5-to-die-for (A Commander / EDH Staples series)

Welcome to my first article for CommandersGathering.com. I started playing EDH a couple years ago. My playgroup evolved from the standard 60 card decks into the Highlander format when someone brought their Rafiq deck and played it highlander style, then proceeded to destroy the table. Sufficient to say it wasn’t long until we all started our own decks. Currently this is the only format I own any decks of and I have over 15. Like most people my decks started out as basic ideas, then as my deck-building evolved, thus my decks did. It is my intention to give all players (new and old) a list of amazing cards that can be run in any deck. Although it is extremely difficult to define a Staple for EDH since each deck’s structure is different. I have composed a list in the form of my “5-to-die-for” where a player can check out some cards they can/should run regardless of a deck’s overall function. These are all cards that stand a high chance that one won’t want to mulligan away. This is defined as an overall high “playable factor”. Enjoy the series and be sure to check out some amazing commander primers and upcoming set spoilers on CommandersGathering.com

White Commander Staples

Oblivion Ring - Commander StapleOblivion Ring

Type: Enchantment

Utility: Artifact Destruction, Enchantment Destruction, Planeswalker Destruction, Creature Destruction, Creature Destruction, Nonland Permanent Destruction.

Commander Usage: Use against other players’ generals to send back to the command zone. Often used before the attack phase to ensure a killing blow.

Commander Decks: Use in any deck that runs white. Soul Snare, Journey to Nowhere, Intervention Pact, Iona’s Judgment, Afterlife, and Revoke Existence also works in a pinch.

Combos: Works well in flicker style decks. Sometimes this is used to bounce one’s own permanents to perform some sort of shenanigan. Used in conjunction with such cards as Momentary Blink, Flickerwisp, Reveillark, and of course Flicker itself. Venser blink decks have always had much success and a flashing O-ring can be a powerful tool.

Swords to Plowshares - MTG Commander StapleSwords to Plowshares and Path to Exile

Type: Instant

Utility: Creature Destruction, Spot Removal

Commander Usage: All purpose spot-removal. Be wary of targets. As amazing as a one drop instant-speed removal is (even kills combo cold, not just dead, RFG for life), There is a slight downside. The key is to use it when life doesn’t matter (or lands). Trust me, it will shortly afterwards.

Commander Decks: White decks everywhere must include, white has always had that slight touch for control and these two all-stars are worth every penny. Consider that you will play them every time they come to your hand. Never will they hurt you, slow you down, or be a dead draw. Common functioning cards would be Oust, Oblation, and Condemn.

Combos: Use together to get this ——> :/ {trollface}

Wrath of God - MTG Commander StapleWrath of God and/or Day of Judgment

Type: Sorcery

Utility: Creature Destruction (all of them)

Commander Usage: Often used during a main-phase, post combat in order to ensure a suitable board position to replay your general. Very rarely goes to waste. The only difference between the two is after a Wrath of God creatures cannot be regenerated as opposed to Day of Judgment.

Commander Decks: Most well rounded White Mana decks carry a couple global creature destroyers. White is known for its board wiping tech and has produced such cards as, Planar Cleansing, March of Souls, Planar Collapse, False Prophet, Mageta the Lion, Sunscour, Solar Tide, Winds of Rath, Phyrexian Rebirth, and even Sunblast Angel. There are several more out there as we all know but this should get you started.

Combos: Use with graveyard manipulation (Resurrection, Enduring Renewal, Miraculous Recovery, Marshal’s Anthem, plus pretty much anything in Black). Hijinks devastate the competition when combined with Twilight Shepherd.

Serra Ascendant - MTG Commander StapleSerra Ascendant

Type: Creature

Utility: Lifegain, One-drop

Commander Usage: This one drop is on top of the list. The pinnacle of all one-drops, considering it’s a format where players start at 40 life. I don’t think anyone needs me to point out the obvious implications here. Seriously did this guy just turn one a 6/6 flying lifelink? Oh ya…he did.. :/

Commander Decks: Any deck looking for life-gain and a cheap beatstick. This guy is a must have for any mono-white build. Lifegain is going to be crucial for those decks such as Kemba, Kha Regent, Konda, Lord of Eiganjo, Sensei Golden-Tail, Akroma, Angel of Wrath.

Combos: Has a place in all decks, but consider using with Noble Purpose (almost made the 5-to-die for list itself). Such critters as Soul Warden, Soul’s Attendant, and Ajani’s Pridemate can be used to compliment Serra Ascendant. The game will rapidly come to a conclusion when you have a Serra Ascendant + Felidar Sovereign or Serra Ascendant + Sanguine Bond, enjoy the tricks.

Prison Term - MTG Commander StaplePrison Term

Utility: Prison, Creature Control

Commander Usage: Prison Term is tricky because you gain the option to move to any creature that comes into play (under an opp’s control). One doesn’t need to be hesitant about a target for this spell because you can move it around, and ultimately onto one’s general.

Commander Decks: Commanders such as Grand Arbiter Augustine IV, Gwafa Hazid, Gwafa Hazid, Profiteer, Sen Triplets and Hanna, Ship’s Navigator can benefit extremely from a Prison Term. A clever player will know an opp’s strategy and know who to keep the term on and who to move it to. The other aspect is that it can go to any opponent’s creatures. You aren’t limited to targeting a single player.

Combos: As recently mentioned can be a real nuisance when used with Hanna, Ship’s Navigator as a general. Ghostly Prison, Norn’s Annex, Propaganda, Dissipation Shield, and Prison Term have been a cornerstone of white/blue combo decks since the inception of Commander. Having just two of these rocks on the field is a win condition itself. Although, it’s up to the player to make sure they remain on the battlefield. \m/

Green Commander Staples

MTG Commander Staple Card - Sylvan LibrarySylvan Library

Type: Enchantment

Utility: Card Draw, Library Manipulation

Commander Usage: Sylvan Library provides top deck manipulation with the option to keep each card for the price of 4 life. It has a similar effect as Sensei’s Divining Top and Mirri’s Guile. Also things like Crystal Ball and Darksteel Pendant can be budget solutions with desired effects.

Commander Decks: It creates card advantage allowing you to order the cards on top of your library, which is great for finding the right answers, arranging combo pieces or simply drawing more cards.

Combos: With Abundance or Personal Sanctuary on the board you can draw multiple cards every turn without the life loss and/or chose land or non-land for each of them. Sylvan Library works great with effects that let you play cards from the top of your library like Future Sight, Magus of the Future or Oracle of Mul Daya.

MTG Commander Staple - Acidic SlimeAcidic Slime

Type: Creature

Utility: Artifact Destruction, Enchantment Destruction, Land Destruction

Commander Usage: The card gives you a 2/2 body/blocker with Deathtouch and a targeted artifact, enchantment or land removal.

Commander Decks: Almost any deck that plays Green will want Acidic Slime. It’s like a double dose of a go for the throat effect, once when it comes one for a permanent and once on the way out with deathtouch.

Combos: Acidic Slime works well with the Reveillark/Karmic Guide combo and generally with any bounce effects or recursion strategies.

Eternal Witness - MTG Commander StapleEternal Witness

Type: Creature

Utility: Creature, Graveyard Return

Commander Usage: Witness works wonderful in GY themed decks, such as Savra, Queen of the Golgari or Glissa, the Traitor.

Commander Decks: Eternal Witness is a reclaim wrapped in a 2/1 chump body. There is a reason this card will always be worth 5 bucks or so. It’s just so good as a utility card and matched equally by its own versatility. The fact it is a creature makes it easy to abuse.

Combos: Graveyard theme decks are yearning for this must-play. Keep bringing it back with Mortuary or Haunted Crossroads (or whatever other GY love you have) and keep playing it over and over. The Eternal Witness has been seen hanging around with Sakura-Tribe Elder and Yavimaya Elder. Word on the street is Genesis is looking to target the witness.

Rites of Flourishing - MTG Commander StapleRites of Flourishing and/or Heartbeat of Spring

Type: Enchantment

Utility: Mana Production, Card Draw,

Commander Usage: While quintessential to mono Green Mana builds this is a must include when considering ramp. Run these cards before you allow a slot to be used for an instant/sorcery ramp spell. For a devoted 1 Green Mana mana in the cost these are highly splashable. That is the reason Mana Reflection didn’t make the cut, 6 mana and 2 dedicated Green Mana are more of a game-closer but one should just spend the extra mana and run Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger.

Commander Decks: Extremely effective with broken generals like Azusa, Lost but Seeking or Omnath, Locus of Mana. While one would consider the “global effect” a downside, but it really isn’t. You are playing at the same speed as other everyone else already so don’t sweat it!! These can also make you friends during a game which can make players actually not want to finish you off.

Combos: When one has Azusa in play and drops a Rites of Flourishing that is now enabling a player to drop 4 (and sometimes 5 with Oracle of Mul-Daya) Lands a turn. This is often broken by cards like Wasteland/Strip Mine/(budget)Ghost Quarter + Crucible of Worlds, Life from the Loam, and Horn of Greed.

Krosan Grip - MTG Commander StapleKrosan Grip

Type: Instant

Utility: Artifact Destruction, Enchantment Destruction, Split Second

Commander Usage: Are you tired of those pesky enchantments preventing all damage or artifacts making life tough for you? This baby is always ready to give you the edge you need. Only one mana from Green Mana is required, so this can easily fit into any deck (even five colors).

Commander Decks: The fact it has split second makes it a must run (sorry blue, no counterspell on this one). Another factor that puts this on top is artifact creatures can’t tap in response to being destroyed with this one, except for mana abilities, of course.

Combos: No specific combos, consider Krosan Grip more of the combo killer, guaranteed.

Black Commander Staples

MTG Commander Staple Card - Phyrexian ArenaPhyrexian Arena

Type: Enchantment

Utility: Card Draw

Commander Usage: It’s a powerful Enchantment that will draw you a card on your Unkeep.

Commander Decks: Phyrexian Arena generates card advantage every turn and because the worst thing in Commander is to be in top-deck mode the card can be used in almost any type of deck that can play Black cards.

Combos: It’s not a great card for combos. It can be used for different effects with Words of War, Words of Waste, Words of Wilding, Words of Wind and Words of Worship or anytime “when you would draw a card”.

Vampiric Tutor - MTG Commander StapleVampiric Tutor

Type: Instant

Utility: Card Tutor

Commander Usage: The question is, what card do you need to win? There it is, go get it. You aren’t held to conditions like Mystical Tutor or Enlightened Tutor, you can go get any card for the mere price of Black Mana mana and 2 life. Saaaaawwwwweeeeeeeeet deal.

Commander Decks: All decks can use this card and it’s incredibly splash-able. I realize it isn’t budget, but the fact it got the ban-hammer in LEGACY should say something about how powerful it is. A format where first turn combo-wins can happen all day, and this card is banned?

Combos: This will find you all your combo pieces. Nothing special except … Black Mana mana and 2 life for any card in your library. There are several other alternatives, such as Demonic Tutor, Diabolic Tutor, Beseech the Queen (which almost made this list) and Liliana Vess -2 ability. This leads me onto my next staple.

Liliana Vess - MTG Commander StapleLiliana Vess

Type: Planeswalker

Utility: Discard, Tutor, Graveyard Manipulation, and Sexiest character in MtG

Commander Usage: The most overlooked aspect of Liliana Vess is that most people don’t realize you will be able to tutor the turn she comes in, then again next turn. That’s 2 unconditional (save for keeping her alive) tutors before you are forced to use her +1. So for and Black Mana you can reasonable get 3 tutors out over 4 turns. I use her solely with the intent of tutors. This allows players to find their combo pieces, even if they don’t have any in their hand.

Commander Decks: Any decks running a discard theme MUST have this jewel. Generals like, Nath of the Gilt-Leaf obviously benefit tremendously from her +1. While not many generals have a discard theme, many decks do, as discard is a powerful tool in EDH. It can also be used to self-discard which there are several decks that use GY tech.

Combos: Vess’s ultimate is nothing to be scoffed at, despite the fact it takes 3 turns to get to (without help like, say Doubling Season or proliferate). Cards like Life’s Finale can really break her. Basically her ultimate after any boardwipe is gg, (save for Phage) and the best part is it can’t be countered!!(except for counter activated ability). Anyone else want to see Liliana in a bikini? Is it just me or is power sexy?

Profane Command - MTG Commander Staple Profane Command

Type: Sorcery

Utility: Life Loss, Reanimation, Removal, Fear

Commander Usage: Well this is an obvious choice for many reason. If your opponent doesn’t run black then obviously fear is the mind killer. The choices this card enables you to make can easily shift the game in your favor. This is an all-purpose utility card that one could go four cards deep for the same result, and here it is, all wrapped up in one.

Commander Decks: The fact you need and whatever else you can afford makes this card extremely playable. This can be used as spot-removal with the -/- effects, a reanimator card and a good way to essentially make some of your creatures un-blockable for the turn. Also the first choice (Target player loses {X} life can win you the game when it’s late. I have even had 15+ mana pumped into this and taken out 3 players at once solely because of this card. (That’s a lot of creatures with fear).

Combos: Profane Command is a set-up card for the finisher. This is another card that will never be a dead draw because the options are amazing and universal. Another aspect is that this card can be played early or late game with astonishing effects.

Disturbed Burial - MTG Commander StapleDisturbed Burial

Type: Sorcery

Utility: Reanimation

Commander Usage: Any generals heavy on the graveyard love can use this card over and over. That is why this made the 5-to-die-for. A re-occurring raise dead if you will.

Commander Decks: Have you ever had trouble in your playgroup with keeping your power creatures alive? This can essentially keep those creatures coming back and back again. For 3 colorless you get to keep this in your hand. That makes this a persistent nuisance for your opponent and even can force them to change their game-plans when you keep returning your beaters over and over.

Combos: Amazing with creatures that have “When this creature enters the battlefield” or “Sacrifice this Creature” effects. Such as, Ramp with Sakura-Tribe Elder or Yavimaya Elder, or free functions over and over returning those pesky Myojins. Personally my favorite use is when combined with a board-wipe effect then you bring your big beatstick back.

Blue Commander Staples

Hinder - MTG Commander StapleHinder

Type: Instant

Utility: Counterspell, General Killer

Commander Usage: Other cards have the desired effect, the same purpose if you will. Optimally one should run ALL of them, but it isn’t always needed. Spell Crumple is almost identical, Proteus Staff does a great job except the creature has to be in play. The same goes for Spin into Myth. Which I really like because you can fateseal 2 and get a chance to send another bombo to the bottom!

Commander Decks: Any deck running Blue.

Combos: How could this card not be first, it is the simplest way to eliminate someone’s general (even if only for a bit). The directions are simple, counterspell the general, and opt to send it to the bottom of the library. One can go for the win right away if the next spell after you cast Hinder is Tunnel Vision. Instant Mill, all the way down! Be wary of Eldrazi or other GY shufflers first though.

Bribery - MTG Commander StapleBribery

Type: Sorcery

Utility: Creature Control

Commander Usage: For 3 colorless and you can go into your opp’s deck and take whatever beatstick they have. In EDH one can be assured there are some bombs waiting to be played. Often times Eldrazi make great targets despite the fact you won’t get the “When you cast” trigger, but neither will they.

Commander Decks: Any deck heavy into control/permission. Acquire can also be used for the same purpose but targets artifacts only (I’m thinking Mycosynth Lattice), and to a lesser extent Telemin Performance or Knowledge Exploitation).

Combos: Ya sure, take whatever you want, whatever helps you the most. This also gives you a chance to see what your opp’s a running. For fun try using Bribery after a Hinder/Spell Crumple/Spin into Myth/Proteus Staff.

Rhystic Study - MTG Commander StapleRhystic Study

Type: Enchantment

Utility: Card Draw

Commander Usage: Any decks based around card draw, Azami, Lady of Scrolls. Soramaro, First to Dream, Arcanis the Omnipotent, and definitely Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind. But one should run Rhystic Study in any deck.

Commander Decks: Considering it only 3 mana total and requiring a single this can create significant card advantage easily in any style deck. Most people won’t want to pay 1 colorless before the main-phase, so often times this will net you some serious card advantage.

Combos: As long as this spell stays in play it should be the only card-draw you need (but by no means the only one in your deck). For extra fun try cloning a Psychosis Crawler and cast Necrologia. Other things like Winds of Change, Whirlpool Warrior, Consecrated Sphinx or Aeon Chronicler can net you an amazing turn-out. How easy it is to win with 60 cards in your hand, and believe me, I have done it.

Phyrexian Metamorph - MTG Commander StaplePhyrexian Metamorph and/or Clone

Type: Creature

Utility: Creature Control, Legend Killer

Commander Usage: These can get around the “shroud” or “Protection from or Colored Spell” with the fact it does not require the caster to “target” anything. It comes into play as whatever the caster wishes (already in play).

Commander Decks: All of them but this is a must for the more control style decks.

Combos: For shenanigans try cloning a Vesuvan Doppleganger, if it goes unanswered one can make Doppleganger after Doppleganger. A couple other cards if you like the clone trick is Cryptoplasm, Quicksilver Gargantuan (absolute beast), or Body Double. One last little card that can really almost break a metamorph or clone……..try a Rite of Replication.

Voidmage Husher - MTG Commander StapleVoidmage Husher (The most underrated staple)

Type: Creature

Utility: Counter Activated Ability.

Commander Usage: In a game where everyone’s general does something this can sway the tide heavily, and often can kill opp’s combos.

Commander Decks: This flash creature is fairly cheap at a total of 3 colorless and . Hence it can be put into any style deck. Obviously we all know how important utility creatures and artifacts are and this can stop them dead. The fact you get it back in your hand to use again as soon as your next spell resolves makes this a must.

Combos: Again, another combo-killer. I often think this card is forgotten about, although it will work as a re-occuring Stifle, Squelch or Voidslime. This is something you should keep sending back to your hand over and over. If your opp knows you have this in your hand they will be reluctant to use their key abilities for fear of you. This can create amazing tempo for you.

Red Commander Staples

Insurrection - MTG Commander StapleInsurrection

Type: Sorcery

Utility: Creature Control

Commander: Usage All decks running . 8 mana is tough and a dedicated but I have never met anyone that would mulligan this card away. EDH can often last until turn 15-20 and usually then 8 mana is insignificant.

Commander Decks: The set-up is fairly simple. Cast Insurrection, and swing. If you can’t understand why this is the best red staple ever printed then maybe you should try a different format.

Combos: No combo’s needed, this is a must-run in EDH because it is one card that can win (save for large multi-player games) when you cast it. Although often times it is used with a sacrifice outlet where, in case, you can’t secure the victory one can send all their opp’s creatures to the GY instead of back to them. Nantuko Husk, Bloodthrone Vampire, Vampire Aristocrat, Viscera Seer all come to mind. (they aren’t the only outlets). Try doing all this with a Pawn of Ulamog on the Board…mmmmmmm Eldrazi Mana, Om nom nom!!!

Shattering Pulse - MTG Commander StapleShattering Pulse

Type: Instant

Utility: Artifact Destruction

Commander Usage: Any mono decks are almost guaranteed running artifact hate, but for the sake of mono-red decks, Shattering Spree can be a much more powerful tool. It is to cast and mana per target al’lah replicate ability (spree not pule). Late game that can really add up to take out several key cards to an opp’s strategy. Shattering Spree almost made this slot but it isn’t great for multi-colored (3 or more) decks and is also a sorcery whereas Shattering Pulse comes in at instant speed.

Commander Decks: Shattering Pulse has a buy-back feature which makes this a re-occuring artifact destroyer. Often times buyback is a powerful mechanic in EDH since you can only have one of these in your deck anyways. For a devoted and colorless (and colorless for buyback) this card is extremely splashable.

Combos: I’m thinking, Mycosynth Lattice (again). This can also work with a Goblin Welder to ensure those artifacts stay gone!

Blood Moon - MTG Commander Staple Blood Moon

Type: Enchantment
Utility: Land-Altering, Mana-Fixxing

Commander Usage: Amazing in all decks, not just mono-red. A total of colorless and make it easy to fit this into any deck. A substitute for this was luckily printed in Magus of the Moon.

Commander Decks: This card is outstanding versus any multi-colored build. It is good practice to run any multi-producing (or even utility for mono-colored decks) lands one can find, Thus Blood Moon can be devastating to anyone who doesn’t play red. For you, it is just a form of mana-fixxing.

Combos: Can we say “Lifeblood” or “Sanctimony”. This combo can be raunchy, why not destroy your opp’s mana base and gain some life out of it. Volcanic Eruption can really do some serious damage to a player as well. Obviously anything that gives your beats mountainwalk, such as Goblin King can be a finisher. Not to mention this can shut down Dark Depths or someone’s Cabal Coffers.

Comet Storm - MTG Commander StapleComet Storm

Type: Instant

Utility: Direct Damage to multiple targets.

Commander Usage: No specific general, this is more of a “grey” card because it’s potential is unlimited. A devoted 2{R} and as much colorless as you can afford make this the end-all be-all of burn spells. Think, fireball on steroids. Some other cards pertinent to EDH direct damage are Starstorm, Lavalanche and Red Sun’s Zenith.

Commander Decks: This is a multi-faceted card because you can either choose to do more damage to less targets or less damage to more targets. Comet Storm‘s multikicker ability is astonishing. The fact it is per target is similar to fireball but in the end fireball damage will be divided and Comet Storm will keep the total paid for damage the same per target.

Combos: Remember, Everything burns. The potential of this card late game is absurd, consider spending 5 mana on the 2 required and 3 multi-kickers and then 5 mana to pay for and watch this card blow out 20 damage. The thing is the multikicker makes this damage total grow exponentially and that is why this puppy made it o Mythic rare status.

Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker - MTG Commander StapleKiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker

Type: Legendary Creature – Goblin Shaman

Utility: Creature, Token Producer

Commander Usage: If your using Kiki-Jiki as a general a great theme would be to take advantage of the plethora of control spells such as, Act of Treason, Mark of Mutiny, Traitorous Instinct, etc. The point is to be able to say, take your opponents biggest baddie and make a second copy of it, then swing with both. If your’ not using Mr. 7 years bad luck himself as a general he is best suited for combos with Blue and White.

Commander Decks: Any deck that wants to win. There is really no downside to this creature. Although, control based decks would benefit the most from the almost villainous ability.

Combos: So here we are…this really can go on for a long time, and is quite painful to write-up. I will do my best for you though. The biggest and most abused combo is with Intruder Alarm. It’s fairly simple, make a token, untap, make a token, untap, repeat forever, swing and win or use something like Avalanche Riders to destroy and opp’s land-base.. Ok so with that card we can make infinite anything, wonderful. One can use Sundial of the Infinite to circumvent the “end of the turn” trigger from Kiki, and keep your tokens for a little longer. Some more combo’s (I won’t start explaining how to use the combo because this section can go on forever).

Kiki-Jiki + Minamo, School at Water’s Edge + Palinchron or Peregrine Drake. (infinite tokens)
Kiki-Jiki + Palinchron or Peregrine Drake or Emrakul’s Hatcher + Umbral Mantle or Sword of the Paruns (infinite tokens)
Kiki-Jiki + Sword of the Paruns or Umbral Mantle + Composite Golem (Infinite colored mana)
Kiki-Jiki + Breath of Fury + Phantom Warrior or other Unblockables (infinite combat rounds and thus damage)
Kiki-Jiki + Freed from the Real + Morselhoarder (infinite tokens + mana)
Kiki-Jiki + Faces of the Past or Thornbite Staff + Mogg Fanatic (infinite damage)
Kiki-Jiki + Thornbite Staff + Wild Cantor (infinite mana)
Kiki-Jiki + Sky Hussar (infinite tokens)
Kiki-Jiki + Pestermite (infinite tokens)
Kiki-Jiki + Aura of Dominion + Ashnod’s Altar + any creature (infinite colorless mana)
That should be enough to keep you busy, there are more but I’ll leave it to you to find them.

There you have it folks, a thoroughly thought-out, and oft revised edition of my 5-to-die-for. I hope the information was helpful. I can be found frequenting the forums of MTGFanatic.com (userid: InfinityConcept, send me a PM) where we have an amazing group of trusted online traders (The Integrity Trading Company). If you are into online trading (via Mail or UPS) then check us out at (http://www.mtgfanatic.com/Forum/ViewDiscussion.aspx?ID=108183). Otherwise, keep your eyes open for my next Staple Series, “10-to-die-for”. I will be attacking artifacts and lands in my next primer, enjoy and happy commanderring!


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