Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
How to Play Commander Format in Magic
With its own deck-building limitations and ban list, standard players may need time to adapt to commander/EDH's rules, but it's my preferred game mode. Here, you start at a whopping 40 life and your deck contains a total of 100 cards, with only one copy of each (other than basic lands) allowed, greatly diversifying matches. You must include cards with colors matching that of your commander, a legendary creature available to you throughout the match. For example, a red and black leader allows red, black, red/black, and colorless cards (which fit in everything), but nothing else.
Since your commander is available to you throughout the duel, you're essentially guaranteed a chance to cast them, and you'll want to deck-build to support their abilities. Even if they're removed from the field, you can place them back in the command zone and recast them, although it'll cost two more mana each you do this. You can see how crucial your commander is in EDH format, but with hundreds of legendary units to pick from, which are worth your time? These are ten of the strongest commanders in EDH format of Magic: The Gathering!
10. Meren of Clan Nel Toth
CMC (Converted Mana Cost): 4
Colors: Green, Black
Often, I favor two or three color builds because they have a larger card pool than monocolor decks but minimize the risk of drawing the wrong land types, as can happen with four or five colors. Meren of Clan Nel Toth costs a fair chunk of four mana, but she enters as a decent 3/4 (with three power and four toughness), helpfully bearing just enough vitality to survive the common red instant-removal "Lightning Bolt."
Additionally, whenever a creature you control dies, you'll gain an experience counter, which strengthens Meren's next effect. Every time your turn ends, you target a creature in your graveyard and revive it to the battlefield if its CMC is less than or equal to your number of experience counters! This awesome rejuvenation consistently fills your field, and best of all, you can still target monsters with a higher CMC than your experience counters; in these cases, the card will still return to your hand. While this doesn't field the monster, it lets you later recast the spell, ensuring Meren's effect never goes to waste.
9. Jhoira of the Ghitu
Colors: Blue, Red
Jhoira helpfully utilizes blue (often considered the best EDH color) while also accessing red spells. She's not particularly strong, standing at just 2/2, but her human and wizard types qualify her for a variety of sweet support effects. More than that, by spending two mana of any color, Jhoira can suspend a card from your hand with four time counters. One is removed at each of your upkeep steps (the start of your turn), and after all are gone, you cast the spell for free!
That's right, Jhoira lets you play any card of any type, no matter how expensive, in four turns. As icing on the cake, her ability doesn't require her to tap, so you can suspend multiple cards at once if you have the mana, and it can be activated at instant speed on either player's turn. In addition to an assortment of colossal red, blue, and colorless units (be sure to toss in some of the best eldrazi), you'll definitely want Jhoira's Timebug, a low-cost creature who can tap every turn to remove a time counter, quickening the arrival of your suspended threats.
8. Vial Smasher the Fierce/Kraum, Ludevic’s Opus
Colors: Blue, Red, Black
Vial and Kraum bear the partner trait, which lets you have two commanders if each possesses the quality (your main deck will now only have 98 cards). You can also use any of their colors when deck-building. This pairing remains a personal favorite since it not only supports the ever-useful blue with two other factions, but offers different creatures to cast depending on your mana production For three resources, you can afford Vial, whose ruthless ability hits a random opponent for damage equal to the CMC of the first spell you cast each turn (it won't work with its own casting, however).
Kraum costs five mana, but is a stronger 4/4 fighter and bears flying to soar over land-based blockers as well as haste to avoid summoning sickness and act immediately. It also lets you draw a card whenever an opponent casts their second spell in a single turn, punishing them by increasing your hand. A competitive partnership, but exercise caution when playing 1v1 or duel commander matches, where Vial Smasher has since been banned. Still, feel free to abuse them in multiplayer EDH arenas!
7. Azusa, Lost but Seeking
Green's also a strong contender in EDH, as its mana-ramping lets you achieve high-cost spells while your opponents are lagging behind with their mid-game cards. Remember, just like in standard format, commander players may only play a single land from their hand each turn, limiting their resource generation speed.
Azua bends these rules by letting you play not one but two extra lands each turn, potentially setting a total of three! That's an awesome ramp rivaling similar commander "Omnath, Locus of Mana," but you'll often place all the lands in your hand faster than you can draw cards. To help alleviate this and continue employing Azusa's incredible effect, use creatures like "Courser of Kruphix" and "Oracle of Mul Daya" to access the top card of your deck, letting you place lands without killing your hand. Simply draw engines will also give you more lands to place, rapidly seizing the advantage.
6. Sram, Senior Edificer
I generally find white a better support color than standalone faction in EDH, but even I'll admit this legendary Dwarf offers a formidable boon. Costing just two mana, he's an easy early-game option, and he bears a respectable 2/2 for his price. More than that, Sram draws you a card whenever you cast an aura, equipment, or vehicle spell, granting hand advantage (generally a blue specialty) even to the white camp.
You've got several awesome white auras to select from, but when opting for the equipment route, be sure to include other artifact-supporting units like "Stoneforge Mystic" and "Danitha Capashen, Paragon" in your team. Sram's also nice because he's easy to build a deck around but not absolutely crucial to its success; even if he later falls, you're still very much in the game.
5. Maelstrom Wanderer
Colors: Green, Blue, Red
The most expensive of today's units, Malestrom Wanderer demands eight of your mana. Now, green offers several ways to gimmick creatures onto the field for free (like with "Defense of the Heart" and "Norwood Priestess"), but doing this will miss out on Maelstrom's cascade abilities, so it's best to just mana ramp like crazy with green resource generators such as "Bloom Tender" and "Frontier Siege".
To make up for its heavy cost, Maelstrom bears several perks. It dominates in combat with its 7/5 power and toughness, and it grants all creatures you control (including itself) haste, letting them tap or attack the turn they arrive. Even better, casting Maelstrom provides two cascades, each letting you search your library until you find a nonland card that costs less than Maelstrom, casting them for free! Yep, two random searches and two free spells upon entrance. Add in the facts that Maelstrom possesses my preferred number of colors for EDH (three) as well as my two favorite hues (green and blue), and it's long been a staple in my commander arsenal.
4. Gaddock Teeg
Colors: Green, White
Teeg here works well as either a supporter to the fierce green/white Captain Sisay or as his own general. At just two mana, he's an easy play, and he'll arrive with a respectable 2/2. Better yet, the kithkin prevents noncreature spells with a CMC of 4 or more as well as noncreature spells with X (variable mana costs) from being played!
Of course, these nets restrict you as well, but since you'll have advanced knowledge of his traits, simply construct a creature-focused deck—easy considering that's what green and white specialize in. Gaddock ensnares your foes with a huge block that works particularly well against annoying blue counters and black field-wipes, both commonly seen in EDH. Be sure to protect Gaddock using defensive cards like "Mother of Runes" or "Stave Off" to keep his prison intact and your adversary trapped.
3. Athreos, God of Passage
Colors: White, Black
With several super-rare deities offering incredible powers, Athreos nonetheless manages to rank as one of Magic's strongest god cards. He only costs three mana, a steal for his fierce 5/4, and he's got indestructible, protecting against the most common type of removal! That said, Athreos doesn't count as a creature until your combined devotion to black and white hits at least seven, meaning you'll need a total of seven white and/or black mana symbols in permanents you control.
Thankfully, the two in Athreos himself count towards this quota, and whether he's a creature or still an enchantment, Athreos offers a useful passive ability: whenever a creature you control dies, you return it to your hand unless a target opponent pays three life. It's lose-lose for them, either sapping health or refilling your hand. The trait helpfully triggers even if you initiated your unit's demise, letting you form awesome combos with self-sacrificing creatures like "Burnished Hart" and "Merciless Executioner."
2. Jodah, Archmage Eternal
Colors: Green, Blue, Red, White, Black
You might be wondering why the Archmage Eternal has all five colors when you only need three to cast him. Remember that mana symbols in a card's text as well as its cost count towards its color identity, meaning Archmage Eternal decks can and should use all five colors.
You'll only need blue, red, and white (God bless America) to actually field Eternal, but to trigger his ultimate ability, you'll definitely want to have lands of all types. Eternal's effect simply lets you pay one mana of each color (for a total of five) to substitute for a spell's normal mana cost. That's right, you can now play high-cost eldrazi or the ultimate sorceries for just a fraction of their initial cost. It's as simple as that; Eternal's five colors grant faster access to any lumbering card your heart desires, and I vastly prefer him over other all-color legendaries like Progenitus (who still fits well in an Eternal deck, though).
1. Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow
Colors: Blue, Black
1/3 isn't particularly impressive for a three cost creature, but with Yuriko's command ninjutsu ability, for just two mana you can place her onto the field tapped and swinging by returning an unblocked attacker to your hand! This not only lowers her initial cost, it lets you easily recast her without the added mana penalty. Additionally, whenever a ninja you control deals combat damage, you draw and reveal a card, and your opponent loses life equal to its CMC. This adds to your hand, potentially lowers their life points, and should trigger with Yuri's command ninjutsu since there won't be any blockers!
Remember this works with your other ninja too, and that several aura spells can render your army unblockable. I've used Yuriko to great effect in my blue/black decks, combining blue's counters with black's debuffs, and she's surprisingly affordable for budget players. Her price of around $15 is much cheaper than it sounds, avoiding the dozens of dollars you'll generally spend on a competitive commander, and I recommend snagging Yuri before her rarity (and value) increase.
Future of Commander
We've examined several of the game's best warriors, but dozens of other formidable leaders remain for us to tackle. Remember that some planeswalkers can also serve as your commander (they'll indicate this with special text), further increasing your EDH options. Either way, experiment to see which strategies and number of colors you prefer to use. More shades offers more cards, but can make them harder to play, so find a balance that matches your needs.
Of course, don't forget to check out our original countdown of the best commanders here to learn more awesome EDH deck builder ideas. But for now, as we eagerly await Wizards of the Coast's next expansion of awesome Magic cards, vote for your favorite commander, and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!
© 2018 Jeremy Gill