The Best Removal Spells in Standard

KarnageKards breaks down the top removal spells in Standard for those just getting into the format or who need a refresher.

It’s Alive!!

Standard is an unpopular format. It has been for quite some time. The things people hate about it, though, used to be the things we loved it for: it has a very limited card pool, underpowered decks, very little combo and generally rewards skills over matchups. In recent years, the power level of Standard has crept up (like most formats), which lead to some pretty busted cards and decks. In turn, we saw bans – and a lot of them. 

But with the most recent rotation that took place, Standard is alive again. It is an interactive format. Matches are long and can be grueling. Aggro is good, midrange is king, and control is hard to play because of all the variety of decks. To me, this is a healthy and fun format – my favorite format, even – and this comes at a great time with Standard being the format of the season two Regional Championships.

Standard’s limited card pool makes deck building difficult. You need to know the format’s best threats, archetypes and answers. Other formats are clearer in this regard. Take Pioneer, for example: the best removal is always the same. Fatal Push is a format staple and an easy place to start when deck building. In Standard, the clear best removal spells aren’t obvious, and most removal is situational. So today, as we are all trying to test and get into Standard, I will do all the hard work for you! Here are the ten best Standard removal spells in the format.

#10 Strangle

Strangle is bad. You wouldn’t think it, as Lightning Bolt is a highly-played card, but instant speed to sorcery speed is a big difference. Strangle is something red decks need, though. If you aren’t pairing your red cards with black cards, you need to play some amount of Strangles. It kills Bloodtithe Harvester, most soldiers, and Mono-Red creatures. It helps keep control of the board and costs one mana. As far as one-mana removal spells go in Standard, it isn’t terrible.

#9 Play With Fire

Red removal isn’t perfect. Damage-based removal is always a bit problematic. Creatures can outsize Play with Fire easily, but it jumps ahead of Strangle for one reason: it goes face. Being able to turn it towards your opponent is great, and you even get to scry once if you do. Two damage isn’t ideal, but does hit a lot of the format – Bloodtithe Harvester, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Harbin, Siege Veteran and more. Again, if you are playing red and are aggressive (which go hand-in-hand), Play with Fire is a great choice.

#8 March of Otherworldly Light

This removal spell was red hot when it was released. It saw play everywhere and was a major upgrade for white-based decks, but recently the card has disappeared. I still believe this card to be powerful. Does it always cost more mana than what it removes? Yes. Does it cost an extra card sometimes to nail an important threat? Yes. But being able to answer anything on the battlefield and do it at instant speed is not something to laugh at. This card is currently underrated and something to look at when deckbuilding.

#7 Cut Down

Cut down is a perfect Standard card. It is a card you need to play to help in your aggro matchups. It is efficient and cheap, but comes at a cost. It doesn’t kill everything. Like red removal, it feels a little damage-based. You can’t kill everything, and sometimes it will rot in your hand. I love cards like this in a format, because it rewards sequencing your removal spells well and deckbuilding. You won’t ever see a full four cut down mainboard in Standard, but you will see one, two, or even three. If your deck struggles with aggro, Cut Down is the answer.

#6 Soul Transfer

Soul Transfer is seeing an uptick in play recently. This card is expensive – the most expensive on the list – but it exiles and can sometimes even return a creature for you. Exile removal is huge right now. Sanctuary Warden is the big finisher for Mono-White decks. Being able to just straight exile it is huge. Other problematic threats it deals with are Ao, the Dawn Sky planeswalkers, Valiant Veteran and more. I believe this card will see an uptick if Mono-White can continue to be a premier deck in the format.

#5 Destroy Evil

Destroy Evil, I will admit, looks out of place. This is one of those amazing limited cards. But I promise you this card is very good. White is generally unable to kill large creatures and answer many threats at instant speed. Currently, Destroy Evil answers some of the format’s best threats: Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Wedding Announcement, Sheoldred, Raffine, Ao, the Dawn Sky Haughty Djinn and more. Being able to answer those above for two mana at instant speed makes this card a must-play in white decks.

#4 Abrade

Abrade is like Destroy Evil. It is restrictive in what it can answer, but the format is currently ripe for Abrade. I won’t name everything it kills, but refer to Strangle. It kills all the same things, but at instant speed. Yes, it costs two instead of one, but it has more text. Blowing up an artifact is huge right now. One of the most-played cards in the format is Reckoner Bankbuster. This card creates such an advantage that being able to answer it on turn two as soon as it is played is a massive tempo swing. If you are playing red, you should at least be playing two Abrade in your 75. 

#3 Lay Down Arms

Lay Down Arms is great. It costs one mana and exiles the creature. But, it has major downsides. Sorcery speed is bad, but it is a strong enough effect that the sorcery speed makes sense design-wise. The bigger downside, though, is that it exiles based on the number of Plains you control. This is a massive minus. In Standard, you don’t have Shock Lands or duals that work for it. You need to have a high density of basic Plains in your deck, but Lay Down Arms is a massive pay off. You realistically only need about four Plains to remove most of the creatures in the format outside of Sanctuary Warden. This spell is the reason Mono-White midrange exists and wow is it quite the removal spell.

#2 Infernal Grasp

Not too much to say here for Infernal Grasp. It is two-mana, kill-any-creature-at-any-time. It is instant speed and in the best color in Standard currently. The one drawback, and the reason it doesn’t get top spot, is that you lose two life. I know on the face of it, two life isn’t huge. We are mostly told to use our life as a resource, but two life isn’t small, and currently, the matchups you want Infernal Grasp in the most are matchups where your life total matters. Infernal Grasp is the least restrictive removal spell and easily could be number one at any point in time if we see the format change with more artifact sets being released.

#1 Go For the Throat

Go for the Throat is an amazing Standard reprint. It removes everything for two mana unless it is an artifact. Currently, in Standard, this restriction isn’t all that bad, and I put it above Infernal Grasp as it doesn’t cost life. 

Not too many artifact creatures are being played. We see Reckoner Bankbuster a ton, but not being able to kill the creature side isn’t alarming or cause to forego Go for the Throat.  Some other threats that get around it are Yotian Frontliner, Fleshgorger and Steel Seraph. The format hasn’t adopted artifact creatures much, and this makes Go for the Throat the premier removal spell in the format. If the format changes, we would need to reevaluate Go for the Throat as the best removal spell in Standard. 

End Step

Standard is a format with many restrictive removal spells. You need to know the threats to know what removal spells your deck needs. Hopefully, this list can give you an excellent starting point for where you want to start when thinking about removal. With the card pool increasing shortly, I look forward to revisiting this list. 

  • KarnageKards

    Competitive Team Lead

    KarnageKardsENT has been playing Magic since Scars of Mirrodin. During the Pandemic, he moved to playing MTGO. Today, you can find him playing Pioneer, Modern and sometimes Standard. A mainstay in the Pioneer Challenges, Karnage can be found at Most Eastern F2F stops in Canada.

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