By now you’ve noticed that the Commander team here at Cool Stuff has decided to split up the different guilds and talk about each one individually. Surprisingly, there wasn’t much competition and I am pretty sure everyone got their first or second choice which just goes to show how many different play styles and philosophies we have under one “roof” here at Cool Stuff. This whole collaboration was Bruce Richards’ idea so be sure to tweet at him and tell him what a good idea this was and be sure to read all of my colleagues’ columns if you haven’t already.
I am going to preface this by saying that this is a highly subjective ranking but I did my best to try and pick the cards I thought were the strongest overall within Simic and Simic-containing decks rather than my favorite cards. Sometimes the best cards and my favorite cards were one and the same and sometimes they were extra not. If you are incensed by my ranking, good, tell me your Top Ten in the comments section and other readers can tell you why you’re right or wrong and we can all pretend there is an objective right answer. Nothing is more fun than being super opinionated about new cards because we haven’t built decks and seen the cards we love underperform yet. We’re still at that magical time where anything is possible.
Before I jump right into my list, I want to talk about three cards that didn’t quite make the cut for one reason or another but are worth mentioning all the same.
3. Galloping Lizrog - While this card doesn’t fit in every Simic deck, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out just how potent it is in quite a few of mine. I have two Simic decks that put +1/+1 counters on creatures and they all contain plenty of spells like Hardened Scales, Doubling Season, and Primal Vigor. Moving counters onto Lizrog and doubling them, then doubling them again because of Doubling Season creates a ton of value. If you have ways to move the counters back you have more opportunities to double counters and in certain decks this can get out of hand. This card is a bit narrow but in the decks where it’s fun, it’s a lot of fun and I’m going to at least try it out.
2. Eyes Everywhere - Another card I would be remiss if I didn’t mention is this beauty which isn’t strictly a Simic card but it is in Simic colors. This is quite possibly the most “Me” card in the set and while I didn’t think it striking me as the perfect 75% card meant it had a place in the rankings where I tried to be objective, I still wanted to mention it. This has two things I love - a way to steal a creature (and let them steal it back or something else if they have Blue mana, which is fun) and it also doesn’t punish you for playing the card early as it can select the target later and actually benefits you by being in play. This is a very 75% card and letting your opponent scry every turn may help them forgive you for swiping their creature. This is excellent design.
1. Persistent Petitioners - Not a Simic card at all (although not that typically Azorius, either) this is nevertheless one of the coolest cards in the set. Grab every foil you see and grab these out of draft chaff because as soon as this card ends up on the Command Zone, everyone on the planet is going to want to build this deck. I hope you grabbed your copy of Thrumming Stone when they printed Rat Colony! I kind of hope they stop doing the “any number of copies” gimmick soon because if they do it too many times it will ruin the novelty, but I am glad they made at least one that didn’t require you to attack with creatures. I’m glad this is in the set.
Enough preamble - I can tell you’re champing at the bit for the main attraction so without further ado, let’s give the people what they want.
10. End-Raze Forerunners
Forerunners are an excellent budget option for people who lack access to Craterhoof Behemoth but it’s also a nice card to hit in the pod chain if you don’t have Avenger of Zendikar in the deck and need some extra reach. This doesn’t replace Craterhood in decks that have it but it could either supplement it or serve as a decent alternative in decks that don’t. This also wins games in Limited and has the wonderful added caveat of giving your creatures Vigilance so you don’t get blown out by a Fog. All in all, this is a solid card for Simic colors and a worthy inclusion in the top 10.
9. Rampage of the Clans
This is certainly a “fair” way to go about blowing up everyone’s permanents and there are a few cheeky ways to make this a real blowout, such as Crafty Cutpurse. That’s sort of a silly combo in and of itself, but when you consider how good Cutpurse is in conjunction with a lot of other cards like Pongify and Sylvan Offering and against decks like Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer or with Helm of the Host and you can see how building around Crafty Cutpurse could be fun and very profitable. This isn’t Wave of Vitriol, to be sure, but it can really slow down a heavy artifact deck and give them a nice consolation prize. I think this card is a lot of fun, especially if you’re taking down really pesky artifacts on their side of the board at the same time you’re turning your clue and treasure tokens into an unstoppable army of Centaurs.
It’s hard to make the case for a card like Stifle in Commander where a lot of the abilities you may want to counter could just be re-activated. Stifle is great for blowing up fetchlands, making a Jitte proc whiff or nerfing a big modular counter dump in faster formats. Such a small effect doesn’t necessarily seem worth it in Commander, but when you think about how fragile a lot of combo decks are, you realize that stifling one Karmic Guide trigger or Prime Speaker Vannifar activation can ruin an entire combo and stop a player in their tracks. While Stifle is more obvious in other formats, if you sit and think for a while you can probably come up with a dozen examples of decks that all but scoop to it. Is Stifle good enough to get a whole card slot in this format where cuts are hard to make? Perhaps not, but if you tack on additional utility in the form of a card that can copy one of your creatures, giving you another ETB trigger or just another body on the field and you can easily justify giving one slot to two cards. Both of these halves are good enough to play and getting both of them for one card is good value and this will come in handy in a lot of Simic decks.
7. Zegana, Utopian Speaker
I don’t want this to be a commander, really, but there are quite a few decks of mine that run Bramblewood Paragon to make sure my big fat creatures don’t get chump blocked and this is a much better card for that slot. I think this goes in the 99 of a lot of +1/+1 counter decks because it draws cards, gives you reach and can grow itself, but I think the fact that it can’t give any of your creatures counters or draw more than one card means it’s not a great commander. Compared with Teysa Karlov, Lavinia, Azorius Renegade, Judith, the Scourge Diva and Nikya of the Old Ways, Zegana is pretty disappointing, but I still think she has some utility and having 3 abilities rather than 2 somewhat makes up for her lack of raw power.
6. Biomancer’s Familiar
This is certainly powerful enough that you may wonder why it’s not higher on the list, but I think as powerful as it is, it’s very narrow. It could be a second copy of Training Grounds in quite a few decks, which is very attractive, but the second ability limits its uses to cards with the Adapt ability which so far is only creatures in this set. I think that despite the second ability being worthless most of the time, having another Training Grounds is good enough that this creature will get some play, and it has the added benefit of being grabbable by a lot more of the kind of tutors you want to play in your deck than Grounds to boot. I like this card a lot.
5. Incubation Druid
There are quite a few ways to easily put counters on this creature, especially in Simic decks. I keep going back and forth between this and Gyre Sage and there are compelling arguments for both. Gyre Sage can put counters on itself and Druid can’t, Gyre Sage is unbound by the number of counters it gets and therefore the amount of mana it can produce and Druid can only produce three mana. Druid requires you to mess around putting counters on it before it can do anything while all Sage requires you to do is curve out. I don’t think this will replace Somberwald Sage in my decks like Maelstrom Wanderer and I don’t know if this wants to join or replace Gyre Sage in my +1/+1 counter decks, but Druid can do some things Sage can’t like make Blue mana ever or go infinite with Freed From The Real. Druid can tap for 1 mana early, though, which is a big plus and it may end up replacing Birds of Paradise more often than it replaces Gyre Sage or Somberwald Sage in decks where I can sling counters around, especially the decks where cards like Llanowar Reborn and Hadana's Climb do that rather effortlessly.
4. Prime Speaker Vannifar
While this card is getting a lot of buzz from deck-builders, I said in my article last week that this is likely to be built as a pod chain combo deck by everyone and will probably be pretty boring unless you specifically try to build around a toolbox rather than a pod chain. Vannifar has already wreaked a lot of havoc on card prices on everything from Intruder Alarm to Thornbite Staff and I think once people realize how good she is in conjunction with other cards in the deck, there are a few more shoes that will drop soon. I also think how one-dimensional Vannifar feels and how likely you are to suffer from The Rafiq Problem keep even a card this powerful from topping the list. Prepare for hate because it’s coming.
3. Simic Ascendancy
I wanted to make this the number one card but I can’t tell whether it’s actually that good or if I just like it the most out of any card in the set. This puts counters on creatures which isn’t just good with Simic cards in this set - it’s good with creatures with Graft, Evolve and if you have proliferate it can even start growing creatures with no abilities. This quickly becomes a clock, especially if you have a way to put counters on things multiple times per turn and Doubling Season only hastens things. I was running Dragon Blood at one point - I’m very grateful to have a way to put counters on creatures that also doubles as an alt win con, my favorite kind of win con.
2. Wilderness Reclamation
It remains to be seen whether I placed this too high on my list, but in terms of excitement about a new card, this is hard to beat. Players are already scheming about how to use this in Standard to tap out with cards like Emergency Powers but still have countermagic up on other players turns and Omnath, Thrasios, Kruphix and Helix Pinnacle players will love the value this gives you. You can even run a bit of a Stax build in Green with cards like Root Maze and Winter Orb since this untaps your lands for you and leaves theirs frosted. A Green spell that makes your blue spells even better - what could be more Simic than that?
1. Growth Spiral
This card seems fairly innocuous at first. How could a common be at the top of the list when there are rares and mythics below? However, the power of Growth Spiral lies in the fact that it doesn’t require you to tap out to play an additional land, meaning you can keep countermagic up and still ramp. With spells like Farseek and Rampant Growth fairly common and Simic Signet and Explore being common turn two plays, Growth Spiral looks even more attractive. Even if you’re not bluffing countermagic you can put any land into play as a surprise - flash in a Maze of Ith when they attack you, play a Sejiri Steppe or Bojuka Bog as an instant, play Vesuva in response to them blowing up an important land, etc. You can even just use this card to smooth the effects of playing a Karoo land. Everything Explore does, this does plus more and while Explore gets a lot of play in decks with no access to Blue, this is still an incredibly good card and it likely impacts formats other than ours.
The longer I stare at this, the more I want to keep rearranging my picks. It was very difficult to order some of these and Growth Spiral at #1 seems very bold and controversial but I am sticking to my guns. I think Vannifar is powerful but boring and I think deck staples are more impactful than commanders. Simic Ascendancy was very nearly the number one card on this list as was Wilderness Reclamation. Whether or not you 100% agree with my inclusions and my rankings, I think we can all agree that Simic has been granted quite a few solid new tools in this set and that Adapt could end up being a very spicy ability. With not one but two new mana dorks, a few ways to add and double +1/+1 counters and creatures like Hydroid Krasis and Biogenic Ooze which may end up exceeding my initial expectations, Simic is easily my favorite guild in Ravnica Allegiance and I will be representing the combine at my prerelease this weekend. Let’s hear your Top 10 picks in the comments below. Thanks for reading, everyone. Make sure to read the other 4 guild reviews this week on Cool Stuff. Until next time!