Too-Specific Top Ten – Kicking the Bucket

(Skullclamp | Art by Luca Zontini)

Death is But the Next Great Adventure

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 Gerrard, Weatherlight Hero is the only Boros commander that has a death trigger that applies to itself?)

Last Saturday, it was officially announced that the rules of Magic, itself, had been changed so that, finally, commanders would briefly visit the graveyard before moving on to the command zone. For many years, this has been considered one of the most confusing interactions that the unique role of commanders has introduced to the game, causing in-depth rules discussions between new and veteran players alike.

The basic issue is that it’s always felt like if you equip a Skullclamp onto your commander, and it’s then killed, you should be able to draw two cards. Under the old rules, this was not the case, unless you chose to let your commander go to the graveyard instead of the command zone. Thankfully, under the new rules, your commander works much more like tokens do, visiting the graveyard for a very brief period of time before you then move it to the command zone. This allows for many cards to work as they were originally intended to work prior to being viewed through an EDH lens, such as Child of Alara and Kokusho, the Evening Star.

So, with this new age in the format, the only reasonable question is… what are the best commanders that have death triggers you can now use? Well, I can offer some opinions on that (and I will), but for now, how about we start with our normal format and look at which of the commanders that qualify are currently the most popular?


Top 10 Commanders With Death Triggers

First off, as usual, there are some stipulations. There are some commanders with death triggers that have been working more or less as intended, and were indeed designed to work with the old death trigger rules in Commander. There are some of those that still seem to qualify for this list, although they don’t really gain much from the rules change, such as Gerrard, Weatherlight Captain.

Where I did want to pare things down a bit, however, was with the Gods specifically. There have now been four cycles of Gods, from Theros to Amonkhet and back to Theros again, and then some interplanar silliness from War of the Spark. Each of these had their own unique way of making the Gods feel “immortal”. The Theros gods, from Purphoros, God of the Forge to Klothys, God of Destiny, don’t come into this equation at all, just being indestructible. For the rest, however, they’re either put into your library third from the top, as is the case with Ilharg, the Raze-Boar and God-Eternal Rhonas, or are returned to their owner’s hand at the end of turn, such as The Locust God and The Scarab God.

In addition to those “immortal” Gods, there is also the more unique case of Homura, Human Ascendant (which actually makes me wonder if the flip creature enchantments from Kamigawa are actually the first God cards). What all of these effects have in common, however, is that the death triggers are only being utilized to bring a creature back for further use in some fashion. While this would technically qualify, it doesn’t seem relevant enough to the rules change to dominate half of our Top Ten. For all intents and purposes, these creatures have the exact same choices as before: you can either choose to put them in the command zone or recur them in some fashion.

As for how to translate that to our criteria, I struggled with a few wordings to match this intent specifically before just deciding to sidestep the issue entirely. “Intent” is the best word we’re going to get here, and it allows for a broad brush to eliminate these creatures from contention, even if it means having to make a singular judgement for each and every one.

Criteria: Commanders that have an ability which triggers upon that commander being put into the graveyard from the battlefield that is not a trigger with the intent of making the commander immortal in some fashion (a la the Gods), that does not specifically state “or is put into the command zone” (a la Reyhan, Last of the Abzan), that requires excessive setup for the trigger to take place (a la Athreos, Shroud-Veiled), or is merely a trigger to exile said commander for another effect (a la Gerrard, Weatherlight Captain). As is tradition, all results are ordered by EDHREC score.

Finally, there was some question here about whether to organize this list by total EDHREC score, or just by Commander rankings. As it is, I decided to go with the total score, as many of these cards have low Commander rankings specifically because their death triggers have not worked until now, but are still quite popular when it comes to inclusions in the 99. While not every one of these commanders will get a huge boost from these rules changes, I would predict that a good number of them will. As such, I think the total EDHREC score will be a more useful list for the brewers out there considering what to build under the new rules.

10. Anax, Hardened in the Forge

(Helms 71 Decks, Rank #604; 1,359 Inclusions, 1% of 174,502 Decks)

Anax, Hardened in the Forge has always spoken to both the Timmy and the Johnny inside of me. The more Devotion you acquire, the stronger he gets, and then you can obtain ludicrous numbers of tokens to do with what you will. Okay, let’s be honest, you’re in red, so most likely you’re going to find a means to Fling those tokens at people repeatedly for direct damage. With that said, if you haven’t ever given an Anax first strike or flung him at an opponent for the win, I highly suggest it.

Regardless of where you fall on the Timmy/Tammy to Johnny/Jenny spectrum, however, there is no question that Anax, Hardened in the Forge gets a boost from the new rules change, as he is often above the four power threshold it takes to get two tokens from his demise. Even if you only manage to get the one, however, your three-mana commander replacing himself as he dies is a nice boon, especially since you’ll most likely be able to recast him several times in a game before he gets prohibitively expensive. That means more fodder for your Goblin Bombardments, Hissing Iguanars, and Outpost Sieges, which can really add up quickly.

9. Roalesk, Apex Hybrid

(Helms 227 Decks, Rank #387; 2,176 Inclusions, 2% of 95,783 Decks)

Of all the creatures on this list, I may be the most excited for what this change means for Roalesk, Apex Hybrid. Double Proliferate triggers means that there is a new Atraxa in town. Not that Roalesk will ever be anywhere near as good as Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice, but it can do the same work without being a highly threatening presence in the Command Zone. In other words, the change to the commander rules opens up an entirely new avenue for crazy hipster builds like Weird Counter tribal, energy counters, charge counters, and everything else that can abuse Proliferate.

In other words, if you’re not excited about this guy being out in the world with a whole new lease on life, take a look at my Top Ten Irregular Counters list and you will be.

8. Pashalik Mons

(Helms 84 Decks, Rank #571; 2,339 Inclusions, 1% of 174,502 Decks)

Personally, I’ve never really understood why people wouldn’t want to bring the Aristocrats strategy to mono-red. Obviously, it’s not going to be as good as it would be with multiple colors, but you do have all the tools you need. In truth, you don’t even need to use all of mono-red’s options to do so, as you can accomplish everything you need to just within the Goblin tribe. The real issue with Pashalik Mons, even if you did decide to pursue this strategy, is that Purphoros, God of the Forge exists.

While Pashalik Mons does have the advantage of dealing damage to any target instead of just opponents, it’s also half as much damage per Goblin, with only one target to go around instead of just hitting everyone who isn’t you. The addition of Pashalik Mons triggering on itself in addition to all the Goblins you feed it would seem to do little for increasing the popularity of this particular mad Goblin.

7. Yosei, the Morning Star

(Helms 14 Decks, Rank #867; 2,798 Inclusions, 2% of 167,953 Decks)

Yosei, the Morning Star is a commander that we can expect to gain a boon from the rules change. Indeed, I would imagine that the 14-deck count will more than double, if not quadruple. The real question is… is that a good thing? I’m all for mono-white getting some help, but doing so by introducing another Stax commander may not be the way. If we’re being honest, white is already plenty good at Stax with the like of Linvala, Keeper of Silence, Hokori, Dust Drinker, and any number of Thalias.

Adding Yosei to the mix certainly helps make white even better at Stax, but I’m not actually sure that it’s actually any better than the options already available. Add to that that I’m not sure players at large will really want to pile on to an already unpopular strategy, and we may not be seeing much benefit here for Yosei, except for the sheer power of novelty–which generally wears off quickly.

6. Keiga, the Tide Star

(Helms 79 Decks, Rank #584; 3,182 Inclusions, 2% of 192,721 Decks)

A much more popular strategy, as it turns out, is stealing things. While I wouldn’t expect being able to do so with a death trigger on a six-mana creature would radically alter the landscape of the archetype, I do think it will be an interesting take on the genre that will have folks trying it out. What is interesting, however, is the current makeup of the average Keiga, the Tide Star deck. Rather than being a straight theft deck, it actually tends to be a hybrid of the theft and Clone strategies. With Keiga being a legendary, the copy immediately dies, and you get to steal someone’s creature as a result. The addition of the extra “copy” of the commander, itself, now being allowed to do this is actually fairly huge. Even with that change, however, I would imagine that Keiga, the Tide Star will be a flash in the pan when it comes to renewed interest from the rules change.

With options like Empress Galina, Thada Adel, Acquisitor, and Memnarch available, going through the rigmarole of casting your commander for six, killing it somehow, then casting it for two more each time you’d like to repeat the process isn’t likely to catch on in the long-term. Indeed, while there will be some sea-change that comes to our format, I don’t think that the Dragon Spirits at large will make much of a dent on the whole, despite all having the death triggers that will be affected.

5. Judith, the Scourge Diva

(Helms 391 Decks, Rank #261; 3,308 Inclusions, 4% of 88,979 Decks)

In a similar vein, Judith, the Scourge Diva will probably get a bit of a boost from the rules change in-game, but may not actually expand much when it comes to the number of people playing her. The boost from her getting an extra damage in when she dies is minimal at best, and while starting at three mana does mean that playing her over and over again from the command zone is more of an option, this does not greatly improve your chances for a win when it comes to a measly three or four extra damage. Still, it is undeniably a boost, and the times that the couple extra damage do make a difference will be legendary. I wouldn’t expect much of a jump in Judith’s numbers, but those that are already playing her have got to be excited about the new possibilities, especially given that they’re going to have other death triggers in the deck already.

4. Ryusei, the Falling Star

(Helms 13 Decks, Rank #869; 4,252 Inclusions, 2% of 174,502 Decks)

Ryusei, the Falling Star has not been a popular commander. With only 13 decks to his name, there just hasn’t been a whole lot of interest in using a board-wipe-on-a-stick commander that was really only one-time use much of the time. In the 99, however, there is a lot of call for damage to creatures that also comes with a body attached. Whether or not this rules change that makes Ryusei’s death trigger a bit more usable will lead to increased numbers of decks with him at the helm seems doubtful, however. While not every deck that plays Ryusei in the 99 has a means to recur him, those that don’t are often using him as a portion of a toolbox strategy, and therefore don’t mind him being one-time use. If you need a board wipe and can search for any Dragon, then he’s useful. If you can recur said board wipe over and over again, that is useful as well. Neither of those options translate well to him being at the helm of a deck, however.

If you were going to build a deck for Ryusei specifically, however, then there are some tools in mono-red to do so. While you would prefer to have access to things like Boros Reckoner, Repercussion, itself, is the true win condition for a deck looking to cause mass damage to creatures on the regular, and Stuffy Doll does a decent impression. The only issue is… how often are you gonna just want a good old-fashioned Earthquake instead?

3. Elenda, the Dusk Rose

(Helms 379 Decks, Rank #268; 5,561 Inclusions, 6% of 89,688 Decks)

While there have been several examples of commanders that get marginally better with this rules change on this list, Elenda, the Dusk Rose is one of the first to get substantially better. The 379 decks she was already at the helm of will all be undergoing changes soon, as they no longer have to jump through hoops to recur their commander every time they need a fresh batch of tokens. However, the changes may not be that substantial for everyone, given that the deck is already solidly in the Aristocrats strategy, which very often has a creature recursion element to it. That being said, even if the Elenda players of the world made zero changes to their decks, they would still get a lot better with this rules change. Being able to now choose whether or not it is more beneficial for you to keep your commander in the graveyard and use recursion to avoid commander tax or to just go ahead and pay the two and get the tokens anyway is a huge boost to the lethality and flexibility of the deck.

2. Omnath, Locus of Rage

(Helms 1,444 Decks, Rank #63; 7,688 Inclusions, 10% of 78,987 Decks)

And… welcome to the commander on this list that didn’t need the help. Omnath, Locus of Rage is currently the number 63 commander overall, which is substantially lower than the days before Lord Windgrace existed. With that said, 63 is certainly not struggling, either, and Angry Omnath is still a force to be reckoned with. While I have been a bit down on high-cost commanders being able to repeatedly take advantage of their death triggers while they get more and more expensive each time you do so, that concern is much less present with Omnath specifically. The reason is that you’re already in a lands deck. While that may not mean you can afford to be spending 11 mana to recur your commander on the regular, given that you have other things to do to actually set up a win and get the massive amounts of land necessary for doing so, it does certainly mean that you can afford to bring Omnath back at a few strategic points during the game. It also now means that you’ll get an extra three damage on a player or a crucial target when doing so. That’s not much compared to all the damage you’ll get from the Elementals that Omnath generates, but it certainly isn’t nothing, either. While the one extra damage from Judith, the Scourge Diva feels rather inconsequential, an extra Lightning Bolt never really goes unnoticed.

1. Kokusho, the Evening Star

(Helms 69 Decks, Rank #610; 11,455 Inclusions, 6% of 189,708 Decks)

While this rules change won’t usher us back to the days of Kokusho, the Evening Star being banned, I do think that they will lead us back to the days of Kokusho helming decks of its own. Long a staple in the 99 of Aristocrats, Recursion, Reanimator, and even Stax decks, Kokusho packs just enough of a punch with its death trigger to be a real finisher. Draining the table for a mere eighth of their life total may not seem that great, but the 15 life you get back in the deal is far from inconsequential. While you’ll still need a means to recur Kokusho out of the graveyard repeatedly to use it as your main win condition, being able to get it back from the command zone once or twice a game will almost double your life total while keeping others down to a manageable level. Add that Kokusho can still fly over the top for five when it’s not repeatedly killing itself, and you definitely have a fun means for a mono-black battlecruiser deck that will make folks think of the old days.


My Personal List

Despite the comments I sometimes get on my lists, none of them are the results of my personal opinions. Rather, they are based off of EDHREC itself, and the number of times brewers include cards in their decks. For this instance, however, I feel the need to actually put my opinion out there when it comes to this fresh-off-the-presses information, and put down what commanders I think have the most upside when it comes to the new rules. With that in mind:

Top 10 Commanders With Death Triggers (Per Me, as Opposed to EDHREC)

  1. Elenda, the Dusk Rose
  2. Omnath, Locus of Rage
  3. Child of Alara
  4. Roalesk, Apex Hybrid
  5. Kokusho, the Evening Star
  6. Ryusei, the Falling Star
  7. Anax, Hardened in the Forge
  8. The Scorpion God
  9. Keiga, the Tide Star
  10. Tuktuk the Explorer

There is some room for switching things up in this list, based on how you want to define it. As I said at the beginning of the list, I personally think that Roalesk, Apex Hybrid is the most exciting commander to gain from this rules change. That doesn’t mean that it will get picked up at the greatest levels, however. I think on the hype alone that that will be Elenda, the Dusk Rose, followed by people picking their Omnath, Locus of Rage and Child of Alara decks back up. As for that last one, however, can I speak for folks at large and ask you to consider carefully whether repeatedly wiping all nonland permanents every turn is really what you want to be doing for four hours in a “game” of Commander? After all, you can get the same groans right now looping Muldrotha, the Gravetide and Pernicious Deed, and even that snooze-fest of a soft-lock is more likely to be able to close out the game with a planeswalker ultimate before the three-hour mark.


Honorable Mentions

The entire list of creatures with death triggers that affect themselves directly is rather short, so here it is in its entirety:

  1. Kokusho, the Evening Star
  2. The Locust God
  3. Omnath, Locus of Rage
  4. The Scarab God
  5. God-Eternal Oketra
  6. Elenda, the Dusk Rose
  7. God-Eternal Rhonas
  8. God-Eternal Bontu
  9. Ilharg, the Raze-Boar
  10. Ryusei, the Falling Star
  11. God-Eternal Kefnet
  12. Marchesa, the Black Rose
  13. Reyhan, Last of the Abzan
  14. Judith, the Scourge Diva
  15. Keiga, the Tide Star
  16. Yosei, the Morning Star
  17. Pashalik Mons
  18. Roalesk, Apex Hybrid
  19. Zurgo Helmsmasher
  20. The Scorpion God
  21. Athreos, Shroud-Veiled
  22. Gerrard, Weatherlight Captain
  23. Anax, Hardened in the Forge
  24. Jugan, the Rising Star
  25. Child of Alara
  26. Tuktuk the Explorer
  27. Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet?
  28. Haakon, Stromgald Scourge
  29. Homura, Human Ascendant
  30. Iname, Life Aspect
  31. Iname as One
  32. Baron Sengir
  33. Garza Zol, Plague Queen
  34. Axelrod Gunnarson
  35. Acornelia, Fashionable Filcher

As you can see, much of this list doesn’t actually gain much of all from the rules change. The most exciting that weren’t already discussed in the top ten list are probably Child of Alara and Tuktuk, the Explorer, hence why each of them also made my personal top ten list. Acornelia, Fashionable Filcher is also pretty neat addition for those of you silver-bordered fans out there.

As for the rest, they range from being rather underwhelming (Jugan, the Rising Star, Axelrod Gunnerson) to not doing anything at all under most circumstances (Gerrard, Weatherlight Hero, Iname, Life Aspect, Iname as One, Baron Sengir, Garza Zol, Plague Queen) to giving you the option of losing a few life that you didn’t have before, provided you can get him in play at all (Haakon, Stromgald Scourge).


Corner Cases

There are a few more creatures that didn’t quite fit our definition today that could still be relevant, however.

I almost included this one, because as unlikely as it is that Athreos, Shroud-Veiled will ever be able to take advantage of his death trigger, it is still possible. That said, it’s still difficult to do at the moment despite the recent help Weird Counter Tribal has been getting.

If the trend of The Ozolith and Nesting Grounds continues, then it wouldn’t surprise me to not only see the movement of counters from one permanent to another expanded, but also assigned to a specific color. That color being white or black doesn’t seem very likely, however….

While not technically a death trigger in the normal sense, Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet‘s activated ability does work under the new rules, if you wanted an excuse to target your own commander in response to removal.


What Do You Think?

Finding a way to apply the death trigger to commanders has been on the want list of the Rules Committee and players at large for a long time now, and it’s finally here! Rejoice, all you users of Skullclamp and Butcher of Malakir across the Magic universe! With that said, with this being the biggest rules change in the format since the elimination of tuck, there are bound to be some opinions:

And finally, what are you most looking forward to brewing now that commander death triggers work? Are any of these commanders on that list, or are you just glad to be able to not have to explain to people about why their Blood Artist doesn’t actually trigger on their commander dying?

Let us know in the comments, and we’ll see you at the judge’s table, where they’ll be explaining to the person who wasn’t paying attention this week that yes, this is now how it works.

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.