Removal is one of the most prominent forms of interaction in Magic. It’s used to keep threats under control, to interrupt combos, and to prevent players from snowballing out of control. In Commander, removal is necessary for survival, but there are so many options across all five colors; finding the right pieces can be intimidating to all but the most well-versed players.
As I mentioned in my Commander Essentials article, there are some cards that see much more play than others. While I’m not usually one to sing from the same hymn sheet as everyone else, when it comes to removal, some options are the optimal choice in the majority of cases.
I’ll cover some of these cards today, focusing on the most emblematic effects in each color. I’ll talk about the single target removal options as well as mass removal like board wipes. I’ll also explain what each color is best at removing, along with their weaknesses (if any). In the case of more expensive cards, I’ll also include affordable options to make building up your Commander collection easy and accessible, especially for newer players.
If there’s one thing that the other colors can be envious of white for, it’s the removal suite. White packs some of the most powerful and efficient removal pieces in Magic, and there’s very little the color can’t deal with. Most white removal either destroys or exiles, and it has access to the widest array of mass removal. It also used to be the color that was given mass land destruction effects like Armageddon, though that’s generally frowned upon now; these effects tend to slow down games and spoil the fun if used incorrectly.
Swords to Plowshares is the pinnacle of creature removal. The downside is negligible in almost every scenario; a small amount of lifegain is but a drop in the ocean, particularly in a format where players start at 40 life! Path to Exile is a reasonable alternative, though giving your opponent a land is a much more impactful drawback.
If you prefer to have flexibility in your removal, Generous Gift is the weapon of choice for you. It’s actually a color-shifted version of green’s Beast Within (see below), and it still does great work outside its original color. It may give your opponent a 3/3 Elephant, but a small vanilla creature in exchange for removing the most dangerous thing on the board will leave you better off.
Our final piece of white targeted removal is Darksteel Mutation. It’s ideal for locking down a commander; it doesn’t kill or exile, so your opponent can’t replay their commander. The indestructible it grants is very important, as it removes most of your opponents’ options for getting their commander back in the command zone. Urza, Lord High Artificer and Feather, the Redeemed are commanders that fear being turned into an insect the most.
White is exceptional at clearing the board, and you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to board wipes. Wrath of God is the quintessential board wipe, with many others seeking to imitate its destructive simplicity. Day of Judgment and Shatter the Sky are some such alternatives, and still perform admirably in most scenarios.
If you’d prefer a more surgical approach, Austere Command gives you a lot of scope and flexibility. If you’re facing a board full of tokens and an Aetherflux Reservoir, you can wipe them all out while keeping your larger creatures and enchantments intact. The same applies if you’re the Tokens player, and you want to obliterate the more expensive creatures. It’s difficult for this card to ever be anything less than effective.
If you want to be even more specific, Council’s Judgment may be exactly what you need. It’s not a complete board wipe, but it can give you great value for the cost. If there are a couple of problematic permanents on board, you can work with the other players to ensure they’re all dealt with. As this doesn’t target, it gets around both hexproof and protection. The worst case scenario is that it’s removal that can take care of anything, which is still a good use of the spell.
When it comes to removal, blue is one of the most interesting colors. Some of the spells destroy creatures, others exile them, and recently, blue has gained the ability to remove artifacts (see Ravenform). Many of the best removal spells are “replacement” removal, however; the problematic permanent is taken care of, but it’s replaced by a creature. It’s not considered useful in 20 life formats, but the higher life totals in Commander mean the replacement creatures are of little consequence. Blue also has access to reactive removal in the form of counterspells, though I’ll be covering those in a later article.
Pongify is the most popular removal spell in blue, and it’s easy to see why. Just a single blue mana can remove any creature without indestructible, and it only leaves behind a 3/3 green Ape. If you’d rather have access to exile removal, you can opt for Reality Shift or Resculpt instead. Resculpt may leave behind a bigger body, but it grants you the flexibility to hit artifacts as well.
Blue also has a swathe of “bounce” spells: spells that return a permanent to its owner’s hand. Chain of Vapor is the most widely played, as it’s just a single mana to bounce anything except lands. However, it does come with the downside of allowing your opponents to copy the spell. If you’d rather not give your opponents the chance to use it against you, you can go for Into the Roil or Snap instead.
There’s one unique removal spell in blue that can function very similarly to Darksteel Mutation, and that’s Imprisoned in the Moon. It costs more, and it technically ramps your opponent like Path to Exile does, but it can permanently nullify a troublesome commander. The best bet an opponent has to get their commander back is to use up some of their enchantment removal, which is usually fairly limited.
Mass removal is usually temporary or conditional in blue; most of the effects return creatures or nonland permanents to their owner’s hands, rather than removing them permanently. The upside to them, however, is that they’re often asymmetrical; many of blue’s board wipes leave your own board intact, giving you a window of time to pull ahead of the table.
Curse of the Swine is a multi-target removal spell that scales well into the game. If you want to remove a single creature, it’s not terrible at three mana, and later in the game, it can rout only the most troublesome creatures while leaving the rest of the board alone.
Aetherspouts is one of the most disruptive board wipes in the format; it forces your opponent to either redraw all of their important creatures, or relegate them to the bottom of the library. Either way, this is a phenomenal way to punish an opponent for attacking you, and should be respected. You can also use it politically to save an opponent from attacks, if the mood strikes you. Aetherize is another option for this kind of effect, though returning creatures to hand is much less impactful.
When it comes to quintessential mass removal in blue, Cyclonic Rift is the best in class. Returning all nonland permanents you don’t control is backbreaking to most opponents, and can often prevent opponents from mounting an effective comeback. It is infamous for its effect, however, and many blue decks don’t need to run it. I offer several replacements for Rift in my Replacements for Commander Staples article, all of which are also significantly cheaper.
When you absolutely, positively need to kill a creature, black is second to none. You have access to all manner of spells that destroy and exile creatures and planeswalkers. Black also includes edict effects — spells that force opponents to sacrifice permanents — allowing you to circumvent hexproof, protection, and indestructible. The only major downside to black’s removal suite is that it can struggle to deal with noncreature permanents (with the exception of planeswalkers).
While one of the most popular removal spells in Commander is Hero’s Downfall, I believe Baleful Mastery to be the better option. It’s less efficient, but not by much, and you can curry favor with an opponent by giving them a card if you’d rather pay less for the effect. This also exiles, which is often an improvement over more traditional “destroy” effects.
Plaguecrafter is one of the best edict effects ever printed, and it’s a powerhouse in the format. For just three mana, you can force each opponent to remove a creature or planeswalker — an improvement over Fleshbag Marauder, Plaguecrafter’s predecessor. If an opponent doesn’t have a permanent to remove, they lose a card from their hand instead. Plaguecrafter is generally best against Voltron decks, or decks that don’t run many creatures.
As I mentioned above, there’s virtually no removal in black for the likes of artifacts or enchantments. Feed the Swarm is a recent addition, signaling that black is getting some access to enchantment removal, albeit a small amount. It’s one of the only spells that can produce this effect, and as such, it has become a fast staple in the color. The life loss isn’t much of a downside, but it can be painful if you need to remove a Doubling Season or Warstorm Surge!
As above, so below. Damnation is the color-shifted equivalent to Wrath of God, and it’s one of the best board wipes in black. It’s not particularly affordable for everyone, however; I covered a wide selection of strong replacements for this in my Replacements for Commander Staples article, to make sure you can get your hands on a good mass removal spell.
Many decks need board wipes, but not all of them are happy with having their battlefield presence obliterated alongside the enemies’. Thankfully, there are more expensive wipes like In Garruk’s Wake to preserve your position while you otherwise reset the board. Decks like Anowon, the Ruin Thief and Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow will benefit the most from effects like this. If you want to be sure opponents can’t rely on regeneration effects, Plague Wind is the wipe of choice.
The benefit of having effects on creatures is that you can flicker, reanimate, or make clones of them. Massacre Wurm is an amazing board wipe for this reason. Pairing this with Ephemerate or Ghostly Flicker can lead to wanton destruction, or even if you encore it with Araumi of the Dead Tide! Its life loss effect can also act as a win condition by itself, especially against Tokens decks or other go-wide strategies.
Red generally has the most damage-based removal of any color. Its removal is fairly efficient (see Lightning Bolt), but it doesn’t scale well into the game as creatures and boards get larger. However, you do have access to some of the best artifact removal in the game — which, when paired with Liquimetal Torque, can also become much more flexible.
Chaos Warp is the de facto best removal spell in red, and it’s emblematic of the color’s approach. It removes any one permanent from play by shuffling it away, but it could replace it with something else. It’s impossible to determine the outcome of Chaos Warp, making sure it lives up to its name, though the most likely outcome is that the opponent gets a land from it. Compared to a game-ending combo piece, it’s well worth the exchange!
Abrade is the poster child for red removal, with both artifact destruction and damage on the one card. Three damage is enough to kill roughly half of all commanders in existence, and it can also kill many of the most popular creatures in the format. Artifacts are everywhere in Commander, too, so you’ll never be short of targets for this flexible spell.
Vandalblast is technically mass removal, but it warrants inclusion here based on flexibility. While it may often be overloaded to deal with all artifacts you don’t control, it’s one of the few removal spells that can punish a Sol Ring start on turn one. Its ability to stop one player from pulling far ahead of the rest gives Vandalblast an edge over most removal.
Just like its single target removal spells, red’s mass removal also tends to be damage-based. Blasphemous Act is the best sweeper in red; 13 damage to each creature for as little as a single red mana is incredible, and can kill almost everything in any situation. It’s great to be able to play this for cheap, then follow it up by immediately rebuilding your board with the rest of your mana. Other effects like Wrath of God are often too expensive to allow you to do both in the same turn.
If you want a sweeper that will always cost the same, Chain Reaction is the spell of choice. It tends to scale well with the board, and it’s rare that it doesn’t take care of every creature in play. It’s a little less effective than Blasphemous Act, but you can time it to be able to clear the board while keeping some of your larger creatures around.
If you’re playing more of a Voltron strategy, Chandra’s Ignition is one of the best options available. Not only does it scale well with your biggest creature, but it also leaves that creature unscathed as it clears the way for an attack. It can be nullified if the creature is removed before the spell resolves, however, so be careful casting this into open mana!
Green hates the unnatural. We have an exceptional list of green spells that can remove artifacts and enchantments, most of which destroy rather than exile. Green’s creature removal is usually limited and extremely conditional, as it usually relies on your own creatures to fight or deal damage to others. It makes up for these restrictions by having larger creatures than all other colors, so it’s less of a drawback then it initially seems.
For unconditional removal, there’s Beast Within. This will deal with anything on the field, just like its color-shifted cousin, Generous Gift; instead of a 3/3 white Elephant, you give your opponent a 3/3 green Beast. Almost every green deck should be running this as a way to interrupt an opponent’s game plan.
Krosan Grip is a Commander staple, thanks to its split second ability. This means that counterspells can’t be cast while it’s on the stack, permanents can’t be sacrificed for value, and most other actions can’t be taken unless they’re mana abilities. It all but guarantees that a troublesome permanent will be removed with ease, and should be considered for every green deck.
One of the best green removal spells is Ram Through from Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths. Many green removal spells cause two creatures to fight each other, but this is one of the few that deals damage; it leaves your creature unscathed while the opposing creature bears the brunt of your power. Your creature can also push excess damage through to the opposing creature’s controller if it has trample, making this an amazing tool for commanders like Ghalta, Primal Hunger or Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider.
Green’s real weakness is in mass removal. It usually relies on having the bigger battlefield presence, rather than trying to wipe it clean. Kogla, the Titan Ape is a great example of removal for multiple permanents in green: he can fight a creature when he arrives, and remove an artifact or enchantment when he turns sideways. Both effects are reliant on Kogla’s survival, but he will continue to provide value as long as he sticks around.
If you’re looking for mass artifact and enchantment removal, Bane of Progress is one of the only options available in green. It’s extremely powerful, however, as it often gains upwards of eight counters, turning into a formidable threat.
If you really need a way to remove multiple creatures, Ezuri’s Predation is green’s equivalent to a board wipe. While it’s not guaranteed to deal with every creature, it will often leave behind a number of 4/4 Beasts, which will put you ahead against most opponents. Once again, you can see green’s reliance on creatures to get the job done, and many times, it’ll work out quite well.
These are just some of the innumerable removal spells in Commander, and there are still many more perfectly good options out there. Not all of these options will fit perfectly into every deck, but they will perform well in most strategies. I suggest looking for removal spells while you brew, as there will often be spells that work better with specific commanders.
I hope this has been helpful to you, either for building up a new Commander collection, or if you’re looking for more staples to pick up. What do you think of this list? Are there other removal spells that you think are important in the format? Let me know on Twitter, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!
Scott is an Irish content creator and the Head of Budget Magic for the Izzet League. He focuses on affordable decks in Pioneer, Modern, and Pauper, particularly ones that stray from the mainstream. When he’s not writing about his favorite decks, he can be found talking incessantly about them on Twitter and on The Budget Magic Cast.