Welcome back to Pure//Simple, the article series that tries to take the mystery out of card choices. Knowing what cards are good in Commander is one of the first steps towards becoming well-versed in the format, but knowing why certain cards are good is even more important. Last time, I discussed two sets of cards that work well with a chosen commander. This time, I decided to do the opposite. Let’s look at a card that can’t be your commander and see what decks we can build that feature that card. For this article, I chose Panharmonicon.
Debuting in the Kaladesh set, Panharmonicon has quickly risen to the rank of “staple” in a wide variety of Commander deck lists. Since its release in the fall, it’s been in the top 10 for most viewed cards on EDHREC. But why is that? Further, why is this card considered one of the best artifacts to come into the format in years? The answer is simply that it embodies much of what decks in Commander are trying to do.
The release of Magic 2011 saw the first printing of the Titan cycle (Grave Titan, Sun Titan, etc.), which are high-powered creatures with incredible enter the battlefield (ETB) effects. This means that no matter if the creature was killed after it came onto the board, you got some value out of it before it left. This wasn’t always true about creatures in Magic. In fact, I highlighted this point in time because it signaled the start of creatures having powerful effects similar to the Titan cycle. Of course, cards like that existed before the Titan cycle, but it was far more sparse than it is today. The Titan cycle represented a shift in the way that the Magic designers approached creatures.
Obviously, many of the Titans made their way into Commander decks, where their impact is more pronounced. Due to the multiplayer nature of the format, getting essentially a “spell” (the effect of the creature entering the battlefield) and having a attacker/blocker afterwards is markedly better than both a creature with few abilities and a spell that does the same effect. It essentially boils down to getting more bang for your buck. Additionally, Magic has many more interactions with creatures than it does with spells. You can get them back out of your graveyard easier, you can return them to your hand, you can search for them, et cetera.
Over time, with the printing of even more creatures that followed the Titan design philosophy, Commander became more and more focused on creatures that could get you something right away. Some jokingly referred to Commander as “ETB the Gathering”, in reference to the text “enters the battlefield” that appears on many of the format’s best creatures. Today almost every deck uses multiple creatures that give you stuff when it comes onto the board and the advantage that players once had has evened out.
That’s where Panharmonicon comes in. If almost every player has some number of creatures that get them spell-like abilities upon entering the battlefield, then maybe the way to get ahead is to get twice that number of abilities than your opponents can. Enter Panharmonicon into the fray. On top of this, Panharmonicon is a colorless artifact, which makes it available for every deck that wants it. No wonder it is so popular.
Imagine you opened one during your pre-release draft, where do you go with it? Luckily, EDHREC has some answers. Let’s search EDHREC with Panharmonicon.
Look at all these potential commanders. Hmm, since I went with a red-white commander in the last article, let’s fill out the rest of the color pie and take a look at Gonti, Lord of Luxury and Ezuri, Claw of Progress for some sweet Panharmonicon action.
Gonti, another new card from the Kaladesh set, pairs so well with Panharmonicon, you’d think they were best friends. Gonti, as your commander offers something that few commanders can, and that’s draw cards. Now, with Gonti’s ability, you get the best card from the top 4 cards of an opponent’s library, and it’s yours to play forever, whenever you feel like it. In that case, it’s slightly better than drawing a card, since you can’t have it discarded and you get that option of a selection. The best part is it’s your opponent’s card, so you can almost certainly quell any complaints about casting their spell by saying “you’re the one who put it in the deck”. Another cool thing about Gonti’s ability is that it allows you to stop certain cards from seeing play. Don’t like that game ending spell that your opponent put to the top off a Liliana Vess? Well, it’s yours now.
To top it off, Gonti has deathtouch, which is a powerful ability in multiplayer since your opponents will think twice before attacking you. Gonti is essentially a ‘two for one’ on a stick most of the time, and can be more depending on what you take. If Gonti is your commander, the ability to cast the card over and over eventually swings the game in your favor. Gonti gets even better with Panharmonicon, since you will get two cards off the enter the battlefield ability each time, meaning you can plunder one opponent twice or two opponents. With Panharmonicon, Gonti looks more like Arcanis, the Omnipotent.
So what’s better than two cards off of Gonti hitting the battlefield? How about three? How about way, way more than three? The next two cards are perfect for that, and are great in any deck looking to make use of Panharmonicon.
Before Panharmonicon saw the light of day, there was Strionic Resonator. Panharmonicon has stolen the spotlight from this great artifact, but Strionic Resonator is still a fantastic card to include in many Commander decks. Like Panharmonicon, Resonator can double up on an enters the battlefield effect for you, since those are triggered abilities. So if you play one creature each turn with an ETB effect, it’s essentially a second Panharmonicon. However, Strionic Resonator can double up on a whole bunch of other things. Want a second card from Phyrexian Arena this turn? It’s yours. With Gonti, Resonator, and Panharmonicon, now you get three cards of your opponents.
We can go even deeper. Another recent card that everyone in the Commander community got excited for was Blade of Selves. The myriad ability that this artifact provides, is very much like Panharmonicon and Strionic Resonator when it comes to creature ETBs. Let’s go back to Gonti as an example. With Gonti, you equip the Blade, attack, and depending on the number of opponents you have, you’ll get one less card than that many opponents. So if you have three opponents, you get two cards. If you have four opponents, you get three cards. So each time you attack, you get multiple enters the battlefield triggers.
In the words of the the late great Billy Mays, “But wait, there’s more!”. If you have Panharmonicon with Strionic Resonator and Blade of Selves, things can get out of hand. Attack with a creature, like Gonti, copy the myriad trigger with Strionic Resonator (since myriad says “Whenever”) to get double the attacking tokens, and then Panharmonicon gives you double for the attacking creatures! With Gonti, that can be twelve cards in one attack!
Panharmonicon’s fun is just getting started! Let’s look at another potential commander than can make use of this sweet artifact – Ezuri, Claw of Progress.
When Ezuri was first revealed in Commander 2015, many people instantly recognized the card’s potential. The first thing that comes to mind is tokens. Ezuri loves tokens. Each token making card you play makes Ezuri more and more devastating. Pair him with any of the many Commander staples, like Avenger of Zendikar, and he quickly makes a few of your tokens huge. Pair him with Panharmonicon, and each power 2 or less creature gives you double the experience. It’s hard not to have the beefiest creature on the board at that point.
Champion of Lambholt is one of the best ways in Commander to easily make your creatures unblockable. Champion rewards you for doing the thing that decks wanting to win via creatures attacking does best – playing many creatures. Each creature you can get to enter the battlefield on your side with Champion out means that other player’s blocking options become increasingly narrow. One good token creating spell or creature and it might be game over for your opponents. Panharmonicon helps to speed that inevitability up by giving you two +1/+1 counters for each of your creatures entering the battlefield. Dump a few more counters with Ezuri unto Champion, and you’ll make short work of your opponents.
I mentioned this earlier, but deathtouch can be an important ability for a creature to have in Commander, specifically because it can ward off your opponent’s attacks. So what’s better than making five of such creatures at one time? Oh, did I mention, they have flying? Your opponents will be hard pressed to get around this wall of angry hornets. It’s even better when you’re on the offensive, since you can split the damage up amongst each of your opponents should you choose to instead of being forced to attack only one player a turn. Panharmonicon makes this card even more crazy since you’ll get eight tokens instead of four. If you have Ezuri out as well, that means eighteen experience counters in one go. That’s probably enough to take at least one player out of the game that turn.
I stand behind what I said in my previous article, “there is no right way to build a deck”. Most Commander decks are usually focused on the Legendary Creature at the helm, and for the most part, that is the best course to building a new deck. However, sometimes, there is a really good card, like Panharmonicon, that may inspire you to brew. That’s what makes this format great.