Too-Specific Top 10 - Evergreen, Schmevergreen
(Force of Nature | Art by Greg Staples)
Keywords as a Keystone
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 Banding is the best new mechanic out of Alpha?)
This year, Commander Christmas brought us a full helping of legends based around underutilized keywords. From Flashback to Madness, we got some build-around commanders specifically made to help out archetypes that weren't really viable before. But while we're looking for new goodies, are we missing other excellent mechanics right under our noses? Have we really used all the available keywords that are build-aroundable?
To find out, let's dive into what the best mechanically-minded commanders are.
Top 10 Commanders Featuring a Non-Evergreen Keyword
If anyone was doing some quick mental math while reading the theme for this week, it probably wasn't hard to figure out that the number one card that fit the criteria would also be the number one commander of all time. While Atraxa has been knocked off of the top of the Past Week and Past Month lists, she's still good enough and flexible enough that she continues to stick around the middle of them despite all the new and exciting commanders we've seen in the past few months. As for her featured keyword, Proliferate, it's only gotten more popular of late with the return visit to the plane of Ravnica and the +1/+1 counters and planeswalkers that came with it.
Unfortunately for this too-specific list, however, Proliferate may not be the main reason that everyone plays Atraxa: given just how good her keyword soup is, and the fact that she's in four colors, Atraxa can often built as a "goodstuff outside the color red" commander rather than around a central theme that takes advantage of her Proliferate ability.
Perhaps we haven't gone specific enough with our top 10 this week, as our number two happens to be found on the second-most popular commander of the past two years. With the inclusion of Eminence as a keyword, however, it perhaps isn't much of a surprise that we ran into Edgar Markov so soon. Having a commander that can affect the game state without ever having to be cast is extremely powerful, even if that ability is restricted to a tribe. Maybe if a more obscure tribe than Vampires had been chosen, however...
Moving a little bit further down the popular commanders list, Queen Marchesa is ranked the number ten commander overall, and number three on our list of keyword commanders. Often seen as a fun casual commander that allows for you to do pretty much anything you want in Mardu colors, Marchesa makes you the Monarch when she enters the battlefield, and then punishes others for taking the crown from you, thereby making it easier for you to take the crown back. Deathtouch Assassin tokens will do that, after all.
Speaking of Eminence, here is the most powerful of Dragons, whose mere presence allows other Dragons to rush forth from your hand, and whose actual arrival to the battlefield can even bring forth more Dragons from the top of your library. While throwing Dragons (and other permanents) onto the battlefield is certainly a lot of fun, this isn't quite the "building around keywords" type of thing we were looking for, now was it? In another universe where Wizards of the Coast hadn't brought back Protection to evergreen status, we would have had our number four in this list appear in the form of Animar, Soul of Elements. As it is, we'll have to wait for our number five ranking before we find a legend who gives us a keyword to build around, rather than just building around some (admittedly awesome) large flying reptiles.
There we go! Tasigur, the Golden Fang is rather expensive when looking at his CMC, but in all actuality you're rarely casting him for that much thanks to the inclusion of Delve, which gets even better since his activated ability puts more cards into the graveyard. Indeed, in a Sultai deck built around getting things into and out of the graveyard, it's not uncommon to see him come down for a single black mana, even with a few instances of commander tax stacked on him. Speaking of cheap, he's also the first commander on the list under the $10.00 mark, coming in at only 35 cents (as of the posting of this article)!
Perhaps one of the most popular and most commonplace keywords to grace commander tables everywhere, Omnath, Locus of Rage brings us one heck of a Landfall trigger in the form of 5/5 Elementals; not only that, but he also gets to tack a Lightning Bolt onto each death trigger. It probably comes as no surprise, then, that Omnath is number 23 on the most popular commanders list. Being rewarded for playing lands, something you were already going to do, looks to be quite powerful on its face, but once you start building decks around it, it gets to a whole other level of ridiculousness.
Speaking of things you were probably already going to be doing in a game of Commander, how about attacking? Casting spells, maybe? If you do manage to connect with Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder, you're rewarded with your spells casting other spells for you! Cascade is another popular keyword, sometimes just acting as a train to value town, while other times finding specific combo pieces through careful manipulation of mana costs in your deck construction. Pairing either of those kinds of upside with four-colors-worth of resources leads to great options, no matter how you swing it.
Ninjitsu is a keyword utilized exclusively by the Ninjas of the Kamigawa block. Or at least, it was, up until Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow crashed onto the scene in Commander 2018. Her slightly modified version of the Ninja keyword allows her to play switcheroo from the command zone when one of your creatures attacks and isn't blocked. The resulting combat damage allows both her and any other Ninja who happens to be getting through at the time to pull a reverse Dark Confidant, drawing you a card and having your opponents lose life equal to that card's mana cost. Add to that that the Commander Ninjitsu cost gets around commander tax, and it's not surprising that quite a few folks out there decided on dusting off their old Ninjas.
All right, so I may have exaggerated in the intro when I said that all of the new keyword commanders from Commander 2019 allowed strategies that weren't possible before. In the case of Ghired, Conclave Exile and Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer, it just allowed their keywords to be utilized in new color combinations. Trostani, Selesnya's Voice is an example of another commander that could helm a deck based around the Populate keyword, which encourages you to play bigger tokens so you can keep on making copies of them. How Godsire didn't make the cut in the Naya version is a bit beyond me, though....
And... another Eminence commander, straight out of Commander 2017 and warping a power curve near you. Inalla, Archmage Ritualist is centered around Wizards rather than keywords, although that doesn't mean you couldn't get up to some serious Prowess shenanigans if you put your mind to it!
Let's be honest, you're disappointed that a third of this list is Eminence commanders, and so am I. Abilities which operate from the command zone have long been a controversial topic, and the general increase in power level stemming from them is a large part of that controversy. With that in mind, then, let's take a look at what our Top 10 would look like without any cards that have the word "commander" or "command zone" on them. From that list we'll also remove any commanders that share a keyword with another commander in that top 10 (which edges out Karametra, God of Harvests, Xenagos, God of Revels, Kruphix, God of Horizons, and Athreos, God of Passage).
- Atraxa, Praetor's Voice: Proliferate
- Queen Marchesa: Monarch
- Tasigur, the Golden Fang: Delve
- Omnath, Locus of Rage: Landfall
- Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder: Cascade
- Trostani, Selesnya's Voice: Populate
- Marchesa, the Black Rose: Dethrone
- Phenax, God of Deception: Devotion
- Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain: Historic
- Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest: Prowess
And there we have it! For those of you confused about our new #10, Prowess was dropped from evergreen status back in Hour of Devastation, allegedly for issues of complexity. That makes me doubt whether bringing back Protection was the right call, but I do still remember the old acronym D.E.B.T. (Damage, Equip/Enchant, Block, and Target), which makes remembering how Protection works a bit easier.
What Do You Think?
With all of the keyworded commanders out and about from Commander 2019, are you excited that we're expanding on the list above? Are keywords something you'd like to see expanded on when it comes to future commanders, or would you rather Wizards of the Coast broaden their focus a bit?
And finally, what are keyword mechanics you're building around?
Let us know in the comments, and we'll see you at the Mandatory Monarch tables soon!