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The Effectiveness of Low-Toughness and Power-Dependent Removal in Oath of the Gatewatch Limited

I went 4-1 this weekend with a mostly Blue draft deck that splashed three Red cards and a Blighted Gorge. After one of my matches, an opponent mentioned that he sided out a Reality Hemorrhage against me because he didn't see any two-toughness creatures. I took a quick look through my deck and found that only one of my 14 creatures had less than three toughness, and Reckless Bushwhacker usually functioned more like a spell than a creature anyway.

Let's examine the effectiveness of removal spells that deal with one- and two- toughness creatures, as well as removal spells that depend on a creature's power in Oath of the Gatewatch / Battle for Zendikar Limited. I separated each playable creature, made a note of its color, rarity, power, and toughness, as well as whether I think it will win the game if not dealt with quickly. This category includes most bombs, large fliers, reusable card drawers, and reusable token creators. I then used these categorizations along with the expected number of copies of cards at each rarity to determine the number of cards at each power / toughness in each color.

There are a number of limitations to this approach:

  • Evaluation of creatures as playable or must-kill is subjective.
  • Not every creature I categorized as playable is equally likely to be played.
  • Some creatures have abilities that affect their power/toughness. Also, the Support mechanic means these numbers often change over the course of a game.
  • Multicolor cards are not broken down into their color pairs.

I still think there's value to performing the analysis. I will spare you the details and provide the final numbers. There are two charts each for toughness and power:

  • The first chart shows the expected number of playable creatures in a sealed pool at each toughness / power by color, as well as "must kill" creatures. While the absolute numbers are different for draft and team sealed, the pack distributions and therefore the relative ratios are the same. Two-Headed Giant uses a different pack ratio (3:1 between Oath of the Gatewatch and Battle for Zendikar), so these numbers do not apply to that format.
  • The second chart shows the total number of creatures whose toughness / power is less than or equal to that value. This chart makes it easier to see how many creatures in that color / category have a lower or higher toughness / power.

Toughness Matters

It seems that for most colors, two is the most common toughness among playable creatures. Blue is an outlier with about half its playable creatures having three toughness, while Green has a relatively flat distribution between one and four toughness. About half of the creatures that must be killed quickly have a toughness of two, so Reality Hemorrhage should be good against most decks that are not mono-Blue or nearly mono-Blue, as my draft deck was.

Most colors have about one or 1.5 creatures with a toughness of one, so most two-color sealed decks will only have two or three targets for spells like Sparkmage's Gambit and Boiling Earth. Consequently, these cards should not be played maindeck, although they can be sided in against archetypes like G/W/x tokens or against multiple 1/1 Eldrazi Scion tokens.

Power Matters

As with toughness, two is the most common power among playable creatures in most colors. The main exceptions are Black, which has a relatively flat distribution between one and three power. Must kill creatures also have a relatively flat distribution between two and four power.

Let's now consider the various removal spells that depend on a creature's power:

  • Searing Light kills about half of the playable creatures in most colors, and is especially good against White and Blue. It is less effective against colorless creatures and must kill creatures.
  • Complete Disregard kills about 80% of playable creatures, and almost all playable White and Blue creatures.
  • Smite the Monstrous has few targets in White and Blue, about one target each in colorless and Green, and 1.5 targets each in Black, Red, multicolor, and among creatures that must be killed quickly. This breakdown means that the average sealed deck will have two targets in its pool, not all of which will make the cut. However, many bombs have a high power; these are more likely to be played in sealed and more likely to affect the outcome of a game if they're not dealt with quickly. Smite the Monstrous can also be used to respond to pump a spell, so it can make sense to maindeck one copy, but you should probably side it out against White / Blue decks.
  • Warping Wail has a limited number of targets but also offers a lot of flexibility. It should make the cut in most sealed decks that can cast it reliably.
  • Titan's Presence is not playable because it is too situational and doesn't do anything if topdecked with an empty hand.
  • Exert Influence is good even if you can only cast it with two colors. It's excellent if you can cast it for three or more colors.
  • Aligned Hedron Network is only good as a sideboard option against decks with large colorless or Green creatures.


Removal that kills one-toughness creatures should not be played main deck. Removal that kills two-toughness creatures should usually be played main deck, but you may want to side it out against decks that are mono-Blue or nearly mono-Blue unless you see some targets.

Among removal spells that are dependent on a creature's power:

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