Command of Etiquette—Combat Commanders

My first big EDH deck was built around what I like to call a “combat commander.” These are generals who usually win though general damage in the red zone, and usually they do so without the help of any other supporting cards.

Let me illustrate this, because it’s not always clear. Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind is usually thought of as a combo general, because a 4/4 body takes too many turns to kill via general damage (six) and because Niv combos with Curiosity and Mind Over Matter to instantly kill people. Scion of the Ur-Dragon, on the other hand, is a combat general. Sure, she looks suspiciously like a renanimator enabler, but she has the three hallmarks of a great combat commander: she can kill in three hits (as a lot of dragons have seven power), she doesn’t rely on there being other cards in play (although you need to have certain cards in your deck), and she can protect herself (usually by turning into a different dragon).

There are a few combat generals in the latest cycle of legends. Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts probably qualifies, since protection from creatures makes her unblockable and you can speed up her clock with equipment (both Stoneforge and Demonic Tutor are in her colors). Tajic, Blade of the Legion, is a combat general, since a 7/7 indestructible general kills them quickly and dodges many different types of removal. Now, Ruric Thar, the Unbowed, bucks this trend. He looks like a combat general, since a 6/6 that has to attack each turn is fairly big game, but he’s really more of a griefer general. Since his ability doesn’t do combat damage but will put your opponent in the red zone, it doesn’t pay to focus on winning just with your general. Put a bunch of strong supporting characters in with him and he’ll do a solid job eliminating your opponent.

Aurelia and Borborygmos have a similar duality in their nature. Aurelia is a combat general, pure and simple, as she has haste, evasion, and doubles your attacks per turn. Sure, alone she doesn’t kill in three turns or less, but almost anything that boosts her power gets her across the finish line. Borborygmos, on the other hand, falls into the Ruric Thar category. Borborygmos is an enabler for Loam shenanigans and land manipulation, and even though he can kill in three swings he’s better pecking away at your opponents’ defenses while he draws you lands off the top.

Here are go-to combat generals in different color combinations. Try some of them out, they’re a lot of fun!

WhiteAkroma, Angel of Wrath. Sure, she’s a little outclassed these days by some of the heavier hitting angels out there, but when you want to kill them in as few swings as possible, haste, flying, vigilance, trample, and two color protections all turn out to be useful abilities.

BlueLorthos, the Tidemaker. No one really plays with Lorthos, probably due to its heavy casting cost. But still, it’s worth giving it a swing. The ability to Frost Titan eight permanents each swing is huge, and Lorthos kills in three swings.

BlackMaga, Traitor to Mortals. Mono-black is great at cranking out a ton of mana (weirdly), and Maga is one of the cleanest ways for you to convert that mana into dead opponents. She doesn’t always kill with general damage, but she usually kills.

RedAkroma, Angel of Fury. Between the ability to cheat her out early, the double protection and the evasion, firebreathing and trample, red Akroma turns out to be as vicious a combat general as her white counterpart.

GreenMultani, Maro-Sorcerer. Sure, it doesn’t have evasion or trample, but it’s one of the few generals that can reliably one-hit your opponents, and it has shroud to boot. Yes, they can chump you, but one overrun effect and your opponent is dead in the water.

AzoriusBruna, Light of Alabaster. You’re probably going to need to buff her with a few of your (or their) auras, but she’s the closest thing to a combat general you’re going to find in that particularly defensive color combination. Geist would be a contender if the token counted for general damage, but since it doesn’t it’s a less powerful card in this format.

DimirGrimgrin, Corpse-Born. You can find a lot of ways to make Grimgrin combo out, but usually it’s unnecessary. Destroying a creature whenever he attacks is a great ability for a combat general, even before you add the pump into the mix.

RakdosOlivia Voldaren. She can clear the way for you in the air by popping or stealing their blockers, and she grows bigger and bigger the more you use that ability. Sure, she starts out as a measly 3/3, but she swings as a 5/5, then an 8/8, then an 11/11 for lethal.

GruulThromok the Insatiable. Shockingly, a general that gets exponentially larger turns out to be fairly effective at killing your opponent. Sacrifice five creatures to him and you’re got a one-hit hellion.

SelesnyaSigarda, Host of Herons. There are bigger creatures out there, but Sigarda is quite difficult to remove or otherwise profitably interact with her.  Maybe you’ll need to pump her once or twice to up her clock, but it is an inexorable one.

BorosGisela, Blade of Goldnight. Tajic is good, but Gisela is better. She hits harder, has evasion, has a damage reduction effect, and is otherwise just a monster to face down. Worth noting, all the multi-colored legendary angels from Avacyn Restored have made this list. Maybe that had something to do with how out of control that limited format ended up being?

OrzhovVish Kal, Blood Arbiter. I always forget that Vish Kal is a nasty combat general on top of all the rest, because my friends tend to play him as a combat general first. Still, all it takes is a 2/2 to get him up into the three hit range, and it’s possible to speed your clock up significantly from there.

IzzetNiv-Mizzet, Dracogenius. Not a particularly inspired choice, but Izzet has a weak bench. Still, this Niv scales better than the combo version.

Simic—Prime Speaker Zegana. She draws cards and enters the battlefield at a large size. It’s a good combination!

GolgariSkullbriar, the Walking Grave. One of my friends has a Skullbriar deck, and it’s nasty. It’s a bit slower than some of the other combat general options, but it comes down a lot faster and it hits them immediately. Plus, those counters are nearly impossible to remove!

BantJenara, Asura of War. Another general that’s strong because she drops early, Jenara has Olivia’s pump ability without the useful benefit of killing or stealing other creatures. It turns out that growth is useful, though, especially when paired with an evasive threat.

EsperDakkon Blackblade. Oh Legends, you did not understand the concept of a color pie! This ability should not be in those colors, but since he’s usually swinging as a 7/7 to start he’s about the best possible choice for a combat general in these fiddly colors.

GrixisThraximundar. Again, like Grimgrin it turns out that being able to remove an opposing creature on attack, to make your general bigger, is a degenerately powerful play. Add in the haste, and the incidental pump to other sacrifice effects, and Thrax ends up one of the best combat generals period. Better than Bolas, even!

JundKresh the Bloodbraided or Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund. I couldn’t decide which one I liked better, so I decided to list out both. Kresh is great because he just gets bigger and bigger, until you can finish your opponent off with something like Flesh and Blood. Karrthus is great, because he’s hasty and when he comes into play you can steal all your opponents’ dragons, for good. They’re both solid choices, which is unsurprising for such an aggro color combination.

NayaUril, the Miststalker. If ever there was a general telling you what to do with it, it would be Uril. Put auras on him, like Rancor, and then hit your opponent for nine points of damage! Rinse, repeat, be glad he’s got hexproof.

Rock (GWB)Doran, the Siege Tower. He comes down fast, synergizes with any of the treefolk tribal effects, and can nerf some of your opponents’ best creatures. He’s the total package!

Oros (RWB)Oros, the Avenger. Namer of an entire wedge, Oros has a relevant sweeper ability that is powerful, but doesn’t draw too much aggro. It’s pretty good against token decks!

Rug (RUG)Maelstrom Wanderer. A 7/5 that gave your whole team haste might alone be playable, since it’s a three-turn clock that starts as soon as you cast it. Add in the double cascade, and the Wanderer becomes a major force to be reckoned with.

Bug (BUG)The Mimeoplasm. There are a lot of ways to abuse this ooze for combo, but it’s also just capable of being a monstrous creature in its own right. The Mimeoplasm gets huge and stays that way, and should they manage to kill it the first time you can just reload.

American (RWU)Ruhan of the Fomori. He’s the purest of combat generals, distilled into a three-hit package at a low price point, and with an almost negligible drawback. It’s a good thing, because he doesn’t exactly have a lot of competition in these colors.

ANYWAY! Those are some of the many combat generals available to you, should you want your opponent to start with only 21 life. What’s most important in a combat general deck, though, is to choose a color combination that works for you. These commanders might share the same goals, but they offer a lot of different ways to get there. So try it out! I think you’ll have some fun, even if it’s a less Johnny-friendly way to play the game.

Comments
One Response to “Command of Etiquette—Combat Commanders”
  1. Monique Garraud says:

    Great comprehensive guide Jess! I’m sure many readers will use this as a key reference when considering putting together a new deck.

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