Back in May, I wrote an article titled Turn One Power Plays. The idea was to pick the best spells – one colored mana in each color – for Commander. You were to assume that this would be the first turn of the game. I chose what I thought were the top picks in each color, along with second place, then ranked them. This all came about because a fellow Commander lover, Dean Gootee, asked the question on Twitter and things took off.
So when Dean tweeted this last week, I knew there was going to be another article:
I think the best option at two mana is a mana rock. Between Fellwar Stone, the various Signets, and other two mana options, getting your mana count ramped up is likely the best choice no matter what color you play. However, we are looking at each color, not the colorless options. I stuck with the same rules as last time and came up with the definitive list of the best color for two-drops in Commander!
It was fairly easy to put red to the bottom of the list. Tormenting Voice and Cathartic Reunion were each mentioned repeatedly as the best two-drops, which says to me that if the best thing you can do is replace two cards for two cards you haven't seen, then you are really stretching. I didn't choose either of those cards though. Grenzo, Havoc Raiser seemed a better choice to me. Beyond coming from a great set, Grenzo gives you the choice of goading a creature or exiling an opponent's card with the option to play it later that turn. Early in the game, forcing an opponent's creature into a bad attack or just forcing it to tap down is a delightful option.
While I particularly like Grenzo, Braid of Fire is my choice for the top red card. Playing this on turn two is a true Power Play. Red can make full use of a card that gives you mana during your upkeep, and there are few players who are going to burn a precious enchantment removal spell early on Braid of Fire. Everyone thinks about the enchantments that will be coming up and destroying this card early on just doesn't seem to make sense. It isn't until it is making three or four mana that players really sit up and realize what a nightmare this can be. By then, most red decks have churned the advantage into something frightening! I've seen this fuel mana dump spells like Pyrohemia or Firebreathing effects or some instant speed mass damage spell.
While Braid of Fire is a great card, it needs a deck to work with and simply pales in comparison to what is coming.
The difficulty I had putting blue so low on the list was because some of the two-drops are outstanding, but only in decks that abuse it. Etherium Sculptor is a great card, assuming artifacts make up much of the deck. Chart a Course is nice too, but if you are playing it on turn two, you needed to have attacked with a creature you played on turn one for it to shine, which seemed like a pretty particular deck for blue!
After considering Search for Azcanta, Arcane Denial and Naban, my runner-up pick was Sigiled Starfish. An 0/3 creature is tough to kill that early in the game, and would deter a lot of random damage from an opposing player's early creature. Add in the scry 1 over a few turns and this is a solid turn-two play. It is essentially helping you find whatever it is you need in the early game, when a good hand will allow many players to run out well in front. Scry 1 may not seem like a whole lot later in the game when players have bigger spells that allow them to draw plenty of cards, but early on the ability to move past extra lands to gas or move those seven-mana spells to the bottom of your library while you try to find the lands you need to get yourself to the late game, is solid. The ability to do it every turn is amazing.
Despite that, I chose Jace, Vryn's Prodigy as my top card for blue. Two mana gives you a creature that will allow you to loot every turn, which will get you at least as deep into your library as scrying, while adding cards to your graveyard where you'll likely get a chance to cast them again. What I particularly like about this as a turn-two play is the likelihood that this is going to flip onto the planeswalker side. This early in the game players haven't had a chance to accumulate too much removal, and may not even have the mana to cast it. Add in a reluctance to burn removal that early on a creature that doesn't actively harm a player and the odds of getting to the planeswalker go up!
This ranking is a little unfair to black. Demonic Tutor is the best choice at for two mana, bar none. The card lets you get any card you need, so it is virtually anything and everything. Did you keep a land-light hand? Find the best land in your deck and drop it on turn three. Looking for card draw, some early removal, or a combo piece to surprise your opponents? Demonic Tutor does it all.
The problem for me is that Demonic Tutor flies in the face of what Commander is: a singleton format. The ability to tutor for any card means that you essentially have two copies of any card you really need in your deck. Add in Vampiric Tutor and the handful of other black spells that let you search for any card and pretty soon you are running the equivalent of four or five copies of every card in your deck. That level of redundancy should only be available by choosing alternative cards, many of which are suboptimal versions. Add in the fact that many groups and players don't use tutors, so I eliminated it from contention.
This put Bitterblossom in the second spot for black. For a card that gives you a 1/1 flyer every upkeep, it is a pretty solid card for number two! A 1/1 flyer every turn means that you have options for early attacks, as very few opponents are going to be able to deal with a flying creature this early in the game. It can also act as a deterrent, since opponents know you are just going to get another one on your next turn, players become reluctant to waste an attack that will only kill a token creature. Now consider that we are talking about black, and the value of Bitterblossom just skyrockets. Black is home of sacrificing a resource to get something else. Having an enchantment that gives you a tiny token to sacrifice for bigger and better things is exactly what black wants. Between Grave Pact options, sacrificing creatures for mana and sacrificing creatures for bigger creatures, Bitterblossom is impressive!
The top card for black in the turn two, two-drop slot is Sign in Blood. Letting you draw two cards for two life this early in the game is perfect. There are a variety of other ways to do this in black, but Sign in Blood gets you the cards right away and the idea of it getting countered is unlikely.
While it isn't relevant to the ranking, I wanted to mention that black is deep with good two-drop cards. I considered Vampire Hexmage, Waste Not and Pack Rack all as options. If you wanted to put any of these cards at one or two, I probably wouldn't argue the point.
I just mentioned the depth of offerings black has for this slot, and white is much the same. Suture Priest, Gift of Estates, Stony Silence, Board the Weatherlight, and Rest in Peace were all valid suggestions made by various people on Twitter. It is hardly surprising that the color known for attacking with small creatures would have options in the two-spot!
In the end, there were three cards that I considered for the top two spots and Stoneforge Mystic was the card that didn't quite make the cut. Most white decks are likely to have a Sword or Lightning Greaves or other equipment you'd like to see early on, so Stoneforge Mystic on turn two is a great option.
However, I think Blind Obedience is even better. Forcing everything your opponents do to be slowed by a turn is great, and when you make it happen this early you get a jump on things. Creatures with haste just end up costing more and don't even block. A creature that would normally flash out and wreck your combat math just sits on the sidelines, wishing it could do something. Blind Obedience offers that and lets you extort future spells. This is less important if you are curving out since you aren't going to have the extra mana to extort your opponents. Extorting early on also just tends to make you the target of any stray points of damage, so extort isn't all upside. However, if you aren't playing the perfect game, extort lets you play another two-drop on turn three and still use up all your mana. Extort in the early game gives you options, and that is a good thing.
My pick for white's top spot, though, is Luminarch Ascension. I thought a lot about this, since Luminarch Ascension is a magnet for hate when it hits. If anyone has removal for it, it is going to die. If anyone has a creature that can damage you, it is coming your way. If you played this on turn two, you don't likely have any creatures to defend you, so you are going to lose life.
Despite all that, there are just too many games where this card simply takes over a game and puts everyone in a terrible spot. On turn two, few of your opponents will be in a position to attack you until their next turn. Assuming a four-player game, this will likely be online for you before you start turn four. At that point, you are just going to make angels for two (!) mana and swing until someone stops you and 4/4 Angels are hard to stop that early in the game. Mass removal doesn't really help since you can just make more that fast. Getting four or more Angels is common, so doing significant damage this early in the game, all while stockpiling other cards for the next phase in your plan is as good a move as you can make.
I said in my one-drop article that no one should be surprised that green was number one, and the same goes here. Green has an embarrassment of riches at this slot with cards that destroy enchantments and artifacts and search for mana. Plenty of people suggested that Sakura-Tribe Elder was the best two-drop and considering how effective it is at ramping and chump blocking, it would probably make the top two in any other color.
With green though, Survival of the Fittest was my choice for number two. Is it any surprise that a card that tutors for a specific type of card would make the list? The ability to discard your high cost creature for something you can play right away is great. Searching for Acidic Slime or even Sakura-Tribe Elder gives Survival of the Fittest the number two slot. It only takes it over Fauna Shaman because it is harder to destroy.
The top slot for green is, without doubt, Sylvan Library. Getting to choose the best of the top three cards in your library turn after turn is, by itself, a solid option. You always know the next two cards in the library, so you can decide if you want to search for a land or use Survival of the Fittest to shuffle those cards away or not. This allows you to sculpt a great hand very early in the game.
The thing with Sylvan Library is that it doesn't even end there. You can keep the extra cards you draw if you want! Four life isn't insignificant, but it isn't outrageous either. The flexibility of the card and what it allows you to do as the game progresses and it builds card advantage with extra cards and better card quality should not be understated.
I hope you enjoyed this jaunt through the best two-drop, colored cards for turn two! If you have other suggestions, I'd love to hear them in the comments or on Twitter!