Too-Specific Top 10 - Two Thousand Top Nineteen

(Arcane Signet | Art by Dan Scott)

To Yesteryear!

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 Priest of Forgotten Gods is the only card that has the words "lose", "sacrifice", "draw", and "add" all on the same card?)

2020 has come to a close.

Hang on, that seems like it needs a bit more celebration:

That's better.

Anyway, as I reflected on this year and thought about what it meant as far as Too-Specific Top 10, I realized two things:

  1. I don't want to think about 2020 anymore.
  2. There isn't enough data on cards from 2020 yet to do any kind of meaningful Top Ten.

Pushing through item number one for a moment, let me prove number two a bit.

Top 10 Cards of 2020 (So Far)

  1. Fierce Guardianship
  2. Thassa's Oracle
  3. Dryad of the Ilysian Grove
  4. Shadowspear
  5. Deflecting Swat
  6. Underworld Breach
  7. Nyxbloom Ancient
  8. Zagoth Triome
  9. Nyx Lotus
  10. Drannith Magistrate

Six out of ten cards on this list were printed in January. The other four are from April. To find a card printed in the latter half of 2020, you have to go all the way to what would be the #23 card on the list, Garruk's Uprising. To find a card from the most recent full set (that was actually designed for the format), you have to go #62, and then be depressed about the fact that it's predictably Hullbreacher.

In other words, it's too close to 2020 to really understand what 2020 means. So before we end up thinking about that statement in too deep a fashion, let's press forward... by going backward!

Top 10 "Meaty, Yet Budget" Cards of 2019

In the same vein as 2020 is sure to be, 2019 was a crazy year for Commander. To refresh a bit, let's go down the list of major releases (and some of my personal favorite cards from each of them), as even the year before last had a firehose-worth of printings that were relevant to the format:

Ravnica Allegiance

War of the Spark

Modern Horizons

Core Set 2020

Commander 2019

Throne of Eldraine

Mystery Booster

Okay, technically Mystery Booster didn't have any new cards in it, but given just how much of a love letter that set was to Magic: The Gathering, I couldn't help but celebrate it. That still left six different new printings for the year, each of them crazier than the last when it came to what it did for our favorite format.

But which cards are the most popular of all of those printed in 2019?

Well, these ones:

Top 10 Cards of 2019

  1. Arcane Signet
  2. Smothering Tithe
  3. Fabled Passage
  4. Prismatic Vista
  5. Generous Gift
  6. Guardian Project
  7. Dockside Extortionist
  8. Narset, Parter of Veils
  9. Narset's Reversal
  10. Dovin's Veto

And I don't think I've come up with a more boring, and, frankly, depressing list than this in the history of this series. Every single option on this list is something I would try to eliminate from a deck on principle. The average cost of the top ten as a whole is a whopping $12.90, despite four of the cards on it being uncommons, and the inclusion of every single card could be neatly described as a deck "eating its vegetables".

No, this won't do at all. So instead, let's earn the Too-Specific name, eliminate the vegetables, and find the best "meaty" cards of 2019.

Let's also set an arbitrary price limit, because I'm a biased individual who thinks that playing Commander shouldn't mean taking out a second mortgage. As I always say, unless you're sitting down to play Competitive EDH, you already decided you're not playing the best version of your deck. So why all the emphasis on expensive and boring optimization, when there's so much fun to be had?

Criteria: Cards initially printed in 2019 that currently cost less than $5.00 and could not be considered a "Mana Rock" or "Single Target Removal". As is tradition, all results are ordered by EDHREC score.

There we go. Specific, arbitrary, and hopefully a lot more interesting.

On to the real (read: fake) Top Ten Cards of 2019!

10. Return of the Wildspeaker

(17,828 Inclusions, 11% of 164,937 Decks)

Whether you're playing a lot of little creatures, a few big creatures, or a crap-ton of both, Return of the Wildspeaker slots in nicely. As long as you're not playing Human Tribal, that is. Combine that with the fact that it only has a single green pip, and it's imminently splashable. Aside from just being generally good, however, where Return of the Wildspeaker really shines is in decks with a large commander that also makes a lot of creatures.

Luckily, we've had no shortage of commanders that do exactly that of late, and so it comes as little surprise to see many of those new commanders with over a 50% inclusion rate for Return of the Wildspeaker. What does surprise me is to see that Ghalta, Primal Hunger has been knocked off of the Top Commander list for this card sometime in the last year. Regardless of what large-creature-helming-a-lot-of-other-creatures you're using, however, Return of the Wildspeaker will either draw a lot of cards or straight up end the game for you. If that's not what Commander players are looking for, then what is?

9. Syr Konrad, the Grim

(Helms 902 Decks, Rank #142; 17,288 Inclusions, 10% of 172,264 Decks)

Syr Konrad, the Grim basically reads as "if something happens, deal one damage to each opponent. If nothing happens, then you can pay two, and something will have happened."

With as (rightfully) popular as Syr Konrad is in the 99, I'm surprised to see that more folks haven't tried him out in the command zone. Regardless of where he enters from, however, Syr Konrad ends games. Being half a Zulaport Cutthroat and Blood Artist at the same time is strong enough, but tacking on damage for mill, which he can feed himself, really ups the ante. Combine that with a dangling Sword of Damocles for anyone even thinking about exiling your graveyard, and it really does result in situations where opponents have to remove him immediately. Even that isn't enough at times, however, as his mill ability or sac effects you have on the board can get things moving at instant speed, loading heaps of damage on the entire table even as they have a Swords to Plowshares on the stack threatening to remove him.

In short, if you haven't tried this card in your black deck yet, you're missing out. Give him a shot, drown in some triggers. You'll thank me.

8. Spark Double

(18,718 Inclusions, 9% of 213,913 Decks)

Clone effects have been getting better and better for years, but Spark Double might just be my favorite of the lot. Being able to copy a creature or a planeswalker already doubles the amount of decks it can be playable in, while the extra counter for either type is just gravy. Where Spark Double really shines, however, is in Superfriends decks. Dropping down one Teferi, Temporal Archmage is already bad enough, but a second copy that immediately pays for itself is just ridiculous. Even better, however, how about a second copy of Deepglow Skate to ultimate all your planeswalkers a second time? Another Atraxa, Praetors' Voice to double your Proliferate triggers while still attacking and blocking for eight or more every turn? Spark Double is good quality fun no matter what your target is, and there are all sorts of juicy targets out there to try, so get to it!

7. Karn's Bastion

(19,710 Inclusions, 5% of 404,801 Decks)

If the first thought that came to your head wasn't "fun" when I mentioned Atraxa and Superfriends, believe me, I understand. Luckily, for those of us playing decks that care about counters that aren't in four colors, there's Karn's Bastion. You'll still have to practice ticking up those planeswalkers in a timely fashion to ensure that you aren't boring the table to death, but thankfully with all the support Superfriends has gotten in the last couple years, there are more and more color combinations allowing for the strategy, enough that I probably already need to revisit my "Oops, All Planeswalkers!" article from the release of War of the Spark.

To put it more succinctly, however, what I love about Karn's Bastion is the amount of doors it opens that lead folks away from Atraxa, not just for Superfriends, but for +1/+1 counters, Infect, Charge Counters, and even Weird Counter Tribal. Giving more options to brewers to excite both themselves and their playgroups is always a good thing, and even though you won't be paying the five to stack counters on things nearly as much in reality as in your imagination, there is no doubting that it's often a better option than playing another bear that would have no effect on the board in the late game.

6. Growth Spiral

(20,212 Inclusions, 17% of 116,034 Decks)

Seeing Growth Spiral make the list wasn't exactly a surprise. What was a surprise to me is the fact that it's only seeing play in 17% of the decks out there that include Simic colors. Sure, it's not exactly sexy. One might even say it's exactly the kind of vegetable we tried to avoid here in this list. But even taking brewers like myself (who tend to avoid efficient cards that don't fit a theme) out of the equation, Growth Spiral is hard to eliminate. Two mana to draw a card and put a land into play is already very solid in a vacuum. Fill that vacuum up with the loose hairball that is Simic Lands Matter, however, and this card does absolutely everything, often even paying for itself with an untapped land and a Landfall trigger. Sure, having a Lotus Cobra handy at all times seems pretty Magical Christmas Land, but it's not like you wouldn't take drawing a card and plopping down a land for a 5/5 Elemental at two mana, either!

5. Jace, Wielder of Mysteries

(21,572 Inclusions, 10% of 213,913 Decks)

Sure, sure, we'd all rather be seeing Ormos, Archive Keeper hit the battlefield, but much as some of us might want to ignore the existence of Laboratory Maniac, it exists. As do Thassa's Oracle and Jace, Wielder of Mysteries. Are there more entertaining ways for games to end? Absolutely. But if you're looking to end them quickly and efficiently, it's hard to find a better means than this win condition that we're apparently going to see printed into the ground.

4. Bolas's Citadel

(23,350 Inclusions, 11% of 210,480 Decks)

If you're more in the market for winning a game rather than having a set means to do so, then Bolas's Citadel is a great free agent, letting you accrue value straight up until you or your opponents run out of life. Sure, you could get stuck with a land you can't play on top of your library, which would put a wrench in that plan, but shuffle and top of library manipulation effects can help with that. Besides, even if you do cast this for six and only get to play a land and two spells off the top of your library without paying any mana, that's something I'd pay six mana for!

3. Mystic Sanctuary

(23,739 Inclusions, 14% of 175,165 Decks)

Originally, I had "Mana Fixing" as one of the criteria that would take a card off this list, but it turns out that duals as a rule cost more than five dollars. Whether or not you feel that should be the case is an entirely different discussion, but either way I was excited to see a utility land that actually did something exciting on this list. Before we dig into Mystic Sanctuary too deeply, however, can we give a hearty "thank you" to Wizards for this entire land cycle?

None of them exactly blow you away, but given that they're common, I'm not sure that they should. That said, they are fetchable, can come in untapped (especially in mono-color), and have abilities that can be relevant to a specific strategy. In other words, they're the epitome of what we'd love to see more of out of lands in the common and uncommon slots: niche playability.

To stop my gushing and come back to the matter at hand, however, Mystic Sanctuary's niche was obviously supposed to be spells decks, only it seems to have escaped into a larger habitat. Being able to Call to Mind a spell back to the top of your library with nothing but a land drop is powerful, especially in a color that should have no problem cheaply drawing a card. So powerful, in fact, that even three- and four-color decks would have basically no problem having this come into play tapped to try and get that key spell back for a second chance. Especially since those decks are the ones most likely to be playing a lot of fetchlands that can search this up at instant speed, maybe even with a wheel on the stack!

2. Rhythm of the Wild

(24,919 Inclusions, 25% of 99,108 Decks)

As an old school Standard player, seeing another whack at Fires of Yavimaya really made me smile. But honestly, Rhythm of the Wild just blows the original mid-range good-stuff namesake out of the water. Sure, you can't give a creature +2/+2 to make combat more of a headache or push through that last Shock worth of damage. Instead, you get the option to make creatures bigger permanently when you don't need them to attack immediately (or they already have haste). Combine that with the complete upgrade of making sure your creatures can't be countered, and Rhythm of the Wild is without a doubt the premier Fervor in any deck that can play Gruul colors.

Normally, that would put me on a bit of a mental tirade about power creep and what have you, but honestly, I just can't muster the effort for Rhythm of the Wild, because it just makes me smile too much.

1. Narset, Parter of Veils

(28,116 Inclusions, 13% of 213,913 Decks)

Speaking of cards that just make me smile... this isn't one of them. Narset, Parter of Veils being printed at uncommon was almost more of a smack in the face than if it had been ludicrously efficient and mythic, because every player now has access to it. Which would be great, if this effect wasn't one of the worst feel-bads in casual Magic. Seeing a Narset hit the board is usually met with groans the table over, causing players to immediately start negotiating for a means to remove it or gather enough attackers to only have to put up with hopefully a single Timetwister effect where the offending player ends up six cards up on the table.

That said, it's there. Narset exists, and pretty much every player who played War of the Spark Limited has one in their collection, so it's difficult not to pull the trigger on it. I've been guilty of it myself, even, throwing one in a Superfriends deck knowing that it would slow the rest of the table down and probably draw me into a couple extra planeswalkers to boot, then taking it back out when I saw during a rampant uptick of a turn that I had thirteen cards in hand and all of my opponents had just one and a frown to go with it.

But that was six months on, which is why I wasn't surprised to see this card at the top of this list along with being number eight overall for all cards in 2019. There's no doubting that this Leovold, Emissary of Trest that sits in the 99 as opposed to the command zone is powerful, and for a lot of players, that's enough. And there's no problem with that. What makes Narset so ubiquitous is that it seems innocent enough that it sneaks into low-power builds too, along with being available enough that it tends to be an auto-include for beginner players as well.

Honorable Mentions

2019 was a heck of a year for Commander in general, whether you stick to five-dollar cards or you splurged several hundred dollars for the perfect land base and removal suite. Luckily for all camps, it also brought a whole lot of new, interesting, and powerful commanders to bear, and I would be remiss to not include them.

Top 10 Commanders from 2019:

  1. Golos, Tireless Pilgrim
  2. Korvold, Fae-Cursed King
  3. Kenrith, the Returned King
  4. Yarok the Desecrated
  5. Alela, Artful Provocateur
  6. Teysa Karlov
  7. Sisay, Weatherlight Captain
  8. Kykar, Wind's Fury
  9. Feather, the Redeemed
  10. Chulane, Teller of Tales

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?

How did you feel about the 2019 suite of cards, no matter the price or functionality? How about the trend of the "best" cards of the format being boring old vegetables like Arcane Signet and Prismatic Vista alongside $30+ powerhouses like Smothering Tithe and Dockside Extortionist?

And most importantly...

And finally, what do you think the top cards of 2020 will be? What do you think the more reasonable, meatier cards from 2020 will be? Did you like my arbitrary restrictions to keep things interesting, or do you think I'm more than a little biased? (Hint: I am.)

Let us know in the comments, and we'll see you at the "we didn't update our decks during the whole pandemic so it's basically 2019!" table.

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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