A Look at the Commander Death-Trigger Update

Darren Magnotti
June 18, 2020

The Formats of Magic are shaken up constantly these days. There's a fresh Standard meta with every new set release, cards meet the ban hammer in Pioneer and Modern, even Pauper on occasion gets a new tool that blows a hole into the otherwise healthy metagame. Commander however, has typically been a much more stable place to play. Sure, the format sees bans just as much as any other format, but typically they come one card at a time, and are aimed at the cutthroat competitive scene. However, sometimes ye olde Commander Rules Committee decides that the rules of the format also need to bend a bit to be more in line with how players want to play. Last week, we were met with one such change, effectively stating that commanders with Death Triggers will have their triggers - trigger before being sent to the command zone when they die. Essentially what this means is that you now get the best of both worlds when running a commander that has the text “When this creature dies…”, getting the trigger and having your commander sent back to the command zone whereas before you had to pick between the two.

For a full view of this change:

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.

Seems like a tiny change, right? “Isn't that how things worked already anyway? I've been playing like that for years…” I hear you say. Yes, this change isn't anything earth shattering, and definitely falls more in line with the natural assumptions of play. However, this change is pretty big for people who either play strictly by the posted rules of the format (those that ignore “Rule 0”), and those that play commander on MTGO. Here's the impact: 


Several Legendary Creatures get much better. The major hype is around Child of Alara and Elenda, but all of the legendary dragons from Kamigawa (Think Yosei, the Morning Star and kin) also get quite the buff. However, there is a slight tradeoff, as cards with powerful triggers when other creatures die might lose some value. These can be cards in the 99 that want to put their commanders in the graveyard repeatedly, or cards that forced the opponents to choose whether they wanted their death trigger or the ability to recast their commander, like Rest in Peace. I believe, however, that the downside is minimal here, and unlocking some old powerful strategies (as well as enabling future ones) is going to be an overall plus for the format.  

Most people in the community are talking up Elenda and the army of vampires that she's sure to be bringing to many Commander tables near you. I'm much more hyped on the chance to resurrect one of my first decks with a new commander at the helm; Child of Alara.

The second Commander deck that I ever built was all about Maze's End and putting 10 gates into play in order to fire off my favorite alternate win condition of all time. The deck was horribly inconsistent and lacked any real staying power because my budget was too low to support the really grindy control plan that the deck required to keep up. This has all changed though, now that we can just Wrath the board with Child of Alara every turn. 

This deck breaks down into 2 key components: Maze's End and the lands package (I'm sure there's a garage band somewhere on Ravnica that goes by that name), and the “I want to kill my Child” package, which again is something I never thought I'd end up typing. 


The first package is very self explanatory; we want to win via Maze's End and we need to ramp out lands to do so. There aren't a lot of ways to put Guildgates specifically from your deck into play, so I've gone for a suite of creatures that let you tap to drop extra lands from hand. This is backed up by tons of card draw effects in the form of spells that like to sacrifice Child as an additional cost. To stay alive while we're ramping out our gates, we have a small sub-theme of Charms, which give us a ton of options in the early to mid game. So we're looking to move as many lands from our hand to the battlefield in the early turns as possible while also using the mana from those lands to refill our hand as we set up.

The second package has a bit more synergy, taking advantage of our bursts of mana because we're trying to use our commander as a repeatable wrath effect to keep the board clear of anything threatening to do us harm. There's a bunch of ways to sacrifice Child for value, from Perilous Research and the like that net card advantage to Erebos, Bleak-Hearted as a more permanent sacrifice outlet. Drawing cards while wiping the board is what puts this deck ahead, so we dedicate a fair portion of our spells to doing just that. 


Child of Alara offers a slightly different take on your classic control commander deck while giving us a perfect snapshot of the new possibilities for strategies that can take advantage of this new rules change. Hopefully we'll see more and more commanders printed who can use this change to shine. I believe that this rules change is ultimately pretty good for the format. Anything that allows players to play the cards they like in the way that they think should work is a good thing. Hopefully you're also able to take this opportunity to brew up something new, or revisit an old strategy that can take advantage of these upgraded commanders in ways that you didn't think possible before. 

Thanks for Reading!