Too-Specific Top 10 - Monster Guide

(Volo, Guide to Monsters | Art by Zoltan Boros)

Here There Be Monsters

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 Pathbreaker Ibex is the most played Goat in EDH?)

With every new release, it seems like we get another boring old Simic commander who rewards players for doing things they were already going to do anyway, and Adventures in the Forgotten Realms was no exception when it came to Gretchen Titchwillow. Breaking from the mold, however, the other Simic legend from the set I found both interesting and unique.

Volo rewards brewers for going with more unique creature types, and his copy ability has you looking for all sorts of creatures that would be good in multiples that you wouldn't necessarily be looking at otherwise. However, as much as you'll be digging deep into the barrel for some uniquely correct creatures for this deck specifically, you'll still have plenty of slots you'll want to take up with the normal powerhouses of the color identity. Still, you don't want to overlap creature types if you can help it, which raises the question: what is the best creature in each creature type?

Top 10 Non-Legendary Simic Creatures (In Their Creature Type)

This question isn't quite as clear cut as I thought it would be. Take, for instance, Hydroid Krasis, which is indisputedly the most-played Jellyfish in Commander. It is, however, not even close to being the top Hydra or Beast (those spots going to Managorger Hydra and Rampaging Baloths, respectively), so even though Hydroid Krasis is the best Jellyfish, for the purposes of Volo, you might well consider including Man-O'-War instead, so you can play better Hydras and Beasts. Thus, we will rank our list with this idea of being at the top of the class with all of the creature's types in mind. We will also take Humans and Wizards entirely out of the equation, as Volo would conceivably be in play whenever we want to use his ability.

So with that figured out, let's take a look at our criteria and get cracking on this week's top ten!

Criteria: Non-legendary creatures that have the sole top ranking in all of their creature types, whose creature types don't include "Human" or "Wizard". As is tradition, all results are ordered by EDHREC score.

10. Ramunap Excavator (Naga Cleric)

(29,398 Inclusions, 10% of 285,853 Decks)

At first I figured for sure that there would be several better Clerics in black and white, the colors known for Clerics, but Ramunap Excavator is actually the top of the pile for both Nagas and Clerics across the entire color spectrum. Truthfully, it's not entirely hard to see why. A second copy of Crucible of Worlds that is substantially easier on the pocketbook is something pretty much any lands-based deck is looking for, and lands decks remain in the top five themes of all time on EDHREC. Retrieving fetches or utility lands from your graveyard every turn is very powerful, as is the security of just not missing land drops by pulling from your graveyard in addition to your hand. Add in a Wayword Swordtooth (the most popular Simic Dinosaur), and you're really cooking with gas!

9. Rampaging Baloths (Beast)

(29,909 Inclusions, 10% of 285,853 Decks)

If you're looking to keep on building that lands deck in your head as we go down our top ten, then you're in luck! Rampaging Baloths is one of the best Landfall triggers of all time, grabbing you a 4/4 every time you manage to sneak a land onto the battlefield. It's also just a good beater in its own right, being a Colossal Dreadmaw besides. One way or another, if you can keep it on the battlefield, Rampaging Baloths is going to end games. Still, the addition of a our second best Beast, Craterhoof Behemoth, might speed things along.

8. Acidic Slime (Ooze)

(37,660 Inclusions, 13% of 285,853 Decks)

I've been on record a few times now of not actually being that big a fan of the most popular Ooze in the game, Acidic Slime, and I stand by the criticisms I've made. It's five mana for an effect you can get for less, and it's only a 2/2, so it being on a stick doesn't actually do that much for you outside of recursion and blink, strategies that are still by and large probably happier with Reclamation Sage or the newly printed Foundation Breaker. The other new addition in Druid of Purification also doesn't bode well for Acidic Slime staying on top. Still, there is something to be said for inertia, and there are more and more problem lands that have to be answered with each set, so we'll see what happens!

7. Seedborn Muse (Spirit)

(40,377 Inclusions, 14% of 285,853 Decks)

I have no such musings about Seedborn Muse, however. Five mana to untap during every single player's turn pays for itself immediately, provided that you're playing anything that can go at instant speed. Seedborn Muse is just one of those value pieces that has to be answered immediately if you don't want to lose the game. Sure, it might not do it by itself, but giving a player access to this much mana and effects every turn is going to eventually win the game, even if all they did was pump it all into a Helix Pinnacle.

6. Avenger of Zendikar (Elemental)

(42,355 Inclusions, 15% of 285,853 Decks)

Speaking of winning the game, Avenger of Zendikar. While I am on record as having said that if you're looking to just make some tokens, you can do better than waiting for a seven-mana option that is only good if you also have seven lands in play, for a lot of green decks, that isn't a hefty lift. In the average lands deck, it's not uncommon for a combination of a Burgeoning, Rampant Growth, and a Harrow to accrue seven lands by turn four, with about three similar versions of each of those spells able to fill in for the same ludicrous curve-out. Even outside of the lands deck, two- and three-mana ramp that puts extra lands on the battlefield is abundant, making a reasonable and actually scary Avenger possible by turn five, usually with a land drop left over to immediately pump all of the Plants. In short, while I do think it's wrong that Avenger is shoved into as many decks as it is, in the ones where it does make sense, it makes a lot of sense.

5. Burnished Hart (Elk)

(55,644 Inclusions, 10% of 581,727 Decks)

Unlike Avenger of Zendikar and Seedborn Muse, I have gotten to the point where I am just 100% out on Burnished Hart. Sure, sure, it used to be the first ramp I'd look at for any of my mono-white, mono-red, or Boros decks. However, it's just not good enough anymore, even with recursion options that abound in the colors. While it does feel great at the time to plop down an Elk on turn three, crack it on turn four for two lands, and then untap to slam down a Sun Titan so you can do it all again... that's two turns and six mana for two lands. Plus, after you recur it (instead of just getting a land with the Sun Titan), you still have to pay another three mana to grab more lands. While I'm the first to say we need to slow things down and keep the format janky enough for taplands, that kind of math just doesn't add up in any part of the format in 2021. Like Uktabi Orangutan and Savannah Lions before it, Burnished Hart has just been power crept to the point where it's no longer playable. While that is sad - and I won't criticize anyone who's still holding on - it is nonetheless the truth.

4. Birds of Paradise (Bird)

(72,486 Inclusions, 25% of 285,853 Decks)

What's not getting power crept out anytime soon, however, are the one-drop mana dorks. Birds of Paradise is one of the originals, and it's as good today as it was 28 years ago. Dropping down a Bird on turn one to untap with three mana and access to any color is still one of the strongest positions you can find yourself in, even in the I Hate Your Deck age of blinging out every deck with Mana Crypts, Mana Vaults, and Chrome Moxes (no hate, Mike and Joe, big fan of the show). That said, if you do find yourself in a meta where one-drop mana dorks are the way of the day, might I suggest that a return to the days of "bolt the bird" might be in order?

3. Llanowar Elves (Elf Druid)

(75,672 Inclusions, 26% of 285,853 Decks)

If you thought dropping down a turn one mana dork was good, might I introduce you to the power of Llanowar Elves? Sure, it can't fly over the top in the late game with a sword attached to it, but it can swing in during the turns where you can't use that one extra mana, and that's not nothing!

2. Sakura-Tribe Elder (Snake Shaman)

(85,316 Inclusions, 30% of 285,853 Decks)

If you're worried about the resilience of your dork-based mana solutions, then there's always the Snake that can do both! Sakura-Tribe Elder took a major hit back in the day when "damage on the stack" was removed from the game, the same hit that removed utility of once-staples like Yavimaya Elder. It's a testament to just how good this two-mana ramp-spell-on-a-stick is that its numbers didn't even flinch when it lost the ability to deal damage on the way out to grab a land. In other words, if you're playing green and you're playing creatures, the likelihood that you're playing this guy is very high.

1. Solemn Simulacrum (Golem)

(106,329 Inclusions, 18% of 582,594 Decks)

I was halfway through typing "what can I say about Solemn Simulacrum that I haven't said a dozen times" before I actually thought to go and check, and surprisingly, Sad Robot has actually only graced a list here on Too-Specific Top 10 two times. While it is getting to be less and less impressive across the board in our format with each passing set, it is absolutely still a value engine and a half. Four mana to "draw" two cards is a rate that many are still willing to pay if it has some upside, a la Chemister's Insight, Deep Analysis, and Eureka Moment. Solemn Simulacrum still fits that criteria to this day, being essentially a two-card card advantage effect stapled onto a 2/2 blocker and/or sacrifice fodder. While it's no longer an auto-include in every Commander deck like it was at one time, it is till highly playable in Blink, Recursion, or even just sacrifice-heavy builds, and will probably remain so all the way up until the point that Wizards prints something strictly better (which, given their track record, will probably be any day now). All hail our new (sad) Robot overlord!

Honorable Mentions

Volo has been accused repeatedly of being a Simic Goodstuff commander, so rather than just keep going down a list again this week for Honorable Mentions, I figured we could put that theory to the test and put together a full decklist of each of the best creatures of their creature types. Let's just see if it's playable, shall we?

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

More than anything, this exercise really showed me that to really build Volo well, you do need to put in some actual work and thought into the build. Sure, Walking Ballista is a great card, but do you really want to play it outside of a +1/+1 counters, Proliferate, or infinite mana deck? Do you really want to play Myr Retriever, Etherium Sculptor and Darksteel Juggernaut in a deck with almost zero artifacts? While yes, these are easy cuts in a deck that would want to play a lot more ramp, removal, and card draw, I still think my main takeaway is that anyone who builds Volo without a spreadsheet of creature types open is doing it wrong, and that that by itself makes me want to build Volo more than anything.

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?

Maybe I'm alone in all that. Let's see!

Finally, what are your favorite obscure creature types with a banger of a card representing them? Are you planning to build Volo, or have you already? Do you think you can build a Simic deck without falling into the Simic trap of mana ramp and cards?

Let us know in the comments, and we'll see you at the rare Darksteel Treefolk corpse - I mean table - at the local hunter's lodge!

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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