January of a new year is always a time full of hope; 2022 is still so fresh and bursting with potential! For Magic and Commander fans, what’s the year going to bring us? We have some ideas based on the products that we know will be coming down the pipeline, but details remain sketchy.
One thing that’s been on my mind lately is how much we really need good reasons to play monocolor decks in Commander. Granted, the format was invented with the idea of playing multicolor decks, with the five Elder Dragons from Legends being the original commanders (generals). Part of what made the format so slow and casual was that it would take time to fix your mana colors to cast your big expensive gold spells.
That was balanced out by the design philosophy of Wizards of the Coast (WotC) to make gold spells more powerful, with the idea being that since it was more difficult to assemble your colors, the payoff should be bigger. EDH/Commander as a format was designed to take full advantage of those powerful haymaker gold cards to make memories and have fun with your friends.
But over time it’s gotten much easier and more efficient to fix your colors and reliably cast the powerful gold cards old and new that are so popular in the format.
Which then raises the question: why bother playing monocolor Commander decks? If it’s so easy to fix your mana, why not choose a commander or commanders that can tap into the best cards from across multiple colors? The answer is pretty clear.
The only monocolor legend to crack the Top 50 of EDHREC’s list of top commanders is the high-powered leader of Goblin tribal — Krenko, Mob Boss. Further, there are only four more in the next 50. Magic players are drawn to the shiny gold commanders, not only because it’s so easy to play them and the best cards in their color identity, but also because there’s just not enough incentive to play monocolor Commander.
It’s been over seven years since WotC put out Commander 2014, which focused on monocolor Commander decks.
I always assumed that WotC would circle back around to monocolor themed decks, but then in 2020 they decided to tie Commander releases to the themes of each major set release. And while I think that’s pretty cool, it does make it more difficult to bring back monocolor decks, since most themes span across at least two colors in each set. With this current paradigm, the next logical time I could see bringing back monocolor decks is if it’s tied to a return to Theros, during April when the year’s full selection of five Commander decks comes around. The devotion mechanic from Theros is definitely a big draw to playing monocolor decks.
But I also feel relying too heavily on devotion to power up your monocolor deck is risky in Commander, a format that is chock-full of battlefield sweepers, not only for creatures but for all nonland permanents too. While I’d welcome a return to Theros and more devotion cards, I’d also like to see more exploration of monocolor design outside of devotion.
One very real advantage monocolor decks have over decks with more colors is more access to utility lands.
I’ve always been a huge fan of utility lands in Commander for the efficiency of having a card that can produce mana or some other effect if you want to spend mana to activate it. Mana sinks are especially important in a format that can go long like Commander can, and occasionally after one too many battlefield sweepers you might find yourself without any cards you can or want to cast.
WotC has done a good job with making some really nice utility lands that can go in any deck lately, but we’ve definitely reached a saturation level for those sorts of cards. I’d love to see more designs where a land taps for a colored mana and has a powerful effect, but with an activation that needs a heavy color commitment to activate. Think Castle Locthwain, but with an extra colored pip — what sort of potent effect could you put on a land card that required three white mana to activate?
I think about the Castles from Throne of Eldraine, or the cycle of lands from Champions of Kamigawa. I’d love to see pushed lands that you’d only want to put in monocolor decks.
Land Types Matter
I’d like to see WotC really push new cards that care about and scale up based off particular basic land types, particularly instant and sorcery spells.
Black already does this fabulously well and can certainly serve as a template for designs for other land types. Would a Cabal Coffers tied to Mountains be out of bounds? How about the flip side of Mutilate with an Overrun-style effect tied to how many basic Forests you control? What sort of white Dread Presence could we have that triggers from playing a Plains?
White dabbles in this space; Emeria, the Sky Ruin is awesome, particularly since WotC has been pretty good at making cards that search up Plains to make land drops with (hello, Archaeomancer’s Map). It dries up pretty quickly after that though; how about improved versions of Armored Ascension and Endless Horizons?
Green does a pretty good job caring about Forests, but a lot of it is tied to mana, such as the incredible Nissa, Who Shakes the World. I’d like to see more cards like Beacon of Creation, but with different effects — maybe it’s put a +1/+1 counter on up to X creatures, where X is the number of Forests you control. Maybe it’s a Lure effect for X creatures; maybe you can shuffle X cards into their owner’s library and then you get to draw a card or make a creature.
Even though Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle is awesome, red can definitely use some help in this area! How about a Shatter effect for each Mountain you control? Or untap a creature for each Mountain you have for an extra attack step? Or a creature with power tied to the number of Mountains you control, or a land or Equipment that can boost a creature’s power?
Blue has some goodies in this design space, but I think there could be even more. In particular I really love the design of Charix, the Raging Isle. What about something that lets you draw X cards where X is the number of Islands you control, and then discard three? What if you could make a copy of something for each Island you control?
I really have my fingers crossed for more design in this space; these two cards are home runs, getting worse the more colors in your commander’s color identity. For instance, you could add X to something’s casting cost or activation cost where X is your commander’s color identity. What about a Mox that costs X, where X is your commander’s color identity?
More Mana Pip Power
One awesome design tool is adding more single-color pips to cast and use cards, letting you really ramp up the power level. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher when I look at Old-Growth Troll compared to Benalish Marshal. Both cost three mana of their particular color, but the Troll really rewards you for playing mono-green. I’d love to see a fearsome white creature that costs 1WWW to cast and is on par with Cryptic Command. What amazing effect could a red instant have that costs RRR? Let’s stop making cards like Smothering Tithe, incredibly powerful and incredibly easy to splash into nearly any Commander deck. Let’s add more colored mana pips and make some exciting reasons to play monocolor!
On the flip side, I’d also like to see WotC revisit the colorless mana technology they unlocked with the Eldrazi like Endbringer from Oath of the Gatewatch! Putting enough sources of colorless mana in a deck to cast and activate these sorts of cards can be tricky outside of monocolor decks, which makes them the perfect vehicle for making powerful tools for monocolor decks that are much more difficult to use in multicolor.
I have a feeling that WotC is saving the colorless mana technology for a return of the Eldrazi, but they should break it out and use it more often. Maybe Ugin has a bunch of spells and artifacts that require colorless mana to cast and activate? As a thought experiment, I was thinking if making a functional reprint of Umezawa’s Jitte would be okay for a Standard set if they replaced the generic mana in its casting and equip costs with colorless mana, or a card of similar power.
Commander Legends came out with some really well-balanced and fun monocolor legends with partner, but where’s the incentive not to pair them with another color or two? How about a handful of really powerful and fun colorless partner legends! I was thinking about how much more fun Scourge of Kroog would be if it had the partner mechanic, or new versions of Karn or Hope of Ghirapur.
So, what do you think WotC should do to help encourage people to play monocolor Commander decks?
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! I’d also love it if you followed my Twitch channel TheCompleteCommander, where I do Commander, Brawl and sometimes other Magic-related streams when I can. If you can’t join me live, the videos are available on demand for a few weeks on Twitch, but I also upload them to my YouTube channel. You can also find the lists for my decks over on Archidekt if you want to dig into how I put together my own decks and brews. I’ll be keeping my Grothama list there on Archidekt as I make changes when new sets come out, along with a change log so if you’re a fan of the big green Wurm bookmark it!
And lastly, I just want to say: let us love each other and stay healthy and happy.