“Why are you playing with Ib Halfheart? Krenko is so much better for the goblin deck.”

While not from my main Commander playgroup, I have heard this numerous times over the years whenever I play my Ib Halfheart, Goblin Tactician deck. Whether during shuffling up, mid-game, or after the game is over. I never take it as a slight against me, my deck, or my play skill. But it does bother me how some people view deck choices in such stark binary terms. I think a lot of generals get overlooked within their tribe simply because they aren’t the best thing you could be doing.

During MTGGoldfish’s Top 10 Cards from Battlebond video, Commander expert Tomer mentioned that he thought that Najeela, the Blade-Blossom was going to be a very powerful and useful card for our format—making it all the way to his number two slot—but didn’t like that she was essentially the de facto best general for Warrior tribal. Her existence removes any discussion one could have about the best general for her tribe. A Naya color identity Naya might have left her as very popular, but the tension would still be there to decide between her or Daghatar the Adamant. Indeed.

So, let’s examine some of the agreed upon “best” generals for a handful of tribes!

Sliver Infestation

Let’s start with Slivers. I was very surprised to see that Sliver Overlord was pretty soundly the most popular general for the tribe by a healthy thousand decks on EDHrec. After some reflection it makes sense: a general that can tutor for any creature in their tribe, while also having the ability to win any Sliver mirror matches really ought to be your general. Whereas some of the tribes I will talk about benefit from diversity of decks, I don’t know that Slivers really does. This means that about the best thing Wizards could do to create diversity the tribe is literally printing so many great Slivers that it dilutes what the best deck looks like. It will always be most advantageous to have the deck be headed up by Sliver Overlord, I can’t imagine Wizards can really ever top the Overlord, and I would be fine if they didn’t try to.

Ezuri and the Gilt-Leaf

While I understand the appeal of Elves, I have never been motivated to build around them. I see green as a wonderful support color, but I think the tribe being mostly green makes the deck too linear for my tastes. It’s not surprise to me that Ezuri, Renegade Leader is the most popular Elf general, but Nath of the Gilt-Leaf is on his heels. They make different decks and offer diversity; but of the two, I see myself far more likely to build around Nath of the Gilt-Leaf. While supporting elf tribal, Nath does so with an interesting token creation angle and better removal, which doesn’t rely on the fight mechanic.

How might either of these fall from the top? Perhaps either the printing of an Abzan tribal general that makes white really appealing, or something gains card/mana advantage like Seton, Krosan Protector or Azami, Lady of Scrolls would do the trick. In any case, I think a legitimate contender would also need a support card on the level of Gilt-Leaf Archdruid’s interaction with Seton for this deck. Overall, I don’t believe Wizards should try to outdo previous generals, but it’s a little discouraging when Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen or Marwyn, the Nurturer instantly get compared against and outclassed by Ezuri.

Ur-Dragon and Its Scion

I was genuinely surprised that The Ur-Dragon had not yet overtaken Scion of the Ur-Dragon as the most popular general for the dragon tribe. That tension balances somewhere between Scion being a powerful tutor general and Ur-Dragon allowing players to have fun with less repetitive game play. To me, Commander is most fun when you’re casting big spells that do cool things. The Ur-Dragon allows for that, while its Future Sight offspring is a more combo/graveyard recursion deck that doesn’t excite me.

Because both are five color and allow the tribe to be expressed in any way conceivable to a deck builder, I don’t really know that this deck is ever going to become anything different than it already is.

Confined by Color

As stated in the opening and in prior articles, I have doubled down with Ib Halfheart, Goblin Tactician over Krenko, Mob Boss for my goblin deck. I want to do crazy things and see more potential in Ib than Krenko, regardless of what previous articles may have implied. Krenko is a fine general, who is very appealing because it tell you what to do right on the card and that’s attractive. The dominance of Krenko reminds me a lot of Marrow-Gnawer; but in the case of rats, there are almost no other options. The creative deck builders out there have gone in the direction of Sultai, but almost always in the form of a Relentless Rats deck, which isn’t really the same as tribal.

The secret to opening up either one of these tribes is adding a new color. For goblins that is easy to do, by simply adding a color like black or green. For rats, we need to visit a world where rats can actually be a tribe. There is no reason for Wizards to explore outside of black unless the are designing towards double digits of the rat creature type. I would like to see rats carve out some space where they can still disrupt hands, but maybe through blue or red in their identity. Terrifying as that may be, I want to explore another world of ratfolk.

Finding Your Ally

In my eyes, General Tazri is the most shining example of tribal general better than all the rest for its archetype before the advent of Commander 2017. At the time of announcement I was tickled by Wizard’s creativity to use the color identity rule to create a five color general out of a mono colored character, something they had done during Fate Reforged and reused again with Jodah, Archmage Eternal. While I doubt General Tazri will be unseated anytime soon, I think she is the most benign of the de facto best generals on this list.

I have been a fan of Allies since they first showed up in Zendikar. They are a nice reboot of Slivers in many respects, and this would become my first five color deck. It helped to enlighten me to the mana base philosophy I have for five color decks and harnessed flicker effects that played well with the tribe and fed into Tazri’s enter-the-battlefield ability. But even as a fan of Allies, I would like to see more generals that work well with the tribe. But even if they were three color to offer some diversity in play style, I think they would just get integrated into the established five color deck since, like Sliver Overlord, General Tazri is a tutor by herself. Often I found the best first creature to get is Sea Gate Loremaster and then branch off from there. The deck is safe, if not predictable, so I am content with where the tribe sits at this point.

Everybody Loves Edgar

Because of his Eminence ability, I don’t think Edgar Markov can ever be topped as a Vampire general, even if they made a four- or five-color legendary creature that also was friendly to the tribe. Even in spite of the fact that I could see a reason why a player would gladly cast him for that attack trigger, I’ve come to believe that he was a mistake.

I have designed a few custom Magic sets in the last few years—some to little success and others to near-completion. If I have learned one thing about mechanics, whether of my creation or Wizards, it’s that the best ones are fun for the person playing with them and those playing against them. Playing against Edgar can be demoralizing. To me, that doesn’t matter a whole lot; I have played hundreds of games and will play hundreds more in the future. But to a player new to the format, having this general, who is legitimized by being a marquee part of a Commander product, in their possible metagame can turn them away from the format. A Day of Judgment or Cyclonic Rift does little to slow down the onslaught of vampires this deck pushes onto a table.

I deeply hope I am wrong and that the challenge pushes new players to figure out how to answer the deck or work around that impressive Eminence ability. But I’m a worried enough that Edgar was a mistake to plant a flag. I don’t think it’s powerful enough to get banned, but demoralizing enough to be unfun.

Tribal is a very popular archetype among Magic players, especially in Commander. While I have highlighted the generals that are most refined by the hivemind that is the online community, I am fully aware that plenty of diversity does exist. For all my gripes about vampires, I acknowledge that they have exploded in popularity recently by getting an incredible amount of new support since this time last year. For the most part, I think a lot of these tribes are in very good places, but that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t like to see new spins on some of these decks through either a new color—like how snakes were given new life with Kaseto, Orochi Archmage—or some new build around to get the community to reexamine an overlooked tribe—as Inalla, Archmage Ritualist did for wizards.

Ryan Sainio is a Graphic Designer who writes about EDH, the story of Magic and the EDH community in his down time. He has been playing Magic: The Gathering since 7th Edition in 2002 and values flavorful and fun gameplay over competitively optimized decks.
Pet Deck – Shattergang Eldrazi

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