Core Set 2021 is full of powerful cards so far, both new and reprints. It also has one little gem that, while not nearly as awe-stricking as Ugin, the Spirit Dragon or Baneslayer Angel, has the potential to see heavy Standard play:
Historically speaking, cards like Eliminate have seen heavy play. Take, for example, Smother, which was a defining card in its format years ago, or Abrupt Decay, which sees play right now in more powerful formats. Eliminate is quite clearly worse than Abrupt Decay, but it’s also both only one color and Standard-legal.
Of course, flexible removal spells are nothing new — Murderous Rider, for example, is a three-way flex that we currently have in Standard. The difference between Murderous Rider and Eliminate is that, in the case of Eliminate, you’re not paying any cost for it, whereas Murderous Rider is very inefficient at dealing with cheap threats. This means you can play Eliminate as your anti-aggro card of choice, like you would play a Disfigure or a Tyrant’s Scorn, and that card specifically having utility outside of just killing creatures is very appealing.
In fact, the most similar comparison to Eliminate might be a card that currently sees Standard play — Scorching Dragonfire.
Scorching Dragonfire sees play, not usually because it’s the best creature removal, but because it actually has a use if your opponent doesn’t have creatures. Eliminate works the same way.
For Eliminate to see play in Standard, it has to be better than Heartless Act in at least some deck, and potentially also better than Scorching Dragonfire in decks that have access to both black and red mana. Is it either of those things? I think it’s both.
As a removal spell, it’s obvious that Heartless Act is superior, though it’s not actually strictly superior, as there are a number of playable cards that dodge Heartless Act but will not dodge Eliminate. Heartless Act, for example, cannot kill Flourishing Fox — it can only shrink it back into a 1/1 and sometimes will not even be able to do that. Heartless Act cannot kill a big Stonecoil Serpent either, or Runaway Steam-Kin, or Brineborn Cutthroat, or Hydroid Krasis, or a land animated by Nissa, Who Shakes the World, or a small creature returned by Elspeth Conquers Death, or an escaped Woe Strider or Phoenix of Ash, or Pelt Collector, or Voracious Hydra, or Dreadhorde Butcher, or Gruul Spellbreaker.
Not all of these cards see heavy play (in fact, most are fringe), but they do see play, and there are enough of them that you will run into one at some point. If you do, Eliminate will serve you better than Heartless Act.
Past that, there are several cards that Heartless Act will kill but that Eliminate will also kill. Any creature from the cycling deck, for example; Gilded Goose; Mayhem Devil; any creature from Mono-Red other than Torbran, Thane of Red Fell; Edgewall Innkeeper; Brazen Borrower; Priest of Forgotten Gods; Lurrus of the Dream-Den; Woe Strider; Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath; Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger; Shark Typhoon tokens, etc.
Now, let’s take a look at what Eliminate doesn’t kill. The main culprits are the big green monsters. Eliminate does nothing against Questing Beast, whereas Heartless Act is one of your best cards against any Questing Beast deck. It’s also awkward versus mutate, as it’s usually not hard to make the front card cost more than three. It also cannot kill Nightpack Ambusher; Yorion, Sky Nomad; Archon of Sun’s Grace; Korvold, Fae-Cursed King; and the aforementioned Torbran, Thane of Red Fell.
In the end, it seems to me like Eliminate kills a big enough percentage of the creatures that see play in Standard that you should not have a problem having it as your maindeck removal spell of choice. You might include some ways of dealing with big green creatures in your deck if they’re problematic for you (perhaps a removal split) but, as a general rule, I would expect Eliminate to be enough as a maindeck removal spell.
If Eliminate can clear the “removal spell” bar, its flexibility pushes it over the top. Killing planeswalkers such as Teferi, Time Raveler or Narset, Parter of Veils after they’ve used their abilities once feels like a bad proposition, and it is, but not being able to get rid of them at all is much worse. Remember, this is your removal spell — if you can trade it for 66% of a Narset, Parter of Veils, that’s actually quite good!
The decks that will want Eliminate the most are the ones that struggle with these two planeswalkers’ static abilities, in other words most of the slower decks in the format. An aggressive deck (or something like Jund Sacrifice) does not care about either passive, so it doesn’t want to spend a turn and a spell to remove a planeswalker that has already been used. In these decks, you probably don’t want to play Eliminate at all. Slower decks, however, usually cannot operate at full power against either of these planeswalkers, and these decks will definitely want Eliminate to get rid of the effect they actually care about (which is the passive effect).
A strong candidate, for example, is the Dimir Flash deck I talked about a while ago. That deck never got wings because of two things — first, the format was just too powerful (it’s no longer as powerful) and, second, Teferi, Time Raveler was a nightmare for it. If you didn’t already have a lot of battlefield presence, they would just cast Teferi, Time Raveler and effectively stop you from playing the game. Now, you actually have an answer!
In fact, the two things that give that deck the most problems are cheap creatures and Teferi, and having Eliminate be your answer to both at the same time makes it a very good upgrade. This is roughly where I would start with such a list. Keep in mind that Core Set 2021 hasn’t had many cards previewed yet, so this is definitely going to change once we have the whole picture; this is just to give you an idea of which decks could play Eliminate.
- 4 Spectral Sailor
- 4 Brineborn Cutthroat
- 4 Brazen Borrower
- 1 Dirge Bat
- 4 Sea-Dasher Octopus
- 2 Cunning Nightbonder
- 4 Slitherwisp
It’s also possible that, just by existing, Eliminate makes certain decks viable. For example, a while ago I was experimenting with a Rakdos Reanimator deck that used the red discard spells to fuel Bond of Revival on Drakuseth, Maw of Flames. The deck had a variety of flaws, but the biggest one was its complete and utter inability to beat a Narset, Parter of Veils. Now, with easy access to a card that kills it, perhaps that type of deck can be explored. In the case of this particular deck there are probably enough other things holding it back, but it’s just to give you an example of a strategy that could receive vast upgrades with Eliminate.
Eliminate can also be a strong addition to any black control deck, since, like the Flash deck, these decks are still very much interested in using their removal spells to get rid of Teferi, Time Raveler or Narset, Parter of Veils. A deck like Sultai Ramp, for example, can often struggle with Narset stopping all of its Hydroid Krasis and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath triggers. Here’s a potential list (again, probably going to change once the set is out):
It is also very important that Eliminate can be used to kill a Shark Typhoon token of any size.
Shark Typhoon is one of the best cards against these planeswalkers, and most decks that play them do not have clean answers. Now, with Eliminate, you can cast your Teferi and know that your removal spell will actually keep it safe from an instant-speed Shark, which is definitely a boon for Esper-colored decks, even if right at this moment these decks aren’t popular.
Now, we can compare it to Scorching Dragonfire to see if something like Grixis Control would be interested in it. I think the cards are remarkably similar, so it’s likely that, in a color combination that can support both, you want to play one or the other (especially since Scorching Dragonfire scales in multiples and this doesn’t — you can use two Dragonfires to kill something that would survive one, and if you have one Dragonfire and one Eliminate you can’t).
Eliminate loses to Scorching Dragonfire in some ways. For example, it doesn’t exile (which is relevant against Anax, Hardened in the Forge primarily, but also occasionally relevant versus Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath; Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger; and Cauldron Familiar even), and it cannot finish off bigger planeswalkers. It also cannot be stacked to kill a bigger thing. In return, you get to kill creatures of any toughness, and planeswalkers with any loyalty.
Are the cons worth the pros? I think that, if you primarily want to kill creatures, the answer is no — Scorching Dragonfire is better for that (even though Eliminate is better in some cases). For example it can stop big Flourishing Foxes, big Shark Typhoon tokens, or Uro. If you care about planeswalkers, the answer is yes. Now that people are used to playing against Scorching Dragonfire, they can stop it from working by simply not using their planeswalker if the static ability is what’s important. We see this all the time against Temur Reclamation — I will often cast a Narset, Parter of Veils and just not use it, and I will rarely bounce anything with Teferi, Time Raveler. Eliminate doesn’t let your opponent play around it in this way, and for this reason I think that, if the planeswalkers are relevant to you, it’s the card you should play.
In sum, it’s hard to know what the Core Set 2021 Standard format will look like this early on, but I would assume Eliminate will see a lot of play (and even more so if we get another good three-mana planeswalker in the future). Aggressive decks are not going to be as interested in it, as they don’t care about the static abilities of the three-mana planeswalkers nearly as much, but for any deck that does care about it, Eliminate will be the best removal spell available.