Aggressive decks have done very well so far in Amonkhet draft. When a format is aggressive, that tends to mean the removal is not very strong. The best way to stymie an aggressive deck is to kill their threats, especially if you can do it at instant speed after blocking in response to a combat trick. Amonkhet, however, does not have many ways to pull this off. The instant hard removal costs four or more mana and tends to be hard to come by during the draft. It can be done, but you have to get creative. I’m here to help.

Top Tier Removal

These are the obvious spells. [casthaven]Magma Spray[/casthaven], [casthaven]Compulsory Rest[/casthaven], [casthaven]Splendid Agony[/casthaven], [casthaven]Electrify[/casthaven], and [casthaven]Final Reward[/casthaven] show up at common. [casthaven]Cast Out[/casthaven], [casthaven]Trial of Zeal[/casthaven], and [casthaven]Deem Worthy[/casthaven] are the big uncommon ones. Note that black doesn’t have a strong uncommon removal spell. Some stuff comes up later, but this is a small collection of premium removal. Only [casthaven]Magma Spray[/casthaven] really lets you blow someone out in combat, though if you have enough mana there are decent options.

Sweet Rares

[casthaven]Gideon of the Trials[/casthaven], [casthaven]Dusk // Dawn[/casthaven], [casthaven]Cut // Ribbons[/casthaven], [casthaven]Never // Return[/casthaven], [casthaven]Commit // Memory[/casthaven], [casthaven]Sweltering Suns[/casthaven], [casthaven]Heaven // Earth[/casthaven], [casthaven]Glorybringer[/casthaven], [casthaven]Archfiend of Ifnir[/casthaven], [casthaven]Angel of Sanctions[/casthaven], [casthaven]Cruel Reality[/casthaven], [casthaven]Heart-Piercer Manticore[/casthaven], [casthaven]Insult // Injury[/casthaven], [casthaven]Prepare // Fight[/casthaven], [casthaven]Rags // Riches[/casthaven], [casthaven]Sandwurm Convergence[/casthaven].

Some of those are straight up removal and the best cards in the set. Others take a bit more work but can kill or negate whole strategies. Not much to say here.

Strong Removal that Requires Work

There are a few cards that become premium removal if you build your deck within their archetype: [casthaven]Time to Reflect[/casthaven], [casthaven]Warfire Javelineer[/casthaven], [casthaven]Ruthless Sniper[/casthaven], and [casthaven]Trial of Ambition[/casthaven] all fit this, and [casthaven]Lay Claim[/casthaven] perhaps does as well. [casthaven]Cartouche of Strength[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Cartouche of Ambition[/casthaven] are premium but require a creature and the right situations to be good.

[casthaven]Fan Bearer[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Edifice of Authority[/casthaven] can shut down most anything, but require time and mana and can be destroyed. Neither is at its best against aggressive decks. [casthaven] Start // Finish[/casthaven] is great in Orzhov decks and can still provide hard removal in slower black decks that can’t cast the front half. [casthaven]Destined // Lead[/casthaven] does a lot of good stuff, mostly as combat trick that turns into finisher, but it can also be used as removal on both sides, making it worth mentioning among the second tier of removal.

Two more creatures also make it here: [casthaven]Soulstinger[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Merciless Javelineer[/casthaven]. [casthaven]Soulstinger[/casthaven] is better for defense, though it is weak to [casthaven]Ahn-Crop Crasher[/casthaven], [casthaven]Cartouche of Zeal[/casthaven], and [casthaven]Merciless Javelineer[/casthaven] when it can’t block and trade for two attackers. [casthaven]Merciless Javelineer[/casthaven] is much more of an aggressive card, but it can kill small stuff if you really need to.

Overall, this second tier is small and situational. This is a big reason why aggressive decks do well in Amonkhet. After the premium removal, there’s not a lot of good stuff to pick up to play defense.

Awkward but Playable

Here are some other ways to answer creatures: [casthaven]Impeccable Timing[/casthaven], [casthaven]Illusory Wrappings[/casthaven], [casthaven]Fling[/casthaven], and [casthaven]Gideon’s Intervention[/casthaven]. I like Timing in defensive decks, and Wrappings can do good work. Against creatures with negative counters, [casthaven]Illusory Wrappings[/casthaven] can be hard removal, and it can also kill [casthaven]Grim Strider[/casthaven] if your opponent ever draws up to two cards in hand. It isn’t as great against exert creatures that can still get stat bonuses or other effects, though it can slow down [casthaven]Emberhorn Minotaur[/casthaven] pretty well. [casthaven]Fling[/casthaven] isn’t really a removal spell—it mostly shows up as a finisher in aggressive decks with pump spells—but you can theoretically use it to kill a [casthaven]Glorybringer[/casthaven] if you have to.

Gideon’s Intervention is almost better considered a sideboard card, but I think it is versatile enough to discuss as maindeck removal. It does good work against specific bombs like [casthaven]Glorybringer[/casthaven], [casthaven]Glyph Keeper[/casthaven], [casthaven]Scaled Behemoth[/casthaven], and even the aftermath side of [casthaven]Cut // Ribbons[/casthaven]. If your opponent has four [casthaven]Gust Walker[/casthaven]s, you could try that too.

Non-Lethal Interaction

This bascally means bounce, which is quite good. Amonkhet reminds me a bit of Theros draft, where a well-timed [casthaven]Voyage’s End[/casthaven] could ruin an aggressive draw. [casthaven]Winds of Rebuke[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Galestrike[/casthaven] do a ton of work to make blue playable on defense, though you have to have some defense or finishers to back them up or else they merely prolong your agony. [casthaven]Galestrike[/casthaven] is specifically weak to [casthaven]Ahn-Crop Crasher[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Tah-Crop Elite[/casthaven], so keep that in mind. [casthaven]Vizier of Deferment[/casthaven] can do some amazing work, especially against tokens, though it doesn’t block very well. [casthaven]Decision Paralysis[/casthaven] has been pretty solid for me, especially in Izzet spell decks, and it deals with some cards that bounce does not. [casthaven]Floodwaters[/casthaven] is mostly getting cycled against aggressive decks, but it can reset a board on occasion.

Counter Magic/Discard

You have a few proactive options for removing threats. [casthaven]Essence Scatter[/casthaven], [casthaven]Cancel[/casthaven], [casthaven]Censor[/casthaven], and [casthaven]Reduce // Rubble[/casthaven] can all stop something if you line up your turns correctly, but don’t help much once you fall behind. [casthaven]Lay Bare the Heart[/casthaven] can pick off a threat from hand, and [casthaven]Unburden[/casthaven] can help too. If you don’t have much removal, all of these can help. [casthaven]Failure // Comply[/casthaven] also technically fits here, but it seems awful in most situations.

Combat Tricks

Trying to block with comabt tricks is not the best plan,; but as you can see, Amonkhet is short on better plans. [casthaven]Djeru’s Resolve[/casthaven], [casthaven]Spidery Grasp[/casthaven], and [casthaven]Synchronized Strike[/casthaven] are all great for ambushing attackers and resetting exert creatures. You can lean on them as removal when you need to. [casthaven]Supernatural Stamina[/casthaven] can do good work on defense as well, though it doesn’t let you block if you save your creature from removal precombat. [casthaven]Hapatra’s Mark[/casthaven] theoretically can do something similar if you have a creature with a bunch of negative counters, but it seems mostly unplayable to me.

The rest of the combat tricks are aggressive: [casthaven]In Oketra’s Name[/casthaven], [casthaven]Brute Strength[/casthaven], [casthaven]Pursue Glory[/casthaven], [casthaven]Shed Weakness[/casthaven], and [casthaven]Mighty Leap[/casthaven]. You’d much rather be using them to eat opposing blockers than to build up a strong defense.

Sometimes Removal

Here’s a motley crew of amazing and okay cards that sometimes kill things. [casthaven]Angler Drake[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Decimator Beetle[/casthaven] are amazing, of course. [casthaven]Quarry Hauler[/casthaven] sometimes can kill off something valuable, and I like its versatility in general. [casthaven]Stir the Sands[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Vizier of Tumbling Sands[/casthaven] can also provide surprise defense when you need it. [casthaven]Grasping Dunes[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Festering Mummy[/casthaven] provide a negative counter that can help, but you can’t rely on either very much. Combo with [casthaven]Quarry Hauler[/casthaven]!

[casthaven]Samut, Voice of Dissent[/casthaven] can ruin people if they forget about the white-mana untapping ability, or don’t realize you can make white mana. Mostly you just win when you play Samut, but you should keep this in mind.

Getting Desperate

Scraping the bottom of the barrel? [casthaven]Pouncing Cheetah[/casthaven] can ambush an attacker, maybe. If you have [casthaven]Rhonas’s Monument[/casthaven], if can also give another blocker a pump. Don’t be too proud to leave that value on the table. [casthaven]Consuming Fervor[/casthaven] can slowly eat a creature, if you are stuck in a board stall against [casthaven]Fan Bearer[/casthaven] or something. That’s more of a Sealed corner case, but it’s not nothing.

[casthaven]Scarab Feast[/casthaven] is almost always better when cycled, but you can take out some embalmers or aftermath cards if you have to. If one of them is a [casthaven]Glyph Keeper[/casthaven] or [casthaven]Honored Hydra[/casthaven], you might get real value.

If you are totally hopeless, you can use [casthaven]Scribe of the Mindful[/casthaven] to double up your good removal. The slowest [casthaven]Snapcaster Mage[/casthaven] ever, it can chump block and sacrifice to pick up [casthaven]Final Reward[/casthaven] or something. But you still have to play a bad creature and untap with it to do that. This is about the lowest you can stoop.

Sideboard Options

There are a few other useful cards. [casthaven]Stinging Shot[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Blazing Volley[/casthaven] and reasonable to play in the main deck and very strong when they are good. [casthaven]Forsake the Worldly[/casthaven], [casthaven]Dissenter’s Deliverance[/casthaven], and [casthaven]Violent Impact[/casthaven] all cycle so they also can go in your starting forty if you’re short on better options. [casthaven]Haze of Pollen[/casthaven] also can be “removal” for mass pump effects or big exert turns. [casthaven]Manglehorn[/casthaven] comes in if you are facing [casthaven]Edifice of Authority[/casthaven] or some other annoying artifact. [casthaven]By Force[/casthaven] never makes the cut.

And I was wrong about [casthaven]Scribe of the Mindful[/casthaven]. It isn’t the lowest you can stoop for removal. That honor belongs to [casthaven]Glorious End[/casthaven]. Why lose this turn when you can lose next turn instead? It’s too bad [casthaven]Glorious End[/casthaven] exiles itself when it resolves or else you could go super deep on awfulness. May your decks have much better options!

Carrie O’Hara is Editor-in-Chief of Hipsters of the Coast.

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