Too-Specific Top 10 - Leaving an Impression

(Watcher for Tomorrow | Art by Tommy Arnold)

Why Don't You Make Like a Tree...

Welcome to Too-Specific Top 10, where if there isn’t a category to rank our pet card at the top of, we’ll just make one up! (Did you know that Boreas Charger is card advantage and ramp? In white?)

This week, we're looking over the best cards featuring a leaves-the-battlefield ability, some of the most powerful text that can appear on a card. We're not just talking about stuff that triggers when it dies - we want stuff that triggers when it leaves in any way, be it dying, bounce, exile, or other.

That said, if you look at the raw list of cards that include that exact text, "leaves the battlefield," it's littered with not-so-great cards, so we're going to have to do something about that!

All right, maybe that was a little harsh. What I should have said is that no self-respecting Top Ten article can have a list of cards half made up of Oblivion Ring variants (at least, unless that's the point of the list). But those shouldn't be so hard to eliminate, should they?

Top 10 "Leaves the Battlefield" Cards

So, what makes a "leaves the battlefield" card? Well, first off, it must include that phrase. Secondly, it usually is a triggered ability. Thirdly, as we already discussed, we probably don't want to consider abilities like Oblivion Ring, which are just using this rules phrase to make sure they replace a card that was initially removed.

So, with all that in mind, it sounds like we've got our criteria all laid out!

Criteria: Cards that include a triggered ability featuring the exact phrase "leaves the battlefield", but not as part of a replacement of a card previously removed by the same card that returns it to the same zone. As is tradition, all results are ordered by how many decks they are included in on EDHREC.

Not my clearest wording, yet when it's enforced at the letter-of-the-law level, it comes with significant collateral damage. Not only does this phrasing eliminate Oblivion Ring and Fiend Hunter, but also the likes of Hostage Taker, Ugin, the Ineffable, and Animate Dead.

However, none of these are as much a tragedy as the fact that this list will never have a chance to feature my boy Trapjaw Tyrant.

Let us all have a moment of silence for this good Dino.


Now, on to the actual list!

10. Twilight Drover

The first entry on our Top Ten list detailing the best leaves-the-battlefield triggers is perhaps the strangest and most specific leave-the-battlefield trigger. Twilight Drover can put +1/+1 counters on itself and later remove them to make tokens, only it doubles down by only putting counters on itself when tokens specifically leave the battlefield. While this makes it a lot more restricted than the broader triggers that care about any creature leaving the battlefield, the fact that it can make them itself puts this into a category more similar to the old Tetravus and Pentavus, only white and a lot more affordable.

9. Boreas Charger

While I personally think it's a bit criminal that this didn't make it further up the list, Boreas Charger is our number nine card. Maybe the lack of play is because this little Pegasus is a leaves-the-battlefield rather than enters-the-battlefield trigger. That may work better for Blink decks, but overall it's more difficult in white than other color combinations to find sac effects, and while playing it all on its own without any synergies isn't terrible, it's not exactly a slam dunk, either. If ever there was an upside that could talk you into risking the fact that you might have a 2/1 flier hanging around doing nothing for a while, however, then Boreas Charger's upside should do the trick. Being able to search for a Plains and put it onto the battlefield is already an abnormally good effect for white. The chance that you'll run into a ramp deck that's ahead and also get to fill up your hand with more lands is just gravy. Pro tip: play Karoo and the Ravnica bounce lands to ensure that you're always a little "behind" on land count. Doesn't hurt for things like Balancing Act, either.

8. Curator's Ward

There's a fairly long history of playing cards in EDH that protect your commander, and a fairly long history of playing cards in EDH that compensate you when your commander is killed. Curator's Ward does both of those things, and then ups the ante by being able to also enchant any permanent. Want to protect that Enchantress's Presence to keep your enchantment deck rolling? No problem. Want to make sure that that Azor's Gateway getting ready to flip into a Sanctum of the Sun for the first time sticks around, or at least draws you a couple cards as a consolation prize? Curator's Ward can help out with that, too.

7. Vela the Night-Clad

Blink effects might be harder to come by in Dimir than Azorius, but one thing that black does do rather well is making things leave the battlefield in more permanent variations. Vela the Night-Clad revels in those mass migrations, not caring if the vast hordes of creatures you've somehow acquired leave through bounce, exile, or just plain old destruction and sacrifice effects. For each one that does, she'll have each opponent lose one life. The ones that stick around also get free evasion, so you might still have to be strategic about it.

6. Varchild, Betrayer of Kjeldor

If you haven't seen Suture Priest and Phelddagrif paired up before, you might be wondering why on Earth you'd want to give free creatures to your opponents. Unlike the hoops you have to jump through to get to that combination, however, Varchild, Betrayer of Kjeldor has good reasons to do so printed right on her card. It turns out that if you can give an opponent hordes of creatures that can't block you and also can't attack you, they might just point them at other players instead. While you do always run the risk of an opponent receiving twelve Survivor tokens and then plopping down an Ashnod's Altar, you also might just have everyone at the table fighting amongst themselves while you hold an Arcbond in hand. Or you could go back to the classics and play a Rampaging Ferocidon, I suppose.

5. Thragtusk

Repeatable lifegain is the compounding interest of the Magic world, but if you can manage to pair it with something that actually affects the board, then that's even better. Enter Thragtusk, who doesn't care if you do it with Flicker effects or graveyard recursion, so long as you're able to do it over and over again. But even if you can't, a five-mana 5/3 that replaces itself and gains five life all on its own isn't exactly a bad thing....

4. Toothy, Imaginary Friend

I've honestly lost track of the number of decks I'm playing Toothy, Imaginary Friend in, and I imagine I'm not alone in that. Most creatures or commanders would stop short at getting bigger every time you draw a card, and that would be considered good enough. Toothy, on the other hand, then doubles your card intake by letting you draw another card for each time you've drawn one since it came into play. And unlike the dies trigger from its friend and compatriot Chasm Skulker, you get the payoff from Toothy no matter how it leaves the battlefield.

Add to this the fact that decks also playing green let you go search for his buddy Pir, Imaginative Rascal, and Toothy is punching way above its weight class.

3. Angel of Serenity

I can't recall exactly how many times I've won or lost games on the back of the flexibility and raw power of Terastodon, and I imagine I'm not alone in that. The ability to remove three problem permanents is good enough, but being able to also use that big Elephant body to make smaller Elephant bodies at a crucial moment can also be huge.

Well, there's another Terastodon out there, and it turns out it's white, and it's less mana! Angel of Serenity lets you exile creatures from the battlefield or a graveyard, and then returns the exiled creatures to their owner's hand when she leaves the battlefield. While this could provide some needed graveyard hate in a pinch, more often what you'll find with this imminently blinkable flier is that it will simultaneously remove problem creatures from your opponents' boards and return crucial pieces from your own graveyard to your hand. That is a lot of work done, all in a sleek 5/6 flying package (with a lightning sword, just for kicks).

2. Outpost Siege

While Outpost Siege isn't this high on the list because of its Dragons half, it nonetheless fits the criteria and is often useful in the right kind of deck. For instance, for all the hate that Pramikon, Sky Rampart got upon release, it's seen a surprising amount of play as a blink commander, allowing you to change when and where combat can happen at will. While Jeskai isn't normally a blink color combination, I know I've found that it works surprisingly well from the other side of the table, given the amount of enter-the-battlefield damage triggers available in red.

The second half of Outpost Siege allows for more of these shenanigans, while also having the flexibility of being a Phyrexian Arena if you need more cards more than more damage in the early game. Even outside of Blink, however, it's worth noting that a certain popular red tribe is rather adept at removing themselves from the battlefield en masse....

1. Reveillark

When I first loaded up this list, I fully expected Reveillark to be at the top of it. For all of the talk about how "white can't haz into card advantage," Reveillark has been proving otherwise for years, even outside of the sort of Blink decks that we usually think of abusing leave-the-battlefield triggers.

While there are other notable exceptions such as Dusk // Dawn and Sun Titan, overall Reveillark is at the top of the heap when it comes to leading us toward what is possible for white in terms of card advantage without delving straight into card draw. Power-, toughness-, and mana-cost-based graveyard recursion can be a very powerful tool, and when combined with Balancing Act and Land Tax effects, could provide a clear path forward for revitalizing white in Commander.

And in the meantime, you can just play Reveillark. Because it's not just good for white, it's good, full stop.

Honorable Mentions

The difference between death triggers and leaves the battlefield triggers is humongous, and it actually shows in a strange way with the card pool making up this list once the Oblivion Ring variants were removed. Wizards of the Coast is very aware that this is a powerful effect, and as such has used it in very limited situations.

With that in mind, then, while there aren't a lot of honorable mentions worth...mentioning that lie outside of the top ten, there are some.

Whether or not R&D was aware of what they'd done when they printed this card back in Judgment, they're certainly aware of the interaction this Nightmare Dragon has with Animate Dead now, as are top-end EDH tables everywhere. With that in mind, then, I did at least want to give a shout-out to this combo Dragon before it goes on to blink my opponents' boards indefinitely for infinite mana and Piranha Marsh triggers.

Given how popular this little trick has become in the Blink decks of the world, I was actually surprised to see that this fairly innocuous enchantment hadn't cracked the top ten. For those not in the know, in a Blink deck, you can repeatedly force your opponents to sacrifice permanents by enchanting them with Reality Acid and then blinking the enchantment; it even works on hexproof creatures! It's a little harder to pull off because blinking enchantments is harder to do than blinking creatures, but for those decks that can pull it off, it becomes absolutely devastating in short order.

Ever since this card was spoiled in the lead-up to Battlebond, it has been a favorite of Commander players everywhere. I know I've been guilty of trying to sneak it into all sorts of decks it has no business in, and I imagine I'm not alone in that... but if you haven't played at a table with a purpose-built Grothama, All-Devouring deck at it, you should really strive to fix that if you can. The sheer insanity that ensues when this Wurm hits the battlefield is something that just gets everyone smiling.

What Do You Think?

There's no doubting that leaves-the-battlefield triggers are a powerful mechanic, allowing for you to get payoffs from a card almost no matter what happens to them. With that said, is it something that should be printed more often, or that we should be glad is rather sparse?

And finally, what are your favorite leaves-the-battlefield effects? Are there any particular tricks you like pulling off with them I didn't mention here, like returning to hand? Is there something that's currently being done with leaves-the-battlefield triggers that you dislike?

Let us know in the comments, and we'll see you at the after-party table (after we've all left the battlefield store).

Doug has been an avid Magic player since Fallen Empires, when his older brother traded him some epic blue Homarids for all of his Islands. As for Commander, he's been playing since 2010, when he started off by making a two-player oriented G/R Land Destruction deck. Nailed it. In his spare time when he's not playing Magic, writing about Magic or doing his day job, he runs a YouTube channel or two, keeps up a College Football Computer Poll, and is attempting to gif every scene of the Star Wars prequels.