Commander Spotlight: Cleansing

Why did you put Card X into your recent deck? Was it because of its power level? Splashy appeal? Was it because of deck synergy or thematic purpose? Or did you just put it in because you liked the card?

The truth is…so long as you justify it to yourself, that’s all that mattes. There is no wrong answer to that question.

The idea of why a card makes it into a deck will undeniably vary from person to person and even deck to deck. For all of the meta game focus, min-max tuning, and constant evolution of the game itself, making a deck is still almost as much art as it is science. There is no mystical formula that will make a deck work with 100% consistently across all formats, player sizes, and play groups – no matter what some may have you believe.

In fact, some of my most amusing Magic memories over the years have involved players being brought low by their own hubris. There’s an appeal (and indeed a bit of schadenfreude) watching someone plopping down their highly touted deck only to be undone by decks far less structured or powerful. Watch as a highly aggressive deck waste its biggest punch when someone casually Fogs. Chuckle as a player’s convoluted combo deck fall completely to pieces when a single card is nullified. Grimace as your entire deck’s functionality is stopped by an innocently cast card three players down from you.

I have been in games where someone running genuine Black Lotuses and Moxen lost due to table politics against a modified precon.

Decks come into existence partly due to functionality, yes, but also through the subjectivity of its creator. This variety of deck construction is part of what keeps us invested in the game.Will we draw the one card that’ll save us? Will someone stop you as you try to pick off an opponent? The uncertainty of the outcome makes up part of the game’s bedrock foundation.

And, honestly, that’s a good thing. You want randomness in Magic; if everyone played the same deck all the time and got the same outcomes, it’d get boring pretty quickly.

What’s more, that randomness isn’t solely dictated by the nature of the game. In truth, the players themselves are usually the bigger determining factor. But the fact that such a large portion of its randomness manifests due to the players themselves should be celebrated more than criticized. It means that you have a direct hand in shaping the odds of things happening simply by the cards you choose to include.

In Commander specifically, this is doubly true.

As we mentioned last time, cards in EDH decks tend to exist either as obvious choices for inclusion due to their splashiness, nuanced cards that require some thought or effort to decide if they’re useful, and mundane cards that are functionally helpful but don’t generate the same level of excitement as the other two. We then looked at a card from the latter most category.

This week, in celebration of the freedom of deckbuilding choices and the ability to use nearly anything Magic has to offer, we’re going with something from the second (nuanced) group. Specifically, we’re reaching into the wayback machine to pull out a curious damage dealing card…in White.

Today we have: Cleansing


Name: Cleansing

Edition: The Dark

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Land Destruction / Life Loss

Highlights: Once upon a time, White had a fairly extensive array of land destruction cards at its disposal, including arguably the most potent mass land destruction card ever made in Armageddon. We live in an era now where Stone Rain is considered too powerful for Standard, but in the game’s early days, that was seen as almost weak compared to the bevy of ridiculous card options in both Red and White.

Cleansing is a card from that era. As often happens with some of the best EDH revival choices, however, it wasn’t really seen as a powerhouse in its day. Cleansing was much harder to splash than Armageddon, or Cataclysm, only cost one less mana than either, and you could circumvent losing land by paying life instead, which didn’t really make it the most effective tempo card in duels where your goal was to blow up your opponent’s land. So while it had its fans, it was often overshadowed by its more potent siblings and fell into obscurity over time.

In the Commander era though, Cleansing is an incredibly useful card, albeit for the exact opposite purpose of its original intent.

Because Commander games are longer, involve multiple players, and generally have higher average card costs than other formats, access to lots of mana is usually a requirement. So most players are going to have a fair amount of land the longer the game progresses. For three mana, then, it’s possible to dole out a substantial amount of damage to everyone for minimal cost.

Additionally, Cleansing’s original weakness – giving players an out to land loss – actually becomes a strength. In most multiplayer groups, mass land removal is generally seen as taboo. So the fact that you can offset that by paying life instead at least gives players an out. In a sense, the practical effect of Cleansing is flipped on its head. That is players lose life equal to the number of lands they control unless they wish to sacrifice land to prevent it – which most players won’t opt to do – giving you a de facto damage dealing card in White.

What’s more, you’re less likely to invite retribution with such a card compared to other land hate for two reasons. First, it affects everyone, including the caster. Second, such a card disproportionately hurts players with more land, and since the vast majority of EDH players are fine with punishing players who aggressively mana ramp, there isn’t nearly as much pushback as you’d think.

And, if nothing else, Cleansing is precisely the kind of card that other players won’t see coming. That alone is always a reason to consider when building your deck. The format offers you the opportunity to be creative and original, and this card certainly fits the bill.

Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.

You can discuss this article over on our social media!


Do you have a particular Commander card to suggest for us to shine a future Spotlight on? You can send suggestions to