2014 marked a special year for me, in that my focus in Magic drifted almost entirely towards Commander. It all makes sense in a way, as gone are the days of me trying to push eight-mana spells in formats where they’re about as playable as a church organ.
As such, a fair bit of bias in this list has been granted towards cards that provoked interesting and exciting Commander games or decks.
Roll out the contenders!
Selvala makes for a fun commander. She facilitates a kind of group hug strategy that appears to embrace everyone in loving green/white arms whilst simultaneously reaching down and plundering their back pockets. It’s a bit like one of those ‘Free Hugs’ guys that only does the ‘free hugs’ thing to meet women.
She doesn’t do anything whacky on her own, but she generates three key resources: mana, cards and life. The fact that everyone shares on the card love means she doesn’t get shot down in flames the second she catwalks onto the battlefield. Slightly dumber opponents will even try to keep her around because no-one ever destroys the Howling Mine. Meanwhile the advantage she generates allows you to build up critical mass and explode in Angels or Saprolings.
I’ve had some truly wicked fun going over the top with this girl. You can check out my decklist HERE.
The trouble is he has a lot in common with Hellkite Charger, already one of the best dragons of all time- so the novelty of double-fisting is a little lost on me.
Trying to choose which of the two similar dragons to play is very difficult, and ultimately I feel a bit like a doting father, telling each of my sons they’re my real favourite when the other isn’t listening.
After months of glorious testing and more double fisting than even the seediest corners of Tumblr, I found it just boils down to the decklist: if you can afford the mana, Hellkite Charger is the way to go. If you’re going for a tighter, more aggressive list, pick Scourge. Either way- two attack phases stuck to a giant flying body is the nuts.
But…but… what if you’re playing a dedicated dragon deck?
Cue Old El Paso girl:
Every once in a while you’ll hear somebody mention some object, followed by the words ‘You’ll never want to leave home without one!’ Usually this is either a bad joke about a rice cooker, or an abysmal attempt at a tongue-in-cheek marketing campaign. Probably for rice cookers.
You never hear people say it about something you never actually would want to leave home without: like your wallet, car keys or pants (exceptions possible). Just because it sounds so damn obvious.
So pardon me for saying the frikkin’ obvious when I say ‘Freyalise! You’ll never want to leave home without one!’
For those who scratch their heads wondering why I’m saying it’s obvious:
READ THE FUCKING CARD.
For those who still have doubts: READ THE FUCKING CARD AGAIN.
Under no circumstances do you have a reason not to run her. Every ability she has is useful at almost every point you can drop her. Need chump blocks? +1! Need ramp? +1! Annoyed by a Mind’s Eye? -2! Feel threatened by a Doubling Season? -2! Got an army and need to draw some cards? -6! No creatures on the board? +1! Feel lonely and unfulfilled? Freyalise!
You’ll never want to leave home without one.
At surface glance this one hell of a weird card, with no direct applications. But pry a little deeper and you’ll realize this is a magic toolbox of duplicitous wizardry. It’s got more applications than a roll of duct tape and I am totally prepared to tell the guys on Mythbusters that.
Let me adjust my satin bathrobe and tell you of my conquests (names have been changed to protect the innocent):
- Getting attacked by Harold’s tour de force. Steal Benedict’s creatures, block in a way that causes maximum casualties, saving my butt and decimating their boards.
- Antonio holds back a couple creatures when attacking me. I steal them, block his attackers, watch his army get dusted.
- Antonio is bashing Benedict for lethal. Some of Ronald’s creatures are causing me problems, and I also want to keep Benedict alive. I donate Ronald’s creatures to Benedict and watch them die instead. Then I tell Benedict he owes me a favour and have him beat Ronald and Antonio to death for me. I then kill him myself and win the game.
- Harrison throws a 30 point Banefire at my face with a Gisela on the board. I pinch his Gisela and take 15 rather than 60, living to fight another day.
- Harrison has a legion of blockers. I recruit those blockers to my side, leaving my other creatures unhindered to smash through for the win.
- Margarita has me on the ropes, one more attack will kill me. In response to ‘declare attackers’ I grab her nastiest dudes and dig into Plague Wind next turn. Expensive Fog wins me the game.
- Benedict is going off with a Nekusar deck, with Spiteful Visions and Psychosis Crawler also on the board. I steal his Nekusar and Psychosis Crawler in response to a Wheel of Fortune and Benedict burns himself to a crisp.
I would go so far as to call this the ultimate combat trick in multiplayer Magic. And if all that doesn’t convince you, nothing will.
Like one of those mildly chubby, freckly girls on Tinder, I didn’t think much of Marchesa when I first saw her. And just like one of those mildly chubby, freckly girls on Tinder, I was subjected to endless wild rides once I got over myself and embraced the opportunity.
Somewhere along the way I realized that Marchesa would make the absolute perfect throat-slitting suicide-aggro general. It’s all about cutting the tallest poppy every turn, and if you’re the tallest poppy you just cut yourself until someone’s taller. Then you go back to cutting them!
I really like her because for me she’s enabled a totally different strategy along with cards that weren’t previously playable. Cool cards like Exava and Mirri the Cursed don’t really do much in Commander, and dorky cards like Carnival Hellsteed and Demonlord of Ashmouth don’t really do much anywhere. But then along comes Marchesa and you’re dishing out hell in hand basket while everyone else is still dropping mana rocks.
Suicide aggro gets a respectable showing in other constructed formats, but thanks to Marchesa it finally gets some time in the sun in Commander. Plus cards like Unspeakable Symbol are practically made for this deck. You can check out my decklist HERE.
(Moral to the story: always swipe right on Tinder.)
Once upon a time there lived a Shriekmaw.
He was a happy little nugget of falcon and marsh newt, but one day at free life coaching seminar he stumbled upon the realization he wasn’t entirely happy with himself. He realized people kept using him, and he would often end up sacrificed. He didn’t want that any more so he decided to make something of himself.
He started going to the gym, eating well, and signed a pact with some infernal powers. Lo and behold the little Shriekmaw was now a colossal demon. Sure he took a whole two mana more to summon with no discount option, but he rewarded his master with a zombie slave when he got to do his thing. And then a whole stack of zombie slaves when his master went and dropped a Plague Wind. And then a couple more every time his good friend Sheoldred went and whacked something.
Before he knew it no-longer-little Shriekmaw was in a loving relationship with his kind new master, who slutted him through every Commander deck that ran black he could think of and they lived happily ever after.
We’ve got a dude, he’s red, looks kinda decent, might fetch a premium price for him in a department store. (Or not). You’re kinda wondering what the real purpose is here when Tyler drops a little hint of foreshadowing: ‘Yep…with enough mana we could blow up just about anything’.
Fast forward to the end of the movie. Despite many attempts, no-one manages to disable the Mana Reflection, and that Zhur-Taa Ancient’s indestructible thanks to Fated Return. Your girlfriend walks into the room with a bowl of crisps to offer everyone right as your friends all scoop their cards up and begin crying. She asks what the hell happened. You tell her she came in at a very strange time in your life.
He gets random dudes, pumps them full of steroids and murder, then rocket sledgehammers them up the nearest butt. Good luck dealing with that every frikkin’ turn.
What really makes me like Xenagos so much is my long-time lament for a good red-green Commander, and nostalgia for the red-green monsters of the early years of my Magic career. My childhood was literally defined by ramping into Shivan Dragon and shaving off coliseum-sized chunks of life with Thorn Elemental.
For a long time though, good old fashioned beatsticks have been sub-par in Commander. Yes, fatties are awesome, but cool dudes like Rhox or Two-Headed Dragon whose only real purpose is turning sideways have long been redundant compared to those who offer card advantage- like Rune-Scarred Demon or Diluvian Primordial.
Xenagos changes all that in he gives specialized butt-stompers the boost needed to shave sizable chunks out of 40-point life totals as soon as they rock up to the party. He allows all sorts of cool cards, like Jedit Ojanen of Efrava, that previously weren’t good enough to play in Commander to suddenly become serious threats.
My Xenagos deck is rightly feared around the kitchen table. It’s simple, no-nonsense brutality, just the way red and green should be. You can check out my decklist HERE.
Khans of Tarkir is as far as I’m concerned probably the best expansion ever made, and a large part of that is due to the fact it’s absolutely dripping with flavor. For me the Chef’s Special that takes up a full page of the menu is the Sultai Brood and their scheming bitch leader Sidisi.
Fun fact: I actually hate zombies. I feel they are a pop culture trope that has long been overcooked. But the zombies in Khans are different. The brainless shambling horde with the look and smell of last month’s lasagna is gone, and in its place is something far more exotic and mysterious. Here the zombies wear jewelry and act as a servitor caste to their insidious serpentine overlords. The whole thing reeks of a Yuan-Ti themed Dungeons & Dragons adventure with a dash of vinegar and necromancy. Perhaps my partiality to the serpentfolk has influenced me somewhat, but it’s very refreshing to see an old thing done different. Old ingredients, fresh new taste!
As much as I love to vote a card so high for the theme it figureheads, Sidisi herself is also a lot of fun to play.
You might be noticing a trend somewhere around now with the Legendary creatures on this list: they all enable fun, less often explored strategies in Commander and Sidisi is as much one of them as Ringo was one of the Beatles. I don’t usually like mill-centric strategies, but there is something extremely cool about being able to churn your library into an army of zombies then play out the rest of the game from your graveyard.
Part theme deck, part aggressive vanguard of the zombie apocalypse, my Sidisi deck was as much fun to build as it is to play. You can check out my decklist HERE.
Other fun fact: I absolutely love krakens. Well any giant sea monster really, but especially ones with tentacles. My childhood dream was to be a marine biologist, with a specific focus on studying giant squid (instead I became a video game designer, because sometimes life throws us little curveballs of awesome). My very early days of being a Magic player involved drooling over Polar Kraken, and I certainly do own an Ula’s Temple deck. My favourite food is even BBQ octopus (which sometimes leaves me feeling morally conflicted).
So I thought it was pretty cool when I first heard kraken-worshipping Kiora was finally getting printed in Born of the Gods. But nothing could’ve prepared me for when I first saw the Kraken token. It was love at first sight…
…the kind of love that makes you instantly buy a playset on eBay regardless of the fact you’re running a bootstrap start-up and need the money for food. Hell I ended up losing like ten pounds!
Kiora in my opinion has the coolest ultimate of any planeswalker. Others may be stronger, but nothing is more epic than opening a portal in the ocean floor and bringing forth tides of titanic monsters. It’s like Pacific Rim: the Gathering.
Naturally being motivated purely by krakens I put my playset of Kioras to good use. My last foray into Standard involved running a blue/green/red control deck that tried to get her ultimate off as much as possible. It wasn’t the strongest deck, but it was HELL FUN. I even ran Whelming Wave.
Nowadays my Kioras live in my Commander decks. I don’t find her to be as useful in Commander as in duels as there’s often way more serious threats than she can lock down in one turn, and most people go gung ho for her as they know I’m going for the krakens.
But that doesn’t matter to me. Every once in a while the krakens appear, and I know our love to be true.
THAT’S IT THEN
So that wraps up another year folks!
With dragons throughout the first half and eldrazi throughout the second, 2015 is already shaping up to be a monster….
…Oh and regarding that point earlier where I spoke of my love of things with tentacles, I want to make clear my taste in porn is NORMAL thank you.