Last updated on October 2, 2023
Cyclonic Rift | Illustration by Chris Rahn
While it doesn’t have much of the efficient hard removal spells you’ll find in black or red, blue isn’t without a plethora of unique and interesting tools to get rid of things in Magic. Most of them rely on the “bounce” mechanic, which refers to returning things to their owners’ hand. Still, there are alternative methods within the color, like transmogrifying things, exiling, and just being outright proactive.
Today I’m going to focus on what blue offers in the removal department. What makes the best cards the best, and where do they fit across multiple formats? Let's find out!
What Is Blue Removal in MTG?
Cryptic Command | Illustration by Jason Rainville
It’s important to have a solid definition of what exactly counts as “blue removal” before going forward. In our case it refers to any card that’s exclusively blue, no multicolored or colorless, and either destroys, exiles, or gets rid of something in one way or another, usually permanents.
I also won’t be including counterspells, because that’s its own topic.
#31. Dissipation Field
Dissipation Field is a 4-mana enchantment that returns permanents to their owner’s hand whenever they deal damage to you. It’s neat card and a very unique design for pillow fort decks, and it fits in with other blue defensive enchantments. I just don’t think it’s that strong.
The damage is already done by the time it actually bounces anything. Unless you’re going up against a deck of small yet indispensable creatures (which absolutely exist), you’re still going to suffer the damage. That’s why I prefer other methods of defense like Propaganda, which can at least outright stop attacks in the first place.
#30. Alchemist’s Retrieval
It’s sort of expensive for a single bounce effect, even at instant speed. If you want to bounce your own permanent, that’s an upside that makes it much more playable.
#29. Step Through
While Step Through is a bit more clunky than most bounce spells, hitting two creatures with an alternative mode that’s basically a tutor for wizards is pretty good. A lot of blue’s best creatures are wizards, so this isn’t just limited to those tribal decks.
I’d much prefer this card if it cost .
#28. Stolen by the Fae
#27. Venser, Shaper Savant
Venser, Shaper Savant has been around for some time and is still a great tempo creature. Being able to bounce spells on the stack on top of any kind of permanent really does the hard work here, and getting a 2/2 body on top is nice too. It works amazing in flicker decks for that very reason.
#26. Sublime Epiphany
Sublime Epiphany is a 6-mana instant that allows you to choose one or more of the abilities. It includes a counter effect, a Stifle ability, and some others, but the bounce is what makes it count as “removal.”
Overall this has a lot of strong abilities, but they’re all unique and there won’t often be situations when you can use each or most of the abilities in an effective manner.
Suspend is a 1-mana instant that exiles a creature for two turns with, well, the suspend mechanic. Exiling a creature for one mana is really, really good. What’s not good is the fact that it comes back in two turns.
If you have a way to get around that or can just win before the two turns are up, then by all means play this card. If that’s not the case, I think there are still some better options out there.
#24. Cryptic Command
It’s been a long time since Cryptic Command fell from its position as one of the most versatile and useful blue spells across multiple formats. Unfortunately supplemental sets and power creep have left it in the dust. Nowadays it just doesn’t offer enough power for four mana to keep up in formats like Modern or Legacy.
It still has a place in Commander as a midrange master-of-none type spell that comes in clutch in a multitude of situations. The removal aspect of this card is, yet again, the bounce effect. The other options are also all fairly strong, with the worst possible case being a 4-mana bounce that draws you a card.
Not so good nowadays, huh?
#23. Run Away Together
Run Away Together bounces two separately controlled creatures to their owners’ hands for two mana. This is pretty bad in a 1-v-1 format. Commander absolutely isn’t a 1-v-1 format, so bouncing two creatures for so cheap is great.
Overall this card is generally not that powerful, but in that specific format I think it’s fantastic.
Capsize is a classic and probably a card you have 50+ copies of in your collection of older cards. It’s honestly pretty decent on rate, 3-mana to bounce any permanent at instant speed.
The buyback is an upside, technically, but it’s quite expensive and the effect of the card isn’t so overwhelmingly good that I’d want to pay six mana each time just to cast it again.
Unsummon is a classic. One mana, instant speed, bounce any creature. It’s simple, effective, and most importantly, it’s really cheap.
Unsubstantiate returns any creature or spell to its owner’s hand for two mana. Hitting spells is really nifty, and it makes paying two mana for this feel not as bad.
Blink of an Eye is yet another 2-mana instant that bounces a nonland permanent. If it was kicked for , it draws you a card on top. The ability to hit any kind of nonland permanent, not just creatures, does a lot for this card’s ranking.
You probably won’t kick it more often than you’ll kick it, but two mana for a card draw isn’t too bad in later turns when you might have excess mana. Optional card draw is never a downside.
#18. Kasmina’s Transmutation
Interestingly, this is one of the only enchantments like this that doesn’t also change the type and/or name of the creature being enchanted. That’s an obvious downside because it opens the door to other tribal and name-based interaction that would otherwise not be a problem.
Still, two mana to make something incredibly small is decent removal.
Shoutout to its temporary, instant cousin, Turn to Frog.
Foretell doesn’t really matter here because you’re not getting a discount in the end, but having it available at later on may be easier on your mana curve.
#15. Aether Gale
Aether Gale costs a whopping five mana to cast at sorcery speed, but it bounces six nonland permanents at once! That’s a lot of value and it comes out to less than one mana per target, but you have to target at least six different legal targets to actually cast it.
It’s really efficient, but it’s at the top end of the curve and is a little clunky.
#14. Winds of Rebuke
Any nonland permanent for only two mana, with an upside, at instant speed is pretty much as good as it comes.
#13. Imprisoned in the Moon
Another blue removal enchantment is Imprisoned in the Moon. This has any creature, land, or planeswalker (already off to a great start) turn into a colorless land that taps for one mana.
Losing all types and abilities really shuts down any synergies or interactions going on, and that makes this card stand above most of the other enchantment-based removal spells in blue.
#12. Curse of the Swine
Curse of the Swine is great because it can go as wide as you want while also being decent as a single-target on rate. Three mana to exile something and replace it with a 2/2 token isn’t bad, and being able to use it as a board wipe gives it a lot more use in more situations.
#11. Chain of Vapor
On top of bouncing any nonland permanent for one mana at instant speed (wow!), Chain of Vapor quite literally causes a chain of bounce effects if your opponents chose to sacrifice a land. I’ve often found it best to never copy the chain if you’re being targeted by it, but it certainly makes for interesting political discussions in games of Commander.
#10. Vapor Snag
Vapor Snag is exceptional. One mana to bounce any creature, and the creature's controller loses a life. Sometimes, maybe even often depending on your deck, that 1 life will end up coming from your life pool. It's a fine price to pay, though, given how efficient the card is otherwise.
#9. Tidespout Tyrant
Tidespout Tyrant is a battlecruiser of a creature at eight mana, but it has an appropriately powerful ability: bounce any permanent when you cast a spell. This can almost lock players out of the game with the right setup and combination of cards.
It’s still a little more open to removal then Hullbreaker Horror, but the static ability is certainly worth it.
#8. Hullbreaker Horror
Hullbreaker Horror completely dethroned Tidespout Tyrant when it was released, and for good reason. On top of being cheaper, uncounterable, and a 7/8 with flash, it has a god-tier ability that allows you to bounce spells and nonland permanents whenever you cast a spell.
This has the ability to infinitely lock out opponents, protect itself, and stop any interaction in its tracks!
#7. Baral’s Expertise
Baral's Expertise is a 5-mana sorcery that returns up to three artifacts or creatures to their owner’s hands, and then lets you cast any spell with a mana value of four or less for free. Assuming you have a worthwhile and 4-mana spell to play, you’re bouncing three things for the price of one!
Oh, and it also adds to your storm count, which is nice if you’re into that.
#6. Mystic Confluence
The stronger and shinier version of Cryptic Command is next, Mystic Confluence! At five mana you’re getting to choose any mode and multiple times so you could bounce three things, draw two cards, counter a spell, or any combination!
At worst bouncing a creature and drawing two cards is never a bad deal, and the ability to use this in other, stickier situations makes it stronger than most of blue’s arsenal.
Snap is a 2-mana spell that bounces a creature and untaps two lands. If you have a bounce land or lands that generate more than one mana, this card is actually mana-positive!
Of course, it’s technically not free since you need to have the mana to cast it in the first place.
Resculpt exiles a creature and gives its controller a 4/4. This is obviously worse than other creatures your opponents would get, like 3/3s or 2/2s from enchantments or other similar removal spells.
#3. Reality Shift
For two mana, Reality Shift exiles a creature and has its controller manifest the top card of their library. This can obviously end up going wrong later down the line, but you’re much more likely to have a land under the manifested creature than anything else.
Those are odds I’m willing to take to have an exile effect in blue for so cheap.
#2. Pongify + Rapid Hybridization
The runner up slot is a tie between Pongify and Rapid Hybridization, two 1-mana instants that destroy a creature and replace it with a vanilla 3/3. The 3/3 is often going to be less of a problem than whatever the other creature (typically a commander) was.
It’s cheap, hits creatures, and can be cast at instant speed. You’re not left wanting with these.
#1. Cyclonic Rift
Are you surprised? It’s Cyclonic Rift! This one-sided card does both ends of blue’s removal well: it can return a nonland permanent to its owner’s hand for two mana, or be overloaded and hit everything on your opponent’s board!
This is one of the most “un-fun” and complained about cards for a reason. If you haven’t had the chance to cast this overloaded yet, you’re seriously missing out.
Blue Removal Payoffs and Synergies
Blue removal plays a very niche role in that it typically delays your opponents, setting you up to take advantage of blue’s other common tool: counterspells. The best part about bouncing cards and spells only to counter them later is that your opponent is repeatedly spending more mana to do absolutely nothing, all while you use your excess mana to develop your board state and strategy.
Blue isn’t, and never will be, the color of hard removal or destruction. Its removal spells should be used to further your own strategy, or repeatedly delay and trip-up your opponents. Doing so will only allow you to pull further ahead, make things more awkward across the table, and make your life much easier.
Pongify | Illustration by Heather Hudson
That’s all I’ve got today in terms of blue removal spells! There are certainly a lot, and there are even more if you’re playing another color or two in conjunction with blue. I’ve personally always preferred to plan on countering things before they become a problem and need to be removed in the first place.
What did you think of my rankings? Are there any cards I didn’t include, or justifications I made that you don’t agree with? Let me know what you think and your opinions in the comments below, and make sure to come check out the official Draftsim Discord.
Until next time, stay safe and stay healthy!
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