Being the most popular way to play Magic, especially since the format’s explosion in the last several years, Commander has undergone a great deal of scrutiny. There are websites (like this here one), articles, YouTube videos, and all manner of content platforms that talk about the most popular cards, what to do with the format’s staples, and stuff you need to be playing. But Commander made its bones as the dollar rare format. It’s the place where you can (with some joy, in fact) play cards that no one has ever heard of. Today, I want to talk about some of those cards. Regular readers might recognize some personal favorites as cards I have mentioned before. Apparently I haven’t talked about them enough, because these are all still cards that don’t see that much play.
In order to make this list, cards had to have been listed in 1% or fewer eligible decks, according to our friends at EDHRec. To some extent, there’s an amount of bias that we have to read into the decks that folks choose to put onto the website; it’s more likely that heavily-enfranchised players are the ones who take the time to use the site and others like it, which means we’ll find more staples in the those decks. At CommandFestDC, I talked to Don from EDHRec, and he’s aware that there’s some part of the data that won’t necessarily be representative of all the decks in the broader community, but he’s pretty happy with how their numbers reflect the general sense of things. I agree.
At one point, I was going to make this list all original-border cards, but as you’ll see, some post-8th Edition beauties have worked their way in. Still, these are all older cards, and some of you who are newer players might not have ever seen them. We’ll fix that right away. I’ve include the numbers and percentages from EDHRec as of last week.
20. Shard Convergence (622 decks, 1%)
Shard Convergence gets dual lands and shocklands for you. While it would be pretty busted if it put them onto the battlefield, it will smooth your drops over the next several turns. Though Shard Convergence was once only really useful in five-color decks, the advent of four-color commanders raised the stock of the card. It’s one of those cards that isn’t all that splashy, but you really warm up to it once you’ve cast it a few times. With extra land drop cards like Oracle of Mul Daya, you don’t have to rely on manipulating the top of your library.
19. Soltari Visionary (545 decks, 0%)
Because it’s effectively unblockable, Soltari Visionary lives and flourishes in the target-rich environment of Commander. People are playing so many great enchantments (not to mention annoying ones like Rhystic Study and Smothering Tithe) that your Visionary only runs out of targets once you’ve succeeded in blowing up all of them. Note also that it’s not just combat damage that triggers Soltari Visionary, so equip Thornbite Staff for even more mayhem, giving you the capability to take out multiple enchantment creatures in a single turn.
18. Lightning Coils (392 decks, 0%)
As we’ve discussed, creatures die in Commander. Why not get more when they do? You can turn a sweeper into a series crack back for very little investment. In the post-proliferate era, there’s no reason that you can’t get even more Elementals than creatures that died. It’s a card that relies on heavy offense, since the tokens go away at the end of turn, but you have plenty of things to do with them—like Goblin Bombardment—before they get exiled.
17. Rayne, Academy Chancellor (22 decks, 0%)
Since you’re not playing with garbage, people will target your stuff. Rayne will help you replace said stuff by drawing more cards. The whole thing about Rayne being enchanted is cool and all, but not likely to be super-relevant unless it’s something like Gift of Doom, Indestructibility, or Shielded by Faith. What I really want to go back to on the card is the fact that it’s any permanent you control, just like the not-offensive part of Leovold, Emissary of Trest. Cards will be drawn.
16. Tsabo’s Decree (107 decks, 0%)
Suggested by CAG member Ron Foster, and I immediately agreed. It’s a little spendy, but you’re paying for the fact that it’s an instant. It’s also splashable since there’s only one black in the casting cost. It’s targeted, but the target is the player. Since the target isn’t a creature, the spell can’t get countered by removing the target, like is the case with Alpha Brawl. I consider the discard a secondary effect with occasional big upside; wrecking the tribal deck’s attack at you is the main reason to play it.
15. Phthisis (313 decks, 0%)
Having been on both the giving and receiving ends of Phthisis, I can tell you that someone’s getting hurt. I’ve experienced Phthisis on Serra Avatar on multiple occasions. If you suspend it, people will see it coming (plus you have to wait those five turns), but suspending the card can also be a deterrent to people putting out creatures that are overly large. With only one or two counters on it, they’re not going to want this thing pointed their way, which you can use to really back them into a corner.
14. Dismiss into Dream (808, 1%)
You want a reason to play Sea Kings’ Blessing? Look no further than Dismiss into Dream. From Maze of Ith to Prodigal Sorcerer, Dismiss into Dream turns your targeted abilities into death machines. I get that it’s expensive, but you can generally have it pay dividends right away. Plus, it’s not just a case of you targeting opponents’ creatures, it’s anyone. I play it in my Prime Speaker Zegana deck, which has creatures like Spike Feeder that can move counters onto a target. Too bad Forgotten Ancient’s upkeep triggered ability isn’t targeted.
13. Breathstealer’s Crypt (491 decks, 1%)
There are two things at play with Breathstealer’s Crypt. First, you get to see everything that everyone else draws. While they may see yours as well, my life’s an open book. You know I’m just playing creatures anyway. The life cost leads to compelling strategic choices. You could easily play Breathstealer’s Crypt as a repeatable Entomb, for example. It also keeps in check massive card draw. Sure, they’ll keep only the best stuff, but they won’t get to keep all of it.
12. Crackdown (528 decks, 0%)
When I asked fellow RC members and the folks on the Commander Advisory Group to chime in on this list, more than one person mentioned Crackdown—and I already had it on my own. It’s going to keep some of the most dangerous creatures in the format off your face without locking down your own creatures like Meekstone does. I play Crackdown in my Trostani deck because of all the Angels, and I’ve also used it previously in decks with Glare of Subdual and Opposition.
11. Grim Feast (91 decks, 0%)
A little bit of lifegain is good. Grim Feast isn’t a little bit; it’s a big, honking pile of lifegain. You’re in two colors, green and black, that both know how to make creatures die. While green has the fight mechanic, it simply has fatties that eventually need to get blocked. You know, the kinds of things black does. One trip around the table with Sheoldred, Whispering One is enough to have a delicious feast. Damnation, Decree of Pain, Life’s Finale, and numerous other black sweepers will pile up your life total in short order.
10. Keep Watch (703 decks, 1%)
Another personal favorite when we talk about Hidden Gems. I’ve had the pleasure of casting Keep Watch in response to a big attack and drawing Equal Treatment. One of my favorite plays with Keep Watch is casting it when I’m not even involved in the combat. It’s a low-stakes play that still lets you draw a bunch of cards, but not necessarily be forced to dig for an answer. The trick to playing the card is making sure you don’t get too greedy and wait for the overwhelming swarm. Drawing five or six cards for three mana is also great value.
9. Lashknife Barrier (30 decks, 0%)
Fellow RC member Toby Elliott suggested Lashknife Barrier, which at its worst will draw a card to replace itself. It’s been a favorite of mine since the beginnings of the format. In its best incarnation, you can use it to prevent all the damage to your creatures from activations of Pestilence (thereby keeping it around) or Thrashing Wumpus, since that damage is dealt one point at a time. The card changes combat math enough to matter and opponents will often forget the prevention until it’s too late.
8. Mirrorweave (518 decks, 1%)
Way up on the epic moment density chart is Mirrorweave. I was once in a game where someone cast an Avenger of Zendikar that was going to kill the table with hasty Plants. Someone responded to the spell by turning all other creatures into Suture Priest, killing the Avenger player on the enters-the battlefield trigger. I’ve also seen Mirrorweave turn everything into Massacre Wurm in response to a battlefield sweeper. Math happened. Imagine how many counters you’d get by turning all your Plants and other creatures into Avenger of Zendikar before you engage in landfall tomfoolery. One creature with evasion such as landwalk (I’m thinking Cold-Eyed Selkie here) means lots of creatures with evasion. What I love most about Mirrorweave is that there are just possibilities we’ll never think about until we happen upon them in a game state—and the card will present you with amazing options.
7. Compost (411 decks, 1%)
I keep harping on Compost. Most of the time, there’s at least one player in black at your table, usually more, and black makes stuff go to the graveyard, whether that’s casting sorceries or nuking creatures. The two-mana investment routinely nets well more cards than you’d otherwise draw in green.
6. Equal Treatment (27 decks, 0%)
27 people get it. Equal Treatment is at its worst a one-creature kind of Fog that cantrips to also draw you a card. At its best, it saves your bacon from a huge attack or lets you save someone else (and still draws you a card). My favorite use ever has been to double up single points of damage—whether that’s from a swarm of 1/1s or Manabarbs. What was meant as damage prevention can also do something else, and finding those little things is what Hidden Gems are all about.
5. Bioshift (679 decks, 1%)
I really can’t count the number of times that I’ve used Bioshift for a Commander damage kill. I’ve done it both to transfer counters onto my own commander and using an attacking opponent’s commander to move their own counters onto. Also don’t underestimate the value of Bioshift as a defensive weapon, especially in light of commander damage. Someone else’s Kresh the Bloodbraided might be lethal at 21, but their Wood Elves isn’t attacking this turn (or maybe it’s attacking a third person). All in all, Bioshift offers flexibility and never-seen-before kinds of plays.
4. Seedguide Ash (671 decks, 1%)
Every time I cast this card at an event, people read it and say “I need to get one of these,” especially when they realize you can get dual lands or shocklands with it. You can just slam it into combat if you like. Even if you head into an unfavorable situation, you get the value out of it that you want. The play, of course, is to have a sacrifice outlet, like Goblin Bombardment or Greater Good, meaning you get those lands on the terms you want, plus have the side benefit.
3. Chronomantic Escape (291 decks, 0%)
People have to read Chronomantic Escape every time I cast it. Usually, they’ll read it, put it down, then pick it back up and read it again. Then the realization dawns. Once it resolves, every third turn you simply can’t be attacked—and you don’t need to invest any mana to do it. The spell is so good that I’ve had players spend a counterspell on it when it comes off suspend. You’ll rarely be sorry you included it.
2. Tower of the Magistrate (84 decks, 0%)
Sure, being able to effectively block artifact creatures or not be blocked by them is great, but nothing beats giving an opponent’s equipped creature protection from artifacts or giving them protection in response to an equip ability activation. Even though it’s an on-battlefield trick, it generally happens because people don’t realize the implications at first. It might work only once in a game, but then it keeps Voltron commanders and the like off of your face. You can certainly work out deals to let creatures stay equipped while they’re pointed at other opponents and still not worry that you’ll get hurt in the long run (although allowing a Sword of Fire and Ice to stay equipped always hurts long-term).
1. Mercadia’s Downfall (76 decks, 0%)
The lack of awareness of this card continues to befuddle me. Nonbasic lands are a pretty big thing in Commander, and you’re going to get a giant bonus for your very small investment. Each attacking creature getting the bonus is a damage multiplier of the first order. Although you’ll get more benefit the more creatures you attack with, you don’t always need to have a host getting into the Red Zone. I was once killed via Commander damage by Riku of Two Reflections. I had ten nonbasics. Riku attacked, and I thought, “What’s the worst that could happen?” One copied Mercadia’s Downfall later, I was dead.
There are cards that every Commander fan knows. There are others that are lost in the depths of the 20,000 or so available to you. One of the true joys, not to mention unique possibilities the format offers, is finding those Hidden Gems—the cards which might not get widespread love, but will make your games truly memorable. Start out your new year by check out these and finding some of your own.