Tuesday 23 October 2018
Top 12 Colourless Removal
This is an important top X list that I am surprised I didn't think to do sooner. It is basically a list of cards that facilitate the interactive blue and/or green decks. On occasion these cards will also pitch in for a colour like red that is wishing to be well covered just in case they face something too tough to burn down or just an enchantment! This list is mostly about creatures although there is plenty of value to be had from colourless cards that can kill other card types. Only white is able to deal with everything that can be put into play, all the other colours need to lean on these things from time to time. White might be able to cope with everything but it isn't always able to do it in the most suitable way and so even white benefits from some of the cards on this list.
12. Warping Wail
As a pure removal spell this is pretty limp. It hits a lot of creatures and a lot of good ones but it doesn't hit many top end finishers and thus rarely saves your bacon or even obtains you a mana advantage. It hits utility dorks and early plays not the must answer cards and that is an issue. The other huge issue is that this is the wrong sort of colourless. Trying to fix for cards that expressly require colourless mana is basically as hard as splashing a proper colour and it offers less return as well. Wail is great if you need such things and happen to have the mana to support it but that is very rare indeed. It is also only great because it has three useful modes, purely on the removal front it is neither super mana efficient nor overdone with range and consistency.
11. Cursed Scroll
Things are just a little too quick for Scroll to really shine these days. There are better things you can spend this sort of mana on or indeed use a card for. Scroll is a tool to kill small creatures or provide reach but it is neither cheap nor easy to have active early in the game which is when it is most important to kill small things. The only decks I really like to run Scroll in these days are those which have both a need of it and synergies to go with it. The only good example that comes to mind is a blue build (hence needing removal) that has cards like Vedalken Engineers, Trinket Mage and Grand Architect. Certainly no self respecting red deck is looking to a card like this for reach and value any more. Red would only consider this against things with protection and in those cases Spellbombs and Shrines and many other things are going to be better suited.
10. Masticores (four mana ones)
Time has also been unkind to these classic bombs. The original is less efficient than Cursed Scroll for damage output which is pretty tame but it is still an excellent card to deal with a bunch of one toughness dorks. Masticore will do work against an Elf deck if you can get it out and active in time. The damage output is pretty poor but it does also do other things like attacking and blocking which help to make up for this somewhat. In a deck that can make lots of mana, like a green ramp deck or indeed the blue deck used as an example for a place you might still run a Cursed Scroll I can see Masticore being at least a good sideboard card. The Molten-Tail version is far more powerful and far better suited at dealing with midrange creatures what with having twice the mana efficiency on damage output. The need to exile creatures to power it makes it a little more needy but not much. The thing with Molten-Tail is that it tends to simply bypass the removal step and tends to try and end the game by going face. That isn't at all a downside to the card but it does mean it is far less often used as removal than the others!
9. Oblivion Stone
The generally better version of Nevinyrral's Disk. While not quite so close as Ratchet Bomb and Powder Keg there are some similarities in the comparisons between Stone and Disk such as the ability for only one to hit manlands. Typically Oblivion Stone is not good enough for cube anymore. Games are too quick and it is far too slow. Eight mana is too much for a mass removal effect and taking two turns to split the cost is a problem as well. The situations where you somehow have 8 mana when you need that mass removal spell and didn't die before you got there or where your opponent has gone all in but you still have the comfort of two turns are just not common. The most frequent use for Stone is a close grindy game where you have the luxury of time to put fate counters on your own stuff. That is nice but it is pretty late game and also situational. When you really need colourless mass removal Stone is one of the best (of few) options but to make it work you are going to need to make more concessions in your build. Perhaps you are going to need to run a fog!
8. Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
Even as a five mana Volcanic Hammer this is more efficient than the previous cards in an initial tempo sense. Flagship also offers ongoing value although it is conditional on having three power in play. This might be a little easier to support in build but it is also much easier to disrupt than the conditions on Masticores and Cursed Scroll. Those are not really the cards that Flagship is to compete with, it is actually good while they are on the path to bad. I think Flagship is the weakest of the good colourless removal. It is a better threat than it is removal, a bit like Molten-Tail. It is nice that it takes things down as it beats people up but a lot of the time it would have just won as a hard to kill 6 power five mana flier. It has the issue that 3 damage doesn't actually kill a lot of the things you want it to kill by the time the game has reached the five mana stage. For that reason I find the card to be best when combined with things that offer haste such as Surrak, Caller of the Hunt so that you can lay it and attack for a total of 6 damage at something. While colourless is theoretically nice for playability I only ever see this in green decks these days. They support it well and need what it offers most.
7. Ratchet Bomb / Powder Keg
These are useful bail out cards. I will play these in midrange and control decks where I am soft to go wide strategies. Being able to take out all the tokens for 2 mana is great. Being able to take out all the one drops is also outstanding in my cube. The return of both of these cards was indeed a response to the explosion in popularity of super low to the ground go wide decks. Ratchet Bomb gives a little bit more all round cover and Powder Keg can take out manlands, that is the main difference between them resulting in a comparable power level. What holds these cards back is that as an answer for a four drop they really blow. Either you have to preempt the problem card or you have to wait a long time to deal with it. Both of those are horrible ways to have to answer something. There are not many four drops you need to kill that you are not just going to have lost to by the time you get your counters upto four. Even two can feel like forever. Nice fair, option dense, skill intense, cover all cards.
6. Karn Liberated
A little overrated generally by cube players. Karn is certainly good but he is not as much of a game winner as most other seven drops. Often Karn comes down, deals with the problem card and then dies to removal or even an attack. It is only the close games or those where it is all about one card where Karn tends to win. My most common experience with him is as a removal spell. An expensive one but at least an effective one. I like to use him when I feel like I need both more answers and more weight to my deck. Not many answers also double up as win conditions or even as high powered cards but Karn does so admirably. While Karn may not offer the biggest of swings for his hefty seven mana price tag he is nice and safe. His floor is high and that is not all that common in the colourless removal department.
5. Umezawa's Jitte
A colourless removal tool so good that many colours with removal themselves will still run it. What Jitte does really well that white nor really black does all that well (and obviously blue and green don't do at all) is efficiently kill small dorks. Jitte kills a pair of one toughness things each time it charges. You can massacre boards of little creatures in short order with a Jitte, often so much so that it will act as a Moat if you can equip it to a creature to threaten to block with as well. While being amazing at killing small things it is still fine at handling bigger dorks. A 2/2 can trade with a 6/6 with just two easily obtainable counters and that sort of thing. Jitte is obviously just a powerful and versatile card. The fact that it provides a sought after role is really what makes it such an oppressively often seen card. It is a little overrated but it is still strong. I think it is more misuse of the card that makes me think it is overrated rather than the card itself. I see a lot of people treat Jitte without sufficient respect and get burned by it. It is very much not just a case of having Jitte equates to winning although it was a bit more like that back when it was first printed. Jitte is high risk and initially tends to be low tempo and people overlook these elements of the card based on reputation.
4. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
I previously mentioned 8 was too much mana for a mass removal spell which is the case when it is Oblivion Stone. When it is Ugin it is a different story. Not only is Ugin a vastly superior mass removal tool than Oblivion Stone it is also a much better everything else as well. Ugin is value, control, a threat, reach, even lifegain. Ugin is one of only two eight mana (without cost reduction effects) cards I have in the cube as testament to his power. Ugin is such a huge upgrade on Karn Liberated but one mana more is increasingly onerous at the top end. Ugin is a better tool to close a game with but the real reason he shines so much more than Karn is how much of a swing he can be on a game. It is not uncommon that Ugin lands and completely removes all the action from the opponents board while keeping some stuff as well as the Ugin on your side. When facing Ugin it can be very hard to play around it too and you just have to hope they don't see him, or of course that you beat them before they get to eight mana. Having the option on Lighting Bolts with loyalty gain or super exiling Pernicious Deed effect makes Ugin unreasonably versatile in how he makes a board look regardless of how it looked before! He is the removal tool that always seems to leave you looking ahead.
3. Engineered Explosives
Cheap and versatile cover all card. It is not the most mana efficient when compared to a lot of coloured removal options but when compared to the colourless ones it looks pretty cheap indeed. Especially when considered how low end it is. Explosives lets you run mass removal effects in decks with permanents in them. It lets you pack artifact and enchantment hate without having to dedicate a card to doing that. Really Explosives is just the good versions of Ratchet Bomb and Powder Keg. It kills all tokens for 2 mana and it controls low end CMC permanents quite well. Where explosives shines over the others is in its ability to get huge swings or big X for <X plays. Killing multiple tokens is good but it is not that often card advantage to do so. Killing a couple of two drops however is much more of a proper two for one and is good value. Explosives will cost you four mana to do so making it not much of a tempo play however it can do so without having to sit in play charging up and therefore without warning. Giving no warning means much high chances of catching people off guard and getting a big swing. It is pretty hard to recover any game in which Explosives gets a couple of one, two, or three drop cards of yours in the early game while losing nothing else themselves.
2. Walking Ballista
This card is everywhere. It is a bit like the new Jitte in that regard. It is not overly broken in power level but it just has nothing wrong with it. Ballista is just an all round great card and like Jitte it provides a good weenie removal option to all the non-red colours. Late enough in the game it provides removal for more serious threats but if you are getting your Ballista that big you are likely well on the way to winning anyway. Ballista is a fine two drop and it is a fine eight drop. It provides reach, a mana sink, more options than you can shake a stick at and synergies all over the shop. It does all this while mostly being a two mana Mogg Fanatic! It might legitimately be the most played non-land card in my cube. It is just that little bit too convenient.
Although not strictly a colourless card it is played in that capacity an awful lot. Even in black decks this is most commonly cast in the one mana pay four life mode. Blue and green decks run this all the time so as to have answers for creatures. Red decks even play this sometimes as a tool to deal with protection effects. Even white decks run this when they didn't have quite enough Paths and Plows! Dismember is nominally a very powerful removal effect and comfortably ranks in the top five creature spot removal spells in the game. It is as cheap as it comes, it deals with most things, has no restrictions on targetting and is the all important instant speed. It is the only card on this list that affords that biting early tempo swing that a well placed spot removal is played to do. It is not something that has fairly polar performance based on what you are playing against like Engineered Explosives nor a card that needs specific builds like Ugin or Karn. Dismember can basically be played anywhere and usually is. Sure, you can't find it with an Ancient Stirrings, a Mother of Runes can protect against it, a Chameleon Colossus can ignore it as per other black spot removal and if that bothers you for the spirit of this list then by all means just bump everything else up by one, have Ballista at the top, and ignore this. In practive however, when you are looking for removal options for your decks, absolutely don't forget Dismember regardless of your colours.