On this site, we encourage our readers to build their own suites of removal, ramp, board wipes, and the like (unless a certain card is applicable to the topic at hand). This is mainly because we don’t want to recommend the same six to ten cards every time we’re writing about a certain color, but it’s also because we want to leave room for creativity in our articles. We want readers to feel free to build a deck that feels like their own, based on our ideas. Today, however, I want to show you what I think are the best options per color when it comes to clearing the board in a game of Commander.
An essential piece of the deck-building puzzle is awareness; a great deck builder keeps in mind the options they have available, and the options their opponent(s) have as well. Picking a commander and devising a game plan is a fun exercise, but building a deck that’s resilient to the things your opponents will be doing is another skill to master. If your deck relies on dumping your deck into your graveyard and casting Living Death, you’re one Rest in Peace away from an exiled library. Similarly, if your goal is to flood the board with elves and your only backup plans are Wrap in Vigor or Golgari Charm, then Wrath of God will proudly ruin your day.
Speaking of Wrath of God, this brings us to our main topic for today: Board wipes are essential for a Commander player. Being able to “reset the game” is extremely useful in a wide variety of situations; fear of dishing out some salt to your playgroup is not enough reason to stop playing them. Board wipes come in a few varieties, the most well-known of which say “destroy all creatures.” Since combat is the most common way of winning, and nearly every commander is a creature, destroying all creatures is a great way to hinder a player who has gained advantage over you. But as we’ll quickly learn, there are myriad options for clearing the board, not just limited to creature destruction.
If we’re trying to blow up all creatures, white is our color of choice. White has a ton of spells for outright mass creature destruction. Wrath of God is likely the first card readers thought of when reading the title of this article; it’s iconic, it’s efficient, and it’s powerful. Four mana to destroy every creature sets a high bar, and it isn’t one we’re going to measure too strictly against.
When Wrath of God is mentioned, Day of Judgment is always close behind since both cards are extremely similar. In the rare case where your opponents can regenerate their creatures, Wrath of God is better than Day of Judgment, but otherwise they’re one in the same.
What if four mana is just too high of a cost for us? Maybe we’re playing in a meta that is extremely fast and we want the most mana-efficient answers we can find. Well, the less mana we pay, the more specific our answers become: Retribution of the Meek and Citywide Bust can kill all creatures that are larger than ours (if we’re careful). Harsh Mercy kills all creatures, except one creature type of each player’s choosing. Depending on our opponents this could result in only a few creatures dying, but it makes an interesting political tool.
Things get more interesting when we look at five mana and above. Cleansing Nova lets us choose to destroy all creatures, or all artifacts and enchantments. Being able to pick between the two is great! Similarly, Austere Command allows us do the same thing for one more mana, except we can mix and match artifacts, enchantments, and creatures with different mana cost thresholds. The value of spells’ flexibility in commander should not be understated.
A few board wipes have other upsides: Fumigate gains us life for each creature destroyed, Fated Retribution lets us scry 2 if we forget it’s an instant, and Martial Coup provides an army of soldier tokens if we pay the right price. Sublime Exhalation may cost less than Wrath of God or Day of Judgment, but even in a standard game of Commander it will be a less color-restrictive version.
Now, we venture into the realm of land destruction. There are effects like Cataclysm, which can reset the game to a very simple state, or we can go after everyone’s lands with Armageddon and Fall of the Thran. While this can be part of a valid strategy, these shouldn’t be grouped with commonplace board-wipe effects. Land destruction should only be played to quickly win you the game, not to reset everyone to zero and drag the game out.
White has the most options when it comes to clearing the board, regardless of card type. As this search query shows, our options when playing white are quite plentiful. However, as we move to other colors we’ll find only more specific board wipes that aren’t as ubiquitous.
Cyclonic Rift is one of the most notorious Commander cards, specifically when it is overloaded. For seven mana we get to return every nonland permanent we don’t control back to their owners’ hands. That is a massive momentum swing; we bounce all creatures (exiling all tokens), all value-generating enchantments, all planeswalkers… we even get to send Sol Rings and every other mana rock back to their owners’ hands! Our opponents have to reset for a turn or two, meanwhile we are unscathed and can likely win the game. It’s no wonder this card is on the short list when banning discussions occur.
Cyclonic Rift is a premium example of a blue board wipe; blue has no mass destruction like Day of Judgment, instead returning cards to players’ hands or even their libraries. Acid Rain destroys all forests and Siren’s Call can destroy a specific player’s creatures, if they didn’t attack and aren’t walls… So blue has to rely on returning things to players’ hands en masse if they would like to wipe the board. While the effect is temporary, forcing players to recast their spells is a big tax on their plans. If we play spells that also bounce our own permanents, we could even build around this by having our deck focus on reducing spell costs or repeating enters-the-battlefield effects.
Devastation Tide is not as backbreaking as Cyclonic Rift, but it’s still powerful in its own right. With its miracle cost, whether strategically placing it on top of our deck with Brainstorm or just hoping to luck into it, being able to return all nonland permanents to their owners’ hands for just two mana is an incredible value. For five mana, the effect is still quite powerful and shouldn’t be overlooked. Coastal Breach is less color-restrictive, and can sometimes cost less than Devastation Tide (when it isn’t being cast as a miracle). Being at sorcery speed is a noticeable downside to these spells, since we can’t use them to respond to something like Craterhoof Behemoth being cast. Luckily, Evacuation exists! Five mana to bounce all creatures at instant speed is a great use of our resources (especially if it stops someone from winning the game on the spot).
Blue also has the capability to wipe artifacts and enchantments from the board: Reduce to Dreams can do exactly this, for the same price as Devastation Tide but with no built-in way to make it cheaper. Hurkyl’s Recall can force a specific player to return all artifacts to their hands, but that card is more suited for targeting ourselves so we can cast them all again for extra value. Ultimately, we’re better off running Devastation Tide unless we have a specific player in mind who will be devastated by something like Reduce to Dreams.
While some players claim that blue’s style of board wipe only delays the inevitable, it’s important to understand just how effective this ability can be. First, bouncing permanents is very strong against token strategies. Tokens can’t exist outside of the battlefield, so they cease to exist when they return to their owners’ hands. Second, buying extra time is one of blue’s strengths (see Time Warp). Mass-bounce spells can be strategically used to swing momentum in our favor, or to shut down a game-ending play.
Moving back into the realm of actually destroying things, we find ourselves in black with Damnation, the color-shifted Wrath of God. This spell is highly sought after in any format it is legal in, meaning if we don’t already own one we’re better off exploring our other options before picking up a copy.
For just one more mana, we can kill all dragons or all non-dragons with Crux of Fate. Unless someone is playing dragon tribal, this usually results in all creatures dying. If we’re running a dragon tribal deck we can just kill everything that isn’t ours, getting a pseudo-Cyclonic Rift effect.
Deathbringer Regent, Hythonia the Cruel, Reiver Demon, and Phyrexian Scriptures are all good examples of cards that not only destroy everything but try to make it more one-sided than something like Damnation. Of course Plague Wind and In Garruk’s Wake do this without any weird hoops to jump through, but they cost a whopping nine mana each.
Black has access to a large quantity of spells like Languish, in which “destruction” results from reducing creatures’ toughness to zero. This might seem difficult in commander, since many creatures in the format end up with very large toughness values. This is likely why Toxic Deluge is so popular; the only limit on the card’s effect is your life total. Yahenni’s Expertise lets us cast another card for free, if we have one in our hand that’s worth casting. And who can forget the all-star that is Black Sun’s Zenith? There’s also Decree of Pain, which reduces toughness when we cycle it or wipes the board and grants card advantage to boot. The best thing about this type of spell is that they get around indestructibility and regeneration. A creature with zero toughness always dies, end of story!
Black may have a ton of creature removal in a wide variety of forms, but it lacks mass removal of basically anything else. If it’s not a creature, we’re pretty much out of luck when it comes to removing them en masse. Our only hope of getting rid of problematic non-creatures or non-planeswalkers is forcing our opponents to discard them; If that window of opportunity is missed, we have to branch out into a second color or resort to making deals with our opponents who have the proper answers.
Clear the Board!
That’s all for now. As you can see, board wipes come in a wide array of styles, and we’re not even done yet! Next time I’ll get to the weird and quirky board wipes that exist in red, green, multicolor, and even colorless! There are some oddities and a few surprises waiting for you there. Join me next time when I cast Day of Judgment with Cauldron Haze in hand as a political tool, only to flash in Melira, Sylvok Outcast thanks to Vedalken Orrery and laugh at all the enemies I’ve just made.