Targeted Removal In Commander

Commander games are often about blowing up the whole table, but we can still get a lot of use out of traditional removal as well! Bennie Smith provides a quick guide to killing the most troublesome permanents without harming everything else!

Playing removal spells in Commander is trickier than it seems. You can’t
rely on spot removal to solve your problems in a multiplayer
format-multiple opponents playing multiple threats will quickly overwhelm
your resources. But playing lots of mass removal has its own issues. If you
keep sweeping the board, games tend to stall out. This is boring, which is
the antithesis of what Commander is supposed to be about. Leaning too
heavily on mass removal effects can also mean punishing the entire table
when you really just want to get rid the one permanent that’s about to kill
you. This can force everyone to band together and take you out so they can
return to playing their cards and enjoying the game.

Instead of having removal spells be the focus of your deck, I like making
them a supporting theme. You want to play enough removal spells to have one
or two when needed, but you don’t want them to be the only action in your

This is why spot removal plays a vital role: you need to have it for
something that really matters. Spot removal is usually cheap, so you can
use it when someone powers out their Commander earlier than everybody else.
A turn two Skullbriar is a scary thing to face down if you only have a
fistful of wraths, but a surgical Swords to Plowshares can make you the
hero of the table-at least temporarily.

In a format where just about every card is legal, however, searching
through Gatherer for “destroy target [something]” can be overwhelming. I
thought it might be helpful if I shared the best removal spells to play in
Commander. My hope is to stir up a conversation about what removal spells
people play and why.

Targeted Creature Removal

White is the gold standard when it comes to efficiently removing individual
creatures. Swords to Plowshares has been wiping out problematic creatures
since the game’s inception, and Path to Exile is nearly as good. Killing a
creature at instant speed for one mana is fantastic, but what puts these
two spells over the top is their exile effect. Graveyards are just not a
place where creatures are actually gone these days-they’re a resource that
most decks have some way to utilize. If you need to ensure that a
non-Commander card is gone for good, you have to find a way to exile it.

Declaration in Stone is a slower, friendlier iteration of these white
spells, but it has the benefit of being able to mop up a token horde with
no drawback. This is definitely a great option to have against some popular

Reprisal is a card I often forget about, but I try to remind myself about
its existence when brewing up lists. The price is right at just two mana,
and you can cast it at instant speed. The condition of only being able to
target a creature with four or more power is not much of a drawback in
Commander, since most creature threats you’ll want to spend a removal spell
on will meet that requirement. You can even mitigate that marginal downside
if you’ve got some reusable way to boost the power of an opponent’s

You have to dig a little deeper to find good ways to remove individual
creatures in green and red. During most of Magic’s history, green wasn’t
able to deal with creatures-something that didn’t really change until
Wizards created the fight mechanic. Ulvenwald Tracker’s cheap cost and
reusability make it a great addition to green decks, especially if your
Commander is sizeable. Setessan Tactics is at its best when you have a lot
of mana, but that’s not usually a problem for green decks. Its flexibility
as either a mass fight enabler or just as a surprise pump across multiple
attackers make it a nice addition to green’s arsenal.

Berserk is an oldie and a goodie that I’ve stuffed into many of multiplayer
decks since I cracked it in an Unlimited booster pack many moons ago. The
card is great at turning pump spells into a lethal attack, especially if
your creature has Infect, but it’s even better in multiplayer since you can
target a creature an opponent controls that’s attacking someone else. Not
only can Berserk make the defending player take a lot more damage than they
were expecting, but it destroys the attacking threat after combat. A
win/win for you!

Red is even trickier since its strength is dealing damage in small and
efficient chunks. In a world where everyone starts off with forty life and
creatures tend to be large, red’s spells can be outclassed pretty quickly.

That said, I think Lightning Bolt can absolutely have a place in a
Commander deck. Lightning Bolt can finish off a player who has managed to
stabilize at just a few points of life, and it can prove to be a potent
political bargaining chip in similar situations. It can also help finish
off a problematic Planeswalker when the player has a board that is
difficult to attack into. Most often, though, Lightning Bolt shines when a
threat on the board blocks or is blocked by a creature that is not quite
big enough to kill it…not without three extra points of damage, at least.
If this sort of interaction appeals to you, you might also want to consider
Carbonize, a burn spell that shuts down regeneration and exiles the
creature if it dies.

Lastly, I wanted to give a shout-out to Impact Resonance. There are times
where the card will rot in your hand as you wait for a good time to cast
it, but Commander is a game about haymakers and spectacular plays. A huge
amount of damage will get dealt eventually, that’s when Impact Resonance
shines. You can often pick off several problematic creatures with just one
spell and two red mana.

White is the gold standard for efficiency and exile effects, but black
provides countless spells that kill creatures as well. It’s easy to trigger
morbid in a Commander game, so the bonuses on Tragic Slip and Malicious
Affliction are worth waiting for. Tragic Slip is a card I find room for in
most of my black Commander decks-the price and speed can’t be beat, and
there aren’t many other cards that can deal with a large indestructible or
regenerating threat for just one mana.

Big Game Hunter is like a black Reprisal, only you get a 1/1 creature
attached to the effect for one extra mana. You might even get to take
advantage of the madness once in a while. The advantages of Big Game Hunter
don’t stop there, though, since creatures with comes-into-play abilities
are easy to reuse through graveyard recursion, self-bounce, and blinking
effects. If we ever get a black and white Commander to tie to Rebel tribe
together, Big Game Hunter will be one of the go-to search targets.

Silence the Believers is a little costly, but the exile effect,
condition-free targeting, and strive ability makes it worthy of
consideration for any black deck. And since black is no slouch in the
mana-generating department, you won’t have any issues casting this spell
most of the time.

(Ob)Noxious Gearhulk pops up here and there in Standard, but it should see
a lot more play in Commander than it does right now. Killing anything,
gaining you life, and then leaving behind a substantial threat is exactly
what we want to be doing in this format.

Like green, blue has traditionally had a problem dealing with creatures
once they hit the battlefield. Thankfully, Wizards found a flavorful
loophole by giving blue the slice of the color pie that deals with
polymorphing. Pongify and Rapid Hybridization are as cheap as can be, and
the fact that you can cast them at instant speed makes them great at
dealing with the exact sort of threats that require spot removal in the
first place. The drawback on these two spells isn’t trivial, but as long as
you’re downgrading something more threatening than a 3/3 token, it’ll be a
net positive.

Curse of the Swine is slower and more mana intensive than Pongify or Rapid
Hybridization, but its exile effect is excellent. 2/2 creatures are a lot
easier to deal with, too, and Curse of the Swine scales nicely as the game

Most of these spells get the nod due to their ability to unconditionally
kill anything. I haven’t played with Ajani Unyielding all that much yet,
but I suspect it’ll prove to be quite good in Commander.

Removing Commanders

I thought it would be good to focus on dealing with Commanders specifically
here. Even though most commanders can be targeted by the same removal
spells as every other creature in your opponent’s deck, the rules of the
format mean that they’ll probably be back sooner or later. For threatening
Commanders that don’t cost much mana to cast, this can be particularly
frustrating to deal with it. In order to combat this, we can make use of
cards that neutralize the Commander without killing it.

I think that Prison Term is one of the best Pacifism variants out there,
since you can move it to a bigger threat at any point. The Vow cycle is a
nice spin on that, only keeping the enchanted creature from attacking you
while giving it a boost when attacking your opponents.

Sometimes, though, a Commander can be threatening just by existing on the
board, whether or not it’s attacking or blocking. One of my favorite
answers to these situations is Darksteel Mutation. It’s cheap to cast, and
the Commander can’t wiggle out of its mutation by dying to a wrath and
slipping back into the Command Zone. Song of the Dryads and Imprisoned by
the Moon are similarly good at neutralizing Commanders, and the fact that
they can deal with problematic non-land permanents give them additional
versatility as well.

Lastly, there are the “named card” removal spells like Declaration of
Naught and Voidstone Gargoyle. In most formats, these spells are tricky to
use since you might name a card that is not even in your opponent’s hand.
In Commander, however, you always know at least one card in each opponent’s
deck. Exclusion Ritual is a bit pricey at six mana, but it will both exile
a problematic Commander and prevent it from being replayed until someone
removes your card. If my deck has even a whiff of enchantment synergy,
Exclusion Ritual is an auto-include.

Removing Permanents

Since a Commander game might involve facing down almost any card from
throughout the game’s history, flexibility is an important quality to
consider when choosing a removal spell.

These cards represent the very best in flexible pinpoint removal spells-not
just for creatures, but for non-creature permanents as well. Green is the
best color for this, and Beast Within, Bramblecrush, and Rootgrapple are
particularly nice thanks to their ability to destroy opposing

Removing Enchantments and Artifacts

Having pinpoint removal for artifacts and enchantments is just as important
as it is for creatures. Relying exclusively on board sweepers is a mistake.
Artifacts and enchantments are a big part of most Commander decks, and
you’d hate to cast something like Bane of Progress to get rid of Paradox
Engine. By sweeping away everyone’s signets and innocuous enchantments,
you’ve turned a heroic combo-breaking moment into a situation where
feel-bads are scattered all around the table.

Make sure you include ways to deal with indestructible artifacts and
enchantments, too. Deglamer, Revoke Existence, and Return to Dust are good
calls. If you’re playing green, Krosan Grip is worth the extra mana cost
since split second can be the only way to stop certain kinds of
shenanigans. Sometimes, taking out a Sensei’s Divining Top just feels good.

I hope that I’ve given you some ideas for working a good mix of removal
spells into your Commander decks. What’s your philosophy on removal? What
are your favorite targeted removal spells that I didn’t include? Let me

New to Commander?

If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:

Commander write-ups I’ve done
(and links to decklists):

Zurgo Bellstriker (Bellstriking Like a Boss)

Dragonlord Ojutai (Troll Shroud)

Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund (Dragons, Megamorphs, and Dragons)

Dromoka, the Eternal (One Flying Bolster Basket)

Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest (Tempests and Teapots)

Tasigur, the Golden Fang (Hatching Evil Sultai Plots)

Scion of the Ur-Dragon (Dragon Triggers for Everyone)

• Nahiri, The Lithomancer (Lithomancing for Fun and Profit)

Titania, Protector of Argoth (Titania’s Land and Elemental Exchange)

Reaper King (All About VILLAINOUS WEALTH)

Feldon of the Third Path (She Will Come Back to Me)

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant (Calling Up Ghouls with Sidisi)

Zurgo Helmsmasher (Two Times the Smashing)

Anafenza, the Foremost (Anafenza and Your Restless Dead)

Narset, Enlightened Master (The New Voltron Overlord)

Surrak Dragonclaw (The Art of Punching Bears)

Avacyn, Guardian Angel; Ob Nixilis, Unshackled; Sliver Hivelord (Commander Catchup, Part 3)

Keranos, God of Storms; Marchesa, the Black Rose; Muzzio, Visionary Architect (Commander Catchup, Part 2)

Athreos, God of Passage; Kruphix, God of Horizons; Iroas, God of Victory (Commander Catchup, Journey into Nyx Edition)

Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient (Ghost in the Machines)

Jalira, Master Polymorphist (JaliraPOW!)

Mishra, Artificer Prodigy (Possibility Storm Shenanigans)

Yisan, the Wanderer Bard (All-in Yisan)

Selvala, Explorer Returned (Everyone Draws Lots!)

Grenzo, Dungeon Warden (Cleaning Out the Cellar)

Karona, False God (God Pack)

Child of Alara (Land Ho!)

Doran, the Siege Tower (All My Faves in One Deck!)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (my Magic Online deck)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (Shadowborn Apostles & Demons)

King Macar, the Gold-Cursed (GREED!)

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind ( Chuck’s somewhat vicious deck)

Roon of the Hidden Realm (Mean Roon)

Skeleton Ship (Fun with -1/-1 counters)

Vorel of the Hull Clade (Never Trust the Simic)

Anax and Cymede (Heroic Co-Commanders)

Aurelia, the Warleader ( plus Hellkite Tyrant shenanigans)

Borborygmos Enraged (69 land deck)

Bruna, Light of Alabaster (Aura-centric Voltron)

Damia, Sage of Stone ( Ice Cauldron shenanigans)

Derevi, Empyrial Tactician (Tribal Birds)

Emmara Tandris (No Damage Tokens)

Gahiji, Honored One (Enchantment Ga-hijinks)

Geist of Saint Traft (Voltron-ish)

Ghave, Guru of Spores ( Melira Combo)

Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)

Glissa, the Traitor ( undying artifacts!)

Grimgrin, Corpse-Born (Necrotic Ooze Combo)

Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord (drain you big time)

Jeleva, Nephalia’s Scourge ( Suspension of Disbelief)

Johan (Cat Breath of the Infinite)

Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo’ Myrs)

Karona, False God (Vows of the False God)

Konda, Lord of Eiganjo ( The Indestructibles)

Lord of Tresserhorn (ZOMBIES!)

Marath, Will of the Wild ( Wild About +1/+1 Counters)

Melira, Sylvok Outcast ( combo killa)

Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker ( Outside My Comfort Zone with Milling

Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis (evil and Spike-ish)

Nicol Bolas (Kicking it Old School)

Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius ( new player-friendly)

Nylea, God of the Hunt ( Devoted to Green)

Oloro, Ageless Ascetic (Life Gain)

Oona, Queen of the Fae (by reader request)

Phage the Untouchable ( actually casting Phage from Command Zone!)

Phelddagrif (Mean Hippo)

Polukranos, World Eater (Monstrous!)

Progenitus (

Fist of Suns and Bringers


Reaper King (Taking Advantage of the new Legend Rules)

Riku of Two Reflections (

steal all permanents with
Deadeye Navigator + Zealous Conscripts


Roon of the Hidden Realm ( Strolling Through Value Town)

Ruhan of the Fomori (lots of equipment and infinite attack steps)

Savra, Queen of the Golgari ( Demons)

Shattergang Brothers (Breaking Boards)

Sigarda, Host of Herons ( Equipment-centric Voltron)

Skullbriar, the Walking Grave ( how big can it get?)

Sliver Overlord (Featuring the new M14 Slivers!)

Thelon of Havenwood ( Campfire Spores)

Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice ( new player-friendly)

Uril, the Miststalker (my “more competitive” deck)

Varolz, the Scar-Striped (scavenging goodness)

Vorosh, the Hunter ( proliferaTION)

Xenagos, God of Revels (Huge Beatings)

Yeva, Nature’s Herald (living at instant speed)