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Runic Shot Art by Cristi Balanescu - Dominaria United

Dominaria United Limited Removal Guide: United We Fall

In this in-depth article, Sierkovitz breaks down all the removal spells in Dominaria United Limited to gain insight into the format, using the power of numbers: Unconditional, damage based, conditional, sweepers, and tempo!

Removal is essential in any Limited (Sealed and Draft) format. Your drafts will depend in large part on how you can deal with the threats your opponent presents you with. But the reverse is also true. If you present your opponents with threats that are difficult to answer – you will be in an advantaged position. Knowing how the removal align with creatures in the format and comparing with the past formats can be a useful tool to gain some insight about the format before release.

Removal is a broad term that covers several subtypes of cards. For this review for Dominaria United I divided removal into four broad categories. First one is unconditional removal. Those are spells that get rid of a creature no matter what. This usually comes at a mana cost: obviously a spell that can kill the biggest creatures in the format will cost more than a spell that predominantly deals with two or three-drops.

Second category are conditional removal spells. Those I divide into two sub-categories. Damage based removal looks at a creature’s toughness. It will kill things equal or smaller than the amount of toughness it negates, so Lightning Strike can kill everything with toughness 3 or less. This type of removal carries a risk, as there are spells that increase toughness at instant speed and you will have to be extra careful not to get blown out by those. Other sub-category, special conditional removal kills creatures that fulfil a particular requirement, for example have flying or have power higher than a set value.

Third broad category is tempo removal. Removal that deals with the creature but not in a permanent way. This type of removal is particularly powerful in aggressive tempo strategies, as often those spells will cost less, letting you dealing with threats while still being able to deploy your own threats. The removal does not deal with the creatures of opponents, but gives you time and in the right deck, time is all you care for, as your strategy looks to win quickly and robbing the opponent of mana they invested in their creature, combined with using your life as a resource, is a great way to win races.

Lastly, I will look at the sweepers, cards that kill multiple, if not all creatures on the battlefield. Those cards can be powerful in some strategies and while playing your games you should pay attention to strange play patterns by the opponent, like avoiding to cast anything in their first turns. Yes, it may be because they can’t play anything, but it can also indicate they are preparing to kill everything and then will start deploying their threats. If that is the case, you will be in a disadvantaged position – something you can avoid by not overcommitting to the board if you sense a sweeper coming.


Table of Contents

  1. Unconditional Removal
  2. Damage Based Removal
  3. Conditional Removal
  4. Sweepers
  5. Tempo Removal

Unconditional Removal

Leyline Binding Art by Cristi Balanescu - Dominaria United
Leyline Binding Art by Cristi Balanescu – Dominaria United

Traditionally, unconditional removal is concentrated in White and Black and Dominaria United is no exception. White has a “cycle” of Oblivion Ring-style effects at common, uncommon and rare. All three of those are enchantments that deal with a threat by exiling it for as long as the enchantment is in play.

The drawback of this is that sometimes opponent will be able to destroy the enchantment and get their creature back. Luckily for white mages, there are only four spells that target enchantments specifically. One of them, Tear Asunder, might be a problem as it will be most likely a staple in BG decks, luckily it is an uncommon. The others less so, as two of them look more like sideboard cards, one of them is a powerful mythic rare, meaning that when it is in play, losing your enchantment is the least of your problems. This makes me optimistic that the white unconditional removal will be quite safe to play.

Black unconditional removal is usually more straightforward. Just kill and forget about any worries. In this format, however, there is a slight twist. Some of the black unconditional removal is a conditional removal in other colors, but becomes unconditional if you pay additional kicker cost that is in black. This makes this removal only available if you play a particular two color combination that includes black. Both of those cards look like very good rewards for drafting a particular color pair, as they will not be drafted highly by people on your pod who are not in those specific colors.

Tear Asunder on face value is an enchantment and artifact removal, but once kicked, deals with any nonland permanent by exiling it, making it a premium removal for 4 mana. Rona's Vortex can be a 1 mana unsummon, potentially useful in some decks, but for four mana puts the creature or planeswalker at the bottom of controller’s library, which is as good as forever in a vast majority of games.

However, Orzhov and Rakdos mages were not forgotten – there are also strictly black unconditional removal in Bone Splinters and Extinguish the Light. First one costs only 1 mana, but has an additional cost of sacrificing a creature. This means it fits into BW strategy, that can generate multiple 1/1 soldier tokens – you would rather sacrifice something disposable than a full value creature.

Extinguish the Light also kills creatures and planeswalkers, for four mana and without any costs. And if you have to waste your four mana spell on something smaller, it also gives you an additional bonus: you gain 3 life if the creature cost three mana or less.

There are two other unconditional removal spells with some twists. Ertai Resurrected is a 3/2 with Flash for 4 mana that can act as a removal spell or as a counter. The drawback: opponent will draw a card if their permanent is killed, so you better make sure you target something premium with it to get the full benefits.

In Thrall to the Pit is a steal spell for 4 mana, but if you kick it, the stolen creature will get sacrificed at the end of turn rather than returned to the opponent. It does cost 7 mana, which is a bit pricy, but there are other ways to sacrifice creatures in the format so you can play it in some decks planning to sacrifice the stolen creature to some other effect, like the Bone Splinters to make the steal and sac effect cheaper, and still having the plan B of kicker for the late game.


Damage Based Removal

Damage Based Removal’s efficiency will vary from format to format. In some, dealing 2 damage is very powerful, in some, it will only kill a handful of relatively unimportant creatures. To try to draw a picture of that in Dominaria United, let’s look at what fraction of creatures does damage based removal kill at each level.

Percentage of creatures each damage number kills at each rarity. Artillery Blast with Domain 5 is given as an example.

Some colors just want to see the world burn. And red is definitely one of them. Damage based removal is usually the domain of red mages and Dominaria United is no exception. There are multiple spells that deal damage in red, varying in cost and efficiency. The four straightforward ones are Flowstone Infusion, Lightning Strike, Hurloon Battle Hymn and Jaya's Firenado.

Flowstone Infusion is an interesting take on Shock. It can deal with a 2 toughness creature on the opposing side, which is good enough for half of the common creatures and roughly a third of uncommons and higher. But if you have a creature with toughness 3 or more, you can target it with Infusion to deal extra 2 damage, an option you will likely be using in very aggressive spells based decks.

Lightning Strike, at common, looks like a super efficient removal for lower rarity creatures, that can also directly attack opponent’s life total if beneficial. Its cheap cost and instant speed makes it a likely candidate to be one of the top commons in the format, particularly in the spell-centric archetypes.

Hurloon Battle Hymn is a very powerful uncommon killing over 85% of creatures in the format. When kicked, it can help you race opponent by removing their biggest threat and swinging the life total. It looks like a potential star uncommon in the format.

Jaya's Firenado kills all but few creatures, but at 5 mana and sorcery speed it will be probably something you are hoping not to play often, maybe sideboarding against opponents with larger creatures in their decks if you feel the games will take longer.

There is one removal at uncommon that deals damage dependent on your hand size in Fires of Victory. This spell will be great in the early game, killing most creatures at that stage of the game, and later will kill something smaller and, when kicked, draw you an additional card. Mind that playing with this spells should change how you play out your lands, keeping in mind that you want to cast all your spells, but if possible, save some lands in your hand to boost its power.

There are several damage spells in other colors. Artillery Blast in white, a Domain payoff, deals 1 damage plus an additional point for each basic land type you control to a tapped creature. This type of card works much better in controlling decks, that will spend their initial turns on the back foot. In aggressive decks you will often be the aggressor early, which means you will not see many tapped targets for the spell. You also want it in a multicolor deck, as dealing just 3 damage for 2 mana with this type of spell is below rate, so you want your domain count to be in the 3-5 range to make it mana efficient.

Tribute to Urborg on its face value deals with over a half of common creatures, which will help you surviving early game. Later in the game, if your deck contains multiple instant and sorcery spells, if can deal with larger threats in your UB decks, making it scale with the game and slowly turning to practically unconditional removal.

Green has a bite spell in aptly named Bite Down. A two mana spell that lets one of your creatures deal damage equal to its power to another creature. The low cost, and the fact that green creatures look larger than those in other colors makes me hopeful that Bite Down will be a solid piece in green decks.

Tail Swipe makes your creature fight another creature (they deal damage to each other based on their power). Fighting is beneficial when your creatures are larger, again, very likely with green in this format. But if your largest creature is on parity with opponent’s biggest threat – fear not – if you play the spell in your main phase, you get a small bonus. The risk of fight and bite spells is, opponent can kill your creature in response, so make sure you use those spells cautiously!

Last and least – there is the Meteorite. A card that ramps you and deals with small threats, both too late to usually matter. If previous experience with the card is in any way useful in Dominaria United, avoid this card.


Conditional Removal

Cut Down Art by Dominik Mayer - Dominaria United
Cut Down Art by Dominik Mayer

Every set has a collection of removal spells that require some conditions to be met in order to kill a creature. Very often those cards will be sideboard options for best-of-three games, but some are powerful enough to make main deck.

In Dominaria United one such spell is almost certainly going to be a star uncommon. Cut Down is hinted to be a constructed staple, but even in Limited, it should be very good. For one mana it kills a creature with power and toughness total of 5 or less – so no 2/2, 3/2 or 1/4 is safe. This adds up to 73% of common creatures and a respectable ~50% of uncommons and rare/mythics creatures. That is close to the Lightning Strike numbers at one mana less, albeit without the option to go face.

Should you take those Broken Wings that are left late in the pack? Probably yes, but only if you are playing best of three to get a sideboard card. In some formats, when there are some supported artifact or enchantment synergies Broken Wings could be a maindeck card. But Dominaria United doesn’t look like it. Furthermore, there are not that many flying creatures, especially at common there are few of them. Broken Wings will kill only 20-25%, depending on the rarity and that means it will be a dead card too often to be useful. But if you saw some bomb flyers in game one, and same opponent has a couple of enchantment based removal spells, you might want to consider sideboarding it in.

Destroy Evil kills a creature with toughness 4 or greater. Before you ask – I don’t know what makes high toughness creatures evil. That is only quarter of commons and uncommons, and 38% of rare/mythic creatures. It does have a second mode: destroying an enchantment, which might come in handy against white decks. I don’t know yet if this is enough to make Destroy Evil a maindeckable card, and if i were to speculate I would guess it is not, but it is definitely a good sideboard option.

Last card is multiconditional. Smash to Dust does several small things, which in some games can be useful. It deals 1 damage to opponent’s creatures, can kill a creature with Defender (Defender being a small sub-theme in Esper colors) or destroy an artifact. Adding up those small effects, it can kill around a third of common creatures and fifth of higher rarity ones.

But fraction is not everything. It will kill the least relevant creatures on board and that is in my opinion not enough to make it a main deck card. It can ruin some strategies, especially decks relying on Defender synergies and decks going wide with 1/1 soldier tokens, and Smash to Dust will be likely an OK sideboard card against those strategies. Something you might want to pick up at no cost during draft if you are playing best-of-three, but something you definitely should not prioritise.

Percentage of creatures at each rarity killed by conditional removal spells.

Sweepers

Temporal Firestorm Art by Nester Ossandon Leal - Dominaria United
Temporal Firestorm Art by Nester Ossandon Leal

Sweepers are usually few and far between and at high rarity. But Dominaria United has a high enough density of those to take a look at what is there so you can plan your game well, knowing that there might be a plan behind your opponents seemingly bad game plan. DMU has 3 “small” sweepers and 3 larger ones. When I say “small” sweepers, I mean cards that deal with low toughness creatures. Usually dealing 2 damage to everything, these are good against aggressive strategies.

In Dominaria, we have an uncommon one with Choking Miasma, giving -2/-2 to all creatures for 3 mana, but capable of saving one of your creatures if you kick it for an additional G by putting a +1/+1 counter on it. At rare we have the first chapter of The Elder Dragon War saga. It deals 2 to each creature, but if you wouldn’t get any benefit from that mode you can skip it, making it a very flexible spell that rewards you with a 4/4 flying creature in the last chapter. Also at rare, but in white, we have Temporary Lockdown, 3 mana enchantment that exiles all creatures with mana value 2 or less (in a flavor fail, it doesn’t lockdown Rona).

Are these playable? The dragon saga, yes. You will always play it in your red deck. As for Choking Miasma, this is a card I put on my watchlist. If the aggro strategies are dominant I am sure it will be a solid playable, but if the format is slow it will be likely restricted to sideboards. As for Temporary Lockdown, it kills fewer creatures at common than Miasma does (41% to 55% of Miasma) and does so in a way that can potentially be disrupted. This in my mind makes it a constructed card, maybe OK as a sideboard option against any token based strategies, but certainly not a mainboard option.

Big sweepers will deal with a much larger portion of creatures. And we have also three big sweepers. Drag to the Bottom is a Domain pay-off, giving each creature -X/-X where X is one more than number of basic lad types you control. Given two black mana in its cost, I would expect that you want to aim at casting it with Domain 3, killing all creatures with toughness 4 or less. You want to play a card like this in a controlling deck, possibly Esper, which also has most of the Defender synergies.

Karn's Sylex destroys each permanent with mana value X or less, so naturally you might want to play it in a deck with a couple of high mana value creatures. Luckily, there are few of those in the format you can cheat in for a cheaper mana cost, like Tolarian Terror or Writhing Necromass, so your plan might be to stall the board, play one of those creatures and take over the game after activating the Sylex leaving one of those creatures as the only threat on board.

Temporal Firestorm deals 5 damage to every creature, which kills all but a few of creatures in the format. If you kick it, you can save one or two of your threats so this spell will benefit from ramping and playing larger threats, ultimately wiping the board but saving your best threats.


Tempo Removal

Stall for Time Art by Ryan Alexander Lee - Dominaria United
Stall for Time Art by Ryan Alexander Lee

Last category is something I would not normally focus on, but Dominaria United looks like a set where tempo strategies will be important. Tempo based removal deals with threats temporarily, giving you time to kill the opponent. Normally tempo strategies focus around blue and white and that is the case here. When tempo is your gameplan, you want to deploy some early threats and then disrupt opponents plan as much as possible, ruining their game while you continuously get in for some damage, leading to situation where they can’t race you anymore and have to stay on the defensive, giving you initiative to deploy even more tempo.

One category of cards that fit that description in Dominaria United will be spells that distribute stun counters. They tap their targets and prevent them from untapping until the stun counters are removed. Three cards in blue and white do that: Stall for Time, Impede Momentum and Frostfist Strider. And the names of the first two describe quite well what you want to achieve by playing them. Freezing your opponents threats or blockers will let you either win the race or open the board for a favourable attack.

Other category are bounce spells. And there is several options there as well. Tolarian Geyser will bounce opponent’s creature, drawing you a card – if you have a board presence, this will also open attacks and keep you fuelled with cards for later game. Aether Channeler bounces a creature while putting a small threat on board, but if your plan is to temporarily remove blockers, a 2/1 can be a solid threat. And if not, Channeler offers other options. Same goes for Ghitu Amplifier, which can be either an early threat or later game bounce effect. All these effects are very mana efficient, and mana efficiency is the key to success of tempo style decks.

I will only mention that Rona's Vortex, the unconditional UB removal, can be a tempo play outside of black decks, just as a one mana unsummon. Bounce spells also work well with countermagic, and there are few counterspell effects in the set, Essence Scatter being particularly mana efficient.

Lastly we have Runic Shot. A spell, which is very mana efficient, but also situational. It can only kill tapped creatures and is a sorcery. This is a mixture of pros and cons: on one hand you can kill creatures cheaply, on the other, the creature killed will already get some value – either attacking or using ability. Traditionally such spells do better in control decks, but in this case I see Runic Shot as a tempo-strategy card, helping you race opponent but at the same time presenting a fast clock yourself by being able to kill a creature while having enough mana to cast your creatures as well.


Conclusions

Predicting is hard, especially when it comes to the future, as Nobel prize winning physicist Niels Bohr once said. Before the set hits, it is difficult to predict how it will shape. Will we see go wide strategies dominate? Will the tempo decks rule supreme? Is it a format for mid-range Domain decks? Or perhaps the time has come for control strategies to be the thing to beat?

Next weeks will answer those questions, but looking at the removal in the format – all of those answers are very possible. Which makes me hopeful for Dominaria United to become an all star and well-balanced format with loads of replayability, bringing fun to the shortening autumn evenings.

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Sierkovitz
Sierkovitz

I am a limited player, who mainly skips playing in order to analyse the limited data using 17Lands.com. I run a podcast: Magic Numbers, where I try to use data to let you improve your limited game play, find out which heuristics work out and which common ideas are not well supported by data.

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