Although Commander is sometimes played as 1v1 format, it’s most commonly played with 3 or more players, each of which wants to defeat the others in a free-for-all-style fashion. Alliances can be forged and stunning betrayals unleashed as everyone vies to win…or at least cause that guy you don’t like to lose!
But what actually happens when one player loses the game? Let’s say that Ajani, Elspeth, and Xenagos are all playing against each other, but Ajani and Elspeth team up to bring Xenagos down to 0 life.
Well, the short answer is basically this: everyone else keeps playing, but the game lets Xenagos pick up all the cards he owns and take them with him. This way, Xenagos can go play with some other people right away.
More specifically, four things happen when Xenagos loses the game. First, Xenagos takes all cards he owns with him as he leaves, even if they’re currently being controlled by other players. Second, he gives back anything that he’s taken control of. Third, anything that Xeagos controls that’s still on the stack ceases to exist. Finally, after that’s done, if Xenagos happens to still control anything, those cards are exiled forever.
Let’s break each of those pieces down a little further, with examples.
The first step is pretty simple: Xenagos piles up all the cards he owns and takes them out of the game with him. (Remember, you “own” a card if you started the game with it in your library or as your Commander.) This includes cards that are currently on the stack waiting to resolve — maybe Elspeth only decided to finish Xenagos off when he cast a huge Clan Defiance at Ajani? This rule also encompasses anything that Xenagos owns that another player currently happens to control (like if Ajani currently controls Xenagos’s Contested War Zone).
In the second step, the game terminates any effects that give Xenagos control of another player’s cards. For example, suppose Xenagos cast Act of Treason to take control of Ajani’s Avatar token for a turn. If Xenagos leaves the game, that control-changing effect ends right away, so Ajani gets his token back.
In the third step, the game gets rid of anything of Xenagos’s that’s still on the stack. Xenagos took all his cards with him in the first step, but he might have left a few things that aren’t represented by cards hanging around. This includes activated abilities, triggered abilities, and copies of spells. (Grapeshot, anyone?) Xenagos isn’t in the game anymore, so it doesn’t make sense to have these resolve.
Finally, if Xenagos still controls anything, those cards are exiled. This is pretty rare, but one way it could happen is if Xenagos somehow cast Bribery and stole a copy of Ajani’s friend Brimaz. Bribery doesn’t actually create a control-changing effect; Xenagos is simply set as Brimaz’s controller when he puts Brimaz onto the battlefield. It doesn’t really make sense to just give Brimaz back to Ajani for free, so Brimaz just gets exiled instead. Poor kitty king.
And that’s leaving the game in a nutshell! These rules apply whenever a player loses the game for any reason, as well as when that player decides to concede. Good luck, and hopefully these rules won’t ever apply to you!
Today’s Commander Rules Tip Written by Paul Baranay