What Are Lieutenants in Magic?
A rare set of creature cards, lieutenants activate powerful effects— if (and only if) you control your commander. Naturally, to even have a leader, you'll need to be playing EDH format, meaning lieutenants are only really helpful in that mode. Luckily, it's my favorite format due to its diversified matches (once one card copy per deck), and your second-in-commands make up for their situational abilities with awesome bonuses that often assist your entire army.
As of this writing, there are exactly 10 lieutenants to choose from, two from each color. But with their varied abilities, which marshals reign supreme?
These are the 10 strongest lieutenants to support your commanders in Magic: The Gathering!
10. Demon of Wailing Agonies
CMC (Converted Mana Cost): 5
For five mana, 4/4 offers a solid unit, and this tortured demon also bears flying, letting him soar over ground-based blockers. However, like all assistants, Wailing Agonies really shines while you control your commander, at which point it receives an extra +2/+2 and makes your opponent sacrifice a creature whenever it inflicts combat damage to them.
Forced sacrifices are brutal (circumventing protection and indestructible), but you need to land the damage to activate it. Still, if you can render Agonies unblockable with other effects, you'll have a powerful combo. Use your demon alongside indestructible commanders (like the legendary "Athreos, God of Passage") or partner commanders, as it's easier to maintain them on the field and keep your bonuses active.
9. Loyal Subordinate
Loyal Subordinate needs just three mana to cast but only arrives as risky 3/1. That said, its menace keyword lets it only be blocked by two or more defenders and the zombie subtype blends with black's biggest tribe.
Subordinate applies a life-sap alongside your commander: depleting three life from opponents at the start of your combat steps. That's a continuous drain, and since you'll likely field Subordinate (and your commander) in your turn's first main phase, you should be able to activate the trait almost immediately (unlike most upkeep effects). A handy ability, though I wish you gained the life Subordinate takes.
8. Angelic Field Marshal
A bit more costly than Subordinate, but not much as Wailing Agonies, Field Marshal needs four mana but joins the fray with a respectable 3/3 and flying. As long as you control your commander, this angel receives +2/+2 (for a fierce 5/5), and she'll grant all of your creatures vigilance!
Vigilance lets your warriors attack without needing to tap, letting them block or use their tap effects, a handy boon that benefits your entire squad. Several of the best white angels, like "Avacyn, Angel of Hope," can also shield your units (and your commander) with indestructible, and angels are slowly gaining more tribal support.
7. Loyal Apprentice
She may be the weakest of today's champions at only 2/1, but Loyal Apprentice is also the cheapest, needing only two mana. She also arrives with haste, letting her avoid summoning sickness and attack immediately, which can slip in an early two damage.
More than that, at the start of your combat phases where you control your commander, Apprentice crafts a colorless 1/1 thopter artifact creature token. Although weak, they come with flying and gain haste for immediate attacks. Additionally, their thopter and artifact statuses strengthen the effects of certain type-dependent cards, so don't overlook these handy machines when building artifact decks.
6. Tyrant's Familiar
While it's the most mana-taxing of today's allies, Tyrant's Familiar compensates with great latent powers. Although 5/5 is only decent for its price, this dragon arrives with both flying and haste, acting immediately and soaring past land units. Even better, while you control your commander, Familiar gets +2/+2 and deals seven damage to an opposing unit whenever it attacks!
Seven damage will wipe out nearly anything in one shot, granting you an auto-kill each turn in addition to Familiar's potential 7/7. Clever players will work around Familiar's high cost by gimmicking him to the field with cards like "Kaalia of the Vast", appearing sooner expected.
5. Stormsurge Kraken
This aquatic beast demands five mana but helpfully arrives with 5/5 plus hexproof, preventing your opponent from targeting Kraken with any effects. Beyond that, with your commander out, Kraken gains an additional +2/+2, becoming a daunting 7/7, and lets you draw two cards whenever he becomes blocked.
Overall, Kraken's a strong and resistant ally whose effectiveness is less dependent on his secondary abilities than most lieutenants. Try getting trample onto him to ensure his bulky blows aren't easily guarded.
4. Thunderfoot Baloth
As the second-most expensive card today, Thunderfoot Baloth can still hit the field early thanks to green's impressive mana ramp, or you could avoid his cost with spells like "Defense of the Heart." Regardless of your casting method, Baloth enters as a 5/5 with trample.
However, as long as you control your commander, both Baloth and your other units gain +2/+2! Not only that, Baloth offers your units trample, ensuring everyone can pierce excess damage through blockers.
3. Loyal Guardian
Only one of Guardian's mana actually needs to be green, making him an easy fit in multicolor decks. This staunch rhino bears a respectable 4/4 and trample by default.
Additionally, at the start of battle phases with your leader fielded, Guardian places a +1/+1 counter on all creatures you control! Counting himself and your commander, this means you should be getting at least two every turn, a sizable bonus that helpfully endures even if Guardian is later killed. Remember, you can activate lieutenant abilities by controlling either of two partner commanders (although they don't double if you control both).
2. Loyal Drake
While 2/2 isn't exceptional for a three-cost unit, Drake also bears flying and a flexible cost. Like many lieutenants, his bonus activates at the start of your combat phases, potentially triggering right after a main phase entrance.
At the start of your combat while you control your commander, Drake simply draws you a card. Over the course of the game, this grants incredible card advantage, particularly coveted in EDH. A staple in my own decks, Drake won't break the bank, costing less than a single dollar!
1. Loyal Unicorn
For a moderate cost, this mystical creature enters as a solid 3/4 with vigilance. However, as long as you control your commander, Unicorn bestows two spectacular effects at the start of your combat: he gives vigilance and renders your entire team (including himself) immune to combat damage for the rest of the turn!
With vigilance and protection in combat, you're free to swing with everything you've got; not only will no one tap, but they'll also be completely barricaded against enemy blockers.
How to Use Lieutenants
We've seen the awesome powers these second-in-commands will grant your armies; remember to use defensive measures like "Mother of Runes" to shield your commander from harm, as your lieutenants will lag until you recast them. The gods pair well due to their indestructible nature, partner commanders give two chances for maintaining the bonuses, and simple low-cost generals like "Sram, Senior Edificer" can be quickly recast if defeated.
Useful in any EDH theme, lieutenants grant field-wide bonuses to bolster your battalion.
But for now, as we eagerly await Wizards of the Coast's next expansion of commander-supporting creatures, vote for your favorite card, and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!
© 2018 Jeremy Gill