The Removal Guide
Very few games of Magic go our way. Our opponents just keep doing things to stop us from winning, like playing pesky creatures, annoying artifacts, and infuriating enchantments. Because we’re not playing solitaire, we need ways to interact with everything going on around us. So let’s all board the hate train, and clear the way to victory.
Common across every format, removal wants to be as cheap as possible. One mana spells are the best, two are the norm, three means we’re starting to reach, and four is right out. Due to our format being what it is, we don’t get much for one mana removal, so most of it is as two and three. Also, we typically want unconditional removal, such as “Destroy target creature” on Murder, not something like “Destroy target non-black creature that came into play this turn” on Cradle to Grave.
At the common level, white doesn’t really get the removal you may used to. No Swords to Plowshares or Paths to Exile here, so we have to dig for some alternatives. What white typically does at this level though, is remove artifacts and enchantments. I’ll start by mentioning the creature hate that white has, since it’s a little conditional. Most of the conditions white removal has is targeted against attacking or blocking creatures.
Enchantment and artifact hate is much easier to come by in white, something it shares with Green. Be sure to include a few pieces of this variety, since most decks will have some targets for you. Even though it may cost more, you should consider grabbing cards that exile artifacts, since there are some indestructible ones.
The classic color of all things dead, or about to be. When most people are talking about removal, they’re thinking of black, and for good reason. The main thing black does better than any other color is remove creatures. However, it is lacking in other forms of removal, not being able to hit artifacts or enchantments. Some flavors of black removal involves sacrificing a creature or some life, but in the end, the target is dead. So let’s bury some bodies.
While black isn’t as adept at removing non-creature permanents, we do have access to a few interesting pieces of removal for enchantments and even some lands. Crypt Rats is a pauper staple for good reason, as the ability to wipe out mass amounts of creatures is a rare feature. Also, I’ll include the black counter-spell, as it counts as pre-emptive removal.
While not known for its strict killing or exile effects, blue has a much different flavor of removal than other colors. Here, we get to return permanents back to the owner’s hand or top of library. Counter-spells are rampant in blue, as we want to stop players from getting the problems into play, and not have to worry about them when they’re in play. Echoing Truth has an interesting function in being able to remove all tokens of a single type. A pseudo board-wipe is always welcome in this format.
Ah, Green, the color of all things pure and natural. Much like white, green hates on enchantments and artifacts, as they’re unnatural. This means that green is great for removing problem equipments and auras, a handy feature when voltron decks are popular. Deglamer gets special mention here for its ability to remove indestructible artifacts.
Also of interesting note, green does a pretty good job of hating on fliers, which is a useful tool in our arsenal. I think the other interesting thing is green’s ability to remove -all- enchantments, either ‘local’ or ‘global’, which is auras or not-auras in modern terminology.
You see that artifact over there? Nope, gone. That creature? Now a crater. Red typically removes creatures via damage, and artifacts with a vengeance. Red even has some land destruction available to it, great for slowing down those already slow and grindy decks. Of important note, however, is red’s board-wiping potential. I don’t think there’s another color that can rival its ability to throw damage to every creature.
Apart from throwing around damage, red is quite adept at blowing up lands and artifacts. While mass-land destruction is commonly frowned upon, we don’t have access to it here. I argue that the ability to slow down ramp opponents, or remove a problem utility land such as Path of Ancestry, is as much a part of Magic as removing creatures and countering spells.
I feel that that’s a fair summary of some solid removal choices in our format. While multicolor options do exist, covering those as well here would make this far too long. Some of the cards listed here are obviously meta-dependent, but most should be ubiquitous enough to be slottable in any deck.