“Power” is an abstract term that has been thrown around in Magic since the very beginning of the game and continues to dominate social discourse and how player’s think about, discuss, build decks and play the game, especially in Commander. In today’s article, I’ll be breaking down how I think about and assess “Power” cards in EDH and how that translates to building and playing better decks regardless of what “Power Level” I’m aiming for with my build.
The interesting thing about Commander is that there’s more than one way to play the format, in fact, I’d even argue there are multiple sub-genres within the EDH umbrella: cEDH, Rule Zero: 7s & 8s, Casual EDH, Modified Precons, Budget Constrained Builds, Modified Precons, and Precons, just to name a few… I actually enjoy building and tuning decks to play at all of these power levels, but one thing I believe remains constant is: In formats with singletons or restricted lists stand-out “Power” cards tend to provide huge edges when drawn!
As a former Vintage specialist, I’m no stranger to playing with the actual Power 9:
The Power 9 (with the exception of the sort of tag-along 9th, Timetwister) are banned from play in Commander. So, the question I had was, “What cards serve a similar function in EDH as Power 9 does to Vintage?” For all of the differences between Vintage and EDH (and there are many!) there are also a lot of similarities. For starters, both are non-rotating Eternal Formats that allow lots of cards that would be deemed too powerful for even MTG Legacy because of the one-of clauses. CEDH’s Power Level and game play feels like something in between Vintage and Legacy. The pace and fluidity at which spells are played is brisk.
With that said, not everybody is looking for a cEDH Power Level Pod and there are all sorts of different breakpoints for powerful decks that players can gravitate towards. Regardless of where on the Power Level spectrum a player decides to drop their pin down, I tend to believe the Power Cards of EDH not only exist, but also define the most commanding sequences and draws that decks can produce.
It’s safe to say that Vintage Power 9 has always defined the Vintage format. I’d argue that my picks for the EDH Power 9 are equally transformative with regard to how Commander is played.
The Moxen of yesteryear all share a unique attribute of being well above the mana curve accelerants. I figured in tribute to the original P9 I’d devote more than half of my list to the best mana acceleration in the EDH format. Fluid mana production to cast one’s spells in a timely manner is key to making high impact plays in games of multiplayer, and these are my picks for the strongest available options:
These are the five “Moxen” I selected to represent EDH in terms of how I see them as being ubiquitously powerful and shaping to the Commander format. Not only are they powerful in the sense that they produce more mana than they cost to play, but they are also versatile in the sense that they don’t take any specific synergy or set up in virtually any deck imaginable.
1. SOL RING
Sol Ring is unique in that it is a staple of all levels of Commander play including preconstructed decks. So, playing with “Power” cards is something players are introduced to immediately.
The next cheap accelerant I chose for the list is Mana Vault.
2. MANA VAULT
Another pick from the original Alpha set. Mana Vault is a fantastic ramp spell as it nets 2 mana just by being cast. Turn 1 Mana Vault with ease turns into a five drop on the second turn. So, quite powerful in any deck. It’s also another example of a card from the original Alpha set finding a home in this Top 9 list.
3. MANA CRYPT
My personal pick as the most powerful card legal in Commander. Even when you’re losing the coin flips and taking 3 it still feels great to have the 2 colorless mana for free every single turn for the rest of the game!
The next two cards on my list allow a player to trade a card for the speed of a Mox that makes any color.
4. CHROME MOX
Trade in a color spell from hand for a boost.
5. MOX DIAMOND
The ability to pitch a land to essentially play a turn a head AND make a mana of any color is a great tempo boost to any strategy. Do you play land? Yes. The card is great.
Mox Diamond is the most monetarily expensive card I’ve selected as power and a single copy of this Power card will set you back about $400. It actually makes me sad to see such a playable format staple with such an unreasonably high price tag.
To get to only 9 cards I had to narrow my focus to the creme de la creme of jewelry cards. For instance, there are other “Moxen” floating around in the format that can combine with specific synergies to create equivalent boosts to a “Power” card.
When I narrowed I considered whether or not a card could simply be jammed into any deck and improve it without much of a synergy cost. In a cEDH deck, for instance, that’s packed with all the 0 and 1 cost Artifact accelerants, Mox Opal may be the most synergistic of the bunch but it requires deck building synergy to reach its potential (unlike the Moxen I selected which are kind of just versatile on their own and don’t require any build around).
Another one that is worthy of being in the conversation. After all, it’s a Lotus! This was the last one to miss my list but I gave Mana Vault the edge in terms of being a more flexible accelerant that more decks can take advantage of.
In terms of “flavor,” being Reserve List cards with hefty price tags that are fundamental to building the “best” mana bases possible it’s hard to deny that Dual Lands hold a uniquely Power-ful role in Commander. Virtually all cEDH and Powerful Decks are built around Fetch Land and Dual Land mana bases.
Last, but certainly not least, I’d like to throw some love to the Pauper Commander starter kit, Arcane Signet and Command Tower. I love playing PDH (Pauper Commander) and Precons and these are Staples of playing with Power (without the tremendous $ expense!) at the most basic levels of multiplayer.
Both are uniquely powerful mana fixers that find themselves in the best cEDH decks at an extremely high rate. Value!
The original Power 9 wasn’t just Moxen and Lotus, there were some real banger Blue spells in that mix too. So much so that it warped Vintage around the color since the beginning.
I wanted to pay homage to format defining powerful spells as well, so I started chatting with Commander players of various backgrounds including cEDH but also casual “Powerful Deck” aficionados. While there were a ton of differing opinions about what cards players regarded as Power there were also some standout cards that found themselves floated around in A LOT of conversations.
6. DOCKSIDE EXTORTIONIST
“Most powerful card not on the list is Dockside Extortionist. Cards like Demonic Tutor and Rhystic Study are certainly way up there but when I draw one of those I’m often hoping or planning to turn it into a Dockside and win the game.” –Matt Sperling, @sickofit
Dockside occupies the role of Black Lotus (the most absurdly efficient ritual in the format) on my EDH Power 9 list.
7. DEMONIC TUTOR
“I tend to play a lot of synergistic toolbox strategy decks more so than cEDH, so from my casual Commander expertise and my Golgari way of thinking… I’d say Demonic Tutor. It can net any one card from your deck into hand when you need it most or want it quickly.” –Ryan Sparks, @mtg_sparks
For just, 1B Demonic Tutor represents having the absolute best possible card available in a 99 card highlander deck which is kind of incredible. Can you put a price on having exactly the perfect card to execute a powerful sequence or find an answer? Yes, 1B.
The power of tutoring is undeniably capped out in multiplayer with a 99 card singleton deck and the efficiency of having the perfect card at the right time makes Tutoring among the most powerful individual cards in the format.
8. RHYSTIC STUDY
“Rhystic Study is just too good to pass up. It belongs in every blue deck, and it’s worth considering blue just to get access to it. It forces the whole table to either concede tempo or feed you a new hand every turn, in a format where both of those are game losing propositions.” –Martin Innes, @BillyTheDenton
I also think it’s worth mentioning Mystic Remora in the conversation since Rhystic Study and Mystic Remora tend to have the “Partner” mechanic when it comes to putting them into a deck together. I do think, in a vacuum, that Rhystic Study is a stronger card (especially in non cEDH games).
It’s also worth noting that Mystic Remora and Rhystic Study are the ONLY two cards banned from Pauper Commander! I think that says something about the power level of these cards when an entire format read the card and said, “We’ll take a hard pass on those… they are just too broken!”
Perhaps the most controversial card I considered putting onto my EDH Power 9 is an ACTUAL Power 9 card. It’s kind of a weird dynamic where a card that is really a part of the Vintage Power 9 is only debatable at best to earn a spot in my EDH Power 9.
The problem with Time Twister is that it is ACTUAL POWER and a fixture of the Reserve List. It is by far the most expensive card legal in EDH and commands a $4000+ price tag to acquire.
I’m lucky that I decided not to sell my original Power 9 cards and have a Twister to enjoy, but inaccessibility keeps this fun Power card out of the hands of most players. Many cEDH events allow proxies which helps Timetwister see some play, (beyond the lucky few who are fortunate enough to own a copy!), but it doesn’t see a ton of competitive play relative to other cards which would make it a weird card to put on a list of Power 9 for EDH. It’s definitely a card where scarcity and price impacts how often it actually sees play (even with proxies in some cases helping players to harness its Power), though I do believe its rarity lends to it being underplayed relative to its actual Power Level. If I’m wearing my Vintage Hat, I’d go with Time Twister as Power, but writing as a Commander fan I’ve got to give the final slot on my list to something else….
One of my favorite combos to pull off in high Powered games is to Cyclonic Rift my opponents’ boards and then Timetwister all their non-land permanents right down the drain…
9. CYCLONIC RIFT
While my experience as a back in the day Vintage guy lends me to preference playing a card like Timetwister and acknowledging how powerful it is (It’s Wheel of Fortune, in a better color, with an Elixir of Immortality activation and a mass Tormod’s Crypt attached to it. It also hoses mill.), I can’t help but observe that the other half of one of my favorite combos sees significantly more play across a much larger range of power level games.
Rift is a uniquely powerful board clear effect that leaves the caster in an incredibly advantageous position (since he or she gets to keep everything and everybody else loses everything). It’s also a card that’s Power scales up in multiplayer, since the caster is getting a great rate at returning all opponents’ non-land permanents to their hand for one card and 5UU.
10TH ON BREAKERS…
When Time Vault received its proper errata it became a de facto part of Power cards in Vintage. It occupied the space in that format as the best combo win condition available. It reminds me of a staple of cEDH play that occupies a similar role:
“Oracle is the preferred win condition. It’s most commonly combined with Demonic Consultation or Tainted Pact, but can also win without a second color. Even most Underworld Breach lines end with Thoracle.” –Kyle Boggemes, @boggememes
Milling or Exiliing one’s library and spamming an Oracle is one of the signature ways to win games of cEDH.
Great picture of Top 4 from a local cEDH event, with Kyle and others holding their deck’s standout card: “Thoracle.”
Thassa’s Oracle may be the most polarizing card in the format and may be the biggest breakpoint strategy delineating between people’s conceptions of what are EDH, or cEDH decks.
Are we all cool with Thoracle play-patterns in this pod? If so, pretty much all fast combo wins are on the table. Kyle is on point that Oracle is sort of the signature finishing move of many of the most powerful known archetypes in cEDH play. It’s the most Powerful win condition played by the most powerful decks known to exist in the here and now.
MY COMMANDER POWER 9 PICKS
5 Moxen, a Black Lotus, and some format defining colored spells with emphasis on “Blue is great” = My Commander Power 9!
I recognize I’m biased toward playing Blue and leaning toward combo decks as a preference but I tried to be as fair and honest with myself about the cards I put on my list. I had a lot of conversations with various friends who play a lot of Commander and tried to consider as many different perspectives as possible. I did want the list to reflect cards that are Power and see heavy play in Commander and not just cEDH combo cards.
I felt like my 9th card (like Timetwister in the original Power 9) was kind of a flexible slot in terms of what is really the most powerful 9th card? Cyclonic Rift is a card that has been highly decisive in a ton of games I’ve played and it’s sort of uniquely Powerful in terms of what it does and how it impacts play.
It’s always a fun thought exercise to examine a format and think about what the most powerful cards are and why that is the case. I’m also curious what cards readers would consider on the same power level as the ones I’ve listed in the format. It was hard for me to narrow down to just nine powerful cards that I felt helped shape powerful play in EDH and there’s certainly more cards worthy of being considered in the discussion (even beyond my honorable mentions), which cards do you consider Power in EDH?