The One Ring is a powerful card.

Whenever I hear Modern players discussing it, they seem to expect that it’s only a matter of time before it’s banned.  Maybe I’m not respecting it enough, but I think there’s some chance it never gets banned. Currently it seems like its trajectory could be relatively similar to Urza’s Saga, which I think was very heavily played when it first came out, then dropped down a bit, and now is still a popular card within an acceptable range.  Or it could just be the best thing in Modern, I’m not really sure because I don’t really play much Modern.

What I actually want to discuss is the role of The One Ring in Commander.

Like with Orcish Bowmasters, I suspect that The One Ring will become a problem in Casual Commander unless players heavily self-select against putting it in their decks.  Playing against The One Ring is potentially less miserable than playing against Orcish Bowmasters in that it doesn’t directly impact the other players in the same way, but it does offer an absurd number of cards at very little cost.

If it’s played fairly, I think it’s a good but fine card in casual Commander–it’s a good source of cards, but it’s relatively slow.  The fundamental issue with The One Ring is that untapping it is incredible.  As written and played fairly, The One Ring basically costs you one life for every card you draw if you tap it every turn (though, notably you get the cards a turn before you have to pay for them), but if you untap it you basically skip a payment.  That’s one way in which untapping it is particularly strong, but life totals aren’t really that important in Commander, so skipping a payment doesn’t really matter.  What does matter is skipping an entire turn cycle to get the extra cards.

The biggest offender here for casual Commander is Seedborn MuseSeedborn Muse is the 11th highest green creature by EDHREC rank, which is to say it is heavily played in Commander even before The One Ring was printed.  If cast The One Ring, it draws 2 additional cards for you by your following turn under normal circumstances.  If you’re playing a 4 player game and you control Seedborn Muse, it draws 15 cards instead, and that’s assuming you’re not combining it with any other cards that can tap to untap it, and that’s only in the first turn cycle.  The next turn cycle is much crazier.

There’s a high tolerance for powerful plays in Commander, and drawing a bunch of cards doesn’t necessarily cause problems, but at a certain rate, I think it becomes pretty disheartening for other players to play against.

Again, if this doesn’t end up happening much, there’s not a problem, that’s just how Commander works, but do we have any reason to expect it won’t happen much?

The One Ring is a cool card that’s fun to play with and widely available thanks to one coming in every Bundle.  It’s hard for me to imagine a lot of very casual kitchen table type Commander players getting a bundle and then choosing not to put The One Ring in whatever Commander deck they have.

Whatever, trying to hazard a guess as to how Commander might adjust to new cards isn’t all that useful once the card exists in the world.  Players will have it and they’ll have to choose which decks they think it’s appropriate to put it in.

For those of us playing cEDH, our goal is just to make it a problem, but, of course, “problem” means a different thing in this space.  I don’t really think it’s problem for cEDH the way I think it would be if it were heavily played in casual Commander–in cEDH people play counterspells to interact with it, and cards like Collector Ouphe and Haywire Mite can also answer the problem, but I just want to build to maximize its power to present a problem for my opponents.

And that’s why I built a deck with Derevi, Empyrial Tactician as my commander.

Darevi in 2023

Derevi is already an explored commander in cEDH, but I think the way it’s approached should be different with The One Ring because Derevi’s interaction with The One Ring is so powerful.

The basic game plan of previous Derevi decks is to get a card like Emiel the Blessed or Eldrazi Displacer that can spend mana to flicker Derevi with a permanent that can tap for more mana than it costs to use that ability, then to flicker Derevi infinitely to make infinite mana, then you can flicker any of your other cards to win.

This plan is very good, and I don’t think Derevi should stop trying to do that.  However, I think cards that search for artifacts are a lot better now that they can find The One Ring.

So my build plays Transmute Artifact, Wargate, Tezzeret the Seeker, Fabricate, and Enlightened Tutor so that it’ll have The One Ring very frequently.

Because I’m trying so hard to get The One Ring and The One Ring is so explosive, I’ve changed some of my other card choices to make it as good as possible.  For example I’m not playing counterspells that cost one mana because I don’t think I’ll have the mana free, and instead I’m playing an additional free counter I don’t usually play in Misdirection.  I’m also playing fewer counters and focusing more on my own proactive game with a huge number of tutors to try focusing on being a bit more threatening compared to how I usually build my blue commander decks, not necessarily precisely as a result of The One Ring.

Because I’m playing a lot of artifact tutors I’ve increased the number of other artifacts I’m playing.  Partially, I want to make sure my artifact count is high enough to use Transmute Artifact, and partially I want to have other good options available if The One Ring isn’t in my deck or the situation calls for something else.

So I’ve added Tome of Legends, which plays particularly well with Derevi, which enters the battlefield or attacks a lot more often than most commanders, and Ashnod’s Altar, which might look a bit weird here.  Ashnod’s Altar is another way to “blink” Derevi. If you have Lotus Field and Asnod’s Altar with some extra colored mana to get started, you can alternate which color of mana you’re tapping Lotus Field for while sacrificing Derevi and putting it onto the battlefield again to make infinite colorless mana.  The same thing can happen a little more simply with Bloom Tender.  Doing this with Lotus Field has the unusual perk for the deck that it can work through Linvala, Keeper of Silence, Drana and Linvala, or Cursed Totem.

Another card I want to point out specifically even though including it in my decks is nothing new is Minamo, School at Water’s Edge.  This is the lowest opportunity cost way to untap The One Ring, and this interaction is part of why I think essentially every blue cEDH deck should play both cards.

I’m playing Mana Vault and Grim Monolith because they let me cast The One Ring faster–they happen to play pretty well with Derevi, but without The One Ring I’d be concerned that I don’t have enough ways to use the colorless mana.  I’m also playing Basalt Monolith to combo with Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy since I have so many creature and artifact tutors.

Derevi is like the commander that best abuses The One Ring once its in play, but I’m not sure that it’s the commander that’s most improved by the presence of The One Ring in the format.  That honor might go to Arcum Dagsson, which is as close as you can get to having The One Ring in the command zone.

One nice thing about Arcum Dagsson is that you really get to lean into untapping artifacts, as you can play Mana Vault, Grim Monolith, and Basalt Monolith to untap with Voltaic Key, Manifold Key, Clock of Omens, and Unwinding Clock. All of these pieces make The One Ring much more explosive.  I think this package or parts of it can be included with a lot of other commanders, but it’s a particularly good fit here because Arcum Dagsson himself costs three colorless mana, and you also want to include a huge number of artifacts in a deck built around Arcum.

Ultimately, while I think Arcum might be the most improved by The One Ring, I think Derevi was far better than Arcum before, so I think it’s still a stronger deck.  Arcum is  much slower, and being forced to play a bunch of artifact creatures that tap for mana so you have enough artifact creatures to sacrifice to Arcum is pretty bad.  I expect that Arcum is going to be less explosive and try to play more of a control game with a very high counterspell count, which it will try to use just to stay alive or protect Arcum early, and then after it gets The One Ring going it can try to transition to playing more of a hard control role over the table before comboing with Krark-Clan Ironworks.  When it happens to manage to stick an early Arcum, it can also play as a stax deck by grabbing God-Pharaoh’s Statue early, and of course Portal to Phyrexia is another key card for the deck.

While these are some of the best commanders to use The One Ring, I still believe it should be widely played and I think it’s broadly underplayed from what I’ve heard,  My advice: If you’re playing cEDH, you should try playing The One Ring more, and if you’re playing casual, you should pay close attention to whether you should be playing it less, which will depend on your tables and how your deck uses it.

Sam Black (any) is a former professional Magic player, longtime Magic writer, host of the Drafting Archetypes podcast, and Twitch streamer. Sam is also a Commander Cube enthusiast, and you can find Sam’s cube list here. For anything else, find Sam on Twitter: @SamuelHBlack.

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