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Top 10 Vanguards in Magic: The Gathering

Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.

What Are Vanguards in Magic?

Vanguards are older Magic cards designed strictly for casual play, so you won't see them at any official tournaments. It's not hard to see why, as vanguards offer unique passive abilities and adjust your starting hand and life totals. They reside in your command zone (not field), meaning they can't be removed by opposing spells.

Vanguard effects that modify your opening hand size also alter your maximum hand size, so a +2 means you can hold up to nine cards. But which classic characters reign supreme? These are the ten best vanguards in Magic: The Gathering!

Oracle (vanguard)

Oracle (vanguard)

10. Oracle

Starting/Max Hand Size: +1
Starting Life: +9

Oracle's effect lets you instantly untap any attackers you've declared and remove them from combat, a nice if not outstanding ability. But it's hard to complain when she improves both your initial hand size (by one) and your life (by nine), giving you a huge bonus over non-vanguard players.

Selenia (vanguard)

Selenia (vanguard)

9. Selenia

Starting/Max Hand Size: +1
Starting Life: +7

Like Oracle, Selenia offers extra life and another card in hand. I also like her vigilance effect more, letting your creatures attack without tapping. Coupled with seven extra life, you've got a prime defense of both health and blockers.

Hanna (vanguard)

Hanna (vanguard)

8. Hanna

Starting/Max Hand Size: +1
Starting Life: -5

Hanna's riskier than previous vanguards, as she reduces your initial life by five, down from 20 to 15 in most formats. However, she still gives an extra opening card, and her awesome ability reduces the cost of your spells by one colorless mana, letting you quickly take a lead many foes will never recover from. Couple Hanna with life-gaining black or white spells to counteract her lifeloss.

Mirri mtg

Mirri mtg

7. Mirri

Starting/Max Hand Size: +0
Starting Life: +5

Mirri won't affect your starting hand, leaving it at seven (assuming you don't mulligan). But she does give five extra life and allows your basic lands to tap for any color. This not only cuts your deck's monetary cost, but it also gives you super-lands that enter untapped and can immediately provide whatever hue you need, no strings attached.

Squee (vanguard)

Squee (vanguard)

6. Squee

Starting/Max Hand Size: +3
Starting Life: -4

Squee cuts your starting life by four, but he offers not one but three extra cards in hand! That's a terrific bonus that increases your options and helps avoid mana-screw. His effect isn't half-bad either, forcing your opponents to play with their hand revealed, giving you heaps of tactical information.

Tawnos (vanguard)

Tawnos (vanguard)

5. Tawnos

Starting/Max Hand Size: +3
Starting Life: -4

Tawnos has the same modifiers as Squee (plus three cards, minus four life), so picking one over the other is a matter of effects. Tawnos doesn't reveal opposing hands, but he does let you cast artifacts, creatures, and enchantments at instant speed. This lets you wait until the relative safety of your opponent's end step (where they can no longer respond with sorcery-speed spells), or hit them with surprise blockers during combat.

Maraxus (vanguard)

Maraxus (vanguard)

4. Maraxus

Starting/Max Hand Size: +1
Starting Life: +2

Here's an amazing vanguard for an aggro deck. Maraxus gives an additional card and a little extra life, both nice, but his effect is what makes him great, buffing your creatures by +1/+0. From there, simply swarm red creatures with haste for a fast and powerful assault that can overtake many foes before they set up a proper defense.

Lyna (vanguard)

Lyna (vanguard)

3. Lyna

Starting/Max Hand Size: +2
Starting Life: -4

Lyna rivals Maraxus for best aggro vanguard. While she drains your life rather than adding to it, most aggro decks won't mind, and she offers an extra starting card compared to Maraxus. More than that, Lyna gives your creatures shadow, meaning they can only block and be blocked by other creatures with shadow.

Few decks run any sort of shadow, which usually means both your and your opponent's armies become unblockable. This also reduces your need for removal since your units can simply slip by blockers undeterred.

Xantcha (vanguard)

Xantcha (vanguard)

2. Xantcha

Starting/Max Hand Size: +1
Starting Life: +3

Xantcha provides a great all-around vanguard who can benefit any deck. She'll grant a few extra life points, additional card, and the ability to instantly sacrifice any permanent to regenerate a creature.

Not only is this an excellent defense for your creatures, but it's also a great way to put weak tokens to use. It also lets you sacrifice cards that your opponents try to steal, ensuring they won't take command of your forces.

Crovax (vanguard)

Crovax (vanguard)

1. Crovax

Starting/Max Hand Size: +2
Starting Life: +0

Crovax is today's only vanguard that offers two extra cards in your starting hand without sapping your health. While he doesn't give additional starting life, his effect lets you gain one whenever your creature damages another creature or player; basically, you've got a weaker version of lifelink.

Not only does this keep your health up throughout the match, but it's also amazing for triggering life-related effects on cards like "Ajani's Pridemate," and with your bolstered hand size, you'll have many spells to choose from.

Will Vanguards Ever Come Back in Magic?

As we've seen, some vanguards offer no downsides at all, meaning they'd be all over corresponding formats if ever made legal. So while it's unlikely they'll ever get green-lit, we've seen spiritual successors in Ikoria's companions, which can be cast from outside the game if you build your deck around their limitations.

2019's Mystery Booster set also offered a new vanguard ("Ral's Vanguard"), though only in the form of a test card. So vanguards seem unlikely to emerge in standard, but for casual players, they help spruce up matches. But for now, vote for your favorite character, and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!

© 2020 Jeremy Gill