A royal wave from the balcony to you Commander players! Today I’m covering a card that isn’t really a card, even though most people would call it a card if they saw it. Maybe even a token. Those people don’t get it. It’s not a card, or even some token token, it’s a designation. If you’ve played with it, you know how it works, even if it is missing the fourth word of the first line of the game text. Blame it on the court jester! Put on your fanciest hat for today’s Staple!
The Monarch calls back to an old game called Vampire: The Eternal Struggle (originally Jyhad) which had a mechanic called ‘The Edge.’ Players would fight over The Edge because it gave a large in-game advantage, putting that player on top of the pile. Other players could take The Edge, and the place at the top, but always exposed themselves to the next power-hungry bloodsucker. I played some Jyhad, and some Vampire, and when the game was renamed, they changed the card backs. Oops. This was before opaque sleeves were widely available. The game was already awkward enough, hard to play, and involved voting to a significant degree, which is nonsense in 2-player games. It would have done better as a closed-system boxed card game, not a tcg. Like many early challengers to Magic’s throne, Jyhad/V:TES faded away.
The Monarch takes the basic mechanics of The Edge and puts them in Magic terms. It debuted in Conspiracy 2: Take the Crown, to immediate fanfare and success. A huge part of which was playability, thanks to the simple elegance of the rules printed on the Monarch ‘card’. Even though like I said, The Monarch isn’t a card or a token. The physical representation ‘card’ is just a marker to serve as a reminder for the designation that someone is the Monarch. Simple, huh? Well, actually it is. It’s super intuitive once it gets going. A handful of cards establish a player as the Monarch, and to take it from them, you simply have to deal them some combat damage. Since the Monarch is an end of turn card-draw effect, the player who plays/takes it on their turn will draw an extra card as an immediate payoff.
The Monarch promotes game action. Either one player will get all the card advantage, and eventually turn it into game action, or it will be passed back and forth regularly, which implies action. Few if any Commander decks don’t want to draw one more card at the end of their turn anyways. And taking the Monarch is fun! It can be a difficult achievement! A moral victory! A true Machiavellian experience!
Of course the Monarch falls within the realm of ‘fair-play’ in Commander, meaning it is seldom part of some combo or all-in strategy that wants to wrap the game up before there are too many end steps anyway. So those decks can safely ignore it. But if you’re any other deck that just wants to have some fun, consider the following cards.
Canal Courier delivers! Human is always a welcome type, and rogue is trending upwards. Great for decks that want to get in with unblockable creatures, like Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow, and Edric, Spymaster of Trest.
Crown-Hunter Hireling is still seeking! Both creature types are pretty narrow, but could be better in future. Could be a decent blocker in decks that force everything else to attack, like Thantis, the Warweaver.
Custodi Lich gets the kids for the weekend! Overall, this card is awesome. Great types in zombie and cleric, which even have some synergistic overlap. Great payoff for getting the Monarch, which triggers immediately. Like a three-for-one that could keep adding up.
Entourage of Trest contains no turtles! Still a pretty good blocker, and an elf, which can be big game. Being a soldier with a solid body isn’t bad, either.
Keeper of the Keys locks up the win! The Monarch loves to come with a 4/4 for 5 mana. Like Canal Courier, this is a human rogue, but goes that one evolutionary step farther into mutanthood. Why? Why not! While your opponents get to see it coming, untapping with this and the Monarch is alpha-strike territory.
Knights of the Black Rose put the petals to the mettle! Oof, these puns. The card is clearly here to make sure all five colours have a 4/4 Monarch-making creature for 5 mana. Black and white have to share. The types are really great here, with a recent focus on knights in Eldraine. And you drain, too, when someone else gets the Monarch.
Marchesa’s Decree says it all! Several similar rattlesnake-style black enchantments have popped up recently, but bringing the Monarch along makes this the best of the bunch. This covers planeswalkers, too, which is handy. Great for pillowfort decks and those with fewer creatures that nuke the board regularly. A good playable overall.
Palace Jailer is a star at all the bars! Combining a Banishing Light effect with a Monarch-providing human soldier body is pretty great. What pushes this guy way over the top are two things, the first of which resulted in some Legacy play for this card. Getting the ‘banished’ creature back is usually a matter of removing the permanent that caused the banish. Not so here. An opponent (any opponent of the jailer, important to note) has to take the Monarch, which is pretty darn near impossible if they have no other creatures. Second, the banish effect is ideal to use on opposing Commanders, because their owners will almost always return them to the Command Zone rather than risk their return on getting the Monarch from you. As well, creature tokens are simply exiled, and things like Hydras and animated lands and artifacts will likely return from jail much worse off. A big time player for blink decks like Roon and Brago.
Palace Sentinels is always watching for a chance to shine! Easily dismissed as a ‘do nothing else’ white 4 drop creature, this card should get another look from any white decks that are in need of card draw. Think about the 2/4 human soldier aspect as a bonus. Pauper likes this guy a lot.
Protector of the Crown has you covered! Giants aren’t as synergistic as humans, and I wonder why a Giant topped out at 2 power when a bunch of humans are at 4, but toss something like Darksteel Plate on the Protector, and it’s like you’re wearing it too. Great for Pillowfort decks.
Queen Marchesa will kill for the Monarch. A terrific Commander, speaking from someone who has a build they played very recently. Great for Voltron, good for passively making creature tokens to pair with Purphoros, God of the Forge or Impact Tremors, and just plain awesome. Mardu, the colour combination of red, white and black, really gets a lot out of an extra card each turn, mitigating fizzle in a big way!
Regal Behemoth goes big! Recently changed to be dinosaur-type, this card has maybe too much going on. When you’ve got a creature that’s one of the best of its type, a big body with trample, and a mana doubler-effect, the Monarch kinda gets a little lost in the shuffle. For six mana, this is all kinds of bargains, and is a smash for dinosaur tribal.
Skyline Despot creates some substantial overhead! While the cost is bit scary at seven mana, and the payoff in dragon tokens is good but not game-breaking, the Despot makes up for it by being a dragon itself, a popular tribe with lots of synergy and payoffs.
Thorn of the Black Rose makes the point! Any size body with deathtouch is as good as any other size body when it comes to blocking nasties that want to take your Monarch designation away.
Throne of the High City completes the Royal Flush!!! Possibly the best Monarch card by virtue of being able to go into any Commander deck, and at the extremely low opportunity cost of being a land. It enters untapped, too. Lovely. While it requires a sacrifice, a lot of good things do.
From a cost standpoint, putting the Monarch into play is a wide range. At the upper end is Queen Marchesa, who is now appearing in Mystery Boosters. The Conspiracy 2 version runs around $20, and the Mystery version is under $10. Foils are extremely expensive, running as much as $150 or more. Regal Behemoth is approaching $10, with $15 foils. Skyline Despot is over $5, with foils over $10. Throne of the High City is slowly approaching $5, with foils of it and Custodi Lich approaching $10. Palace Sentinels, Thorn of the Black Rose, Knights of the Black Rose, and Marchesa’s Decree foils are a couple of dollars, some due to Pauper play. Otherwise, almost everything is really cheap. The weird exception is Palace Jailer, which has some 60-card eternal appeal. It was around $5 for a copy, but it’s a common in Mystery Boosters, so it will be super-cheap going forward. Foils, however, still command close to $50.
In summation, the Monarch is one of those amazing design home runs that comes off the bat in the top of first inning. What started in an antiquated Vampire game from last century now has a dedicated home in several of Magic’s marquee formats, not the least of which is Commander. With a wide variety of reasonably-priced cards that produce the effect, including one colourless land, it’s not hard to add the Monarch to your games. While it may not be the most competitive mechanic going, it’s an enabler that enriches the experience of the entire table, adding to a game of Magic without taking anything away. Or even being a card. Put a crown on that. We can only hope this Staple appears further in the new realms of imagination to be released this year. Thanks for reading and of course, stay healthy, safe and positive!
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