Monday, 28 October 2019
The Top 2 Mana Creature Removal Spells
Two mana is a great cost for removal. The price is enough that you can get decently effective and powerful cards but the cost is also low enough that you can also get a lot of tempo out of using them. There are only a handful of one mana removal spells that offer the same quality of removal as a decent two mana removal spell. These are well known, well played cards and are among the best cards in the whole game. After those few premium one drop cards you tend to look to the 2 mana options rather than weaker one mana ones as they simply do not do an effective enough job. When you need something doing you have to be prepared to pay the cost of doing it. There are a lot of options in the two mana range. You can usually find the appropriate choice for your deck within the ranks of the two drops as well as a bunch of suitable backups should you not have access to the first choice. Here we will look at a significant portion of the different types with a focus on the best or most viable of those. This is not to say we will not be looking at some bad cards! Knowing what you are trying to avoid and why is as useful as knowing what you are looking for in a card. While everything on this list might be called playable there is not all that much relatively that you would want in cube. Entries to mine start around the 6.5/10 and above ratings.
This list was very hard to do and highlighted a significant aspect of cube design. The issue was that these cards are easily able to be directly compared due to costing the same mana and trying to do much the same thing. For cube however playability is such a massive consideration for potential additions that it is my go to attribute for rating cards. The frequency by which a card gets played is pretty much the only universal statistic than can be applied to cards that do entirely different things in different decks. The difficulty in this list was that the playability of cards and their power where often at odds with one another. Black is stacked with great two mana removal options and so there is little need for the lesser ones despite those being objectively better than many of the frequently played alternatives in other colours. Gold is also a pain to account for as ever. The best removal spells are all gold but many of those see far less play than weaker mono coloured ones. Ultimately I decided to account for both objective potency and cube playability which resulted in a somewhat odd looking list. While being gold or having other utility is harder to account for in terms of objective power in your removal spell the frequency such cards get played should be a strong indicator as to the card's worth as a cube inclusion.
There is also no real way to objectively account for the power of the removal mode on a modal card. The play such a card receives will be a factor of all the mode's utility combined and separating them out is not possible. All you can really do is try and find the closest comparable effect in a card that does just the one thing and compare that to your modal card. Doing this obviously makes all modal cards with removal options look like pretty bad removal cards! That isn't really the point. You play them in the same way you play other cards that fit multiple roles, to smooth out your ratios and effects. If you need removal then play the best spot removal cards. If you just want a bit more removal then you can look to play nice potent modal cards with removal modes. I find with removal I generally want to spread myself out. I want some premium high tempo creature kill and I want some broader slower cards that deal with a greater range of things. I want a spread of effects as well where possible. This usually means minimizing overlap in removal restrictions and limitations. It can also mean a spread of things like -X/-X, damage, destroy and non-targetted removal types. Modal cards are a great way of spreading out your options and effects even when the removal mode is not all that powerful.
So, in general what makes a good removal spell? What are we looking for in these cards and how do we relatively compare those things? Obviously cost is always one of the primary considerations for any magic card but as we have locked our discussions at two mana cards the cost will not really be coming into it. Ease of casting will and is a significant consideration but not a major one. An XX card will get marked down reasonably when compared to a 1X card but there is certainly a point at which the power is well worth the difficulty in casting. Basically, be exceptionally good or be suitably convenient to play. After that we are looking for speed, instant is much better than sorcery but again, compromise on this is possible when offered enough power. Obviously extra utility is nice, and as mentioned, hard to evaluate in the context of this article. That I attempt to address in the discussion rather more than the ratings alone. The two main considerations for removal are the range and the effectiveness! Range considers what targets are possible while effectiveness determines how many of those targets it can actually kill. A burn spell typically has high range with a low effectiveness while black removal typically has limited range but high effectiveness in actually removing the target. Also to be considered within the effectiveness is what happens to the target. Most simply destroy which is the baseline. Some exile which is generally optimal however of those many allow for the possibility of return to play which greatly reduces the reliability and usually places them below simple destroy effects. Others leave things in play while simply rendering them ineffective but these are typically a bigger risk than the exile with potential to return effects. Some even return to library which is usually slightly better than destroy but not always. On top is dodgy for things you really need to go away for a long time or that have powerful EtB effects but is generally decent otherwise. Further down the deck starts to seem more permanent and function closer to exile. There is also a bunch of removal spells so potent they come with other drawbacks such as extra non-mana costs or giving away perks to the opponent. The best removal spells hit a wide range of targets, at instant speed, and reliably remove them from play. Sounds pretty obvious when put like that!
Kiku's Shadow 1/10
This is pretty awful. It is sorcery, it is double black and it is both unreliable and unpredictable. Numbers wise this is just shy of killing 75% of the dorks in my cube which is poor but not awful by any means. What compounds these low numbers is that these X/>X dorks are so randomly spread across the cube and colours that you can just randomly lose to it doing little to nothing. Unlike red players you don't have loads of ways to apply damage easily and so although you can use this with something else to finish something off that is generally going to be a two for one. This card has no perks that make you willing to take the occasional two for one to ensure it's functionality.
Muderous Compulsion 2/10
This is unplayably bad without decent madness enablers. With them you can get some effective card advantage and that makes this spell workable combined with the instant speed. Killing tapped things at sorcery speed is awful, really awful. It is really quite awful in general failing to do anything against so many things so much of the time. Bad on the aggressive, bad against vigilance, or passive effects sitting back. This is super easy to play around too. Avoid this card in most cases and prepare to be underwhelmed by it even when the conditions are perfect for it.
The issue with this card is two fold. Not only does it have an obviously low range of targets it also has little application in the early game. This will hit about 20% of creatures in my cube (unbuffed) of which the average CMC is over five. Sure, this is a good swing late game card but it is so useless against so many lists and in the all important early game that it is a pretty bad option in anything bar a sideboard. Further to the problems of this card a lot of the fat things are hexproof or indestructible or have some appropriate protection against this kind of card. This is a poorly suited removal spell in most senses.
Devour in Shadow 2.5/10
This will kill anything a Terminate will but it comes at a hefty cost. Black already pays life through the nose for things. As with cards like Reciprocate this ceases to be that useful in the late game as you often can't take that much of a life hit from the bigger dorks, much less so in fact in black than in white. This makes Devour simply seem worse than the various Last Gasp and Smother style cards that actually don't have the capacity to take out fatties. Devour just has an effective inability in that department! This is also a pretty narrow card due to its cost either needing a perfect mana base or a mostly black deck to sensibly use. With cards like Vendetta on offer Devour just asks too much for what it does for you compared to the alternatives. Cheap conditional removal is played for tempo reasons a lot of the time, otherwise you just play things like Ruinous Path and reliably kill what you need to. The life cost on this makes it far less appealing as a tempo tool.
Reality Shift 3/10
I wanted this to be good, blue instant exile removal with no target restriction sounds amazing. Turns out giving them a free manifest is a relatively big deal. It is a lot worse than a token which you can bounce into nothingness. When you are under pressure this doesn't do nearly enough to calm things down. It is also awkward not knowing if they have some beastly thing under that 2/2 waiting to be flipped over. I feel like testing was unkind to this card and it deserves being given more of a chance. I feel like there should still be occasions where this is at least an option to aid a deck (outside of 15 card highlander). Certainly this is too narrow for most cubes but it is also still one of the best blue removal spells on offer. This only does anything to the tempo of a game when hitting power three or greater dorks (if we are to simplify things). As such this starts to sounds bad in the same way Reprisal is bad. Blue just plays other colours to kill things with.
Last Breath 3/10
While this has a significant range over Reprisal hitting nearly 70% of creatures it has plenty of problems of its own. The average CMC of its potential targets are less than two meaning you are rarely gaining tempo with the card. Next up is the issue of it being too much of a drawback to play in aggressive decks. Four life is a lot, especially when it is killing something small. That adds up to a tempo setback in most aggressive decks. Last Breath is an OK control card but white has far better removal options that are limited to the control player. It still isn't a great control card however as it has such poor scaling. Late game this is killing very little that is relevant. The exile is also somewhat less important on the smaller creatures with relatively few of them being persistent or having on death triggers. Again, I would rate this mostly as a sideboard tool for cube now. When you know you have targets for it that you want to exile in some matchups then it is one of the better options. Especially if it is a non-attacking card you wish to exile. White has great removal against things in combat but far less for those sitting idly about. Small utility dorks do that the most and can be a royal pain for white decks without or unwilling to fire off mass removal. Last Breath is a useful tool for that situation if nothing else.
Chainer's Edict 3.5/10
Two mana is the going rate for an Edict effect. Chainer's has the perk of coming back for another round in the late game. Sadly Edicts have become far weaker in the cube since the arrival of planeswalkers, and in general to the creature power creep. There are just more creatures that offer value or resilience or indeed produce tokens. So many decks have these sorts of things that your Edict is so often painfully low value. Even the Reanimate decks tend to have options that stop Edicts being useful. Sometimes you will take out their lone True-Name Nemesis and then stop them making a follow up dork later on due to the flashback response and that feels great. Mostly you look at your card and their board and wish you had a Doom Blade or even an Unsummon. Magic is sufficiently tempo driven now that seven mana is rather a joke and only usable when you have nothing else to do in the end game. Once upon a time this was one of the better black removal spells and arguably the best Edict. Of the actually good ones this now sees the least play and rightly so I would say. Since I started writing this article we have gained Plague Mare and Plague Engineer to the cube ranks and that has had an effect on the value of Edicts. Ritual of Soot to an extent as well. Edicts have always been a good turn two play and that hasn't changed much. It was the ineffectiveness of the midgame Edict that was holding them back but being able to cleanly clear out the chaffy small dorks helps the Edict cards remain viable cube tools. They are still great at getting round indestructible and hexproof and they still work well in conjunction with other creature control cards. Many good cube cards contain Edict elements as part of what they do like the Eldest Reborn and Liliana of the Veil. As such most cubes do well to support those Edicts a bit which in turn helps pure Edict cards perform well. Still not enough to be a feature in my drafting cube but at least not rendered unplayable as they were for a time.
Diabolic Edict 4.5/10
Trade off that fairly useless flashback and gain instant speed. Sounds like a massive win for the present high paced cube meta. Instant speed allows for so much more disruption and interaction consequently adding another dimension to how the card works and what it can do for you. This Edict can stop a Shallow Grave annihilator killing you, it can mess up an equip etc. It gives you options, time and information and while subtle things they make a pretty big difference in cube play. If there were less tokens and weenie strategies in cube I would absolutely run this as my first purely Edict card. I can easily imagine this returning to prominence as a staple removal spell in cube should more things like Plague Mare to support it and True-Name Nemesis to provide incentivize see print.
Liliana's Triumph 5/10
Not much better than Diabolic but certainly in no ways worse and so will just always get prize of position over Diabolic when the situation arises. This gets past players having hexproof and every now and again gets a juicy two for one. All be it generally a rather win more one as you also have a planeswalker in play! Most notably this is a big step up in multiplayer where it will usually get card advantage regardless of you having a walker in play. A lot of card for the mana with a great floor but still not really the spot removal you are after in most cube metas.
Dimir Charm 4/10
As a removal spell this is pretty poor. It is a non-exiling Last Breath which doesn't excite. Where this is obviously a lot better is with it's extra modes giving it vastly more utility and playability, even as a gold card. Sadly the library manipulation is both tempo and card disadvantage and is incredibly situational as a result. I have seen it used as a Time Walk when nothing else bar the top of library mattered in the extreme late game. I have seen it facilitate mill wins, I have seen it undo the work of a Vampiric Tutor, and I have seen it simply clear away a terrifying card that was revealed by a Courser of Kruphix. It does a lot of things but so rarely that it is worth little to the card as a whole. The Envelop is nice but it is surprisingly narrow as well. Sorcery cards are typically low powered one drops which this often misses or doesn't care about or they are massive game changing cards. You feel heroic when this hits the Armageddon but that is not common at all. Sorceries are one of the least played card types in cube, their number vary a lot from archetype to archetype too. Despite the seemingly broad range of effects on this Charm none of them are very powerful and all of them are highly situational which results in a poor performing card. Dimir Charm can be good when you know it is going to be performing a couple of important roles for you. It can be good as a space economic sideboard tool too. As a general purpose card you should avoid this but now and again it is just the ticket.
Izzet Charm 5.5/10
This is far better than Dimir Charm in almost every way despite looking like it has very comparable attributes. Mostly this is better because Spell Pierce is vastly more useful than Envelop and Careful Study offers way more synergy than the Dimir equivalent. Two damage to a dork is closer to destroying a creature with power two or less but overall it is still better. Mostly due to being able to add damage together meaning you can finish big things off with Izzet Charm when needed. Izzet Charm offers some of the most impressive and wide coverage of utility but it is actually quite a low powered card. The versatility of it holds the value of it reasonably high but at the end of the day you are always paying two mana for a one mana effect. This is not a free and easy auto-include kind of card like Fire / Ice. There is a real cost to playing this and so you should do so with some care. There has to be a reason you are playing this instead of cards that do parts of what this does rather better.
Victim of the Night 5/10
This has a good solid 90% hit rate in my cube. Despite most of the things this misses being black it still is a better card to run against a black deck than a Doom Blade or other non-black targetting card. While this does have a good hit rate it is double black making it that much less appealing to include in most lists. Black just has so many comparable options that the narrowness of BB does not offset the slightly better hit rates. It is still a two mana one for one destroy effect with some restrictions. That is never much better than a fair card and fair cards need to not be narrow cards to do well in cube. At 1B I would be rating this at least an 8/10 which demonstrates quite the effect of the restrictive costs. There are enough better cards than this that are comparable in most other ways that this gets no look in at all despite the decent power, far worse cards see more action.
The removal mode hits a surprisingly large number of dorks despite seeming as if it would have a prohibitively low range. It is exile as well which makes it a lovely way to deal with utility creatures. Even the colourless nature of the spell is a perk here as it will handle things like Mother of Runes ever so nicely. While this hits a lot of creatures they are all pretty small cheap ones that typically have less relevance in the late game. You can't play this just as a removal spell because it won't do enough much of the time. Then we are back to Envelop being situational and the eldrazi token being low power, tempo and value. This basically means that you can only sensibly play this in situations like those for Dimir Charm. You need to know you are using Wail for specific issues and reasons. It is best coming out of the sideboard or in drafts with complete information. The awkward nature of the colourless cost also makes the card narrower overall even if it does give it a very broad range of places that can consider playing it. A useful tool but a poor removal card.
Immolating Glare 2/10
Not the worst defensive removal spell by any means but rather over shadowed by alternatives. With removal that only hits attacking dorks or indeed dorks that are involved in combat in general you are typically looking at a control card. When you cut out half your options (aggressive decks) you have a much narrower card which needs to do that much more to cut it in cube. This doesn't do that much more and as such you are just never playing this over Condemn.
Gideon's Reproach 2/10
Puncturing Light 1.5/10
Impeccable Timing 1.5/10
More white combat restricted removal. All fine enough cards with a decent target range. Puncturing Light kills less things and cannot be combined with other damage sources to help take something down hence being marked down a little. While these cards are less effective defensive spells than Immolating Glare both can hit blockers making them much better midrange cards and viable in aggressive decks. A bit narrow and a bit restrictive to be good cards but they are playable removal cards none the less. While never something I would entertain in my cube these are pretty close to the bar on what they do and will perform suitably well in a pauper cube.
Judge Unworthy 2/10
This is a highly interesting card. Scry 3 is a huge thing to slap on a card. I play a lot with Reason and that is just scry 3! You put scry 3 on a Doom Blade and you have something massively over powered. So why is this Impeccable Timing / Gideon's Reproach not such a big name? Well, for starters both those cards are much worse than Doom Blade. Secondly and more importantly is that this card can be no damage at all. Your deck may well have lots of four and five drops but you can still just see only lands or just an array of cards that don't quite do enough. Sometimes you will need to keep a bad card on top that you would like to have scryed away simply to actually kill the thing. In the right kind of deck this is one of the highest value removal spells on offer. In a normal deck this is too unreliable to give you any of the security we desire from our removal cards. The right kind of deck is some kind of Counterbalance thing. A deck where you have control and knowledge as to what is on the top of your deck. I think the way you have to view this is more like a scry 2 as you will be "wasting" one to keep a knowing thing in place. Too narrow for general use but super cool and interesting. While this has far better scaling than Magma Jet it has less utility and reliability and will perform worse than it on average. That being said, white happily runs Sunlance while red doesn't bother with Flame Slash often so being worse than a red option isn't overly condemning.
Journey to Nowhere 6/10
Best case scenario this is a fantastic removal spell. It hits anything possible to hit, more even than most instants and sorceries with various odd protection flavours going on (*looks at Emrakul). It is cheap, one for one and exile quality. Worst case however this gets killed or bounced and they get their Gearhulk/Titan etc back plus another EtB trigger and you lose. That is quite the performance range. The card performance average is close to being at that top end. Unfortunately the you lose aspect, even if unlikely, really does put a big downer on the card. High variance cards are typically poor design, cards like Ankh of Mishra for example. I wouldn't call this bad design as such as you can play around the drawback, the card is pretty fair on average. I am OK with high variance on aggressive cards like Ankh when building with them I just dislike them from an enjoyment and design perspective. This on the other hand I dislike on the building front. I like to know my removal is going to deal with the problems and not come back to bite me. The best thing about Journey is that it is one of the better cheap white removal options for an aggressive deck. Control decks are too tight and go too long to risk Journey but an aggro deck just removing a meaty blocker or tedious lifelink flyer or something will be far less punished should the Journey get answered, particularly if at sorcery speed. All told, the sorcery speed of this card probably holds it back more than the potential for it to be dealt with and the consequential aversion to targetting EtB effect creatures with it. Mostly this does what you need a removal spell to do and does it cheaply and effectively. The problem it is facing now is just a lot more competition for slots with newer and often better two mana sorcery options in white.
This is a better removal than Gideon's Reproach style cards for aggressive decks as it effectively clears out blockers. It is a better answer to a Shreikmaw than Journey to Nowhere! Sadly Pacifism is no answer at all to any dork with ongoing effects or activated/triggered abilities. That is a lot of the good cube dorks. Even ones that are pretty much pure beaters often have other things going on as well. Pacifism is lovely design, I really love the art. I got one of these free on a magazine once and it made me very keen on the upcoming Mirage release! It is a clean and fair card but sadly the range on creature design and power creep has rendered this pretty useless now.
Trapped in the Tower 2.5
Much better removal than Pacifism as it shuts down the utility creatures but it still doesn't stop passive effects and it really didn't need the non-fliers clause for balance reasons. Flavour hit this a bit too hard! Really for a Pacifism style effect to make a comeback it is probably going to need to draw a card. Such a thing would probably only prevent attacking or blocking but still, there is quite a lot of design scope to cover just in the realms of fair Pacifism like cards that cantrip.
Baffling End 3/10
This is a very interesting take on Journey to Nowhere. It removes the risk of re-triggering EtB effects without removing the risk of having the enchantment removed. It also adds a dynamic variable risk to the card based on the power difference between the thing you exile and the dinosaur. What really limits this is that it is essentially a sorcery Smother and does nothing to help you against bigger threats. Exile is nice, that probably more than offsets the risk of the 3/3 token but the sorcery speed on top of the target restriction makes this undesirable for most cube settings.
Seal Away 1/10
This seems awful whenever I use it, like a lot more awful than it reads. I thought it was just a sidestep from Journey to Nowhere. Trading the tapped clause for instant speed. While instant speed is great it turns out that the tapped clause is a nightmare for loads of reasons. It misses a lot of utility creatures. It misses those with vigilance. It can't make use of the flash on most newly summoned creatures and will have to wait until they attack to be used at which point they will have mana open for responses. This is terrible for clearing a path through blockers and so it is narrow as well as just bad.
Darksteel Mutation 2/10
Cute design but not all that as far as removal goes. It reduces the risks that are found on Journey to Nowhere but it also makes a decent blocker for your opponent thus making it a pretty terrible aggressive card. As such, like so many white removal cards, it falls into the trap of being worse than Condemn and other premium control only removal cards and sees no play. A nasty thing to do to a commander at least!
Dromoka's Command 6.5/10
Super versatile card but on the narrow side. Being both gold and basically always needing a dork in play to do much of much leaves this with not all that many decks that can play it. Once you get past those initial hurdles the card is pretty good. Selesnya is not only the most creature dense colour pairing in the cube but it also has the biggest for the mana too. Fight is reliable and effective removal as much as it can be in green white. It is hard to play around this in combat and can often lead to a two for one blow out. As we know from how brutal Arc Trail can be a 2 mana removal spell that takes out two things is frequently game ending. This has bonus enchantment removal too which greatly increases its chances of getting that two for one. The sac aspect is relevant as well with their being relatively few enchantments (therefore able to hit the right one) and some of them being indestructible! This also counters most red instants and sorceries, the odd one from other colours too. It does a lot and for a good price but everything is situational and/or conditional. In a close game this is frequently the difference needed to win but in a serious situation this is not the removal spell you want to be left with. I consider it more of a utility card and a supplement removal spell, perhaps how you might consider Remand or Unsubstantiate as part of a counter suite. However limited it is as removal it is still a very potent card and is rarely left out of Selesnya decks.
Valorous Stance 4/10
This is a whole lot better than Reprisal but it does have many of the same troubles. This barely hits 25% of the cards in my cube and while targets do start a lot lower on the curve than they do for Reprisal it is still not that effective in the early game. The indestructible element is nice, it greatly reduces the narrow problems and works well with the card having an aggressive bent. This takes down a number of the better defensive cards that you are more likely to see in the early to mid game and is able to counter lots of removal so that you may keep up tempo and avoid blowouts to mass removal. While those latter elements sound nice for the aggressive player you usually don't have the mana up. If you are saving this to protect against a Wrath you can save a three drop at best, usually one made the turn before. You are much better off trying to spend all four of your mana doing something like an Elspeth or Armageddon that mitigates a potential Wrath. All told, it is harder to get value out of the protection than you might expect. This card is one that hangs around in your hand for longer than you would like and often ends up getting used in a relatively low value way simply to use it.
Rather outclassed these days by Fatal Push but Smother is still a pretty decent little card. It hits a good 75% of stuff and will have pretty full reign over the early game. You will not randomly lose to a match up that is tribal zombies or affinity or a mostly gold zoo list due to your Doom Blade / Go for the Throat / Ultimate Price respectively. Smother simply trades late game scaling for early game consistency. It does the job but it is rarely exciting. Unless you get to disrupt equipping or something you are only getting +1 mana tempo value from Smother at best. I class Smother and Doom Blade as the fair base line removal cards in black. They are what you have to be better than to be an interesting cube choice.
Last Gasp 5/10
Hardly an exciting card but all told it gets the job done. It has a 5% or so better range of targets than Smother and actually does something against creatures outside of it's kill range. Their are cheap dorks which survive this so it doesn't have quite the same early game control as Smother but it is a sufficiently well rounded and better card overall that it is the more desirable cube card. It also kills off indestructible things which is increasingly relevant. Just a good fair card that does a useful thing pretty well. What I love most about this is consistency, it has a very high floor. It doesn't have the same ceiling as some other removal spells but you don't really expect that from your removal. Mostly you are happy trading 1 for 1
Bile Blight 4/10
Echoing Decay effect on Last Gasp power level. On paper this looks great even in a singleton format as tokens are common place and Cloning can be a thing. In practice this is an overly narrow card for how much extra utility it brings over the highly playable Last Gasp. When you know what you are facing or when you are mono black this can be or is the removal spell of choice but it isn't a way of enhancing a draft format.
Echoing Decay 4/10
Comically this is a fraction better than Bile Blight in cube. The echo function is mostly just killing tokens and so there is very little indeed that one kills and the other doesn't. If you don't care about the echo you play Last Gasp or Grasp of Darkness or an actually good card. If you do care about the echo then the easier cost has some appeal.
Blessed Alliance 5/10
A white flavour of Edict. Oddly the target restriction on this improves it over many of the black edict options. The cruddy things often can't attack meaning that even when they have an extensive board with low value creatures you still have a good chance of hitting the high value ones with this edict. Still, it is broadly worse than Immolating Glare. You don't need Edict removal in a white control deck as you have mass removal to handle the hexproof dorks. Obviously what pushes this card is the additional utility, mostly from the lifegain. Control decks want lifegain options they can get freely on other playable cards. This is a fine example of such a card and sees an impressive amount of sideboard play in that dual role if nothing else. I have not seen the untap do much yet but it will some day and only helps to improve the card. Cheap, versatile, good scaling, and good archetypal suitability. Despite all these perks it is less exciting than Condemn or Wing Shards as a removal spell. All that extra utility is not worth all that much, first this is a removal card and at that primary role it is less interesting than alternatives. The best thing this does is as a space efficient tool for streamlining sideboards.
Grasp of Darkness 5/10
This is a very effective removal spell indeed. It has a nice solid 80% kill rate and has some of the best early game control and reliability. Like all stat reduction and damaged based removal it also assists even where it doesn't fully do the job. Very very few creatures survive a fight with a random cheap dork once Grasped. At 1B I think I would rate this one of the best on this list. At BB it is just that much narrower that I will want to play Doom Blade style cards over it in a lot of decks and consequently I want those in my cube rather than this. A mild boost in power on a removal spell goes a long way in a format like standard. In cube playability is the first consideration and so this is rarely seen despite how strong it is.
Nameless Inversion 5/10
(Spatial Contortion 3/10)
I prefer this to Last Gasp although they are fairly similar cards and power level. I prefer it for all the cute reasons like tribal tag and potential to do extra face damage with my tough creatures! Really Last Gasp is the superior creature control card. The main reason I prefer Inversion is for its rare card type which can boost a couple of other cards nicely. This is only relevant in a couple of archetypes so it comes down to what you are doing as to what you want the power to do. Generally a -3/-3 will allow you to prevent damage thus having some Healing Salve utility. A +3/-3 is just as effective at killing things outright but it has no Healing Salve option. Instead it can push through extra damage giving you a bit of a Lava Spike mode. I think the Inversion is a slightly stronger aggressive card in a deck with sufficiently meaty dorks that they can survive a -3 toughness hit. This is not common at all and so on average Last Gasp will do a bit more. The extra build potential with Inversion and it being a little bit more unusual makes me prefer it but it is hard to call it better overall. Spatial Contortion has none of the tribal perks but it can be used in non-black colours. My experience with colourless mana cards in cube is that you generally might as well splash a real colour, especially when it comes to things like cheap removal.
Cast Down 5/10
While this puts up a decent 86% hit range it is a frustrating card to play with. Legends are all over the place and are typically some of the best and most played creatures in cube. You see more legends than the 14% count of them suggests and the ones you see you tend to want dead. Objectively this card seems strong but in practice it feels horrible. I suspect some of that is human bias but despite that this is very much a card that does not live up to what the numbers have to say about it. Otherwise all the boxes are ticked. It kills things it targets, it is easy to cast and it is instant. It just fails you too often and you die horribly as a result. When Doom Blade fails you it is usually rather more livable.
The Disdainful Stroke of the removal world. Sadly the scaling on this isn't lining up well. You want cheap efficient removal for cheap threats. For the big nasty threats the difference between a two mana answer and a three mana one is pretty negligible. It is better to have a clunkier removal spell that works on top end and bottom end stuff than an efficient spell that only hits the big stuff. Abrupt Decay and Smother are aligned correctly in this manner. In my cube particularly it is not all that uncommon for this to have no targets and most of the time it will only have a couple. All the convenience of that low mana cost is lost when the card sits dead in hand. In the right setting Despark is one of the most effective and efficient answers to a lot of big problem cards. It is a great Cunning Wish target as a result. It is probably a great choice in certain known metas as well but in a low curve limited setting it is just a bit too much risk.
Mizzium Mortars 7/10
Flame Slash for one more mana but with a late game mass removal mode. This is OK removal, the fairly wide range is massively let down by sorcery speed. The card in general is massively let down simply by being a red burn spell that can't go face. In the same way Condemn is only good in a control deck most creature only burn spells are the red equivalent. You can play them more in aggro than the white cards but they work against your redundancy, consistency and reach. As for the card, it is fair to weak at 2 mana. The six mana mode isn't great but it is still a (one sided) mass removal spell. A cheap removal spell and a mass removal spell in one card, both of which are not what you would call over priced is an exciting control and midrange proposition. The triple red on the overload means only heavier red decks can play it and not many heavy red control decks exist although they are picking up momentum as a cube archetype. If you are not anticipating the overload being useful then play Flame Slash or something else entirely. If you are then great but it does make this on the narrow side. Being so versatile without impinging on the playability of the card is what makes this so good for cube. Certainly a much more useful card to have in a cube than Flameslash.
Doom Blade 6/10
The benchmark of removal spells. It is clean, clear, flavourful and very well balanced. It leads to good games of magic and interesting construction choices. It is to removal as Negate is to countermagic. Both very playable and good at what you want them for but not a complete cover all so as to make life easy but dull. Much as Doom Blade is a top notch removal card I presently don't pack it in cube. The non-black clause is the most common in black removal and so this simple version is edged out by all the Vendetta / Snuff Out / Shriekmaw cards that manage to earn their cube slots on other merits.
Malicious Affliction 6.5/10
The naughty version of Doom Blade. This is one of the rare examples of my preferring an XX option over a 1X alternative. Worst case this is a hard to card Doom Blade. Best case it is two Doom Blades! Still for just 2 mana and 1 card. You don't need to hit that ceiling very often to have a removal spell that is significantly more rewarding than the alternatives. Grasp of Darkness is a little better than Last Gasp, this can be worlds better than Doom Blade. This can swing a game so hard. Cards like Arc Trail and Dromoka's Command which are some of the more common removal spells to get two for ones with at two mana are unlikely to hit high value targets and are both rather dependent on the right situation. Affliction is also conditional to get a 2 for 1 but you can be part of that setup, it is not just about your opponent making the appropriate things to kill. The payoff for that setup is huge. I'm not sure wheat the most brutal Malicious Affliction I have seen is but it was likely in the 10 mana worth of stuff removed region. First strike is a blessing for turning this on in a relevant way regardless of which side of the board it is on. Without first strike, other removal or sac outlets to turn this on you have to use it like a Reciprocate to get a double hit and that is assuming you can get something dead in combat. I think this is near the 10% mark for being used with morbid but that is still well worth that extra difficulty in casting it. Of the removal spells you can play with two mana this is one you want to save for that perfect moment if you can.
Abrupt Decay 7/10
The upgraded Smother. Both uncounterable and able to hit three more types of permanent is quite the significant improvement. Inability to hit manlands with it is a shame This is a very rounded and very safe card but it doesn't have much high end performance or scaling potential. Best case scenario for this is being a mana up in a 1 for 1 trade. I would say the average use of this ends up with the user being down on the trade overall be that in cards, mana or things on the board. This wants to be a cover all removal spell but you can't play it in that role as it doesn't keep you safe against all the things you want it too. Frequently weaker cards like Maelstrom Pulse are played over this just because they are more reliable as that safety card. Abrupt Decay is just a great supporting removal card, almost more like a Charm than any thing else. When I have a slot left for a removal spell and I find I am lacking in any one area but generally have the main areas covered Abrupt Decay feels like a great fit. Say I am light on Naturlize effects or light on cheap removal or light on instant removal or light on creature kill then brilliant. Decay looks perfect. When you entirely lack an area the Decay never seems like the card to plug that hole. New cards are edging this out, either more powerful cards in the exact slot or planeswalkers than have Abrupt Decay as one of their modes. Like Doom Blade, Smother is not an effect you want to overload on for those matchups where it is dead or low returns. Redundancy and quick diminishing returns hurt the value of those groups of cards.
Objectively this is the best removal spell on this list. It is instant and it has no target restrictions or drawbacks. Despite this I don't even run it in my cube. Terminate is only slightly better at doing its specific thing than the alternatives yet it is narrow because of its colours and offers no bonus utility. The existence of Dreadbore, and now Angrarth's Rampage and Bedevil now too, are a real problem for Terminate as it is super hard to justify a slot for it as well as any of the others. Despite Dreadbore being the weaker creature kill spell at sorcery speed it is the more useful and desirable spell in a cube setting and that edges out this premium kill spell. When most 1B spells will get the same job done most of the time and most 1R spells seem to achieve even more Terminate just isn't a big name in cube. In constructed card power and suitability for purpose is everything. The minor power Terminate has over other removal in modern ensures it has a strong place at the table. In cube that minor power counts for very little when it is an inherently narrow gold card. The most curious thing is that other weaker gold removal spells see loads more action in the cube than Terminate despite all being gold. Typically this is down to the greater utility of such cards. Terminate is just a good creature removal spell while the other gold options in cube tend to do other things as well. In singleton formats that counts for quite a lot.
Final Payment 2/10
The Orzhov go at Terminate. This is obviously shockingly low powered by comparison to Terminate. Based on what the colour pairings are good at you would expect this to be superior to the Rakdos option but that isn't quite how design works. In a general sense you shouldn't play this in cube. Where you can consider playing it is in custom built decks that have need of a sac outlet for either of the types it allows. Even then you are likely going to get more out of a Swords to Plowshares or Anguished Unmaking!
Azorius Charm 6.5/10
This is a subtly good card. I have always wanted to see a black two mana Terror effect with cycling and Azorius Charm is pretty much that as imagined in its colours. As removal Azorius Charm isn't great and as a gold card it should be near the bottom of this list. It is all down to the cycling effect it has that pushes this so well. It is always doing something you want. When you want removal it is there and when you don't it isn't. Being a control card the restriction on hitting things in combat is not an issue, you want removal to calm their tempo. The restriction is also greatly mitigated by the cycle mode. The lifelink option is generally a blank but I have used it at least once. That is mostly due to this being a control card and control decks rarely having lots of attack with which to gain a lot of life back from. If they have a sufficient board they are that much less likely to need life as well! This is just a Time Ebb effect with cycling, it is one for one cheap removal and with all that in mind it turn out to be a rather solid card. It is like having Mana Leak and Impulse open on turn two except in one card. It just makes you feel safe, if they try and smack you in the face you can say no and if they don't you can spend your mana and dig for action or land drops. I rate this as one of the best spot removal spells you can play in a UW based control deck behind only the premium one mana cards, Winds of Abandon, and perhaps Wingshards if you count that as spot rather than mass removal! Despite its high rating it sees relatively little play. The power level of the removal is low and so you only tend to play this as a filler or backup card. If you have Path and Plow (or even Condemn instead of one of those) you don't need more creature only spot removal a lot of the time. Being a gold, control only card that you only play some of the time makes this too narrow for the drafting cube. That being said, this card is very good and underrated on the whole. It is not the best two mana Charm by any means but it is the best of those as a removal spell.
Warrant // Warden 4/10
This is basically just Azorius Charm with Serra Angel token instead of cycling. That is a lot worse for a control deck which is where you want to play a card like this. A token threat is no way of trying to end a game and so it is a bit of aimless utility. It isn't powerful or convenient in any way. The best thing it does is pair with Torrential Gearhulk! Warrent is easier to cast than Charm and can be used in mono blue decks but so what really. This card isn't very exciting or impressive.
Sorcery speed Terminate is hard to milk for value but it will do the job. While instant is a huge buff to any removal spell I find it most critical on the ones with target restrictions or limitations on their removal capacities. Dreadbore will kill a Titan and often you will main phase kill a Titan just to prevent them having some trickery post their untap and draw. Being able to EoT kill their plays is mostly nice for mana saving and for late game targets mana saving isn't a big deal. Instant is also a little less relevant for planeswalkers too as it is not like you can prevent an activation with it. At two mana you can usually afford to be playing this in your main phase safely. It is super cheap and and has a wider range of targets than any other two mana hard removal spell. The real shocker with Dreadbore is that a humble Searing Spear will hit all the same targets as the Dreadbore plus players and pro black things. It will do so with less colours and coloured mana requirements and at instant speed. For all of this it only loses about 20% effectiveness in being able to kill those things. Early game Dreadbore is about as unexciting as a card you can cast gets in the cube. It is not until the late game that the extra punch of the card really pushes through. It doesn't diminish in power and that wide range makes you feel very safe while holding it. Bedevil is giving it a tough fight for play at present but I can see both getting enough play to stay in cube alongside each other. Angrarth's Rampage however is another matter...
Scorching Dragonfire 5/10
Do I want my Searing Spear to hit my opponent's face or exile their card? When you have a deck or a meta this is an easy thing to answer. In the general sense the midrange and control players want the latter and the aggro players want the face damage. They play Incendiary Flow and sacrifice instant speed rather than face damage if they did want the exile. This is a great card but playability wise it suffers. No face damage is a big deal to aggro decks which are the main takers for burn spells. No exile is minor for the midrange and control decks and so overall you just always put a Searing Spear and an Incediary Flow into a drafting cube long before you entertain this otherwise fantastic spell.
This is the all in Arc Trail. If you don't have creatures and they don't have planeswalkers this is better than Arc Trail by a potentially endless amount (assuming you also don't care about the reach)! As single target removal this is pretty woeful but it is the cheapest reasonable board clear on offer. It is like Half a Mizzium Mortars for the same price or half a Mizzium Mortars for a Third of the price depending on if it is single target or mass removal! This makes it roughly the same kind of power level but prone to better scaling when used in the most appropriate of ways. Pyroclasm is fairly narrow but very useful and powerful. I expect this to rise in power as red gets better at playing midrange and control strategies. Sadly it is still a bit of an old polar card that doesn't generally lead to the best of games.
Ratchet Bomb / Powder Keg 6/10
These are mostly a solution to token strategies in cube. It is very hard to beat tokens going wide as a midrange deck without some sort of mass removal but you don't want to be playing Wraths and lots of your own creatures. These cheap and versatile cards do a lovely job of giving midrange and control decks good outs to things. The cards are not exactly powerful, they are painfully slow at dealing with anything with converted mana cost above zero and are only really effective if charged up preemptively. Still, a two mana card that instantly removes all tokens and that has other utility is pretty good. These get more play than they should based on their power level alone. It is all about the meta for these little cards. They are great at one specific thing and do lots of other things passably well to offset the narrowness of their main perk. Ratchet does tend to offer better utility but Keg can hit some annoying lands and that is something not many cards do at all well.
Searing Blaze 7/10
Objectively this isn't a great removal spell. It only does three damage and it only does that with landfall. That makes the instant speed less significant. It is also double red and while technically it is able to hit all the same targets as a Searing Spear, the need of having a creature in play to use it does significantly reduce the utility of this compared to conventional burn. All you get for all these many drawbacks is a bonus three damage! This in turn is only as insanely good as it is because of what red does. Red has loads of burn and will end a lot of games that way. As such Searing Blaze gets to be a Lightning Bolt and a Lava Spike in one. It is effectively card advantage in decks aggressively going for life totals as well as impressive tempo. As a control player this has limited value. It is a poor control card and should not be played in those kinds of deck. It is too efficient however to not wind up in most aggressive decks.
Justice Strike 2/10
This is just a gold instant speed Kiku's Shadow. A good thing and a bad thing leaving it in a fairly similar sort of place. Cube is too varied to rely on cards like this. The hit rate isn't good enough and you can just come up against a deck with painfully few good targets. Standard performance can be deceiving as in known metas a card like this can really shine. It is all about how many of the good cards in the good decks this hits for standard and that gives it a much better chance to be great.
Ride Down 3/10
This has lovely flavour and is finally a card that targets blockers that aggressive players can use. Really all that is holding this back is that it is gold. White has better two mana removal and red has more versatile two mana removal. You would only play this in Boros if you were lacking in those options. For a gold card to really shine in cube it has to be better than the alternatives. If this were just a white card I could see it getting a lot more attention but as it is there is no place for it in cube.
Drown in the Loch 3/10
Powerful in the right deck, a mill deck. Outside of that it does too little early and just lacks the consistency you need from your cheap disruption cards. When you have mill elements a two mana Counterspell Terminate split card is a pretty big win. Basically it is a mill card despite not doing any milling. Great in them and unplayable elsewhere.
Frogify (and Kasmina's Tansmutation) 3/10
The blue takes on Pacifism, and all told they are rather better. They shut off passive abilities, activated ones, on death triggers all while rendering the target pretty pointless in combat. These are not great cards by any means but they are blue and they are better than a lot of non-blue cards on this list. There are some narrow occasions I might play one of these where as there is almost no chance I will find myself running a good but sub-par black removal spell like Last Gasp despite it getting a rather higher rating. Nominal power is important but so is competition from other cards doing similar things.
Glass Casket 3/10
Super low power but passable for what it does as a removal spell and potentially desirable for the card type it has. I would never play this purely as removal but in a deck with heavy artifact synergies it might become the most powerful removal option.
Kenrith's Transformation 5.5/10
Green has a little go at a removal spell. This is poor tempo removal in that it gives them a 3/3 but it does cantrip which is pretty huge for a two mana removal spell. It also voids a lot of effects a card might have ranging from indestructible to on death triggers and it has potential aggressive applications when used on your own cards. Situational removal but low cost and high versatility. Not yet enough testing on this to reliably call the rating but I certainly like it and think it has potential.
This is just a green Frogify in most cases. It is worse as an aggressive deck and better as a control one but it is similar enough that it doesn't much matter. The best things about this are the tribal tags which buff up delirium and allow you to tutor it with Treefolk Harbinger! A cute card but a fairly weak one with medium power at best even when housed well. At least in cube cards that transform creatures are at their best. It is really nice to be able to take away all the things Ulamog does for example.
Golgari Charm 5.5/10
Given that Nausea is the same CMC and is a sorcery this Charm actually has an above curve mode. While half as effective at killing creatures as Pyroclasm this culls the chaff very well which is mostly what you are hoping to do with such cards. All the Lingering Souls die. All the Thopters die. As removal it is reasonably low powered despite being "above curve" however it is good due to the potential scaling it has. It is also reasonably situational but again, it is made good by being on a Charm that is otherwise useful. This kills cards like True Name and Adanto Vanguard which is always a perk. A very hard card to directly compare to much, it is part Pyroclasm, part Abrade, part Mortify, part Tragic Slip and part Valorous Stance. Best as a sideboard card, sometimes as a hedge card. Rarely bad and sometimes great. Usually edged out by more reliable cards like Maelstrom Pulse, Pernicious Deed or Assassin's Trophy.
Selesnya Charm 6.5/10
For a long time this was one of the premium removal spells. It dealt with all the big nasty things and at both instant speed and exile quality. While being limited to larger creatures is pretty ruinous for both Valorous Stance and Reprisal the added utility of this Charm offsets that pretty perfectly. All the modes can be removal in some ways. The token is a surprise blocker, the combat trick is also workable into a removal effect fairly easily. Both these abilities also do a reasonable job of hitting planeswalkers and keeping them off the board or at least under control. The token or the bonus face damage are also nice extra options to have early and late game respectively when there is no removing of things to be done. All round the card is very good at getting things dead at all stages of the game and it has about as high a floor as you can hope for in an otherwise playable removal spell. Typically it is easier to get a two for one with Dromoka's Command and the card has a broader range of utility and is usually played over the Charm despite the Charm being the better removal spell. Charm reliably goes one for one with what you need it to while Command can go two for one but much more frequently does nothing. In isolation I rate this as the best of this Charm cycle but sadly it is in Selesnya which is a less popular and diverse colour pairing than most others which brings this more in line with the other good ones. It is also noteworthy that white is not short on exile quality removal and neither green nor white are at all deficient in combat tricks or creatures! With all this considered it is hard to justify a cube slot for this gold card even if it is exceptionally good.
Lava Coil 5.5/10
Flame Slash meets Incendiary Flow. This is at least a pure removal spell in red with no other functionality which makes it rather more easily compared to the likes of Doom Blade than the others. Lava Coil certainly has a bigger kill range than Doom Blade being able to target anything and killing a touch over 88% of those things in my cube. It is sorcery rather than instant but if offers exile and the ability to combine with other damage sources to kill things with more than four toughness. This makes it a pretty effective removal spell. It gets most things dead and keeps them dead. It isn't a pure exile effect however and will not take out an indestructible dork like a god. The combining of damage is also worse on sorceries than it is on instants although not by much. All told this is a great removal spell but it isn't as good as something like Incendiary Flow due to the lack of broader utility. Much as red players will take on Abrade to broaden their answers they are less willing to take on Lava Coil simply to empower them. Abrade trades one kind of option for another. Lava Coil trades options for punch and for cube at least, seems to get a bum deal. Mizzium Mortars also offers rather more utility to a slower player and takes up much of the remaining deck slots this might otherwise get. With more midrange and control red decks seeing play and more four toughness dorks joining the cube there is a great chance this will too. For now it is simply not the card you want often enough. One of those cases where a great card is made to look poor because of the meta and not because of the power of the card in question.
Declaration in Stone 6.5/10
This is the super Lava Coil. For the same speed and cost it targets and exiles everything. It even throws in a bit of Maelstrom functionality and acts as a good answer to a swarm of tokens. If this were instant it would be one of the best spot removal cards in the game. At sorcery it feels really held back. A lot of the token swarms arrive at instant speed and kill you through your answer which is probably more frustrating than it is a detriment, although it is very much both! Giving away a clue when you exile a non-token creature is fine. It is a lot better for you than giving away a basic land. It is even better than giving away life as an aggressive player a lot of the time. Although you somewhat two for one yourself by using this, when they get round to using the clue they ensure you have gained a mana advantage. As this is a purely creature removal spell with no other functionality not being able to answer manlands with it, or usefully stop a Glorybringer is a real turn off. As is the lack of ability to be tricky with it. While it is generally a good tempo play it could be a fantastic tempo card if you could use it disruptively at instant speed. When playing this I always just find myself thinking I could just pay a little more mana and have a removal spell that deals with any kind of permanent. Declaration basically just feels like the card you play when you don't quite have all the premium white removal you wanted. It is a fine stopgap but it isn't something I get too excited for.
Unexpectedly Absent 7/10
This is the Memory Lapse equivalent of spot removal. This gets anything off the board and it does it cheaply. You can dump more mana into it so as to extend the delay before you have to face the problem again. As a one for one tempo disruption card it is great. As an answer card it is fairly poor. When you actually need to deal with things this misses the mark. Being forced into using this for like six mana just because you need to buy as long as possible before the card in question comes back starts to look very poor on tempo. It is also fairly poor to use on EtB effect cards which is a hidden limit on its effective target range. A rare example of a removal card in white that is generally better for the aggressor than it is for the control player. It is still a fine card for the control player too what with being so cheap, rounded and instant. The WW cost is likely the worst thing about this card and we can absolutely stomach that for how much control and choice this card affords us.
Ultimate Price 6.5/10
This is one of the worst of the Doom Blade style cards. While I don't have loads of gold creatures in my cube they do still represent some of the most powerful creatures there. Further to this there is a "hidden" restriction on not being able to kill colourless creatures. This further lowers the target range and makes a weaker Doom Blade. Ultimate Price does still hit more creatures than Doom Blade in my cube in theory. There are more black creatures than gold ones and colourless combined however this doesn't take account of the reduction in black creatures you will encounter when you are black and thus able to play Ultimate Price or Doom Blade. While I am seemingly hating on Ultimate Price it is still perfectly playable. It is rarely without a target in any given matchup even if it can't hit the one it wants to! It is still cheap and instant and kills anything it can target. The best thing about it is that it can kill black creatures which is the most common restriction on removal spells in black. Historically this lead to it seeing rather more play than expected, second only to Go for the Throat in that role. Now a days we have Fatal Push as a cheaper alternative and the most commonly seen removal are pricier ones that have a broader range of targets like Vraska's Contempt.
Epic Downfall 7/10
Despite suffering the same issues as Despark the difference between 3 and 4 CMC is vast. Almost every deck contains three drop dorks and in much greater quantities than the higher stuff. Epic Downfall comes online quickly and affords powerful efficient removal while the tempo is still a big deal. It is still a bit early to say but it seems to be lining up to be one of the better two mana options in black. Exile is a pretty big deal with relatively few mono black options doing so. This gives it a safety net of being pretty unique should the power level wind up not being quite as high as I expect. Overall Downfall is less potent than Declaration in Stone but white has plentiful exile effects and black has few hence the rating difference.
Angrath's Rampage 8/10
A lovely littler versatile tool that has finally managed to oust Dreadbore from it's long held spot in the cube. Rampage just hits a wider range of targets than Dreadbore. Sacrifice isn't directly better than destroying a target but both the modal nature and the lower abundance of sacrifice mechanics in cube help propel this to one of the better removal cards in cube. It is cheap, broad, fairly reliable and fairly effective.
Price of Fame 8/10
This is how a legend focused removal spell wants to look. It punishes you with increased cost for the wrong kind of target but it isn't a dead card when you find yourself in that position. This is two mana less than half the time and so has dubious eligibility for this list! I feel like the average cost of this is in the 3.2-3.5 mana range. It is certainly hitting legends more than 14% of the time as per their makeup in my cube. They are better targets to begin with, it is more appealing to hit them with Price of Fame and the mana cost reduction means you are more able to hit legends more of the time, all factors which contribute to the >14% hit rate on legends. When this does kill a legend it is about as good as it gets, instant speed, cheap reliable kill that also comes with a bonus chunk of card quality! Yes please. A good way to look at it is by comparing Magma Jet to this and then comparing Shock to Murder! A four cost spot removal spell is bad but it isn't nearly as bad as that kind of price hike on other effects. There has been a trend towards more reliable removal at higher cost in cube lately. Threats are too diverse to try and handle them with janky cheap removal. Instead the best ploy is to make good tempo plays early on like Wall of Omens, Talismans, Baleful Strix, Grim Flayer and lean on them to keep things as even as possible. Removal is then saved for the really dangerous cards a bit higher up the curve making cost less important and function more so. Vraska's Contempt is the prime example of this trend. It is a seemingly prohibitive four mana but it is broad, reliable, and comes with a little cherry on top. Price of Fame might not exile and it might not deal with planeswalkers directly but rather than a puny 2 life cherry on top it comes with a pair of mighty chocolate surveil flakes. Basically at two mana this is well above curve and at four it is surprisingly acceptable too. Most other high roll removal is dead when not optimal and that makes it dodgy. This boasts a far nicer average performance than most others. I also expect this to get better over time with legends entering the cube at a faster rate (per instance) than non-legends.
Collective Brutality 8/10
An expensive sorcery speed disfigure! Still one of the best black cards in and out of cube even if it is a poor removal spell. It has the ability to function like a Charm and offer one of several useful effects at a slightly overpriced rate but it also has the ability to do multiple of those things like a Command and command a much more impressive cost to effect ratio. You can utterly gut a lot of game plans when you hit a relevant card in hand and dork in play. Brutality is good in every matchup, it has a very high floor and a very high ceiling. It is very hard to separate how good this card is just as a removal spell from the whole of it. Most of the modal cards on this list as primarily removal spells that happen to have some fallback plans. Brutality is much more of an even split card between the hand disruption and the removal. The siphon is pretty useful too and gets productively used far more often than a lot of seemingly better modes on other modal cards. While Brutality is a poor removal spell when compared to Last Gasp say, simply exposing yourself to it by laying a viable target is dangerous based on how strong the card can be. While it technically isn't gaining card advantage it usually feels like it does. I have given this a seemingly arbitrary 8/10 as a removal spell. Overall the card is worth more than that but just the -2/-2 mode is also obviously worse than most of the other cards on this list!
Arc Trail 8.5/10
I was avoiding touching on burn spells that could target anything being not purely removal spells. With so many Charms and things going on this reason for omission holds no water. I am not going to spend any time discussing the minor pros and cons of the various two mana burns spells though. This article is already long enough. I will however briefly touch on the most creature focused burn spells red has to offer which starts with this little beast. No card has altered the current cube meta quite so much as this naughty little card. When this gets a two for one in the early game it is nearly unrecoverable. As such decks avoid playing too many low toughness creatures. As a single target removal spell it is reasonably poor. When it entirely mops up an Ophiomancer it is outstanding. When it kills something small and does a little bit of face damage it is fine. When it takes out the one and the two drop, or worse still, the two and the three drop in a clean two for one it is usually game over. The card this feels like it compares to best on this list is Malicious Affliction. The floor on Arc Trail is far far above Affliction what with always having targets and being easier to cast. The ceiling is not quite as for Arc Trail high but is none the less surprisingly close and more importantly it is much much easier and more common to reach or get near that ceiling and early in the game too. Arc Trail is a burn spell you want to aim at permanents, that is when it is at its best and so that is why it should be on this list. Due to the meta shift it forced the card is at least a little less brutal than it used to be. People avoid walking into it and play a lot less low toughness targets than before. Newer black cards like Plague Engineer and Mare also diminish the value of this as they are so comparably brutal you really do need to be playing around them somewhat. Arc Trail still wins a lot of games though and should rarely be left out of a red deck. It is the Pyroclasm you can play when you have your own small dorks.
Go for the Throat 8.5/10
This is the easily the best of the Doom Blade cards. It hits over 94% of the creatures in my cube. It is instant, easy to cast and has no other drawbacks. It is not as much value as Ravenous Chupacabra, not as much range as Hero's Downfall, not as much tempo as Fatal Push, nor as much flexibility as Dismember and yet it remains my go to for a pure creature kill spell. I play these cards instead of Go for the Throat sometimes but usually along side it. The weighting and effectiveness of Go for the Throat is just spot on. It keeps you safe, it provides great disruption and great tempo. It does what you want removal to and it does so well. It is the Terminate of cube. I play it everywhere from aggressive decks through midrange ones all the way to the control decks. I do get beat a lot by Walking Ballista but then I think that is par for the course... On paper it is only marginally better than the swathes of black removal spells in the 4-6 range on this list but being top of the pile counts for a lot.
This is just one of the best removal spells out there. Three damage kills over 75% of my cube creatures. This puts it only a little behind the good black Doom Blade effects. Then you consider it is damage and able to be combined with other damaging effects and you gain some value on that too. If you then take all the additional non-creature artifacts and pretend like they are creatures (that don't contribute to the total count of creatures) you wind up with a card that has over 95% target range which is better than the very best Doom Blade cards. There are no cards that do not have a drawback in some way, perhaps conceding clues, perhaps lands, perhaps they are gold (XY) or merely colour intense (XX), perhaps they are just sorceries. Abrade is clean, easy, and very good at what it does. The creature kill is relatively fair and broadly very useful. The artifact removal is less commonly called upon but frequently life saving. This combination of decently powered commonly useful effect and rarely useful but highly swingy tend to make the most desirable modal cards and this certainly holds true for Abrade. It is the only burn spell you ever see in aggressive red decks that doesn't go face. You almost never find it left out of main deck lists. Modal cards are especially good in cube and Abrade is one of the best modal card out there. Certainly one of the most playable. Considering a two mana sorcery speed Disfigure got an 8/10 rating for modal perks it is no shock that this Shatter / Bolt offering is getting it done. Both modal and efficient, playable removal is a massive win.
Winds of Abandon 9/10
All told the two mana mode on this is pretty bad by cube standards. It is certainly worse than Declaration in Stone. The power of this card is all in the utility of it being decent enough spot removal and also a one sided Wrath you can happily play in aggro decks. Getting Wrathed as a white weenie player is pretty bad but getting Wrathed by a white weenie player is devastating! There are basically no decks that can play this in cube that don't want to. Both halves of the card are fine but they complement each other perfectly resulting in an overall gem that is desired across the board. Reliable removal and effectively another modal card. It is noteworthy that the value of the removal spells that give away lands decreases in formats where you make use of a command zone. So much more comes down to mana when you have potentially unlimited action from the command zone.
Assassin's Trophy 10/10
This is just the best two mana removal spell. It is pretty hard to argue with that. It generally does a better job of killing creatures than the other cards on this list and it also happens to kill everything else as well. Trophy is not a card you want to fire off early in the game as that concedes a lot of tempo. This makes the low cost a little less impressive but still fantastic. It is all about the potential to do those big turns where you do multiple powerful things. It is about having your answers up more often so that you are not caught with your pants down. Certainly the gold nature of this harms the playability of the card. Other premium cards on this list see more play like Abrade, Collective Brutality, Go for the Throat, and Arc Trail but that is it. You could even argue that Brutality was more powerful as a card. What you cannot do is make any sort of case for any card being a better removal spell. Even if we focus on creature removal spells. Yes, loads of cards are better in the right situation, most creature removal spells are better in the early game, but Trophy is comfortably the winner on average.
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