Vindicate (Modern Horizons II) | Illustration by Livia Prima
Interaction is an essential part of any Magic deck. It doesn’t matter how well you play your own game; you also have to deal with your opponent’s cards to be successful. One of the most popular ways to interact with your opponent’s cards is through removal or kill spells that take your opponent’s most powerful threats off the board.
The best removal spells are the ones that can hit more types of permanents and keep them off the field by destroying or exiling them. Of course, what color you’re playing will affect the quality of removal you have access to thanks to the existence of Magic’s color pie.
That said, all colors have their own special form of removal that they’re best at. There are also a few cards that openly break the color pie, so you’ll occasionally be able to find a great removal spell in an unexpected color.
Let’s take a look at the best removal spells from each color and decide what you should be using in your decks. Ready? Time to get started!
What Are Removal Spells in MTG?
Ravenform | Illustration by Anna Steinbauer
Removal spells are cards that take resources away from your opponents by putting them in the graveyard or exile. This is an essential way to keep your opponent from running away with a game.
By removing your opponent’s blockers, you can also make it easier to do direct damage and win the game.
Best White Removal Spells
Farewell offers you options of what permanents you want to remove. What makes it even better is the ability to pick and choose modes on an individual basis. You can still leave your board intact while taking out the opponent’s permanents if you run a lot of enchantments but not artifacts or vice versa.
Farewell also exiles the cards it hits, which is an added bonus over other board wipes. Graveyard removal can also be very powerful against decks that use it as a resource.
#4. Path to Exile
Path to Exile is a great option for creature removal since you don’t have to worry about indestructibility or recursion. It gives your opponent a basic land, which can sometimes bite you since they may need a source of mana fixing.
But you’ll likely still be better off removing the creature and letting your opponent ramp a bit if you hold off on casting this card until you’re targeting a big threat.
#3. Vanquish the Horde
Vanquish the Horde has the potential to be the cheapest board wipe available to you in mono-white. It’s a great card for games of Commander since more players means more creatures for cost reduction.
Solitude’s ability to be cast without paying its cost makes it a very powerful form of removal. You can tap out, leave your opponent with a false sense of security, and then exile one of their creatures.
This card is especially powerful in decks where you have recursion or flicker effects since you can repeat its ETB effect.
#1. Swords to Plowshares
Swords to Plowshares has a similar effect as Solitude, just without the creature attached. Though it can’t be cast for free I think one white mana is ultimately cheaper than having to exile a card from your own hand, making it slightly better than Solitude on its own.
That said, it would likely be the better choice if you have ways to repeat Solitude’s effect.
Best Blue Removal Spells
A quick note about blue removal: a lot of players consider counterspells to be removal since they also take away resources from opponents. I won’t be including any of those on this list.
Honorable Mention: Cyclonic Rift
Cyclonic Rift would technically be considered a bounce spell, not a removal spell. But if you overload it at the right time you’ll get a similar effect to casting a removal spell. It’s likely your opponent won’t be able to recast all the permanents you bounce to their hand the next turn.
This means they’ll have to wait an extra turn to get back to where they were, and they might also have to discard some cards, basically removing them in a roundabout way. Casting Cyclonic Rift can also just close out the game for you if you have lethal damage on the board.
#5. Rapid Hybridization + Pongify
Rapid Hybridization and Pongify are incredibly similar; the only real distinction is the creature type that each one creates. If by chance you’re going up against a Kibo, Uktabi Prince ape tribal deck then Rapid Hybridization is a slightly better option than Pongify, but the distinction is very situational.
#4. Ravenform + Resculpt
Ravenform is basically the same as Resculpt, but it gives your opponent a much less powerful creature in exchange. Its foretell ability also makes this card a bit better because you can put it into exile and cast it when you need it without it taking up room in your hand.
#3. Gilded Drake
Gilded Drake has a very unique form of removal. It basically removes a threat on your opponent’s board by giving it to you. If your opponent is able to sacrifice the target of Gilded Drake’s ability then they’ll often do so instead of letting you have their permanent, which can also be a form of removal.
The one downside to this card is that both it and the opponent’s creature have to be on the board when its ability resolves in order for the exchange to happen, so if your opponent can remove Gilded Drake at instant speed they’ll keep their creature.
#2. Reality Shift
Reality Shift can be an extra potent form of removal because it can basically remove two threats at once. If your opponent manifests a powerful card that isn’t a creature, they won’t be able to flip it back up and use it.
So you’re basically denying them access to another powerful spell while also exiling one of their creatures.
#1. Curse of the Swine
Curse of the Swine allows you to exile multiple creatures and swap them out for a relatively weak 2/2 creature. Most blue board wipes are bounce spells, so to have one that’s actually removal is very powerful.
This card also has a lot of flexibility, so you can just target the creatures where a 2/2 is a good trade and leave any weaker ones on the field.
Best Black Removal Spells
For most of the other colors I included board wipes for that color as well. But I’ve decided to focus on targeted removal here for the most part because of the overwhelming number of black board wipes.
#10. Fatal Push
Fatal Push sees play across a lot of different formats, likely thanks to how easy it is to cast. You don’t have to sink too much mana in it and, in some formats, you aren’t seeing too many creatures over four mana. It’s easy to use its revolt ability since you’re also likely running fetch lands in more competitive formats, or things like Mind Stone in Commander and Limited.
#9. Feed the Swarm
Feed the Swarm is one of very few mono-black removal cards that can remove an enchantment. It’s flexible enough to have a use against most decks while also giving you a form of removal that other black cards can’t give you because it can hit both enchantments and creatures.
#8. Hero’s Downfall
Hero's Downfall basically replaced Murder as the go-to 3-mana removal spell since it can hit both creatures and planeswalkers. It’s pricier than some other options, but it comes with no negative stipulations.
#7. Never // Return
Never // Return is basically the same as Hero's Downfall, but with the added second ability once it’s in the graveyard. The Return part can also act as a form of removal by preventing a player from reviving one of their destroyed creatures.
#6. Baleful Mastery
Baleful Mastery can be one of the cheapest ways to exile a creature or planeswalker. This isn’t too big of a downside while you’ll be giving your opponent an extra card when you don’t pay full cost.
You can always pay the higher cost if you really don’t want your opponent to draw, which makes this card more flexible than ones with definite stipulations as opposed to optional ones.
#5. Murderous Rider
Murderous Rider can be cast as a powerful removal spell, and then you can bring it back as a decent creature. It also goes back to your deck when it dies, so you’ll possibly be able to reuse it as a removal spell if you’re playing cards that shuffle your deck.
#4. Soul Shatter
Soul Shatter can be a very powerful bit of removal since it can take away multiple big threats for only three mana. I usually run this in my Commander decks that include black as a way to put myself ahead or catch back up.
#3. Curtains’ Call
Curtains' Call is another great removal option for Commander. When the table is full you can destroy two creatures of your choice for only three mana, which is a very good deal. It can also be a good card for helping out the table and making deals.
#2. Deadly Rollick
It’s hard to beat exiling a creature for free, which is what Deadly Rollick will likely be able to do. It allows you to tap out and still be able to protect yourself while you wait to untap again.
#1. Do or Die
Do or Die won’t be too impactful early game, but later in the game it can take out a lot of creatures for a low price. As long as you split up the biggest threats into different piles you can guarantee that you’re getting rid of at least one of them.
Best Red Removal Spells
#7. Unholy Heat
Unholy Heat might not do as much as Lightning Bolt right away, but it can become much more powerful later in the game. It’s a great card for any deck that uses looting effects since you can easily fill your graveyard with cards.
Abrade is one of many artifact removal spells in red. What’s nice is that it can also deal damage. This flexibility stops it from being a dead draw if there aren’t any artifacts on the board.
Vandalblast is an incredibly cheap way to take out a single artifact, but it’s also a reasonably-priced artifact wipe. You can overload it whenever you want and not worry about your board state sincve it doesn’t target your artifacts. It pairs very well with Mycosynth Lattice, though some opponents won’t appreciate you blowing up all their lands.
#4. Chain Reaction
Chain Reaction is a great Commander card because it likely lets you clear the board for only four mana. A lot of other colors have that option already, so it’s nice that red has a sort of equivalent, but you’ll have to wait for the board to be pretty full to guarantee a wipe.
#3. Blasphemous Act
Most Commander players are probably familiar with Blasphemous Act since it’s card that blew up their Emrakul for one red mana. It’s pretty much the go-to red board wipe, and it goes great with cards like Firesong and Sunspeaker or Toralf, God of Fury.
#2. Wild Magic Surge
Wild Magic Surge gives you a lot of choices for what to target. While it can be risky depending on the type of permanent you destroy, it can usually work in your favor if you’re willing to roll the dice. It’s unlikely an equally powerful card will get flipped if you’re targeting a really big threat.
This is also a great card to destroy utility lands since it’ll likely be replaced by something less useful.
#1. Chaos Warp
Chaos Warp is very similar to Wild Magic Surge, but with some clear advantages. First, it shuffles the permanent into the player’s library, so it can work on permanents with indestructible.
The other bonus is that it might not even replace the card you remove if they don’t flip a permanent spell on their first try.
Best Green Removal Spells
#6. Ram Through
Ram Through is better than a fight spell because your creature don’t take any damage in return. It can also do damage directly to your opponent depending on how strong your creature is and if it has trample.
#5. Bane of Progress
Bane of Progress isn’t just a board wipe for unnatural permanents, it also buffs itself up for each one it kills. This can often result in you getting a massive creature as well as a great source of removal, meaning this card is a good two-in-one.
#4. Ezuri’s Predation
Ezuri's Predation can have a big impact on a game based on the board state. If you’re going up against a token or weenie deck, you’ll probably be able to remove a ton of creatures while also giving yourself a lot of new creatures.
The Beasts you create will also trigger cards like Garruk's Uprising, so you can possibly draw a lot of cards as well.
#3. Acidic Slime
Acidic Slime is similar to the green staple Reclamation Sage, but it can also destroy a land instead of an artifact or enchantment. It also has deathtouch, meaning it can also be a form of creature removal once it’s on the battlefield.
#2. Krosan Grip
Split second makes Krosan Grip one of the best unnatural removal spells in the game. This ability basically makes it so that cards and other abilities can’t be added to the stack until it resolves, which means players can’t give their permanent a form of protection or try to counter your spell.
#1. Beast Within
Beast Within is one of the most popular green removal cards because it can hit any type of permanent. On top of that, you’ll likely have creatures that are stronger than 3/3 if you’re playing a green deck, making the token this card creates not a big threat.
Best Multicolored Removal Spells
#6. Aura Shards
While Aura Shards itself doesn’t actually remove anything when you cast it, it turns all your creatures into removal spells. This is a good way to make up for a lack of removal in a creature-heavy deck and can be very powerful in a Selesnya () token deck.
Despark might not be able to target any early-game threats, but I like it as a way to get rid of bombs in Commander for a cheap mana cost. It gets bonus points for hitting a lot of different permanent types and exiling instead of destroying.
#4. Supreme Verdict
Sinking a lot of mana into a board wipe just to have it countered is never a good feeling. That’s why I enjoy Supreme Verdict. I put it in my Azorius () control decks or even some 5-color decks that have enough mana fixing to make its casting cost less restrictive.
Dreadbore is a cheap Rakdos () spell made better than similar removal cards thanks to its ability to also hit planeswalkers. It also doesn’t have any downsides or stipulations like a lot of other 2-mana removal spells tend to have.
#2. Assassin’s Trophy
Assassin's Trophy beats out Dreadbore for 2-mana removal spells thanks to its ability to hit any permanent. Even though it has a downside, it’s worth the trade when you can target anything for destruction.
While not optimal, this can also be used to help you with mana fixing. You can destroy one of your own permanents and go get a land if you need another color of land.
Vindicate is just a pure removal spell. It can remove any card on the field with no stipulations, and no downside to go along with it. The card might not be super exciting, but it really just gets the job done.
Best Colorless Removal Spells
#8. Walking Ballista
Walking Ballista is often played in decks that can pump it up with a lot of +1/+1 counters. While this is usually used to take out players by doing direct damage, it can also be a powerful form of removal if you target your opponents’ creatures or planeswalkers.
#7. Steel Hellkite
Steel Hellkite is a decently powerful creature even without being a form of removal. Combine this with its ability to remove one or more permanents when it does damage and it becomes quite the threat. It can usually get through to do damage thanks to flying.
#6. Nevinyyral’s Disk
Nevinyrral's Disk is one of a few ways to wipe the board in a colorless deck. Unfortunately it takes until a future turn before you can activate it, but it’s relatively cheap for a board wipe. It also hits a lot of different permanents, but not planeswalkers, making it a good tool for a superfriends deck.
#5. Oblivion Stone
Oblivion Stone is an interesting type of board wipe because it allows you to save some of your own permanents before you wipe the board. While it’s expensive to activate, it can be very impactful if you manage to get it off while keeping your own best permanents.
#4. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger’s ETB effect is one of the most powerful removal effects, allowing you to exile any two permanents on the board.
As a bonus, Ulamog is also just a very powerful creature that will mill a ton of your opponent’s cards with each attack. While not technically removal, this is taking more resources away from them.
#3. Karn Liberated
Karn Liberated is a very powerful planeswalker with a couple of ways to take resources from your opponents. Its ultimate ability also technically removes everything on the board and graveyard, leaving you with whatever other cards you exiled before.
This ultimate can easily win you the game if you manage to get it off.
#2. All is DustAll is Dust
All is Dust is a very powerful board wipe since it forces players to sacrifice their permanents. This can be a very powerful move if you’re running an It That Betrays.
You can also use cards like Eldrazi Temple to help cast it since this card counts as an Eldrazi.
#1. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon’s -X ability is one of the most flexible ways to clear the board. It’ll also be a one-sided board wipe if you’re playing a colorless deck, leaving you with a full field.
Ugin is especially powerful against token decks because it can -0 and still wipe all of the creature tokens on the field.
Best Removal Spells Payoffs
Although removal itself is usually a good enough payoff for these spells, you can increase their value with cards like Blood Artist that also deal damage to your opponents when you remove their creatures.
One of the best payoffs for removal spells is Gisa, Glorious Resurrector, which can then give you control over the creature you destroyed. They can also pair well with your removal spells if you have spells like Reanimate.
How Much Removal Should a Deck Have in MTG?
Unfortunately there isn’t a set number or proportion of removal spells that any given deck should have. That said, all decks should have at least some removal.
You’ll want to have at least a couple answers for artifacts and enchantments. Creature-heavy decks might not need as much creature removal since you can rely on combat damage to take out your opponent’s creatures. Still, having at least one or two ways to handle big threats can be helpful in any deck.
You’ll probably want a bit more removal if you’re playing a control or combo deck that wants to stall the game until you find your game-winning cards. A lot of control decks like to use board wipes because you can use your life total as a resource for a little bit and then wipe the board when your opponents’ board states get too big.
Aggro decks may decide to substitute combat tricks for creature removal to help take out bigger creatures. But some unnatural removal would always be good to take out troublesome permanents like Ethereal Absolution, which can be hard on your weaker creatures.
Dreadbore | Illustration by Wayne Reynolds
Any Magic deck you build can benefit from having at least some removal in it. It’s very important to be able to interact with your opponent’s big threats. Getting them off the board more quickly with a single instant or sorcery can ensure they don’t get too much value out of them.
Removal can also help you catch back up if your opponent has a much more developed board state than you. Overall removal is going to be a part of any Magic game, so it’s important you have an idea of what some of the better options are.
What’s your favorite removal spell? Do you prioritize colors that have good removal? Let me know in the comments below or on the Draftsim’s Twitter.
Thank you for reading, and I look forward to seeing you in the next one!
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