Monday, 23 January 2017

The Top Mass Removal Spells

Mass removal is a key component of magic. It stops linear strategies getting out of hand. Just the potential of it makes play much more intricate and interactive. Mass removal has become less effective over time at gaining tempo, value and just shutting down an opponent but it is still very much a potent tool and a big part of magic.

In this top 27 list I am looking at cards you can expect to kill most stuff. This rules out some things like Pyroclasm which is more of a sideboard hedge card most of the time. I am focusing on the cards ability to deal with creatures for this top X and although bonus utility will be taken into account it will not be enough to make this list exactly resemble how I would rate these various cards overall for cube. The list would also have been rather dry if I left it at purely the things that deal with creatures or simply said "destroy all creatures" without any other fluff. This list doesn't contain any capped mass removal effects however it contains plenty with restrictions on them that are a kind of cap. In theory, with infinite resources, all the Wraths on this list could kill any number of vanilla creatures of any size. Pyroclasm only hits small things and as such is half a mass removal spell. That is great for it's cost but I won't be discussing cards like it any more in this list.

Mageta the LionThere will be some Wraths on this list that are worse than some not on the list. This is due to small niches the weaker ones occupy or simply the timing in which they were printed. I have tried to talk about all the Wraths that have seen use over the course of cube history. Some older weaker Wraths saw a lot of cube play simply because there was no better option. Mass removal is a required tool and so you play what you must! This is part of why Wraths still see just as much play as they used to despite clearly being less effective. Numbers 20 and higher are pretty unplayable now. Those between 10 and 20 are viable for cube but certainly not mainstays and much depend on your build and preferences. The top 10 should be in most peoples and types of cube.

There are some Wrath effects on creatures that would qualify to be on this list and indeed have seen a lot of cube play, Bane of the Living, Mageta the Lion, Thrashing Wumpus etc. All those that still remain in the cube now don't qualify for this list like Elesh Norn. Generally you pay more than you want to for your Wrath when it is on a dork and so you are best off playing the really over powered dorks with more limited removal effects or actual removal. This list is plenty long already so creatures have been left off regardless of their present potency or historic impact.

Sunscour27. Sunscour

Despite how good the Force of Will cycle was the double pitch requirement is generally way too crippling. It is not just the card disadvantage, often you make that up in the effect. The issue is not having those cards when you need them and then being able to actually win a game from that point if you do. You will be throwing away important threats and removal you wont then be able to use later in the game. A free wrath is nice but without any followup it is of little use. A free wrath some of the time and an uncastable one the rest of the time isn't a good deal either. I'm pretty sure you are going to get a lot more value from Fated Retribution than you are with this and as you shall see, seven mana Wrath's are not the thing!

Catastrophe26. Catastrophe

The option on a Wrath or an Armageddon sounds good but in practice paying an extra two mana on either is really weak. Few decks want both effects, those that do can rarely afford six mana. Although both these options are super powerful ones they are somewhat build around effects and in doing so for one half you will be neglecting the other. There are much better six mana Wraths and there are much better mana denial tools. Work out which you actually want and play those, never this.

All Is Dust

25. All is Dust

This is the opposite of cheap and not even that reliable. This doesn't always kill what you want it to and for seven mana that isn't really acceptable. You only ever see this in decks that don't have access to the removal they need due to the colours they are. Generally this means blue and green decks. While the sacrifice gets around indestructible basically all the relevant cards with that ability are colourless and so this does nothing. This is kind of the quickest way you can deal with a lot of permanents without coloured mana and that is the cards niche, but as you will see, it really is only a kind of. This has been used in artifact heavy ramp decks as it is a bit of a one sided mass removal spell. The issue for it there is that you are just better off playing a significant threat for seven mana. Shockingly this hasn't seen play since the printing of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. The closest it has come is for its tribal tag in concert with the new Emrakul...

Jokulhaups24. Jokulhaups

This is rather too much destruction to be abused. There are very few things you can pair with this that allow you to be reliably ahead after pressing the reset button. Planeswalkers are nice but they are hard to keep in play at the best of times. In a deck trying to fire off a Jokulhaps any planeswalkers you might have are liable to die immediately while your opponent still has theirs in play. Wildfire is a far more easily abused symmetrical effect of great power and as such gets a lot more play than this despite being fairly poor at dealing with threats in comparison. In a world where red has more defensive and ramping planeswalkers combined with some good value speed bump cards then this super powerful card could make a return. Right now this doesn't quite have enough support to really abuse it.


23. Obliterate

For two extra mana on Jokulhaups all you get is the uncounterable clause. Having to get to 8 mana rather than 6 before you can reset the game ensures you have a lot less post Obliterate, if you even get that far. The one things going for Obliterate is that it pretty much shuts down any blue based control strategy. The threat of being able to blow up their lands and their having basically no way to interact with that gives you all the inevitability. The issue is that very few decks with red mana will be getting to 8 mana ever so this isn't even that useful as a hate card or sideboard tool. While this has enjoyed more play time due to having a role than Jokulhaups the card is substantially less powerful. Like a lot more "less powerful" than would be the case for any other card you slap and extra two mana on the cost of. Jokulhaups has the potential to shoot up this list while Obliterate shouldn't.

Nevinyrral's Disk22. Nevinyraal's Disk

So this is less mana than an All is Dust and so can be quicker but it takes a turn to come online and can be dealt with or otherwise played around. It is an OK tool for non-white colours to have an Akroma's Vegeance effect but certainly not a good one. The most love this ever saw was for its ability to kill enchantments and as such remove unwanted Necropotence's from your own side of play. The black Tranquility if you will... Better than most mass removal against man lands too as it may be used at instant speed. Giving your opponents a turn to react to a mass removal effect is utterly awful. Either they kill you or the Disk. Failing that they will at least be able to play more effectively in light of the impending clear. Planeswalkers rather ruined Disk. If they "waste" their turn on a Disk then you can pretty safely and effectively use your turn to make a walker.

Rout21. Rout

This is the reason Fated Retribution sees no play. If you really want an instant speed Wrath to the extent you are willing to pay seven mana for the thing you might as well have an option to play it for five if you can stomach the sorcery speed! That is a lot more value than a potential scry 2... The planeswalker killing aspect of Retribution is a mixed bag and ultimately just makes a narrow card narrower so even if it also makes it more powerful it is not a helpful addition. This did used to get some love when magic was less brutal on the tempo. When four mana Wraths were feared rather than fine a five mana Wrath was still fine. Generally now this is a little too slow to be worth the extra utility. Play cheap sorcery mass removal and a bit more instant spot removal instead of trying to play Rout.

Oblivion Stone20. Oblivion Stone

Marginally better than the Disk these days as it kills walkers and can be used right away if a late game top deck. Both are too slow and fail to cover all your bases to ever really be things you want but being colourless they do fill gaps in some places. Although you can use this like a Disk as early as turn five or right away more like an All is Dust it does neither of these things better and both are really weak to start with. You pay an awful lot of extra mana to have this kind of effect in colourless form. However you use Stone it costs at least 8 mana and that is just too much. I can force a situation where you need to use a Stone with under half that mana. Removal ideally wants to gain you a tempo edge from costing less to deal with the things than the things cost. Oblivion Stone rarely achieves this and so it is a terrible tempo card.

Planar Cleansing19. Planar Cleansing

There are a few issues with this card. Triple white is one of them, it is the kind of problem solver you might want to splash for but at three white to play this isn't really an option unless you are at least half white already. Another issue with this is that it is hard to abuse. Mass removal effects typically leave you a little behind in general. A good way round this is to have things you previously invested in that survive your mass removal. Perhaps this is planeswalkers or perhaps it is some artifact mana. Cleansing doesn't allow for anything much like that and so is just a very slow card that stops you being quite so behind. It is a lose less card, the inverse of a win more card! Most wrath effects ultimately are lose less cards these days but others are cheaper or more able to have a lopsided outcome in your favour than this slow cover all.

Rolling Earthquake18. Rolling Earthquake

When planeswalkers first started to hit the scene this was one of the premium mass removal cards on offer. It was a card you could use to not only kill all their creatures but also take down a walker as well. The aggressor could think they had not over extended and then you hit them with this and close the game by removing their whole board. Since then it would seem as if the 2/1 dorks Earthquake was so good against have become 2/3 dorks. It used to be the case that an on curve Earthquake for all your mana dealt with enough of the things you could expect to be facing that it was fine. Worst case scenario you would cast it a turn late. Now you are just always behind the curve and it never kills enough stuff for the price. It is OK against decks that stay low but any that curve just outpace it. As it deals you damage as well yet is a defensive tool you really do need it to come out on time so this now sees no play at all.

Necromantic Selection17. Necromantic Selection

This is one of the most game breaking Wrath effects on offer. For almost any board state you can play this and be ahead at the end of it which is not something that can be said of many Wraths with the resilience and diversity of threats these days. The problem is that you are paying seven mana for this huge swing which is usually far too late. Without quite a significant amount of ramp and mana boost effects in a deck you shouldn't be playing this. Given how much it costs I feel like it should exile things and be instant. Then it would be potent and rounded enough to be worth thinking about. As it is this is too narrow for drafting cubes. Six is a push for a mass removal spell and seven is a vast amount more to ask than six. When you pinch some kind of Titan or better while clearing the board then the card feels well worth it but when all you steal is some 3/3, perhaps you just keep your own speed bump dork alive, the card isn't worth it. You cannot rely on the effect being super swingy and that is a little off putting. Against midrange decks this is about as good as it gets but for dealing with aggression this is too slow and for utility against control it is far too cumbersome.

Merciless Eviction16. Merciless Eviction

Now this is a good six mana Wrath. You get to chose what you kill, can kill any type of non-land permanent and they are exiled to ensure that they are gone. The issue with Eviction is that it is gold on top of being six mana. It is not gold in a good way as some other cards on this list are! If either one of the colours of Eviction where blue then it would easily be the best six mana mass removal card. It is still the most powerful in cube but it is also not as commonly playable as you need six mana wraths to be to be worth a slot in a drafting cube. If this were instant or choose up to two things then this would have sufficient power to merit its awkward goldness. As it is it is a fair card that does exactly what you want. The cube is full of stupidly powerful stuff and fair stuff that does what you want. Sadly the fair stuff in the cube is neither gold nor much above 3 mana...

Death Cloud15. Death Cloud

This is one of those cards that is rated oddly on this list. Death Cloud is a lot better than loads of the cards on this list but that is because it has a lot of functionality and not because it is a great mass removal card. Killing all their dorks is absolutely something you do with Death Cloud but it is not the main function of the card and would be a very awkward card to use purely for that effect. Cloud is pretty strong against a few fat men but is pretty useless against many small ones, somewhat the opposite scaling of Earthquake. Neither kind of scaling is something you want in a Wrath, you want your card to be reliable whatever the situation. Death Cloud is what Catastrophe wishes it was. A card that has extreme power and versatility yet can be sensibly played to support various archetypes.

Akroma's Vengeance14. Akroma's Vengeance

While this was the premium version of a Planar Cleansing back in it's day the introduction of planeswalkers has made Vengeance a lot more polar. Either they have planeswalkers and your card is just an god awful six mana Wrath that leaves you rather behind or you have the walker and things are pretty rosey. As white isn't the greatest colour at dealing with walkers, particularly those white decks likely to run Wrath effects, the Vengeance is no longer that exciting. Cycling is always nice on a pricey card but 3 is a lot to cycle and only really occurs when you are desperate for lands or in some massive control mirror. Vengeance is actually at its best in the more powerful and more diverse formats. In an unpowered cube it is just fine but in a powered one it can often end a lot of the broken decks if you actually get to cast it.

Living Death13. Living Death

This is a bit of an odd one. It is intended more as an exchange than a Wrath however it acts like a very potent Wrath indeed when they have nothing in the bin. There are a couple of ways you can make this more one sided than your typical Wrath. One is to combine it with graveyard removal so as to deny any potential value you may concede with it. This is slow and unreliable but quite unfair when it does happen. Another is to simply play to little to no other removal so that you are very unlikely to be putting things in their bin before casting your Living Death. The last is simply to have much bigger and better things in the bin and have it be a mass Exhume style card. These various stipulations on how you can use it well make it not really a Wrath you can use in conventional control decks. Super powerful and super abusive but suitably narrow to compensate. It should be noted that it gets round things like indestructible as it is sacrifice rather than destroy. The Wrath half of this card is slightly more potent than the namesake but the recursion prevents it being commonly used as such.

Austere Command12. Austere Command

This was one of the best wrath effects in the game for a long time. The control you had over what it did gave loads of opportunity to get huge swings. Unlike most other Wrath effect cards the Command doesn't even really put any restrictions on your build. This does a good job of killing a wide selection of their threats while leaving your stuff pretty well alone. The cycling from Vengeance is not missed here at all, you want to hold your safety cover all cards. It is the early game and situational stuff that really benefits from cycling. Despite not dealing with walkers at all this is still the best of the pure six mana mass removal cards in a single colour. A little on the slow and clumsy side but pretty effective if you can hold out that long. As permanents are so much better than spells these days Austere Command is one of the most comfortable mass removal spells you can hope to play.

Martial Coup11. Martial Coup

This always surprises me as to how good it is. This isn't a Wrath until seven mana and most six mana Wraths are too slow by a long old way. The Wrath side of this card isn't even that exciting, it is sorcery speed, creature only destroy effect... The flexibility of this card is pretty useless too. Play this for anything less than seven and you have a pretty awful return on your mana. A three mana 1/1, a six mana double Raise the Alarm... It is not that likely you are getting much scaling with your tokens either, you don't typically pack 7 mana Wraths in decks with Glorious Anthem. So, why is this good? Two reasons basically. One is value, you get a Day of Judgement, a reasonable 4 CMC worth of card. You get 5 or more 1/1s. That is another 4 mana worth of stuff and you get the effect of drawing a card as you get both on the one card which is another mana or two. You are therefore getting 9 or 10 manas worth of stuff for the seven you pay. Certainly a lot of top end cards yield this sort of extra value but they are typically not quite such direct answers at the same time. The failing of most Wraths and the second reason Martial Coup is so effective, is that you are generally still a little behind in cube after having played one. It takes a lot more than a 2/1 Kitchen Finks and a man land to be ahead of five 1/1s. You play a Martial Coup and at worst you stabilize, at best you win off the back of it. It looks like this should be a lot closer in power to Necromantic Selection but a number of subtle things combine to make this the better cube card. White needs value more than black. Reliably getting a known number of 1/1s is far more helpful in terms of planning than "the best thing in play at the time". Martial Coup is more consistent and that is super important for reactive cards and top end cards. Martial Coup is also something you can play lower on the curve which is minor but not totally worthless. It is something you can play on an empty board just to get things going. It is also more easily splashed. A little dull but on point and effective. Almost certainly the Wrath with the highest follow up win percentage on this list.

Bonfire of the Damned10. Bonfire of the Damned

The ability to have your Rolling Earthquake be instant speed and one sided is quite the boost. Instant mass removal effects are super rare, as are one sided ones and so this powerhouse of a card is well worth the effort of setting up. A well timed Bonfire is a huge tempo swing, a late game one is usually game over. Bonfire is the best reason to have red in your blue control deck. It is a Wrath effect you see played in midrange and ramp decks on occasion as well simply because of the power it can offer. It is a bit like an old school card (sadly indicative of poor design) in that it can be a little hit and miss. When it is a hit it is so game breaking that it is worth it on average. Mind Twist is a good sort of comparison. The card is so good that you rarely elect not to play it whenever you randomly get to miracle it. You know a card is really over powered when most of the time you draw it your game plan immediately changes for the better.

Pernicious Deed9. Pernicious Deed

The other Akroma's Vengeance. This one can be fired off a lot earlier and can be used at instant speed. That latter point is one of the great strengths of Deed. It is one of the only (good) Wrath effects that is effective against man lands. Deed keeps you super safe against all the non-planeswalking things out there. There are two issues with Deed, one that has recently started to hold it back. The minor thing is that it is gold and thus harder to include. The real issue is mana intensity. Even if you can wipe the board turn four you have taken two turns and seven mana to do it. This was a big part of why Oblivion Stone now sucks. In this modern age of magic tempo is too relevant for that to commonly be a good use of time. If they ramp or you stutter the Deed can't even kill their on curve things. Deed is rarely the Wrath you want if they cheat something fat into play. Great card but a lot slower than people realise. It is also no longer the complete solution to everything with planeswalkers surviving it regardless.

Ugin, the Spirit Dragon8. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

While I have balked a lot at seven mana Wrath effects this 8 mana one is pretty potent! Being purely colourless he can be played in a lot of archetypes and is generally easier to cast than a lot of seven drops. Ugin isn't great at dealing with artifacts but he deals with most other things pretty well. Being able to kill creatures and planeswalkers is the most important thing. Exile is generally a lot more relevant than artifacts or enchantments and Ugin has that latter one covered too. Ugin is better than most other Wraths at dealing with the relevant threats in play. He is then typically still in play afterwards which in turn keeps you at least even and can often lead to a win like Martial Coup. Post Wrath Ugin is neither a great nor reliable threat, even compared to a bunch of 1/1s but he is still a threat, he has a lot of pre-wrath utility and he is a very effective and controllable wrath.

Day of Judgment7. Day of Judgement

Not a lot to say on this one. Somewhat the benchmark of Wraths. You get what you pay for, the white Harmonize if you will. If you get a 3 for 1 (or equivalent) you will generally Wrath. A lot of two for ones are tempting as well. Not only should such a wrath get you some card advantage it should also recover a lot of tempo that other value cards like Harmonize wont. Wrath effects are those that keep people honest regardless of you having it or not. You need to play them to get that effect of stopping people over extending. Without Wraths it is not over extending, it is just killing you quicker!

Wrath of God6. Wrath of God

Basically this is day of Judgement. I think I have one regenerator in cube at present, so this is a little better but really by the tiniest of fractions. Despite these four mana Wraths being so unexciting they are priced accordingly. The value of your Wrath hinges immensely on when you can potentially cast it. When decks can goldfish as fast as turn four and will typically goldfish turn five or six as any sort of aggressive cube deck then a five or six mana Wrath will neither do anything for you nor offer any sort of disincentive to your opponent. When you are playing a six mana Wrath it is usually because you have a pair of four mana ones actually giving you a chance of getting that far.


5. Damnation

I nearly had this at the top of the pile of four mana Wraths as it is so exclusive in black. Not only is it the only one like this in black but most of the other black alternative mass removal spells are overly situational or just bad. If you are a Dimir control player Damnation is a really high priority pick. You are still very light on mass removal even if you get the Damnation, you will still want for more. Functionally this is just Wrath of God and beyond the needs of the colours they are exactly as good as each other!

Supreme Verdict4. Supreme Verdict

This is a four mana Wrath that does actually offer a little bit more. It is a rare example of a good gold card in that being gold isn't at all a drawback. You want this in blue decks, you play white with your blue for these kinds of cards more than anything else. Being blue means you can ditch it to a Force of Will or imprint a Chrome Mox to better effect. Being uncounterable is often blank and as such relatively minor but there are more than ten counterspells in most cubes. It is still substantially better than "can't regenerate".  Knowing you can resolve your four mana sorcery lets you play a lot more effectively in some matchups and that is a big deal. You don't have to waste your counterspell on their big dork because you know they can't counter your Wrath.

Balance3. Balance

A card with a lot of functionality however its most common use these days is as a Wrath. Generally you have to discard a couple of cards but that is totally worth it when you kill three guys for 2 mana. Like Death Cloud it is the other aspects of Balance that hold it back for this list. The later the game goes the more punishing this can be to use as just a Wrath. You might put half your lands and all your hand into the bin and still leave them with a dork that is better than yours. Balance is best when you can abuse it to some extent. Typically this is artifact mana although just a Mox and a Talisman can be more than enough. If you can kill all their guys, a couple of mana sources and perhaps a discard or two  into the mix for good measure as well then you have just won, simple as that. Extremely powerful card that is on the situational side and really benefits from a focused build.

Toxic Deluge2. Toxic Deluge

Basically this is a three mana Wrath that you can easily splash with it also being a single black. For the most part the life you need to pay is ultimately more life saved by being a turn cheaper than all the other Wraths. I have seen this kill cheated out 15/15 Emrakul's and gone on to win where other Wrath's would have been too slow. Fifteen life may sound like a lot but for something that completely undoes their entire game plan that is generally fine. -X/-X is more effective than Wrath of God at killing things as it gets round loads of tedious protection things. The one issue with Deluge is when you are too low on life to be able to use it. Ideally you want to pair it with some lifegain but then that is the case with control decks in general.

Terminus1. Terminus

This Wrath is all the things you want from a Wrath. It is potentially the cheapest going by a silly margin at the bargain price of one mana. At that price you are happy killing anything they have made at a one for one basis! It can be instant speed and thus deal with pesky man lands and haste dorks and lastly it is about as effective as you can be at dealing with resilient threats. It gets through persist and indestructible and will not trigger any other upon death triggers. It is hard to setup and not what you call reliable as a miracle cast but it isn't awful at six. Final Judgement / Descend upon the Sinful are more often what you need than an Akroma's Vengeance. This is a reliable and effective removal tool at six and it is off the charts good as a miracle. Like other Wraths you have to respect it and as it is one mana that respect needs to happen from the go. As such it gives great value. I have lost a number of seemingly unloseable games to Terminus top decks and it hurts.

Wing ShardsI feel I need to honorable mention Wing Shards at this point. I typically play it as a bit of a mass removal spell. So many of the aggressive decks contain haste dorks and proactive precombat things that it is super easy to get value from the card early. My average storm count on it feels like it is on the higher end somewhere between 2 and 3. That is what you tend to get with your Wraths yet Wing Shards is three mana, sacrifice and instant. I probably rate it about third of fourth on this list. It isn't as good as a Wrath against the ramp and midrange decks by a long shot but against the aggro decks it is substantially more effective. In standard Wing Shards always felt like more of a Chainer's Edict and generally just ate a load of goblin tokens or the odd Silver Knight. In cube it really does feel like a 3 mana instant speed Wrath a lot of the time.

All the big blue bounce sweepers also feel a little missed on this list. Terminus doesn't actually take cards out of the baseline active game, they can still be redrawn and replayed. Cylconic Rift, Upheaval and Crush of Tentacles are all powerful cards commonly used in cube and used in much the same way as all the other cards on this list. None of the blue ones properly deal with anything in an ongoing way nor yield any card advantage. They may lack some of the elements of classic mass removal but the tempo swing is the most important thing and the blue ones do that incredibly effectively indeed. Cyclonic Rift is particularly good, it has a useful two mana mode and is a one sided instant board sweeper at the top end! I have found it to be performing far better in cube over the last few years than any of the classic four mana wraths. Upheaval is a well known bomb but equally a build around card. You want to win with it rather than not die with it. Crush of Tentacles is the more easily playable Upheaval style effect and does see a lot of control and midrange play as you do not need to build around the card so much. All three of these mas blue bounce spells would be in the top 10 of this list.


  1. I think you have the best blog for cube going. Really look forward to your posts. Thanks for taking the time to do them with so much detail.

    Nice list. A bit surprised Fumigate and/or Hallowed Burial didn't make the list (even if towards the top). I know 5 is much worse than 4 when it comes to sweepers (one turn can make a very big difference), but the perks of both are pretty decent. They have to be better than Rout right? When I ran that I never used the instant mode option.

  2. Very kind of you to say so. That being said I was unaware of any other cube blogs. A lack of the content I wanted for cube was the reason I started doing this in the first place.

    Hallowed Burial is very strong, not sure quite how it managed to not get any cube play, particularly in the period between it and Terminus saw print. I'll put that down to me being less on the ball cube wise back then. Fumigate on the other hand offers little. The life gained is not going to be more than the extra life you lose from not being able to Wrath the turn before. Even at two life per creature I'm not sure Fumigate would see cube play.