Many commons are staples you can’t have enough of, e.g. Rampant Growth and Terminate look great in most any deck of their colors. But what commons have untapped/vigilant potential for overall/general Commander play? Here are some that caught my eye, whether or not I’ve used them before. I’m keeping each one short and sweet, as this is intended to be a reference for cheap surprises. If you’ve made a three-color deck, you’ve probably got all the good stuff that’s those colors, but the cards below can round out a simpler deck nicely or help start your deck out on a tight budget.
And yes, I did look through all of Magic’s commons to make this list.
Accelerated Mutation – Any deck with cheap ways to get out high-cost creatures (affinity and convoke come to mind) can use this as a large pump spell. It’s not always amazing, but it definitely has its uses.
Agonizing Demise – I’m a fan of these sorts of effects, largely stemming from my irrational love of Phthisis. It helps that you don’t have to destroy the creature in order to deal the damage.
Aquamorph Entity – 5/1s in blue? As a surprise? It’s interesting at least.
Arsenal Thresher – Only useful in a few decks, but in its colors it often can be the biggest creature in your deck. That’s a lot of good stuff out of just a common.
Augur il-Vec – I love shadow in the format, but this guy’s useful even when shadow isn’t. How cool is that?
Avenging Druid – The ability being optional and triggering off any damage makes this intriguing.
Avian Changeling – Many a white tribe has this guy at the low end of the curve – the 2002 World Series has plenty of use for him. And unlike some of the lesser changelings, this guy/thing/whatever flies.
Balduvian Conjurer – The ability’s just so weird in blue that I had to include it.
Basal Thrull – Black recurs things enough that as a semi-repeatable ritual this is interesting.
Betrayal – These effects usually are semi-playable, and this one can draw you cards. You could combo this with some tappers as well to do funny things. All told, there’s more potential in this than most commons.
Bladetusk Boar – This is a fairly good beatstick if you’re looking for such. Red/green decks can use this pretty effectively.
Blessing of Leeches – You know how many creatures would like automatic regeneration, especially at flash? You can get around the life loss and the Rebecca Guay artwork, I’m pretty sure.
Blinding Beam – You can make each half annoy different players, which is nifty.
Brine Shaman – He’s actually close to being a build-around card, which is impressive for a common.
Coalition Honor Guard – Have you ever played against Flagbearers? They’re amazingly annoying. And this one with 4 toughness survives a number of targeting spells.
Dawn Charm – It’s amazing how many decks this can go in and be great.
Dawnglare Invoker – In the late game, 8 mana just isn’t hard to get to.
Descendant of Soramaro – Blue permission decks can set up amazing stuff when they cheaply can arrange their library. And as a 2/3 for 4 it’s not awful.
Devout Harpist – Repeatable aura destruction doesn’t show up much at any rarity, never mind on a 1-drop.
Dizzying Gaze – Any aura or equipment that lets a creature deal damage has all sorts of possibilities. Okay, not all sorts of possibilities, but there are the infect/lifelink/deathtouch possibilities. And red anti-flying measures have value in the first place.
Drelnoch – He’s not great, but even if he just trades, you’re still up two cards.
Drift of the Dead – If you’re playing all snow lands anyway, this guy has serious bite.
Equinox – Depending on how heavy your Commander group is on land destruction, sticking this in your white decks could be a strange foil. Rattlesnaking land destruction to opponents’ lands both protects you and denies them a disproportionate amount of resources. Seems cool to me.
Gnat Miser – One of my favorite first-turn plays in black.
Goblin Tinkerer – Even if it’s just blowing up Rings and Tops, it’s fine.
Guardian of the Guildpact – An unsolvable puzzle for many a deck.
Halimar Wavewatch – He’s a fine wall if you don’t have the mana and an evasive beating if you do. Blue getting options is a fine thing.
Harbor Serpent – Speaking of evasive beaters, this is actually very good for blue creatures period. Will other Commanders have Islands? It’s fairly likely.
Ivory Giant – This can wreck a variety of decks.
Llanowar Druid – Yes, I’ll just double my mana in the midgame, thank you.
Magnetic Flux – The use is semi-narrow but obvious and powerful. You could do a lot worse. I have.
Mana Skimmer – Keeping a land tapped down has its merits. Maybe not as many merits as just destroying the land, but it’s a cool option. Besides, it’s a flying Leech!
Manaforge Cinder – Red/black has a few of these creatures at common, but this is my favorite for ensuring you can cast things on curve.
Martyr of Ashes – This one might be the best of the cycle for this format, as the ability’s relevant just about anytime.
Mwonvuli Acid-Moss – If you’re running heavy green in Commander, there are many reasons to run this. Destroying a nasty land while ramping is all kinds of good. This one might not be underrated, but I love it so much that I included it anyway.
Oakgnarl Warrior – In the big dumb common monsters department, this is one of the best at playing offense and defense.
Psychotic Fury – The thing about multicolored creatures is that they normally have pretty good stats on the curve anyway. Most commanders can get nasty with this, and it replaces itself.
Pygmy Kavu – If your group has a lot of black decks, bring this in and watch them be sad. Okay, maybe not sad, but you can get a lot of cards off this.
Radiant’s Judgment – I’m not a fan of spot removal in Commander unless it damages the opponent or hits something else as well, but this cheaply answers most of the big scary stuff and cycles. Eventually, you probably want most of your white spot removal to involve exiling or shuffling into libraries, but until you get all those cards, this is a reasonable substitute.
Ray of Command – Though it’s more expensive than red effects of this type, it’s also instant. I imagine this can wreck many a planned combat.
Reality Ripple – You’re never going to wreck anyone with this, but if you need to save something from removal or deal with an attacker, I can assure you opposing decks don’t have a way of working around this. Hitting artifacts and lands seems good too. See also Sapphire Charm.
Sea Scryer – It’s blue ramp. De facto good.
Shadow Rift – The only shadow-heavy environments I’ve seen involve me and friends of me. This is as cheap, instant, and cantrippy as it gets, so if your deck needs something like this, it’s one of the best there is.
Sisters of the Flame – It’s red ramp. De facto playable.
Songs of the Damned – I know black has a number of ways of making loads of black mana, but this is one I haven’t seen anywhere.
Spore Cloud – What do you do with this? I don’t entirely know, but these effects are unusual for green, so they have value.
Springjack Knight – I don’t have any idea if it’s good, but the upside’s quite high.
Stinging Barrier – It’s at least versatile, and it’s one of the few common blue creatures who might be underrated.
Tundra Kavu – In Magical Christmas Land, this turns nasty lands off in phases where they’re not useful. I doubt that happens much, but who knows?
Veiling Oddity – The ability’s useful, even as opponents can see it coming.
Viscerid Deepwalker – Waterbreathing is at least cool, and sometimes it’s worthwhile.
Wistful Thinking – For something so simple, it’s remarkably open-ended.
Wrap in Vigor – If you’re a green token deck, this is a great thing to keep in hand. Not every wrath effect stops regeneration, and even if the current game has all of them, this is a reasonable combat trick.
Zealot il-Vec – It can be a white pinger or just bash face with an equipment on. This guy is seriously fantastic for what it is.
I’m not saying these are all amazing cards, but what I am saying is that if you’re cash-strapped, can’t think of the last few cards to fill out your deck, or are just getting used to the format, then try these out. If they don’t work, at least you didn’t shell out much cash listening to me.
So much of Commander is just finding cards that do more than one effect. Creatures that double as removal, cards that destroy multiple permanents, and so on, even if they’re not amazing, are still what you want to fill out your deck. I play Fissure Vent but not Lightning Bolt because Fissure Vent is a 2-for-1; it’s as simple as that, and you can get ahead in the format regardless of what cards you start out with as long as you keep that in mind. Hopefully these commons can get you there.