I always get excited about a new set being released. New cards mean new possibilities. New format will bring new play patterns. New metagame is a shift on a scale that the constructed formats never get. But with large changes comes uncertainty. We need to reevaluate all we knew and apply it to the new reality. One of the defining qualities of each limited environment is the quality of the removal. In some sets, Shock is great and an auto-include in any deck. In some formats it is mediocre. That difference becomes even larger for conditional removal. Disenchant type effects vary from best common removal in the set to stone-cold unplayables. And this has knock-on effects on other cards. In sets with enchantment removal being highly playable, enchantment based removal, like Pacifism, becomes relatively weaker, as you have a good chance opponent can deal with it.
This is why before each set release I look through all removal spells to see which cards can be potentially better or worse, depending on the set specifics. And it works both ways – some removal will be better because there are more targets for it in a set, but conversely some creatures will be better because there is not much removal that can deal with them efficiently. Raw numbers will never be able to catch full context. For example, Destroy Evil from Dominaria United killed only a quarter of common creatures, but it killed the right part of those common creatures, because, as it turned out, creatures with toughness four or higher were key players in the format. And on top of that it could deal with pesky enchantments and decks without large creatures frequently used combat tricks that temporarily increased the toughness of their creatures above the four toughness threshold. But looking at capabilities of each removal spell will be very helpful in identifying such exceptions early in the format and adjust your draft patterns accordingly.
As I did earlier, I will look at several categories of removal: unconditional removal, conditional damage based removal, conditional quality based removal, tempo removal and sweepers. To learn more about each, do take a peek into my Dominaria United removal guide where I described those categories in detail.
Table of Contents
Unconditional removal quality in the format will tell you how good your chunky vanilla creatures will be. The better and cheaper the unconditional removal is, the worse an idea it becomes to play creatures solely for their stats. Spending 6-7 mana just to have opponent destroy your creature for 3 mana will put you in a bad position: you spent more resources to keep the game in the same spot. Why do I mention that?
The Brothers’ War has some really big creatures that cost a lot and don’t necessarily do much as they enter the battlefield. This means I was not expecting Wizards to overload the set with unconditional removal, because having very strong removal package will make lots of their headlining large artifact creatures useless in Limited, not something you want to achieve in a set that was supposed to appeal to Timmy type of player.
As per usual, unconditional removal is focused in black and white. White removal traditionally is linked to enchantments and BRO is no different. We have two enchantments – one is an Arrest variant, Prison Sentence, which stops a creature from attacking, blocking or using abilities. It also has an enter the battlefield (ETB) effect of scrying 2. This is important as enchantment-based removal is not guaranteed to last forever and let’s the opponent use the creature as a resource (say sacrifice fodder), so it has some serious drawbacks. The scry gives you at least some benefit when you play the removal so you are not left with nothing when your prison sentence gets amnestied by a timely Disenchant. And Disenchant is very main deck playable in this format.
Static Net is an uncommon white enchantment based removal. It is an Oblivion Ring-style effect so the nonland permanent affected doesn’t remain on the battlefield. There are plusses and minuses of it. On the plus, opponent can’t sacrifice their creature for value, but they will get any ETBs if Net gets destroyed and if you exile a small version of a prototype creature, it returns in its giant form, so be careful of those. But Static Net gives you a lot of value aside from dealing with the permanent: you gain 2 life and a tapped powerstone token. That is great rate for the spell and I expect it to be one of the star white uncommons, especially if you mitigate the risks well.
Black lower rarity unconditional removal is represented by two cards. First we have Powerstone Fracture. A 2 mana sorcery, that requires sacrificing a creature or an artifact as an additional cost. This looks like a drawback, but if you craft your deck well, can be a benefit. Black and red has plenty of synergy sacrifices, there are cards you actively want to sacrifice, like Ichor Wellspring and there is a good looking steal card in Sibling Rivalry, which lets you steal your opponents creature and fire it into their other creature for doable 6 mana. Powerstone Fracture is not a card you will be able to put in every deck, but in some of the black decks it is going to be a premium and cheap unconditional removal. And in some situation, even sacking your 2/2 will be enough if it lets you deal with a 9/9 monstrosity on the other side of the table.
Overwhelming Remorse looks to me like the premier removal spell in the format. Yes, it originally costs 5 mana. But it gets better as the game progresses. By the mid game it is perfectly conceivable that you hold a 2 mana instant speed removal in your hand, and that will not even need any of the many self-mill cards to happen. It is a clean way of answering threats and avoids future problems with recursion and Unearth. The biggest drawback is, it doesn’t deal with early threats so you might need to make sure you have 2-drops or cheap removal in your decks. Still, a card you will be happy to put in any black deck that contains creatures. PS: Don’t forget it also deals with the melded Urza planeswalker – who knows, it might be important.
But not only black and white get unconditional toys in BRO. Weakstone's Subjugation is a Charmed Sleep variant. But a pretty good one. You have a modality: permanently tapping an already tapped creature for a single blue mana or permanently tapping an untapped creature by paying additional 3 colorless. Mind- the extra cost can be paid using powerstones as it is an ability. Card looks OK, but is markedly worse than the white enchantment removal as it grants no ETB effect so will not give you much advantage if opponent can get rid of it.
Steal effect is a staple of most Magic sets nowadays. Normally it is at common, costs 3 or 4 mana and has an extra effect tagged on. It ranges from unplayable to great and I have to admit in BRO it looks closer to great than trash. 4 mana cost but you get a permanent mana boost with a powerstone. There are plenty of sacrifice outlets, like mentioned Powerstone Fracture, several creatures and some powerful artifacts from the retro schematics archive. You will have to build a deck around it but when you succeed I can see it becoming oppressive.
Some removal comes on a stick. Attached to a permanent. In BRO at lower rarities we have two of those, but they are very different from each other. Goblin Firebomb is a 1 mana artifact, that in late game and for a lot of mana will become a removal. Card looks mediocre but just perhaps some turbo ramp decks with a large Powerstone potential can make a use of it? 7 mana is a lot, but it does deal with anything, including lands if need be. Who knows if there is some ultra slow control deck that uses recurring the Firebomb as their late game win con – in a style of 5 mana Teferi in the UW control from a few years back? Just don’t blame me for people not liking you if you try and succeed drafting it in your LGS. Do it at your own risk. And avoid playing the card outside of that unlikely scenario.
Skyfisher Spider is a whole different kettle of (sky?)fish. This card is a rate monster. If you think that Powerstone Fracture, an effect very similar to Spider’s ETB, costs 2 mana, you get a 3/3 Reach body for the other 2 and still get a potential death trigger or potential to easily recur the spider in some way. Of course the same restrictions as Powerstone Fracture had apply also to the Spider, but BG decks want to do things around a graveyard theme so having some sacrifice fodder should not be a problem and the reward is definitely worth the concessions.
I focused on lower rarity spells but there are a couple of bangers at higher rarity. All three of those cards look great. In the Trenches will be a great addition to any creature-centric aggro deck and the removal part of the spell will be a cherry on the cake of the effect you wanted anyway.
Legions to Ashes will be your reward for being the only WB player in the pod – a versatile removal at good cost and with some potential extra uses (say to kill several soldier tokens if need arises).
Damage Based Removal
Damage based removal is a feature of every Magic set and traditionally centres around Red, with some appearing also in Black and White. Unlike unconditional removal where set to set the only difference is its mana efficiency and importance to kill creatures at all, damage based removal will be dependent on the sizing of the key creatures in the format.
Before the first BRO games are played, we can’t say for certain which creatures are very important and frequently played, so can only rely on a general trend. It is worth clarifying that by damage I mean both spells that specifically deal damage and spells that reduce toughness by /-X, because despite some minor differences, those operate based on the same principles.
BRO is a set with a large number of 1 toughness creatures. 29% of creatures at common have a toughness of 1 and only SNC in recent years had more of 1 toughness commons, but keep in mind that set had shield counters which frequently made toughness less important. On top of that, there is plenty of 1/1 soldier or thopter tokens tagged on to cards. In the past 1 damage removal on its own was not very impactful, as dealing 1 damage is barely worth one mana, but there were cards that successfully combined 1 damage with other effects, like drawing a card in case of Neonates Rush or gave additional bonus to your creatures, like Subtle Strike.
But perhaps because of the abundance of X/1s, there is not much removal that deals specifically with 1 toughness creatures in BRO. Only two cards specifically deal 1 damage, both of them creatures. Gnawing Vermin, which I definitely need to get an alter with my dog on it, (he is literally gnawing on my furniture as I write) is a B 1/1 that mills 2 cards on ETB but when it dies, it gives target creature -1/-1, making it capable to trade up or to get rid of a one toughness. Card looks very gluey card for graveyard-centric decks and powerful for a one drop. But death triggers, even in sac decks, are not easy to set up exactly when you want them. You will still play the card frequently, but the removal part will not be as reliable as you want it.
Arbalest Engineers is the RG signpost uncommon, with a choice of powerstone, +1/+1 and haste or dealing one damage on ETB. It does give you the option, and you will occasionally pick it but both the other modes look more powerful, so I don’t expect the 1 damage to be a frequent choice.
Disfigure, a B instant, gives a creature -2/-2 until the end of turn. For one mana it deals with 48% of common creatures. This is low comparing to other sets, only AFR had a lower fraction of small creatures. And it only becomes worse with rarity. Keeping in mind that this is a format rich in X/1s, two toughness creatures are a rarity. I have the feeling that Shock would be a pretty bad card in this format. you would have to use it to finish off a large creature after blocks, thus two-for-oneing yourself.
But Disfigure is different and in this case should be better aligned with the format. You can use it to straight kill a creature with power 2 or less, but you can also use it in combat to make the 4/4 blocking your 3/3 into a 2/2 and swinging the combat in your favour. Disfigure looks like a card you will play some copies in, the more of them the more defensive your deck is.
Two spells deal with 3 toughness creatures via damage. Deadly Riposte is a white instant that deals 3 damage to a tapped creature. Cards like this are frequently misplayed by beginners, who put them in aggressive decks, where they are unlikely to be attacked early in the game and Riposte would rot in their hand until they lose initiative and opponent turn the corner. And if they had an aggressive 2- or 3-drop instead maybe opponent would never recover. The card can be good but in decks that rely on it to survive early game with a hefty life cushion, and if such decks exist in White in BRO, Riposte will be good in them. This can be also good in tempo based flying creatures decks where it allows to efficiently race against typically larger ground creatures as you attack each other on completely different levels. In those situations killing an attacker and gaining some life can be backbreaking for the opponent. Keep those guidelines in mind when deciding to play Riposte.
Excavation Explosion is a different story. Pick it high, pick it frequently. 3 mana for 3 damage to anything plus a powerstone sounds like a good deal. It does kill fewer creatures than Lightning Strike killed in DMU, but the extra powerstone that ramps you towards a 5 drop on turn 4 is a big deal. And the differences between Explosion and Strike come mainly at higher rarities. Still, at common level, 3 damage spells in BRO are on the lower end of sets from recent years. Explosion will be a good spell, don’t get me wrong, but it will be a far cry from a panacea. To maximise it make sure the powerstone matters in your deck.
The only 4 damage spell is Obliterating Bolt. Dealing with 89% of common creatures for 2 mana? 72% of rares? That is efficient. Exile clause? Great with Unearth creatures in the mix. What is there not to like. This is a great spell you should pick highly and a sure candidate for constructed play on top of that so you might want to pick up a playset while winning drafts. Did I mention it can deal with Saheeli, Filigree Master if you will face it? Small bonus, but Magic is a game of small margins.
The traditional red 5 mana clunky spell for this set looks quite promising actually. 5 damage for 5 mana is ok. Instant speed makes those much better usually. And two damage to the face is not nothing. You will play games where opponent turned the corner, but was left on low life where Unleash Shell is the out you are waiting for. You don’t want to put too many in your deck, accept that it doesn’t deal with the massive creatures present in BRO and make sure you have enough red sources to pay for the double pips reliably but my bet is that card is very playable.
Out of duty I will mention there are two rare damage based removals. Both are excellent and you should snap pick either when you open them.
Some removal spells only work on a type of creature, or looks for some particular characteristics or changes depending on how the game progresses. I divide this into two categories: removal that is based on target type and removal that scales with the game. In BRO, target dependent removal is linked to artifact theme. All the conditional removal is either killing artifact creatures specifically or quite the opposite, killing all but the artifacts.
It is a common design theme to make powerful removal that targets only the set-specific type of creatures, or one that misses a key creature type or supertype, but kills all else. That is the way designers chose for BRO. There is very little target-dependent removal compared to some other sets, and instead of focusing on power or mana value, all of it looks at the artifact character of a card. Four cards kill artifacts and one kills non-artifact creatures, acting as a complete opposite.
On the artifact destruction front we have an all time classic: Disenchant. Celebrating its 30th birthday soon, I think it will be its time to shine. Not only it deals with around a third of the creatures, it can also eliminate some powerful non-creature artifacts and enchantments present in the set. Not sure still if you want to play more than 1 copy but it is possible 2 is still playable, although it might be less useful against some decks. Its utility may be hampered somewhat by the fact that many of the playable retro artifacts draw a card when they ETB, making them slightly less appealing a target. We will know in the first days of the format just how powerful it is but my guess is it will be comparable to Destroy Evil in DMU, as it covers a similar type of targets and similar level of flexibility.
Loran is a Disenchant on a stick. Which has some pros and cons. You probably don’t want to play her too early as there may be no good targets and a 2/1 for 3 is not that attractive. But if you can play it early and get a powerstone – why not. Late in the game it can become powerful, both killing on ETB and providing you with cards if there is a need for that. The draw effect is symmetrical, but if you use it at the end of opponents turn, you will have access to your card earlier and can benefit from priority.
Raze to the Ground doesn’t deal with enchantments and is sorcery speed for more mana than Disenchant. That is not ideal. I will start treating Raze as a sideboard card initially but if artifact removal is a consistently needed function of BRO decks, I will start putting it in main. Being able to kill powerstone and draw a card is a great failsafe as most decks will have some powerstones.
For 2 mana deal with 2/3 of the creatures at instant speed? Sign me in. Yes, all the big stuff is artifact, but still you are very unlikely to have it dead in hand. Easy pick early in the draft and a great addition to any deck with black.
But not all removal has clear conditions. Some is just impossible to evaluate as the power of it depends largely on how do games play out and how your deck is built. Some removal spells’ efficiency depends on the size of your creatures. This type of removal is mostly seen in green, but in BRO also red dips into that removal genre.
We have two great looking fight spells. Fights require your creature deal damage to the target and receive damage equal to targets power. This means you better have larger things or the fight spell better give some bonuses. Bushwhack does not give any bonuses but it compensates with flexibility. In the early game it can find your lands, in the late game, can kill something for one mana which is a bargain. This makes it very similar to the dual faced lands from Zendikar Rising. Card looks sweet because its two modes are useful in different stages of the game. Land tutor in the early game, the fight spell in mid to late game. I will definitely play it in most if not all of my green decks and so should you. Keep in mind that if you don’t have large creatures, sometimes deathtouch will do – making a 1/1 deathtouch fight a 9/9 on the other side of the board loses you some cards but getting rid of gigantic creatures is a priority, better alive than ahead on cards and dead.
Epic Confrontation is one mana more expensive, but for that one mana your creature gets +1/+2 making it very likely it will win the fight. It is a sorcery of note but the rate on the card looks good. I have particularly high hopes for that card in some sort of combat trick based RG prowess shell but it will be good in any green deck with creatures. Make sure that you don’t play it into open mana – if your creature dies before resolution, Epic Confrontation turns into an epic fail for you.
Pyrrhic Blast is a variant of Fling. You sacrifice your creature to deal its power to any target. Fling is normally a natural card disadvantage for you – you lose two cards to opponents one. This made it used as a card that can deal the final few points of damage ito the face rather than a removal, or something you played in response to removal targeting your thing. But Blast makes you draw a card which changes the equation. You will not want to keep up 4 mana to fling in response to removal but drawing a card makes it realistic to use as a 1-for-1 removal. Particluarly attractive when you have many creatures with much higher power than toughness. And it still retains its potential as a game ending spell. This makes me moderatly optimistic about Pyrrhic Blast in BRO, but just how good or bad will the card be – remains to be seen.
While previous group of cards scaled with your creature size, those three scale with mana. The more lands, the bigger the effect. With some twists. Both Corrupt and Lay Down Arms are a part of a basic land impacted cycle. Cards in this cycle are getting more powerful the more instances of a mentioned basic land you control. This means both of those cards will be much better in a monocoloured deck. You may think – that is constructed material then, but no. I think mono decks are going to be more common in this format than in any other recent set.
Furthermore, there is an uncommon level way to enable them even in two color decks in Elsewhere Flask. Corrupt is such a powerful card in a mono deck and there is enough of colourless artifacts to at least try to be heavily skewed towards black to give yourself a chance to drain opponent for 6 or more. Lay Down Arms is less of a draw towards white, but if it can reliably kill a 4-drop it should be good to play and in a 11-6 split deck, you should be able to do it reliably enough.
Mishra's Command is an X mana removal, but you get one of the other modes on a not-so-efficient removal. I actually got to play it during the prerelease and card was absolutely fine, most of the time taking care of one of their creatures and boosting attack of another. It will not be a high pick but you will never want to cut it from a red deck.
Tempo Based Removal
Tempo based removal doesn’t take care of the creature permanently but buys you time. The decks that are interested in it must be interested in buying themselves some time. Normally these are aggro decks that are slower than the fastest aggro in the format but fast enough to present an aggressive clock. What they lack in pure aggression, they gain in cheap interaction.
Tempo style removal is normally focused around blue, either in the form of bounce or returning a creature into owner’s hand, forcing them to lose a card draw, or recast their spell putting them behind on mana and board presence. If you are playing a tempo strategy, make sure that your tempo spells are mana efficient and that you can put some threats on board early.
Machine Over Matter will cost you 2 or even only 1 mana to bounce a nonland permanent. And in this format that can be a very good ability. Especially if early access conclusions on Mightstone's Animation as the best blue common are true, Machine Over Matter will be a strong include in opposing decks, being able to 2-for-1opponent in response to Animation for potentially only 1 mana. And such cheap bounce spell should work well in a RU shell built around Prowess creatures and Third Path Iconoclast But if you play it, make sure you do have a realistic clock. If you bounce opponent’s creature just to delay losing, card is going to be actively bad in your decks. Make sure that you play it when the bounce puts you closer to lethal and actively shortens the game.
Involuntary Cooldown taps two creatures/artifacts for several turns, and very much like Machine Over Matter, that type of effect is not for every deck. But if you have an aggressive skies deck that just needs to clear a blocker for a couple of turns to win or needs to put a couple of 2-3 drop out of equation to win the race – Cooldown is a powerful way of achieving that. Again, UR tempo with Prowess or UW skies will be the decks you want to play this type of effect, rather than some ramp deck where you use it to give yourself time to get to the mana (although in some control decks card may be playable, but be careful – it is easier to play it in a wrong deck than to identify that exactly exceptional ramp deck where it fits so I would err on the side of caution and keep it in the sideboard outside of tempo aggro.
Desynchronize is not cheap but the effect is very powerful. Putting the card on top of opponents library is much better than bouncing – you sort of Time Walk them, as they have to both recast their creature and skip a draw step. But there are some drawbacks in BRO for this type of card. Prototype cards can be recast larger, there is plenty of ETB effects. Still, with Scry 2 sweetening the deal and making a good impression of drawing a card, Desynchronise will play well in decks that want to get to late game with their life totals intact. Traditionally these type of cards are also undervalued by the community. Bury in Books from Strixhaven, Revenge of the Drowned from MID and Run Out of Town from SNC all were in top 3 blue commons in draft for Game in Hand Win Rate, and yet all three were drafted later than the results would suggest. There is a good chance Desynchronze will join those three both as a solid blue common and as one that is underappreciated by the majority of Arena users.
Last category of removal are the cards we dread. How many games did you start by playing several creatures to opponents empty board, seeing the win in a few turns just to have your hopes stomped by a Wrath of God type effect leaving you with an empty boar and opponent with a full hand?
Knowing all the sweeper effect and remembering to sometimes play around them is something that will give you a nice increase in win rate. Playing against the sweepers requires not overextending your board state while keeping a clock that will force your opponent to play out a sweeper with no large gains.
As with other types of removal spells, sweepers will be conditional or not. BRO doesn’t have a classic Wrath effect. But there is an Oblivion Stone style card in Urza's Sylex. Good news about this one – it either costs 7 mana or you will be warned in advance that opponent has it making it easier to play around. Still, it is a powerful card, but your feel-bad moments from playing against it will be limited by the way card is played. One thing to keep in mind: if you play Sylex in your ramp deck it will save you from being overrun but at the same time, will hinder your ramping by trimming your lands back to 6 and removing any potential Powerstones.
Two cards in the set deal specifically with 1/1 creatures.
The Fall of Kroog technically does the same 1 drop sweeping with some added value. But at 6 mana land destruction is not that attractive, the face damage is mainly a trinket so I don’t expect the card to play a role beyond some sideboard functions.
This is a second appearance of Gix's Command in this review. Firs was a solid removal of the largest opponents creature but it can also sweep small creatures with power 2 or less (covers 54% of all creatures, 60% of common creatures). I played it in the prerelease and the sweeper mode was useful at least once. You want to play this Command in any of your decks anyway and you will know exactly when the sweeper mode is the best thing. Keep in mind abilities resolve in order on the card, so you can boost your 2/2 with two +1/+1 counters and make it live through the sweeper.
Brotherhood's End is a cheap way of wiping the board of your aggro opponent and a backbreaking card if you are playing hyper-aggressive strategies yourself. Three damage to each creature is an effect you want to have access to if your plan is play the only game. The only problem with it may be: are there any red-heavy decks that want to do such thing? RR in a 3 mana spell is not easy to pay and keep it in mind that you really want to be in the 11-12 Mountain range (yup, that is a pun) to feel comfortable in counting on it to stabilise the game on turn 3-4. In some cases you will be also able to de-ramp opponent. Fun trivia: Thran Spideris the only artifact creature that is killed by the artifact mode but not for the damage one, while 8 artifacts have vice versa – cost more than 3 mana but have a toughness below 4.
A clear frontrunner for the cutest card in the set, Fade is a pretty powerful effect. In order to maximise it, you want to run few non-creature artifacts with ETB effects to ensure you get the bear but focus on non-artifact permanents as your way of winning. That way of building your deck will ensure Fade will be as unsymmetrical as possible, which is exactly what you want from your sweeper.
Ending with two odd ones. Portal to Phyrexia makes your opponent sacrifice three creatures at ETB. Not a full sweeper, but close to it. Another card I played in my prerelease and it does deliver. You can relatively easily wipe opponents board with it and if they don’t kill it before your next turn, you are getting so much value the game is all but over. No need to play around this one as unlike normal sweepers this doesn’t punish wide boards, quite the opposite, the more creatures you have, the less punishing ETB becomes. From your side – it is a card worth ramping into as it will end many games on spot, several will linger for some turns but you will be favoured heavily.
Blast Zone is an effect that is costly but on other hand, you chose the extent of sweeping done. No surprises with the card but if you think you are interested in such a sweeper (meaning your deck is on the slower side) you may very well pick it. Keep in mind that playing a colourless land is not without a cost, you don’t want a land sweeper that will cost you games due to not being able to cast your coloured cards. Cards like Blast Zonewill be often played in a spell slot as an 18th land.
Next few weeks will show us exactly where does which removal spell land in the power ranking of BRO. This review is based on card fundamentals and prior knowledge, which usually is good enough but sometimes misses key spells, like Destroy Evil in DMU. Look at your first drafts in the new format and see where my assessment feels very different from your feelings – you may very well have found something in the format few people realise and can benefit from it!
Who knows, maybe sacrifice synergies are abundant enough Powerstone Fracture is the best removal in the format? Maybe small creatures are having too many ETBs and large creatures are too abundant for Disfigure to be good? First week will inform us on that, but until then, you are well prepared on figuring out the surprises!