Thursday, October 30, 2014

Removal At Common

This past week Marshall Sutcliffe of Limited Resources fame wrote an excellent article for Wizards entitled "Doom Blade Days." (You can click on the title to read the original article, which I definitely recommend). In it, he tracks how removal has changed at Common all the way back to the Shards of Alara block, which actually is around the same time that I started getting involved in Standard Pauper. I have long maintained that of all the sanctioned formats of Magic the Gathering, Standard Pauper is probably closest to Limited, due to that format's dependence on Commons. Marshall's analysis is spot-on, and has strong implications for Standard Pauper.

Back in the day, Doom Blade was one of the premiere cards in both Limited and Standard Pauper. It was Instant speed, cheap, and almost unconditional, save for its inability to target Black creatures (which, incidentally, also boosted the power level of Black in general). Today, it has by-and-large been replaced with cards like Flesh to Dust, which are Sorcery speed, expensive, but at least remain otherwise unconditional. In Red, there has been a similar shift, moving from the excellent Lightning Bolt to the reasonable Lightning Strike but trending more and more towards cards like Bring Low. Oblivion Ring, Journey to Nowhere, and even Pacifism have all gone by the wayside.

In his article, Marshall traces how this has affected Limited, and these effects are mirrored in Standard Pauper.
  1. Auras are playable. Gone are the days when auras were almost unplayable. Now, with removal being more expensive and Sorcery speed, it is much easier to stick and get a card's worth of value out of many of these enchantments.
  2. Combat tricks are better. Interestingly enough, as removal has decreased in power level, combat tricks have increased accordingly. Cards like Gods Willing and Feat of Resistance are very strong.
  3. Bounce and 'Detain' effects are almost as good as removal. Especially in a tempo-based archetype or when attached to a creature, this has become the go-to method for interacting with your opponent's creatures early in the game. 
  4. Defensive creatures and Deathtouch are also more widespread. Typhoid Rats, Lagonna-Band Trailblazer, and others have moved from fringe to playable.
Gone are the days when most Standard Pauper decks include 12-16 removal spells. This has allowed the format to diversify, and shifted the balance away from Control decks always dominating the format. Overall I would say this has been a healthy shift for the format. It will be interesting to see whether this trend continues.

What do you think of this shift in removal at Common? Let me know in the comments below.

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