Commander fans have been in for quite a ride this past eighteen months or so. Ever since the release of Dominaria, it seems like each set is bursting at the seams with good cards for Commander decks. Many of us thought 2018 would go down as “the year of Commander” but it was like Wizards of the Coast was just getting started! 2019 kicked things off with a second set based on the story’s return to Ravnica, and Ravnica Allegiance had new legends and good stuff, and then War of the Spark came out with a bunch of new legends and good stuff, and then came Modern Horizons, which many appropriately nicknamed “Commander Masters.” There were so many cards Commander fans wanted for their decks, and the year was barely halfway over! We still have several more sets to go, but I know a lot of people were just overwhelmed.
Too much information. Too many cards. Not enough budget.
Time waits for no one, though, and more great cards for Commander were released, just begging for spots in your decks. And we’ve got to whip our decks into shape for some pretty big Commander events coming up. In less than a month, CommandFest weekends in Seattle and Chicago will take place, and then there’s the Commander Celebration at SCG CON Winter shortly after. If you’re anything like me, you may have a few Commander decks that are a bit behind the times. So today I wanted to present to you the Top 10 cards from Core Set 2020, Commander 2019, and Throne of Eldraine that you’ve got to find room for in your existing Commander decks. This isn’t including all the sweet new commanders you can choose from – I write about those week in and week out.
These are the ten cards that you’ll want in your 99. There are plenty of honorable mentions too, so let’s get on it!
This Brawl Deck gem from Throne of Eldraine is exactly what a lot of decks have been looking for. While this can easily slot in just about any Commander deck due to being an expensive artifact, where this really shines are in decks that tend to be starved for raw card drawing. I’m thinking red, white, and the combination of the two – Boros – in particular.
It’s a nearly perfect design for Commander—at just two mana, it can come down early to smooth out your draws, and keeping the gas rolling assuming you cast and attack with your commander, something that Boros commanders tend to want to do anyway. If you draw it late on an empty battlefield, it only costs you three mana total mana to dig a card deeper. Once the second printing of the Brawl decks starts hitting the shelves, the cost on this will come down and I’m definitely going to snag a couple copies.
The past three sets have had a lot of great cards for raw card drawing, so these are the honorable mentions:
Guess what? I only recently realized Return of the Wildspeaker was an instant. An instant! Cards like these have been printed aplenty, but they’re always sorcery speed so the first few times I read this card my brain just tagged it as a sorcery. When the guys from the EDHREC Podcast were talking about it being an instant, I had to do a double take. Instant speed makes all the difference, especially given the two modes – either raw card drawing based on the biggest of your creatures, or a surprise boost in size for all of your creatures.
Moldervine Reclamation makes me so happy. It doesn’t care if the creature you control is a token or a creature card. It gives you a card when it dies. And while this effect often seems to be attached to loss of life, with this enchantment you gain life instead! You don’t even need to really work very hard to make this card pay off – if you’re playing creatures, your opponents will likely try to kill them. Moldervine Reclamation for profit!
Shared Summons isn’t raw card drawing, but I’m really surprised to see a card like this be an instant. I’m not usually a fan of tutoring cards from your deck in Commander, but this is a later-game card and it’s only getting creatures. And sure, some people are going to use it to set up some game-winning combo, but for my money, I see playing this to go get a utility creature like Acidic Slime and also something big and bad like Ghalta, Primal Hunger.
Yeah, Emry is tearing up Modern right now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s doing nutty things in Eternal formats. And yeah, Emry can be a sweet commander too, but there have been some pretty good legendary creatures released recently that shine quite nicely in the 99 and Emry is one of them. Plenty of decks play a fair number of artifacts, and plenty of decks have at least a little bit of graveyard synergies, so if your deck has blue and touches on either or both of these popular themes, Emry is a slam-dunk. Emry’s creature types are quite nice too if your deck is at all tribal Merfolk or Wizards.
There are a few other legendary creatures I like in the 99 of some Commander decks:
On raw numbers alone, Drakuseth does work! But if you can cheat out Drakuseth early with reanimator or tribal Dragon strategies, or if you can boost the damage output with a card like Torbran, Thane of Red Fell, watch out! I also like Gargos in the 99 even if you’re not playing a bunch of Hydras—it’s got vigilance, it’s huge, and if any opponents try to target any of your creatures with a spell, Gargos gets to fight something.
There are a ton of high-quality non-legendary creatures we’ll want to add to our decks too, and Cliffside Rescuer is one I think people are sleeping on. I just checked EDHREC and it shows up in just 213 decks in the database, which is 0% of the possible decks it could be in. For just two mana you get a 2/2 with vigilance, and a great tap ability—target permanent you control gains protection from each of your opponents until the end of the turn. If you target a creature, it can’t be hit with Swords to Plowshares or a Maze of Ith and it can’t be blocked. If someone targets a crucial enchantment or artifact with some sort of removal, Cliffside Rescuer can counter it. If someone tries to destroy your Hall of Heliod’s Generosity or Gavony Township with a pesky Strip Mine, Cliffside Rescuer can intervene.
Sure, Cliffside Rescuer has to sacrifice itself to activate the ability, but most of the time the threat of using it will dissuade opponents from wasting spells or effects messing with your permanents. Why trade a precious removal spell for your two-mana 2/2? That spell gets used on one of your opponents’ less protected creatures, and that’s two resources your opponents are down. And yes, while you’ll have to cash in Cliffside Rescuer eventually, there are certainly tons and tons of ways to get it back and use it all over again.
There are a bunch of cool creatures we’ll want to add to our Commander decks, and here are some of the ones I know I’ll be finding homes for:
Shimmer Dragon is just a slam dunk for any blue deck that plays a large number of artifacts. Remember, Equipment still functions just fine if it’s tapped! A flying hexproof threat that draws cards? Sign me up!
I love that Robber of the Rich gives red some chaotic card draw, since you never know what you might get from the top of your opponents’ decks, but I have no doubt there will be some epic stories that come out of that card.
People might be sleeping on Feasting Troll King, but on raw stats alone a 7/6 with vigilance and trample is going to impact games, especially since it can come back from the graveyard with the three Food tokens it makes when you cast it. If your deck cares about devotion to green, the four green mana can be quite a boost! If your deck has any way to double tokens, you can get quite a few Food tokens out of it.
All on its own, Faeburrow Elder is pretty decent—a 2/2 with vigilance for three mana that can also tap for two mana is going to be useful. The more colors you have in your deck, the more absurd Faeburrow Elder becomes. Any sort of gold-intensive three-, four-, or five-color deck is going to go nuts with this card, especially if you have something to untap it like Umbral Mantle.
For my money though, any deck with Faeburrow Elder is also going to want to run this fine specimen:
Yep, Scuttlemutt can tap to make any creature become any combination of colors you want!
There are some other good mana-producing cards that have come out in recent sets too:
Everyone already knows how good Arcane Signet is—it’s a big reason why the new Brawl decks all sold out almost immediately, and that high demand is why we’re getting at least one more big print run. I still argue it’s a bit overhyped since I think green’s mana ramp and color fixing are better, but if you’re not playing green, you’re probably going to want to have Arcane Signet in the deck.
Midnight Clock is an honorable mention because I haven’t played with it enough to see if it’s as good as I think it is. I love that it’s a three-mana rock that immediately taps for blue, which unlocks spells like Swan Song or Pongify. It gives you three full turns of mana to play out spells in your hand, and then when the twelfth hour counter in put on it, you shuffle your hand and graveyard into your library and draw seven fresh cards. Sadly, Midnight Clock gets exiled, but that’s probably a wise decision by Wizards to prevent any sort of crazy combo engine. But that’s seven fresh cards for essentially zero mana, and if you want you can even respond to the trigger by tapping for a blue mana. This isn’t the sort of thing I imagine control decks want to use, but if you have any sort of deck with blue that deploys a fair number of permanents to the battlefield and has cheap interaction, this card will do some good work!
I usually put Wrath of God in all my white decks because you never know when you need to sweep the battlefield of creatures. I will usually put a couple more mass removal spells in the deck too, but few of them seem as solid and pure as Wrath of God. Realm-Cloaked Giant is an exceptional mass removal spell because it comes with a large creature with vigilance attached. You can even break the symmetry somewhat by playing other Giant creatures or creatures with changeling like Chameleon Colossus. The hidden superpower of this card is that it’s a creature which means you can bring it back from the graveyard if you need to sweep the battlefield again. Phyrexian Reclamation, anyone?
I’ve been really impressed with Bloodthirsty Blade as a way of keeping large threats from attacking you while forcing them to attack one of your other opponents. That sort of chaos and disruption makes for some wild games, and if you haven’t given it a try, you should pick up a copy. Leadership Vacuum strikes me as a great way to punish players who use the partner mechanic, but it’s just a nice way to buy some time from a commander that might otherwise be difficult to interact with. I also really like Oko, Thief of Crowns for being able to shut down the special abilities of scary commanders. Sadly, it’s also apparently one of the best planeswalkers ever printed, so picking one up as a single can be quite pricey. But if you can snag one in trade or open one in a booster pack, see where it can find room in one of your Commander decks.
As I mentioned above, I’m not a big fan of tutor cards, but I’m making an exception for Wishclaw Talisman due to its political implications. If someone has emerged as the Big Bad of your table, and they’re going to wreck everyone else in the very near future, I love being able to cast Wishclaw Talisman in the hopes of helping someone else also go find answers. Sometimes it takes more than just one card to take down someone’s finely oiled combo machine, and Wishclaw Talisman can let you and an opponent go find the perfect couple of answers. Plus, you’re left with an extra tutor yourself to replace your initial card investment.
There are a few other utility artifacts I’d like to give a mention to as well:
When’s the last time you’ve seen anyone play Voltaic Key? Only in some super-fast combo deck fueled by cheap artifacts, but I love this strict upgrade because it can useful even if you only have a few artifacts that can benefit from the untap. Making any creature unblockable is huge upside for such a small mana investment. I also love Scroll of Fate here as a way to sneak creatures onto the battlefield if you aren’t worried about their cast or enters-the-battlefield triggers, avoiding counterspells or sorcery-speed removal. In a pinch, the extra lands in your hands can be converted into 2/2 colorless creatures.
If you got to see any of the Mythic Championship this weekend, you likely saw Embercleave smashing some face, and I’m eager to find room for it in any of my decks that have sizeable creatures. +1/+1, double strike, and trample? Oof! And the fact you can play it as a combat trick? This Equipment was made for Commander!
Yes, I know everyone is sick of Field of the Dead in Standard. But honestly, the card was made for Commander—it wants seven unique lands on the battlefield and then it’ll start churning out 2/2 Zombie tokens for you for each land that enters the battlefield. It’s kind of amusing that this is the sort of colorless utility land you are generally not going to want in a monocolored deck, since extra copies of basic lands aren’t helping you get the Field party started.
We’ve gotten some other good lands to squeeze into our Commander decks too:
I’ve been putting Lotus Field in my white decks, since it’s such a great way to keep your land count low while not falling behind on the quantity of mana. Cards like Land Tax, Weathered Wayfarer, Knight of the White Orchard, and Boreas Charger are much better when you’re behind on raw land count. I know a lot of Commander fans are cool on the cycle of Castle lands from Throne of Eldraine, but I think at the very least Castle Garenbrig and Castle Vantress are well worth a land slot in mono- or two-colored decks. Having useful mana sinks without costing you a nonland slot in your deck is almost always welcome.
Elvish Reclaimer isn’t a land, but it fetches out lands. I’m always on the lookout for quality one-mana spells for Commander, and this Elf delivers. While it doesn’t have the raw power of Knight of the Reliquary, it also doesn’t have the restriction of having to sacrifice a Forest or Plains to fuel the ability. I’ve been making room for this in most of my green decks.
Here’s another legendary creature I’m eager to put in the 99 of decks where I can. If you’ve deployed a fair number of resources in creatures and artifacts to the battlefield and you’re concerned about mass removal, Gerrard’s got your back. And a 3/3 first strike body isn’t bad either.
We’ve gotten some other good recursion-type cards recently too:
The Cauldron of Eternity is definitely splashy and requires a decently stocked graveyard to even be castable. But if you can avoid graveyard hate long enough to bring it online, it will do a ton of work. There’s interesting tension built in where any creatures you control that die with the Cauldron on the battlefield get put on the bottom of your library and thus are unavailable to bring back with Cauldron. So theoretically you could eventually run out of creatures in the graveyard and your large reanimating artifact just sits there looking silly. So just make sure you build some ways around it—Fauna Shaman and Greater Good are ways to pitch creatures from your hand to the graveyard that can be brought back with the Cauldron.
Core Set 2020 brought the protection ability back to Standard with a cycle of cards that have protection from one of their enemy colors, and then an extra ability tacked on. I really like some of these, particularly Apostle of Purifying Light. Protection from black goes a long way in a format like Commander with lots of multicolored creatures and spells, and its ability to exile individual cards in graveyard for two mana is quite welcome in white. Why should Scavenging Ooze and Withered Wretch have all the fun?
There are a few other “hateful” cards I like for Commander:
It’s hard not to find room in a black creature deck for Blightbeetle. Green is such a popular color in Commander, its protection ability makes it a very good chump-blocker for non-trampling creatures. But what really shines is how it shuts down all the +1/+1 counter shenanigans your opponents may be up to. And let’s face it—at nearly every Commander pod, there’s going to be somebody who are abusing +1/+1 counters. Just say no.
Cerulean Drake’s protection from red is slightly less effective, since fewer people play red in their decks, but the sacrifice ability can prove to be particularly clutch in warding away people from targeting you with spells.
10. Steelbane Hydra
What I found interesting while researching this column is that there aren’t all that many “utility” cards that handle situations outside of creatures. Steelbane Hydra stands out as one of the few new ways of dealing with artifacts or enchantments. What’s nice about Steelbane Hydra is that you can go ahead and cast it without having a particular target in mind, and once you do, any opponent is going to be hesitant in running out that sweet artifact or enchantment card they just drew. If you have ways of adding +1/+1 counters to Steelbane Hydra, even better.
There was also this gem:
Holding up four mana is a lot, but just think about those big, splashy late-game spells people cast that completely change the battlefield. Tooth and Nail, eh? Don’t mind if I do! Here, have this Thopter token for your trouble. And the split second ability means there’s not much your opponents can do about it.
Tell me, what are any sweet Commander goodies from Core Set 2020, Commander 2019, or Throne of Eldraine I may have overlooked?
Do me a solid and follow me on Twitter! I run polls and get conversations started about Commander all the time, so get in on the fun!
Also, come play Commander with me! Coming up November 8th is MagicFest Richmond right here in my hometown, and I’m planning on hitting the Command Zone there at least one of the days. The following weekend, November 14-17, is the always spectacular SCG CON! Their Commander Celebration has set the standard for incredible Commander experiences and I’ll be returning as a special guest so I’ll be in the Command Zone all weekend playing Commander!
But that’s not all—Star City Games will be putting on #CommandFestDC December 13-15th and I’m thrilled to announce that I’ll be one of the special guests there. Stay tuned for more details as they become available!
I’ve been writing about the Commander format and Magic: The Gathering in general for nearly two decades. Visit the Star City Games article archives for tons of content dating back to January 2000!
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