Understanding the ins and outs of Magic: The Gathering as a game doesn’t need to be as complicated as it appears. While there are many thousands of cards to consider, massive chunks of those cards can be narrowed down into key categories and functionalities. One of these key categories is one that helps ensure that you can level the playing field against the opposition: removal.
What is Removal?
Removal, as the name implies, is anything that can take away a resource from the opponent. This definition is very broad, and includes several categories within itself. The most common form of removal is direct, destroying something that an opponent controls. The classic Doom Blade destroys most creatures, Vindicate destroys any permanent, and something like Ruinous Ultimatum represents the ultimate “answer” to a complicated battlefield. However, removal can be more nuanced.
Answers In Any Zone
In addition to impacting the board, you can also have an impact on other parts of the game with some forms of removal. Any form of Counterspell still functions as a form of removal- functioning instead to answer anything while it is on the stack, before it is even allowed to impact the battlefield itself. It comes as no surprise that blue is broadly considered the most “powerful” color in magic, because this is unquestionably the best possible form of removal. Similarly, discard like Thoughtseize is essentially preemptive removal, and other even more narrow effects like Surgical Extraction can use your knowledge of the opponents deck to take away a threat before they even draw into it.
Bringing the Advantage
Removal is closely tied to the previously discussed concept of Card Advantage [Link]. A lot of removal represents pure card advantage because it can remove more than one threat or otherwise give you additional resources while taking something from your opponent. Any mass-removal, such as Wrath of God, potentially represents a massive amount of card advantage- especially in a multiplayer game! Similarly, cards like Dregs of Sorrow and Decree of Pain draw you cards while answering problems on the board. In addition, you can gain virtual card advantage by bundling removal in with other effects. A Ravenous Chupacabra drops in, takes something out, then represents a threat all on its own.
Focus On Flexibility
Some of the best removal in the game is modal or flexible. Take for example any of the charms, such as the recently popular Riveteers Charm. Its first mode forces a sacrifice from the opponent, removing their highest mana value threat, its second mode is potential card advantage, and its third mode is another form of removal that answers threats in the graveyard. The modal dual faced removal spell, Hagra Mauling, is another simple form of this focus on flexibility; it’s a land early when you need it, and a removal spell when you’ve got your mana base settled. Any time you see something that can destroy an opponents card with additional options, it’s something that you should strongly consider for your deck building.
The Final Word
Removal is a necessary evil. Even the most proactive, aggressive deck should consider some form of removal, especially if it has any degree of flexibility. An aggressive red deck may be designed to throw Lightning Bolt directly at the opponent’s dome, but from time to time that three damage is going to be more usefully aimed at an opposing creature instead. The nuance of that and other flexible forms of removal comes in determining when the right “mode” is correct. You have the final word on how you use your removal, and ultimately that will determine how much of an an effective play you can make.