Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Top Black One Mana Removal

Fatal Push
So this list is mostly for my own use! There is a growing need of effective one mana removal given my cube design. White was easy enough to sort out with already having the two best one mana removal cards and having an acceptable array of other options. I ultimately have gone with Oust and Sunlance although I may replace or even complement those with Condemn if either fails to perform.

Black is a harder beast to appease. After Fatal Push the options become more limited or more of a compromise. While there are vast numbers of one mana removal cards in black they all have fairly significant limitations or drawbacks. I am going to look at the best of the options and hopefully after comparing and contrasting them I will be better positions to make good choices on which additions to make.

As I don't already know how I rate these cards it is going to take the format of a "breakdown" with an out of ten rating rather than a top X list with a positional rating. For a long time black has been able to rest easy on its more consistent and less onerous two mana removal cards but it is all getting to be too much. Creatures are so good and tempo is so key that small mana changes, particularly between one and two, are massive deals.

RegicideFatal Push 10

For the purposes of this list this is a clear 10/10 card. It is the standard by which all the other options will be judged. While nothing is overall as good as this many cards on this list do have occasions where they will outperform this.

Regicide 8*

This gets anasterix because you can only use it in draft. Most other cube formats fall apart if trying to use this card which is a shame. It is great design and very well balanced. It is exactly the sort of card black wants more of in cube. If I could always play this  card then I probably wouldn't be doing this list in a desperate search for more playables.

Human FrailtyDisfigure 7

This is presently my 2nd one mana removal spell in black. It is overall slightly weaker than Shock but it does at least have some other mild perks (for killing all those 2 toughness indestructible dorks!). This just ticks enough boxes that it is the next best all round option after Fatal Push. I in fact wished I had played it over Fatal Push the other day when I couldn't usefully engineer the revolt trigger and was getting owned by Thalia Heretic Cathar. This is instant, it hits everything and kills about 70% of it. More relevantly it kills 90% or so of the things you will expect to see in the first couple of turns.

Human Frailty 2

I wondered if humans had sufficiently swelled in number so as to make this a viable option. Humans are certainly the most numerous creature type and crop up in all the colours. Sadly humans only account for about 30% of creatures in the cube. Most of them are fairly small too. This has about as much kill potential in cube as a Gut Shot and isn't getting a look in as a result.

DeathmarkDeathmark 3

This is a much more interesting proposition as a little over 50% of the dorks in cube are white or green. Both those colours have higher creature counts than the other colours and have more gold creature cards to offer as well. That is a much better hit rate than Human Frailty and it would be further increased given the Deathmark player will be black thus reducing the instances of other black cards at the table. Even with that Deathmark still has a lower hit rate than a Shock in cube, has no alternate utility, is sorcery, and will wind up a totally dead card in some matchups. This last issue means this is basically just a sideboard card which are not things I want to have in my drafting cube.

Sicken 3

This is weak removal, again with a similar hit rate to Gut Shot. You can turn a 2/2 beater into a 1/1 beater so Sicken does have value even when it can't actually kill something but it is painfully low value if used like that. The cycle option allows this to scale better than a lot of the other removal but again, it is super low powered. Paying two is far from trivial in cube and so this will spend a good amount of time in hand being too weak to cast usefully but too pricey to turn into something else. This sort of ticks a lot of the boxes but it does so on all accounts so poorly that I can't see this being too helpful.

Viper's Kiss 2

Viper's KissMore weak removal with low kill rates. This trades the ability to cycle it away for the ability to shut down utility creatures. While this has some appeal in practice I think it also fails. Most utility creatures are small enough that this kills them any way. You are not playing one mana removal to cope with utility dorks either, you want it so as to be able to combat tempo. Yes, this will ultimately gain you tempo when it kills and elf or Mother of Runes on turn one but all the other options here also at least manage that.

Borrowed Malevolence 4

Borrowed MalevolenceWring FleshYet more limp -1/-1 options. This is instant which makes it far more useful in combat than Sicken. Just making a dork smaller is not worth a card and is a pretty desperate move and so this is generally just better disruption. This tries to avoid being dead and narrow by having a mild pump option too further enhancing this cards potential in combat. Perhaps you save a dork of your from their spot removal outside of combat! You can get a two for one with this in perfect conditions. This card has some reasonable utility but it still seems overly situational and pretty low powered. Unless you also have a reasonable creature count this is not offering much at all. That makes this narrower than other removal on this list which is a problem. You want cube removal just to be something you can play regardless of what you are doing. Escalate cards have thus far performed very well in cube so this is probably a bit better than it looks.

Wring Flesh 3

This is exactly as limp as the previous 3 cards as a removal spell but it does have a much greater combat effect and has some decent defensive applications. For most blocks this should turn a losing exchange into a winning one. You should also be able to use this to save a planeswalker for a turn, prevent a Jitte charging, or even just to gain 3 life! This seems to fail in the same way that Borrowed Malevolance does, while both are more powerful than Kiss and Sicken they also both need further support to sufficiently perform (all be it very mild and generally common support in the form of creatures).

Innocent Blood 5

Here we have quite the different removal spell. This is very very powerful indeed. It kills everything in the cube without giving away lands or life. It may not be as effective against persist effects as exile removal but it is far better against shroud/hexproof and equally effective against indestructible. Two huge things hold this back. Poor scaling as opponents develop boards and can choose to sac off a weak thing and restrictions on your own build in that you don't want to put yourself in a position to sac off a relevant thing of your own. This is the opposite sort of narrow to Wring Flesh and Borrowed Malevolence in that you generally don't want creatures. As such only really combo and control decks run this. Absolutely one of the best turn one removal spells and still able to be effective throughout the game. Just severally let down by being inconsistent and on the narrow side. While cards with very wide ranges of performance can be fine you ideally don't want them to be your answers. You also ideally don't want the floor to be quite as low as it can be with Innocent Blood.

Tragic SlipTragic Slip 6

This is another card with a pretty huge range. It is one of many -1/-1 effects for one mana with a little bit of something else going on to try and spice up the deal. While -1/-1 is highly comparable to a Gut Shot and a little too low powered the morbid trigger is rather more serious. Sicken simply allows you to turn your dead spell into something else random for a tempo cost. It always feels awful cycling away removal to find removal... Tragic Slip simply upgrades from limp removal to one of the most powerful spot removal cards in the game. This means you are able to play the right amount of removal in your deck. Slip has great scaling. It is mediocre removal in the early game but still has a good chance of being useful disruption. Then as the game goes on and you are more able to affect the morbid trigger you can use Slip to take out whatever you need. Although Innocent Blood is technically a more potent removal spell the ability to target Tragic Slip makes it actually useful and scale well into the late game where Blood typically becomes less effective. While Slip is clearly one of the better options I have always found it frustratingly unreliable. Morbid is hard to trigger, you often need removal and when you don't have it the card feels like an even weaker Reciprocate. You have to chump block something just so you can kill something else post combat. This under performs a bit as -1/-1 and is disappointingly inconvenient to -13/-13 with.

Dead Weight
Dead Weight 6

This is sadly one of the more serious contenders for the slots. This is basically just a sorcery speed Disfigure and Disfigure is hardly a wildly exciting card. Red has enough tools that it doesn't even need Shock yet a Shock would be better than almost all the options black has at one mana including this. There are few instances where being an enchantment is relevant and much like with Sicken, the value of just making something you can't kill a bit smaller in an ongoing capacity is pretty weak. Your Siege Rhino is now a 2/3 and can't presently attack effectively! Hardly a cards worth of value. Certainly this is a mild advantage over Disfigure but it is a long long way off making up for being sorcery speed. When Disfigure already feels like a compromise it is a hard mental barrier to get over trying this out.

ParalyzeParalyze 7

This is an old old card that rarely gets any attention yet does do the job at hand fairly well. It is somewhat like an Arrest. Most activated abilities are ones that require tapping and so once this is on a dork that card is pretty neutered. Four mana is a massive cost, a creature has to be Titan levels of good or you have to have vast amounts of spare mana before you are paying it. You have to choose to pay before your draw as well which is harder to play for your opponent. If you Paralyze a Kird Ape then 95% of the time at least that Kird Ape is doing nothing relevant for the rest of the game. Some cards do sidestep the Paralyze rather such as Young Pyromancer and Spellskite. It is also weaker against vigilance or dorks needed purely for defense as they only need pay the mana once.Overall this is a lower number of things than would sidestep a Doom Blade or more common black restriction. The largest failing of Paralyze in black historically is that it works very poorly with Edict effects. You basically can't play Arrest and Edict's in the same list. Paralyze is a heavily underrated card and I do prefer it to all the Edict effects that are not Liliana of the Veil. Sorcery speed is the only real downside when compared to the other one mana removal options. This hits the most targets and has better scaling into the late game than most. It feels like a more potent Smother or Bileblight level of removal. It basically just removes the creatures those kinds of spell also kill yet it is able to affect larger and more powerful things in a more relevant way. Perhaps you just use it to tap down that Baneslayer for a fatal swing past it. Perhaps you are happy forcing them to tie up four mana a turn to keep some oppressive dork active because you have lots of gas and a plan! This is a very efficient and very well rounded card that I think I am able to try out in my cube presently due to such a low Edict count (1) in black. Dead Weight just seems like it is less effective against the range of 3 and lower CMC dorks and also significantly less useful against the bigger things.

UlcerateUlcerate 5

No question that this is the most potent one mana removal spell black has on offer. There are still some things Fatal Push can take out that this can't, a few even without need of revolt. Ulcerate is basically as good in the first few turns at killing things as Push, in the midgame it is nearly as effective but somewhat less awkward due to no revolt trigger setup needs. Finally in the late game this gains the most over Fatal Push. While not a great removal spell at killing bigger things it is still infinitely more useful than Push at killing anything at five or more mana. I will happily trade a 3/3 and an Ulcerate for your Titan! The issue for Ulcerate is of course nothing to do with the effect but the extra cost of 3 life. The difference between killing a one drop on turn one and paying 3 life to do so or killing it on turn two and not paying any life to do so is a funny one. Life wise you are better off with the two drop kill but if you have lots of two drops in your deck then the one drop kill is well worth that extra cost. Black already has a lot of great cards with a couple of life cost thrown in. The more such cards you play the weaker you become to red decks and some other aggressive plans. You also increase the cost of the life payment on your other cards by playing this. Ulcerate is great but when it makes your Thoughtsieze and your Night's Whisper both a bit worse it is a bit of a turn off. This card feels most like Sunlance except it hits non-red things rather than non-white ones. While this does hit red stuff you have to be pretty sure it is ultimately saving you life in doing so else you are helping your opponent. The more incidental life gain black gets the better this is and vice versa for incidental life costs. With big life cost cards such as Necropotence featuring less these days I think Ulcerate might have a shot in cube. Three life hurts but needs must. The biggest barrier for this card is how poorly it feels like it stacks up against Snuff Out on the one hand which is a zero mana card for just one life more and has a life free mode of play and will kill things with 4 or more thoughness. On the other hand you have Dismember which is -5/-5 for only 1 more life and again has a life free mode of casting. The only perk Ulcerate has over Snuff Out is the ability to hit black things. Ulcerate doesn't really have a perk over Dismember except that other colours wont be stealing it away from you!

VendettaVendetta 7

This is the other high powered removal option in black with a life cost. Vendetta is great early as it hits everything and the cost is low. It still kills things later in the game very well but the life cost goes up and up. This again looks pretty weak compared to Snuff Out however it scales sufficiently differently that it does have a bit more to offer. Most one drops have 1 toughness and most of the rest have 2 meaning you are saving between two and three life to kill something turn one with Vendatta compared to Snuff Out. Black already lacks one drops and so the opportunity cost of playing Vendetta for one on turn one compared to Snuff Out for zero on turn one is pretty low. Certainly a lot lower than skipping a two drop play in black. While the costs of Vendetta and Snuff Out are less painful together than either with Ulcerate the fact that they both have the same non-black target restriction (which is already the most common in black removal) is a mild concern. It might mean Ulcerate winder up being a better cube fit than Vendetta despite the latter seeming like the more rounded and appropriate card.

Wretched BanquetWretched Banquet 6

This is an interesting card I found while researching this topic. Despite being a card you never hear about it seems surprisingly suitable. It shares some of the limitations of Innocent Blood but not all of them. This is generally killing the lamest thing in play but at least it isn't also killing your own things. I think not killing your own stuff is a bigger perk than being able to take out hexproof, shroud, protection and indestructible things. Mostly this is only the case because you can't freely target either this or Innocent Blood. A spot removal spell like Council's Judgement that bypasses those troublesome abilities would be supremely good even if it killed your own stuff but an Edict isn't quite so exciting. If your opponent plans on making some Ulamog or something they can generally find a way to play round an Edict. This is great in the early game, it will always kill something very relevant and it will do so with no life cost. In the late game it will be a lot weaker often restricted to hitting tokens. Mass removal greatly improves the value of this thing so that you can reset a board and takeout a more significant thing without the chaff to draw fire. Sorcery speed on this thing feels like more of a problem than it does for much of the other removal. While I do have my concerns about the scaling of this card I think it is very suitable for both aggressive decks and control decks. Just taking out any early play is great for control and the various other control cards they will have enable this to scale somewhat better. In the aggressive decks it is so cheap and you are aiming to be ahead already that it is just a pretty good tempo tool. It is a very good value one mana edict. It might just kill a two drop but that is all good when you are leaving them with only lands and hitting in with a couple of guys and perhaps even doing other stuff. This is the option I feel I need to test most. It seems pretty good relative to must of this list but it could well flop.

DarkblastDarkblast 4

I have never found this to be impressive. That being said, all the testing I have really done on this in the drafting cube was a long time ago. The value of cheap removal has gone up tremendously and the number of targets for even weak removal like this has gone up a bit too. I still don't think this competes well with the alternatives but it does have a few unique roles it can fill. In general you want this on turn one and no there after as the ability ceases to deal with the things being made. That means in general you don't want to dredge this. On the flip side, the decks you need cheap removal most against are the ones with the most things this will hit. This is a good anti weenie tool verging on a hate card. It is also sometimes used in extreme graveyard synergy lists as on theme filler and cheap disruption. In those lists it does suffer more heavily from being a card you rarely want to draw in the late game. While I don't think this is drafting cube worthy I think it probably does still have more of a place in constructed cube than many of these other cards as a sideboard or graveyard support tool in a known meta.

I will test out all the cards not already in cube and getting a 6 or higher rating except for Tragic Slip which has already had a good amount of recent cube action. Hopefully I will be able to find at least two that are both sufficiently effective and broadly playable. Hopefully I won't have to resort to playing Tragic Slip, or Dead Weight for that matter. If I can get black up to having four (just about) cube worthy one mana removal spells (not including Dismember as that is any colour) I think the colour will be in a much better place. Perhaps one day black will have enough premium one drops that it will rely on free removal effects even more . Presently the quantity of good one drops in black is not nearly enough to make the extreme card cost of Contagion or Sickening Shoal consistently good enough.

Murderous Cut is a card I didn't even consider for this list. While the card may be excellent it fails to do what is needed here. Cheaply killing things in the late game is something black is already great at. The difference between a one mana Deadly Cut and a two mana Ultimate Price or whatever is marginal on turn five. The inability for Deadly Cut to kill a one drop beater or mana ramp dork on turn one is what makes it fairly useless. The same is true of Slaughter Pact. Murderous Cut may often be a one mana removal spell but it is almost never that one turn one which is what black is most lacking in presently. There are many other one mana removal spells in black that fail on turn one like Bone Splinters, Fatal Blow and Ghastly Demise. They are are also a lot worse than Murderous Cut!


  1. Darkblast IMO is better than where you put it. While this play is a tad janky, you can technically get a -2/-2 effect by casting it during your upkeep and dredging it back on the draw step. After push/disfigure, I think it's part of that next tier personally (I'd run it over slip but that's me). Feeding the graveyard is not a narrow effect in cube (particularly in black) and reusable removal (even if not always useful) can be game changing at times. That's a lot of value wrapped up in a one mana card.

    1. I know what you mean, Darkblast feels like it offers loads and indeed does every now and again. My issue with it is more the average performance. That is really my issue with most black removal to be honest. I probably rate this down because I am subconsciously comparing it to white and red removal options rather than just the black ones where it stands up a little better. Darkblast feels like one of those Charms that seems good but isn't and sits in your hand not doing enough to merit casting!

  2. I use Bone Splinters. At one point I went on a mission to _weaken_ removal in my cube and this was one of the cards that I put in. I've actually been very happy with the results. I like that it takes care of any creature unconditionally (even black ones). I find the sacrifice rewards good play and makes removal feel less swingy.

    1. I can totally see turning the sac into an upside. Cube is the best environment for cards like that to shine. My mission is to find removal that works on turn one (without also needing a zero mana dork!). As I run such a low curve in my cube I am finding the opposite of you - that removal is not swingy enough. Unless of course it is Arc Trail!