There are two things I love doing in Commander: playing Golgari and finding Commander hidden gems from older sets. Some cards from Magic‘s past are well known and heavily played in the 100-card format, but with a rich history going back almost three decades there are plenty of cards that can fall through the proverbial cracks.
Today, I want to take a look at one of Magic‘s earliest blocks – Tempest – for cards that may be overlooked. Tempest Block was made up of Tempest, Stronghold and Exodus. It was the first block to take us off of the plane of Dominaria and was the kick off for The Weatherlight Saga, which extended into Invasion Block and continues to have storyline repercussions to today.
An aside that is going to make me feel even older than I do on a daily basis: Blocks were how Magic sets were organized until the release of Dominaria in 2018. From Ice Age through Dragons of Tarkir, Standard legal non-Core Set releases were part of a three-set cohesive unit known as a Block. These sets had a common throughline and often shared mechanics. After Khans Block, the structure was reorganized into a series of two set Blocks, starting with Battle for Zendikar Block and continuing through Ixalan Block. Since Dominaria, Standard legal sets have been standalone, even if they do sometimes have a common theme (see Guilds of Ravnica, Ravnica Allegiance and War of the Spark).
I’m going to focus on Golgari – that is cards that could easily fit into one of the many supported styles of black-green play. I’m also going to be looking at choices that may be overlooked, so Hermit Druid doesn’t get another chance in the spotlight.
Before I dive in, I want to highlight two green cards that don’t easily fit into the Golgari mold: Fugitive Druid and Song of Serenity. These two cards care about Auras, with Fugitive Druid being a pastiche of Kor Spiritdancer as long as the Druid is the target of the Aura. Song of Serenity, on the other hand, moves in a very different direction than many Enchantress-style decks where it asks you to enchant your opponent’s creatures to keep them locked down.
Coffin Queen is fragile and expensive, but can put in some serious work. The Zombie Wizard can reanimate any creature, from any graveyard, at instant speed for three total mana. All that she asks is that you keep her tapped – if she leaves the battlefield or untaps, then the creature under her control is exiled. The Queen can pull double duty, making use of creatures already dispatched or creating a “surprise” blocker that has the upside of potentially exiling a problem creature from your opponent’s graveyard. Coffin Queen is a personal favorite that fits well into any reanimator or self-mill deck. The fact that she is also Zombie means she has tribal synergies that make it pitifully easy to bring her back from the dead were she ever to meet an early (second) demise.
It feels like there are an unlimited number of ways to get creatures back from the graveyard in black, but Disturbed Burial has something going for it. Unlike Phyrexian Reclamation, Disturbed Burial is a sorcery with buyback. That means it can trigger things that care about spells being cast, such as Sedgemoor Witch. While hardly the best card for raising the dead, Disturbed Burial can generate card advantage over time while also giving you the benefit of casting a spell repeatedly.
The black-green color pair recently took a trip to Witherbloom and with it came a focus on gaining, and paying, life. Essence Bottle can gain quite a bit of life but also has the advantage of working with cards that care about extra counters. Winding Constrictor and Doubling Season can turn the Essence Bottle into an entire case of revitalizing liquid that works wonders with Willowdusk, Essence Seer.
Sadistic Glee turns any creature into a threat, provided you can handle other monsters. The Aura puts +1/+1 counters on the bearer the Aura anytime another creature dies. If you can stick this on a Commander and then wipe out everything else, you’re in great shape to start ending the game. I put this card to great use in a Grismold, the Dreadsower deck that did a good job of keeping all those Plants from ever really sprouting.
There is one artifact that garners my interest. Helm of Possession is one of my favorite artifacts. For the low price of two mana and sacrificing a creature, you can steal any creature on the board as long as Helm remains tapped. Like Coffin Queen, you can choose not to untap the Helm during your untap step. Helm is a powerful political tool, letting you dictate if other players can keep their largest threat. Sure it paints a target on your head, but it was going to happen anyway, right?
Avenging Druid is not nearly as busted as their hermetic cousin. The 1/3 needs to deal damage to an opponent – yes, noncombat damage counts – and then it will mill your deck until you hit a land and put it right onto the battlefield. There are other green cards with similar effects – Hunting Cheetah and Centaur Rootcaster – but this can get any land and has the upside of potentially putting a bunch of your library into the bin. While there are better options, a low-power Meren of Clan Nel Toth deck could run this, as could any dedicated lands, self-mill, or Living Death deck.
Keeper of the Dead is a bit hard to parse. Basically, if you have two more creatures in your graveyard than an opponent does, you can pay a black and tap this to kill any one of their non-black creatures. While not as efficient as Avatar of Woe or Visara the Dreadful, this costs a measly two mana for a potential killing machine. Black and green have plenty of ways to make sure there are enough creatures in your graveyard and there is almost always going to be a target. If you’re looking for a cheap way to control the board, it’s hard to go under Keeper of the Dead.
Whenever I see a list of underplayed Commander cards, Necrologia always makes an appearance. This “one shot” Necropotence is expensive at five mana, but lets you easily reload your hand. The timing restriction – that it has to be cast during your end step – is awkward to be sure. That being said, it’s effective and can often signal that you aren’t able to do anything on your opponent’s next turn cycle since you might just be tapping out for this instant. Not for the faint of heart, Necrologia packs a wallop if you can resolve and untap.
What’s better than killing a creature? Getting your removal spell back. Slaughter is a four-mana Doom Blade with a buyback cost of four life. The opportunity to keep the best threats off the board while potentially turning on other synergies in your deck is enticing to be sure. The four mana price tag is hefty, but the mere threat of this in your hand might keep your opponents from committing their threats to the board.
The last card I want to talk about today is Spike Cannibal. If your metagame is loaded with +1/+1 counters, this card can absolutely wreck a board state. Stealing every +1/+1 counter means this three mana card could get obscenely large with minimal effort. Combine with Retribution of the Ancients to mow down whatever creatures remain or Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord to end the game in short order.
Magic has a rich history. Even with the recent increase in the number of releases, there are still plenty of gems to be found in Magic‘s past. What are your favorite “unknown” cards from Tempest block and how do you use them in Commander?