Commander 101: Threat Evaluation


Today I want to discuss threat evaluation, or how to identify what the biggest threat on the board is.

Now I bet, you have all been in a game where there is someone with an infinite combo on board, or an extremely oppressive board state, and you seem to be the only one who sees it. This can be frustrating in Commander. I have sat through games where I seem to be the one person aware of the threat. I have also been in games where I misidentified the threat and removed the wrong offender. My goal in this article is to show you how to identify the problems on board before they blow up in your face. I will start with some of the more obvious threats, being certain commanders that just steamroll over their opponents if left unchecked, followed by other cards that can be brutal when left alone.

Commanders that need to be removed ASAP:
There are definitely some commanders who are a lot more threatening than others. Here are the top 5 that should be immediately dealt with:

1) Zur the Enchanter

Zur the Enchanter

This is a commander who not only has the colours of control, but is able to tutor up any cmc 3 or less enchantment. Zur is able to quickly accelerate himself into a win, as there are a lot of removal based enchantments or beneficial enchantments that keep him protected under 3cmc. As soon as Zur hits the board you need to hit him with whatever removal you have, as soon as you have it. The reason you should remove this commander as soon as possible is that he is able to tutor up his protection and put it on himself during the attack. Kill in the declare attackers step at the latest.

2) Kaalia of the Vast

Kaalia of the Vast

Kaalia is a creature that can smash your face through the table and into the floorboards. Take her out before she gets a combat step, as her ability will trigger, and she will punch you with a massive Angel, Demo,n or Dragon. These decks have other threats, which you will also want to remove as soon as possible. Mostly they will contain heavy hitters like Avacyn, Angel of Hope, Iona, Shield of Emeria, and Master of Cruelties. Keep in mind Kaalia cheats these fellows into play. Beware the angel.

3) Animar, Soul of Elements

Animar, Soul of Elements

Animar is one of the hardest commanders to remove, mostly because he comes with protection from both black and white. When left untouched he allows his controller to rapidly assemble a force of nasty monsters ready to pounce for a small amount of mana. When Animar hits the stage eliminate him as soon as possible, as it will quickly get out of hand. Animar decks have no problem ramping out creatures, thereby giving Animar a multitude of +1/+1 counters. If your deck has sweepers you may want to wait a little while before pulling the trigger as it is possible the Animar player will overextend. However, a 2 for 1 that takes out Animar himself is good enough. Animar is less of a threat if the Animar player has nothing in hand.

4) Teysa, Orzhov Scion

Teysa, Orzhov Scion

The reason why Teysa makes the list, is that these decks tend to be filled to the brim with combo after combo, and all she needs is a sac-outlet like blasting station and darkest hour out to get infinite benefits. As a commander that costs only 3 mana it can get out of hand quickly. If you miss getting rid of Teysa when you can, you need to eliminate Darkest Hour before that blasting station comes down or vice-versa. Those are the threats that are the biggest offenders from most Teysa lists.

5) Krenko, Mob Boss

Krenko, Mob Boss

This is another card, similar to Teysa, which combos out viciously. Goblins have nothing but low cmc, and often hasty, creatures. All you need is Thornbite Staff and any sac-outlet to get infinite goblin tokens before proceeding to run everyone over. The Krenko player doesn’t need much in hand to make a massive army. Therefore, even if they are hellbent kill Krenko right away. Plus, he’s a mob boss so it’s not like he’s a good guy.

Moving Towards Other Threats

Those are the commanders that, when I see them on the battlefield, immediately take my removal. They are all relatively low cmc and only need one or two other cards to become oppressive. There are other commanders that are threatening. This is by no means a short list, however I feel these are the top contenders for big threats. Now, let us move on to cards that provide the player with sheer advantage when they are used.

Rhystic Study

Rhystic Study

This is the first card that I say gives the controller a major advantage. Rhystic Study imposes a tax on everyone’s spells and if they do not pay it, the controller gets to draw a card. Those cards tend to add up. We know for sure, in any format, that the winner usually is the one with the best card advantage, and this enchantment has it in spades. It certainly doesn’t help that this is a blue card and can come from decks loaded with counters, infinite turns, or any kind of mass removal.



Burgeoning paints a huge target on your back, especially if you get it out on the first turn. This is a card that gives a benefit to its controller anytime their opponents play a land. The ramp that this gives is ridiculous. If you have the removal for it use it, or you will quickly be left behind by the green player. Since it can come down on the first turn it is worth it to play a couple of one mana enchantment removal spells in your list.

Mana Echoes

Mana Echoes

Red is a colour that loves to go boom early on. This enchantment is a prime example of that. This card becomes especially dangerous in something like a Sliver Overlord deck where its controller can funnel that mana immediately into tutoring for their next sliver. Again, this is a card that you want to spend your removal on, or it will quickly bite you in the butt. So far, you’ll have noticed that the first major threats are all enchantments, so remember to pack some number of early game enchantment interaction.

Karmic Guide and Reveillark

Karmic GuideReveillark

The reason that I have grouped these two cards together is that they often work together. All you need is a sac outlet, or flicker effects, and you can abuse these effects in order to get your win conditions back from the graveyard to the battlefield. Alternatively you can use them in tandem with cards like Phyrexian Altar or Ashnod’s Altar to generate infinite colourless or infinite mana of any colour. This of course allows you to channel that mana into whatever you want, from a win-con to an (x) cost spell that takes out one player at a time. These two offenders often see play with Grave Pact, another card on the list.

Grave Pact

Grave Pact

When coupled with effects like Viscera Seer, you can quickly wipe your opponents’ boards. The best part about this card is the fact that it gets around indestructible and hexproof/shroud. So much for Whispersilk Cloak saving your commander. As long as you have exit the battlefield effects to abuse, or a bunch of tokens to be sacrificed, or as mentioned above, Karmic Guide, Reveillark and a sac outlet, Grave Pact will give you an insane advantage. There is a reason why most black based EDH decks look to this card. Dictate of Erebos is also dangerous.

Now you know some cards that are must-answer threats. You’re probably wondering why I have used these cards and not talked specifically about strategy. Well, I wanted to give you some examples of effects that are dangerous in any game. All of the cards above have effects that can significantly place their controllers ahead of their opponents. Being able to identify effects that are oppressive and give such an advantage is key in commander. You wouldn’t want to use your removal on a sol ring when Phyrexian Altar is on the board. You also wouldn’t want to use your path to exile on a Karador, which can be played for 3 mana very easily, when an Avacyn, Angel of Hope is out. Thanks for reading, next week I’ll be looking into a Mono Green list!

Until next time,