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The Best Black Commanders You Aren’t Playing in MTG

Commander is the format that allows for the greatest overall creativity, but due to its popularity it is also home to a surprising amount of homogeneity. The more popularity it gains, the more the aggregate tells you what’s “good,” and the more creative options and variance are pushed aside for pure power. I go to great efforts to avoid this, including purposefully moving away from staples and building “underpowered” theme decks engineered for fun. This has me looking at the many available commanders in a new light.

There is an advantage to running almost any creature in the command zone, but a number of creatures that are worth leading your deck are being shoved aside by apparent power creep, and several interesting psychosocial effects inherent to the most social of formats. Here, I’m going to take a moment to look over some of the commanders in my favorite color, Black, that you should consider giving another look at to put in your command zone. From new cards that are being overshadowed by cards released alongside them to creatures with a higher mana value than some are comfortable with, I’ll help you mine up some hidden gems. 

Sheoldred, Whispering One

Sheoldred, Whispering One

Sheoldred is the card on this list that you’re still most likely to see leading someone’s deck, but I wanted to highlight this Phyrexian Praetor in particular as an example of mana value pushing her out of the game. Seven mana is a lot, even in a color with ready access to Cabal Coffers and Crypt Ghast, but the impact Sheoldred has on the board is undeniable. She may be a removal magnet (something that isn’t necessarily even bad if you’re running combo pieces that you don’t want to get targeted by that removal), but if she survives a rotation she’s four-for-one’d the table and is in a position to do so all over again. K’rrik is the favorite for big-mana strategies, but Sheoldred may actually be more effective for some builds that are needlessly paying life.

Sidisi, Undead Vizier

Sidisi, Undead Vizier

Having a tutor in the command zone feels exceptional. It’s worth noting, of course, that it can also make you a target- that may well be the primary reason that Sidisi flags a bit in popularity. You don’t want to sit down at the table and immediately be tagged as the player that’s going to try to win off a tutored Ad Nauseam, but if that is your game plan Sidisi increases your odds of being able to pull off that win by leaps and bounds. I’ll be the first to tell you that fear of being the archenemy of the table frankly shouldn’t stop you from running the best option for your strategy- Tergrid, God of Fright players (ironically given the name) don’t fear the stigma and Sidisi deserves a share of that fearlessness.

Korlash, Heir to Blackblade

Korlash, Heir to Blackblade

One of my favorites on this list, Korlash gets ignored in large part due to his Grandeur effect that does next to nothing in the format (you can do some strange things with bounce effects and clones, but those loops are not worth jumping through). However, entirely ignoring that text, Korlash is a potentially massive beater that protects himself with an efficient regeneration ability. Throw a Nightmare Lash or Lashwrithe (or better both!) on Korlash and you’ve effectively got “lash” tribal going while he beats the table down with the power of swamps. Regeneration is also a severely underrated form of protection in modern magic, so if your goal is to win with commander damage, or you want to at least have the option for that 21 damage win condition, Korlash is one of  the best, if not actually the best, option in mono black.

Fain, the Broker

Fain, the Broker

I noted that Sheoldred, Whispering One may be a better big mana deck option than some of the other popular options, but Fain may very well trump Sheoldred. Fain represents a truly staggering amount of value in one creature. His complete toolbox of abilities that all feed each other make him feel like the complete package all on his own. At Instant speed, Fain can readily buff a creature, create a body, or build up temporary ramp- then he can do it again for every four mana you can pump into him. He does everything you want as long as you have just one of the resources he asks for on hand, after which he becomes an engine all on his own. If you dream of acting primarily at instant speed and love value, Fain is the broker you should hire to run your command zone.

Burakos, Party Leader x Haunted One

Burakos, Party LeaderHaunted One

Burakos, Party Leader is in the unhappy position of being a precon commander printed alongside an obvious build around background in the form of Folk Hero. Similarly, the many colors of magic offer a lot of options for potentially powerful party members- so why limit yourself to one color? Let me tell you, however, that the protective bonus offered by Haunted One is exceptional and may well be the strongest thing you can be doing with Burakos. The multi-classing character lets you crash in freely with a packed party, generating gold and damage with Burakos on top of whatever happens during combat. Combo undying with cards like Retribution of the Ancients or Fain, the Broker above and you can keep on haunting the combat step with a truly spooky party. 

Ashling, the Extinguisher

Ashling, the Extinguisher

The undisputed queen of underutilized black commanders, Ashling, the Extinguisher provides a rare effect from the command zone: targeted sacrifice. With the number of scary creatures with indestructible only growing with time, the ability to gun down such creatures with impunity is something that should be seeing similarly increasing demand. Throw a Whispersilk Cloak on her or give her the Key to the City and anything that can be targeted is in immediate danger, representing a real threat for the relatively low cost of four mana out of the command zone. All the better, despite being a source of repeatable removal, Ashling is essentially on no one’s radar politically. In fact, the ability to take out almost any threat at the table once she has unblockable will often make her a positive policing tool for the table.

Shining In the Dark

The choice of commander is one of the hardest decisions in the game of Magic, but you do yourself a disservice by not stopping to consider the less common creatures that you see at the table. There is a lot of utility that’s hiding, buried beneath more popular legendaries, and I hope you’ll consider these shiny gems the next time you’re crafting a mono-black brew. You definitely won’t be disappointed if you build around any of the commanders highlighted here!

 

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