Top Commander Cards From 2019

Bennie Smith looks back on 2019’s best cards for Commander! From mana ramp and card draw to just plain “wow,” he has the highlights!

Urza, Lord High Artificer, illustrated by Grzegorz Rutkowski

As 2019 winds down, it’s a good time to contemplate all the sweet new cards that we got access to this year before we pivot into 2020 and the new cards to explore.  2019 was a banner year for Commander, with a huge bumper crop of great cards from Core Set 2020, Ravnica Allegiance, War of the Spark, Throne of Eldraine, Modern Horizons, and Commander 2019.  My original intention was to select the Top 10 cards for Commander from 2019, but the list of fantastic Commander cards is just way too large to consolidate down to one list, so I’ve grouped things into categories.  Let’s get to it!

Top 5 Best New Commanders

Torbran, Thane of Red Fell

I personally think Torbran is best new commander to come out this year because of the huge boost it gives to red decks.  Burn and damage have always been red’s bread and butter, but because it’s had to be balanced for competitive duel formats, its efficacy pretty much evaporates in the face of multiple opponents with double the starting life.  There have been some really cool mono-red commanders to choose from over the years, but Torbran brings damage-based red strategy right back to the front of the class.  

Golos, Tireless Pilgrim

I think Golos is likely too good for Commander, but there’s no doubting its raw power for searching up any land married to its exciting activated ability.  Yes, it’s pretty easy to break Golos’s activated ability, but that’s true with a lot of cards that are legal in Commander, and I also think plenty of people build their Golos deck just for value. 

So why do I think it’s likely too good? Well, Golos exploits the fact that most Commander players will not play mass land removal and likely don’t play enough pinpoint land destruction. Land-based strategies are inherently strong in this environment, and Golos is one of the best land-based things you can be doing.

Morophon, the Boundless

Commander players love tribal themes, but Wizards of the Coast has definitely been very uneven in support for specific tribes.  If you want to build a Zombie deck, you actually have way too many choices for the number of available card slots. But there are plenty of weird and wonderful creature types out there that lack a specific sort of legendary “lord” to lead the tribe, so in rides Morophon to the rescue! 

What I really love about Morophon is that it’s colorless but gives you access to as few or many colors as you want. There are powerful tribal cards across all five colors, so with Morophon as your commander you can access any or all of those cards whether or not your creature types are in those colors.  I think we’ve only really scratched the surface of what Morophon can do for Commander players, and I can’t wait to explore it further.

K'rrik, Son of Yawgmoth

K’rrik is scary and weird and powerful. In other words, totally Phyrexian!  Phyrexian mana is an overpowered mechanic, so I was quite surprised when Wizards gave us a commander that turns every black mana symbol in your deck into Phyrexian mana.  While you could certainly just play K’rrik “fair” as one of the 99 in a mono-black deck as a way to occasionally cast spells ahead of time, this legend shines in a deck built to truly abuse it.  The only downside is the fact that everyone is going to be on edge the moment you reveal K’rrik as your commander, so don’t be surprised if you’re considered the Archenemy at the table. I mean, you’re Phyrexian, so it’s expected.

Kykar, Wind's Fury

I really love the design of this card, how its Jeskai “prowess” trigger makes 1/1 white Spirit creature tokens with flying instead of boosting itself.  And that you can sacrifice Spirits to add a red mana to your mana pool, which means that each noncreature spell you cast gives you the potential to cast even bigger spells next turn, or get to a double-spell turn.  It’s a self-contained engine that really plays great with a variety of strategies, from Spirit tribal to Jeskai spell-slinger. You can even go heavy Equipment and rest assured that Kykar will provide a body to equip each Equipment you cast.

Top 5 Cards That Made Me Say Wow!

Urza, Lord High Artificer

This gem from Modern Horizons instantly created a hot new archetype in Modern and is quite expensive, but if you’ve gotten your hands on a copy it can do some serious work in all sorts of Commander decks even if you don’t use Urza as the commander itself.  I particularly love how it basically makes all your Equipment cards into mana rocks, but the really cool part of Urza is its activated ability, which is an improved Temporal Aperture, a nifty old artifact from Urza’s Saga. If you’ve got a blue deck with artifacts, Urza just makes it better.

Kenrith, the Returned King

It slices, it dices, it makes you lunch and mows the lawn.  It’s Kenrith, the Swiss Army knife of creatures! If you’re playing a five-color Commander deck Kenrith is a must-include, though first you’ll need to provide a strong argument as to why Kenrith isn’t your actual commander.  

The design is amazing. It’s a 5/5 for five mana with five activated abilities.  It’s got all five colors in its color identity, and it’s got numbers one through five.  Its abilities are unbounded, unlocking the potential for playing politics or making allies in a game when needed because you can target any player, any creature, or give all creatures haste and trample.  

Emry, Lurker of the Loch

Graveyard recursion is a powerful tool in Commander, and now blue has a powerful new way to cast artifacts from your graveyard.  Emry serves very well as the commander, but is an incredible inclusion in any blue artifact deck: think Sai, Master Thopterist or Breya, Etherium Shaper.  I even like Emry in Jeskai decks built around Elsha of the Infinite since artifacts count as noncreature, nonland cards.  

God-Eternal Oketra

The entire cycle of God-Eternal cards is awesome because they all have relevant and efficient bodies and abilities for the mana cost but the “immortality” mechanic that each has is particularly impressive in Commander since not even exile effects will permanently get rid of them.  You have to really work hard to neutralize the threat.  

Of the five, I really like God-Eternal Oketra in just about any white-based deck that has a good number of creature cards since it doesn’t take many cards invested to generate a threatening army.  4/4 Zombie Warrior creature tokens with vigilance are quite nice to have in a game of Commander. 

Massacre Girl

Battlefields can get quite cluttered in a game of Commander, and people play plenty of sweeper spells to clear away creatures.  So it’s no surprise that people use various ways to prevent their team from being destroyed, in particular giving their creatures indestructible; Eldrazi Monument, Boros Charm, and Heroic Intervention are popular for a reason.  Massacre Girl isn’t always the perfect solution since you need a cascade of creatures dying to the -1/-1 triggers to take down larger creatures, but most of the time it will do the job. Its menace ability will generally be relevant in the aftermath of sweeping the battlefield, and being a creature means it’s often quite easy to bring back and get its effect again when needed.  

Top 5 Mana Ramp Cards

Dockside Extortionist

Commander players love their mana rocks, and quite often one player will “go off” with a bunch of mana rocks early on, setting up a really big turn way ahead of schedule.  Dockside Extortionist can help you catch up or at least give you mana to react to your speedy opponent’s play. Later in the game when everyone has some artifacts and enchantments it can provide you with a huge infusion of mana you can use or save as needed, and let’s not forget that sometimes what you’re looking for are a bunch of tokens themselves; I’m looking at you, Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer!  I’ve got Dockside Extortionist in my Feldon of the Third Path deck as a way to get a big infusion of mana later the game by copying it from my graveyard.  

Faeburrow Elder

All by itself, a 2/2 with vigilance that can tap for two mana is already borderline playable in Commander, but in a deck with three or more colors the card just gets bonkers.  Bloom Tender is a fantastic card in those decks, and I think all the upside you get for one additional white mana makes Faeburrow Elder a card I’m thrilled to have available. 

Arcane Signet

Green has a ton of fantastic ways to ramp mana early in a game of Commander, and that is one of the reasons why the color is so powerful in the format.  I was thrilled that Wizards made Arcane Signet to provide another early ramp option for nongreen decks to try to keep up. Green’s land ramp is almost always strictly better, but this potent card comes pretty darn close, especially the more colors you have in your commander’s color identity.

Talisman of Conviction Talisman of Creativity Talisman of Hierarchy

Speaking of mana rocks, Modern Horizons completed the Talisman cycle with five enemy-color combinations.  Nongreen two-color decks welcome this mana ramp and color fixing at just two mana.  

Smothering Tithe

Smothering Tithe was obviously eye-poppingly powerful from the moment we laid eyes on it, and after playing with it and against it for a while, it’s even better than I thought it was.  And much more obnoxious! You thought Rhystic Study was annoying? Smothering Tithe demands twice as much tax each time an opponent draws a card, and the steady buildup of mana can get out of hand in a hurry, especially in conjunction with “all draw” effects like Magus of the Wheel.  I’ve actually stopped playing Smothering Tithe in my decks because I think the card is not fun to play against, but there is no doubting this is one of the most potent cards for Commander from 2019.

Top 5 Card Draw Cards

Guardian Project

While this card presents an interesting puzzle for other formats, it’s a slam-dunk no-brainer for any green Commander deck, so long as you’re running creatures.  Did I mention it was green? Of course you’re running creatures. And having just one colored mana, it’s easy to cast. The drawback of not triggering from creature tokens is probably a good thing for all of our sakes, but it’s nice that you get to draw from creatures entering the battlefield from other effects besides casting creature cards such as graveyard recursion or blink effects, just to name a couple.  

The Great Henge

It’s a bit mind-boggling that green players got Guardian Project and The Great Henge all in the same year!  The Great Henge isn’t as easy to cast as Guardian Project, but if you do the heavy lifting necessary to cast this at a reasonable cost, you get the bonus of extra mana and lifegain each turn, and your creature cards that enter the battlefield get a +1/+1 counter on them, in addition to the card draw.  

Hydroid Krasis

Once this powerful mythic rare rotates out of Standard and the price comes down, I expect this card to find homes in a ton of Commander decks.  Commander has a ton of powerful ways to generate a bunch of mana, and turning that mana into cards, life, and a Jellyfish Hydra Beast that flies and tramples is pretty much everything you want to be doing in the format.

Tome of Legends

I knew this card would be good in Commander but in practice it has exceeded my expectations.  While some commanders aren’t really built to attack, there are a ton of them that do, and if you’re playing one of those, you want to find room for this juicy two-mana artifact.  I especially love this in Boros decks since that color’s commander choices are usually quite aggressive and the color combination is lacking on card flow.  

Ohran Frostfang

Okay, I love green and I’m always happy for Commander goodies in the color, but having Ohran Frostfang, Guardian Project, and The Great Henge all come out the same year seems like too much of a good thing.  It’s not like green has been lacking in raw card draw before this year came along. I do really love that Ohran Frostfang encourages you to attack, and giving all your attacking creatures deathtouch synergizes nicely with so many green creatures that have trample.  

Top 5 Utility Spells

Ugin, the Ineffable

Planeswalkers can be risky to play in Commander because they’re a magnet for creatures to attack, and usually all opponents will cooperate to take it down.  But Ugin is worth the trouble in any color combination that might otherwise be deficient in card draw and/or removal. And that’s not even including the significant discount to colorless spells, so if you’re playing artifacts, Ugin really does a ton of work!

Generous Gift

Beast Within is a very nice flexible removal spell that can handle things that green can have trouble handling, so getting a new Beast Within color-shifted to white is definitely welcome for Commander.  I’m a big fan of having lots of pinpoint removal spells, especially ones that are instant-speed since you never know when you might need to handle a problem permanent without necessarily sweeping the battlefield, and Generous Gift covers a lot of potential problems.

Narset's Reversal

This seemed like a cute little card at first blush, but after seeing it in action the past half-year, I have to say this is quietly one of the coolest blue Commander cards to be printed in a long while.  Commander is a format of big, splashy spells that usually have some cool effect, so getting to copy it and then delay your opponent’s spell is huge, especially if they’ve sacrificed resources to cast it ahead of time.  

Force of Vigor

As a green mage I’ve long been jealous of Return to Dust as a great utility removal spell in Commander, so I’ve been thrilled to have Force of Vigor peppered into all of my green decks.  I have yet to need to cast it for zero mana, but I do love having that option so you can safely tap out to play something cool but still have some protection from some crazy artifact or enchantment combo.

Hall of Heliod's Generosity

I love that Wizards took a look at Volrath’s Stronghold and Academy Ruins and decided to add another card with a similar design.  While enchantments are nearly as likely to be put into the graveyard as creatures or artifacts, there are plenty of good enchantments that sacrifice for good effect ⁠— Aura of Silence, Pursuit of Knowledge, Seal of Cleansing, Soul Snare ⁠— and that’s just in white!  Last year’s Commander product included a deck built heavily around enchantments, and it was awesome to be able to add Hall of Heliod’s Generosity to the deck.

What cards from 2019 were you super-excited to see for Commander?  

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