Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
How Does Monarch Work in Magic?
When starting a Magic game, no player begins as the monarch. However, a rare set of cards can grant the crown, which activates various effects (depending on the resolved spell). Additionally, regardless of how you seized your throne, the monarch draws an extra card at their end step, offering some potent hand advantage.
However, players can steal the crown by hitting the monarch with combat damage, gaining the bonus draws for themselves, and so the game of thrones continues back and forth, encouraging aggressive strategies. As powerful as becoming the monarch is, only a handful of spells bear the trait and many fall in the 4-6 mana cost range, which makes playing them early a challenge.
Still, to help you dominate your realm, these are the ten best monarch cards (and tips on how to use them) in Magic: The Gathering!
- Thorn of the Black Rose
- Knights of the Black Rose
- Throne of the High City
- Keeper of Keys
- Palace Jailer
- Custodi Lich
- Skyline Despot
- Queen Marchesa
- Marchesa's Decree
- Regal Behemoth
10. Thorn of the Black Rose
Black swamps fuel the summon of Thorn, who bears a rather low 1/3 (one power and three toughness) for her size. However, her deathtouch ability lets her kill any foe in combat regardless of their toughness, helping compensate for her low power.
Plus, Thorn grants you the monarch title, and she's one of the cheaper cards to do so. Since only one of her mana needs to be black, she's also easy to mix into multicolor decks.
9. Knights of the Black Rose
Another Black Rose unit, these Knights require both black and white mana and bear the human and knight subtypes. Five mana nets a sturdy 4/4 warrior who of course lets you become the monarch upon entrance. Even if your opponent already became the monarch earlier, and you haven't landed combat damage yet, this effect will still automatically give you their title, preventing you from having to land damage.
Better yet, Knights punishes foes for taking your crown; if an opponent becomes monarch on a turn that began while you held the throne, they lose two life and you gain two, tipping the scales back in your favor.
8. Throne of the High City
Most monarch-granting cards are creatures, but occasionally you'll find an exception, like this royal land. Like most of its kin, Throne costs no resources and simply taps for one mana, although in this case, it's colorless. Still, most spells allow at least a few slots for colorless mana, meaning it's pretty easy to blend Throne into any deck.
You don't automatically join the nobility when Throne enters the field, but its second trait lets you pay four mana (of any hue) as well as tap and sacrifice Throne to become monarch. Paying four mana while sacrificing a land is a hefty price, but those extra draws can be worth it, especially if you didn't have any use for your excess mana that turn.
7. Keeper of Keys
CMC (Converted Mana Cost): 5
For five mana, blue's Keeper of Keys bears a respectable 4/4 stat ratio, and as you could probably guess, when he enters the field, you become the monarch. Remember, being monarch allows an extra draw at your end step, and since your opponent is unlikely to inflict combat damage until their turn, you should definitely attain at least the initial bonus draw.
As his unique effect, if you remain monarch at the start of your upkeep, Keeper renders not just himself but your entire team unblockable, letting you swing without fear of punishment. Finally, Keeper's a rare creature possessing three subtypes, synchronizing well with fellow humans, rogues, and mutants.
6. Palace Jailer
Needing only the white plains to play, Palace Jailer can be risky, but his powerful effect and comparatively low cost tempt any tyrant. 2/2 is terrible for a four-cost unit, but not only does Jailer grant monarch status, he exiles a target opposing creature upon entrance, handily removing your adversary's biggest threat.
However, this exile only lasts until an opponent becomes the monarch, so hopefully, you have other, stronger blockers ready to defend your life points. Thankfully, the white faction prioritizes swarming, providing several opportunities to field capable troops.
5. Custodi Lich
Custodi Lich costs a bit more than Jailer, but he wields superior 4/2 stats and a more reliable ability. When you become the monarch, a target player must sacrifice a creature, handily removing an opposing threat (just to be careful not to cast Lich while only you control a monster).
Since this sacrifice isn't reversed if your opponent hijacks your throne, you don't have to worry as much about defense. In fact, when they steal your crown, they actually give you a chance to readminister the effect; Lich's ability triggers whenever you become monarch, not just upon his initial entrance. Finally, his cleric and especially zombie subtypes offer interesting clan-dependent supports to further warrant usage.
4. Skyline Despot
As a seven-cost creature, you'll often want to gimmick red's Skyline Despot to the field using free-creature tricks like "Kaalia of the Vast" or "Elvish Piper". However you field him, he brandishes a hearty 5/5 stats and the flying trait seen on most dragons, letting him soar over ground-based blockers.
Of course, Despot also grants monarch, and whenever you begin your upkeep as monarch, you construct a 5/5 red dragon token with flying. Thus, Despot rewards you for maintaining your position by swarming other tyrants as strong as himself.
3. Queen Marchesa
Speaking of Kaalia, Queen Marchesa shares her legendary status and mana cost, needing one red, black, and white (plus one of anything) in her casting. In addition to her monarch boost, Marchesa brandishes a fair 3/3 stats, deathtouch, and haste, letting her attack even on the turn she hits the field.
As if that weren't enough, if you begin your turn while your opponent is monarch, you construct a 1/1 black assassin token with deathtouch and haste, giving potent blockers who can insta-kill foes (just watch out for defenses like indestructible). This lethal lady can also grant command through...
2. Marchesa's Decree
Another rare non-creature monarch card, Marchesa's Decree only needs one color and only one mana of that color, making this black enchantment easily accessed. When it hits the field, Decree bestows the monarch title, and it helpfully punishes enemies who swing at either you or your planeswalkers by sapping them of one life per attacking creature. Note this stays active even if you lose monarch status.
Your opponent's forced into a lose-lose situation. If they want to pilfer your crown (and extra draws), they'll need to inflict combat damage, but if they swing, they'll pay in blood for each invader. Plus, losing Decree isn't a terrible loss, as the monarch mechanic remains even after the unit that initiated it dies, leaving you free to focus on offense once you've fielded Decree.
1. Regal Behemoth
Behemoth provides a versatile unit; his 5/5 stats alongside trample (which deals pierce damage through blockers) help in battle while his monarch ability lets your lands tap for additional mana while you're king of the hill! His six mana cost may turn some away, but thanks to green's various ramping and free-creature gimmicks like "Norwood Priestess" and "Mosswort Bridge", you'll have Behemoth out before you know it.
Trample is useful in general, but particularly so with monarch, as it lets you easily land combat damage on your foe to reclaim your title if stolen. Competent in ramp, monarch, and even dinosaur decks (the lizard type qualifies as such), Behemoth has won me several games and remains one of my favorite green cards, especially since he costs less than six dollars!
How to Support Monarch Cards in Magic
Now that we've examined several princely powers, here are some ideas on how to support them. As mentioned earlier, you can circumvent higher mana costs with free creature cards, and you don't have to worry about defending creatures due to monarch's ongoing nature. However, you do want to guard your life points, so withhold some monsters when attacking (or use ones with vigilance), maintaining blockers to stave off incoming strikes.
High-toughness walls help guard your life, and several popular enchantments like "Ghostly Prison" and "Propaganda" discourage foes from swinging, prolonging your status. Monarch remains one of my favorite Magic mechanics for its combat-rewarding boosts, and I hope to see it appear on more units. But for now, as we eagerly await Wizards of the Coast's next expansion of monarch monsters, vote for your favorite card, and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!
© 2018 Jeremy Gill