Having written about Lazav, Emmara, Niv-Mizzet and Izoni, I am basically out of Commanders from Guilds of Ravnica I am particularly excited about. It’s not to say I am not really excited about cards from Guilds of Ravnica - I am. Today, I want to look at the Guilds of Ravnica commanders and find some cards that I don’t see enough people running in these decks or are perfect for a 75% build, taking the deck in a new direction. My hope is that I can find some cards, both old and new, that you’ll be excited about acquiring as you build new decks and improve the ones you already have. I’m hard at work on an Emmara, Soul of the Accord deck, so why don’t we start with her?
Emmara, Soul of the Accord
Like I explained above, I’m going to briefly talk about some hidden gems I came across in my research and I think are good in 75% builds.
Nature's Chosen - Not many people were aware of this card from Alliances but it was all but designed for exactly this commander. With a tap and an untap built in and the ability to help the rest of your board out, this should be in every Emmara deck. I might also test Instill Energy, Samite Blessing, and maybe Witches' Eye, although at that point, maybe just run a few vehnicles instead.
Cultivator's Caravan - This is a vehicle I don’t see discussed as much in Emmara decks as something like Smuggler's Copter. If it’s not easy to just attack with Emmara, it may not be any easier to attack with Copter and I’d like a vehicle that can do something more than just sit there in an Emmara deck when I can’t attack yet. Don’t sleep on this card.
Citanul Hierophants - This is the card I used to bring up to make fun of really powerful cards from Saga being left off of the Reserved List (“It’s not a powerhouse like Citanul Hierophants, guys”) but I guess I have to eat those words now. If you don’t want to shell out $75 bucks for Earthcraft and want something to help your Cryptolith Rite out, this not only lets you tap Emmara safely but allows the tokens to join the fray just as well as Cryptolith Rite. This is a Reserved List card so, it’s always possible it will disappear from stores soon and end up relisted above $10. Grab these cheap while you can. Song of Freyalise is also a nice budget alternative to Earthcraft.
Huatli, Radiant Champion - I don’t discuss Planeswalkers nearly enough in my articles. I really don’t play with them much, but I should do it more. In fact, I’ll suggest a Planeswalker for every commander. This one seems perfect for this deck and it’s pretty cheap, too.
I also ran across Twiddlestick Charger, but I’m not sure you playgroup will allow you to trifle with cards like that without insisting they be allowed to unload their N-Strike Elite Retaliator at your library. “It’s Nerf, or nothin’” they might say if they are basically exactly my age (old).
I like Emmara a lot and can’t wait to Glare of Subdual people out of the game.
I might as well do the Planeswalker first so I don’t forget I made that rule for myself 30 seconds ago. How bad would that look? I don’t need to tell you Elspeth, both Sun’s Champion and Tirel, are good in this deck, but a planeswalker I don’t want people to overlook is
Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants - I think making creatures more slowly than you will with Emmara means you might go medium tall and medium wide rather than just wide like with Emmara or just tall like with the first Trostani. Ajani buffing a limited number of creatures until you can spit out a bunch of soldiers every turn seems like a good pairing with a deck like this and Trostani even buffs those soldiers right out of the gate. Also, Trostani is great for foiling the 75% player across from you who just wants to swipe your stuff.
Flickerform - There aren’t many ways to do this sort of thing outside of Blue decks and this is among the best ways to do it. Also consider running Gift of Immortality and some sac outlets like Miren, the Moaning Well, Greater Good, and Ashnod's Altar to get the most out of re-buiying Trostani without having to recast her. If you can afford the true colorless in your mana base, don’t sleep on Eldrazi Displacer either.
If we’re going semi-big and semi-wide, Populate is a much more useful mechanic than Convoke and a lot of those cards that didn’t seem great in Commander at the time deserve a second look. I think Growing Ranks, Druid's Deliverance, Sundering Growth, and Rootborn Defenses at minimum want another look. We’re not able to make as many tokens as fast as Emmara so we want our soldiers to be around 5/5 or so. Look at Anthem effects as well.
Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice
I am not sure there is a lot I want to do that’s better than just suiting up Aurelia, giving herself the bonus and smashing. You’re going to have to hit hard if you only want to serve with one creature, and I know a few ways to do that.
Quietus Spike - You’ll want to buff Aurelia’s power a lot but don’t sleep on a card that will carve away half of their remaining life no matter how big or small she is. If you’re trying to KO someone in one swing, this is going to do more work than almost any card.
Ajani Vengeant - I think a deck like this, where you want to just suit up one big creature and serve, you should be able to tap blockers, blow up lands to keep them from catching up, and destroy their creatures. This card does all three. I am not usually a fan of MLD, but you have to jump through enough hoops here that they can’t say you didn’t warn them.
Cataclysm/Tragic Arrogance - If you’re going to load up on one creature, why should opponents get to have as many creatures as they want? They shouldn’t. Remember with Tragic Arrogance, you can choose the same permanent multiple times, so let them keep that Bow of Nylea as their artifact and their enchantment and make them sac everything else.
I am not super excited about Aurelia, but I think if we managed to build some sort of Voltron deck, it could be at least fast. We would need Sram effects to keep your hand full, Teferi's Protection and flicker effects to keep her from getting killed constantly and we’d ideally need to be able to kill someone in one hit and maybe take another combat phase after and kill someone else. I don’t like this kind of deck, but I do love hitting people with a creature with Quietus Spike on it. Ain’t that a paradox?
Tajic, Legion’s Edge
This might be more interesting than I thought at first. Instead of being a dumb aggro deck, you could actually be a control deck, dealing damage all over the board and having your creatures survive… provided you can keep Tajic alive. Since he prevents the damage to your creatures and not theirs, you could run damage-based wraths for days and really punish them.
Repercussion - This card will KO people if you play something like Blasphemous Act. You will still take 13 from Tajic getting hit but if you can prevent damage to him another way or, I don’t know, be at 14 or more when you cast the Act, you’ll kill everyone with 3 creatures, most likely. This card is flying under the radar, but if I built Tajic, I would be all about this strategy.
Pyrohemia - Why not a repeatable source of the damage? Your goal is to keep Tajic alive; but, if you can do that, you can keep wrathing the board and your creatures will all survive to attack unopposed. I’m certainly in favor of that outcome.
Rolling Earthquake - Many people didn’t know about this card because it was prohibitively expensive. Now it’s gotten a much-needed reprint, the price is under control, and you can kill fliers with a card that says “Earthquake” on it. What a world we live in.
Nahiri, the Lithomancer - I am glad I made myself think about ‘walkers. Finding Nahiri felt really good when I had the kind of strategy in mind that I want for this deck. You can get your Darksteel Plate back or make a new equipment token to make Tajic a beast. Quake the board at will with a suited-up Tajic, courtesy of everyone’s favorite Kor Planeswalker.
Tajic may not be great, but looking through the cards that would go in the deck if I were to build it actually has me sort of excited. I love the idea of being the only one with creatures. Traditional Wraths are still a problem, but this deck looks like fun anyhow.
I’m going to be honest - Niv-Mizzet is so close to every other Niv-Mizzet and its builds are so thoroughly “solved” that I don’t think I’ll be able to find anything novel or that no one has thought of. This isn’t a new commander. What I will say is that there are more Planeswalkers than usual that deserve a look.
Jaya Ballard - Not a card I considered much in my building, I recently rediscovered Jaya and I like her abilities a lot in a spell-slinging deck. So many decks reward wheel effects, and I think her middle ability is indispensable in those decks. While we don’t evaluate planeswalkers based on their ultimate, she sure does have an ultimate. Pair her with any Thousand-Year Storm deck.
Dack Fayden - This is my favorite 75% deck Planeswalker. Gaining control of a mana rock is a big swing in mana output potential, and taking a combo piece before the whole combo can be assembled is brutal, especially if you can make use of it yourself. His emblem is tricky to make work, but his +1 is pretty saucy and for a three-mana walker, he does work.
Ral, Izzet Viceroy - I am not all that excited by him outside of this exact deck. That said, he can go in this exact deck, so do that.
I have been sleeping on Dack Fayden, frankly. I may have found the most 75% Planeswalker of them all.
There aren’t many cards I didn’t cover when I brewed a deck, but there are a few I found going back through.
Protean Hulk - Ever since Hulk was unbanned, he’s been sort of quiet. cEDH players were very high on the combo for a while but it seems like Hulk has mostly faded into the background outside of very competitive circles. This is a better Hulk deck than most (Mazirek and Meren take the top spots, obviously) and I think it’s worth looking into, especially if you’re using Cryptolith Rites (or Citanul Hierophants) to get this out before turn seven.
Path of Discovery - I have been sleeping on this card, too. While it is good in any deck where you will be putting a ton of tokens into play, it’s especially good when you want creatures in the ‘yard, and that’s exactly what Path can do for you. This is like Cream of the Crop for decks with small creatures, to an extent. I like this a ton in a deck with Undergrowth.
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar - Another ‘walker I have basically never mentioned before, this sassy Voice can buff an entire swath of your tokens. Considering she’s a mere three mana, she can come down early and protect herself. That ultimate is saucy but she mainly gets the nod here for her ability to make a few plants and use her middle ability once or twice, which is a lot of value for 3 mana.
Etrata, the Silencer
The tech for this deck is to make Etrata phase out after she hits them. I think that’s fun, but I also don’t know how much I want to have to focus on one person so much. If I were to build this deck, I might focus on making lots of creatures unblockable and trying to mess with everyone equally - Etrata one person, Thada Adel another, etc.
Distant Memories - I have been writing this column for so long that I wrote about this card as a way to combat having your commander tucked with Hinder or Oblation. Well now it’s back as a way to get Etrata back out of your deck. You will most likely have to pay commander tax, but that’s preferable to not having a good way to get Etrata back. I have seen a ton of solutions to Etrata shuffling in but not this one, so let’s not sleep on it.
Fleshwrither - As long as we’re trying to get Etrata back, here’s another way.
Liliana Vess - A real oldie but still a goodie, Vess is very good in this deck. Get Etrata back, make them pitch a card or make the dark realms rise and do your bidding. What’s more 75% than stealing their whole ‘yard?
Lazav, the Multifarious
This is rapidly turning into a combo deck that’s very similar to Mairsil and I don’t know if that’s the worst way to build Lazav. I brewed a list already but there are a few cards of which you should be aware.
Ob Nixilis, Unshackled - People are so focused on what Lazav can turn into when you attack that I want to mention a few cards he can turn into as a trick to really dome them when they least expect it. Let them crack a fetch or Evolving Wilds and then flip into Ob and hit them. Having a way to discard him at instant-speed is the only way you’ll catch a savvy opponent, but anything from Jace's Archivist to a lowly Merfolk Looter can help you achieve this goal.
Notion Thief - Surprise! You can cast this as a surprise or leave it in your yard, daring someone to cast a wheel.
Wall of Souls - Even if your commander dies, he is very easy to recast, and you surprise dome them for a ton by leaving Wall of Souls every conspicuously in your ‘yard for all to see, daring them to swing at you. I like this as a rattlesnake because it’s very cheap to swap into and can really punish them a lot.
Mu Yanling - As long as I’m leaving no stone unturned, let’s talk about a card from a set I haven’t even mentioned. This global series ‘walker does serious work and I think making your Lazav unblockable without having to flip into a bad creature which costs mana is useful. Drawing is always good and if you manage to get to her ultimate, you’re in very good shape. If you can only kill opponents one at a time, being able to 0 mana Time Warp is very solid. Costing six mana is rough in a mana-hungry deck, but you should be to six by the time you’re ready to start attacking with Lazav with enough of a ‘yard to do some shenanigans, so I think six mana is OK.
I am glad I did this exercise and I hope this gets you excited to look a bit beyond the netdeck traps some of these decks are falling into. Make a 75% Etrata that plays all of their spells. Go damage-based sweepers with Tajic. Go Aurelia Voltron. Build something fun, and no matter what you do, don’t keep overlooking planeswalkers the way I have been. They’re good cards and I never hesitated to use them in other formats. That’s all for now. Thanks for reading, and be sure to include any overlooked cards that have overperformed in your testing that I didn’t include. Until next time!