Show Your Colors Part 1 - Picking a Mono-Colored Commander
- Robert Giel
In this series, I'd like to talk about picking a commander based on its colors. In this article, we will start by looking at the mono-colored options and the challenges that will come with building one.
The most fun (or frustrating) part of building your commander deck comes when you choose your commander. With an ever-growing pool of legendary creatures, there is no shortage you can choose from. Are you a control player? Do you just want to smash people as fast as possible? Do you get excited about stringing spells together to form a finishing combo? These are all questions you can ask yourself when selecting a commander. But what colors will you pick? Today I want to look at the strengths and weaknesses of each color in commander.
The Power of One
Playing one color is an age-old discussion within commander communities. Some say it's boring and limits your options. This is far from the truth of course. Playing only one color allows you to have access to some very powerful tools:
Extraplanar Lens does the same as the cards mentioned above but works very well with snow lands. The trick here is that you remove a snow-covered land, so that your opponents' basic lands won't tap for double mana (assuming they don't play snow lands either).
While the colors in Magic: The Gathering have a very strong identity, Commander is different from traditional constructed formats like Standard, Modern, and Legacy. This means that certain aspects of this identity changes for better, or worse. As the color pie's abbreviation is W/U/B/R/G, we'll go in order, starting with White.
Mono White Commanders
White is an interesting color in Commander. In the traditional formats, white is mostly played for their small efficient creatures and solid removal. And while this holds true in commander, the top-curve of white is very powerful indeed. Angels in shining armor, powerful wrath-effects, land destruction, and even reanimation spells are all included in white's arsenal. White has no problem when it comes down to showing who's boss on the battlefield, either by outclassing your opponents' creatures or simply removing them. White has no problem dealing with other permanents either, enchantments and artifacts are never safe when there's a white commander at the table. With that said, white has a lot of flaws. White lacks the ability draw cards and accelerate and as such, white relies heavily on artifacts for their mana acceleration and card draw.
You can combat white's weaknesses by playing a lot of mana sinks. Cards like Endless Atlas, Mind's Eye, and even Staff of Nin allow you to draw some extra cards. You might think, Robert, why are you suggesting these cards, they are so bad and expensive. Well, I've been in plenty of situations while I was playing a white deck, with all the mana in the world, and nothing to spend it on because my hand was empty. I was willing to pay any amount of mana to draw cards at that point!
Strengths: Powerful curve-toppers, permanent removal, and efficient low-cost creatures.
Weaknesses: Relies heavily on artifacts.
Best Mono White Control Commanders: Linvala, Keeper of Silence shuts off so many things that you won't even need to counter spells.
Best Mono White Aggro Commanders: Odric, Lunarch Marshal does a very good job of making everyone on your team feel special.
Best Mono White Goodstuff Commanders: Avacyn, Angel of Hope is large, flashy, and has a lot of keywords. What's not to like?
Best Mono White Stax Commander: Hokori, Dust Drinker, although I won't be responsible for you losing all your friends.
Best Mono White Combo Commanders: Sram, Senior Edificer. Wait, there's actually a draw engine in mono white?
Mono Blue Commanders
Next up is blue. Arguably the strongest and most played color in formats like Legacy and to some extent, Modern, blue is a bit different in commander. While it's still a very strong color, the things that make it so effective in the competitive formats (cheap counter spells and card-selection) don't hold up as much in commander. Blue has awesome card draw and extra turn spells but has a hard time actually finishing the game (without resorting to the obvious combos involving Laboratory Maniac or Deadeye Navigator). Blue is slow and has interesting, temporary ways of dealing with permanents once they hit the field. This all combines to make blue less flexible then it is in most eternal formats (but by no means bad).
Strengths: Card draw, counter spells, extra turns, and Cyclonic Rift.
Weaknesses: Hard to win games without combos and a lack of removal (bounce spells excluded).
Best Mono Blue Control Commander: Baral, Chief of Compliance is cheap to cast, and will allow you to counter spells until you eventually win the game or lose all your friends, whichever comes first.
Best Mono Blue Aggro Commander: Talrand, Sky Summoner can create an army of evasive-tokens while you just cantrip yourself to victory.
Best Mono Blue Voltron Commander: Lu Xun, Scholar General is unblockable and draws you cards, so it seems like a good start.
Best Mono Blue Goodstuff Commander: Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir allows you to do dumb stuff whenever you like. Oh… it also prevents your opponents from doing dumb stuff whenever they like.
Best Mono Blue Stax Commander: Teferi, Temporal Archmage. Maybe it's minus-ability was a design-mistake…
Best Mono Blue Combo Commander: Teferi, Temporal Archmage. See above.
Mono Black Commanders
If you ask me, the strongest color in commander is a very close tie between black and green. Black has great curve-toppers, insane mana generation, game finishing spells, the complete removal package, the second-best card drawing spells and, last but not least, tutors. It's of course up to you and your playgroup what cards you allow people to play, but black is a force to be reckoned with.
Strengths: Tutors, best-in-class creature removal, mana generation, and finishing the game.
Weaknesses: No artifact/enchantment removal.
Best Mono Black Control Commander: Erebos, God of the Dead draws you cards until you are finally ready to end the game.
Best Mono Black Aggro Commander: Marrow-Gnawer will spiral out of control very, very fast.
Best Mono Black Voltron Commander: Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon. Why go through the trouble of dealing 21 damage when you only need to deal 10?
Best Mono Black Goodstuff Commander: Sheoldred, Whispering One has got great art, great abilities, and great stuff to reanimate.
Best Mono Black Stax Commander: Cao Cao, Lord of Wei allows you to do nasty things.
Best Mono Black Combo Commanders: Sidisi, Undead Vizier or Maralen of the Momsong. Your commander is a tutor. It doesn't get much better than this for combo players.
Mono Red Commanders
Like white, red is interesting in commander. It's traditionally one of the weaker mono-colored choices. Red lacks solid card draw and ramp, which white also suffers from. Red has very strong artifact synergies however, which gives it the edge over white in a lot of situations. When I said red lacks "solid" card draw, I don't mean that red has no card draw, but rather that the card draw they have is less consistent. Wheel of Fortune like effects are red's way of refilling the hand, while potentially hurting some combo or control players. I strongly advise you to play plenty of these effects to at least stand a chance against the more resilient blue, black, and green decks. Red is also a very strong color for people who like chaos-like decks (yes, I know you are out there).
Strengths: Fast and aggressive plays, artifact synergy, and chaos.
Weaknesses: Limited recursion and limited card draw options.
Best Mono Red Aggro Commander: Krenko, Mob Boss will kill your opponents before they can say "Wow that's a lot of tokens."
Best Mono Red Goodstuff Commanders: Etali, Primal Storm casts big spells for free. Timmy approves!
Best Mono Red Combo Commander: Zada, Hedron Grinder might look a bit weird, but it doesn't need a lot to do stupid things.
Best Mono Red Stax Commanders: Daretti, Scrap Savant can be really ugly to play against.
Mono Green Commanders
Green feels right at home in commander. Ramping, big spells, drawing cards, impacting the board are all things that green is traditionally good at. Commander is the true format where green can do all its ridiculous stuff unchecked. And this is also green's greatest strength. As far as green's weakness go, I don't even think it's the inability to remove creatures. Your creatures will most of the times just be better than theirs. Green's biggest issue is its lack of interaction. Most green decks will do awesome stuff and then wait for the table to respond. They don't have anything? They're dead! They have an answer? Well there's not much green can do about it anyways. Of course, there are some exceptions, but generally when you are playing with 4 people, the lack of interaction in mono green really becomes an issue.
Strengths: Great tutors, can finish games easily, and best in class creatures.
Weaknesses: Lack of interaction or flexibility.
Best Mono Green Control Commander: Green doesn't really control too well, but you can make it work with commanders like Azusa, Lost but Seeking in a lands-style control deck.
Best Mono Green Aggro Commander: Ezuri, Renegade Leader can kill people very fast while providing a way to keep your board intact.
Best Mono Green Voltron Commanders: Omnath, Locus of Mana is not a traditional "Voltron" commander but I can tell from experience that being on the receiving end of this card makes it feel like one. Otherwise, look at Thrun, the Last Troll.
Best Mono Green Goodstuff Commander: Selvala, Heart of the Wilds is no joke.
Best Mono Green Combo Commander: Yisan, the Wanderer Bard. Having a tutor as commander seems very good for combo and Yisan is no exception.
Best Mono Green Stax Commanders: While Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger has a stax mechanic included, playing him as a commander seems like a stretch, but prove me wrong! As far as other Mono-Green stax commanders go, I'm sure you can do something nasty with Titania, Protector of Argoth.
The Mono Conclusion
Playing mono-colored commanders brings unique challenges in deck building, but it can be so much fun. Figure out the color that suits you most, pick a style, and start brewing! You can even do a challenge in your playgroup where everybody needs to have a mono-colored commander!
Hopefully this article gave you some insight on the advantages and disadvantages of playing mono-colored commanders. Do you have any spicy lists? Did I miss any commanders that should have been included? Let me know in the comments, I'm always eager to seeing new brews. Until next time!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.