Removal

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By Bernardo Melibeu

This page covers targeted removal spells. For details on larger-scale removal spells, such as board wipes, see Mass Removal

Removal, also occasionally called "spot removal" or "targeted removal", includes spells and abilities that remove a permanent from the battlefield, either permanently or temporarily.

Spot removal is distinct from Mass Removal in its ability to isolate and remove specific targets, rather than sweeping away all cards of a given category. Many removal effects target only one permanent at a time, though there are also spells that remove multiple targets at once. Though these spells can remove many permanents at once, they do not wipe away all cards of a given category, and are therefore traditionally considered to fall under the umbrella of 'targeted removal' rather than 'mass removal.'

Types of Removal

Removing permanents from the battlefield can take many forms. Generally, removal spells fall into the following categories:

Because of the singleton nature of the Commander format, players are often encouraged to run multiple removal spells to give their deck additional redundancy. Commander is also a high-variance format, which often necessitates that Commander players run a large suite of diverse removal options, to help them against any enemy board state they may encounter.

Removal by Color

Each color specializes in different forms of removal spells, but lack the ability to eliminate permanents of a specific type. Using colors to help make up for these weaknesses, or else leaning into a color's core strengths to avoid running into gameplay scenarios where those weaknesses may be exploited, is a powerful strategy in the Commander format.

White

White is able to remove any type of permanent from the battlefield. White's removal options are often characterized by the way they take away one permanent from an enemy, but provide them some form of minor advantage in exchange. This can be seen on cards like Swords to Plowshares, which eliminates a threat but gives its controller life, Generous Gift, which gives the destroyed permanent's controller a 3/3 token for their loss, or Oblation, which can shuffle away any permanent, but gives that permanent's controller extra cards.

When destroying creatures while offering nothing in exchange, white may require that those creatures meet a specific condition before it will remove them. For instance, it may require that the creature be tapped (Take Vengeance), that the creature be attacking or blocking (Devouring Light), that it have a specific power or toughness,

White's ability to destroy artifacts and enchantments does not follow either of these patterns, and white is frequently able to destroy those types of permanents with ease. Disenchant, Return to Dust, and Crush Contraband all demonstrate white's ability to deal with artifice and enchantment.

White also employs 'temporary' forms of removal. A classic example of this is Oblivion Ring or Grasp of Fate, which can put permanents into exile until the enchantment is removed. This type of removal can be dealt with by some colors (including by white itself) but cannot be undone by other colors, such as black, which makes it more effective against certain decks and less useful against others. Pacifism effects, though popular in formats like Limited, are less common in Commander.

Blue

Blue can remove most nonland permanents from the battlefield, but traditionally is only able to do so temporarily, largely through the use of bounce effects that return cards to an opponents' hand, seen on cards like Capsize and Into the Roil. Blue makes up for this lack of permanent removal with a heavy focus on counterspells, but it struggles to deal with enemy permanents in an actual permanent fashion.

Blue's main exception to this rule comes in the form of transformation magic. Blue can reshape enemy creatures into new ones, either with Auras like Frogify and Imprison in the Moon or with spells like Reality Shift and Pongify.

Black

Black is the king of killing creatures, with famous cards under its belt like Doom Blade and Go For the Throat. Black usually focuses on removal that will put creatures into the graveyard, where it may be able to make use of them later. Black may also use -X/-X effects like Tragic Slip to remove enemy creatures even when they are indestructible. Black also makes liberal use of sacrifice effects, as seen on cards like Fleshbag Marauder.

Black is also able to eliminate lands and planeswalkers if it so chooses, which can be seen on cards like Sinkhole and Hero's Downfall.

Despite its proficiency in removing enemy creatures, black struggles to take artifacts and enchantments off of the battlefield, as those types of permanents are not 'alive' enough for black's death magic to properly kill. Mire in Misery is the closest black has ever come to removing enchantments, which means it largely depends upon support from other colors or from artifacts to remove these types of permanents.

Red

Red's creature removal is almost always damage-based, and it rarely destroys or exiles creatures outright. This type of removal offers flexibility to either destroy creatures with damage or to deal that damage to their controller. Single-target damage-based removal is therefore quite rare in EDH, as the format frequently contains much larger creatures than other formats, and the high starting life totals diminish the impact of a burn spell's flexibility. Red's damage-based removal is more commonly seen with its mass removal spells, such as Blasphemous Act. However, flexible burn spells do offer red a meaningful way to remove loyalty from planeswalkers.

Red excels at artifact destruction, shown on cards like Goblin Trashmaster and By Force. It can also eliminate lands, particularly when those lands are nonbasic (see Volcanic Offering).

Like black, red does not have many meaningful ways of removing enchantments. Enchanter's Bane allows red to punish players for possessing enchantments, but red has to rely upon other sources to actually remove enchantments from play.

Chaos Warp has become one of red's signature spells in Commander, largely because it breaks the traditional bounds of the color pie and allows red to remove permanent types (such as enchantments or high-toughness creatures) that it would usually struggle to dispose of.

Green

Green can destroy noncreature permanents with relative ease. Reclamation Sage, Force of Vigor, Acidic Slime, and Terastodon can destroy a variety of permanent types, which allows green to focus the battlefield on creatures, rather than other pesky permanent types.

Green's weakness in the realm of removal comes up when it approaches enemy creatures. Historically, though green can destroy artifact creatures and flying creatures ({REClink|Plummet}}), green does not exile, shrink, destroy, or bounce enemy creatures, instead relying upon its own creatures to defeat enemy armies in combat. It can advance this plan through the advent of fight spells like Prey Upon.

Importantly, green actually has access to several cards that bend or break the traditional bounds of the color pie, and give green the ability to wipe out enemy creatures more easily. Beast Within, Song of the Dryads, and Kenrith's Transformation are popular green cards that will help accomplish this.

Colorless

Colorless cards, namely artifacts, also have the ability to remove permanents, usually by destroying them. However, this high flexibility and accessibility by all five colors comes with an important trade-off: colorless forms of removal costs a lot of mana. ({REClink|Meteor Golem}}, ({REClink|Unstable Obelisk}}, and ({REClink|Scour from Existence}} are all examples of cards that decks may use to shore up their removal weaknesses.


Removal in Commander

Targeted removal spells are used in one-on-one formats in a variety of ways, whether disrupting an opponent's combo piece, destroying a powerful creature, or temporarily offsetting the opponent's tempo to slip a player's own strategy into play more effectively. In Commander, many of these applications still exist, but they come with additional considerations that players must take note of.

Card Disadvantage

One of the main ways targeted removal changes when going from a one-on-one format to a multiplayer format is that it can become a form of card disadvantage. In a one-on-one game, targeted removal is not seen as card disadvantage because it costs the player one card from their hand to remove one card from their opponent's board. In Commander, this dynamic is changed by the presence of additional players. If, for example, Player A uses a Template:RECLink on Player B's commander, this exchange did cost Player A one card from their hand, and removed one card from Player B's field, but Players C and D have not spent or lost any resources during this exchange, even though they also benefit from this targeted removal. Additionally, using a removal spell on commander, which may return to the command zone, does not permanently remove the threat, since that creature may return to the game later on, disrupting their overall tempo but not necessarily setting them back on card advantage.

Pinpoint removal spells are highly valued in two-player Magic, but Commander players should be cautious about including too many of these spells in their deck, or at least be wary of using them too wantonly during gameplay, as they may unintentionally provide advantages to other players when used unwisely.

Luckily, there are some targeted removal spells that help mitigate this perceived loss of card advantage, either by hitting multiple specific targets or by removing one permanent from each opponent equally. Examples include Template:RECLink, Template:RECLink, and Template:RECLink.

Political Removal

The multiplayer nature of Commander opens the doors for targeted removal to become something it cannot become in one-on-one formats: a political tool. Since so many pinpoint removal effects appear at instant speed, players may use these effects to strike deals or create temporary alliances with other players.

For instance, a single Template:RECLink can be used to threaten an enemy with retribution if they attempt to attack, or to remove a blocker to clear the way for an opponent to attack unimpeded against a mutual enemy, or it may be used in exchange for immunity or future favors from an opponent who cannot deal with a powerful enemy creature on their own, or may even be used to provide an opponent with an additional land, so that they may have enough mana on their next turn to cast a larger spell that will help remove a more important problem on the board. These dynamics do not exist in one-on-one games, as there are no additional players to make deals with, but political potential is woven into every removal spell in Commander.

Synergizing Removal

Savvy Commander players are able to take removal effects a step further and utilize unique synergies it may have with their chosen commander. This can provide their decks with additional advantages that may make traditionally less-used forms of removal even more potent than the more common removal spells in their colors.

For instance, Template:RECLink is not used by most players because of its timing and color restrictions, but Template:RECLink's ability to recur artifacts makes it one of the deck's most valuable components. Template:RECLink decks may be dramatically rewarded by enchantment-based removal such as Template:RECLink or Template:RECLink in ways that offset these enchantments' downsides, namely the possibility that they may be removed by other players. Though removal spells are traditionally played to halt an opponent's plan, and not to further one's own plan, applying these additional synergies can allow a removal spell to do both at once.