A couple of things today, so let's get into it.
Criminally Underutilised Commanders
There are almost 500 possible commanders for Commander. Many are insanely popular: [card Erayo, Soratami Ascendant]Erayo[/card], [card Zur, the Enchanter]Zur[/card], [card Rafiq of the Many]Rafiq[/card], [card Ulasht, the Hate Seed]Ulasht[/card]. But I want today to give a shout-out to the unloved options who could do with a leg-up in the big bad world.
Asmira, Holy Avenger: Asmira is just begging to be broken by some Johnny somewhere. There are any number of permanents dying to be on the field with Asmira: Juniper Order Ranger (perhaps with Greater Good and a Woodfall Primus), Eldrazi Spawn tokens, Blade of the Bloodchief, World Queller, Birthing Pod, Matryr's Bond, Mycoloth, etc. Asmira isn't as flashy as Jenara, Asura of War, who can become a one-woman army and certainly requires to be built around to get the counters going, but I'm sure with a little love and a little effort she could become a house.
Brigid, Hero of Kinsbaile: Brigid is a highly political commander as she can effectively shut down a board, especially when supported by cards that kick her ability into overdrive. A Stoneforge Mystic package that included Basilisk Collar, Quietus Spike, Scythe of the Wicked, Umbral Mantle and Gorgon Flail turn Brigid into a death machine, and Thousand Year Elixir would turn her into a machine gun.
With control over the attack phase, regardless of attacking or defending, you can then get to the real business of forcing alliegences until you're ready to crush everyone under your tiny lady feet.
Chainer, Dementia Master: Black rarely has any mana troubles, so getting repeated use out of a pretty powerful effect should be no problem. And it is powerful. Nnot constrained by sorcery speed or your own graveyard, Chainer is happy to ruin The Mimeoplasm's day by ripping the creatures right out from under him, or even stealing an Eldrazi with the shuffle trigger on the stack. There also happen to be a number of useful Nightmares to use, including Faceless Butcher (whose exit-the-battlefield trigger is Oblivion Ring style abusable), Mesmeric Fiend, and of course Ashiok, Nightmare Muse, the first fattie I ever recall playing.
Diaochan, Artful Beauty: The third lady on our list, Diaochan is an interesting choice. The obvious route is to find a way to grant your creatures indestructibility (with cards such as Darksteel Plate) or with repeatable bounce effects such as Crystal Shard (if your playgroup will let a mono-red deck run it). Even on her own, though, you get to play an interesting game of politics, with people able to trade around the creature destruction without necessarily hitting Diaochan herself. Often, in Commander, the enemy of your enemy is your friend, and the ability to throw the pain around can get you pretty far.
Frankie Peanuts: Okay, almost no play group will let you play with Un-cards, but I think Frankie should be the exception to the rule. He is a pure political card and can denude the plans of the sneakiest players with one smart question. There are the simple questions - if I do X, will you do Y, the tricker ones, such as "do you have a counterspell", or even trying to combo with cards such as Cursed Scroll (worst combo ever?). I really like the ability, even though there ulimately is no downside if people don't abide by their answer (a "lose the game" clause would of been fantastic), and I hope some playgroups are willing to try him out.
Isperia the Inscrutable: Isperia is an odd duck. There are certainly enough great Sphinxes, all with flying, to make a Sphinx-themed deck. You'd be missing Magister Sphinx ("The Flying Wrecker"), Sphinx Sovereign, Sphinx Summoner, Enigma Sphinx, Sphinx of the Steel Wind and of course Sharuum, the Hegemon, but that might make the deck a little more acceptable than a straight Sharuum deck. There are quite a few cards that work well with Isperia, including Telepathy (the one-drop enchantment most likely to get you killed), Gitaxian Probe, Peek, and others,, making Isperia one heck of a tutor machine. A Zur for 6-drop flyers might not be competitive, but it sure sounds like fun.
Hokori, Dust Drinker: What can you say about Winter Orb on a stick, other than it needs to be played with World Queller. After all, there's no reason why White can't build a prison deck that works as well (or better) than the many blue prison locks. Linvala, Keeper of Silence, Humility, Ghostly Prison, all can add up to one beating for opponents. Plus, have you seen the artwork on this thing? It's a giant dust-cloud with teeth that eats the world. Basically, it's The Nothing. Don't you want to have The Nothing as your commander?
Lovisa Coldeyes: I'm not sure why I'm keeping track, but Lovisa is the fourth female commander on this list, and she's fantastic. There are a zillion Barbarians, Warriors and Beserkers in red in Magic's history, and the pressure this commander can place on opponents is fantastic. Barbarian Riftcutter, Godo, Bandit Lord, Jeska, Warrior Adept, and Khamal, Pit Fighter would all love to roll out with Lovisa. Haste is entirely underrated in Commander, and effectively giving every creature in your deck haste can lead to some savage beatings.
Mangara of Corondor: I've not seen anyone use Mangara as a commander, but I don't understand why. He seems perfect: spot removal when you need him for anything on the board. Highly abusable with bounce effects (in response to the trigger), he could become a very competitive commander indeed. Some Quicksilver Boots with a Whitemain Lion, and you're half-way to destroying your opponents lands every round (I'll leave you to figure out the other half, but be sure to tell me in the comments). Mangara is a commander I can see exploring further and I'll be sure to come back to him in the future.
Maralen of the Mornsong: I know, I know, the first thing people tutor up when Maralen hits the board is removal. Which is why she needs real support, be it Shroud or Indestructible-granting equipment, to be out sort of recursion engine, or simply getting down on your knees and begging your opponents not to kill her on sight (though as soon as you tutor for Cabal Coffers you deserve to be kicked). Although the colours are not in sync, if you could find a way to get both her and Mindlock Orb or Stranglehold then you'd be able to lock them out of games, for less mana than Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir/Knowledge Pool. Just saying.
Marrow-Gnawer: Rats. Could you have this as your commander and 60 Relentless Rats? Sure! But there are more fun things to do than that (although that is pretty fun, especially if you have a way to access Thrumming Stone). There are over 40 (non-changling) rats to choose from, and although many of them stink, there are a few Commander staples in there (such as Crypt Rats, Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni, and Nezumi Graverobber // Nighteyes the Desecrator) but many rats could take a second look, such as Locust Miser, Okiba-Gang Shinobi and Throat Slitter. Marrow-Gnawer can get out of hand very quickly, sometimes even faster than Rhys the Redeemed, although he does require playing out other rats, unlike Rhys, so your mileage may vary.
Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker: Lady number six, and a stealthy one at that. Again, you might pair her up with a prison strategy (utilising Karmic Justice, Hokori, Dust Drinker as mentioned earlier, Rule of Law, and Armageddon) or simply an aggro strategy that can really bite back. Actually, looking back at what I've written so far, I realise there's one heck of a white prison deck in the making, starting Mangara as the commander and utilising the other Legendary creatures as backup, perhaps with Emeria Ruins for recursion and topping out with Yosei, the Morning Star. Actually, forget I ever spoke of it. Nothing to see here, move along.
Reki, the History of Kamigawa: Reki just screams "build around me". The spells don't even have to be creatures, just Legendary to get the card-drawing trigger. The downside is you actually have to play them, not merely have them enter the battlefield, but as a card draw engine he must clearly be nuts. There are over 120 Legendary Green cards, Land cards and Artifact cards, many of which you're already playing in your green decks. Surely there's something a little broken about drawing a card off playing Gaea's Cradle, then tapping it for Kamahl, Fist of Krosa and drawing yet another card. Reki is the type of commander you have to get off the board quickly as a deck built around him will bury it's opponents in card advantage. Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger and a card? Mindslaver and a card? Kozilek, Butcher of Truth and five cards? Ok sure, probably overkill, but you get the picture.
Life of Toshiro Umezawa // Memory of Toshiro: That's right, the other Umezawa. The black sheep of the family, so to speak. You know, I'm pretty sure there's one thing black is pretty good at, and that's making sure opponents put their creatures into the graveyard. Having this guy out basically doubles your removal, and although he can't flashback a Demonic Tutor, he can certainly flashback a Vampiric once. I've happily used Dralnu, Lich Lord as a commander even with the downside, and Toshiro, properly built around, may well be a step up, considering you don't have to tap him to trigger the ability, and your opponents will be happily killing each other's creatures as well. Worth whil thinking about.
Urabrask the Hidden: Maybe it's because he's so new to the Commander Pantheon that I haven't seen him all that often, but he does seem like a fantastic red commander. Haste? Yup. Good power/cost ratio? Yup. Griefs opponents? Triple-yup. With a little backup he presents the real option of killing via commander damage, when normal damage just ain't good enough, and like Thraximundar opponents can't afford to forget about his very real presence even when off the board. You get a lot more bang for your buck when you pay the extra 2 mana for Thraxi, but the speed of Urabrask isn't to be denied.
Zo-Zu the Punisher: A 33-mountain pressure deck with plenty of land destruction (Avalanche Riders, Goblin Ruinblaster, Stone Rain, Molten Rain, Breeches, Eager Pillager, etc) could be a lot of fun with this little commander. Of course, the effect is symmetrical, so you just need to ensure you're placing more pressure on your opponents than they can place on you. With some fast-mana artifact support you can help punish those decks that like to ramp via lands or play heavy fetchland-based manabases. Six damage for fetching that shock land? And oh look, I just played Blood Moon; but that's the way Zo- Zu rolls, I guess.
So there you have it, some ideas for commanderss who could be great, if given half the chance.
Lately I've been playing with a commander that's very, veray rarely played. I've had some fun with a Brothers Yamazaki deck I play alongside @leet32 in the MtGO casual rooms and I think well built, fast red decks are pretty underestimated.
Here are the decks we've been playing:
Clearly the two decks are meant to be played together, and the combination Blood Moon effects, Land Destruction, and Pyrostatic Pillar can put some decks in very awkward positions. The Younger Deck is much faster and often gets the first beats in. The Elder deck is slower but better suited to controlling the board. When they tussle it's usually inevitable for the Elder deck to beat the Younger (as you go after your opponents together, first, but the outcome is by no means settled.
The decks, which work together superbly, got me thinking about other commanders you might want to pair together. I'd love to see a Balthor the Defiled / Balthor the Scout set of decklists as I imagine they'd work wonderfully together. If you've put two themed decks like that together, I'd love to know about it.
Hopefully next week I'll unveil a razor sharp competitive green deck, but with the From The Vault:Legends" coming out and Inninstrad just around the corner, there's an awful lot to talk about. Is that enough hedging? I sure hope so.