Here are a few cards for your consideration:
You probably recognize these as some of the most powerful cards in Magic. The cream of the crop, the iconic staples that define formats and warp metagames. Few would argue that these cards set the bar for sheer power.
But in Commander this is not the case. Commander manipulates the rules of Magic in such a way that card quality must be assessed completely differently than in any other format. There are many key factors that affect the quality of a card in Commander. The multiplayer nature, starting life total of 40, and bizarre deck requirements are just a few.
Normally, in Constructed formats, players take a card’s mana cost into consideration, but for Commander this is less of an issue.
This is because Commander is generally slow. Larger numbers of players lead to longer games, players start with 40 life, and decks are less consistent. Players can usually bank on hitting their eighth land drop to cast that juicy hydra demon lord that draws eight cards and destroys eight creatures (this card may or may not be my invention). This means players can rely on their expensive spells, which results in the epic games of Magic Commander is known for.
Let’s look at blue as an example. Normally when compiling a top five list for best blue cards we might include Snapcaster Mage, Brainstorm, Force of Will, Counterspell and Stifle. (I don’t really play other formats so this is probably wrong, but you get the idea.) Cards like this are actually quite poor in Commander. Sure they have their uses, but I wouldn’t put them anywhere near the top five.
Time Stretch, on the other hand, ranks above all of these. In most formats ten mana is pretty unreasonable, but not in Commander. While ten is steep, most Commander games will go long enough for a spell like this to be hardcast. The possibility of casting cards like this (fairly) is what makes Commander such an interesting, dynamic and unique format.
The other colors more or less follow suit. The best cards outside of Commander usually don’t measure up in the world of 99 cards.
The Best Commander Cards
Let’s take a look at what I consider to be the top five Commander cards for each color and why.
Now, there are two things to be aware of when I made my decisions. First, I chose cards that are more or less good in a vacuum. For example, Palinchron is extremely powerful but relies heavily on [card mana reflection]other cards[/card] to be good. I tried to keep cards like that off the list. Second, I avoided stupid cards like Armageddon because I don’t play with or against such cards.
There are a few questions I kept in mind when judging power level. Do I usually win the game when I cast this card? Does it actively help me cast cards that win the game? Does it efficiently stop my opponents from winning the game? Should every Commander deck run this card if it’s on-color? These are all important things to consider when assessing card quality for Commander (and for that matter every other format).
Without further ado:
- 5. Stoneforge Mystic. This card is fantastic. In most cases it gets a Sword of Fire and Ice or [card Sword of Light and Shadow]Light and Shadow[/card], which are quite good in Commander, but it also has the option to get other [card Argentum Armor]powerful equipment[/card] to fulfill roles you may need.
- 4. Return to Dust. This card is just amazing. Just show me one Commander deck with out artifacts or enchantments in it. Not only can this card get two of them, but it exiles which is actually much more critical in Commander than in other formats.
- 3. Wrath of God. Creature wrath effects are very powerful. When you kill not one, but two of your opponents’ entire board of creatures, it’s that much better. This creates a lot of pseudo card advantage which is very beneficial.
- 2. Stonehewer Giant. This is another fantastic equipment fetcher. He pretty much does what Stoneforge Mystic does, but more than once and he equips it for you.
- 1. Austere Command. This card is extremely versatile, which is clutch in Commander. It will always take care of two threatening cards, if not more, and it is easy to set yourself up to be far ahead after casting it. Every white deck should use this.
- 5. Time Stretch. TWO extra turns?! That’s insane! The fact that this costs ten mana does keep it at number five though.
- 4. Rhystic Study. This card draws a surprising amount of cards. As soon as one person declines to pay the extra one, everyone else stops paying as well. It’s a, “Well, if you’re not paying, then I’m not,” kind of situation.
- 3. Desertion. In most situations paying five mana to steal an opponent’s three-drop creature is underwhelming, but when it steals a nine-mana legendary angel, it suddenly gets a lot better.
- 2. Time Spiral. Refilling an empty hand is good in any format, and the fact that you see it coming makes it way easier to take advantage of. Oh, and did I mention its free? In fact, with the use of bounce lands (and [card caged sun]other tricks[/card]), it actually generates mana!
- 1. Bribery. This card is a lot like Desertion, except you don’t have to wait for your opponent to cast anything and it always gets the best creature they have available. In Commander that usually means something nuts. Turn five Griselbrand! Wait, he’s banned. Dang. We’ll just have to settle for his nemesis [card Avacyn, Angel of Hope]Avacyn[/card].
- 5. Rune-Scarred Demon. Not only does this guy get any card from your deck, he also lays the smack down as a 6/6 flyer.
- 4. Phyrexian Arena. I’ve found this card to be extremely powerful. Remember how Commander games last forever? Well, drawing a card every turn for forever is…a bunch of cards, at least 50, and the life loss is mostly irrelevant.
- 3. Decree of Pain. Creature sweeper and card drawer in one. What else can I say? It even becomes more powerful with more people in the game.
- 2. Necropotence. This card breaks the “good in other formats, bad in Commander” rule. It is busted in all formats and becomes even more busted when you start with 40 life. Enough said.
- 1. Demonic Tutor. I’d probably put this in the top five Commander cards among any color. It’s that good. Tutors are even more powerful in Commander due to deck size and inconsistency. This gets any card on this list, so it has to be good.
- 5. Shattering Spree. This card is efficiently costed and destroys every artifact you need it to to cripple your opponents. Any deck that isn’t green is going to have some artifact mana, and being able to kill all of them, but not your own, is pretty sweet.
- 4. Starstorm. A variable creature sweeper that cycles? Sounds good to me. It’s also an instant, which is great. This card is good during all points of a Commander game.
- 3. Godo, Bandit Warlord. See Stoneforge Mystic and Stonehewer Giant. What can be bad about free equipment? Also, swords are pretty sweet when they hit twice. Side note, a Spanish Godo, Bandit Warlord has the coolest name of a card ever. Look it up.
- 2. Wheel of Fortune. This card gets you out of a tough situation, to wit: running out of cards. This is one thing you don’t want to happen in Commander. Also, red is lacking in card advantage and this gem keeps those dragons flowin’.
- 1. Insurrection. I’m pretty sure I’ve won the game every time I’ve cast this card. What makes it so powerful? There are usually at least three players’ worth of creatures to steal, said creatures are simultaneously large and in charge, and voila you control all of them.
- 5. Azusa, Lost but Seeking. This chick is bonkers. Playing three lands per turn is the bee’s knees, and with splendid cards like Tower of Fortunes keeping your hand full, its pretty easy to take advantage of her every turn.
- 4. Mana Reflection. Double Mana. Not just an extra mana, and not just for lands, but double mana for everything. That is all.
- 3. Skyshroud Claim. On the surface this card feels underwhelming compared to the other cards on this list, but trust me, every green Commander deck everywhere should run this card. It’s just that efficient. It accelerates and fixes your mana (think Tropical Island, Bayou, Taiga and Savannah), and as a plus puts lands onto the battlefield untapped.
- 2. Tooth and Nail. This card is just sweet. Two creatures from your deck, right into play, bam. Hint: I often get the green card ranked at number one.
- 1. Primeval Titan. This card does exactly what is best in Commander, ramping tons of mana. And it fetches any lands you could fancy. Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and Cabal Coffers? Why not. He’s also a beefcake that can pummel your opponents to death while he generates thousands of mana.
And there you have it, Andy Martin’s top five Commander cards for each color.
Compiling this list was a lot more difficult that I thought. Commander is such a diverse format where anything is possible and it’s very difficult to narrow such a large chunk of quality cards down to ‘best five’.
I’m sure some of you agree with some of my choices, and I’m sure even more of you disagree. The above list is based on my years of Commander experience and Magic knowledge, but I would love to hear what you all think. What are your top fives for each color? Let me know in the comments!