December 10, 2018

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How to evaluate removal that's right for your deck

Do you have the right set of removal cards for your deck?

It's pointless to try and figure out what the "best removal spell" is. That critera varies wildly from game to game, and even turn to turn. It's also pointless to compare spells across different colours. The best removal spell in a Mono-Red deck will be way worse than a WB removal spell, but the deck can't run it. There's no use in that comparison there.

I've come up with five major criteria for any removal spell. I'll outline each one here, cover the rankings within them, then run a few spells through it to show you how it works. That way, you can make the best decision possible for your deck. Now let's cover these criteria:


As I see it, this is the most important criteria. How many different types of cards can this deal with? Here's my general rank categories:

- Any spell (this covers Counterspells, since I don't want to exclude them)
- Any permanent
- Multiple permanent types (any nonland permanent obviously ranks higher than artifact/enchantment)
- One specific permanent type


The best way to look at this is "how wide is my window to deal with this?" This is another adjustment I made to include counterspells.

- Instant speed - this is the biggest possible time window, since we can cast it any time.
- Sorcery speed
- Counterspell - this is the tiniest opportunity to deal with anything. On the stack only!

How Gone is it?

Sometimes you only need something to go away for a couple phases, but sometimes it has to stay gone.

- Exile - this spell's not coming back easily
- Tuck - if we can shuffle something back into a deck, it'll probably be gone for most of the game, but it's not a perfect solution. It does work on indestructible permanents
- Sacrifice - That is, we make them sacrifice it. It goes to the graveyard, which is rarely permanent, but it also gets around indestructibility.
- Destroy - It sounds great, but is often a temporary solution
- Bounce - The most temporary solution (Back to hand bounce outranks the blinking kind)

Card Advantage?

This is a simple one. How many other cards are you dealing with by using your removal spell?

- 1-for-lots - We can't always say how many, but anything that says "destroy all" will usually net you some serious card advantage
- 1-for-X - I'll use this when a card has a specific number of cards it deals with.


- Mana cost. This is the easy one. How much it costs, and what colours.

How should we use these categories? Any spell that excels in one of these categories will not not be so strong in another. This has to be true, so we should look at our removal package as a whole and make sure we have all of our bases covered. I want to make sure that my overall removal suite of cards aren't all weak in one category. If that's true, I'll need to find at least one card to cover the difference.

To use this system, let me highlight a few removal spells and look at them in this way.


Flexibility - Any permanent
Speed - Sorcery
How gone is it? - Destroy
Card Advantage - 1-for-1
Cost - 1WB

Vindicate is considered by many to be a fantastic removal spell, but it only excels in Flexibility. Consider this alternative:


Utter End

Flexibility - any nonland permanent
Speed - Instant
How gone is it? - Exile
Card Advantage - 1-for-1
Cost - 2WB

It costs a full mana more, which is significant, but we get major upgrades in the speed and how gone is it categories. We also only lose hitting lands, but that seems like a fair trade to me.


What about something like Vandalblast?

Flexibility - Artifacts
Speed - Sorcery
How gone is it? - Destroy
Card Advantage - 1-for-1 or 1-for-lots (with the huge bonus of only hitting your opponents' artifacts!)
Cost - R or 4R

A true staple, but it's the least flexible, the slowest and merely destroys things. But, we all agree that it's worth trading that in for ultimate card advantage. Not to mention it's got another mode too.



Flexibility - Creatures (attacking only)
Speed - Instant (only during combat, really)
How gone is it? - Tuck
Card Advantage - 1-for-some. This is trickier, because players rarely attack with the whole team. We might use this to take care of one suited-up Commander attacking us.
Cost - 4U

It's got very narrow timing, is quite costly, and you may not get a ton of card advantage. However, Blue struggles with removal anywhere beyond bounce, so I'm happy to run that card in a mono-U deck.


Beast Within

Flexibility - Any permanent
Speed - Instant
How gone is it? - Destroy
Card Advantage - 1-for-1, with the drawback that we give the player a "card" back in the form of a 3/3 beast.
Cost - 2G

Very effective in all categories except Card Advantage. I can often deal with the beast token, so I don't mind so much. It's close to Vindicate in a colour that isn't as well known for it's removal.

As you can imagine, there are certainly some spells that are "strictly better" than others, but once we get into the more popular spells, we're down to choosing what we want to prioritize. This will help you better decide which removal spell is the cut if you need to make one.

I hope this helps you brew better in the future! You know your meta best, so you can prioritize the types of things that matter most in your playgroup!