Too-Specific Top 10 - Winning!

(Coalition Victory | Art by Eric Peterson)

You Win!

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 Phage the Untouchable is the best creature that can cause both you and your opponents to automatically lose the game?)

Whenever we hit Banned & Restricted announcement season, there's always a lot of talk about regarding what should and shouldn't be on the banned list for Commander, and we tend to revisit the reasons that some cards are on that banned list while other similar cards are not. Add to that the recent controversy surrounding the "brand new" mechanic in white we were to see on Happily Ever After, and we can smoothly segue into talking about one of my favorite things in Magic.

Top 10 "You Win the Game" Cards

That's right, I love cards that say "You win the game" on them. I'm aware that not everyone shares that love, and their place in EDH specifically is actually a huge point of contention at tables across the world, but I personally just can't help myself. While everyone else was discussing whether or not symmetrical draw was actually something that was new to white or not, I was already four steps into trying to figure out if I could reasonably fit Happily Ever After into my Phelddagrif Group Hug deck as a sneaky win condition (the answer is yes, especially if you're also going to add Oko, Thief of Crowns to the mix in addition to already playing Debt of Loyalty and Fractured Identity).

As is evident from the banning of Coalition Victory, however, not everyone feels the same way I do about cards that let you win the game out of nowhere. While other options like Helix Pinnacle and Nicol Bolas, Dragon God require quite a bit of setup that will most likely be seen and reacted to by the rest of the table, there are definitely some other options that can win on resolution or immediately at the end of your turn, which not everyone loves. Imagine you've been playing a close back and forth game for an hour, and just as it's getting good your opponent resolves a single spell that literally just says "You Win" on it. The resulting feel-bads are the reason that's been given as to why Coalition Victory has remained on the ban list, and I honestly sympathize with that decision.

That said, I do think other alternate win condition cards get a bad rap because of that idea of people winning out of nowhere without "earning" it... but I don't think it's actually very common. Most people resolving Approach of the Second Sun don't then immediately have the resources to cast it again, and if they do then they were probably overwhelmingly winning the game already with their ability to draw seven cards on demand and having fourteen mana besides. For most decks, they're drawing more cards than usual, but the table still gets a turn or two to kill the Approach player, find a Counterspell, or mill cards off the top of their deck.

All controversy aside, there are a lot of cards that let you win the game through a means other than life loss or mill, and there are getting to be more every year. This raises the question: which of those cards are played the most in our favorite format?

Criteria: Card must say the words "You win the game" or "player/opponent loses the game" on it. Ratings, as always, are based on how many decks each card is played in on EDHREC.

I'm not gonna lie, the reason I went into so much detail about why I personally feel that alternate win conditions are mostly fine is because I knew what would be number one on this list. Laboratory Maniac is a big example of why people feel like alternate win conditions aren't mostly fine. While there's no doubting that Laboratory Maniac's effect is powerful and there are more than a few decks that are capable of drawing cards but not necessarily winning with them, that's not really the reason many players have an issue with this particular Gray Ogre. The issue is that Laboratory Maniac (and its other variant I'm sure we'll be seeing later in this list) not only has the feel-bad situation where it can win a game out of nowhere, but it's also perceived to encourage laziness on the part of deck builders. Can't figure out a way to win in your Simic deck that accidentally stumbles into infinite mana and/or infinite draw combos twice a game? Have no fear, just include our little friend, here! Being in blue, you can probably even find a way for him to win at instant speed!

Our number two contender is quite a bit more fair, only triggering to win the game on upkeep and with a hefty stipulation that you control twenty or more artifacts. That said, if you look at Hellkite Tyrant's EDHREC Page, you can see that most decks playing this particular alternate win con aren't necessarily building around it to get the special win. Rather, they're including it as a means of stealing others mana rocks and utility artifacts. While you would also include it in your Treasure or Clue deck if you could, most appearances look to be Dragon decks that can search it up in response to the artifact deck resolving a Darksteel Forge, or just there being an artifact deck at the table at all. In other words, for most decks, this is much more a Bane of Progress than a Coalition Victory.

Given that the most popular theme on EDHREC is Artifacts, it's not hard to understand why Hellkite Tyrant is seeing play whether a deck has any hope of reaching its game-winning trigger or not. That said, the second most popular theme wants some inclusion as well, and gets it in the form of Felidar Sovereign.

Hang on, can we talk about how this antlered thing on top of a mountain is clearly a Goat or an Elk of some sort, and not a Cat? No? Well, alright then.

In any case, Felidar Sovereign is an easy include in any lifegain deck, and with its vigilance and lifelink riders, can often get to triggering for the win on your upkeep all on its own. It is a strong contender for the best of the fair alternate win conditions that is actually used for its win condition, although it does share a bit of the "that's a rather boring choice, isn't it?" problem we already saw with our number one.

I was honestly surprised to not see this a bit further up the list. Approach of the Second Sun even saw some Standard play, and is a solid alternate win condition that is difficult to interrupt for non-blue decks that don't have plentiful access to Counterspells or mill. I already went over how it usually plays out rather fairly in my introduction above, and gaining seven life on the initial cast is not a terrible start, especially since the whole table will suddenly ratchet you all the way up to 11 on the threat scale. While there'll still probably be some groans somewhere around the table if you do manage to get the second cast, that table will still most likely have had ample chance to gang up on you or to find an answer, but not so ample that you'll never squeeze it through and still feel like you earned it, on occasion.

If you've played Commander for any reasonable length of time, you've probably made some sort of black deck that likes to kill everyone's creatures. If you've done so since Ixalan came out, it's likely that you at least considered the inclusion of Revel in Riches. Even if you never make it to the ten Treasure mark, or if it gets removed before you make it to your upkeep to win the game, being able to ramp every time you loop a Plaguecrafter into a Dictate of Erebos is a very strong effect that is difficult to say no to. Besides, after a couple turns of that kind of sacrifice-heavy board state, your opponents are probably begging you to actually win the game already. In other words, Revel in Riches might trigger a bit more often than you think it will.

Yet another inclusion on our list that probably sees more play for its other effects instead of its "target player loses the game" rider, Vraska the Unseen protects itself through punishment and can repeatedly destroy nonland permanents in the long run. That combination seems like a winner when it comes to planeswalkers, which you should never rate on their ultimate.

That said, you're in green, which means that with Doubling Season you can immediately use Vraska's -7 ability. You're also in black, which means you can probably find a way to get those tokens onto a board mostly empty of creatures, at which point it's likely that you'll get to tell at least a couple of your opponents that they're losing because the card says so.

After mucking about with my Crystal Ball for a moment or two, I correctly predicted that we'd be seeing the latest iteration of Jace on this list, and it's really no mystery why. If you're already playing Laboratory Maniac and can pay for the three blue pips in his cost, why would you not be playing Jace, Wielder of Mysteries? He's a backup win condition in case an opponent has a Counterspell or some creature removal that you can't get around with instant-speed card draw. The fact that he only costs one more mana and also helps you dig for your combo is just gravy.

Right on time, we've hit the third most popular theme on EDHREC: +1/+1 counters! Simic Ascendancy provides a neat package of an alternate win condition for those decks that might be able to make their creatures huge, but then find that they just can't quite get to the player that's been crafting an elaborate Pillow Fort for the entire game. Add that it provides a nice little mana sink that can keep on throwing counters onto your creatures and itself, and there's little reason that you wouldn't throw this in as a nice insurance policy, provided your counter deck is in Simic. And I mean, who on earth would build a +1/+1 counter deck that didn't include the best colors for that strategy?


In what might be a first for Too-Specific Top 10, we have the same planeswalker showing up twice! Vraska, Golgari Queen isn't quite as all-inclusive as her version from Return to Ravnica, but as a consolation prize, her ultimate is quite a bit better at making your opponents lose. It turns out that having an irremovable emblem stating that if you ever get through in combat ever, the receiving player loses, is quite good. That said, you're much less likely to actually be able to pull off this particular ultimate in quick fashion, although a +2 ability that draws you cards and gains you life can get you there fairly quickly in legitimate fashion. The real question is whether you'll be able to keep ticking her up instead of down once the table looks over and says, "Hang on, you can ult her next turn?"

Many a player has tried to fly a Gates deck under the radar as a budget five-color deck, and I personally have seen it work at more than a few tables. That said, the in-vogue version is getting a bit more aggressive by running Golos, Tireless Pilgrim as its commander, which is probably a bit more honest as well. The fact that our most recent trip back to Ravnica gave this strategy a lot more tools to both grab and use their Gates for more than just winning the game by hoping no one looks at your stack of lands is probably helping out quite a bit, too.

Honorable Mentions

I stated earlier that I thought there were a lot more fair options when it came to alternate win conditions than unfair ones. As we can see from above, however, the issue is that there are a lot of players that prefer the unfair options that don't wait around to win or give the table a chance to respond.

With that in mind, here is the rest of the list of cards that say "You win the game" or "player/opponent loses the game" on them. You'll note that almost every single one of them has rather extreme hoops to jump through to win the game outright, or at the very least waits until your upkeep to trigger.

And there you have it. Out of a full list of thirty-four alternate win conditions, there are a total of four which let you win the game without a chance for others to either see it coming from a mile away or have a full round of the table to react, two of which are pretty much the same card.

Hopefully seeing all of the options in a row gives us a bit of perspective when discussing these cards going forward, but if not, then feel free to blast me in the comments about your local "that guy".

What Do You Think?

Now that I've gotten on and off of my soapbox when it comes to a topic I hold near and dear, what do you think? Do you like alternate win conditions, see them as a sick outlet for degenerates, or have a more middling opinion?


Finally, what's your favorite "You Win the Game" card? Do you like daring the table to do something about your impending Approach of the Second Sun, or do you prefer jumping through all the hoops necessary to get a Phage the Untouchable win? Let us know in the comments, and we'll see you at the alternate tables in the back.

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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