One of the most interesting aspects about Commander in MTG is the addition of the Commander card in your deck and another zone on the battlefield: the command zone. Unfortunately, the command zone can be kind of confusing. It’s not in your hand, not in your library, not in your graveyard, and not exactly in play on the battlefield.
So, how do the abilities of a Commander in the command zone work? In this post, we’ll be examining MTG Commander abilities in the command zone. We’ll also touch on some other questions many have about different things you can do with cards that are in the command zone.
What is the Command Zone?
The first question we need to address here is what the command zone is, exactly. If you’ve played a game of Magic: the Gathering before, you know that there are a handful of sections on the table in front of each player. Those sections include each player’s library, battlefield, graveyard, and in Commander games, the command zone.
If you can think of your Commander as the general of your army of cards, then you can think of the command zone as a sort of “war room.” It’s a unique zone specifically for your Commander cards, where they rest in clear view of other players before they enter the battlefield or optionally when they leave the battlefield.
Every time your Commander returns to the command zone, its casting cost goes up by two. This is called the Commander tax, and it is one of the reasons why someone may not want to repeatedly cast from their command zone.
However, the benefits to casting from your command zone can oftentimes outweigh the cons. If the choice is between putting your Commander into exile, for instance, or putting it into the command zone, it’s better to just put it into the command zone and incur the tax.
How Do MTG Commander Abilities work in the Command Zone?
So, how exactly do MTG Commander abilities work in the command zone? Do they matter at all?
Here’s the short answer: they don’t. Most of the time, a Commander’s abilities don’t have any impact on the game until that Commander is actually out on the battlefield.
The key part here is “most of the time.” As we’ve said before, there are almost always exceptions to just about every rule in the game. In this case, the exception is Commanders with unique abilities that specifically say they work in the command zone.
One example is the ability Eminence, pictured in the card above. Eminence allows The Ur-Dragon to reduce the cost of Dragon-type spells by one, regardless of whether it’s on the battlefield or in the command zone.
In general, it’s safe to assume that abilities won’t work in the command zone. If they will work, there will be text on the card stating so.
Command Zone and Ability FAQs
Do you control your Commander in the command zone?
No, Commanders in the command zone are not currently under your control. They only come officially under your control once they enter the battlefield, like the other cards in your hand.
This can actually be a good thing. Anything that cares about you controlling cards, such as board wipes, won’t impact your Commander since it’s not out on the battlefield yet.
When can you put a Commander in the command zone?
Throughout the course of a single Commander game, your Commander will often move into and out of numerous zones, including the command zone. That begs the question, when can you put a Commander back into the command zone?
A Commander can return to its command zone if they would be moved to a zone that isn’t the battlefield. As an illustration, let’s say you have your Commander out on the battlefield, and someone plays a spell to destroy it. Typically, it would go into your graveyard, but you have the choice of sending it back into your command zone instead. Likewise, you can choose to put your Commander into the command zone instead of putting it into exile or bouncing it back into your hand.
You might be asking what the benefits are of the command zone over the graveyard or your hand…especially if you have to pay the Commander tax. The truth is, it varies – sometimes, it may actually be more beneficial to put your Commander in your hand or graveyard as opposed to your command zone.
If you’re playing a deck that can bring things back from the graveyard, then it’s fine to let your Commander go to the graveyard. You may also sometimes bounce your own Commander back to your hand with a spell if you’re worried about someone targeting it with a spell of their own.
Keep in mind that if your Commander is not in the command zone, though, it’s still vulnerable to anything that can target other zones. There are cards that can remove other cards from graveyards or even take cards from your hand.
Can you cycle a Commander from the command zone?
Cycling is an ability that allows you to discard a card in your hand to the graveyard and draw another card. It’s great for thinning out your library to more useful cards in the late game. Additionally, it can be helpful if the card with cycling isn’t beneficial to you right now and you’d like to try your luck at drawing another one.
By definition, cycling cannot be performed on a Commander in the command zone. The card must be in your hand in order to be cycled.
There’s no doubt that Magic: the Gathering is a complicated game, and the zones on the battlefield can be confusing for beginners. In unique formats like Commander, it can get even more challenging to learn. Hopefully, we were able to address some of your command zone questions here.
Protecting your Commander decks is also important. If you need help finding the best sleeves, read our recommendations for the best MTG sleeves for Commander/EDH.