The Top Ten cEDH Card Advantage Engines

Harvey McGuinness • May 24, 2024

Sylvan Library by Bryan Sola

Competitive Commander is full of powerful cards, and it often plays at a break-neck pace, but that doesn't mean the format is devoid of permanents that prefer to stick around and eke out incremental advantage. cEDH has slowed down substantially in the past two years, from turbo tournaments to midrange slogs, and with this shift players are increasingly focusing on the role of passive advantage in a four-player environment, so what cards stand out above the rest, and what should we be aware of as we sit down to play? 

A quick sidenote before we begin: the cards on this list are all-stars of the mainboard, cards which many decks want to play, and as such I've excluded cards that primarily show up as commanders.  This isn't the same as cutting all legendary creatures - I'll tell you that there's at least one on here - but you won't be seeing the likes of Tymna the Weaver and Thrasios, Triton Hero.

Additionally, the emphasis for this list is on cards that like a long game, cards which get better and better the more game actions the table takes; whether it be reaching your draw step or your opponents casting spells, this list is the incrementalist's hall of fame, not a top-ten for burst draw effects. With that out of the way, here's the list.

Honorable Mention - Necropotence 

For three black mana, Necropotence gives you access to more cards than just about any other permanent in the game. It might not technically say "draw" on it (a serious boon for a format in which Orcish Bowmasters sees so much play), but make no mistake: Necropotence will put a lot of cards into your hand. So, why isn't it higher up on our list?

Well, it all really comes down to a technicality on how Necropotence plays out in most of the games in which it resolves. Sure, a player can land a Necropotence and pay a handful of life each turn, restocking their hand to a perpetual seven, but this isn't how Necropotence works in the real world. Instead, Necropotence plays a lot like Ad Nauseam: a burst draw effect which is far and away from any semblance of "incremental" value engines, like those that make up our list. Necropotence resolves, its controller pays the majority of their life total in order to put that many cards into their hand on the end step, and suddenly you wind up with 30+ cards in hand. Powerful? Certainly. Incremental? Far from it.

10 - Sylvan Library

Starting us off at Number 10 is a card that has largely fallen out of favor in recent memory but nonetheless retains some diehard fans: Sylvan Library. In most games, Sylvan Library usually reads as "You draw an additional two cards and lose 8 life each turn." Great in the early game, no doubt, but, in a format dominated by Ad Nauseam, this drawback has significant repercussions.

While two mana for two cards each turn is definitely a good rate, there is a very real delay with Sylvan Library: it takes a whole turn cycle to actually do anything, which, as we'll see with the rest of the list, makes it fairly slow by comparison. Put these qualities together and you have an excellent value engine that's significantly weighed down by the extra time added by the jump from 0ne-v-one Magic to Commander. I'm including Sylvan Library here, but if you ask resident cEDH expert Drake Sasser, you'd get a decidedly less optimistic opinion about this green enchantment. 

9 - Consecrated Sphinx

Consecrated Sphinx is a card that was designed before Commander really took off, and it shows. "Whenever an opponent draws a card, you may draw two cards," is an absurd line of text. The only thing keeping this card as low as it is on our list is simply the mana cost: six is a lot to ask for in cEDH, and while Consecrated Sphinx will win the game if left unaddressed, it won't win the game that same turn in the way that other high-mana investments will (Hullbreaker Horror, Ad Nauseam, etc). If you're a deck that can either cheat out Consecrated Sphinx or comfortably pay six mana for it and pass *cough* Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy *cough*, then you should be playing it. 

8 - Faerie Mastermind

Next up on our list is a card that drops the guaranteed card advantage offered by the likes of Sylvan Library for much higher ceiling, no life loss, and the ability to cast it whenever you need.

In theory, Faerie Mastermind can draw as many as twelve cards per turn cycle: three per turn, assuming each opponent meets the requirement of its triggered ability by drawing two (or more) cards that turn. In practice, however, Faerie Mastermind usually draws somewhere in the two-to-three range. Still very respectable, but far from the hypothetical twelve. The only problem, however, is that you aren't guaranteed anything with Faerie Mastermind: unlike other cards on our list, which would impose a tax as an alternative to drawing a card, there will be times when Faerie Mastermind comes down and just does nothing for a bit. But then again, that's a world in which no opponent draws more than one card per turn, and it has been a while since I last played a game like that.

7 - Archivist of Oghma

Archivist of Oghma is by many accounts white's Faerie Mastermind: same mana value, same casting flexibility via the flash ability. The primary difference, however, is that the condition for its triggered ability - an opponent searching their library - is often a more reliable one than Faerie Mastermind's. In a format dominated by fetch lands and tutors, it's much harder to stop searching libraries than it is to stop drawing cards, and as such most people will seldom play around a resolved Archivist of Oghma. Sure, it might change the timing of fetch land activations, but at the end of the day Archivist of Oghma still packs a lot of value for a small investment, especially in white.

6 - Trouble in Pairs

The newest card on our list, Trouble in Pairs, costs a sizeable chunk of mana but has a lot of value, so let's take break it down. For four mana - the same benchmark rate as other excellent options on this list - Trouble in Pairs offers you a card whenever an opponent attacks you with two or more creatures, or casts their second spell... or draws their second card, so, while Trouble in Pairs retains the same downside of our past two value engines in that it doesn't guarantee anything, the trigger conditions here are so generic that you'll almost always be drawing three to five cards a turn cycle.

At twice the mana investment of Faerie Mastermind, that's right on rate for what it should be drawing. Plus, while Trouble in Pairs's other static ability won't draw you any cards, it will stop your opponents from taking extra turns, something that comes up pretty often in cEDH, be it Time Sieve combo in Tivit, Seller of Secrets or the turbo player's Final Fortune turn. The only shame with Trouble in Pairs is the art...

5 - Talion, the Kindly Lord

Our second four-drop on the list is another relatively new addition to the format, Talion, the Kindly Lord. Outside of drawing a lot of cards pretty easily, Talion also wraps many alluring traits together for any high-mana investment: being a creature spell makes it harder to counter, being a flying 3/4 allows it to comfortably handle combat both offensively and defensively, insulating your own Ad Nauseam while pressuring your opponents, and the incidental life loss from the resolution of Talion's triggered ability puts a passive clock on the game. Now, on to why you're really interested in playing Talion, the Kindly Lord

When Talion, the Kindly Lord enters the battlefield, you choose a number between one and ten, and whenever an opponent casts a spell containing that number - either in mana value, power, or toughness - you draw a card and that player loses two life. No "if" or "may": you will be drawing cards. Overall, the consensus is that players choose two, and from there you can expect to draw many cards over the course of the game. Sometimes players will name one if context calls for it, but by and large Talion draws from two. 

4 - Esper Sentinel

Alright, we've reached the Top Four, and it's from here on out that each card I mention is going to be included in just about every cEDH deck that can run it. These are the cream of the crop, so let's kick it off with the number one search-target for Ranger-Captain of Eos: Esper Sentinel.

Talion, the Kindly Lord may name two-drops, but cEDH is built around one-drops and it shows. Being able to consistently cast Esper Sentinel with the bare minimum amount of mana (one) is what really puts this card over the edge, enabling you to start reaping the average two-to-three card per turn award that much earlier. Yes, your opponents do have the option to pay a tax and deny you the card advantage, but - especially in the early turns - you can count on the mana efficiency of cEDH (and the hatred of taxes by its players) to routinely draw you some cards.

3 - The One Ring

Coming in at Number Three is a card that most of the cEDH playerbase terribly underestimated upon release, and that's The One Ring. Paying four mana to draw one card seems like a terrible rate, and by all means, it is, but there are two crucial things to consider before you dismiss this card: the mana cost is entirely generic, and it can snowball fast. The other four-drops on our list, Talion and Trouble in Pairs, both have significant colored mana requirements in their costs. The One Ring, meanwhile, can be easily cast off of the likes of Sol Ring, Mana Crypt, and Mana Vault, format all-stars that many players chase in their early turns and mulligans. This contributes to the key characteristic, that being The One Ring's impressive snowballing in the long-run, as it means that you can readily cast this card much earlier than face value would suggest. 

The One Ring on turn one isn't just possible, it's comparatively easy, and if it resolves then chances are the game is yours.

2 - Mystic Remora

Moving on to Mystic Remora - our second place champion - we reach the card that's closest to Consecrated Sphinx in terms of the sheer mass of cards which it offers. However, that five-mana difference materializes through two very real drawbacks: the cumulative upkeep cost of one generic mana, and the ability of your opponents to player it around it. "Do you feed the fish?" is a question as old as Commander, and because of this infamy, many times the Mystic Remora player will sit back and watch as nothing happens for several turns until, eventually, the cumulative upkeep cost becomes too exhaustive, the Mystic Remora is sacrificed, and suddenly the game begins in earnest. In other games, however, a resolved Mystic Remora just wins the game as players cast noncreature spells with reckless abandon and the cards drawn by this one-mana enchantment eclipse the table's combined efforts. 

1 - Rhystic Study

Rhystic Study is the value engine. For three-mana, Rhystic Study either draws you a card off of each spell your opponents cast or it serves as one-sided Sphere of Resistance, both of which are absurdly strong effects. Some players clamor for Rhystic Study to be banned, others hold fast to it as a flagship card in their favorite blue decks. Love it or hate it, one thing is clear: Rhystic Study is the best source of card draw in all of cEDH. 

Wrap Up

What do you think? Is this list the proper cards, but the wrong order? Or did I leave something off entirely? Just about every cEDH deck these days is playing a pile of value engines, but what are the best, the linchpins that hold it all together?

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.