Currently, there are 55,404 decks decks in the EDHREC database running Eternal Witness, and not a single one of them should have it as part of the 99.
Welcome back to In the Margins, a monthly Commander-centric column where I start by saying things that are patently untrue. We’re gonna refer to these as ‘alternative facts’ moving forward. With regards to factual facts, Eternal Witness is great. However, it is also in too many decks, and I’m gonna tell you why.
First though, I’m going to warn you that we are going to see a bit of a focus shift here at In the Margins, starting with this, the inaugural column of 2019. When I first pitched my article series to EDHREC, I had fresh in my mind a handful of cards to analyze. These cards see a lot of play, yet have an extensive list of strictly better alternatives. Cancel, Manalith, Fog, Doom Blade, Naturalize, the list goes on and on. Except it kinda doesn’t go on and on. There’re only so many cards with heavy EDH play that feature a handful of strictly better options, and I’ve run though a lot of them. Rather than retire the series or continue writing about cards that progressively less and less play, moving forward, I’m going to focus more on cards like Eternal Witness which may situationally have better replacements. And yes, I’ll probably update that classic opening sentence. Just not today. This is one last go, for old time’s sake, one last big job before I retire, like Robert De Niro in Heat. Or Robert De Niro in Midnight Run. Or Robert De Niro in the Score. Or Robert De Niro in Ronin.
This isn’t the first time I’ve addressed Ewit; back on October 4th on episode #27 of the EDHRECast I brought it up on our “Challenge the Stats” segment. The Command Zone also addressed it in their “Most Overrated Cards” (episode #244) around the end of November. Both our segment and the CZ segment addressed the reasons Eternal Witness is overrated, but before I get into the reasons why you should run other cards over Ewit, I’m going to tick off quite a few reasons you should run it. That won’t stop the eventual Reddit thread from filling up with “Well, actually . . . ” posts from people who didn’t bother to read the article, but I’ll do my due diligence anyway.
I’m sure there’re plenty more reasons I missed to run Ewit in your particular deck, and that’s fine. There are a gazillion reasons to run it, and I won’t argue with those. The point I’m making is that not all fifty thousand decks in our database are running ways to abuse recursion on a stick, or ways to abuse ETB triggers, or a density of sacrifice outlets to make the fodder worthwhile.
Additionally, without the ability to take advantage of those strategies, you may possibly be enabling someone else to abuse Ewit; Mimic Vat sees play in 11,214 decks and Sepulchral Primordial shows up in 9,966 decks, so someone else is more than capable of stealing your dead Ewit and reaping the benefits. Compare this to the 2,023 decks playing Chancellor of the Spires, or the 3,003 running Memory Plunder; it’s much more difficult for someone to steal a dead spell from you than a dead creature. That probably isn’t necessarily a reason to make the switch, but it’s something to consider.
What we want to look at are options for decks that can’t abuse Ewit. That’s really what this article is about: cards that have an upside better than a 2/1 blocker in decks where a 2/1 blocker is the only upside Ewit provides.
Regrowth is the most obvious comparison here, so let’s discuss it first. If you’re not abusing Ewit’s 2/1 body, running Regrowth lets you trade your 2/1 chump blocker for one less mana. That doesn’t sound like much, but it could be the difference between whether you’re able to cast the spell you brought back that turn or not. It’s an extra card off a Stroke of Genius, or an extra three damage to everyone with a Torment of Hailfire.
As of this article, Regrowth is in 10,493 decks in our database. Compared to Ewit, that’s a difference of roughly 45,000 decks. Are those 45,000 decks all set up to take advantage of Ewit over Regrowth? There’s no way to know. However, what we can do is look at the five most recent additions to the deck archives running Eternal Witness (using the “Recent Decks” tab on Eternal Witness’s EDHREC page). In doing so, we see that two of the five have zero sacrifice outlets and zero ways to recur a creature. They’re literally opting to pay an extra mana for a 2/1 body whose only upside is as a chump blocker or maybe chip damage. There’s no way to quantify how often saving a mana is worth losing the body, but you should at least be conscious of the fact that you’re choosing one over the other when you run Eternal Witness over Regrowth, particularly if you have no way to utilize the fact that the former is a creature.
Down // Dirty lets you trade out your 2/1 chump blocker to have the option to make someone discard two cards, or to do both if you pay both casting costs utilizing the Fuse keyword. Currently Down // Dirty is in less than 2% of the number of decks as Eternal Witness.
One would think Nath of the Gilt-Leaf, a commander built around gaining value from discard, would lean more heavily into Down // Dirty over Ewit, but that isn’t the case; 40% of the Nath decks in the EDHREC database running Eternal Witness aren’t running Down // Dirty. Are they doing so because they’re able to abuse Ewit in ways that makes not having access to the discard portion of the card worth it? There’s no way to verify it overall, but of the five most recent Nath decks (again using the Recent Decks feature on his page), three of the five have zero recursion, zero ways to sacrifice the body for value, and zero Overrun-type effects that would utilize Ewit’s body. Now, of those three, one is at least running both Lifecrafter’s Bestiary and Minon’s Murmurs, which could conceivably care about the 2/1 body. Still, even eliminating that deck, that leaves us two of the five most recent Nath decks running Eternal Witness for its upside as a chump blocker, rather than playing a split card with the same effect and the potential added synergy with the commander’s discard trigger.
Moving to another example, Nostalgic Dreams is my personal favorite card in this list. Nostalgic Dreams feels great to topdeck when you’re holding three lands in hand, or when it can put things in the yard that you can find ways to abuse. For the same cost as a Regrowth, your reanimator deck could use Nostalgic Dreams to grab a few things you need and pitch some disgustingly awesome creature to Reanimate with the spells you just brought back to your hand. Unfortunately Nostalgic Dreams exiles itself, so there’s almost no way to repeatedly abuse it, but fairly often it winds up being a Seasons Past for two mana, and that’s pretty excellent even as a one-shot effect. Yet despite this synergy, it only shows up in 557 decks total, literally 0.01% of the decks as Ewit.
Naya Charm has the same CMC as Eternal Witness, though it’s much harder to cast, requiring three different pips of mana. Still, in a deck with no ways to abuse Ewit’s body, Naya Charm gives you the option to bolt a creature or tap all creatures for an alpha strike. That’s some awesome flexibility right there. Given Naya’s propensity for creature-based damage, I’d guess the 2/1 body probably is worth having more often than not, but it’s worth at least taking a look at before just automatically running Witness. The fact that you can use the Charm at instant speed is also quite valuable at times (for example, when you’re also holding up a Beast Within or Teferi’s Protection in preparation for any problem your opponents present), and it’s even fetchable with a Sunforger.
Noxious Revival doesn’t bring the card to hand, just to the top of your library. This mean it essentially costs you a draw step, and it gives your opponent a chance to respond with a potential shuffle or mill effect. However, it’s also freakishly efficient; for one green mana (or zero mana and two life) you can get any card back. Alternatively, in a pinch, you can also target an opponent, putting a land on top of their deck to stall their draw step, removing a dead creature in response to an Animate Dead, or burying the important card they just retrieved with a Vampiric Tutor or Lim-Dul’s Vault or the top-deck they set up for Aminatou, the Fateshifter. Like Naya Charm, it’s also castable at instant speed.
Reclaim is a worse Noxious Revival, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth looking at. It’s two mana less than Ewit, and you can use it at instant speed. Like Noxious Revival, it costs you a draw step and doesn’t go to hand right away, but it can also interact with commander like Selvala, Explorer Returned. Those little synergies could matter, so again, make sure you’ve considered the upside of every card before simply picking the popular one.
Reviving Melody is probably the narrowest card here, but don’t discount it. In certain decks (looking at you, Tuvasa the Sunlit) the only cards you’ll generally want back from the yard are creatures and enchantments, and Reviving Melody would let you swap the 2/1 body for an additional card to hand. If that extra card is a Battle Mastery to go with the Ancestral Mask you just drew and the Nylea’s Colossus you could also bring back, it may be the difference between ending someone or letting them live just long enough on to kill you on the crackback.
According to her EDHREC page, the new popular enchantress commander Estrid the Masked runs an average of 31 enchantments and 18 creatures, but only a combined total of 13 instants, sorceries, and artifacts. 50% of the deck is made of creatures and enchantments, which means about 80% of the nonland cards are creatures and enchantments. The overwhelming majority of the time, the card you’ll need to get back will be an enchantment or a creature, so why not get both? Eternal Witness can be a blocker, but more often than not, it would also get back one less card than Reviving Melody… yet Melody doesn’t show up on Estrid’s page at all, while Ewit does.
Treasured Find is a worse Regrowth, and it’s only usable in decks also running black. Once upon a time, when Regrowth was a $4 card, Treasured Find was a budget replacement, but these days, with Regrowth under $1 there’s not much need for a budget replacement. Still, if you’re in a deck with no ways to abuse the 2/1 body and you want a second option, it gives you another Regrowth effect at one mana cheaper than Ewit. If you have no other recursion, the exile clause won’t hurt you a bit.
If you’re running Eternal Witness and you have no ways to recur her to abuse the trigger, nor a way to take advantage of the 2/1 body, it’s entirely possible one of these options may work a little better for you, and over time, a bunch of little betters adds up to a lot better. Leave a comment below if you’ve got any other possible Eternal Witness replacements, or any suggestions for future column subjects, or just leave a compliment about how my podcasting voice evokes the honey-rich tones of a young James Earl Jones.
Until next time, I’m Dana and I’ll see you In the Margins.