Published on 06/15/2020

Requiem for a Commander

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Never has dying looked so good!
Welcome once again to Cranial Insertion. This week's article is something a little different as I'll be going over the upcoming rules change in Commander around commanders leaving the battlefield. We're going to talk about the change in fairly exhaustive detail and hopefully you'll come away with a much better understanding of the ins and outs of the new rules.

Before we get to that, however, it's my duty to remind you that you can send your rules questions to us at or tweet them to us @CranialTweet. You'll get an answer to your question and we might even feature it in a future column!

Before we start going over examples of how this change to the rules, let's talk about what the rules were before and what they will be once the change takes effect with the release of Core Set 2021.

The old rule said that "if a commander would be put into a library, hand, graveyard or exile from anywhere, its owner may choose to move it to the command zone instead. This replacement effect may apply more than once to the same event."

The new rule is split into two parts, with movement to the hand or library still being covered by a replacement effect, but movement to the graveyard or exile now being handled by a state-based action.

"If a commander is in a graveyard or in exile and that card was put into that zone since the last time state-based actions were checked, its owner may put it into the command zone.

If a commander would be put into its owner's hand or library from anywhere, its owner may put it into the command zone instead. This replacement effect may apply more than once to the same event.

The new state-based action borrows its template for the state-based action dealing with damage from a source with deathtouch, which allowed for a much cleaner rule than some of the other options that were being considered.

Note that the option to put the commander back in the command zone when it dies or is exiled is a one-time option. If the commander is left in the graveyard or exile, there's no later chance to move it until another effect would move it again. At that point, it will follow the rules for moving to that new zone as normal.

No more cons, just pro-liferate.
For example, Alex's commander Brokkos, Apex of Forever dies and goes to her graveyard. Since Brokkos can be cast from the graveyard, Alex chooses to leave it there when state-based actions are checked. Later in the turn, Alex's opponent Bob casts Grim Return targeting Brokkos. Alex can't suddenly move Brokkos to the command zone, as their opportunity to do so passed much earlier in the turn. Bob will put Brokkos onto the battlefield under his control when Grim Return resolves.

So what does this change mean in a practical sense? In general, it means that commanders will behave a lot more like normal creatures when it comes to them dying or being exiled, seeing as they now trigger effects both on themselves and other cards that watch for these effects to happen.

For example, if there are eight creatures on the battlefield, including two commanders and a Blood Artist, and Damnation destroys all of them, then Blood Artist will now trigger eight times. Previously, it would have triggered anywhere from six to eight times depending on if the commanders were sent to the command zone or not.

Another effect of this rules change is the closing of the Banishing Light loophole, which allowed for commanders to go to the command zone rather than exile but still be returned to the battlefield if Banishing Light (or other durational exile effects) left the battlefield and the commander hadn't left the command zone in the interim. This is no longer the case. Under the new rules, the commander can either be sent to the command zone, which makes Banishing Light lose track of its location, or it can be left in exile so that it can return to the battlefield when Banishing Light leaves the battlefield. No longer can players get the best of both worlds here.

It's also important to note that there are now a class of effects that take control of your commander that previously couldn't do so. To be able to do so, such an effect has to both move your commander to the graveyard or exile and then back to the battlefield as part of the same spell or ability's resolution. Examples of this type of effect are Necromantic Selection and Sorin, Lord of Innistrad's ultimate ability.

A formerly banned card just got a power boost.
I'm sure that'll be just fine...
That was a lot of explanation, so let's go to a few questions on specific interactions that should illuminate the new rule.

Q: My commander is Child of Alara, which is on the battlefield. It's about to die to an opponent's Day of Judgment, but other than the creatures that are going to die along with Child of Alara, there aren't any good non-creature, non-land permanents that I want to blow up. Can I choose to just put Child of Alara directly into the command zone so that I don't lose my own artifacts and enchantments?

A: No, you can't do this. Under the new rules, there's no longer a special replacement effect that can replace your commander going to the graveyard. (Normal replacement effects such as Rest in Peace will still apply, though.) Your commander has to die like all the other creatures, and that means its death trigger will trigger and blow up the world. You should really should be more careful.

Q: Does this rules change still allow It That Betrays to steal my commander when it's sacrificed?

A: Not unless you choose to leave it in the graveyard, no. The state-based action that moves your commander from the graveyard to the command zone will happen before It That Betray's trigger even goes on the stack. Since it's no longer in the first zone it moved to from the battlefield, the trigger won't be able to find it and put it back on the battlefield under your opponent's control.

Q: Wait, does this change mean that Reyhan, Last of the Abzan won't be able to pass along its counters if it gets exiled from the battlefield?

A: Yes, this is the case now. Reyhan will go from the battlefield to exile and then from exiled to your command zone, assuming you want to put her there. She didn't have any counters in exile and so its ability won't trigger on this move. While this changes her functionality, it brings her in line with how she treats non-commander creatures.

Q: Hang on a second… I just finished learning how commanders worked as part of mutate stacks. How do they work now? Do I have learn more weird interactions?

A: Don't worry, everything is simple and makes sense now. If a mutate stack that contains your commander would die or be exiled, then all cards in it go to graveyard or exile and then you can move specifically your commander's card to the command zone when the state-based action is applied. All the weirdness with your commander going to one zone and the rest of the stack to another zone but your commander being considered to go to that zone too doesn't matter anymore, at least for graveyard or exile zone changes. It still counts for hand and library moves, but very few things care about those sort of zone changes.

Beware of the powerful angry man-baby!
On a completely unrelated note, here's a
commander that benefits from this change.
Q: What about Brawl? Do commanders in Brawl decks follow the new rules or the old rules?

A: Since this is a change to the rules of Magic and not just to the rules of Commander, it will apply to Brawl and any other format that uses a commander. Your brawl commander will die and be exiled in the same way as it is in commander.

Q: Wait, what was that you said about deathtouch at the beginning?

A: Damage from a source with deathtouch only carries its special properties until the first state-based action check after it's dealt. This is because it usually only needs to matter once and would be a memory issue if the effect could linger. There are very few ways that the one-time nature of this check can matter, but an example would be Typhoid Rats blocking an attacking Darksteel Sentinel and then having the Sentinel lose indestructible later in the turn to something like Shadowspear. In such a case, Darksteel Sentinel won't die since deathtouch's "sting" had already worn off in combat.

I hope that you enjoyed this deeper dive into this relatively significant rules change for the best format in Magic. If you're not a Commander player, I hope that you all learned something.
One final thing to note, before I sign off for the week:
Black Lives Matter
Stay safe out there, everyone.

- Charlotte


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