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Commander 2017: Ranking the Decks


Previews of Commander 2017 have been trickling out over the past week, featuring a ton of amazing-looking cards, with the full deck lists finally being spoiled on Friday. All in all, there's a strong argument that the Commander 2017 decks are the best ever released in the Commander series. While there aren't many obvious Legacy or Vintage staples, there are a ton of cards that will be heavily played in Commander and some new legends that, while not quite on the level of Atraxa, Praetors' Voice, will be the foundation of a lot of Commander decks. Basically, each of the Commander 2017 decks seems powerful, fun, and likely worth its $35 price tag. 

While everyone could just buy every Commander 2017 deck in Magical Christmas Land, even with just four decks this year, $140 can be a lot of money. So, the question we'll be looking at today is: which Commander 2017 deck is best? If you only have $35 in your Magic budget, which deck should you buy? For this, we'll try to be as objective as possible—while the Wizards deck is my personal favorite because it fits one of my favorite play styles, my favorite play style isn't a very good criterion for ranking the decks. Instead, we'll turn to 10 different categories and rank each Commander 2017 deck from first to worst. A first-place ranking gives a deck four points, with second in a category being worth three, third two, and last just a single point. Then, after going through all 10 categories, we can tally up the scores and see which Commander 2017 deck really is the best! Take a gander at the decklists, and then we'll jump into the rankings!

#10: Most Value

C17—Most Value
Rank Deck Value
#1 Wizards $83.30
#2 Cats $81.15
#3 Vampires $77.83
#4 Dragons $76.94

I had to go a bit deep to calculate total deck prices because TCG prices are pretty skewed at the moment, thanks to a very small number of listings (with several cards showing a TCG-mid price of over $10, even though the same card is being sold on other well-known sites for $3). I used Card Kingdom prices to get around this problem. While the prices of many of the decks will almost certainly drop, at least this gives us a reasonable starting point to discuss prices. 

Technically, Wizards is the most valuable deck in the bunch, aided by some really strong reprints like Nin, the Pain Artist, Marchesa, the Black Rose, and Havengul Lich, all of which are worth more than $5 at the moment. Meanwhile, Dragons brings up the rear thanks to a ton of flashy but inexpensive Dragon reprints. This being said, there isn't a significant difference between any of the decks in terms of price, with the most valuable deck being worth only about $7 more than the least valuable. 

#9: Best Eminence Commanders

C17—Most Value
Rank Card Deck
#1 The Ur-Dragon Dragons
#2 Inalla, Archmage Ritualist Wizards
#3 Edgar Markov Vampires
#4 Arahbo, Roar of the World Cats

Ranking the eminence commanders is actually a bit tricky. All of the cards are powerful, but they are also restricted to tribal decks (unlike the secondary commanders that we'll talk about in a minute). As such, the ranking is as much about the tribes and their playability in Commander as it is about the individual cards. For a heavily tribal-focused Commander to really be good, it needs lots of strong tribal support.

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Dragons are one of the most popular creature types in all of Magic as far as casual play is concerned, which naturally gives The Ur-Dragon a leg up over its competition. Speaking of competition, unlike some of our other Commanders, you really only have two choices if you want to play five-color Dragons in Commander—Scion of the Ur-Dragon or The Ur-Dragon—which means The Ur-Dragon will likely see a lot of play by default. While 10 mana is a lot, starting with an indestructible, hexproof Dragonlord's Fervent in the command zone is a pretty sweet deal, and if you ever actually cast The Ur-Dragon, it should only take a single attack to close out the game.

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Inalla, Archmage Ritualist might be the most powerful Commander of the bunch but suffers from the fact there are about a million different legendary Wizards competing for the role of Commander. Plus, Inalla, Archmage Ritualist is Grixis, and there are already some powerful Grixis Wizards options like Nekusar, the Mindrazer, which is currently the 10th most popular Commander, according to MetaMox. 

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The question for Edgar Markov is: do Vampires want to be Mardu? While people will build decks around the new legend, going into white doesn't really offer all that much to Vampire tribal, since most of the Vampires over Magic's history are black or red. As such, it seems likely that some people will buy the Vampire deck but, instead of using Edgar Markov as their commander, simply incorporate some of the best Vampire cards into Olivia Voldaren, Garza Zol, Plague Queen, or Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet decks.

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This will probably be a controversial ranking, since a lot of people are hyped about the Cat deck in Commander 2017, but there's one huge problem facing Arahbo, Roar of the World: there simply aren't that many good cats in Magic. A quick Magic Online search shows that there are nearly 150 rare Dragons in Magic but only about 40 rare Cats. This means that, apart from playing the Feline Ferocity deck right out of the box, there just aren't that many ways to go about building or upgrading Cat tribal. While a lot of people will play Cat decks, until we get another few Cat sets in Magic, it's hard to imagine that Cat tribal will have the staying power of Dragons, Vampires, or Wizards as far as Commander is concerned. 

#8: Best Land Value

C17—Land Value
Rank Deck Value
#1 Cats $8.91
#2 Vampires $6.06
#3 Dragons $5.58
#4 Wizards $4.95

When it comes to building a solid Commander collection, two card types stick out above the rest: lands and artifacts. Lands are especially important because you'll use good (and often expensive) lands in all types of decks. Compare a Scalding Tarn to Edgar Markov. You'll play Scalding Tarn in somewhere around 80% of your Commander decks, no matter the theme, tribe, or colors. On the other hand, Edgar Markov not only fits into just a single, very specific wedge (Mardu) but also needs a bunch of Vampires to really be good. Building a collection full of expansive cards that fit into a bunch of different decks is one of the easiest ways to stretch your Magic dollars, and lands are a great place to start the process.

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The good news about the lands in Commander 2017 is that all of the decks get Command Tower (the second most played card in Commander), and all get the new Path of Ancestry as well. Beyond this, most of the decks are are extremely lacking in good lands, which is disappointing. In Commander 2016, the typical deck has at least a couple of lands in the $5 price range. In Commander 2017, none of the decks has a single land worth nearly as much. With this in mind, the Cat deck is the best of the lacking bunch thanks to Myriad Landscape (the 69th most played card in Commander) and also Krosan Verge, which also ranks in the top 500 cards in the format. 

#7: Best Backup (New) Commanders

C17—Best Backup Commanders
Rank Deck Cards
#1 Dragons Taigam, Ojutai Master, Wasitora, Nekoru Queen, O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami, Ramos, Dragon Engine
#2 Wizards Kess, Dissident Mage, Taigam, Sidisi's Hand, Mairsil, the Pretender
#3 Cats Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist, Balan, Wandering Knight, Nazahn, Revered Bladesmith
#4 Vampires Mathas, Fiend Seeker, Licia, Sanguine Tribune

Last place here is pretty easy—for some reason, the Vampire deck only has two new legends (outside of Edgar Markov), which seems strange considering the other decks have at least three (which is the traditional number) and Dragons has a massive four. Even though Mathas, Fiend Seeker is unique and Licia, Sanguine Tribune deals with lifegain—a fan-favorite Commander archetype—it's not enough for the Vampire deck to overcome the lack of numbers and get out of last place. 

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Atop our list is the Dragon deck, which not only gets more new commanders than any of the other decks but two of the most interesting and exciting. Ramos, Dragon Engine immediately becomes one of the most fun five-color commanders. One of the biggest problems with five-color commanders is that they often don't fit the theme of the deck, but Ramos, Dragon Engine breaks this mode by actually making the fact that you're playing five colors matter. Meanwhile, Taigam, Ojutai Master immediately replaces Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper as the blue-white spellslinger commander of choice. 

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As for Wizards and Cats, which bring up the middle, Wizards has the single best commander in the entirety of Commander 2017 in Kess, Dissident Mage. A repeatable, free Snapcaster Mage on a reasonably costed body is great for a spellslinger deck but also potentially powerful in any deck with a reasonable number of spells. It would be surprising if, when we check back on the most popular commander rankings a year from now, Kess, Dissident Mage isn't in the top 15, at the very least. Meanwhile, Nazahn, Revered Bladesmith is oddly similar to Kess, Dissident Mage—a more expensive legendary version of a popular Commander card (in this case, Stoneforge Mystic). While being six mana might keep the Cat down to an extent, giving equipment-matters decks access to green rather than the more traditional mono-white is a big boost of power and will likely mean that Nazahn will see at least some play.

#6: Best Artifact Cards

C17—Best Artifact Cards
Rank Deck Cards
#1 Cats Skullclamp, Lightning Greaves, Sword of the Animist, Quietus Spike, Bloodforged Battle-Axe, Herald's Horn, Sol Ring
#2 Vampires Blade of the Bloodchief, Door of Destinies, Skullclamp, Well of Lost Dreams, Sol Ring
#3 Dragons Lightning Greaves, Commander's Sphere, Sol Ring, Herald's Horn
#4 Wizards Nevinyrral's DiskSol Ring, Commander's Sphere

Colorless cards are like lands—they fit into so many different Commander decks that they form the backbone of a good Commander collection. Here, things are a bit subjective. As far as the number of playable artifacts worth $1 or more, the Cat deck is the big winner, which makes sense, considering it has an equipment sub-theme. On the other hand, the Vampire deck actually has the most value tied up in colorless cards.

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Even discounting Skullclamp ($1.99) and Sol Ring (which is in every Commander 2017 deck but, as the most played card in Commander, is still worth $3.27, even with a ton of reprintings), the Vampire deck is overflowing with artifact value, with Door of Destinies being the single most valuable colorless card in in Commander 2017 at just under $6, along with Well of Lost Dreams and Blade of the Bloodchief, both coming in between $3 and $4.

At the bottom of our rankings is the Wizards deck, which doesn't get many good artifacts at all. This is especially problematic, considering Wizards also came in dead last in terms of land value—our other "good for building a Commander collection" category. 

#5: Best Non-Legendary New Cards

C17—Most Value
Rank Deck Cards
#1 Wizards Galecaster Colossus, Izzet Chemister, Kindred Dominance, Mirror of the Forebears, Portal Mage, Shifting Shadow, Vindictive Lich, Curse of Opulence, Curse of Disturbance, Curse of Verbosity, Bloodline Necromancer, Magus of the Mind
#2 Cats Bloodforged Battle-Axe, Heirloom Blade, Kindred Summons, Curse of Bounty, Hungry Lynx, Curse of Vitality, Herald's Horn, Stalking Leonin, Alms Collector, Hammer of Nazahn, Qasali Slingers, Traverse the Outlands
#3 Vampires Heirloom Blade, Kindred Boon, Curse of Disturbance, Kheru Mind-Eater, Teferi's Protection, Bloodsworn Steward, Disrupt Decorum, New Blood, Bloodline Necromancer, Crimson Honor Guard, Kindred Charge, Patron of the Vein
#4 Dragons Mirror of the Forebears, Curse of Opulence, Curse of Bounty Curse of Verbosity, Herald's Horn, Boneyard Scourge, Territorial Hellkite, Fortunate Few, Fractured Identity, Kindred Discovery, Scalelord Reckoner

This is one of the most subjective categories, and it's made even more complicated by the fact that each deck has at least one card that I really, really like. So, rather than spending the next couple of paragraphs trying to justify my rankings, let's do something a bit more fun and talk about my favorite non-legendary new card from each deck!

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I can't even count the number of times I've started to build a deck determined that I needed a way to cheat a spell onto the stack for free from my graveyard and ended up scrapping the entire deck because the best options available were Spelltwine or Sins of the Past. While a bit slow because we need to untap with it, Izzet Chemister is like a Sins of the Past that only costs three mana, which is a huge upgrade. Need to take another extra turn from your graveyard with Time Warp? How about Enter the Infinite? Dragonstorm? There are so many sweet targets, and Izzet Chemister is suddenly the most efficient way to cheat these cards onto the stack from the graveyard!

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Typically, I have the most fun playing Commander when I make my opponents have the least fun, and Notion Thief is one of the least fun cards that's been printed in quite a while. Now, white has its very own Notion Thief in Alms Collector. While not quite as oppressive (since your opponent still gets to keep one card after you cast a Wheel of Fortune), it's still devastating. Plus, Alms Collector opens up an entirely new slice of the color pie to these shenanigans.

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New Blood is such a simple card, but it's also quite elegant and powerful. Control Magic is a powerful card in Commander already, and New Blood is a strict upgrade (since it's not an enchantment sitting on the battlefield to be killed or waiting for the creature to be blinked) if you're playing a Vampire deck. The big question is: how many Vampires do you need to make this card work? Without the tribal restriction, I'd play it in just about every black deck, so I'm hopeful that maybe I'll be able to sneak a couple extra Vampires into some of my decks and make New Blood work. In Commander, everyone is playing powerful creatures, and the only thing better than playing your own powerful creature is taking one of your opponent's, and New Blood is a great new option for taking your opponent's best thing.

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This is my single favorite card in Commander 2017. From now until it happens, my one and only goal is life will be to kill all of my opponents by exiling a Phage the Untouchable with Fractured Identity

#4: Best Reprint Commanders

C17—Best Reprint Commanders (ranking of most played commanders from MetaMox)
Rank Deck Cards
#1 Dragons Too many to list
#2 Wizards Marchesa, the Black Rose (#33), Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind (#67), Azami, Lady of Scrolls (#71), Vela the Night-Clad (#147), Nin, the Pain Artist (#171), Arcanis the Omnipotent (#184) 
#3 Cats Raksha Golden Cub (NR), Jedit Ojanen of Efrava (NR), Jareth, Leonine Titan (NR), Jazal Goldmane (NR)
#4 Vampires Anowon, the Ruin Sage (#173), Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief (NR)

When it comes to selecting a Commander deck, one thing you want to think about is what you can do with the cards that you get beyond just playing the out-of-the-box deck. Ideally, if you spend $35 for a Commander deck, you don't just get the deck but also good cards to grow your collection and lots of opportunities to build different decks with the same cards. One way to measure just how much you can do with a Commander deck is to look at how many different commanders you get and how good those commanders are in the format. 

Here, Dragons is a clear winner, just because it has so many reprinted commanders. In fact, the Commander 2017 Dragon deck breaks the all-time record for most reprinted commanders in a single deck, with a massive 12 of the reprinted Dragons being legendary. This means that if you buy the five-color Dragon deck, not only do you get a fun preconstructed deck you can play right out of the box, but you can also build any two- or three-color combination of Dragons deck using primarily the cards you get with the deck. Want to go UB Control Dragons? Silumgar, the Drifting Death. Mono-Red Burn Dragons? Ryusei, the Falling Star. Abzan Reanimator Dragons? Teneb, the Harvester. No matter what style or color combination of Dragons you want to play, the deck comes with a legendary Dragon that will be perfect as your commander.

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While Dragons has the most commanders, Wizards has the best commanders, with three of its reprinted legends being ranked among the 100 most played commanders on MetaMox.com. Marchesa, the Black Rose is a great option for Grixis Aggro or Grixis Aristocrats; Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind is oozing combo potential with enchantments like Curiosity; and speaking of combo potential, Azami, Lady of Scrolls is almost never played fairly, instead going infinite with card draw and Mind Over Matter. So, while the Wizards deck might not offer the endless options of Dragons, it does offer the three most competitive reprinted commanders in Commander 2017.

#3: Best Reprints

C17 - Most Value
Rank Deck Cards Value
#1 Cats Leonin Shikari, Leonin Arbiter, Raksha Golden Cub, Sol Ring, Lightning Greaves, Quietus Spike, Sword of the Animist, Mirari's Wake $40.80
#2 Vampires Captivating Vampire, Anowon, the Ruin Sage, Return to Dust, Blade of the Bloodchief, Sol Ring, Door of Destinies, Well of Lost Dreams, Black Market, Sanguine Bond $35.60
#3 Wizards Nin, the Pain Artist, Marchesa, the Black Rose, Havengul Lich, Vela the Night-Clad, Chaos Warp, Memory Plunder, Decree of Pain, Sol Ring $30.69
#4 Dragons Dragonspeaker Shaman, Scion of the Ur-Dragon, Crosis, the Purger, Utvara Hellkite, Sol Ring, Lightning Greaves, Fist of Suns $28.23

Thanks to spoiler season, most of the focus has been on the sweet new cards from Commander 2017, but when it comes to choosing which deck to buy, the reprints are just as important and make up a good chunk of the decks' value. While none of the decks has horrible reprint value, the Cat deck is the clear winner, mostly thanks to Mirari's Wake, which—at over $13—is the single most valuable reprint in any of the Commander 2017 decks. Here, it's also worth pointing out that both the Cat deck and the Vampire deck have more value in reprints than the total MSRP of the deck, and this doesn't even include any of the new cards. 

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While the prices of many of the cards in Commander 2017 will decline over the next few weeks and months, since the EV is currently higher than MSRP, one thing we've learned over the years is that popular casual cards (including high-end Commander staples) will decline less in price and rebound faster. This metric also favors the Cat deck, with Lightning Greaves and Sol Ring both being top-10 cards in the format and Mirari's Wake being a staple as well, coming in at #204 on the most played list. 

#2: Best Out-of-the-Box Deck

C17—Best Out-of-the-Box Deck
Rank Deck
#1 Dragons
#2 Vampires
#3 Cats
#4 Wizards

This category is basically, "when we do Commander Clash featuring Commander 2017 decks, which deck do I think will win?" The top two are a step above the rest. Dragons comes out in first thanks to its simplicity: you get a ton of ramp spells and a ton of big Dragons. You cast your ramp spells, you cast a ton of big Dragon,s and you win. Vampires is lacking in raw power but is the most synergistic deck of Commander 2017. Unlike Dragons, the deck doesn't just have a ton of Vampires but also some interesting ways to make Vampires matter, like Blade of the Bloodchief and various lords, including Captivating Vampire, Stromkirk Captain, and Rakish Heir. It's the truest tribal deck of the bunch.

Meanwhile, Cats seems like a fine choice as an out-of-the-box deck but is a bit unfocused, with some equipment-matters cards and some Cats-matter cards. While these two plans work together well enough, overall the deck is less focused than Vampires and less powerful than Dragons. Finally, coming in dead last is Wizards. While this is the deck I would pick to play if I had a choice, it's also the most disjointed. It has a lot of Wizards, but there isn't a whole lot tying the Wizards together into a functional tribe. While I think the Wizards deck can win games, since it has a lot of powerful cards, it seems the least like a true deck and the most like a pile of good cards. 

#1: Most Upgradable

C17—Most Upgradable
Rank Deck
#1 Wizards
#2 Vampires
#3 Dragons
#4 Cats

Finally, our last category is most upgradable. As we've talked about before, you don't just buy a Commander deck to play it out of the box; you want to be able to use those cards to make other decks as well. As far as being upgradable, here are my basic thoughts on the decks.

  1. Wizards: The upside of Wizards is that there are a ton printed throughout Magic's history, so you have a lot of options when it comes to upgrading your deck. Plus, apart from being tribal Wizards, Mairsil, the Pretender is a great build-around-me commander that can go a bunch of different directions, and Kess, Dissident Mage opens the door for a sweet Grixis spellslinger build.
  2. Vampires: Vampires also has a ton of upgrade possibilities, with plenty of tribal support from older sets. Maybe the best part of upgrading Vampires is that you have two clear paths. You can stick with Edgar Markov and build an aggressive Vampire deck by adding more lords, Shared Animosity, and other aggressive tribal-matters cards, or you can go with Licia, Sanguine Tribune and build lifegain combo with Sanguine Bond, Exquisite Blood, Defiant Bloodlord, and the like. 
  3. Dragons: There are a ton of Dragons to upgrade with, which is a good thing, but the problem with Dragons is that they really only go one direction: big, flying creatures. You can change things up around the edges by being more aggressive or more controlling and maybe adding a reanimation package, but it's hard to build a completely different style of Dragon deck. Dragons is a great choice if you like tuning decks, but you'll probably want to look elsewhere if you are looking for broad cards that can send you in a bunch of different directions.
  4. Cats: Cats comes out on the bottom for two reasons. First, as we talked about before, it is—by far—the least supported of any of the Commander 2017 tribes, so you have fewer upgrade options to choose from. Second, apart from tribal Cats (which may or may not be possible, due to the lack of cards), the only other direction to go is equipment matters, which tends to be an expensive upgrade, since you'll want various Swords, Batterskull, and Stoneforge Mystic and friends.

Final Score

  1. Wizards (27 points). Firsts: Most Upgradable, Best Non-Legendary New Cards, Most Value. Worsts: Worst Lands, Worst Artifacts, Worst Out of the Box. 
  2. Cats (26 points): Firsts: Best Artifacts, Best Lands, Best Reprints. Worsts: Worst Eminence Commander, Least Upgradable. 
  3. Dragons: (24 points): Firsts: Best Eminence Commander, Best Out of the Box, Best Reprint Commander, Best Backup Commanders. Worsts: Worst Value, Worst Reprints, Worst Non-Legendary New Cards.
  4. Vampires (23 Points): Firsts: None. Worsts: Worst Reprint Commanders, Worst Backup (New) Commanders.

So, there you have it. While it was a super-close battle and there wasn't a lot separating the four Commander 2017 decks, Wizards comes out on top as the single best deck from Commander 2017. Apart from the overall best decks, it's pretty interesting to look back over what decks did well (and poorly) in each category because there are some trends worth noticing.

Wizards is first mostly because it is very upgradable and has a lot of immediate value, but it's the worst deck in terms of building a good long-term Commander collection, thanks to having poor lands and artifacts. Meanwhile, Cats is the best long-term deck, overflowing with good lands and artifacts that you can use in a ton of different decks, but struggles because Cats themselves are so limited as a tribe. Dragons is basically the commander Commander deck. It's by far the best of the bunch if you want a ton of sweet legends, both new and old, but it doesn't hold up well in any of the finance value categories. Meanwhile, Vampires technically came in last thanks to having bad commanders, but it's worth noting that it was the most consistent of all the decks. While the rest of the decks had a bunch of firsts and a bunch of worsts, Vampires mostly chugged along in second or third place in just about every category, which makes it a pretty well-rounded offering, even if it doesn't stand out in any one category.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. Which Commander 2017 deck are you most excited to play with? Do you agree with my rankings? Where was I off? Let me know in the comments! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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