The Best Commander Cards From... Arabian Nights!

Luka Sharaska • March 21, 2023

City of Brass by Mark Tedin

Welcome back to The Best Commander Cards From..., a series focusing on the most powerful Commander cards printed throughout Magic: the Gathering's thirty-year history. With tens of thousands of cards printed since 1993, we'll be looking at cards from a specific set every two weeks. Of note, this only applies to Standard expansion sets, like Arabian Nights or M15. This means that Commander-themed sets, Masters sets, Un- sets, and other premium sets are off the table. I'm doing this to cut down on the number of sets that are either fully illegal in Commander or intentionally designed to be powerful enough for Commander play. You wouldn't be surprised if a preconstructed deck contains a Commander staple, but you might be shocked by what comes out of Mercadian Masques.

Arabian Nights

Today we're looking at the best Commander cards from Arabian Nights, the very first official expansion set ever released for Magic: the Gathering. Arabian Nights was released only sixteen days after Unlimited Edition, in the middle of December of 1993. These booster packs contained only eight cards, including six common and two uncommon cards. Booster boxes included sixty packs, which is pretty wild by today's standards. Rather comedically, there were a few issues during production that made it to the final product. First, the decision to include basic lands in packs was overturned at the eleventh hour, causing the entire set to only contain copies of basic Mountain. Additionally, many cards in the set are lighter or darker than they should be due to printing errors, and collectors often consider them different cards entirely.

Breaking New Ground

Originally, Arabian Nights was designed to be a standalone set. First, the card back was slated to be completely different from Alpha's, although that decision was later changed. Additionally, the setting was decidedly more well defined. The set's plane of Rabiah, along with most of the set's cards, were inspired by the novel The Book of One Thousand and One Nights. As a result, this set is filled with iconic and flavorful cards from top to bottom. While Unlimited Edition contained more than 300 cards, only 78 cards would be in Arabian Nights, which means they had to cover a lot of ground very quickly. Fortunately, there's still plenty of strong cards. Speaking of, let's jump right in.

City of Brass

Until the printing of Mana Confluence, few lands were as perfectly suited for multicolor decks as City of Brass. Even today, it's still an extremely popular and efficient fixing land for almost any deck with more than two colors. In a format where everyone starts at 40 life, the damage is rather negligible, and mana-fixing is at a major premium. Also, the price-tag for City of Brass is significantly lower than that of Mana Confluence. What's not to love?

Ali from Cairo

Many, many years before Platinum Angel, there was Ali from Cairo. Although the former is certainly more flexible by today's standards, there's only one thing really holding Ali back from being an EDH all-star, and that's his price-tag. Even damaged copies of Ali from Cairo cost hundreds of dollars, and a reprint isn't coming soon. Still, if you can get your hands on one of these, it's definitely strong despite its fragility. Believe it or not, this card was once restricted in Vintage.


If you're in the market for Constellation triggers, extra Devotion for your Gray Merchant of Asphodel, or even an extra piece of fetchable removal with Zur the Enchanter, Oubliette has you covered. While it's a mainstay in both the Pauper format and enchantress-style decks, it has a unique feature that makes it bothersome in EDH: since the target technically isn't changing zones, you can enchant commanders without potentially sending them back to the command zone, which makes it far more potent against commanders than most removal spells.

Bazaar of Baghdad

Although this is one of the most powerful lands ever printed, it struggles to really find many homes in EDH. It can make the cut in a handful of hyper-competitive Storm-style decks looking to fill their 'yard, but most decks aren't interested in the card/mana disadvantage that's inherent to it. Of course, it's also wildly expensive, which holds it back from seeing additional play even further. To many, the juice isn't really worth the squeeze. Still, it's so powerful that it maintains a spot on the Legacy banned list, and it works wonders in certain decks looking to draw extra cards or fill their graveyard. (Hint: The Gitrog Monster, Rielle, the Everwise, etc.)

Sorceress Queen

This interesting spin on Royal Assassin is just as potent with a slightly different restriction. Whether by accident or design, Sorceress Queen fell out of favor and was even replaced with the color-shifted Serendib Sorcerer a decade after its most recent printing. While it doesn't outright destroy creatures, it does have its own merits. This Queen messes with attacks and blocks really well, and she can dissuade potential attackers if you've got almost anything else laying around.

Library of Alexandria - Banned

The fabled Library of Alexandria is restricted in Vintage, banned in Legacy, and banned in EDH. It goes without saying that this would be a costly staple if that wasn't the case. Unlike Bazaar of Baghdad, The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, and Maze of Ith, this can actually tap for mana as well, meaning the utility of drawing entire cards is essentially just a bonus. Combine that with its lack of a color identity, and you've got a recipe for a must-play. Of course, since it's on the Reserved List, the price would likely skyrocket even higher.

Old Man of the Sea

Another card held back by its pricetag, this creature lives on in spirit thanks to cards like Rubinia Soulsinger. While it requires some effort to take bigger creatures, this card can certainly interfere with smaller utility creatures. From actual commanders to cards like Elvish Mystic and Treasonous Ogre, there're many valid targets. Many other cards have been printed with altered versions of this ability, such as Vedalken Shackles, but Old Man of the Sea is the first.

Drop of Honey

There are a lot of questions that are worth asking about this card. Why is it one mana? Why does it destroy creatures? Is green really the color it belongs in? I don't have the answers to these questions, but I do know a few things. Since it's only been printed once, the price is sky high. It's legal in the format, and will always destroy at least one creature if one is present. The Abyss is one of the few cards with a comparable effect, and it's in a much more appropriate color.

Guardian Beast

Although it would be succeeded by cards like Padeem, Consul of Innovation, you can't deny the raw power of this card in certain decks. Like so many other cards we've seen today, Guardian Beast has not been reprinted, and has a price to match. However, if you're in an artifact-focused black EDH deck, few cards rival this one.

Shahrazad - Banned

This card kind of speaks for itself. For two mana you force the table to play a subgame with very strange stakes. Putting aside the implications of pushing all your cards to the side to make room for an entire new game, there's a lot of room for this card to create incredibly long games of Magic. Since it doesn't exile itself, you can copy it from the graveyard or return it to your hand pretty easily. If you thought games of EDH were too long before, this certainly wouldn't make the problem any better. This isn't just banned in EDH, by the way. It's banned in every major format, and if you somehow get a pod of players to draft Arabian Nights, I would hope you'd ban it there too.

Honorable Mentions

There's a number of cards that were at one point quite strong, that inspired the designs of other cards in the future, or are iconic cards from a classic set. Sindbad would eventually inspire Merfolk Looter. Serendib Efreet and Juzám Djinn were once some of the strongest creatures one could play. Desert Twister was the first truly unconditional removal spell. Ifh-Bíff Efreet would be succeeded by Squallmonger, and in a preconstructed EDH product, no less! Cuombajj Witches would go on to become a Pauper format staple, and was even reprinted in Commander Legends. Aladdin is the first of many creatures that allow you to steal artifacts. If you have any favorites that I may have overlooked, feel free to drop them in the comments.


Not actually a Commander-relevant card, but worth an honorable mention because this innocuous blue creature is responsible for inspiring an entire format, known as Forgetful Fish. You can read more about it right here.

That's All, Folks

Arabian Nights is bursting at the seams with flavor, and will always be one of the most experimental and unique sets in the game's rich history. Somehow, with less than 100 cards in the set, there's a lot to discover. Many cards were designed purely with flavor in mind and are overtly unbalanced when compared to today's design standards. I hope you learned something new about some of these cards, and I hope you'll tune in again. After all, there's dozens of sets between Arabian Nights and the present day. I'm Luka "Robot" Sharaska, and I'll catch you next time.

Luka "Robot" Sharaska has been playing Magic for more than a decade, since the days of New Phyrexia. They've been captivated since that day. They earned the nickname "Robot" with their monotone voice, affinity for calculating odds, and worrying lack of sleep.