Tasigur, the Golden Fang (Ultimate Box Topper) - Illustration by Igor Kieryluk

Tasigur, the Golden Fang (Ultimate Box Topper) | Illustration by Igor Kieryluk

Do you love to take control of the game and dictate the pace? Then you’re in luck, because today I’m diving into the world of control commanders! These are the master manipulators of the battlefield, the ones who can shut down opponents’ strategies and turn the tide of the game in your favor.

But with so many options to choose from, it can be tough to figure out which control commander are truly the cream of the crop. That’s where I come in. I’m running down the best control commanders, analyzing what makes them so powerful, and giving you some tips and tricks for how to make the most of them.

Intrigued? Let’s get started!

What Are Control Commanders in MTG?

Baral, Chief of Compliance - Illustration by Wesley Burt

Baral, Chief of Compliance | Illustration by Wesley Burt

Control commanders can come in a variety of colors, each with their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Blue is the color of counterspells and card draw, making it a popular choice for control players. Black, on the other hand, specializes in removal and discard, while white is all about board wipes and defensive spells.

No matter which colors you choose, the goal of a control commander is always the same: dominate the pace of the game, enable unique interactions, and create board states that are difficult for your opponents to overcome.

#30. Nicol Bolas, the Ravager / Nicol Bolas, the Arisen

The thing that’s most appealing about Nicol Bolas, the Ravager isn’t that it’s an overpriced Rat Burglar, but rather that it can transform into a planeswalker that’s ready to take over the board if left unchecked.

#29. Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis

Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis

Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis is a 4-color commander deck focused on group hug and politics. Cards like Ghostly Prison  or Xyris, the Writhing Storm let you control the board state. In addition, the deck can take over games with cards like Approach of the Second Sun as an alternate wincon.

#28. Hanna, Ship’s Navigator

Hanna, Ship's Navigator

Hanna, Ship's Navigator may not be as powerful as other commanders. Still, its ability is outstanding, especially paired with artifacts or enchantments like Seal of Cleansing or Aura of Silence that are sacrificed to activate its effect.

#27. Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign

Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign

A Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign deck is a unique take on control that focuses on using the top of the library to gain advantage and manipulate the game. Yennett’s ability to cast spells from the top of the library rewards careful manipulation of the top cards and allows for powerful, unexpected plays.

Some of the key cards in the deck include spells that manipulate the top of the library, like Brainstorm and Sensei's Divining Top to cheat out into play high-cost spells like Blatant Thievery and Temporal Mastery. On top of that, Vampiric Tutor, Imperial Seal, and Mystical Tutor exceed in this deck for obvious reasons.

#26. Raff Capashen, Ship’s Mage

Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage

Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage, is a fun Commander deck that enjoys to flash in historic spells.

#25. Sydri, Galvanic Genius

Sydri, Galvanic Genius

Sydri, Galvanic Genius‘s niche is to turn artifacts into creatures. With cards like Bolas's Citadel and Aetherflux Reservoir, you can gain tons of life and blast your opponents out of the game. Indestructible artifacts are also great targets to turn into annoying creatures for your opponents to deal with.

#24. Athreos, God of Passage

Athreos, God of Passage

An Athreos, God of Passage Commander deck is all about playing with your graveyard and making your creatures hard to get rid of. Its ability makes it hard for your opponents to keep your creatures down by sending them back to their hands without paying the toll price. You can abuse strong ETB effects like the ones on Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Solemn Simulacrum because you can sacrifice them with cards like Ashnod's Altar to return them to your hand and replay them again potentially.

#23. Kambal, Consul of Allocation

Kambal, Consul of Allocation

Decks that use Kambal, Consul of Allocation usually run other tax effects like Blind Obedience or Authority of the Consuls to gain life and outvalue their opponents in that regard. Additionally, you can run other prison effects like Sphere of Safety and Ghostly Prison and cards that reward you for gaining life like Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose.

#22. Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper

Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper

A Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper Commander deck focuses on controlling the board through instants and sorceries while building up a mighty army of land creatures. Its ability to turn lands into creatures provides a unique win condition and allows for unexpected attacks. Key cards in the deck include Terra Eternal  and Planar Outburst, among others.

#21. Aminatou, the Fateshifter

Aminatou, the Fateshifter

This planeswalker allows you to control the game by flickering permanents. It has a solid ability to manipulate the top card of your library, allowing you to set up powerful plays involving miracle cards like Terminus. They often run a wide density of creatures with powerful enter-the-battlefield abilities, like Archaeomancer and Mulldrifter, to take advantage of Aminatou, the Fateshifter’s flicker ability and control spells like Dovin's Veto and Vindicate.

#20. Kess, Dissident Mage

Kess, Dissident Mage

One of Commander’s limitations is that you can only run a copy of a given card. If there’s a commander that bypasses that ruling, it has to be Kess, Dissident Mage. Technically, you can cast a second copy of your instant and sorceries during your turn. This can help set up powerful combinations; recurring a tutor spell like Demonic Tutor is a big deal.

#19. Damia, Sage of Stone

Damia, Sage of Stone

Damia, Sage of Stone is a powerful commander that provides raw card advantage thanks to its static ability that lets you draw multiple cards per turn. One card that works particularly great with this commander is Sheoldred, the Apocalypse because it can refill your life total every time Damia’s ability triggers.

#18. Jhoira of the Ghitu

Jhoira of the Ghitu

Jhoira of the Ghitu is an explosive commander deck that loves to cheat big spells for free. With cards like Omniscience or Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, you can quickly take over games and leave your opponents in the dust. Plus, with cards like Cyclonic Rift and Blasphemous Act, you can clear the board and pave the way for your giant creatures to swing in for the win. If you need some extra protection, you can always counter your opponents’ spells with cards like Counterspell and Swan Song.

#17. Mizzix of the Izmagnus

Mizzix of the Izmagnus

Mizzix of the Izmagnus reduces the cost of your spells based on the number of experience counters you have, allowing you to cast spells almost for free with enough counters.

In addition, proliferate cards like Experimental Augury or Tezzeret's Gambit work exceptionally well along with this commander.

#16. Queen Marchesa

Queen Marchesa

Monarch is an excellent ability that usually gives you a card, but if you manage to protect it, it can become a one-sided Howling Mine. Even if you don’t manage to protect the monarch, you can keep amassing creatures thanks to Queen Marchesa’s second ability.

#15. Keranos, God of Storms

Keranos, God of Storms

Keranos, God of Storms is a very oppressive commander that provides a ton of value on each of your turns. Whether a free Lightning Bolt or an extra card, its ability is outstanding.

#14. Yarok, the Desecrated

Yarok, the Desecrated

This commander is all about getting maximum value from your creatures, lands, and spells. With Yarok, the Desecrated on the battlefield, cards like Mulldrifter and Solemn Simulacrum become even more powerful, drawing extra cards and fetching extra lands.

With cards like Risen Reef and Woodland Bellower, you can ramp up your board presence and trigger even more ETB effects. And if you want to get spicy, you can use cards like Agent of Treachery and Meteor Golem to steal or kill your opponents’ permanents and trigger even more Yarok shenanigans.

#13. Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir

Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir

One of the most annoying commanders to play against has to be Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir. It prevents opponents from casting spells at instant speed, making it difficult for them to respond to your plays. When paired with cards like Counterspell and Cryptic Command, you’ll soon be the target of your table.

#12. Azami, Lady of Scrolls

Azami, Lady of Scrolls

Azami, Lady of Scrolls is a powerful wizard who can draw cards whenever another wizard enters the battlefield under your control. The deck includes a variety of wizard creatures and spells to support this strategy, and counterspells and removal to keep the opponent’s threats at bay. Additionally, the deck can be built around a combo with Mind Over Matter, allowing you to draw your entire deck.

#11. Niv-Mizzet, Parun

Niv-Mizzet, Parun

Niv-Mizzet, Parun rewards you when you draw cards and deal damage to your opponents in the process. The deck is usually filled with counterspells to protect your board state and also runs plenty of ways to generate infinite combos with Niv-Mizzet, allowing you to draw your entire deck and burn your opponents out of the game. The most notable card that goes well with it is Curiosity.

#10. The Locust God

The Locust God

The Locust God is a crazy commander that can swarm the board with hordes of Insect tokens while drawing cards like a maniac. With cards like Skullclamp and Kindred Discovery, you can draw tons of cards and pump out an insane number of insect tokens to overwhelm your opponents. With cards like Impact Tremors and Purphoros, God of the Forge, you can burn your opponents out while flooding the board with bugs. If things start to go wrong, you can always wheel and deal with cards like Windfall and Wheel of Fortune to refill your hand and keep the pressure on.

#9. Brago, King Eternal

Brago, King Eternal

Brago, King Eternal, is a powerful commander that likes to flicker nonland permanents, creating a ton of value each time it deals combat damage. With a mix of ETB effects and stax pieces, this deck can slow down opponents while building up its board presence.

Some players enjoy the fun interactions with Brago’s ability, bouncing creatures like Mulldrifter and Stonehorn Dignitary to lock down the board. Cards like Reality Acid and Spine of Ish Sah allow this deck to handle problematic permanents with ease.

#8. Sen Triplets

Sen Triplets

Sen Triplets‘s ability to look at opponents’ hands and play their cards allows for efficient use of resources and disruption of opponents’ game plans. You can pair this commander with other cards like Tasha, the Witch Queen, Xanathar, Guild Kingpin, and Elder Brain to play cards they own and use their resources instead of yours.

#7. Oloro, Ageless Ascetic

Oloro, Ageless Ascetic

Since it was printed, Oloro, Ageless Ascetic has been considered one of the most powerful control commanders. It has the best colors for tutors, board wipes, counterspells, and even planeswalkers. What makes it terrifying is that it doesn’t need to hit the battlefield to start getting value, and you can outvalue your opponents in not time when you pair it with cards like Sanguine Bond or Well of Lost Dreams.

#6. Narset, Enlightened Master

Narset, Enlightened Master

Most Narset, Enlightened Masters are used in a Voltron theme, but it’s one that actually does pretty well in a control shell, particularly if you add tons of Time Warp effects in it.

#5. Zur the Enchanter

Zur the Enchanter

One of the most targeted control commanders has to be Zur the Enchanter. Opponents have no option but to kill it on sight. Otherwise, it can get out of hand pretty quickly by assembling combos around Stasis, Solitary Confinement, and Necropotence among others.

#4. Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Tasigur, the Golden Fang is a strong Sultai commander that can help you return cards from your graveyard to your hand, allowing you to reuse powerful control spells. It also has a strong body and a delve ability, making it a good attacker and defender.

Some potential synergies include using spells with graveyard recursions like Eternal Witness and Regrowth to take advantage of Tasigur’s ability and removal spells like Assassin's Trophy and Abrupt Decay to control the board.

#3. Derevi, Empyrial Tactician

Derevi, Empyrial Tactician

The big appeal of a Derevi, Empyrial Tactician Commander deck is that it allows you to untap your creatures and lands, giving you more resources to control the game. It also runs cards that can produce multiple mana like Gaea's Cradle and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx to take advantage of Derevi’s untap ability and control spells like Cyclonic Rift and Swords to Plowshares to remove threats. What’s cool about it is that you can build outstanding and competitive budget versions of this deck.

#2. Baral, Chief of Compliance

Baral, Chief of Compliance

Baral, Chief of Compliance shares some similarities to Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir control decks in the sense that the same cards can be run in both of them. However, you can set up faster combos with Baral, Chief of Compliance static ability.

Once the game has been sufficiently controlled, the deck can win through various routes like with Isochron Scepter and Dramatic Reversal or through a more traditional win condition like Talrand, Sky Summoner and a host of counterspells to protect it.

#1. Grand Arbiter Augustin IV

Grand Arbiter Augustin IV

Grand Arbiter Augustin IV is one of the best control commanders around, if not the best. Its ability reduces the cost of your spells and increases the cost of your opponent’s spells, making it difficult for them to cast anything. If you pair it with other stax elements like Propaganda, Aura of Silence, or Rhystic Study, you’ll take over the board in no time because white and blue have the best control elements at your disposal.

Best Control Commanders Payoffs

There are several payoff cards that can work well with control commanders. These reward you for taking control of the game, often by giving you some sort of advantage, benefit, and in some cases the win.

Approach of the Second Sun

For example, one popular control commander payoff card is Approach of the Second Sun. This card allows you to win the game if you cast it twice and it resolves both times, which can be a great way to close out a long, drawn-out game you’ve been controlling.

Torment of Hailfire

Another payoff card is Torment of Hailfire. This spell deals X damage to each opponent and makes them either discard cards or sacrifice creatures, depending on how much mana you spend on it. This can be a devastating finisher in a control deck, especially if you’ve been using your control commander to limit your opponent’s resources and expand your own.

Nezahal, Primal Tide

Several creatures can act as payoff cards for a control strategy. Nezahal, Primal Tide is a powerful blue creature that can draw you cards and protect itself. Pair it with your own protection spells and board wipes, and you’ll take control of the board in seconds, often leading you to win the game.

Does Control Work in Commander?

Control can be a very effective strategy in Commander, allowing you to disrupt your opponents’ plans and control the game’s pace. In fact, many of the top Commander decks are built around a control strategy.

How Many Creatures Should You Put in a Control Commander Deck?

This depends on your commander. Take Derevi, Empyrial Tactician as an example. This one likes having a bunch of little and elusive creatures in play to control the game, while Narset, Enlightened Master ends games by itself in a deck with no creatures. There’s no real number, but control decks generally run fewer creatures than other archetypes. Around 10 creatures is probably what I’d call normal for them.

How Many Lands Should Be in a Commander Control Deck?

In a control deck, you’ll typically want to be able to play a land every turn to hit your land drops and ensure you have enough mana to cast your spells. This is especially important in Commander, where games tend to last longer and you need plenty of resources to stay in the game. Of course, the number of lands in a control deck can vary depending on the specific commander and its mana curve, but a good rule of thumb is to include around 38 to 40 lands.

How Does a Control Deck Win?

These decks often win by resolving big spells, like the ones I mentioned in the payoff section, or pulling off specific combos only available while their commander is out or as a product of controlling the game for the most part.

Commanding Conclusion

Narset, Enlightened Master - Illustration by Magali Villeneuve

Narset, Enlightened Master | Illustration by Magali Villeneuve

Control commanders are a powerful and effective strategy in Commander games because they allow you to set the rules of the table and impact how the game plays out. Try these out if you enjoy outsmarting your opponents and pulling the strings over the game!

What do you think? Are these the best you’ve heard of, or are there any that you wish were on the list? Let me know in the comments below, or over on the official Draftsim Twitter.

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