Word of Command #7 - Combating Commanders

In this article, we discover how to combat commanders, which sometimes pop up in Commander. From exiling to sacrificing to countering them, just because you can't tuck them doesn't mean they're invincible.

Tucking has historically been viewed as a way to keep problematic and powerful commanders in check. With the changes to how the Commander format handles tuck and bounce, we're going to use this issue of Word of Command to discuss alternatives to keeping commanders in check, as well as how to answer other problematic permanents.

Forum News

Commander Tuck is No Longer a Thing

With a new set comes a new ban list update. This update comes with no changes to the actual ban list, but comes with a rather large rules change: If a commander would be put into a hand or library from anywhere, its owner may have it go to the command zone instead. This brings bounce and tuck in line with other removal on commanders.

Players have a lot to say about this change, so we recommend reading the official announcement as well as Sheldon's article over at StarCityGames. If you want to join the discussion, the discussion thread started by Infecter4life is where it's at.

Top 50 Changes

Cryogen runs the Top 50 List, a user-driven list of the top cards in each color. This month we're reporting on black spells and creatures:

Making Problems Go Away

Magic has always been a game of answers, but a variety of permanents are printed with varying degrees of resilience. In this article, we're going to briefly highlight the various abilities that make permanents more resilient and general ways of bypassing those abilities. From there we're going to discuss some various removal options in each color that manage those effects.

Answering Different Types of Resilience

There are a number of abilities in Magic that make various permanents more resilient, so as a starting point we're going to go through and define the various abilities, as well as highlight some general mechanics that can be used to answer permanents that have those abilities.

Indestructible: First up will be the the most iconic of this set of abilities. The indestructible keyword stops all destroy effects, as well as destruction caused by damage. Found recently on the Theros block Gods, and often granted to choice threats by way of various equipment, this ability blanks a large portion of common wrath effects, and several powerful or cheap removal options such as Pongify or Krosan Grip. In order to bypass this ability, you'll need to select removal options with other means: Exiling remains the most popular option, but tuck options still work well here, as does making a player sacrifice the permanent or giving enough -X/-X effects to cause it to be placed in the graveyard for having zero toughness.

Hexproof/Shroud: Next up is the common method of protection against single-target removal. Hexproof and shroud are found on a few popular commanders and choice threats, but are most often added on through the ever popular Lightning Greaves and Swiftfoot Boots. The recently printed Arcane Lighthouse makes it quite easy to blank this ability, and if the ability is granted by equipment there's always the option to simply destroy that equipment. Barring those, you'll need to find some non-targeted options of removal. In many decks this comes down to using a Wrath effect to clear it out. If you don't want to clear your own board, there are a few other good non-targeted effects: Many edict spells target the player or even have no target at all; certain spells, such as Council's Judgment are entirely non-targeted, allowing them to bypass hexproof, and auras that enter the battlefield directly don't actually target, allowing them to be attached directly onto a legal object, as aura spells only target while on the stack.

Protection: Protection is one of the older resiliency abilities and provides a broad range of defenses: It prevents damage that would be dealt by the protected quality, prevents attachment of auras, equipment, and fortifications of the protected quality, gives some evasion in that it can't be blocked by the protected quality, and prevents targeting from sources of the protected quality. Often, creatures simply have protection from certain colors, such as those granted by swords, or found naturally on creatures like Animar, Soul of Elements. This means that playing a multicolor deck can give more leeway by using another color instead. Certain creatures such as Progenitus, True-Name Nemesis, and Pristine Angel are a bit more all-encompassing. The targeting clause is the most immediate problem, and so a number of the potential solutions get shared with the hexproof and shroud list, but the aura tricks and certain Red wraths are removed from the list of answers. Wraths, edicts or other sacrifice effects, and non-targeted effects will remain your best options.

Persist/Undying: Persist and undying give a second life to creatures, allowing them to survive a round of traditional removal. Seen on a few good cards, or granted by a few utility spells, these abilities are rather easy to reuse by removing the counter placed upon them and can often be seen in combos. While not keyword abilities, variations of the theme are also found on certain other cards like Marchesa, the Black Rose and Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker. This ability is a bit unique in that some well-timed graveyard hate can help shut down the persistence. Removing the offending thing twice is also an option, but simply preventing it from hitting the graveyard works even better, since most things with this ability tend to give value simply on entering the battlefield or dying. Tuck options work once again here, as do exile options.

Commanders: This format that we choose to play bends the rules of traditional Magic to let us hand pick our own resilient creature. Previously, tuck options were used to help combat dangerous commanders, but with the recent changes, what do we have left? First off is the built-in commander tax: even if removing a commander isn't the end-all solution anymore, at some point it will grow too expensive to be a worthwhile investment. Except for Derevi. Some decks will handle the tax better than others, but repeatable removal can be one part of the answer. The next option is to simply make the commander useless, there are a variety of prison auras that can help lock down a creature or other permanent until the owner is able to reset it. Another way of making commanders useless is by hating on specific aspects or common strategies, such as with Torpor Orb or Cursed Totem. Finally, taking control of a person's commander remains an effective way of keeping it out of their hands and out of your face so long as you don't overly antagonize other players with it, they'll likely not kill it off either since it will most likely do less harm in your hands than in the hands of its owner.

Now that we've laid down the basics, the problem comes in when a permanent ends up with multiple defensive capabilities. The key here is to find some effect that combines the answers of two groups: for example, if a creature has both hexproof and indestructible, you'll want a non-targeted way to either exile or tuck it. This means that no matter the threat you're up against right now, a well timed Terminus will clear it away.


White is quite simply the removal king in Magic, spanning the widest selection of wrath effects, alongside a large variety of single target creature removal including the ubiquitous Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile. It can also remove artifacts and enchantments with ease. Since White has so many options, I'll just touch on a couple of key cards for each effect:

  • Exile: Aside from Path and Swords already mentioned, several other good options include Council's Judgment for non-targeted removal, and Final Judgment for a board clear. Angel of the Dire Hour can also be useful as a one-sided board wipe.
  • Tuck: White has several excellent sources of tuck, from Oblation at single target hitting any permanent type and Banishing Stroke for several permanent types, to creature wraths like Hallowed Burial and Terminus.
  • Sacrifice: White is not the strongest color for forcing sacrifices, but the effect can be found in removing attackers: Dispense Justice and Wing Shards are both excellent sources of this effect, as they can both hit multiple creatures. Other good sources to force sacrifices include Martyr's Bond as a Grave Pact variant and Renounce the Guilds for White's version of an edict.
  • Prison Effects: Once again, White is one of the stronger colors for locking down permanents. Arrest is the most pure version of the aura, shutting down both combat and abilities, but Faith's Fetters gains a bit of an upper hand by being able to shut down non-creatures. Prison Term and Cage of Hands however gain extra value by being able to move around, while Darksteel Mutation is the cheapest of the bunch. White is also able to prevent commanders from even being cast through effects like Nevermore. Of course, when it comes to locking down creatures, nothing will ever top Humility.
  • Artifacts and Enchantments: White shares the largest slice of this removal as well, but several stand-out options include Return to Dust, which has excellent reach and versatility exiling at instant speed, and Aura of Silence for the combination tax effect until no longer needed. For wrath options, Austere Command is very versatile and Patrician's Scorn is nice due to the instant speed and potentially free cost. If you're concerned about destroying your own enchantments, Cleansing Meditation can be a one-sided effect.
  • Control: While no longer part of White's slice of the color pie, we still have access to both Preacher and Evangelize. While your opponent chooses the target, you can make the choice easier for them by only giving them one option by killing their other stuff to ensure you get what you want. Do note that even though they choose the target, it's still your ability/spell, so it can't hit anything with shroud or hexproof.


Blue is better known for counterspells and bounce effects, but there are a number of good removal spells still available, stemming from the theme set by Pongify, Rapid Hybridization, and Polymorph.

  • Exile: Blue has recently gotten a number of new options for exiling problem creatures. Curse of the Swine remains an excellent multi-target exile spell, and while Hour of Need gives far more dangerous tokens to the opponents, the gain of instant speed can make it worthwhile as long as you pick your targets more selectively. Reality Shift is an excellent single target option, though you have a small potential to give minor card advantage and a combat trick, the value far outweighs the potential worst-case scenarios. Blessed Reincarnation is the newest addition to the lineup, giving an exile upgrade to Polymorph. Blessed Reincarnation gains in value primarily due to the rebound, allowing it to two-for-one. Blue also has its own version of Oblivion Ring thanks to Ice Age's Icy Prison, the upkeep can be expensive, but certain decks will be able to make use of sacrificing it and stacking the triggers.
  • Tuck: Blue has potentially the largest repertoire of tuck spells, from single target spells like Totally Lost to mass removal like Ætherspouts. Spin into Myth remains quite versatile, and Blue has a number of creatures that can be useful for deterring attackers like Void Stalker and Vortex Elemental.
  • Sacrifice: Blue doesn't have a lot going to sacrifice permanents, though there are a few hidden about. Following the Polymorph model, Reweave is a variant for all permanent types. Reality Acid is a timed aura, but gets better if you have a method to sacrifice or bounce it. Fade Away can be a mass tax that can turn into widespread devastation when a player is tapped out, though you're unlikely to hit the target you actually want. The three Rishadan pirates can also be useful if you use them in a blink or bounce shell. Finally, Dismiss Into Dream is a mana-intensive card that will cause problems for your opponents until dealt with.
  • -X/-X: If you have good top deck manipulation Erratic Mutation can be a decent kill spell, or even a finisher in a clutch situation.
  • Prison: Blue has a few decent prison auras. Although Volrath's Curse can be bypassed, the cost is quite steep and the ability to bounce it back and reuse it is quite strong. Lost in Thought is a cheap aura, which can gain in value if you have the capability to keep your opponent's graveyards clear so they can't pay the cost. Other than those, Blue typically locks down by keeping things tapped, such as with Claustrophobia or Frozen Solid. Similar to White, Blue has one last trick: keeping the problem card off the board with Declaration of Naught.
  • Artifacts and Enchantments: Although Blue primarily deals with artifacts and enchantments via generic bounce spells, a few other option exist. Shape Anew follows the polymorph model for artifacts, allowing for self use, but giving versatility against opposing problems. Aura Flux is an excellent tax against enchantments and Metamorphose is a general answer to any permanent, though with potential for drawback. Of course, Steal Artifact and Steal Enchantment are easy answers to problematic permanents of their respective types.
  • Control: Blue is the king of control, so from Control Magic to Steal Enchantment, you have a wide array of options. A few lesser known options include Cultural Exchange, which is excellent due to the lack of targeting as it allows for theft of hexproof/shrouded permanents, and Dominate since there is no enchantment to destroy and it steals at instant speed. Gather Specimens and Commandeer are great ways to steal permanents as they are cast, especially the latter as it can be cast for free, giving a surprise situation for your opponents.


Black has had strong removal dating all the way back to Terror. While a lot of Black's removal has self limitations, Black makes up for it with sheer versatility of methods of removal, being king of sacrifice effects, -X/-X effects, and even has a fair number of wrath effects and exile spells. Black's wrath effects tend to be pricier, but have added benefits, such as being one sided or drawing lots of cards.


Red is another high-removal color, but unfortunately it mostly revolves around damage. From wrath effects to single target removal and even its variations on exile all involve making things burn. A few outliers exist, such as Fissure.

  • Exile: Red's dependance on killing things with fire before exiling it unfortunately makes the vast majority of its exile effects useless against indestructible creatures, but is still useful for combating other strategies. While expensive, Burn Away deals with most problem creatures, and the mass exile kicker ensures things stay gone. Red Sun's Zenith is easily scalable, and can be used as a direct damage finisher later in the game. For a wrath option, Anger of the Gods would be the best option around, though you'd want to combine it with other effects to take down larger creatures.
  • Tuck: Chaos Warp is really the poster child for tuck in Red. Warp World gets tossed around a bit, but is really far more chaotic than a mass tuck spell. The only other options are various two card combos, such as Stingscourger to bounce, followed by a Winds of Change effect.
  • Sacrifice: Red is surprisingly good at making opponents sacrifice permanents. From Crack the Earth to Akki Underminer, Red has numerous sacrificial spells. If playing in a goblin shell, then Goblin Assassin is a great include to keep creature counts low. Grab the Reins can be mana intensive, but is a good multipurpose spell that ends up being effective single target removal. Finally, Rite of Ruin is an effective mass removal spell.
  • -X/-X: Flowstone Slide is a surprisingly effective wrath option, which once again can double as a finishing blow, often at the same time. For a more single-target version of the effect, placing a Flowstone Blade on an opposing creature lets you kill it at will, while also allowing you to increase the damage potential if it swings in a different direction.
  • Prison: Aside from Flowstone Slide, which requires keeping a large amount of mana untapped, Laccolith Rig is an effective aura to place on opposing creatures. If they attack you, you can easily chump and have the creature shoot itself or even keep it around and use it as repeatable removal. Red also has a few auras that cause creatures to not be able to block.
  • Artifacts and Enchantments: Into the Core is an excellent card for dealing with artifacts of all flavors: there are always a few stray equipment around that finding a second target is never a problem. On a larger scale, Furnace Dragon is a great way to reset an opposing artifact based deck, while Scrap Mastery would be effective if you're following an artifact strategy yourself. If neither of those fall to your fancy, you can always fall back on the popular Vandalblast, Shattering Spree, and Shattering Pulse for multiple artifact destruction. Unfortunately, when it comes to enchantments, you're still limited to Chaos Warp.
  • Control: Red's control effects tend to wear off rather quickly, or be more chaotic in nature. Combining Red's temporary theft with a sacrifice outlet is an excellent source of removal, or you can combine it with Bazaar Trader to make the effect permanent. Word of Seizing is particularly effective, not only due to the split second, but also because it can steal any permanent. If an opponent is about to ultimate a planeswalker, you can grab it for yourself instead.
  • Notable Mention: Red has a number of effects that make damage unpreventable. These cards are effective at getting damage-based wraths through protections.


When people mention green removal there are a few cards that immediately come up: Beast Within, Krosan Grip, and occasionally even Desert Twister get mentioned. Aside from killing fliers, Green is considered to be the weakest removal color for creatures. These days, though, this has been on an upswing thanks to the fight mechanic being given over to Green, especially with the large array of deathtouchers available to the color. It's also important to keep in mind Green's array of lure effects as well.

  • Exile: Oddly enough, Green does have a single card capable of exiling opposing creatures: the Whippoorwill. While I wouldn't run out of my way to add it into a deck, it is available as an option, especially paired with fight mechanics. Creatures aside, Green has also recently gotten its ability to exile artifacts and enchantments thanks to Fade into Antiquity, which can be useful for dealing with Gods.
  • Tuck: Once again, Green hits the noncreature permanents most easily, with Deglamer and Unravel the Æther at instant speed on the cheap end, and Primal Command and Brutalizer Exarch giving more versatility on the more expensive side. It's important to note also that the first two are able to hit artifact creatures or creatures that happen to become artifacts while the latter two can't.
  • Sacrifice: For a third time, Green hits artifacts and enchantments with its global edict in Tribute to the Wild. The ability to hit multiple opponents with this card, as well as the lack of targeting to get through hexproof more than makes up for the lack of choice otherwise.
  • Prison: Finally we get back to directly dealing with creatures. Green actually has a surprising set of useful prison effects. The most recent, Song of the Dryads, is rather well known and powerful, but Green also adds Arachnus Web, Utopia Vow, and Lignify to the list of effective answers.
  • Notable Mention: Tornado is a fantastic card. At even a single use, it ends up only being a slightly overcosted Desert Twister, but the real power comes on subsequent uses. In Commander, the increasing life payments are a negligible cost for reusable destruction, and once you get to a point that the life payments start to get a bit ubcomfortable, the upkeep cost is still low enough to simply keep the option open for a few turns longer. Who knows, maybe that nine life payment looks awfully tempting when staring down a combo on the opposite side of the board.

Artifact and Colorless

No matter whether you are building a mono-colored or multi-colored deck, artifacts help fill in the holes that naturally occur between the colors. Certain colorless removal options are widely known and used: Oblivion Stone, Spine of Ish Sah, and Nevinyrral's Disk show up in a large amount of lists.


Since one of the major themes I've been discussing has been the transference of using tuck to deal with opposing commander to various prison effects to make them impotent. I'd like to take the time to jump to a cycle of cards printed in the first Commander product: the cycle of vows.

As far as prison enchantments go, they lack a little something to stop commanders that gain value through their abilities, or who don't really care who they attack, but they do still serve an excellent purpose of generally preventing bad things from happening to you, all while encouraging bad things to happen to other people who are not you. A most excellent type of situation to promote.

Give them a try in the next deck you build, and you may be pleasantly surprised at the result.

Removing the Player

Of course, if all else fails, you can always rely on rule 800.4a to get rid of a problematic permanent. Roughly paraphrased, it goes something like this: If a player loses the game, all their stuff goes away too. Sometimes the best solution is the easiest one.


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