Number Five: Reyhan, Last of the Abzan
Reyhan is the perfect marriage of the well-loved Mirrodin mechanic Modular with one of the breakout heroes of the original Commander sets, Skullbriar, the Walking Grave. Forget Partner; with this combination of effects Reyhan is plenty scary enough on its own.
There’s not a lot of nuance to what this creature offers, admittedly. By itself, Reyhan is a solid 3/3 creature for three mana that doles out its counters if it dies. That fact alone makes it quite an efficient creature.
Whether part of your deck or leading it, though, its real potential is unleashed in situations where you’re sporting lots of +1/+1 counters. It’s a simple conceit, but so long as you have another creature to dump them on (or an opponent’s creature if you wish for some reason), those counters will continue to boost your army’s ferocity even in death.
Put another way: if you thought one Skullbriar was bad, prepare to meet an entire battalion of them.
Number Four: Divergent Transformations
Play enough multiplayer Magic and you’ll inevitably either hear someone complain about Red’s difficulties at removing sizable creatures without ridiculous amounts of mana…or you’re the person saying it.
It isn’t that Red should be as adept at spot removal as its Black or White counterparts. Rather, it’s that Red should at least be as capable handling creatures on the same level as it did in the past. With the proliferation of Hexproof and Indestructible, however, not to mention the percentage of large creatures found in EDH, Red’s has had some viability issues. Well, Wizards tacitly acknowledged this finally not that long ago and has started creating more multiplayer friendly Red spells. Ones such as this.
Enter Divergent Transformations, the new Red Polymorph. Trying the mechanic out Red, Divergent exiles problematic creatures it simply can’t burn to death – at the cost of possibly giving an opponent something equal or better in return. Yet the benefits far outweigh the risk, making this an impressive new tool in Red’s toolbox. Seven mana for instant speed Red exile of two creatures is justifiable, but when you add in the Undaunted cost reduction, it’s a no brainer for the fire mages among us. Dismiss its usefulness at your own peril. The card isn’t exactly flashy, but it’s far more valuable than it seems – all without the color pie issues of Chaos Warp.
Number Three: Magus of the Will
Of all the cards on the list, few are going to be less surprising than this one. Magus of the Will is this year’s addition to the Magus (aka old powerful spells remade in creature form) series of creatures we originally saw in Time Spiral and continued in past Commander sets. Magus of the Will – an homage to the incredibly powerful Yawgmoth’s Will – has been sought for some time. And here it is.
Admittedly, part of Yawgmoth’s Will’s impact is casting it to set off an explosive turn. Yet as with all Maguses (Magusi?), you do have to wait a turn first. While you do lose the element of surprise as a result in creature form, there still are a few advantages in an EDH setting. Those include that it’s a highly splashable creature, it’s a hefty 3/3 creature for three mana, and it doesn’t generate the knee-jerk need to automatically counter it. It will also make for a great deterrent in the middle to late stages of the game if you’re sitting on cards in your graveyard no one wants to see again. Finger on the trigger and all that.
Oh, and it’s also going to be far, far more affordable to acquire than its progenitor. That alone almost puts it into contention.
Number Two: Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice
It would have been a shame to finish out a Commander 2016 list and not include at least one of the new Quad Squad among the set’s top cards. Luckily, that didn’t happen.
While all of the new four-color legends are interesting in their own right, Atraxa is by far the most formidable based on raw power. Which is almost regrettable on some levels, because she’s probably also the least creative of the bunch. Still, it’s hard to argue with what works.
The combination of her four static abilities for her cost makes it quite scary to face down alone, especially if you can’t or don’t want to block. There are no conditional situations for her: Atraxa will always be useful on a creature level, so long as you have the mana.
When you add in the free Proliferate trigger every round, however, that opens up all sorts of doors to explore beyond simply having an appealing beatstick – Commander or not. Whether it’s manipulating creature counters, Infect damage, or, yes, planeswalker loyalty, Proliferate is the kind of mechanic with all manner of uses at the ready. And it just found its figurehead. The level of variety it offers across four colors is nothing short of impressive. Between being an effective creature in combat and enabling all manner of deck synergies, this fallen angel’s spot is well earned.
Number One: Grip of Phyresis
Often the most versatile new card in supplemental sets turns out to be a hidden gift for Legacy players. Other times it’s the kind of card that exudes self-assured usefulness or combo-making potential.
Not this time.
For Commander 2016 the top card, the one with the most wide-reaching potential, is the humble Grip of Phyresis. It earns its laurels not because it will single-handedly swing the game in your favor or break the bank with its awesomeness. No, this card earns the top spot because it’s almost always going to be useful in a game of Commander, no matter what deck you put it in.
In may ways Grip of Phyresis is a faster and more surefire Steal Artifact since it can be cast whenever and the control change is permanent. It may only care about Equipment, but this restriction is nearly moot. It’s rare to play a game of EDH without someone at least sporting a Swiftfoot Boots or Lightning Greaves, let alone more powerful treasures like Argentum Armor or Darksteel Plate. Whether you wish to stymie an opponent or simply turn their own asset against them, Grip of Phyresis is happy to oblige. And, if your ill-gotten artifact happens to provide a creature buff, then you also get a Germ that can be used for a surprise block, making this card work as a worthwhile combat utility card as well.
…All for three mana.
And if that isn’t the epitome of versatile, what is?
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Do you have a particular Commander card to suggest for us to shine a future Spotlight on? You can send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org