A few weeks ago, we examined Modern’s best removal spells in each colour. Path to Exile, Snapcaster Mage, Fatal Push, Lightning Bolt, and, well, nothing much were identified as the best the format has to offer when it comes to monocoloured cards, but of course there’s more to it than that. It’s time now for us to get all Bob Ross up in this piece and start combining colours – here come some happy little accidents!
The excellent mana available in Modern means that playing colour-intensive multicoloured cards is generally no problem at all. We see decklists with hefty colour requirements (Lightning Helix alongside Cryptic Command) flourish in Modern, and much of this is because of the increased power level of gold cards. When it comes to removal, which gold cards are the best? What roles do they play, and how can you maximise their effects? Let’s have a look at the all-star multicoloured removal spells.
For so long, Abrupt Decay was a mainstay of GB Rock decks —both Jund and Abzan, as a catch-all answer to any cheap permanent that was causing you headaches. Now, however, Fatal Push does just about as good a job, but at half the price and without a second colour. In other words, Fatal Push is the guy she’s telling Abrupt Decay not to worry about.
That’s not to say Abrupt Decay brings nothing to the table. Quite the opposite – between destroying everything from Planeswalkers to Enchantments, Decay is immune to countermagic and reliably hits three-cost permanents. Despite it drinking away its sorrows with Lightning Bolt at the weekly Fatal-Pushed-From-The-Format Club™, Abrupt Decay still has a lot to offer.
Unfortunately, with the direction Modern is currently taking – namely, towards high-cost threats such as Eldrazi, Titans, and Delve monsters – Abrupt Decay is adversely impacted to the ongoing reaction to the ubiquity of Push. Talk about rubbing salt into the wound – after being overshadowed by by Fatal Push, Abrupt Decay now suffers from the success of its usurper!
Wrath effects don’t come better than Supreme Verdict. We may be past the days of the four-mana sweeper in Standard, but the fact that this sees play in Modern (and sometimes in Legacy!) speaks to the power of cards of this nature. The clear and obvious upgrade with Supreme Verdict over cards like Wrath of God is of course the fact that it can’t be countered, a clause that is increasingly relevant in a world of Death’s Shadow plus Stubborn Denial.
There are very obvious restrictions this card places on your deckbuilding, however. While utilising spot removal doesn’t generally impact your own battlefield presence, playing a card like Supreme Verdict means you can’t afford to leverage a creature-based strategy yourself. This isn’t generally an issue though, as between Planeswalkers and creaturelands, Modern is flush with win conditions that are Verdict-proof.
The cost of the card, however, is a real consideration. Traditionally, four-mana cards have more or less single-handedly won games in Modern – the classic example being Splinter Twin (too soon?). Verdict doesn’t do this. Sure, it can stop your opponent from winning the game, but it by itself won’t get you over the line. What does all this mean? Unlike something such as Abrupt Decay – which slots neatly into more or less any green-black deck – Supreme Verdict is a hugely narrow card that asks a lot of a player in order to really do its best work.
Lightning Helix & Electrolyze
Burn spells are at something of a low point at the moment, although if Jeskai decks continue to surge in popularity, this may change as we move forward. Outside of dedicated Burn decks, Lightning Helix is a rarity. The Birthing Pod days of mowing down opposing piddly green creatures with Electrolyze are gone too. Still, the cards are highly potent and offer welcome value on two distinct axes.
Lightning Helix, as a source of incidental life gain, shines in any matchup where three damage is relevant. Gaining six life off a single copy of Helix in conjunction with Snapcaster Mage can often put you out of range against Burn decks – and generally speaking, snapping off a Helix against any aggressive strategy will give you an extra turn to find your feet – especially if you we’re taking out a creature at the same time.
On the other side of the spectrum, Electrolyze is at its best in wildly different circumstances. Obviously the stone-cold nuts is hitting two one-toughness creatures, but even cleaning up half of a Lingering Souls or going one downstairs and one upstairs feels pretty good. Why? Because this card is a value machine, offering a built-in two-for-one in many cases while not being as embarrassing as something like a Lightning Helix against a dedicated control deck. A burn spell that draws you a card – even if overpriced – can do some very heavy lifting.
Neither of these cards are making headlines in Modern at the present time, however. Never mind one-toughness creatures – there aren’t enough three-toughness creatures hustling hard enough to warrant Bolts, Helices, and the like to be hugely relevant. Honestly, today’s burn spells are best pointed at the dome – which means they’re somewhat shaky inclusions in our overview of removal.
Detention Sphere & Maelstrom Pulse
Despite not even sharing a colour, these two cards are functionally identical in many situations. While Detention Sphere obviously loses points for being vulnerable to enchantment removal (look at Abrupt Decay trying to catch your eye from across the room), generally speaking, both Sphere and Maelstrom Pulse will impact a board state in the same way.
While both cards contest problematic permanents of all kinds – critically, the difficult-to-answer Planeswalkers in Modern – they are both slow and expensive, and can be horrendous draws against aggressive decks. Having said that, any card that has a mechanism for a two-for-one built into its text is difficult to overlook, and there’s no better feeling than removing two identical creatures with a Sphere or a Pulse.
So what is holding these cards back, given their power level? Especially given that you’ll generally be trading down on mana when answering the questions your opponent is asking, you simply can’t afford to lean on three-mana, sorcery speed removal in significant numbers. Even if it’s unconditional, it’s not going to cut it in a format like Modern.
Terminate & Dreadbore
Terminate is the ultimate equal-opportunity removal spell. Toughness, colour, converted mana cost – they all die the same to Terminate, with only things like Hexproof and Protection putting up a roadblock. At two mana, the price is right, and at instant-speed, this card is the best at what it does. It’s insane to think about, but the fact of the matter is that a two-mana unconditional removal spell isn’t good enough to be a four-of in Modern decks.
Dreadbore had picked up as a sideboard option for Grixis Death’s Shadow, and warrants inclusion in this breakdown because it attacks on a very important angle in attacking Planeswalkers. The very fact that Planeswalkers aren’t as heavily played in Modern as they are in Standard means that the format is a little unprepared, and Dreadbore absolutely shines when an opponent is looking to lean on a Gideon, Garruk, or Elspeth.
So why aren’t cards like Terminate dominating the format, given the no-questions-asked nature of unconditional removal? Two mana is just too much! We’ve already discussed three mana being way too expensive with cards like Detention Sphere and Maelstrom Pulse, and while the discount and the instant speed of Terminate means it’s a much better card in so many situations, costing twice what Path, Push, and Bolt do is a lot to ask for.
After just having argued about two- and three-mana removal spells being unfeasible, I’m going to serve myself a stonking great big bowl of my own words and chomp them up. Kolaghan’s Command, despite costing three, offers so much in both power and flexibility that three mana is a more than worthy investment. K-Command represents exactly what three-mana should be worth in a format like Modern, as it is actively difficult not to get a two-for-one with this card.
Finding a way for at least two of the modes to be highly relevant and impactful on a game is never very hard. Shock against aggressive decks, Raise Dead against grindy decks, Raven’s Crime against control decks, and Shatter if there’s a stray artifact around. Combining any two of these relatively minor effects can completely twist the texture of a game, and Kolaghan’s Command can not only pull you further ahead, but also help you get back from behind. This card does it all!
It’s important to mention the most insane way to take advantage of Kolaghan’s Command – it is, of course, with the best card in Modern: Snapcaster Mage. Casting this from the graveyard just about the most value you can get outside of a bakery before closing time – and it gets worse from there. Casting it to return a previously-slain Snapcaster Mage to then begin the cycle anew… cleanup on aisle three! Someone has spewed value everywhere.
When setting the multicoloured removal against the mono-coloured options available in Modern, it’s interesting to see that it’s actually not necessarily better to add more colours. Generally speaking, gold cards have a higher power level than their mono-coloured counterparts, due to the fact that you’re necessarily restricting your deckbuilding options by nailing those particular colours to the mast. In Modern, however, this doesn’t always ring true – simply because most of the time, paying one mana rather than two for a comparable effect is just better.
For example: the monocoloured Doom Blade is obviously worse than the multicoloured Terminate. But when the effect offered by both these cards can be faithfully replicated by Fatal Push – a card that costs half as much – the higher power level of multicoloured cards becomes less relevant. While cards like Detention Sphere have a very high upside, Path to Exile offers too much in the realm of efficiency for Sphere to be as dominant.
Kolaghan’s Command illustrates this point further – an automatic two-for-one, and still not an automatic four-of. In Modern, cost is king, and if a card isn’t able to be played early and efficiently, it will have a hard time breaking into the format. Removal is no exception, and for that reason it’s no surprise to find that one-mana, monocoloured removal is prized above slower, more expensive – albeit more powerful – multicoloured removal.
That’s it for this week – are there any gold cards worthy of inclusion on this non-exhaustive list? Do you agree that monocoloured removal offers more to Modern than these gold cards? Let me know your perspectives on Twitter – @rileyquarytower – and get across @mtgdotone while you’re there!
Riley Knight is a member of the Magic coverage team, and has covered top-level events around the world since 2014. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, his favourite formats are Modern and Cube. Riley enjoys playing most of his Magic during his opponent’s end step.