Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Protecting your General

Most Commander decks want to put their general into play and keep it there.  There's a few decks that want to use their general rarely--I'm looking at you, Child of Alara decks--but mostly, we build decks to use our general's abilities effectively.

Other players will see the awesome things you are doing or going to do with your general and decide, "Nope, that creature is not staying in play!"

What's a player to do?  Use protection, of course!

I'm going to divide this into three parts: cards you play before your general, things you want to do when your general hits play, and spells for after the general is on the field.

A couple of notes about this list:  Red and Black are nearly absent from this list...because as part of the color pie, they don't care as much about saving their creatures. A few red and black creatures have regeneration built in, so might need less spells to save them.  Each of these spells presumes that you have the mana needed to cast them, but that mana requirement is a huge part of what makes Lightning Greaves so amazing.

Brace yourselves, people, we're going to get into some rarely-seen cards today!

Beforehand (Permanents)
These are what you'll play in preparation for playing your general.  Laying the groundwork, paving the ground, whatever metaphor you prefer. Play one of these a turn before your commander and you'll feel a little better about exposing your general to the terrible storm of death that awaits.

Creatures (23):
Mother of Runes
Classic enough to get reprinted in the Commander precons, and pretty much guaranteeing that there will need to be two kill spells to get rid of your general.  After she's been in play a turn, Mom can even protect herself!  Her ability is free to use, which puts her in the upper tier of protection.
Devoted Caretaker
If it's Mother above, this is the Aunt.  It's a tradeoff: you can protect any permanent, but only from instants and sorceries (no saving from planeswalkers, artifacts, or creatures) and it costs a mana to use.  Also a rarely-seen 1/2 creature for one mana!
Spearbreaker Behemoth
This is expensive to play but very hard to argue with.  Indestructible gets around most of the spells that will get rid of your general, but your general needs to have a big enough power.  If you've got a 5+ commander, though, this guy is your friend.
Twilight Shepherd
One of my favorite angel pictures, and also one of my 'sneaky awesome' cards. If you play this, then you have to let your general go to the graveyard for the ability to bring it back to your hand.  This isn't good for +1/+1 counters or auras, but sometimes you don't want to pay the full tax to cast your general for the 5th time.
Adarkar Valkryie
This card will be on a future post called "this card is HOW much?!!?" but it's because the ability is ridiculously amazing.  Sure you can save a general, but you can also steal other things that might die.  Combine with your own kill spells to steal lots of things!
Daring Apprentice
Disposable creature.  Break in case of emergency, but you need to play it ahead of time, since it's a tap ability.
Sigarda, Host of Herons
Tajuru Preserver
These two cards save you from sacrificing, which is handy if you know people that play as much All is Dust as I do.
Avacyn, Angel of Hope
Yes, it's 8 mana but worth it all.  Indestructibility is worth the price of admission.
Melira, Sylvok Outcast
Someone cast Black Sun's Zenith?  No thank you, but come by anytime!
Coalition Honor Guard
Standard Bearer
What the heck is a flagbearer, you ask?  It's a canary in a coal mine, a Spellskite that you don't have to pay mana/life to activate.  All of these mean that Murder needs to be cast more than once to get your general dead.  These only help with targeted removal, but offers a bonus of stealing beneficial spells/enchantments as well.
Crimson Acolyte
Obsidian Acolyte
Burrenton Forge-Tender
Granting protection to a creature can help a lot with the most common targeted spells and some mass removal spells, and these creatures will save your general for a low cost.
Kitsune Healer
It's not always damage that can kill your legend, but if that's a problem, this is another save effect that only costs a tap--no mana needed!
Saffi Eriksdotter
Sometimes she's a general, but Saffi allows your general to come back for free, but remember that you have to let your general go to the graveyard to take effect.
Mistmeadow Witch
This could have been filed under the 'blink' effects at the bottom, but any time you can save your general for four mana, it's usually worth doing.  Unlike some of the other blinks, this will save your general from anything, since it will come back at the beginning of the end step.  This will even allow you to dodge Terminus and the like.
Dauntless Escort
Free is good, so is indestructiblity, and a 3/3 for three is always a winner.
Deathless Angel
Two mana to grant indestructibility isn't cheap, but it IS reusable.  It also looks very good in a full-art foil.
Elgaud Shieldmate
Oh, Soulbond.  You're an interesting mechanic and they will get you again one of these days.  It's not like Avacyn Restored had a lot of removal anyway, but if there was, this guy prevented it.
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
Mike v.2 is a legend, but one that plays very well as part of the 99.  If he's in play, all of your creatures get a second lease on life!  Or un-life, if you prefer.
Sylvan Safekeeper
Sacrificing a land to grant shroud can be a steep price to pay, but being a free ability--and one you can do mutliple times if needed--make this worth the cost.
Kira, Great Glass-Spinner 
Don't be fooled by her cost in dollars, this is both a very good and very annoying effect.  She's tough to use with your own equipment/auras, and makes it tough for your opponents' spells.
Benevolent Bodyguard
A free sacrifice of himself to save the more expensive/relevant creature.  A fine bodyguard.
Moonlit Strider
Back when damage went on the stack, this guy was card value king.  Still worthwhile, saving one creature and getting you back a Spirit or Changeling.
Our first edit!  He does indeed protect your general from all sorts of bad things, and for enough mana, can protect your entire board as well.

Artifacts (4):
Cauldron of Souls
Some people are very scared of letting their general go to a graveyard, but if you have this effect on it, your general won't stay in the 'yard.  Some generals are too small for these counters, so use only when needed.
Darksteel Forge
I secretly hate this card, but I cannot deny its power.  Thank goodness there aren't too many legendary artifact creatures.
Eldrazi Monument
This is a card I often use, but its drawback can be severe.  Combine with Dominus of Fealty for real fun!
Akroma's Memorial
I've detailed my feelings on this card in my M13 review, but the fact remains that for any deck, instant protection from common removal is amazingly good.

Enchantments (8):
One of my all-time favorite cards.  I get to ignore targeted kill spells and regenerate from "Destroy All" effects!  Plus it protects all my other creatures at the same time!
Privileged Position
This card is one of the reasons to play green/white.  Call it a staple, a standard, a must-have, but it is tremendously effective.
Absolute Law
Absolute Grace
Protection isn't always relevant, but since all your creatures are protected, it becomes a lot easier to kill off the red or black deck with this in play.
Hanna's Custody
This is shroud, not hexproof, but Sharuum doesn't really care.
Steely Resolve
Generally, tribal decks love this effect more, but if you name your general's creature type, then you're good to go.
Broken Fall
A friend of mine used to abuse the heck out of this card.  Play it before your general, and use as needed.  Always a bonus to have something activate for no mana, and since the return to hand is part of the cost, then they never have a chance to kill Broken Fall itself!
Coalition Flag
This card can get bananas.  The key is that the targeting is forcibly changed if able.  Once the enchanted creature is a target, then you use a different ability to grant hexproof or shroud or protection, and then you're golden.  Thornling enjoys this card, Quicksilver Dragon is in total love with this!  (Example: you have the Dragon enchantd with the Flag.  Someone plays a spell OR ABILITY targeting a creature. The Flag forces that target to be the Dragon, but now you get to redirect that spell to the target of your choice for one blue mana!)
Also: the redirection only applies to your opponents, so they will get mad and kill you if you gloat too much.

Immediate (Play and Protect)
These are the permanents that will keep your general safe.  These have to be played/equipped as soon as possible to save your general from the bad things your opponents want to do, so there's no shame in waiting until you have the mana to play your Commander and then suit him/her up.  Equipment is the most popular of these, since they are colorless and can be used more than once.

Equipment (8): 
Lightning Greaves
This is the gold standard.  Low play cost, no mana cost, gives shroud and haste.  This means that the turn you play your general, you're doing something with it.  They HAVE to have a mass removal spell to get rid of your general is this is in play.  Combine with Leonin Shikari for real shenangians.
Swiftfoot Boots
I couldn't believe that this card got printed.  It's not only an homage to the Greaves, it's both better and worse.  Hexproof is the most unfair ability ever designed, so giving it to any creature, plus haste, for a single mana is just silly good.
Champion's Helm
I don't think this card gets played enough.  It doesn't give haste to your general, but it gives an extra +2/+2 instead.  Slightly worse than the two above, though.
General's Kabuto
This one is another that people don't play enough, but when I lay it down on Animar or Kaalia, people get annoyed.  Kaalia especially, because this gives shroud and damage prevention, traits she needs in order to be able to crash into the red zone over and over again.
Whispersilk Cloak
Shroud AND unblockable.  Pretty darn amazing.
Darksteel Plate 
Indestructible is good, as mentioned earlier.   I must say that I've had my newly-indestructible creature stolen more than once, so this might not be as good as I want it to be.  A lot depends on what sorts of spells your opponents play.
Ring of Xathrid
Ring of Evos Isle
Both of these rings have a cost, but it's not very high.  I think that regeneration is slightly better than hexproof, but either is a fine addition, especially on-color.
Magebane Armor
This is sort of a corner case of damage prevention, but if you play in groups that play these types of cards, this will be a winner.

Enchantment - Auras (12): 
Alexi's Cloak
Since this has flash, you can sandbag it to when someone tries to kill your general, but most of the time, you just want to make your commander safe.  Bonus points for cool flavor text that you can say when stopping a Condemn or the like.
Aspect of Mongoose
There are a few enchantments with this 'come back to hand' clause, of which Rancor is the most popular.  The re-use of this card means that your opponents better have lots of mass removal spells.
Diplomatic Immunity
This is a favored target of enchantment-themed decks, because you can't kill this enchantment directly!
Favorable Destiny
White doesn't often get shroud, but it's a white riff on the ability, requiring you to have another creature in play.  Not too hard to do, usually.
Mystic Veil
There were several enchantments in Mirage/Visions that had the 'you can do this as an instant, but if you do, sacrifice it at end of turn' clause, and over the years it's gone through a few rewordings.  It comes down to when you have the mana and when you need shroud.
Protective Bubble
Yes, this is exactly Whispersilk Cloak, only not re-usable.  Some decks want the enchantment, though.
Robe of Mirrors
Only the Greaves is cheaper for shroud.
Zephid's Embrace
Flying is good, +2/+2 is really good, and shroud takes it up a notch.  Costs four mana, unnfortunately.
I'm so glad this doesn't cost 2W, because that would make it legal for Zur the Enchanter. Nonetheless, it's a worthy spell, with very appropriate art.
Shield of the Oversoul
If your general is G/W, then this card is supremely powerful.   Play this whenever you can.
While this was designed to take advantage of Ravnica's 'enchantments with spell effects' theme, (such as Flight of Fancy) this can be a powerhouse in some decks.  It's expensive, but if you have the mana, nothing can ever happen to your enchantments or your general.
Clout of the Dominus
Only applicable for Red/Blue generals, this is rather cost-effective.  One mana, +2/+2, shroud and haste.  Hard to beat.
Shielding Plax
Mmmmm.....those tasty three words again: "Draw A Card!"  Can only be G/U though.

Afterwards (Instants)
These are spells you can play in response to someone trying to get rid of your general.  I'll leave it to you how many of these you want to play, but I have seen decks that want to max out on these.  Ruhan of the Fomori is popular for this--play the big general for cheap, attack a bunch, keep him safe.  Some people feel it's better to just replay the general for two more mana than have a card in the deck taken up by a reactive instant like these.

Counterspells (oodles):
As detailed in other posts, counterspells are universal answers.  If you're in blue, you can play them.  They will save your general.

Protection [from color/artifact] spells (13):  Remember, protection only helps for DEBT: Damage, Equipment, Blocking, and Targeting.  Damage from the chosen color is prevented (unless it says it can't be prevented, such as Combust), Equipment falls off, creatures of the chosen color can't block the protected creature, and it can't be targeted by spells or effects of the chosen color.
Apostle's Blessing
For one mana and two life, or two mana, you can save your general, even from artifact targeting.
Akroma's Blessing
This can be used in a number of ways, for saving your creatures, for attacking for the win, even cycling it away to get something else!
Bathe in Light
Radiance can be tricky.  Watch out for helping your opponents too.
Blessed Breath
You don't need to have Arcane spells to splice onto, but even using this once to save your general can be useful.
Brave the Elements
Only good for your white creatures, but this costs only a single mana.
Emerge Unscathed
This is delightful.  First, you protect your general from someone's kill spell.  Then, on your turn when it Rebounds, give your general protection from that player's creatures and attack them for their impertinence!
Faith's Shield
The fateful hour ability may be relevant at some point, but this can also protect a permanent if you needed it to.
Prismatic Boon
This can be expensive to cast, but it offers a lot of options if there's multiple things you want to save.
Razor Barrier
Protection for any permanent, and even from artifacts.  Solid.
Redeem the Lost
Clash is a fun mini-game, but when you win it, you feel like a million bucks.  You'll get to protect again!
Reverent Mantra
This can be played for free if needed, but it also gives ALL creatures some protection.  Probably not your best bet.
I can get behind almost any spell with the words "Draw a card."
Stave Off
Notably, you can use this one offensively. Make their enchantments fall off, use this to counter their flashbacked Increasing Savagery...or just save your general for one measly mana.

Regeneration Spells (14):
It is true that most of these won't see play, as too many spells say "That creature can't regenerate this turn" but hey, I'm trying to be thorough.

Dawn Charm
Three modes and none of them useless.  I could be an advocate of this, especially as part of a Sunforger package.
Death Ward
Very straightforward, and very outclassed by the rest of this list.
Debt of Loyalty
Now this has potential.  You can use this to save your guy or steal theirs when a Wrath comes around.  Important to note that something has to kill the creature (causing it to regenerate) for you to take it.
Defiling Tears
Basically, 2BB: Regenerate is not going to get there.
Gaze of the Gorgon
Another card that if you're in the right colors, you should probably be playing this.  Has the potential to be a real blowout with a 'must be blocked' ability.
Those magic three words again, which makes this card not too bad.
This is worse than Death Ward.
In GW, this could be good, as it could save things other than creatures.
Mass regeneration comes easier, as you're about to see.
Run Wild
Offensive and defensive, but if you've got a big attacker, it should have trample anyway!
Seedling Charm 
A much worse set of options than Dawn Charm.
Wrap in Vigor
This is more the ticket.  I could see this being run in a token/swarm deck.
This is awkward, but sometimes it will do the trick.
Wail of the Nim
Another mass regeneration card, with the added ability of taking down problem 1/1 creatures.

Hexproof/Shroud Spells (6):
If you find that targeted spells are the problem, perhaps everyone in your local group started playing Spin Into Myth, then these will be your general's ticket to safety.
Ranger's Guile
Hexproof and +1/+1 for one low mana.  The boost might be useful if you have an attacking general.  Sheltering Word
This is two mana, so a little worse, but if you play a Kresh deck where he gets huge, then you might do some work with this spell.
Vines of Vastwood
This is a favorite of mine.  Shroud for a green, +4/+4 for an extra green.  Be careful on mixing up which is the base effect and which is the kicker.
Mage's Guile
While 1U is more than green has to pay, adding on a cycling cost is very useful.  Sometimes you won't need to save your creature, but dig through the deck instead.
Stonewood Invocation
This is a real bonus, having split second.  None of that 'in response to your spell, kill it' shenanigans, plus a big boost to power and toughness.  If it gave trample, this might be a staple for green decks.
Veil of Secrecy
Once again, blue gets unblockable and shroud.  Very rare to see this spliced onto an arcane spell, but it's possible.

Indestructible Spells (1):
Withstand Death
Very straightforward.  Sometimes you need this as a surprise effect, not like Darksteel Plate.

Undying Spells (1):
Undying Evil
This is another 'yeah, the general goes to the graveyard but it comes right back!' sort of spell.  It's a single black mana for a save and an extra +1/+1 counter!

Exile & Return Spells (7):
While all of these spells will help dodge targeted removal, some will also allow your general to live past a Wrath of God depending on when the exiled creature returns.  Bonus points if there is an enters-the-battlefield effect to abuse!
One mana, one immediate flicker.  Solid.
This sees a lot of play because you can save every non-token creature you control.  They come back at end of turn, after the bad things have happened.
Another 'wait till the end step' card, so use this whenever you want--it'll save your general from just about everything.
Momentary Blink
This is more mana than Cloudshift, but you'll get to do it twice.   Two colors make it problematic, though.
Otherworldly Journey
A strict upgrade over Liberate, because it comes back bigger!  Do not use with Undying generals.
Turn to Mist
Upside: can target your opponents' creatures, putting them out of the way for a turn or undoing some awesome effect they want to have happen.  Downside: you must be at least UW to have this card.
Vanish Into Memory
For a while, I had Kresh the Bloodbraided as a general, and I'd gotten him to some huge level of counters.  Someone cast Vanish into Memory on him, and I was floored.  How dare they!  This is a very strong card in Blue/White, I'd advocate playing it in most decks of those colors.

I realize that I might have left your pet card off of this list.  Tell me what it is and why it's awesome, and I'll add it into the post!

Enjoy keeping your commander safe!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. where is eight-and-a-half-tails??

  3. Suddenly I realize I actually have a copy of Kira, Great Glass Spinner in a binder at home. I really need to start putting her in some decks, see if she works out. Certainly seems to have potential.

    1. She has potential, as a commander too.

      She also carries a higher price tag than you might expect.

  4. Can I traslate your text to post in a brazilian no-commercial magic forum? Congratulations.

  5. Nim Deathmantle is a formidable general protector. You put them in the graveyard, pay 4 and they are back on the field. And Omnath doesn't even slosh out a drop of mana!