Welcome to a new series you'll see as a run-up to Dominaria coming in a couple of months. My plan is to look at the Top 10 cards from each of the early blocks set in 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 they may not know. 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:
- Vindicate: takes out anything.
- Eladamri's Call: cheap creature tutor.
- Crusading Knight: With Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth showing up in virtually every game I play, this card is surprisingly good.
- Undermine: Still one of my favorite counters.
- Voracious Cobra: first strike and deathtouch before there was deathtouch.
Rith was one of the first commanders who demanded an immediate response. If Rith could swing at any opponent and no one had an answer, it was often the beginning of the end. With three opponents, you could usually find at least one who couldn't effectively stop a flying creature, especially one with trample (we'll get there in a minute). Rith would swing in and you would pay the three mana. For that three mana you would invariably get at least six Saprolings which could wreak havoc even further. If you swung a second time, then someone was almost dead due to commander damage, and you were likely getting at least 12 Saprolings. Every Rith deck had some way to make those Saprolings into something you would regret!
While most current Rith decks are running ways to protect Rith from removal, the original Rith decks were running ways to give it trample. Armadillo Cloak was probably the favorite as it added a couple points of damage making Rith into a three-hit clock and gave you at least eight life when Rith was swinging.
These are cards that I think should get far more play in Commander decks than they do. First off, there are very few players who are actually playing enough enchantment and artifact removal. These do that at instant speed and only cost two mana, so you aren't spending endless turns holding up a lot of mana to destroy an enchantment and get an extra ability. Secondly, don't be fooled into thinking these only work in token decks. Getting rid of an enchantment and getting only three Saprolings is still an amazing deal, at instant speed for only two mana! And yes, these really are complimentary in token decks. They aren't giving you tokens turn after turn, or churning out 10 tokens all at once, but getting a removal spell and token creatures all on one card is value that shouldn't be scoffed at.
Finally, Artifact Mutation and Aura Mutation are not here to replace Krosan Grip. You are still going to want other cards that can eliminate artifacts and enchantments. These are cards that should be on your short list of removal. They do a great job and offer a few extra bodies to sacrifice or use as chump blockers. These are the very definition of utility cards.
A lot of the cards in this top 10 would probably be good in any deck that could cast them, but this isn't true for this card. Dueling Grounds doesn't particularly want a token deck or a deck that protects itself with several smaller creatures. Dueling Grounds asks you for one big creature that can get through and make life miserable for your opponents – or at least that is what it looks like it wants when you first read the card.
The treat with this card is the second part that so many people fail to see: it stretches the game. Many decks have an en masse attack as the way they win games. This shuts down that option or limits how quickly you are going to get taken out. It also allows you more time to find your alternate win condition. Perhaps you aren't looking for that single massive creature that can win the game all on its own. Perhaps you want a few more turns so you can amass your combo, or kill your opponents with mill. Dueling Grounds just gives you a little more time
As much as I like the Mutations, this card is miles better. If you have played against this card, you probably gave a groan of disgust when you read the name. Aura Shards can be a lockdown for some decks. The Aura Shards player is likely getting enough creatures to destroy all mana rocks and every other enchantment or artifact in the game. One of my favorite mini-combos from long ago was Aura Shards and Sacred Mesa. The Mesa let me put creatures onto the battlefield any time, so my opponents would rarely get the benefit of the card, even on their turn. Even when I had to sacrifice a Pegasus token, the creature had already entered the battlefield, so it felt like I was getting some benefit from it!
The other benefit of Aura Shards is all the cards that don't get played at all. Why would someone play Nevinyrral's Disk or Omen Machine when they know it is going to be quickly destroyed? And when someone finally finds the removal to take out an artifact, then don't target your artifact that is helping you to win the game, they target the card that is stopping them from playing their cards. Aura Shards was an all-star that continues to shine.
I know that some of you see this card as pointless. You have tried to use the card or have seen others use the card only to be frustrated because they never seem to actually gain control of the legendary permanent they are trying to get. With so many options in red and blue that let you take control of an opponent's permanents, most of us are running a few ways to make sure we don't lose control of our permanents. This usually involves bouncing them or sacrificing them to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands.
The key is to stop looking at Empress Galina as a way to gain control of an opponent's commander, but as a way to make your opponent pay the Commander tax again. Once you stop seeing her as a way to play with other player's stuff and as a way to slow them down and make their plans much more difficult, Empress Galina will begin to look like an all-star!
A Wrath of God you can play when Void Winnower is out isn't really an upside. However, the option to cast it at instant-speed makes this an all-star. Instead of using it on your turn and having to wait to get your creatures on the board, you can cast it at the end of your opponent's turn, letting you be the first to recover. Instant speed also means you don't have to use it unless your opponent's raging hordes are actually coming at you. Sorcery speed means you are either waiting until you are attacked then dealing with it after the fact, or you are guessing you are the target of the coming attack. Rout gives you flexibility that most mass removal spells don't offer.
Using your cards again and again is the key to winning a lot of Commander games, and Hanna, Ship's Navigator does this really well for all the artifacts and enchantments Aura Shards has stuffed into your graveyard. Hanna reduces the downside of sacrificing your permanent to get the benefit. Whether you are doing it for mana, to draw a card or to destroy the battlefield, Hanna can get it back and get you reset.
Hanna also works much the same way Aura Shards does in that it discourages your opponents. Why would they target your artifacts if they know they are only going to be back on the next turn? Players tend to use up their removal on your opponent's stuff. This deterrent effect can go a long way! I've never used Hanna as a Commander, but I have put her in plenty of decks and she has been a valuable addition every time. She only gets better and better as more artifacts and enchantments you want back are printed!
Anyone who has seen this card in action knows why Captain Sisay sit this high. Sure, Sisay tutors for other legends in your deck, so being able to get a variety of legendary creatures exactly when you need them is great, and if that was all she did, she would still be awesome. The thing is, she also gets legendary artifacts. The Immortal Sun. Paradox Engine. Sword of the Animist. All valid targets. She also finds legendary enchantments ( Growing Rites of Itlimoc) and legendary lands. Are you not finding the lands you need to cast all the spells you are finding? Will Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx help? Yavimaya Hollow? Inventors' Fair? The number of cards that you didn't realize were legendary are huge. Captain Sisay helps your deck in every way imaginable.
Oh, and with the recent rules change, planeswalkers are (wait for it)… legendary. Garruk, Gideon, Nissa, and Ajani are all here to help, exactly when you need them.
The Arena continues to play a starring role in most black decks and with good reason. Phyrexian Arena provides slow and steady card draw that most players don't even notice. Sure, getting several cards all at once is valuable, but it tends to draw unwanted attention to you, often before you are ready for it. Most players barely even notice that you have Phyrexian Arena out. Unlike Rhystic Study, you aren't reminding everyone all the time that you are drawing another card, you just draw your card, adjust your life total, then draw your card for the turn. With the 40 starting life total, losing a life each turn is a minor drawback.
Phyrexian Arena is a card I add to every black Commander deck I build, then look for a reason to exclude it. Grenzo, Dungeon Warden is the only time it has ever come out, and I'm not completely sure that is the correct play.
When Pernicious Deed first came out, it was arguably the best card in multiplayer Magic. You could go after expensive permanents and leave the little ones behind. You could activate the card as soon as you played it, which meant you didn't have to wait a full turn like you did with Nev's Disk. Most importantly, it sat there on the battlefield warning you not to attack that player or build up your board presence, since it was all going to be blown up when the controller decided to, "do the Deed."
Plenty of cards have come and gone since then, and Pernicious Deed is still arguably the best card in multiplayer Magic. The rattlesnake ability that warns others is just as strong as ever and the ability to wipe the board of everything but land and planeswalkers is even stronger than it was, as creatures have gotten better and better.