Last updated on April 30, 2023
Commander's Insight | Illustration by Mike Jordana
Elder Dragon Highlander. EDH. Commander. Whatever you like to call it, this format is easily one of the best ways to play Magic, whether you’re looking for tough competition or a friendly game at the kitchen table. It’s also the most customizable format, with tons of cards to pick from when deckbuilding and the ability to build your deck around a particular legendary creature as your commander.
That commander gets to lead the charge by starting in your “command zone,” which is what I’m here to talk about today! Let’s get right to the fun stuff and dig into it all.
What Is the Command Zone in Commander?
Commander's Authority | Illustration by Johannes Voss
The command zone is a special area for cards that have an impact on the game but aren’t treated as permanents. In the Commander format it’s where your commander starts the game. From there you can cast your commander as if you were casting it from your hand, except it’s not from your hand.
This zone isn’t limited to just the Commander format, though. A new card type called “dungeon” was introduced with the Forgotten Realms set in July 2021. When you use the associated “venture into the dungeon” mechanic, a dungeon card of your choice is placed in the command zone until it’s completed.
What Are the Rules of the Command Zone?
It’s a game area reserved for special objects that have an effect on the game but aren’t permanents on the battlefield and can’t be destroyed.
Emblems are created in the command zone and non-traditional Magic cards as well as cards with special designations in the Commander, Planechase, Vanguard, Archenemy, and Conspiracy Draft formats start the game in the command zone.
There are very few rules about the zone itself but a lot of rules about the cards that use it.
Where Is the Command Zone Located?
The command zone is its own location and it’s most commonly placed in front of your deck on the playmat. At the very least it needs to be somewhere where all of your opponents can see it!
Is the Command Zone Outside of the Game?
No, the command zone is not outside of the game. The command zone has unique properties as its own zone in the game. It isn’t considered a part of your hand or “outside of the game” or “in exile.” It’s its own place with its own interactions that we’re just about to jump into!
Your commander (a legendary creature of your choosing) starts the game in the command zone. You can cast your commander from your command zone any time you could normally cast it. Your commander is also subject to commander tax, a rule stating that it’s costs two more generic mana to cast your commander every time you cast it from the command zone during the game.
That’s right, I said “next time.” Your commander isn’t a one-and-done deal. Whenever your commander dies and goes to the graveyard or is exiled or gets put in your hand or is shuffled into your library (basically if it’s removed from the field in any way) you can put it back in the command zone.
Keep in mind that if you do this when your commander is returned to your hand or sent to your library, the commander doesn’t go to those places first. While it would usually hit the graveyard or exile zone if it were sent there, it doesn’t do so for the hand and library. There may be a time where that matters somehow. I can’t predict the future so it’s just handy knowledge to have.
Why, yes. Yes, you can choose to have your commander in the graveyard. If you have a reason that you’d like to leave your commander rest in peace (say to revive it or cast it without paying commander tax), feel free to let your commander die.
It’s a choice you get whenever your commander moves zones. So don’t be afraid to let it hang around sometimes. You can still send your commander back to the command zone afterward if it gets exiled from the graveyard.
Does the Command Zone Count as “In Exile?”
No, the command zone doesn’t count as in exile, just like it doesn’t count as being outside of the game. Its rule still applies that it’s a unique zone within the game.
If it were counted as being in exile these zones would overlap and intrude on each other, leading to some potentially wacky combos depending on how the rulings work out. And quite frankly I’m glad that the zones in MTG are as secluded and separate as they are. It makes it nice and simple to keep track of things.
I’m glad you asked! I was about to mention that while you might want to keep your commander in your graveyard given the chance, there are some commanders that like to stay in the command zone because of their abilities.
Eminence is the most prominent ability that relies on the command zone. It’s essentially an effect that’s always active from the field or the command zone. The few commanders that use this are Arahbo, Roar of the World, Inalla, Archmage Ritualist, Edgar Markov, and The Ur-Dragon. These commanders are especially powerful thanks to their ability to constantly affect the game at all times, even if they aren’t on the field.
Other commanders that have abilities that are active in or used from the command zone are Derevi, Empyrial Tactician, Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow, Liesa, Shroud of Dusk, and Oloro, Ageless Ascetic. While not quite eminence, these abilities are cracked in their own way.
Yuriko and Derevi have abilities that essentially eliminate commander tax using their abilities to enter the battlefield rather than being cast. Oloro passively gains you life while he’s in the command zone and Liesa gives you the option to pay life instead of traditional commander tax.
Can You Exile a Commander from the Game? Does it Go to the Command Zone?
Yes, and yes.
You can exile a commander with a spell or ability just like any other creature. But the owner of that commander gets to choose if they want to leave their leader in exile or send it back to the command zone. That said, it’s still going to the command zone nine times out of ten unless you’ve got something like Pull from Eternity to bring it back to the graveyard so you can revive it.
Does Going to the Command Zone Count as Dying?
No, moving to the command zone doesn’t count as dying since the commander has already left the battlefield in some way, shape, or form. However, if the commander was killed by a spell or through combat, the creature did die and the game recognizes that the commander died. It goes to the graveyard and then its owner moves it to the command zone if they want to. The death part already happened.
Does the Command Zone Count as Your Hand?
That’s another no, chief. Just as the command zone doesn’t count as “outside of the game” or “in exile” it also doesn’t count as being in your hand. Abilities and spells that care about your hand in some way don’t care about your commander. It’s unfortunate but it’s the world we live in.
How Does Dash Work with the Command Zone?
The dash mechanic is a tad quirky. Your commander returns from the battlefield to your hand at the end of the turn that you dashed your commander. Then it just sticks around in your hand for you to dash over and over or just to cast normally if you don’t return it to the command zone.
This doesn’t rack up commander tax since it’s not being cast from the command zone all those times, making it super low to the ground and cheap to keep casting your commander without paying exuberant amounts of mana. Commanders that use this mechanic include Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, Zurgo Bellstriker, and Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury.
Cards don’t often use the command zone unless they’re your commander, have a special designation, or explicitly state that they interact with the command zone. Here’s a list of everything that uses the command zone, including some cards I’ve already mentioned.
Technically I could write a list of every legendary creature in MTG history, but… No.
What I will list for creatures is those that interact with the command zone. Some are cards that rely on how often your commander has been cast rather than the command zone specifically, but I’ve given them the benefit of the doubt and included them as well.
- Captain Vargus Wrath
- Derevi, Empyrial Tactician
- Reyhan, Last of the Abzan
- Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow
- Jirina Kudro
- Liesa, Shroud of Dusk
- Arahbo, Roar of the World
- Inalla, Archmage Ritualist
- Edgar Markov
- Oloro, Ageless Ascetic
Conspiracies are cards unique to the Conspiracy Draft format and aren’t used anywhere else. While very niche, they do use the command zone to affect the game.
- Adriana's Valor
- Advantageous Proclamation
- Assemble the Rank and Vile
- Backup Plan
- Brago's Favor
- Double Stroke
- Echoing Boon
- Emissary's Ploy
- Hired Heist
- Hold the Perimeter
- Hymn of the Wilds
- Immediate Action
- Incendiary Dissent
- Iterative Analysis
- Muzzio's Preparations
- Natural Unity
- Power Play
- Secret Summoning
- Secrets of Paradise
- Sentinel Dispatch
- Sovereign's Realm
- Summoner's Bond
- Unexpected Potential
- Weight Advantage
Myth Unbound | Illustration by Alexander Forssberg
And that’s that. Do you have any favorite commanders? I’m particularly fond of Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow. Yuriko was the first commander deck that I ever built around and is easily my most powerful with tons of tricks up its sleeve thanks to its commander ninjutsu ability. I’ve also been looking at building a deck around Oloro, Ageless Ascetic to use its lifegain synergies with cards that give me bonuses for gaining life.
What about you? Do any commanders I’ve mentioned here strike your fancy? Is there a card I forgot to list here that messes with the command zone? Let me know in the comments below and start up a discussion!
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