It’s no great secret that the format now known as Commander wasn’t always named as such. In truth, Commander only became Commander once Wizards decided to start creating supplemental products specifically for the product. The logic for that decision makes sense. For one, it allowed Wizards to create a brand association with them more so than with the fan-made format itself, as most businesses are wont to do. While this has led to an extensive misunderstanding among many new and novice players that Wizards also controls the format’s rules and banned list themselves because of that fact (they don’t), overall it’s been a net positive change.
The second reason was simply one of practicality. Before Commander was Commander it was – and is still referred to by many – as EDH, which stands for Elder Dragon Highlander.
Without going into a full history lesson, EDH gained its name because of how the game originated. The ‘highlander’ part of EDH evoked the fact that, besides basic land, there could be no more than one copy of a card in the deck. The ‘elder dragon’ part of the name was simply borne out of the available options to choose from when it was initially created. At first, only legendary creatures from the Legends set were available options, with the original 5 Elder Dragons being some of the most popular choices. EDH became the shorthand nickname of this fan format as a result.
As the format grew and opened itself up to all legendary creatures, the name nevertheless stuck. Having grown far beyond the scope of its inception, the decision to move away from talk of elder dragons and magical Scotsmen and towards a more neutral name became more and more prudent, especially once branding, marketing (and legalities) were concerned. Thus EDH became Commander.
One thing that hasn’t changed in all this, though, is the fact that dragons still make their presence pretty well known in the format. Whether that’s because of their massive egos or merely a perpetual reminder of their influence on the game, we can’t say for sure. But we do know that dragons are still ever-present in EDH. And this week, we’re fully embracing that legacy with a dragon of our own.
Today we have: Rith, the Awakener
Name: Rith, the Awakener
Edition: Invasion / Phyrexia vs. Coalition / FTV: Dragons
Focus: Token Generation
Highlights: Pointing out the usefulness of Rith as a Commander card isn’t all that surprising when you get down to it. The ‘dragon-ness’ tie-ins aside, this cycle has been a mainstay of the format since the beginning. And with good reason. We have touted the usefulness of both Treva and Dromar in past articles, and Crosis, the Purger is so liked he made it into the Commander 2017 sets. Of the five dragons in the cycle, only Darigaaz, the Igniter doesn’t see much use generally.
Secondly, Rith proved useful as a Naya-colored Commander option in the early days. Prior to the creation of unique cards in the Commander sets, the game only had six legendary Naya creatures: 4 from Legends and/or Chronicles, which included the difficult to find Hazezon Tamar and three others that weren’t all that enticing, Rith itself, and the super-popular-but-equally-super-annoying Uril, the Miststalker. At the beginning, if you wanted a Naya deck that wasn’t going to break the bank or the game, Rith was it.
Mostly though Rith is an enjoyable EDH card because, like its brethren, its effects are both powerful and fun.
Like all of these dragons, Rith is a 6/6 Flyer for six mana, making it a solid frame for the game. That fact alone makes it a useful creature in a deck as it’s potent enough to make a statement on the battlefield, doesn’t get killed off easily in combat, and isn’t prohibitively expensive to cast. And if one were to leave it at that, there would still be merit for its inclusion in an EDH deck.
However, what sets Rith apart most is its combat-based trigger. It states that when you deal combat damage to an opponent, you may pay three mana to generate 1/1 Green Saproling tokens equal to the number of permanents on the battlefield of a color of your choice. Typically, you will choose whichever color is the most prevalent at that time, giving you a lot of flexibility. Given the time it takes to cast Rith and the number of opponents you’re facing on average in an EDH game, even an earlyish attack should be able to net you a half dozen tokens or more. If it’s later in the game, or if the game has reached a standstill moment, that number could be much, much higher – ensuring an excellent return on your three mana investment. Moreover, even without supplemental help, it usually only takes an activation or two before Green clearly becomes the most common permanent type of the board thanks to existing Saprolings – potentially generating 1/1 tokens each round at an exponential pace. Whether as fodder, attackers, or enablers for other effects, few would ever argue against having an army of expendable token creatures at their command. So long as you are able to connect for damage, Rith provides that singlehandedly.
In a deck, Rith is decent enough, but these factors also illustrate why so many opted for Rith in the commander slot as well. So long as you can make use of the combat nature of the trigger, you can generate a massive army or rebuild defenses after substantial losses rather quickly.
Of course, the fact that the trigger is combat only is also the card’s one downside. In order to take full advantage of the effect, not only must Rith survive on the board long enough to attack, but it must actually do combat damage to an opponent. In isolation this is fine, but if you decide to use Rith as your commander that either means that you’re attacking the same person over and over again for 6 damage apiece or you’ll have to spread the damage around to multiple opponents. Both of which can potentially foster threat from the table as a result. In effect, Rith itself isn’t the problem so much as the steps needed to use it to fill effect.
Luckily, in this case, the end result is a bunch of additional creatures to help offset some of that possible retribution.
Which is pretty generous for a generous for a dragon when you get down to it.
Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.
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