Too-Specific Top 10 - Front-Facing
(Kaalia of the Vast | Art by Michael Kormack)
Welcome to the Faceoff!
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 Sefris of the Hidden Ways is still the only front-facing precon commander that cares about dungeons?)
This week, I finally get to take a look at an excellent suggestion from reader Ian Brooks: front-facing precon commanders. Just in case that's a bit too much jargon, let's break it down with our criteria for the week.
Top 10 Face Commanders
Criteria: Commanders that have been the premier, featured commander showcased on/in the front of the box of a preconstructed Commander deck. As is tradition, all results are ordered by EDHREC score, although in this case it will be only by the number of decks helmed, rather than by total inclusions.
There, that should get us our list. It's quite the roster, so let's dive right in to all the candidates, year by year!
- Kaalia of the Vast
- Riku of Two Reflections
- Ghave, Guru of Spores
- Zedruu the Greathearted
- The Mimeoplasm
If you've never played them, the original Commander decks were clunky, battlecruiser jank lists that barely had any coherent direction, much less strategy. With that said, pretty much all of the commanders created for them went on to see a ton of play in the format, and for good reason.
- Derevi, Empyrial Tactician
- Oloro, Ageless Ascetic
- Jeleva, Nephalia's Scourge
- Prossh, Skyraider of Kher
- Marath, Will of the Wild
Commander 2013 improved on the formula a ton from the original, and it spawned one of the most long-standing #1 commanders, Oloro, Ageless Ascetic, along with the original Food Chain cEDH commander, Prossh, Skyraider of Kher. While power has steadily crept upwards over the years, there is no doubt that Commander 2013 made a dent on the format that still shows today.
- Nahiri, the Lithomancer
- Teferi, Temporal Archmage
- Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath
- Daretti, Scrap Savant
- Freyalise, Llanowar's Fury
Speaking of old competitive EDH decks, here's Teferi, Temporal Archmage, pictured without his trusty combo piece. In more casual circles, Daretti, Scrap Savant also perched atop the most popular archetype in the game for quite some time (artifact decks). Otherwise, Commander 2014 was relatively quiet, given the lower-powered nature of mono-color (although the reprint of all of the Medallions did make an impact that has yet to be felt again).
- Daxos the Returned
- Mizzix of the Izmagnus
- Meren of Clan Nel Toth
- Kalemne, Disciple of Iroas
- Ezuri, Claw of Progress
Commander 2015 was also fairly quiet with the exception of Meren of Clan Nel Toth, who to this day is still one of the most popular Golgari commanders ever printed. Ezuri, Claw of Progress also had quite a lot of popularity, albeit in a much quieter kind of way. Mizzix of the Izmagnus was quite a bit louder, but was also one of the first commanders to essentially burn itself out, with folks acknowledging that it was a great strategy, but not worth the hate that would immediately come your way once people saw who you were playing. Daxos and Kalemne are... well... they were cards that were printed.
- Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder
- Saskia the Unyielding
- Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis
- Atraxa, Praetors' Voice
- Breya, Etherium Shaper
While Partner made its own kind of splash in cEDH circles, the real takeaway from Commander 2016 for most players was the arrival of Atraxa, Praetors' Voice at the top of the pile. While every commander on this list would make some sort of splash, given that up until now the only four-color options had been the technically illegal Nephilim, Atraxa was in a league of her own. To this day, almost any random theme out there can be thrown out as a possible brew, and the likelihood that you'll come back with Atraxa as probably the best commander for that strategy is high. Of course, the likelihood that you'll get your Atraxa-led janky Energy Tribal brew wiped off the table before you get to play your first Aethertide Whale is high, too.
It took a few years, but the dominance of Oloro, Ageless Ascetic did not go unnoticed by Wizards, so what's better than one commander that does things from the command zone? Four of them! Eminence would go on to be one of the most controversial mechanics to ever be made, although even by 2017, the less-immediately-blood-pressure-raising mechanic of Partner was also starting to be discussed as maybe a bit too good.
To me, however, the first truly well-crafted, fun Commander set to play was Commander 2018. It's also when my Local Gaming Store started doing "Commander Prerelease" tournaments with the precons, which I'm sure is related to my feelings on this. Also, hey, LGS Owners: do precon tournaments. It's the best way for casual and competitive folks to get along and have a good time, and you get to monetize people being in your store playing Commander. Win-win! These decks were still a little slow, and this wasn't helped by the commanders being planeswalkers, but they were well-balanced and every one of them was fun to play. What's not to love?
Outside of the precon-vs-precon battles, however, Commander 2019 felt like a bit of a bust. Sure, Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer spawned a thousand Morph decks, and Anje Falkenrath made a fun Tier 2 cEDH brew, but overall people seemed pretty unimpressed with the face commanders. Now, if you wanted to talk about K'rrik, Son of Yawgmoth, on the other hand....
- Aesi, Tyrant of Gyre Strait
- Wyleth, Soul of Steel
- Obuun, Mul Daya Ancestor
- Anowon, the Ruin Thief
- Jirina Kudro
- Kalamax, the Stormsire
- Kathril, Aspect Warper
- Gavi, Nest Warden
- Otrimi, the Ever-Playful
2020 was the first year that we got side Commander decks that weren't "numbered" Commander decks, much like we saw with Rogue One and Solo coming out in between Star Wars VII and VIII and VIII and IX, and honestly, the popularity of the precons went about the same way as the box office returns of those movies. The 'proper' numbered commanders of Commander 2020 were popular, while the 'side' commanders in the then-cheaper side precons basically slid past everyone's notice. Well, except for our Rogue One Simic commander. Classic, that one is. Draws cards when you play lands, who's ever thought of such a thing?
- Strefan, Maurer Progenitor
- Millicent, Restless Revenant
- Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver
- Leinore, Autumn Sovereign
- Galea, Kindler of Hope
- Vrondiss, Rage of Ancients
- Sefris of the Hidden Ways
- Prosper, Tome-Bound
- Osgir, the Reconstructor
- Breena, the Demagogue
- Willowdusk, Essence Seer
- Adrix and Nev, Twincasters
- Zaffai, Thunder Conductor
- Ranar the Ever-Watchful
- Lathril, Blade of the Elves
I'm going to be completely honest with you and say that I don't remember whether this year, last year, or 2020 was the "Year of Commander". What I do know is that I could tell you who or what the face commanders of the Commander precons were for almost any year, but in 2021, that was no longer true. I would have to look up like three-quarters of the commander names on the 2021 list to have any inkling of what color the commander is, much less what it did. Still, there were some standout names that I'm sure we're all still seeing at our tables today, as the flood continues.
- Nalia de'Arnise
- Captain N'ghathrod
- Firkraag, Cunning Instigator
- Faldorn, Dread Wolf Herald
- Kamiz, Obscura Oculus
- Anhelo, the Painter
- Henzie "Toolbox" Torre
- Kitt Kanto, Mayhem Diva
- Perrie, the Pulverizer
- Kotori, Pilot Prodigy
- Chishiro, the Shattered Blade
Speaking of which, you'll note that we're currently on track to have even more face commanders printed in 2022 than we did in 2021. However, even here at the halfway point of the year, I've already lost track. If someone in my local playgroup didn't pick up one of these commanders (lookin' at you, Henzie "Toolbox" Torre!), then I've honestly pretty much mind-dumped them, as I'm sure you have. In other words, these are cards. They were printed. On cardboard, one would assume, although that's getting into dangerous territory these days!
So, with all the options listed, what do you think made the top? Let's take a look, shall we?
10. Anowon, the Ruin Thief
(Helms 5,679 Decks, Rank #20; 1,386 Inclusions, 0% of 301,298 Decks)
Still shy of Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow's 9,484 decks, Anowon, the Ruin Thief currently holds the #3 position among Dimir commanders. Among Rogues specifically, he's #1, with a more than a 5,000 deck lead on the next would-be contender. Given just how deep the tribe is, and the fact that he's the only Rogue Lord that can be in your command zone, it's really no surprise.
9. Breya, Etherium Shaper
(Helms 5,924 Decks, Rank #17; 620 Inclusions, 1% of 96,795 Decks)
Despite being one of the scariest commanders you can see in the command zone, it doesn't get stated enough just how powerful Breya, Etherium Shaper is. A Breya player who is set up with a good board state doesn't care if you have spot removal, short of something with Split Second. So, Krosan Grip aside, you'll need a Counterspell to feel even somewhat safe about an artifact player with Breya mana.
Even then, they can play them too, you know!
8. Meren of Clan Nel Toth
(Helms 6,355 Decks, Rank #14; 7,983 Inclusions, 3% of 285,790 Decks)
I don't think anyone thought we were going to make it through this Top 10 without seeing Meren of Clan Nel Toth, but I'm actually a bit surprised she's dropped this far. Indeed, Meren isn't even the most popular Golgari commander anymore (that one comes later), much less in the top ten most popular commanders overall.
With that said, I personally think Meren was a victim of her own success. She's been a kill-on-sight commander for years now, and I imagine brewers just got sick of dealing with it at the same time that others moved on to newer commanders.
7. Kaalia of the Vast
(Helms 6,669 Decks, Rank #13; 1,053 Inclusions, 1% of 154,962 Decks)
The only one of the original Commander legends to ever make it into EDHREC's top ten since we began data collection in 2014, it turns out Kaalia of the Vast is still hanging around! At #13 overall, it turns out that even more than a decade later, people still love slinging around huge Angels and Demons (and honestly, count me in)!
6. Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver
(Helms 7,036 Decks, Rank #10; 5,370 Inclusions, 3% of 214,795 Decks)
Breaking into the actual top ten in our Top Ten, it's Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver! Zombies are about as popular a tribe as you can get, but I would just like to put it out in the Aether that no matter the tribe, if you have a commander that says "whenever a member of [tribe] dies, create another member of [tribe], it would still be pretty top-notch.
Heck, they should try it with Sponges, and just see what happens!
5. Prosper, Tome-Bound
(Helms 7,476 Decks, Rank #8; 5,073 Inclusions, 2% of 217,611 Decks)
There are few commanders that got as much hype straight off the presses as Prosper, Tome-Bound, but fewer still that maintained it like he has, which really isn't a surprise when you think about it. There's a reason that not many cards, much less commanders, supply both ramp and card advantage in the same card. To have both available in the command zone is pretty much unheard of and would be broken even if it were a high cost to make it all work.
Well, Prosper isn't a high cost, so as you might imagine, he's quite popular, and will probably remain so.
4. The Ur-Dragon
(Helms 8,155 Decks, Rank #7; 2,471 Inclusions, 3% of 87,413 Decks)
Speaking of having ramp and card draw on one card, here's The Ur-Dragon! Usually the nine-mana casting cost that required access to all five colors would make that kind of okay, but given that Ur-Dragon's Eminence ability just supplies you with ramp all the time no matter what.
Still, at least you can't use the ability as soon as it enters the battlefield!
Oh, you can?
It's like there's someone out there trying to print $75 cards on purpose!
3. Edgar Markov
(Helms 8,312 Decks, Rank #6; 97 Inclusions, 0% of 154,962 Decks)
The second Eminence commander on this list is even more popular than the first. "All your stuff costs one less, always" seems hard to beat, but "you get a free body whenever you make a body" is definitely on the list of things that can make that work. Throw in a means to make them all bigger so you can swing in for the win, and voila! Super busted aggro commander. Who knew that was even possible?
2. Lathril, Blade of the Elves
(Helms 8,471 Decks, Rank #4; 2,199 Inclusions, 1% of 245,855 Decks)
Lathril did, that's who. Sure, she can be a bit more Volton-esque, but that's only until you start going wide with dozens of Elf Warriors! Then, if the board does stall, you can always just use your four-turn clock that comes pasted on your commander. Seems good.
1. Atraxa, Praetors' Voice
(Helms 10,640 Decks, Rank #1; 2,943 Inclusions, 3% of 102,179 Decks)
To anyone in the know, it wasn't hard to figure out that the #1 overall commander was going to end up as the #1 overall face commander. There may be more powerful options out there (heck, Breya was printed in the same set), but there are not more flexible ones. Four colors worth of stuff to pull from, a Proliferate trigger that synergizes with more mechanics than you can shake a stick at, and a stew of relevant keyword soup that constantly has opponents going, "No, wait, that's not gonna work...."
Atraxa has been on top for a long time now, and if I had to guess, she's got a lot more time on top to go.
With all the commanders already listed, it seems a bit silly to go into them all over again, so instead, how about we look at all the great non-face commanders that were included in the precons?
Top 10 Precon Side Commanders
- Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow
- Zaxara, the Exemplary
- Kess, Dissident Mage
- Veyran, Voice of Duality
- Nekusar, the Mindrazer
- Atla Palani, Nest Tender
- K'rrik, Son of Yawgmoth
- Shorikai, Genesis Engine
- Tuvasa the Sunlit
- Xyris, the Writhing Storm
Additionally, we didn't count the Brawl precon commanders, but should we have?
Nah. Probably the less they're mentioned, the better.
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?
It's been two years now that we've been getting extra Commander precons, and I still don't know how to feel about it. When they first came out and replaced the planeswalker intro decks, but also cost about the same as them, I was for it. However, now that they're also $40+, with half the number of extra new cards, I'm not so sure.
Finally, what's your favorite face commander? Side commander? Precon?
Let us know in the comments, and we'll see you at the prefab building that doesn't have a class right now so we can use it to play Commander after school.