Last updated on July 31, 2023
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
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 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
#42. Sylvan Anthem
#42. 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
#40. Call for Unity
#39. Collective Blessing
#38. Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
#37. Benalish Marshal
#36. 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
#34. 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 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
#30. In the Trenches
#29. 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 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
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
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
#24. 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
#22. 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 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 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
#18. 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
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’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
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 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
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
#10. 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 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
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
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
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 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 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 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
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
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
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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