Last time on Legendary Status we began to look at the role that BREAD can play in deckbuilding for EDH. Specifically, we considered the ‘shiniest’ part of deckbuilding – the bombs of the format – the fatties, the game-warping spells, and the planeswalkers that combine to strike fear in the hearts of your opponents.
Everyone loves to play their big spells and affect the game. Unfortunately, for every Consecrated Sphinx and Blightsteel Colossus in your deck, there is a Doom Blade in another player’s to destroy it, or a Counterspell to counter it. Additionally, your opponents have their own Craterhoof Behemoths and Kiki-Jiki, Combo Breaker shenanigans that you will need to disrupt. Thus, it is imperative you have several different sources of removal, and that is the discussion for this week.
Removal takes several forms. There is hard removal – such as Doom Blade, Naturalize, and Strip Mine – but there are also counterspells, which stop the threat before it hits play, disrupting the ETB plans your opponent has going. A healthy mix of creature and non-creature removal is generally required in EDH to combat all possible dangers your opponents will pose. Creatures and other permanents can also pose as removal spells, such as Acidic Slime and Spitebellows.
The big 4.
And don’t forget about Planeswalkers! Planeswalkers are bombs in their own right, and while most players overvalue the threats they pose, they can still be a serious detriment to those that oppose them. Thus, be sure you have at least one way to deal with them. As non-creature permanents, green generally deals with them pretty handily, but other methods exist as well, such as Dreadbore, Hero’s Downfall, and Vampire Hexmage. Even an Unstable Obelisk can fall on a Planeswalker and kill it. Personally, my rule of thumb is to have at least one way of destroying any particular permanent that I will face, if at all possible.
Even Red carries Planeswalker hate!
Other methods of removal exist as well. There are polymorphic cards like Rapid Hybridization and (technically) Reality Shift, as well as exile effects like Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile. There are also tuck effects like Chaos Warp and Oblation. Yes, I did just include tuck effects. Do not be fooled – though the Commander rules have been changed so that Commanders do not get tucked, all other cards still do, and these effects are still very powerful. Finally, even hand disruption like Thoughtseize can be considered pseudo-removal, since it keeps the bombs from being a threat to begin with, though hand attack is usually much less powerful in Commander.
You have no excuse.
Of course, perhaps the most important subset of removal that exists is mass-removal. In general, the idea of mass removal is to serve as a “reset button” when you have fallen behind in the game, especially in the number of creatures. Wrath of God, Damnation, and Nevinyrral’s Disk are clear examples of this category. Imagine having only one or two creatures in play when your opponent manages to amass a 400-man army of soldier tokens. Without a card like Wrath of God, you’re dead next turn. However, if you draw a wrath and manage to destroy all his/her creatures then you’ve made a trade of 3 cards for their 400, which is card advantage at its finest. Another example would be running Fractured Gust against an all-artifact deck. Yes, the Sharuum player probably has ways up their sleeve to get their board state back to the way it was, but they have to spend all their resources for a turn doing so. Meanwhile, you’ve gained 40 life from their artifacts dying and are a turn up on them.
Press to restart the board.
However, mass-removal does not just include Wrath of God and Damnation. Indeed, it also covers things like Decree of Annihilation and Armageddon. Hold on now, for what I’m about to say is controversial:
Though land destruction is generally frowned upon in Commander games, it is a viable strategy and is definitely worth mentioning here. Players complain of people arbitrarily destroying everyone’s lands and effectively resetting the game to Turn 1 with no way to capitalize on it. However, there are other reasons for using mass-removal, and this is where the differences occur. While things like Wrath of God are primarily reset buttons to stave off death for a turn and give yourself a chance to rebuild, land destruction generally serves a different purpose – to ensure a victory. A friend of mine mentioned a while ago to me that he runs Armageddon in his Kaalia of the Vast deck (more on this in an upcoming article), which initially seems spiteful, but once you realize that Kaalia strategies dictate having her in play and protected, and using her to bring everything else in, then it make sense. You don’t need the land to play your spells, and your opponents having access to mana is actually a liability. As such, Armageddon is really a control card against your opponents. Similarly, if you have a lot of indestructible permanents, perhaps running Obliterate is fine for you, since your board will basically survive while your opponents will not. Most people are unaware of the use of land destruction in this way, seeing it as another form of a mass reset, resulting in its present role as a contentious (and often banned in play groups) strategy.
Haters gonna hate.
In short, removal is absolutely essential for Commander. As mentioned above, I try to have at least one method of killing a problematic permanent available in my deck, if at all possible. This could mean a few forms of creature removal and an Unstable Obelisk as a catch-all to deal with everything else, or one form of removal for each kind, but I want to have at least the option available should the need arise. Additionally, look to mix spells and effects on permanents. There are pros and cons to both. Unstable Obelisk is a known threat, which players can play around, but things like Dreadbore and Mortify are not. However, forcing players to play around spells can be powerful, as it changes their game play – potentially to the point where their deck isn’t a threat, and yet cards in hand with mana open can suggest the same kind of risk while also possibly limiting your own plays. Unconditional instant speed removal is usually preferred to sorcery-speed removal, but I still run Beast Within and Acidic Slime in my green decks for the utility they offer, and the board state that Acidic Slime creates when I play it can be oppressive. As for how many spells to run, this is in many ways a matter of preference, but I would say a minimum of 6-10 for an aggro and mid-range build, and more for control decks (obviously). I would also suggest removal that can target multiple types of spells, and especially creatures, since they tend to be the most dangerous threats in need of urgent answers. There is no hard and fast rule for this, but rather what you are comfortable running. Just remember that what you put in requires taking out something else, so there’s a balance to maintain.
Of course, with all this removal floating around the format, it is absolutely essential to be able to protect your own permanents from utter destruction. Join us next time for the third installment of our series: Evasion!
Good night everybody, and as always – Welcome to Legendary Status!