The Kitchen Table #366 – Twenty Cards For Your Commander Decks

This week, Abe’s recommending an assortment of cards you may not have considered for Commander play. Could your deck use a boost?

Hey folks! I was playing Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy a few days ago and found myself thinking about how good a few of the cards in my hand would be in Commander, though they don’t seem to see a lot of play. I don’t see a lot of decklists online or in play with some of these goods. There was my next deck article! These are twenty cards that I think you should consider for your Commander decks, and any casual deck, really. These cards include recently printed ones that never caught on, and some old stars that have been cast aside for new ground but still have power. We have cards from Ice Age and Exodus all the way through to Scars of Mirrodin and Rise of the Eldrazi. Let’s take a look!

20. Tainted Pact – In any highlander format, Tainted Pact is an instant tutor-ish card. It may remove a lot of your deck from the game, but it will result in you finding what you need for the situation as long as you don’t hit a double basic. In many tricked-out decks that have very few basics, this is virtually essential. There’s a lot of value in getting a card at instant speed for only two mana. You can get removal, a counter, whatever you need. It also has some additional value post-Innistrad with Laboratory Manic. Forget clunky cards that work with it like Leveler and Psychic Vortex. Just wait until the end of someone’s turn and play this or Demonic Consultation to rock the game.

19. Ashling, the Extinguisher – A 4/4 for four mana is right on curve, and dark Ashling has an interesting ability tacked on. The problem is that she can warn people she’s coming ahead of time, and then they keep back their dudes. I particularly like her with things like Lightning Greaves, Swiftfoot Boots, Fires of Yavamaya, and Urabrask the Hidden. Then you can swing into an open defense and force them to sacrifice a creature of your choice. There’s a lot of underused utility here.

18. Novablast WurmI can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten Novablast Wurm kills. I manage to drop the Novablast and then attack, kill everything, and keep attacking until I win. If people can’t kill the Wurm, then they die. I think this is an amazing finisher in Bant decks.  With an Asceticism out and a couple of counterspells in hand, you are winning the game.

17. Sunblast Angel – While discussing Wrath effects on creatures, let’s talk about this bad boy that gets no respect. If the only thing you use it for is to kill one tapped creature, then it’s good. However, if you manage to kill many creatures with it, it’s amazing. I don’t see how you wouldn’t want to play a ton of these all over the place, but I just don’t see them that often outside of our playgroup.

16. Fight to the Death – I put this in my most recent Underused Hall of Fame, and it’s still there. If you are playing duels, then skip this; its value is much more limited there. However, it owns in multiplayer. When one person attacks another, and they block, just kill everything. Oh look, there goes your Kalonian Behemoth and so forth.  It’ll kill anything from Eldrazi to Walls, including creatures that normally survive combat like Silklash Spider and Commander Eesha. You can also use it offensively by attacking with a bunch of small tokens, killing all of the big guys that block. Or chump their big bad and surprise—Fight to the Death!

15. Totem-Guide HartebeestIf there is one pure thing that casual players like, it’s enters-the-battlefield creatures. We like to increase our creature count by playing Nekrataal instead of Terror, Aether Adept instead of Unsummon, and Flametongue Kavu instead of Flame Slash. We adore creatures with these abilities, and we also like tutors and auras. The Hartebeest is a perfect storm—a creature with an ability that tutors and loves auras! Yet how often have you seen this guy running around? Not that often. Even if the only auras you have in your deck are Faith’s Fetters and Angelic Destiny, this is worth considering. With so many great auras out there, such as Pattern of Rebirth, Mind Control, Necromancy, and Squirrel Nest, I think you’ll find a lot of uses for this guy.

14. Sunscape BattlemageWith two higher-profile creatures in the same cycle, Sunscape Battlemage was always overshadowed by its Thornscape Battlemage and Thunderscape Battlemage pals. The Sunscape Battlemage is a great choice for Bant color decks, despite its status as third-stringer in the Battlemage cycle. The kickers are awesome. Everybody’s always up for drawing two cards and destroying a flyer has great value in a format where flying creatures are played in droves. Kicking it for both costs a total of eight mana, but this is a format that often has extra mana available, so let’s use it for stuff. Plus you can always play it earlier for its Wing Snare ability only!

13. Hoard-Smelter DragonRight on the heels of an artifact-heavy block and recently following Shards of Alara’s large number of artifact creatures and the heavy amount of artifacts and especially equipment from Zendikar’s Adventure World, it should come as no surprise that we have an elevated number of artifacts hitting the kitchen table. I don’t know if we have ever seen a larger percentage of artifacts in casual play in the history of Magic. With so many artifacts running about, Hoard-Smelter Dragon becomes that much better. You can off anything from major threats like Mind’s Eye to mana such as Dreamstone Hedron or Thran Dynamo. You can kill chump creatures such as Pilgrim’s Eye and major players like Ethersworn Adjudicator. Just spend four mana when you want, and you have dead artifacts all over the place. It’s also great in Type Four, where it is regularly drafted highly by someone with an artifact deck who wants to blow their artifacts for an alpha strike or by someone to fight against the artifact deck.

12. Rolling ThunderHonestly, how many X spells are better than Rolling Thunder? In the right deck, I can see Fanning the Flames over it. Depending on what you need it for, I can also see Comet Storm or perhaps even Devil’s Play. Certainly black has some X spells that are better, like Consume Spirit, Death Grasp, and Profane Command. That’s it. This is clearly one of the best red X spells of all time due to its massive flexibility. You can do anything from sending all of the damage at one person’s dome to dealing three to one creatures, one to another, two to a third, and the rest to Harry. Now, I admit that the sheer flexibility of the card prevents it from doing the maximum amount of damage that Comet Storm can do. You put ten mana into this and you are dealing out eight damage divided as you choose. You put ten mana into Comet Storm and you can be doing six damage to three different targets, trading flexibility for more overall damage. I understand the argument that Comet Storm is better, and I play it too. But that’s about the only one I’ll accept. Would you rather have a flashback Blaze that costs RRRX the next time or a Rolling Thunder? In most cases, I’d rather have the Thunder. I’ve seen this in highlander decks fewer than five times. This is a great X spell with the versatility you need to clear the board, kill lots of creatures, or kill Steve outright.

11.  Brittle EffigyThis is quickly becoming one of my top three favorite Trinket Mage targets. When you are being threatened by something, it’s nice to know that this Trinket Mage you have in your hand can do more than find Sol Ring or Skullclamp. It’s great to have an emergency dinghy in your deck if a creature is suddenly out of hand. Just grab the Effigy and exile them both. Leave the game, and take this idol thing with you! No more tricks with your Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre or your Blightsteel Colossus. Just take your idol and go! I know Emrakul is banned in Commander, but if you are playing other formats with it then you can just hand them an Effigy and they leave this realm, never to return again. This also acts like a Seal of Doom. People may not attack you with their creatures because they don’t want to lose one to the Effigy. They’ll go somewhere else, as long as you have the mana up.  It’s not a card that will bring the wrath of the table down upon you and it does its job quite nicely, thank you very much.

10. Spike WeaverI see it sometimes, but not nearly enough. Can you really believe that many fellow casual-friendly rares from Exodus are worth more? Take a look at Coat of Arms, Cataclysm, and Ertai, Wizard Adept. Spike Weaver is better than all of those for multiplayer. You never know when someone is going to attack you. You never know when waves of people will attack you. Why not have defense? You need more than the occasional Maze of Ith. You need a creature that has three Fogs built in that you can use as your leisure—you need a Spike Weaver. It works great with friends like Volrath’s Stronghold, Recurring Nightmare (which is banned in Commander, by the way), Venser, the Sojourner, and lots of other tricks.

9. Starlight InvokerDo you know how many times I have activated all other nine Invokers total, outside of Type Four? Maybe ten times. Do you know how many times I’ve activated Starlight Invoker? Probably thirty or forty. People will slay a Flamewave Invoker the moment you have seven mana available. You will see Smokespew Invoker bite it very quickly before it comes online. But the Starlight Invoker just gains you some life. That’s it. It’s not even very efficient—eight mana for just five life? That’s it? Because of that, no one kills it. You can activate it two or three times before people want to kill it. It’s no big deal. Play it early to block or add to your density of creatures. If you draw it later in the game, then it’s even better. This is a card that won’t disappoint.

8. Colfenor’s UrnI love recursion. The Urn will allow you to put creatures with a decently sized bottom under it when they die, and then when you’ve got three or more under it, you pop it at the end of a turn and they all come back good as new!  This has tons of uses. You can bring back big creatures with great abilities like Woodfall Primus, Angel of Despair, Bogardan Hellkite, or Aethersnipe. You can bring back your team after a sweeping removal effect took them all out. You can use it to permanently retain a creature after you are forced to sacrifice it to something like Through the Breach and Sneak Attack. You Sneak out a creature like Silvos, Rogue Elemental for eight damage, and then it goes into the Urn to come back when you’ve loaded it up with goods. This has a lot of power for your decks.

7. Supply / Demand –Here’s another Bant card that I feel doesn’t see enough play in those three colors. I like Supply enough that I’ve played it in sixty-card G/W decks tons of times. Demand should be able to tutor a lot of great cards in these colors—Mystic Snake, Absorb, Mirari’s Wake, Sterling Grove, Privileged Position, Simic Sky Swallower, Meddling Mage, Teferi’s Moat, Aura Mutation, Grand Arbiter Augustin IV, Rafiq of the Many and a bunch more. There are so many multicolor cards that you can go crazy with the options. Then add Supply’s ability to make X 1/1 tokens nice and neat, for when you need an instant army. With two strong halves, I often find myself troubled by which I want to play, and that’s a good thing.

6. Crib SwapWhat happened here? There was a time when Crib Swap was arguably the second-best pinpoint creature removal spell white ever had. It’s only third now, behind Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile, yet it seems to have disappeared from decks virtually entirely. In a format that needs redundancy, you would think Crib Swap still made the cut. Exiling any creature without life or a land is great, and all they receive is a 1/1 change-dork in compensation. Meanwhile, you have permanently ended any threat they have. You can use anything from Homing Sliver to Aurochs Herd to get one from your deck—Aurochs Herd is tech for changelings.

5. Haunted CrossroadsVolrath’s Stronghold is the most powerful non-basic land ever printed for multiplayer. Period. It is so powerful that every deck using black had better include it, unless you don’t have a copy or you don’t have creatures in your deck…or maybe you have a Planar Void deck or something. We know how powerful this ability is, so what staggers my mind is why Haunted Crossroads doesn’t see more play. No, it’s not as durable as the land Volrath’s Stronghold. However, it costs less to use—one mana vs. three is a big deal—and it’s repeatable. If you want, you can stack multiple creatures on top of your library. Maybe you are about to Demonic Tutor and you want to shuffle your creatures back in. Maybe someone has targeted your graveyard with a Suffer the Past and you need those creatures. Maybe you need to dredge back a card to your hand but you don’t have that many cards left in your library. You can keep multiple mana open to have a response to instant graveyard removal instead of just doing it once. There are a lot of uses for Haunted Crossroads, and it’s worth playing.

4. Chandra AblazeI have to admit that, like you, I’ve often chuckled at the abilities of Chandra Ablaze. You have a discard a red card to deal four damage? It feels like she’s got all of the power of a four-drop planeswalker in a six-drop body. At six mana, she is one shy of Karn Liberated, but she’s not even close to him with her power level.  Unless you have a dedicated deck for her, she’s weak, right? But then you have that second ability. You can go off twice with it easy, and if you discard just once for that four damage, you can use it a third time. Forcing everybody to discard their hand and draw three cards turn after turn can be quite a headache for a lot of decks. Control doesn’t like the randomness. Think about how many people at the table like to hide behind that full grip of cards, often enhanced by Reliquary Tower. Use Chandra Ablaze’s second ability against them and see how much longer they’ll chuckle when you play her.

3. Mask of the MimicDue to the highlander nature of Commander, I find a lot of the best cards played quite often. You see things like Sol Ring in a lot of decks. You also see similar creatures, whether colorless ones such as Solemn Simulacrum or colored ones like Avatar of Woe or Silvos, Rogue Elemental. At any kitchen table where the creature count is quite similar, this is an interesting trick. For one blue, at instant speed, you can sacrifice a creature to tutor for any target creature in play. Sacrifice your Solemn Simulacrum to tutor for a copy of that Akroma, Mulldrifter, Consecrated Sphinx, or Sheoldred. When you have similar creature bases, this is an interesting trick to find a good creature of your own, or kill theirs with the legend rule.

2. Songs of the DamnedI’m sad this was not reprinted in Innistrad, but I understand why not. It’s a great card for lots of decks that you might be making right now, and I can’t recommend it more highly. From things like Mirror-Mad Phantasm to Jace, Memory Adept and more, this is a powerful instant mana-maker. It seems like many of you have forgotten this old tool from Ice Age, so allow me to remind you of its awesomeness!

1. Tortured ExistenceLet’s hear some love for one of my favorite cards of all time! While it was printed as a common, it’s really not. Suppose it was printed as a rare. How much money would it cost right now? As a Survival of the Fittest for your graveyard, it has a lot of power. In any deck that has black and creatures in the graveyard, this seems pretty keen-nifty-cool. A lot of decks qualify. Some decks really benefit from this, like reanimation, decks with lots of enters-the-battlefield creatures, dredge concoctions, and those sorts of things. Play Buried Alive? Maybe you need Tortured Existence! When you draw a big creature too early to play, toss it in the bin for a cheaper one. When you draw a cheap creature late, toss it in the bin for a better one. It works with all sorts of cards—channel creatures, cyclers, transmute creatures, etc.—and you’ve got one of the most powerful commons ever printed sitting here, not getting used nearly as much as it should be.

Whew! That was a lot of cards we looked at. I’m sure there are a few in here you really like already, but hopefully I’ve reminded you of a card you may have forgotten. Enjoy!


Until Later,
Abe Sargent