Over and over again, the number one question you see in any MTG:EDH forum is "What commander should I build next?"
Commander, the most casual and fun format of Magic: The Gathering, is a bit more involved than other formats. You have to build a 100-card deck, and every card has to be unique except for basic lands. Plus it allows anything - barring a short ban list - from any expansion set over the years; the game is rapidly approaching its 30th anniversary. So it has one of the biggest available card pools but also the most complex deck-building requirements.
On top of that, the average EDH game is going on for at least an hour, maybe two or three. This means that to test a deck in live play, you have a full-time week invested just to give it a couple of dozen games before you can start fine-tuning it.
What we're saying here is, building an EDH deck is a huge commitment. It takes time to construct and sleeve 100 cards, and it sucks when you find out you hate a commander and have to deconstruct it that much sooner.
So here, the Present Author is going to attempt to provide a list of good, general-purpose commanders to build. These are my oversights of all-time favorites, playing from the time the EDH format was first invented. It's intended as an "evergreen" list. We're ignoring this year's flashy new fad commanders-of-the-minute, which you always see on "what to build next" threads. Instead, I'm focusing on the tried and proven, the perennial favorites that never seem to go out of style. We're also going to ignore the most niche decks, decks that are tricky to pilot, decks that are ridiculously expensive to build, and specialized one-trick ponies.
Behold, your next Commander! In alphabetical order:
Not only does she have an awesome name that reminds you of giallo horror movies, but Alesha is far more versatile than she seems. At first, limiting her to reanimating 2-power creatures from the graveyard (reanimating is an unusual talent for Mardu, by the way) seems to constrict, until you notice all the 2-power creatures that are staples of EDH format anyway.
- Stax / Discard / Mill - You're reanimating, so you like your cards to go into the bin.
- Aristocrats / Combo - Perfectly built for it. Not only that, but she's in great colors for tutors too.
- Aggro / Tokens - She loves to attack and has the first strike, so she works well with equipment. Her colors are ideal for flood-the-board strategies.
- Control / Toolbox - Mardu has the best board wipes in the game, and reanimating means you can always yank a hatebear back out of the bin for another effect.
- Build in lots of mana rocks and card draw. Mardu does struggle in these two areas.
- Include some self-mill. Buried Alive, Faithless Looting, Grenzo, Dungeon Warden, and even dredge cards like Stinkweed Imp aren't out of the question.
- Include ways to reanimate other things that Alesha can't. Karmic Guide can bring back any creature, Sun Titan brings back any 3-drop, Sanctum Gargoyle gets artifacts back to hand, and Codex Shredder - an artifact itself - gets back any card at all.
So powerful that he's banned as a commander in 2-player format only, Derevi has a reputation as a Stax general. This is completely undeserved! Derevi works well with a wide range of strategies, and he's in great colors for general goodstuff power.
- Control - He's in so-so colors for board wipes, but his ability means you never care if he dies too. Of course, Bant colors thrive on counterspells.
- Blink / Combo - This is where he shines the best. Anything that can flicker him gets you a free untap.
- Aggro - Yeah, nobody seems to notice that his ability triggers for every creature that deals combat damage. Get tokens, equipment, trample, anything that gets a beating through, and dominate the board.
- Wizard Tribal - Forget birds, blue wizards in EDH beat pretty much anything.
- Obviously, anything that gets value out of extra taps is a good thing. Intrepid Hero, Arcanis the Omnipotent, Thran Dynamo, Gilded Lotus, Rubinia Soulsinger, Karametra's Acolyte.
- More untap targets: Don't forget Selvala, Explorer Returned, Captain Sisay, and Mother of Runes!
- A bit of blink goes a long way. Conjurer's Closet, Restoration Angel, and Deadeye Navigator at the least synergize with Derevi, which can then also be used to blink Eternal Witness, Cloudblazer, and Reflector Mage.
Marath is what we're talking about when we say "versatile commander." There is no wrong way to build Marath! Just look at all the test on this card. By himself, he can pump up other creatures, deal damage to any target, or make tokens - and every time you cast him, he gets bigger thanks to Commander tax. You can build around him or just build a goodstuff deck and use him for support.
- Aggro / Tokens - Two of his abilities synergize with this.
- +1 Counters / Combo - Ashnod's Altar + Blade of the Bloodchief makes an infinite mana combo with Marath right there. Then sacrifice him to the Alter and recast him for a million mana to one-shot the table with him damage ability.
- Beast Tribal - A minor option, but there's some synergy that works with him.
- Voltron - Just keep casting him bigger, give him trample, and he'll eventually be able to knock out players with one hit.
- Control / Stax - Since we love it when he dies and we can recast him, board wipes are a great option. Use Marath's damage ability to pick off any threats that get through.
- Mana! Marath thrives on lots and lots of mana. Ramp, mana dorks, land tutors, anything it takes. You can win the whole game with nothing but Marath and land.
- Tutors and card advantage will be your pinch point. You'll want to focus heavily on green. Remember he can also make 1/1 tokens for Skullclamp.
- The more sources of +1 counters you add, the more efficiently Marath works. At the least, Hardened Scales, Forgotten Ancient, Ivy Lane Denizen, and Opal Palace will be useful.
Naya is the great underrated color triad in EDH. We present one of the sneakiest, most underestimated generals ever in Samut. By himself, he has flash, double strike, vigilance, and haste. You're sold already, but wait, there's more! He also gives your entire field haste, and can untap other guys for one mana. Every time you break him out with a group, first it's "You're playing who?" and then after a few turns it's "He can DO that?"
- Voltron / Aggro - Yes, double-strike, haste, and some equipment on means he can finish opponents off in a couple of hits. Do this if you're boring.
- Midrange / Ramp - He gives all your mana dorks haste. Think about it. Got one green? Elvish Mystic, tap, Llanowar Elves, tap, Arbor Elf, tap, tap forest, Birds of Paradise, tap for white, Mother of Runes, pass. Wait until you land Knotvine Mystic, then you're really rolling.
- Combo! - Samut gives your guys haste, we need to repeat it. That means any dude with a tap ability gets better, including tutors, card draw, and untappers. He is a combo factory. You'll have to check this list to see what's available.
- Yisan, the Wanderer Bard gets stupidly good when he has haste and can be untapped to tutor twice in one turn. Selvala, Explorer Returned becomes a card drawing mana factory. Feldon of the Third Path now reanimates double per turn. Heartless Hidetsugu can now kill the table the turn he's cast, while you snicker behind Glacial Chasm. Argothian Elder can now untap four lands the same turn he's cast, literally paying for himself. Zhur-Taa Druid now does two damage to each opponent and pays you back in mana too. Seeker of Skybreak now untaps two creatures the turn she comes down.
- Ignore everything anybody else tells you about building Samut. Do your own research, it's the only way. Samut rewards you tenfold for putting a little cleverness into him.
Sultai is a weird little color triad. It happens to comprise the three strongest colors in EDH individually. Just about any Sultai commander will work as well as any other, but they usually tend to favor dredge strategies. So, controversially, we'll settle on Tasigur because he's the least constraining. It was that or the endless zombie + dredge generals in Sultai.
- Goodstuff - No really, he's just fine with whatever you run. Just treat his ability as "(4): draw a card." Card advantage in the command zone is good just on a raw power basis alone.
- Politics - Tasigur is one of the few general-purpose commanders we can recommend with a built-in dependency on others. Have some treats to hand out to your comrade, and they'll pick nice for you. You can always use cards that exile cards out of your library at instant-speed, leaving the one card you wanted which they HAVE to give you!
- Dredge / Self-Mill / Graveyard / Reanimator - Who are we kidding? You're in Sultai, of course you're going to run this. You have black to reanimate creatures, blue to return instants and sorceries, and green to get back any damn thing you please. Running Sultai without plundering the graveyard is like buying a Lambo and never driving it.
- Zombie Tribal - There's a dozen commanders in these colors who do this too, but who's counting?
- The black / blue / green color triad is seriously the most powerful in the game. You have the best three colors for card advantage, access to all the best counterspells, all the best tutors, the best removal, and it just keeps flowing like wine. Don't let it make you too lazy.
- It is a mortal sin to run Sultai and not run Villainous Wealth, the most fun card to play in EDH.
- Tasigur tends to like mana. Even if you use dredge and then delve to get around his casting cost, his ability still costs four mana per card drawn. Just be sure you have piles of mana by ramping hard and early.
We are finally going to recommend two special-purpose commanders, just for variety's sake. But they're still broad-focused, since one cares about artifacts and the other cares about enchantments. Sydri cares about artifacts, and does fascinating things with them.
- Combo! - There are so many infinite combos with artifacts in Esper colors you could drown in them. Will you pick Thopter Foundry + Sword of the Meek? Time Sieve + Thopter Assembly? Sharuum the Hegemon + Phyrexian Metamorph? Why not just equip Aphetto Alchemist with Illusionist's Bracers and use the infinite untaps to ping everybody to death with your Staff of Nin?
- Eggs - OK, so there's this deck called KCI Eggs, by legendary deck-crafter Conley Woods. It is possible to run this same strategy in EDH, and Sydri is uniquely suited to it. Just play a bunch of dumb cantrippers like Chromatic Sphere, Chromatic Star, Darkwater Egg, Skycloud Egg, Terrarion, (there's a million of these, just look for them) until you draw down to Krark-Clan Ironworks, then play that, sacrifice your whole field to it, then play something like Second Sunrise to get it all back, and now you have all this mana from Ironworks so play Codex Shredder to get Sunrise back and then do it all AGAIN, and keep doing that until you have infinite mana and you can one-shot the table with a Torment of Hailfire. Your flabbergasted opponents won't mind losing to this because they just witnessed the most impossible deck ever played in EDH, which they can tell their grandkids about someday.
- Control / Stax - You are in the board-wipe-and-counterspell colors, after all. Sydri's ability turns any artifact creature into a lifelink machine to keep you alive.
- Aggro! - Think about Sydri's abilities. She can animate any artifact into a creature, then give it deathtouch if it gets blocked. Think what you can do with a Darksteel Ingot as an indestructible bear.
- Tokens - Thopters go rawr!
- By far, Sydri is the most difficult captain to pilot out of this list. She has the word "Genius" right in her name, you see. But keep thinking of new uses for her power and she'll reward your wicked cleverness.
- Playing Control? Give Caltrops creature-hood and deathtouch. Now sit there glowering "Don't you DARE THINK of attacking me!"
- How to remove an opponent's enchantment using only Sydri, Liquimetal Coating, and anything that pings, like, say, Acorn Catapult: Tap Coating to turn the enchantment into an artifact, tap blue to have Sydri make it a creature, tap blue, black, and white to turn Acorn Catapult into a creature with deathtouch, tap Catapult to have it deal one damage to the artifact (now a creature), killing it with deathtouch. Honestly, how could they not see that coming? Can they not read cards?
- In general, Sydri makes even really bad, stinking-bad artifacts from back in the brown-bordered days do crazy tricks. Check out the Hidden Gems list, colorless folder, and build a deck around the most useless dingus you can find.
Now this is a canonical OP general from the old days who is still feared today, and he's dead simple to build and run. For once, run down the list of recommended cards there at EDHRec and build what you see. That proves that the deck is viable, and after all, Necropotencedoes kick butt. This is also the standard deck everybody expects you to run under Zur. So how about the unexpected…?
- Control / Stax - You'll notice you have cards like Ghostly Prison and Propaganda for protection. You also have clutch spot removal like Oblivion Ring and Detention Sphere. You also have card draw like Rhystic Study to keep the counterspells coming. Most Zur players play Control / Stax.
- Tokens - Next to Stax cards, Zur has the most access to anthems. Spear of Heliod, Intangible Virtue, Honor of the Pure, Favorable Winds, and even Bad Moon. Now have Zur fetch some token factories like Luminarch Ascension, Bitterblossom, and Hoofprints of the Stag. Flood the board.
- Voltron - Similarly, Zur has a million enchantments in his reach which will pump him up into an unblockable, hexproof, immortal behemoth that can take out opponents in one hit.
- Wizard Tribal - A distant choice on the back-burner, but nobody regrets building blue wizards.
- Just because Zur likes enchantments doesn't mean you can't run other stuff. He has to HIT people to work. Suit him up with as many Lightning Greaves effects as you can find.
- Similarly, just because Zur wants 3-cost-or-less doesn't mean you can't tutor cards the plain old fashioned way with Demonic Tutor or Diabolic Tutor if you're hurtin'.
- If your enchantments get blown up, keep something like an Elixir of Immortality around to simply reset your deck and let Zur tutor them out again.
- Despite being so long in the tooth he almost belongs to another age, Zur still has a reputation as one of the "kill on sight" commanders among those who remember somebody Necropotenced their way into a Doomsday and comboed out. Just be prepared for some hatin' just for running Zur.