Last updated on May 26, 2023

Kodama of the East Tree - Illustration by Daarken

Kodama of the East Tree | Illustration by Daarken

Green-white-black has been a favorite color combination of Commander players since the first Commander precons were released over a decade ago. Recently we’ve seen a surge of new Abzan ()-aligned legendary creatures, nearly doubling the total count from just a year ago.

With these new Abzan cards we’ve seen their design pushed outside of the typical +1/+1 counter and graveyard spaces that this wedge is known for. With twice as many Abzan commanders on the market these days, it’s time for a new tier list. Which Abzan commander will top the charts? Let’s find out!

Why Go with an Abzan Commander?

Myrkul, Lord of Bones - Illustration by Isis

Myrkul, Lord of Bones | Illustration by Isis

Green, white, and black are the colors of resilience and strength. Mechanically this manifests as +1/+1 counter effects and graveyard synergy. Abzan can play as “Selesnya () plus black” and go wide with hundreds of Saproling and Warrior tokens, or as “Golgari () plus white” as a reanimator deck. Many even play an “Orzhov () plus green” deck centered around an aristocrats strategy with the added bonus of green’s big creatures and mana acceleration.

Abzan decks aren’t as cut-and-dry as they may initially appear. Most can be built with a variety of strategies all packed into one deck, letting you run infinite or near-infinite combos alongside huge creatures, fulfilling both your inner Johnny and your inner Timmy. Besides that, each Abzan commander has a unique design without much overlap, letting you find the perfect value engine to lead your deck.

#17. Yannik, Scavenging Sentinel + Nikara, Lair Scavenger

Yannik, Scavenging Sentinel and Nikara, Lair Scavenger are the partner commanders from Commander 2020’s Abzan deck. The 2020 partners are considered the “toned-down” version of Commander 2016’s partner creatures. Nikara and Yannik have an internal synergy that’s easy to understand, but underwhelming in payoff.

I see most Nikara/Yannik decks playing like this: the first few turns are spent playing low-cost creatures with counters like Bond Beetle or Fertilid. Then cast Nikara when you can, and Yannik the next turn. Yannik exiles a creature with counters on it, you draw a card and lose a life, and then… what?

Do you Cloudshift Yannik and move some more +1/+1 counters around and draw a card again? You’re looking at seven mana just to get these two on the field, not counting all the mana you’ve spent putting counters on creatures and resolving your Conjurer's Closet. Nikara and Yannik are the only real blink-focused Abzan commanders, but they don’t perform as well as any other blink deck with access to blue.

#16. Daghatar the Adamant

Daghatar the Adamant

It pains me to say it, but Daghatar the Adamant is a lackluster Abzan commander in comparison to legends like Ghave and Anafenza. Daghatar’s ability to move a single +1/+1 counter from one creature to another just doesn’t have as much utility as I’d like it to have.

Three mana for each activation is just too much, especially when compared to the value you’d get out of a Bioshift. It’s maybe useful in the 99 for your Ghave deck, but I can’t recommend Daghatar as your commander. Sorry folks.

#15. Teneb, the Harvester

Teneb, the Harvester

Teneb, the Harvester is the first-ever Abzan card, printed as a color-shifted version of a Primeval Dragon from Dominaria. Like all the traditional Primevals, Teneb is a 6/6 flier for six mana with a triggered ability when it deals combat damage to a player. Once Teneb connects, you can pay three mana to get a creature from any graveyard into play under your control.

This is the best reanimation effect on an Abzan card, but it’s a 9-mana and two turn investment, assuming you don’t give Teneb haste. Teneb, the Harvester is a big, slow creature from a time when Commander decks were all battlecruisers. That’s not to say it doesn’t have a place in modern EDH decks. It just can’t stack up to the other graveyard options available to Abzan.

#14. Kethis, the Hidden Hand

Kethis, the Hidden Hand

I bet you forgot there was an Abzan legendary creature tribal commander! Kethis, the Hidden Hand has fallen out of style since its banning in Pioneer, but the combo that allowed Kethis to repeatedly cast a free legend from the graveyard and mill its opponents out with Diligent Excavator can’t be played in Commander.

While Kethis is definitely an Abzan-flavored legends-matter commander, it’s easily outclassed by legends like Dihada, Binder of Wills and Jodah, the Unifier. The cost reduction on legendary spells is nice, but it’s not nearly as valuable as it should be. I never liked exiling my own cards from my graveyard in a reanimator deck anyway.

#13. Vishgraz, the Doomhive

Vishgraz, the Doomhive

Vishgraz, the Doomhive is the secondary commander from All Will Be One’s Abzan Commander precon, and it’s an obvious step down from the face commander, Ixhel. Even with the evasion granted by menace, having one point less of toxic and an effect that’ll generate three very easy-to-kill tokens once when it enters the battlefield just isn’t worth it at five mana.

Vishgraz makes a fine inclusion in the 99 of an Ixhel, Scion of Atraxa deck, but it’s just outclassed by the angel in most ways.

#12. Kathril, Aspect Warper

Kathril, Aspect Warper

With Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, WotC enshrined ability counters in Magic as an evergreen mechanic, and Kathril, Aspect Warper gave players access to the most ability counters on a single creature.

Kathril checks the graveyard for a creature with any of a wide array of evergreen abilities and spreads those around the board. The Aspect Warper needs a graveyard full of creatures by the time you cast it since its ability only triggers once when it enters the battlefield. As an Abzan commander Kathril has access to the same self-mill as Karador or Teneb, but you’ll usually only get one good trigger off of it before the game ends.

Kathril, Aspect Warper doesn’t check for each instance of an ability either, so it can’t create two flying counters if you have two flying creatures in your graveyard. But it does check for each different type of ability. Kathril creates different ability counters for effects like “hexproof from planeswalkers” on Eradicator Valkyrie, or “hexproof from black” on Garruk's Harbinger.

#11. Nethroi, Apex of Death

Nethroi, Apex of Death

Nethroi, Apex of Death is the go-to mutate commander in Abzan. It’s a 5/5 deathtouchlifelink that returns 10 power worth of creatures from your graveyard whenever it mutates. Mutating it straight out of the command zone is a steep seven mana, but the payoff is worth it. Consider abusing the total power stipulation by returning 0/0 creatures that enter the battlefield with +1/+1 counters or creatures with a power dependent on the total number of creatures you control like Wayfaring Temple.

Nethroi’s mutate ability means you’ll want to run as few human creatures as possible and as many mutate creatures as you can to maximize your Nethroi activations. This can quickly get expensive, and protecting a single creature while you prep your graveyard is more work than it’s worth. Nethroi isn’t the best graveyard-based Abzan commander, but it’s definitely not the worst.

#10. Tayam, Luminous Enigma

Tayam, Luminous Enigma

Tayam, Luminous Enigma is a neat little graveyard engine that makes its own resources that it turns into free creatures. I’m a fan of any commander with internal synergy, and Tayam is easy to build around and gets going early at just four mana. Since it can only return creatures with a mana value of three or less, a Tayam deck features lots of small but valuable aristocrats creatures like Corpse Knight and Breathless Knight.

A lower average converted mana cost for the deck means you’re likely to play two or more creatures a turn, quickly amassing enough counters to activate Tayam’s ability. Tayam decks can create a valuable loop of sacrifice and reanimation effects with a Viscera Seer or Carrion Feeder in play, making it an easy to learn commander for the budding Abzan player.

#9. Anafenza, the Foremost

Anafenza, the Foremost

Anafenza, the Foremost is the leader of the titular Abzan clan in the Khans of Tarkir block, the first set to focus on the “wedge” color combinations since Planar Chaos. The Abzan creature cards made use of the outlast mechanic, tapping themselves to get a +1/+1 counter. Obviously Anafenza synergizes well with a bunch of tapped creatures with counters on them, and it starts to take off once you’ve hit your Doubling Season.

Besides its obvious synergy with just about any +1/+1 counter card, Anafenza is an aggressively costed 4/4 for three mana with a built-in graveyard-hoser, making it very effective in any environment with reanimator decks running around. Sadly, Anafenza is mostly outclassed by the other counters-themed Abzan commanders and serves you better in the 99 rather than in the command zone.

#8. Anikthea, Hand of Erebos

Anikthea, Hand of Erebos

Anikthea, Hand of Erebos is one of the face cards for the Commander Masters precons, and we won’t know the true extent of its power until we see the rest of the new cards from the set. That said, we can always speculate.

Anikthea is an enchantment creature lord that’ll help keep your enchantments around by returning 3/3 zombie creature copies of them to the battlefield. On its face this has potential to keep things like Eidolon of Blossoms and Eidolon of Countless Battles around, ensuring you always have value generators or threats on the field. Turning non-creature enchantments into creature tokens means they can suddenly be affected by populate effects.

Try making a creature out of Song of the Worldsoul and Growing Ranks then copying those tokens. And then copy those tokens, etc. I’m excited to see where Anikthea, Hand of Erebos goes!

#7. Doran, the Siege Tower

Doran, the Siege Tower

The OG treefolk tribal commander Doran, the Siege Tower was the first card to include the combat damage flip-flop effect, trading creatures’ power for their toughness for the purposes of combat damage. This basically makes Doran a 5/5 for three mana and turns all those big-butted treefolk into absolute beaters.

Creatures like Indomitable Ancients become 4-mana 10/10s, and you can turn your wall of walls into an overwhelming tidal wave with a Perimeter Captain or Assault Formation.

#6. Colfenor, the Last Yew

Colfenor, the Last Yew

Treefolk are known for their toughness-matters theme, and Colfenor, the Last Yew is no exception. It’s a more refined take on the heavy-handed Doran, the Siege Tower.

Colfenor, besides being a 3/7 vigilant reacher for six, is a veritable graveyard-tiller. Its “lesser toughness” clause seems hard to work around, it makes for a fun deckbuilding experience as you balance high-toughness low-cost fodder against your low-toughness high-value creatures and throw some aristocrats cards in to boot.

Walls and other treefolk make generally good choices for sacrifice targets, plus you never worry about losing access to those low-toughness aristocrats like Blood Artist and Zulaport Cutthroat.

#5. Karador, Ghost Chieftain

Karador, Ghost Chieftain

Karador, Ghost Chieftain is the “other” new Abzan commander from Commander 2011. While the original Abzan deck didn’t play to Karador’s strengths, these days it’s in the running for the best graveyard-based Abzan commander.

A 3/4 body for 8 mana is a huge turn-off, but there’s no reason you should ever pay full price for Karador. Fill that graveyard up with any of green and black’s best self-mill cards like Stitcher's Supplier or the infamous Stinkweed Imp’s dredge ability and then cast Karador to pick and choose the best creatures from your graveyard to win the game.

Start strong with Grisly Salvages and Mulch-type effects and then Entomb whatever card you need to return to the battlefield to combo out. Or just go all-out and dump as much of your library as possible, ending with a big Rise of the Dark Realms to overwhelm your opponents.

Best of all, Karador’s cost reduction affects its commander tax, so you almost always have access to your commander so long as you have a to spare. Really my only criticism of Karador is that the creatures in your graveyard don’t also come at a cost reduction.

#4. Ixhel, Scion of Atraxa

Ixhel, Scion of Atraxa

All Will Be One’s Commander decks brought poison counters to Commander in a new way with the toxic and corrupted mechanics. Ixhel, Scion of Atraxa decks work by quickly getting each opponent to at least three poison counters, hitting them with Ixhel’s ability, and stealing spells from the top of their libraries.

While Ixhel won’t necessarily get your opponents to ten poison counters alone, Abzan has access to some of the best proliferate effects and powerful infect creatures like Phyrexian Crusader. Ixhel is probably the best choice for an Abzan poison deck overall.

#3. Thalia and The Gitrog Monster

Thalia and The Gitrog Monster

Perhaps the most exciting cards to come out of March of the Machine are the “team up” legends, where two legendary creatures from the same plane are combined on a single card as they face off against the Phyrexian invasion.

Thalia and The Gitrog Monster does just about what you’d expect if Thalia, Heretic Cathar teamed up with The Gitrog Monster. Any commander with a built-in extra land play is guaranteed to be nasty, especially with all the support landfall decks can get these days.

All Thalia and The Gitrog Monster needs is Crucible of Worlds or Ramunap Excavator and suddenly you’re drawing another card and playing a land from your graveyard all while attacking with a cheeky first strike-deathtoucher. This legendary pair is removal, stax, and advantage all in one.

#2. Myrkul, Lord of Bones

Myrkul, Lord of Bones

Myrkul, Lord of Bones is one of three legendary gods from the Forgotten Realms setting showcased in Battle for Baldur’s Gate. It shares a conditional indestructible ability with the other two gods from CLB, and it has a unique enchantment effect with more than a few ways to go infinite.

By turning nontoken creatures into enchantment tokens, Myrkul, Lord of Bones decks break cards from Wall of Roots to Devoted Druid. Suddenly, infinite green mana is just an Ashnod's Altar away.

Myrkul decks dare to ask the question, “what if you could build a stax deck out of creatures?” Enchantments are notoriously more difficult to remove than creatures, and green and white give Myrkul access to permanent protection in the form of Privileged Position and Fountain Watch. Bring those Grand Abolishers and Thalia, Guardian of Thrabens back as enchantments to keep punishing your opponents, then slam down a Sphere of Safety and rest on your laurels.

#1. Ghave, Guru of Spores

Ghave, Guru of Spores

You knew it was coming. Ghave, Guru of Spores is far and away one of the best Abzan commanders on the field, combo’ing off with just about everything (including itself, occasionally).

Ghave hit the scene in 2011 as the face of the original green-white-black Commander deck, and it’s been a menace in pods ever since. Besides combo’ing off with nothing but a Cathars' Crusade or Doubling Season and a sac outlet, Ghave can very easily create an army of Saprolings, put 100 +1/+1 counters on a creature and then wipe an opponent’s board with Dictate of Erebos all at once.

When a Ghave deck is built right, it has a response to just about anything an opponent can throw at it. Can’t break through the stax player’s defenses? Damage them directly with a Triskelion or sap their life away with a Blood Artist while you kill and create the same saproling over and over again.

Still not enough? How about executing the easiest Sporemound + Life and Limb combo you’ve ever seen and ending the game in an infinite loop of Forest-Saprolings entering the battlefield? Ghave, Guru of Spores does it all, all the time, at maximum volume.

Abzan Decklist Examples

Ghave, Guru of Spores

Ghave, Guru of Spores - Illustration by James Paick

Ghave, Guru of Spores | Illustration by James Paick

Abzan decks have a long tradition of combo’ing out in wild ways, and Ghave, Guru of Spores is the reason. If you sneeze with a Ghave on the field, it combos out.

This is the latest iteration of my own Ghave, Guru of Spores deck, and it runs all the classics. Cathars' Crusade, Parallel Lives, and Primal Vigor can all generate infinite mana with Ashnod's Altar, and Blood Artist and Corpse Knight turn that infinite mana into infinite dead Saprolings.

Ixhel, Scion of Atraxa

Ixhel, Scion of Atraxa - Illustration by Campbell White

Ixhel, Scion of Atraxa | Illustration by Campbell White

Do you, like me, have a few new players in your pod who just found out about poison counters and are extremely salty about it? This Ixhel, Scion of Atraxa deck is the one for you. It wants to do one thing: rush your opponents to ten poison counters before they can say “dies to removal.”

Ramp into Ixhel as soon as possible and get some poison counters down early with Phyresis Outbreak and Infectious Inquiry. Ixhel’s corrupted ability kicks in once they’re up to three counters, and you’ll be stealing their best creatures and compleating them with Prosthetic Injector and Phyresis before dropping a Siege Behemoth and crashing through with the enough infect damage to end the game.

Commanding Conclusion

Daghatar the Adamant - Illustration by Zack Stella

Daghatar the Adamant | Illustration by Zack Stella

Despite its place in the original Commander 2011 decks, Abzan has the least legendary creatures of any of the wedges, and half as many as the least popular shard color combinations. But that hasn’t stopped it from featuring some of the more unique design concepts from across formats. With a range spanning from +1/+1 counters to enchantments to graveyard and self-mill, green/white/black has something for everyone, no matter your player type. Well, except blue. It doesn’t have blue.

So, is Ghave really the best Abzan commander? What are the best Abzan partner pairs? And isn’t it weird WotC printed a commander named Kathril and a Commander named Lathril within a year of each other? Let me know in the comments below, or over on Draftsim’s Twitter.

Thanks for reading, stay cool!

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