The Power Nine - cEDH Edition

Harvey McGuinness • January 14, 2023


The Power Nine are some of, if not the, most infamous cards in Magic. Powerful, iconic, game-warping, the Power Nine pay no heed to what we now consider the norms of card design. Most interestingly, however, these cards all exist as facilitators of gameplay, not the end win conditions of any particular list or strategy. Whether it's mana, card advantage, or an entire extra turn, the Power Nine are game-breaking examples of explosive resource access speeding players ahead.

Casting a Black Lotus will always feel phenomenal, but top-decking one in the late game won't guarantee a victory in and of itself. The Power Nine are uniquely explosive cards which serve to demolish the midgame, collapsing the timeline of a game to simply the beginning and the end. With this in mind, cEDH provides us with an interesting arena in which to ask the question: what are the new Power Nine: cards which bring us that much closer to victory without ending the game outright?

Honorable Mentions

Six of the nine cards which make up the original Power Nine are mana accelerants, and for good reason. 

Since players start the game in a state of absolute card disadvantage against the sum total of opponent resources, the importance of mana efficiency skyrockets. With each turn you take, you'll be facing off against a collective three from your opponents, meaning the ability to accelerate your gameplan as fast as possible is crucial. Each card played needs to have a dramatic impact, or be capable of enabling such moments, in order to keep the balance inherent to what is at times a three-vs.-one format. This is why castability is the first metric to evaluate whenever considering a card, moving to the power of effect later on as a balancing act. Counterspell is a playable card, but the functional zero-mana cost of Force of Will is what makes it leagues beyond. Mana is time in Magic, so deploying extra resources early on is critical in the race against the pod. With mana, dead cards turn into options, board stalls turn into races, and losses turn into victories. 

This all being said, why are these three cards being lumped into the Honorable Mentions section? In all fairness, it's mostly to provide breathing room for a more interesting discussion of the next nine cards. Otherwise, spots one through three at the very minimum (and likely the rest of the list, with cards like Mox Diamond and Mana Vault being format-defining all-stars) would be filled out by mana rocks, and our question of "What are the cEDH Power Nine" would be answered pretty simply and, most importantly, uninterestingly. As such, I'm placing all of the prolific mana rocks here, in the Honorable Mentions category. This isn't to diminish their strength and necessity, but rather to acknowledge them as so above and beyond that their presence would limit discussion.

#1 Dockside Extortionist

Where do I even begin with this card? At its essence, Dockside Extortionist is a "catch-up" ramp piece that is broken favorably by the multiplayer aspect of Commander. What I mean by this is that, in the pursuit of parity, it lumps in all opponents into a single calculation for resources, assuming that the current game state is a three versus one. Whereas this does effectively bring you up to speed with the rest of the table, it does so in a manner which eclipses the resources of any other player individually. This is where the "fair" part of Dockside Extortionist ends.

When I first saw Dockside Extortionist spoiled back in mid-2019, I knew it was powerful and going to be a mainstay in all red decks going forward, but I didn't realize the degree to which it would warp decks around its inclusion. I didn't play cEDH at the time, so my perspective was limited to the casual Commander scene, but since then it has become readily apparent that - in most use cases - Dockside Extortionist has gone from a simple "auto-include" to being a strategy-defining card. Whether its comboing off with Temur Sabertooth, drawing cards off of Korvold, or cheating creatures into play with Winota, the sheer power level and flexibility of Dockside Extortionist is so high that any deck which runs it is changed, at least slightly, by its presence. Unlike the mana rocks mentioned before, Dockside comes with the benefit of malleability: there is an opportunity for strategy and manipulation which Dockside brings that no other "mana-dork" can ever dream of.

#2 Ad Nauseam

I can't think of a better draw spell than Ad Nauseam. Taking the meaning of the word "burst" to a whole new level, a resolved Ad Nauseam normally wins the game the turn it's cast, if not its controller's next turn (I've been on both ends of it and still struggle to wrap my mind around the fact that it's an instant). In a format defined by high life totals and nonland cards with an average mana value closing in around two, Ad Nauseam routinely draws twenty-plus cards all at once, far eclipsing other instant-access draw spells and even the standard Rhystic Study rotation.

Card draw and mana acceleration work in tandem; each is useless without the other. While Dockside provides the ability to realize a gameplan, Ad Nauseam gives access to the opportunities which Dockside seeks to seize upon. Because of the sheer volume of cards which Ad Nauseam provides access to, the absolute card advantage state reached after its resolution frequently provides not only access to the pieces necessary to assemble a win, but also support pieces should a counterwar break out or other interaction be necessary. While the choice to continue digging when resolving an Ad Nauseam is reminiscent of a tutor effect, Ad Nasueam's greatest strength lies not just in the pursuit of a win condition, but rather with the incidental support pieces which are frequently caught up in the process. 

#3 Underworld Breach

With the respective pinnacles of mana access and burst card draw out of the way, we now have an opportunity to turn towards some...less orthodox resources. Enter Underworld Breach.

While the card typically finds its home in any host of combo decks, it's important to sit back and understand what Underworld Breach does, what sets it apart from other graveyard-based spells, and why it is so important. At its heart, Underworld Breach is a reskin of Yawgmoth's Will, providing access to resources from a zone traditionally absent from card advantage calculations: the graveyard. This is why it sits in the "enabler" section of cEDH; Underworld Breach won't win you the game on its own, but what comes next most certainly will.

Unlike most other recursion spells, Underworld Breach is missing the standard "exile" clause. Yawgmoth's Will, Past in Flames, etc., all of these examples have a restriction that cards cast from the graveyard will end up in exile again at some point. Yes, each spell cast from your graveyard off of Underworld Breach will costs you three additional cards being pitched away into exile, but the card being cast won't go into exile itself. This uniqueness is key to enabling all manner of loops (a topic we will certainly discuss again later) and is why Underworld Breach is so critical to cEDH. Although not a traditional draw or impulse spell, Underworld Breach is a format-defining card advantage engine.

#4 Lion's Eye Diamond

Speaking of loop engines, up next on our list is Lion's Eye Diamond. Now, I know that this may be met with some skepticism considering my earlier statements on mana rocks, but - like Dockside Extortionist earlier - mana access is just a part of what Lion's Eye Diamond can really accomplish.

Beginning with the face-value of the card, Lion's Eye Diamond is a Black Lotus for every zone but the hand. In theory, this puts it in the camp of Jeweled Lotus as a Commander-specific burst ramp spell, but what it really means is that it's a massive accelerant in feeding the graveyard. We've already discussed how cards such as Underworld Breach can open up opportunities to casting out of a graveyard, but there have to be cards there in the first place for Breach and its cousins to do anything, not to mention mana. In this sense, Lion's Eye Diamond is one of few recurrable mana accelerants pieces, albeit from a different zone. As such, the card is truly emblematic of cEDH: rather than thinking of mana and card advantage as strictly being what's in hand and on the board, Lion's Eye Diamond forces us to think outside of the box.

#5 Tainted Pact

An efficiently costed instant-speed tutor (placing the chosen card in hand, which is key) with the potential to empty your deck entirely, Tainted Pact is one of the most flexible cards in the cEDH.  While maximizing the potential of Tainted Pact does bring with it a key deckbuilding cost of omitting any duplicates, the highly refined singleton nature of cEDH decklists makes this cost negligible in any deck that would like to run it.

Now, we've come to the point on our list were we have to talk about the Merfolk in the room: Thassa's Oracle. Thassa's Oracle is an incredibly powerful format-defining win condition, but the card in and of itself isn't actually particularly powerful in the majority of game state configurations. I can't think of any reason why anyone would want to play a Thassa's Oracle without knowing that they could attempt a victory then-and-there, but I do know of plenty of situations when a person would like to cast a Tainted Pact without the assumption of ending the game that turn. As such, while Thassa's Oracle is the front face of win conditions in cEDH, it is actually Tainted Pact which pulls the heavy lifting.

Turning to the other deck-emptying tutor, Demonic Consultation works similarly in most cases, but is a worse tutor effect overall. While it does cost one mana less, which is frequently a make-or-break standard for playability in cEDH, the automatic exiling of the top six cards in the caster's library is a significant downside when being played as a tutor. As such, whereas Tainted Pact can be a full-fledged tutor in addition to its role as a deck emptier, Demonic Consultation is far better understood as simply fulfilling the role of deck emptier. This limitation puts Tainted Pact leagues beyond Demonic Consultation in terms of critical flexibility, making it a far more ubiquitous card.

#6 Intuition

Another instant-speed tutor, Intuition reads at first as a bit of a problematic card: an opponent gets to choose the worst option for you from amongst three, and the two better cards are sent to the graveyard. In theory, the singleton nature of Commander would make this drawback significant in most cases: the majority of explosive cards do not have multiple identical counterparts, meaning the caster would often get the worst version of any specific effect. However, as has been proven time and time again, playing Intuition is nothing like this. A well-played Intuition is a tutor for three cards, not for one amongst three, and the choice an opponent makes will have little, if any, impact on the end result. As we've discussed before, the graveyard is essentially an open repository of resources, requiring only the smallest bit of manipulation to be accessible, allowing for Intuition's supposed "downside" to really be anything but.

#7 Wheel of Fortune

Having usurped its traditional Power Nine cousin, Timetwister, as the pinnacle of reset draw, Wheel of Fortune is the definitive and namesake "wheel" effect, setting the example for all other similar cards going forward. Whereas the other cards on our list so far have been examples of explosive leaps in resource access, taking their casters far ahead of their opponents, the true power of Wheel of Fortune is the ability to reset. As such, Wheel of Fortune's power level is frequently discounted at first: drawing a collective twenty-one cards for your opponents versus your own seven, but further experience with the card serves as a testament to how crucial a hard reset on parity can be. 

Beyond this role as a reset, Wheel of Fortune also serves to fill the graveyard, a frequently beneficial effect which sets it apart from Timetwister. This key difference means that, when cast in opportune circumstances, many casters of Wheel of Fortune will experience a pure draw seven, with anything discarded being fodder for other enablers, combos, or potential graveyard shenanigans.

#8 Mystic Remora

Each other card on our list so far functions more or less like a one-shot effect. Intuition, Dockside's enter-the-battlefield trigger, Ad Nauseam, these are all one-offs. Even the only other enchantment, Underworld Breach, sacrifices itself at the end of turn. Not Mystic Remora

Costing a mere one blue mana and bringing along with it a noncreature tax so absurdly high that no opponent could ever reasonably pay it, Mystic Remora is our first example of drawn-out (pun most definitely intended) opponent-dependent resource access. Unlike Ad Nauseam, which gives card advantage and then goes away, Mystic Remora shifts the dynamic at the table into a waiting game: are your opponents willing to stall out the Cumulative upkeep cost and their development alongside it, or will a flurry of cards be drawn over the course of numerous unpaid cast triggers?

Traditionally, opponent-choice-dependent cards don't quite make the list of "format staples" because they are only ever as good as what is the least-harmful case for the other three players at the table. With Mystic Remora, however, even if the zero-draw choice of "wait it out" is enough to be worth the initial investment of one blue mana, allowing you to leap ahead tax-free.

#9 Drannith Magistrate

Akin to Mystic Remora, the final card on our list, Drannith Magistrate, serves a similar role with regards to locking out opponent play. The key difference between these two cards, however, are the resources to which they provide access. Whereas Mystic Remora is either an optional stall or a card draw behemoth, Drannith Magistrate is a single function lock piece which provides access to a resource we haven't quite discussed yet: time. While zone-specific hate pieces, like Dauthi Voidwalker or Rest in Peace, are certainly critical and valued pieces in their own right, none are nearly as catch-all as Drannith Magistrate. This blanket shutdown of everything from the Command Zone to the library breaks parity on resource access so severely that, while it may not draw cards on its own, the limitations which Drannith Magistrate imposes play out as pseudo card advantage in and of itself. This means that a well-timed Drannith Magistrate breaks parity not by manipulating the location of cards across zones, but the access to those zones, locking out key pieces in the process. Some even argue that Drannith Magistrate is so powerful it should be banned!

The Wrap Up

Each card we've discussed on this list so far today is, in one way or another, the pinnacle of its function. From Dockside Extortionist and burst mana to Drannith Magistrate and lock-based advantage, these nine cards have come to define what cEDH decklists can be. Beyond just power level, each serves as a hallmark feature of the format, a multiplayer game where players can trade life for cards, use the graveyard as a second hand, and empty a library with ease. 

What do you think? How wrong (or right) was I for not including Thassa's Oracle? Does being in the Power Nine mean as much in cEDH, where singleton highlander forces effect repetition from increasingly worse-off options, or does it mean something even more? Let me know below or reach out to me on twitter at @McGuinnessH3!

Harvey McGuinness is a student at Johns Hopkins University who has been playing Magic since the release of Return to Ravnica. After spending a few years in the Legacy arena bouncing between Miracles and other blue-white control shells, he now spends his time enjoying Magic through cEDH games and understanding the finance perspective.