Revealing Emperor of Bones, Our Modern Horizons 3 Preview Card!

Josh Nelson • May 22, 2024

Emperor of Bones by Josh Hass

Modern Horizons 3, one of Magic: The Gathering's most-anticipated releases this year, has shown itself worthy of the hype. The set is so duly hyped that Wizards of the Coast felt obligated to reveal multiple cards early! We at Commander's Herald were lucky enough to be given not one, but two free preview cards for the set, so thank you Wizards for this opportunity. That first card is available via Spellify, our card guessing game

The card we're previewing in this article is called Emperor of Bones. This card, in all its regal and skeletal glory, is one that we're positively bursting from the inside out to share with our readers. With that, let's take a look at it, what it does, and finally share some notable cards that it pairs well with.

Emperor of Bones, our other preview card from Modern Horizons 3.
Emperor of Bones, our preview card from Modern Horizons 3.

Emperor of Bones is a 2/2 black Skeleton Noble creature for one black and one generic mana. It's optimal for strategies that rely on removing cards from graveyards, utilizing counters on cards, and reanimating creatures. This creature is also one of the few to make use of finality counters as a mechanic. Finality counters, when on a permanent, cause it upon normally going to the graveyard to go to exile instead. This ability counter was first introduced in The Lost Caverns of Ixalan and has so far functioned to keep reanimation mechanics in check. We'll get to the circumvention of finality in a bit.

As a sidebar, Emperor of Bones is also bedecked with some wonderful art illustrated by fellow Josh, Josh Hass, making this exemplary card comparably cool-looking to boot.

So now that we've seen what this card can do, let's talk about where this card can do those things best.

Honorable Mention #1: Obeka (Not That One)

Obeka, Brute Chronologist has taken a bit of a back foot to her more recent character iteration, Obeka, Splitter of Seconds, lately. Frankly, with that hype, we can't blame players for gravitating more towards the latter. However, the former is an exceptional card to use with a copy of Emperor of Bones within the 99.

Why is this? Put simply, Emperor of Bones its reanimated creature's controller to sacrifice that creature at the beginning of the next end step by way of the finality counter. Obeka circumvents this sacrifice, leaving the reanimated creature around to threaten opponents for turns to come.

The reason we're only keeping Obeka, Brute Chronologist as an Honorable Mention is not because she isn't a fantastic card to use with Emperor of Bones. Her bag of tricks actually meshes extremely well with it, to be frank. On the contrary: we chose Obeka as an Honorable Mention because she only realizes part of Emperor of Bones' potential. There are many words in its text box and Obeka only cares largely about the final sentence. As such, we can most assuredly do more with this card. Let's look at some of the things we can do to make Emperor of Bones a truly disgusting tool in the 99.

Honorable Mention #2: Power Conduit

Power Conduit goes hand-in-hand with Emperor of Bones. It synergizes perfectly with the Emperor itself and the creatures the Emperor reanimates.

The line goes as such: With both cards on the battlefield as well as a creature with a finality counter, you tap the Power Conduit to remove the finality counter from that creature and put a +1/+1 counter onto Emperor of Bones. This will allow you to reanimate another creature with the Emperor. This synergy is a strong one and can slot into any of the 99-card lists of any commander we mention below. And on that note...

#4. Alharu, Solemn Ritualist / Reyhan, Last of the Abzan

Reyhan, Last of the Abzan is a fantastic card with which to utilize Emperor of Bones' need for +1/+1 counters to fuel its engine. Giving your creatures a pseudo-modular effect is nothing to sniff at! However, as Reyhan is a commander with partner, we should include another partner to make the most of this strategy. Enter Alharu, Solemn Ritualist another great source of +1/+1 counters. They also provide bodies for Reyhan to augment with more counters should anything die. The idea that Emperor of Bones exiles creatures that it has reanimated is a bit steep, honestly. However, that shouldn't deter you from using this game plan to provide your field with a strong flying presence.

As another important point, Abzan provides the best colors for reanimation and counter shenanigans. White specifically is great for providing blink effects, such as Teleportation Circle, or even one-time effects, like Cloudshift, which are perfect for knocking finality counters right off of anything you decide to reanimate. Just keep in mind many of these blink-style effects will not be as effective on creatures you've taken from other players!

#3: The Wise Mothman

The newest addition among commanders on this list, The Wise Mothman is a fantastic card to helm a deck with Emperor of Bones. Strategies involving the menace from Point Pleasant, West Virginia typically include mill decks. These strategies are often compounded by a light go-tall strategy involving the Mothman himself. The Wise Mothman uses +1/+1 counters in a manner that fits going wide, however, and sometimes that'll be the way to go.

This blend of mill and +1/+1 counter synergies greatly behooves Emperor of Bones. The mill effects from radiation couters ensure graveyards are often full to bursting and as we've already discerned, putting +1/+1 counters onto the Emperor means we can any of the creatures we might have milled into the bin. 

#2. Xavier Sal, Infested Captain

Dimir commanders have a special place in this list of cards to pair with Emperor of Bones. With no exaggeration, they're some of the best-equipped commanders to deal with finality counters by their color identity alone. Sure, any black deck can run a Vampire Hexmage and Hex Parasite package. But only the Dimir (or a color combo including Dimir) can run Soul Diviner. Removing detrimental counters is a massive boost to the efficacy of this skeleton noble.

This is where Xavier Sal, Infested Captain comes in. In his colors, he can run any relevant counter-removal tricks, such as the three above creatures. What makes Captain Sal the most qualified commander for that task is that he can take charge and do it himself. If you choose to use Captain Sal to remove a finality counter from a reanimated creature, you'll also be able to populate a token. This is handy when we can later sacrifice a token (or any creature free from finality) to proliferate. The proliferate mechanic goes a long way in this sort of deck. It works especially nicely for Emperor of Bones.

Captain Sal is just one of those commanders that is an engine unto itself. Many players like to utilize his creature types when making decks under Xavier's command. Even more like to use the Captain as an Atraxa-esque Superfriends build, according to EDHREC's entry on the card. Others might find more value in using Captain Sal as a combo engine, though. Emperor of Bones plays into that type of strategy extremely well.

#1. Tayam, Luminous Engima

Our #1 commander to use our Modern Horizons 3 preview card is one that has floated around the cEDH circuits for a little while now. Originally a fringe commander for the competitive scene, Tayam, Luminous Enigma recently cemented itself into the annals of cEDH posterity with excellent and consistent records. Emperor of Bones only serves to compact that record.

Like Xavier Sal, Infested Captain, Tayam is a commander that can remove counters from creatures, fuelling an engine that can be backbreaking. Here, it hardly matters that you're reanimating creatures with finality counters since those counters will soon be gone. Removing three counters means milling three cards and bringing a permanent with a mana value of three or less back onto the battlefield. Thankfully, Tayam herself also provides creatures with vigilance counters.

Tayam has been known to combo off with cards like Devoted Druid and anything that can give the Druid at least +0/+2. This makes Tayam an established threat and one that needs to be removed from the battlefield quickly. Therefore, a bit more reanimation is helpful to keep Tayam relevant and a consistent threat among the players in the game.

As an Abzan commander, Tayam also provides the same suite of optimized abilities as our Alharu & Reyhan concept does. They aren't quite as necessary to keep the gameplan running due to Tayam's counter-removal, but they still help.

Them Bones, Them Bones

We are thrilled to share this Modern Horizons 3 preview with you. We hope that Emperor of Bones becomes a card that sees play in Commander! Surely with that, the Skeleton Wars will finally begin. Until that day comes, are there any other commander decks that you're excited to use this card in?

Josh Nelson wears many hats. They are a music journalist when not writing gaming news. Beyond this, they're a scholar of the Sweeney Todd urban legend, a fan of monster-taming RPGs, and a filthy Aristocrats player. Josh has been playing Magic since 2001 and attributes their tenure to nostalgia, effort, and "aesthetic".