Removal

This is my first post, so I guess it’s appropriate that it hearkens back to my very first time playing Magic. It was back in March of 2013; we’d thrown together my deck the night before, since I was only in town for a few days on leave between duty stations. Olivia Voldaren was my commander—yes, I dove right in to the most complicated format, with absolutely no prior experience in the game.

So, there I was, brand-new player, no idea what I was doing beyond what it said on the cards and the instructions to remember “untap, upkeep, draw,” playing a completely untested deck. Turn two, I got down a Falkenrath Exterminator. At a table with probably half a dozen other players, nobody else had any creatures. So I proceeded to go around the table, attacking each player in turn, my creature becoming bigger with each attack. Amidst cries of, “Somebody kill it already,” I looked at my hand, perplexed to realize that I was the only person at the table with a kill-spell in hand. My Exterminator did eventually die, but by that point it had gotten probably half a dozen counters on it, making it, for that game, more valuable than a Tarmogoyf.

About the time my Exterminator finally bit the dust, I was able to play what immediately became my favorite Magic card ever, Havoc Festival. Across from me was a player with a green-white life-gain deck. As long as my enchantment was on the battlefield, he was screwed. “But you’re playing green-white. Don’t you have enchantment removal?” Yes, of course he did. He had an Aura Shards, somewhere in his deck. Which did him absolutely no good when he failed to draw it. This was compounded when I somehow got Havoc Festival in four of the other five games played that night.

There are two lessons to be learned from this: First, I am actually an evil mastermind who enjoys other people’s pain, and second, always run removal. When I later made my own green-white life-gain deck, I packed it with enough enchantment removal that I could be almost guaranteed to have it in hand when Havoc Festival came down.

Several months later, I was home on leave for July 4th, and had some people over, and started a game of Commander. I was trying out my Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts deck, and one of the players had gotten down a lot of scary creatures. Another player turned to me and said, “You’re playing white-black, don’t you have removal?” Well, naturally I was running some kill-spells, like Murder and Tragic Slip, but I was working with a limited supply of cards, since I was still just starting out. But I took that off-hand comment to heart, and when I got a chance, loaded that deck with removal of all types. It’s now the most powerful deck I own (although Olivia will always have a special place in my heart).

Point being, removal is key. So many Commander players fail to realize this. They’d rather put something powerful in their own deck, rather than something to deal with an opponent’s powerful thing. Or they’ll just put in boardwipes, since that’s card advantage, and they feel they’re getting more value. But when you use a Damnation to kill a Master Thief that’s stolen your mana-rock, you’ve just pissed off the entire table, which is a bad idea in such a political format.

In the playgroup I created at my new duty station, my friends at first refused to run removal, citing the fact that I would take care of that for them. That’s all well and good, until you’re staring down a 21/21 Olivia Voldaren, with no fliers because I’ve stolen them all, and I’m the only one at the table with removal in hand.

So. Removal. Have it in your deck, in whatever forms your commander’s color identity allows. Have enough of it that you have a shot of having it in hand when you need it. And have some targeted removal for that time when you just need to kill the Master Thief to get your mana-rock back and don’t want to piss off the merfolk player.