Hello fellow Magic junkies! I hope you had an amazing week either recovering or reviewing Grand Prix Vegas. It was a historic weekend and quite the exhausting ordeal. I spent the maximum amount of time there occupying the hall Cube drafting until the venue closed on Sunday. Judging from the success of the Command Zone party at the Grand Prix with its hundreds of attendees, I would have to say that EDH is in full bloom.
So of course, your girl is here to drop some more Commander knowledge. You can check out my last article detailing my picks for the top 5 most powerful generals in the format. For this article, however, I would like to review several powerful but underrated generals and their decks. These choices can still compete with the best decks at the moment. They may not be tier 1 choices, but the goal is to try something off the beaten path and still emerge victorious. Let’s go!
#5) Zurgo Bellstriker
I cannot believe that Zurgo isn’t a creature type Coward. Cowards can’t block Warriors, according to Boldwyr Intimidator, and Zurgo in this alternate timeline is certainly more timid. Despite not being a mighty 7/2 indestructible, this Zurgo always brings the beats to the opponent and starts the game off fast with a 2-power 1-drop.
Zurgo is an aggro deck that has access to late-game reach in the form of burn. The 1v1 format’s 30 life gives aggressive strategies a glimmer of hope but still poses a problem when it comes to closing the deal. I will just say it—30 damage is extremely hard to deal fast and consistently. There is no way around that fact and the best thing you can do is make sure your deck is lean and has repeatable sources of damage.
You may be for whom the bell tolls if:
- You like bringing the beats and red is your friend.
- You dislike draw-go strategies and like being aggressive.
- You like having a relatively inexpensive deck that can compete.
- You play burn in other formats.
You may not enjoy Zurgo Bellstriker if:
- You dislike coming up short in some games without much you could have changed.
- You like more complex decisions that blue and black decks offer.
- You dislike playing when you draw too many/too few lands when you play Magic.
- You like playing reactively.
Key Cards in the Deck
Eidolon of the Great Revel, Pyrostatic Pillar, Spellshock: These are some of the most important spells in the deck. Life gain spells aren’t prevalent in the format, which is advantageous for aggressive decks. You will still need repeatable damage sources in your list but luckily the lack of consistent life gain means that these methods of damage will often go the distance.
Sulfuric Vortex and Ankh of Mishra: Hey, did I mention repeatable damage sources? No? Okay cool, well, you are going to want cards that will do damage over and over for the course of the game. Cards like Lava Spike really don’t cut it in 1v1 Commander.
Blood Moon and Magus of the Moon: Surprisingly, you don’t see these cards in every Zurgo list. I understand that they aren’t terribly aggressive cards but there are so many multicolor mana bases that I would always want access to “oops I randomly win here” spells like these.
#4) Sidisi, Undead Vizier
Sidisi is a great option for mono-black lovers out there. Tutors and disruption is the name of the game here, followed up by an insta-win combo. The game plan is to cast Buried Alive, putting Phyrexian Devourer, Necrotic Ooze, and Walking Ballista into the graveyard. Then you want to cast a reanimation spell targeting the Necrotic Ooze, which gives it the abilities of Walking Ballista and Phyrexian Devourer. Exile cards from your deck with Devourer’s ability and shoot your opponent to death with the Ballista ability. Game over.
Sidisi acts primarily as a fast combo deck. Packed to the brim with tutors, it is relatively easy to assemble the combo itself. Even your general is a Demonic Tutor on a stick. But your opponent will be trying their hardest to throw a wrench in your game plan with both graveyard hate and counterspells. This gives Sidisi a good matchup against midrange and tempo decks and a poor matchup against pure control decks. Sidisi decks will have an easier time defeating the likes of Vial Smasher/Kraum decks and a harder time against Baral. This deck has the ability to both win fast or go long, so make sure to get many reps in with the deck to learn when to go for it and when to wait.
You may enjoy Sidisi, Undead Vizier if:
- You like tutors and having powerful options each game.
- You like winning games in a similar fashion each game.
- You want to beat Vial Smasher decks.
- You are a combo player in other formats.
- You are a Zombie.
You may not enjoy Sidisi, Undead Vizier if:
- You want games to play differently each game.
- Tutors overwhelm you.
- You hate losing to Baral and Tasigur.
- You want to play reactively and have access to different colors of interaction.
Key Cards in the Deck
Buried Alive: The most important and irreplaceable card in the deck, Buried Alive is part of the two-spell combo that you need to resolve to win games. If you are playing against Sidisi, counter Buried Alive at all costs, as there are far more reanimation spells than Entomb-like enablers.
Dark Ritual: In addition to discard spells and cards like Defense Grid, Sidisi decks have another option. Outrace your opponent. If you go turn-1 Dark Ritual + Buried Alive, you are a huge favorite to win the game. For this reason, there are many similar spells that give you a burst of mana even if they provide card disadvantage.
Necrotic Ooze: The namesake card in the Necrotic Ooze combo, do not get this card exiled. It is quite difficult to go for plans B or C with this deck and finding the right time to employ this combo successfully will be crucial to winning with this deck.
#3) The Gitrog Monster
I absolutely adore this little frogger. When he was spoiled, I immediately began brewing ideas with him and could not wait to get him onto the battlefield to let the value flow through me. After all, I had to make use of my German Gitrog Monster, Das Gitrog-Monster. It wasn’t long before super powerful lists were posted online that made great use of the nasty little Frog to combo through their library or bury the opponent with card advantage.
I wish The Gitrog Monster made my top 5 most powerful generals list. So why didn’t he? There are three reasons.
1) 5 mana is often too much for a general in 1v1 EDH that doesn’t win or bury the opponent on the spot. While powerful when resolved, there is still quite a bit of setup required to truly “go off” with the Frog.
2) Only having access to 2 colors of mana (and without blue). Basically, I want blue in my deck. Green and black are the next two strongest colors in EDH, but I would much rather play the next general on this list, which gives me access to blue.
3) Strip Mine being banned hurt the deck a lot. The deck has a great utility land tutor package, and Strip Mine was one of the best lands in the deck. Losing it hurt this strategy immensely.
You may enjoy The Gitrog Monster if:
- You have fun with splashy and unconventional win conditions.
- You like lands… no, like, really like lands.
- You like assembling engines more than typical control, aggro, or combo decks.
- Like to toy with your opponents a little before they croak.
- Have a love of amphibians.
You may not enjoy The Gitrog Monster if:
- You want to play blue.
- You want to play a true tier 1 deck.
- Like having control throughout the game.
- Want fast-paced games.
Key Cards in the Deck
Raven’s Crime: A grindy discard spell that lets you wither away a control deck’s resources.
Life from the Loam/Crucible of Worlds: Arguably the best cards in the deck, these spells will guarantee you card advantage with fetchlands, cycling lands, and Wasteland. Both have synergy with your general as well.
Bazaar of Baghdad: Powerful card draw and discard enabler combined with your general… oh ,what’s that? It’s banned in 1v1 Commander? That makes me hoppin’ mad. One of my favorite lands in casual EDH, this one will have to ride the bench.
Dakmor Salvage: Allows for you to dredge through your entire deck with ease if you have 8 cards in hand during your cleanup step.
#2) Leovold, Emissary of Trest
What’s this? Leovold on a list of underrated Commander cards? Wasn’t he just recently banned in casual Commander? Exactly. According to the numbers, Leovold is criminally underplayed. So much of the edge you get in 1v1 EDH comes down to card advantage and Leovold is second to none in this category. Tasigur, the Golden Fang is currently the most played Sultai general and I believe that Leovold deserves a spot in the top tier.
I will admit that when a control mirror reaches the later stages of the game, Tasigur is superior. The ability to pass with mana up and EOT activate has the potential to crush traditional counter-heavy decks like Baral and Breya with spells each turn. I have found that Leovold does an excellent job of ending games in a quicker fashion. Leovold can shut off some of the format’s most common spells like Brainstorm and Ponder, and make it so that you gain an edge long before reaching the later turns of the game.
Leovold recently took down a Commander Challenge on MTGO and I believe it is poised to usurp Tasigur as the top dog of the Opulent Palace. Leovold costing close to $40 by himself could certainly be a factor that limits his popularity. I feel that with the format becoming bluer and bluer, Leovold’s reign has just begun. There is no doubt that when playing against Leovold, he will always BUG you.
You may enjoy Leovold, Emissary of Trest if:
- You like playing spikey blue decks.
- You like Tasigur but want to try spicing things up.
- You like playing the 3 best colors in the format.
- You like experiencing that “oh yeah, I get to draw from that?” moment often.
You may not enjoy Leovold, Emissary of Trest if:
- You want to build on a budget.
- You don’t enjoy locking the opponent out of the game randomly in some games (why though?).
- Kinda drawing a blank here—Leo is lit!
Key Cards in the Deck
Mystic Confluence, True-Name Nemesis, Liliana of the Veil: These cards are in the top 1% most expensive cards on Magic Online. Mystic Confluence is a ridiculous spell and while $70 is quite a lot to shell out, it’s hard to lose when you’ve resolved it. True-Name Nemesis is a great planeswalker killer and Liliana has value in every matchup in the format.
Anvil of Bogardan: This card provides an excellent way to lock opponents out in conjunction with Leovold’s ability. The most beautiful part about Leovold decks is that they rarely need to assemble combos like this. They just play out normal games of Magic and occasionally find a way to close a game out of nowhere. There are no key cards for many Leovold decks other than the usual Cavern of Souls + fetch/dual mana base.
#1) Keranos, God of Storms
Well, after fawning over Leovold and how dreamy he is, it’s a wonder that I didn’t place him at number 1. Enter Keranos. This God is my favorite under-the-radar general for 1v1 Commander at the moment. Since the format’s inception, I have played Keranos on occasion to excellent results.
Keranos is a powerful control deck with a consistent mana base that allows it to utilize powerful land destruction and board wipes. I play games with this deck like traditional draw-go until it is time to let loose the destructive spells. Obliterate, Jokulhaups, and Devastation allow me to take care of almost every permanent in play, except my general. Leaving the board at this type of “parity” allows me to win several turns down the road with direct damage to the head. Keranos is an extremely difficult general to answer once resolved and I enjoy sculpting a plan to take him all the way to victory once he is in play.
You may enjoy Keranos, God of Storms if:
- You like draw-go strategies with a cheaper mana base.
- You like playing spells like Obliterate and friends.
- You want to play an indestructible general.
- Izzet ever wrong to play blue and red?
You may not enjoy Keranos, God of Storms if:
- You want access to more than 2 colors for interaction.
- You dislike mass land destruction.
- You don’t like the randomness of Keranos’ upkeep trigger.
- You want to attack with your general.
Key Cards in the Deck
Obliterate, Jokulhaups, Devastation: These powerful land destruction spells are a huge reason to play Keranos. Since your general isn’t affected by these, it isn’t rare to see a Keranos sitting on an empty board waiting to finish the opponent off with damage and card advantage. Obliterate is especially potent in this deck, functioning as a panic button as well because of its uncounterability. Beware of bounce spells, however.
Ruination, Blood Moon: It isn’t often you see these spells in a control deck, but here they are. Having the element of surprise against many opponents gives you an edge, and there are many decks that simply cannot play around these spells anyway. Playing a Ruination backed up with permission always feels amazing, especially with the high number of basics the deck runs.
Cavern of Souls: I know I have mentioned before that this is a crucial land in many EDH decks, but Cavern is extra devastating here. If Keranos can’t be countered, it is often unable to be answered at all. Playing a traditional control game with your general being invincible will eventually lead to your victory.
Thanks so much for reading about my favorite under-the-radar generals. This list is by no means exhaustive and there are countless other options as well. I feel like many of these generals are underrated for how powerful they are and I wrote this as inspiration for possible ideas you may have going forward. In general, don’t be too dismissive of possibilities of the format. Because it is fairly new, there are still many unexplored combos and synergies that can be tier 1/1.5 viable. Always consider the popular decks and strategies when building and testing and you are sure to find some hidden gems. Until next time, may their fetchlands always be Stifled.