This entry is part 11 of 37 in the series Generally Speaking

By Imshan AKA Sinis

When Torpor Orb from New Phyrexia was spoiled, the online EDH community was abuzz with two things.  The first was the threat to the value creatures that so many of us play; spell effects with legs – like Wood Elves or Shriekmaw – meant to chump block, be shamelessly reanimated, or to carry a Sword of Protection and Value while we marshaled our real threats.  The other was much more strange phenomenon; the increased possibility of using Phage the Untouchable as a general.  There had been other cards that could prevent the game loss trigger on Phage, like Platinum Angel, but Torpor Orb seemed to be the one that people really latched on to.  When Sundial of the Infinite appeared, casting Phage from your general zone seemed downright viable.

The internet talk about Phage was not so much about Phage, I think, but an undercurrent desire to see more viable generals.  At the time of this writing, there are 478 legendary creatures in circulation, a great many of whom are painfully vanilla (Jerrard of the Closed Fist), inaccessible due to costs and/or rarity (Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed), unworkable due to text restrictions (Myojin of Seeing Winds), or outright unplayable (Haakon, Stromgald Scourge).  At its heart, EDH is an inherently narrow format; there are only so many viable generals around, and it is a small wonder that we frequently see the same ones discussed and played with.

So, where does that leave us?  Wizards prints new legendary creatures all the time, especially now that Commander is a thing that they are interested in promoting.  However, of the new legendary creatures, only so many will appeal to any given player.  For those of us who like to change decks once a month or so or build many at once, the pool of creatures we’d like to have leading our forces is perhaps less robust than we’d like it to be and after a long while, we will find ourselves without new generals to build.  The answer is surprisingly simple: create a house rule that stops restricting generals to legendary creatures.  Perhaps, generals need not be creatures at all.

Why would you want to do this?  Well, first and foremost, it gives as large a variety of generals as possible.  You could play nearly any permanent as a general.  This increases the variance of generals in local groups, and gives players something new to play against.  Second, it lets players interact with underrepresented mechanics; some mechanics never saw a legendary creature as their flagship the way Sedris, the Traitor King represented Unearth, or how Mikaeus, the Unhallowed brought undying to a whole new level.  Non-legendary creature generals might bring representation to cool mechanics that would otherwise be unworkable due to the singleton nature of the format.

The first task is choosing a non-legendary creature, or even a non-creature permanent as a general.  It probably goes without saying, but this is not your opportunity to play Serra Ascendant as your general.  In fact, you should probably avoid generals that will give you an extreme advantage early in the game.  My personal picks for non-legendary creatures as generals are Primalcrux and Diamond Faerie.  I’ve heard numerous players wish that they could play the Nephilim cycle from Guildpact as generals.  Others that I’ve heard of people playing are the non-legendary creatures from Kamigawa that flip into legendary creatures (like Jushi Apprentice/Tomoya, the Revealer).  Whatever you choose, it should probably be first and foremost interesting, rather than powerful.  If you are choosing a non-creature permanent as your general, tread very lightly.  It is strange enough for players to want to choose non-legendary creatures.  Non-creatures altogether begin to change the concept of a ‘general’, and begin to enter the realm of “this is a card I start with, how about you guys?”  Take special care to avoid ones like Meishin, the Mind Cage which might look like fun on paper, but be a terrible drag in reality.  Players will be at least somewhat prepared for any kind of creature that you might field, but enchantments and artifacts are less universal in their vulnerability to the various colours.

The second issue with choosing variant generals is to be prepared for resistance.  Not everyone is going to want to play with a person who is bending or breaking the format rules; some people are real sticklers for format rules, don’t like house rules or local/custom banned lists, or feel like the ‘legendaryness’ of your general is a key flavourful part of the format and that we are supposed to be playing Elder Dragon Highlander, rather than Elder Non-descript Goblin Highlander.  You could try to persuade them that you are not doing anything crazy, and that it is just for a bit of fun with no harm done.  However, at the end of the day if someone does not want to play against your non-legendary general, that’s their prerogative, and you should probably be prepared to play a deck with a legendary creature commander.  Many of these decks do just as well with a legendary creature with the same colour combinations maindecked.  In the case of a deck centered around Primalcrux, Jedit Ojanen of Efrava or Silvos, Rogue Elemental are excellent back-up choices, because the deck will rely on cards with intense green mana costs, and these could easily be in the main deck and quickly subbed in.  Additionally they represent Primalcrux functionally; as a violent green monster that you intend to turn sideways.  Others, especially those with unique mechanics may not be so easily replaced, but if you are intent on playing the 99-card deck itself, it serves well to have an alternate general ready.

If you’re playing with a non-creature permanent as your general, be prepared for even more resistance than if you were simply playing with a non-legendary creature.  The idea of playing a non-legendary creature is not particularly far-fetched, especially considering the unique colour combinations offered by the guildpact Nephilim.  Non-creature permanents are not only removed from the concepts of being a ‘general’ (i.e. a commander of military forces) and mechanics like general damage, but are also divorced from the usual standards of removal.  Playing an enchantment as your general might arouse the ire of a player in red and black, because they might have expected your general to be a creature, and then they find themselves suddenly unable to deal with your general due to the nature of the colours they are playing.

The third issue will be that other players may wish to follow suit.  While this is not a difficulty in itself, there is a kind of player for whom the ban list determines the social acceptability of cards played.  So, upon seeing your sweet Ludevic’s Test Subject deck, another player may decide to follow suit thinking that what is not banned is expressly permitted.  They show up the next time with their Serra Ascendant deck, saying what is fair for you is fair for them.  It is at this point that you are going to want to try to either engage them in a social context whereby you explain to them that while Ludevic’s Test Subject is fun for everyone at the table, that Serra Ascendant isn’t.  If the idea of non-legendary generals is sufficiently appealing, a custom list of non-legendary creatures not to be played as generals could be created for any given local group.  If you chose to play a non-creature permanent as your general, be prepared to face the gamut of possibilities.  Saying ‘no’ here, or trying to formulate a ban list of all the possible degenerate non-creature permanents could be exhausting.

Playing a non-legendary creature or non-creature permanent as a general is a choice that needs to be carefully considered.  It is not for every group, but for long-time Commander players, the increase in variety might be a welcome change.  While playing a non-legendary creature as a general might be okay in random company (depending, of course, on the company), playing a non-creature permanent as a general should probably only be done with a regular playgroup you know well, and even then, only with those who will temper their ambition to win with a kind of fun-for-everyone foresight.

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