One-mana removal spells always have the potential to be amongst the best in the biz, for the simple reason that they will essentially never trade down on mana, no matter what. Top-tier one-mana removal tends to dominate whatever format it’s legal in, as can be seen with the entry of Cut Down into Standard with Dominaria United. Given just how many creatures it can hit, Cut Down is a strong addition to the list of all-time best one-mana point removal – but where might you find such a list? If only someone had put together a collection of the best one-mana removal spells ever printed! Oh, wait.
10. Portable Hole
I definitely did not think this card was going to end up being such a widely-played piece of removal when I first saw it. Sure, it’s a bit like Fatal Push in that it trades up on mana against a two-drop, but it never hits four-drops, can be removed to return the creature and is sorcery-speed. It turns out that Portable Hole is actually really, really good, and its time isn’t over just because it rotated out of Standard. It is one of the most popular cards in the Pioneer format, given its brutal efficiency as a sideboard card against aggro decks, and controlling decks generally aren’t afraid to maindeck it.
9. Pongify/Rapid Hybridization
In a vacuum, these cards aren’t that great. They’re dusty and dirty, probably got chewed up and damaged and difficult to access without making a mess. Outside of a vacuum, they’re not that great either. They do make it on the list, however, due to their utility in formats like Commander. Sometimes, you just need a creature gone, and sometimes, giving your opponent a free 3/3 is worth the trade. When you’re facing off against cards like Nyxbloom Ancient, Sun Titan and Etali, Primal Storm, a way to remove them at instant speed for just one mana is well worth the 3/3 these cards leave behind.
8. Innocent Blood
Innocent Blood does ask you do jump through a few hoops, but if you do so you end up with a one-mana edict effect, which is pretty bonkers. As long as you don’t play creatures yourself – or don’t mind sacrificing the ones you do play – the symmetry of Innocent Blood can be broken in your favor. In Commander, it’s even more ridiculous, as it can be a very tidy three-for-one as each player sacrifices a creature. But that’s just the beginning, as if you’re playing Tergrid, God of Fright, Innocent Blood becomes a one-mana triple Mind Control!
7. Pyroblast/Red Elemental Blast
I would guess that the majority of the time, these cards are used as counterspells rather than removal spells. The fact remains, however, that both Pyroblast and REB can be used to kill everything from Delver of Secrets to Murktide Regent, and with formats like Legacy and Vintage being overrun by blue cards, these seemingly narrow cards are eminently main-deckable. From Delver to Painter in Legacy, from Tinker to Lurrus-based “control” decks in Vintage, Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast are important tools against the widespread blue menace, and are very handy when your opponent is beating you down with a one-mana 3/2 flyer.
6. Cut Down
This new kid on the block has been quickly and unquestioningly adopted into Standard, and I could see it going further into other formats, although it does have to contend with Fatal Push. Cut Down hits so many creatures, way more than you’d think, and will be extremely useful against more or less any creature deck. While it doesn’t go after big threats, it can hit smaller, utility creatures, and is the perfect card to have in your opening hand. Bloodtithe Harvester, Evolved Sleeper, Tenacious Underdog, Ertai Resurrected, even Raffine, Scheming Seer – a bunch of Standard’s most popularly-played creatures all die to Cut Down, so I expect it to have a prosperous career throughout its time in Standard.
5. Path to Exile
An iconic removal spell that has fallen off a bit in recent years, Path to Exile used to be the best white removal spell in Modern, no questions asked. Now, however, there’s Prismatic Ending, there’s March of Otherworldly Light and there’s a fair bit of doubt about Path to Exile’s role in the format. As Modern becomes faster and lower to the ground, one extra land is a bigger deal than it used to be, and even five years ago it was still a pretty big deal. Sometimes, however, you’re playing Burn in Modern and just need that Wurmcoil Engine dead, and for that, you need Path to Exile – so the card lives on. For now.
4. Unholy Heat
Ever since its introduction into Modern with Modern Horizons 2, Unholy Heat has seen an abundance of play. For very good reason, too – this card undoes one of the key weaknesses of red removal in that it kills huge creatures for just one mana. Red removal isn’t supposed to do that – for one mana, you might get four damage with a Flame Slash, if you’re lucky, but never six. All of a sudden, red decks can kill a Primeval Titan with a single card for a single mana. Personally, I don’t like this. I like the different colors of mana having different strengths and weaknesses, and I feel that Unholy Heat (and other cards that strengthen a color’s traditional weaknesses, like Feed the Swarm) aren’t good for the game.
3. Fatal Push
Fatal Push is one of the most efficient removal spells ever printed, and was a complete game-changer once it was printed in Aether Revolt. While it had a decent enough time in Standard, it completely upended Modern, quickly rendering four-drops absolutely unplayable. With all the fetchlands in the format, enabling revolt is trivial, and even without revolt it still kills a ton of Modern’s premier threats, from Ragavan to Stoneforge Mystic. A lack of fetchlands doesn’t stop it, either: Pioneer’s Rakdos Midrange is able to do things like sacrifice Blood tokens to enable revolt, and so Fatal Push is a mainstay there. Fatal Push is cheap, efficient and extremely powerful, and might just be the best black removal spell ever printed.
2. Lightning Bolt
Lightning Bolt is an absolute classic. As old as the game of Magic itself, it’s the iconic red card, offering power and flexibility at the best price you can reasonably hope for: a single mana. You’re never unhappy to see a Lightning Bolt in your opening hand, as you know it’ll trade off favorably in the opening turns, and the worst case scenario is that you point it upstairs and hasten an opponent’s demise with three damage. Some would argue it should be number one on this list, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable, but what moved the needle for me here is that we’re talking specifically about removal spells. While Lightning Bolt is obviously one of the best, when it comes to actually removing creatures it’s impossible to look past…
1. Swords to Plowshares
When it comes to pure removal, you can’t beat Swords to Plowshares. The original and the best, Swords has been around since Alpha, exiling problematic creatures in exchange for a bump in the opponent’s life total. This does tend to restrict its inclusion in some decks – hyper-aggro decks don’t really want to allow the opponent to gain life, no matter what – but this often-insignificant downside hasn’t stopped Swords to Plowshares from becoming the best removal spell ever printed. It’s the combination of being completely unconditional and also exiling the creature, not just destroying it, that makes Swords so good. They can’t reanimate it, they can’t make it indestructible, nothing – their creature goes away, and the few points of life they got for it are a small compensation. Swords to Plowshares is, for my money, the best removal spell in Magic.