Removal in Core 2019 Limited

I am a monster. Some call me the fun police, some call me predictable, but the fact of the matter is that I love drafting removal spells. Cube, Chaos Draft, or even Core Set all I want to do is ruin my opponents plan and win eventually. Early in a format I am usually taking all the removal I see and drafting some kind of Rakdos control deck until I figure out what is actually good in the format. For those reasons I want to take some time to evaluate the new tools we have to ruin our opponent’s fun.
There is certainly a hierarchy of removal with Black at the top, Red and White toggling back and forth for second place, leaving Blue and Green forever in the basement. I will go through the removal available at lower rarities in each color and talk about their nuances.
(Keep in mind that there is always one creature nothing can hit, our good friend or hated enemy, Vine Mare.)

Black, the Removal Color

The best place to start is with the best. Murder and Lich’s Caress hit everything except that green horse. This is your big dino/dragon/angel/sphinx killer. The difference between the two is that the uncommon card is faster and cheaper without the lifegain bump. Two mana and instant speed is certainly better than three life, even in the lifegain deck.
Strangling Spores is a fine removal spell as well. It’s less expensive than Lich’s Caress and though it doesn’t hit as many creatures the fact that it can be cast at instant speed turns it into a combat trick as well. Right now I would prioritize Spores in my more aggressive Black decks.

Skeletal Archer and Plague Mare do more than just pick off x/1s, they can be post-combat tricks where you suicide in an attacker and get some value after the fact to help trade up. So while they may score low on the targets they kill their flexibility make them excellent options, especially in attacking decks to pick off pesky blockers. Skeletal Archer being able to go to face is also relevant. I fully expect this to be the best Black common creature and, depending on how fast the format is, it might be better than Spores or Caress.

Nightmare’s Thirst is another tricky removal spell. Getting -1/-1 for B is fine enough without support. It is not as good as Skullduggery or Fungal Infection but it is in the same discussion. However, in a lifegain deck this card can scale immensely. Imagine giving your Child of Night first strike with Calvary Drillmaster and firing off a Nightmare’s Thirst after first strike damage. G. R. O. S. S. There’s a reason they made this uncommon as it can get out of control, especially in multiples.
Most of the black removal seems to entice you to be attacking so I am inclined to think this will be a faster format. When paired with Red or Green you certainly want to be on the beatdown/attrition plan. White is a bit trickier but Thirst seems like a real payoff while Caress is an enabler. Ultimately removal is removal and that will be good enough in the Blue control archetype.

Red and White, Good in Situations

White has two excellent pieces of unconditional removal in Luminous Bonds and Hieromancer’s Cage. Cage is more versatile as it can also function as a Disenchant or Hero’s Downfall and an Oblivion Ring for one more mana is still a great rate in limited. Bonds is a pricey Pacifism and that’s just fine as well. Bond’s weakness is that creatures with activated abilities still retain some value but luckily there are not too many creatures that fall into that category. These are good and splashable so expect to see them everywhere.

However, they do suffer the weakness of being victim to enchantment removal. With Vine Mare and some pushed auras in the format main decked Reclamation Sage and Invoke the Divine might be reasonable. They can also not be too great against Red and Black decks as they have a sacrifice archetype. They have to sac in response to the Cage but they will certainly get value off of a Bonded creature.
Take Vengeance is an awkward spell. If an opponent’s creature is tapped on your turn that means you’re getting beat down on. If you’re getting beat down on this is a very reactive spell and the opponent is getting some value out of their creature before you can respond. Removal is removal and sometimes you do what you must but I do not like this card and I hope to never play it.

Electrify is going to the be the staple removal spell in red. It kills nearly everything in the format, whiffing on a mere 11 lower rarity creatures and hitting every flier. Shock is another great removal spell. It hits a little less than half the creatures in the format but there are a lot of high power evasive creatures like Snapping Drake, Boggart Brute, and Two-Headed Zombie that are just blown out by Shock. Lightning Strike is another great card, hitting 80% of the creatures in the format for a low cost. Absolutely a beast.

Volley Veteran ranges from a worse Skeleton Archer to a better Flametongue Kavu. The ceiling is really high and the floor is pretty ok too. I love this card but I’m not sure what kind of goblins I would be willing to play to make this better. Boggart Brute and Goblin Instigator seem fine. Guttersnipe is more of a Blue card but could make the cut with enough removal. But Goblin Motivator seems just too narrow to make it into my deck.
Fiery Finish is a great answer to anything in your way. It kills everything but at the high cost of six mana. I do not think this will be that bad of a deal as the creatures that Finish hits that Electrify canot are all five or more mana. I think I want one copy in my more midrange red decks.
Finally, there’s Thud, a sorcery speed Fling. This will be great in the Black Red deck and pretty situational everywhere else. Ideally you want Thud to be a finisher but only aggressive decks will want this effect.

Blue Green Basement

Dwindle does Blue’s best impersonation of removal but does set you back on tempo just a bit as the opponent does get one block out of it. It gives the opponent too many choices to be premium but Dwindle can answer powerful threats. It shines in a flying strategy to stop opposing ground pounders.
Switcheroo is a beautiful card that is technically card disadvantage but can be a huge trade in tempo the further away the casting costs of the two creatures are. Imagine swapping your Dwindled or Luminous Bonded creature for their best bomb. The only time this card is bad is when you’re winning or you have no board and have already lost.
Rabid Bite is one of the best removal spells Green gets and in the past has been a great one-way fight card. All that it asks of you is to play creatures, something you should be doing in Green anyway. You do want to make sure you’re over 15 creatures in your deck and the card will prove fine. It can be countered with your opponent’s removal so be careful playing it into open mana.
Plummet I feel deserves a mention as there are 23 fliers or flying producing cards at the lower rarity, almost a quarter of all common and uncommon creatures. Nearly every deck will have a target and if you have a green deck low on giant spiders and removal Plummet seems reasonable to play in the main deck.

First Picks

If I opened the nuts pack of all removal what would I pick?
Murder vs. Lightning Strike vs. Heiromancer’s Cage

Cage hitting non-creatures is nice but Limited Magic is defined by creatures so I don’t prioritize this effect and would pick one of the cheaper spells. Strike is an great card, efficient, and can sometimes deal the last points of damage. However, four toughness is a real deal and Strike will struggle sometimes against some cards that demand an answer. Murder is my pick. It is versatile, reasonably costed, and only demands that you play mostly black.
Lich’s Caress vs. Strangling Spores vs. Electrify vs. Shock vs. Luminous Bonds

Luminous Bonds is the cheapest and would draw my eye first but with a RB sacrifice archetype and good enchantment removal I would pass for the time being and look at the red and black spells. Between the red spells I would lean towards Electrify as it just kills so much. Shock is very efficient and by the end of the format it may be correct but I am hoping to answer x/2s with my own creatures. Strangling Spores is just a worse Electrify so it is out of consideration. Lich’s Caress is a great control card as it kills anything and gains you a bit of life to help you get back in. However, Electrify is easier to cast and for that reason it’s my pick.
What did I get wrong? Leave a reply and let me know!

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