Last updated on May 4, 2023
Sen Triplets | Illustration by Greg Staples
One of my biggest issues when deciding what commander to choose when I’m building a new deck is color. I find myself picking one color then quickly switch to another, then from that one to another.
Each piece of the Magic color pie has its own unique characteristics and bonuses. No color is too much like the other and they all bring something to the table that you can’t find anywhere else. So how could you choose just one?
The answer is that you don’t have to! Why choose just one color? Why not three?
Today I’ll be going over the commander options in my favorite color combination: Esper (). I’ve also got a sample decklist to help you get thinking.
Let’s get straight into the action!
Why Go with an Esper Commander?
Sefris of the Hidden Ways | Illustration by Ryan Pancoast
Esper brings the card draw and tempo potential of blue, the hardline removal of black, and the defensive and life-protecting of white. This is an extremely synergistic and powerful color combo that promotes a proactive (and sometimes reactive) playstyle where you often out-value your opponents over time and go for the throat when the moment is right.
Just think of having an opening hand with Path to Exile, Counterspell, and Demonic Tutor. Doesn’t that feel amazing? That is what you can expect when you choose an Esper commander.
But the hardest part is choosing which Esper commander to go with.
#10. Nevinyrral, Urborg Tyrant
Starting off our top 10 is Nevinyrral, Urborg Tyrant, who you may know from its popular Disk. Nevinyrral is the weakest commander on this list, but I wouldn’t categorize it as a weak commander overall.
Zombie tribal, while a very Dimir ()-dominated tribe, can benefit a lot from having Nevinyrral as a commander. It plays into the sacrifice and repeated death theme that zombies want to be in, and you get the bonus of having white as a color option. That opens you up to a lot of great removal, especially board wipes. These are extra beneficial if you can time them right.
Nevinyrral’s third ability is a callback to the infamous Nevinyrral's Disk, which is actually synergistic with what your overall game plan should be despite being a creature-focused commander.
I’d recommend running this commander in a zombie deck with a heavy focus on wiping the board multiple times a game. You always come back stronger and at the very least you’ll hit another player’s commander and gain bonus from their creature dying. Board wipes aren’t much of a threat towards a zombie hoard as long as you’re the one controlling when it gets cast, as scary as they may sound. The access to blue mana also helps with that.
Since any Nevinyrral, Urborg Tyrant commander deck is creature-death focused, I have a few recommendations as to what cards to include.
God-Eternal Oketra and Zombie Apocalypse both play into your game plan and help pad the blow to enemy board wipes. Nevinyrral's Disk is on-theme flavor wise and is an excellent card to clear the way right before you slam your commander. You should also look at The Scarab God as a game-ender or mega-bomb. It carries a hefty price tag being a mythic from Hour of Devastation, but I promise you won’t regret it if you can afford to pick it up.
#9. Sefris of the Hidden Ways
Next up is Sefris of the Hidden Ways, the first reanimator-focused commander on this list. Sefris is unique because the main way to reanimate is actually by completing dungeons, not just casting Reanimate or Persist. While this isn’t the most ultra-competitive strategy, this commander offers a very fun and refreshing playstyle that most Commander players will enjoy.
I suggest you don’t set too high a bar as to what you reanimate with your commander given how quickly you can accelerate through a dungeon if you have multiple ways to venture. You can potentially reanimate every single turn with just two or three venture mechanics. Not only does this gain you value or tempo advantages, it also offers a consistent way to bring venture engines or other combo pieces back from the graveyard.
I also suggest that you include ample card draw in the list if you go the route of venturing every turn as a reanimator engine. Venturing into the dungeon is worse than just drawing a card and there isn’t a way to draw cards and discard in the same dungeon. You’ll usually go through Tomb of Annihilation which gives you ample discard opportunities but no card advantage whatsoever.
This is what the blue is for, and you should use it here. I’d look at the classic cantrips like Brainstorm, Ponder, and Consider to get you started along with larger-scale draw engines like Forbidden Alchemy and Rhystic Study.
#8. Sharuum the Hegemon
Sharuum the Hegemon is the first OG commander to appear on this list. Sharuum was printed in Commander 2013 and quickly helped solidify that Esper is where artifact lovers can find a home in EDH. This commander is still very much an artifact commander, it’s and much more powerful than when it was first released.
Artifact tribal is definitely the way to go with Sharuum. Having a way to bring back any artifact by playing your commander gives you great protection against the very minimal amount of artifact removal in most games and easily solidifies your gameplan.
Transmuting artifacts is a critical part of this deck, and you’ll be playing a lot of cards like Master Transmuter, Sculpting Steel, and Transmute Artifact (if you can afford it) since Tinker is banned.
Late-game artifacts are incredibly powerful tools and you want to use the best ones in your deck. I’m talking specifically about Myr Battlesphere, Magister Sphinx, and Darksteel Forge. That said, Sharuum isn’t exactly the best artifact-combo commander so you’re better off just going high-power for casual play and picking something like Breya, Etherium Shaper.
#7. Sydri, Galvanic Genius
Sydri, Galvanic Genius is a lesser-known commander in the Esper pool, but not for lack of power level or player enjoyment. It gets skipped over because it’s not exceptionally strong in cEDH and higher power formats, but it’s still an incredible pick for creature-based artifact strategies.
This is another artifact-tribal commander without much room for differences in strategy or game plan. Nearly every Sydri list is trying to win by beating its opponents with large, powerful artifacts.
Cards like Etherium Sculptor and Foundry Inspector help you get your cards out faster and your engine churning quicker than most of the other players at the table. Its always important to have some kind of acceleration in commander since being a turn or two quicker often decides who wins and who comes up short. Artifact-focused decks are much better at this and you’re not missing out on this value with Sydri.
Your extra mana and cost-discounts don’t go to waste, either. Esper artifact decks have access to some of the most value-driven cards in Magic, like Solemn Simulacrum and Baleful Strix. These are both great inclusions to help you generate card advantage over your opponents. Your finishers will most likely always be animating a bunch of indestructible artifacts with (and including) Darksteel Forge.
If combo is your way of life, Thopter Foundry can help generate infinite life and turns with Time Sieve and Sword of the Meek to then kill your opponents with Aetherflux Reservoir.
#6. Oloro, Ageless Ascetic
The classic and extremely popular precon commander Oloro, Ageless Ascetic is my favorite commander here today. Oloro is the ultimate lifegain/pillow fort commander thanks to the fact you’re gaining life every single turn regardless of whether it’s in play or not.
Oloro doesn’t have much of a place in the cEDH world; it isn’t an infinite mana outlet and doesn’t bring much to the table early. So instead it dominates the mid-high-power games that don’t end on turn 3 or 4.
Your games with Oloro typically go fairly long since you’ll outlive squishier opponents and have slower win conditions. I suggest working in Approach of the Second Sun and Aetherflux Reservoir for lower power games that go long. If you’re looking to play a higher power version, something like Bolas's Citadel or Alhammarret's Archive go a long way assuming you can ramp them out early.
A high-power Oloro, Ageless Ascetic deck won’t usually go super combo-y; it wins off high-power creatures that quickly grow from your ability to consistently and repeatedly gain life.
Creature-based strategies are incredibly underrated, especially with people only playing one or two board wipes. You’ll usually end up winning on the spot if you manage to build a formidable force of creatures like Ajani's Pridemate, Serra Ascendant, or Heliod, Sun-Crowned and then also counter the only board wipe to see play.
#5. Sen Triplets
Starting off our top five is the infamous stax commander, Sen Triplets. Triplets is my least favorite commander to play against but one of my favorites to play, and that’s just how the cookie crumbles when you’re playing stax. While this commander can be built for artifacts or playing politics, I see stax as the most fun and powerful way to play the card.
In this instance your commander isn’t a total powerhouse like Zur the Enchanter and should be treated as another fun stax piece. Alongside it are more powerful and damaging pieces like Smokestack, Trinisphere, and Cursed Totem. It’s important to note that you should have an explicit goal to prevent your opponents from having fun when you play Sen Triplets. The less fun they have, the more fun you can have winning and playing Magic.
There isn’t too much to say about this commander other than that. Throw in a pile of your favorite stax cards, a win condition of some kind (think an army of hatebears like Thalia, Heretic Cathar and Linvala, Keeper of Silence), and call it a day. Your friends will probably hate you, but isn’t that the point?
#4. Aminatou, the Fateshifter
4th place goes to the Esper planeswalker commander, Aminatou, the Fateshifter. Aminatou is a unique commander and is the only one on this list to support a blink strategy. Blinking is when you put a creature in exile and then return it either immediately or after a short time. This lets you take advantage of many ETB effects and generates a lot of value over your opponents.
The idea here is to use this value to slowly but surely wear your opponents down until they just can’t keep up with you drawing multiple cards and playing multiple high-impact spells a turn. These kinds of decks are very fun to build and even more fun to play. Blinking something as powerful as Agent of Treachery makes you feel like you’re getting away with something, which is a good sign.
Some great creatures to look at including in your potential blink deck are Sun Titan, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Rune-Scarred Demon, and Massacre Wurm. There are many more for you to explore and choose from, but these are some of the best that also won’t break the bank.
#3. Sakashima of a Thousand Faces + Tymna the Weaver
In 3rd place we have the only partner commanders on this list, Sakashima of a Thousand Faces and Tymna the Weaver. Tymna is the real powerhouse of their deck. It generates a lot of card advantage as early as turn 2 or 3 with most lists.
I think this partner pairing, while incredibly powerful, is sort of dull. You’re mostly playing highly optimized cEDH decks where you win with combos like Thassa's Oracle and Demonic Consultation.
Sakashima of a Thousand Faces doesn’t really have much of a role other than giving you access to blue and occasionally copying a useful creature like Grand Arbiter Augustin IV. I just think this is a fairly boring commander choice that, while very powerful, doesn’t bring much to the table in terms of enjoyment.
#2. Alela, Artful Provocateur
Alela, Artful Provocateur is hands down the most popular Esper commander. Alela empowers artifact and enchantment decks with an ability that triggers on cast, not to mention the Esper colors. You’re mostly looking to value-grind your opponents into dust with Alela as your commander until you win through sheer value or combo off.
Receiving a 1/1 flier whenever you cast an enchantment or artifact gives you much more value than you might expect. At the very worst you play Gravitational Shift and one-shot your opponents with a team of fliers. At best your enchantments are card-positive and hit ten different triggers and give you extra effects.
Enchantments that trigger when you cast other enchantments or when creatures enter the battlefield are your friend in an Alela deck. Think Sigil of the Empty Throne, Divine Visitation, and Rally the Ranks. These cards are great on their own and quickly become too much for your opponents to handle when you get one or two of them out at once.
#1. Zur the Enchanter
Zur the Enchanter has long been a staple of Esper EDH and is one of the most common commanders ever. Its proactive playstyle allows you to tutor out specific enchantments to shut your opponents down before they get off the ground, which makes for a nice toolbox deck.
Zur is almost always an enchantment or aura-based commander, but there’s a level of strength in a cycling deck that’s to be respected. I prefer the aura side of Zur, but the cycling theme is a unique one that doesn’t play like any other strategy.
Auras can get out of hand quickly, especially if you can grab hexproof or indestructible before Zur gets killed by opponents who know what’s coming. Some good early enchantments I’d include in a Zur auras list that are good to keep it safe ASAP are Hyena Umbra and Eel Umbra for a single layer of protection, and then eventually something like Timely Ward to solidify Zur’s wellbeing.
Despite being an aura deck, you shouldn’t get tunnel vision and focus all your efforts on creating a huge Zur to swing in and one-shot opponents with commander damage. You often win by grabbing the perfect answer for your opponent’s threat and then gradually out-valuing them with a bunch of useful enchantments and auras like Rhystic Study, Phyrexian Arena, and Sigil of the Empty Throne.
Decklist: Esper Oloro in Commander
Oloro, Ageless Ascetic | Illustration by Eric Deschamps
Healer of the Pride
Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
Speaker of the Heavens
Kambal, Consul of Allocation
Darien, King of Kjeldor
Voice of the Blessed
Witch of the Moors
Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose
Karlov of the Ghost Council
Didn't Say Please
Go for the Throat
Beacon of Immortality
Swords to Plowshares
Sign in Blood
Feed the Swarm
Read the Bones
Black Sun's Zenith
Bastion of Remembrance
Authority of the Consuls
Elixir of Immortality
Fountain of Renewal
Well of Lost Dreams
Jwar Isle Refuge
Temple of the False God
Temple of Silence
Temple of Deceit
Now that you’ve seen what there is to see when it comes to your choices for Esper commanders, I think it’ll help get your brain moving and see a sample decklist. Today I’m going over a low-power mid-budget Oloro, Ageless Ascetic Commander deck. This deck is a great starter point because it has room to scale in both directions while still being a solid list on its own.
Just throw in some tutors and fast mana if you want to go up in power. Want to go down? Slow down the mana base and remove some expensive cards.
Oloro is one of the most timeless Esper commanders and I want to show you that it can be extremely fun and powerful, even at a lower power level. This deck also isn’t too pricey as far as Commander decks go with the entire list costing about $200. This is still a lot, but cutting a few high-price cards like Aetherflux Reservoir and Karlov of the Ghost Council can chip away at that price.
This list doesn’t have too much mana ramp and no high-power tutors, which makes it optimal for casual games. It focuses on simple lifegain synergies with cards like Ajani's Pridemate and Nyx-Fleece Ram. This playstyle is great for new players but still has plenty of triggers and interactions to make your games interesting.
In terms of winning the games you play, you have a few routes. The first is just straight up surviving somebody else’s attempt to win thanks to your high life total and card advantage and then swinging in with your larger creatures. Second is winning through win-the-game cards like Felidar Sovereign or Laboratory Maniac if you get that far. The last is winning by resolving Aetherflux Reservoir and one-shotting the last player alive.
There’s room to play something like Approach of the Second Sun in this deck, but I’d only do that if you had access to cards like Personal Tutor and Demonic Tutor to accelerate that win condition. Otherwise it’s just not as consistent as you’d like.
Alela, Artful Provocateur | Illustration by Grzegorz Rutkowski
There you have it, a solid rundown of the top 10 Esper commanders. I’m a little surprised there were so many viable high-power commanders for a single color combination, but I’ll take it.
I really enjoyed researching and writing this list, and I hope you enjoyed reading it! What did you think of my rankings? Would you change any around, or possibly remove any altogether? Let me know in the comments down below or over on our official Draftsim Discord.
Esper not your preferred color trio? Check these out: Mardu, Sultai, Jund, Abzan, Jeskai, Grixis, Temur, Naya, Bant.
Until next time, stay safe and stay healthy!
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