Last updated on October 25, 2023

Ethereal Absolution - Illustration by Eric Deschamps

Ethereal Absolution | Illustration by Eric Deschamps

Mass board pumps have always been a part of Magic, but Glorious Anthem from Urza’s Saga gave us the first untethered stat-boosting enchantment. This gave way to the slang term “anthem,” which I’m sorry to say has nothing to do with Bill Boulden and Patrick Chapin’s Magic rap album.

If you came here for “The Star-Spangled Banner,” I’m sorry to disappoint. These anthems are more about making creatures better attackers and blockers. Don’t worry, we can still sing the praises of anthems in Magic and rank the best of the best.

What Are Anthems in MTG?

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite - Illustration by Igor Kieryluk

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite | Illustration by Igor Kieryluk

Anthems are permanents with a static ability that increases the power and/or toughness of your creatures. These always take the form of “creatures you control get +X/+X.” +1/+1 is most common, but this can include anything from +1/+0 to +5/+5 and beyond.

“Anthem” gets used to describe a bunch of different stat-boosting effects, but I’m only considering effects that pump all creatures regardless of color, type, size, etc. I’ll make an exception for anthems stapled to creatures, since they usually only pump other creatures (Benalish Marshal).

I’m excluding lords, which only affect specific creature types, as well as overruns and temporary buffs that usually only last for a turn (Craterhoof Behemoth, Starlight Spectacular). I don’t consider +1/+1 counter cards anthems either, since they often miss creatures that enter play after them.

To recap, an anthem needs to be a permanent, it needs to affect any creature that could end up on your side of the board, and it needs to increase power and/or toughness, without decreasing either.

Got that? Let’s get to the cards!

#44. Glorious Anthem

Glorious Anthem

Glorious Anthem is a victim of power creep, but it paved the way for the rest of these cards. Credit where credit is due.

#43. Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer

Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer

+3/+0 is a sizable buff, but locking it behind a metalcraft ability raises some deckbuilding concerns. You’ll know when you want Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer, which won’t be often.

#42. Sylvan Anthem

Sylvan Anthem

Green is the color least in need of anthems, but token-based strategies don’t mind the boost from Sylvan Anthem. The scrying adds up, too.

#42. Spear of Heliod

Spear of Heliod

Spear of Heliod is supposed to deter attacks, but the activated ability is visible to everyone. Players won’t blindly walk into it, which makes this much closer to an artifact version of Glorious Anthem.

#41. Force of Virtue

Force of Virtue

It’s not winning the “best free spell” award, but Force of Virtue’s still a fun “gotcha!” card. Unfortunately, white decks aren’t usually fond of losing a card just for the surprise factor.

#40. Call for Unity

Call for Unity

Call for Unity really needs you to ensure a revolt trigger the turn you play it. A spare Treasure token can ramp it out and satisfy revolt at the same time.

#39. Collective Blessing

Collective Blessing

Think about Collective Blessing like an Overrun that sticks around. It’s bulk-bin fodder that’s easy to scoff at but ends up stealing games.

#38. Sorin, Lord of Innistrad

Sorin, Lord of Innistrad

The main appeal of Sorin, Lord of Innistrad is the ability to -2 immediately for an emblem with a permanent anthem effect. It’s an otherwise dead-average planeswalker.

#37. Benalish Marshal

Benalish Marshal

Benalish Marshal has two ideal homes: knight-themed decks or mono-white devotion decks. The mana value is prohibitive, but anthems rarely get stapled to creatures at this mana value.

#36. Maja, Bretagard Protector

Maja, Bretagard Protector

Maja, Bretagard Protector dares you to name a couple better than anthems and tokens. Maja’s my favorite brand of card: payoff and enabler all in one.

#35. Angel of Invention

Angel of Invention

Angel of Invention is another anthem that comes with its own bodies. Rarely in Commander will you fabricate +1/+1 counters, but it’s nice to have options.

#34. Minthara, Merciless Soul

Minthara, Merciless Soul

Minthara, Merciless Soul mimics Call for Unity, but using experience counters lets it die without “losing its progress.” Minthara of the Absolute is remarkably better, but we don’t talk about Alchemy cards here. “But Tim, you’re the one who—.”

#33. Ulvenwald Oddity / Ulvenwald Behemoth

A hasty anthem is a deadly combo, although Ulvenwald Behemoth is hiding behind the much less impressive Ulvenwald Oddity. Thankfully the only barrier to entry is an expensive mana sink, and the reward is worth the cost.

#32. Nahiri’s Resolve

Nahiri's Resolve

Nahiri's Resolve is a unique mix of anthem, haste enabler, and blink enabler on one card. I’ve yet to see it in action, but there’s potential here.

#31. The Circle of Loyalty

The Circle of Loyalty

Somehow The Circle of Loyalty keeps sneaking its way onto my lists. It really only belongs in knight decks or legends matter decks, but that’s a wide enough spread to deserve a mention.

#30. In the Trenches

In the Trenches

In the Trenches shows just how far we’ve come from Glorious Anthem. What if we made the same exact card, but also turned it into late-game removal spell?

#29. Commander’s Insignia

Commander's Insignia

Commander's Insignia’s fun if you have multiple commanders via partner or background (or friends forever, I guess). It’s an ideal anthem for cheap aggressive commanders like Isamaru, Hound of Konda, though those aren’t super popular.

#28. Nadaar, Selfless Paladin

Nadaar, Selfless Paladin

Nadaar, Selfless Paladin promises an eventual board pump but makes you work for it. You can run out Naadar after already completing a dungeon for an immediate effect, and Naadar at least gets you one room closer on ETB.

#27. Paladin Class

Paladin Class

I’ll take any excuse to talk about the AFR class enchantments. Paladin Class starts off tame, becomes an anthem on level 2, then dominates combat on level 3. One mana makes it easy to slot into your curve and upgrade over time.

#26. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

Remember when there were talks about banning this card in Standard? 2015-2017 Magic was just built differently I suppose. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar has utility with knights and allies, but using the -4 right away to guarantee an untouchable anthem emblem is usually the safest bet.

#25. Dictate of Heliod

Dictate of Heliod

What Dictate of Heliod lacks in efficiency it compensates for with the surprise factor. Flash is especially useful on anthems, changing combat math when your opponents least expect it.

#24. Righteous Valkyrie

Righteous Valkyrie

The scourge of Historic players everywhere, Righteous Valkyrie fits perfectly in angels, clerics, and lifegain decks. You usually need help from other cards to get your anthem, but +2/+2 is a rewarding boost.

#23. Legion’s Initiative

Legion's Initiative

Legion's Initiative is an underrated little gem for creature-heavy decks. It’s a small anthem that you can cash in for some wrath protection when the time is right.

#22. Domri, Anarch of Bolas

Domri, Anarch of Bolas

Domri, Anarch of Bolas provides ramp and a passive creature buff, and making creatures uncounterable is a nice touch. Using its fight ability can sometimes cut short an opposing creature, just like they did Domri’s character arc.

#21. Trostani Discordant

Trostani Discordant

Trostani Discordant has all the characteristics of a typical anthem, but the Homeward Path ability comes in clutch more often than expected. The trigger returns creatures you own that were reanimated or stolen by another player, and Trostani always returns itself as well.

#20. Eldrazi Monument

Eldrazi Monument

Eldrazi Monument used to be much more popular in Commander. It’s not necessarily worse now, but a faster format means 5-mana cards are in less demand. This anthem requires a sacrifice every turn, but the boost is more powerful than most.

#19. Judith, the Scourge Diva

Judith, the Scourge Diva

The +1/+0 pump on Judith, the Scourge Diva makes it ideal for hyper-aggressive decks. Leaning towards aggro often forces opponents into trades during combat, which triggers Judy’s ping ability.

#18. King Darien XLVIII

King Darien XLVIII

That’s 48 for anyone counting, same as the 2014 Superbowl. King Darien XLVIII has the best anthem-to-mana-cost ratio of any non-lord creature. The mana sink and sacrifice ability put this in near-staple territory for token decks. Long live the ki… oh, you’re just going to sacrifice it? Oh, um, never mind then.

#17. Flowering of the White Tree

Flowering of the White Tree

Cheap and effective, but far from broken, Flowering of the White Tree ushers in a new age for anthems. It’s a pushed effect that sets a standard for what to expect from anthems moving forward.

#16. Wedding Announcement / Wedding Festivity

Wedding Festivity takes a full three turns to come into play, but Wedding Announcement provides just the right drip of resources to make the wait worthwhile. It’s worth the 3-mana investment no matter which combination of effects you end up getting. Send my best regards to the bride and groom.

#15. Intrepid Adversary

Intrepid Adversary

Intrepid Adversary’s anthem effect scales with the amount of mana you put into it, much like a multikicker ability. Did you know all the Adversaries from Midnight Hunt are fighting one another in the same house? You can spot Spectral Adversary in the foreground of this card’s art.

#14. Ultramarines Honour Guard

Ultramarines Honour Guard

Why stop at one anthem when you can have an entire squad of anthems? Ultramarines Honour Guard lets you invest extra mana into multiple copies of the card. They all pump each other and fit perfectly in token-based decks.

#13. Marshal’s Anthem

Marshal's Anthem

Marshal's Anthem overcharges on the front-end but gives you a mana sink that reanimates creatures with no restrictions. Those creatures come back better than ever, making this a great recovery tool post-boardwipe.

#12. Ravos, Soultender

Ravos, Soultender

I don’t know if Ravos, Soultender would make it as a standalone commander, but partner lets you sandbag Ravos until you have no other options. It’s strong, just held back by a frail body.

#11. Thunderfoot Baloth

Thunderfoot Baloth

The game ends quickly when Thunderfoot Baloth’s lieutenant ability comes “online.” I don’t see this card played as often as I should, so consider this an appreciation post for my Baloth friend.

#10. Inquisitor Greyfax

Inquisitor Greyfax

The color restrictions on Inquisitor Greyfax keep it from seeing as much play as other anthems, but it’s great when you can slot it in. Cheap tappers are underrated in Commander, especially ones that provide card advantage and make your other creatures better in combat.

#9. Elspeth, Sun’s Champion

Elspeth, Sun's Champion

Elspeth, Sun's Champion excels at token-making, but calling it an anthem is suspect. The -7 is literally an anthem, but it’s barred behind a planeswalker ultimate that rarely happens. Let me know what you think in the comments.

#8. Vivien Reid

Vivien Reid

While you’re down there, tell me what you think of Vivien Reid’s -8 as well. It’s another anthemic emblem that’s not likely to come up. Vivien has other relevant abilities, but does it belong on a list of anthems? You know where to sound off.

#7. Garruk, Cursed Huntsman

Garruk, Cursed Huntsman

Unlike the previous planeswalkers, the anthem-like ultimate on Garruk, Cursed Huntsman is perfectly achievable in the average game. Carth the Lion lets it ultimate immediately, and the wolf tokens from Garruk’s 0 ability help the cause.

#6. Mirari’s Wake

Mirari's Wake

A mana doubler and a permanent creature buff, what’s not to love? Mirari's Wake faces more competition and interaction these days, but it’s still powerful. It’s rarely used for its anthem effect, but you’re not turning that down either, are you?

#5. The Immortal Sun

The Immortal Sun

The Immortal Sun has a lot of different value knobs all tied to one card, only one of which is the typical +1/+1 anthem. Keep your planeswalker count to a minimum if you plan to run it.

#4. Ethereal Absolution

Ethereal Absolution

Ethereal Absolution is an abysmal card to face in Limited, and a Commander overperformer. It’s a mini Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite that’s generally harder to remove. It spits out virtual 2/2 fliers and chews through opposing graveyards, all while shrinking opponents’ boards and growing your creatures.

#3. Beastmaster Ascension

Beastmaster Ascension

Beastmaster Ascension does nothing, and then it makes your creatures enormous just like that. Best to play it when you can get all seven counters at once instead of letting it sit around making your opponents nervous (translation: they’re going to try to kill you).

#2. Jetmir, Nexus of Revels

Jetmir, Nexus of Revels

Oh, meow it’s a party! Jetmir, Nexus of Revels says the more the merrier, providing cascading board pumps depending on how many creatures you control. It’s also a rare instance of a modern-day anthem creature that buffs itself.

#1. Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

If Magic had a “first-player token,” Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite would pick it up and put it squarely under your control. This anthem/debuff duo represents a 4-point power swing on every creature, which usually makes you the clear archenemy. I expect nothing less from the Mother of Machines.

Queue the Outro Music

Beastmaster Ascension - Illustration by Alex Horley-Orlandelli

Beastmaster Ascension | Illustration by Alex Horley-Orlandelli

Please excuse me for leaving “O Canada” off a list of best anthems; it just wasn’t a good fit for the subject matter. For now I’ve sorted out the best and most noteworthy anthems, although there’s some wiggle room between individual cards on this list.

Did I miss any anthems or anthem-like effects? Do you agree with my definition? Do you also find it hilarious that Sarkhan the Mad pops up on a Scryfall search for “anthem?” Let me know in the comments below or over in the Draftsim Discord.

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1 Comment

  • Avatar
    Gdinut July 21, 2023 5:51 pm

    Ranking glorious anthem below most of these should be considered a crime

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