Too-Specific Top 10 – Inside Job

(Arcanis, the Omnipotent | Art by Justin Sweet)

Always the Bridesmaid, Never the Bride

Welcome to Too-Specific Top 10, where if there isn’t a category to rank our pet card at the top of, we’ll just make one up! (Did you know that Kokusho, the Evening Star is the only Legend currently not on the ban list to have been banned in general, but not as a Commander specifically, to then become subsequently unbanned?)

Okay, that one was a stretch, even for me.

There are currently 891 legends you can throw into the Command Zone. The real question is, do you want to? There are plenty of options to play both in the illustrious general spot and just… in the deck.

Only, which legends are the best when it comes to being in the deck, but not in the Command Zone?


Top 10 Commanders (In the 99)

A simple premise, so let’s find the most convoluted way possible to figure it out, shall we? Each commander is ranked on EDHREC on both their amount of inclusions as a commander and as a card. So comparing the two should be fairly simple, and we’ll just pick the best commanders-as-cards, right?

All right then, here’s our top ten!

  1. Sidisi, Undead Vizier
  2. Sheoldred, Whispering One
  3. Tatyova, Benthic Druid
  4. Purphoros, God of the Forge
  5. Yahenni, Undying Partisan
  6. Etali, Primal Storm
  7. Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
  8. Gonti, Lord of Luxury
  9. Avacyn, Angel of Hope
  10. (Omitted because it’s our eventual number one!)

Not a bad list! Only, I know I’ve seen most of these cards as commanders, as well. I’ve run into more Gonti, Lord of Luxury decks than I can count, Purphoros, God of the Forge is one of the most popular Goblin Tribal commanders, and I think all of us are hoping we don’t go through another time period where Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite is the most popular mono-white commander again.

With that in mind, then, how about changing our parameters a bit to find the commanders that are the best in the ninety-nine, but not in the command zone? That way, to figure out our real top ten of cards that are really only good in the deck, all we’ll have to do is cross any commanders off the list that are in the top twenty-five percent of their color identity.


Top Commanders by Color Identity

With only eight total colorless commanders available, the colorless part of our list of exclusions is fairly easy, consisting only of Kozilek, the Great Distortion and Traxos, Scourge of Kroog.

For the rest, we’re gonna have a bigger list to cross things off of. While it’s a bit too time consuming to go through and list all of the commanders with their individual ranks for the entirety of magic, they are listed in ranking order for their color combination.

Top 25% of White (25 of 99):

 

 

For the Guilds and Wedges and Shards, the list does start to get a bit smaller, thankfully:

Top 25% Commanders of the Guilds

Azorius (8 of 32) (8)
Dimir (8 of 31) (8)
Rakdos (9 of 35) (9)
Gruul (8 of 30) (8)
Selesnya (9 of 34) (9)
Orzhov (6 of 21) (7)
Izzet (5 of 20) (5)
Golgari (7 of 26) (7)
Boros (7 of 25) (7)
Simic (5 of 20) (5)

We’re not going to count the four-color commanders, because there aren’t enough of them and by definition they’re not being included in ninety-nines.

So that eliminates almost our entire top ten list of top-ranked commanders and gives us a fresh new batch that have rarely if ever seen the command zone, but are constantly wheedling their way into decks. Let’s officially state our criteria, and we can get right to these popular inclusions that still aren’t making the cut as commanders.

Criteria: Cards eligible to be used as a Commander that do not appear in the top 25% of any of the Top Commander lists for any of the color identities, rounded up. As is tradition, all results are ordered by EDHREC score.

10. Nezahal, Primal Tide

(8,019 Inclusions, 5% of 158,158 Decks)

This one honestly surprised me. Not that Nezahal, Primal Tide is popular, but rather that it wasn’t in the Command Zone. Being seven mana in blue is a bit unwieldy, I suppose. More likely it’s that and the issue of Nezahal not really doing anything for a specific strategy once it does land. Sure, it draws cards and protects itself and has a big body. But you can do all of those things independently in blue with a cheaper commander at the helm, and a lot sooner.

That said, if you are going to be putting other colors in your blue deck, then seven mana is pretty achievable, or maybe you could just cheat it into play…

9. Padeem, Consul of Innovation

(8,501 Inclusions, 5% of 158,158 decks)

As has been mentioned many times here on Too-Specific Top 10, artifacts are the most popular theme in Commander. If you were wondering why we represented that theme with a little-known legend, it’s because he really is that ubiquitous in the artifact strategy. Of 12526 total artifact decks, Padeem, Consul of Innovation is in 8501 of them, an almost even two-thirds.

And honestly, it’s not hard to see why. If you’ve ever played with or played against an Enchantress deck, then you know how game-changing a Sterling Grove or Greater Auramancy can be. It’s no different for artifacts. Few people are playing a full Purify effect, even with newer better versions available such as Austere Command and Cleansing Nova.

Even if your opponent is sporting something like a Subterranean Tremors, however, that’s still only one to two pieces of removal in their deck. Padeem, Consul of Innovation still stops most of the most popular artifact removal effects in their tracks, from the old school Uktabi Orangutan to the newly minted Heliod’s Intervention.

8. Venser, Shaper Savant

(8,875 Inclusions, 6% of 158,158 Decks)

For a long time, if you wanted to win a counter war, you had to sport a full grip or two worth of Counterspells in your deck. Venser, Shaper Savant is happy to fill one of those slots if you want to go that route, but where he really shines is in decks that can abuse him over and over or multiple times at once. While I’m sure we’ve all seen enough blink and recursion decks to experience Venser as an all-in-one Forbid/Capsize type of effect, it’s really only recently that he’s become fairly abusable in decks that can copy his enter the battlefield effect.

If you haven’t had the experience yet of having a full Storm count of ten or twelve all countered by a single instance of Venser, Shaper Savant, then I’m here to tell you that it’s extremely possible. Whether it be with Naban, Dean of Iteration, Inalla, Archmage Ritualist, or Yarok, the Desecrated, blue has no shortage of tools to blink or return Venser to hand and then copy him or his triggers repeatedly, all for little to no cost. Throw in a Panharmonicon if you’re really looking to drive opponents up the wall.

7. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

(9,110 Inclusions, 3% of 301,286 decks)

For those looking for more direct answers to problems, however, there’s Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. It may cost ten mana, but exiling two permanents without even having to resolve this massive Eldrazi is worth the price. If you do manage to get it in play, however, then swinging for ten damage and a quarter of the opponent’s deck isn’t a bad deal, either.

6. Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre

(9,491 Inclusions, 3% of 301,286 Decks)

Alas, new Ulamog doesn’t live up to it’s original form. Annihilator is too powerful a mechanic to ever see print again, and you still get to remove a permanent. Most importantly, however, Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre keeps you from getting milled out or extends combos with its shuffle clause, which doesn’t require any mana. In other words, you get Gaea’s Blessing without having to be in green. Only it’s also a removal spell for any permanent type in any color, and a game winning fatty. All on the same card.

5. Thalia, Heretic Cathar

(9,553 Inclusions, 7% of 137,050 decks)

Whether you think too many people are playing Authority of the Consuls and Blind Obedience, not enough people are, or both at once, there is no doubting that it’s a powerful option available to white decks.

If you want to get your Kismet on for nonbasic lands as well, then Thalia, Heretic Cathar is here for you. The only question is… how on earth does she also come with a 3/2 body for three with first strike? Have a heart, Wizards!

4. Kokusho, the Evening Star

(9,855 Inclusions, 6% of 155,600 Decks)

Banned for a long period of time in Commander, there’s no doubting that Kokusho, the Evening Star is extremely powerful. While many prefer Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Kokusho doesn’t require that you have a board state for it to be good. It’s a flying 5/5, so even if you don’t have a sacrifice outlet it will do work in the air until someone decides it has to go, at which point each opponent will lose five life and you’ll gain fifteen.

And that’s just the fair mode. For those decks actually playing Kokusho, the Evening Star, they’re probably also recurring it repeatedly to get multiple death triggers and effects from sac outlets. If that is the case, then Kokusho can actually be your win condition, which is exactly the type of thing recursion decks need as much of as they can get.

3. Razaketh, the Foulblooded

(9,874 Inclusions, 6% of 155,600 Decks)

Speaking of sacrifice outlets and repeatable effects, Razaketh, the Foulblooded! For the low, low price of eight mana, you too can repeatedly Demonic Tutor for any card in your deck! Except the reason that Razaketh is popular in the ninety-nine and not the command zone is that no one wants to play fair with it. You’re in black, after all. Why wouldn’t you use Reanimate effects to get Razaketh into play to then go get your entire engine or combo?

2. Kozilek, Butcher of Truth

(10,185 Inclusions, 3% of 301,286 Decks)

For even cheaper than Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre, you can draw four cards, then swing in for twelve damage instead of just ten… and still get the Annihilator trigger and a free Gaea’s Blessing effect. It’s no wonder that Kozilek, Butcher of Truth is both more played and more expensive!

1 . Shalai, Voice of Plenty

(10,133 Inclusions, 15% of 68,745 Decks)

The only card with a multicolor identity to make the list is also our number one on the list! Shalai, Voice of Plenty is just about everything you could want for four mana, being a better Ivory Mask on a stick that not only protects you, but also your creatures and planeswalkers. But she doesn’t stop there. If you happen to find yourself with infinite or just a lot of mana, she also pumps every creature you control. Permanently, and as a full mana sink that can be used over and over again. Shalai is everything you could hope for in an powerhouse deck that wants to protect its combos and have an easy finish on the board for when it goes infinite, while also being everything that a low powered deck that just wants to go wide needs as well.

She also almost didn’t make the cut, being the number eleven Selesnya commander overall, with the first nine making up the top twenty-five percent. Even that ranking is recent, however, as the number ten slot is held by the brand new Wonder Woman shout-out from Theros Beyond Death, Siona, Captain of the Pyleas. All in all, however, Shalai is definitely more powerful, if a little less interesting as a commander specifically.


Honorable Mentions

This list feels like it could go on for ages, as I kept finding legend after legend that I still recognized and yet wasn’t really seeing decks built around them. So this week, let’s continue our top ten out to be a top twenty, because these commanders outside of the command zone still deserve some recognition:

11. Mina and Denn, Wildborn
12. Rishkar, Peema Renegade
13. Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger
14. Prime Speaker Zegana
15. Arcanis the Omnipotent
16. Nylea, God of the Hunt
17. Emrakul, the Promised End
18. Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
19. Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
20. Linvala, Keeper of Silence

And… once we hit two Stax staples in a row, it’s probably time to stop that list. Both Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir and Linvala, Keeper of Silence scream “players at my table can’t actually play”, so it’s a bit sad to see them getting highlighted here when there are so many more inclusive options out there in the world of Magic: the Gathering. As for the rest of the list, it’s good to see the original out there putting in work in the form of Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind. Fans of Ravnica will probably also be familiar with Prime Speaker Zegana, which did actually have a heyday as a Simic commander up until the balance of color combinations went completely off the rails. Finally, it’s a bit sad that we don’t see Arcanis the Omnipotent decks anymore, but I for one am glad to see that he’s still cutting the mustard when it comes to the ninety-nine.


What Do You Think?

With all of this talk about commanders that aren’t good as commanders (or are at least better in the ninety-nine), it’s hard not to think about the Hipster quotient of EDH. So, with that in mind, how do you feel about picking commanders specifically based on how popular or not popular they are?

And finally, what are your favorite legends that you aren’t putting into the Command Zone? Why aren’t you?

Let us know in the comments, and we’ll see you at the virtual table we’ve all set up inside our homes.

Doug has been an avid Magic player since Fallen Empires, when his older brother traded him some epic blue Homarids for all of his Islands. As for Commander, he's been playing since 2010, when he started off by making a two-player oriented G/R Land Destruction deck. Nailed it. In his spare time when he's not playing Magic, writing about Magic or doing his day job, he runs a YouTube channel or two, keeps up a College Football Computer Poll, and is attempting to gif every scene of the Star Wars prequels.