Your Commander Deck Should Be Playing Synergistic Removal

Your Commander Deck Should Be Playing Synergistic Removal

Kristen GregoryCommander

It’s very easy to reach for the classics: Swords to Plowshares, Anguished Unmaking, Toxic Deluge — but what do you take beyond those, or as a budget alternative? Let’s dig in to how to pick synergistic removal for Commander and not screw yourself over at the same time.

It’s about the time of year again, and I don’t mean the time I watch The Lord of the Rings trilogy. No, it’s time for me to write about removal. 

In March of 2021, I wrote about How to Pick a Board Wipe in Commander. In June last year, I just came out and said it: You Should Be Playing More Board Wipes. We’re a little overdue, so what am I writing about today?

Well, not just board wipes, you’ll be relieved to hear. Instead, I want to impress upon you the importance of picking out removal that synergizes with your strategy — but also how to avoid some nasty pitfalls. There’s no need for an extended intro; just check out those two previous pieces, or my recent one talking about How To Get the Most Out of White Removal. Let’s go.


So, you know by now that you should choose a wrath to suit your deck. Hour of Reckoning or By Invitation Only in a tokens deck; Chandra’s Ignition if your Commander gets swole. You know the drill. But are you being similarly intentional with your other removal?

Is Chains of Custody better than Faith Unbroken? In a vacuum, sure. Ward {2} is excellent, and it’s otherwise a Banishing Light effect, where Faith Unbroken only tucks a creature and is a whole mana more. 

Now, contextually, I want Faith Unbroken in my Sigarda, Host of Herons deck. She’s already Hexproof and doesn’t care about Ward {2}. Plus the +2/+2 damage does way more for us when trying to hit Commander Damage kills. Chains of Custody is in 48% of Auras decks on EDHRec, whereas Faith Unbroken isn’t even on the top spells page.

Are 48% of people more “correct” than me? Well, no, and not just because “it’s Commander, who cares?” There will always be better choices in the context of your deck. 

Not every Rakdos deck wants Hurl Through Hell, but it can work great in a build that makes a lot of treasures, which can help you cast what you’re exiling. 

Instant speed exile removal in Rakdos is a luxury, so why not opt for something with a little added value? It’s the same reason I run Baleful Mastery; giving a different opponent who is struggling a free card can curry favour and at least buy you a little breathing space for a turn. 

Lathril decks have access to Golgari removal, which includes such all-stars as Assassin’s Trophy and Putrefy. Do you run those? Sure. But then you start to think about synergy

Windswift Slice can generate the elves needed for Lathril to do her thing and is especially good the more lords or +1/+1 counters you run. It’ll function way more like an Elven Ambush than you think. 

Similarly, Eyeblight’s Ending is below rate for removal, but it can be tutored with Elvish Harbinger and can draw you a card on cast from Leaf-Crowed Visionary

I’ve also opted for Attrition to use those elf tokens for nefarious ends, and Finale of Eternity to take advantage of all the mana I can make with my elves. Neither card is on the EDHRec page for Lathril, but both have served me incredibly well. 

Meanwhile, it’s tempting in a deck like Ferrous Rokiric to screw running below-rate Boros spells and just load up on the best white removal. I’m not here to tell you that’s wrong or that it won’t work, but I do think you’re missing a trick. Shattering Blow is surprisingly good these days, and though Lightning Helix is below rate for Commander, it still hits a huge swathe of popular Commanders and setup creatures.

You’re running these spells because they give you 4/4 tokens, not because they’re the best removal spells. You can solve the issue of not having every piece of cheap exile removal by leaning into damage wraths and the many Boros cards that protect your board. You can play options like Rem Karolus, Stalwart Slayer, Tajic, Legion’s Edge or just ignore their fatties by playing Taunt from the Ramparts or Akroma’s Will (if you need a finisher). 

It’s not quite landfall, but getting value for casting spells goes a long way to helping you opt for lesser-played options. 


Playing removal that synergizes with your Commander or your overall strategy is one thing, but what about when it’s not so clear? Well, we can look at how 1v1 Magic tends to play out for our heuristics. 

The earlier turns of a Commander game see a lot more action than in years past, and it’s thanks to the prevalence of cheap two and three drop value engines. Professional Face-breaker; Ghostly Pilferer; hell, even many of the top Commanders are two or three mana. 

If you’re playing a deck that wants to spend time setting up and you don’t do it through creature-combat, then what are the options? Well, I’ve said in the past that one option is to play more blockers (a 2/4 is a really good statline these days), but the other option is to play sweepers.

An early sweeper can clear out mana dorks, value engines and Commanders played ostensibly because they come down early to set up. During both games I casted an early Deafening Clarion in Ferrous Rokiric, I won a decisive victory solely due to the huge tempo swing it generated. 

Brotherhood’s End is a sweet example of a card to consider. You can slow-roll your mana rocks with this or just wait for the board to be filled with utility creatures before popping it off. 

Toxic Deluge is regularly cast on T3-4, so what’s stopping you from playing another sweeper there instead? Filter Out absolutely doesn’t answer everything, but it’s a great tempo tool for the early turns. 

Tempo can be just as important as hard-removal. Sure, exiling stuff is optimal, but sometimes you either can’t (because your colors can’t) or it doesn’t help you advance your game plan. Mystic Confluence is one such tool that helps mid to late-game decks buy time. 

It’s flexible, it replaces itself, it can counter spells you don’t care for and stop you being attacked. When choosing removal for a deck that doesn’t commit as much to the board, you want to be looking to run cards like this, and Into the Roil, because they solve problems temporarily while replacing themselves. 


There’s an effect we see increasingly in Commander, and that’s the ability to cast an opponent’s spell. Whether it’s from the yard with Dire Fleet Daredevil; secretly, with Gonti, Lord of Luxury; or turbo style, like either iteration of Etali. It happens a lot! Should this inform your deckbuilding? Absolutely.

It’s shocking, really, to see Vandalblast played in nearly 20% of artifact decks. And you know what? I understand why. It’s because it’s a one sided wrath, right? It ensures that you get to keep all your stuff. 

The thing is, it’s also a card you never want to play against. So, given the sheer ubiquity of effects that steal, exile or impulse-draw other people’s spells, why are we so keen on laying a rake only to step on it ourselves?

Chances are, most decks that run Vandalblast can run Shattering Spree. With how much treasure there is in the format and Jeska’s Will… existing… it’s never been easier to run Shattering Spree instead. 

If an opponent tries to cast it, they are, first, unlikely to be able to pay exactly {R} multiple times. Second, it doesn’t get rid of everything, and so even if they do have three or four red mana, you’re still being left with way more than Vandalblast. And the cherry on top? Well, it’s so much harder to counter when you cast it yourself. 

I’d even consider Red Sun’s Twilight over Vandalblast. While the latter and Shattering Spree are always a Shatter at their floor, an exiled Red Sun’s cast for free will do literally nothing, while also giving you some cheeky modality to enable a big turn. 

If you want to go one step further, you could include removal that doesn’t have any targets in your deck. My Edgar Markov deck (despite having access to the very best Mardu removal) still runs Victim of Night

And let me tell you — there have been multiple occasions that an opposing Etali flipped this and couldn’t use it on any of my creatures. If you have access to spells like this, then why not take them?


EDHRec can be a great tool for figuring out what to play in your deck, but it can’t teach you how to “git gud” at deckbuilding, especially if you don’t know about filters. 71% of Sythis, Harvest’s Hand decks run Sterling Grove, and nearly 20% run Greater Auramancy. Does that mean your Voltron Sythis deck should run them? No. So, we use the dropdown and change to an “Auras” theme, and those numbers drop to… 73% and 0%. 

So yeah, while you can sacrifice Sterling Grove to stop the Shroud screwing you, it might still be over-represented, especially as people are wise enough to not run Greater Auramancy. 

This is a great example of the circular bias that deckbuilding sites perpetuate. Is it worth running into the complete anti-synergy of deciding whether to play your tutor because it’ll make the auras drop off your enchantment creatures when you can just run a combination of Enlightened Tutor, Idyllic Tutor and Open the Armory instead? I doubt it. 

So why am I telling you this? Well, back to removal, and I did a CTRL+F on the Boros staples section for Duergar Hedge-Mage, and it’s not even on there. That means fewer than 14% of the 21k+ Boros decks don’t run it. 

I’m horrified, not least because y’all Boros players are actively contributing to the stereotype that Boros sucks. Not only is Hedge-Mage a 2-for-1 that can be flickered and recurred, but it requires mountains and plains in play to work. That means if an opponent gets it off you, it’s very likely to do nothing

It’s not a new or particularly hot take to say you need to engage lateral thinking in deck building, and not just rely on sites like EDHRec, but this is a perfect example. I might have just found a new life goal: getting Duergar Hedge-Mage into the Boros Staples section of EDHRec…


So what can this tell you? Well, it can tell you that running staples isn’t always the “best” option. There are some sweet cards out there that can give you extra value, and there are a bunch of similar-to-the-”best-in-slot” options that might screw your deck less if an opponent steals your spell. 

This even extends to things like graveyard removal. If you’re in a reanimator deck, you don’t want EtBs — you want static effects. 

Don’t rely on your well-trodden heuristics too much when building a deck. “Staples” are staples for a reason in Commander. They’re generically good, efficient and will get the job done. But who decides what ends up a staple? 

Well, you. In anything short of cEDH, the cards you play don’t matter so much as when you play them, how you play them and what your opponents play. Sounds like a great article, right? Well, I already wrote it

Having removal — whether budget or “best-in-slot” — matters more than what that spell is. Let me know your favorite “lesser played” removal spells on Twitter.

And also, run more basic lands. Then you can run Duergar Hedge-Mage.