Welcome to part three of the Returning to Dominaria series! My plan is to look at the top 10 Commander cards from each of the early blocks set on the plane of Dominaria. I'm not suggesting these cards will be reprinted (or even should be reprinted), but it's a great way to introduce players who weren't playing more than 10 years ago to some of the great cards in the older sets – and those of you who were playing back then can look at my list and tell me how wrong I am!
I hate honorable mentions. They are just a way for lazy and indecisive writers to add more cards to their Top 10 list.
My honorable mentions:
· Spirit of the Night - I know getting Urborg Panther, Breathstealer and Feral Shadow on the battlefield at the same time is virtually impossible, but I hope to one day live the dream.
· Lotus Vale – The only Lotus I've ever played. I have to tell you, I was underwhelmed.
I know, how does a card that does nothing but gain life make the list? First off, enchantment removal is not common. I don't think anyone is going to waste one of their precious enchantment removal spells getting rid of this card. The only way this card leaves play is with a mass permanent or enchantment removal spell, and those are rarely played (although I will say, Bane of Progress is picking up believers in my playgroup).
Secondly, players read the card and see that it does damage to you, so they tend to let those cards stick around. They think they are going to time it so you take the damage, then they'll make something happen. It is a nice dream, but it rarely works that way.
Finally, this card tends to pick up life in dribs and drabs. Gain one life here, gain three life there. Players just don't notice that kind of life gain, or seem to care. Add in that it is in two colors that already have some life gain, but nothing that is as consistent as this. It isn't until someone Wraths the board away that your opponents realize what this card does. If your opponents lose six creatures to a Wrath effect – not even one you cast – you are looking at gaining at least 12 life. When there is someone with a token deck who loses 10 1/1 creatures, Grim Feast can easily pick up 20 or more life. When you target one of your opponent's big creatures, you can gain 10 life and the rest of the players around the table end up thanking you for dealing with the troublesome creature.
When a card basically says, "your starting life total is doubled," I pay attention.
This destroys a creature (preferably something large while you have Grim Feast out!) and leaves a 2/1 first strike creature in play to keep you from taking damage from the guy who got out the early creature and is hitting all the defenseless players.
I don't need to go into detail about how good Nekrataal is. All of us have used a creature with a similar enters-the-battlefield trigger. Most of us have managed to loop that creature so it enters the battlefield repeatedly, whether by blinking or repeated graveyard recursion or however you managed it. Nekrataal is another option in your arsenal.
Much like I always say when talking about tutors, I discourage you from using them. The format is a 100-card, singleton format. There is supposed to be randomness and the delight of watching your deck play out differently each game is wonderful. That being said, tutors are powerful cards that have a place in many decks and you'd be remiss to skip these.
I've included all the Visions tutors on this list, but Vampiric Tutor is the star. Pay one mana to find any card, then put it on top of your library at instant speed. While this does mean that you aren't getting an extra card like you do with Demonic Tutor, it costs less, so if you are tutoring for something that will use all your mana, that's no problem since Vampiric Tutor is best used at the end of your opponent's turn.
The real downside to this card is leaving the tutored card on top of your library. If an opponent can force you to shuffle your library, you lose the card. I've seen that happen often enough that it is a real issue. It isn't as good as Demonic Tutor, but if your deck is focused on that one card to make things happen, Vampiric Tutor should be included.
This is my favorite counter for Commander. I know keeping five mana up is onerous and I'm not really asking you to do that. There will be times – especially as a blue player – when keeping your mana open makes sense. You'll have mana sinks on the battlefield that everyone knows you are planning to use at the end of your turn. There is a chance that you'll counter their spell, but for the most part, they know you are a good Commander player who wouldn't do something so silly as to load up a deck with countermagic that you would have to use before you even know who they plan to attack with those cards.
When those times come, and they tend to appear during the mid- and late-game, you'll be ready and your opponents will not be expecting it. Your opponent decides it is time to play Nevinyrral's Disk or play a massive creature. They aren't really thinking you are going to counter it, but hey, they probably have a way to get it out of the graveyard, so who really cares? When they realize that you aren't just countering but also taking it, and you get to watch as the joy drains out of their body and their shoulders sag.
Desertion isn't just another way to steal an opponent's creature either. Many creatures get played for their enters-the-battlefield ability. Nekrataal is fine as a creature, but you are really playing it for what it does when it enters the battlefield. Stealing it once it is there is fine, but it has really already done its job. Desertion stops them from destroying your creature, and instead lets you destroy their creature! And you get to keep Nekrataal as the added bonus!
When you see all of what Desertion does, just remember, in a pinch you can counter any of their spells – the flexibility is wonderful!
I want to start with the negative here, because it is a doozy. You are exiling a card from your hand. You are playing a deck with black and green, and you are exiling the card. You can play a Dark Ritual or some other way to gain mana by playing a card, and that card ends up in your graveyard. With black and green that means that you will often have a way to get it back and play it again, so it isn't so painful. Cadaverous Bloom says no. The cards you take from your hand are gone, so you better make it count.
That said, Cadaverous Bloom really makes it count! Bloom gives you far more mana early on than you should have, and I'm saying this knowing that you are playing green. Green and black can often take that early mana and turn it into a way to draw a ton of cards, which in turn feeds Cadaverous Bloom again, letting you play that amazing kill spell, massive fatty, or feed your value engine to run ever faster. The downside is real, but the upside is explosive!
Remember way back to Grim Feast, when I said no one plays mass enchantment removal? Tranquil Grove lets you destroy every enchantment in play and the best part is that it then sits there, warning every player not to play their Phyrexian Arena, Aura Shards and every other powerful enchantment until they deal with your Tranquil Grove. Grim Feast is never going to get Vindicated, but Tranquil Grove will. And you will smile happily as you put it in your graveyard, knowing an opponent just wasted a valuable way to Remove Enchantments on your Tranquil Grove when they should have just saved it for your…
I love this card. It may very well be my favorite card in Magic. I love it because it does something that other cards just don't do: it offers a way to have a lot of creatures enter and leave the battlefield. On your upkeep it counts the creature cards in each graveyard and gives that player that many 2/2 hasty Zombies. On your end step, all of those Zombies are sacrificed. Then it does it again on the next player's turn.
No no, not your next turn, the next player's turn!
With some minimal setup, and hey, you are playing black so getting a few creatures in your graveyard shouldn't be an issue, you will quickly be getting a Zombie army again and again. Knowing this is coming, your deck will have a sacrifice outlet for these Zombies. Maybe you are gaining life, cards or mana, but you are certainly taking advantage of it. I like to run Falkenrath Noble and Blood Artist with it, but that's just me. Maybe you want a way to discourage opponents from attacking you so you can combo off. Maybe you are running Zombie tribal? There are so many ways to take advantage of Tombstone Stairwell that you are crazy not to at least try it out!
It can really suck when you have a ton of creatures and you are ready for an alpha strike to win the game, but you don't have the eight mana for the Craterhoof Behemoth that has been waiting in your hand for just this moment. These are the times that Flash is waiting for. I know that you won't get to swing with the Behemoth, but you still get the trigger, and the Behemoth is in your graveyard waiting for your recursion spell! When you start thinking about all those expensive creatures with great enters-the-battlefield effects, Flash just gets better and better.
Now add in the fact that Flash lets you cast a creature spell as though it had flash. You can get that emergency blocker or perhaps that ETB trigger would be a little better before your turn.
Flash is a card that enables really broken things so take great care when using it.
Lands that tap for mana and do something else are always valuable in Commander. There are generally 35 to 40 slots in every deck dedicated to lands, so when you can take one of those slots and add something extra to it, the value tends to go up.
For three mana, Winding Canyons gives every creature you play that turn, flash. I know it says that it only costs two, but you have to tap Winding Canyons as well, so it practically costs you three mana. Most formats dismiss this out of hand. Using up three mana usually means you don't have anything left, or you only have enough to cast the smallest creature that would have little effect getting with flash. But we are playing Commander.
When your game regularly sees you with access to 10 mana, you can get some truly amazing creatures flashed onto the battlefield. When you see how useful Vedalken Orrery is and how many players are willing to pay four mana for the artifact, it just makes sense. While Winding Canyons doesn't have the long-term value the Orrery does, it is also far less likely to be destroyed and tends to offer an element of surprise since players often forget you have a great ability tucked into your stack of lands. Consider all the creatures that could be flashed onto the battlefield with Winding Canyons.
Anyone who has played against the Puzzle Box knows its power:
- It lets you dig. You see a new hand of cards every turn. If you are looking for a particular card, you will find it.
- It messes with control players. Control players want to find answers but also want to be able to hold them until it is the right time to play them. The Puzzle Box removes that level of predictability.
- It forces everyone to draw a lot of cards without giving them the benefit of a lot of cards. When Nekuzar and friends come out to play, Teferi's Puzzle Box can make quick work of a game.
- It creates chaos. With everyone getting a new hand of cards, predicting who has what goes right out the window. If a player has a great card to play, they play it. It makes for wild, unplanned interactions!
I hope you enjoyed our walk through the Mirage block and discovered a few cards Dominaria has to offer!