This page covers large-scale removal spells. For details on individually targeted removal spells, see Removal
Mass removal refers to removal spells that have more than one target. These spells often 'reset' the board to square one, taking away many game pieces at once and forcing them to rebuild. They may be one-sided, only affecting one or multiple opponents, or they may affect all players.
Mass removal usually involves destroying, exiling, or shrinking all creatures, or bouncing all creatures to their owners' hands. Mass removal also refers to cards that destroy, exile, or bounce all noncreature permanents, such as artifacts and enchantments.
- 1 Mass Removal in Commander
- 2 Mass Removal by Color
- 3 Playing around Mass Removal
- 4 Strengths and Weaknesses
Mass Removal in Commander
In a multiplayer format like Commander, trading one-for-one with an opponent (such as using one of your spells to destroy one of their creatures) is considered a net loss in card advantage, because there are other players at the table who were unaffected by the trade.
Mass removal is therefore often placed at a higher value in Commander than it is in other formats, as it scales more appropriately to multiple opponents.
Mass Removal by Color
Mass removal is not restricted by color pie; each color has access to mass removal in some form or another.
- White can remove every type of permanent, usually with either exile or destruction. White is particularly adept at destroying all creatures, and can sometimes glean extra benefit from mass removal spells beyond the act of destruction itself.
- Blue can deal with any type of permanent, but on a temporary basis, either by returning permanents to their owners' hands, or by tucking them back into their libraries.
- Black excels at destroying creatures and planeswalkers, either by destruction or shrinking effects.
- Red can destroy creatures and artifacts en masse. Red's creature removal is almost always based upon dealing lethal damage to those creatures.
- Green excels at destroying artifacts and enchantments. Though green does not typically have the ability to destroy creatures outright, it does have a few effects that can remove smaller creatures or creatures with flying.
- There are also lots of mass removal effects that appear on colorless cards. These effects do not typically remove a specific type of permanent, such as creatures, but instead tend to destroy or exile all nonland permanents indiscriminately.
- Overlapping colors often produce unique variants of mass removal spells. Since some colors are not usually able to remove specific types of permanents, multicolored mass removal spells tend to allow the colors to complement each other's weaknesses for a more potent removal effect.
Playing around Mass Removal
In a multiplayer setting such as Commander, mass removal spells are quite common. Aggressive decks, especially creature-based strategies, are particularly destabilized by mass removal effects. A key element of Commander is therefore the ability to play around unfriendly board wipes.
- A classic strategy to avoid losing too many resources to a mass removal spell is a player choosing not to overcommit to the board. Players who cast all the spells in their hand, only to have those cards be destroyed by one mass removal spell, will have a difficult time fighting their way back into the game. Holding back some resources or threats in hand, to deploy after an opponent's board wipe effect, can help avoid losing too many game pieces. This can be tricky, however, as holding back too many spells or being too cautious may impact a player's ability to properly amass the power they need to defeat their enemies.
- Many mass removal effects tend to destroy the permanents they seek to remove. This makes them moot in the face of indestructibility. There are also some variants on indestructibility that can also be used as extra protection against destruction effects to keep permanents on the battlefield.
- The above examples provide proactive protection against mass removal, but playing around board wipes is more commonly reactive. Instant-speed responses are often employed to take opponents by surprise when they attempt to destroy lots of permanents.
- Many spells can provide instant-speed indestructibility, but several will also provide extra workarounds that can also bypass other forms of mass removal, such as bounce or exile. It is also common to see players employ countermagic for the specific purpose of countering mass removal spells that might disrupt their board state.
Card Advantage and Recursion
- Although not really a direct answer to board wipes, sheer card advantage, both through card draw and recursion, can be a very effective way to get around the negative effects of mass removal spells. Even if a player has lost many cards to an opponent's board wipe, methods of card advantage allow them to more easily rebuild their board presence.
- Simple card draw is often enough to help a player find the tools they need to remake their board state. It is therefore common for the decks that are most devastated by board wipes (particularly aggressive, creature-based strategies) to use card draw effects that directly scale to the power level of own board states, as a means of acquiring a larger influx of cards in case their plan is disrupted.
- Recursion is also another means of card advantage that can help recoup a player's losses from mass removal spells. This type of play style is heavily associated with the Golgari color pair and involves returning cards from the graveyard to their owner's hand, or using reanimation spells to put them back onto the battlefield directly. Rather than dig for new threats to present to their enemies, players who use recursion effects bring back the old threats as a means of avoiding the negative impacts of mass removal.
Strengths and Weaknesses
- They deal with multiple problematic targets at once.
- They tend to have very efficient mana costs for their effects.
- They help equalize the playing field and remove opponents from dominant board positions.
- They are the primary weakness of aggressive strategies, especially creature-based decks. A single board wipe can sometimes stop another player's entire plan.
- Often the player who casts the mass removal spell is able to position themselves to best take advantage of it, for instance by having the first chance to rebuild their board after the spell resolves, or by playing the mass removal spell when they themselves have the least to lose from it.
- Though they are efficiently costed for their effects, mass removal spells almost always cost more mana than single-target removal spells.
- Mass removal effects are almost always sorcery speed.
- Many of them are symmetrical, hurting the caster as well as their opponents.
- A game that involves multiple mass removal spells is likely to dramatically increase that game's duration.