The Other 99: Board Wipes
- Robert Giel
Commander is the format of big boards and, consequently, the most massive mass removal applications. No other format rewards you for resetting the battlefield as much as Commander, and every deck should run at least a couple of board wipes. But which ones are the best? What qualities should you look out for?
Once, There Was an Explosion
Welcome back to a new installment of The Other 99, the series where we look at the different types of cards we use to fill those precious slots in your Commander decks. Today we will be taking a look at board wipes, or mass removal. Board wipes are a pillar of the Commander format. It's important to be able to reset the game in your favor in a multiplayer format where board states grow to unknown extremes and sometimes cause a stalemate.
An obvious question before we look at the best board wipes is, "How many should I run?" As you could've guessed, there's no straightforward answer as it depends heavily on the strategy of your deck. But since this likely is an answer you aren't satisfied with, let's go into more detail. As always, a small disclaimer: we are looking at the casual, fun side of Commander here. Competitive EDH, while a beautiful format, isn't really your average Commander game and different rules govern what defines a good card in cEDH as opposed to "regular Elder Dragon Highlander."
How Many Board Wipes Should I Run?
First of all, I think every deck should run board wipes. It doesn't matter if your strategy is hyper-aggressive Boros Beatdown or slow and grindy Azorius Control. Aggro decks can have a harder time executing their strategy because the whole trade-off of "I waste resources to kill you before you have time to set up" doesn't really work in a multiplayer format.
Let's say that you play a red-white aggro/Voltron deck and manage to bring a player down from 40. Now there are two other players, and likely one of them cleared out your board. It will be hard for you to reach a critical mass again since you've lost most of your ammunition and aren't really in colors that excel at resource management. Your own board wipes are part of what keep you in the game at this point. They allow you to even the odds again to strike at the right moment.
A control deck, on the other hand, benefits a lot from being able to wipe the board and trade-up in card advantage. Running plenty of board wipes to stall out the game is one of the main sources of advantage, just like in any other format. So, here's a rough estimate for the number of board wipes you should run in your Commander deck:
- Hyper aggro & Voltron decks: 2–3
- Regular decks: 3–4
- Creature-light control decks: 5–7
These numbers mostly depend on your strategy, colors, and possibly even local metagame. They may not be 100% accurate but should give you an idea on how many slots to set aside.
What Defines a Good Board Wipe?
Often enough, Commander boards reach a clogged state that goes beyond just creatures. Artifacts, enchantments, and planeswalkers are very popular, and limiting yourself to just creature removal often isn't going to cut it. We are looking at board wipes that allow us to remove multiple, if not all, permanent types.
This should be obvious by now: the lower the converted mana cost, the more playable the card. In Garruk's Wake and Decree of Pain are amazing cards but also require you to have a bazillion mana and feel so much worse when they get countered. Generally, it's okay for board wipes to be more expensive, but then they need to have a higher impact.
Yes, Merciless Eviction is a great card. However, it requires you to be in at least Orzhov colors. The true all-stars of the format are playable in a lot of decks.
- More than just destruction
Most mass removal only destroys permanents. While this is good, it's better if a spell can circumvent the indestructible keyword that so often dominates the more intractable board states with Avacyn, Angel of Hope, Darksteel Forge, or Blightsteel Colossus. A spell gets significantly better when it has the potential to get rid of permanents that are out of reach for "normal" board wipes.
Board Wipes: Hall of Fame
Austere Command. This gem from the original Lorwyn block was reprinted in the very first Commander precons, and with good reason. Its flexibility makes it almost always relevant. Where cards like Merciless Eviction "only" remove one type at the time, Austere Command can help you get rid of both artifacts and enchantments. Do you play a token deck? Likely you have some enchantments that buff your creatures, so choose artifacts to cripple your opponent's resources while also getting rid of their largest creatures. Are you facing a token deck? Do the exact opposite. At 6 mana, Austere Command is on the expensive side, but its flexibility makes up for it a thousandfold.
All Is Dust doesn't hit artifacts, unfortunately, but gets rid of everything else. I know I argued that board wipes are preferably cheap and now the first two cards I list cost 6 and 7 respectively, but bear with me. Being able to get rid of the entire board while also avoiding indestructibility is massive. Planeswalkers are a powerful strategy in Commander because they evade most board wipes, often resulting in players brinigng out multiple of them at once. All Is Dust punishes players that overcommit. The fact that it is colorless is huge, as it even gives monogreen players access to an effect they can't find in their own color.
Cyclonic Rift. You probably aren't surprised to see Commander's most infamous blue card on this list, so here it is. I can't tell you more than has already been said about the Rift. It's asymmetrical, works at instant speed, and hits all nonland permanents. It often causes such a blowout for your opponents that you can proceed to win the game from there.
Board Wipes: Runner-Ups
Merciless Eviction isn't as splashable, but still a very potent card. The fact that it exiles is just such a massive upside, avoiding both indestructibility and graveyard recursion. And while its modes only allow it to exile one card type, it's flexibility still earns it a spot on this list.
Oblivion Stone is a card that I always expect to see more. Let's talk about the downsides. It's relatively expensive, can be stopped before being activated by the likes of Krosan Grip, and tells your opponents from miles away that you have a way to reset the board. We could debate that the last point isn't a downside, however. Making your opponent's aware of your ability to wipe the board is also a strong political play, as there's likely one player that really suffers from you wiping the board that you can make a deal with. Politics aside, Oblivion Stone can destroy all permanents at instant speed, which earns it a spot on this list.
Hour of Revelation is the format's "fair" reset button. It's not as flashy as the other ones, but gets the job done in a proper fashion, hitting permanents that are often out of reach for board wipes, namely planeswalkers. It also is a strict upgrade over Planar Cleansing.
Bane of Progress is the first creature on this list and its card type only serves as an upside. You can tutor for it with Natural Order, Eldritch Evolution, or Chord of Calling. Both Recruiter of the Guard and Imperial Recruiter can find it. And since its ability triggers upon entering the battlefield, it can be easily abused by the many Blink effects Commander has to offer. Bane of Progress isn't an automatic inclusion in every green deck, but resolving this often has a dramatic impact on the board. It truly is the bane of all artifact/enchantment decks.
The next card was initially printed in Commander 2013, and later reprinted in Eternal Masters, as it even sees play in Legacy. I'm talking of course about Toxic Deluge, which is amazing for a number of reasons. The primary reason is that it's dirt-cheap. The Deluge has more going for it though. Its scalable, meaning that you can choose how many things you'd like to kill with it, and without the mana cost increasing. Usually, anything that allows you to pay life instead of mana is amazing in Magic, and Toxic Deluge is no exception. Last but not least, giving the creatures −X/−X instead of destroying them is a great way to avoid indestructibility.
Board Wipes: Best of The Rest
Good ol' Wrath of God, Damnation, and Supreme Verdict aren't as exciting in Commander as they are in competitive formats like Modern, Pioneer, and Standard. But they still get the job done. It should be no surprise that these cards are the prototype of a board wipe, and when you're considering running a certain spell always ask yourself if it's better than these three. If not, it's likely not worth it.
Cleansing Nova and Akroma's Vengeance are a bit more expensive than the cards higher up on the list but offer more flexibility or bang for your buck respectively. Although they are decent, I'd only include them if you're already running the cards mentioned above and still want more.
Fine, I'll talk about every EDH player's pet card, Blasphemous Act. I think it's a fine card and it offers monored a way to efficiently clean up the board. Dealing damage is strictly worse than destroying, however, and the card is highly depended on the opponents' battlefield. Still, sometimes you need to get rid of all creatures in monored or Gruul, and this does it. (But so do All Is Dust and Oblivion Stone.)
Fracturing Gust is actually a really sweet card that I don't see nearly enough. It's an instant-speed board wipe that also gains you a bunch of life in the process. That's a good card in my book and should be included in any creature-based green-white deck.
River's Rebuke, Evacuation, and Devastation Tide are not nearly as good as the superior Cyclonic Rift. Nevertheless, they can save you in a pinch and are definitely viable options in addition to the asymmetrical powerhouse.
Decree of Pain is the most expensive spell on this list, but also one with the highest impact. I'd almost consider this a win condition rather than conventional mass removal. I wouldn't auto-include it in every deck that has access to black, but it is a very powerful card indeed.
Appetite for Destruction
While the above cards are my preferred picks when it comes to board wipes, there's still a lot of undiscussed options available. Even more so when we start talking about board wipes that fit a certain theme, strategy, or even tribe. While I won't go over all these cards in detail, I'd still like to provide a quick list that might help you find the right option for your deck.
Having trouble with indestructible creatures and/or decks that feature too many graveyard shenanigans? Hallowed Burial, Terminus, Descend upon the Sinful, Final Judgment, and Winds of Abandon will get rid of creatures for good.
And Then Came the Next Explosion
That concludes this installment of The Other 99. I hope that you'll find this article useful when considering what mass removal to put into your next Commander deck. What are your favorites? Did I miss some board wipes that are essential in your opinion? Let me know in the comments!
As always, thanks for reading. Until next time!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.