Variety Killed the Commander Star

Posted in Top Decks on December 5, 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.

"Variety is the spice of life."

Cultural Exchange | Art by Daren Bader

It's one of those ephemeral bits of wisdom that crystallizes as truth to each of us in our own time, and takes on a life of its own. I like kitschy phrases like that: Its broad enough that it can apply to almost any purpose.

A few weeks ago I asked you to consider the opposite of staple cards for Commander. Staples, as you may already know, are those ubiquitous cards of power that are all-too common in Commander decks.

Solemn Simulacrum
Sol Ring
Gilded Lotus
Temple of the False God

The opposite of staples can be best described as "one-hit wonders"—those cards that were a prominent, awesome feature in one deck that just didn't find a fit in any other. One-hit wonders aren't necessarily weaker cards than staples, they just serve a specific role or purpose that doesn't fit anywhere else.

And believe me, when they rock: They rock.

We Like To Party

There seemed to be two themes to the cards you shared as one-hit wonders. The first and most popular theme was cards that interact well with your commander. And, as we covered recently, many of you keep building many decks: There was no shortage of options shared.

The first cards that came to mind for this question were, well... a whole lot of cards in my Horobi, Death's Wail deck, but none more so than Touch of Darkness. The card is generally awful, with virtually no use outside of Horobi, but in that deck it's a one-mana instant-speed Plague Wind.

Horobi, Death's Wail
Touch of Darkness

A lot of cards in my Zedruu the Greathearted deck apply as well, but most especially Paradox Haze. Two upkeeps for Zedruu to draw me extra cards and gain me extra life, as well as being prime fodder for giving away. What's not to love?

Lastly, in my Talrand, Sky Summoner deck, I run Cast Through Time. It's expensive and not that impressive generally, but when it's going in Talrand it's pretty fantastic. In the same deck, I also play Spellweaver Volute, one of the most interesting cards ever made and also has good uses in a deck primarily composed of instants.

I get very amused by creating situations where the most terrifying cards on the board are also cards that would otherwise never even see the light of day, so I guess the ongoing theme here is basically awful jank cards that I make good through great synergy with my commanders.


Talrand, Sky Summoner
Spellweaver Volute

I have to admit that I needed to look up what Touch of Darkness did before giggling a bit and grinning at the efficiency of it with Horobi, Death's Wail on the battlefield.

Of all the cards that I've enjoyed in a specific deck that can't really work in others, the first that leaps to mind is commander Ulasht, the Hate Seed himself (Herself? Itself? Themselves?) Ulasht is the epitome of the "build around me" commander and will flounder in a deck that isn't designed to take advantage of his (her? its? their?) token-making, damage-spewing powers.

My Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts deck has a host of awesome cards that don't fit anywhere else because I don't have another deck that runs both white and black. Angel of Despair; Blood Baron of Vizkopa; Mortify; Unmake; Merciless Eviction; Obzedat's Aid; Sorin, Lord of Innistrad; and Vault of the Archangel, just to name a bunch.

Ulasht, the Hate Seed
Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts

The goal of my Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius deck is to resolve Epic Experiment as many times as I can, win or lose. This doesn't work in other decks because they simply don't run enough instants and sorceries to take advantage of it.

Finally, the champion of cards that will never appear in other decks is Cruel Deceiver from my now-extinct Iname as One deck. With its low CMC it was a popular soulshift target, and in some games it hit the board upwards of eight times. It became an in-joke in my group and sometimes I went out of my way just to reanimate it. Because it's a card with such limited use (Iname just needs as many black and green Spirits as possible), it wouldn't make the cut in any other deck anyway.


Cruel Deceiver
Iname as One

As a fan of the forgotten commons hidden in Magic sets, hearing how Cruel Deceiver made the cut for Commander action was a highlight of my day.

I have a Doran, the Siege Tower deck that has a host of cards likely to be useless elsewhere. Things like Bar the Door, Conclave's Blessing, and Slagwurm Armor turn it into a quick commander-damage deck, or Orchard Warden and Trostani, Selesnya's Voice give the lifegain-centric cards Felidar Sovereign and Test of Endurance a reason to exist. One other favorite in the deck is Vhati il-Dal to have a repeatable Turn to Frog effect, which was a very nice find.


Doran, the Siege Tower
Vhati il-Dal

I remember when I tinkered with Doran, the Siege Tower and Slagwurm Armor for a Commander deck. I never did figure out how to make it all work but I'm glad to hear I was on the right track!

One card that I have in my Hazezon Tamar deck that would be really ineffective anywhere else is Knight of New Alara. In my other decks, he would be able to do next to nothing, but here he is able to give my Sand army +3/+3, and also serves as a bonus Anthem for a few of my other creatures. Another is Asmira, Holy Avenger. She would be a decent 2/3 for four flier that occasionally gets a bit bigger, but in this deck she survives the damage sweepers that my friends tend to use, and becomes enormous in the wake of all of my Sand being melted. Thanks for your time.


Hazezon Tamar
Knight of New Alara

Another admission: I had to look up the current rules text for Hazezon Tamar to understand why Knight of New Alara was so bonkers with him. I was surprised and impressed.

The card that I've most enjoyed in one deck, that has never really found a home in any of my other decks (I have about 110 Commander decks) is Hunting Moa in my All-Creatures Animar, Soul of Elements deck. Aside from lands to cast Animar ASAP, the Moa is probably my favorite card to see in an opening hand.

Hunting Moa
Animar, Soul of Elements

In most decks in any format, two +1/+1 counters spread out over two turns for three mana (or six if you want to keep the Moa) isn't very strong, but in Animar, when it's suddenly three counters if the commander is in play, it can lead to absolutely explosive turns.

The only other deck I'm considering adding it to now is a Marath, Will of the Wild deck that I'm building, and it only sneaks into that deck because it's also creature type Beast.


Hunting Moa is a creature that always made me scratch my head but wanted me to find its place in the Magic world. Now I know it's next to Animar, Soul of Elements.

This two-card combo my friend plays with Oloro, Ageless Ascetic is maybe the most elegant I've ever seen. Pristine Talisman + Oloro is just crazy cool. One of my favorite two-card combos.


Pristine Talisman
Oloro, Ageless Ascetic

Tap Talisman to add to your mana pool and gain 1 life; use to pay for Oloro, Ageless Ascetic's triggered ability. Why did I not see this before? (This is awesome, by the way.)

If You Could Only See

Combos with commanders isn't limited to the obscure side of Gatherer. Plenty of us find cards popular and not just to add to the bag of tricks our commanders can pull. There's a certain cachet of players who enjoy taking things to the next level and finding use for cards that appear otherwise unusable: Johnny players.

The other popular way to point out our darling cards of Commander was those that fit into a deck built just for it. Finding a place for wild choices seems easy in a 100-card format, but making it all work is much harder than it seems.

A card that I've found to be a strangely perfect fit for one Commander deck I own and absolutely no other is Firemind's Foresight. It can be found in my Cromat-commanded Charm deck, where I essentially run twenty or so various Charms and many other multiple-option cards that allow me to say "WAIT! I have an answer to that!" while doing various tricks to get Cromat to beat them in the face for 21.

Firemind's Foresight

All Charms ever printed are one-, two-, or three-mana instants, which is exactly the type line Firemind's Foresight says to search for. Outside of this exact deck, I can't picture it ever being useful to the point of actually putting it in a deck over anything else, but here it works! It paints less of a target on my head than Conflux, too. And for lord knows what reason, Firemind's Foresight is an instant, which allows it to potentially grab a bunch of stuff at the end of an opponent's turn and start my turn with a hand full of potential death. A well-timed Piracy Charm + Might of the Nephilim combo on Cromat can potentially end someone very quickly.

I like the card, it's very much a Commander-format centric piece for very, very specific decks.


Piracy Charm
Might of the Nephilim

I must say that Breeze's style is pretty cool. Charming even. Having answers for everything tutored up by a seven-mana instant isn't what I'd expect to see but it makes total sense here.

The card I enjoy most in a specific Commander deck is Eon Hub. When running a Karona, False God deck, the upkeep is a scary place where other players get their dirty mitts on your lovely commander. Eon Hub is a cure to that particular problem! The thing is, there are so many cards that dislike the upkeep, cards like Glacial Chasm, Mystic Remora, Binding Grasp, Elephant Grass, Demonic Hordes, Royal Decree, and many more, so that is the theme of the deck, Anti-Upkeep.

Eon Hub
Karona, False God

The deck can do some silly things when Eon Hub is on the battlefield. Suddenly Arcane Denial and Ertai's Meddling become better than Counterspell; Naked Singularity + Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth plays havoc with people's mana bases (including mine), but that doesn't matter if you have Sacred Mesa out and are making lots of Pegasi! One of the best cards in the deck is Soul Echo, if I have that card on the battlefield the only way you are killing me is mill or a non-life-based combo. I have won at -65 life while playing this deck by just naturally milling out someone because that player couldn't find an answer. The deck has some cards I should probably cut but am playing just because it fits the theme really well, cards like Grinning Demon. However, it certainly plays some very strong spells and has several ways to put soft locks on the board. I took the only hard lock (involving Stasis) out because it wasn't fun for me or my opponents. All this madness is made possible by one little card from Fifth Dawn, Eon Hub.


Ertai's Meddling
Sacred Mesa

The possibilities with Eon Hub are pretty diverse when you get down to it, and Archie's list and choice of commander tie it together nicely.

Without a doubt, the card that I have had the most difficulty including in any deck other than the original deck I purchased it for is the Odyssey rare, Earnest Fellowship.

The two-mana enchantment does some corner-case duty in Commander, to be sure; it turns off Voltron strategies pretty handily. Since every card in your deck has to be in your commander's color identity, it makes targeting your boss nearly impossible. (Take that Uril, the Miststalker!)

But Earnest Fellowship really gets to shine when you bring it into play under the command of Eight-and-a-Half-Tails.

Earnest Fellowship

With the Fellowship in play, Tails's second ability becomes a sort of super Rebuff the Wicked. It also allows you to skirt the "you control" clause in Tails's first ability, letting you "un-equip" your opponent's creatures.

Major downsides of the Fellowship include the inability to target your own creatures (that's why it's called a build-around, right?) and difficulty defending against more aggressive white decks; additionally, without Tails in play and mana up it can be hard to keep the Fellowship around.


My friend Uriah, behind the CMDR Decks video series, showed me the power of Eight-and-a-Half-Tails at Worlds 2011. Earnest Fellowship is giving me flashback nightmares of that powerful deck.

I'm a big fan of the "Right Card, Right Deck" strategy. Powering up under-represented cards are a big part of my deck-building strategies I try to teach on my own blog and in my own playgroup.

Early this year I helped a friend of mine design a Lu Bu, Master-at-Arms deck for a rogue strategy we dubbed "Trick Voltron." Because horsemanship and haste comes at a decent mana cost, spells that can be played for free, like Blazing Shoal and Downhill Charge, are particularly powerful when combined with the bloodrush creatures and double strike effects like Assault Strobe.

Downhill Charge
Blazing Shoal

Currently, my Yeva, Nature's Herald deck has a few combat tricks that come in creature form. Nightshade Peddler and Vigor are great creatures to flash in on attack to force trades and change combat. Defensively, Timbermare turns into a Fog effect that helps to generate tempo and ensure that damage will get through, while Wirewood Symbiote can be flashed in to protect Yeva. The flash ability Yeva provides also powers up the never-seen Veilstone Amulet, which has been really handy as well.

Thanks for letting me share!


Yeva, Nature's Herald
Veilstone Amulet

I've also toyed with the idea of a Yeva, Nature's Herald Commander deck, and the idea of using her as the lynchpin to create shenanigans of all sorts sounds exactly what I'd want to do.

You Get What You Give

Every week, you continue to impress me with how many ideas you have to share about Commander. Weeks like this one, where I stay out of the way and let plural-you do the talking, are where how much everyone else loves Commander really shows. Thanks for always sending in the best!

Join us next week as I wrap up the year with a guide on getting ahead when you're already behind. See you then!

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