Loyal Apprentice | Illustration by Joe Slucher
Ever notice how military ranks don’t necessarily translate from one military to another? Like how a “captain” in the army and a “captain” in the navy have totally different authority, responsibilities… and salaries.
As a Magic player, you’re probably at least a little familiar with Commander, both as a format and a role within it. You’ve seen what a commander’s partner can do, too. But what about a commander’s lieutenant?
No matter if you pronounce it in U.K. or U.S. English, I’ve got all you need to know about lieutenant in MTG! Ready for officer’s training?
How Does Lieutenant Work?
Demon of Wailing Agonies | Illustration by Dave Kendall
Lieutenant is a creature ability that checks whether your commander is on the battlefield under your control, phrased as, “if you control your commander…” If you do control your commander, the creature gains a benefit, and/or grants one to you or your board. All lieutenants have a keyword ability, and it’s usually related to evasion.
There are 11 creatures in the game with lieutenant. They’re all mono-colored, and none of them are legendary. You can’t give your lieutenant a field promotion and run it as your commander.
The History of Lieutenant in MTG?
The first cycle of lieutenants was introduced in Commander 2014: Angelic Field Marshall, Demon of Wailing Agonies, Stormsurge Kraken, Thunderfoot Baloth, and Tyrant's Familiar. These first lieutenants (pun not intended) gain +2/+2 when you control your commander, along with granting another benefit.
Another cycle came in Commander 2018: Loyal Apprentice, Loyal Drake, Loyal Guardian, Loyal Subordinate, and Loyal Unicorn. These “Loyal” creatures all check whether you control your commander at the beginning of combat on your turn.
Phyrexia: All Will Be One Commander is the most recent appearance, and it brought just one card: Skyhunter Strike Force.
#11. Demon of Wailing Agonies
Demon of Wailing Agonies gets a passive buff while your commander is on board. Its flying should help you sneak through some combat damage, which acts as removal in the form of forced sacrifices.
#10. Skyhunter Strike Force
This cat knight’s got melee, and it wants your commander’s permission to let your other creatures join the fray. Skyhunter Strike Force is also a flier, one of the more common ways that lieutenants are evasive. It’ll pay you off for swinging with lots of creatures aimed all over.
#9. Loyal Unicorn
A damage prevention effect is par for the course when a graceful unicorn is teeing up. Loyal Unicorn has vigilance and can grant it to your other creatures at the start of your combats.
There aren’t a heck of a lot of unicorns, though, and a lot of these lieutenants are tribally focused.
#8. Angelic Field Marshal
Angelic Field Marshal grants itself and your other creatures benefits if you control your commander. It’s tailormade for your angel commander, which is probably one of the reasons it’s a $10 card.
#7. Stormsurge Kraken
Stormsurge Kraken is hexproof, making it harder to get rid of. It draws you two cards when it’s blocked if your commander is onboard.
Okay, not “automatically” because of that “may” phrasing, but that’s good. Your kraken lieutenant won’t force you to draw yourself out of the game.
#6. Loyal Subordinate
“Loyal Subordinate.” “Zombie.” The jokes write themselves.
Loyal Subordinate’s evasion comes in the form of menace, which, yes, zombie, I get it. Its lieutenant ability gets less and less powerful as your opponents are knocked out of the game, but three life per trigger without having to pay mana is solid.
#5. Loyal Drake
I suppose a Phyrexian Disloyal Drake in Dimir () would make you discard a card on your combat, right?
Loyal Drake can be a pretty consistent source of card draw as-is. Of all the things you could have on board, your opponents are probably going to prioritize removing something else.
#4. Tyrant’s Familiar
I think it would be silly to build a “lieutenant” mechanic for a format that also goes by “Elder Dragon Highlander” without having a dragon lieutenant. Tyrant's Familiar is so satisfying because of that.
Getting to burn an opponent’s creature for seven when you attack with it is great on its own, but the greedy, treasure-trove-sitting dragon in me wants it to burn planeswalkers, too.
#3. Loyal Guardian
The more combat phases you can take with this rhino and your commander on the board, the bigger your creatures get. Counter strategies like this are primed for doublers, and big tramplers like Loyal Guardian are always welcome in aggressive decks.
This was also reprinted for Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty Commander.
#2. Thunderfoot Baloth
Thunderfoot Baloth is one of the most reprinted lieutenants, and it’s a beast of a beast. It’s a friendly beast, though, because it believes that sharing is caring: it gives +2/+2 and trample to your other creatures with its lieutenant ability.
It has reappeared in Commander 2016, Commander Anthology, and Streets of New Capenna Commander.
#1. Loyal Apprentice
This Apprentice artificer pumps out Thopter tokens for you at the beginning of combat.
Loyal Apprentice has all kinds of uses, especially as a red 2-drop human. It can be used to add to your token strategies, your artifact strategies, your humans-matter strategies… The list goes on.
This card was reprinted for Forgotten Realms Commander and ONE Commander.
Best Lieutenant Payoffs
Kaalia of the Vast can take advantage of the angel, demon, and dragon creature types on Angelic Field Marshall, Demon of Wailing Agonies, and Tyrant's Familiar. This commander gives you ways to cheat them out, which is a lot of value considering that these three lieutenants all come out with +2/+2 without breaking a sweat if Kaalia is on the field and attacking.
Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma can reduce the cost of Loyal Guardian and Thunderfoot Baloth to support a “go big” theme. Tawnos, the Toymaker and Radagast, Wizard of Wilds are both “birds and beasts” commanders that can make use of the Baloth.
Sidar Jabari of Zhalfir is a MOC commander that can take advantage of Skyhunter Strike Force’s typing with both of its abilities. Errant and Giada lets you play fliers from the top of your library, and Skyhunter Strike Force, Loyal Drake, and Angelic Field Marshall all qualify. Kangee, Sky Warden, the Azorius () commander, also cares about and helps your fliers.
Speaking of Giada, Giada, Font of Hope is a good angel commander for Angelic Field Marshall. If not, consider Lyra Dawnbringer.
Sea creature tribal with Kenessos, Priest of Thassa is one of the homes for Stormsurge Kraken. Runo Stromkirk and, more importantly, Krothuss, Lord of the Deep is a good commander given the token copies it can make. Lieutenants aren’t legends, so the lieutenant kraken is fair game.
Lifedrain matters can take advantage of Loyal Subordinate. Decks helmed by Belbe, Corrupted Observer, Abaddon the Despoiler, and Rakdos, Lord of Riots are just the tip of the iceberg.
The best dragon homes for your Tyrant's Familiar are probably Atarka, World Render and Lathliss, Dragon Queen. A 7/7 with double strike that can also burn as a combat trigger is incredible. Meanwhile, Lathliss can either its “dragonfall” to put out a token or simply buff your Familiar for as much red mana as you’re willing and able to spend.
Tokens (Neyali, Suns' Vanguard) and humans matter (Winota, Joiner of Forces) are just a few of the options to surround Loyal Apprentice, and heck, even haste matters with Ognis, the Dragon's Lash is an option.
Partnering Tymna the Weaver and Tana, the Bloodsower is another good home. You’ve got enough colors to access most of the token doublers, and flying 1/1 Thopters are easy to ignore… until they aren’t. Partnered commanders also means that there’s more than one card in your deck that can satisfy the lieutenant condition.
Is Lieutenant an Activated Ability?
No. Lieutenant isn’t an activated ability because there isn’t an activation cost attached to it. It also isn’t a triggered ability or a keyword, rather it’s an ability word in the same vein as domain.
What if Your Commander Isn’t on the Battlefield?
Lieutenant abilities don’t apply if your commander isn’t on the battlefield.
What if You Don’t Control Your Commander?
Lieutenant abilities don’t apply if you don’t control your commander. The rules text of lieutenant always contains “if you control your commander.”
What if You Steal a Lieutenant Commander?
If you steal control a creature with lieutenant from an opponent, that creature checks if you control your commander. The creature only cares if its controller, not its owner, also controls their commander. If you do, you benefit. Your opponent loses its benefits the moment the lieutenant leaves their control.
Thunderfoot Baloth | Illustration by Nicholas Gregory
While you may be tempted to build a deck around your commander’s color identity more than its abilities and mechanics, lieutenant encourages you to keep your commander on the board. But if you must leave your commander in the command zone, don’t forget to crack a window or leave the AC on, okay?
Does your commander have a lieutenant in its war room? Would you like to see the mechanic again? In full cycles, or one-offs? Sound off in the comments below or come have your say in the official Draftsim Discord.
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