Last updated on February 8, 2023
Vanishing Verse | Illustration by Chris Seaman
Pure answers are rare in Magic. Being able to deal with any permanent, indestructible or otherwise, can swing the tide of a game your opponent thought they had well in hand.
“Exile target permanent” is such a simple statement, but the scarcity in which it appears throughout Magic’s history shows the power found in those cards.
But which are the best cards like this? Let’s find out!
What are Exile Cards in Magic?
Karn Liberated | Illustration by Jason Chan
Today I’ll be looking at the best effects that point their destruction at a target and eliminate it from the game. While the phrase “exile target permanent” shows up in Magic in a lot of ways, I’m focusing on forms of removal. Though some versions have extra costs or restrictions, if it can exile a target permanent without being a Flicker or blink effect then I’m counting it.
While not always unconditional I’m also going to count cards that exile target a nonland permanent since Magic has long moved away from allowing most spells from interacting with lands. Even the most powerful cards we see today tend to avoid affecting a player’s ability to actually play the game.
When the dust settles these cards answer any problem you run into, so let’s get into them!
Best White Exile Cards
White’s primary form of removal is exile. While the color has some effects that destroy, like Valorous Stance, it tends to exile the cards it interacts with. White sometimes exiles cards unconditionally while other times they’re only exiled until the card doing the exiling leaves the battlefield. These two types of exiling target permanent are white’s main styles of removal.
Elspeth Conquers Death
A Standard staple for its entire lifetime in the format, Elspeth Conquers Death can exile any target permanent an opponent controls with mana value 3 or greater. While this isn’t as unconditional as other options on this list, this card remains powerful despite the restriction thanks to the other two chapters on this saga.
Not to mention that most things you want to permanently remove that are nonlands likely fall into the category of 3+ mana. While there are certainly some 2-drops that this card misses, it’s a small price to pay for such a powerful effect.
Archon of Justice
Archon of Justice is an odd one in the context of this list. While far from as effective as cards that just immediately exile a target permanent, Archon manages to have that same level of efficiency only when it dies.
The benefit of a 4/4 flier while you force your opponent to remove this card and lose their best permanent can apply a lot of pressure in how they interact with Archon.
Isolate is one of the most restrictive exile cards ever printed. Exclusively hitting cards with a mana value of 1, this card works best as a sideboard option against linear aggro decks that rely on their cheap spells to get ahead. It works especially well against cards like Bloodsoaked Champion that continue to recur if you can’t exile them.
This is a very wide net I’m casting here, but all these cards are enchantments that enter the battlefield and exile target nonland permanent for as long as they’re still on the battlefield. They each have their own unique twists, like Conclave Tribunal having convoke or Grasp of Fate being a Commander card that exiles a card for each opponent you’re facing. Ixalan’s Binding prevents your opponent from casting more copies of the card exiled, and Quarantine Field can act as a multi-permanent answer. But they all follow the same pattern of effectiveness and risk in the end.
These effects are incredibly powerful and can often turn the game, but they carry the risk that your opponent can answer them and undo your hard work answering their best permanent. These cards create a balancing act that ends the moment they leave play.
Portable Hole is a premier removal spell in both Standard and Pioneer, especially to answer aggressive cards and hate pieces like Deafening Silence. A continued theme of cheaper white artifacts and enchantments answering troublesome permanents that are limited by the desired card’s mana value. This is one of the more limiting ones, but Portable Hole does its job better than most others in matchups where you want to target cheap permanents, especially noncreature permanents.
One of the primary staples of Modern Horizons 2, Prismatic Ending changed the landscape of Modern, Legacy, Vintage, and EDH as one of the most efficient and limitless answers ever printed. Ending is a staple that’ll see play for the rest of time baring a better version coming in a later set, but I can’t imagine we ever see that. When WotC prints a truly unmatched card it’s best to pay attention. This card has certainly changed the way Magic is played in eternal formats.
Reduce to Memory
Reduce to Memory trades an opponent’s best nonland permanent for a 3/2 red and white Spirit. While that’s a strong creature that can definitely threaten you, trading Nissa, Who Shakes the World into a 3/2 creature is a massive win.
The same holds true for anything you’d ideally use this card against. Especially since it’s a lesson, you only get this card out of your sideboard when it’s worthwhile to trade resources into a 3/2. One of the more flexible and powerful lessons, Reduce sees play in Standard and (I imagine) in EDH as well.
Secure the Scene
Secure the Scene offers your opponent a trade they certainly don’t want to take. You exile their best nonland permanent and they get a 1/1 white Soldier token. Doesn’t seem like the best deal for your opponent, but it does technically work to balance this card’s power since they get something in return for losing a permanent.
One of the strongest white cards printed in Standard in a long time, Skyclave Apparition copies the style of cards like Oblivion Ring except your opponent gets an x/x creature equal to the exiled cards mana value. While you can only hit cards with mana value 4 or less, this is a great card at answering early game threats and planeswalkers that threaten to take over the midgame.
Apparition’s popularity displays the power of this effect, especially in smaller card pool formats like Standard and Pioneer.
Best Blue Exile Card
Blue is a color dedicated to tempo plays. With cards like Counterspell and Unsummon, this color generally only temporarily answers threats. Even the best example of exiling a target permanent in blue only manages to do so for a short while.
But if we expanded our definition to include cards that blink and flicker target permanent, blue is in competition with white for the number of cards that qualify for this list.
Release to the Wind
Release to the Wind exiles a nonland permanent and its owner can cast it without paying its mana cost for as long as that card remains exiled. Usually used to exile something for a single turn or protect your own permanents from wraths or removal, Release still qualifies. But it’s still the least effective form of exiling a target permanent that makes it on this list.
Best Black Exile Cards… or Not
Black doesn’t have any cards that fit our definition by itself. Most the black cards, like Vraska’s Contempt, deal with creatures or planeswalkers, but things like artifacts and enchantments have always bested black. Where black gets access to these style cards is by pairing up with white, so you’ll find plenty of black cards in the multicolored section below!
Best Red Exile Cards (Oops)
Red uses cards like Flame-Blessed Bolt to conditionally deal with creatures or planeswalkers. It also uses cards like Abrade to answer artifacts, but enchantments is what red has the hardest time answering.
So there aren’t any mono-red cards that cleanly fit our definition. There are one or two that can qualify in the multicolored section, but like black above red’s piece of the color pie lacks options when it comes to unconditional exile effects.
Best Green Exile Cards… Triple Not
Getting tired of the same disclaimer? Green unfortunately deals more in destruction, fighting, and pulling things out of the air. With cards like Blizzard Brawl, Naturalize, and Gale Force exemplifying the power of green removal, there isn’t an unconditional mono-green spell to cleanly exile target permanent.
But unlike black, green lacks clean exile removal even in multicolor, which makes sense for a color dedicated to answering threats by outsizing them in combat.
Best Multicolor Exile Cards
Despark has a similar restriction to cards like Elspeth Conquers Death in that it can hit any target permanent over a certain mana value. While this restriction puts it squarely below the power level of cards that can hit even just nonland permanents, the break point of four mana is low enough that it answers most cards you want to use a removal spell on.
Especially in formats like EDH or Pioneer where it sees sideboard play, hitting anything above four mana is close enough to all-encompassing that I think it warrants inclusion on this list.
A staple of all reanimator decks, Ashen Rider exiles a target permanent on the way in and on the way out. Hitting two lands can permanently lock some opponents out from interacting with follow-up threats.
Being able to reanimate this card to instantly answer your opponent’s best threat is a major reason that most decks want access to Rider in the sideboard or as a one of in the main, even though a card like Griselbrand is the default reanimator threat.
Rite of Oblivion
A new addition from Midnight Hunt, Rite of Oblivion carries on the Orzhov () tradition of requiring a sacrifice to net a positive effect. In this case you can sacrifice any nonland permanent to exile a nonland permanent.
In a format that has Blood tokens, Treasure tokens, and many excess tokens, sacrificing one of those permanents to exile a planeswalker or massive threat is well worth the cost. Being able to flash Rite back to exile two permanents makes sure it takes your opponent several threats to overcome your defenses.
Utter End is a very streamlined design: four mana for an instant that exiles target nonland permanent. Pay four and your biggest problem goes away.
I remember playing this card at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar and it feels like you’ve instantly pulled ahead every time it trades up in mana to hit an expensive threat or planeswalker.
Anguished Unmaking is Utter End for one mana cheaper at the cost of losing three life. It’s one of the cleanest answers available, but casting Lightning Bolt targeting yourself every time you want to remove something adds up quickly.
I’ve looped this card with Eternal Witness before to lock opponents out under an Eidolon of Rhetoric. There are few better tools for answering a wide array of threats and you’ll definitely enjoy having a copy of Unmaking around if you can mitigate the life loss or you’re playing a format like EDH with 40 life to start.
Kaya the Inexorable
Kaya the Inexorable is a card I’ve messed around with a little bit in Fires of Invention planeswalker decks. Its abilities are somewhat varied and it can be hard to kill, but its primary mode is to enter the battlefield, -3, and exile a problematic nonland permanent that would threaten it (like with most 5-mana planeswalkers).
While not flashy, a 5-mana catch-all that leaves a planeswalker around afterwards is worth a look in any deck that might use its +1 ability.
Deputy of Detention + Detention Sphere
Deputy of Detention and Detention Sphere are two versions of the same effect on two different card types.
Sphere exiles a target permanent and all the permanents with the same name. This also includes your own permanents if they share that name. Deputy is the more modern version of this effect since it only hits permanents with the same name that your opponent controls.
While Deputy is easier to answer than an enchantment, both cards act to clear out problematic permanents, especially those that come in multiples, to clear a path for you to win while they hopefully stay in play. Particularly good against tokens, these two cards still see play in Azorius () Control and Humans decks in Pioneer and Modern respectively.
Kaya, Orzhov Usurper
It turns out that Kaya has a penchant for exiling target permanents. Kaya, Orzhov Usurper exiles a nonland permanent with a converted mana cost of one or less. Given the cost for this ability is only -1, Kaya can hit multiple permanents over a few turns.
And this card synergizes very well against aggro or controlling decks that rely on 1-mana enchantments and artifacts like Chained to the Rocks or Portable Hole as answers to your cards.
Vanishing Verse changes up the traditional restriction on exile effects by allowing you to hit mono-colored permanents including lands, but not allowing you to deal with problematic multicolor cards. Especially good against things like Den of the Bugbear, Verse can be one of the best cards in any deck when you’re up against mono-colored devotion decks or decks whose primary threats are one color.
There are plenty of decks where Verse isn’t great, like against Niv to Light in Pioneer, but it’s one of the most effective answers in Pioneer as a sideboard option to attack certain archetypes.
The Kami War / O-Kagachi Made Manifest
The Kami War is the first card on this list from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. The first chapter of this powerful saga to exile a target nonland permanent that an opponent control. While the second and third chapters are impressive, this is a hard-to-cast 6-mana single-permanent exile card in the context of this list.
But when you take off the focused lenses of exile-target-permanent cards, it’s easy to see why Kami War could be an all-star in Standard. It answers multiple permanents, makes your opponent discard, and becomes a 6/6 flying trample dragon that can quickly end the game.
Best Colorless Exile Cards
Karn Liberated is a staple of Tron, Cube, and any deck that can reasonably get a 7-mana planeswalker into play. All the modes on Karn are backbreaking, and the high loyalty count makes it difficult to ever answer in a card positive way.
Its -3 ability cleanly exiles a target permanent. Famous for eating opposing players’ lands as early as turn 3 in Modern, Karn is one of the most played instances of exiling a target permanent on this list.
A card fitting to follow the Liberated planeswalker since the art depicts Urza and Karn, Legacy Weapon similarly costs seven mana, plus another five to activate. This powerful artifact exiles any permanent from the game when you activate it.
Having a recurring source of unrestricted exile can quickly lock out opponents if it goes unanswered. Assuming you have mana to flood into this weapon.
Scour from Existence
A third 7-mana colorless spell that exiles target permanent, this time an instant from Battle for Zendikar that used the abundance of Eldrazi scions running around on Zendikar to power out earlier than turn 7. In EDH decks that ramp, Scour from Existence can be a turn 3 or 4 spell for any problematic permanent or land.
While all these colorless spells are costly, Scour being the only one that doesn’t potentially recur unfortunately makes it a little weaker than Karn or Legacy Weapon in decks that can use those cards.
Anguished Unmaking | Illustration by Wesley Burt
Having looked at all the unique cards that exile a target permanent, the gap between the best and worst can drastically affect how likely your card is to answer any given threat. The best ones allow you to answer any threat with ease while some of the weaker ones need extra payment or apply more restrictions. This makes it a more nuanced decision of when to use these effects and what to target.
Either way, the cards on this list are some of the best forms of general removal you can find anywhere in Magic. If you need something gone right now, these cards can help you achieve that goal (especially if you’re in white).
It was fun walking down memory lane with some of the more powerful exile effects I’ve played across various formats. Let me know what your favorite way to deal with problematic permanents is and if you’d want to see more powerful versions of this effect (like Prismatic Ending) in the future. Be sure to drop a comment down below or find us over on the Draftsim Twitter with your opinions.
Stay safe, and enjoy exiling your opponent’s next threat!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: