The 10 Best Mel Commanders

Jeff Dunn • June 10, 2024

And so we come to the final entry in our series of player archetype and aesthetic profiles: Mel. Mels are players who are excited by the design. To them, Magic is exciting when cards fit the design philosophy laid out by R&D, or at least fit the design philosophy they have in their head. Mel Commanders love to know the rules of the game and love to explain whatever weird corner case has led to this interaction where they get to explain the Layers to you. 

Mels are found in all sorts of formats, but what makes a Mel Commander deck? Let's dig into these rules-heavy Commander decks and get real in the weeds of the Official Rules.

What Are Mel Commanders?

Mel commanders are any legendary creature that lends themselves to the Mel philosophy. These commanders are lauded as some of the best-designed legendary creatures, or as perfect enablers for digging out edge case interactions, or are just plain weird. They appear in all sorts of colors, as the concept of a "Mel" is broad enough to account for all sorts of playstyles.

Of course, this list is by no means definitive. It's more of a jumping-off point for us freaks still pouring over the MTG Rules Iceberg meme for odd effects to build around. 

And would you believe it, Mel is the only player profile without a legendary creature card from an Un-set! What gives, WotC?

#10 Ayesha Tanaka

Listen, building a banding deck might sound like one of the punishing experiences of all time, and that's because it is. All I'm saying is you'll have to memorize the reminder text for banding and be ready to break it out at a moment's notice.

Often, you'll find most players gut response to your preamble about banding will be "ok, I just won't block." Don't let this stop you from reciting the entire reminder text like you're leading a Catholic mass; these people need to hear this!

#9 Braids, Conjurer Adept

Braids, Conjurer Adept gives you an excuse to run all those high-cost permanents that mono-blue commander decks always have so much trouble casting. Sure, you could just use Braids to run out Ancient Silver Dragon or It That Betrays, but that's Timmy's world. A particularly Melvish Commander deck will dig up confusing locks, like Arcane Laboratory and Eye of the Storm, to prevent anyone from casting any spells after we've stuck something goofy like Denizen of the Deep. We're going to turn off their untap steps with Brine Elemental and Vesuvan Shapeshifter

#8 Sek'Kuar, Deathkeeper

A long time ago, in the year 2006, Wizards of the Coast decided to finally finish the three block set that began with Ice Age and Alliances back in 1995. Coldsnap was a modern-border set featuring cards thematically linked to Ice Age, including snow permanents, cumulative upkeep, and graveyard-order-matters cards. Around this time, a young Jeff purchased the Coldsnap theme deck Beyond the Grave with Sek'Kuar, Deathkeeper on the cover because I liked Orcs, and discovered a world of needlessly frustrating graveyard organization and timing I had no clue existed in pre-2000 Magic. 

Sek'Kuar, Deathkeeper doesn't need to lead this Mel Commander deck with a graveyard-order theme, but he does have the color identity necessary to access most of the cards. Cards like Corpse Dance and Ashen Ghoul force you to play a fun minigame by yourself as you carefully plan the sequencing around your spells and sacrifice effects to create the optimally-organized graveyard. Make sure you run Bone Dancer and keep an eye on your opponents' graveyards, as well!

#7 Mishra, Artificer Prodigy

I hate to repeat myself, but Mishra, Artificer Prodigy's Commander build is so Mel it has to be mentioned. Besides the combo to fetch your Blood Funnel-countered artifacts right out of your graveyard, Mishra's also the perfect colors to construct the mythical Typless Permanent!

There are a few different ways to go about this. The first, and probably easiest, just requires that you mutate a creature on top of any Theros God with a devotion mechanic. Once you lose devotion to those particular colors, the mutated creature ceases to be a creature, but also lacks the enchantment type. Voila! The advantage to this combo is there are any number of Theros Gods + mutate creatures pairs, making the odds you pull these cards fairly high.

The second way involves using Ensoul Artifact to enchant any artifact, changing it into a 5/5 creature. Next, use Neurok Transmuter to turn the artifact into a nonartifact blue creature. Ensoul Artifact falls off, and now we have a typeless Sol Ring! We can do this to any creature we want with Liquimetal Torque.

To what end we use these typeless permanents, I don't know. But it sure is fun!

#6 Commodore Guff

Playing a superfriends deck is a lot like playing solitaire, except with more dice and more math, and your friends are still there. A Commodore Guff deck built around superfriends is deceptively Mel-ish, mostly because you'll be taking so many actions on your turn that you'll forget about your opponents. If you're searching for a Mel Commander deck to test your own knowledge of the rules and push your sequencing knowledge to the limits, I highly recommend a Commodore Guff superfriends deck. 

Many planeswalkers' loyalty abilities have an internal synergy that tickles a burgeoning Mel commander's fancy. Jace, Wielder of Mysteries digs you through your library and offers a Laboratory Maniac-style wincon. Every Chandra card deals damage in one way or another, or interacts with instants and sorceries to burn your opponents away. This sort of internally consistent design is what really makes a Mel deck. 

Before Guff's release in Commander Masters, I had a close friend who ran Carth the Lion in a Golgari planeswalker deck. Even with such a limited access to planeswalkers, the deck took nearly 40 minutes to play out a turn once a handful of Vraskas and Garruks hit the field. Adding a third color just opens the field to a whole new group of 146 different planeswalker cards. Everyone will love to sit and watch as you hum and hah over whether you tick down Narset, Parter of Veils to dig for a proliferate spell to copy with Ral, Storm Conduit, or is it better to tick down Tamiyo, the Moon Sage so we can cast our Rowan, Scholar of Sparks and deal the full three damage when she hits the field? The total number of actions per turn in a superfriends deck forces their turn to a standstill while they resolve all their deterministic effects.

#5 Maralen of the Mornsong

Maralen of the Mornsong's ability to tutor any card you need straight to your hand is perfect for setting up whatever wacky scenario Mel has dreamed up. Locking you into mono-black means we shouldn't expect to pull out anything too deep from the Rules Iceberg, but Maralen's "Players can't draw cards" ability does open up some punishing possibilities. For example, Gravestorm exiles cards from an opponent's graveyard on your upkeep, unless they choose to let you draw a card. Maralen's effect means players cannot even choose to draw a card as part of a choice in a spell. Instead, this exiles a card from an opponent's graveyard each turn, keeping you safe from those encore and unearth creatures.

Okay, that's still playing a little too nice. Let's take some time to explain replacement effects to our opponents and drop an Opposition Agent, too. Maralen will force your opponents to tutor rather than draw cards, and Opposition Agent will replace that tutor effect and let you tutor for a card from their library, exiling it to play later. 

#4 Mairsil, the Pretender

Nothing forces you to break out the pen and paper like Mairsil, the Pretender. Not only does this Mel commander keep you tracking which creatures and artifacts he's exiled with cage counters, you're also tracking which of those abilities you've activated each turn. This gets even crazier when you can blink Mairsil in and out multiple times, resetting the "once per turn" clause on his abilities. 

On top of the general complexity and brain power required to pilot Mairsil, he also generates a mountain of advantage once he's exiled a Horseshoe Crab alongside The One Ring. Let's throw in an Encroaching Mycosynth and suddenly we can exile planeswalkers and activate their loyalty abilities! Note that you'll only be able to use one loyalty ability each turn, even if there are multiple planeswalkers exiled with cage counters. Loyalty abilities have a clause that states they can only be activated once per turn per permanent.

#3 Baron Sengir

Ah, the rumored +2/+2 counter does exist! Homelands' Baron Sengir is one of the only cards in the game that creates a +2/+2 counter instead of +1/+1s, which does, in fact, lead to some interesting edge cases. For example, did you know -1/-1 counters don't cancel out and remove +2/+2 counters in the same way as +1/+1s? This makes Baron Sengir the perfect target for Glistening Oil and a proliferate deck built around maximizing those +2/+2s and poison counters! 

#2 Obeka, Brute Chronologist

Any spell that "ends the turn" while effects are still on the stack is bound to have some weird implications. Obeka, Brute Chronologist gives us consistent access to that effect on a body. Of course, the most popular Obeka combos use Isochron Scepter and Final Fortune effects to take infinite turns without losing the game, but Mel can go deeper than that. 

Suddenly, we can run Phage the Untouchable and Endless Whispers to give her to our opponents, using Obeka's ability to save us from losing when she's passed back to us. In fact, we'll never lose the game again thanks to the Lich-adjacent cards by ending the turn when their "lose the game" trigger goes on the stack. This is an incredibly devious plan for those Melvin Commanders on the "Evil" side of the alignment chart. 

#1 Mannichi, the Fevered Dream

How often do the rules for Layers actually come up in a typical Magic game? Want to talk a lot about the Layers? Boy, do I have the card for you. Mannichi, the Fevered Dream is a mono-red Spirit from Betrayers of Kamigawa that can switch any creature's power and toughness for 1R. On its face, this seems like a no-brainer, until we start modifying creatures' power and toughness with various other effects.

Magic uses "layers" to differentiate when effects that appear to happen simultaneously to the same object are applied. There are seven layers in this system (technically eight if you count "layer 0"). Effects that change a creature's power and toughness are applied at layer seven. Just to make things more difficult, layer seven is divided into four sublayers, labeled A through D. 

Effects that switch a creature's power and toughness are applied after effects that add or subtract from their power and toughness, making Mannichi's ability confusing to respond to at times. 

Let's say you just cast Valakut Fireboar, and then target it with Reckless Charge. You declare the Fireboar as an attacker, triggering its ability. What is its new power and toughness? Is it a 7/4, or a 10/1? What about if you use Arni Brokenbrow to change its base power to 1+ the Fireboar's power; does he become a 6/3, or a 12/3? What if we switch Arni's power and toughness with Mannichi? It boggles the mind!

Best Mel Commander Enablers

Since Mel is such an amorphously defined aesthetic archetype, it can be hard to determine what exactly the "staples" for Mel Commander decks could be. Many Mel decks will benefit from running a swathe of tutors to easily run out their weird combo, so repeatable tutors, like Wild Research and Ring of Three Wishes, are always useful. In addition, it's polite to have a strategy to end the game once you've had your fun and explained whatever niche design you've fallen in love with. Run anthems and one-sided board wipes for your Ayesha Tanaka banding creatures deck, run ETB-drainers for your infinite blink combos, run Helix Pinnacle to end the game with your infinite mana.

Wrap Up

Mel is the final player archetype, and second of the two aesthetic profiles. There's a little Mel in all of us, just like there's a little Johnny, Timmy, Spike, and Vorthos, too. It may not rise to the surface so often, but there'll undoubtedly come a time when you, too, will get your own Firemaw Kavu.

Are there any sworn Mels out there? Do you also wish damage still used the stack so our beloved Morphlings and Mogg Fanatics mattered? And what are some other weird rules interactions you'd like to see a Mel Commander deck build around? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

Jeff's almost as old as Magic itself, and can't remember a time when he didn't own any trading cards. His favorite formats are Pauper and Emperor, and his favorite defunct products are the Duel Decks. Follow him on Twitter for tweets about Mono Black Ponza in Pauper!