Hello and welcome back to TheBoxer’s Corner. This will be the third and final part of my series on removal spells. In this article I am going to discuss choosing the right removal spell for the right threat. Many of these factors run against each other. I will discuss the major reasons in isolation because how they combine and clash varies wildly on matchup and even the texture of the individual game. It is up to you, the player, to figure out what factors are most important in your current matchup.
Against Skycrag, Torch can kill anything while Annihilate can kill only some things. The opposite is true against Mono Justice. In general, you should prioritize playing your removal spells in order of how many targets they have. When both players are topdecking threats I want a Deathstrike in my hand rather than a Torch. Equivocate can answer anything so it is one of the last removal spells you want to play. Suffocate can often only answer game units and should be played whenever the chance arises. Versatility changes depending on the matchup, so while Vanquish is an all-star versus Praxis, it can only hit Champion of Fury from Skycrag. A similar rule is true for modal spells that act as removal such as Display of Instinct. You can count the other uses as “targets” when measuring versatility.
In Cold Blood is just a “slow speed Deathstrike” in most matchups. Not all comparisons are this straightforward as there are few if any other examples of one spell simply being a slow version of another. In general, you should favor using slow speed removal over fast removal whenever possible. This allows your greater flexibility later in the game. The importance of this rule relative to the others depends on the game plan of your deck and what “speed” it operates at. Some decks, such as Stonescar, have few fast spells and rarely hold open power in order to later choose what spell to cast. If they hold open power, they know what they are doing with it already. This is in stark contrast to decks playing Wisdom of the elders that leave open power to later choose between removal and Wisdom. An extreme case of this would be Permafrost in temporal. After Temporal Distortion is in play Perma is the only slow speed removal in your deck
Would you believe there was a time people argued Slay was better than Heart of the Vault? We all know how that debate ended. Regardless, Slay has recently been outclassed by the cheaper Desecrate. In general, you want to prioritize playing your more expensive removal first. By saving your cheap removal for later you have a higher potential to play multiple spells in a single turn. If you play Desecrate over Feeding Time on turn 4 then you won’t be able to play Desecrate plus Champion of Cunning on turn 7. This factor becomes less important as the game goes on. In the late game the difference between 2 and 4 is small and the other factors should be a higher priority. Additionally, the fewer cards in your hand the less important it is to play your cheap removal first. This is because you have less potential to play multiple cards in a turn. On a side note, it feels weird calling Defiance a fast spell. Because of the timing restriction it’s closer in nature to a slow spell. This is also true of Eilyn’s Choice and Clan Tactic. These spells can be easily played around once your opponent knows what’s up, so it is advantageous to play these spells as soon as you are able to.
“How can I lose?” is the question you should be asking yourself while you are ahead in a game. Some threats if left unchecked can turn the tables. It’s important to recognize what cards matter so you can save the proper removal spells for those threats. For control decks this may be saving Feeding Time for Rost, the Walking Glacier. For Hooru it could be saving Stormhalt Knife for Icaria, the Liberator. It’s easy to spew away removal spells while ahead only to lose because of an unanswered threat. Back when Hooru control was the best deck, it was important to save an Avigraft to answer Scourge of Frosthome. Control mirrors often come down to bizarre arms races in which few cards matter. It is in these situations that you have to consider the most niche interactions of your removal to determine what matters.
Before you pull the trigger on a removal spell there is an often-ignored preliminary question. “Is this a unit I need to remove?” If your opponent has an Oni Ronin in play while you have a Sandstorm Titan, it is often better to save the Torch rather than use it on the unit that is effectively blanked. If your units outsize your opponent’s units that have no or negligible abilities it is often correct to save your removal spell. Units with Entomb may cause the game state to be worse. Another reason to hold off on playing removal spells when you don’t need to is Merchants. Torch holds little value in the late game. Rather than trade a Torch for a non-impactful unit you can trade it for a card in your Market.
I don’t know if there is anything more heartbreaking for a Jennev player than having your opponent play a Deepforged Plate on a Permafrosted unit. Many removal spells have drawbacks such as Permafrost, Equivocate, Desecrate, and Ice Bolt. These removal spells are very efficient but give the opponent either a tangible advantage or in the case of Permafrost the opportunity to gain a tangible advantage. The longer the game goes on after the removal spell is played, the longer your opponent has to capitalize on the advantage you gave them.
Your life total is a resource. If you have life to spare, you can use it to wait until you are better able to match your removal spells with threats. For example it is often correct to take a few hits from a 2 drop in the late game rather than wasting an Annihilate on it. If you are playing a deck that has Lifesteal units, such as FJS, it can sometimes be correct to take multiple digits worth of damage in order to get better “positioning” of your removal spells.
We normally think of removal spells, but removal can also take the form of Relic Weapons. Relic Weapons are great at killing units through Aegis but are also costly and can be interfered with by burn spells. The more pressure your opponent applies the closer Relic Weapons are to being purely removal. The slower your opponent is and the less units they play, the more Relic Weapons act as a means to kill your opponent with.
Choosing the correct removal spell and the correct time to play it is often a complicated decision. But as we have seen over these past couple articles these complicated decisions are really just a number of simple decisions combining with each other and pushing in opposite directions. Even the most experienced players still have some moments where they second doubt themselves over playing a removal spell. A lot of situations become easier with practice, but it’s a sure thing that you’ll eventually run into some weird scenario where you’ll have to think on your feet and determine your choice using logic like what I presented in these articles. By understanding the building blocks of removal decision making you’ll be a much more adaptive player than someone who simply memorizes dozens of game states. I hope you enjoyed my series of articles on removal spells. Tusen takk for at du leser (thousand thanks for reading)!