It’s time to go back to the future. Or are we going forward to the past? Time travel makes my head hurt.
Magic’s first remastered set is released in paper, and WOTC have hit a homerun with the reprints. Time Spiral, Planar Chaos and Future Sight were littered with cards that have since become staples in Commander, including the most expensive Modern legal card in the game at the time of writing. But this is Commander, and we’ll get to that.
For now, we’re going to put the gorgeous old-border reprints to one side and look at the best of the block.
Starting simple and affordable, Pongify is a removal spell that does what it says on the tin. An uncommon that’s already seen two reprints, the kooky blue instant has always been in demand on account of just how efficient it is. As Swords to Plowshares shows us, one mana to remove a threatening creature of any size is a fantastic rate, nevermind the downside. And what downside? In a format with 40 life and 4 players, a 3/3 isn’t much to get excited about. It’s certainly less exciting than whatever you got rid of. That’s a nice Praetor you have there, it would be a shame if someone were to turn it into a… green monkey. If you’re in mono-blue or even just sans white or black, look no further than Pongify as a premiere removal spell for your Commander deck.
9. Keen Sense
Occasionally seen in modern Bogles lists, Keen Sense is criminally underplayed in Commander. A colour shifted Curiosity, this little green powerhouse will put blue players to shame with the sheer amount of card advantage it produces. At worst, throw it on an evasive beater or a double striker and enjoy your additional cards. At best? Enchant Borborygmos Enraged and watch the cards and lands roll in as you repeatedly throw lightning bolts wherever you see fit. Hand it to Slimefoot, the Stowaway and turn every single one of your Saprolings into a potential card. If you really want to get cheeky, throw it on Vial Smasher, the Fierce and turn the first spell you play every turn into a cantrip.
We’re on a run with one-mana spells at the moment, but I promise Angel’s Grace is the last of them! Are you tired of having your board being turned against you at the last moment with Insurrection? Grown bored of Approach of the Second Sun? Had your fair share of “that guy” who insists on finishing games with the Thassa’s Oracle combo? Well the Angels have heard your complaints, and they’re here to lend their grace. Angel’s Grace is about as simple and straightforward a solution as can be. You can’t lose. Nobody else can win. Your life can’t even get into the red! All that would be something, but what’s to stop a wayward counter spell? Split Second, that’s what. There are no ifs, ands, or buts with Angel’s Grace, as long as it's on the stack, nothing else is happening before it resolves. Steal the game out from under your opponent’s nose!
The fact that Swarmyard reached the price point it did is a testament to how much Commander players love their zany strategies. Some people hear “tribal” and think of Merfolk, Elves, and Goblins. Other people are… different. They think Squirrels are the true green tribe and know Rats are the real black tribe. And if you’re planning on focusing on any of those critters or crawlers, Swarmyard is the land for you. Regeneration is a powerful tool, and having it stapled to a land is the cherry on top. You don’t even need to be a tribal deck to make use of Swarmyard! Maybe you just need extra protection for Thantis, the Warweaver, or another way to keep Kaldheim’s Orvar, the All-Form safe from harm.
We’ve all heard of keyword soup. Akroma’s Memorial is a keyword three-course meal, a smorgasbord of abilities that will turn any board of piddling creatures into a ruthless army. Your creatures come down with haste, they hit first, they don’t need to tap, they fight so fiercely they trample over the top of their unfortunate enemies. They even have protection from red and black, keeping them safe and sound from cards like Blasphemous Act and Fiery Covenant. It’s a hefty cost at 7 mana, but being an artifact means it’s not only possible to cheat on the cost, any deck can run it. Powerful anthem effects are usually relegated to white’s slice of the pie, but Akroma’s Memorial fits into Zombie tribal as easily as Elemental Tribal. All that from a statue. And if you’d prefer the real thing, TSR also contains a reprint of Akroma, Angel of Fury!
5. Dryad Arbor
It’s not immediately obvious to everyone just why Dryad Arbor is as good as it is. A land that dies to a boardwipe? A 1/1 with no keywords? But the Dryad is much better than it looks. The forest subtype means you can fetch it with a Wooded Foothills, or bring it into play with a Nature’s Lore. The creature subtype means that it ups your count for the sake of powerful cards like Growing Rites of Itlimoc. The sheer versatility is amazing, and there’s a good reason it’s seen play in every format it’s legal in. But the real might of Dryad Arbor comes from pairing it with Green Sun’s Zenith. With a CMC (or should I say Mana Value?) of 0, Green Sun’s is suddenly a one mana ramp spell! For just a single green pip, you now have an extra land in play, and depending on how long the game goes, you’ll probably see it again later. If your green deck is already running Green Sun’s Zenith, now is the time to add Dryad Arbor.
Back in 2007 when Planar Chaos was released, Damnation was totally unprecedented: a colour-shifted version of Wrath of God. But in the 14 years since, it has usurped its progenitor and when most players think of “unconditional boardwipe” Damnation is the first card to come to mind. Kev Walker’s terrifying art is beautiful in its simplicity. The giant black hole sun dominates the frame, consuming everything in sight. If you resolve a Damnation, you’re setting your opponents back to square one. With the ubiquity of boardwipes in Commander, and the eternal popularity of black, Damnation is always going to climb up as a chase card that everybody wants, so it's high time you put the most iconic boardwipe in Magic into your deck.
It’s no secret that mono-colour decks in Commander have less tools at their disposal than their multi-coloured counterparts. Outside of Green, it’s difficult to find ways to accelerate on par with the rest of the board and start producing huge quantities of mana to drop your bombs. This is where Gauntlet of Power comes in. It reads like a prototype of the devotion mechanic, rewarding you handsomely for staying faithful to just a single color. Mono-colour decks don’t need to worry about flashy lands that stretch your manabase (and your wallet) so you’re free to run good old-fashioned basics. And those basics feel an awful lot stronger when they’re producing twice as much mana as they have any right to. As an added bonus, the “downside” of affecting the rest of the table can create opportunities for collaboration. Team up with your fellow mono-white player and lay down a beating on your common enemy!
The penultimate card of this list has somehow managed to hold the title of the most expensive modern-legal card in the entire game, despite never seeing even a modicum of play. Why? You guessed it: demand from Commander players.
Sliver Legion wasn’t the first Legendary Sliver card, and you had best believe it won’t be the last, but there’s no denying that it’s the biggest. Compare it to its contemporaries: The Queen gives tokens; the Overlord gives tutors; the Hivelord gives Indestructible; and The First Sliver gives cascade, but none of them can give you the insurmountable bulk that Legion gives you. Slivers collect keywords like they’re going out of fashion, and as nice as it is to have Double-Striking, Trampling, Lifelinkers, it won’t count for much if they’re just 2/2’s. But with Sliver Legion at the helm of your horrible horde, your Slivers will be as tall as they are wide, each one towering over anything your opponents could possibly put in their way.
Try throwing a Spark Double or the recently printed Sakashima of a Thousand Faces into play alongside Sliver Legion, and see how everyone else at the table shivers and quakes, abandoning hope as the hive mind bears down, consuming and obliterating everything in its path.
Channel your inner Zerg, unleash the dormant Tyranid that lies within, and embrace the swarm. After all, quantity has a quality of its own…
Last, but the polar opposite of least, is Gemstone Caverns. A colourless land with understated art and a swingy “sometimes it will, sometimes it won’t” effect, some of you might be surprised to see a card like Gemstone Caverns at the top of the list.
But Gemstone Caverns is an incredible tool in Commander, a card that will power up any deck you put it in. It isn’t Sol Ring levels of busted, but it can often feel pretty close! Better known for enabling blisteringly fast combos in 60 card formats, Gemstone Caverns doesn’t see all that much play in Commander. But it should.
Like so many powerhouses in our format, Gemstone Caverns benefits from the fact that it was designed with 1v1 in mind. In other formats, it steps on its own toes by being Legendary, disincentivising running multiple copies. It’s also held back by the fact that 50% of the time, you’re going first, so it’s a real coin flip. But scale it up to Commander, and you don’t have to worry about the legendary clause, and if you see it in your opening hand, there’s a 75% chance you’re going to start with it in play. But nevermind if you don’t, it’s still a land that enters untapped. You might be losing a card from your opening hand, but it’s a small price for starting your first turn with an extra land. And for those of you with aspirations for the top end of the format, Gemstone Caverns happens to be a cEDH staple.
Never fear though, you aren’t going to get any complaints at a casual table for running Caverns, it scales with the power of your deck.
So that’s the cream of the crop. There are dozens and dozens of fantastic Commander cards in Time Spiral Remastered, so it wasn’t easy narrowing it down. What would have made your list? Let me know in the comments below!
Jake FitzSimons is a certified Magic tragic. He keeps one land hands, forgets at least half of his Rhystic Study triggers, and names “Pot of Greed” with Demonic Consultation. He is at his happiest flipping for lethal with Yuriko. You can follow him @Jake_FitzSimons.