In my last Pure//Simple article, I looked back fondly at the year 2010 and found some cards that were hot in the Commander format but have since lost their luster in the last 7 years. This time, I’m going to skip ahead two years to 2012 and look at cards that were at the top then that still have their place in the format today. We’ll look at why their longevity is warranted and maybe determine if their run is coming to an end.
2012 might be the point in time where Commander became the “enters the battlefield” format that is is today. Utility creatures that didn’t give you an immediate effect were increasingly being passed up in order to slot in things like the Titan cycle (more on that soon). Heck, it might not have only been Commander that changed at this time. The power of the Titan cycle paved the way for even more efficient creatures of all flavors in just about every format. So it’s no surprise that the creatures I’ve chosen here all have something to do with entering the battlefield. It may well be the mark of longevity in Commander.
If you want to follow along with the top cards list I used for this article, you can find it here.
Every printing of Sun Titan has the flavor text “A blazing sun never sets.” and that couldn’t be more fitting for a card first released in Magic 2011. It and its Titan brethren (Grave Titan, Inferno Titan, Frost Titan and the very much banned Primeval Titan) launched the current era of creatures with powerful enter the battlefield abilities. Of the non-banned in the Titan cycle, it’s easy to make a case that Sun Titan is the best, with Grave Titan being a close second. When it came out in 2010, there were innumerable great targets to get out of the graveyard, from fetchlands, to a previously destroyed Sword of Fire and Ice or Oblivion Ring. And as time went on, those targets have become even better, compounded by the fact that the average converted mana cost of Commander decks have gone down, giving “Sunny T” even more to pull back.
If anything, Body Double has gotten stronger over the years. In 2012, there were great targets for Body Double to become, but creatures are better now than they ever have been. You’d luck out back then if someone killed a Bogardan Hellkite and you could reap the benefits. Nowadays, you’re much more likely to have at least a decent creature to duplicate from a graveyard, even with the influx of graveyard hate (Bojuka Bog, Nihil Spellbomb and the like). For a long time, Body Double has acted as a reanimator spell in blue, along the lines of Animate Dead, but has the added benefit of being a 0/0 creature outside of the battlefield, making it ripe to abuse with Reveillark and the recent Recruiter of the Guard, among others. The only knock against it now is that sometimes it feels slow. Five mana is reaching the top of the curve in a lot of decks, and it’s best played right after a board wipe so that you can really cash in on the best creature. That being said, I don’t think Body Double should hit the cutting room floor any time soon.
Rune-Scarred Demon is a tutor, on a creature, with no side effects. It’s not hard to see why Rune-Scarred Demon is still being played in 2017. For 7 mana, you get a hefty 6/6 flyer and any card from your library. I, along with many other Commander content creators, have mentioned that cards at that mana cost should win you the game in most instances, given that Commander has increasingly shied away from the big mana format it once was. Now, the Rune-Scarred Demon isn’t going to win it for you outright, but it will get you pretty damn close. It can find a game-winning spell while giving you some protection. On top of that, you can recur is much more easily than any of the sorcery-based tutors in black. You can’t Animate Dead a Demonic Tutor. Rune-Scarred Demon is a straightforward powerful – but not broken – card, hence its continuing popularity.
It’s funny to think about how powerful Siege-Gang Commander is, considering it was first printed before most of anything else on this list. Let’s break down the stats. First, you get 5 power of creatures for 5 mana in red. Second, you get 3 tokens in a relevant creature type. Third, you get something to do with those tokens without any other cards necessary. It’s a tight package of options that has stood the test of time and is boosted by many current Commander all-stars. Siege-Gang Commander is perfect in Purphoros, God of the Forge decks that want to make as many creatures as possible, it’s awesome with token doublers like the recent Anointed Procession, it gains additional value with Panharmonicon, it can draw you a ton of cards with Skullclamp. And that’s not even talking about any goblin tribal synergies. Yet, one of the best things about the card is that it’s perfectly fair, Siege-Gang Commander is normally not going to win you the game in an empty board, but it never feels like a dead card, outside someone else controlling an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite.
Eternal Witness, or EWit, as it is affectionately called, has been, and will probably always be a staple in Commander. For one extra green mana, you get a 2/1 creature stapled to a Regrowth. What’s funny about Eternal Witness is that many new Commander players might not realize why it and cards like it are so powerful in the format. I know it took me a little bit when I first started playing. Since Commander is a 100 card singleton format, there are many effects that aren’t available on multiple cards. For instance, Panharmonicon – there is only one card that does what Panharmonicon does. If you lose that card in some way, be it destruction, mill or discard, your deck might be hobbled for the rest of the game. Having the ability to fish it out with Eternal Witness can be a massive swing in your favor. Plus, you get selection from all the cards in your graveyard, which means you can use it to get the right card at the right time. Additionally, who doesn’t want to replay the cards in their deck? You put those cards in the deck for a reason when you built it, why wouldn’t you want to keep playing with them? If not, maybe they shouldn’t be in the deck. Add to the fact that you can repeat EWit’s effect in myriad ways, from returning it to your hand, to blinking it with something like Ghostly Flicker, to copying it with a Clone, and you see why it’s still at the top.
What better way to take advantage of all the enter the battlefield effects of both you and your opponents than getting them back for a second time via Havengul Lich? Stealing stuff out of graveyards has always been a good side strategy in Commander, and Havengul Lich was at the forefront. It’s amazing that its activation is only 1 mana, for an effect that powerful. Granted, you have to pay the mana cost of the creature, which may or may not be hard depending on your opponent’s colors. Still, Havengul Lich was in the top cards list way before it got better with the Commander rules change allowing you to produce mana outside your commander’s color identity. However, we have recently gotten a similar effect in the form of The Scarab God. The Scarab God’s ability is 4 mana to activate, but that’s all you have to pay. Sure, if that token you create dies, you can’t do much about it, it makes raising some creatures easier, even if you suffer a power and toughness loss.
Solemn Simulacrum, aka “Sad Robot”, has been a cornerstone of Commander decks since 5ever. It didn’t matter what color combination you played, Solemn Simulacrum was at the top of the list. This was true for a very long time amongst deck builders and still seems to be true for many players today. Heck, Solemn Simulacrum got slightly better a few years back with the introduction of Wastes allowing colorless decks access to the card. However, it seems that some players have realized that the ol’ Sad Robot might not be as useful as it once was. Going from 4 mana to 6 mana (if you include the next turn’s land drop) isn’t the boost it was in 2012 and years prior. With the average converted mana cost going down in the format, Solemn Simulacrum is getting edged out for cheaper options. That isn’t to say that it’s no longer a good card. Decks that could use the extra ramp like mono-red, mono-white and Boros builds still look at cards like this to provide necessary mana boosts, but anything running green or powerful low converted mana cost artifacts are shying away from this 4 mana spell. Nowadays, you have to really look at whether the card is worth it, instead of just blindly shuffling it in.
For many, these cards might feel like no-brainers based on their longevity, but it’s still worth noting how long they have stayed on top. Other non-rotating formats will have a few cards that aren’t going away, like Tarmogoyf in Modern or Force of Will in Legacy, but depending on bans and new releases, the rest of the format can shift quite heavily. Only with Commander will cards firmly hold on to their position for years. Then again, most of the cards I’ve listed above share some of the core philosophies of the format, namely recursion, tutoring and ramp. It’s something that rings true over and over – if a card can do one or more of those things in an efficient manner, you’ll probably be seeing it in Commander pods for years to come.