck also had a fun The Mimeoplasm feel by giving you milling for your foe in order to feed their 'yard to give you more options to chew on. It also gave you some strong graveyard synergies such as Living Death, Buried Alive, Wonder, Brawn, and Mortivore. It definitely feels like it paved the way for the later self-milling identity of the Sultai clan. And it's a powerful deck to boot!
5. Breed Lethality
The four-color machine of Breed Lethality and Atraxa is pretty Johnny-esque. Atraxa is one of the best Commanders ever printed, because there are so many different ways to take that four-color shell and unlock stuff with proliferate. The deck is built using counters, and it has other proliferating cards in it. It tries to combine the +1/+1 counter loving of Simic with the same of Abzan and put it into a deck. It uses cards with outlast and bolster and others. Now the deck is good and unifies two major themes, but synergy of the deck isn't as good as others that hit higher. For example, it's missing obvious proliferate cards like Contagion Clasp and Contagion Engine, its support makes no sense (why have a single Counterspell in the deck? Disdainful Stroke? Really? Languish as a mass removal spell that takes out little at the Commander table? Come on), and it didn't reprint some great, higher valued stuff. It's high value on the secondary market is due to Atraxa and other new cards in her deck like Deepglow Skate. But the deck is strong and fun, so it clocks in here at Five.
As I look back at all of these great and iconic decks, archetypes, and more, it's hard to think of one that was more influential, pound for pound, than Counterpunch and its addition of Karador, Ghost Chieftain; Ghave, Guru of Spores, and the injection of a graveyard-matters theme to the color combination that would later become known as Abzan. Prior to the printing of this deck, do you know how many cards in the history of the game were just these three colors? Doran, the Siege Tower, Teneb, the Harvester, Overgrown Estate, and that's it. That's not a lot of cards. And there's no "Graveyard matters," or even "Token loving" theme in there. Today you cannot detach these three colors from those themes, particularly in Commander! Counterpunch is where it started. What keeps it from getting higher is that the deck is a little uneven in its theme. It combines +1/+1 counters and "graveyard matters" into this odd symbiosis that doesn't always work cleanly. Are you trying to build up your stuff and keep it in play? Or sacrifice it to Attrition and then bring it back? It's not as synergetic and strong as you'd want, as opposed to the best deck from this set at #1.
3. Built from Scratch
Built from Scratch was something very compelling in Commander form. It scores highly on all three of my values. Let's do them in reverse order. Did it bring back old cards for another run in the sun? Yup! Goblin Welder is a good example. It also reprinted cards of value like Wurmcoil Engine. It was heavily synergetic as a pro-artifact set that included cards like Bosh, Iron Golem, Commander's Sphere, and Spine of Ish Sah that were perfect here. For new stuff? It did two major things. First, it was in the slate of five decks that gave planeswalkers the ability to be Commanders, which was really cool. But it also was the one of these that secured a mechanical tether to its colors for good. The others either pushed an archetype that was already strong in their colors (like Mono-White's pro-equipment) or just didn't do anything new. But Daretti, Scrap Savant locked in Red as this clever, intuitive, sacrificial pro-artifact color on the lines of Goblin Welder, Bosh, Iron Golem, and Trash for Treasure. It secured a place for this mechanical relationship that continues to this day with cards like Madcap Experiment. It's a good deck in every way!
2. Eternal Bargain
I don't like what Oloro, Ageless Ascetic did to the format, but you can't deny the power and synergy of this deck, nor how he opened up a lifegain and spending mechanic in Esper. The first two abilities are fine, fair, and very strong. The last is the nasty one that puts this deck over the top as a life-gain trigger for combos that you can never stop. It's like someone got their planeswalker to ultimate out an emblem and have that power, unstoppably, for the rest of the game. Only it happened before you shuffled, and you can't stop it. It's annoying. And powerful. The cards in here, like Sanguine Bond and Vizkopa Guildmage can let things get out of hand quickly. The intentional including of some weaker, not-on-theme cards for the reprint machine, like Brilliant Plan, Kongming, "Sleeping Dragon", or newer cards that weren't on theme like Tidal Force are the only things keeping the synergy from your deck from breaking people in the face unfairly. But it was still dominant. (Check out some strong reprints, like Nevinyrral's Disk, as well)
1. Heavenly Inferno
You might not enjoy how rife the format became with cards like Kaalia of the Vast or Karador, Ghost Chieftain, but you cannot deny their power. And frankly, I'll take losing to Kaalia to most of the other Commander powerhouses because at least she feels fair. I can answer her more readily than the many other crappy cards out there. But she can still inspire a quick death if you aren't careful, with her powered up Dragon/Angel/Demon theme deck. You have to admit that this deck took these three colors into place you would never have seen, with a Human Cleric to bring them all together to smash your foes. Very quickly. And this deck was the tightest, by far, of the various builds and could kill faster without any changes than the others. To Heavenly Inferno!
After getting a chance after they have been released, here are my quick thoughts on the 2018 decks:
Exquisite Invention - This series of four decks were sold as four new archetypes for their colors that players had been demanding. We had just gotten an Izzet artifacts matter leader with Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain. This is different as it cares about artifact dorks, and the pro-artifact only is, I guess, cleaner than Jhoira's historical clause, but it's still something just printed, so this was a missed opportunity.
Nature's Vengeance - As was this. Lord Windgrace is my favorite of the four planeswalkers. But adding the land's matters themes of a few Gruul builds to those of The Gitrog Monster just makes a Jund lands matters deck. But the themes are there. Take, as a very good counter-example, Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow. She enables a Ninja deck getting printed as an adjunct with Subjective Reality. She was printed, but not the main archetype of this deck, because we already have Ninjas in these colors, we just needed a leader. Add Lord Windgrace to a different Jund deck and we get what he adds without worrying about investing an entire deck into something we already have.
Adaptive Enchantment - Estrid plays a little differently that many. Estrid brings the Selesnya pro-aura builds to Bruna into Azorius. Again, these are themes that already existed, this deck just gives you the ability to play Bant auras and enchantments rather than choosing one or the other. That's good! And the ability to enchant a permanent with the -1 ability. But again, I feel that this could have been added to another Bant deck that was made, and open up folks who wanted to do that, without having this deck and build be featured.
Subjective Reality - As opposed to the other three, I think this is the best build, by far. Good things have been offered by Wizards in the past that were playing into something new and you needed to run with it, and this certainly plays well with that in mind. This deck didn't do well with reprints, though. Low value. Obvious cards that aren't here that would have been worth the price of admission, such as Sensei's Divining Top. Cards like Soothsaying that's a good call back to an older card many forgot. This was a new archetype that didn't exist, but it's not the best or strongest in other ways, so it rates the highest for me of these four, but it doesn't touch my top ten list.
And there we have it! Thanks for reading. What are your top decks from the Commander series? What did you like? What's your favorite?