Mechanics Under The Commander Hood: Board Wipes, Part Two

Killing off creatures is a big part of what Commander is about, people play mass removal there the way Standard players play spot removal. Sheldon Menery continues his comprehensive look at how to wipe the board with today’s look at damage- and toughness-based removal spells.

Last week, in Part One of this three-part series, we talked about the direct creature board wipes. In Part Two, we’ll cover the big damage spells which destroy all (or most) creatures as well as those that wipe them out by lowering their toughness to zero or less. Whether the card deals damage or gives minuses, you’ll have to manage them a bit differently than the ones which simply destroy. While it’s quite difficult to make a creature not a creature in order to dodge Wrath of God, pumping up a creature’s toughness to save it from one of these specifically-crafted amounts of damage (or toughness loss) is far easier. Before using them, make sure you at least pay attention to the on-board tricks.

The Damage Spells

Because damage spells deal damage (obviously), you’ll have to remember about protection from a color. If your opponent has Akroma’s Memorial (giving her creatures Protection from Red), then Blasphemous Act isn’t going to hurt them. When we get down to the spells that give out minuses, this won’t be the case. Unlike with the raw creature destruction spells, I won’t separate these out into conditional and unconditional, because most of them are already conditional in some fashion or another. We’ll talk about cards which deal four or more damage, which is enough to take out a good swath of creatures.

Alpha Brawl: Alpha Brawl creates a giant fight between all an opponent’s creatures and one target. Generally, you’ll want the target to be the biggest one, but you might also consider targeting the one with Deathtouch or Wither. This spell — like many of the creature damage spells — is loads more fun with Repercussion on the battlefield. The downside to the spell is that if the single target is removed, the spell is countered.

Arashi, the Sky Asunder: On the list in order to take advantage of the Channel ability, it’s nice to deal damage with it because few creatures have Protection from Green.

Balefire Dragon: While heavily conditional, you can keep a single player’s forces in check so long as you can continue to get through in combat.

Blasphemous Act: Very, very popular in the format due to our love of creatures. It’s somewhat rare when a player pays more than a single red mana for this.

Bloodfire Colossus: An Inferno for {6RRR}, or just {RR} if you used Sneak Attack to get it onto the battlefield.

Breath of Darigaaz: It needs to be kicked, but then you get a four-point mini-Earthquake for four mana.

Burning of Xinye: You probably never heard of it before seeing it in From the Vaults: Annihilation. It’s a Wildfire variant which destroys four of your lands and four of a target opponent’s before dealing four to each creature. Note that the lands aren’t targeted, but the opponent is. The damage is to each creature, not just the ones the target controls.

Canopy Surge: Like Breath of Darigaaz, it needs to be kicked to really do anything.

Cerebral Eruption: You’re obviously taking your chances here unless you know exactly what’s on the top of the opponent’s library. Nice bonus that you damage the opponent as well.

Chain Reaction: Like Blasphemous Act, the more creatures there are in play the better. Just remember that it counts the number of creatures on the battlefield when it resolves, not when it’s cast.

Chandra’s Ignition: One of the hot new cards from Magic Origins, Chandra’s Ignition suffers from the same vulnerability as Alpha Brawl: if the single target becomes illegal or invalid, the spell is countered. When it resolves, it going to deal piles of damage. The target deals the damage, so if it has lifelink, you’re in for some serious lifegain. It will wipe our your creatures as well, but if it’s targeting one of those disproportionately-large creatures we see from time to time (Lord of Extinction, Consuming Aberration, Malignus), you might just kill some people.

Comet Storm: The Fireball that Fireball wanted to be. Generally, in order to wipe a large board, you’ll only need enough mana to kill a player instead, but the option is there.

Corrosive Gale: We’ve already talked about having some green damage. This is simply the Phyrexian version of Windstorm. Too bad you can’t pay Phyrexian mana for any of the X value.

Crater Hellion: We don’t see it played much anymore, but sure did way back when — and we didn’t have access to all the cool reanimation tricks you can use once you choose to not pay the echo.

Crypt Rats: The bad news is that if you pump any mana into Crypt Rats, it will kill itself. The good news is that it’s easy to wipe the board.

Cyclone: The downside here is that you’re damaging yourself as well. The upside is that it kills everything (eventually).

Destructive Force: Wildfire’s bigger brother that gets five lands and five damage all around.

Disaster Radius: Here’s where you want to be playing Draco. A nice Inkwell Leviathan will probably do, though.

Earthquake: It only takes out the non-flyers, but it deals damage to players as well. A board wipe combined with a potential finisher. Play it with Archetype of Imagination to make sure you’ll hit all your opponents’ creatures.

Fault Line: Same as Earthquake, only it’s an instant, for which you pay an extra {R}. It’s become one of the major kill conditions in my Intet deck.

Fire Tempest: Only available in Portal and Starter 1999, it’s the sorcery version of Inferno.

Floodgate: Selective and only likely to get entire armies in the late game, it’s very saucy against swarms of small creatures. Great idea from a design standpoint.

Gale Force: A slightly larger Canopy Surge.

Hammerfist Giant: Another mini-Earthquake. It will unfortunately kill itself unless you bump up its toughness (or give it flying).

Hurricane: The original Corrosive Gale/Windstorm, it also damages players.

Incite Rebellion: Unlike Alpha Brawl and Chandra’s Ignition, Incite Rebellion has no targets. It’s an absolute You Did This to Yourself moment for someone with a huge team. In the worst case, it makes opponents sacrifice a bunch of creatures in order to prevent taking mountains of damage.

Inferno: Six damage to all creatures and players — and it’s an instant!

Jaya Ballard, Task Mage: She can do some cool other stuff (like destroying blue permanents), but she’s here because she can Inferno. Unfortunately, she takes herself out in the process.

Jiwari, the Earth Aflame: Another Channel creature, Jiwari is the Earthquake version. It’s a tad expensive, having to commit {RRR} before getting any damage.

Lavaball Trap: Probably too expensive (even with the trap cost) to see much play. It seems like a card that would do some work in taking out problematic lands and many creatures, but it’s a bit of a commitment for one player to take all that on.

Magmaquake: If you’re choosing between Magmaquake and Fault Line (the two have identical mana costs and are both instants), you need to decide whether or not you want to damage players (including yourself).

Martyr of Ashes: The cheap version of Earthquake, you’ve probably never seen it played because the conditions under which it would be good are very, very limited.

Molten Disaster: It seems like there are a number of variants at {XRR}. Kicking this to make it uncounterable might be a big deal in some local environments (if there are loads of blue players) or no deal at all in others.

Needle Storm: Another mini-Windstorm.

Pestilence: While not in the strictest definition mass damage because you have to do one activation at a time, the upshot is the same. You don’t need too much mana to reset the board.

Pestilence Demon: Better than Pestilence, because you can give it Lifelink or Deathtouch.

Pyrohemia: The crazy Planar Chaos version of Pestilence, now available in red because red likes damage lots.

Rolling Earthquake: Ready access to this card comes from the From the Vaults: Annihilation set. It’s an Earthquake that will hit flyers — because how many times have you actually seen Horsemanship in play?

Rupture: The problem with Rupture is that you can kill yourself. It’s also a sorcery, which takes some of the surprise and flexibility factors out of it. Rupture deals the damage, so sacrificing a creature that has lifelink doesn’t do any good — but having Soulfire Grand Master on the battlefield sure does.

Ryusei, the Falling Star: Crashes to earth and crushes each non-flying creature with five damage. Before Kokusho, the Evening Star made its way off the banned list, probably the Kamigawa Dragon you were most likely to see.

Savage Twister: One of the format’s earliest common board-wipes, the mana investment in favor of raw destruction spells has led to its lack of use.

Scourge of Kher Ridges: Because it doesn’t hit itself, it’s probably the best at taking out other flyers. With a reasonable amount of mana, it can kill entire armies because it doesn’t tap to activate.

Sickening Dreams: An inexpensive way to deal a fair amount of damage — although it costs you quite a few cards. You’re playing black, so I imagine that’s not too onerous for you since you were going to just reanimate them anyway.

Silklash Spider: Love this card, but it doesn’t seem to get too much love from other players. It can be a little expensive and it will take out your own flyers, but a little planning will keep that from hurting you. Equip with Basilisk Collar for the flexibility to spend a very little to kill everything or lots more to gain a large amount of life.

Skirk Fire Marshal: Yes, it will wipe out your Goblin army (except for itself, since it has Protection from Red), but ten damage to everything! If you have five more Goblins, activate a second time in response to the first.

Slice and Dice: Pricey for the hard cast, nice for the cycling when someone tries to landfall those Plant tokens.

Squall Line: The crazy Time Spiral green version of Fault Line.

Starstorm: The combination of the two abilities, namely cycling and that it hits every creature, makes it supremely playable. Sure, it doesn’t damage players, but let’s not get greedy.

Sudden Demise: From the Commander 2013 edition, you now have the ability to wipe out everything (flying or not) in a particular color. Remember that multicolored creatures are each of their colors, so if you choose blue with this (the choice being made on resolution), you catch Nicol Bolas — which you should always do before he catches you.

Swirling Sandstorm: Sure, it does five damage to each creature without flying for four mana, but you must have threshold for it to do anything. Seems risky.

Thrashing Wumpus: Will kill itself faster than Pestilence Demon, but once again, since it’s a creature, it can get lifelink and/or deathtouch.

Thundercloud Shaman: If you have enough Giants for a board wipe, you’re probably already in pretty good shape. Don’t forget that Taurean Mauler is also a Giant.

Tornado Elemental: One of those creatures which I’ve tried to put and keep in decks for a long time, it just keeps getting cut. Again, green damage is less likely to get prevented, and it has that combat damage clause, but it always seems to end up on the bench.

Torrent of Lava: Listed for completeness, the situations in which you’d want Torrent of Lava over other cards are rare. Any of the others with Mark of Asylum would do you better. Man, that card is saucy. Why am I not playing more of it?

Tropical Storm: Windstorm with a little extra hate for blue. As it should be.

Tumble: The second half of Rough/Tumble shreds all flyers for six.

Volcanic Vision: You only get to do it once and you have to have something rather large in your graveyard (X spells aren’t going to help), so it’s somewhat narrow. Getting extra mileage out of Decree of Pain seems like the best play.

Wildfire: This is the version in which everyone sacrifices four lands (not destroy) and deals four to each creature.

Windstorm: We’ve mentioned Windstorm multiple times before we actually got to it. I suppose there are decks in which you’d rather play this than Hurricane, but I’m more of a “let’s deal the damage” type.

The Minuses

I’ve included most everything that decreases the toughness of all creatures by at least two (-2 being referred to by some folks as “Baby Wipes”) since there are fewer of them than damage effects. The good part of these is that regeneration and even indestructible doesn’t help, and neither does protection from a color (since they’re not targeted).

Bane of the Living: Since there aren’t too many other great black Morphs, you probably won’t surprise too many people with Bane of the Living. It will for sure get the job done though.

Black Sun’s Zenith: If the minuses don’t kill the creature, they stay around. Sometimes it’s more valuable to have an opponent’s creature weakened and on the battlefield than in the graveyard where it can be reanimated to full strength. Don’t forget to shuffle Black Sun’s Zenith back into your library.

Death Frenzy: One of the aforementioned Baby Wipes, it costs two more than its progenitor, Infest, but you might turn those two mana into a fair amount of life. Note that the lifegain comes whenever a creature dies during the remainder of the turn, not just during resolution of Death Frenzy.

Drown in Sorrow: This card simply makes Infest irrelevant, unless for some crazy reason you’d rather not scry.

Eyeblight Massacre: Ooh, Elves are getting all evil and stuff.

Havoc Demon: You can kill a ten-toughness creature with Havoc Demon by blocking it. The Demon will deal five, then the other five will get taken care of by the minuses. A great way to have a 5/5 beater which establishes some level of board control (because you know you’re running a sacrifice outlet).

Hideous Laughter: Splice onto Arcane is such a cool idea but such an awkward implementation. To make it worthwhile, there would need to be more good arcane spells and more things to splice onto them.

Ichor Explosion: Perhaps a little expensive for what it does, although it might be the only way to take out some indestructible things. Sacrificing the creature isn’t problematic, since it would presumably die anyway, but the mana cost is onerous. More useful is…

Infest: The original Baby Wipe.

Kagemaro, First to Suffer: Once again, there are no surprises with Kagemaro. It’s an on-board trick. Still, it’s enough to keep most creatures in check. You might not want to go straight for the creature kill. Remember that Kagemaro will get larger as you draw cards. It might just become an offensive force on its own.

Languish: For only one more mana than Infest, you get an extra -2/-2. It won’t kill all the creatures in a Commander game, but it will get a big portion of them.

Massacre: An Infest that you’re pretty likely to not have to pay any mana for. It’s pretty reasonable to think that someone else will have a Plains.

Massacre Wurm: One of the defining cards of the format, this Infest on a stick (making it both copyable and Clone-able) is frequently at one end or another of an epic play. Remember that the life loss doesn’t happen just as a result of Massacre Wurm’s enters-the-battlefield trigger, but any time an opponent’s creatures die for whatever reason.

Mutilate: Seeing play as one of the primary board wipes in the early days of the format, Mutilate fell out of favor for a long time. The printing of Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth did a great deal to help its case, as did its reprinting in both Magic 2013 and Commander 2014. Pretty sure I still prefer the original art. Remember that the number of Swamps you control is counted on resolution, so make sure there’s not a Strip Mine ready to take out your Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, turning your Mutilate into a Baby Wipe.

Planar Despair: You’ll probably want to play five colors in order to make this worthwhile. There are probably also better uses of your 3BB. You don’t want to get caught with enough mana but not enough land types.

Toxic Deluge: Think of it this way: you’re either going to take lots of damage from a bunch of creatures, or you’re going to pay some fraction of that right now to get rid of them. The choice seems simple. A card which I would expect to see way more of than we currently do.

That finishes up how to get rid of large numbers of creatures in various ways. In Part Three, we’ll wrap this mini-series with Disk Effects and World Slayers, the kings of all board wipes.

This Week’s Deck Without Comment is Trostani and Her Angels:

Trostani And Her Angels
Sheldon Menery
Test deck on 11-30--0001

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