Welcome to Part 2 of my series on Magic cards that let you walk away from a Commander table with the contempt of your friends and foes. If you missed Part 1, it mostly covered fringe cards on the casual or janky end of the spectrum. Credit where credit is due, though, to anyone who can win consistently with an Epic Struggle deck. That takes both skill and an absolute contempt for the fundamentals of the game, and I salute you.
Today, we’re talking about the more meat-and-potatoes Commander staples that see a fair amount of play, considering they’re cards that say, “You win the game.” I’m also going to sneak in a card that debuted yesterday as part of the Streets of New Capenna previews, one I think will be very powerful.
Imagine going to a barbecue over at Biovisionary’s house. He’s like, “Hey, want to see what I’ve got cooking in my big green egg?” And then the screaming starts. The man with a plan to clone himself has a win condition surprisingly easy to accomplish in Commander, despite it being a singleton format. Rite of Replication or Myojin of Cryptic Dreams can get you there unconditionally in one card, while Echoing Equation and Mirrorweave are more battlefield-dependent. The nice thing about making a tailgate worth of Biovisionaries is that it’s not too far off your gameplan in quite a few Simic decks, so you’re not contorting your strategy around a convoluted combo.
#14: Chance Encounter
Despite the Twitter Discourse about Krark, the Thumbless over the last week, I don’t expect the controversial commander (or coin flip decks) to be going away soon. Chance Encounter shines with Yusri, Fortune’s Flame, or the duo of Okaun, Eye of Chaos, and Zndrsplt, Eye of Wisdom, where you can realistically flip ten coins in a single turn. The bonus in the Izzet color identity is the opportunity to play Frenetic Efreet, a gem that lets you flip as many coins as your heart desires by stacking zero-mana triggers.
A reprint in Modern Horizons 2 makes this one of the most affordable alternate win conditions on this list. The only reason it’s not rated higher is that dreaded “living until your next turn” clause can be tricky to pull off when everyone wants to make sure that doesn’t happen.
#13: Maze’s End
One of the things I love about Maze’s End is that you can build around it at many power levels. Cheating your Gates onto the battlefield with a big Scapeshift or Reshape the Earth turn is splashy and bold. If you’re taking your time and playing more casual ramp, there’s genuine suspense and tension with each one that enters. The clock is ticking. You can be silly and make a mostly-ramp Codie, Vociferous Codex deck. You can slap it in a Kenrith, the Returned King deck as an alternate win condition with a slightly worse manabase. Flexibility and affordability earn it my #13 spot. The End and the Gates to get you there are a bargain.
We’re entering the realm of fringe playable cards without a win tacked on. Triskaidekaphile’s card draw is okay, if not a little expensive. That being said, I’m always excited about not having a maximum hand size on Turn 2. There are ways to break this unlucky lady, particularly in Dimir decks that can run Necropotence and Ad Nauseam, but it feels like so much has to go right at the exact moment otherwise. Can you draw cards at instant speed if you need to protect her? Can you discard at will if someone has a bounce spell? Again, there’s enough value here that you don’t need to stress about building around too much in a color that can protect Trisk.
#11: Helix Pinnacle
This spring, I bought twenty pounds of birdseed. The only problem is the birds forgot about me or moved away. Then, it was super windy for a few days, so the seed is now all over the lawn. The scattered seed has attracted squirrels, the bane of my existence. Sometimes, infinite mana feels like birdseed, and you need a Helix Pinnacle to swoop in and eat it all up. Without it, your squirrel opponents will ruin your day. It’s also the only card on this list with shroud, which leaves you vulnerable to sweepers but not much else. I don’t know where this fits into the metaphor other than the terrifying thought that the birds were part of a mass extinction event, so let’s move on.
#10: Liliana’s Contract
With access to 132 Demons in Commander as of this writing, Liliana’s Contract seems to be heavily in our favor. I mean, we’ve come a long way since the days of giant, pricey monsters like Mold Demon and Minion of Tevesh Szat. Heck, you could be halfway there before signing on the dotted line with a Varragoth, Bloodsky Sire and Nightmare Shepherd on the battlefield. Toss in some Changelings, and this feels downright achievable. Don’t let me bury the lede, though: four cards for four life is a steal when we start at 40.
#9: Simic Ascendancy
Speaking of cards that are fine playables with significant upside, Simic Ascendancy can get out of control swiftly in counter and proliferate decks. Alternatively, cast Body of Research once and make opponents scramble for answers. An auto-include for Pir, Imaginative Rascal and Toothy, Imaginary Friend decks, it also combos well in Bant decks with Emiel the Blessed and Workhorse, where you remove your Workhorse counters to blink Emiel until you have more growth counters than a wall with pencil marks at your grandparents’ house.
#8: Mechanized Production
The general theory behind Mechanized Production is that there tend to be myriad cards in Commander that generate artifact tokens with the same name. Dockside Extortionist. Sai, Monster Thopterist. Lonis, Cryptozoologist. Not all of these cards are created equal, but for the purpose of winning the game, the tokens are. Your ultimate goal is to stick a Padeem, Consul of Innovation before going to town so your Mechanized Production target lives to see another turn. Don’t forget that you can attach this to anything; the ability checks for any artifact you control, not the one this Aura is attached to. Why is this rated so much higher than Biovisionary, which needs far fewer copies? Creatures are easier to kill. That’s it.
#7.5: Halo Fountain
Of course, there would be a brand-new addition to the list previewed after I finished the column. ‘Tis the season. I’m incredibly bullish on Halo Fountain as a card first and win condition second, as creating creature tokens and drawing cards for untapping creatures are things almost every white deck wants to do. Dropping a Turn 3 Thraben Doomsayer means you can make two tokens a turn for a single white mana. Mother of Runes protects two kids a turn, Faeburrow Elder churns out mana, and Mikaeus, the Lunarch gets your team jacked up.
#7: Felidar Sovereign
Our successor to Epic Struggle, Felidar Sovereign creates my favorite kind of moment in Commander, where everyone knows you’re the target, and they must collectively Voltron together to destroy you. Can you lie low enough to create a position to win from? What can you cobble together to protect the Sovereign and still have 40 or more life? I would love to rate this higher, but so often, I see people basing attacks on life total, and actively being above starting makes you the punching bag.
#6: Approach of the Second Sun
Approach of the Second Sun, one of my favorite cards in Cube, helps you stabilize after a rough start or prepare for the incoming ruckus. It also puts a veritable “kick me” sign on your deck for the next six turns, which isn’t for everyone. In practice, it feels like you get a slight delay, as people tend to put off the player they can kill today until tomorrow. If you’d like to speed up the process, Narset’s Reversal and Unsubstantiate both give you the tactile sensation of casting the Approach while satisfying the clause needed for winning. Otherwise, you can draw a bunch of cards (always good) or scry a bunch of cards (also good) to get back to it faster, things I don’t mind doing because, you know, they’re good.
#5: Revel in Riches
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Treasure tokens are perfect. I don’t see them getting substantially worse anytime soon, as they count as permanents and can help you cast cards before you should be able to in a game of Magic, as Garfield intended. As such, my brain broke and forgot that Revel in Riches actually helps you produce them at a decent rate. It feels like cheating with so many “do nothing, check to see if you’ve won” enchantment cards on this list. The only thing holding me back on Revel is how bonkers expensive Smothering Tithe, Dockside Extortionist, and Old Gnawbone are right now. Barring some reprints, budget-conscious players will have to make do with Spell Swindle, Xorn, Tireless Provisioner, Academy Manufactor, Brass’s Bounty, and at this point, who am I kidding? Revel still has a lot of gas.
#4: Hellkite Tyrant
Hellkite Tyrant doesn’t care about winning the game. In a format where mana rocks and artifact tokens seem to roam unfettered, stealing all of them from an opponent of your choice is demoralizing, to say the least. The floor is a powerful Dragon. Have a bunch of those Treasures we were just talking about lying around? Oh, well, that’ll do just fine. Have one of those Old Gnawbones? Maybe you’ll make enough Treasures to win. Hellkite Tyrant is a jerk, and he’s the type of jerk you want on your side of a bar fight, where he pulls out a fist full of sand and throws it in someone’s eyes, and you’re like, “Wait, you were just walking about with a pocket full of sand all day?” They nod.
#3: Laboratory Maniac
#2: Jace, Wielder of Mysteries
#1: Thassa’s Oracle
The Father (Jace, Wielder of Mysteries); Son (Laboratory Maniac); and Holy Spirit (Thassa’s Oracle) of self-mill take their rightful place at the top of the list. What makes them so good? Redundancy. Consider that here you have three cards with very similar abilities, meaning that if you’re forced to discard or exile your Maniac early, you still have outs. Barren Glory cannot say the same thing.
Typically, having very few cards in your library is a nightmare scenario, so cards like Doomsday or Leveler are trying to enact a harsh penalty that turns out to be a boon. Other cards let you do seemingly unintuitive things, like tapping and untapping a Basalt Monolith with a Mesmeric Orb on the battlefield. Other times, you’re drawing your whole library through a combo but can’t kill three people simultaneously.
The kicker, though, is that you’re playing blue. Ostensibly, you have a few counterspells in your deck that can handle interaction with your opponents. This leaves the rest of the table feeling hopeless at times. If you’re looking to end things, nothing beats the trinity in blue.