Creature Removal in Return to Ravnica Standard


Star City Games Cincinnati (SCGCIN) took place last weekend on October 6. It was the first major Magic: the Gathering Standard tournament since the format rotated and Return to Ravnica became legal, and it is our first look at new cards and early deck ideas in action.

The new Standard is home to a myriad of powerful and effective creature spells, and to be successful a deck must be able to handle them. I reviewed the decks that made the top 16 of the tournament and took a look at what creature removal spells were played.

Top Ten Most Played

Here are the top-ten most-played creature removal cards in the top 16 of SCGCIN:

  1. Pillar of Flame: 24 copies (23 main, 1 sideboard)
  2. Terminus: 15 copies (all in the main)
  3. Detention Sphere: 15 copies (14 main, 1 sideboard)
  4. Supreme Verdict: 14 copies (7 main, 7 sideboard)
  5. Tragic Slip: 10 copies (8 main, 2 sideboard)
  6. Azorius Charm: 9 copies (all in the main)
  7. Selesnya Charm: 9 copies (all in the main)
  8. Dreadbore: 9 copies (5 main, 4 sideboard)
  9. Sever the Bloodline: 9 copies (5 main, 4 sideboard)
  10. Searing Spear: 8 copies (all in the main)
Searing Spear is actually tied at 8 copies with two other spells:

  1. Mizzium Mortars: 8 copies (5 main, 3 sideboard)
  2. Golgari Charm: 8 copies (1 main, 7 sideboard)

The sheer volume of Pillar of Flame is an indication that Zombies, in all color variations, was expected and prepared for. Terminus, Detention Sphere, and Supreme Verdict are also good against Zombies (ok, creatures in general) and point to three control decks in the top 16: two UWR lists and one Bant (UWG). The Charms were popular maindeck options, likely because of their versatility and ability to play multiple roles in a deck.

Enchanted Removal

The deck with my favorite removal suite is Daniel Caskey’s Golgari Zombies list. Daniel finished eighth in the tournament, and his main deck removal was four Crippling Blight, three Dead Weight, and two Ultimate Price.

Crippling Blight is a nice option for a Zombies deck expecting endless mirror matches and plenty of creature-based aggro and midrange opponents. It removes one-toughness enemies such as Blood Artist and keeps tougher creatures from blocking your zombie onslaught, which is the next best thing to removal. At the cost of B it fits very well into the Zombies player’s game plan. Dead Weight plays a similar role, and both enchantments soften up creatures they do not kill outright, making Rancor better by increasing the amount of trample damage that gets through.

I also like the three copies of Victim of Night in the sideboard. Outside of Zombies, this instant kills most creatures currently seeing play, Olivia Voldaren and Huntmaster of the Fells being obvious exceptions.

The Ultimate Price

Daniel Caskey piloted the only top-16 deck to play any copies of Ultimate Price. Ultimate Price could be the Doom Blade or Go for the Throat of this format, or it could be unplayable depending on the metagame. I don’t know how well it performed for him, but I can tell you the following:

That’s a good list of creatures you want dead if you are facing them. Still, the ability to remove 60% of the creatures seeing play for 1B at instant speed is worth consideration as one of a couple answers in the maindeck or a couple spots in the sideboard.

Notably Absent

Despite seven decks playing both black and green in some combination, only two copies of Abrupt Decay were present in the top 16, both in the same sideboard. That is surprising considering all the talk about the card during spoiler season, but the BG casting cost is concerning for a three or more colored deck, which all but one of the seven decks were. The two Jund Zombies lists both opted for a full four Tragic Slip to take advantage of so much morbidity, as well as red spells such as Dreadbore, Flames of the Firebrand, and Brimstone Volley. The Jund Ramp and Midrange decks favored Pillar of Flame, Mizzium Mortars, and Sever the Bloodline to better defend against Zombies decks, as well as to take advantage of superior mana production capabilities. Daniel Caskey’s Golgari Zombies showcased the enchantment removal technology I discussed above.

Abrupt Decay is a card that will see play once the format is more defined and one or more threats are identified for which it is the best answer. Zombies are not that threat. It may end up in more sideboards after this tournament to combat Detention Sphere.

Similarly, the top 16 saw only three copies of Bonfire of the Damned, one of those in the starting sixty, the other two in sideboards. The rotation of Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves means fewer decks are playing eight one-drop mana accelerating creatures, a shell against which Bonfire burns quite brightly. Add to this a little competition from Mizzium Mortars in the one-sided sweeper category, eight copies of which were played in the top 16 decks. So is the scourge of standard finished? Far from it-there are eight more copies of Bonfire in the top 32 decks of SCGCIN, and the card is far too powerful to lose favor. Deck brewers are experimenting and will figure out its place in the new Standard.

Evolution of Removal

We have only one tournament under our belt in Return to Ravnica Standard, not enough to identify any trends, and the format will evolve and change in response to these results. Creature removal will shift as well. Red was played in nine of the top 16 decks, suggesting that cards such as Pillar of Flame, Dreadbore, Searing Spear, and Mizzium Mortars are getting the job done against opposing creatures. The Pillar and Spear also damage an opponent, providing more reach to a deck. This will continue as long as Zombies is considered a major player in the metagame. Five of the top 50 decks were playing UWR Control, including tournament winner Todd Anderson, so the trio of Terminus, Detention Sphere, and Supreme Verdict is likely to see more play.

Crippling Blight is an up-and-comer, and many will follow Daniel Caskey’s lead there. I expect strong tokens decks to hit the format soon, and Sever the Bloodline will become even more valuable. Cyclonic Rift will be another strong card against tokens, as well as green-based aggro and midrange decks that will be clogging up the battlefield.

Time will tell what other changes the new format brings. I look forward to seeing how it all develops.

Nick Vigabool (@MrVigabool)