Happy Commanderversary!

Posted in Top Decks on August 8, 2013

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

This week is 20th Anniversary Week, a chance to look back and celebrate the past two decades of Magic. From everything that was going to destroy the game to the triumphant return of the writers of yesteryear , this week is full of surprises and history within twenty years of gaming.

It's a shame Commander has only been around for half of that, more or less.

If you're reading this column, the odds are good you probably play Commander, or are at least interested in playing. Since the goal is to share the thoughts and stories of the community each week, it took some time to find a way to blend both history and social commentary. Once I saw it, though, it was clear. Commander, just like Legacy and Vintage, can pull from cards across all of Magic. By gathering your votes, and thoughts, around the greatest Commander cards of all time, we'd hit both nails on the head.

So it you're ready for a walk through the best cards, as determined by your peers, keep going.

Twenty-One for Twenty

We'll go through the top-voted cards, and we'll go in descending order—that is, we're starting with the most popular and going down from there. The first should be no surprise.

1. Sol Ring

Sol Ring

Sol Ring was included in every version of 2011's Magic: The Gathering Commander decks. It was also among the elite cards first printed for the game, and the first to be restricted or banned. Why?

  • Sol Ring is indiscriminately powerful ramp. (Adam)
  • It's no secret to anyone that Sol Ring goes in every Commander deck. (William)
  • Sol Ring, because any deck can benefit from early mana. (Justin)
  • Sol Ring is the perfect first-turn play. (Malcolm)
  • Sol Ring [is] the best mana in the format. (Sean)

Getting two mana just by spending one is a great deal. Getting it turn after turn is just gravy. It's no wonder it's in just about every deck you can imagine.

2. Command Tower

Command Tower

Command Tower was also a part of every deck in the first Magic: The Gathering Commander run. However, it's also a card that cannot be used in any other format. As it turns out, designing the perfect mana-fixing land makes it a card everyone loves to use.

  • Command Tower is a dual-land for any deck. (Adam)
  • Command Tower... fix[es] your mana for your Commander and comes into play untapped. (Zane)
  • Command Tower is strictly better than mana-producing land. (Justin)
  • Great mana fixing. (Ned)

If things like the new Slivers in Magic 2014 interest you, Command Tower will be the place you'll start when building a five-color deck.

3. Sensei's Divining Top

Sensei's Divining Top

The Top is something that's both loved and hated. The ability to draw a card while saving itself from destruction, repeatedly massage the next card you draw, and come down early enough to make a big difference is a powerful triumvirate.

  • Any deck can benefit from Top card selection. (Malcolm)
  • Top has just saved me so many times and helps you get the land you need. (Joost).
  • Top just makes every deck more consistent. Read: Better. (Marshal)

As good as Sensei's Divining Top is for decks, it's also terrible for multiplayer. Slowing the game down to check and change the top cards of a library can be frustrating. With great power comes great responsibility.

4–5 (Tie). Lightning Greaves and Solemn Simulacrum

There was a tie at 4th between two cards from Mirrodin, and they both do very different things.

Lightning Greaves is the Equipment you hate to see an opponent using but still love to put into decks anyway.

  • Greaves goes in any deck that plays creatures that it wants to protect or give haste to. (William)
  • Free haste courtesy of the Greaves turns things around so quickly and allows for lots of cool surprise plays. (Andrew)
  • Greaves—knowing that someone's Kaalia or Mimeoplasm is going to whack in straight away when it hits the board. (Jessica)
  • Greaves (and its kin) stop creatures from dying. Haste is nice too. (Andrew)
  • Greaves is more than defensive. Having ": Haste" is mighty in Commander. (GolgariGlenRoss)

If Lightning Greaves is the all-around utility Equipment for getting offensive, what is Solemn Simulacrum doing in everyone's decks?

  • Solemn Simulacrum lets you get the mana you need in any deck. (Paul)
  • Vaaaaaaaaaaalue. (Ned)
  • Solemn Simulacrum is amazing, because mana fixing and cycling, for any deck! (Tarkan)

Searching up a basic land you need, then drawing a card when it dies, is as smooth as smoothing gets. While it's unimpressive as a creature for attacking and blocking, you're rarely disappointed to see it.

6–8 (Tie). Darksteel Ingot, Gilded Lotus, and Rite of Replication

As we descend the list it quickly becomes clear that there are so many cards we love for Commander that any list of top cards is going to be forced. Ultimately, the overlap across our Top 5 choices will get smaller and smaller as we list them out. Sol Ring and Command Tower are exceptions, not the rule.

So what do these three cards do for decks?

Darksteel Ingot

  • Ingot is one of the only three cards I can think of caring to have more than a four-of, because just about every deck wants one. (Aric)
  • Fits into every Commander deck and provides a basic level of ramp, mana fix, and utility. (Reece)

Gilded Lotus

  • When Gilded Lotus drops on turn four or five there's usually a feeling in my group that we know the next turn that chap's going to drop is something huge, and the excitement's palpable. (Jessica)

Rite of Replication

Like Sol Ring and Solemn Simulacrum, getting extra mana in the color(s) you want is a boon for most Commander decks. Using that extra mana to make five copies of a creature is an obvious way to power further ahead. It's also wicked good fun.

9–21. A Slew of Other Cards

Remember how I said our picks get more divergent as we continue? Commander is so varied, with experiences and desired so disparate, that it's impossible to find a deep consensus on the top cards. Thirteen tied things up from 9th down through the 21st card.

And that's a very good thing.

Some of you expressed concern that Command Tower focuses on "the best" cards in terms of absolutes, that there concrete and optimal cards that can be ranked in the "correct" order. The fact is, however, that the best cards are always those you enjoy the most. The "greatest cards in Magic's history for Commander" are those you want to throw into a deck every single time. Sometimes, it's also a generally power or broken card—see Sol Ring, et al.—but just as often it's basic utility—Command Tower, Darksteel Ingot—or an over-the-top spell—Rite of Replication.

The next thirteen cards are presented in alphabetical order (it's how it sorted when I tallied your cards) but each offers something unique, bold, powerful, useful, or just plain fun.

Academy Rector

  • Any tutor that actually puts something on the field is awesome, and the Rector is one of the best. (Wes)

Aura Shards

  • I love reusable forms of removal like Shards. (Wes)

Austere Command (The entire Command cycle from Lorwyn was mentioned too.)

Basic Lands

  • Basic Lands, for when "enters the battlefield tapped" just slows you down too much. (Justin)

Blood Moon

  • Blood Moon turns off overpowered land abilities, while still leaving them on the field so opponents can still cast spells, and it doesn't feel like a complete hosing. (Wes)

Chromatic Lantern

Coalition Relic

  • The Relic gets you to six mana by turn four and fixes better than any other artifact. (Wes)

Elder Dragons (Nicol Bolas and friends.)

  • Elder Dragons, because without them we wouldn't have this format. (Joost)

Eternal Witness

  • If you play green, you play Eternal Witness. Period. (JR)
  • Eternal Witness. This card has saved me from countless defeats, fixed countless misplays, and enabled me to combo off hundreds, if not thousands, of times. (Hollis)

Fetch Lands

  • Fetch lands fix mana, shuffle, and thin lands. I'd rather fetch a dual land than simply draw one. (Malcolm)

Mimic Vat

  • Mimic Vat in particular is a Swiss Army knife that does everything from subtle graveyard hate to reusing various triggers. (Taz)


  • No other card offers as much card advantage as Necropotence. Even if it makes you a target, you still draw more cards than the whole table. (Malcolm)
  • Necropotence is the best draw card ever. (Max)

Strionic Resonator

The Voices Have Spoken

From Limited Edition Alpha though Magic 2014 , twenty years of Magic is wrapped up in that list. In an interesting tidbit, ninety-nine different cards and cycles were suggested. Compare that to a list you'd generate for Vintage or Legacy, the other deep-card-pool formats in the game, and it's staggeringly large for a "best of" breakdown.

Ninety-nine is also a nice, poetic number for a Commander column. You're accidentally more clever than I would have been alone.

Next week, we'll look over how you make a monocolored Commander deck work well. It's an interesting challenge, but given the pile of responses you sent in I'm confident it's a guide you'll want to keep handy. This week's prompt is a follow-up on the excitement over the suite of Ravnican guild Commander decklists we looked at a few weeks ago. What is the Commander deck you've played the most, and why?

  • You must include a decklist (It's ideally a deck you're still playing in some form today.)
  • Feedback via email
  • 200 word limit to describe the deck (Bigger than normal—give some details!)
  • Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column)

Just a reminder that it's important for your decklist to be formatted like so:

11 Island
7 Swamp
1 Wydwen, the Biting Gale
1 Scion of Oona

That's single spaced, with the number of the card in the deck leading each line and without any subsections, header, or words that aren't card names. If you have your deck on Magic Online you can easily export it in the right formatting.

With a little extra room to explain your deck, I'm anticipating some clever and fun choices to get the limelight they deserve. See you next week!

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