I was scrolling through my Twitter feed this weekend and came across a great question from Dean Gootee (@GrubFellow). Dean is a writer at edhrec.com and one of the co-hosts of the Commander podcast, Commander Time! I recommend checking out both. Dean asked:
What's the best thing you could do turn one for a single specific colored mana? (must be colored, so no Sol Ring, and don't count free things like Lotus Petal) Trying to figure what the order is for single best color in EDH. I'm leaning green.#dailyEDH pic.twitter.com/68RGn5muhA— Dean T. Gootee (@GrubFellow) May 20, 2018
I started thinking about the options, and thought I would share my order with you. I'll give you my top card in each color, along with the second place finisher, and my explanation why I picked each card.
It was tough to put blue at the bottom of this list. There's plenty of countermagic that could go in the one-mana slot. Ponder, along with Preordain and Brainstorm, are all valid picks. The difficulty I had was that so many of the options are reactive. I didn't want to give countermagic the top spot since the question was specifically asking about turn one, and there are so many games where no one plays a spell in the first turn. We all dream of a Sol Ring or Lotus Petal, or even getting to run some of the other cards on this list, but a lot of the time, we find ourselves dropping a land and simply saying, "go." Giving the top spot to a card that will quite often not even get used on the first turn seemed a bad idea.
I opted for Ponder as it lets you set up your next three draws, or decide they are all bad and shuffle up in the hopes of something better. Add in that it replaces itself and that made it my top pick.
There were several people who really liked the idea of Mystic Remora. Initially I liked the idea as well. Opponents would have to play their spells in the early game, so you would get to draw several cards over the first few turns. The problem for me lies with the cumulative upkeep. As long as you choose to pay the upkeep, you aren't playing anything else. This means that you are sculpting a great hand, but you are simply playing a land and saying go every turn. I thought that was leaving you further behind on board than I would want to be. If you simply chose not to pay the upkeep on the following turn, Mystic Remora would likely only draw a card or two, in which case, I'll take the library setup Ponder offers instead.
When I was originally picking cards, I suggested Gorilla Shaman. I like that it hits the battlefield and your opponents are put on alert that their one and even two mana artifacts aren't all that safe. I changed my tune when I was reminded of the power of Faithless Looting and Goblin Welder. Goblin Welder sets up for some nasty turn two plays and doesn't rely on your opponents getting out early artifacts to destroy for Gorilla Shaman to be useful. Gorilla Shaman is a rattlesnake, but I don't see too many players not playing their mana rocks and taking their chances.
Faithless Looting is simply a better card. There are decks where Goblin Welder is not the card you are going to want to see early on, whereas Faithless Looting is a solid turn one play for every red deck. Your hand of cards just dumped the two weakest cards for two cards that were better. I'll take that trade every time. When you add in the flashback that you can use at your convenience, your hand gets even better. And all of this assumes you aren't even trying to set up your graveyard for other shenanigans!
I put red above blue primarily because I liked Goblin Welder as a second pick far more than Gitaxian Probe and the rest of blue's offerings. If you wanted to argue that blue should be fourth because of the countermagic and other ways to set up the top of your library, I likely wouldn't argue, as I feel these two colors are pretty close.
I had Dark Ritual as my First Pick for black for a long time. Adding two more mana to your mana pool at the cost of a card isn't all that impressive in a Commander game, but doing it on the first turn seemed like a whole different story! While everyone else is putting out their first land and just getting their battlefield set up, you have dropped a three-mana spell that will be very hard to deal with for the next few turns. These are the Power Plays that can put one player well behind or put you on the top of the heap before the game even starts!
The difficulty with Dark Ritual is the same issue I had with blue's countermagic: you are relying on other things. Now, with Dark Ritual, you are relying on your own deck, so you have far more control over that than what your opponent is doing, but the limitation is there. There are going to be plenty of opening hands where playing the Dark Ritual is simply the wrong play. It is a powerful play when you can do it, and for that reason I picked it as the alternate, but not the top pick.
Bloodchief Ascension is a great card that will make things interesting. As an enchantment, it is less likely to get destroyed. Playing it on the first turn means that plenty of players will be defenseless, so the quest counters should be easy to add on. If you happen to get out an early blocker to dissuade attacks coming your way, this gets even better. It rates ahead of Dark Ritual simply because it requires nothing else to make it effective. There doesn't need to be a three-mana spell in your hand to make Bloodchief Ascension shine.
I love cards that quietly deal damage to opponents in amounts small enough that they often go under the radar initially. This is the first color that views the first turn as an opportunity to do something beyond playing a 1/1 creature or setting up the next card in your library.
That white would be in the top two should be no surprise to anyone. When neither Mother of Runes nor Weathered Wayfarer are the choice for the top spot or the alternate, you know you have serious depth. The options alone are enough to put white above the other three colors, but I think the top cards are better as well!
Serra Ascendant makes a great case to be the top card for white. When played on turn one, you are getting a 6/6 with flying and lifelink for one mana. Until someone destroys it, your life total will probably never get below 40, and I'm betting you'll find an opponent that can't block it for the next five turns at least. Bloodchief Ascension is a quiet utility card in the early stages of a game, but Serra Ascendant is a powerhouse.
In spite of all that I'll take Land Tax every time. With Serra Ascendant, you remind everyone what an amazing lucksack you are and you are now the target of everyone in the game until your life total is back to normal. Land Tax hits the battlefield and everyone nods and says, "must be nice," then goes back to trying to fix their board. From here on in, you should always be able to play a land on every turn, all while thinning out the land from your deck for later in the game when you are just looking for gas. Land Tax is another enchantment that no one is willing to burn their enchantment removal on unless they are running Aura Shards or some limitless enchantment removal, which is still very rare.
Land Tax is not ramp, but it gives white a guaranteed way to hit every land drop until the game moves past turn ten and that is a great play for the first turn.
Was there every any doubt? Every deck looks to start their games by ramping out. They want cards that give them access to more than one land per turn, and no one does this better than green. This is true, even on turn one. Birds of Paradise and all the other one mana elf creatures provide green with a great turn one play. I chose Birds of Paradise as the runner-up simply because they add a mana of any color, and if absolutely necessary, can act as a chump blocker. If I am building a deck with green in it, I don't ask if Birds of Paradise should go in, but why should Birds of Paradise be removed.
Burgeoning gets the top spot for a couple of reasons. First off, it is an enchantment, so players just aren't running enough ways to destroy it. Secondly, once you get that second land on to the battlefield because of Burgeoning, it is doing more than Birds of Paradise can. Birds of Paradise will only ever add one mana, while Burgeoning will add several lands to the battlefield. This is especially true of green, which has so many great ramp spells that put lands into your hand. Burgeoning lets you flood them onto the battlefield quickly and ramp up ridiculously fast. While this relies on other cards much like Dark Ritual does, it is relying on lands which make up close to 40% of your deck. That kind of reliance is something I can live with.
White provides you with several options for the turn one play, but green provides several options that make every turn after a little better than everyone else's turns. In games like Commander, using your first turn to make your fifth and sixth turns much better is the best early turn play.
My thanks to Dean for a fun idea that sparked an interesting discussion and fun article!