I know I’ve been writing a lot about Commander lately, but I do love Standard too. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to play much Standard lately, and frankly I’ve lost a lot of desire for it, which happens this time of year. The dawn of the Big Rotation, when we lose four sets of cards from the card pool while gaining the first set of a new block. I find myself eagerly awaiting any new tidbit of information or spoiler from Theros and pondering what the future will bring. This huge shake-up is always exciting for deck brewers like myself!
I also find myself sifting through my Standard card boxes and pulling out the cards that are soon to leave the format, destined for some new home. I’m sure everyone who plays Standard goes through a similar process. Some of the cards go into my boxes of Modern staples, and some get set aside for selling or trading. Some just get thrown into the purgatory boxes of my collection, where they may or may not see further play but aren’t really worth much individually.
And some . . . get tapped for the Commander stash! I mean, technically all of those rotating out are part of the Commander stash, but not all are really Commander-worthy. A fair number have never actually seen play in one of my Commander decks because they’ve been staples in my Standard decks and I don’t typically pull cards out of my Standard decks when I play Commander unless it’s for a Commander tournament and it’s something I really, really need for a more competitive version of the deck. Today I thought it would be fun to go over the Standard staples—and more than a few fringe cards—that are rotating out of my Standard boxes and going right into my Commander stash!
While these will certainly be staples of Modern, when not playing that format these should absolutely be distributed amongst your Commander decks. Outside of the original dual lands, these masterfully designed cards rank right up there with the Ravnica shocklands and might even be slightly better in Commander due to there not being too many meaningful turn 1 plays in the format. Plus you just know they will always be popping in and out of Standard for many years to come, so fill out your playsets, hang on to them, and make them cornerstones of your Commander mana bases.
It still pains me to know this guy is leaving Standard. I’ve written several times that Thragtusk is a huge reason why Standard was such a sweet format this past year, and I worry what’s going to become of it when he’s gone. I’m not sure whether he’ll have a home in Modern, but I do know that my four copies will not be resting on their laurels come rotation—they’re going immediately into four of my G/x Commander decks.
While creatures resistant to removal are a bit more plentiful in Commander than they are in Standard, hardly any of them have anything nice to say when facing down the "tuck" effects that pop up in Commander (which is why those cards are so reviled and feared). Hallowed Burial is an absolute beating to cards with persist, undying, and Indestructible—but the genius of Thragtusk is that no matter how your best beastie leaves the battlefield, he leaves behind a 3/3 to take revenge. Plus five life isn’t chump change even in Commander.
Innistrad gave a nice bumper crop of Zombies to warm the cold dead hearts of tribal fans everywhere, but Gravecrawler and Geralf’s Messenger have been busy riding my Standard bench the past couple years, ready to run out to battle at a moment’s notice. I’m looking forward to getting them into my Zombie decks or any black-centric deck that likes creatures that die and come back. While Endless Ranks of the Dead and Undead Alchemist didn’t make a splash in Standard, I think they’ll certainly do better in Commander tribal with the Standard competitive Zombies in the mix.
Speaking of undead tribal goodies, there are some Vampire free agents soon to hit the market. Bloodline Keeper saw the fringiest of the fringe play, but my experience playing it in my old Standard Necrotic Ooze deck made me realize it is quite a powerful card in its own right and even better with extra Vampire support. Falkenrath Aristocrat and Olivia Voldaren might not be nearly as potent in Commander as they are in Standard, but they’re both still very solid creatures whether or not you go tribal with them.
You know, we’re losing a ton of really great lands from Standard, and Standard’s loss is Commander’s gain. Some of these are rather mediocre in Commander—neither Grim Backwoods nor Hellion Crucible are going to inspire epic haymaker tales—but they offer various degrees of utility with very little opportunity cost since they reside in your land slots. Alchemist’s Refuge is an absolute all-star in Commander, as being able to play at instant speed gives you maximum information before having to cast any of your spells if you happen to have a few extra mana lying around.
Cavern of Souls will certainly see some play in Modern, but in the meantime it’s a great way to ensure no one tries to counter your commander when you need him. What’s wonderful about Kessig Wolf Run is that you can use it to target any creature, not just your own, so if you need to team up to take someone down you can. And any deck with a fair number of persist creatures (not to mention Cauldron of Souls) will be very glad to have Gavony Township.
The new rules on planeswalkers make them much more powerful, flexible, and less risky that they used to be, especially in multiplayer. All of the Garruks are decent in multiplayer, and I don’t see any reason other than availability that they won’t be popping up in green Commander decks around the table. Of course, not all the planeswalkers look very good in Commander—Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, I love ya sir, but you’ll most likely just stick to Modern. Chandra, the Firebrand probably just toes the line, namely for her ability to copy potent haymaker spells.
Mikaeus, the Lunarch & Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
The Lunarch version saw a little bit of play, but I think both will find some solid homes in Commander decks as actual commanders and as part of the 99. Both their abilities are quite nice in multiplayer, and the Lunarch in particular is going to be pretty sweet alongside Doubling Season in G/W decks.
I actually tried to cook up a decent Curse deck, but unfortunately nearly all the curses are just way too expensive in mana to compete with stuff for five mana that impacts the board much more directly in Standard. However, I think nearly all of them can find a home in Commander decks, often incentivizing players to attack someone else other than you. Why hit you with a Thragtusk for five when it can hit the gal enchanted with Curse of Bloodletting for ten? Curse of Stalked Prey makes someone a magnet for any persist creatures on the board that have died once already or anyone that needs to fuel up their Spike Weaver.
While I tend to gravitate towards playing a lot of creatures, there are plenty of Commander decks that would rather stock up on instants and sorceries. Talrand, Sky Summoner anyone? You will occasionally want to cast your commander, and when you do, Runechanter’s Pike makes sure he’s gonna hit damn hard and fast!
Skirsdag High Priest
If there’s a truism in Commander, it’s that creatures die. A lot. So any of the morbid cards are likely to make a good transition over to Commander, but this little powerhouse has proven solid in Standard and is likely to make the biggest splash in Commander. Tapping down three creatures isn’t a totally negligent cost, but a 5/5 flying Demon created at instant speed is quite relevant.
I picked up four of these when they first came out because I thought they might prove decent in Standard as a form of blue removal that can also just beat down for two when you didn’t need to remove something. In Commander this card is particularly vicious because it’s basically a "seal of tucking" out there on the battlefield, threatening to take anyone’s commander and shuffling it into their deck where it’s a lot harder to find than in a typical game.
Champion of Lambholt
This is quietly every token player’s nightmare card, and while he only saw fringe play during his time in Standard, I suspect it’s going to be popping up in green decks all over the place, especially those with equipment providing easy ways to pump up it up. Chump blockers make way—the Champ is here!
This saw some fringe play in Standard, but it has a huge leg up in Commander—when you start the game, you immediately know the one card each player is going to be playing when he or she has the mana to play it. Someone playing a really overpowered or problematic commander? Play and protect Nevermore and you can breathe easier.
We’ve seen this kid popping up to throw haymakers like Angel of Serenity and Craterhoof Behemoth without the aid of reanimation in Standard, and I suspect it’ll be popping up in the haymakerest of haymakery formats as well.
Disciple of Bolas
In Commander it’s so easy to have some gigantic monster on the field that’s really not doing you any good. Say your Lord of Extinction has an embarrassing Maze of Ith problem or is being teased by Glissa, the Traitor. Disciple of Bolas lets you cash in your zero to help you dig for a hero.
Those Commander players out there who leaned too heavily on clones to deal with problematic commanders got a rude awakening when the new Legend rules knocked that stool out from under them. Instead of being a Me Too Or Kill You card, Clone is now squarely in the Me Too camp—except for, of course, Evil Twin, who makes his own camp: Me Too And Kill You.
Huntmaster of the Fells
I’m not going to lie—when I first saw the Werewolves of Innistrad I thought they were a pretty cool concept but knew right away that they’d be pretty horrible in multiplayer. So their lives of usefulness were pretty much regulated for their run in Standard and maybe—maybe—some Modern play. In multiplayer, who wants to constantly have to wonder and worry about your Werewolf switching back and forth and back and forth at the whim of other players? Except, of course, for Huntmaster of the Fells, who you are more than happy to keep transforming back and forth and back and forth.
Restoration Angel has done a ton of heavy lifting blinking value creatures in and out of play in Standard. Well, think about every value creature ever made in the history of Magic . . . Yeah, Restoration Angel will find plenty of work in Commander; she might want to answer that call from Rasputin Dreamweaver.
Know what I said about value creatures and Restoration Angel? Same thing applies here for Rhox Faithmender and all the life gain effects ever printed in Magic. Cast Congregate and preach on, brother pachyderm!
All too often I see creature stalls in Commander where it’s just not worth smashing your army into someone else’s army, so I imagine Sublime Archangel’s super exalted ability is going to be quite welcome for stepping up the pressure. Make sure to pair this up with Loxodon Warhammer to punch through and gain a ton of life.
Tree of Redemption
Speaking of life, as absurd as Tree of Redemption can be in Standard, it can be twice as dumb in Commander. This, Sanguine Bond, and Thousand-Year Elixir can do a lot of work.
I like that this is getting its due in Standard, but it can also do some work in Commander in the right deck. It’s pretty easy to construct a control deck with black as one of the colors and then utilize many of the cards that give you creatures that you can turn on and off, whether it’s manlands (Mishra’s Factory) or artifacts (Rakdos Keyrune). Making Demons for free is great fun!
After seeing some fringe play in Standard, I suspect Commander players are going to enjoy utilizing the Lich due to having many more graveyards to play with, and being able to copy a wide variety of creature abilities is bound to lead to some really fun haymaker plays. Make sure to back this with plenty of mana (Cabal Coffers) for maximum entertainment!
This killer in Standard is of fair size in Commander, but it is particularly nice in that you can tap down someone’s flying defenses to potentially leave him wide open not just to your attack but to any other players who go before they get to untap.
Staff of Nin
I used to turn to Urza’s Blueprints to help decks with few card-drawing options, but I’m pretty sure that Staff of Nin is just a strict upgrade.
One of the most hated of all cards for creature fans, this will surely join Hallowed Burial in white control decks to really stick it to everyone’s commanders, especially given how easy it is in Commander to manipulate the top of your library. Hello, Sensei’s Divining Top?
#HOOF has had a nice run in Standard, popping up here and there before Scavenging Ooze had to tell Unburial Rites to sit the eff down. Over in Commanderland, we’ve got Gaea’s Cradle; Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary; Priest of Titania . . . lots of ways to just cast this big boy. #HOOFCMDR!
When this first came out, I put it immediately into my Commander stash because it’s obviously a multiplayer card, but then it seemed like Sam Black didn’t get the memo because the card kept popping up in The Aristocrats. So then I put the card back into my Standard box—and now it goes back into the Commander stash where it belongs, ready to dish out a heaping helping of thirteen damage to creatures *cough*Mogg Maniac*cough* everywhere.
What Standard staples and fringe cards are you looking forward to migrating from your Standard box to your Commander stash in a few weeks? Let us know in the comments below!
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New to Commander?
If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:
- Commander Primer Part 1 (Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
- Commander Primer Part 2 (Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
- Commander Primer Part 3 (Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
- Commander Starter Kits 1 (kick start your allied two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 2 (kick start your enemy two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 3 (kick start your shard three-color decks for $25)
My current Commander decks (and links to decklists):
- Karador, Ghost Chieftain (Shadowborn Apostle & Demons)
- Sliver Overlord (Featuring the new M14 Slivers!)
- Reaper King (Taking Advantage of the new Legend Rules)
- Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker (Outside My Comfort Zone with Milling)
- Vorel of the Hull Clade (Never Trust the Simic)
- Emmara Tandris (No Damage Tokens)
- Varolz, the Scar-Striped (scavenging goodness)
- Doran, the Siege Tower (All My Faves in One Deck!)
- Johan (Cat Breath of the Infinite)
- Lord of Tresserhorn (ZOMBIES!)
- Borborygmos Enraged (69 land deck)
- Aurelia, the Warleader (plus Hellkite Tyrant shenanigans)
- Oona, Queen of the Fae (by reader request)
- Karador, Ghost Chieftain (my Magic Online deck)
- Karona, False God (Vows of the False God)
- Skullbriar, the Walking Grave (how big can it get?)
- Phage the Untouchable (actually casting Phage from Command Zone!)
- Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind (Chuck’s somewhat vicious deck)
Previous Commander decks currently on hiatus:
- Yeva, Nature’s Herald (living at instant speed)
- Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis (evil and Spike-ish)
- Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius (new player-friendly)
- Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice (new player-friendly)
- Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord (drain you big time)
- Riku of Two Reflections (steal all permanents with Deadeye Navigator + Zealous Conscripts)
- Phelddagrif (Mean Hippo)
- Sigarda, Host of Herons (Equipment-centric Voltron)
- Bruna, Light of Alabaster (Aura-centric Voltron)
- Ruhan of the Fomori (lots of equipment and infinite attack steps)
- Ghave, Guru of Spores (Melira Combo)
- Glissa, the Traitor (undying artifacts!)
- Grimgrin, Corpse-Born (Necrotic Ooze Combo)
- Damia, Sage of Stone (Ice Cauldron shenanigans)
- Geist of Saint Traft (Voltron-ish)
- Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)
- Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo’ Myrs)
- Thelon of Havenwood (Campfire Spores)
- Melira, Sylvok Outcast (combo killa)
- Konda, Lord of Eiganjo (The Indestructibles)
- Vorosh, the Hunter (proliferaTION)
- Progenitus (Fist of Suns and Bringers)
- Savra, Queen of the Golgari (Demons)
- Uril, the Miststalker (my "more competitive" deck)