The Best 16 Cards of 2016 for MTG Commander, by Paul Palmer
The new year is a great time to reflect on what happened over the previous year. This year I went to Denmark for the first time and made it to the finals of the Nordic game jam, I finished my degree in video game design, I graduated with a 2:1 and I got my first job.
This year was also big for Commander. Eternal Masters, Conspiracy 2, partners and of course the long-awaited 4c generals. In this article I’m going to look at the last year of Magic: the Gathering and see which of those cards (in my opinion) have had the biggest impact on the format. I’ll get to the list shortly but first will be some honourable mentions:
The Eternal Masters set was fantastic for Commander. By giving the playerbase more access to some of the more powerful format staples from tutors to Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and even the more elusive Mana Crypt, newer players were more able to contest with the decks that much more experienced players owned. This is something that I can see both with my own decks and those of the members of my playgroup. Since the release of EMA, there have been a lot more copies of these powerful cards floating around in people’s decks, something that leads me to my next honourable mention.
Conspiracy: Take the Crown – Reprints
I was going to list the entire set here, but there are some new cards that have really had an impact on shaping the face of the format since the release, so instead I decided to focus on just the reprints. Expensive cards like Berserk and Show and Tell, then staples like Birds of Paradise, Phyrexian Arena and Burgeoning. Giving FNM players access to these cards has allowed them to have more of an edge against veterans of the format than previously, similarly to Eternal Masters.
Masterpiece Series – Kaladesh Inventions & Zendikar Expeditions
One of the things that draws a lot of people into Commander is that it allows you to build a deck that really defines your playstyle as a Magic player and your personality as an individual. Something that people really like to do is find a deck they love, stick with it and ”bling” it out. In the last year, the biggest push towards this was the Masterpiece series, a number of reprints in sets that were specially foiled and made with alternate art to allow people who really cared about their decks to show it. Recently with the release of Kaladesh, it was confirmed that masterpieces would be released with every set. This is perfect as it allows players to not only make their decks more unique but also means that Wizards of the Coast are more likely to reprint older cards in these expansions (just as they did with the Zendikar Expeditions). This is also a way to print foils of older cards without reprinting them in either a Standard legal set or a set that would be draftable at FNM (like Eternal Masters or Conspiracy).
While I am personally not a huge fan of tribal decks, there is a large portion of the community that were excited for both of these cards as they were the first legendaries of their respective creature types. While these were two highly anticipated cards they didn’t personally get me too excited and I didn’t want to use up two of the slots on my personal list with them. That being said, I also didn’t want to gloss over the fact that these were two big cards that people wanted for their tribal decks in 2016.
I couldn’t write an article about the top cards of 2016 without of course mentioning the 2016 preconstructed decks. 4 coloured commanders are something that people have been eagerly awaiting for a very long time with some playgroups even allowing the use of Nephilim as generals even though they weren’t legendary. Not only did WotC give us 5 different 4c legendaries but they also gave us partner, a mechanic which almost no-one saw coming and which gives players some 150-odd extra choices for generals. The reason I’m not including these on my actual list is because all 16 slots would be taken up with either the 4c legends, partners or some of the cards from the precons themselves.
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My Top 16 Cards of 2016 for MTG Commander
Now on with the actual list! (I would just like to add that this is my own personal list. If you have any disagreements or would like to let me know your own personal favourite cards from the last year, please let me know, as I hope that by discussing the format further we can all get something new out of it!)
16 – Enemy Fast Lands
I know that this is something that a lot of people wanted and that it should probably be higher, however I personally didn’t find them very exciting and actually find that fast lands are normally underwhelming in a format like Commander as the games go on for so long. That being said, having the enemy coloured fast lands is fantastic and finishing unfinished cycles of cards is always strangely satisfying.
15 – Depala, Pilot Exemplar + Vehicle Mechanic
I must say when they started spoiling Kaladesh and they showed off the first few Vehicles I was pretty surprised. I’ve not being playing Magic for a particularly long amount of time but this really did feel like something completely new and I was incredibly interested by the whole idea. Vehicles have since seen a lot of play in all constructed formats from Standard’s Copter meta all the way to the Car Shops Vintage deck that uses Fleetwheel Cruiser as a ”kill target Jace, the Mindsculptor” button. I’ve not seen vehicles do a ton in Commander due to the amount of instant speed removal for both creatures and artifacts, however, I have tried out Smuggler’s Copter in my Akiri, Line-Slinger deck and it has definitely been potent, allowing me to dig through for my more powerful equipment. As well as vehicles we also got a new Dwarf legend, giving both that tribe and vehicles benefits in the form of a lord and a way to draw more cards – both very powerful effects. I’ve not yet had a chance to try out Depala due the fact that I own a limited number of dwarves, but it is definitely on my list of decks to make.
14 – Summary Dismissal
We’ve all been in that game where someone casts Kozilek, draws a bunch of cards and then proceeds to take over the game or we’ve countered a spell, they’ve put it in their graveyard and then reanimated it. Summary Dismissal is the card that stops either of these scenarios. It exiles all spells and counters all abilities on these stack – some powerful effects. Not much more to say about this card, apart from the fact that it’s a playable Stifle effect in Commander.
13 – Thalia’s Lancers
As any Commander player knows, Legendary cards tend to define the format, from your commander to the cards in your 99 that have powerful effects like Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and Arcanis, the Omnipotent. Thalia’s Lancers definitely feels like a powerful card that fits into a lot of decks in the format (not even going to mention Captain Sisay, that’s a given). A tutor with First Strike is just powerful, not sure what else I can add to that.
12 – Key to the City
Voltron decks are very popular. Whether you’re playing Zurgo, Helmsmasher, Kalemne or the doggo himself, Isamaru, Hound of Konda, some people just like suiting up and going in. Key to the City is a fantastic card in all of these decks due to the benefits it gives you from two different avenues. Firstly is the easy part, unblockable. When your commander has 21 points of power and you’re facing down a billion tokens from Avenger of Zendikar, it doesn’t matter how many times they can chump block if your lethal damage simply can’t be blocked. Secondly is the much more interesting part of the card, and that’s the consistent card advantage that it gives you. Two mana every turn for a card is a very good rate and card draw is often something that they struggle with. When you give these kinds of decks ways to find their big haymaker equpiments like Sword of Fire and Ice they become incredibly potent and can often put the big, powerful control decks of the format on a short clock.
11 – The Gitrog Monster
If you’ve got a Gitrog player in your playgroup you’ll know what’s coming before I even write it. The Gitrog Monster is possibly the strongest potential general released in the past year. Through cards like Constant Mists, Worm Harvest and cards with the Dredge mechanic you can simply drown your opponents in a constant stream of card advantage. On top of this you have access to all of the potential reanimation effects allowing you to overwhelm your opponents with Avenger of Zendikar and the other powerful landfall effects.
10 – Fumigate
5 mana wraths is always something that I have looked at in a strange light. On the one hand, they always seem to leave you in an incredibly good position with cards like Crux of Fate leaving you with some kind of advantage, while on the other hand there is also an argument to just simply play the OG Wrath of God or its colour-shifted counterpart Damnation. Fumigate is definitely walking the line between being great in every deck and only good in some. Playing this card against token decks is a huge blowout, killing 400 Krenko tokens and gaining that much life will often win you the game. However, sometimes you just have to cast it to kill one or two very large creatures in which case it’s passable as a wrath. So far I’m yet to be disappointed when I cast Fumigate, however I will be watching it closely over this year to see just how much I like it in the format. On another note the art/flavour of this card is a solid 10/10.
9 – Traverse the Ulvenwald
Tutors are always powerful in Commander and those with versatility are even better (with Demonic Tutor considered to be one of, if not the best tutor in the format). On top of versatility, mana cost is also incredibly important since it’s pointless searching for an answer to someone’s win condition if you can’t play it afterwards. Traverse the Ulvenwald takes the cake here by costing only a single G to cast.
The downside to this card is of course that you need Delirium before you can actually search for anything other than a basic land. This makes Traverse the Ulvenwald fantastic in decks that want to stack their graveyards like Karador and Meren but definitely makes it struggle in the more control oriented decks like Atraxa and Riku.
8 – Stunt Double
Clone is another one of those cards that I’ve always found has a weird place in the format, in some decks it’s filler but in others it’s a staple, over-performing all the time. With so many strictly better reprints they just get better and better becoming more of a staple as they improve. Since the original the best has probably been Phyrexian Metamorph (phyrexian mana is incredibly powerful in Commander due to the increased life total) but Stunt Double definitely threatens to take that crown. The ability to flash in any creature that is in play is such an incredibly powerful play that allows for so many potential blowouts with cards like Elesh Norn and Avacyn, Angel of Hope being as prevalent as they are.
7 – Anguished Unmaking
I’ve been recently working on an article about the top Instants and Sorceries in Commander. What I’ve found from my research is that versatile removal spells which hit both creatures and other permanents are some of the most used spells in the format. Those that are instant speed and exile instead of destroying also see a lot more play than those that aren’t. Anguished Unmaking hits the nail on the head with these requirements with the only downside being paying less than 1/10th of your starting life total. For an instant speed Vindicate that exiles that’s a small price to pay. This card hits all of what you want from a removal spell in this format and more.
6 – Cloudblazer
Everyone loves Mulldrifter so what if it also gave you life? Cloudblazer is a fantastic card that thrives in a deck like Brago flickers. Not much to say about this card really, drawing cards is incredibly powerful and this lets you do draw a bunch with potential to draw more if you have a way to trigger the effect multiple times. The one drawback vs. Mulldrifter is that you can’t evoke it, which does bring it down a notch in terms of power level. Other than that, this is everything I could want from a creature in Commander.
5 – Leovold, Emissary of Trest
If you don’t have a very competitive Commander playgroup, you probably won’t have seen the impact that Leovold had on the format. From experience I can tell you that playing Leovold is the same as playing Archenemy without any benefits. The hate that this card draws to the person playing him turns a nice 4-player Commander game into a 3v1 rush to kill Leovold before he can cast his first wheel effect.
What people forget about Leovold is that he actually has two abilities. People get so hung up on the first ability that stops them drawing, they forget he also lets you draw cards if any of your creatures are targeted. This allows you to dig for free for a counter spell to protect the Elf Rogue and is really what pushes him over the edge in terms of being considered by a lot of players as degenerate. If you like playing competitive Commander games, this is the general for you.
4 – Eldrazi Displacer
Codename ‘Blinky the Eldrazi’ is here for all of your flickering needs. Another shoe-in for Brago, Lavinia and Roon decks just like Cloudblazer. As I covered in my article about creatures in Commander the most played creatures in the format are those with powerful enter-the-battlefield effects which, as you can tell, work perfectly with a card like Eldrazi Displacer, as they allow you to grind out your opponents with extra value from all of your creatures. Not only does Blinky let you get extra value from your creatures, but it allows you to flicker your opponents’ creatures to remove them from combat and prevent them from dealing damage to you.
3 – The Gearhulk Cycle
They may not be as powerful as some of the other cards in this article, but these 5 huge constructs excited me a lot when they were spoiled so I knew they were going to get a high spot on this list. They are reminiscent of the titan cycle from the M11 and M12 core sets. While the ceiling of these gearhulks’ power level doesn’t match the titans (with Primeval Titan being banned) they do all have a middling power level, with some even being compared to other staples of the format (Torrential Gearhulk quickly adopted the nickname ”Fatcaster Mage”). The real power of this cycle of creatures is their versatility, from a removal spell to spell recursion and even a Tragic Arrogance-esque board wipe means that these creatures can find a home in a wide range of different decks and strategies, something I personally love to have in cards I use in my Commander decks. I have a feeling that these will quickly become staples of the format, if they’re not already.
2 – Wastes & The New Eldrazi Titans (Ulamog, Kozilek and Emrakul)
For a long time a lot of people have wanted to make colourless decks with Ulamog or Kozilek (Emrakul is banned) but the real struggle was always the expensive mana base due to the lack of a basic land they could use. With the release of Oath of the Gatewatch, we finally got Wastes, a basic land that lets players finally make a fully colourless Commander deck with much less trouble. In the same block and shortly after, the Eldrazi Titans (Ulamog, Kozilek and Emrakul) had completely new printings. Of these I’d say that Kozilek, the Great Distortion is the most powerful, allowing you to re-fill your hand and giving you a grip full of counterspells.
1 – Panharmonicon
This choice may come as a surprise to anyone who hasn’t had a chance to play with this card, in Limited, Standard or in this case, Commander. The ceiling for this card is insane, be it two removal spells off of a Noxious Gearhulk or two lands from Wood Elves. While the power of this card is variable based on the deck, ranging from being the best card in the deck with generals like Brago to just a powerful boost with generals like Meren, the one thing you need to be careful about when using Panharmonicon is that once played it very quickly becomes a target. Due to this I would recommend only playing it if you can get benefit out of it immediately, or if you can protect it.
2016 was a fantastic year for Commander
2016 was fantastic for Commander and with Aether Revolt being out for a few weeks I’ve had a chance to try out a few of the cards already. Since spoilers I’ve been incredibly excited for Planar Bridge (which I was lucky enough to trade for a Masterpiece version of). One of the other cards I’m excited to irreparably break and make my playgroup miserable.
Let me know what your favourite cards from 2016 were, what Aether Revolt cards you’re looking forward to playing with and what you’re looking forward to in 2017.
I know it’s a little late, but happy new year and I wish turn one Sol Rings on all of you.
Community Question: What was your most favourite Commander card printed in 2016?
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Thanks for reading!