Top 10 Commanders of 2016

Feature Article from Bruce Richard
Bruce Richard
12/20/2016 11:00:00 AM
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2016 has been a banner year for Commander. There are so many options to lead your Commander decks it is almost an embarrassment of riches. Practically every color combination has something from 2016 to choose from, and usually that something is pretty awesome. Rashmi, Eternities Crafter and Ishkanah, Grafwidow are fun cards that offer all sorts of interesting deck ideas. Add in Bruse Tarl and the rest of the legends that can partner with each other and the options for this year are more numerous than any other!

Given the options, a Top Ten seems in order. To make the Top Ten I wanted a commander that was powerful. Depala, Pilot Exemplar is cool, but it needs more help to reach the power levels I'm talking about. Power alone isn't enough though. Is it fun to play with? Does it provide options for building? Is there some other intangible that pushes it over the top? Every card in the list fits at least some of these descriptions. Let's jump right in!

#10: Leovold, Emissary of Trest

Mid
Low
 Leovold, Emissary of Trest
$55.00
$45.97
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ParagonCityGames 1 $48.97
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JohnnyBCardsComics 1 $50.00

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Magic MTG Card Leovold, Emissary of Trest Magic MTG Card
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Leovold makes the list as the most overpowered, broken commander of 2016. I recognized how powerful Windfall cards would be in my preview article, but didn't really understand it. Leovold might as well be banned in most playgroups, as players realize just how impossible the deck can be to deal with if even a single Windfall effect hits while Leovold is in play. More than one player has demonstrated the raw power of Leovold to their playgroups.

In spite of this, I'm still convinced that Leovold can be the amazing political commander I thought he was. Try running Leovold without the Windfall effects. Take the ridiculous card advantage aspect away from the deck, and I think Leovold can still be strong commander, and one that is fun for your entire group. Limiting opponents to only one card draw per turn can force your Commander games into random draws and exciting topdecks. Temple Bell becomes an advantage for you, but not in the crushing, hopeless way a Jace's Archivist does.

#9: Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder

Mid
Low
Store QTY Price  
LastSavePoint 1 $5.99

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Yidris is here for the cascade ability. Some players embrace the random aspect of cascade. They play their spells and start flipping cards to see what comes next. Others love cascade as a way to search for specific spells, limiting the low casting cost spells in their deck to raise the likelihood of finding those spells. I'm all about the random, but I can respect the deckbuilding chops to pull off a controlled deck like Yidris!

#8: The Gitrog Monster

Mid
Low
 The Gitrog Monster
$2.05
$0.77
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When The Gitrog Monster came alive with Shadows Over Innistrad, players were immediately drawn to it. A Frog Horror with a great thematic background was part of the allure. The other part was seeing a card do something different. Drawing cards when lands go to your graveyard was unique and appealing. Add in a 6/6 deathtouch creature in two of Commander's more popular colors and deckbuilders rejoiced.

With all sorts of ways to put land into and get land back from your graveyard, The Gitrog Monster has led to some fun and powerful builds. I haven't had a chance to build around it yet, but he is on my list of Commanders who need a deck in 2017. Deathrite Shaman and Dark Heart of the Wood are ready to get into the game!

7. Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim

Mid
Low
 Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
$0.84
$0.48
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Ayli is another commander on the list because of her flexibility. She can guide a tribal cleric build, or offer reliable removal that fits perfectly in the Orzhov wheelhouse, gaining life and draining opponents. All of this in a 2/3 body with deathtouch for only two mana makes Ayli a real pain for your opponents to deal with again and again.

Ayli was first spoiled around this time last year. She was my preview card for the set and I was crushed when the card was leaked. Several articles were written about her and decks were built that made my article redundant. I ended up scrapping the entire article and writing something that focused on her storyline. I spent more time on that article than almost any other article I have written. I had never really understood the frustration of a spoiled card until the card I was "previewing" was spoiled!

#6: Grenzo, Havoc Raiser

Mid
Low
 Grenzo, Havoc Raiser
$1.60
$0.75
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I put Grenzo on the list because he is a red commander that does more than simply burn a player or creature. I like that his abilities kick in whenever any creature you control deals combat damage, not just Grenzo. Add to that the option of goading a creature or getting a chance to cast a card from an opponents' deck forces you into interesting options. I love cards that allow for a variety of builds that can focus on different options, rather than funneling you down a single path that everyone using that commander must follow.

I love the chaotic nature of a card like Grenzo, Havoc Raiser. Goad is a great mechanic that can open up a game, forcing players to attack with creatures that would normally be kept back to block. Exiling cards from the tops of players' libraries can mess with opponents and occasionally give you a huge boon using a card that a mono-red deck would normally have no way to play.

#5: Queen Marchesa

Mid
Low
 Queen Marchesa
$3.94
$2.79
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Queen Marchesa is the third commander from the Conspiracy: Take the Throne set on the list. I really love Conspiracy and part of the reason lies with the great legends the set offers. Selvala, Heart of the Wilds didn't make the top ten, but easily could have. The nature of a standalone that didn't have to be standard playable gave the designers and developers plenty of options for the cards and they really took advantage of that.

Queen Marchesa and the monarch ability are one example. The monarch was simply another try at finding ways to encourage players to attack in multiplayer rather than sitting back, which is often the safest play when you have multiple opponents who are waiting for your guard to go down. By offering up an extra card draw, players are encouraged to attack more often.

I have found this works in formats beyond Conspiracy drafts. Even if it is just two players sending small attacks at each other to draw more cards, games with the monarch involved do tend to move a little faster. Queen Marchesa is the poster child for this. I haven't played enough games with her yet to decide if the Assassin Tokens actually play any part in most games, becoming the monarch is worth it all on its own!

#4: Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet

Mid
Low
 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
$17.65
$12.38
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"If a nontoken creature an opponent controls would die, instead exile that card..."

This phrase on Kalitas throws any deck that relies on recursion into turmoil. If your group is anything like mine, it means that at least one other person in every game you play is using a neutered deck. Once these players realize what Kalitas does to their decks, they are going to start saving ways to deal with Kalitas, no matter how useful it would be to use that removal on something else.

Being a format changer is enough for Kalitas to make the list. Now add in the Zombie Tokens and your deck could be a zombie tribal or be running ways to capitalize on on the Zombie Tokens you are going to accumulate. Or your deck could go all in and run zombie Voltron, pumping Kalitas to ungodly sizes and slamming into blockers, gaining ridiculous amounts of life.

#3: Breya, Etherium Shaper

Low
 Breya, Etherium Shaper
Price N/A
$2.49
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Magic MTG Card Breya, Etherium Shaper Magic MTG Card
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Breya is a walking toolbox. She simply does everything and does it in such a way that looping it multiple times is so easy, it becomes part of every build. Playing against Breya means playing out your 4/4 creature and hoping someone else is drawing her attention. Leaving her alone isn't an option either. To take Breya down you need to wear out the deck's resources, so ignoring her and building up your own defenses is not a great solution, since she will likely build up faster than you.

On top of being this good, the deck uses artifacts! So many players love artifacts and any commander that can make them better, that Breya would likely see plenty of use even if she wasn't as good as she is. Most players tend to build Breya focusing on one or two colors, with most of the cards being colorless artifacts. This limits the strain on the mana base to simply getting the mana needed to put Breya into play in the first place.

Get comfortable seeing Breya; she is going to be part of your life in Commander for a long time!

#2: Atraxa, Praetors' Voice

Low
 Atraxa, Praetors' Voice
Price N/A
$13.75
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Magic MTG Card Atraxa, Praetors' Voice Magic MTG Card
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You thought this was going to be Number One didn't you?

Apparently if you give a legendary creature the ability to proliferate each turn, with no cost, people will play it. Atraxa is a 4/4 flying, vigilant creature with deathtouch and lifelink. She is a powerhouse on offense, evading blocks and gaining life. She is a powerhouse on defense, able to block most everything and discouraging opponents from attacking into a 4/4 deathtouch creature. Add the Vigilance and she can do both at the same time.

Yet no one cares.

Sure, being a 4/4 is better than being a 3/3, but the reality is Atraxa is popular because of proliferate. Planeswalkers, +1/+1 counters, -1/-1 counters, energy counters, poison counters; Atraxa works with all of them. Add in the fact that you can run the best counter cards in four colors and people are going ape. If you haven't played with or against this card yet, you will very soon, and you are going to get tired of it very soon, because it is just that good. It is a true monster.

#1: Gonti, Lord of Luxury

Mid
Low
 Gonti, Lord of Luxury
$0.84
$0.40
Store QTY Price  
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Woodbury Gaming 3 $0.49
Brute Force Games 5 $0.49
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Saltire Games 1 $0.50
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The Fantastic Store 8 $0.59

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Remember what I said about Grenzo, Havoc Raiser? Gonti also exiles cards for you to play. Except with Gonti, you pick the best of the top four cards in their library and can play it any time. I know, it only works when he enters the battlefield, but there are plenty of ways to make that work in your favor. I love the chaotic nature of Gonti!

A nice part about Gonti, is that they appear mostly harmless. Opponents will lose a few cards from their libraries, but not enough to be concerned about a mill deck, particularly in a 100-card format. Gonti is really only as good as the cards your opponents are running. This means your deck is likely going to play well against anyone, no matter how weak or strong their deck is. I love that as an option. Besides, any commander that can effectively use Blade of Selves is a commander I can get behind!

2016 has been a great year for Commander and casual Magic as a whole. With Conspiracy, Commander 2016 and the standard sets all offering up powerful, fun cards, we'll be feeling this year's offerings for a long time. When you realize that next year offers new cards in the Archenemy set coming out, along with another Commander release and more standard sets, I can't wait to dive into 2017!

Bruce Richard
@manaburned




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