Most generals (in my playgroup anyway) fall into one of three (rather broad) categories. Pillars, Middle-of-the-roam and tertiary. Pillar generals are cards that are enough to carry the deck to victory if left unchecked, are key to the deck playing consistency (the general is combo-piece or enables recursion/fetching) or set up an oppressive board state on their own. Suffice to say, pillar generals inspire fear or at least some dread when resolved. Tertiary cards are only the general because their controller likes their flavor (or art or whatever), is only being used for the colors in its cost, or just for laughs. I’ll talk about tertiary cards later, today we’re focusing on pillars. A middle-of-the-road card has decent stats and utility, but doesn’t trigger any immediate alarm bells when resolved, I intend to deal with middle of the road generals later, hopefully next article.
Let’s list some examples:
Pillars:(If you see one of these cards resolve, your response generally is ‘Why didn’t you COUNTER that/Thank Gods I have a board-wipe in hand/general hate ahoy!). Keep in mind, this is not a complete list by any means, merely observations. And ok, I’ll admit it, a veiled warning: By having this particular card as your general you are attracting damage or unwelcome attention because they are JUST that problematic in a group context.
This isn’t an indictment against these cards, exactly: if you play these cards, expect some games that people will attack you just because of your general and not because of the board state.
Animar, Soul of Elements: Low-costed, protection from two colors and grows while giving you a discount! Utterly terrifying, and that’s not even mentioning Palinchron or his sickening interaction with morph creatures or other colorless monsters.
Kaalia of the Vast A favorite card of aggro and combo players everywhere, most people with sense flinch when Kaalia enters the field. While easily killed, having her swing even once can radically alter the balance of power–sometimes as early as turn two, with help. Resolving an Akroma, Angel of Wrath tapped and attacking that early is frightening, as is a Demon of Death’s Gate.
Prossh, Skyraider of Kher he’s a big beater that creates a stable board presence, and in the colors with the best sac outlets? Yes, Prossh is really more of a dragon-shaped-nuclear-missile, especially when combined with Food Chain and other antics. Speaking of which…
Scion of the Ur-Dragon Everyone knows about the combo with this guy and Wheel of Sun and Moon and as a result Scion decks are super tough to put down once they get this guy out and have 2 mana open. Almost as durable as Animar when it comes to avoiding spot removal as he can easily transform into something with protection or hexproof Dragonlord Ojutai being but one example.
Ghave, Guru of Spores It’s like Wizards is trying to make infinite tokens as easy as possible for Abzan colored decks when they printed this joker. Ghave doesn’t even need to attack–he’s a walking sporing combo-piece of death.
Krenko, Mob Boss A tribal leader that can easily get out of control with untap antics like Threaten or Thornbite Staff. To be fair, he’s the poster boy for goblins, so we’re not talking about a tribe with a tremendous amount of versatility—just a lot of raw power.
Omnath, Locus of Mana a giant green living mana-battery that can end games very quickly.
Iona, Shield of Emeria By herself, this mammoth angel can shut down entire tables. She is a game ender for sure, and non-interactive to boot, but her balancing factor is her excessive mana-cost. The true horror is when Iona is CHEATED into play via Tooth and Nail or Kaalia of the Vast. Not the most terrifying general, but people certainly despise this card at levels normally reserved for tax-collectors or the cast of The Jersey Shore.
Jhoira of the Ghitu Jhoira is a monster—and worst is that killing her doesn’t solve the problem. For a paltry two mana you can make sure that broken cards like Kozilek, Butcher of Truth, Time Stretch or other monstrosities come out and come out faster. A dedicated Jhoira deck can reduce the wait time for suspend stuff like Timecrafting.
Memnarch Do I even need to say anything? Blue-artifacts is the most restrictive color/colorless combo out there and…shudder…suffice to say in EDH, he can end up owning the whole table in short order unless you Pithing Needle him in short order, for maximum irony.
Maelstrom Wanderer. Whatever this thing is, it’s definitely a card-advantage monster and gives your newly summoned critters an edge.
Zur the Enchanter He can fetch nearly anything you want and thusly go anyway you want. Voltron, control, combo. Look out for Gift of Immortality on him—along with Necropotence to basically win then and there or even the more mundane Oblivion Ring. My partner runs a mean Zur deck that pillow-forts to a point where victory becomes nearly impossible—when in doubt, shoot Zur first.
Hokori, Dust Drinker Nobody likes this guy. Not even this guy! Mainboarding land-limiting creatures is a sure way to make people despise you quickly.
Sidisi, Undead Vizier any general that tutors on coming down is insanely powerful and not to be trifled with. Less a physical threat to your life total, more your opponent getting exactly what he wants, which is not great for the table.
Rafiq of the Many. Infect and double strike. Eww. Commonly a voltron/combo commander.
Narset, Enlightened Master I refuse to say anything about this card. Don’t get me wrong, but dedicated Narset decks are utterly brutal. Hope you packed Innocent Blood to deal with her or else you’ll be looking at Time Stretch and Dragonstorm as early as turn two or three in a Narset build.
Oloro, Ageless Ascetic. Or for that matter, this guy. At a table, the smart play is to wallop the Oloro player as hard as possible before he can combo out. I particularly recommend Stigma Lasher. Increased survivability because Oloro doesn’t even need to see play—just be there, accumulating life for his controller.
Skithiryx,the Blight Dragon Skittles here can end games unpleasantly quickly. Infect is on par with land-destruction in terms of violating the ‘gentleman’s agreement’ of EDH.
Ok, ok, you get the picture? Most high-power decks in edh will have a general that is to scale with the threat of their deck, though there are exceptions. ‘Pillar generals’ tend to lead focused decks—decks with certain ways to win, control the board, or deny opponents resources. Without their general, the pillar deck is more or less hamstrung and prevented from acting at full capacity.