“Ugh, Arcum? OK Fine. Every body kill him first.” Ever heard something like that?
In early May, in the midst of a flurry of public debate about reputations and Magic players, I received a request for an article about Commanders that have bad reputations, how those generals earned the rap, whether it is deserved, how to fight against these commanders, and ideas to play differently using them to improve their reputation.
This is a massive but interesting project, so I’m breaking it up into pieces. For starters, I’ve put together a list of what I consider the generals with a bad reputation, organized below by color/color group. Roughly every other night until it’s done or I fall to pieces, we’ll update the list below with some of answers to the questions raised above, to turn this into an indexed resource for the Commander community.
First, I’d like you to go to the comments or Tweet at me @SwordstoPlow answering any of these three questions:
- Who is missing and why?
- Which Commanders to you agree or disagree with, and why?
- How would you use one or more in an innovative or fun way to counteract their bad reputation?
Commanders with Bad Reputations
Table of Contents
Scion of the Ur-Dragon
Child of Alara
Uril, the Miststalker
Rafiq of the Many
Derevi, Empyrial Tactician
Marchessa, the Black Rose
Nekusar, the Mindrazer
Prossh, Skyraider of Kher
Kaalia of the Vast
Animar, Soul of Elements
Scion isn’t really a problem. The problem is that he has become the poster child for Hermit Druid Commander decks. Hermit Druid decks run zero non-basic lands so they can flip the entire deck, and then use Narcomeba, Hermit Druid, and any card that resurrects itself for free or cheap to fuel a Dread Return based combo. The most common target for Dread Return is currently Necrotic Ooze. Since the whole library is in the graveyard he can have any number of game winning abilities such as Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Mogg Fanatic to burn the table to the ground. This deck runs an abundance of cheap tutors such as Vampiric tutor, Demonic Tutor, Survival of the Fittest, and Worldly Tutor to get druid as quickly and consistently as possible. The final piece of the deck is a gigantic control plan to keep itself alive and protect the combo.
This is honestly an incredibly difficult build to deal with, because the combo requires such little commitment, making it easy to run enough control to deal with the answers that come up. The best thing for this is graveyard hate. Having Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace on board can make all the difference. Otherwise, countering the druid or using Ravenous Trap in response to the Dread Return is key. If all else fails, you can force the Scion player to draw a card in response to the Return, because they have effectively decked themselves.
Scion isn’t bad on his own. If you play it as a five-color ‘good-stuff’ deck or a dragon tribal, you will be fine. Just don’t play Hermit Druid without a decent number of basic lands and you can start to repair the Ur’s reputation.
Child gets a bad reputation for being the go-to leader of Wrath of God.dec. Having the board get completely wrecked every turn can make games last forever and a day. It’s just frustrating for a table to never have the ability to set up.
This is a deck that really needs it’s Commander, and needs the commander to go to the graveyard. Having Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace will force the player to resort to the regular wraths in the deck. The absolute best way to deal with this is to have someone steal Child and then cast Darksteel Mutation on the bad baby. The best Counterspells for this are Spelljack and Gather Specimens
I’m honestly at a loss for how you could possibly improve the reputation of this card. It does what it does, and that can be frustrating.
Big, hexproof commanders are very difficult to deal with. When they changed the legend rule, people were clamoring for the banning of this beast. With the ban of tuck he has become even more difficult to control. Every set seems to improve Uril, one of the most prolific boogeymen in Commander. All of the various Enchantresses and powerful auras quickly make him a two-to-three turn commander-damage clock who you will have a heck of a time killing. Thanks to Totem Armor, wraths are usually pretty ineffective as well.
Arcane Lighthouse and Archetype of Endurance will allow you to use some regular removal on him. If you combine one of those with a Control Magic you could put the Uril player in a position s/he is not prepared for. If you don’t have access to those, mass enchantment removal and hate is a good path to take. Fracturing Gust, Austere Command[card], [card]Back to Nature[card], [card]All is Dust, Bane of Progress, ect, ect.
Aside from not hitting people with Uril, he’s another commander who just is what he is. Avoiding the Armageddon and Jokulhops style of play is a good idea to improve his reputation. Otherwise, you can try playing him on a budget with more of the fun enchantments or not building so much around him as the center.
Rafiq falls into the same category as Uril, Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer, Godo, Bandit Warlord, andThe Mimeoplasm – commanders that can realistically get to the point where they kill a player each turn. Rafiq’s bad reputation comes from abruptly ending games. Grafted Exoskeleton turns him, or any creature with a base power of three or more into a one shot killing machine. He’s also the poster boy for being equipped with Swords of X and Y (like Sword of Feast and Famine). He has double strike, and Finest Hour can give him quadruple strike, for all the value in the world.
Fogs and spot removal are the way to go if Rafiq is a problem in your area. He’s a straight-forward aggro kinda guy, so straight-forward control can usually take care of him.
Rafiq doesn’t have to be a bad man. Putting him at the helm of a soldier-themed deck, and Exalted deck, or just not playing Umazawe’s Jitte and Grafted Exoskelton could go a long way in removing his bad reputation.
Derevi is a card who recently upped her (?) bad reputation. Without tuck, this value monster will never go away. At a converted mana cost of four for the entire game, she can make players feel hopeless. The biggest issue right now is that playing Derevi will look like you are trying to take unfair advantage of the rules change (assuming your group has decided to follow the rules change).
If you are playing a casual Derevi deck, I suspect that the reputation will just improve over time. She currently make this list mostly out of bitterness over the rules change, and maybe her tendency to lead a staxy “unfun” deck.
Marchesa is a bit of a new add onto the bad-red list. Essentially, she is just an upgraded Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker deck. The hatred comes from frustration of never being able to really kill anything on her board permanently. I am not sure how long she will maintain a bad rep, but she is a powerful commander that when built around is effective.
Graveyard hate is one of the easiest ways to deal with Marchesa. If you exile a graveyard, those cards just aren’t coming back. If you don’t have much graveyard hate, using exile, theft, and tuck removal spells shut her down as well.
Since there is no set way to build or break Marchesa, I think her reputation will fade in time. I’d continue to play her and just try and have a good time. Time will do the rest.
Like many other cards on the list, Nekusar has the unfortunate fate of being too niche. Nekusar decks will all naturally look very similar to each other. You see a lot of Spiteful Visions, Wheel of Fortunes, and Teferi’s Puzzle Boxes floating around. The deck also interacts on a different axis – It kills people without attacking. This leads to less interactive games, and that can leave a bad taste in player’s mouths.
Nekusar is fairly easy to deal with. Removal and life gain can both greatly mitigate the effects of the deck. It’s easier for non-red and black decks to deal with the threats because they include many enchantments.
My biggest recommendation to Nekusar players is to make sure it isn’t your only deck. It’s a consistent deck that follows a solid strategy, but opponents will get bored with it quickly.
Nicol Bolas is mean, plain and simple. Very few players enjoy losing their hand from a single hit. It doesn’t really matter what is in the rest of the deck, because the thought of being pummeled and losing all of your cards is enough to fuel a bad reputation.
Killing Nicol Bolas before he can swing is easily the best way to deal with this commander. Library of Leng can combat the effects. Having a commander that reanimates is a way to punish a player for making you discard, and a strategy I highly recommend.
There is not really anything that can be done to improve the reputation of one of the bad-boys of the Magic the Gathering. He’s an evil elder dragon and he’s poised to stay that way for a long time.
Food Chain and Purphoros are the primary reason that people seem to hate seeing Prossh giving them the stink eye from across a table. Essentially any commander with an attached infinite combo (or more than one attached combo) isn’t going to have the best reputation. The way this works is pretty simple; you sacrifice all the kobold tokens for mana and use some of that mana to recast Prossh. You get infinite mana for creatures and infinite enters-the-battlefield triggers.
Artifact and Enchantment instant speed exile/tuck removal is the single best way to shut down these combos and have a good game. Deglamer, Chaos Warp, and Dissipate are all examples of great choices that can save your bacon.
Prossh could easily have a better reputation if people would just avoid the combos. It is a hard temptation to resist, however, and I don’t expect to see a flood of ‘friendly’ Prossh decks anytime soon.
There are many reasons to dislike Kaalia, from sneaking in Iona, Shield of Emeria to hitting you with Master of Cruelties. All the reasons to dislike Kaalia are brutal, effective, and most of all – played out. We’ve all seen dozens of Kaalia decks doing these things and they all essentially look the same.
Kaalia can be handled by killing her about three or four times so that it’s better to just cast the fatties rather than sneak them in. Watch out for the Armageddon Kaalia build and keep mana and spot removal ready so that they don’t have a perfect opening to blow everyone out. If you want to be really effective, try Humility against this deck. It will teach people about Humility on multiple levels.
I guess you could make Kaalia a secondary consideration or just use basic utility angels, dragons, and demons, but it would take a long time to recover from the reputation she has built.
An author on Star City Games once called for the banning of Animar. He compared the advantage that Animar gave to the level of Emrakul, The Aeons Torn. While I don’t exactly agree with that, Animar Is undoubtedly a powerhouse if left unchecked. It has built in protection, mana ramp, and combos out with Palinchron. The main reason for hating Animar comes from the speed of the deck.; Animar comes out early and drops some major threats before people are prepared to deal with them.
My biggest recommendation is to steal Animar. Its level of ramp is relevant throughout a game, so simply killing him doesn’t usually slow down the deck much. If it’s a poorly built Animar deck, some spot removal may work, just to keep them off high levels of mana.
Animar is a value beast, so the best thing you can do to improve its reputation is to play a casual theme. Animar will support/help most themes so have fun and try something a little more out there.
As you will notice, there is a common theme for RUG legends being hated – value. Maelstrom Wanderer gets the hate it deserves from the basic advantage you get by getting three cards each time you cast it. It is big enough to be a threat on the table, but opponents don’t want to see it get recast either. Extra turn spells and the Mirage-style tutors like Mystical Tutor and Brutalizer Exarch make the cascades consistent and powerful. (You see these decks using a lot of extra turn spells.)
Wanderer takes a very specific strategy to stop. You have to destroy lands and regulate mana. This is essentially the pinnacle of a ramp deck, where just having a ton of mana is too much of a threat to ignore. Winter Orb and Armageddon effects should be considered if someone in your group is choosing to play Wanderer.
Maelstrom Wanderer is good, but really only as good as the cards in the rest of the deck since that are where most of the value comes from. If you build it with the intent to be casual, you will improve the reputation overtime.
Riku gets his bad reputation entirely from being a combo engine. He goes infinite with both Palinchron and Worldgorger Dragon. Then people use him to take a bunch of extra turns and get double Regrowth to make sure the turns never end. Commanders who are including in multiple infinite combo engines will always bring in a fair degree of hate from the anti-combo crowd.
Riku has a little body and no build in protection, so hating him out is as simple as playing removal. His combos are all fairly mana intensive so early on he should be easy to slow down. Later in the game it can get tricker to deal with the deck since it doesn’t need to wait a turn to go off. Make sure to keep an eye out for things that cheat cards into play like Flash and Sneak Attack, as they cut the mana needed for combos down drastically. Without tuck as an option, I’d say stealing him away should be the preferred option.
Riku has become less and less hated over time due to working so well with heavily themed decks. Playing Riku beasts, Riku Allies, or Riku all-spells will clear him of his bad reputation in short order.
Sharuum, also known as the winner of the GDC March Madness Tournament from a few years, has a well-deserved reputation. The problem starts with the various infinite combos that Sharuum is a part of. She Mindslaver locks and she creates gravestorm with both Sculpting Steel and Phyrexian Metamorph. Sharuum is also a great reanimator and takes full advantage of Lion’s Eye Diamond. The true hate however, comes from how hard it is to stop this deck. It has tutors for anything it needs in any color it can cast. It has access to the best removal in the game. It has the best card draw options available. The ramp technically isn’t as stable overall as green decks, but it is in the right position to play both Winter Orb and Armageddon style spells.
The best way to fight a Sharuum deck is to simply win first. You can play artifact hate, but the removal suite and recursion make it hard to really feel the sting. Gaddock Teeg is a pretty good option against it as well. However, trying to answer Sharuum is an uphill battle for anything but the most dedicated control decks. For most players, you band together and take out this archenemy.
I’m not really sure what you can do to improve the reputation of this deck. You can avoid combos and Armageddon, but it will always be powerful with the Sphinx at the helm. Any ideas on how to make this commander more friendly are welcome.
One of my two least-favorite generals in Commander, Zur is the hands-down shining beacon of evil. He leads all who follow his example down a trail of shattered smiles and lost time. He can tutor up Stasis[/csrd] and casts [card]Armageddon like Chandra casts Lightning Bolt. The deck doesn’t need much room to progress its plans of either Power Artifact mana madness or lock-you-down-and-beat-you-up with Empyrial Armor paired with Necropotence.
The way to beat Zur is to never let him swing – ever. Kill or Arrest Zur, and then knock down whatever player made the poor life choice of playing him to begin with.
If you want to improve Zur’s reputation, I recommend locking him in a box and then feeding the key to a sloth. (Small key, don’t hurt the cute sloth). By the time it makes its way through the sloth’s system, he’ll still be hated, but you can relate to dealing with shit and should be smart enough not to play him.
Have you ever tried beating someone to death with a whiffle bat? That is what playing against Oloro is like. The deck runs off of what feels like an endless stream of synergies throughout the ages of magic. This is the “rope-a-dope” of deck strategies. It lets you swing at in throughout the game, not even really trying to block. It just keeps brushing off blows until it is set up to drop a combo with counter backup – the most popular finisher being the combination of Sanguine Blood+Exquisite Blood. However, there are a lot of other options, including Debt to the Debtless, Exanguinate, Felidar Sovereign, and combining Wound Reflection with either Sorin Markov or Magister Sphinx.
Beating any Esper deck can be a little tough due to the combination of tutors and the access to answers. However, two strategies that counter Oloro nicely are commander damage and Infect. If Oloro can’t heal from it, it has to actually acknowledge the damage it is taking. This means spending resources it could have used to protect or tutor up combo pieces. The other option is to turn the deck against itself. A Magister Sphinx can be crippling to an Oloro deck, so packing a Bribery, Acquire, or even Praetor’s Grasp can knock out one of these players in short order.
Oloro is right on the line of being on this list or not quite worth the nod. If you want to play an Oloro deck and improve the reputation, just removing the combos – and maybe Serra Ascendant – would be enough to remove it from the list.
Ghave has the problem of having too much of a good thing. Ghave really has too many synergies with other cards. It feels like no matter what card get laid down, Ghave can abuse it. He can gain any amount of life with both Deathgreeter and Soul Warden effects. He can force you to sacrifice all your creatures with Grave Pact. If you are attached to non-creature permanents, he’s got the fallback of Aura Shards. He can grow to infinite size with cards like Doubling Season, Cathars’ Crusade, or Blade of the Bloodchief. There are infinite mana and trigger loops with either Earthcraft+ Mana Reflection or Ashnod’s Altar+Nim Deathmantle. The list keeps going on, and the deck essentially builds itself. The combination of redundancy homogeneity makes this deck feel inevitable and altogether boring.
Fighting Ghave is really tough. As long as it has access to abundant mana, it can answer cards like Rest in Peace and Leyline of the Void that would usually shut it down. The two primary ways of stopping Ghave are stealing him (as long as the Ghave player is tapped out and has no sacrifice outlet) and destroying all the mana. Mana denial through Winter Orb or the dreaded Armageddon is the best hope of knocking Ghave out. Sadly, mana denial of any kind is usually frowned upon; this means that most of the time the answer to Ghave is waiting for the current pilot to get bored of the deck.
Outside of playing an ultra-themed fungus deck, I don’t really see Ghave’s reputation improving. Wizards isn’t about to stop printing cards that interact with creatures coming into play, leaving play, being sacrificed, or having counters put on them. As time goes on, Ghave decks will only get better and the reputations will only get worse.
Let’s have a little talk about Stax. Stax is a strategy that is also commonly referred to as a ‘prison’ deck. The decks play cards like Smokestack and Tangle Wire, while being setup to play a large number of permanents to minimize the “balanced” effects. Karador plays creatures that either have great effects when they enter the battlefield – like Duplicant orAcidic Slime – or you want to sacrifice them, like Kokoshu, the Evening Star or Academy Rector. Karador keeps the loops going by having a lot of creatures beyond Karador that also recur permanents. A common loop would be;
- Sacrifice Reveillark[card]
- Bring back [card]Karmic Guide and Saffi Eriksdotter
- Using Karmic Guide, bring back Sun Titan
Karador is actually pretty easy to disrupt. The problem with stax decks is that they require both the constant generation of permanents and their prison cards to effectively operate. Destroying either will stop the deck. Removal that exiles slaps down any plans the deck may have.
Stax itself is something that belongs on the list and that is the real reason Karador is here – to be used as an example. There is nothing that forces players to use this strategy, and Karador is a pretty open Commander to build. If players leave the prison elements out of the deck, it will have a better reputation over time.
You know how every Commander group loves to watch one person play solitaire with their deck while they wait on the edge of their seats waiting to be told when they are dead? Your group doesn’t like that? Maybe that’s because it’s an awful experienced that should be reserved for whatever level of hell you go to for crop dusting the children’s toys in Walmart. (You know who you are). Narset loves to take extra turns, then extra combat steps, and then some more extra turns. For some reason, players hate Commanders that take four-plus turns every time they take one.
Dealing with Narset is a pain, no getting around it. Hexproof is an annoying thing to keep stapling to legends that were already good enough without it. Scratch that – hexproof is just annoying, period. I preferred it when it was “Troll Shroud” and the only legend we had to worry about was that stinky yeti Uril, The Miststalker. I miss shroud, and having cards that had both an upside and downside. Sadly, the way you deal with Narset is through counters, forced sacrifice, and board wipes. Declaration of Naught is usually a bit of a dick move, but in the case of Narset (and other hated commanders), it could be one of your best options.
Narset quickly earned her bad reputation upon her release, and I think it will be a long time before that reputation can be repaired. Taking out the extra turn spells from the Narset decks would be a huge first step, but it is something I just don’t see happening for most players. What makes Narset a strong Commander is the same thing that makes you hate her.
A lot of players don’t like land destruction. Revealing your Commander to be something that destroys lands is like slapping each person at the table in the face with a dueling glove. Numot isn’t one of the best legends available for EDH, but the nature of the card can turn a table before the game even begins.
Numot is easy to deal with. Just kill him. It’s so easy. Just place the point of yourDoom Blade against his unarmored throat. Holding it firmly, trace a curved line to give him a beautiful neck smile.
This dragon really isn’t that bad, but his reputation depends on a group’s level of acceptance for land destruction. If you can convince everyone it’s not that bad, then he’s fine. If everyone is dead set on hating the land destruction, then Numot will be forever hated.
The Mimeoplasm joins an elite group of legends that can easily kill a player with a single swing. The ooze does it in a variety of ways, most popularly by making himself Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon and adding counters. The speed at which the ooze can be cast and a player knocked out of the game is frightening. It forces you to pay attention to The Mimeoplasm player at all times during a game. While some people enjoy games that feel like that kind of tight rope walk, more players want to enjoy relaxed, casual games that don’t have them knocked out turn five every time.
Dealing with the Mimeoplasm just means bringing ways to deal with the graveyard, which everyone should be doing anyway. Without the graveyard, the games become absolutely fair. Having answers for people using their graveyard is a running theme among the hated generals, and that makes me wonder if enough players bring the proper level of graveyard hate at all. On average, I recommend 4-7 cards in your deck that deal with threats in the ‘yard. More if your meta is heavily graveyard-dependent, or if you can’t search out those answers.
The hate for The Mimeoplasm is of no fault of the ooze. It is 100% groups not having answers for the graveyard. The more people build their decks to deal with once-dead threats, the more likely The Mimeoplasm will stop being so hated.
- Who is missing and why?
- Which Commanders to you agree or disagree with, and why?
- How would you use one or more in an innovative or fun way to counteract their bad reputation?
I’ll work any feedback for the next part, but it may be a while. Real Life incoming.