This is not a normal article
Every set that comes out, people anticipate what new interactions will be included or created by the new cards. One of the first thing any limited player will be looking for is removal.
Lately, there has been a lot of talk about wizards moving away from cheap removal. Last year, Doom Blade was moved to uncommon. The uproar was hear across standard formats.
Why was this moved? The quick answer is to remove the effect from dominating draft and limited. As wizards learned long ago, changing rarity does nothing to affect a cards availability in constructed. Now, being a standard pauper player, I really wanted it to see play in the metagame. Then I started looking around. In the last 2 blocks, we have had a lot of removal. What I couldn’t see, is why were the latest forms of common removal costed so high?
I set out to look at removal across all the sets in magic. My criteria was simple, “destroy target creature.” That is it. That is the one thing I care about from removal. Many of you will not agree with me. That is fine with me. You accept the conditions placed on almost all removal cards. Doom blade, for example, does not work on black creatures. Fine, unless the format you play in is very very black heavy (looking at you Gray Merchant of Asphodel.) Hero’s Downfall, on the other hand, does the job with even a slight bonus attached while having no restrictions. Point, click, shoot, it’s dead. Very simple indeed.
So, what has been the mana cost over the years for unconditional removal? Lets find out!
I started my research at magiccards.info using this criteria: o:”destroy target creature” (t:”enchantment” or t:”instant” or t:”sorcery”)
No creatures as they have their own set of issues along with artifacts. The number I was given was 65.
That is it, 65 total cards that can “destroy target creature.” Now lets remove the ones with conditions. Target creature “with flying”, that “dealt damage this turn”, that “isn’t enchanted”, all of these are conditions that must be met BEFORE you are able to cast the spell. I even removed Bone Splinters due to its casting requiring you to have a creature to sacrifice.
We are left with a grand total of 24. Now, lets change it up a bit to exile. I don’t want to be accused of ignoring the obvious.
I used the following search criteria for my searches: o:”exile target creature or” (t:”instant” or t:”sorcery”) & o:”exile target creature” (t:”instant” or t:”sorcery”)
With the same type of conditional requirements being ignored, we get another 7. I removed enchantment from this list because of the relative ease of getting the creature back by enchantment removal. Yes, I realize you can get a great many things back onto the battlefield from the graveyard but this is my list and I will carve up my searching as I see fit. Also, sacrifice effects are whole different ball of wax.
There are only 31 spells in all of magic that unconditionally remove a creature from the battlefield. Can you name them all? I am curious at how many you can name.
Go ahead, I will give you some space to think.
Here is a picture of my cat so the spoilers aren’t on the screen. Unless you have like a 64 inch monitor or something crazy.
I love that furry little jerk face.
Anyway, back to the matter at hand. Here are the removals:
I know what you are thinking, some of these have some significant draw backs. Yes, that is true, but no conditions.
We should look at some stats, the one I am most interested in is the cost over time. Has this kind of removal gone up or down in cost over the years. A savvy viewer will have already sussed that out by just looking at the “deck” list. Lets be ever slightly more scientific.
I am going to plot exile on the same kind of chart as destroy, so we can get a picture of both.
It is remarkable to me that until 2001, black had no unconditional removal. Even in 2001 it was Terminate which is to cast. Not until Devour in Shadow do we get a mono-black unconditional removal. This one does have a down side. You lose life equal to its toughness. Remember, draw backs =/= conditions.
In 2006, Lorwyn and Time Spiral bring us 3 new removal spells. The overly costed Phthisis is clearly supposed to be suspended. However, we cannot consider special castings in our evaluations. That is 8 years since 3 new removals were added in one year.
Jumping ahead to 2012, we have 5 different removals added in a single year. Return to Ravnica had just been released and Innistrad block was ending. Both sets had a lot of removal and through 2013 basically set a record for most new removals created in a block season with 8! Interestingly enough, there has only been a single unconditional removal created in 2014, the often maligned Flesh to Dust. Five mana and the creature cannot regenerate. Most people say it is over costed, but is that true? Lets look at the evidence.
|Devour in Shadow||Instant||2||2004|
|Path of Peace||Sorcery||4||1999|
|Liturgy of Blood||Sorcery||5||2013|
|Flesh to Dust||Instant||5||2014|
|Sip of Hemlock||Sorcery||6||2013|
Clearly the casting costs are top heavy. We have an average CMC of 3.96. So, Liturgy and Flesh to Dust are not that far off. Even if you remove the 2 Blue single mana replacement effects, the average only goes up to 4.22. Here is the mana curve:
Exile effects are a much smaller subset of removal.
|Swords to Plowshares||Instant||1||1993|
|Path to Exile||Instant||1||2009|
|Crib Swap||Tribal Instant – Shapeshifter||3||2007|
Clearly, Wizards is not a fan of unmitigated exiling of creatures. There are only 2 cards that give this effect for a single mana. Just like the destroy cards mentioned above, both of these give some sort of benefit to the controller. If we disregard the 2 outliers, the average CMC is exactly 4.
Hey, wait a minute. How can that be right? All forms of unconditional removal have the same average casting cost.
It seems we have stumbled upon the magic casting formula. Whether it is destroy or exile, it seems Wizards has the idea that cmc 4 on average is just right.
To wrap up, I hope you enjoyed this little exercise. I get these thoughts all the time. If you ever wondered what I do in my free time, its this. I have hard drives full excel sheets and powerpoint slides that I make on my own, for my own benefit. I just thought you might like take this particular trip with me down the rabbit hole.
One last note. I did not include Vindicate, Desert Twister, or Beast Within on purpose. Those cards are very powerful and they affect so many things, it did not seem right putting them with the rest of these cards. Also, if I missed any other card of note, please let me know!
Thank you for reading.