The Kitchen Table: 15 Commander Cards Uncovered

Today Abe Sargent looks at fifteen cards that see little play in Commander but are good and cheap. Check out his list of hidden gems!

A few months ago, Bennie Smith wrote a blurb for the weekly StarCityGames.com Select Newsletter that goes out to folks. In that blurb, he mentioned the usefulness of Malachite Talisman for your next Commander deck. It was a brilliant suggestion, and I added a different card from the cycle, Lapis Lazuli Talisman, to a deck the following week.

Today’s article is inspired by Bennie’s Malachite Talisman comment. After twenty years of Magic, we have a ton of cards running around. While you can purchase a Lapis Lazuli or Malachite Talisman for just a quarter from SCG all minty fresh, it’s not like a lot of these cards are sitting in trade binders waiting for you to scoop them up. So you might not even know about them!

One of the great things Commander brings to the table is the combination of multiplayer fun with unusual enough deck concepts that you often uncover great cards from the past that just work perfectly with them. For example, how often do you play Ashes of the Fallen? It’s pretty crappy, right? But if you are playing a Horde of Notions deck with it as your commander, then Ashes of the Fallen becomes a downright sick card for your game.

Because building around a commander creates a quirky metagame for that deck, a lot of fun cards are added to decks. Of course, one of the issues of the format is that a lot of decks tend to devolve into "good stuff" decks that just play the same cards game in and game out with very little variation. That can get really boring. (That’s one of the reasons I began writing the Next 100 series of Commander decks. I build a quick "good stuff" obvious deck around a commander and then build a new deck using a brand-new slate of cards to really delve into the format and keep things fresh).

Additionally, a lot of players like to add a few laid back and fun cards to their decks, which highlight some joyous card they uncovered or read about. Not every card needs to grab your throat and strangle you. There is a place for Malachite or Lapis Lazuli Talisman.

I will be looking at fifteen cards that I think are pretty good in Commander but which receive very little play. Every card on this list will also be cheap to pick up. No backbreaking prices here! In order to make the list, a card has to be good, not used much, and cheap.

Pretty simple, right?

I guess we’ll see!

Puffer ExtractI love the flavor of this old-school uncommon artifact. Tap X mana and the artifact and one of your guys inflates by +X/+X this turn. Then it dies at the end of the turn. This has several uses. First of all, it is a reliable way to sink mana as you have it available. You can pump something small up to enough size to trade with an attacker. It was going to die with a chump block anyway, but now it traded (you can do the same on the attack). If your creature is indestructible, the Extract won’t kill it. I love the idea of dropping Wrath of God with Darksteel Myr in play and then pumping it to 11/12 and swinging. Note that it will pump the damage that a general deals and thus potentially kill in one commander swing!

Finally, if you have disposable creatures, like a token creature, then pump it up and swing. Maybe you’ll chew up a defender and trade, or maybe you’ll hit for six or eight damage. This has a lot of value. (For another fun uncommon artifact from this set, check out Credit Voucher.)

Flash ConscriptionThere are a few Threaten style cards running around Commander. The instant ones add the extra value of stealing one creature to block another, thereby giving you a potential two-for-one trade while stopping damage from two attackers. There are a few great effects out there, such as Grab the Reins. One of the next best entries after that is this little number. Sure, it’s six mana, but that’s not too hard in any multiplayer format. Plus, you give the creature stolen a bit of a lifelink-ish ability, which will bump your life total just a bit. Every little bit helps—don’t think that just because you are at 40 life to begin that life gain doesn’t mean much. It’s still quite valuable. As long as you run Boros colors, you can Flash Conscription as you have need.

WindstormAbout two weeks ago, I was playing against a Kaalia of the Vast deck and saw five flying creatures. I asked the player if all of the creatures in his deck had flying, and he admitted they did. "What happens if you run into flying hate?" "No one runs flying hate." Now, I have been extolling the virtues of cards like Whirlwind, Silklash Spider and even recent cards like Crushing Vines for years. There are a ton of flyers out there in Commander world. This instant mass removal spell will hit them all and yet leave players free of Hurricane damage to the face. It’s easy to build around, and I think several green Commander decks could really benefit from some serious flying hate.

Frontline SageWhile this is a traditional looter that requires a blue mana to use, it also adds something to your red zone that most other looters could only dream of. We have played enough with exalted triggers to know just how useful they are. In blue, there are a lot of creatures that attack by themselves, such as unblockable Deep-Sea Kraken, Tidal Kraken, and Looter il-Kor. Blue is also regularly teamed with black and sees Shadowmage Infiltrator or other fear/intimidate bodies swinging by themselves. Why not add a damage to every attack with your Sage?

Stronghold Biologist & Stronghold MachinistThis uncommon duo (which share the same art) is interesting because they just sit in play waiting to tap. While they have a cheap mana cost to counter something, they require a nasty discard. You turn any card in your hand into a counter. When you have the Biologist out untapped with two blue mana available, does someone cast a creature? What about a noncreature with the Mechanist out?

These are a nice supplement to control, and both require just three mana to drop into play. Opponents will have difficulty knowing how to play around them. They will usually be overrated and draw immediate answers (clearing a path for your good stuff) or be underrated and sit around for turns, controlling the board in unusual ways. If you have the right deck for these guys, you will be rewarded for your faith.

Molting Skin & Broken FallJust spend three mana to drop one of these enchantments out. Then bounce it back to your hand to regenerate a creature when needed for no extra mana. If it seems a bit lackluster, then consider the uses of these cards. First of all, they self-bounce, so you can replay an enchantment over and over again. If you have an enchantment-themed deck with Enchantresses or Sigil of the Empty Throne, then these are money.

Outside of those, they have a few things to recommend them. On a critical turn, you can tap out and still have protection for a crucial creature. You can spend the mana and drop them as you have it to spare. And finally, they act as a pseudo-hexproof effect. Who is going to Murder or Hero’s Downfall your creature if you can just bounce one of these back and regenerate it?

Tranquil GroveOn the other hand, maybe you aren’t running many enchantments at all. Perhaps you have an enchantment-light (or non-existent) deck concept. Then toss this nasty surprise into your deck and just sweep away enchantments as you like. In a post-Theros world, this card has leaped in value considerably. So grab one for your next green deck and try it out.

Orcish LibrarianSince this article began from the idea of using an Ice Age card by Bennie Smith, I thought I would select another wonder from that era. Here is the interesting Orcish Librarian ready for your usage. Tap a red mana and your Orc. Then exile randomly four cards from the top eight of your library and set the next four up as you wish. Why would you want this? After all, it’s quite random. Well, there are some great red cards that really would benefit from this (such as Galvanoth). So sure, it’s a bit random, but if you aren’t playing the right colors, the Librarian can be a very interesting adjunct to an existing strategy.

Besides, it’s a lot more fun to play than a silly ol’ Sensei’s Divining Top. (Of course, you could play it with a Top of Justice and use it to exile that crap from your deck and essentially reset your Top.) The Librarian is quite good at finding the right card when you have multiple options in your deck. For instance, if you need artifact removal have seven choices left in your deck, the Librarian is pretty useful. So try it out and have fun!

Chimeric StaffThe problem with the Staff has always been paying mana for your beater or blocker turn after turn. People look at that and then shy away. Do I really want to spend eight mana to swing with an 8/8 creature? Like Malachite Talisman, most cards on today’s list don’t go into every Commander deck. This card is great in a few cases. In a deck with a lot of mana, this is a solid outlet to use any extra mana you have sitting around. But where this shines is in a deck with a nice amount of mass creature removal. All man lands and man artifacts (such as Guardian Idol and Mutavault) are good in such decks, but the Staff is even better because you can swing for a lot more damage after a Damnation or Hallowed Burial.

Ethereal UsherWhile the black transmute cards aren’t as good as black’s normal tutor section, the blue ones are quite powerful. I still run into the occasional Muddle the Mixture and Drift of Phantasms, but it has been quite some time since I’ve seen the powerful Ethereal Usher. There are a lot of money cards in Commander blue (or artifacts) at the six slot these days. Cards you can transmute for include  Consecrated Sphinx, Keiga, Flow of Ideas, Recurring Insight, Volition Reins, Sphinx of Magosi, Aetherling, Arcanis, and Frost Titan. And let’s not forget Opportunity, Confiscate, Counterlash, Guile, Deadeye Navigator, and Draining Whelk. We can find Spelljack and Entwine or combo pieces such as Hive Mind, Mind’s Desire, Forced Fruition, Mind Over Matter, and Mind Unbound.

And that’s just blue—you can imagine the value of adding in artifact options or another color. Just add in white and you get sweeper effects, removal options, and amazing beaters easily. Mix with green for the best pinpoint removal spell six mana can buy (Desert Twister) as well as another set of potent beaters and game-ending spells. Red’s combo adds draconic love to the table. Just keep away from black because even a simple Diabolic Tutor will blast this away.

Plague SliverI have regularly extolled the virtues of the evil Sliver than can. It is identical to Juzam Djinn in every single way (save that it is worse in multiples). The JD is worth about 250 Plague Slivers on the open market. So you net a 5/5 beater and one damage per turn for your four mana trouble. That’s a worthy result from your investment. But today a lot of people have Slivered it up in the post-M14 world. Your Juzam Djinn . . . cough . . . Plague Sliver is not just a good beater anymore but an excellent hoser. The other day I ran into someone with just a Manaweft Sliver for mana, and this hit her for one damage a turn for four turns before someone else swept the board. Getting in extra damage like that is lovely. (For fun Donate tricks, check out this with Hivestone, Conspiracy, or Xenograft).

Kuldotha PhoenixI love the Phoenix ability in casual play, especially in Commander where you regularly run into (or play yourself) mass removal spells that drop all creatures from the pitch. Phoenix effects typically allow you to recur the creature to your hand. What makes this interesting is two things. First, it has haste (not all firebirds do), so it can swing the turn it comes back. But secondly, it does not come into your hand and then demand to be recast. Instead, just spend four mana (of any color) and drop it right onto the battlefield during your upkeep. It gives you an instant threat post-sweeper.

While the recursion ability does require you to run artifacts for metalcraft, there are some serious decks that could really benefit from this. So if your Commander concept includes both red and artifacts, give this a serious trial.

Jungle BarrierAlong with fellow defender-draw cards like Wall of Blossoms and Carven Caryatid, you used to see this quite often. But it has really fallen off the earth the last five years or so, and I haven’t seen one in ages. Perhaps people don’t like investing four mana into a 2/6 wall that just produces one card unless it has flying or something. These two colors can give you cheaper card draw (Wall of Blossoms) or cheaper defense (Fog Bank). But the Barrier has a few things to note about it.

First, because it’s so large, it’s hard to accidentally kill. It also has enough power to be a threat. Someone may not attack you with their three 2/2s when you have this, but they will attack into your Fog Bank or Wall of Blossoms. Plus, the higher defense keeps it in the game when damage-based removal hits, such as Mizzium Mortars or Slice and Dice. Additionally, it can be used to supplement the above walls, not replace them. There is still a place for this card in decks—it’s free, and it stops stuff. A lot of Simic decks want the extra defense.

Illuminated FolioDo you have a monocolored deck that is in a color without a lot of card drawing (such as white or red)? Then check out this uncommon artifact. Just tap one mana and reveal two cards from your hand that share a color (easy enough a monocolored deck, right?). Then draw a card for your troubles. It’s cheap and effective card drawing. The only disadvantage is that you have to show two cards. Many decks won’t mind for the cheap effect. (It can work in a lot of two-color decks as well). So if you need to shore up that card drawing in red or white (or other colors if you don’t own the right stuff), then after you add in cards like Staff of Nin, consider this as your next addition.

GloomdrifterIt’s not often you come across this combination of a cheap cost and nice mass removal. Just play this four-mana flyer and if you threshold all of the nonblack stuff is going to shrink by -2/-2 for the turn. That’s enough to kill a lot of opposing foes—utility creatures such as Birds of Paradise and Soul Warden, early blockers like Fog Bank and Darksteel Myr, and later stuff such as Azami, Lady of Scrolls; Azusa, Lost But Seeking; and Oracle of Mul Daya. You can clear out some serious token power with this as well. As long as you have few-to-none nonblack small creatures and a reliable way of reaching threshold, this is a nasty tool. Should your deck meet those requirements, consider Gloomdrifter.

Today we looked at fifteen (or seventeen depending on how you count) cards that have a lot of value in Commander. Depending on your needs, some of these cards could easily make the cut of your next project. What are some of your favorite little unseen cards? How can you use and abuse these cards?

Until later,
Abe Sargent

 P.S. Take a look at Kulrath Knight. Now look at the monstrous keyword in Theros. Now look at Kulrath Knight again. Allow me to welcome you to a new friend.