Single Combat - Hapax Magic, a True Singleton Format

(Erratic Visionary | Art by Randy Vargas)

Hapax Commander

In any given body of text - the works of Shakespeare, the Federalist Papers, the text of Magic cards1 - there is an empirical regularity, called Zipf's law, that governs the distribution of word frequencies. Specifically, the frequency of any word is inversely proportional to its rank in the frequency table. This implies that there is essentially always a many-way tie amongst the least-frequent words in the corpus, all of which appear exactly once. These are the hapax legomena.

A hapax legomenon is a word that appears exactly once in a corpus. The words hebenon, honorificabilitudinitatibus, and sassigassity are all examples from the English literary corpus. The words amoeboid, disjointed, statistically, and solo all appear exactly once on printed Magic cards.

I'd like to propose a new format (or maybe it's several subformats, or maybe it's just a deckbuilding restriction) called Hapax Magic. In a Hapax format you can only play cards that have been printed once (in paper; I don't really count promos or digital).

Hapax subformats aren't really eternal like Commander; nor are they rotating, like Standard. It's more like an ephemeral format. Cards enter when they debut, and drop out of the pool when they get reprinted. I'll call it a subformat, because the Hapax restriction could really apply to lots of formats: Hapax-only Modern Constructed, a Hapax Cube2, and of course, Hapax Commander.


Only One May Stand

Building a Commander deck with the Hapax restriction means that, on top of the other deck restrictions Commander imposes (one or two Legendary cards designated as Commander, 100 cards total, singleton...), you can only include cards that have been printed once! (Basic Lands, as usual, are exempt from this rule.) This means no Sol Ring, no Command Tower, no Lightning Greaves, Swiftfoot Boots, or Evolving Wilds, etc. Instead of Harrow, try Roiling Regrowth; instead of Birthing Pod, you'll have to run blue for Prime Speaker Vannifar, etc.

This restriction has (at least) three effects, most of which I see as positive ways to deviate from the usual:

  1. It adds variety! The most popular Commander cards tend to get reprinted, often many times, in preconstructed decks. If you want a change from the usual Atraxa, Praetors' Voice & Sol Ring staples, building Hapax is a novel way to mix things up.
  2. It tends to de-power things! This isn't necessarily good or bad, it's just different. The most powerful cards, or the easiest cards to brew with, tend to be more popular, and tend to get reprinted. If the best available tutor is Final Parting instead of Demonic, Vampiric, & Diabolic Tutor, folks just aren't going to run as many tutors! Decks are a little slower, since most of the two-mana rocks have been printed multiple times, leaving a more motley crew from which to choose.
  3. It encourages creativity! "Restrictions breed creativity," as we have all heard and come to believe, and the Hapax restriction means that you need to look a little harder to find cards that replace common staples; Deadly Alliance, Lys Alana Scarblade, and Feast of Blood can all do a good Doom Blade impression in the right decks.
  4. It encourages novelty! Both in the sense of finding old, under-appreciated (and un-reprinted) cards from sets past, but also in the sense of prioritizing newly-released cards, which haven't gotten the chance to be reprinted. If you are the player in your group who can best recognize powerful new cards, you can take advantage of that skill in a Hapax setting, before everyone else catches on and they get reprinted.

Let's Get Started

Thanks to the wonder of Scryfall, building a Hapax deck is almost as easy as building an unrestricted Commander deck. Just add papersets=1 to all of your search queries. For example:

It's not quite as easy to identify the most popular commanders that are themselves Hapaxes. This search for singly-printed cards that are legal commanders does find them, but "EDHREC Rank" sorts by count in the 99. Fortunately, I have a list for you!

commander ndecks
Lathril, Blade of the Elves 7851
Omnath, Locus of Creation 7150
Anowon, the Ruin Thief 5461
Yarok, the Desecrated 5396
Zaxara, the Exemplary 5329
Esika, God of the Tree 5321
Chatterfang, Squirrel General 5247
Ardenn, Intrepid Archaeologist 5102
Kykar, Wind's Fury 5087
Sythis, Harvest's Hand 5043
Teysa Karlov 4869
Liesa, Shroud of Dusk 4794
Isshin, Two Heavens as One 4626
Veyran, Voice of Duality 4581
K'rrik, Son of Yawgmoth 4410
Aesi, Tyrant of Gyre Strait 4150
Go-Shintai of Life's Origin 4015
Syr Gwyn, Hero of Ashvale 4006
Obeka, Brute Chronologist 3883
Kodama of the East Tree 3844
Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy 3736
Shorikai, Genesis Engine 3651
Tuvasa the Sunlit 3565
Nethroi, Apex of Death 3543
Xyris, the Writhing Storm 3509
Tergrid, God of Fright 3456
Dina, Soul Steeper 3381
Winota, Joiner of Forces 3327
Volo, Guide to Monsters 3301
Magda, Brazen Outlaw 3285
Haldan, Avid Arcanist 3271
Sakashima of a Thousand Faces 3250
Hinata, Dawn-Crowned 3212
Araumi of the Dead Tide 3196
Satoru Umezawa 3152
Extus, Oriq Overlord 3057
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager 2853
Codie, Vociferous Codex 2754
Yurlok of Scorch Thrash 2701
Ranar the Ever-Watchful 2678
Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons 2592
Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca 2496
Koma, Cosmos Serpent 2461
Galazeth Prismari 2383
Umbris, Fear Manifest 2377
Obuun, Mul Daya Ancestor 2349
Tatsunari, Toad Rider 2310

The counts in this table counts are a little out-of-date, but I suspect the order for this Top 47 is still approximately correct. At any rate, this Scryfall query will give you the 528 legal Hapax commanders, which you can just page through yourself.

There are also a number of commanders that lend themselves readily to being built under Hapax rules. This table lists the commanders who, across all of their decks on EDHREC, run the largest proportion of Hapaxes in their 99, plus the 10 most prevalent Hapax cards for each. In theory, these commanders should be fairly easy to build out into fully-Hapax-compliant decks!

commander hapax % prevalent Hapaxes
48.8% Pixie Guide
Barbarian Class
Feywild Trickster
Delina, Wild Mage
Brazen Dwarf
Aberrant Mind Sorcerer
Wizard's Spellbook
Chaos Channeler
Earth-Cult Elemental
Power of Persuasion
47.1% The Restoration of Eiganjo
Azusa's Many Journeys
Michiko's Reign of Truth
Boseiju Reaches Skyward
Fall of the Impostor
The Fall of Lord Konda
Jugan Defends the Temple
The First Iroan Games
Jukai Naturalist
Teachings of the Kirin
45.9% Mayor of Avabruck
Geier Reach Bandit
Immerwolf
Duskwatch Recruiter
Scorned Villager
Howlpack Resurgence
Hermit of the Natterknolls
Instigator Gang
Full Moon's Rise
Breakneck Rider
45.8% Selfless Samurai
Heiko Yamazaki, the General
Peerless Samurai
Asari Captain
Norika Yamazaki, the Poet
Akki Ronin
Imperial Subduer
Eiganjo Exemplar
Lizard Blades
Tempered in Solitude
45.0% Konda's Hatamoto
Konda, Lord of Eiganjo
Indebted Samurai
Kitsune Blademaster
Devoted Retainer
Oathkeeper, Takeno's Daisho
Araba Mothrider
Hand of Honor
Mothrider Samurai
Bushi Tenderfoot
44.9% Xorn
Professional Face-Breaker
Mayhem Devil
Viridian Revel
Bootleggers' Stash
Big Score
Academy Manufactor
Jolene, the Plunder Queen
Tempting Contract
Ruthless Technomancer
44.1% Rimewood Falls
Ice Tunnel
Woodland Chasm
Dead of Winter
Marit Lage's Slumber
Sculptor of Winter
Blood on the Snow
Rime Tender
Replicating Ring
Draugr Necromancer
43.8% Breeches, Brazen Plunderer
Malcolm, Keen-Eyed Navigator
Impulsive Pilferer
Coastline Marauders
Merchant Raiders
Coercive Recruiter
Azure Fleet Admiral
Zara, Renegade Recruiter
Fathom Fleet Swordjack
Crimson Fleet Commodore
43.0% Roost of Drakes
Inscription of Abundance
Murasa Sproutling
Skyclave Relic
Grow from the Ashes
Inscription of Insight
Blink of an Eye
Thieving Skydiver
Vine Gecko
Coralhelm Chronicler
42.7% Triumphant Adventurer
Nadaar, Selfless Paladin
Fates' Reversal
Delver's Torch
Yuan-Ti Fang-Blade
Dungeon Map
Radiant Solar
Thorough Investigation
Teleportation Circle
Precipitous Drop
42.7% Xorn
Professional Face-Breaker
Academy Manufactor
Captain Lannery Storm
Bootleggers' Stash
Magda, Brazen Outlaw
Unexpected Windfall
Big Score
Rain of Riches
Treasure Map
42.6% Displacer Beast
Eccentric Apprentice
Nadaar, Selfless Paladin
Veteran Dungeoneer
Delver's Torch
Dungeon Map
Bar the Gate
Fly
Planar Ally
Yuan-Ti Malison
42.5% Selfless Samurai
Raiyuu, Storm's Edge
Lizard Blades
Heiko Yamazaki, the General
Norika Yamazaki, the Poet
Peerless Samurai
Akki Ronin
Asari Captain
Imperial Subduer
Cloudsteel Kirin
42.2% Tymaret Calls the Dead
Grim Guardian
Hateful Eidolon
Agent of Erebos
Minion's Return
Mire's Grasp
Extinguish All Hope
Omen of the Dead
Graf Harvest
Tormod, the Desecrator
42.0% Surgehacker Mech
Reckoner Bankbuster
Mech Hangar
Imperial Recovery Unit
Aerial Surveyor
Mechtitan Core
Mukotai Soulripper
Okiba Reckoner Raid
Thundersteel Colossus
Oswald Fiddlebender
41.8% Cartographer's Hawk
Aven Brigadier
Cloudchaser Kestrel
Commander Eesha
Windbrisk Raptor
Steel-Plume Marshal
Celestial Gatekeeper
Rustwing Falcon
Lieutenant Kirtar
Battlefield Raptor
41.5% Xorn
Unexpected Windfall
Captain Lannery Storm
Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge
Seize the Spoils
Juri, Master of the Revue
Mayhem Devil
Forsworn Paladin
Academy Manufactor
Impulsive Pilferer
41.0% Axgard Cavalry
Dwarven Mine
Vault Robber
Dwarven Grunt
Seven Dwarves
Dwarven Bloodboiler
Xorn
Survivors' Encampment
Holdout Settlement
Seize the Spoils
40.6% Valiant Knight
Knights' Charge
Wintermoor Commander
The Circle of Loyalty
Corpse Knight
Smitten Swordmaster
Josu Vess, Lich Knight
Worthy Knight
Acclaimed Contender
Murderous Rider
39.8% Indatha Triome
Ketria Triome
The Kami War
The World Tree
Savai Triome
Zagoth Triome
Raugrin Triome
Kura, the Boundless Sky
Ao, the Dawn Sky
Atsushi, the Blazing Sky
39.5% Righteous Valkyrie
Lyra Dawnbringer
Sephara, Sky's Blade
Youthful Valkyrie
Bishop of Wings
Angel of Jubilation
Valkyrie Harbinger
Resplendent Angel
Angel of Vitality
The Book of Exalted Deeds
38.7% Mythos of Snapdax
Necropanther
Dirge Bat
Vulpikeet
Ruinous Ultimatum
Cubwarden
Savai Triome
Chittering Harvester
Cavern Whisperer
Insatiable Hemophage
38.6% Felhide Petrifier
Ragemonger
Kragma Warcaller
Fanatic of Mogis
Glint-Horn Buccaneer
Felhide Spiritbinder
Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion
Sethron, Hurloon General
Deathbellow War Cry
Lord of Shatterskull Pass

Many of these are either tribally-focused or designed around relatively parasitic mechanics. However, it's possible to build almost any commander as a Hapax-in-the-99. If you wanted to play a game with this restriction, you could discuss beforehand whether Hapax should apply to every card in the deck, or just the 99. To show you it's possible, here are the most-prevalent Hapax cards for three very different commanders:

Oath of Nissa Elven Ambush Leatherback Baloth
Oath of Teferi Canopy Tactician Kalonian Tusker
Flux Channeler Wolverine Riders Garruk's Gorehorn
Narset Transcendent Elderfang Venom Swordwise Centaur
Indatha Triome Elvish Warmaster Sylvan Anthem
Zagoth Triome Pact of the Serpent Heraldic Banner
Viral Drake Skemfar Shadowsage Hall of Triumph
Pir, Imaginative Rascal Ruthless Winnower Quilled Slagwurm
Jace, Unraveler of Secrets Tyvar Kell Toski, Bearer of Secrets
Fuel for the Cause Realmwalker Vitalizing Wind
Ichor Rats Harald, King of Skemfar Castle Garenbrig
Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider Skemfar Avenger Nyxborn Colossus
Dovin Baan Bounty of Skemfar Grizzled Outrider
Oath of Ajani Skemfar Elderhall Paradox Zone
Oath of Gideon Undergrowth Stadium Murasa Brute
Call the Gatewatch Crown of Skemfar Tendershoot Dryad
Oko, Thief of Crowns Binding the Old Gods Esika's Chariot
Contentious Plan Elvish Dreadlord Klothys's Design
Teferi, Master of Time Circle of Dreams Druid Curious Herd
Eerie Ultimatum Guardian Project Beacon of Creation
Deploy the Gatewatch Throne of the God-Pharaoh Khalni Ambush
Simic Ascendancy Quest for Renewal Karametra's Acolyte
Primevals' Glorious Rebirth Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth Tuinvale Treefolk
Vraska, Relic Seeker Return Upon the Tide Gnarled Mass
Arena Rector Serpent's Soul-Jar The Great Henge
Hand of the Praetors Growing Rites of Itlimoc Bonders' Enclave
Toothy, Imaginary Friend Poison the Cup Bala Ged Recovery
Herald of Secret Streams Elderfang Ritualist Colossapede
Interplanar Beacon Elvish Guidance Predatory Rampage
Phyrexian Swarmlord Gnarlroot Trapper Strixhaven Stadium
Plague Stinger Necroblossom Snarl Ayula's Influence
Nissa, Vital Force Harald Unites the Elves Guardian Project
Rejuvenating Springs Finale of Devastation Ram Through
Replicating Ring Haunting Voyage Wolverine Riders
Phyrexian Crusader Woodland Chasm Fungal Sprouting
Viridian Corrupter Nurturing Peatland Woodland Druid
Glistener Elf Llanowar Visionary Harrier Naga
Faeburrow Elder Sylvan Anthem Feed the Pack
Plague Myr Nadier, Agent of the Duskenel Colossification
The Ozolith Stoneforge Masterwork Growing Rites of Itlimoc
Undergrowth Stadium Parallel Lives Hollowhenge Beast
Tainted Strike Bolas's Citadel Aspect of Hydra
Core Prowler Bala Ged Recovery Primal Bellow
Oath of Jace Roots of Wisdom Nyx Lotus
Vault of Champions Nadier's Nightblade Primal Might
Blight Mamba Blooming Marsh Circle of Dreams Druid
Carth the Lion Jaspera Sentinel Exponential Growth
Djeru, With Eyes Open Toski, Bearer of Secrets Ranger Class
Planewide Celebration Elvish Clancaller Cylian Elf
Propaganda Alpha Authority Garenbrig Carver
Ichorclaw Myr The Great Henge Parallel Lives
Kaya the Inexorable Leyline of Abundance Wild Endeavor
Grafted Exoskeleton Castle Garenbrig Rampage of the Clans
Fierce Guardianship Kindred Dominance Desert of the Indomitable
Reaper of Sheoldred Eladamri, Lord of Leaves In Search of Greatness
Ignite the Beacon Deadly Rollick Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth
Urza's Ruinous Blast Nightshade Harvester Crush of Wurms
Phyresis Tergrid's Shadow Roiling Regrowth
Corpse Cur Oakhame Adversary Wilt
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver Jeweled Lotus Barbary Apes
Damn Skyshroud Poacher Kindercatch
Hadana's Climb Benefactor's Draught Path of Discovery
Empowered Autogenerator Agadeem's Awakening Turntimber Symbiosis
The Great Henge Malakir Rebirth Saproling Symbiosis
Pyramid of the Pantheon Masked Vandal Sequence Engine
Whispering Specter Cryptolith Rite Golden Bear
Kiora, Master of the Depths Mortality Spear The Immortal Sun
Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth Storrev, Devkarin Lich Forest Bear
Garruk, Cursed Huntsman Turntimber Symbiosis Wild Ceratok
Oath of Liliana Witherbloom Campus Colossodon Yearling
Time Wipe Plumb the Forbidden Icehide Golem
Altered Ego Mobilize Finale of Devastation
Spinebiter Pyre of Heroes Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse
Necropede Boseiju, Who Endures Spined Karok
Esper Sentinel Secluded Courtyard Axebane Beast
Phyrexian Hydra Vorrac Battlehorns Elder Gargaroth
Sorin, Solemn Visitor Icon of Ancestry Inscription of Abundance
Putrefax Species Specialist Nylea, Keen-Eyed
Flensermite Wildborn Preserver Vivien, Monsters' Advocate
Fumigate Culling Ritual Biogenic Ooze

I don't think you could take those lists, add basic lands, shuffle up, and play - that Atraxa list, in particular, has a lot of competing themes - but I do think these skeletons give a good sense of what the Hapax restriction can do: force you out of your comfort zone, and into a funkier, powered-down game. That Elves deck looks like it would be fun to play, with lots of synergy, but it doesn't look like it would completely run everyone over. The Hapax Commander format isn't about having the most powerful cards, but rather, having the cleverest compromises.


Thoughts? Questions? Critiques? Suggestions?

Let me hear them! I am really enamored of this Hapax idea. I think I'm going to build that Lathril deck, and I really am working on a Hapax cube! Am I the only one? If you build a Hapax-restricted deck, and/or if your playgroup has a Hapax night, please let me know! As always, if you aren’t already, please follow me on Twitter.


1 Foreshadowing

2 More foreshadowing

MtGDS (AKA Magic Data Science) is pretty new to the game, but is trying to understand it as best he can through data. He loves making graphs and finding new ways to measure things. You can read his non-Commander articles at http://mtgds.wordpress.com, and he's worth a follow on Twitter @MtG_DS.