Since I started playing Magic over a decade ago, pretty much every time a new set has come out, people have complained that all the games in the new Limited format are determined by mana screw or who plays their bomb first. I can tell you right now, thinking that way is a great way to not improve at Magic. If you try to blame your losses on luck or on the format being "bomb-dependent," then you're really missing the big picture.
Sure, some games are decided by who casts their bomb first. Sometimes there's simply nothing you can do if your opponent casts an Eldrazi, or a Dragon, or a Loxodon Warhammer, or an Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor, and you don't have a removal spell handy to take care of it.
Sometimes you cast all of your creatures as you drew them, but you never drew any sort of removal spell, and you never really had an opportunity to interact with your opponent before he or she beat you.
Other times you had a removal spell, but you had already used it on a generic 4/4 that you were worried would clonk you over the head for too much damage before you could find a good blocker. Or on that evasion creature that you knew you needed to deal with, lest it eventually kill you. Or on that key blocker that you wanted to clear out of the way so you could punch through a good amount of damage and hopefully kill your opponent before he or she had the chance to play out his or her most powerful cards.
In situations like that, where you had a way to deal with your opponent's bomb but used it for something else, it's important to realize that just because you eventually lost to your opponent's big bomb doesn't mean that you made a mistake when you killed your opponent's mid-sized creature on turn five.
There is one question that you do want and need to ask yourself when you're trying to decide whether or not to use your removal spell: What are you actually gaining from using this removal spell?
If your choice is between trading your mid-sized creature for your opponent's or using a Corpsehatch on the opposing creature, then you'd better be punching through a lot of damage and/or holding off a lot of smaller creatures with your creature.
It might have been a clear-cut mistake to kill that 4/4 if you had the tools to deal with that creature otherwise, and your deck had all the resources to win a long game so long as you held onto answers for your opponent's top threats. Or it might have been a mistake because you had a noticeable advantage, and the easiest way that you could lose from that spot would be if your opponent were able to resolve and hold onto a monstrous threat.
But oftentimes your deck won't actually be that well-suited for the late game, and you won't have a significant advantage when you're put to the task of having to decide whether or not to use one of your highly versatile removal spells to kill one of your opponent's fairly average four- or five-cost threats. And if you see that you have the opportunity to press an advantage in the short term, or to stem the bleeding a bit, then you might just have to use one of your top-notch removal spells on an abstractly less powerful creature.
- Dealing with the Biggest Threats
Last week I talked a lot about the Eldrazi and how to cast them, but I didn't talk in depth about how to deal with them. The easy answer is, of course, to simply kill your opponent before he or she is able to cast an 8+ casting cost creature.
If your opponent does live long enough to cast a humongous Eldrazi, a Dragon, or fully level up a leveler, then you're going to want to have a removal spell or a counter to deal with it. Fortunately, Rise of the Eldrazi has a number of spells capable of handling even the deadliest threats in the set. But how should you value them?
- Guard Duty
In most formats, Guard Duty would be pretty underwhelming. It's the type of card that can be put to good use in control decks that need to buy time to get to the late game, are looking to win with evasion creatures, and/or need an additional way to deal with bombs.
In Rise of the Eldrazi Limited, most decks fit at least one of these categories. Even if you are playing Guard Duty with the sole intent of saving it for your opponent's biggest threats, it can still be very worthwhile.
Even if you don't intend to use it early, possibly because you plan on doing a lot of attacking on the ground with mid-sized creatures, you will have a reasonable number of opportunities to use it effectively on the first couple of turns. Maybe you need it to bring an evasion creature to a halt. Maybe your opponent played out a 4/4 or a 5/5 when you didn't have much of anything going for you. Maybe you don't have any plays until turn four and you want to neuter your opponent's two-drop. And so on.
While I still wouldn't want to take Guard Duty early in most decks, I have no problem picking it up starting around the fourth or fifth pick if I feel that my deck has strong late-game potential. If, however, my deck is looking to be fairly midrange, where I would be looking to pick up a lot of my wins by attacking with 3/3s and 4/4s, then I wouldn't want to pick up Guard Duty until pretty late in the pack.
Oust is a pretty remarkable card. I actually did a double take the first time that I saw it—I just couldn't believe that it only cost one mana. If your opponent has just cast a ten-cost Eldrazi creature or invested a ton of mana into leveling up their creature, then there are few plays sweeter than Ousting it away. Oust is also one of very few cards in this set that permanently deals with a totem armor Aura at a profit (by Ousting the creature it's enchanting).
Heck, Oust is even one of the best plays to deal with your opponent's four- or five-drops, or even a two- or three-drop. If you Oust your opponent's two-drop on turn two, not only will that save you a bunch of bleeding, it will also ensure that your opponent will draw a two-drop on his or her fourth turn, which is rarely desirable.
The 3 life that your opponent gains is pretty negligible even in more aggressive decks, because at a mere one mana, Oust will rarely prevent you from casting a second spell that turn. The fact that you only have to pay one mana for Oust gives you such a great opportunity to get far ahead of your opponent on time and more than offsets the life gain that the card provides your foe.
I've already talked about this, and if you've played the format much I'm sure that you already noticed this, but it bears mentioning again that Corpsehatch is a pretty fantastic card that you shouldn't hesitate to take over anything but the very bombiest cards in the set.
- Perish the Thought
Three mana is the upper limit of what you should be willing to pay for a Coercion type effect, which just so happens to be exactly the price tag on Perish the Thought. And since targeted discard tends to be quite good in slower matchups, it would follow that Perish the Thought should be a pretty solid card in Rise of the Eldrazi Limited.
But in practice, it isn't actually that special. The fact that Perish the Thought doesn't permanently deal with your opponents' cards actually lowers its value noticeably. Because of that, I would prefer to play Perish the Thought in aggressive and mid range decks rather than attrition-based control decks (which normally make a pretty good home for Coercion-type cards)
While I wouldn't want to take Perish the Thought over a reasonable spell, it is a card that I wouldn't mind having in my sideboard.
Note that even if your opponent destroys the creature that you are blocking with before Smite resolves, your Smite will still kill your opponent's creature. (This may seem strange, but it's similar to the way a blocked creature without trample won't deal damage if all of the creatures blocking it are destroyed.)
The fact that you need to be blocking with a creature in order for Smite to work would make it a somewhat cumbersome card in many formats. However, simply having a blocker is a much easier requirement to fill in Rise of the Eldrazi Limited than it would be in, say, Zendikar Limited.
Even though Smite's cost (needing a blocker) is mitigated by the nature of this format, it can still be a bit awkward to cast. Due to the card's somewhat cumbersome nature, I think it should be about third- through sixth-pick quality for most decks.
Narcolepsy is a very solid, very straightforward card. While I'm writing this article, I think that Narcolepsy is about a second- through fourth-pick quality card, but I'm starting to get the sense that it might be better than that. What do you think?
Vendetta is a top notch removal spell at any stage of the game. The fact that it costs a mere single pip of black mana means that it is very easy to leave up. If your opponent goes to cast an Umbra, and you Vendetta the targeted creature in response, then your opponent is going to be the one that's really hurting, even though you are losing a couple of life points.
Even though it comes at a huge cost, Vendetta is also one of the few cards that can actually kill an Eldrazi creature. While it certainly isn't pleasant to lose 8 or more life to destroy a creature, that's still a much better option than losing outright to an annihilating monster.
Vendetta is another rock-solid removal spell that I would feel completely comfortable first-picking. While I would prefer Corpsehatch to Vendetta, the fact that Vendetta is an instant, coupled with the fact that it only costs one mana to cast, actually makes it considerably better than Corpsehatch in a lot of situations.
Deprive is a very reasonably costed counterspell. It isn't too hard to leave up , especially when you are very deep into the game. However, it is very hard to cast early on because it threatens to set you back a full turn.
Even in a relatively slow format, four mana is pretty steep for a counterspell. While being able to see your opponent's hand is certainly of some value, it isn't really worth the cost. Lay Bare is barely playable, but if you absolutely need a way to answer your opponents' top threats, then there are worse cards that you could have.
Unified Will is a very awkward card. Even if your deck is more aggressive than your opponent's deck, if your opponent starts making some Eldrazi Spawn tokens, it'll be very hard for you to be able to get your Unified Will online.
While I can see some situations where you would want to sideboard in Unified Will, and even the rare deck that might have the tools to main-deck it, I have a very hard time seeing it as a card with anything more than corner case applications.
- Even if You Don't Draw It ...
If you're playing a game, and you lose to your opponent's gigantic bomb which he or she was lucky to cast before you had an opportunity to cast your game-breaker, and you never really had a chance to do much of anything because of the order in which your cards were drawn didn't allow you to really get an offense going, which ultimately left you defenseless ... That doesn't mean that you are blameless.
If you threw away opportunities to pick up removal spells during the draft, then you are ultimately responsible for whatever negative consequences may come of that. But if you are instead able to stay calm and pick up removal spells whenever it seems (even remotely) appropriate to, then you will find yourself with a lot of opportunities to interact with your opponents and make play decisions that will have a significant effect on the outcome of the game.
So maybe you will decide to Vendetta your opponent's mid-size creature because you think that will give you a pretty clear path through which to pummel your opponent, and maybe that play will eventually end up costing you the game when your opponent drops a Conquering Manticore the next turn. That's still significantly better than if you had no removal no, and felt like there was nothing that you could do to affect the outcome of the game.