“Dies to Doom Blade” is a very commonly-heard phrase when evaluating creatures. For whatever reason, Doom Blade is picked as the catch-all emblematic removal spell, and is a truly iconic card as a result. But how efficient is it, really, as removal? And how does it stack up against other “Doom Blades”? For the purposes of this article, I took the top 10 best Doom Blades – black instants that cost 1B and conditionally kill creatures – and crunched the numbers on exactly how conditional they are. These numbers aren’t perfectly exact – it’s very difficult to calculate all the exceptions for each card, given things like hexproof, protection, shroud and the like, but on the whole these numbers give a good idea of the actual efficiency of each of these Doom Blade variants.
So which one is the best? These cards span the entire distance of Magic’s history, from the very first set to the most recent, and it’s interesting to see the various factors that have influenced how effective all these variants have been over the years. Let’s get to it!
How efficient is Heartless Act when it comes to the total sum of creatures ever printed in Magic? It’s effectively impossible to say with any level of proper precision, as while it can kill any creature without counters, counters can be placed on the overwhelming majority of creatures without too much difficulty. As a result, Heartless Act’s effectiveness is difficult to mathematically calculate. I suppose there’s probably some way to figure out exactly how many creatures are able to put a counter of some kind on themselves, but while I’m pretty good at Scryfall searches, I’m definitely not that good.
Smother is an older Doom Blade variant that goes all the way back to Onslaught (predating Doom Blade, in fact, by quite a number of years). It’s one of the least effective iterations of this type of effect too, barely hitting half of all creatures. Compared to some of the other cards we’ll talk about today, this is truly pitiful and earns Smother a spot right down at the bottom of this list.
At first blush, Eliminate doesn’t seem that much better than Smother – there are a number of cheap planeswalkers, it’s true, but not enough to make Eliminate all that much more effective. People will remember, however, just how important this card was as a tool against Teferi, Time Raveler – one of the few answers that cleanly got rid of this extremely problematic planeswalker – and even if its efficiency isn’t that much better than Smother’s, Eliminate is doubtless remembered as a much better card.
The oldest of all the Doom Blade effects, Terror was first printed in Alpha and in all honestly probably should be the card that names the effect rather than the Johnny-Come-Lately Doom Blade. Its age aside, Terror really doesn’t stack up all that well against newer additions. As a downgraded Doom Blade that can’t hit black creatures or artifacts, Terror is a pretty conditional piece of removal and just wouldn’t cut it these days.
Ultimate Price has seen a lot of play over the years, although it’s usually printed in heavily multicolored environments (Return to Ravnica, Dragons of Tarkir) so its use has been naturally limited by the abundance of gold creatures floating about when it has been legal in Standard. From a broader perspective, it’s interesting to see that almost a full 20 percent of creatures ever printed are either multicolored or colorless – and not a single one of them ever has to pay the Ultimate Price.
Neither the original nor the best, Doom Blade may name this type of card but it’s far from the most effective at what it does. Quite the opposite, as you’d think when you consider the limitation it’s printed with – roughly speaking, you can expect around 20 percent of creatures to be black, and when you throw in colorless, artifact and other creatures like that into the mix, this is more or less borne out with the numbers – almost 84 percent of creatures aren’t black and, therefore, commit the cardinal sin of “dying to Doom Blade.”
We’ve seen a lot more legendary creatures printed in recent years, with the advent of Commander as a format, the expansion of legendary creatures to uncommon, as well as legend-heavy sets like Dominaria, the set that brought us this card. Cast Down is a very efficient removal spell in the abstract, but here’s the thing: the cards that Cast Down doesn’t hit tend to be the most important ones. Legendary creatures are often the most pushed and powerful cards in any given set – the ones you really want to kill. Cast Down may only miss on around 10 percent of creatures, but it’s a very important 10 percent.
I was surprised by how few artifact creatures there are! Given how many artifact-centric sets we’ve had over the years, the fact that just a little over five percent of all creatures ever printed are artifacts wasn’t something I expected. It does mean, however, that Go for the Throat is one of the most efficient Doom Blades ever printed – but as is the case with Ultimate Price being printed in Ravnica and Cast Down being printed in Dominaria, Go for the Throat was printed in Mirrodin Besieged – an artifact set, which hindered its effectiveness in Standard. Still, in a more general sense, it’s one of the best Doom Blades out there!
While Demons, Dragons, Devils and Angels are amongst the most popular and iconic creature types in Magic’s history, they’re not exactly overrepresented from a sheer numerical standpoint. This makes sense – they tend to be big, flashy six-drops, so there isn’t going to be a ton of them. Obviously it’s held back in Standard right now by the fact that the best creature in the format is a dragon, but on the whole Power Word Kill is one of the best Doom Blades ever printed.
As a newcomer to Magic, Power Word Kill skyrocketed all the way to the very top of this list before being displaced after a tragically short amount of time by the very next set, with the coming of Infernal Grasp. This Doom Blade has a condition of a different sort – it can target more or less anything, but costs you a not-insignificant two life. Against aggro decks, this is almost like getting two-for-one’d, as two life is getting close to being worth a full card for an all-in aggro opponent. Nonetheless, this is just about as unconditional as Doom Blade variants get. You point it at a creature, and it dies – and if you’ve stuffed up your counting, so do you.