The benefits of a hard to remove commander

The Benefits of a Hard to Remove Commander

Kristen GregoryCommander

It’s super frustrating to have your Commander removed over and over again, especially when it’s key to your deck’s strategy. Why not choose a Commander that’s hard to remove? Kristen shares her thoughts on what makes these resilient Commanders so popular.

The best games of Commander are the ones with a healthy amount of interaction. That said, people don’t tend to run enough, and they’ll usually spend it on whatever looks threatening first. Commanders tend to come down early in order to start strategizing, and they eat a lot of removal. 

If you’re constantly having your Commander removed and feeling like it’s a big tempo loss, maybe it’s time to consider making that harder to do. Many Commanders are popular precisely because they’re difficult to interact with, so let’s dig in and see what makes them tick. 


First up, two Commanders that are popular in both casual and competitive Commander. 

Shorikai was the breakaway alternate vehicles Commander from the Neon Dynasty UW precon. It’s easy to see why; from the turn you play it, you can pay a measly one mana to make a Pilot token that can block or crew vehicles and also draw two and discard one. 

For the mana investment, it’s serious value and gives you ways to crew vehicles en-masse. The fact Shorikai can also be an 8/8 for four mana that dodges sorcery speed creature removal or wraths is pretty scary at casual tables, especially because nine out of 10 Shorikai players draw into Kotori to give it vigilance and lifelink every. single. game.

If you are taking this one to the max, you can use it to draw your deck if you have the Isochron Scepter/Dramatic Reversal combo, and/or using Polymorph effects to turn those pilot tokens into horrible beasts like Hullbreaker Horror

Much like Shorikai, Tadeas is a hard to remove draw engine in the Command Zone. It’s possible to build this in a number of ways, too. The more casual approach is to use reach creatures, or just creatures you enjoy, and build your win from drawing into it. Much like mono-green’s Toski, Tadeas is a solid Commander to take if you’re not totally locked in on a linear strategy and want to keep the cards coming.

It’s partly why he’s spawned some cEDH builds, too. This midrange build uses stax to slow the table down while drawing cards and setting up to win through creature combat. 

If you play in a meta with a lot of removal, Shorikai and Tadeas are solid picks to help you build some tempo. 


If you’ve ever wanted to build a graveyard based deck and capitalize on your opponent’s key creatures, then Lazav might be for you. Whether you’re milling opponents or just removing their creatures, Lazav can become a copy of whatever their best value creature is, but with hexproof and the ability to change once more. This is perfect if you’re struggling to “get there” with your Dimir reanimator deck and need time to set up. 

If Grixis reanimator is more your vibe, then don’t sleep on Sauron, the Dark Lord. He’s actually difficult to remove, and as long as he stays in play, you’re accruing oodles of value. You can sacrifice that Orc Army to Victimize, chump block with it, use it as sacrifice fodder… and then when the ring does tempt you, you get to discard and draw four, which sets up reanimator perfectly. 

Yahenni makes an excellent mono-black aristocrats Commander. They can become indestructible at the drop of a hat, dodging most wraths — but what’s really the attraction here is having a hard to remove, free sacrifice outlet in the Command Zone. Having altars in the deck is one thing, but having a combo piece readily available is another. 

Perhaps you’re just wanting to build a board and swing, in classic Boros style. I just got done building General Ferrous Rokiric, and despite the deckbuilding constraint (primarily running literally Boros spells), he’s impressed me so far. Getting a 4/4 for playing a removal spell like Wear//Tear or Rip Apart is a huge tempo swing, and recasting spells by playing Reconstruct History or Radiant Scrollwielder to make more 4/4s is decent. 

What should draw you to the General, though, is the Hexproof from monocolored part. Sure, he’s a 3/1, but most ping effects are monocolored. Most cheap removal is monocolored, too. He’ll stay in play longer than you think. I haven’t seen many five-color Niv-Mizzet, Supreme decks yet, but that hexproof from monocolored is sure to come in handy there, too. 

Another new Tales of Middle-earth Commander, Lord of the Nazgul, doesn’t natively have protection. However, the way you build the deck means you’re likely to have answers. Given any counterspells or recursion spells in your brew will be instants or sorceries that grant you 3/3 black Wraith tokens, you can rest assured that Lord of the Nazgul will be hard to remove. 


I’m a huge fan of Hellkite Courser for when I play expensive Commanders. Getting to cheat it in for a turn is sometimes all you need to close the game. But if mana is a problem, then why not just… ignore the issue?

Nahiri lends herself to being a Living Weapon equipment Commander, which is arguably where the fun’s at in deck building. What makes her so strong, though, and so able to pivot to a Voltron-style endgame, is the fact she can be cast for cheap repeatedly. 

When your Commander can just keep coming back, it’s already a bad deal to use removal on it. And if opponents do, then you don’t have to worry. 

If Voltron/Equipment isn’t your jam, then there’s Emry, Lurker of the Loch, too. She has affinity and is sure to cost very little as the game goes on. It’s one of the reasons I was so high on Kenrith’s Transformation and Song of the Dryads in my Top 20 Essential Green Commander Cards. Sometimes it’s the only answer to an unstoppable loop of value. 

If you’re just a big fan of turning big, chonky green creatures sideways, then there’s Ghalta, Primal Hunger. We’ve hit a peak of power/mana value-matters green cards lately, like Last March of the Ents and Majestic Genesis. Ghalta is a great home and a dino-mom that keeps coming back for more. 


While Nahiri isn’t quite true-Voltron, there are options for those who want to build a glass cannon without the glass.

Sigarda, Host of Herons continues to prove herself as one of the best Aura-enchantress Commanders, and it’s the reason she, and not Sythis, helms my Auras deck. She’s incredibly hard to remove, especially once you suit her up with Robe of Stars or anything Totem Armor. Add Yavimaya Hollow to the manabase and you’re cooking with gas. 

If that wasn’t enough, she makes you immune to edicts. While there is a very real downside to that — in that you have to lose life or discard cards to a Torment of Hailfire — it’s usually all upside. Uril the Miststalker is another solid option, but the sheer density of 2/4s, tokens to chump with and other utility creatures in today’s format means Geist of Saint Traft rarely excels in this role anymore. 

Other Commanders worth a look that can protect your board are Shalai, who wants you to use +1/+1 counters, Sigarda who cares about Angels and Humans, and Linvala, who is a little more open-ended. I had a lot of fun ignoring her party-rider and just using her to protect hate-bears and value flyers. Using cards like Slippery Bogbonder and Gift of Immortality work great here. Make your opponents work for it. 

If you want to play a Voltron deck and add some spicy combos, then outside of Aurelia with Helm of the Host, I’d say Akiri, Fearless Voyager is the next best thing. 

A bunch of damage based combos in RW focus around Arcbond, damage redirection and an Indestructible creature. Akiri gives you an indestructible outlet in the Command Zone, plenty of card draw to help get you to your combo, and access to Gideon’s Sacrifice and Palisade Giant. You can even throw in Sunforger to find Arcbond. 

While you can of course run Brash Taunter and Blazing Sunsteel with your damage wraths, you want to lean into removal like Rip Apart, Lightning Bolt and Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire to get your chain started. Pack those and enough equipment to give an alternate Voltron win and you’re set.


Other hard to remove Commanders are popular because they put you in the driving seat with a win condition in the Command Zone. Narset is infamous for being powerful and hard to deal with. She uses her attack trigger to cast devastating control magic or just extra turn spells. She decidedly higher-power, so use with restraint at more chilled out tables. 

Heliod, Sun-Crowned is popular in casual and competitive because he enables Walking Ballista to combo kill the table. Lifelink and counters is an archetype super popular at casual tables, and Heliod’s resilience in the face of removal means he’ll always be a strong choice for a mono white build. 

While you can put loops into Purphoros decks to ensure a table kill, it’s often just the impact of going wide with tokens that does people in. Add damage doublers and ping damage for attacking or sacrificing creatures and you have a serious threat in the CZ. 

The Theros Gods have enduring appeal due to their Indestructible keyword, but also their devotion. Exile-based creature removal won’t work if the Gods aren’t “online,” while newcomer Haywire Mite won’t work if they are. 

Xenagos remains a top-tier choice for Gruul stompy, using cards like Malignus to decimate life totals. Karametra, God of Harvests is similar to Tadeas in that she works as a springboard for a Selesnya good-stuff deck. Athreos, meanwhile, is still in contention for the Orzhov Aristocrats crown. Cheap, and hard to remove, with a lot of free value. 


Whether you’re doing Voltron or tokens, artifacts or enchantments, five color Sagas or Slivers, there are options for Commanders that have staying power. If your deck relies on your Commander to enact its strategy, or you’re in a meta with a lot of removal, then opting for one of these styles of Commander can be worth a shot.

Being hard to remove is great, but another way to ensure that having your Commander removed doesn’t set you back (or to put people off removing it in the first place) is to make it low EV for them to do so. We covered this briefly with Nahiri and Emry, but it also applies to value engines like Omath, Korvold or Muldrotha, which generate so much value from one good turn that you’re unphased to lose them (or actively want to!) No wonder they’re so popular. 

Flying under the radar is another legitimate tactic that helps your Commander be “sticky.” Giada or Katilda will rarely be what you should spend removal on, saving it instead for what comes after. You can even add “stickiness” by using Esior as a Partner commander. This works for adding cards like Bastion Protector or Guardian Augmenter in the 99, too. 

End Step

Or, you can always cheat and use Commander ninjutsu 😉

If you’re searching for a new Commander to build around, and after something with staying power, hopefully this article has given you a few ideas. It might also have prompted some thinking about you can “solve” playing against these decks at your tables. 

Do you have multi-colored removal for Ferrous Rokiric? Do you have enough exile removal for Yahenni or Heliod? Is it finally time to add another wrath or two?