20 Essential Black Commander Cards

20 Essential Black Commander Cards

Kristen GregoryCommander

So you want to build a Black Commander deck? Ultimate power awaits, for those who seek it. We’ve prepared a list of 20 Essential Black Commander cards to get you started on your brewing journey. 

Black has access to oodles of card draw, removal, life drain and reanimator effects. It’s the best color at using the graveyard – both at bringing creatures back, and as a resource. You’re unlikely to run out cards playing Black.

Black has a bunch of non-black staples; so many, that we could probably add a second list with just those. From Cabal Coffers and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, to Phyrexian Tower, Jet Medallion, and the many Altars. Black can play a bunch of synergistic artifacts, and MDFCs like Malakir Rebirth to boot. To keep this list tight, we’re not covering any of these stellar playables.

Also, a note on Power level. Black has specific cards it wants to play for specific power levels and win conditions. The difference in staples between EDH and cEDH is notable, with cards like Burnt Offering (actually a Rakdos card) featuring quite highly. You’ll know whether you want Gravecrawler or Exquisite Blood, basically, and as iconic as those cards are, they’re hardly essential

Without further ado, let’s delve in. 


The first entry on the list is pretty new, and you may have missed it: Ashnod’s Intervention. Black has dozens of this style of card, but aside from the proactive Kaya’s Ghostform, no others actually help with your creature getting exiled, which it usually is if it’s being targeted. Ashnod’s is reactive, and puts it back in your hand. While you can do some weird stuff with this and Food Chain, the common use case is saving your haymaker from Swords to Plowshares, which is honestly pretty sick. 

While Imp’s Mischief is in some ways better, because it gives a Deflecting Swat effect to Black, it’s also nearly $30, and not worth it unless you’re playing at the highest power levels – in which case you’re probably playing red and/or blue anyways, defeating the purpose. Imp’s Mischief is cute, but Ashnod’s Intervention will do most of what it usually does for pennies. 


Entomb is the definitive way to tutor a card from your library into your graveyard. Sure, Gravebreaker Lamia and Oriq Loremage exist, but they’re a lot higher on the curve and can’t be cast at instant speed. Entomb puts your fattie combo piece in the bin, and it does so exactly when you want it to. While Buried Alive could easily have taken this slot, it lost out on the fact it only does creatures, and at sorcery speed. It’s less good for setting up when you can’t immediately capitalize on what’s in the yard; graveyard hate should be played liberally at all tables, after all. 

Phyrexian Reclamation

There’s nothing quite like Phyrexian Reclamation. It’s cheap, repeatable, and instant speed. It pulls back what you want, and can dodge interaction by activating a second or even third time. So while black has some really stellar reanimation –  including the eponymous Reanimate – there are just so many decent options, that none can really be claimed to be “essential”. Animate Dead, for example, is weaker to removal, but a lot easier to use in a combo. Reclamation, on the other hand, is just that good. It’s irreplaceable. 

If you’re looking for a budget repeatable option, I like the recent Vat of Bebirth quite a bit if you can enable it. Veinwitch Coven is also excellent in decks that can reliably trigger the lifegain.

Dauthi Voidwalker

Dauthi Voidwalker can be rage inducing for opponents, and that’s exactly why you should run it. Salt is a precious resource, so do your best to harvest as much as you can. Graveyard hate is essential in any deck, and Voidwalker is up there with the best of them. Any card exiled with it ends up with a void counter on. The longer it stays in play, the longer your shopping list will get. What takes it up another level is the fact that later instances of Voidwalker can cast any card with a void counter on it, which makes it brilliant in any deck that can grant it haste and keep bringing it back.

Black has a lot of great one-sided graveyard hate. Agent of Erebos is great in decks with plenty of enchantments, while Ravenloft Adventurer and Mari, the Killing Quill both care about specific creature types. 

Demonic Tutor 

Black is great at tutoring. You can get whatever you want – that’s the benefit of playing black. Demonic Tutor is by far the most iconic and most reliable of the lot, not subject to deck shuffling shenanigans like Vampiric Tutor. Even if you’re just using a tutor to hit your land drops, it’s always going to be useful – even if it is a little disappointing. 

Diabolic Intent can be great in graveyard or aristocrat decks; Scheming Symmetry is a lot of fun at more casual tables; and Wishclaw Talisman can be made into a Demonic Tutor by careful use of sacrificing it before it exchanges hands. 

Toxic Deluge 

Toxic Deluge is the best black boardwipe, and it’s not even close. It’s always three mana, and it can get through all manner of indestructible or chonky creatures. It answers problems Damnation can’t, and it’s much, much cheaper than the likes of Necromantic Selection.

If you like the -1/-1 effects, then Massacre Girl is another great option, with the added bonus of leaving you with a 4/4 menace threat afterwards. While the Meathook Massacre is arguably better for aristocrats or tokens builds, its also even more expensive than Toxic Deluge

Deadly Dispute 

Deadly Dispute is a $4 common.

Drawing two cards and making a treasure is an exceedingly good rate, and Deadly Dispute can be used both proactively and reactively, netting you some much needed resources for your troubles. These kinds of effects fall under a term I like to call “smoothing”. They aren’t the explosive, hand filling draw, and they aren’t rituals or ramp, producing only a temporary mana advantage. They instead “smooth” your draws, leaving with less rough spots and down time. 

Plumb the Forbidden is another great option, especially if you fill up a board quickly. Much like Shattering Spree – which I mentioned in the 20 Essential Red Cards – the spell is copied, meaning you won’t often have the whole lot of your card draw countered. Black has a wealth of four mana card draw options, so picking one for the list felt pretty arbitrary. Hostile Negotiations is the one I’m hot on right now though – it can be a draw six for a deck that can take advantage of it. 


While I wouldn’t say Reanimate is an Essential Black Card, I would say that Victimize is. It’s an iconic Commander card, available for pennies. At most levels of casual play, getting back two creatures for three mana is a hell of a deal, especially given so pairs of creatures can either synergize or straight up combo. Bring back something big with Disciple of Bolas to draw a bunch; bring back Bruna and Gisela, if you’re feeling spicy. 

Black Market Connections 

Move over Necropotence, 2023 Magic is here and it demands smoothing. While Necropotence is undoubtedly an insanely powerful card, I don’t think it’s as essential to having a good time as Black Market Connections. Much like Deadly Dispute, Connections lets us smooth out our draws. It gives bonus mana, card draw, and even makes a blocker. Any deck that cares about party or tribal will be happy to take this Changeling, and the right decks can really take advantage of it. The sum of the parts here is excellent. 

Body Count

Read Body Count. Then read it again. And just once more, just to confirm that you’ll draw cards off of tokens dying. At instant speed. Whew

I really loved Liliana’s Standard Bearer when we got it, and this just builds on that use case and gives even more bang for the buck. Turning on spectacle isn’t difficult, and being able to play this after a boardwipe for the spectacle cost isn’t either; most people wipe the board in main phase 2, after all. If you’re in any way doing some sacrifice loops or otherwise killing off your own creatures, then Body Count might just be the spell for you.

Black has access to so many great draw spells that you’re spoiled for choice. If your Commander is big? Stinging Study. Got a lot of creatures? Minions’ Murmurs or Pact of the Serpent. Body Count takes the crown here for being so cheap to cast.

Ravenous Chupacabra 

Black is also spoiled for choice when it comes to removal. There are countless options when it comes to Instants, Sorceries and Creatures. In highlighting one that’s essential to any collection, I’m making a case for Ravenous Chupacabra. It’s cheap and accessible, and it’s pretty reasonably costed for four mana. What makes it so great is that it’s easy to recur, tutor for, flicker, and clone. Unless you’re playing Toshiro Umezawa, you’re taking removal on a body pretty highly.

Noxious Gearhulk and Patron of the Vein fulfill similar roles, and are much stronger cards, providing decent damage, evasion, and secondary effects. They’re a little higher on the curve, though, and you might want something cheaper as your roleplayer removal creature.

Lethal Scheme

Removal is needed at instant speed too, though, and so I want to talk about Lethal Scheme next. Lethal Scheme is by and large a free spell, and we know how powerful those can be. Most of the time, this will cost two or even fewer mana, and you’re not only getting to kill a creature or planeswalker, but also filter through up to four cards and even grow some creatures. All of this on one card is the definition of “pushed”, and if you’re in any deck except a strict spellslinger deck, there’s an argument for running Lethal Scheme.

Deadly Rollick is another great free removal spell, and is also pretty high up the list. There are a bunch of options, really, from Baleful Mastery and Infernal Grasp, to Price of Fame or Dismember. What you take largely depends on your power level and goals (and budget!), but most black removal is replacement level. Soul Shatter is one you should check out, though; it can be pretty back breaking. 

Yawgmoth, Thran Physician 

Combining card draw and removal is always a safe bet. Putting them on a creature that can block reasonably well, making the card draw ability cost zero mana to activate, and stapling on inevitability? Well, I’m not sure how safe that is. Certainly don’t take your kids to see Yawgmoth at any rate. Yawgmoth has set the bar for four drops, and he’s an instant include for many decks. There’s not much more to say. 

If you want something Yawgmoth-adjacent, then Erebos, Bleak-hearted is a great option. Much like Liliana, Dreadhorde General, they offer card draw without the need to spend mana, which is incredibly powerful and something you should lean into as much as possible. 

Grim Hireling 

Treasures changed Commander forever, and I’m not sure what the format would look like now without all of those Lotus Petals running amok. If your opponents are on turn 5 and you’re on turn 8, then you’re probably going to win; mana advantage wins games. 

Grim Hireling just asks you to deal combat damage in exchange for making multiple treasures a turn cycle. If that wasn’t enough, you can also sacrifice treasures to remove creatures. Because one line of text isn’t enough anymore. 😉

There are multiple cards that offer similar value in black, but Hireling is probably the easiest to enable.  Ruthless Technomancer is a nice companion card if you enjoy noodling around in the graveyard, and though Revel in Riches and Black Market are hugely popular, they paint a massive target on your back and often end up less impactful than curving out with a creature and keeping on the pressure. Pitiless Plunderer is cool too, if you have one. If they don’t reprint him in Commander Legends I’ll be salty as hell. 

Prowling Geistcatcher

Four mana really is the new six mana, at least when it comes to black. Prowling Geistcatcher released to little applause, and is still somehow only a 50 cent card, which is puzzling to me. Geistcatcher lets you perform disgusting creature loops, and works as a spare piece in countless combos, given you can tuck a creature that can reanimate Geistcatcher under the Geistcatcher. All you need is a sacrifice outlet, and it’s game over for your opponents. More people need to play with this thing to see how truly broken it is.

Living Death

And now for one of my favorite Magic cards to ever exist: Living Death. Living Death is always really fun to resolve, and it’s a boardwipe that’s increasingly easy to make one-sided. By sacrificing your own board with it on the stack, and by pre-emptying your opponent’s yards with anything from a Soul-Guide Lantern to an Author of Shadows, you can simultaneously wipe the board, get a load of EtBs, and slingshot into the lead. Don’t sleep on Author of Shadows, either – sure it’s a ten mana combo, but exiling an opponent’s Teferi’s Protection or Heroic Intervention can help you close the game.

There are other options, too. Rise of the Dark Realms; Balthor the Defiled; Thrilling Encore; Patriarch’s Bidding; all great, but none as fun as Living Death. Brb while I go build another reanimator deck. Henzie looks good. 

Gray Merchant of Asphodel 

If I took a straw poll and asked for iconic black finishers, I’m sure Gary would end up pretty high on the list. There’s nothing quite like ol’ Gary here, except maybe Kokusho, the Evening Star. Gray Merchant is a way to stay in a game, a way to end opponents, and an easy one to use at that. Recur him, clone him, bounce him, flicker him – Saw him in half if you have to. He’s iconic, and he’s here to stay.

Marionette Master

Black has access to dozens of ways to drain life. Picking between Zulaport Cutthroat, Blood Artist & co. is arbitrary – if you want a drainer, you’re happy with whichever one you draw. I’d maybe argue Bastion of Remembrance as the all-star, seeing as it’s harder to remove, but it’s nowhere near as cool and interesting as Marionette Master

Black is actually pretty good at using artifacts, and Marionette Master is a hell of a finisher. Whether you’re cracking a buttload of treasures, or suiting her up with a Cranial Plating and sacrificing a couple artifact creatures for big numbers, she’ll help you get over the finish line. She makes the list thanks to enabling a bunch of new strategies in black that don’t have to rely on classic linear wincons. 


Speaking of classic linear wincons, enter Exsanguinate. Most black decks that don’t want to win through combat or combos are going to be winning with life drain, whether that’s through intricate graveyard shenanigans, aristocrats, or just pumping a bunch of mana into a spell. I like Exsanguinate a lot more than Torment of Hailfire these days, which I feel has actually dropped off quite a bit if you’re not making infinite mana. 

Most decks run both if they’re aiming for that win condition, but Exsanguinate is positioned much better in the current metagame, where gaining life can often grant you another whole turn that you wouldn’t have otherwise had access to. Throwing out an Exsanguinate after a mid to late game board clear to claw back some life buffer can be game winning, even if you have to go on to finish your opponents in other ways. 

Archon of Cruelty

This list wouldn’t be complete without a stonking great beastie to reanimate, and for that, I am currently super high on Archon of Cruelty. It draws cards, it strips opponents of cards, it drains life, it removes creatures, and it swings in for six in the air. What more could you want?

While there are plenty of chonkers to pick from, Archon gets it done. 


And there you have it – the Top 20 Essential Black Commander Cards. Black has oodles of fabulous cards, and thankfully a lot of them are replacement level, especially when it comes to removal, aristocrats and life drain/gain. That said, you should bear in mind the sheer power of the cards on this list, as they’ll help you tune your decks to higher power, more optimized lists.