Last updated on June 10, 2022
Kodama of the East Tree | Illustration by Daarken
I’ve been making the rounds lately going over each tri-color combination’s best legendary creatures for the Commander format. Choosing a commander can be hard, but having them all laid out in front of you can help make that choice a little easier. Today it’s time to look at Abzan, the combo.
I’m also going to provide a sample decklist to help you see what might be worth including in your own lists.
Without further ado, let’s get into it!
Why Go with an Abzan Commander?
Nethroi, Apex of Death | Illustration by Slawomir Maniak
Abzan as a color combination offers a lot to the Commander player. White brings strong board wipes, excellent protection spells, and exile mechanics. Black comes with strong single target removal, card draw, and reanimation. And green brings artifact and enchantment removal, large creatures and creature-based mechanics, and superb mana acceleration.
Each color’s unique mechanics come together nicely to offer you various powerful themes and strategies to employ through more than a few commanders. Abzan specializes in aristocrat and graveyard strategies thanks to black and green, but it can also adequately support pod and +1/+1 counter themes.
#8. Teneb, the Harvester
Starting off our list of the top 8 Abzan commander is Teneb, the Harvester. Teneb is a simple reanimator commander that lets you put a creature from your graveyard onto the battlefield if you can pay when it deals combat damage. This is an excellent beginner-friendly reanimator commander that has the potential to go pretty high-power since Abzan’s reanimator strategies are resilient and don’t need overly powerful commanders.
Reanimator is a very simple but powerful strategy with the ability to win early and definitively. The main concept is getting powerful high-cost creatures into your graveyard early. This can be done with a variety of spells and abilities like Entomb, any discard effect (including maximum hand size), and mill effects. Once your target is in the graveyard you want “reanimator” spells like Reanimate, Animate Dead, and Living Death.
While Commander bans some of the most powerful reanimator targets like Griselbrand, some exceptional (and often game-winning) targets remain. Ashen Rider can pose a powerful threat while taking care of pesky lands or indestructible creatures. Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite often just wins the game for you.
#7. Doran, the Siege Tower
In 7th place is a classic commander with a unique and interesting playstyle: Doran, the Siege Tower. What better way to crush your opponents than a huge treefolk that’s literally called a Siege Tower? Doran’s passive ability assigns combat damage by toughness instead of power, which means your 2/5s and walls are much more sizeable threats.
Creatures with low power and high toughness typically have passive abilities or combat effects that make up for their low power. They’re balanced with this in mind, which means assigning them a high pseudo-power for combat makes some cards pretty broken. Here are some examples:
- Catapult Fodder is a 3-mana 5/5 that becomes a better Goblin Bombardment for your deck to fling some damage late game.
- Slagwurm Armor is effectively a 1-mana +6/+6 that still has a low equip cost. This also makes commander damage a somewhat legitimate threat, which is always fun.
- Skinshifter can becomes an 0/8 for which turns it into a great early blocker and a serious threat after you resolve your commander.
Walls are also something to be look at in this list. They do a much better job at deterring attacks when they can now do upwards of four damage in combat. This makes your matchup against creature-based strategies much better. There just isn’t much a bunch of Soldier tokens or goblins can do if you can put up 4/4s for with cards like Wall of Blossoms.
#6. Kathril, Aspect Warper
6th place goes to Kathril, Aspect Warper, one of the only keyword-themed commanders out there aside from Odric, Lunarch Marshal. This makes for a unique playstyle that your opponents won’t quite know the trick to breaking.
The best way to use Kathril’s ability is to Entomb something with many keywords, like Akroma, Vision of Ixidor, and then play your commander with a wide board full of smaller creatures ready to get beefed up. This commander also works well with an aristocrats sub-theme. Exploiting sacrificing creatures gives you extra benefits when you cash out through your commander.
Creatures that have one or two keywords that you’re okay with losing are also star players in this deck. Hornet Queen works particularly well since you’re more after the four 1/1 flyers than the Queen itself. This principle carries over to basically any creature with at least one keyword that has a powerful enters- or leaves-the-battlefield ability. Nullpriest of Oblivion, Vile Entomber, and Nethroi, Apex of Death to name just a few.
#5. Ghave, Guru of Spores
At the beginning of our top five is Ghave, Guru of Spores. Ghave is very much a +1/+1 counter style commander and that’s the focus of its small write-up. Being a very popular and evergreen mechanic, there’s a lot of support for a +1/+1 strategy, especially in white and green.
Your main bombs for this kind of deck are cards that give a wide variety of targets counters or repeatedly give counters whenever a common effect happens. Cards like Reyhan, Last of the Abzan and Sigil Captain are great examples. Sigarda’s Summons is a big gamer winner most of the time since you’re essentially getting +3/+3 on most of your small creatures, and the flying bonus lets you just kill whoever might otherwise have some blockers.
Ghave is also an excellent combo piece with Ashnod’s Altar. The two combined give you infinite ETB and LTB triggers with other pieces, which means you can take advantage of outlets like Doubling Season for infinite mana and Cathars’ Crusade for infinite +1/+1 counters.
#4. Anafenza, the Foremost
4th place goes to Anafenza, the Foremost, another +1/+1-based Abzan commander. Despite its synergies with +1/+1 counters, Anafenza can also be built for stax– or hatebears-style decks. I think that’s the meanest and most beautiful way to build it, so that’s what I’ll focus on.
Anafenza is also an excellent hatebear that presents a strong threat in combat. Its ability to knock out graveyard decks comes in early at three mana, and its color identity lets you access all the best hatebears in Commander. Leonin Arbiter, Gaddock Teeg, Collector Ouphe, and Drannith Magistrate all seriously hinder your opponents without serious damage to your own game plan.
Hatebears stack up over time and you can easily get to the point where your disgruntled opponents are making comments about how they have nothing to do. This is exactly where you want to be. It’s from this position that you can start chipping away at their life totals, slowly knocking them out while you build up resource advantages and pile on more restrictions.
#3. Karador, Ghost Chieftain
In 3rd place we have Karador, Ghost Chieftain. This commander gives you the ability to consistently cast creatures from the graveyard. Karador heavily incentivizes a graveyard- and sacrifice-based strategy and requires a somewhat-full graveyard to cast for a reasonable cost. But this shouldn’t be an issue as you’ll typically cast your commander for four to five mana each game.
The graveyard offers a lot of ways to win with combos. Your most common line is to kill Protean Hulk. This can be done very quickly by reanimating the creature early and sacrificing it to one of the many sacrifice outlets you play, like Viscera Seer or Ashnod’s Altar. You can then tutor out a variety of creatures to win on the spot through combos. Here are a few examples:
This combo is a bit trickier than the last one, so here’s how it works:
- Kill Protean Hulk to get Viscera Seer and Phyrexian Delver.
- Reanimate hulk with Phyrexian Delver and then sacrifice it to Viscera Seer.
- Pull out Mikaeus, the Unhallowed and Walking Ballista.
- Sacrifice Ballista. It comes back with a +1/+1 counter from Mikaeus.
- Repeat. This kills everything and everyone and you’ win.
#2. Nethroi, Apex of Death
Our 2nd place spot goes to Nethroi, Apex of Death, a popular graveyard-based commander that helps win on cast by stacking your graveyard ahead of time. Nethroi’s ability brings back any number of creatures as long as their combined power is 10 or less. This opens a variety of combos that win when you mutate Nethroi onto anything.
The most popular strategy for reanimator-combo decks with Nethroi, Apex of Death is to win using the same Protean Hulk lines listed above. Nethroi can bring out a Hulk that was tutored with Entomb as along with some sacrifice outlet to speed up this win condition.
Abzan has incredible access to mana ramp and I implore you to take advantage of this, especially when pairing cheap mana dorks with a mid-game Skullclamp to draw cards. The best mana dorks for your lists include Birds of Paradise, Bloom Tender, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Satyr Wayfinder, Elves of Deep Shadow, Priest of Titania, and Sylvan Caryatid.
While mutate- and graveyard-themed decks are incredibly popular and powerful, pod-based strategies still have a big place in Nethroi, Apex of Death decks. So here’s a simplified list of your best creatures for mana values 1 through 7 to aid you in assembling your own chains and synergies:
- Mana value 1: Deathrite Shaman, Carrion Feeder, Esper Sentinel, Allosaurus Shepherd, and all the 1-mana value dorks like Elvish Mystic
- Mana value 2: Zulaport Cutthroat, Hermit Druid, Bloom Tender, Cruel Celebrant, Grand Abolisher, Drannith Magistrate, Priest of Titania, and Dauthi Voidwalker.
- Mana value 3: Reclamation Sage, Stinkweed Imp, Knight of Autumn, Aven Mindcensor, Kitchen Finks, Opposition Agent, and Recruiter of the Guard.
- Mana value 4: Ravenous Chupacabra, Solemn Simulacrum, Timeless Witness, Gemrazer, Polukranos, Unchained, and World Shaper
- Mana value 5: Acidic Slime, Syr Konrad, the Grim, Sidisi, Undead Vizier, Phyrexian Delver, and Ghave, Guru of Spores
- Mana value 6: Sun Titan, Mikaeus, the Unhallowed, Triskelion, Grave Titan, and Kokusho, the Evening Star
- Mana value 7: Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, Sheoldred, Whispering One, and Avenger of Zendikar
#1. Tymna the Weaver & Kodama of the East Tree
In 1st place we have the powerful partner combination of Tymna the Weaver and Kodama of the East Tree. This duo’s power comes from Tymna’s early game card advantage and Kodama’s ability to extract double the value from your reanimation engines. If that wasn’t clear enough, this commander pairing aims to lead aristocrat- and graveyard-based decks to victory with a long list of combo lines.
Kodama can also bring back regular creatures, which is often the mana dorks that you threw to Skullclamp for more cards. Otherwise it returns some critically important stax pieces that may have already been killed off like Aven Mindcensor, Drannith Magistrate, or Eidolon of Rhetoric. Kodama is also great against these types of stax pieces if you see them on the other side of the table. It lets you break parity and “cheat” out other cards you wouldn’t otherwise get to use.
Abzan has access to some great early creatures in Commander to help pull ahead and generate a variety of resource advantages. I’m talking specifically about Dark Confidant, Esper Sentinel, Dauthi Voidwalker, and Faeburrow Elder. These are cards you should highly consider in your Tymna/Kodama lists, and really any Abzan lists in general.
Decklist: Tymna and Kodama in cEDH
Tymna the Weaver | Illustration by Winona Nelson
Archon of Emeria
Archon of Valor’s Reach
Birds of Paradise
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
Elves of Deep Shadow
Elvish Spirit Guide
Linvala, Keeper of Silence
Lurrus of the Dream-Den
Ranger-Captain of Eos
Razaketh, the Foulblooded
Toski, Bearer of Secrets
City of Brass
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Here I have a Tymna the Weaver/Kodama of the East Tree decklist for you. This is a stax and reanimator list that looks to shut down your opponent’s game plans with creatures like Drannith Magistrate and Grand Abolisher to then combo off using a variety of combo lines.
Early Game Plan
Your early goals with this list are to ramp out with artifact-, creature-, and spell-based acceleration and set up one of your combo lines using card advantage with Tymna the Weaver or some Entomb-mechanic.
Your mana acceleration consists of nearly all the 1-drop mana dorks like Elvish Mystic and Elves of Deep Shadow as well as the slightly stronger mana-producing creatures like Deathrite Shaman and Birds of Paradise.
This list only runs six mana rocks which is just enough thanks to the deck’s lower average mana cost and access to other forms of ramp, even if it’s technically under the average. Jeweled Lotus is one of the best since it allows you to get a turn 1 Tymna the Weaver or an earlier Kodama of the East Tree if you get the right mana alongside it.
Stax effects are incredibly important to your strategy since they always either draw removal out from your opponents or considerably sets them back. Drannith Magistrate doesn’t even hit you and limits your opponents’ play-from-exile creatures effects, like the one from Urza, Lord High Artificer.
Grand Abolisher helps create a safe zone in your turn to try and combo off with, free from interruption or your opponent’s interaction. Collector Ouphe hits all artifacts with activated abilities. While this does hit you, you have a lot of your ramp centered in creatures instead of artifacts.
Opposition Agent is a classic that shuts tutors down while giving you at least one go at picking from your opponents’ decks. At the very worst, this gives you some mana artifact, but at best it lets you tutor out (or even directly play) a combo piece. Aven Mindcensor is a classic stax piece that similarly shuts down search effects, including fetch lands and tutors.
Linvala, Keeper of Silence completely shuts down your opponents’ activated abilities, of which there are many in Commander. This completely stops Urza, Lord High Artificer’s mana ability, the mana abilities of all mana dorks across the table, and the entire text on Kenrith, the Returned King.
Razaketh Instant-Speed Win
To win at instant speed with this line you need Razaketh, the Foulblooded in play with Corpse Knight and two other creatures. This combo sets up an infinite death and ETB loop, which you can use to kill with Corpse Knight.
Here’s how it works:
- Sacrifice a creature with Razaketh, the Foulblooded’s ability to tutor Lion’s Eye Diamond into your hand. Cast it and then sacrifice it for either or .
- Sacrifice your other creature with Razaketh’s ability to tutor Lurrus of the Dream-Den.
- Recast LED from the graveyard using Lurrus’ ability
- Sacrifice Lurrus using Razaketh’s ability to tutor out Leonin Relic-Warder and then play it.
- Sacrifice Relic-Warder using Razaketh’s ability to tutor out Animate Dead.
- Play Animate Dead targeting Relic-Warder and then exile it with Relic-Warder when it enters play. This creates a loop where Relic-Warder consistently dies, triggering Corpse Knight’s ability infinite times to win.
Anafenza, the Foremost | Illustration by James Ryman
There you have it, a solid rundown of your best options for an Abzan Commander deck!
What do you think of the Abzan colors? Is it your favorite, or are you a much bigger fan of another? Maybe you’re like me and you’re ride or die with Esper. Let me know down in the comments or over on the official Draftsim Discord.
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