The Ten Most Awesome Legendary Commanders, According to Gatherer – Part One
Do you play Commander (aka Elder Dragon Highlander)? It’s a very popular Magic format where players make a one hundred card, singleton deck based on a Legendary Creature which they set aside and can cast as soon as they have the mana for it. It’s beloved by many tournament players, even though it is a “Magic: the Gathering variant format which emphasises social interactions, interesting games, and creative deckbuilding” over winning. No, really. I don’t have the space here to get into the details, but you can find everything else you need to know at mtgcommander.net. Or maybe you’d prefer a Myriad Games Podcast on the subject?
I mention Commander, not because it’s the inspiration for this top ten list, but because it it integral to understand why these ten cards are the most awesome Legendary Creatures in Magic: the Gathering according to Gatherer. I’ve also written an article on The Top Ten Most Desirable Cards, and The Top Ten Most Reviled Cards, but none of the cards in these lists were chosen by me. Instead, I used the rating system on Gatherer at Magic: the Gathering’s official website to determine which cards deserve their accolades. With that same impartiality in mind, we’re going to look at the top ten Legendary Creatures in Magic the Gathering as voted by the players. So why do we need to know about Commander? Hmm… why don’t we take a look at a card that didn’t make the top ten:
Kokusho is an excellent contender for this top ten list. A 5/5 flying dragon for six is a great way to start the party. The ten point life swing your opponent must endure if they wish to advance the game is crushing. There are many games where Kokusho dropped onto the table and claimed victory by default. If you see a Kokusho, and you’re at five life, your options may be non-existent.
But, as if that wasn’t enough, Kokusho flips out in multiplayer matches. If I cast Kokusho in a five player cutthroat game on round six, then another one on round seven, they will both die due to the Legend Rule (Evidently, if you ever saw your evil twin, you and your twin’s first reaction would be to kill each other in the fastest way possible). The end result? All opponents would lose ten life a piece, and you would gain forty. Sure, you’d become the target… for any player still standing, I suppose (Edit: Since I first wrote this in 2013, the rules for Legendary permanents changed. Now I can swing with Kokusho, play another, sacrifice the tapped one which triggers its death ability, and keep the new untapped one. Still seems legit.)
But Kokusho didn’t make the cut. He ranks at card number eighteen. Why? I think it might be because he’s too good at doing what he does. Kokusho isn’t subtle. His power is self-evident to anyone who reads the card, and if you’re still unsure about him, you’d change your mind if you ever played a game where Kokusho smashed onto the other side of the battlefield. Playing with Kokusho is fun, in a ‘mad power trip’ sort of way. Playing against Kokusho is not fun. Often, it doesn’t feel like anyone is ‘playing’ Kokusho at all. That dragon runs the show by himself. You and your opponent are unnecessary cogs to the glory that is five damage to the face.
He’s so unfun to see on the table, that the Commander Rules Team banned him as a valid Commander. Mind you, they didn’t ban him from your deck. Feel free to play one if you are so inclined. But you shouldn’t be allowed to windmill slap Kokusho on the table on round six of every game. The community doesn’t enjoy that. Since many players don’t like to play him, because many players don’t like to play against him, Kokusho ends up in trade binders, instead of decks. He still rates very high: A 4.687 is nothing to balk at. But Kokusho will never beat the cards on this list if he doesn’t jump out of the binder, and back in the game.
Number Ten: Grand Arbiter Augustin IV
In direct comparison to Kokusho, we have Grand Arbiter; a card that doesn’t feel like it does much of anything. Don’t let the floating bean bag confuse you. Augustin is one mean adviser who steals games from unsuspecting players who think they can let the Arbiter lounge around the battlefield. “My spells cost more.” these imaginary players say, “but so don’t my other opponent’s spells. I can live with the game slowing down. I’m better off saving my Doom Blade for something that can kill me.”
Did you notice anything wrong with that sentiment? Perhaps that my puppet speaker willfully ignored more than half of Grand Arbiter’s text? Players in a multiplayer game have a tendency to scan cards for how it affects them. My opponent with the white-blue deck played a card that makes all their white-blue spells cost two less to cast? How does that affect me? You say the Grand Arbiter player untapped, played a land, cast Sovereigns of Lost Alara and had an extra blue mana available to Mana Leak my Doom Blade? Man, some guys have all the luck.
While I’m here, I might as well talk about how Augustin has a perfectly reasonable body to casting cost ratio for the crazy abilities he provides, and that he works beautifully with other multiplayer standards Propaganda, Rhystic Study and whatever other taxing cards you want to throw in there (I’m a big fan of Unifying Theory and Fade Away myself). That’s all well and good. Just don’t forget that he lets you dump Mrs. “Protection from All Colors”, Iridescent Angel, into play on round five. If your opponents are going to let this bro pull up a chair and hang out on the battlefield, you should take advantage of it.
Best Comment, Made by SavageBrain89: “This is blue/white at its best; its restrictive, controlling, and absolute. Augustin practically embodies all that there is about the Azorius; he manipulates, commands, and rules the law to the piont of perfection where nothing is ever acted upon or accomplished.”
Number Nine: Oona, Queen of the Fae
Oona’s another card that people see, register, and move on without giving it the respect it deserves on the battlefield. Any game that features Oona, however, will include the phrase “Hold on. Can I see that again?” Oona’s a Faerie Wizard. It probably does something tricksy, that only works every rare now and again, right? Um, no. Oona has more positives than a battery factory. It:
- Has an easy to work around casting cost, which could allow you to play only one or two blue spells in an otherwise mono-black commander deck, for example.
- Has a very easy to activate ability.
- It works great with a deck that kills the opponent by milling them (losing the game by failing to draw a card because there are no cards in the library.)
- While the casting cost and activation of this card isn’t as cheap as Sands of Delirium, it’s worth noting that, for milling purposes alone, the abilities are comparable.
- It mills by exiling the cards, instead of the usual method of putting them in the opponent’s graveyard. No graveyard recursion shenanigans, or shuffling their graveyard back into their library.
- When you exile your opponent’s library away, you get bonus 1/1 flying creatures for every card exiled of the named color. For many mono-color, and some multi-color decks, if you activate Oona’s ability the round after you cast Oona, you can expect three flying creatures on average by tapping six lands. Oh, and in a multiplayer game, you’re likely to find at least one mono-color deck to target.
- This is a 5/5 flying creature for six. You don’t have to play goofy games with your opponent’s library to take advantage of this card. You can swing four times and win the game. Five times will kill an opponent in Commander.
- You don’t have to choose between activating the ability and attacking. This card doesn’t have a ‘tap’ symbol anywhere on it.
- You can activate Oona’s ability multiple times before your turn begins again. For example, you could tap three lands, catch the right colored spell, then attack, knowing you’ve got a chump blocker ready, and counterspell magic up if something goes wrong. Then, when your opponent’s turn is over and they didn’t cast a spell, you can tap the other three lands to activate Oona’s ability again.
- Oona’s five toughness sits outside of most burn spells’ range. She’s black, so many black kill spells won’t touch her. She’s flying, so, in order to trade with her on the attack, your opponent will also need an untapped five power plus flyer, or multiple flying creatures. She rarely needs to block when she can rely on an ever increasing battalion of fairies.
Oh, and she messes with your opponent’s ability to set up the top card of their library. And have you seen Scion of Oona and Oona’s Blackguard? I heard they like Fairy Rogue creature tokens. Oona uncontested will hit the opposition from every angle. In a multiplayer game, she can attack one player, mill another player, while blocking a third and fourth player with a pile of 1/1 flying fairies. Absurd.
Best Comment, by MisterMirage: “Combine with Dire Undercurrents and laugh like the evil genius you are.”
Number Eight: Glissa, the Traitor
“Honey, you got real ugly, real fast.” -Ash Willaims, Army of Darkness
For now, let’s just ignore the text on this card. Glissa, the Traitor is a 3/3 creature for three mana, with two of the most relevant creature types in the game. If Glissa’s mana requirement to cast her wasn’t so harsh, some elf or zombie players would toss her in their deck for that alone.
One line of text into the card, and we find that Glissa, the Traitor has one of the deadliest combination of keyword abilities you can print on a card. There are only two other cards so far that get the “I win combat” keyword combination without help from any other cards. Pestilent Kathari is a 1/1 flyer for the same converted mana cost that has to pay the power company three more mana whenever he wants the first strike turned on. Nirkana Cutthroat requires a total payment of twelve mana in four easy installments to get its murder on. Glissa starts killing on round three.
Had we stopped here, Glissa the Traitor would be a fine card, and a staple in black/green decks for years to come. What drives Glissa wild, though, is when your deck is filled with artifacts, and your opponent has the audacity to control creatures. Even if you weren’t trying and only fielded some Leaden Myr in your deck, Glissa could drop early and do her voodoo. Feel free to block with your ‘useless’ artifact creatures, and expect Glissa herself to be nigh unblockable. Every time your opponent blocks Glissa, they lose a creature and hand you back a myr. If that opponent isn’t recurring their own creatures, they won’t win that war of attrition.
It’s when you come to the table knowing what Glissa is capable of that things get ugly. Executioner’s Capsule gives Glissa something close to “: Destroy target non-black creature”. Put a Mindslaver on the table, and you’ve told the table that the next person to attack you might lose control of the rest of their game. Or, at the very least, until they run out of creatures who, for some strange reason, continue to fight Glissa one at a time as if they were cronies for a company that engaged in illegal nuclear dumping in a small a small town river, and she was Steven Seagal. And, boy, do I feel bad for the person who realizes that , in order to stop Glissa, they must wipe the entire board. That’s gonna be a lot of Glissa triggers…
Best Comment, made by angelheartvial: “Poor Glissa. Years of getting tortured by Wet Willie of the Damned did this to her.”
Number Seven: Memnarch
Does anyone else find it funny that Glissa’s old nemesis, Memnarch, sits this close to Glissa on the awesome-meter? No. No one finds this funny. Everyone is about to lose their stuff, and could care less about stupid coincidences.
Back in Mirrodin, I used to play a deck I would bring to tournaments which used Staff of Domination, Clock of Omens and Gilded Lotus to produce infinite blue mana (Tap Gilded Lotus to add to my mana pool. Tap two Staff of Dominations with Clock of Omens to untap Gilded Lotus. Pay two mana to untap both Staffs of Dominations with their first abilities. Tap Gilded Lotus…) then gain infinite life (Activate Staff of Domination’s second ability. Continue to untap the staff with infinite mana), then draw every card in my deck (Activate Staff of Domination’s fifth ability. Cackle with glee). I’d finish my pièce de résistance by casting one of the two Memnarchs in my deck, which, with infinite mana, would now gain control of everything forever. What was my opponent supposed to do about it? At this point, I could cast every counterspell in my deck.
Why am I telling you this? Well, I really loved that deck. That, and I shouldn’t need to tell you why Memnarch is so good. He takes your opponent’s stuff. Memnarch is expensive, but he’s got a body that can take a hit, and his activated abilities combined are only one mana more than Confiscate. In fact, I would love to play with a Confiscate that cost one more, but that I could some how break down the payment for over two turns. Oh, and Memnarch straight up casts unlimited Steal Artifacts as a splashable instant that can’t be Demystifyed. Could you imagine if other creatures could cast normal relevant magic spells like this? “Yeah, the new Jaya Ballard is pretty expensive as a 4/5 for seven. But when you untap, you can cast an infinite number of Incinerates. Oh, and it also has a three cost ability that reads ‘Target creature has a toughness of three’, so that’s cool.”
Best Comment by gman52: “Dies to — ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. MEMNARCH IS IMMORTAL. ALL GLORY TO THE MEMNARCH.”
Number Six: Richard Garfield, Ph.D.
Okay. This card needs an explanation.
First, Unglued and Unhinged are humor sets. They were printed in 1998 and 2004 respectively by Wizards of the Coast. Both sets feature a silver border, which identifies the cards as illegal for tournament play, but fine for your kitchen table. The cards range from one-shot sucker punch jokes to cards with mechanics that don’t belong in Magic Land. You know… like a card named Chaos Confetti that you tear into pieces, then drop on the board, and destroy anything that the pieces touch. Could you imagine if that card was printed as a legal card for tournament play? I can, and the alternate reality it creates is terrifying. Terrifying!
Second, Richard Garfield happens to be the inventor of Magic: the Gathering. Most of you know this, but the context matters here, so there you go.
Third, what Richard is asking you to do is play a game called Mental Magic. In a normal game of Mental Magic, players draw from a pile of random Magic cards that were gathered together with care and craftsmanship, or were the leftover chaff of careless drafters. Whenever a player casts a spell in Mental Magic, they must announce another spell with the same exact mana cost, as long as no one has named that card yet in that game (many players also prefer for the cards named to be Legacy legal). It makes a fun pick-up game, and a great conversation starter.
Mental Magic also favors players who have played the game a long time. For example, you get unlucky and draw a Leatherback Baloth. Can you name another card that costs GGG? Would you believe there are six such cards, not including hybrid?
In the hands of anyone who can name one of those six cards, Richard Garfield Ph. D. will be a monster. Richard doesn’t play fair with your opponents. He doesn’t mind if you’d prefer to cast the spell in your hand instead of a different card. He doesn’t care whether the card is legal to play (though Mark Rosewater does care in the Unhinged FAQ. Use your best judgement). He could have allowed all players to have this ability. After all, if you’re prepared and have a better working knowledge of all existing Magic cards, then you’re at a considerable advantage. But, no. He’s your friend, he made this game, and if Richard Garfield says you can cheat, then you can cheat.
The ability is only restricted by your imagination and the 13,000+ unique cards in the game. It would be broken if Garfield handed you a pile of random Magic cards, and told to draw off the top and start playing Mental Magic. But this isn’t a pile of random Magic cards, or a deck constructed for fun and fair Mental Magic play. This is your deck, made the way you want. You can do the research, and have a Counterspell ready for every possible scenario. You can pack the deck full of cards that cost one red mana, and know every Lightning Bolt variant you could possibly want. You don’t need to be prepared for any possible scenario. You need to be prepared for the 37 or so non-land spells in your deck.
And when Richard Garfield’s in your deck, there’s no reason to feature any cards with a higher casting cost than him. Just find a way to put Richard on the table, and use the cards you memorized to make him stick. Do you have too many Plains in play? Do you have a Healing Salve in your hand? That’s a Student of Warfare now. Start leveling up. Can you make twelve mana? Do you have a Cunning Sparkmage in hand? That’s an Urza’s Rage. Kick your opponent in the head for ten points of uncounterable, unpreventable damage.
Best Comment, which I had to fact check, and found out that MadManny was correct:
Richard Garfield is the great-great-grandson of U.S. President James A. Garfield.
Richard’s great uncle invented the paper clip.”
Five cards down, and five to go. Click here to continue on to see the top five Legendary Creatures in Magic that make you go huhwah?