It’s hard to fathom how we’re now in the thick of a second year of learning to live with Covid-19 as a part of everyday life. The impact of the pandemic on modern living has been profound to the point that it has even reshaped how I play my hobby, Magic: the Gathering. Today, I’ll be looking at that reshaping with some of the newest Commander staples during our “break” from paper Magic.
For me, the inability to gather safely to play cards at the local games store with friends put a damper on my interest in playing and collecting Magic. I made an effort to get into Magic Arena and MTGO as a safe online alternative to shuffling up, but my interest in both quickly fizzled without the interpersonal interaction and socialization.
Like many other “cardboard gathering” enthusiasts, I’ve been in sort of a Magic hibernation these past 18 months, waiting to wake up and safely play cardboard Magic with my friends once again. Over the past month, I’ve finally had new opportunities to safely and responsibly play cardboard Magic and it has reinvigorated my interest in the hobby once again.
In particular, Commander has become the “go to” paper format that people seem to have an interest in playing at the moment. It makes a lot of sense considering the year we’ve all had, both with regard to the pandemic and the implosion of competitive Magic. Here are some highlights from the past year and a half:
- WOTC scraps professional Magic and DCI numbers.
- More Constructed bannings than any other period in Magic history by a wide margin.
- Ludacris expensive mythic staples (Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer).
- Secret Lairs (WOTC selling bling foils directly to consumers).
I think after 18 months of substandard Magic formats on online platforms, new and returning fans to paper Magic just want to have fun and appreciate the social experience with other human beings once again.
For me, Commander is 100 percent about playing games with friends and enjoying my favorite old cards once again and adding new cards that I think look sweet. I have a couple of precons, a couple of decks I’ve built to be equivalently powerful to precons and a few decks that are somewhere in between casual and cEDH. I’m interested in playing cEDH, but haven’t found a group of players in my area to play with yet.
I have more than enough incredible Magic cards to build a dozen decks without ever buying a new card. So, a card has to be pretty exciting in order to get my attention and money. With that said, these are the cards released during the pandemic that I find most interesting, exciting and worthy of being Commander/EDH staples.
Treasure Vault is an incredible card and since it has no explicit color identity (it is colorless) it can and does go into virtually any Commander deck. The ability to cash in Treasure Vault during an opponent’s end step and then untap with a ton of Treasure tokens is a great way to set up a big turn.
Treasure Vault is also an artifact land which gives it neat synergy with mechanics like Affinity or metalcraft. It’s also a card well worth recurring with Crucible of Worlds, Life from the Loam or even Goblin Welder (weld a Treasure Token back into a Treasure Vault).
In case you missed it, Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath was a dominant card in Standard and Modern during the pandemic. With that said, it’s raw power translates nicely to Commander play where it’s a very solid Simic staple.
Drawing cards, ramping and being cast for value from the graveyard are all things we’d typically like our cards to do which makes this Constructed powerhouse a great fit for Commander decks.
While 2020-2021 wasn’t a great year for human beings living through a global pandemic, in the multiverse it was a pretty great year for powerful Dragons!
Goldspan Dragon is the first of three Dragon’s on today’s Top 8 list. There was also pretty stiff competition for the last few spots on today’s list (with even more Dragons in the hunt). With that said, Goldspan Dragon gets the nod because not only is it an incredibly solid card, but it’s also a single-color spell as opposed to a multicolor spell that has more limited and specific Commander deckbuilding applications.
Treasure tokens as an increasingly important part of multiplayer Commander play is a direct corollary to new designs, such as Goldspan Dragon and Treasure Vault, printed during the Covid era. Goldspan Dragon is one of the strongest “Treasures matter” synergy card since it not only generates Treasure but also doubles the mana output of Treasure while in play.
Old Gnawbone is another example of a powerful Dragon spell that has incredible Treasure token synergy. It’s also significant that Old Gnawbone grants the ability to turn combat damage into Treasure to all of our creatures (including itself), meaning the turn it hits play, even without having haste, it’ll be likely to help us net a bunch of Treasure mana.
The card also naturally synergizes with other powerful cards like Doubling Season that are format staples.
I have drafted quite a bit of Adventures of the Forgotten Realms and am still yet to crack an Old Gnawbone! So unlucky!
The Ozolith is perhaps the most understated incredible Commander card from the Covid era sets. For a single mana, the card does something completely new, unique and desirable: it allows a player to repurpose counters on permanents that die.
I really enjoy playing Commander decks with a lot of counter synergies (who doesn’t, right?) and The Ozolith is a game changer for these popular archetypes. Also, the fact that it’s colorless means it can go into all color identities of decks.
Beledros Witherbloom is my favorite card on my list by a wide margin. I really enjoy playing various Golgari decks in Commander (right now, I’m playing Glissa, the Traitor) and Beledros earns every bit of its “Elder Dragon” status.
First of all, it’s a large flying Dragon that makes a Pest token each upkeep, which is great in multiplayer, but the biggest draw is the ability to pay 10 life to untap all our lands once per turn. Essentially, the turn we drop Beledros Witherbloom, we can simply pay 10 life to untap all the lands used to cast it.
It’s hard to deny that Esper Sentinel isn’t an incredibly powerful Commander card. For a single mana, it’s up there with the powerhouses of the format in terms of what you get for what you pay.
Esper Sentinel has a “dialed back” version of Rhystic Study on a creature. I say “dialed back” because Esper Sentinel only triggers for the first noncreature spell a player plays each turn (instead of every spell). It’s also worth noting that anything that bolsters Esper Sentinels power increases the “tax” a player must pay to keep you from drawing an extra card, which makes it a nice card in an Equipment deck.
Beating out Esper Sentinel as my pick for best Commander card from the Covid era is Jeweled Lotus. It’s essentially a Black Lotus with the drawback of only being able to cast a specific combo piece that’s always in your hand (command zone). So, yeah… It’s objectively one of the pound-for-pound most powerful cards in the format.
When thinking about how powerful a card is in a format, it’s also productive to think about how many decks would be improved by taking out a card and replacing that card with a Jeweled Lotus. Since Jeweled Lotus casts zero mana, has no color identity drawback and improves nearly every deck by virtue of being included, I would say that Jeweled Lotus earns my vote for most powerful Covid era Commander design.
I had a few cards that didn’t make my list that I’m really enjoying in Commander:
Gisa, Glorious Resurrector is an incredible Commander staple. I highly recommend picking one up while they are still relatively cheap.
I strongly considered giving Galazeth Prismari a spot in the Top 8. Ultimately, it was held back only by the fact that it has a two-color identity that limits how many decks can access it. I really enjoy playing UR decks in Commander and Galazeth’s ability to turn every artifact into a Mox Opal makes it an auto-include in every Izzet Commander deck.
Did we need another Eternal Witness? Well, we’ve got one with an ability to be played from the graveyard. Timeless Witness is an extremely excellent Commander card that is worthy of being included on the list.
Timeless Witness is the only card from the pandemic era that I own an actual playset of because I need one for Battle Box and basically every deck that plays green. So, excellent.
Overall, today’s article highlights the cards released during the pandemic that I think are the most interesting for Commander. I don’t tend to think about Magic competitively or dogmatically anymore. I’m much more interested in playing with cards that I enjoy than worrying about having the objectively best version of every new variant; with that said, all of the cards on today’s list are cards that are both powerful and unique enough that they’re on my radar as cards I’m interested in knowing about (and, potentially playing with if I could ever crack an Old Gnawbone!)