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Top 10 Return-to-Deck Removals in Magic: The Gathering

Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.

Tempo Removals in Magic

In Magic, many of blue's spells return creatures to hand, forcing opponents to waste time and resources recasting them, but some go the extra mile by instead moving them to the top of your opponent's deck. Not only will they have to respend mana to play the card, but you've also killed their next draw, and it's a good solution against indestructible foes.

Often affecting creatures but sometimes other card types, blue favors these spells, occasionally joined by white and green. But no matter the color, they're some of the best removals in the game—which reign supreme? These are the ten best return-to-deck cards in Magic: The Gathering!

Expel from Orazca mtg

Expel from Orazca mtg

10. Expel from Orazca

CMC (Converted Mana Cost): 2

Admittedly, Expel doesn't become a tempo-gaining spell until its upgrade; at base, you instantly bounce a non-land back to hand (still a decent removal in the vein of "Blink of an Eye").

But with its ascend trait, Expel gives you the city's blessing if you control ten or more permanents as you cast it (this includes lands), and if you have the city's blessing, you can put the permanent on top of its owner's library! This helps Expel scale well into the late-game, and since the upgrade is optional, you can still just return it to hand if you like (perhaps when targeting your own card).

Primal Command mtg

Primal Command mtg

9. Primal Command

CMC: 5

Command requires a fair investment of mana and only works at sorcery speed, but it's a rare green removal that lets you pick any two of four options (they have to be different):

  • Target player gains seven life
  • Put target non-creature on top of its owner's deck
  • Shuffle target player's graveyard into their library
  • Add a creature from your deck to hand

All options have their uses, but I often recommend the second and fourth, letting you remove a non-creature threat (even a land) while tutoring any creature you need. Plus, the lifegain can help stall in emergencies, and the graveyard shuffle counters mill decks.

Azorius Charm mtg

Azorius Charm mtg

Warrant // Warden mtg

Warrant // Warden mtg

8. Azorius Charm/Warrant // Warden

CMC: 2, 2/5

These similar spells both utilize white and blue mana and present you with multiple options to pick from. Charm instantly gives you the choice of giving your creatures lifelink for the turn, drawing a card, or putting an attacking/blocking creature on top of its deck. All useful options, especially the last.

Warrant // Warden lets you cast either of its halves. Warrant is the highlight, placing an attacking/blocking creature on top of deck, and accepting either blue or white mana thanks to its hybrid symbols. But if you need a creature more than a removal, Warden creates a 4/4 sphinx token with flying and vigilance, a respectable if not amazing deal for five mana.

Temporal Spring mtg

Temporal Spring mtg

7. Temporal Spring

CMC: 3

Temporal Spring needs two colors and also only functions at sorcery speed, but it's a versatile spell that places any permanent on top of its owner's deck. This can be a creature, planeswalker, or even land, so you'll always have plenty of tempting targets to select from.

Oust mtg

Oust mtg

6. Oust

CMC: 1

Oust only works on your main phase, but it places a creature into its owner's deck second from the top. They also gain three life, but that's a small trade for such an inexpensive removal, especially one that denies them the card for not one but two draws. It's also useful in EDH, where giving your opponent more life won't hurt you when opting to win via commander damage or poison counters.

Commit // Memory mtg

Commit // Memory mtg

5. Commit // Memory

CMC: 4/6

Commit's a powerful removal that can function as a sort of counterspell, placing any spell or non-land into its owner's deck second from the top. Then, you can cast Memory from your graveyard into exile, which has all players shuffle their hand into their deck, then draw seven cards.

That's a great way to replenish your hand when it's running low, and it's brutal alongside opposing draw-restricting spells like "Narset, Parter of Veils".

Plow Under mtg

Plow Under mtg

4. Plow Under

CMC: 5

Like Primal Command, Plow Under is an expensive removal that only works as a sorcery, but it compensates with amazing power, placing two lands on top of their owner's deck. You're crippling both their mana supply and next two draws; be sure to target lands that enter tapped for even more disruption.

Definitely an amazing card, but note that the lands' owner gets to decide the order the lands are placed on top of their deck (you just select which lands are affected).

3. Submerge

CMC: 5

Submerge makes a great sideboard card because it really depends on facing green. If you control an island and your opponent controls a forest, you can play it for free, instantly placing a creature on top of its owner's deck!

While situational, this includes non-basic forests (and islands), so cards like "Overgrown Tomb" will trigger the discount. You can also freely target a non-forest player as long as a different player controls a forest.

Plus, even in the worst situations where no opponents have a forest, Submerge is still comparable to "Totally Lost", far from a dead card in hand.

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria mtg

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria mtg

2. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

CMC: 5

Despite only entering with four loyalty, Teferi's an amazing planeswalker thanks to three great loyalty effects. Most relevant today, -2 places any non-land into its owner's deck two cards down from the top, a brutal removal that Teferi can safely use as soon as he arrives.

+1 is also great, drawing a card while untapping two lands at your end step, giving you plenty of resources for instants, and ultimate -8 creates a powerful emblem that exiles an opposing permanent whenever you draw a card.

Unexpectedly Absent mtg

Unexpectedly Absent mtg

1. Unexpectedly Absent

CMC: X+2

The cool thing about Absent is that (unlike many variable-cost spells), it works well even if you set X as zero, meaning you can cast it for as little as two mana. Absent instantly places a non-land permanent into its owner's library X cards down from the top; if you make X zero, you simply place it on top.

Two mana for an instant return-to-deck card works wonders, and it's nice that if you have extra resources, you can tuck big threats even farther into their owner's deck. An EDH staple, Absent belongs in any white commander deck and is a bargain, costing less than a single dollar!

Draw-Killing Cards in Magic

Today we examined many removals that both interrupt draws and bounce permanents, but other cards mess with opposing draws in other ways, like"Noxious Revival" and "Misinformation", which put cards from an opposing graveyard on top of their deck, useful for giving them things they don't need.

If you're still worried about a threat even after it's moved to your opponent's library, use something that shuffles their deck to lower their chances of drawing it, or a counterspell to negate it. But for now, vote for your favorite tempo spell and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!

© 2020 Jeremy Gill