The Commander Conjecture Countdown
In my first article “Welcome to the Commander Conjecture” I talked briefly about resources. Whoever has the most resources available to them at the apex of the game is likely to win. These typically take the form of permanents on the battlefield, so why then am I writing a list about instants? Because sometimes the best resource available is the one your opponent doesn’t know about until it is too late. That’s where instants come in. These are high impact, surprise cards, that are a little bit more obscure, but still have great play value in Commander. In building this list, I wanted to make sure that:
- None of the Cards were in any of the Commander editions (thus more obscure to the average player);
- Are useful at different stages of the game (high utility);
- Are cost effective at the Apex of the game so you can still put a permanent on the field and play one of these Instants in a single turn (CMC 5 or less).
Honorable Mentions Jabari’s Influence – This card has a really unique effect for a white card. For 5 mana you get to gain control of a creature your opponent controls and that control effect does not end at the end of turn. The -1/-0 counter is often more obnoxious to keep track of than it has an impact on the game. The big drawback is that it can only be cast after combat and the color restrictions (though it still grabs big Eldrazi). This card is fun to play, and while it isn’t a pure combat trick, it can leave an opponent reeling, who thought they were in control of the game.
Decree of Savagery – Any card that cycles to draw a card AND has a powerful effect on the game is playable. Most of the time you see green playing a card like Krosan Tusker, but Decree of Savagery is versatile card with a powerful effect. The cycling trigger will almost always resolve because traditional counterspells won’t work. Cycling this card feels kind of like Stonewood Invocation. Casting this card is glorious if you can afford it. I overlooked it on this list originally because it is the only card from the Decree cycle that you can cast or cycle at Instant speed. When we talk about casting powerful spells I can say with authority that I have cast every single one of the Decree cycle in Commander (and 2 of them have been reprinted in Commander Preconstructed decks because of their recognized power level). I recommend you try this one out some time.
Most of the time you will cast Submerge for free. Green is widely regarded as one of the best colors in Commander, so Forests will abound. You can cast it in response to a search effect (a tutor or fetchland) or save it for combat. It’s a straightforward card and when you are tapped out the surprise factor is probably the highest on the list. A lot of people might expect a mana-less counterspell like Force of Will or Pact of Negation, but Submerge is glorious. It answers pesky indestructible creatures and in a pinch can save your own creatures.
Scout’s Warning and Savage Summoning fulfill the same roll, and it honestly depends on your play group which is best. I tend to prefer Scout’s Warning because I can spend 1 mana to draw a card early game so that I can have smoother mana bases. Sometimes the best play is to play it without getting the full effect. Leaving up mana for either of these cards to get the full effect is pretty suspicious so you probably won’t surprise anyone too much. But the effect of giving a creature flash is powerful and the ancillary effects of both cards are relevant. Play Savage Summoning if you have creatures that rely on +1/+1 counters (like an Experiment Kraj deck) or your play with a lot of people who like counterspells. Play Scout’s Warning in any white deck, it’s a solid enough combat trick if you have a number of creatures that have “Enter the Battlefield” effects
One thing that people tend to miss when they are designing their Commander decks are powerful spells at the uncommon slot. This gem from Planeshift, you might be able to find in your local bargin uncommons. It is essentially a multi-color card, the restriction on non-white creatures is easy to overlook so make sure you have a high density of non-white creatures in your deck when you include it. It is 1 mana cheaper than Through the Breach, so it’s understandable that there are some restrictions on the card. You won’t attack with the creature and you have a limited selection of creatures to choose from. However, the creature returns to your hand at the end of the turn, if it is still on the battlefield. I like playing this card with creatures that have “Enter the battlefield” abilities like Mulldrifter and Shriekmaw. Finally, this type of effect is unique for a white card so a lot of people will not see it coming often and its closest relatives cost over $20 more.
Act of Aggression is a simple but insane card. Any gain control effect at instant speed is great. What makes Act of Aggression so good is it’s mana flexibility. It can be used during to steal a creature for blocking, for attacking, or simply as a removal spell (in combination with another effect). Act of Aggression is rarely bad. It’s a cheap card, with an upside as strong as the creatures your opponent’s play. Sometimes killing a person with their own Blightsteel Colossus is the only way to teach them not to play that card.
While Dismantling Blow doesn’t have the pure power that some of the other cards on this list does, it is versatile. When you cast it for three mana you clearly had a really important target. When you kick Dismantling Blow, drawing the two cards makes this card wonderful. Instant speed means you can dissemble strong enchantment based combos or destroy scary artifacts. This is a wonderful pickup for any Commander deck that plays both Blue and White. Anytime I cast it, invariably, the reaction of the table is surprise that the card exists (and at common slot).
The upside of Treacherous Urge is high. For five mana you get to strip your opponent’s best creature out of their hand and see their hand. My favorite use for this is right after tutor effects. Treacherous Urge can be difficult to use, but if you think of it in terms of mana efficiency it’s essentially a Through the Breach and a Despise rolled into one card. A little bit of practice and this will be one of your favorite instants in black. Reading your opponents to know when to use it on attack, defense, or for utility. That is the ultimate trick. Remember you can cast this during your opponent’s end step and keep the creature until the following end step (for attacking purposes).
This card does a lot of things right. It enables you to use the graveyard as a resource. It has a repeatable effect (it’s obviously only going to surprise your opponent the first time). And it’s competitively costed for its effect. The downside is that this card is frequently misread because graveyard order matters. There are a few cards out there that are really fun in Commander where the top card of your library matters. This and Volrath’s Shapeshifter come to mind. Play both of them in the same deck and you have some really wonky combos in the future. This is a must have in any Sedris, the Traitor King deck.
There isn’t much to say. It exiles a creature and draws a card. It’s an amazingly solid effect. Takes card of indestructible threats and is a great two-for-one exchange.
Wow. Just wow. Essentially for 5 mana you can overload any instant or sorcery and target every legal target in the game. Your opponent casts Rite of Replication kicked? You cast Radiate and you get 5 token copies of every other creature in play. I once had 10 mana available and cast radiate targeting prophetic bolt, against a token deck… there were 20 copies on the stack. This card is versatile and there is almost always a good use for it. Copy your own instant or sorcery or an opponent’s card. Copy a cantrip to draw lots of cards, a copy effect to get lots of creatures or a single target removal spell to make it a mass removal.
Through the Breach costs 4R. Shallow Grave costs 1B. Raise Dead costs B. Cauldron Dance is an incredibly mana efficient card because it does all of these things for 4RB instead of 5RBB. Play it at the beginning of combat to attack with your creatures as they will have haste or blow out your opponents during blocking step. Great in any creature deck that plays both colors. Going for the value train? Shriekmaw, Snapcaster Mage, Clone, and Mulldrifter are your best friends. Want to combo out? Play your Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker & Deceiver Exarch (or Kiki & Restoration Angel). This card fits into most archetypes and a lot fun combinations of colors. This card does break the rule I set forth in the introduction about 5 CMC or less, but its cost effectiveness with regards to its battlefield altering effect pushes it to our #1 spot. About the Author Calexir AKA Nick Parenteau has been a board and card game enthusiast his entire life. He is an amateur game designer and frequent modder of existing games. Nick is your friendly neighborhood Dungeon Master, Brew-master, and Jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none. A walking cacophony of song, puns, and nerd knowledge; he’s here to answer your questions, meet your challenges, and leave you wanting more: Doink1212@yahoo.com