Too-Specific Top 10 - Commander IS a Stick?

(Halvar, God of Battle | Art by Milijov Ceran)

Better Than An Abstract Concept, I Suppose...

Welcome to Too-Specific Top 10, where if there isn’t a category to rank our pet card at the top of, we’ll just make one up! (Did you know that Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle is the only commander that enters the battlefield as a land?)

One of the first spoilers we got in the current firehose of new cards from Kaldheim was Halvar, God of Battle, and he got me really excited. Not because I'm going to play him, mind you. Don't get me wrong, he's a fine Equipment commander, and he provides enough double strike that I absolutely think he can finish as a mono-white aggro strategy. No, what excites me about Halvar is that he brings me one step closer to having instant or sorcery "commander".

You see, earlier this year with the printing of Ikoria, I went off the deep end on Umori, the Collector. Those that were around may remember a rambling incoherent mass of decklists and justifications for my instinctual need to build a deck made exclusively out of lands and a single card type to the masses, mostly unsuccessfully. That need remains, and it bugs me that we still have yet to have even a proper Rule Zero excuse for a commander that would fit the bill as being a sorcery or an instant. Instead, I merely stapled commanders that might synergize with a pile of instants (Grismold, the Dreadsower) or sorceries (Nath of the Gilt-Leaf), and hoped that rule zero would take care of the rest.

But now I yearn for it. I require it. I find myself privately (and now publicly, I suppose) imploring Wizards of the Coast to complete the set and provide me with a commander who is technically a sorcery, and another that is technically an instant, so I can finish this dumb completionist quest.

So, I was quite excited to see Halvar because he's another step in that direction, which got me wondering: what other commanders are out there that stretch the definition further and further away from being just a legendary creature, as the Elder Dragons intended?

Top 10 "Non-Creature" Commanders

Ultimately, we want these hypothetical commanders to be able to actually be an instant or sorcery in some fashion, as that would meet the technical definition of Umori's Companion restriction. Given that I cannot even fathom how that would work short of slapping (This spell can be your commander) onto the bottom of an Inferno, I'm more than happy to take my irrational requirements on the time and effort of Wizards R&D in baby steps. So instead, let's try this:

Criteria: Commanders that can be played or can enter the battlefield as a non-creature in some fashion. As is tradition, all results are ordered by EDHREC score. This time around, given that we're ranking commanders, specifically, we're ordering the list according to the number of decks that each commander personally helms, although total inclusions are still listed for gee-whiz purposes.

There, that's at least getting us closer to our final destination. A commander that can be cast as a different sort of spell, like a legendary Beanstalk Giant or Garenbrig Carver. A modal dual-faced card that can be cast as either a Wrath of God or a legendary hatebear. A legendary creature that somehow enters the battlefield as a spell. Look, I'm not @WotC_Matt, don't ask me how that would work. The point is, the closer we can get to a "commander" that can be cast as something that is not a creature, the closer we are.

So let's see how close we are currently, shall we?

10. Saheeli, the Gifted

(Helms 1249 Decks, Rank #106; 3019 Inclusions, 3% of 114235 Decks)

I'm sure for many of you, the first concept that came to mind reading the "non-creature" criteria was planeswalker commanders. While Saheeli, the Gifted was not part of the original mono-colored cycle from Commander 2014 that first made it possible to play a planeswalker as a commander, she is one of the best options should you choose to do so. Being able to slap down a Servo to protect her is excellent, but more often what you will see is a pure artifact deck using her +1 to slap down something like a Blightsteel Colossus or a Darksteel Forge. Should she stick around long enough to get her ultimate, however, that's when the real fun begins. Mana rocks alone can win you the game if you suddenly get to double them, but throw in a couple Chief of the Foundrys and Inkwell Leviathans and the table is in real trouble.

9. Kruphix, God of Horizons

(Helms 1310 Decks, Rank #98; 6321 Inclusions, 5% of 122267 Decks)

While on any zone other than the battlefield, Kruphix, God of Horizons and their Theros God pals are technically creatures. More often than not, however, when you cast them they will come into play as indestructible enchantments, which suits players fine given how much more difficult it is to remove enchantments, let alone indestructible enchantments. If you are sitting on that Forsake the Worldly, however, you may want to reserve it for Kruphix hitting play, because it's the original broken Simic commander. Sure, having an Upwelling or a Reliquary Tower in your deck is all well and fine, but when you can combine the two, make them indestructible, and have them guaranteed in the command zone? That's gonna get out of hand quickly.

8. Athreos, God of Passage

(Helms 1323 Decks, Rank #95; 5652 Inclusions, 5% of 112792 Decks)

Athreos, God of Passage wasn't always the bell of the ball when it came to the Theros gods, but an appearance on Game Knights changed all that. At this point, almost half of the total Athreos decks in existence sport multiple Shadowborn Apostles, with another 40 on top of that instead stacking up as many copies of Relentless Rats and Rat Colony as possible. Even if you can't play a deck made up of all the same cards (which, let's be honest, you should), then you can still fill an Orzhov Aristocrats build to the brim with cheap sac outlets, payoffs, and token-generators, and Athreos will take care of the rest. Sure, at first you won't get many creatures back, but as life totals dwindle, paying three life gets less and less reasonable!

7. Karametra, God of Harvests

(Helms 1382 Decks, Rank #88; 5989 Inclusions, 6% of 106093 Decks)

If you had asked me before compiling this list, I would have said that Karametra, God of Harvests was a Selesnya staple in the 99 but isn't really played as a commander. Turns out, it's not just popular, it's in the top 100! Which, given how much Commander players like to ramp, maybe shouldn't have surprised me. Regardless of what zone you're playing Karametra in, however, searching for multiple lands a turn gets ridiculous fast. Just... maybe bring an automatic shuffler with you? We've only got so much time to sit around waiting on you, you know?

6. Xenagos, God of Revels

(Helms 1407 Decks, Rank #86; 7876 Inclusions, 8% of 104226 Decks)

Xenagos, God of Revels is still the quintessential aggro commander, Berserking a creature every combat, only with toughness and haste to go with it. Sure, you have to provide the trample yourself, but that's not exactly hard to do in Gruul now, is it? Also, pro-tip if you've never played against Xenagos: It can target itself once it's a creature, and 12 commander damage straight out of the command zone will end games.

5. Estrid, the Masked

(Helms 1449 Decks, Rank #82; 1665 Inclusions, 3% of 64025 Decks)

For years, we begged for an Enchantress commander in Bant colors, and Commander 2018 came through with not one, but three of them. And while Estrid, the Masked still lags behind Tuvasa the Sunlit by almost a thousand decks, I find it to be the most interesting of the three choices by far. Not only are your options more plentiful by design with a planeswalker, but Estrid specifically allows for a unique build that stresses Auras and untapping, combining for a crazy cavalcade of Wild Growths, Utopia Sprawls, and Spawning Grounds all tapping and untapping for massive amounts of mana and crazy huge effects. A lot of people like to argue that Tuvasa wins out over Estrid because Tuvasa is just inherently more powerful, but honestly? I'm not sure a lot of those folks making that argument have ever actually seen an Estrid deck really go off.

4. Phenax, God of Deception

(Helms 1464 Decks, Rank #81; 2161 Inclusions, 2% of 127139 Decks)

Woah, mill alert! In the top five! I would have expected Phenax, God of Deception to be down in the honorable mentions, but here we are, staring down what appears to still be the premiere mill commander despite the recent printing of Bruvac, the Grandiloquent. Phenax mills for seven all by itself once you get the proper Devotion, but being able to tap all your defensive creatures that are keeping you alive at the end of your opponent's turn tends to be what really gets you moving. If you're really looking for the slam dunk, however, might I direct you to our crab lord and savior, Charix, the Raging Isle?

3. Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle

(Helms 1469 Decks, Rank #80; 2805 Inclusions, 2% of 122267 Decks)

I thought we were going to go through the whole list without seeing anything more unique than planeswalker and Theros God commanders, but nay! Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle is one of the more unique commanders to come out of not just Commander 2018 (and that set has Xantcha, Sleeper Agent), but Magic in general. Coming into play as a land with five slumber counters, Arixmethes only awakes and shakes off its local village once you cast five spells, unless you can manage some Clockspinning shenanigans. Whether or not you accelerate the process, however, there is something to be said for having a Sisay's Ring in the command zone....

2. Aminatou, the Fateshifter

(Helms 2464 Decks, Rank #29; 2696 Inclusions, 4% of 66932 Decks)

Speaking of unique commanders, I think it took the brewing community as a whole a couple months to really decide exactly what to do with Aminatou, the Fateshifter. And the answer was: Kinda whatever you want. Being cheap at just Esper mana to cast, Aminatou can come down early and do a Brainstorm-lite, making her the perfect top-of-library tribal commander. Or if you'd rather use that strange loot just for card quality purposes until you have your blink targets on the battlefield, then Aminatou can add a whole other color to your Brago, the Eternal deck. In either case, however, you're still left scratching your head about how exactly you're going to use her ultimate. Sure, you could exile your whole board until end of turn with Sudden Disappearance, but that seems both a bit easy and a bit specific. Why not, instead, do what you're not supposed to do and build a deck around a planeswalker's ultimate with a White Elephant theme?

1. Lord Windgrace

(Helms 3483 Decks, Rank #11; 1940 Inclusions, 3% of 56607 Decks)

Once you saw the direction this list was headed with planeswalker commanders, it probably wasn't hard to think of who was probably at the top of it. The most popular lands matter commander since he was printed, Lord Windgrace finally allowed players into full Jund colors to take full swings at the possibilities of combining Omnath, Locus of Rage and The Gitrog Monster. Even if you don't happen to draw into those powerhouses, however, it turns out that the panther king can do it himself. Ticking up two loyalty for a net card would be good enough, but it turns out that not only does the lands deck want lands in their graveyard, so does Windgrace himself for his -3. As for his ultimate, I don't remember it ever actually mattering, because if a Lord Windgrace stays in play longer than a turn or two, you generally lose to ramp and value anyhow.

Honorable Mentions

As is tradition, when ranking by how many decks a Commander is actually commanding, I rank the whole list of them. Luckily, this week's criteria was small enough to do so, so enjoy the other 25 "non-creature" commanders!

11. Mogis, God of Slaughter - 999 Decks
12. Daretti, Scrap Savant - 970
13. Heliod, Sun-Crowned - 843
14. Purphoros, God of the Forge - 780
15. Ephara, God of the Polis - 700
16. Klothys, God of Destiny - 603
17. Purphoros, Bronze-Blooded - 570
18. Will Kenrith & Rowan Kenrith - 549
19. Thassa, Deep-Dwelling - 546
20. Freyalise, Llanowar's Fury - 544
21. Keranos, God of Storms - 508
22. Athreos, Shroud-Veiled - 443
23. Teferi, Temporal Archmage - 420
24. Iroas, God of Victory - 395
25. Erebos, God of the Dead - 383
26. Jeska, Thrice Reborn - 332
27. Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools - 298
28. Nahiri, the Lithomancer - 256
29. Thassa, God of the Sea - 245
30. Pharika, God of Affliction - 210
31. Heliod, God of the Sun - 128
32. Nylea, Keen-Eyed - 174
33. Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath - 133
34. Erebos, Bleak-Hearted - 101
35. Nylea, God of the Hunt - 72

The rest of these aside, however, I'm sure a couple folks have been silently asking themselves about a few corner cases that were just outside our criteria for this week:

Flip Enchantments

The Kamigawa cycle of legendary creatures that flip into enchantments was tempting to include here, especially due to their notoriety from including a banned card in the form of Erayo, Soratami Ascendant. That said, they just didn't fit the spirit of being able to be cast as another type of permanent, rather transforming after the fact in the same fashion as Werewolves.

Legendary Non-Creature Permanents

While not technically commanders, there has been many a player who has attempted to rule zero their Genju of the Realm or Legacy Weapon deck. There are slightly fewer who have attempted the same due to their love of Parhelion II or Skysovereign, Consul Flagship. That said, while I do fully believe we'll see a Vehicle commander in some form before long, these non-legal versions didn't really seem like exactly the step in the right direction I was looking for. After all, I'm already breaking one rule just trying to have Umori as a companion!

Grand Calculatron

I don't know why The Grand Calculatron shows up as a commander on Scryfall. But given that I happen to be an absolutely massive fan of RoboRally, the board game by Magic: The Gathering creator Richard Garfield that The Grand Calculatron is based on, I hope they never fix it.

Nuts and Bolts

There always seems to be a bit of interest in how these lists are made (this seems like a good time to stress once again that they are based on EDHREC score, NOT my personal opinion), and people are often surprised that I’m not using any special data or .json from EDHREC, but rather just muddling my way through with some Scryfall knowledge! For your enjoyment/research, here is this week’s Scryfall search.

What Do You Think?

And finally, where would you like to see Wizards experiment in the area of commanders that aren't necessarily creatures? Do you like the Modal Commanders we're starting to see out of Kaldheim?

Let us know in the comments, and we'll see you at the table that's actually not a table, it's a flat rock. Or is it?

Doug has been an avid Magic player since Fallen Empires, when his older brother traded him some epic blue Homarids for all of his Islands. As for Commander, he's been playing since 2010, when he started off by making a two-player oriented G/R Land Destruction deck. Nailed it. In his spare time when he's not playing Magic, writing about Magic or doing his day job, he runs a YouTube channel or two, keeps up a College Football Computer Poll, and is attempting to gif every scene of the Star Wars prequels.

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