Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
The Best Magic Cards in Commander
Wizards of the Coast has delighted us gamers (that's a nice way of saying nerds) for years with arguably the best trading card game ever—Magic: The Gathering. Always adapting without leaving old cards behind, the game brilliantly tasks players to craft the perfect deck using a customized combination of the five mana colors, and—from standard to commander—several formats exist to ensure there's something for everyone.
Magic is also much easier to play in multiplayer than Yu-Gi-Oh or Pokémon and has several thousand cards for players to choose. With that massive array of options, which cards reign supreme? Factoring in mana costs, usage, power, and more (don't worry, plenty of unrestricted cards stand beside the banned ones), here are the top 50 cards in the Magic TCG!
50. Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
CMC (Converted Mana Cost): 7
Planeswalker Nicol Bolas requires a fair chunk of mana plus three specific colors but offers four loyalty abilities. All impress, particularly the first, which adds two loyalty and can cast an opposing card for free, and the last, which subtracts 12 loyalty to exile all opposing nonland permanents.
49. Nissa, Vastwood Seer/Nissa, Sage Animist
Nissa first begins as a low-cost creature who also searches a forest from your deck, ensuring you don't run out of lands, and her elf status usefully combos well the popular green elf family. Then, once your land total hits seven (one of green's specialties), she turns into an impressive planeswalker whose +1 loyalty ability either adds to your hand or gives an extra land.
48. Thassa, God of the Sea
The god cards always impress, especially blue's Thassa. Although it doesn't count as a creature until your blue devotion hits five (the number of blue symbols you have in the costs of permanents you control), Thassa wields an impressive 5/5, is indestructible, scries a card during your upkeep, and can spend two mana to make a creature unblockable for the turn.
47. Maze of Ith
Unlike most lands, Maze of Ith can't tap for mana, but instead taps to essentially lessen the damage of an attacker to zero, indefinitely stalling your opponent's strongest monsters and offering more time to prepare in the hectic MTG arena.
46. Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon
Skithiryx wields good battle stats, flying, and mana abilities that can give it haste or regenerate if destroyed, but its best trait is its infect, which permanently damages opposing creatures by placing -1/-1 counters instead of damage. Also, infect damage dealt to an opponent becomes poison counters, and landing ten of them nets you an automatic win regardless of your opponent's life; no other infect card offers as many benefits as the Blight Dragon.
45. Primordial Hydra
One of several superb green hydras, Primordial adjusts its power/toughness to suit your current mana production. It also automatically doubles its counters at each of your upkeeps and gains trample once it has ten, making it one of the best self-growing offensive forces in the game.
44. Purphoros, God of the Forge
Like most god cards, Purphoros is indestructible and enjoys stellar battle stats, although it isn't a creature until your red devotion hits 5. Purphoros also deals two damage to your opponents whenever a creature enters the field under your control, absolutely critical to the Krenko red goblin-swarm strategy, and since the damage doesn't target them, it's almost impossible to avoid.
43. Ral Zarek
Ral Zarek's +1 loyalty ability taps an opponent's units while untapping one of yours, a great boon in itself. However, if you manage to pull of his ultimate -7, you're nearly certain of victory—you flip five coins and take an extra turn for each heads. One extra turn is deadly enough, 2-3 are unsalvageable.
42. Frontier Siege
Frontier Siege usefully gives the choice between two abilities, and most players will opt for the "khans" trait. With it, this mana gatherer gains you two green mana at the start of each of your main phases. Note that players have two main phases in a single turn (pre and post combat), meaning Siege can grant up to four total mana every turn!
41. Kiora, Master of the Depths
Although new players often focus on a planeswalker's ultimate, the bread and butter of planeswalkers are their loyalty-adding abilities since you always have access to them. Kiora, Master of the Depths provides a great plus one that can untap both a creature and a land you control, letting you easily mana ramp to your strongest cards, and her minus two can search for a land and creature from the top of your deck.
40. Return to Dust
Return to Dust classifies as an instant but usually you'll want to cast it like a sorcery (meaning only on your turn in a main phase) because you'll get to exile two artifacts/enchantments rather than one. Not only does this remove two units, it banishes them, bypassing indestructible equipment like the pesky Darksteel series and preventing discard pile retrieval.
39. Sheoldred, Whispering One
When a black deck can successfully produce seven mana, it's rewarded with the praetor Sheoldred, who harnesses 6/6 stats and swampwalk, making her unblockable when an opponent controls a swamp. Then consider her truly brutal effect: at the beginning of your upkeep, you return a creature from your graveyard to the field; at the beginning of your opponent's, they must sacrifice a creature.
38. Narset Transcendent
Entering with a massive six loyalty, blue and white Narset Transcendent works best in instant/sorcery builds. She can subtract two loyalty to grant your next instant/sorcery rebound, essentially activating it twice, and her ultimate -9 prevents your opponents from casting anything other than creatures.
37. Land Tax
Tax only needs one mana, making a great first-turn play, and at the start of your upkeep, it lets you search out not one but up to three basic lands from your deck if any opponent controls more land.
Tax is particularly helpful in multiplayer battles where your chances of not going first (and thus letting opponents steal a land lead) increase. It can also fetch basic lands other than plains from your deck, useful in rainbow assortments.
36. Temporal Mastery
When you need a miracle, Temporal Mastery has you covered. If you draw it, you can immediately reveal and play it to gain an entire extra turn—for only two mana! If for some reason you wait, or can't afford the cost, it'll instead demand seven resources, but you can gimmick it as your next draw using "Mystical Tutor".
For more-traditional extra turn spells, use cards like "Time Warp" and "Capture of Jingzhou", which grants one for five mana.
35. Utvara Hellkite
A costly but powerful beast, Utvara combos with itself by creating a 6/6 dragon token whenever one of your dragons attacks—including tokens!
A must for any red deck capable of affording its mana, Utvara can soon create an infinite swarm of dragons, especially if you give them haste through other red methods to let them attack immediately. I also enjoy that it's not legendary, letting you field more than one at once, and the fact that you can often nab one for under four dollars on Amazon!
34. Tamiyo, Field Researcher
Drawing from the white, green, and blue teams, Tamiyo's first two abilities are nice, as she can +1 to let you draw when either of up to two selected creatures deals combat damage, and her -2 taps two permanents and forces them to stay tapped even at your opponent's next untap phase. However, her incredible -7 not only draws three cards but gives you an emblem that lets you permanently cast cards from your hand without paying their mana costs!
33. Baral's Expertise
For five mana, Baral's Expertise returns up to three target creatures and/or artifacts to their owner's hand. Not only does this remove three threats, it works on two types of cards. But that's not all, folks—you can then cast a card with CMC four or less from your hand for free, making Baral's Expertise essentially a free bonus to your other spell.
32. Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger
The praetors strike again. Vorinclex costs eight mana, but note that green employs several cards that can gimmick creatures into the battle for free (like Norwood Priestess). Once fielded, Vorinclex wields 7/6, trample, and two great abilities. The first essentially lets you tap lands for two mana rather than one, and the second delays opponent's lands that are tapped from untapping by one turn. This puts you at a massive mana advantage that few foes can overcome.
31. Avacyn, Angel of Hope
White employs several powerful high-cost angel creatures, the strongest of the strong being Avacyn, Angel of Hope. She demands eight mana but arrives as an 8/8 with flying and vigilance (she can attack without tapping) plus one of the best abilities in the game: all permanents you control have indestructible. This protects Avacyn herself, your other troops, planeswalkers, artifacts, and enchantments from being destroyed. If your opponent doesn't have a handy exile or return-to-hand card available, they'll soon lose to an invincible army.
30. Mystic Confluence
This instant costs a fair chunk of mana, but lets you choose three benefits, and since you can choose the same more than once, you can adapt it your current situation. Confluence can negate a spell unless its caster pays three more mana, bounce a creature back to the hand, and/or let you draw a card.
Three great effects that you can mix and match as you wish, an excellent ability reminiscent of . . .
29. Cryptic Command
A weaker but cheaper version of Confluence, Command only lets you pick two effects and you can't choose the same instance twice, but you now pick from four benefits, and many are surprisingly upgraded from Confluence. For instance, you can now simply negate a spell (without offering a chance to pay more mana and override) and your bounce works on all types of permanents, not just creatures.
Beyond that, you can also draw or tap all opposing creatures, offering a plethora of great abilities at instant speed and only moderate cost.
28. Karn Liberated
Karn's rare colorlessness means any deck has access to his awesome planeswalker powers. Though he costs seven mana, Karn can add four loyalty in a single turn, forcing a player to exile a card from their hand. He can also subtract three to exile a card on the field. These abilities work well on their own, but combo superbly with his ultimate -14, which restarts the entire duel but with the cards previously exiled by Karn under your control. Ah, always love doing that in my online matches.
When it's not forbidden, this one's a no-brainer for any blue deck. Using a single mana pop, you get to draw three cards, then place any two from your hand on top of the deck. This increases your overall hand size while allowing you to cycle out less-needed cards, and it also works great for setting up cards with the miracle ability.
26. Paradox Engine
One of the easiest ways to construct an infinite combo, colorless artifact Paradox Engine untaps all nonlands permanents you control when you cast any spell. With just a few units who can draw when tapped plus some mana-producing creatures, you have all you need for infinite mana and access to your entire library. Five mana's not such a bad price for unlimited power, eh?
Update: Paradox Engine got banned, showcasing just how potent it is.
25. Mishra's Workshop
This land adds a massive amount of three mana to your pool; however, you can only spend it on artifact spells. Still, we'll soon see how many of Magic's best commander cards are artifacts, and fielding them with Workshop on your first turn offers an enormous lead few foes can match.
24. Lightning Bolt
Bolt's a simple but effective removal. For only one mana, this red spell slashes either an opponent or opposing creature for three damage. By spending one mana, you can often defeat beasts that cost far more, or finish off your adversary when they're on the brink of defeat without having to break through blockers.
23. Jace, the Mind Sculptor
One of blue's numerous amazing planeswalkers, Jace's Mind Sculptor rendition is one of his best. Needing the resources of only four islands, he arrives with four loyalty abilities, including a zero cost one that acts just like a Brainstorm and a -1 that easily returns an opposing creature to the hand.
Powerful and versatile, I also recommend testing his "Jace, Unraveler of Secrets" form, whose ultimate ability offers an emblem that negates an opposing spell each turn.
CMC: 1 (1 to equip)
Costing little to both cast and equip to a creature, Skullclamp gives one extra power but subtracts a toughness. However, this subtraction can actually help, as when the equipped creature dies, you get to draw two cards. Thus, Skullclamp can be fitted onto units with one toughness (especially tokens) to purposefully kill them and provide unparalleled draw power. Like most artifact-equipments, it's also colorless, qualifying for any deck scheme.
21. Phyrexian Metamorph
One of Phyrexian Metamorph's mana can instead be paid for using two life, giving access to its incredible effect with just three mana. Upon entering the field, Metamorph can become a copy of any creature or artifact—including your opponent's! Just keep the legend rule in mind here to ensure you don't have to send a copied legendary card you control to the graveyard.
20. Grand Abolisher
The undisputed best anti-counter safeguard, Grand Abolisher prevents opponents from activating spells or abilities during your turn and has surprisingly decent 2/2 stats. He's absolutely essential when tackling a blue deck, but also protects against instants from any structure, and his amusing flavor text is lovably campy.
19. Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
Players fear the eldrazi cards for good reason. Most are colorless, meaning one could be lurking in any build, and though they cost incredible amounts of mana, their annihilator effect forces opponents to sacrifice when they attack.
Kozilek, Butcher of Truth especially stands out for his 12/12 power and toughness, four cards drawn upon being cast, and annihilator 4—your opponent won't last long when having to sac four cards each time he swings.
18. Oloro, Ageless Ascetic
One of Magic's best giants, Oloro can spend life to draw extra cards, but he's really renowned for his abilities as a commander. Not only does he give access to blue, black, and white (a potent EDH combination), he gains you two life per turn—even when resting in the command zone! This potent trait easily amasses enough health to activate cards like "Serra Ascendant" without worrying over other fallible life-gaining effects.
17. Snapcaster Mage
For two mana, Snapcaster Mage bears a decent 2/1 stats and synergies with the wizard faction. Better yet, he has flash, letting you cast him at instant speed, and when he enters the field, he gives an instant or sorcery from your graveyard flashback for the turn, letting you cast it into exile by repaying its mana cost.
Use Snapcaster to obtain two uses of blue aces like "Mana Drain" and "Mystical Tutor" in each game.
16. Demonic Tutor
A card that spent a surprising amount of time unrestricted before finally moving to some formats' ban lists, Demonic Tutor simply searches your deck for any card and adds it to your hand. The ability to pull any card at all for only two mana is absolutely tremendous and long remained one of black's biggest temptations.
15. Sword of Fire and Ice
CMC: 3 (2 to equip)
The "Sword of" cards all impress, but a few stand above the rest. Fire and Ice offers +2/+2 and protection from blue and red to its attached creature. Those abilities alone could justify the expended mana, but then Fire and Ice lets you inflict two damage to target creature/player and draw a card whenever the equipped monster deals combat damage to a player. And with protection from red and blue, many creatures can't even block Fire and Ice, giving it easy access to a direct attack.
14. Gaea's Cradle
This legendary land adds one green mana for each creature you control—a great boon in EDH decks (which, thanks to your commander, have an extra monster available). Combine Cradle with spells that swarm elf tokens to score a massive mana lead that may very well win you the game.
13. Force of Will
You can avoid this counterspell's substantial mana cost by instead utilizing its alternative activation, where you simply pay one life and exile a blue card from your hand. In EDH, your higher starting life will give plenty of leeway to lose one, allowing Will to negate any foe's spell—especially brutal when you're out of mana and they think their big plays are safe to cast.
12. Swords to Plowshares
Experienced Magic players often say "The only life that matters is your last." Thus, the tradeoff from Swords to Plowshares, which exiles any creature in exchange for the controller gaining life equal to its power, hardly matters considering the low cost and banishment, usefully preventing graveyard recovery.
11. Lightning Greaves
CMC: 2 (0 to equip)
A valued equipment with the rare ability to equip for free, Lighning Greaves can be shuffled between creatures without having to spend mana. It also provides its wearer with haste and shroud, letting it ignore summoning sickness to attack the turn it arrives and preventing it from being targeted by other effects. Swap for similar card "Swiftfoot Boots" to change shroud to the better hexproof ability, but you'll have to pay a mana to equip it.
10. Atraxa, Praetors' Voice
A vicious angel/praetor mashup, for only four mana Atraxa wields 4/4, flying, deathouch, vigilance, and lifelink. Additionally, at your end step you can proliferate, giving any permanents you wish another counter of a type they already have. This can further strengthen any creatures with +1/+1 counters but also adds to the loyalty counters of planeswalkers you control (called a "superfriends" tactic), making Atraxa a surprising versatile beatstick/planeswalker support package.
9. Cyclonic Rift
Cyclonic Rift's base cost of two lets you return an opposing card to hand, but overloading it instead for 6 returns all opposing cards to hand. This almost always signifies game over, can trigger on your opponent's turn thanks to the instant speed, and bypasses indestructible creatures, who can't be destroyed but can be returned to hand.
8. Sword of Feast and Famine
CMC: 3 (2 to equip)
The emerald-shadow blade of Sword of Feast and Famine offers its attached creature +2/+2 and protection from green and black. Then, when they inflict combat damage to a player, that player is forced to discard and you untap all lands you control, an awesome trick up your sleeve to keep your options available.
7. Ancient Tomb
Ancient Tomb scores two colorless mana each turn, generating double the resources of a basic land, and it enters untapped and ready to harvest. However, each time you tap it, it deals two damage to you. Again, lifedrain drawbacks just aren't as harmful with the engorged starting life of EDH, and you'll only suffer the damage whenever you access Tomb's power (not automatically at your upkeep, like other units we'll soon see).
6. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
The king of the mighty eldrazi clan, Emrakul costs 15 mana, but that just means a player needs a free-creature effect to field or a mana stockpile with cards like Omnath.
First, Emrakul can't be countered, so blue can't stop it. Then, if you actually cast it (and didn't gimmick it to the field), it gives you an entire extra turn. Finally, it has protection from all colored spells, flying, and a whopping annihilator 6, easily making Emrakul the strongest Magic creature yet.
Update: Sadly, Emrakul is now banned in EDH, but you can still access his alternative form "Emrakul, the Promised End."
5. Command Tower
You're just about guaranteed to find this in nearly any multicolor EDH deck. Command Tower simply taps for any color in your commander's identity. Of course, since your deck can only include your general's colors, this means Tower can always tap for whatever hue you need.
It's as simple as that: use Tower for any mana you need while avoiding the penalties of most multi-color lands (like entering tapped or draining life).
4. Mana Drain
This card illustrates why facing a blue deck is so terrifying. For only two mana, instant-speed Mana Drain first counters any spell, negating and sending to the graveyard an opposing card of any value. Then, for your next main phase, Mana Drain adds an amount of colorless mana to your pool equal to the negated card's CMC.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Not only is your opponent down a card, you're up 4+ mana, letting you cast your strongest titans way and seizing an advantage few will recover from. Whenever a player succeeds with a Mana Drain, unless it's a multiplayer match where the stragglers can band against them, the game's likely already over—for just two mana!
3. Mana Vault
Mana Vault doesn't untap during your untap step (you have to pay four mana at your upkeep to refresh it), and it deals one damage to you at your draw step if tapped. However, it only needs one colorless mana and taps for three, offering an early lead for any color.
With your higher starting life, you'll have health to spare, and you can avoid Vault's untap fee by comboing with cards like "Brago, King Eternal." Also be sure to check out the similar "Basalt Monolith" and "Grim Monolith" artifacts.
2. Mana Crypt
Mana Crypt doesn't cost any mana and taps for two colorless, a huge gain, and unlike Vault, it'll automatically untap each turn. The only drawback is that Crypt (whether tapped or not) makes you flip a coin during your upkeeps and take three damage if you land it.
Still, two free mana each turn is more than worth taking a net average of 1½ damage each round. Plus, you can always employ lifelink or other health-replenishing cards if your health runs thin.
1. Sol Ring
One of few cards that's arguably superior to "Black Lotus" (at least in longer matches), Sol Ring offers two colorless mana each turn, just like Crypt. However, casting it requires one, so on its first turn you'll only gain one net mana (which is still great), and on subsequent rounds you'll gain two. Many EDH battles are determined by who draws Sol Ring first (use those mulligans wisely).