If your opponent is attacking you with a Grave Titan, and you have a Hoarding Dragon on defense, then you can call on a lot of different tricks to take care of the extremely threatening mythic rare. But you better be ready with a Condemn, a Lightning Bolt, a Giant-Growth-like effect (or two) or else you aren't going to have much time to try to get back in the game.
Heck, even if you have that key trick that you need to deal with the attacking 6/6, you might not be able to overcome the four 2/2 creatures that your opponent made with his or her Grave Titan.
In the Grave Titan situation it doesn't really matter what kind of trick you have—you just have to have something, anything really, that can affect combat in a relevant way. The important thing is that you have one. But often times, the trick that you have, or don't have, can change the situation in a very big way.
Different situations call for very different kinds of tricks. That Safe Passage that was an absolute all-star when your opponent tried to Fireball away your two best creatures, won't do all that much when your opponent has the board locked up with a bunch of Giant Spiders and is whacking away at your life total with an evasion creature.
Meanwhile, that Fling that you used to deal your opponent the killing blow last game won't be all that great if you are staring at a Runeclaw Bear while your opponent attacks you with his or her 4/4. However, that Giant Growth which you decided to sideboard out would be just the thing that you would need to take down your opponent's 4/4 and have your Runeclaw Bear live to tell the tale.
While we don't have enough time to go too deep into the combat implications of all of the common and uncommon tricks in M11, we can at least explore how they should affect your base level thinking.
A lone Squadron Hawk isn't all that impressive. A 1/1 flyer for two mana is the kind of card that you might play if you are desperately searching for that last card to fill out your deck, you have a weak curve, or you have a ton of auras and equipment and you really want some more evasion creatures to put them on.
But when you are able to search up another copy of Squadron Hawk, it becomes a very reasonable card to include. And once you can fetch up a second and a third copy of the 1/1 flyer, you will (usually) be very happy to have them in your deck.
Once you have those three 1/1 flyers, you can comfortably trade them one at a time for Stormfront Pegasuses (or is that Pegasi?) and Goblin Pikers. If you have to trade two of your three Squadron Hawks for a Vulshok Berserker, you are still getting a fine deal because you only invested one physical card to get your three hawks.
Even if you use a Mighty Leap to have one of your Squadron Hawks trade with a Fire Servant, you are still coming out pretty well in the exchange because you have only spent one-and-one-third of a card to deal with one of your opponent's best creatures.
But these types of exchanges don't really take advantage of the fact that you just cast three 1/1 flyers. To really take advantage of your Squadron Hawks you need a card that interacts with all of your creatures, something like Honor of the Pure, or ...
- Inspired Charge
Inspired Charge isn't always a great card. Yes, you can win multiple combats in a single turn with it, or overrun your opponents, or do any number of impressive things with it.
But for four mana, you are paying quite a bit for your combat trick. You won't be able to leave the mana and the creatures up to make it effective without telegraphing it very loudly.
It goes without saying that you should be aware of any opponent who leaves four mana open and an inordinate number of creatures on defense—there is probably a pretty devastating trick waiting in the winds.
If your curve is on the higher end of things, you might not even end up playing any of the Inspired Charges that you see.
Like many tricks, Condemn's effectiveness can go way down if your opponent thinks that you have it in your hand.
Heck, even if you don't have something as impressive as a Platinum Angel, if you are in a tight race—but you don't have too many creatures in reserve, it is often worth it to hold back your biggest creature rather than attack with it.
Sure your opponent's Condemn will eventually nab one of your best creatures, but if Condemn is a card that is on your radar you can generally make sure that you don't get blown out in a race because of it.
- Safe Passage
Safe Passage has the potential to create some of the biggest blowouts imaginable. Your opponent goes to cast Destructive Force to clear the board of everything other than his Earth Servant, which will just barely survive. But wait—you have the Safe Passage to save your army of creatures and practically end the game on the spot.
And then there are the times that Safe Passage just kind of clogs up your hand while other, far more relevant, things happen. Eventually you'll have to use it to Fog, or save one of your barely relevant creatures.
Safe Passage is definitely a good card, and there are times when it will almost single-handedly win you the game, but it is conditional enough that you don't want to pick it too early or put too many of them in your deck.
I love having an Unsummon in my deck. It's extremely easy to leave a blue mana open to keep your opponents best creature off the board for a turn, permanently deal with an aura, fizzle a Giant Growth, or save your best creature from a removal spell.
You don't want to fill your deck up with too many Unsummons as they ultimately cost you a physical card, but if you can get one or two they should be more than welcome additions to your deck.
- Lightning Bolt, Doom Blade and Chandra's Outrage
They're versatile and incredibly effective.
They slice, and they dice!
They kill, and they thrill!
I have. And let me tell you, it not only feels great, it also tends to put you disturbingly ahead on the board.
When played poorly, Fling is a good way to spend two cards to kill a creature
If you think your opponent might have a Fling, try to hold off on using your removal spells until your opponent is tapped low. By the same notion, if you have a Fling and you think your opponent is getting ready to use a removal spell, you want to do everything you can to leave two mana open so you can throw your would be killed creature at your opponent's top guy.
- Thunder Strike and Mighty Leap
+2 power isn't a huge boost for a creature to get for two mana. If a pump spell were going to give my creature +3, +4, or +more power, then I would put it in my deck knowing that there would be a good chance that I would use it to help me deliver the finishing blow to unsuspecting opponents.
While Thunder Strike can still help you deliver those final few points of damage to your opponent every now and again, its true strength is in helping you win creature combats. If you are put into a combat between two creatures that are even remotely close in power, then a single Thunder Strike will usually be enough for you to win the combat outright.
Taking down one of your opponents four-, five- or even six-drops for the low, low cost of two mana is nothing to sneeze at
Thunder Strike is the kind of card that you can pick up really late in the draft. If you can tell that you are going to be a bit light on tricks, then you can practically bank on getting that Thunder Strike that you saw third-pick when the pack comes back around.
Mighty Leap is similarly easy to pick up, and while it isn't quite as good at winning creature combats as Thunder Strike, it has an easier time allowing you to swing in for those last couple of points of unblockable damage.
At the rock-bottom price of a single green mana, Fog has been preventing a turn's worth of combat damage since Alpha.
While Fog isn't the kind of card that you usually want to main-deck, or even one that you will often want to sideboard in, if you think that you are going to get into some really tight races then it might be time for that old Fog to come out and shine again.
- Giant Growth
The most classic combat trick known to man, Giant Growth has been around for as long as Magic has. You need to be careful with your Giant Growths if you think that your opponent has a Lightning Bolt, a Doom Blade, or an Unsummon. But if you find a good opportunity to give your creature +3/+3, you can set yourself up for some very attractive combats.
Diminish is another solid combat trick, but it is just conditional enough that you don't want to take it with any of your earliest picks.
- Hornet Sting and Stabbing Pain
Of course you would rather have a Lightning Bolt or a Doom Blade than a Hornet Sting, or a Stabbing Pain, but that doesn't mean that you should run in the opposite direction every time you see one of these one-casting-cost removal spells.
While Hornet Sting and Stabbing Pain will pretty much never be the best card for the job—that title belongs to all-star cards like Lightning Bolt, or situational cards like Diminish or Unsummon—Hornet Sting and Stabbing Pain are often good enough to get the job done.
If you need to kill a Birds of Paradise on turn one, Hornet Sting is there. If you need to get rid of a Stormfront Pegasus before it starts clobbering you for 2 a turn, it's time to look to Stabbing Pain. If you don't want to get walloped by that Awakener-Druid-enabled 4/5 land, then you better hope that you have a removal spell ready—and that removal spell might as well be Hornet Sting.
No matter the draft, I wouldn't spend an early pick on either Hornet Sting or Stabbing Pain, and I wouldn't feel obligated to play it in my main deck either, but if I have the opportunity to pick up a one-casting-cost removal spell on the cheap, I will certainly do so.
Even if I am only brining in my Hornet Sting for a couple of games against an opponent who has an aggressive white deck, it will have been worth the pick.
- Combust, Celestial Purge, Naturalize and Plummet
The majority of your opponents will be playing at least one of the relevant colors making these two-casting-cost removal spells more than worth it.
Like Combust and Celestial Purge, Naturalize and Plummet are only good if your opponent has the right targets. However, unlike Combust and Celestial Purge, Naturalize and Plummet are usually better left in your sideboard. When Naturalize and Plummet are good, they tend to be excellent—but there are too many times when they are dead to warrant play in most starting forty.