Top 10 Most Versatile, Mono-Colored Cards in (MtG) Commander/EDH
Basically, this is my personal opinion on the top 10 staples I think are the most widely usable in decks, no matter what its theme or classification is. I have mildly informed opinions, and I am going to share said mildly informed opinions with you here - but I am open to criticism, and in fact I welcome it! This list is more of a discussion generator than a definite, hard list, so feel free to, well, discuss.
Some clarification before we jump in: I love operationalizing, so let's get some set parameters for versatility.
When I say most versatile cards in Commander, I am going to first evaluate the cards individually to other cards in that color. It seems a bit unfair to compare Mystical Tutor to Vampiric Tutor, right?
Other measures of versatility include (1) its ability to cover areas that other cards of that color don't (Desert Twister) (2) its general excellence (Sol Ring), or (3) how well it epitomizes what that color does well (Brainstorm). But, ultimately, the defining factor is its flexibility and how many decks would ultimately include it - a truly versatile green card would be included in Karador, Omnath, Ezuri, and Maelstrom Wanderer, for example.
I also give thought to efficiency. Firemind's Foresight is really versatile, unique in its colors, and enables some really swift wins, but it has a high mana cost and is prohibitive in enough ways to not be really considered.
Some deference to ease of usability will also be given. Armageddon, for example, is a very versatile card, but requires a bit more knowledge, timing, and set up to make work really well. As such, I declined to include it, as this list is tailored more toward easier to handle staples.
I will also give some thought to price - sure, Mana Crype might be better than Sol Ring on some dimensions, but can most people really shell out that 100+ price tag?
So, again, this is my personal opinion on the versatility of staples, and again, I look forward to criticism and discussion! So let's get to it.
How can you not include Sol Ring?
It's such a staple of EDH at this point that it's been included in all of the recent Commander precons. It's just good - some consider it bannable. But, since it's not banned, let's fap a bit about how great it is now.
If you've ever started a game of Commander as the only player with T1 Sol Ring, you know that feeling of power you get when you can Explosive Vegetation on turn 2 into an easy turn 3 powerhouse (for me, it's usually Maelstrom Wanderer).
It speeds up your clock, accelerates your ramp, puts you two turns ahead of the pack. It gets you so close, so soon to that all important mana threshold that every EDH deck has, that, when reached, enables the painful ridiculousness that makes EDH so fun.
The desirability of this card increases exponentially with the skill of the player and the table - at a casual table, sure, not too shabby, but at a table full of competitive, cutthroat players, it can mean death in the next 3 or so turns. The more tuned the deck, the lower that mana threshold for game winning potential is.
Not to mention, it can be played in literally every deck, and there are almost no decks that don't want it. I mean... versatility, right there. Sol Ring, you silly.
Eternal Witness earns her spot near the top mostly because of how I've almost never see a green deck that does not play Eternal Witness. Easily recurrable recursion, is there really anything better? She is sort of the definition of versatility.
She adds a layer of resilience to decks that otherwise might lack it (Omnath or elves, maybe?), and just gives another great recurrable target to decks that thrive on resilience (graveyard decks like Mimeo and Karador), unlike Regrowth. She's a must have in decks that revolve around the graveyard, and a must have in decks that don't. She goes in aggro (elves), Stax (Karametra Stax), tempo (Derevi), good stuff (Maelstrom Wanderer)... just... everywhere! She's great.
Nielson art is also always a plus.
This is an example of epitomizing what a color does best. Any card, to hand, for cheap. Tutors are, of course, in essence very versalite, so it almost feels a little like cheating to just include a tutor... if it didn't feel like cheating, it might occupy the 2nd slot, but I really can't bring myself to do it.
Vampiric Tutor is definitely sort of included at this spot in a spiritual homage: it is arguably better with its instant speed and its one-less-colorless, but I decided to put Demonic Tutor as the face since Vampiric Tutor needs a *little* more trickery to be actively, obviously better. Demonic Tutor is simple, clean, and easily identified as ridiculously versatile.
One sided board wipe. Unnf. Cyclonic Rift wins people games. I consider it quite the bomb, especially in monoblue.
A skilled player wielding a Rift is one of the most terrifying things that you can face at a Commander table - if the timing is right, it basically reads "you win the game". If a less competitive player is wielding it, it is still almost always a net gain for them and a terrible annoyance to everyone else who has to again build up their previously carefully crafted board state.
The thing about Cyclonic Rift, unlike many other boardwipes that might be similarly versatile (like Armageddon), is that it is basically good at any time. Sure, it might be mediocre if played during a durdling phase of the game, but it's never going directly hurt you. You don't have to worry about parity, card advantage, potential ability to regrow. It is just powerful, easy to use, and utterly devestating when used as a bomb.
I debated a bit over which white boardwipe to include on this list. There are a bunch of good ones - Hallowed Burial, Terminus, Akroma's Vengeance, good ol' Wrath of God. But ultimately, I decided on Austere Command because it is arguably the most versatile of all the white boardwipes.
It's a boardwipe you don't feel bad including in any deck. Isamaru decks which might cringe at the idea of a Wrath of God would be happy to include Austere Command to target annoying fatties and an incidental annoying enchantment or two. Decks that rely on their Commanders who would be a little more wary of playing Terminus (Geist) probably won't mind only hitting creatures mana cost 4 and up either. I love boardwipes that let you dodge hitting your own stuff, and Austere Command does it very well while most of the time easily hitting all the threats at a table. I find it nets more card advantage than almost any other of the white wipes when played moderately well.
Ugh. Consecrated Sphinx.
You want to make everyone else at the table feel like their hard earned card draw is in vain? Make sure that whenever they draw, you draw too. You draw more. You ruin their hopes and dreams, because they know that cool combo that will draw them half their deck will draw you all of yours.
Look, I play it too, but that doesn't mean I gotta like it when it's played against me. So many hopes and dreams, shattered to bits.
The reason that I put it a little lower down is because Consecrated Sphinx actively makes you a huge target and is often completely destroyed (or stolen) before you can really eek out every last bit of advantage from it. This isn't really that good a reason, but I harbor a bit of a grudge against this fella so I needed some other reason to not put him a little higher.
But yeah, Sphinx is super, super good, the definition of card advantage, and almost every blue deck can probably find a pretty good spot to toss it in.
Chaos Warp does what red otherwise just does not do - unconditional removal. That feeling when they flip a nonpermanent off the top after a Chaos Warp is the best feeling ever.
Chaos Warp is one of those cards that, while not an autoinclude in every deck that runs red, is one to highly consider, and almost an autoinclude if your other colors don't include green or white. It fills in the holes that your red deck might otherwise be unable to plug (enchantments, big creatures, indestructible creatures) and all in all, just feels pretty good most of the time (except for that one time you flip an Ulamog and feel kinda lousy).
Sensei's Divining Top
I struggled where to put this card on the list. We all know the merits of Top, right? It definitely deserves a place here - it has the ability to be in any deck, and has a purpose in every deck, essentially increasing your hand size by 3. Combined with being almost impossible to remove, it's a very nifty card that does a lot of things.
I put it a bit lower on the list because, again, it's a card that takes a bit of setup to use, and its usefulness declines with declining competitiveness level of the deck - it becomes less useful in more casual decks, and I wouldn't recommend it to less hardcore EDH players, to be honest. It is also only with numerous fetchlands and other shuffle effects that Top becomes extrodinary, and in a list the size of a Commander deck, the amount of shuffle effects you need to include becomes very slightly prohibitive.
This card has one of the best mana-for-cards ratios for straight draw in the game. Harmonize is just good card draw in a color that usually does this with some restrictions (Garruk Primal Hunter, Prime Speaker Zegana). Not an autoinclude in decks that are green and blue, of course, but almost an autoinclude in any green deck that doesn't include blue, and certainly an autoinclude in decks that don't include blue or black. Harmonize is just pretty good.
Swords to Plowshares
The reason Swords is way down here is simply because it only removes creatures, which, depending on your table, may be more or less relevant. But, on the whole, it's a very important card to include in most lists that run white, just to ensure that you can hit those really tricky Avacyns and the like. Life is also a less important commodity in EDH than in any other format, I believe, so the life gain is even less incidental than in places like Legacy (except, of course, in the cases where you need to remove a monstrous Lord of Extinction or something with similarly disgusting toughness).
And, again, Nielsen's art is gorgeous.
Well, there's my list! Is there anything you really disagree with? Anything you really agree with? Any card you think should really be on this list? I'm interested in your opinions and interested in learning more about this wonderful format. Thanks for reading all that.