Too-Specific Top 10 - Unlimited Auras
(Rancor | Art by Kev Walker)
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 Unquenchable Fury is the only Rancor-style Aura that deals damage to a player?)
Secret Lair x Street Fighter was announced last week, and personally, I think the commanders in this product are the most interesting options I've seen in a long, long time. First off, if you're a Street Fighter fan, the Easter eggs are off the charts. The untap symbol for Ryu's Hadoken is the exact input you use to perform a Hadoken. Chun-Li has Multikicker. E. Honda's Hundred-Hand Slap buffs up to 100 creatures. It's just great flavor.
Even beyond the flavor, though, there's a ton of other stuff to be excited about! Zangief is an oft-indestructible Jund whirlwind of combat two-for-ones. Chun-Li's Multikicker gives all your instants pseudo-Flashback. Dhalsim is the first 'reach tribal' commander, giving creatures with this often underutilized keyword pseudo-vigilance, pseudo-unblockable, and real card draw. Ken lets you cast sorceries for free when he connects with a player, not to mention getting huge with Prowess in the meantime.
However, the one that excites me the most is Blanka, Ferocious Friend. A 5/5 for five with haste and possibly trample isn't anything to write home about, but his Electric Thunder ability is absolutely off the charts, and there are tons of ways to build around it.
At first glance, Blanka seems like he's in the same ballpark as Feather, the Redeemed or Zada, Hedron Grinder, looking to cast a ton of spells, targeting himself, so that you can reap all the value in the world. The thing is, he doesn't actually give you 'value' so much as he just kills your opponents, and unlike Feather and Zada, he doesn't say "instant or sorcery" anywhere on him.
Not that you couldn't go the typical instant and sorcery route, buffing him up with cantrips like Viridescent Wisps and Fists of Flame while also burning out your opponents and swinging in for tons of damage. The question is, at what point is it better to make those buffs permanents, such as with a Rune of Might or a Historian's Wisdom? Should we even be focused on drawing cards when you can just cast and recast a Crown of Flames five times a turn for 10 damage and +10/+10?
Top 10 Gruul Auras That Return to Hand
Of course, there aren't very many effects like Crown of Flames. If we're being honest, it's just the Crown and Whip Silk in that category. Still, there's another Aura that's famous for always coming back to hand.
Admittedly, there are some hoops to jump through here. Unlike Crown of Flames and Whip Silk, Rancor only returns to your hand after it's left the battlefield through other means, usually from the death of the creature it's attached to. Obviously, though, we don't want Blanka to die. He's five mana to start, and all the +2/+2's in the world aren't worth anything if they don't get to stack on top of each other because he dies in between each one.
So how do we repeatedly get an Aura to the graveyard? Well, there's always sac outlets, right?
Unfortunately, unlike with creatures, there just aren't very many sac outlets for enchantments. Claws of Gix is a nice catch-all that only sees play because of the lack of other options, and while Blood Aspirant, Dreamshaper Shaman, and Damping Engine all let you get rid of an Aura, they only let you do so once a turn. Gatherer of Graces is a slam-dunk, but after that, we're down to expensive options like Magmaw, which may not be worth the price of admission. We can all be happy that we finally found a deck that wants Endless Wurm, though!
So, we've got sac outlets that will let us repeatedly cast Rancor, but, uh, what if we don't draw Rancor?
Maybe we should come up with a list of other options?
Criteria: Auras with a red, green, or Gruul color identity that have an ability that returns them from somewhere else to your hand. As is tradition, all results are ordered by EDHREC score.
10. Fiery Mantle
(311 Inclusions, 0% of 468,017 Decks)
It isn't a Rancor, but Fiery Mantle will make sure that you always have access to a Firebreathing mana sink (which, admittedly, there also isn't a whole lot of call for). Maybe if this was all in a one-mana package I could imagine a place for it, but even in a very specific deck, like Blanka, Ferocious Friend, this thing doesn't really fit the price of admission.
In other words, Fiery Mantle will likely get knocked off this list soon by Unquenchable Fury, although I'm surprised that Moldervine Cloak hadn't done that already, to be honest.
9. Mark of Fury
(377 Inclusions, 0% of 468,017 Decks)
Even with Blanka having natural haste, Mark of Fury is about to get a big boost in numbers, given how much of a workhorse it's going to be in this deck. It's probably not quite as good as the Whip Silks and Crown of Flames that you can return repeatedly in a single turn, but it's still a free single-use card that's repeatably able to give your other stuff haste, too! What's not to like?
8. Undying Rage
(484 Inclusions, 0% of 468,017 Decks)
Despite its inherent flexibility, Undying Rage will probably be too expensive for even Aura-based Blanka decks, but I like it quite a bit for other Aura- or enchantment-based builds that aren't quite as into Storm strategies. +2/+2 for three mana isn't great, but being able to cast it on your opponents' stuff so you can still get through isn't terrible. Sure, finding a red enchantment deck that also wants to go aggro is a niche inside of a niche, but this card fits it, right?
7. Crown of Flames
(519 Inclusions, 0% of 468,017 Decks)
Crown of Flames has a larger niche of "anything that wants to cast a lot of enchantments probably wants this", but even that's a pretty small area when it comes to decks with red in them. Still, any cast or enters-the-battlefield trigger that cares about enchantments will have you just casting this card seven times a turn until your opponents do something about it, and with Blanka, Ferocious Friend, you can probably just K.O. any player you feel like on that turn by swinging with your now 19/19 trampling commander that already dealt them 14 damage.
(685 Inclusions, 0% of 465,836 Decks)
As you might imagine, some folks will probably want to remove your always-damaging, always-growing commander, and that's where Fortitude comes in. Sure, it's gonna hurt to be a few lands down when you're trying to Storm off the next turn, but that's better than having to just immediately recast Blanka for seven mana!
When they exile Blanka instead of destroying him, though, at least you'll be able to trigger him again by replaying the Fortitude.
5. Talons of Wildwood
(900 Inclusions, 0% of 465,836 Decks)
Talons of Wildwood is another card that's a bit too expensive for Blanka decks, especially since he'll be able to give himself trample most of the time. Still, more and more Enchantress decks are killing through combat damage nowadays, and this is a handy card to have along with that 31/31 Setessan Champion.
4. Aspect of Mongoose
(2,073 Inclusions, 0% of 465,863 Decks)
Whether it's a Blanka, Ferocious Friend or a Verduran Enchantress that you're trying to protect, Aspect of Mongoose is here to help, coming back to do it again after the inevitable board wipe. The downside? It's true Shroud, not hexproof, which means that's going to be the only thing targeting that creature for a while. Which, for the Verduran Enchantress, isn't a huge deal, but it's unfortunately really not what you want when it comes to Blanka.
3. Whip Silk
(2,113 Inclusions, 0% of 465,836 Decks)
If you thought Crown of Flames was going to rack up some Blanka triggers, you ain't seen nothin' yet. At any particular given point in a green/red deck, you're likely to have a lot more green mana than red. Granted, you'll probably want to throw in a Chromatic Lantern so you can use all your lands no matter which version of this effect that you draw, but without that type of color-fixing, the green version of this effect has more potential. At first, it may seem like Firebreathing sounds more useful than reach in a deck that's going to be swinging into the red zone this often, but much like the numbers here (which are almost solely based in Enchantress decks trying to rack up triggers), I personally would take a Whip Silk over a Crown of Flames any day of the week.
2. Crown of Skemfar
(3,142 Inclusions, 1% of 337,083 Decks)
No cheap Enchantress triggers here! Crown of Skemfar has some great play numbers, rocketing it to #2 on our list, but those numbers are almost exclusively from traditional Elf decks, and even there, it's a bit underwhelming, don't you think? Honestly, the popularity here seems entirely influenced by the Precon Effect (the phenomenon we see on the site where cards that were included in a Commander preconstructed deck have inflated play numbers because they weren't removed by players slightly tweaking their preconstructed decks before loading their lists online), with no other real numbers to be found.
(20,556 Inclusions, 4% of 465,836 Decks)
There are a lot of lists where I don't know which card will take the top spot, and a lot of them where I already know what the top card is gonna be before I even start, but every once in a while, I search up a list where I really have no choice but to essentially name the whole thing after that most popular card. With 17,000 more inclusions than the #2 card on the list, Rancor reigns supreme, and the reason why is simple: other cards on this list are the very definition of niche, and Rancor sees play across a bunch of different genres, from Enchantress to Aggro to anything that's going tall and might need access to trample.
From the day it was printed in Urza's Legacy, Rancor has been the height of efficiency, competing as part of aggro decks not only in the infamous Combo Winter standard, but also immediately becoming part of Stompy decks in Legacy and Extended (That's "Old Historic/Pioneer", for the young folks out there). +2 power for one mana has always been excellent, but tacking on trample and the ability to be replayed over and over again just pushes this card over the top, to the point where I actually think these play numbers are a little light. If anything, more decks should be considering this effect, especially since I'm not even seeing it show up on the Enchantress theme page!
Look, Enchantresses, I get it, you're not an aggro deck (although you probably should be?), but this is a one-mana Aura that will absolutely get some damage through multiple times per game, and which will also undoubtedly be cast multiple times per game. I don't care how your deck is built, that's worth a slot!
Before we look at anything else, we gotta pause for a decklist. You didn't really think I hadn't brewed Blanka, did you?
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer
I know, I know, couldn't find room for the Endless Wurm. It made me sad, too. Still, the deck is a blast to goldfish, although I get the distinct feeling that running out Blanka without some immediate Auras is a bad idea, because this guy is going to eat all of the removal, and rightfully so.
As for the rest of the Auras, let's get to it!
Top 15 Auras That Can Somehow Return to Hand
- Crown of Skemfar
- Whip Silk
- Aspect of Mongoose
- Talons of Wildwood
- Crown of Flames
- Undying Rage
- Mark of Fury
- Fiery Mantle
- Unquenchable Fury
- Moldervine Cloak
- Ghitu Firebreathing
When looking over the full list, I was surprised to find that nearly every card on it was actually pretty dang good! With the exception of Vineweft, each one of the remaining five made it into the 110-cards stage before my final cuts down to 100 cards, and Unquenchable Fury actually did make the cut. Then again, that one is destined for the top of this list, right next to Rancor, and I think everyone knows it. As for the rest, Moldervine Cloak saw Standard play back in the day, as Dredge is powerful and +3/+3 is a lot. Sluggishness can be used both offensively and defensively in a Blanka deck, because when exactly do you plan to block with him? Finally, Ghitu Firebreathing is another Crown of Flames, only it can be cast at instant speed for fun shenanigans.
The only issue with all of these cards? Their mana costs. Two to three mana might fit the bill in the average Aura deck, but when you're looking to cast five or six Auras a turn, mana cost comes at a premium, and not even Ghitu Firebreathing's ability to deal two damage and give +2/+2 multiple times during the combat step (or at end of turn) is worth the three mana it takes to do so, not when you could do it more times at sorcery speed.
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?
I'm not going to lie to you, humble reader. I had some initial mental baggage when it came to Universes Beyond. I still feel that it would have been better as its own unique-backed game (can you imagine how much fun a "Universes Beyond: Featuring the Magic: the Gathering System" Commander format would have been?) or as a silver-bordered addition, but honestly, most of my initial backlash has diminished with the assurance that the mechanically unique Secret Lair cards will receive in-universe versions. I still have some minor concerns when it comes to the upcoming Warhammer 40,000 Commander Precons (are we getting in-universe of the mechanically unique cards there as well?), but at this point, I've arrived at the 'accepting and excited' mentality (exactly as Wizards planned, I'm sure).
How about you?
Finally, what do you think of Blanka Auras, or the rest of the Secret Lair x Street Fighter? Are you building any of these new commanders? I know I'm eyeing Chun-Li, Countless Kicks as well!
Let us know in the comments, and we'll see you at the table under the full mural of the M. Bison level with the bell (you know, the one from the Hadoken art).