The Shard Defining Commanders
Every once in awhile, the conversation among Commander players turns to the question of "format defining" or "the best of the best". I’m not usually a fan of the latter, but the first question of how the format is so often defined is a question that I find interesting. Not from a standpoint of "combo, control and aggro", but from what are some of the most commonly played or definitive Commanders associated with various colours that define the format we love. Let’s start by going over the Shards and talking about a definitive Commander from each one.
For those who don’t know, the ‘Shards’ of Magic are considered to be the various tribes from Shards of Alara. They were three colour combinations that defined the set and as a result when referring to these.
Esper: Oloro, Ageless Ascetic
Runner up: Sen Triplets
It’s hard to go through the Commanders available in this shard without discussing one of the most played Commanders, which also comes from a preconstructed deck. Oloro is a Commander where no matter where you go, you’ll find at least one person is playing them. But at the same time, everyone will generally be okay with it because they aren’t often built as oppressive decks. The effects while seated in the Command Zone may be annoying or a hindrance to some, but the Commander leans towards more fair and slower strategies. Ever since the card’s printing, it has seen play throughout the format and will continue to for the foreseeable future. It gives card draw for blue, gains you life for white and drains your opponents for black. As a defining card for both the colour combo and Commander itself, Oloro is here to stay.
Grixis: Kess, Dissident Mage
Runner up: Nekusar, the Mindrazer
Kess, Dissident Mage is an often underrated Commander. Oftentimes it is just dismissed as being a Snapcaster Mage in the Command Zone. However, Grixis players realize just how much they love a Snapcaster Mage in the Command Zone. Enabling spellslinger, control and combo decks efficiently, Kess maintains the Grixis poster child by being playable at both more casual tables and high powered tables with the combo potential she carries. Look no further than adding cards like Doomsday into your Kess deck to really make things take off. Kess also maintains being a very recent addition to this list, making its prevalence in the format all the more impressive than some of the other options available.
Jund: Lord Windgrace
Runner up: Korvold, Fae-Cursed King
While Korvold is quickly becoming one of the new faces of Jund decks everywhere, there is a strong argument behind Lord Windgrace being the face of the more fair nature that Jund strives for without being the combo haven of Prossh, Skyraider of Kher, the previous face of Jund. Lord Windgrace manages to achieve this title by being in a popular preconstructed deck while still maintaining a higher power level at a competitive casting cost. Their abilities also greatly fall in line with general Jund strategies by offering card selection/draw as well as recursion and removal that supports a general tap out midrange/control play style that Jund players seek out. While in the preconstructed deck, Lord Windgrace sits at a lower power level due to a lack of cohesion in the deck’s construction, the card has proven itself and both casual tables with the precon as well as cEDH tables with decks like Ruric Noir. For now, the cat king sits atop the throne of Jund until Korvold gets more of a face at the casual Commander tables.
Naya: Zacama, Primal Calamity
Runner up: Ghired, Conclave Exile
To no one’s surprise, the big bad dino is the head of Naya. Which makes sense, as the shard is known for its big creatures and wanting to smash faces. Appeasing both the player base that wishes for a strong Commander that supports control decks as well as the midrange players that just want a big creature who carries a fair amount of value with it, Zacama fits the bill perfectly. The efficiency of this creature keeps them playable, but what keeps it so relevant to this shard is its abilities. It carries three unique abilities, each of which offers an effect that the abilities respective colour is commonly associated with, giving you the unique upsides of the colours in the abilities.
Runner up: Chulane, Teller of Tales
While Chulane, Teller of Tales is getting more and more popular as a Food Chain or Aluren deck, one of the most definitive cards in Commander as a format as well as the Bant colour shard is the group hug strategies and shenanigans of Phelddagrif. An argument can be made for options like the famous bird wizard Derevi, Empyrial Tactician but the essence of Bant remains in the grasp of the legendary hippo. Full of group hug and pillow fort strategies, it brings together Bant in a way that few other cards do. As well as being a classic of the shard, the card is also a constant in the format. It’s rare to see a Commander event or playgroup without at least one Phelddagrif deck or strategy that is inspired by Phelddagrif decks of yesterday. While slowly decreasing in play due to an ever-increasing power creep in legendary creatures being printed, the card will forever be a fan favourite in the format and be the definitive Bant Commander in all of our hearts.
Well, that’s all five shards covered with some great runner ups as well. What do you think the definitive Commander in each shard should have been? Do you disagree with some of the picks? Let me know! Next time we’ll have to cover the wedges/khans colours for their Commanders!