Every new card in a Commander product is designed for Commander. While obvious, it’s important to state, because that isn’t true of Ravnica Allegiance or other expansion sets. So if we were to look at EDHREC for some of the least popular new cards from Commander products, we can presume they’re playable – and likely underrated.
If you’ve bought Commander preconstructed decks through the years, then you might have these cards lying around. If not, why not buy them and try them? I’ll take one from each year of Commander products, oldest to newest, and see what we can do.
All cards are in the bottom five in EDHREC popularity for new cards in each year of decks.
This curious artifact lives largely with commanders that want cheap token making, like Rhys the Redeemed or Jalira, Master Polymorphist. But its flexibility in costing one mana to do two different things makes it intriguing for several commanders. You can give yourself creatures easily for all sorts of purposes, you can give opponents blockers if you have a common enemy, you can trigger enrage, and you reliably can cast Rakdos, Lord of Riots, to name a few. In a Grothama, All-Devouring deck, it can aid Grothama‘s intended death with both its damage and its Squirrel. It works nicely with one of my favorite cards, Dismiss into Dream, with hilarious flavor – firing acorns at an Illusion to watch it vanish.
Due to decks normally being themed around commanders, Swiss army knives (and squirrel army catapults) are inherently underrated. I’m sure you can find a great place for this one.
Terra Ravager hasn’t found a specific home – Elemental tribal is the closest it’s got. But not only does it have another relevant creature type (and useful four-mana Beasts are worth a lot), it has unusual, useful properties. Its printed power is 0, but its usual attack power is around 10; for that combination, I liked it in my Grenzo, Dungeon Warden deck. Brion Stoutarm likes flinging it around, and Reveillark likes bringing it back (you could combine put all of them in the same deck). Paired with power-dependent sweepers like Fell the Mighty, Terra Ravager can clear an opponent out quickly.
If you’re interested in cards like this, Crater Elemental is another excellent choice.
Creeperhulk is very similar to Gigantomancer – expensive creatures that can supersize other creatures cheaply – but they aren’t usually played together. That surprises me, given the overlap in decks that would want them. Beastmaster Ascension decks want to pump naturally small creatures, and both Creeperhulk and Gigantomancer can help make combat math frustrating for opponents in those kinds of decks. +1/+1 counter decks like adjusting base power and toughness as well; turning Hangarback Walker from a 0/0 swollen with counters to a 5/5 or 7/7 swollen with counters is superb. Infect creatures are very interested in this pair. And if all else fails, Creeperhulk itself is a 5/5 trampler, so it’s serviceable in combat.
Although it’s the least-used new card of Commander 2014, Creeperhulk‘s floor is pretty high, and it can add a lot of depth to several types of strategies.
There are eight cards that can exile multiple card types permanently. Of those, only Perilous Vault and Kalemne’s Captain can do it at instant speed. Granted, it’s mana-intensive to do it. But interrupting graveyard loops involving artifacts – of which there are many – is worth the mana. And like Creeperhulk, it has an efficient, relevant body.
Kalemne’s Captain rarely is used outside Kalemne, Disciple of Iroas decks – i.e., the commander it was printed with – but the format keeps pushing us toward more exile effects, and Kalemne’s Captain is a good one.
Three-mana, sorcery speed, targeted removal won’t bowl anyone over, but Parting Thoughts has plenty of distinct uses. First, the removal is unconditional; so many times, Go for the Throat or Doom Blade‘s restrictions feel terrible, and Parting Thoughts doesn’t have that problem. Second, it can draw several cards at the same time when it kills a creature with counters. There isn’t always a creature with counters to kill, but it’s more common than you might think. I just looked at my 26 Commander decks, and 24 of them have creatures that use +1/+1 counters (not to mention other counters). Without trying, most decks have targets for this to draw you lots of cards.
For best results, I would put Parting Thoughts in a deck with some counters of its own, so that it can also be a sort of Altar’s Reap (played in nearly five times as many decks). Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest decks haven’t been using this card, but they very easily could; it doesn’t trigger sacrifice like Altar’s Reap, but it also can kill an opposing threat. Parting Thoughts isn’t efficient at any one thing you want to do, but it has enough options to be worth a deck slot.
Mind’s Desire is restricted in Vintage and banned in Legacy. It’s not as easy to break in a singleton format, but we’re clearly talking about a potent card. Magus of the Mind shares the same functional text as Mind’s Desire, except putting it on a creature’s tap ability means the mana you pay to cast it is sort of a down payment on the ability.
That has some cons (traditional storm decks don’t want a summoning-sick creature getting in the way or telegraphing intent) and pros (being easier to recur and costing one mana on the activation). One of the saucier pros is the ability to activate Magus of the Mind on an opponent’s turn and cast any instant-speed cards you find. That’s territory Mind’s Desire can’t explore unaided, and it opens up the possibility of disrupting some combos by sacrificing Magus of the Mind to find the answer. Besides being a backup Mind’s Desire, Magus of the Mind has enough other uses that it’s worth exploring.
Mark Rosewater wrote recently about making a red card to deal with enchantments. Because it isn’t guaranteed enchantment removal and there isn’t another card that does anything like this, it doesn’t have an obvious home. That has cut into its popularity, as it’s unclear what it should be expected to do.
So rather than suggest what cards go with it – because I’m not sure they’ve been printed yet – I’ll give you some data. EDHREC lists 45 enchantments that are in over 10,000 decks, from Song of the Dryads to Phyrexian Arena. The average converted mana cost of those 45 enchantments is 3.44. If you look at those enchantments, you’ll notice something quickly: no one would ever sacrifice them unless they had to. The Sphere of Safety player will take five damage as many times as they can to keep something that impactful on the board; the same goes for players of Bident of Thassa, Dictate of Erebos, Doubling Season, or Purphoros, God of the Forge.
So what are you doing with Enchanter’s Bane if you’re not getting rid of enchantments? Sending a Lava Spike every turn for two mana with a significant chance of dealing more damage or getting rid of an annoying permanent. That’s a lot of burn for its cost, and while not every deck cares about that, many do.
A lot of Commander cards don’t get hyped. Some are utility cards vying for attention against splashy legends, and others have uses that aren’t immediately obvious. That doesn’t mean they’re bad by any stretch, and I hope this article has helped show that. When Commander 2019 comes out August 23, pay attention to cards like these and try them out. You might be surprised by what you find!
Brandon Isleib plays a lot of Commander and Brawl and loves finding the intersection of unusual and effective plays. He worked for Wizards of the Coast in 2014, he has put flavor text on a few cards, and he’s partly responsible for “create” being the word for cards making tokens. He is a legislation editor for the city of Seattle, he has written a baseball book, and he is proficient at making his bio sound more impressive than it is.