Commander Rules Update – Making Death Work

If you weren’t watching the CommandFest Online stream, you missed something important – me talking about Commander live! Just kidding, the actual important thing you missed was the announcement from the Commander RC. They gave us a heads up about a change that is coming with the quarterly announcement for Core Set 2021, and it’s a spicy one. 

If you’re interested in the minutia, please take the time to read the full announcement about this change on the Commander RC’s website here. 

For those looking for the quick answer, here’s a quote from the announcement that gives you the really important information.

“If a commander has an ability which triggers on it dying or going to exile, it will trigger before heading to the command zone.”

This was accomplished by adding a state-based action specifically for Commander. For those unfamiliar with rules jargon, state-based actions are the rules that keep everything moving behind the scenes in games of Magic. They govern when and how creatures with lethal damage die, players with 0 life or less lose, tokens not on the battlefield cease to exist, and so on. When a condition exists in the game that requires something to change within the game, a state-based action is usually doing the work to make that change happen. An action is taken based on a particular state. Pretty neat, I think. (For more info, check out Rule 704 in the Comprehensive Rules.)

The new state-based action that helps accomplish this rules change is worded as follows: (again, quoting from the announcement)

“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.”

Functionally, this means that instead of replacing the trip to the graveyard or exile with a trip to the command zone, our commanders will die or get exiled, go very, very briefly to the appropriate zone, and then go to the command zone from there. This has some exciting consequences and opens up cool design space for commanders in the future because, well, now legendary creatures with dies triggers are a lot stronger. It also means we can put fresh eyes on some commanders (and some non-commander cards) that change because of this.   

Obviously, almost any commander with a dies trigger changes a little bit. Here’s a list of the commanders that are affected in some manner:


Anax, Hardened in the ForgeChild of AlaraElenda, the Dusk RoseHomura, Human AscendantIname as OneIname, Life AspectJugan, the Rising StarKeiga, the Tide StarKokusho, the Evening StarOmnath, Locus of RagePashalik MonsRoalesk, Apex HybridRyusei, the Falling StarTuktuk the ExplorerYosei, the Morning Star

In the announcement, the RC calls out both Child of Alara and Kokusho, the Evening Star as potentially much more powerful due to this change, and it’s not hard to see why. Child of Alara was already a force due to being a 5-color commander that provides a repeatable wrath effect, and now that players won’t have to do extra work to recur it, it’s all the more fearsome. Kokusho, which used to be banned, will be recast from the command zone ad infinitum with the help of cards like Cabal Coffers and Black Market and is likely to show up as a commander much more. 

Other than those, I’m particularly excited about Elenda, the Dusk Rose and Roalesk, Apex Hybrid. A while back, I wrote a whole article about Roalesk and worked really hard to create clones of Roalesk that would die to the legend rule. Elenda suffers from the same frustrations, but once we get to Core Set 2021, Elenda will spit out a pile of Vampires, making her a great commander to equip and enchant as well as a fantastic piece of wrath insurance. I’m sure there are other fun ones, and I look forward to playing against a Tuktuk the Explorer deck at some point. 

Of course, there’s nothing stopping you and your friends from choosing to try out this rule change in advance in your own playgroup, and in fact, I recommend it. (I even talk about some changes in this article as if they’re already in effect, which shows where my head is at.)

Before I move on to the decklist portion of this article (couldn’t bear to leave you without one) I want to talk about a few cards that will work a little differently because of this rule change whether or not they’re coming from the Command Zone.

Banishing Light

Banishing Light

It used to be that, if I cast Banishing Light and used its ability on your commander, you could send it to the command zone and then destroy my Banishing Light to get it right back on the battlefield. Because the commander in question now takes an intervening trip to the exile zone, this no longer works. (See Comprehensive Rules section 603.6)

Chevill, Bane of MonstersMathas, Fiend Seeker - Foil

Chevill, Bane of Monsters

Mathas, Fiend Seeker

Putting bounty counters on opposing commanders used to be a fool’s errand. Not anymore!

Eerie Interlude

Eerie Interlude

Effects like Eerie Interlude set up delayed triggers that return cards from exile later. It used to be that you could Eerie Interlude your commander to the command zone where, if the delayed trigger resolved, it would come back, but if it was countered by something like Stifle, it would be safe in the command zone and ready to recast. This is no longer the case – you have to leave your commander in exile now if you want it to come back to the battlefield, making effects like this much riskier.



Under the old rules, if you targeted your commander, you’d have to leave it in the graveyard if you wanted to get back a different creature with Reincarnation’s delayed trigger. Now, as long as you don’t want your commander back, you can send it safely to the command zone and reanimate something else.

Syr Konrad, the Grim

 Syr Konrad, the Grim

If a commander dies and then goes to the command zone from the graveyard, Syr Konrad triggers twice. I did not imagine we would see a rules change that made Syr Konrad better, but here we are.

It’s also worth talking about some cards that aren’t affected. The Scarab God and its ilk, as well as the God-Eternals, don’t get to cheat death because of this rule. If they go to the graveyard, trigger, and then move to the command zone via the new state-based action, they won’t then get to move to hand or library from there. (For more information, see Comprehensive Rules section 603.6 again.) 

Okay, it’s decklist time, and spoiler alert: I’m redoing Roalesk. Now that I don’t have to work quite so hard to profit from his death, I’m removing some of the chaff from my old decklist. Here’s the updated version!

Commander Roalesk Deck List - Eric Levine

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